Our featured redhead is Malcolm X. Born Malcolm Little, in his early years he was known as “Detroit Red” because of the reddish hair he inherited from his maternal grandfather who was of Scottish descent.

X

Malcolm X was a controversial figure as the voice of the Nation Of Islam, its followers referred to as Black Muslims, and much of the provocative content of his speeches was by design. However, Malcolm’s greatest strength was the courage to question his core beliefs and continually adapt, evolve and reinvent himself.

It was Malcolm X’s inquisitive nature and laser-focused logic that led him to pilgrimage in Mecca and the revelation that true faith knows no color or nationality. His abandonment of the biased teachings of the Nation led to his founding of Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity which promoted Pan-Africanism. Threatened by Malcolm’s growing international influence, Nation Of Islam members assassinated him at gunpoint at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 at the age of 39.

Malcolm X was a persuasive speaker and could easily disarm an opponent with his wit, humor and inescapable logic. His appeal to unity, integrity and justice was impossible to resist. Having listened to and heard his later speeches, I believe had he lived, it would have changed the overall landscape of Africa. He may have been a unifying leader in direct opposition to the divisive forces created by brutal self-serving lunatics like Maummar Gaddafi and Idi Amin.

Historians of the turbulent civil rights movement in America often contrast the violent separatist messages of the Nation Of Islam and the Black Panthers, with the non-violent protests led by Martin Luther King, but I believe that both Malcolm and MLK appealed to the conscience of White America. Those with a conscience felt shame, those without a conscience reacted with anger. Where King appealed to the heart, Malcolm X appealed to the intellect.

Pairing a representative album with such an iconic figure was difficult. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy is the easy choice, as it was paired with the Spike Lee biographical film, complete with the “X” capped talking heads at the end of the film proclaiming, “I am Malcolm X.” Mount Vernon, NY born Denzel Washington is magnificent in his portrayal of Malcolm X.

I thought about Gil Scott Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised which was first recited as a poem accompanied by congas and bongos on his 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, then a year later with a full band on  Pieces of a Man. I will share a YouTube link to the full band version. Gil Scott Heron was doing Def Poetry Jam long before Russell Simmons gave it a name.

In the end, the music is the thing, the featured redhead just another pretty face lead-in to the featured artist. People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, the debut album from A Tribe Called Quest is my record of choice for no particular reason other than being a personal favorite. While People’s Instinctive Travels is categorized as hip-hop, it might alter your perception of the genre. If you hate rap, but are a fan of R&B and jazz, there is enough crossover appeal for you to find something you can use here.

People’s Instinctive Travels may not be the Tribe’s best or well-known album, but for Kamaal Fareed, born Jonathan Davis, and best known as Q-Tip or The Abstract, it is a coming out party, the first time his freshly acquired DJ and production skills, and artistic expression are on full display. Q-Tip was the only member of the group to contribute on every track. While Malik Taylor aka Phife Dawg flexes his muscles in equal measure with Q-Tip on subsequent albums, The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, he is represented on only two tracks here. People’s Instinctive Travels is the fruit of Q-Tip’s painstaking sampling, spontaneous lyrical creation, and hours of mixing and studio work. The end product is multi-layered and unique in its blending of diverse elements of jazz, R&B, and rock along with a sense of humor and light, laid-back mood.

Critics of rap like to say that the genre requires no musical talent. “Anybody can do that,” is the same lame, tired argument that has been used for rockers who can only hammer out three or four chords and play everything with distortion. My challenge to these doubters would be to play a background bass and drum track and see what they can spit out. But, I’m not presenting myself as an ambassador of hip-hop. Listen to the storytelling on “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo”, the lustful pleading in “Bonita Applebum”, the echoes of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” on “Can I Kick It?”, and the historical connection of “Footprints”, and you will realize this is something new, the realization of hip-hop as art.

You will not find a better example of poly-rhythmic interplay anywhere than on “After Hours”. There is the voice of comedian Richard Pryor on the hook, hand clapping, record scratching, cymbal popping, tribal drumming, Phife scatting and even frogs croaking, all flawlessly woven together by Q-Tip, leading in and out of his own smoothly delivered lyrics that poke fun with numerous popular local references. This interplay of elements is Q-Tip’s greatest strength. His self-proclamation as The Abstract (Poet) is fitting.

You may find some amusement in identifying the sources of the numerous samples on this album. I have eclectic tastes in everything, especially all things musical, and my exposure to different genres and artists is pretty extensive, but even I was amazed by the breadth of Q-Tip’s musical pallet. The complete list of sample credits for the album is below.

Much like what Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On? did for R&B, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm elevates hip-hop as a vehicle for artistic expression and foretells the creativity to come from A Tribe Called Quest.

If you’re not too tired, my short-story Pops continues following the samples and tracks lists.

Samples Credits

Track List

No. Title Length
1. “Push It Along” 7:42
2. “Luck of Lucien” 4:32
3. “After Hours” 4:39
4. “Footprints” 4:00
5. “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” 4:06
6. “Pubic Enemy” 3:45
7. “Bonita Applebum” 3:50
8. “Can I Kick It?” 4:11
9. “Youthful Expression” 4:52
10. “Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)” 4:01
11. “Mr. Muhammad” 3:33
12. “Ham ‘n’ Eggs” 5:27
13. “Go Ahead in the Rain” 3:54
14. “Description of a Fool” 5:41
Total length: 64:15

       pacman

       I entered Monk’s bar, my heart pounding and my throat swollen, forcing me to gasp for air. I rushed past Monk who was leaning against the bar talking to an old man in a gray suit. He looked up and nodded as I continued past the jukebox, making my way back to the Pac-Man machine in the rear.

       Setting myself in front of the screen, which promised instant gratification, I dropped a quarter into the slot to satisfy my addiction. A few bars of flat, electronic music sounded and my yellow, moon-faced Pac-Man appeared on the screen, ready to do battle against the unrelenting, brightly colored monsters. Holding the joystick firmly in my right hand, I controlled the movements of the Pac-Man who’s insatiable hunger for dots and fear of the pursuing monsters drove him forward. The multi-colored monsters, while tuned to Pac-Man’s every move, themselves traveled on fixed, programmed paths and only deviated from them in response to my own random maneuvers. I cut sharply through the maze’s many twists and turns and headed for one of the corners where the white, flashing power dot offered me the promise of power, power to devour the colored monsters.

       I ate the glowing host and chased the now fleeing monsters, turned blue in awe of my sudden power. They were blue from top to bottom, dark and blue, blue to their bones. That Pac-Man really gave those monsters a mean dose of the blues. I pounced on two of them in quick succession and watched as their blues dissolved like a sad song in the air. I cornered a third, disposing of it as with the other two, its disembodied soul sent soaring back to the pen, the monster’s womb, to be born again.

       In a matter of seconds, however, the tables were turned as my power evaporated and I was forced to again flee. I raced across the screen, a yellow streak of fear. Reversing quickly, I charged for the top of the screen, cutting sharply left through the endless maze to avoid a charging monster. Another power dot blinked enticingly up ahead, but two angry monsters blocked my path and I again reversed my field. Pulling down hard on the joystick, I ran directly into a third monster which had blocked my escape from behind. I quickly shriveled, impotent and useless, and disappeared with a pop.

       I cursed under my breath and violently yanked on the joystick until another yellow warrior appeared on the screen and the game continued. After ten more minutes of frenzied running, chasing, and eating, the game ended, my last Pac-Man dissolving before my eyes. I walked away from the machine shaking my head and wondering if it was possible to find satisfaction in a task which ultimately ended in failure; no matter how hard I ran or how many obstacles I avoided, another always sprang up in its place.

       The game had become very serious to me, despite my failure, and I wondered if some kind of meaning could be found between the dropping of my quarter and death. The game always ended in death; Pac-Man would eventually be cornered, be absorbed into the electronic machinery, the maze would disappear, and the music would stop.

       Monk was at the register, his back to me, as I mumbled my goodbye and walked out to the gray, rain soaked street. The rain was much harder, so I dashed for the shelter of my truck. Jumping in quickly, I started the engine and headed down Lincoln Avenue. Halfway down the block, someone suddenly jumped in front of my truck, attempting to cross against the light. I slammed on the brakes, skidding and screeching to a halt just inches from the pedestrian. Panic had spread a black, inky film across my eyes. I breathed deeply, allowing my vision to clear and looked to see who I had almost run down.

       It was Bobby, and he hadn’t even blinked. He paused to stare up at me as my panic turned to rage, then amazement. Bobby had known that I would stop. He had placed his life in my hands and I had responded by sparing him. I searched his face for a sign of defiance, but found only resignation. Bobby was young, had never lived in the South or been forced to jump Jim Crow, yet I knew that his actions were in no way based on trust. Bobby trusted no one, least of all a white milkman from the North side of town, but he had acted automatically, like one of those monsters in the Pac-Man maze. Bobby traveled on his predetermined path, within the boundaries set by the white man, his survival resting on the whim of the programmer. Bobby turned his face and continued slowly across the street. The truck lurched forward with a grinding of gears as I started for home.

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