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The Millennial Resurgence Of Black Skateboarders

While skateboarding is regaining popularity among Generation Y, the sport has its own history within the black community.

Thirty years ago, it was laughable to even suggest that skateboarding would become an Olympic sport. On Aug. 3, the International Olympic Committee approved the sport for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, a historic move for the subculture whose participants once prided themselves as being outsiders of the mainstream. The gate appears to be wide open for millennials, and in particular, for black millennials, who appear to be skateboarding in greater numbers than in the past couple of decades in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, particularly in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina was said to spark a “skateboarding renaissance” among black youth. However, skateboarding, for black millennials, is not in a renaissance. Rather, it is in a resurgence.

Upon first glance, the rise of the sport among black millennials is most likely to be attributed to the visibility of rappers who have ventured into skateboarding, now that the once underground sub-culture has finally gained commercial success; among those most infamous for attempting to tap into the market are Pharrell Williams, Lil’ Wayne, and most notably, Lupe Fiasco. Fiasco’s 2006 single, “Kick, Push”, a lyrical fable about two misfit skateboarders who eventually find love together as a natural outcome of their passion for the sport. While the emcee received backlash from professional skaters who felt Fiasco was posturing, the record came to be regarded as a instant classic in the hip-hop community, leading to a surge of interest from black youth in cities nationwide.

There is scant history concerning skateboarding within the black community. Despite claims to the contrary, kids from the ‘hood falling in love with skateboarding is not recent phenomena; the subculture has its own history within black communities, particularly on Chicago’s South Side.

“I started skateboarding because everybody else was doing it,” explains former South Side resident Greg Collins, 58. “Everybody in my neighborhood in Englewood skateboarded.” When asked if it was ever considered a sport that most white kids enjoyed, he shook his head avidly. “Not at all. I lived in a big, tall building where there was a bunch of kids who made it look cool. There wasn’t media coverage. This was late 1960s, early 1970s. It was just something else for us to do outside, back when skateboards were three dollars and had rubber wheels.”

Skateboarding first appeared in California in the 1940s among surfers as something to practice in their downtime. Bill Richards was one of the first people to invest in the skateboarding business, consequently making a deal with the Chicago Roller Skate Company to create both sets of skate wheels with wooden boards attached to them.

In Chicago’s Englewood community, obtaining skateboards was fairly easy, provided you had one thing to purchase them with. “I took my mom’s S&H green stamps and went to the store,” recalls Collins. “They were trading stamps. You saved the stamps in a book to buy stuff, and then you could use that to redeem them and get products. We used them to get stamps to get baseball gloves, skateboards, and basketballs. We ain’t have to spend money. We just used the stamps.”

While skateboarding was extremely popular on the south side in the 60s, its popularity began to decline in the early 70s. Collins recalls, “When you started going to high school, you didn’t really skateboard. It wasn’t really cool then–it was seen as kid’s stuff. We migrated more to the other sports, like football, basketball and baseball. Skateboarding was just one thing we did. You might spend an hour skateboarding around the building. It took almost half a mile to get around our building [in Englewood]. I think it was more people migrating and specializing in other things. A lot of people in my neighborhood went to the pros: pro football, pro-basketball. When they got to high school, it was like, ‘I don’t have time for skating.’”

In the 1978, Alan “Ollie” Gelfand revolutionized the sport by inventing the ollie trick; he appeared in Skateboarder mag after the sport’s earlier decline, suddenly, kids were anxious to jump on long boards again. After the invention of the ollie in the late '70s, skating parks were rapidly developed in middle-class white neighborhoods. Due to a lack of skateparks in the black neighborhoods, developing advanced skill sets within the sport beyond simply balancing on the board became increasingly difficult. The combination of suburbanization and divestment led to a loss of interest as black youth ventured into high school led the way for skateboarding to be associated as a sport for middle class white kids.

“It’s easier to get a skating park in a white middle-class neighborhood than it is on the West Side. They’ve been trying to get a skate park on the low-end for years,” Jaz, a black female skater, explains to me.

The Reagan and Clinton era saw skateboarding take a much more anti-establishment turn that the sport is known for. The crack era, welfare reform, poverty, mass incarceration, and the outsourcing of jobs left American youth frustrated. With the rise of punk, gangsta rap, and grunge music in the 1980s and 1990s, skateboarding became a reflection of anti-corporate and anti-establishment values of the times. No longer was the subculture associated with wholesome, blond surfer boys on the West Coast; to the horror of white suburbia, it was now symbolic of urban anarchy.

It was precisely this that drew Jaz to the sport. “I wasn’t interested in other sports. At the time, I was getting into punk music and the roots of skateboarding is very much embedded within that,” she recalls, remembering how the sport helped her to develop her own sense of autonomy as a young black girl. At age 28, she’s embraced an anti-capitalist, radical politic that aligns with her identity as a skateboarder. “I was 11 when I started.”

Jaz’s presence in skateparks could be considered radical in itself. There still aren’t many black women who are well-known within the sport, much less who come to practice in the city’s skate parks. While Cali’s own Samarria Beard was recently hailed as the “Serena Williams” of skateboarding and Christiana Smith is gaining recognition for her skills, the numbers are still small. “In the future, I want to see more Black women in skateboarding," Jaz says emphatically. “Right now, you see a few Latina and Indigenous women, but not that many who are black. It’s not because women can’t be just as good at skating than dudes can. I would say because they have a lower center of gravity, women might be better than men. It’s completely a result of socialization. You see dudes falling and trying tricks, and other dudes just pat them on their ass and say, “Get up and try it again, dude’. A lot of girls think that you can only be a skateboarder’s girlfriend.”

She smirks as she speaks on the macho attitudes of male skateboarders. “I’ve literally seen dude’s try to pick up girl’s feet and position it on the board for them,” she says, mimicking the patronizing action. “That’s the worst thing that they can do. I always tell women, ‘Go learn by yourself because he’s going to make it all about him. That’s the best thing I can tell them.”
Here, on the West Side of Chicago where we meet to talk, Jaz is camping out with dozens of other people across the street from a “black site” in which CPD illegally detained and disappeared thousands of people over the past decade, most of whom were black.

The campsite, organized by the Let Us Breathe Collective, a group of artists who imagine a world without police or prisons, organize workshops, town-hall meetings, also taking donations in the form of books, clothes, food, and other supplies. During her time here, Jaz took note of young children who came through the camp, particularly in terms of gender dynamics. “There’s kids who come here and they immediately want to try to skateboard. My boo came through and donated one the other day. The black girls who come through here want to try to skateboard. They don’t even think twice about it being a boy’s thing. I don’t say anything to them about it, either. They had that sense of autonomy.”

Here, in this space, the consumerist nature of skateboarding vanishes; the kids don’t wear Thrasher t-shirts or other logo brands. Instead, it is a indelible curiosity that draws them to it, much akin to the earlier prevalence of the sport within the 1960s, reclaiming public space. Capitalist consumerism undoubtedly changed the anti-authoritarian tone of skateboarding in the new millennium, but could it still be considered a radical act, particularly for black children coming-of-age in the hood, in which private property often takes precedence over autonomy? Jaz thinks so.

“It can be a radical act. First and foremost, it’s about autonomy. Recently, mainstream skateboarding changed the dynamics of what skateboarding is to be about commercialism. Black folks have always taken very little and always made something creative with it. A bench can become a place to practice tricks on. So can a curb. That’s we’ve always done.” —Shanna Collins

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Boomshots: The Unstoppable Rise Of Dre Island

"We rise to the top," Dre Island sings on "We Pray," his massive collab with Popcaan, "cause we know what it takes."

Building on that theme of musical and spiritual elevation, the multi-talented musician—singer, deejay, songwriter, producer, and pianist—has just released his debut album Now I Rise. The project features the aforementioned "We Pray" as well as crucial collaborations with the likes of Jesse Royal and Chronixx. "Ah mi family dem deh," says Dre Island, who has toured Europe backed by Chronixx's band Zincfence Redemption. A graduate of Kingston’s Calabar high school—alma mater of both Jr. Gong and Vybz Kartel—Andre Johnson aka Dre Island is a living link between the vaunted “roots revival” movement and the sound of the Jamaican streets.

“The revival is really within the people," he says. "Reggae music never stop. Reggae artists always been touring. So it’s just the people’s awareness.” During a time when reggae and dancehall stand at a crossroads, Dre Island has emerged as one of the few artists capable of bringing together dancehall vibes and the ancient roots traditions—not to mention outernational connections like "People" his collaboration with UK talents Cadenza and Jorja Smith. “An island is a small land mass surrounded by water,” the artist told Boomshots correspondent Reshma B in their first interview. “But if you read further it’s also a place where you go to find yourself.”

Released through a joint-venture partnership with New York-based DubShot Records and the artist's own Kingston Hills Entertainment imprint, Now I Rise is a 13-track set that includes the hit single “We Pray” featuring Popcaan, “My City,” as well as the recently released “Be Okay” feat Jesse Royal. Never-before-heard tracks include “Days of Stone” featuring Chronixx and “Run to Me” featuring Alandon as well as tracks produced by the likes of Jam2, Anju Blaxx, Teetimus, Winta James, Dretegs Music and Barkley Productions. The artist is now managed by Sharon Burke, founder of the Solid Agency in Kingston, Jamaica. Earlier this month, Dre Island premiered the official music video (directed by Fernando Hevetia) for the last song on the album, “Still Remain.”

“This album speaks of arising, growth, new beginnings and emerging from the ashes," Dre Island states. "At this time, these are all the things we need based on what is happening right now. The truth is, since 2015 I have been advertising that the album is coming. It has been five years and the time is right. As an artist and person Dre Island move different. I embrace Rasta and this way of life, but I am not part of any group like Boboshanti or Twelve Tribes. Everything I do is inspired by the father. I am moved to drop this album at this time because I am divinely inspired to do so. When you look at a song like “We Pray” I can take no credit for a song like that. Yes I wrote the lyrics and built the rhythm and I voice the track, but it's a prayer, not just a song so how a man fi tek credit for something that come from above.”

Dre Island and Boomshots have been linking up from early in his musical journey. During a recent trip to New York City, he sat down with Reshma B to speak about the new project and his unstoppable rise. Check the reasoning:

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Carlos Perez

Anuel AA Breaks Free

In 2015, an entourage of close to 30 men drew guns among one another during a traditional Christmas parranda in Puerto Rico. The scene turned into something straight out of a movie when a pair of gangsters clandestinely attempted to kidnap local rapper Anuel AA. After a brief scuffle and flagrant shouting match, however, the man born Emmanuel Gazmey Santiago went on to finish the evening’s holiday spree in the boisterous company of his loyal posse.

Months later, after ushering in the new year on a promising note by featuring on one of Latin trap’s first global hits – De La Ghetto’s sex anthem “La Ocasion” with Arcangel and Ozuna – someone delivered Anuel AA a divine premonition of sorts: “If you keep talking about this stuff in your songs, something really ugly is going to happen to you.”

A Puerto Rican music legend, Hector “El Father” of reggaeton-turned-son of God, paid Anuel a visit to share his foreboding message. “He and I did not know each other,” explained Anuel, who prides himself on waxing poetics about the real-life experiences Hector was concerned with, “but God spoke to him and Hector felt he needed to reach out to me. When he warned me, he said it with so much conviction that he even cried.”

Having forged a legacy of his own as one of the key trailblazing reggaeton entertainers of the ‘90s who later signed a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Hector – now a devoted Christian – understood life imitated art when it came to Anuel’s lyrics.

“My lyrics talked a lot about God and the devil, so when he told me that,” Anuel continued, “I knew I needed to make some changes. Those themes, good versus evil, they were my mark and what separated me from the rest.”

On April 3, 2016, just two weeks after meeting with Hector, Anuel was arrested and held in Guaynabo’s correctional institution on charges of illegal gun possession. Following his biggest musical break yet, just as he was touching the cusp of international stardom, a court judge sentenced Anuel to 30 months in federal prison without bail.

Raised east of San Juan, in the Puerto Rican city of Carolina, Anuel AA has a lot in common with many of my favorite MCs: he’s charming, resolute, and lyrically gifted, yet marred by a criminal past, complicit misogyny and the constant struggle between right and wrong. “I had no choice but to carry those weapons with me, because of the issues I had on the street,” the rapper said to VIBE Viva over the phone, while quarantined in Miami. “I thought to myself I’d rather be locked up than found dead.”

Indeed, Anuel had evaded his probable demise when he was nearly abducted and landed right behind bars months later, fulfilling a prophecy that cost him both his freedom and a flourishing start at the tipping point of trap music en Español. “I was being forced to reckon with all the bad things I had done for money in the past,” Anuel expressed, regretfully. “I started reading the Bible for the first time and realized that my talent and blessings came from God, not anywhere else.”

Anuel had begun to take music seriously around the same time his father, José Gazmey, was laid off from his coveted A&R position at Sony Music. With his back against the wall, a scrappy Anuel left home at 15 and began to engage in felonious activity to help provide for his family and finance his music endeavors.

Like many rappers on the island, Anuel was influenced by popular culture and trends on the mainland, most discernibly by contemporary trap. Anuel understood the genre’s synonymy with street life and the drug enterprise and immediately took to Messiah El Artista, a Dominican-American rapper VIBE profiled for championing Spanish-language trap music all over New York.

“I figured if Latin trap was doing well in New York, it was for sure going to pop in Puerto Rico,” said Anuel, who had signed with the Latino division of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group the year prior to his arrest. “I spent about a month in New York before I returned to Puerto Rico. Then I started to release all the songs I had, one by one, and they began to gain popularity.”

While artists like J. Balvin helped breathe new life into the reggaeton genre in Colombia, Anuel wanted to spearhead a movement in Puerto Rico with a sound all their own. “I recorded the ‘Esclava’ remix with Bryant Myers and it might not have taken off worldwide, but it became a huge trap song in Puerto Rico.”

Akin to the heydays of reggaeton, an Afro-Caribbean genre-fusing hip-hop and reggae that originated in Puerto Rico, trap music was considered lowbrow and was heavily criticized for its vulgarity, violence, and explicit lyrics. Puerto Rican critics and artists alike had very little faith in the music’s potential and therefore denounced it. “DJ Luian, who is like a brother to me, couldn’t understand why I wanted to put all my energy into music that none of our artists wanted to sing.”

“Reggaeton went dormant for years,” he continued. “It was necessary to make trap music, because it felt like reggaeton was stuck in another era.” A self-described student of the late and oft-controversial Tupac Shakur, Anuel thought reggaeton had reached its pinnacle and believed Latin trap would be its successor.

Songs like “Nunca Sapo,” where Anuel channels Rick Ross’ Teflon Don ethos and spits a grimy slow-tempo flow over a sinister 808-laden instrumental, helped put a face to Anuel’s little-known name in the US. On cuts like Farruko’s “Liberace,” Anuel speeds up his delivery for fun and plays on the “Versace” rhythm popularized by Migos, who all hail from Atlanta—the widely credited birthplace of trap music.

For Anuel, whose life mantra “real hasta la muerte” is now a famous hashtag, music aspirations had little to do with radio play. Anuel, 27, was largely concerned with dominating the digital space, especially while incarcerated. Despite his arrest, he continued to release music from behind prison walls while his team fed his massive following up-to-date content.

Hear This Music CEO, DJ Luian heeded what Anuel was trying to accomplish and began to work with Bad Bunny, the Latin Grammy-winning artist and star voice of the current Latin trap movement. “When I was locked up, Luian helped develop Bad Bunny and he basically became in charge of keeping trap alive while I was away,” said Anuel, who ironically came under fire recently and was accused of throwing shade at Bad Bunny for the video treatment of “Yo Perreo Sola,” in which the rapper-singer dresses in drag as a stance against toxic masculinity.

“I couldn’t believe something like this was going viral,” Anuel interrupted anxiously before I could expound on a question concerning their relationship. “It looked like it was something that was edited or put together to make my Instagram posts read that way. I immediately texted Bad Bunny about it and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, people are always going to be talking sh*t.’”

Anuel considers Bad Bunny a genius at what he does and maintains that despite not knowing each other very well, he and his fellow compatriot are friendly collaborators with a working rapport: “When he and I do a new song together, what will people say then?”

Today, the collective jury will reach a verdict upon listening to Anuel’s newly-released sophomore studio album Emmanuel, where fans will find a track titled “Hasta Que Dios Diga,” a sultry, mid-tempo reggaeton number. Fans can expect to hear a star-studded project riddled with guest features, including Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee, Enrique Iglesias, J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Karol G, to name a few.

Discussing life during a global pandemic, Anuel spoke fondly of his partner-in-rhyme, Colombian singer-songwriter Karol G. “She’s the love of my life. She’s been there with me through the good and bad. People who really love you are the ones who stand firm by you when things are bleak. In my toughest moments, Karol was there. She’s shown me how to be a better man,” he gushed.

“Karol comes off as super feminine—which she is, but Karol also has a really tough masculine side,” Anuel laughed heartily on the other end of the line. “She rides motorcycles and likes taking them up these crazy hills. She rides jet skis too! She’s like a dude, haha. We work well together and we give each other advice all the time.”

The pair are making the most of quarantine life in South Florida, releasing a self-directed and self-shot music video for their joint single “Follow,” a reference to flirting over social media in the era of social-distancing, the idea that shooting one’s proverbial shot can lead to a budding romance.

On July 17, 2018, Anuel dropped his debut studio album, Real Hasta La Muerte, hours before he was released from jail. By September, the RIAA certified his introduction to the game platinum, garnering the attention of Roc Nation artist Meek Mill. When the Philly wordsmith released his fourth studio LP in November of the same year, followers were geeked to learn Anuel had earned himself a place on Meek’s highly anticipated Championships album with “Uptown Vibes.”

I always wanted you and anuel aa to make a track together bc i feel like he’s the meek mill of spanish trap , how was it working with him ?

— Nagga (@naggareports) December 17, 2018

“Recording with Meek Mill for me was like when Allen Iverson played with Michael Jordan for the first time,” Anuel said, singing praises about their first-ever partnership. “I’m a huge fan of Meek; when his music took off I was still in the streets, so I related and identified with a lot of the things he was saying.”

“Meek doesn’t understand a lick of Spanish,” he mused in jest, “but he’s always with a bunch of Latinos. When I speak to him he says, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, but my Spanish [speaking] ni**as tell me you be talking that sh*t!’”

Anuel leveraged his knack for storytelling and released “3 de Abril” earlier this year, an emotional freestyle about the day he was arrested and a graphic snapshot of his trials and tribulations.

“I did things without caring about the consequences. I thought I was a man because I was street smart. Now I know what it’s like to lose everything, so I wanted to talk more about my life and the experiences of me and my family,” Anuel described the inspiration behind the song.

Following the release of “3 de Abril,” Anuel again turned hip-hop heads when he and Lil Pump shared a fiery audiovisual for their collaborative effort “Illuminati,” stamping Pump's first new song since summer 2019. This year, Anuel also has songs with Colombian pop empress Shakira (“Me Gusta”) and with the late Juice WRLD (“No Me Ames”).

Albeit Anuel and Juice WRLD never got to meet in person, Anuel learned about the Chicago rapper from listening to his singles on the radio in jail. “The same year I won Billboard Latin’s Artist of The Year award, Juice WRLD won New Artist at the American Billboard Awards. We ended up recording the song after that but held off on releasing it for a bit because he and I had respective singles coming out at the same time,” Anuel explained.

“By the time we were finally ready to premiere it, Juice WRLD had passed away. We were never able to record together in person, but at least we got to feature him on the video. I know the tribute gave his fans and family some needed strength.”

Less than 30 minutes have gone by and already I am forced to wrap my conversation with Boricua’s burgeoning superstar:

Anuel, explain “real hasta la muerte” for me. Why exactly is this mantra of yours so important? 

“I can’t betray anyone. I don’t know what it’s like to really betray someone. I’m very loyal to my circle, my family, and those I hold close to me. Being real is what keeps me humble. It doesn’t matter how much money I make or how much I accomplish. What’s critical is staying real to myself and keeping my feet on the ground. That’s what helps keep me going.”

This interview was translated from Spanish to English and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Exclusive: BBD's Mike Bivins And Ricky Bell Speak On Funk Fest 'Garage Concert Series' And George Floyd's Murder

The early '90s wouldn't be the same without Bell Biv DeVoe's style of hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it. Even as a stark departure sound and style-wise from their New Edition group days, BBD  literally ushered in a new tint to the already hot sounds of Teddy Riley's "New Jack Swing" of the mid to late '80s. Their universal party anthem single, "Poison," cures any wack wallflower growing jam and will forever be the barbeque favorite of your aunt and uncle to sprain an ankle to while dancing.

So today, May 28th at 9 pm EST on FunkFestTV.com, it's only right that the crew known as BBD brings that same energy to the comfort of our homes, with "The Garage Concert Series" during these quarantine times via a streaming deal with the 19-year-old urban music festival, Funk Fest. The series is billed as a jam session that comes to you with the flavor of a bare-bones home garage performance that gets to the organic feel of the music. Joining BBD in this landmark event will be recent Verzuz social media battle stars, Jagged Edge.

Tonight's festivities will be in honor of aiding those in need through the newly created charity by the trio named BBD Cares. This community initiative focuses on the seniors of Laurel Ridge Rehabilitation Care Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Proceeds from the moderately priced pay-per-view performance will go to those impacted by the grip of Covid-19. "We’re proud to launch the Garage Concert Series and our BBD Cares effort to raise money and awareness during a time when our communities, our culture, and our society need healing," said Ricky Bell.

Both Mike Bivins and Bell spoke to R&B Spotlight founder, Cory Taylor for VIBE on ZOOM to detail the idea and plans for the Funk Fest and Garage Concert series, as well as expound on the turbulent times we are currently experiencing in society. While explaining how hard things are to bare, music being an outlet helps in healing and this digital event looks to continue to flourish in expanding that notion. “The Garage Concert Series, which we conceptualized and named after other culture-shifting brands like Amazon and Microsoft that started in their garage, is our contribution to the global community,” states Bivens.

Be sure to watch their interview with us and log on to FunkfFestTV.com at 9 pm EST for a blast to the past of good music for a great cause. Ronnie DeVoe sums it up best, “our goal is to continue to spread the love while raising money for those who are most in need.”

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