Chinua Achebe, Author Of Things Fall Apart And Inspiration To The Roots, Dies In Boston At The Age Of 82
Over 15 years ago, the Roots started recording sessions for Things Fall Apart at Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan alongside what we now know to be a collective called the Soulquarians. Simultaneously recording alongside greats like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and Common, there was a movement of brilliance cultivated in those last years of the ’90s. And perhaps right at the epicenter of it is the Roots’ Things Fall Apart, their fourth and then most successful effort to date, sales-wise AND critically. The author of the 1958 novel of the same name, Chinua Achebe, passed away today and it’s important to take a brief moment to salute the just-passed 82-year-old titan of African literature.
Things was his first novel, which is quite a feat. Since its initial publishing, the story of Okonkwo and Nigeria’s struggle with colonialism has been translated into 45 languages and sold over 10 million copies. It makes lots of sense for the Roots to be so inspired by this novel, even enough to name their groundbreaking moment in the hip-hop time space continuum: the themes are all here. The struggle of Okonkwo is one that Quest and Black Thought know well – the clash of cultures, the inevitable conflict of changing societal traditions and values, and the imposing, destructive powers of Christianity and white culture’s imposition of their value system over a long-standing set of norms and mores. These themes are not foreign to the likes of Fela Kuti and Malcom X; two other significant authors and activists who’ve certainly informed the Roots’ politically-aware brand of smart, lyrically pungent and jazzy hip-hop.
Achebe’s more than just an inspiration to the Roots and their iconic album, of course. He’s a legend. His DEBUT novel, one of the first African-born English language novels to make its way to high school classrooms in white America, is a masterpiece and its legacy will clearly go on for another slew of decades. “100% Dundee” shouts out Achebe in name, but the whole record modernizes the handful of themes that his novel so expertly puts into a context of conversation about race and culture. It’s so rich it’s like an English teacher’s dream – there’s meaty content that feeds dialogues on race, gender, identity, fatherhood, motherhood, imperialism, tradition, family structure, survivalism, pride, and ego. Amen.
Last night we got an invite to attend the PUMA-sponsored Meek Mill event at Sigma Sound in northern Chinatown. Shit was real.
1. Can we just get all these details out: Puma and Meek Mill are a team, they put this thing together with Villa and DJ Booth where they auditioned emcees with a 5-minute tape in the cities of Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia. Meek and his committee, consisting of reps from PUMA, Villa and DJ Booth chose two to open last night – Lyn Charles and Thurz opened up for a pretty short set by Meek himself.
2. Lyn Charles is from Philly. His Soundcloud is solid, Philly-reppin’ flows over curated and sophisticated samples. It doesn’t sound like everything else that’s Maybach Music-touched.
3. Gotta say, his appearance didn’t really match the modest class his songs sound like. He wore an unbuttoned button-down shirt with jeans belted around the top of his thighs. He looked not wholly unlike Dice at the “US Music Awards” from Glitter (it was on HBO yesterday).
4. They had a cash bar to start, but that didn’t last long before they opened up the bar. It was a private event, people were able to buy tickets by copping PUMAs. At the beginning, Coors Lights were $4, well drinks were $7 and the premium stuff, like Ciroc and Patron, was $9. But the bar opened around 9:15pm and when I asked for a whiskey ginger and then a vodka soda, I was told they have pineapple juice, cranberry juice, Coke and Sprite for mixers. That made things less awkward for me.
5. Thurz was real good – good energy and tons of it, engaged the audience (or tried) and hyped up the audience significantly. Check in on his SoundCloud and find a Black Thought collab. He’s from L.A. and did a fair amount of Cali shouting out which was pretty lost on everybody. But on “Riot,” he raps: “Too many rappers in the closet, like Narnia.”
6. It was pretty instantaneous that when Meek took the stage, the room started getting a little blunted.
7. The space is beautiful. Beautifully-finished wood floors, some tasteful modern furniture peppered in the back 2/3 of the space, a well-protected sound booth in the back next to a little VIP area and a stage big enough for a few rappers and a DJ. Tracy, their charming manager, was a show-stopper in a stunning, silky, super-short shirt dress and flesh-like tights that made it seem like she was just wearing a short dress. Sigma’s got a cool history – check it.
8. Confession: I had to Shazam most of the DJs’ sets between rappers. There were two 2 Chainz songs, “I’m Different” and “No Lie” (featuring Drake), and a Lil’ Wayne song, “No Worries.” Just to give a you a snapshot.
9. Meek put on a pretty short and tight set. Doing all the songs I’ve heard and expected: “Amen,” “Young n’ Gettin It,” “Burn,” and “Dreams and Nightmares.” He did lots of shortened versions of songs, naturally, which is pretty standard from most big name emcees at this point. Do a shorter set but get in as many songs that people would know. Which isn’t hard to do for Meek fans, most likely, ‘cus he’s been all over that Maybach money. You know this.
10. Not to end on a Debbie Downer note. But Meek was slated to head out on a few gigs in Chicago and London to keep on keepin’ on after the success of Dreamchasers 2. Looks like that might not happen after an arrest that violated his probation. But if you’re down for a Boardwalk Hall Atlantic City Sandy Benefit featuring Meek, Maly Money, French Montana, Tyga, Lil Chuckee, Honey Cocaine and DJ Drama, tickets are anywhere from $38 to $112 for the Friday night super concert.
See what we did there? See, Free used to be a Roc soldier, a Jay-Z asset. But now, as an individual who’s choosing his own path, following his own chi and calling all the shots, it shows and it sounds real good. There’s ferocity here. The new record, out yesterday, earned a solid XL rating from XXL (Hey, so did Meek Mill). Out of curiosity, we browsed through a few pages of reviews to see how often an XL gets bestowed and it’s not as frequent as Larges, but a rare Medium (2 out of 60) must feel like a punch in the gut.
Free expertly used some guest spots. And normally a solo emcee who enlists a long list of guests means they need help, but here he uses em’ just right. The opening track’s got our girl Marsha Ambrosius on it, followed by a beautiful Vivian Green spot, plus Suzann Christine on “Wonder Tape,” Musiq Souldchild, less-than-amazing moments from Neef Buck and Wale, and a stunning turnout from Nikki Jean. There’s something that really works about the force and energy that Free brings, tempered by a chill, composed female vocal. It’s a hip-hop trope that works for a reason. When ladies sing the hook, it just sounds good.
It’s easy to feel pride for our city and for Freeway when you listen to this one. And for that we salute you, Free. You done good. Here’s an Amazon link, plus it’s on Spotify and iTunes.
It’s almost painful to read, in part, because it’s very thoughtful and takes a career-conscious look at one of our city’s finest. Thing is with Freeway, it just seems sometimes like he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He’s been working hard and reppin’ Philly for years now and then some youngblood like Meek Mill comes up, gets a Rick Ross nod, and has a #1 record. Freeway’s seen many twists and turns and ups and downs in his time in the game. And, well, we’ll let you read the whole thing because it’s actually kind of a good read.
Yup, Philly’s own 25-year-old up-and-coming young rap superstar had another run-in with the Philadelphia Police Department. He tweeted this photo hours after the digital and physical release of his major label debut, Dreams & Nightmares. The newly-annointed Maybach Music Group core member got his big debut off to a strong start with the bigtime-charting “Amen” featuring Drake. And when the tracking week of sales conclude and results are public on Wednesday, Meek and Rod Stewart are looking to chart in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top 200 with, really, only Taylor Swift almost certain to prevent Meek from debuting at #1.
Dreams & Nightmares is looking at selling between 170,000 and 185,000 copies, while Rod’s dopey Christmas record’s probably not going to break 100,000 in sales. Meek’s major label debut, of course, comes after many Dreamchasers mixtapes and short plays. And it also comes almost simultaneously as the other big young gun of fall hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar’s, big debut. His good kid, m.A.A.d. city currently sits at the top of the Billboard Rap Albums and Hip-Hop/R&B Albums charts. And, not sure if you noticed it, but the New York Times recently put the two records side-by-side and looked at the youngbloods’ similarities and differences.
Meek’s no stranger to Philly’s hood life. He got asked to hush about some lyrics he wrote about the assistant district attorney (Noel Ann DeSantis) in “The Ride.” Back in 2008 he was arrested on gun charges and sentenced to eight months in jail. In June of this summer, he was caught up in that whole Drake/Chris Brown/bottle-throwing incident. He was seemingly just a by-stander but other sources say he was in the middle of the two. Five days after that, a North Philly pastor called for a boycott of his blazingly-hot single “Amen” due to its religious-mixed-with-sexytimes language. The details of his detainment are pretty murky. The Philadelphia Police have been surprisingly forthcoming with small details but not enough to piece together a juicy story.
But here’s to Meek’s big charting debut on Wednesday, son. Philly. Represent.