On Art, Community, and the Culture of Commerce

The world is sick and art is the only thing that can heal it. The problem is that mankind has eschewed the discipline of artistry in favor of private pursuits. The current trend is to elevate the ideals of the individual over what is best for the whole. This creates a chasm within our society, which is tantamount to separating a tree from its roots. Art is a direct line to our ancestors and it is the artist’s job to be a conduit between the physical and supernatural realms.

Shady Grove

When this connection to the ancestors is broken we do a great disservice to ourselves. In the hands of the unenlightened, the practice of art can become a very dangerous tool. What was meant to be a force of unity is now a source of destruction. The way our system is setup is the antipode of how things should be.  Holidays that are supposed to celebrate family and friends are now merely guideposts toward consumerism. An LED TV is the new Love. We’d rather stand in line at Best Buy than to be in line with our Best Selves. There is more deference paid to the material than to our spiritual well-being.

We assert control in areas we should accept and accept things where we should exert control.

Regardless of what you may or may not believe, art reminds us that there is something greater than ourselves; that there is more to our existence than what we see before us. Whereas love at times can be elusive and ethereal, art has a way of translating love into something very tangible and palpable. Most things packaged as art today distract us from the real reason we are here: to help one another evolve.

In our efforts to understand what this all means, we’ve created illusory constructs that compartmentalize our existence here on Earth. When you categorize something you detach it from the source. And instead of these categories bringing us to a deeper level of understanding — more often than not — it drives people further from the truth.

Commerce thrives on categories, but categories kill art. What art needs to survive is community.

Just several days ago marked the 2-year anniversary, or #BAMiversary, of my essay: On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore. It was the impetus behind the subsequent Black American Music Movement. Aided by The Ancestors and many supporters, my desire has been to restore what has been lost in the Black community due to categorizations like “Jazz.” Unlike Jazz, Black American Music is not a category. It is an acknowledgement of our ancestors, without whom, art means nothing.

#BAM is not divisive; it seeks to unify a music and a people who are in need of connecting with their true nature. Jazz is about music, but #BAM is about life. When Black America, as well as other indigenous cultures, repairs what has been broken, we will witness a shift in our global consciousness, and reclaim our Human Nature.

Let the healing begin…

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of the #BAM Movement

A Nigga Tired: Why Non-Blacks Shouldn’t Say Nigga

It’s baffling that in 2013 we’re still having this conversation, but here we are. Repetition is the key to life. And as frustrating as it may be to repeat oneself over and over again, it is often necessary. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King didn’t give one speech and vanish into obscurity. It would be nice if folks got it the first time, however, that is almost never the case.

Here’s the deal: If you are not Black, you should not call a Black person “Nigger,” “Nigga,”  “Negro,” or anything like it. And it’s a weak argument that because Blacks say it gives license for non-Blacks to use it. You can talk about your spouse, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay for others to do so. It’s basic logic and Black people are not obligated to explain why others shouldn’t use the word.

White people didn’t invent the word and its roots predate chattel slavery. The word itself is not evil as much as the word has been misused, abused and given a dirty name.

There are schools of thought that the annunciation of “Nigga” can release kundalini energy in the body. There are no vowels in many ancient languages, and by this logic, “Nigga” can also be related to “Naga” which is the Sanskrit word for a deity that takes the form of a serpent. As a result, the incantation of Nigga or Naga can arouse this sleeping, coiled serpent that sits at the base of the spine and cause one’s spirit to awaken.

Serpents are revered in many ancient cultures because of its ability to shed skin, thus making it adaptable and giving it everlasting life. The American Negro has had to be like the serpent in order to survive throughout generation upon generation of oppression.

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“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

— Matthew 10:16

Like many parts of African culture, the serpent has been reviled through the European lens. The serpent who taught Eve about the knowledge of good and evil — a lesson that all functional parents teach their children — is given a bad name. Cats, which were once sacred to Black people, have also become synonymous with bad energy. The same goes for just about anything black, for example: the financial crises of Black Monday and Friday, Black Dahlia, Black Sabbath, black magic, black propaganda, black comedy, blacklist, blackball, blackface and blackout are all negative connotations.

A large part of colonization is renaming things and imbuing tragedy onto beauty. They took our gods and made them to be feared. They took our great Black music and called it “JAZZ.” They took symbols of excellence and turned them into objects of repugnance. It’s up to Black people to rectify the wrongs. No one else can do it for us.

Black: dirty, soiled, thoroughly sinister or evil, wicked, indicative of condemnation or discredit, very sad, gloomy, calamitous, marked by the occurrence of disaster, and characterized by hostility or angry discontent, connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil, characterized by the absence of light and reflecting or transmitting little or no light.

—Merriam-Webster

I find the last entry interesting, as the color black absorbs all wavelengths and colors, which is why you get so hot wearing black in the sun. Black accepts the sun and white reflects it. The darker the object, the better it receives the light.

Black people need to stop letting other people make them feel ashamed for what and who we are. What Black people decide to call each other is Black people’s business and non-Blacks don’t get a vote.

Every group has names they can call each other that someone outside the group can’t. Gay people have them, lesbians, Jews, couples, friends, family, etc. Black people are entitled to that same right without having to explain to outsiders why they can’t join the club.

“Niger” in Latin means black. “Negro” and “Negra” in Latin-based languages also mean black and is frequently employed as a term of endearment. The same can be said for “Nigga,” amongst Black Americans. I see no difference in any of them. It’s all Black and that is beautiful until some bigot like Richie Incognito is given a free pass to say it.

“A man has to be a man, and when you said ‘Negro,’ it’s a term that’s been used so many times, but I don’t particularly care for that term. I’d rather be a Black man, because that’s  identity. That’s the way he can improve himself and identity and respect for himself, as a man.”

— James Brown (as told to David Susskind)

Because it may be empowering amongst some Blacks, gives no non-Blacks the right to call them “Nigger,” “Nigga,” “Negro,” or any derivation of the word.

End. Of. Story.

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The King of Research

Martin/Incognito: An Open Letter to Jason Whitlock

Jonathan Martin walked into a twisted world led by Incognito

Mr. Whitlock, I read the above piece on the Martin/Incognito situation and you had me until this moment:

…what makes me want to check into a mental hospital is Miami’s black players’ unconditional love of Incognito and indifference to Martin.

It points to our fundamental lack of knowledge of our own history in this country. We think the fake tough guy, the ex-con turned rhetoric spewer was more courageous than the educated pacifist who won our liberation standing in the streets, absorbing repeated ass-whippings, jail and a white assassin’s bullet. We fell for the okeydoke.

We think Malcolm X was blacker than Martin Luther King Jr.

I’m as guilty as anybody. I’ve read X’s autobiography a half-dozen times. I own Spike Lee’s movie about X and watch it a couple of times a year. I love Malcolm X. But I’m not an idiot. MLK liberated me. MLK blazed the proper path to respect, progress and achievement. Barack Obama stands on MLK’s shoulders. And so does Jonathan Martin.

— Jason Whitlock

I could be mistaken, but it appears you’re equating Richie Incognito to Malcolm X. Whereas I think you are 100% on point that the Black community tends to glorify brute force over brains, Malcolm X is not in the former category. The above statement is problematic for several reasons. Malcolm X was a highly intelligent individual. He just thought we shouldn’t take shit from White people and call it Shinola. He told Blacks that they had a right to defend themselves against the violence perpetrated upon them by White America for hundreds of years; the same right the Constitution grants all American citizens. And to say that Martin Luther King alone liberated you is a slap in the face to Malcolm X’s work in the struggle.

Don’t be fooled, be it not for the fear Malcolm ignited inside the White Supremacist establishment, they wouldn’t have been nearly as willing to sit down at the table with King. Yes, Malcolm didn’t believe in getting involved in politics pre his sojourn to Mecca because of what he was taught by Elijah Muhammad, but that doesn’t mean he lacked political impact. To the contrary, Malcolm was the fire of the Black community.

Many will say turn away—away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile.

They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle!

And we will answer and say unto them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him: Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And in honoring him we honor the best in ourselves.

— Ossie Davis

Since you watch Spike Lee’s X a couple times a year, you should be familiar with Mr. Davis’ speech. I implore you to listen a bit more closely next time.

I don’t know you, but from your words, it seems as if your perception of these men and their narratives have been whitewashed by the anti-Black lens. Malcolm did not believe in violence. If he did, he might have lived longer than he did. He had many soldiers by his side, even the thug community of Harlem, including mob boss, Bumpy Johnson, offered him protection.

He refused to be kept alive if that meant more Blacks killing other Blacks, not the sign of a violent man or a “fake tough guy,” as you said. Malcolm was courageous enough to speak on the issues that plagued Black America, knowing he could die for it; something that Barack Obama doesn’t have the balls to do.

I also refute the notion that we post-MLK Blacks are liberated. The above video from the early ’80s speaks to that. The recent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride and many others speak to that. And I’m not so sure about this idea that Obama stands on MLK’s shoulders. Obama is a part of the system; MLK was fighting against the system. If anything, Obama’s candidacy serves as a great example of how so not liberated we are. Remember, they just struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

I’m pretty sure MLK would have had much harsher words for America than Obama did during his address in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict. And knowing how much of a pacifist MLK was, he would have strong criticisms about Obama’s droning of innocent people abroad. I suggest you read King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, if you haven’t. King was very explicit about his feelings towards the Moderate politics of which Obama subscribes.

And as far as the “white assassins’ bullet” that killed MLK, don’t think for a second that Black people weren’t complicit in the crime. They usually are. This video below of Dick Gregory and Steve Cokely breaks it down.

Yes, Malcolm X spent some time being incarcerated, but his legacy is not that of an incarcerated mindset. And your statements undermine the point of your piece. By saying things like Jonathan Martin is the offspring of Harvard grads or that he was smart enough to be accepted by that institution himself, you are glorifying the White Supremacist constructs you’re railing against—not that there’s anything wrong with being a Harvard graduate.

And I’d like to say this to anyone reading: No one is an honorary Black. Just because you have Black friends and been accepted by them, you drink Kool-Aid and can quote episodes of Sanford and Son, or you can pop or twerk doesn’t make you Black. Bruce Springsteen doesn’t get a pass, neither does Robbing Thicke, Gwyneth Palthrow or Miley Cyrus. And no Black person has the authority to give you a card. You don’t get to be conveniently Black when it’s time to party and go back to non-Black status when it’s time to have Stop and Frisk or Stand Your Ground evoked on you.

Richie Incognito is no Negro; he’s a bigot. And let’s be clear, racism is not the domain of any individual. It is a social construct that requires a group of people to buy-in to be effective. It’s not so much about if he’s a racist because he called Martin a “Nigger” as it is the culture around him that made him feel comfortable hurling the epithet in the first place.

So, this twisted world you speak of, Mr. Whitlock, was not created by Incognito, but centuries ago by the White Power Structure. This is not about rookie hazing or prison behavior, this is about everyday life in America. Blacks are not yet liberated or respected, far from it. And, if anything, things are worse today than when Malcolm and Martin were here.

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

Why Jazz Still Isn’t Cool: The 2nd #BAMiversary in Review

It’s been almost 2 years since my legendary post On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore and many followup posts explaining exactly why in great detail, international conferences, videos, etc., and most folks still don’t get it.

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The great irony here is that for all the creative “improvisational” types that jazz is supposed to attract, jazzheads are some of the most inflexible, obstinate, ignorant, lazy, entitled, cowardly and greedy people I have ever come across. For a genre that prides itself on community, jazzheads are a selfish and narcissistic bunch of hypocrites.

It’s been 100 years and you all are still arguing about what is and what is not jazz. Not only have many of the ancestors laid it out for you, but through them, I’ve exhaustively tailored the message in every fathomable way one possibly can. I’ve said it, played it, expressed it profanely and profoundly, and most of y’all continue to remain in the dark about it all. You don’t know and you don’t want to know.

It’s very simple: Jazz is dead. It died in 1959 and it ain’t ever coming back. Wynton can’t save it; Robert Glasper can’t save it; Esperanza can’t save it and Jesus Christ can’t save it. It’s gone. It ain’t shit now. Never was shit. Never gon’ be shit.

“OK, so this is a wonderful idea that Nicholas Payton has — and Max Roach said it, too. And Art Blakey said it, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk said it. I just wish they would all stay with it so that, when I’m listening to WBGO, they will say, ‘That’s Black American music, as interpreted by’ so and so. It is correct.”

— Bill Cosby

What’s most disappointing is to see the amount of Black people who are championing a terminology that sought to separate Black people from their music and the money. And it still continues, to this very day. Don’t y’all get it? Have you not heard what I said? I know y’all listenin’. It ain’t that hard to grasp.

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What are you so afraid of? That cats are going to start bullshitting, stop swingin’ and people won’t know Jazz from Shinola? Afraid that you won’t be relevant? Well, guess what? That happened a long time ago. You will never get the masses to embrace jazz as something that’s cool and to be revered. It’s not cool. Jazz is not worthy of our respect. Jazz continues to be a stain and a source of shame on the Black community. Like Stanley Turrentine said, “Let It Go.”

There’s a term to express exactly what I speak of here. It’s called “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is what one feels when caught between what one believes and what is true.

For instance:

“JAZZ” is a White, racist terminology (vs.) Black Americans created The Music

Now, if you don’t think the term “JAZZ” is racist, you will inevitably feel conflict for a variety of reasons. 1.) You feel jazz is beyond color and is equally indebted to a cross section of peoples. 2.) In your mind, we’ve grown beyond any negative historical connotations that jazz may have held and can reclaim the term to mean something else entirely. 3.) You love jazz and that’s just the way it is.

If you agree that Black Americans created The Music, you may also find yourself in conflict. Why? 1.) You can’t understand why after all these years you still have to argue that The Music came through the Black community. 2.) You hate the term, “JAZZ.” 3.) You love jazz and that’s just the way it is.

Black people are a complex people. How you gon’ take the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and call it “JAZZ”? Their music doesn’t all sound the same. In many cases, they didn’t necessarily like each others’ music. And what makes them socially different from Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson?

Herbie Hancock and Maurice White could have been neighbors, been in the same class at the same school, listened to the same records and went to the same dances. There is no such thing as a “jazz” anything. What the above listed share in common is that they are Black Americans, not jazz musicians, and their music is indicative of the Black experience—which is multidimensional.

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“I myself don’t recognize the word ‘jazz.’ I mean, we are sold under that name, but to me, the word doesn’t exist.”

— John Coltrane

You see, genre is not a Black thing, neither is race. These are European constructs that were designed to divide, classify and marginalize. Race and genre establish false hierarchal systems that engenders an environment of entitlement for some and exclusion for others. From an African or ancient perspective, geography and genealogy are what’s important. It’s more about whom begat whom, where, than what begets what, when — lineage as opposed to linearity.

And to be honest, the African or ancient way is not always the best either. The rigidity of those traditions were bound to be broken at some point. We have global colonization to thank for that. People need room to evolve. There is a reason for The Middle Passage, The Holocaust and the extermination of native peoples all over the world. Yes, we were colonized, but we were colonized before we were colonized.

To break the construct, you must first embrace the construct. To deny or ignore only gives more power to the opposition. It’s best to face the truth head-on, open and honestly. Black music has outgrown Ragtime, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Soul, R&B and Hiphop. Africans have outgrown Africa and Americans have outgrown America. Homogeneity is pandemic in modern society. It’s time to marry the Old World view with the New World. We don’t all need to be the same, but we do need to learn to respect and celebrate differences.

Relevancy is not what’s important. It’s all about survival.

We don’t create tomorrow. What you do now is what matters most. The future is a byproduct of what we do today. We must call upon the ancestors for healing as they look to us rectify the wrongs of the past. We are their agents on Earth and they are our intermediaries to the supernatural. Without each other, we are nothing.

Sankofa.

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#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

On Truth and Beauty in the Age of Bullshit

Does anything meaningful even matter anymore? Mediocrity has reached such a peak that genius is more of a liability than an advantage. Dumbing down is the new enlightening. No one has the patience to dig deep anymore. If something doesn’t reveal all of its layers in a matter of seconds, no one wants anything to do with it.

It’s really sad because we’re in such a fertile time for creative people. The Internet has leveled the playing field so that corporations can no longer control all of the information anymore. The drawback to that is that there’s so much information out there, it makes it difficult to siphon through the bullshit to get to the beautiful shit. That fosters an environment where the allure on the surface eclipses the qualitative substance underneath.

We’ve created a culture where depth no longer matters. The less time it takes to understand what something is, the more desirable. Reductive sound bytes are given more credance than well fleshed out ideas. Memes have become more stimulating than Monets. Escapism and deniability is what’s fashionable and confronting truth is passé.

I’m not one of those folks who believes that our best days are behind us. I just feel that our sense of character has not caught up with technology. We’ve abandoned our humanity for the sake of devices and we’re too lazy to do the work required to bring ourselves up to a level of accountability for our actions. There are reasons to support all of this.

The demands of modern life require that we earn money to sustain our livelihoods, and the reality of it is that most people have to earn that money doing things they don’t like to do. Most children and adults get up early 5 days a week to go do something they have absolutely no interest in. Your profession ain’t necessarily your passion.

And there’s nothing wrong with any of this, per se, but at a certain point your soul needs to be fed or it throws everything out of whack. For the sake of survival, we’ve erected constructs to give order to our surroundings and make sense of it all, but how much thought is given to what happens when we collectively outgrow those constructs and they become obsolete? That leaves no room for evolution and we begin to recycle outdated modes of thought because no one has time to build another world on top of the one we’re already in. Who has time to think ahead when we don’t even make time to be in the moment?

The temporary solution has become to create a world where we don’t really have to deal with any of it. There was a time where the average person looked to an artist to be a light into their souls. And instead of seeking outlets that inspire us to reconcile this fundamental split in our existence, we look for ways to engage in things that deaden the senses as to not address it. Over time, what winds up happening is we don’t do the work necessary for spiritual growth. However, our survival depends on it. You can only avoid the truth for so long before things implode on themselves. Globally, we are near that point.

Art exists not to make you feel good about yourself, but to make you deal with yourself, which is good for you.

The problem with humans is that when the next new thing comes along, we throw out all the old shit. We got rid of all our albums when CDs came out, now we’ve gotten rid of all our CDs for files. We need more space for more shit to fill the void inside that’s being neglected. But you can only run for so long. If you don’t take time for yourself, life has a way of making you.

How do we find ourselves in the midst of the Information Age, but being less informed than ever? There’s no experience attached to anything anymore. You want to listen to something and you can hear it on Youtube or Spotify in a matter of seconds. Years ago, I remember waiting weeks, months or years to get my hands on an album. There was no database online to streamline my search and target exactly where it might be. On my travels, I would have to visit local record stores in every city with the hopes of finding it. Along the way, I accumulated a lot of other important albums and met some important people. When I finally got that album, I wasn’t only listening to that music, I was reliving the journey.

Now, I click a button, order the album and may not even listen to it.

Why can’t we marry our worlds so that we carry the entirety of our ancestral footprints with us wherever we go? Why can’t we get rid of the partisan and bipartisan political systems that no longer serve the needs of the people? We can keep the MP3s along with some of our old VHS tapes, CDs, cassettes and albums.

Stop looking for an easy out and focus on creating a more effortless in. It won’t kill you to do the work. To the contrary, by avoiding confrontation with the truth, you’re doing more damage. There’s nothing wrong with working hard because you want the best things for you and yours. And don’t shortchange yourself because it may create a bit of discomfort from time to time.

We’re not here for comfort, we’re here to grow.

#BAM

— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop