Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When the AfroSquad almost made Creative Loafing

I was rummaging through some old emails recently and I found an interesting correspondence. Back in 2008, when the Afro-Squad was running wild at pro wrestling shows throughout Central Florida, I emailed a writer for Tampa alternative publication Creative Loafing and invited him to check us out. I thought our colorful cast of characters and devoted fans would make an interesting story.

Alas, although they liked the idea, the story never came to be. The writer moved on as did Florida Championship Wrestling. Most of the Afro-Squad also moved on, some actually moving and others removing their afro wigs and drifting away, like small sailboats in the dark night.

But for the annuals of history, here is the correspondence I had with Creative Loafing:

December 1, 2008
Hi Jordi,

My name is xxxxxxx -- I am the staff writer for the Creative Loafing
newspaper here in Tampa. I was forwarded an e-mail you sent us about your
wild wrestling group. I took a look at the site and -- yep -- you definitely
fit our paper ;-)

I'd love to come to a Thursday meet up and see what your group is all about.
When are they? And what's a good date?

Looking forward to hearing from you.


My reply:

December 2, 2008

We would definitely like to meet with you. We meet regularly at the Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) show on Thursday night at 7:30pm. FCW is located at 4535 South Dale Mabry, Tampa, FL 33611. We will probably be there between 6:30-7pm. You should be able to recognize us by our afro wigs.

Of note, FCW regularly does TV tapings for broadcasts on cable TV. These tapings usually draw a larger crowd (hence more people in afros) and we are able to better interact more with the crowd and the performers. I have been told that next Thursday will be a taping and that the show this week is merely a "house" show - without the full-out wrestling production.

If you have any other questions, feel free to email me or call me any night after 6pm at ###-####.


And that was all.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Army and I, twenty years ago today ....

There are several dates each year that cause me to take a moment and reflect. There is my birthday, family birthdays, and the anniversary of family deaths. And one date that marks the beginning of my adult life. The date when who I was changed forever.

Twenty years ago, on August 21st, 1995, I left home to join the US Army.

If that day was my start date, had I stayed in, I would be retiring from the military today.

I remember it well. Six months after signing the initial paperwork and waiting in the delayed entry program, I left for the Army on the same day my high school peers began life at universities and community colleges. Well, some did. That was part of the reason I enlisted, to get away and do something different. As I mentioned in previous writing, my grades weren't the best, and university life was not only out of financial reach but also out of intellectual reach at that moment in my life. I probably would have slacked through college as I did high school.

So on August 21, 1995, I said good-bye to my mother, visiting grandmother, and brother, and drove with my father to the recruiting office for the last time. I think it meant a lot to my father to see me off as he has always been very pro-military and his father, who had passed away earlier in the year, also served in the Army. I remember my Dad holding back tears as he gave me a hug before he left.

A moment I'll never forget.

From the recruiting station I was put on a small bus from Melbourne, Florida to Jacksonville with several other recruits. They were on their first of two trips north for processing. I was the only one on my final trip. Their bags were packed for a few days knowing they would return. My one gym bag was packed for good.

When I arrived at the Ramada Inn by the Jacksonville Military Entry Personnel Station (MEPS), I was put in a room with a guy I had never met and never saw again. The only thing I remember about him was that he was a big Grateful Dead fan. He made his fandom known early in our rooming experience when he gave me a speech on the greatness of Jerry Garcia, who had died two weeks earlier. He called the former guitarist a "hero and a great man". He then pulled out several magazines and newspapers from his suitcase and turned to articles on Garcia, as if quote scripture and prove he wasn't alone in his worship.

Looking back, I am not sure what he intended to do with those magazines in basic training. Nor am I sure he passed the necessary drug tests.

That was the only conversation I had with my Deadhead roommate. Shortly after I was given the rundown on Jerry Garcia's prominence, I left for dinner. When I returned, the Garcia acolyte was asleep. Whatever his purpose at MEPS, he was gone before I awoke the next morning and I never saw him again.

After finishing the necessary paperwork and processing, I left MEPS for the Jacksonville airport and the first step of my military journey. From Jacksonville, I flew to Atlanta, then to St Louis, where I finally connected with other new recruits. They were as awestruck as I was.

Shortly after connecting, we were herded into a white school bus headed for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Over the next two hours, I chatted and bonded with the other soon-to-be service members. We were all excited, all young, and all had no clue what was going to happen.

Soon enough, the bus stopped. I didn't own a watch, so I had no idea what time is was. All I knew was that it was late and dark. We all sat in the bus for several moments, anticipating the unknown.

Our unknown was abruptly shattered by the first drill sergeant I ever saw. True to the stereotype, he barked at us to leave the bus and bring our belongings into the Fort Leonard Wood training processing center. As soon as I could, I grabbed my gym bag and hustled off the bus towards the facility.

For the next few days, Army in-processing was a labyrinth of shots, supplies, and adminstrata. I signed up for the GI Bill, was issued my first uniform, and received my first military hair cut. We were herded along by admin specialists and medical personnel who knew more about our futures then we did and liked it that way.

After each day of in-processing, we were led to old World War II-style temporary barracks for the night. It was a typical open bay of bunkbeds and lockers. Privacy was no longer an option. I went to bed almost immediately on that first night, my only post-dinner task securing my new Army gear in my locker. My gym bag, basketball shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers were no longer needed.

I remember being on the top bunk, asking myself on that first night, "what did I get into?". I remember drifting off comparing those first whirlwind moments of basic training to kindergarten or the first day of fifth grade after my family moved to Florida. If I made through those experiences, I thought to myself, I was strong enough to make it through the experience of basic training.

(Seventeen years later in Afghanistan, I used that same technique to get through my first few nights. After a long international flight, several hours of travel and moving, and incredible jet lag, I again laid on a crappy mattress in temporary open bay-style barracks and thought about how I made it though other new and unknown experiences.)

At 5:00 AM the next morning, the drill sergeant turned on the barracks lights and woke us up. He told us to hurry up and because we had work to do. My first day was done. It was August 22, 1995. My second day in the US Army.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Farewell to rapper Sean Price

Rapper Sean Price passed away in his sleep Saturday morning. I was a fan of his for 20 years. I decided to write a little bit.

"Ruck is the luckiest fucker alive / I went from nothing to something a couple of times" - from the song W.M.D.

This is by far my favorite Sean Price lyric. As my career has been anything but linear, I've used messages from hip-hop as a way to keep me hustling, grinding, and moving forward. Few rappers inspired me like Sean Price. This is how I became a fan.

While watching "Yo! MTV Raps" in the mid-90s, I saw the video for "Wontime" by Smif'N'Wesson. The gritty, Shining-influenced Wontime introduced me to the boom-bap sounds of Duck Down Records and the Boot Camp Clik. I was a little late, as members of the label had released several albums prior to Smif'N'Wessons' release, but such was the plight of a suburban white kid relying on MTV for new music long before the days of the internet.

While the verses of Wontime were solid, the baritone refrain had me hooked. I eventually found out the deep chorus was done by fellow Duck Down members Ruck and Rock, aka Heltah Skeltah. Heltah Skeltah appeared on a few tracks on the Smif'N'Wesson album before releasing a single "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka" and their own album "Nocturnal" in 1996.

At the time, I thought Rock - he of the deep baritone - was the better of the two MCs. Ruck, who referred to himself occasionally by his given name Sean Price - was nice lyrically, but sounded somewhat generic. He didn't really grab me as a presence like Rock did.

I drifted from hip-hop for a few years and dove into rock and blues, but every once in a while I would play that Heltah Skeltah album. It was one of the few non-Wu-Tang or Def Squad albums I kept in regular rotation.

A few years later, I found Sean Price's first solo album "Monkey Barz" in a used CD bin. It had been a while and I was curious. What I heard wasn't like the Sean Price of old. This was a meaner, rougher, gruffer Sean Price. One who didn't need Rock's baritone voice to balance a song. Sean Price had gone back to the lab and come out a monster, a hip-hop version of blues legend Howlin' Wolf.

Lyrically, Monkey Barz was amazing. Using the theme of "The Brokest Rapper You Know", Sean Price rhymed about falling off after the first Heltah Skeltah album, hustling to survive, and getting back into music.

I've always had a soft spot for hustling lyrics. Stories of the struggle and trying to make it. I've never been a fan of the plush verses of Jay-Z, Kanye West, etc. I can't relate. But I because my career has had its ups and downs, can relate to the struggle; stories of working hard to get what you need to survive. In my opinion, that is where hip-hop is at its best.

Sean Price released his second solo CD, "Jesus Price Superstar", in 2007. While I thought Monkey Barz was better, Jesus Price Superstar was another good album. Again Price showed incredible lyrical power and the ability to command songs. He was also promoting the idea of "grown man rap", which didn't cater to teen or newer trends. Sean Price knew his audience, knew what he liked to do in the booth, and knew the intersection of both.

Despite not being as good as Monkey Barz, Jesus Price Superstar was an important album for a two big reasons: it introduced me to up-and-coming MCs Skyzoo and Chaundon. It also closed with the introspective track "Mess U Made", which became one of my favorite Sean Price songs.

"Money ain't a thing says the guy who's rich / While the broke motherfucker thinkin life's a bitch"

The year after Jesus Price Superstar, Sean Price reunited with Rock in 2009 for the third Heltah Skeltah album, "D.I.R.T: Da Incredible Rap Team". Whereas on the first Heltah Skeltah album I thought Rock was the far better MC, on DIRT, Sean Price's growth as an MC and as a presence made them equal tag team members. They were like The Road Warriors of pro wrestling lore: rough, tough, brawlers who beat up beats with hard rhymes.

After the release of DIRT, Duck Down Records celebrated their 15th anniversary in 2010 with a tour that included a stop in Tampa. I was finally able to see some of their acts live. I wrote about the show here, although back then I was a little harsh on some of the local acts I know more about now.

As mentioned, one of the highlights of the show was seeing Sean Price live.
Sean P killed the crowd despite getting angry at the house sound guy for an annoying feedback that plagued his entire performance.

If you have never seen Sean Price, he is a big dude. As he got angrier and kept trying to spit rhymes about destroying MCs all the while battling an uncontrollable stage malfunction, I began fearing for the sound guy’s life. Remind me never to mess with Sean P.
In the five years since, Sean Price became an even bigger name in the underground hip-hop community. He released "Master P", "Mic Tyson" and "Kimbo Price", and collaborated with Black Milk and Guilty Simpson on the "Random Axe" CD. He also appeared on several collaborations and features. He never seemed to stop writing.

He also never seemed to stopped tweeting. His twitter account @SeanPrice was one of the few music personalities I followed on the platform. He tweeted about boxing, music, and life with his kids. While other artists enjoyed interacting, Sean Price seemed to enjoy blocking people, meaning they would never see any more of his tweets. That's the reason I never tweeted him. I didn't want to be blocked.

But I think the reason I like Sean Price the most was that I felt like I could relate. Sean Price was a grown man, who did grown man rap, who wrote prolifically about nothing and sound like something. He liked wordplay and being a tough guy, but seemed like a family man who just happened to be from the streets. He had fallen off and worked hard to get back. He had a practical, pragmatic view on life with no need for the trendy trappings of celeb life or the rap game (or cookie-scented candles). He hustled. He made good music and he put on a good show.

And for 20 years, I was a fan.


Friday, August 7, 2015

When U-God of the Wu-Tang Clan found the internet

The internet as we know it has been around since about the mid-90s. Around that time, people started using the internet for entertainment and media purposes. So there is 20 years of stuff deep in the annals of the web, piles upon piles of archived goodness to discover and laugh at.

Heck, even my earliest blog stuff is almost nine years old.

If you dig deep enough and scrounge around long enough, every so often you find a nugget of early internet goodness in raw form - not a re-post or quote brought into its present context - but something from the early days that might make you laugh, or cry, or even shred a tear for an earlier era.

A piece of internet goodness that makes you ask "can it be that it was all so simple then?".

Such is the case with this great olde tyme interview from 1999 with U-God of the Wu-Tang Clan on At the time, the Wu were already big in hip-hop circles, but had not yet crossed over into the wardrobes of teenage girls. Notorious BIG had died only two years earlier and hip-hop was just breaking through to the mainstream. Old school rap wasn't cliche and it definitely wasn't sang by middle age moms waiting to pick their kids up from elementary school.

In their 1999 interview, Hugo of asked U-God several questions about his new album:
U-God: Yeah, it's comin' out in a minute, it be out in July.
His thoughts on clothing:
U-God: I don't know, I don't like clothing man. I don't like clothing no more man. I'm going into movies man, fuck clothing.
His thoughts on the trials and tribulations of Wu-Tang co-member Ol' Dirty Bastard:
U-God: I don't like Police man. Get a fucking new job man. A life.
And, best of all, his thoughts on the internet.

Bill Gates and the Wu-Tang Clan.

It's their world, we are still just living in it.