25 Aug

Book Review Archives

Ratings Scale:

100-90 A+/-   Absolute Must Read & Must Own

89-80 B+/-      A Pillar Of Your Library

79-70 C+/-    Worth Checking Out

69-60 D+/-    Reading Isn’t Always Fundamental

59-40 F -        Bring Back the Book Burnings

A Time Before CrackA Time Before Crack

Category: Photo Journalism

Author: Jamel Shabazz (Photographer), Richard Green, Charlie Ahearn, Claude Grunitzky, Terrence Jennings

Publisher: powerHouse Books

ISBN: 1576872130

Length: 114 pages

Release Date: May 2005

Synopsis: Once upon a time before crack, inner city communities were blighted by poverty and unemployment but not by the drug wars that tore families apart, destroying lives with needless violence and mindless addiction. Once upon a time before crack, pride and style were as inseparable as a beatbox and mixtape, or as a pair of shoes and matching purse. Once upon a time before crack, Jamel Shabazz was on the scene, working the streets of New York City, capturing the faces and places of an era that have long since disappeared.

Best known as hip hop’s finest fashion photographer for his blockbuster best-selling monograph, Back in the Days (powerHouse Books, 2001), Jamel Shabazz revisited his archive and unearthed an extraordinary collection of never before published documentary photographs collected for his third powerHouse Books release, A Time Before Crack. A visual diary of the streets of New York City from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, Shabazz’s distinctive photographs reveal the families, the poses, and the players who made this age extraordinary.

Ooh Papi Says: Overall: B

The book title sounds like a sociological dissertation but actually this book is a pictorial with mostly pictures and captions of moments in time. It’s not a thought invoking statistical menu on crack usage in the urban community that I thought the title suggested. Words are few but concise. However the pictures are simply captivating and memorable. With pictorial books it’s best to be light on words and words should be limited to adjectives. The NY Times called the Photographer Jamel Shabazz, the best kind of photojournalist: one driven simply by curiosity about other human beings.” It’s a happy book that is meant to be shared with others who visit your home.

Jamel Shabazz and Charlie Ahearn come together to put pictures and words together that capture an era. With contributions from Fab 5 Freddy and others the hip hop flavor dominates “A Time before Crack”. That era capturing is limited to Brooklyn, New York and not as encompassing as the title suggest but if you are a new Yorker this is a must have collectors item. The two book composers are quite unique but move in similar circles. Charlie Ahearn is the director of the classic, 1982 hip hop movie Wild Style. He is the coauthor of “Yes Yes Y’all” (Da Capo, 2002)

Jamel Shabazz is an author of note, his earlier works include “Back in the Days” and “The Last Sunday in June”. His photographs have appeared in publications including The Source, Vibe, TRACE, Flaunt, Mass Appeal, Jalouse, Black Book, OneWorld, and Honey. Shabazz’s work has also been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Once upon a time before crack, depicts inner city communities blighted by poverty and unemployment-but not by the crack wars that tore families apart, destroying lives with needless violence and mindless addiction. It’s captured so eloquently in the pages and is sure to be a hit with other photographers, 1970 era voyeurs, dumpster divers (yours truly), backpackers, parents, hip hop purists and anybody who likes books like “Back In The Days”, “The Last Sunday in June”, “Hip Hop Files: Photographs”, “1979-1984″, “Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987″, “Hip Hop Immortals: The Remix”, or “Yes Yes Y’All: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade”.

Although I grew up a neighbor to New York I felt a really close kinship with this book and the era but I am not sure it will do the same for all who came up in that time before crack and are not familiar with the northeastern style of life and urban living. Regardless it will make for a great pictorial example that contrast poverty and illicit crime. The pathologies are not one in the same. A picture is sometimes worth a thousand words and solely through the use of pictures a message of innocence and poverty is conveyed before the drug called crack changed the urban landscape and the hip hop scene.

I leave you with the words off of Ghostface Killah’s Ironman Album. The track is called “Fish” and the interlude goes like this, “These are the men who lead the crime families of America. I control 26,000 men. Except for dope, we operate in all aspects of organized crime. And if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that drugs destroy your mind and destroy your home.In the end it’ll only lead our country into ruin.”

Can't Stop Won't StopCan’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Category: Biography

Author: Jeff Chang, D. J. Kool Herc (Introduction)

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 031230143X

Length: 560 pages

Release Date: February 2005

Synopsis: Based on original interviews with DJs, b-boys, rappers, graffiti writers, activists, and gang members, with unforgettable portraits of many of hip-hop’s forebears, founders, and mavericks – including D. J. Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D, and Ice Cube – Can’t Stop Won’t Stop chronicles the events, the ideas, the music, and the art that marked the hip-hop generation’s rise from the ashes of the ’60s into the new millennium. Here is a cultural and social history of the end of the American century and a look into the new world that the hip-hop generation created.

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: A

After watching “And You Don’t Stop,” VH-1’s week long documentary on the history of hip-hop, a former advertising and marketing executive and now Hip-Hop culture Critique Hadji Williams penned a open letter asking the question “Will the real Hip Hop “Documentarians” please stand up”. Outside of Hip hop novelist and activist Sofia Quintero, not many people stood up to answer that question. But after the release of this 550-page book, its clear that Jeff Chang is real and standing up. In fact the humility he exhibited in writing and researching this book has allowed him to be standing above everyone else.

I was shocked to behold the size of this book and the amount of research that Chang invested into documenting hip hop culture from graffiti, break dancing and scratching to the actual rap stars and personal anecdotes. He doesn’t stop there however, inside this massive work Chang documents important events in the hip-hop radio industry and magazine industry. Actually it’s the first book I have even reviewed in which I have only read half of it. But in the 275 pages I have read, I was quite impressed especially with chapters 1,2,9,10,17,18,19. Chang contacts and checks with the right people, and opts out of the revisionist and commonly traveled path of commercializing hip-hop history. His work is authentic.

In hip hop Journalism he starts from the beginning when The Source Magazine was nothing but a 2-page newsletter similar to the Davey-D music report, which started around the same time. He gives critical analysis and perspective about The Source Magazine’s only African American Co-Founder James Bernard. He deals with important things below the radar in discussing how early Hip-Hop pioneers like Darryl James, Sheena Lester, Dane Webb, Selwyn Hinds were among a group of elite constructing a hip hop nationalist worldview that was hard, complicated and not controlled by corporations.

In Hip Hop Radio he lets insiders tell about the evolution of hip-hop on air through commentary and quotes. Those who love constructive criticism will appreciate the cultural, political and societal undertaking that Chang went through to present the hip hop generation that includes all happening and growing up during a certain era, whether they liked participating in Hip-Hop or not.

How good is the book, well in my opinion it’s twice as good as the VH1 special? Consider this Kool Herc was honored at the VH1 30 years of HIP HOP special but Kool Herc has gone on the record and said that he did not think that VH1 folks did their homework on their special and it missed a lot.

On the other hand Kool Herc has written the brief introduction for this book as authentic. Equally foreboding is that this book gets open endorsements from intellectuals who grew up as part of the hip-hop generation. Individuals like William Jelani Cobb, Farai Chideya whose writings on Hip-Hop are relevant and dynamic. This herein may lead to the one problem with “Can’t Stop wont Stop”. This book is so thorough that unless you already understand that Hip-Hop has evolved into something else from whence it started, you may miss significant relevance. Today most people especially younger people think Hip-Hop and rap music are the same, thus those readers may not be able to appreciate all within its pages. Chang should have used a few more pictorials to help those who are more students of hip hop completely understand what he is documenting. In the end readers will find that Chang has stood up and represented. Its official the “Can’t Stop Wont Stop” music, mentality and culture is now trademarked by the Hip-Hop generation. – Nuff said

Come Hell or High WaterCome Hell or High Water: Katrina and the Color of Disaster

Category: Current Affairs

Author: Michael Eric Dyson

Publisher: Perseus Books Group

ISBN: 0465017614

Length: 258 pages

Release Date: March 2006

Synopsis: The first major book to be released about Hurricane Katrina, Dyson’s volume not only chronicles what happened when, it also argues that the nation’s failure to offer timely aid to Katrina’s victims indicates deeper problems in race and class relations. Dyson’s contention that Katrina exposed a dominant culture pervaded not only by “active malice” toward poor blacks but also by a long history of “passive indifference” to their problems is both powerful and unsettling. Through this history of neglect, Dyson suggests, America has broken its social contract with poor blacks who, since Emancipation, have assumed that government will protect all its citizens. Yet when disaster struck the poor, the cavalry arrived four days late.

Ooh Papi Says: Overall: A

In this book Dyson exhaustively paints the picture of the factors leading up to the Katrina disaster and the fallout. I hope that Spike Lee consults this book for his documentary film because I have never seen anybody gather so much information in such a short period of time, and I don’t think that it can be done without it. There is no other Katrina document like this available. Its amazing Dyson told AOL, “I worked 18 hours a day for three months writing this book. The book has over 500 footnotes. I did my work because it’s necessary to do meticulous work in order to make an argument to defend principles and persons who are vulnerable. If you don’t do that work intellectually, then you make those people even more vulnerable.” I was thoroughly impressed with the research although I did not feel the need to read every last page to get overwhelmed by Dyson. Thankfully Dyson separates fact from fiction take for example it turns out, approximately ten people were dead from community violence, not this 200 and 300 people the media was claiming and the sensationalized accounts of people raping seven-year-old babies and so on where inaccurate and still unproven according to police and hospital records. That does not mean no rapes occurred at all but the truth will amaze you. The facts and evidence go into why you heard this or that and what really went on, it’s just amazing stuff inside this book that the press has still never reported on.

It’s so monumental that its best I give you outstanding points instead of trying to sum it up. I do recommend you buy it , regardless of any personal biases because trust me you have yet to read anything like it anywhere. It’s a complete package and gives me a new found respect for Dyson and his ability to present all sides of a debate.

The authenticity of the rumors are captured in the book for example Darnell Herrington, a Katrina survivor he’s walking, and suddenly he feels burning in his chest and realizes he has been shot by buckshot in the front from his neck down, on his chest. He falls on the ground, rises back up to try to walk again and is shot in his back. Remarkably, he survives. His cousin runs off. He goes to several houses trying to get help. They turn him down, mostly white people. He saw a black man. He tried to go to him for help. The black man said, “Come on in,” but there was a white woman in this house that said, “You’ve got to get out of here. I can’t help you.” He had to go back out. He saw two white gentlemen in a truck. He went up to them. “Please, please, help me.” They used the N word, which of course Dyson doesn’t use anymore and told Herington “We’re liable to kill you ourselves, so get out of our faces.” Then he found a White woman in a house, I think with a black family, who took him in and who lied — because the guys who had shot him came looking for him, and they lied and said he wasn’t there. Come to find out it was some White men who shot him because it was total anarchy out there and that’s just one of the many things that people got away with while the press had a rumor orgy and didn’t give people truth or facts. At the same time the press left out stories of White lynch mobs going around killing and threatening to kill innocent Black people , calling theem Ni@@ers and how the media was fueling all of this hysteria.

Dyson gives rappers their props for being the most honest in talking about the Katrina debacle and even points out something many are not aware of which is that southern rappers were dealing with the poverty exposed due to Katrina long before Katrina began. They talked about it many times amd in their videos although it was not in a political form, and also some may have been exploiting the poverty in New Orleans, at least in my opinion.

Dyson politely blast the White House, FEMA and the fourth government branch called the media who consistently used racist terms and descriptions from “finding Vs looting” to TV pundits which included White “liberals” calling people “refugees” to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer saying “LOOK AT THEM, SO POOR SO BLACK. In short Dyson leaves no stone unturned in such a short time. It’s nothing short of a great reading material. I only wished I could have read it as fast as he wrote it and it does re-open some sores but nonetheless nothing short of impressive.

Confessions of a Video VixenConfessions of a Video Vixen

Category: Biography

Author: Karrine Steffans, Karen Hunter

Publisher: Amistad

ISBN: 0060842423

Length: 224 pages

Release Date: June 2005

Synopsis: Confessions of a Video Vixen is the widely anticipated memoir of Karrine Steffans, the once sought-after sexy siren who appeared in the music videos of multiplatinum hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z, R. Kelly, and LL Cool J. A top-paid video dancer, Karrine transitioned to film when acclaimed director F. Gary Gray picked her to costar in his film A Man Apart, starring Vin Diesel. But the movie and music video sets, swanky Miami and New York restaurants, and trysts with the celebrities featured in the pages of People and In Touch magazines only skims the surface of Karrine’s life.

This memoir — part tell all, part cautionary tale — shows how Karrinne came to be the confidante of so many, why she kept their secrets, and how she found herself in Hollywood after a life marked by physical abuse, rape, and drugs — all before she was twenty-six. By sharing her emotionally charged story, she hopes to shed light on an otherwise romanticized industry.

Bruce Banter Says: Overall: C

Karrine Steffans goes by the nickname of “Superhead”. It’s a moniker that she describes as having both a positive and a negative meaning. The meaning of the negative moniker is what we all know about and what has driven the surprisingly superb sales of this book. In laymen term Superhead performs the best blowjobs in the world. This video vixen turned industry whore unleashed her oral skills on the entertainment world with a concentration in the rap and R&B community. Her pet name became her scarlet letter and once she decided to do a “Tell All Book” for profit a lot of married men were nervous as to what might be inside. One good thing we learn is that she was basically an anomaly and most video vixens are not sexing the stars, but she was that one who gave all vixens a bad name.

Steffans opens up the book chronicling her life of being emotionally and sexually abused. As well as serving witness to the life of her mother who was also a promiscuous and needy women according to Steffans. This historical family backdrop allows readers to sympathize with her as we watch her experiment with every drug imaginable, allow chronic abusive behavior at the hands of men, and prostitutes herself time and time again.

Some “Superhead” detractors have tried to dismiss everything in her book, as a lie but her intimate access and celebrity filled rolodex authenticate her as a hip hop Heidi Fleiss. Working as a team of one she is said to have corralled the entertainment industry and what she writes comes off as authentic. Her writing style is light and easy; it’s very minimal for a writer. Although she does write professionally for XXL Magazine producing a monthly sex column of about 500 words the same sort of style doesn’t exactly ring as sharp in a book. The main flaw hip-hop heads will find with the book is its awful chronology. In the latter portion of the book “Superhead” skips around on dates and times of events/encounters with various celebrities. She jumps around from 2002 to 2000 to 2004 it messes with the flow of the book and may stir questions of her stories validity. Those time periods in question coincide with her heavy drug usage and a period where she herself started to get drug seizures that caused blackouts and inevitable memory loss. The periods before the heavy drug usage are written crisp and the difference in her ability to document is noticeable.

After reading this book hip-hop fans might never view some rap personalities the same again. The innuendo of a simple story about how P-Diddy took “Superhead” and Xizbit to a “gay club for fun” suggest a lot about the seedy underworld life of today’s entertainers and lends credibility to past rumors on everything from P-Diddy’s sexuality to Irv Gotti’s recent arrest with the young mogul possessing the impotence drug viagara.

But that’s not a bad look in comparison to legendary lyricist, Kool G. Rap the father of her son and whom the author depicts as a monster, who forced her to perform Oral sex on him, in one instance for 2 hours until her nose bled. Knowing what I know about “Superhead” whether or not she was forced is very questionable. However the allegations that Kool G. Rap was abusive to her at and exploiting her at 17 years of age appears to ring with factual instances. The author admittedly embellishes somewhat and this wherein is where the trouble lies. At one point Superhead is documenting Kool G. Rap’s history of seizures, citing his machismo as the reason he didn’t take his medicine to prevent it. Thus he had a seizure while on the toilet and she had to thus wipe his ass for him so he wouldn’t be embarrassed when the medics came to treat him. This nurturing episode she documents seems great in the book but suspicious in a later interview when she says she didn’t love him. This may be some immaturity on the author’s behalf and she definitely has a lot of growing to do.

A quick read of her conquest list Actors, Vin Diesel and Merlin Santana (R.I.P), NBA star Shaquille O Neal, R&B singers Usher, Bobby Brown and Ray J. Rocker Fred Durst. Rappers and rap producers Ice T, P-Diddy, Ja Rule, Irv Gotti, Jay Z, Dr.Dre and Xizbit. This seems like a lot but the list is so long I even wondered if my name was in there. She got her “ugly on” with so many people she probably could not begin to dispute anybody who might now say that she slept with him at the request of Irv Gotti. In fact in subsequent interviews about the book more celebrity names emerged as Superhead conquest including Big Tigga and Damon Dash. Dash is responsible for green lighting the book in the first place. However the omission of his name in the book and other names have drawn the ire of many reviewers, at Amazon.com reviewers give it thumbs down and warned other consumers not to spend the suggested 20 plus dollars price for it since the identity of Papa will never be revealed. I agree it’s not worth the price tag but it is worth the read. – Nuff Said

Drama FactorDrama Factor

Category: Fiction

Author: Wanda Toby

Publisher: Writersandpoets.com

ISBN: 0970380372

Length: 251 pages

Release Date: January 2005

Synopsis: Xavier, a star football player, finds his nigh starting off badly when his girlfriend’s husband charges up a flight of stairs after him and forces him to climb out onto a fire escape in order to avoid confrontation. The night is equally bad for Grace when her horrendous date assaults her, triggering her to make a mad escape. Xavier thinks it’s getting better when they meet, but things only seem to get worse after his night with her. He finds himself unable to play ball and caught in between his matchmaking mother and sister, and a paternity suit. In the midst of his teetering life, Xavier is facing an identity crisis that he continually ignores by relying on friends and family. With Grace and her ex-convicted sister in the fray, Xavier soon learns that someone has to be brave enough to face the shadows of his pain in order to save him from further disaster

Haitian-American author Wanda Toby is driven to write by the passion of creation. Wanda received a Masters of Health Science from the University of Florida, and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor working with a statewide private rehabilitation company. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Wanda lives with her husband in South Florida and looks forward to writing many more stories about love, loss, relationships, and family.

Guest Reviewer “Nay Chilla” Says: Overall: C

Drama Factor by Wanda Toby, to put it simply, just doesn’t offer the type of drama I’m searching for in a book. While some interesting storylines are introduced in the novel, the further development of those storylines is where this reviewer had the most trouble actually being interested enough to finish the last fifty pages of the book.

Toby’s main character, Grace Watson, is introduced while out on a blind date gone sour. In the mist of it’s aftermath she bumps into star NFL player Xavier Francoise at a Waffle House where they accidentally hit it off, but somehow manage to screw things up enough so that they might not meet again. Well, they do meet again thanks to Grace’s ex-con sister, Rachel and Xavier’s family. From there, the two attempt to give their relationship a shot and for various reasons fail in the process.

While the concept of Grace’s sister being an ex-con seems like it could develop into something interesting later on in the book, in my opinion, that part of her past is there just as something for her to talk about with the NFL star she happens to be dating as well. Sure, anybody who goes to jail changes, but how would this character have been any different if she had simply gone to another country for several years and returned? The whole jail background just wasn’t used effectively to establish or further build our interest in this character, although the way it kicks off the novel does make one believe that Rachel’s storyline might be the most interesting.

A good book makes you care about the characters. As your eyes scan the words and turn the pages, you want to know what will happen next. You want to know why the characters are making the decisions they’re making and how they plan on pulling themselves out of these situations. Unfortunately, Toby hasn’t created a novel which does that. Yes, it was interesting that she involved Haitian characters, a woman fresh out of prison, deceitful friends, successful Black women, and a host of other drama-like page turners, but unfortunately how she developed all those things wasn’t as interesting.

As a writer, Wanda Toby truly has the potential to develop another great book, but Drama Factor just isn’t that book. I give this book a ‘C-’ because the entire time I was reading it I was thinking about what else I had in my bag that I could be reading instead. I also give it a ‘C-’ because it wasn’t poorly written, it was just poorly developed.

Dying To WinDying To Win

Category: Political Science

Author: Robert Pape

Publisher: Random House

ISBN: 1400063175

Length: 352 pages

Release Date: May 2005

Synopsis: Suicide terrorism is rising around the world, but there is great confusion as to why. In this paradigm-shifting analysis, University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape has collected groundbreaking evidence to explain the strategic, social, and individual factors responsible for this growing threat. One of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject, Professor Pape has created the first comprehensive database of every suicide terrorist attack in the world from 1980 until today. With striking clarity and precision, Professor Pape uses this unprecedented research to debunk widely held misconceptions about the nature of suicide terrorism and provide a new lens that makes sense of the threat we face.

Bruce Banter Says: Overall: A-

Religious background is never mentioned when Catholics who make up the Irish Republican Army conduct terrorist bombings, news reports say the IRA did this or that. Religious background or in that case Catholicism is not a factor but in the case of terrorist acts by Muslims, Islam is always mentioned, so people in the West continue to operate off stereotypes that is why “Dying To Win” is an important book.

“Dying To Win” is pioneering research into suicide bombing. It explores the strategic, social and individual logic of suicide terrorism. We learn the philosophical difference is that ultimately the purpose of a suicide attack is to kill not to die – death is a by product. This book could easily be entitled “Everything you wanted to know about suicide bombing but were afraid to ask.” This book attempts to document all of the suicide bombings in the world from 1980 to present. Shortly after its release last month government and intelligence agencies began to contact author Robert Pape for his database and insight. Since then Pape has appeared on numerous television talk and radio shows both locally and nationally.

“Dying To Win” is a seemingly oxymoronic title and is causing stirs in Washington, D.C. real fast and even got the author a special congressional meeting to educate politicians last month. It seems as if some in Washington were just informed to the root causes and psychology of suicide terrorism. I find it amazing that with all of the resources government agencies have they, they did not have the information Pape has. Pape alone does not deserve sole credit for this ground breaking book on suicide terrorist. He has a staff of ten people translating and documenting suicide attacks across the globe getting the accounts in Arabic, French, etc.

Pape dispels many myths on suicide terrorism and offers what we call “Did you know” facts, the type of facts that are sure to astonish readers. An example of some these did you know facts are

1. The 1st suicide bombers on record date back to 66 A.D. The first two groups of suicide bombers are both revolutionary Jewish groups. (Zealots and Sicarii)

2. The majority of documented suicide terrorist attacks come from secular groups not Islamic fundamentalist.

3. Few suicide attackers are social misfits, criminally insane, or professional losers. Most fit a nearly opposite profile: typically they are psychologically normal have better than average economic prospects for their communities. They see themselves as sacrificing their lives for the national good (Facts show Suicide Terrorism is often a response to foreign occupation by occupier whose culture is different.) Suicide terrorist don’t need to be recruited, they volunteer, though the majority of volunteers are turned away in search of individuals with the right nerves of steel who won’t change their mind at the last second.

With the current rash of news information discussing the possible Suicide bombings in London and the prospects of a determined suicide bomber visiting any American city, it would be wise for people to try to learn more about it and stop taking action off of misinformation and highly used stereotypes especially. Reading this book has given me a level of understanding for suicide bombers that has taken my thinking in a whole new direction and made my realizations sharp and concise. Today, I quickly understood that while Mayor Bloomberg is using millions of tax payer dollars attempting to lock down the NY transit system with a frivolous bag check, the suicide bomber would not be caught dead – no pun intended, on a NY train. They might instead be on the New Jersey PATH train or using the Atlanta Metro system for dry runs of a bombing scheduled way in advance most likely when the news hype has calmed down. Professor Pape offers lots of information and notable anecdotal but does not get into any of his personal political views discerning if he supports the foreign occupation in Iraq/Afghanistan or if he is against the War in Iraq/Afghanistan. Pape tries to let the information provided be the guide to any opinions. However, its quite clear from the statistical information that those currently supporting foreign occupation of Middle eastern lands are going about controlling the perceived threat wrong and would not have to worry about suicide bombing abroad or at their domestic homes if they choose better policies. In fact Pape says so early on in the book, and doesn’t mention it again stating, “The future need not be grim. Understanding the logic of suicide terrorism can help us pursue the right domestic and foreign policies to contain this deadly threat.” -Nuff Said

Explicit ContentExplicit Content

Category: Fiction

Author: Black Artemis

Publisher: New American Library

ISBN: 0451212754

Length: 332 pages

Release Date: August 2004

Synopsis: Cassandra Rivers and Leila Aponte have been puttin’ it down as Sabrina Steelo and Fatal Beauty on the underground hip hop scene. Even though Cassie dreams of working it like Wu Tang while Leila fantasizes about becoming the Latina Big Pun, it’s all good because they’re as tight in life as they are on the mic. But when G Double D, founder of gangsta rap label Explicit Content, seduces Fatal with promises of solo stardom, she falls for his rap hook, verse, and sample. Burned by Fatal’s betrayal, Sabrina must forge ahead alone, driven to beat her partner-turned-rival to the streets. Before she knows it, Cassie’s drive leads her right into the center of Explicit Content drama. G’s got secrets, none of them good, and Fatal’s in danger. Her bond with Fatal is too deep to deny, and Cassie’s competitiveness quickly turns into concern. But G Double D makes it clear-ride or die. Cassie has to decide what she’s willing to risk to achieve her dream-including Fatal’s friendship and perhaps even her life.

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: A-

“Explicit Content” is a true Hip-Hop Fiction book and there are not many of them that exist today. You can count on one hand, the one’s that exist; a “Hip-Hop Story” by Heru Ptah, “Dakota Grand” by Kenji Jasper, and “Bling” by Erica Kennedy’s immediately come to mind. Most if not all others are hijacking the Hip Hop banner and incorporating it under some mostly negative aspect of street life. If Donald Goines and IceBerg Slim were still alive today the books that they wrote would be marketed under the title Hip-Hop Fiction. If Sanyeka Shakur wrote “Monster” in 2004 it would be called a Hip-Hop autobiography. Real Hip-hop fiction is about some aspect of hip-hop culture or even its main driving force of rap music. The title has become tricky because we have allowed corporations like MTV, VH1, etc to market to hip-hop to those of us who created it. We accept that if Newsweek does a story on Gangsta life books and call it hip-hop literature then it is Hip-Hop.

No, a Hip-Hop fiction book is a book where Hip-Hop subculture is integral to the story, which also means that it may or may not be a book about the music industry. By that correct definition, there have been very few Hip-Hop books. In all due respect the drug dealer turned publisher Vickie Stringer who gets much exposure on the street and even coverage by Newsweek is not a Hip-Hop novelist. There are many street books of this ilk that are hijacking the term Hip-Hop and I am sure you have seen them, so I don’t have to name them all. Unfortunately the term Hip-Hop is used as code for “Black & urban”, but not all things that are Black & urban are Hip-Hop, and vice versa. I think novels about street life should be referred to as street life fiction – end of story. You don’t need to hijack to sell, the only requirement should be a compelling story as Donald Goines can probably attest to.

“Explicit Content” is about 2 girls Cassandra Rivers (Sabrina Steelo) and Lelia Aponte (Fatal Beauty) who chase their dream of becoming Hip-Hop stars from the underground to superstardom on a major label. In their quest for stardom a mogul of a Gangster rap record label named G double D makes it clear they have to literally be willing to ride or die for him. As their desire for fame and fortune is tested through various real life manipulations their friendship is also tested.

The author of this novel who goes by the name of Black Artemis (www.blackartemis.com) is obviously educated in a lot more areas than hip hop. Her language is up to date and real. Artemis’s intricate weaving of complex social, musical and political machinations of the music industry suggest that she could be someone who has actually lived her novel. Many references in the characters dialogue are perfectly timed and when uttered are nothing short of brilliant. The author pens strong retorts by her character just as she is hitting you over the head with the “devils advocate” position. Voiced in real world conversations by industry executives who use insider rhetoric to explain why the term “Bitch” and “Hoe” is acceptable on your radio but the term brown skin woman is censored. One fine example of this is when the main character Sabrina Steelo offered a real world view to the complex villain character G Double D. “For all the talk about merit in our society, brilliantly branded mediocrity will propel you on the top of the heap much faster than old fashioned quality. And like any other phenomenon born on the margins, when hip-hop adopted the same formula, it went from subculture to mainstream.” It’s not preachy. Its either you get it or you don’t and it’s not asking you to side with her but it projects her ideology from a position of strength and at times moral hindsight. Some real world, rap artist names are dropped in an ambiguous manner and depending on the prospective of the reader they might be offended. However the name dropping it is never done with malicious or even satirical intent, but instead to use actual events that have transpired with those artist and their legal outcomes. – Nuf said

Hip-Hop DecodedHip-Hop Decoded

Category: Current Affairs, Pop Culture

Author: The Black Dot

Publisher: MOME Publishing Inc.

ISBN: 097723570X

Length: 288 pages

Release Date: December 2005

Synopsis: The Black Dot is a Writer, Author, Poet and Emcee. He released his first album in 1988, under the infamous B-Boy Records label as the lead Emcee of the rap group “Tall, Dark and Handsome.” In 1994, as a member of the Lethahedz, released the controversial EP “A & R Killer, Da Hip Hop Play,” which uncovered many of the injustices of the rap game that are still relevant today. He toured the world as the hype man for the Bronx legend, Tim Dog, currently does lectures on the science of Hip Hop, and is a contributing writer of the underground Hip Hop Newspaper, 4 Korners.

Ooh Papi Says: Overall: B

The most straight forward language that you will get in this book comes from the foreword by old school emcee Grandmaster Caz. After that Black Dot takes you on a metaphysical journey decoding hip hop for readers using the four elements of earth wind fire and water which are represented by DJ-ing, Emceeing, Break dancing and Graffiti as they relate to four elements of the glorious past the Drum, The Oracle, The Dancer and the hieroglyphics. That right there lets you know this book is not for everyone.

Fans who are commercial Hip-hop enthusiast may be very offended by this book or will be awakened by the array of facts and opinions but there is no middle ground. This timely work will be a great read for those who are new to hip-hop and have not been inundated with its hype and commercialization.

Readers who are accustomed to dealing with English semantics of terms like understanding vs. overstanding will find themselves right at home. The most important characteristic required of readers is that they are open to conspiracy theories even if they offer no proof of its validity. Black Dot goes into controversial territory discussing satanic signs and symbols in hip hop, hip hop and the Illuminati and the idea that hip hop has its own secret society along the lines of a Skull and Bones group. The best thing is that he admits its his opinion and never claims its undisputable, he does however warn that if you don’t believe things simply because they have no sources, references or quotes then you will stay in the closed world of the Matrix. To further entice the reader to think outside the box the author combines articles, stories, poems, rhymes and illustrations to heighten the thought process of the reader to encourage acceptance of the material.

The chapters have very mysterious titles and alluring tones which excite the reader who is able to follow the writers subtle and sublime vernacular code. The book gets tricky at times and reads like a hidden chapter from a Dead Sea Scroll, the author does this intentionally as he believes that this will help the reader decode and process information better however I believe it takes away from the work.

The author slaughters commercial rap images, corporate program directors and rappers who generally fall in the multi platinum category. The author has a lot of esoteric information and has done a lot of research introducing new ideas and concepts never presented before which makes it a page turner, the author however does not package the information in the sort of chronological fashion that leaves a reader feeling complete instead asking you to finish the type of journey that he sets you out on and obviously requires a guide.

A very exciting work that requires a more complete ending but will keep most readers interested even if they are not convinced of all his conspiratorial conclusions. In the end it’s the bravest yet unfounded work on the subject of rap and hip hop I have read . For more on this book is check the website http://www.matrixofhiphop.com

Knock the Hustle: How to Save Your Job and Your Life From Corporate America

Category: Current Affairs, Pop Culture

Author: Hadjii Williams

Publisher: ProdigalPen, Incorporated

ISBN: 1932523006

Length: 384 pages

Release Date: October 2005

Synopsis: Corporate America has been taken under by THE HUSTLE. Business has been reduced to profits over people. Arrogance and formulas over innovation. Agendas and alliances over opportunities. Constructs and schemes over consumers and communities. Paradigms over good business sense. But the revolution is here and KNOCK THE HUSTLE is the blueprint. Written by Hadji Williams, a respected 14-year vet of the marketing and advertising industries and product of Chicago’s south and west sides, KNOCK THE HUSTLE strips away all the tired B-school jargon, then serves up uncanny wisdom, and innovative solutions from a streetwise level that’s guaranteed to empower everyone from CEO’s and secretaries to students and consumers to change the corporate game for good. With its professional yet lyrical flow, KNOCK THE HUSTLE effortlessly exposes the corporate game-rules, players, pitfalls, and all from top to bottom, inside and out. Williams effortlessly blends exclusive insights and unforgettable true-life stories with whip-smart case studies featuring Fortune 500 leaders (AT&T, Mercedes Benz, BBDO, etc.) The result is what many are already calling “the business book of the future.”

Bruce Banter Says: Overall: B+

In this latest “how to guide”, author Hadjii Williams gives it to audiences “straight with no chaser” and offers up a clear and powerful analysis of corporate thinking, that comes more from the “University of Hard Knocks” than it does from a Fortune 500 Presentation. Despite ones academic or social background, I doubt anybody will say that they can’t relate to this book even with its over abundance of Hip-hop related clichés.

Williams offers his best writing yet and relates his very personal experiences and dare we say corporate culture shock to audiences of all backgrounds. Williams can write but his power lies in his ability to relay his experiences to readers. Knock the Hustle is written well enough that it could easily have been published by a major publishing giant if he so desired, however Williams stayed true to his idea of not getting pimped by any corporations by self publishing, noting that if he had went with a traditional publishing house; he would have gotten about 10% in royalties plus advance money. William states that “if I had accepted that role I would have gotten a dime for every dollar for a book that I wrote all by myself and will have to work non-stop to promote by himself.”

Williams could have called the book- “This is your life!” It’s one of those rare books where virtually every single chapter can stand alone as a unique segment or chapter without the rest of the book. If adapted into a movie it probably would best be told by a Spike Lee, or some other director with a unique way of conveying the African American experience. Although Williams acknowledges that he is often told he sounds white there is no denying his general experiences grab the ear of blacks with a special sensitivity, while still appealing to all working class people. Ironically the urban grit of growing up on the south side Chicago gave Williams the sort of street smarts that allowed him to maneuver through the underbelly of treacherous waters infested with racism and elitism that made him swim faster before eventually buying a boat.

The audience’s journey with Williams is also about the author’s day by day discovery of who he was or is and intensifies once Williams acknowledges that, yes he initially wanted in to their world, but upon further review he sees it for what it is. An exploitive, back stabbing, sneaky, politically charged, racist grind run by good ole boys and nepotism. In short Williams comes to turns with the corporate world an illusion of success and we are left wondering why it took him so long to notice this and honor his experiences with self-determination and entrepreneurial spirit, and also, why those of us in the same boat have not done anything in our daily struggle of going through all that he has. Williams gets into the business of coining terms for his readers, giving a list of do’s and don’ts and anecdotal humor that is troubling yet brimming with oxymoronic meaning. I suggest making “Knock the Hustle” required reading for those pondering their future in the workplace.

The Last SeasonThe Last Season: A Team in Search of It’s Soul

Category: Biography, Sports

Author: Phil Jackson, Michael Arkush

Publisher: The Penguin Press

ISBN: 1594200351

Length: 288 pages

Release Date: October 2004

Synopsis: One of the most successful coaches in the history of basketball offers his personal account of a season like no other-the extraordinary ride of the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers. From the signing of the future Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton, to the intricacies of managing difficult relationships and public feuds, facing Shaq’s injuries, contract disputes, and team meltdowns, all in the shadow of the Kobe Bryant trial-slash-media circus, Phil Jackson somehow guided his team through to its fourth NBA Finals in his five years as its coach. With explosive revelations and never-before-told insights, Jackson brings to life this amazing season coaching a team as talented, and as troubled as any he’s ever known.

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: B+

What is it like to coach four future Hall of Fame players on one basketball team? As you can imagine, it’s drama. There is so much talk in the news about the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, and his relationships with his teammates, but it’s usually a sound bite of what was happening. However, Phil Jackson gives us 270 pages of real talk about what that last season was like. This book offers insight into a one of Basketball’s most storied franchises during the 2004 Season and it is a must read for any Lakers fans. Let me cut to the chase, according to what Phil Jackson writes in his book the Lakers just had problems all around, more infighting than most teams but the biggest problem was Kobe’s personality. Actually after reading this book, I have changed my opinion of Kobe; he comes out looking very bad. I still don’t think he raped that girl but I sure think he has two sides of his personality and through his coach we get closer to that other side. Phil said this book was 15-years in the making but it only looks at the last season and if it had come out and Katelyn Faber had taken Kobe to trial it would have been a problem for Kobe. Jackson admits that his relationship with Kobe had fallen apart so one can claim some bias, but this book comes from Phil Jackson’s journal, which means little anecdotal notations of events were listed each day and people view these things pretty much as accurate since they are documented as they happen. He even mentions some unwise moves he made that affected last season, for example, Phil said he gave Rick Telander a interview in 2001 and he mentioned to him some comments that he thought were supposed to be off the record. To be specific Phil mentioned to Rick that that he had been told that in high school Kobe “Sabotaged games to keep them close enough for him to dominate at the end.” Needless to say the quote appeared verbatim in Rick’s story sparking a major uproar and Kobe was heated about Phil telling people that. In retrospect Phil says he should have known better than to repeat that but Kobe simmered with it unbeknownst to him until one day during a teem meeting /argument when Rick Fox said that both Shaq and Kobe act like they are apart from the team. Shaq then began to respond when Kobe cut him off. “Quit your crying!” Kobe said. Phil then jumped in and said “Kobe you’re as much to blame as Shaq is, if not more” to which Kobe responded, “You’re the one who should Fucking talk, you said I sabotaged games”. But this sort of language is all throughout thee book, again it’s real talk and its entertaining and factual.

Phil paints Kobe as almost schizophrenic, not in the clinical sense of the word but in the fact that he was sending out mixed messages, forgetting things he said and he highlights this in many examples throughout the book. “Shaq didn’t call me this summer,” Kobe told Mitch Kupchak (General Manager of Lakers). “Kobe, I gave you a message from Him Mitch responded. He invited you to Orlando to get away from everything” to which Kobe retorted “Shaq didn’t have to leave a message through you, he said, he knew how to reach me.” (In fact Shaq had called him several times and Kobe had not returned any of his calls just like with Phil Jackson). More importantly his sentiments showed that while he insists that he doesn’t give a shit what the big guy does but on the other hand, he shows he cares a great deal about what the big guy does. This sort of behavior had Phil bring in a narcissism behavior therapist to help him deal with Kobe, this says a lot because Phil was the one coach who was able to handle the crazed aspect of Dennis Rodman. The most disturbing mention on Kobe is his selfishness – Phil says he is the only player in the NBA to vote against the collective bargaining agreement and that he had the nerve to want the Lakers to pay for a better jet for him to go back and forth to Colorado when they were merely doing a favor for him.

What of Gary Payton, well Phil said he lost a step on the court but he was still just as quick to talk shit on the court until he was getting his ass busted by quicker guards like Mike Bibby and Tony Parker (That’s almost verbatim). Gary never really picked up the Triangle Offense but neither did Karl. By the way Tex Winters is still the major architect of that offense that is why he is always at each game next to Phil Jackson so I won’t say it’s easy to learn. Although Phil never really wanted Karl Malone he was good for the team to be an arbitrator between Kobe and Shaq.

Phil disses the dirt on non-Laker players also. He mentions in detail the problems with the Laker top brass who moved him out because they worship Kobe and believed he would be able to sell merchandise for another 10 years because he’s a young star. Being fired by the Lakers was hard for him because he was dating the daughter of the Laker’s owner Jerry Buss. Jeanie tried to hint certain things to him but he was too blinded to see it. She was caught in between her dad and her lover. My one complaint is not about anything in the book but about Phil Jackson he constantly whines in the book about the same phantom missed calls that he thought the refs missed in the championship game. But in the end he admits the Pistons were simply better than them although earlier in the season he wrote in his journal that the Pistons were not that good and how he was still confident that the Pistons would lose to them until it was over, it seems that the Lakers had that arrogant flair also and that contributed to their loss.

Lyrical SwordsLyrical Swords: Hip-Hop and Politics in the Mix Vol. I

Category: Current Affairs, Pop Culture

Author: Adisa Banjoko

Publisher: YinSumi Press

ISBN: 0970177119

Length: 115 pages

Release Date: September 2004

Synopsis: A powerful collection of essays and interviews that discus the political, social, and spiritual trends within the Hip-Hop sub-culture.

Jupiter Hammon Says: Overall: B

With his profound knowledge and insiders view of the culture, the self-professed “Bishop of Hip-Hop” delivers a short but thorough read of essays and interviews from the last 8 years. Banjoko’s approach to the culture is that of a Rhodes’ Scholar, one of Mind, Body, and Spirit. Indeed, if Hip-Hop is to remain a viable culture or subculture it has to nurture those 3 things. This is the man who challenged KRS-ONE to a debate on his Temple of Hip-Hop arguing that Hip-Hop is a subculture and should not be consider a “religion” or way of life. Although this debate is absent from Lyrical Swords, Banjoko’s synergistic view of the culture comes through in this book which is equally split into Politics and Spirituality. The author explores the myth of Hip Hop protest, the relationship between Hip-Hop and Eastern Culture (namely the martial arts), and Hip-Hop and Islam and how both influence its political economy. Although he comes from an Islamic perspective as a devout Muslim, one important observation Banjoko makes is how the Black Church turned it’s back on Hip Hop during it’s infancy while Islam (through the Nation of Islam, Nation of Gods & Earths, etc.) was more accepting.

Given the books brevity, I won’t get into too many of the details to avoid giving “spoilers.” Banjoko ends the book by giving a semi-biographical sketch of his life in the culture he loves and implores people outside of the culture not to “fear” Hip Hop. A quote from the book that provides the best summary of it’s contents is, “Hip Hop, by itself, is not intrinsically good or bad. It can free minds, build schools, keep peace in the streets, build racial and spiritual bridges and help one gain self-mastery and authentic awe for God’s light. On the other hand, it can enclose youth in their own little cocoon of jealousy, poverty, self-hate, racial animosity and fratricide and help people cultivate the darkness inside themselves.”

Lyrical Swords is an good book that offers a counterbalanced view of Hip-Hop against the contemporary grain of materialism, sexism, and gangsterism.

Out of GasOut of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil

Category: Current Affairs

Author: David Goodstein

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.

ISBN: 0393058573

Length: 128 pages

Release Date: January 2004

Synopsis: In this book, David Goodstein, professor of physics at Caltech, explains the underlying scientific principles of the inevitable fossil fuel crisis we face, and the closely related peril to the Earth’s climate. The discovery of any natural resource, oil included, rises rapidly at first, but the rate of discovery eventually reaches a peak that will never be exceeded, and declines forever after that. In the 1950s, when America’s military and industrial might arose largely from the fact that it was the world’s leading producer of oil, a geophysicists named M. King Hubbert, realizing that the discovery peak had already passed, predicted that oil production in the Lower 48 would reach its highest point around 1970 and would decrease rapidly after that. To the surprise of nearly everyone, he turned out to be right. Now a number of petroleum geologists have pointed out that worldwide discovery of oil peaked decades ago. As oil fields continue to be depleted and new discovery, including advances in oil technology, fails to keep up, the prospect of a global Hubbert’s peak looms before us.

Eyecalone Says: Overall: D

As vice provost and Frank J. Gilloon Distinguished Teaching and Service Professor at the California Institute of Technology, David Goodstein’s teaching credentials are impeccable. As an author, he apparently has much to learn. As the price of oil continues to inch upward on the international markets, the issue of it’s depletion has not quite reached prominence in the media. However, recently there has been a spate of books coming out regarding this monumental issue. While Goodstein is apparently knowledgeable about the subject matter this is a terrible book to look to for the layman just trying to understand the issue and it’s significance. Out of Gas is presented as if it’s going to explain the issue and it does, but in a way that is not that useful for most people. Out of Gas documents that the crisis is real and Goodstein is not someone who can be dismissed as an alarmist, but instead of dealing with the impact of the oil crisis, explaining energy alternatives, and how it will affect our daily lives Goodstein essentially turns this short work (only 128 pages), into an extremely long and boring lecture on thermo-dynamics and geology. It’s almost false advertising, as Goodstein seems to have set out to exact revenge on his students that did not pay attention in his physics class. What little information is provided regarding alternatives, seems to be mostly devoted to Goodstein promoting the nuclear industry. The issue of oil depletion is extremely important and will become increasingly prominent once the media is forced to give it the attention it deserves, but if you want to understand the true significance of the issue this is not the book with which to do it.

Party's OverThe Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies

Category: Current Affairs

Author: Richard Heinberg

Publisher: New Society Publishers

ISBN: 0865714827

Length: 288 pages

Release Date: March 2003

Synopsis: Richard Heinberg, from Santa Rosa, California, has been writing about energy resources issues and the dynamics of cultural change for many years. A member of the core faculty at New College of California, he is an award-winning author of three previous books. His Museletter was nominated for its “Best Alternative Newsletter” award by Utne Reader in 1993. This book explores the political and economic impact of oil depletion, recommending a managed transition to a low-energy sustainable society and a global program of resource sharing in light of the imminent decline of world oil supplies.

Eyecalone: Overall: A-

Imagine that the world is quickly running out of cheap oil and that within the next few years, global production will peak. Thereafter, even if industrial societies begin to switch to alternative energy sources, they will have less net energy each year to do all the work essential to the survival of complex societies. We would be entering a new era; a post-oil era, as different from the industrial era as the latter was from medieval times. Unfortunately, humanity probably won’t have to imagine this scenario for long.

In The Party’s Over, Richard Heinberg attmepts to place the momentous transition in historical context, showing how industrialism arose from the harnessing of fossil fuels, how competition to control access to oil shaped the geopolitics of the 20th century, and how contention for dwindling energy resources in the 21st century will lead to resource wars in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South America. Heinberg describes the likely impacts of oil depletion, goes through the Pros and Cons of the known energy alternatives. He predicts chaos unless the U.S. — the world’s largest oil consumer — is willing to join with other countries to implement a global program of resource conservation and sharing, he also recommends a “managed collapse” that might make way for a slower-paced, low-energy, sustainable society in the future. This book’s subject matter and historical chronology offers added context and understanding to many of the world’s current resource conflicts.

I’ve read critiques of this book and the biggest negatives people listed were that the author is apparently “biased” against some alternative energy sources (nuclear) Vs others, and the author is too pessimistic. The first critique is debatable, but to be honest I’m no fan of nuclear energy myself; the second is almost silly in light of what this book is about. When dealing with subject matter of such monumental importance, depletion of oil, the author has no obligation to be optimistic. Quite frankly, modern industrial society simply does not function without access to cheap, accessible, and plentiful oil – and when it’s no longer available, this will NOT be a pleasant situation. Ultimately the question must be asked, has humanity done what is necessary to make the transition bearable? That question remains to be answered but according to Richard Heinberg, it doesn’t look good especially in the U.S.. The Party’s Over is probably one of the most readable works on the issue of oil depletion. It tackles the history, the current context, and the future and current social implications. It even makes suggestions for personal, community, national, and global action. I highly recommend this work for anyone serious about understanding this increasingly important issue.

Picture Me Rollin'Picture Me Rollin’

Category: Fiction

Author: Black Artemis

Publisher: Penguin Group

ISBN: 0451215133

Length: 302 pages

Release Date: June 2005

Synopsis: In this hardcore novel of love and betrayal, a female ex-con moved by the power, poetry, and dangerous passion of Tupac Shakur has plans to play it straight and do the right thing for her future survival. But her lover Jesus, the man she went to prison for on a gun possession charge, is intent on bringing her back into his game. She finds herself caught between inescapable yet contradictory forces-the passion for the streets and the inspiration of her conscience, just like her idol Pac. With righteous anger to burn, she’s got to pull her life together before it’s too late.

Author Biography: Black Artemis is a hip-hop activist, writer, and speaker in New York City. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University and has worked with many social justice organizations throughout the country. Artemis is also a screenwriter who has won recognition for her work. She lives in the Bronx, where she was born and raised, and enjoys working with youths to find their voice through art and politics.

Ooh Papi Says: Overall: A

I happen to do some internet radio surfing one day and came across this unapologetic female hip hop author named Black Artemis she was discussing her latest book Picture Me Rollin’. In the interview she was just telling the truth about everything in Hip-Hop and everybody in Hip-Hop. The woman questioned the politics of one of the most politicized groups in hip hop, Dead Prez, and the most popular commercial acts in a way that I had not witnessed. Shortly after she revealed that she was an activist and public speaker. After hearing her I had to pick up the book.

The story is really simple at its base, we get a tale of love and betrayal. It’s a story intentionally written and told from a female and feminist point of view. The body of work encompasses all the drama that other street books of its kind offers but it fully explores the drama and tells a street wise story with 3 dimensional repercussions. Since more women read these books than men and very few are writing in this way. I personally have to consider this book ground breaking. I later discovered Playahata.com gets a shout out in the prelude but I was unaware of that until I had finished writing this review.

Again this may sound like your average street novel but its far from that because the author is so knowledgeable. She does not leave weak political analysis unchecked and she attempts to clear up the slightest contradictions. Black Artemis captures the appeal of hip-hop for young Latinas at the same time she criticizes the culture’s violent codes of masculinity. Although I am also Puerto Rican the book does not appeal to me on that level it appeals to me on a real and raw level because it challenges me as a male in Hip-Hop fan and tries to hurt my feelings. As a writer, she starts with where people are and tries to show them something different. In hip-hop there’s a big emphasis on keeping it real, but what if what’s real needs to change. Those who don’t mind being challenged will be attracted to the novel and the authenticity, the writer shows them that it doesn’t have to be this way. Ironically I realize that her core audience is young women of color, which I am not. She simply writes fiction for women who love hip hop, even when hip hop fails to love them in return. There isn’t a lot of room for complexity for women in hip-hop. Rap music is very aggressive; a lot of men are uncomfortable with women using that kind of power. The author seems to revel in this and wants to challenge the way men think about women. I left asking the question, “why is that we only see one kind of masculinity out there?” For all the authors righteousness I still knew that there’s was going to be a violent end. I was a little disappointed in what happened with Esperanza the lead female protagonist but I guess it wouldn’t be a true moral tale if there weren’t endings like the one this book entails.

Confessions of an Economic HitmanConfessions of an Economic Hitman

Category: Autobiography

Author: John Perkins

Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

ISBN: 1576753018

Length: 250 pages

Release Date: November 2004

Synopsis: In this riveting personal story, John Perkins tells of his own inner journey from willing servant of empire to impassioned advocate for the rights of oppressed people. Covertly recruited by the United States National Security Agency and on the payroll of an international consulting firm, he traveled the world-to Indonesia, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other strategically important countries. His job was to implement policies that promoted the interests of the U.S. corporatocracy (a coalition of government, banks, and corporations) while professing to alleviate poverty-policies that alienated many nations and ultimately led to September 11 and growing anti-Americanism. Perkins’ story illuminates just how far he and his colleagues-self-described as economic hit men-were willing to go. He explains, for instance, how he helped to implement a secret scheme that funneled billions of Saudi Arabian petrodollars back into the U.S. economy, and that further cemented the intimate relationship between the Islamic fundamentalist House of Saud and a succession of American administrations. Perkins reveals the hidden mechanics of imperial control behind some of the most dramatic events in recent history, such as the fall of the Shah of Iran, the death of Panamanian president Omar Torrijos, and the U.S. invasions of Panama and Iraq. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which many people warned Perkins not to write, exposes the little known inner workings of a system that fosters globalization and leads to the impoverishment of millions of people across the planet. It is a compelling story that also offers hope and a vision for realizing the American dream of a just and compassionate world that will bring us greater security.

Eyecalone Says: Overall: A+

If Confessions of an Economic Hitman is not the most important book to come out in recent memory, then it is possibly the most sincere. This book is a an absolute must read, not just for the “converted” or seasoned students of imperialism, but for the average U.S. citizen who generally understands so little about the world outside the United States that it is almost criminal. Fortunately the book is written in the best possible manner to foster understanding even for someone who knows and understands nothing about transnational banks, U.S. foreign policy, international politics, or international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Prior to writing this book Perkins worked for the United States National Security Agency and several international consulting firms. His job basically consisted of traveling the world and convincing the leaders of “under-developed nations” to accept loans from the IMF and World Bank. The official line was that the money would be used to expand the developing nations infrastructure of roads, railways, electrical power, and communications and, thereby, bring prosperity to these countries but the true aim was to generate lucrative contracts for multinational, mostly U.S.-based, construction companies and to lure nations into loans they could never repay. In the process a few politicians and well-connected families within those countries would become wealthy while the standard of living for most of the people would decline. As a corporate “economist” part of Perkin’s job was to deliberately exaggerate the potential for economic return on these investments, which inevitably led to these situations. It was at this point that the lending agencies and foreign corporations would move in to take control of the nation’s resources and government, and that, too, was part of the plan. In essence this is manner in which modern Capitalism and imperialism work, where conquest by the bomb has given way to conquest by the loan. It is only in the case where these institutions prove too slow or not persuasive enough that “force” enters the equation.

Mr. Perkins was a key part of this system and he is a man with a heavy conscious because he was not wholly ignorant of what he was doing when helping to subjugate these developing nations. But like so many Perkins had convinced himself that what he was doing would best for these nations in the long run and in addition he was paid handsomely. His confession is a vivid and enthralling portrait of denial, greed, regret, and human frailty as even the writing of this book was delayed several times by unofficial “bribes”, in the form of sweetheart consulting jobs, and threats from former employers. Perkins’s prose is clear and his story compelling and the book reads like a fiction novel, the only problem being, that his story is anything but fiction. Only time will tell if this book will bring Mr. Perkins the atonement and solace that he apparently desires, but even if it doesn’t it needed to written as it will be extremely educational for most people. Perkins offers suggestions on how to effect real, positive change, and although I would probably not agree that his suggestions go far enough, we do agree on what step must be taken first, and that step is education. Perkins message is clear; if the U.S. is to become a moral nation worthy of emulating then it will be up to informed citizens to make it change the way it does business at a very fundamental level.

ReallionaireReallionaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich from the Inside Out

Category: Biography, Motivational

Author: Farrah Gray, With Fran Harris

Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated

ISBN: 0757302246

Length: 282 pages

Release Date: January 2005

Synopsis: A remarkable teenager who went from public assistance to a million dollar net worth shares his story and offers 9 key principles to success. Farrah Gray is no ordinary teenager. He wears a suit and tie; he has an office on Wall Street and another one in Los Angeles . . . and he sold his first business at the age of 14 for more than a million dollars. He invested that money in a partnership with Inner City Broadcasting, one of the most prominent African-American owned businesses in the country, and now is heading the re-launch of their signature magazine, InnerCity. According to People magazine, Farrah is the only African-American teenager to rise from public assistance to a business mogul without being in entertainment or having a family connection. Reallionaire tells Farrah’s extraordinary and touching story. When he was just six, Farrah’s mother became seriously ill, prompting his decision to provide for this family, and he spent the first $50 he ever made taking them for a real sit-down dinner. At the age of eight, he founded his first business club. By fourteen, with a million dollars in his pocket, Farrah was well on his way to business success. Each stage of Farrah’s progress is marked by one of the principles of success he learned along the way, creating not just an extraordinary story but also a step-by-step primer for others to create success in their own lives with honor; charity and compassion. In the tradition of great motivators and leaders, this is both an instructional book and a story to inspire others to live life to the fullest. And readers don’t have to be interested in business to enjoy it. In fact, Farrah is a role model for everyone-just think of him as a Les Brown for the 21st century.

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: B+

It’s funny that every time you turn around you hear brothers talking about “I’m a Hustler, I‘m Hustling, I‘m grinding, I am on my grind,” and all these adjectives about how entrepreneurial they are. It seems that they are yelling about their ability to do many things to get money legal or illegal on the radio and in everyday conversation but those really hustling and doing it legitimately are often ignored in the same communities.

I find such is the case with Farrah Gray, who became a millionaire at just 14 years old. He started hustling at age 6 after his mother became ill. The young venture capitalist is now seasoned at 20-years-old. Farrah’s hustles or business ventures range from 1-Stop Mail Boxes & More, pre-paid phone cards 4 kids, Farr-Out Foods, the Teenscope interactive teen talk show, a comedy show on the Las Vegas Strip, the NE2W Fund to support young entrepreneurs, and InnerCity magazine, a joint venture with Inner City Broadcasting, Inc. The kid has his hand in everything. People from all walks of life can and should know about him. He was just an average kid from very humble beginnings and I think all can relate to him. This book is the perfect graduation present for a child graduating high school.

He can teach a lot of people about business and his business acumen is right up there with the richest people and even surpasses many of them, particularly celebrity entertainers. He actually understands how to make money in most any field. He doesn’t have celebrity status, he doesn’t dunk or sing. Entertainers and athletes have the luxury of being able to leverage their celebrity and celebrity status through PR firms to get endorsement money for games, commercial products, movies, etc but that is not really “hustling”.

He might have always had a little something extra as business woman Wendy Day of Rap Coalition says, “Most Kids his age are like, ‘Let’s go to the mall.’ Farrah is like let’s build a mall.” What he has done its worthy of praise and according to People magazine, Farrah is the only African-American teenager to rise from public assistance to a business mogul without being in entertainment or having a family connection of wealth.” That’s a double edged sword because while it shows how much he has accomplished it shows a contrast of how the African American community in general waste the majority of their genius dealing with entertainment activity.

On the other hand Farrah realized early on that his chances at success were much better if he chose a path outside of entertainment. He stopped watching a lot of TV and began watching the people around him and reading books. He had lots of support from his mother and his father who although he didn’t live with them was part of his life.

Farrah is a role model. He has seemingly handled his success well and hasn’t become supped up although he would have reason to after rubbing elbows with President Clinton, Michael Milken, H. Wayne Huizenga, Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and many other business and political leaders. But this kid is real inside and out in fact the title of his Book Reallionaire is a word he coined which means Rich In spirit and in financial terms.

The spiritual component that he incorporates into his book makes it a joy to read and you can appreciate what he has done because the balance is so obvious. Farrah uniquely presents his book as a motivational resource and an instructional book with 9 Philosophical Chapters on business

His story will definitely inspire other kids and parents despite whether or not they enjoy business. It’s written in a very simple and easy to read format. If you are not already filthy rich, then you will likely find this to be a good, light read but don’t expect to be a millionaire because you read it, or more importantly, if you are working for somebody else.

Rising from the RailsRising From The Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class

Category: American History

Author: Larry Tye

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated

ISBN: 0805070753

Length: 314 pages

Release Date: July 2004

Synopsis: From the 1860s, when George Pullman first hired African-Americans to work on his luxury sleeping cars, until the mid-twentieth century, when the Pullman Company ended its sleeper service, the Pullman porter held one of the best jobs in the black community and one of the worst on the train. He was maid and valet, nanny and doctor, concierge and occasional undertaker to cars full of white passengers. His very presence embodied the romance of the railroad. But behind the porter’s ever-present smile lay a day-by-day struggle for dignity on the long trips that separated him from his family while exposing him to the more privileged culture of well-heeled riders. Rising from the Rails depicts the paradox of life as a Pullman porter and writes a missing chapter of American history. Larry Tye vividly re-creates the singular setting of a Pullman sleeping car, a capsule of space and time where all the rules of racial engagement came into focus and many were suspended — so long as the train was moving. The dichotomy of the porter’s working life — duties not far removed from slavery, opportunities not available to other black workers in Jim Crow America — made him both a representative of his time and a trailblazer. The period of the porter’s employment by the Pullman Company coincides almost exactly with the struggle of newly freed slaves for the full legal freedoms finally achieved in the 1960s, and his largely unrecognized role in this struggle was critical. As the patriarch of black labor unions and the civil rights movement, he was among the first African-Americans to effectively claim a right to respect. He was also the father and grandfather of the African-Americans who today run cities and states, sit on corporate and editorial boards, and number among this country’s leading professors, scientists, and clergy. Drawing on extensive interviews with dozens of African-American railroad workers and their descendants, Rising from the Rails tells the quintessentially American story of how a minority finds a foothold in the workplace and the nation’s psyche.

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: A

The Pullman Porters are probably the most overlooked contributors to Black History. Although nobody thinks of Black History Month and Pullman Porters simultaneously, they will if they read this book. That may be a double edged sword because their is a vast wealth of information inside the pages of this hard copy that should be shared year round. Larry Tye tells this story in a way that is probably more difficult for documentary films but as a book it is a gem. I used to always feel that anytime a white man put so much energy and pride into documenting important niche history of people of African descent it came with a catch-22 of some sorts. However it comes through the pages to the reader that Tye simply realizes that this is a story that needs to be told, documented and archived as history for the world. This is simply history. The time, sensitivity and effort that it took him to go back and find Pullman Porters (those still alive very old) and their family is incredible and the passion of this subject comes through in each page.

Tye objectively examines how porters developed a unique culture marked by idiosyncratic language, railroad lore, and shared experience. This aspect is especially important because you can’t see train porters anymore, except in the movies and after you read this book, you will assuredly agree that no black porter in any movie has really captured their role and service to our community.

Tye reconstructs the very complicated world of the Black Pullman porter, and provides a “never before told” look at this important social phenomenon. Prior to the civil rights movement, African Americans dominated the Train services industry greater than African American athletes dominant the NBA today. Amtrak and the whole railway service was built on the labor and dedication of African-American employees.

If the legacy of African Americans societal status and economic gains in 2005 are viewed as being from some type of entertainer, like a comedian or basketball player. In the 1930′s the economical staying power was being a Pullman Porter. In fact they formed America’s first black trade union, and pioneered the modern black middle class by virtue of their social position and income. Some Porters could earn great money, as much as doctors & lawyers and although many aspects of their work was degrading and humbling, it still attracted many, even if only temporarily (A. Phillip Randolph and Malcolm X just to name a few). In fact some doctors and lawyers opted to become porters because of the money. Working the trains was a institution in itself with blacks working as maid, waiter, tailor, nanny, and occasionally doctor, and undertaker to cars full of white passengers, making the Pullman Company the largest employer of African American men in the country by the 1920s.

Porters were information conduits in Black community since they traveled a lot they spread news by viewing newspapers in different states and carrying them to the next state and sharing first hand information. They played important social, political, and economic roles, carrying jazz and blues to outlying areas and until now a look at this sort of fraternization of Porters had not been researched. Rarely does one read something and feel like only that person could have told that story, but after reading this book I felt that way about Larry Tye, who composes this history from oral interviews, old newspapers, train company records, and other rare archival material. – Nuff said.

Secrets of the TombSecrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League and the Hidden Paths of Power

Category: Current Affairs

Author: Alexandra Robbins

Publisher: Back Bay Books

ISBN: 0316720917

Length: 240 pages

Release Date: September 2003

Synopsis: The cloak-and-dagger secrecy of Yale University’s secret society known as Skull and Bones has prompted people worldwide to attribute to it some of the most staggering conspiracies in modern history. From the society’s nearly windowless crypt in the middle of the Yale campus, the Bonesmen, it is said, plot to dominate the world. In this widely acclaimed book, Alexandra Robbins slips through the veil of myth to reveal the truth about Skull and Bones’ operations and influence, and explains why this old-boy 19th century throwback still thrives in 21st-century America. Author Biography: Alexandra Robbins has been a staff writer for The New Yorker and has written for numerous magazines and newspapers. A Yale graduate herself and member of another secret society, she lives in the Washington, D. C., area.

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: B+

Secrets of the Tomb is informative, and to some degree, a mind blowing investigative account about the Secret Societies of Ivy League Universities. It focuses on the most well known Society of them all, the Skull and Bones Order (322), which has drawn international attention since its founding in 1832. The organization that worshipped the goddess Eulogia, celebrated pirates and plotted an underground conspiracy to dominate the world reads like a horror movie on the surface. Admittedly it is a sinister outgrowth of the notorious 18th century society of the Illuminati and the strict confidentiality of its members has helped ensure its allure to the rest of society or the public at large, which means us regular people, who they refer to as “Barbarians” are captivated by the idea that we are kept out of the tiny click.

Robbins attempts to down play her findings a she is tempered by her own personal experience of joining a secret elitist organization. One would be naïve to think that she tells all that she knows, but she helps paint a very realistic scenario of what Skull& Bones really is, what the Ivy League is about, and the unspoken and the not so hidden paths of power. Luckily for readers, Robbins, sticks to factual inside accounts of these good ole boys networks, which can be likened to an international mafia of sorts, when examining their business dealings.

Robbins is not blind to the fact that readers want to know primarily about the most captivating and mysterious order. Therefore some readers may be disappointed that Secrets of the Tomb is not linear in its outlay of Secret Societies and does not solely focus on all the information on the Brotherhood of Death a.k.a. the order of Skull & Bones (322). But the histories and parallels of other societies like Wolfs Head, Scroll and Key etc are discussed also to give the readers a complete understanding of the culture of secret society because only through this broad view can Skull & Bones be properly judged by the laymen public. It’s not enough to observe that Skull& Bones places a disproportionate amount of power and influence solely in the hands of a small cult of wealthy, prominent families, in essence a “politicized eugenics” project that exist today like a modern dynasty. Unfortunately for you and I, “Dynasty subverts Democracy” a fact we must understand and must never forget. If you don’t understand that statement read the book and you will.

Today Skulls & Bones has carved its tentacles into every corner of American Society, at the time of this review writing both the President (George Bush Jr.) and the Presidential Challenger (John Kerry) for the Presidency of the United States are members of 322. The order of the 322 is in every major research, policy, News, financial, media, and government institution in the country. One specific example is that 2 of its members hatched both Time and Newsweek magazines, 2 major news outlets. Robbins reveals many amazing facts like Skull & Bones corporate shell, the Russell Trust Association owns nearly all of Yale Universities real estate as most of the land in Connecticut, every president who attended Yale as an undergraduate was a member of Skull & bones. The most important thing that Robbins does is removing much of the secrecy and allow readers to recognize the fiction and hype from the reality. She proves her inside knowledge by revealing for the first time who has been a member, and what that membership has meant, the line names of members, secret initiation rites, Robbins takes us inside the Tomb, and on to Skull and Bones’ private island.

I find it ironic that this that this book was written by a female Yale Alumnus and a member of a secret society herself. The irony being that secret societies did not allow women members until the last 20 years, so I found it extremely interesting that a female secret society member offer us our 1st insiders look. Her being an attractive women has probably been a factor in getting many Bonesmen to talk about what really happens inside the Tomb, and exactly what influence the organization really wields or perhaps as she hints because some of them are tired of the Skull and Bones legend, of the claims of conspiracy theorists and some of their fellow Bonesmen. In the end I think the author sums the book up best when she says, “What follows, then, is the truth about Skull and Bones. And if that truth does not contain all of the conspiratorial elements that the Skull and Bones legend projects, it is perhaps all the more interesting for this fact. The story of Skull and Bones is not just the story of a remarkable secret society, but a remarkable society of secrets, some with basis in truth, some nothing but fog. Much of the way we understand the world of power involves myriad assumptions of connection and control, of cause and effect, and of coincidence that surely cannot be coincidence.” -Nuff said

Sunshine Has RainSunshine Has Rain

Category: Fiction

Author: Sherrance Henderson

Publisher: Imperious Publishing

ISBN: 0975862413

Length: 322 pages

Release Date: October 2004

Synopsis: Channa Renee Jones has it all! standing at 5-feet-8-inches tall, she’s every man’s fantasy and every woman’s secret envy. Channa, the only Black executive at Morgan Pharmaceuticals makes over $100,000 dollars and relies on materialism to make her happy. Channa, the female baller, attracts the most sought after brothers in New York City. First, we have Kevin Dean Walker, head of operations for the New York Knicks. Kevin is 100% milk chocolate, big hands, big feet and…well, he’s big in all the right places. Then there’s Jarell, the Creole brother born into money and the CEO of the largest and oldest Black-owned insurance company on Wall Street. Her girls are September, Deja, Pam, and Nykasha. They too like the finer things in life. Channa’s girlfriends share good times with the finest of drinks…Louie the 13th shots. They party with Hip-Hop money makers at night and shop at Nieman Marcus by day. Channa is living the life. But in a flash, the life that Channa becomes accustomed to is taken away. Her strength is tested and her faith is challenged as she watches helplessly when her world quickly crumbles. Her degree from Howard does not help, her MBA from Columbia is merely a name, and her beauty is forgotten. She is lost! Will Channa, the self-absorbed diva make it? will she be able to regain her life, as she once knew it? Will Channa recall the most powerful tool of them all, or has she forgotten?

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: A-

If you look at the cover of this book and see the pretty and delicate face of Channa you might mistake this book for your typical street novel of deceit and drama, but Sunshine has Rain is more of a tale of inspiration and going from the grit to glory in a story that is already ready for primetime. On the website of Sunshine has Rain (ImperiousPublishing.com) author, Sherrance Henderson, already has a movie clip for the book, so it’s obvious that I am not the only one who can see this as a movie or at least a show on the Lifetime Channel. However the Lifetime Channel might not be the best place for this story because the main character Channa, transcends her conflicts with men in an encompassing tale that moves near the realm of religious testimony.

Channa goes from a petty bourgeoisie mindset and lavish lifestyle to a humble and deserted circle that only includes 3 generations of matriarchs. They help her overcome her paralysis through support and faith. Near the conclusion of the book the faith aspect slides into the realm of religious dogma; calling Jesus name a bit much for a fictional piece on overcoming the odds (unless the story was factual or autobiographical it can become a distraction).

Despite one’s religious background, this read is for all who have suffered and overcome odds and regained their faith after doubting any goals. The main character’s saga of perseverance and struggle could be a contender for Oprah’s Book List if it didn’t discuss white racism unapologetically as it takes us through a full range of emotions from anger, to contempt, to desperation, to real lust and ultimately to real love. In light of the saturation of niche street books today’s, this Henderson provides a new look and a breath of fresh air by weaving a complicated emotional story from the perspective of an educated vulnerable woman.

The dialogue offers some insight for all, as the reader gets intimate details on things that seem meaningless but strengthen the overall story. One can’t help but stop and wonder how much of the authors actual life went into this book. The false friendships that Channa cherished come apart right before our eyes and although the reader can see it coming a mile away we are more interested in how she is changing as a person and not if she will ever mend prior relationship’s, as we watch her become a stronger person through the dissolution of those relationship. The complexity lies in the fact that the reader doesn’t expect a fairy tale ending but the ending essentially becomes all that matters in this story. The brilliance of it is that it is the reader who decides if the ending was happy or not based on where they are at as a person. I am not sure if the author intended that but the reader may also question who they are based on how they interpret these events. This is why I won’t be surprised to see this on the silver screen in the future and I suspect it will still grab me although I already know the ending is a ???? one. – Nuff Said

Unforgivable BlacknessUnforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Category: Sports, Biography

Author: Geoffrey C. Ward

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

ISBN: 0375415327

Length: 512 pages

Release Date: October 2004

Synopsis: He was the first black heavyweight champion in history, the most celebrated-and most reviled-African American of his age. In Unforgivable Blackness, the prizewinning biographer Geoffrey C. Ward brings to vivid life the real Jack Johnson, a figure far more complex and compelling than the newspaper headlines he inspired could ever convey. Johnson battled his way from obscurity to the top of the heavyweight ranks and in 1908 won the greatest prize in American sports-one that had always been the private preserve of white boxers. At a time when whites ran everything in America, he took orders from no one and resolved to live as if color did not exist. While most blacks struggled just to survive, he reveled in his riches and his fame. And at a time when the mere suspicion that a black man had flirted with a white woman could cost him his life, he insisted on sleeping with whomever he pleased, and married three. Because he did so the federal government set out to destroy him, and he was forced to endure a year of prison and seven years of exile. Ward points out that to most whites (and to some African Americans as well) he was seen as a perpetual threat-profligate, arrogant, amoral, a dark menace, and a danger to the natural order of things. Unforgivable Blackness is the first full-scale biography of Johnson in more than twenty years. Accompanied by more than fifty photographs and drawing on a wealth of new material-including Johnson’s never-before-published prison memoir-it restores Jack Johnson to his rightful place in the pantheon of American individualists.

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: B+

This is one book review that I don’t feel that I can do justice to in the limited space given here, at nearly 500 pages this book is an exhaustive read. Well written, researched, and accompanied by a ton of footnotes the author accurately connects and documents major events in American history through events transpiring in the life of Jack Johnson. Things he did made history but Johnson was simply trying to live his life though in 1910, life for a Black man in America was quite contemptuous.

Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight champion and is a legend in the sport today. Jack Johnson was Muhammad Ali before Muhammad Ali was himself, by that I simply mean he was the first black showman of the sport that confidently antagonized people and backed it all up. He was a showman inside and outside the ring, taunting his opponents in the ring and then finishing them off when ready. Whereas today the common axiom is that there will never be another white champion. In his day it was similar – except there had been no Black champs. In Johnson’s time the white boxer ruled and was thought to be the better fighter. So when Johnson came to national prominence and defeated all the great white boxers of his day, he infuriated white Americans. Jack Johnson actions affected race relations in America as much as any civil rights leader that would be born up to present day. Johnson’s victory over white pride boxer Jack Jeffries sparked race riots in parts of the United States because his dominance as a boxer inspired pride and confidence in Blacks nationwide, and disdain and envy in whites. Angry whites attacked Blacks as revenge and sometimes killed them, often times they too were killed because Blacks fought back more thanks to Johnson. In total hundreds were killed and although his wins caused mob death at the hands of whites it was acceptable because Johnson was seen as fighting for his race and in essence he was fighting while carrying the burden of fighting for all black people, and showing people there was no physical inferiority.

People of today do not realize it but Johnson was, at one time, “the best-known black man on Earth.” For a man like Johnson this was both good and bad. It was bad for people like the esteemed Booker T Washington and a few like him in the black community who deplored his high profile lifestyle. Johnson smirked at all his detractors and he spent money more flamboyantly than the most opulent rap stars of today. He was a big spender who always had the finest cars and sharpest clothes. He was probably the only Black man who could do it back then also. He was the originator of the DWB (driving while black) charge. Johnson would drive around speeding all the time incurring tickets from cops only to speed again a few seconds later. Even if he weren’t speeding he would get tickets. Part of the driving hassle had to do with Johnson having white women in the car, which was a problem for him. But he just paid the tickets as a mere pittance of his wealth. He received 100,000 for a fight in 1910, which is equivalent to approximately 3 million today. After winning the 100,000 he walked around with 65,000 in his pockets. “He was his own man, and let everybody know it.”

Johnson was smart, tough, business savvy and more efficient at getting boxing purses than Don King. Fueled by white media angst and outright hate, officials were determined to get him out of the limelight and boxing even after he already been delayed and denied a title bid for years because of his skin color. So they derailed his career and got him on a federal conviction for violating the Mann Act. The law criminalized interstate transportation of women for “immoral purposes”. In other words they sent him to jail for sleeping with white women. The federal government convicted Johnson and took his heavyweight belt in the prime of his career. Later he was released and allowed to fight but he was older and he lost his title to the much younger Great White Hope named Jess Willard in Cuba in 1915 on a knockout in the 26th round. This fight was very controversial because to this day many people believe Johnson threw the fight for money or as part of some deal , which was further impressed by footage showing Johnson shielding his eyes from the son while on the canvas. But Geoffrey Ward, the author of the book believes that not all of that is accurate – he said the photos makes it seem like that but any people seeing the rare moving footage of 1914 will see a different story. Btw can you Imagine fighting 26 rounds outdoors, no mouth piece with lighter gloves that are now outlawed. He returned home in 1920 to serve his time at Leavenworth Federal Prison part of the reason this book was written was to secure a presidential pardon to expunge Johnson’s federal conviction for violating the Mann Act. Even after reading nearly 500 pages you may want more.

What's My Name FoolWhat’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States

Category: Sports, Politics

Author: Dave Zirin

Publisher: Haymarket Books

ISBN: 1931859205

Length: 293 pages

Release Date: July 2005

Synopsis: This book offers a provocative and engaging look at the dirty business of sports and the inspired people who play them. From icons of the past like Billie Jean King to today’s global superstars like Kobe Bryant and Barry Bonds, Zirin engages with the world of sports like no other sportswriter today.

Eyecalone: Overall: B+

Though many hate to admit it professional sports in the United States is more than entertainment, it’s an institution and a basic part of American pop culture. Like many males in the this country, sports, whether watching, playing, or discussing was an integral component of my socialization. If you were a guy and didn’t want to be considered strange, a geek, or worse you were supposed to be interested in sports at least a little bit. This interest often translates later in adult life to something bordering on obsession, even in my own experience. As I matured and my interest turned to more serious social and political matters my former preoccupation with stat lines, Superbowls, World Series, and the NBA Finals became almost an embarrassment. As “conventional”, leftist, political wisdom would tell it, sports were essentially stupid; a bread Roman-style bread and circus designed to keep the masses distracted, passive, and entertained while far more important matters received little of their attention or energy. While there is certainly some truth to that observation, “the truth”, at least as Dave Zirin illustrates in this unique and enthralling work is far more complex than that.

Drawing from a well of past monumental occurrences in the sports world, such as the protest of the treatment of African-Americans at the 1968 Olympics, encapsulated by Tommie Smith and John Carlos now famous “Black Power salute” on the medal stand; Ali’s being stripped of his belt for refusing induction into the United States military; and Jackie Robinson’s tortured breaking of the color line in major league baseball, Zirin documents a political significance of professional sports that has often been glossed over, ignored, or outright hidden. He shows how sports have often been a reflection of the times in addition to changing to them. The book starts with a enthralling recounting of sports political history in the United States by highlighting some of the more significant events in that history, before switching over to a collection of Zirin’s own recent essays, and interviews with people integral to those histories like Boxer George Foreman, Sprinters Lee Evans and John Carlos, and sportswriter Lester Rodney. Zirin is an unabashed progressive and this book is clearly written from that perspective. The relationship of sports and politics is discussed within the context of the struggle of the poor and working class for a more just society, concessions hard-won by labor (athletes) from management (owners), and the battles against sexism and racism.

One thing I didn’t particularly care for was the fact that most of the interviews were apparently not dated in the book so a reader may have trouble drawing good context for when certain statements were made. The book also seemed to ratchet down a notch when it moved from Zirin’s recounting of numerous past significant political events in sports to his own essays and the collections of interviews. For a short time it seems to somewhat lose direction around that point. But overall the positives far outweigh the negatives and What’s My Name Fool is real “page-turner”. Zirin’s work gave me new perspective on a number of people and their times, some of whom I had previously written off and I truly learned a lot while reading it. For instance, how many people realize that Lester Rodney, a former sports editor of the Communist Party’s Daily Worker newspaper, columns and writings played and important role in highlighting the racist nature of Major League Baseball and the drive to integrate. How many people realize how defiant and proud Jackie Robinson was and what an important role he played in the fight for civil rights after his days were over, or that one of Robinson’s greatest regrets was allowing himself to be used, and testifying against the singer, actor, athlete, and Civil Rights Activist, Paul Robeson at a House of Un-American Activities hearing; or that boxers still have no union and do NOT have health care; or that in addition to giving the famous black gloved power salute at the 1968 Olympic games, that John Carlos also went shoeless to protest black poverty in America, and wore beads in commemoration of those who had been lynched and murdered, and wore his jacket open on the stand to represent blue collar shift workers in the United States; or that George Foreman who waved a small American flag after winning a boxing Gold medal at those same Olympic games claims his actions were not meant to be contrasted with those of Smith and Carlos but that he was simple politically oblivious to what was going on at the time. I’m no longer addicted to sports, in most cases I’m barely interested nowadays, but Zirin’s work does a good job of dealing with a rarely discussed and extremely interesting topic. This is a great book for anyone interested in sports in the United States, but especially for those of us who have dealt with or are dealing with the shame of still being interested in sports, even with so many more important things going on in the world.

White Money Black PowerWhite Money Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and The Crisis of Race and Higher Education

Category: Current Affairs, Education

Author: Noliwe M. Rooks

Publisher: Beacon Press

ISBN: 0807032700

Length: 256 pages

Release Date: February 2006

Synopsis: The history of African American Studies is often told as a heroic tale, with compelling images of black power and passionate African American students who refuse to take “no” for an answer. Noliwe M. Rooks argues for the recognition of another story that proves that many of the programs that survived were actually begun due to heavy funding from the Ford Foundation or, put another way, as a result of white philanthropy. Today, many students in African American Studies courses are white, and an increasing number of black students come from Africa or the Caribbean, not the United States. This shift- which makes the survival of the discipline contingent on non-African American students- means that “blackness can mean everything and, at the same time, nothing at all.” While the Ford Foundation provided much-needed funding, its strategies, aimed at addressing America’s “race problem,” have left African American Studies struggling to define its identity in light of the changes it faces today. With unflinching honesty, Rooks shows that the only way to create a stable future for African American Studies is through confronting its complex past.

Bruce Banter: Overall: B+

This is a timely book not because it came out during “Black History Month” but because it’s actually crisis time in educating people in Black empowerment and struggle. It’s possible that this field is about to disappear but it has already disappeared as we know it. The first university level black studies program now 36 years old grew out of student unrest, activism. and a strike organized by both Blacks and Whites at San Francisco State. It spread throughout the country. To most people’s surprise it spread because the Ford Foundation was financing the idea of educating and sensitizing people to the plight of people of African descent in America and the timing was right. It was a time when say it loud “I am black and I am proud” was a mantra that everybody wanted to identify with.

Unfortunately African-American studies today face lackluster enrollment rates and an increasing rate of disinterested students. In fact African Americans are a minority group within the Black incoming students group. Students from Africa and the Caribbean have become the dominant group within this discipline. Dr. Rooks goes into the archives and finds interesting facts, statistics and evidence to confront the complex and sometimes contradictory past of African American studies programs. However if all that she says is 100% on point , I find this book filled with troubling facts. You may not agree with all of the “findings” by the author (I did not) but this book involved a serious under taking to produce and come up with some of the conclusions.

If you are interested in civil rights and the plight of Black people living in America over the last 50 years, I don’t see how you can skip over this book. The anecdotal evidence is hard to find in any other place. Even if you lived through it all, I am sure that you don’t know all the information in this book, and I doubt anybody has given it this much thought thus far. Rooks notes a comprehensive set of important but overlooked observations about the manner in which African American studies is consistently structured whereby it is rarely viewed as the vibrant set of intellectual activity that it is. While individual faculty members of African American studies may be viewed as intelligent the collective doesn’t get the same respect and often times the discipline shares its scholarship with English, Political Science, sociology and various other disciplines.

Black studies today is very much different from when it started and is still evolving. Black studies was associated with the Black freedom struggle, Black power, militancy, rebellion and the peoples anger but in the last ten years it is widely accepted as a benign means to integrate and desegregate institutions and curriculum, and some might even argue that it’s elitist. African American or Black studies is unique in more ways than I had ever stopped to imagine and the history makers involved in the discipline would serve well to read this book and find a way to offer some solutions in a field that deserves some guidance and attention before it changes into something nobody who lived through the struggle to guide it will recognize.

Who's Afraid of a Large Black ManWho’s Afraid of a Large Black Man

Category: Current Affairs

Author: Charles Barkley, Michael Wilbon (Editor)

Publisher: Penguin Group

ISBN: 1594200424

Length: 256 pages

Release Date: March 2005

Synopsis: Don’t let the cheeky title, the byline or the picture on the cover fool you: this is a serious book that’s not about Charles Barkley. Instead, this work, edited by the Washington Post and ESPN’s Wilbon, is a candid collection of 13 interviews by Barkley with prominent Americans like Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Tiger Woods, Morgan Freeman and comedian George Lopez on the oft-avoided subject of race. Barkley, well known for outspokenness as a player and an on-air commentator, challenges his interviewees to deal with this delicate issue head on. Barkley wisely keeps his opinions brief, letting his dynamic counterparts take center stage. In doing so he gets these stars to open up on how American society fares on such topics as racism, race relations, welfare reform, economic and social discrimination and creating opportunities for minorities. Mixed in with the bigger name celebs and politicians are lesser-known folk, such as Robert Johnson (the NBA’s first black owner), the Children’s Defense Fund’s Miriam Wright Edelman (who laments that there are 580,000 black men in prison compared to about 45,000 who graduate from college each year) and Rabbi Steven Leder. For all the different backgrounds and opinions, all the participants believe the racial divide in America can only be bridged with a combination of reforms to our educational, medical and economic practices and a strong self-evaluation by the African-American community. Everyone also agrees that a core group of strong black leaders must emerge for these changes to be enacted. Surprisingly, this eye-opening book might point to Barkley as just such a leader.

Bruce Banner Says: Overall: B+

People can say what they want about Sir Charles – he’s opinionated, arrogant, self absorbed and full of himself but we must say that he is comical and honest about what he feels. If you are anything like me you will find yourself disagreeing with Charles more often than not. This book doesn’t leave me much room to disagree with Charles because it is a set of interviews of Charles with several famous people or people that you should know about. It offers a lot of political fodder coming from the mouths of celebrities and it gives you a good idea of what type of man Charles Barkley is and what you can expect of him when he makes his run for Governor of Alabama.

As colorful as Charles Barkley is, he is hardly offering up the most jaw dropping commentary of the celebrities. A few of the celebrity interviews are quite candid. Samuel Jackson says “When I got discovered, I was a crack head and I was playing Gator in Jungle Fever so I had that covered. But because I had done so much theatre I also knew that I wasn’t going to be playing crack heads the rest of my life, that there were other things that I could do and things that I wanted to do. I don’t go to auditions now, but in the past when I’d go to auditions with cornrows, it wouldn’t even be worth being there. Usually I had a goatee or a mustache, I had an Afro. I knew I wasn’t getting any kind of commercial. That just wasn’t happening. I couldn’t sell soap. I didn’t look like the dude with 2 cars, a dog and a wife. Now, brothers have cornrows on in the beer commercials They’re trying to sell beer to those brothers, you know?”. Barkley also gets at Barack Obama who talks about his family and his personal upbringing. Barack surprises by telling, “When I was in high school, I fell into all the stereotypes. I was trying to figure out what it means to be a black man. My father was not in the house, which is true for a lot of young black men, so I didn’t have someone in the house saying, ‘man that’s’ not what I’m talking about. I am playing basketball, I ‘m smoking the chronic and I am not taking my work seriously at all. And part of it was because that was what everybody else was doing. If you acted like you were too serious about it, folks would think you were a punk…Anyway the whole notion that blacks were inferior never came up at the dinner table. My mother was a white woman who just loved black people, loved the civil rights movement. She’s told me how Harry Belafonte was the best-looking man on the planet. So I had all of these positive images. My father was a Harvard educated man. He was Kofi Annan, except taller. In My Mind he was the most sophisticated person that my maternal grandparents had ever met.”

Barack also admits to getting high. Meanwhile George Lopez talks about being too black for many Mexicans until he became famous. Bob Johnson shocks and says he agreed with Bill Cosby despite what he has offered on his former network (not his exact words). Some celebrities are not candid because it’s not there personality to be that way for example Tiger Woods says, “We were the only minority family in all of Cypress, California. When my parents moved in, before I was born, they used to have theses oranges come through the window all the time. And it could have not been racially initiated or it could have been, we don’t know. But it was very interesting.” I find it amazing that he doesn’t accept that it was blatant racism but he finds it interesting – although he recounts a number of tales of getting called the n-word and getting physically assaulted because of how he looks. There is too much to recall about this book in the short space allocated for a review but its worth your time and money.

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