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A Father’s Critical Choice

A humble father expresses his wish for all father's in the world today.

Words by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin

In the heart of the Black Lives Matter movements I was asked to give a talk at a progressive public high school on the lower east side. The students there were responsible for the largest walkout and demonstration of any of the schools in New York City and were experiencing a letdown in that spirit and passion. A small group organized an all-day series of speeches and workshops to revive the spirit and to sustain their activism.

I was the keynote speaker of the event. Throughout the process I communicated with one of the student leaders who was an incredibly professional young woman. She greeted me, told me about the student body and prepped me so that I was fully able to speak to their needs and concerns. My role was to inspire her fellow students to keep the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement alive in their school environment even if it seemed to wane outside.

“I would hope that my sons end up like you!” I told her. “Where did you go to elementary and middle school?”

Critical Questions

This Father’s Day coincides with the end of my first son’s first year of school. Where I chose to send him was the most complicated, political, emotional, and important parenting decision I ever made and will probably ever make. As Datwon Thomas, Editor-in-Chief at VIBE aptly noted, “This type of parenting decision changes the course of a youngster's life. They spend the majority of their days at school.”

As a father, I wanted to know exactly who and what my kids would be around for thousands of hours of their young lives.

Personally, my involvement in this decision was crucial. I am raising three boys in a world obsessed with toxic masculinity. I needed to know that their school would reinforce the respect and compassion they are taught at home. My boys are also black and Muslim and I'll be damned if the self-love and strong sense of identity I work tirelessly to instill in them is taken away because of segregation, academic tracking, ignorance, and revisionist history.

Early on, Datwon Thomas and his wife made the decision to send their daughters to a private, catholic school where he said, “The religious curriculum focused them.” Now because they live in an area of the city where the schools are quite good, they are transitioning to a public school, raising new concerns. "Will the curriculum challenge them?" he wonders.

Additionally, his daughters always had a dress code and now they will worry about what to wear and “how fly they will be." Datwon said, "I know their moral fiber is good but will they make the right kind of decisions about the people they surround themselves with?”

The Complexity of Choices

I wanted nothing more than to send my boys to our neighborhood school, walking distance from our home. But as I learned more about our zoned schools, the conversations were not about building up and supporting kids, but rather about gentrification, standardized testing, charters, teacher contracts, law enforcement in schools, and the convoluted process of getting in to a "good" school not in our zone. It was overwhelming.

Private school is not much better for three black boys from a working class household. The race and class disparities rampant in today's world are ever present in private schools where a very small number of black and brown kids are surrounded by white kids and where a very small number of working class kids are surrounded by classmates with immense wealth. Furthermore, in my interactions with several private schools, I did not find a genuine commitment to critical thinking about capitalism and inequality. In a world where the rich are getting (much) richer and the poor are getting (much) poorer, are the schools we send our children to propagating inequality or helping them think about genuinely creating a more equitable world?

Kevin Guzman runs a preschool in Washington Heights with his wife Melissa. They cater to a very diverse mix of professional and politically progressive parents at all ends of the economic spectrum. Each year they offer advice to their parents.

“Are the schools you are applying to adhering to your family’s world view? Do they strive to instill values that are similar to those you hold? What type of learner is your child? What type of environment would they thrive in?”

“Choosing a school,” Kevin warned, “based solely on a perception of status or prestige is an easy way to end feeling trapped or unhappy.”

In addition to thinking about Kevin's questions, when I was visiting schools I thought viscerally, “could I leave my baby boys here?”

A Choice For All?

When I visited my sons’ current school, I immediately felt at ease. On paper, the school is private. In practice, it's neither private nor public. It uses sliding scale tuition which guarantees economic diversity and eliminates the categories of "financial aid" and "full tuition." The admissions team is committed to building a racially diverse community and the teachers use a curriculum that centers the histories, struggles, and successes of oppressed people globally. Teachers are not bogged down with the pressures that come with standardized testing. Parents operate in tandem with faculty and staff, recruiting students, shaping curriculum, and planning events. Similar to the sliding scale tuition, parents give their time according to the time they have to give. Miraculously, no one is valued more or less than the other.

And, as it turned out, that impressive young woman happened to be an alumni of this school.

My son's first year felt like a dream. His classmates are representative of the NYC population - majority black and brown, middle and working class. They come from all parts of the city. They sang songs about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. They took turns bringing home the class rabbit and ducklings. The parents are authors, doctors, train conductors, lawyers, teachers, and dancers, and all of us understand that the success of any one kid is dependent on the success of every other kid. In other words, there is no competition between parents and kids - it's a village in the truest sense where we are constantly uplifting, disciplining, feeding, and playing with all the children as if they were our own. The dads are just as involved as the moms; in fact, we even have dads nights to build with one another.

As the school year progressed, I found myself thinking how this model of sliding scale tuition, commitment to a racially representative student body, fostering of "the village" among parents, and "the world is our classroom" curriculum could be replicated. If private schools aren't working and public schools aren't working, perhaps what we need is education transformation as opposed to reformation and something new that is not funded by property taxes or scholarships and that is not obsessed with performance and punishment.

I, along with countless others, continue to struggle with how all schools can be integrated and inclusive, academic and creative, safe without metal detectors, and disciplined without punishment.

My father's day wish for all you dads out there is that you are fully engaged in the process of choosing your child's school and that you find one that makes you as happy as I am today. Here's to a future where all our kids can be part of a school, as Datwon said, that "matches what they are dreaming and becoming."

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Will.I.Am Is Wrong About The State Of Hip-Hop

“It’s become the lowest-hanging fruit.”

That was Will.i.am’s assessment of hip-hop in an interview with Rolling Stone over the weekend (Dec. 1), and another troubling quote in the ongoing fallacy that rap is somehow a lower form of art. It’s the same trope many rappers – especially those who tend to steer towards white audiences – lean on when they want to “evolve” or “grow” as artists. Kanye West would rather design water bottles than dabble in the slums that are rapping. Tyler, The Creator wants to score movies because rap isn’t good enough. Miley Cyrus is going back to country because “Come sit on my d**k, suck on my c**k” and “Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c**k” music is just too vulgar for her.

Even if part of Will’s point, that the bar for entry into hip-hop is low, is true, the situation is more nuanced than that. The bar for entry has historically been low, which is how you end up with “Ice Ice Baby” running the world in the same year Ice Cube told us about AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, or 69 Boyz’ “Tootsee Roll” doing the same while Nas gave us Illmatic and Biggie gave us Ready to Die.

If anything, the bar isn’t any lower, the net is just wider. Hip-hop has expanded so far beyond its Bronx house party origins that calling it worldwide feels like an understatement. If aliens are picking up Earth’s frequencies somewhere, there’s a good chance they’re hearing some hip-hop whenever they do. It’s that big.

In the ancient rap world Will speaks of, the one where he was part of a Los Angeles backpacker group that existed far, far away from the mainstream, rap was not a privilege, it was a necessity. Most of the black men and women who lunged towards rap did so as an escape and last resort. They did so from impoverished conditions, with few options and even less hope. Rap was a way out and, for some, the only way. It was truly life or death as their choices were either make it big by telling your story or return to your desolate conditions to live out the rest of that story. So they persevered.

This, of course, led to the golden era of rap, but plenty of sameness as well. Many of the stories were the same, even if the lexicons between regions were different. As rap continued to evolve, so too did the stories, and the perspectives that were introduced into the zeitgeist.

Eventually, we grew to a place where rap became a privilege and not a necessity. Now, after generations of rappers setting trends and generally being the coolest people in the room at all times, kids were aspiring to be rappers, not just resorting to that profession when they were out of options. Now, kids could study their favorites their whole lives and work towards being that. Suddenly, and perhaps unintentionally and with a ton of misinformation, rap was a desirable profession. Jay-Z rapped because he had to. It was that, or sell drugs and play that story out. J. Cole raps because he heard Jay-Z and wanted to follow in those footsteps. That’s growth of a genre of music and of a culture as a whole. That’s admirable, not scornful.

With that new influx of hopefuls came a whole new set of perspectives as well. If rappers in the ‘90s had to be the coolest and hardest mothaf**kers in the room, rappers in the 2000s changed that just a tad. Before then, rap only had Will’s perspective, the cool cousin who got all the girls and wore all the best clothes. When folks like Kanye started striking platinum, rappers could be Carlton as well.

In this era, the perspectives widened even more as the talent pool got exponentially bigger. As always, music and technology walk hand-in-hand as well. At the same time all those aspiring rappers began to come of age, technology advanced to a place that made it easier for them to try their hands at achieving their dreams. Computers made music easier to make, functionally not artistically, and the internet made it easier to spread it around. Before, if a young Chris Wallace wanted to make it rapping, he had to find a state of the art studio, pay large sums of money to record several songs, and then do the footwork towards getting attention from record labels himself. Now, Malcolm McCormick, a son of an architect and a photographer, only needed a computer, a microphone and an internet connection to rise to worldwide rapping fame.

In the world we live in now, we don’t get just Deebo’s story in rap–we get Craig’s, Smokey’s, Joi’s and Big Worm’s, too. Hell, we get Hector’s and the Pastor’s, too. And if we fall deep enough into a SoundCloud wormhole I bet we get Mr. Parker’s story, too. For all the complaints about Lil Yachty and the like, we still have Kendrick Lamar and his gravity. If you hate Lil Baby, you can find J.I.D. on the same playlist on your streaming service of choice. All of them exist, and none spite the other.

And this is all a good thing. Where hip-hop was once a specialty store, a Foot Locker of sorts where you could buy new sneakers and maybe even some socks and a shirt, now it’s a whole mall. You can get anything you need in hip-hop, as long as you’re willing to go find it. Foot Locker is still there, but you can go to Macy’s or PacSun, too.

With all of that comes plenty of music we don’t understand or value, but that doesn’t mean that music isn’t good or important. Mainstream has always gravitated towards a more accessible, or dumbed down sound when it comes to hip-hop. Some of the greatest rappers of all-time have capitalized on this trend and made careers out of that. That is why it’s called the music business. But that doesn’t mean the artistry isn’t there still. The current generation’s mastery of melody and cadence is just as impressive as the complexity and poignant lyricism of eras past. It’s just impressive in different ways. Jordan won one way, LeBron won one way, and now Steph Curry and his buddies are winning in another. But the game is still putting the ball in the hoop and preventing the other team from doing the same. The game is still telling our stories with an immaculate collection of sounds and organizing them into a song.

All of hip-hop comes from the same rebellious spirit that was encapsulated at those Bronx block parties in the ‘70s. All of it. Everything is about that youthful energy, and counter-culture. In taking the traditional, and changing it enough to invent something our own. Sure, we might not all enjoy the Lil Pumps and Tekashi 6ix9ines of the world, but somebody younger than us does, for sure. And sees it in the same light as we saw our heroes. Trend-setting, rebellious deities, speaking for us and telling our stories. They all come from the same place, even if they don’t sound the same. The bar is not lower, the net is wider, and the window into understanding the youth may be a little more opaque than it used to be. But that’s what age does to the eyes and the ears.

The constant degradation of hip-hop, its culture, its values and most importantly its sounds, is beyond problematic. The people who belittle the genre in an effort to hold it down, are the same ones who dabble in it every time they need a boost in popularity or the coolness factor. Hip-hop is the culture where they find their looks, their sounds, and everything else. We can’t let them work to depreciate the value of the culture they so often steal from.

It’s a classic case of gentrification, but this is a soil so pure it can’t be salted. This is a neighborhood so culturally rich, its natives can’t be run out of town even in the harshest of conditions, because we know once they buy up all this land they’re going to try to price us out. Don’t let them tell us hip-hop is the low hanging fruit when we know it’s the whole damn tree. If they can’t reach the sweetest of fruit at the top of the tree, that’s their fault. Not ours.

READ MORE: Stop Playing Into Female Rappers' Catty Feuds And Demand The Bars

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Bow Wow Threatens Revenge Porn And We All Should Be Disgusted

Shad Moss, still known as Bow Wow, took an ex-lovers quarrel too far when he threatened to leak a sex tape between himself and former fiancée, Erica Mena.

Fueled by a seemingly innocent comment from Mena, Moss fired back undermining the media personality, insinuating she was promiscuous and had accumulated more than 500 sexual partners in her lifetime. Brushing the comments off, the mother-of-one shot back saying, "You mean the 500 bodies you stayed eating between my legs standing up little man."

Clearly emasculated by the clap back, the "Let Me Hold You" rapper went on Twitter begging fans to warn Mena before he used revenge porn to expose her.

 

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#BowWow still has words for #EricaMena 👀

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Nov 17, 2018 at 9:44pm PST

Revenge porn or "non-consensual pornography" is defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent. This includes both images originally obtained without consent (e.g. by using hidden cameras, hacking phones, or recording sexual assaults) as well as images consensually obtained within the context of an intimate relationship," according to Cyber Civil Rights.

The two began dating in 2014 while co-hosting the now-defunct BET video countdown series 106 & Park. Before the year came to an end, the two were engaged and even posed for engagement photos with People magazine in February 2015.  The couple called it quits nearly nine months later, leaving speculation as to what caused their so-called fairly tale relationship to end.

Speaking with Global Grind after the breakup, Mena hinted towards the rapper's behavior in the relationship. “I could have gone public about our breakup a month ago,” she said after the rapper began teasing images of him with the mother of his daughter Jovie Chavis.

“He does this to make headlines. Just leave me alone, I moved on; why are you still in your feelings? He’s literally posting about Joie to get on my nerves and it’s not working. He’s posting it to fuck with her head and to try to get a reaction out of me. Listen, I walked away silently. He’s an abuser.”

Mena revealed Sunday (Nov. 18) that the rapper was reportedly suicidal which led to the end of their relationship. “I left him after he tried to kill himself with my son in the house,” she said while sharing messages from one of the rapper's associates. “He’s been trying to link with me ever since.”

From an ethical standpoint holding on to explicit videos and joking about exposing them to cause emotional or physiological distress to a person is morally disgusting. But more than anything, it violates Georgia and Calif. Revenge Porn laws.

It also qualifies as a felony that could result in one to five years in prison and a possible $100,000 fine.

Degrading a woman for her sexual choices is one thing, but as the father of a 7-year-old girl, Moss' primary concern outside of being the host of Growing Up Hip-Hop should be showing his child how a man properly treats women. Releasing a sex tape with somebody who almost became her step-mother is nothing short of ridiculous.

Mena then responded noting that she had been in contact with Lisa Bloom, a popular civil rights attorney known for working with women who have been victims of sexual harassment.

 

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#EricaMena seems unbothered by this alleged tapey tape!

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Nov 18, 2018 at 6:02am PST

What's most ironic is that last month (Oct. 2) Bow Wow released an emotional video to bring awareness to domestic violence, but is attempting to inflict sexual violence by threatening to release sexual images without the video participants consent.

It's a low blow which speaks to the rapper's mental health. It also showcases the casual toxic behavior that happens in the industry. The millions watching it all unfold on social media will more than likely follow suit.

READ MORE: Bow Wow Tackles Domestic Violence In New Video ‘Broken Heart’ 

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Stop Playing Into Female Rappers' Catty Feuds And Demand The Bars

“Real” rap fans, instead of playing into female rappers’ catty feuds, keep that same energy and demand the same bars expected from male rappers.

There is no such thing as “if you had fun you won” in the rap game. In its truest form, rap is a sport, and there aren’t multiple winners. Yes, multiple artists can bask in the same pool of success, but ultimately one wins that final gold star (especially when we’re talking about album sales, awards, etc). Especially in the realm of rap beef—the genre’s favorite game—there can only be one winner. We expect it. When it came to the latest squabbles between male rappers like Drake and Pusha T, fans debated over who won the war, but unfortunately, that energy has not been extended to the ladies of the game. Rap beefs between femcees, most notably Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, don’t foster the same reactions or expectations. It appears as though no one is seeking women to deliver diss tracks. We argue it’s an act of “anti-feminism” if they do. Instead, we marvel at the bi**hiness of their issues with one another, finding satisfaction in catty interviews and social media videos. But in the end, it’s a disservice to the culture and the movement of women who constantly ask for the word “female” to be stripped from the beginning of their titles so that it just says “rapper.”

Nicki and Cardi’s ongoing feud has been one of the most talked about beefs this year, but neither artist has been held to the same standard as their male counterparts of the same high-profile status. Their dual reached new heights last Monday (Oct. 29), when Nicki revisited her notorious fight with Cardi at New York Fashion Week on Queen Radio, offering fans $100,000 to uncover footage that proved Cardi was beaten senseless by Rah Ali. She also claimed Cardi had attempted to “stop her bag” by demanding other artists not work with her (which several other artists have accused Nicki of doing to them).

Nicki’s comments didn’t fall on deaf ears. Only hours later, Cardi B hit back on Instagram, recording a series of videos that addressed the various claims made by Nicki earlier that day. And it didn’t stop there; Nicki returned on Twitter with a rebuttal, before the two ultimately called a lukewarm truce.

READ MORE: Cardi B Responds To Nicki Minaj’s ‘Queen Radio’ Episode In Lengthy Instagram Rant

Admittedly, this might have been one of the most entertaining moments of the year. Hip-hop fans scrolled and cackled as they played Cardi’s videos one after the other before rolling over to their Twitter apps to see what Nicki had to say. Nicki’s line “baby girl write a rap” inspired a series of GIFs, as well as Cardi’s quotable: “how convenient is that.” But the point is not what was said, but where it was said. While both ladies spewed harsh remarks, none of it once touched wax. It was over social media, leaving the blogs—which both have protested in the past for writing salacious stories pitting women against each other—to tell their stories for them.

 

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This too much 😩😩

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Oct 29, 2018 at 5:58pm PDT

More importantly, there was no encouragement from fans or media outlets to express their frustrations on a record. Instead, there were requests for the two to take lie detector tests (daytime TV host Maury Povich even offered to assist the artists in their dispute) or continue to air out their dirty laundry on the Internet. Legitimate brands participated in the mayhem; Steve Madden and Wilhelmina Models jumped on the first train to drama city to fuel the battle.

There’s a gross oversight in the hip-hop community when we as fans do not ask for the two most popular and historic female rappers to record diss tracks. When it came to Drizzy and Pusha’s feud in May 2018, we demanded a spar of (recorded) words and wouldn’t settle for anything less. Both artists delivered a series of diss tracks, including “Duppy Freestyle” and “The Story of Adidon,” but a majority of fans rolled their eyes when the two followed up their musical feud with interviews on LeBron James’ The Shop and "The Joe Budden Podcast." Twitter, especially, was flooded with figurative eye rolls, asking for the two to leave the gossip behind and thrust that energy into more music. The media even got involved—DJBooth published an opinion piece on Oct. 17 entitled, “Pusha-T Put It On Wax.”

READ MORE: Steve Madden Hopes Nicki Minaj And Cardi B Can “Reach Some Peace”

Likewise, Eminem’s battle royale with MGK also received massive support. MGK was praised for igniting vintage rap vibes with “Rap Devil.” Fans waited at the edge of their seats to see how Eminem would reciprocate. When Em hit back with “Killshot,” some fans posed the question of whether the feud would continue for another round. Others mulled over who won. So where was that energy with Nicki and Cardi’s eager spectators?

Of course there are male artists that we ignore as well. 50 Cent and Ja Rule’s drawn-out feud is one that only lives on social media. Fans have not encouraged their petty jabs; many insist they give it a rest due to the fact that no one really takes them seriously as rappers, especially since they have moved onto entrepreneurial endeavors. It would suggest the silence regarding Nicki and Cardi’s beef stems from the way we view both stars, as well as female artists and their rap beef in general.

 

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#PressPlay: #CardiB has more to say! (PART 2 👀🍿)

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Oct 29, 2018 at 3:58pm PDT

Female rappers have been branded with the 50 Cent and Ja Rule stain from day one. They are the clowns of the industry until proven otherwise. Twitter never asked for an Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea face-off or Azealia vs. Cardi because it would’ve been seen as a joke or petty. Fans just wanted to (smartly) discuss mental health in the music industry and show love towards Cardi in her moment of glory. They were even mum when Azealia went up against Nicki because, again, mental health is a serious issue.

To some, Cardi, Iggy and Azealia are not viewed as “serious” rappers. Cardi has mastered the art of producing a certified banger, but she is the relatable girl up the block. Additionally, Cardi is not a writer. She’s admitted to receiving help penning her own lyrics and therefore, should be automatically disqualified. Iggy’s missteps in the media and odd pairings in the pop sphere have left her in the dark, and although Azealia may be the most talented and technically-equipped artist of this generation, her commentary on race and blind attacks on the industry’s most beloved celebs (Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, Skai Jackson) have severely tainted her positioning on the respectability scale.

READ MORE: Azealia Banks & Cardi B Exchange Words Over Representation Of Black Women

Unfortunately, when the female artists finally reach that pillar of serious success, it somehow makes them exempt from competition, as if they are invincible. Nicki’s resume deems her an undisputed opponent. Her solid verse on Kanye’s “Monster” is immortalized, and since she’s been the only female rapper in the game for such a long period of time, everyone has steered clear of testing her. The only time you’d expect any support from a vet is when she’s up against another vet. “ShEther,” Remy Ma’s diss track targeting Nicki, garnered the appropriate reaction, but even then, the Barbz attempted to slander Remy’s character with Billboard stats and plaques, arguing that a response record was not required of an artist at Nicki’s level.

In the end, fans stay silent because they view one or more of the parties involved as jokes or because they are trying to protect a legacy. There’s a Mary Poppins’ bag of endless excuses why female rap beefs go unnoticed, but they all would suggest that there is a double standard happening in hip-hop. Come on, even the most elementary of rappers have drummed up buzz for musical back-and-forths. Lil Pump and J. Cole went tit-for-tat on the “F**k J. Cole” and “1985,” respectively, and fans were deeply invested.

Why pay for a Lie Detector Test @NICKIMINAJ... when mine is FREE! I’ll get to the bottom of this! https://t.co/7Cnryu8d22

— The Maury Show (@TheMAURYShow) October 30, 2018

Supporters have a responsibility to invest and hoist female artists onto the same pedestal as male rappers. Aside from watching them roast each other on social media or ask that they hold hands and hug it out for representation sake, request that they engage in a good ol’ fashioned rap beef. “ShEther” is proof of the reward that comes when you see a rap beef through. The track forced fans to have a debate, discuss and dissect bar-for-bar, so much so that it garnered the attention of the masses (it peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s U.S. Bubbling Under R&B/Hip-Hop Singles.) The reception would’ve likely been 10 times as great if fans had put the pressure on Nicki to respond.

With Nicki being a seasoned artist, we would hope that she would play into the feud simply to demonstrate why she is the queen she proclaims to be on record. Or, we’d even want someone in Cardi’s corner to tell her to shut her opponent up the old fashioned way (sans the screenshots of stats reports). But even more disappointing than the two women involved are the countless Barbz and Bardi Gang members who have grown passive and rolled over as the current faces of female rap handled their issues like two high school girls using their posses to relay the message that they hate each other. Do better.

READ MORE: Ellen DeGeneres Pokes Fun At Nicki Minaj-Cardi B Feud

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