Sunday, October 10, 2021

"New World Water" by Mos Def (1999)

Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey) is one of the more interesting personalities in the history of hip-hop music for a number of reasons.  For instance he had a pretty notable acting career before blowing up as a rapper, having even worked directly with Bill Cosby for a spell.  So even though he may not on par with the likes of fellow rapper/actors Will Smith and Ice Cube, Mos has had a respectable Hollywood career nonetheless, with one of my personal favorites being 2003's The Italian Job - a heist film that served as sort of a prototype for what the Fast & Furious franchise would become.  Then of course there's the fact that he legally changed his name to the Quran-inspired Yasiin Bey over 10 years ago.  So it's obvious that Yasiin isn't conventional as far as rap stars go.  Like if he possessed the disposition of a gangsta rapper, he probably never would have had the opportunity to act alongside the family-friendly Coz to begin with.

Black on Both Sides, the 1999 Mos Def album that
features New World Water.

But honestly, I've never been a diehard Mos Def fan.  I remember when first he came out as part of Blackstar back in the day, that for some inexplicable reason their songs used to irritate me.  However I was heavily into Black on Both Sides (1999), his debut and signature album.  Well, I used to at least put a couple of songs from it on repeat, one of them being New World Water, which I would argue is not only Yasiin's best track but also one that is semi-prophetic.

This song came out in late-1999, a moment in history in which the Western consciousness was grappling with concepts like Armageddon, Y2K and similar types of global catastrophes perhaps moreso than any other time in history.  And it wasn't unusual for all sorts of people to chime in on such matters.  Well Mos Def, being one of the more intellectually-inclined rappers, decided to do so by focusing on water, a most-fundamental and undeniably-necessary aspect of our everyday lives.  And considering some of the things that's been going on as of late in places like the western United States, again, some of his words seem prophetic.

For instance Yasiin sets off the first verse alluding to flooding, which has been a major problem in America and other parts of the world this year.  And the reason Mos Def comes off as a prophet isn't necessarily because he foresaw such events.  But more importantly, he implies that they are being caused by karma, if you want to call it that, as in nature being upset as a result of the atrocities of the Middle Passage.  The Middle Passage was the era in transatlantic history in which millions of Africans were forcibly transported across the ocean as slaves, many of them being lost to the sea.  But it can also be said that, by extension, the rapper is talking about all human rights' atrocities but especially those that involved like water transport.

Later, he flips the topic from flooding to drought.  Even back then, in 1999, Yasiin was noting how some summers seemed particularly hot, as in experiencing a lack of rainfall.  The rapper believes that the situation will get even worse as time progresses, so he's like be wise and prepare now.  In fact Mos Def sounds a lot like an African or other Third World resident, talking about buying a personal water-storage unit, which is a common practice in places like the Motherland though not so much in the United States.  But there really isn't any such thing as a tank that will hold a "20 year" supply of water.  That'd be more along the lines of a personal lake.  And even then, if there's a really severe drought it would probably dry up anyhow.  Also, you wouldn't want to leave water stored in a tank for too long anyway.  But, I digress.  And ultimately the point Mos Def seems to be making is that in this materialistic world we live in, people's mind are more caught up on frivolous matters than what's truly important, such as water.

Another point he's obviously trying to make, as introduced in the chorus, is that the water which is given to the public is heavily imbued with chemicals.  We all know that the government tends to add different manmade substances to the public water supply in the name of making it safer for consumption.  But in this respect Mos sounds like a conspiracy theorist, i.e. claiming that there's no so many chemicals in the water that it is becoming unsafe.  But taking into account that he mentions "the water table", Yasiin is also speaking to more general environmental abuse and how such negatively affects the world's natural water supplies.

The first hook also touches upon the concept of water being sold.  To put this viewpoint into its proper perspective, let's speculate that maybe some 50 years ago, the idea of selling drinking water en masse may have seemed incredulous.  But instead in places like America, where Mos Def comes from, bottled water is a major, increasingly-growing business.  And so it is, honestly speaking, in many parts of the Third World also.  And what Yasiin is saying is that such is necessitated by the fact that natural water supplies have become too polluted to drink.

Then, the bulk of the second verse is dedicated to illustrating various ways in which water is vital to human existence, especially in the areas of health.  It's almost like Yasiin is arguing that people tend to forget just how valuable water actually is, which is why they misuse it.  And he is most directly making this statement against "Americans" and similar nations that have it in abundance.  And another way in which their lack of respect for water is manifest is by how greedy, capitalist countries can go about destroying waterbodies in other parts of the world in the name of profit.  But of course as illustrated above, they tend f*ck up their own waterways also.

Mos Def is right; sometimes big business be straight
fukin the water up.

In fact as detailed in the second chorus, the situation has now reached a point where we can't avoid water pollution even if we wanted to.  So on one hand it's like the government may be putting all types of chemicals into the water supply.  And on the other, there are the multitude of pollutants that find their way into waterbodies through various other human activities.  And the way Mos Def sees it, at the heart of the problem would be greed of the corporate variety.  As a matter of fact one of the big stories in the news as I'm writing this post is this major oil spill that recently happened off the coast of California.  But of course this is the same oil that is used to power our cars.  So instead of putting the onus on big business, if Bey wanted to be more realistic he would have included the consumer in this equation also.


WHAT'S YASIIN UP TO THESE DAYS?

One of the big headlines in American entertainment at the moment centers on Dave Chapelle's latest Netflix special, The Closer.  Well if you happen to watch the show and are familiar with Mos Def's voice/style, you will notice that he's the one who's rapping at the beginning the special.  The name of that track is Tribute, and officially it is a collaboration between Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli, aka Blackstar.  Even though the pair have only released one album together under the Blackstar moniker in 1998 and only one single thus far during the entire 21st century, it would seem that they have never officially broken up.  So it may be that the release of this track marks a new album Blackstar has coming out.  But under any circumstances Mos Def ripped it and apparently can still light up the mic, at the age of 47, if need be.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

"Weed Is My Best Friend" by Popcaan (2015)

I still remember the first time I smoked weed.  It was many moons ago on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, during the pre-gentrification era, in one of those deep New York City snows.  Sucking on a blunt proved to be not only one of the most-memorable but also, in hindsight, consequential things I ever did.  Indeed if I could go back in time to that very day... I wouldn't change a thing.  But at the same time, I'm not one of those types of people who tries to convince others who don't smoke ganja to do so.  My final conclusion concerning the whole matter is that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with smoking natural weed, but at the same time not having any dependency on it whatsoever is even better.

But as for those of us who may smoke, damn did Popcaan speak true in this one.  Marijuana is a strange drug.  Weed, I believe, is what they refer to as a social addiction.  In other words if a ganja addict is separated from the substance for an extended period of time, going into withdrawal he's not going to get physically sick like a crack addict, etc.  But maybe, like a nigga can't enjoy movies or sports anymore.

On top of that marijuana is a major form stress/pain relief, which is perhaps the most widely-recognized property of the plant when used as a drug.  Also, smoking a good strain when you're alone can make you feel like someone else is in the room , kinda like watching Friends.

And it is actually that latter aspect I think of the most as far as a social addiction goes.  Newbie smokers almost invariably blaze alongside others.  But if the habit persists throughout the years, one will also learn how to do so on his or her own.

Also keep in mind that we tend to become less friend-dependent as we age.  So it wouldn't be overly surprising if a tenured smoker does find weed to be his "best friend", or at least the herb maintaining a more constant presence in his life than homies or perhaps even family.

But Weed Is My Best Friend isn't based on that kind of a premise.  As a matter of fact as far as the different parts of this song go, it's only the first verse that is actually about weed.  The bridge and especially chorus rather focus more on how Popcaan isn't really into friendships.  He doesn't trust people, and relatedly he's not going to d*ckride anybody in the name of forming a relationship with them.  Also for good measure, he injects a bit of "real gangsta" ideology into the bridge by noting that true niggas, like himself, actually purchase the skunk rather than 'begging' for it.  Or maybe what Popcaan is trying to say is that he doesn't like dudes coming around him looking for free weed.

Then, as already noted, it is the first verse where he's really talking about the blaze being his "best pardie", with pardie, as far as I know, being a Patois way of saying homie (as is "chargie").  And since weed was decriminalized in Jamaica shortly prior to this song's release, now smokers like himself no longer have to worry about getting locked up for it.  Thus Popcaan is able to freely boast of riding around with a solid six pounds on him daily, which would actually be above the legal threshold, but still.

Later he sorta speaks to that social addiction I was talking about earlier, when Popcaan asserts that he's simply not happy without smoking.  And see how he's doesn't say that he feens for weed in its absence.  Rather it's like he just can't enjoy life, i.e. the true signs of a social addict.

And of course haters will label people like himself a "weed head" - a fact that the chanter recognizes in the second verse.  But as for what comes after, it would take someone more versed in Jamaican Patois than myself to really break it down.  However I do believe I get the gist of what he's saying in response to such individuals, which is that he doesn't really care what they think - a mind state which is obviously one of the benefits of being "higher than the plum tree".

And it is likely those same types of people who would read this song's title or hear its hook and instantly chastise it.  But again, I would argue that this track really isn't about weed per se.  That's not to say that this song isn't pro-marijuana, which it is.  But its main subject is actually Popcaan's distrust of people.  Then, the secondary topic would be how he personally doesn't feel right unless he's able smoke.  And lastly comes the weed, which the singer never really goes into detail about in terms of delineating its characteristics besides noting that it gets him high.

 

CONCLUSION

I remember reading a book some time ago that said the oldest evidence of marijuana being smoked was found in West Africa and dates back 5,000 years.  According to Google, "the first evidence of smoking pot" was found in China and goes back 2,500 years.  I also know as a student of anthropology that some Native Americans and other people of old freely used it, back in the days before blazing hemp was criminalized.  But it would also seem that even in past cultures where weed was smoked, people who did enjoy blazing herb didn't do it nearly as much as the likes of Popcaan.  Or the way I see it they weren't tasked, as we are, with dealing with the BS of living in the modern world.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Ranking of All MCU "Infinity Saga" Films (Part II)

Every movie on this particular half of the list is a good one - so much so that outside of the top three it was hard putting them in order.  So after the long delay between the first part of this list and now, let's get right to it:

 


#11 - IRON MAN 2 (2010)

I'll admit that Iron Man 2 is not the easiest MCU film to re-watch, especially pretty much all of the first half scenes featuring Whiplash.  But sometimes, you have to appreciate a movie for its initial impact instead of how it ages.  And this was actually one of the most revolutionary in the Infinity Saga.

For instance, if you were to put together a list of Tony Stark's most-iconic scenes throughout the entire saga, about half of them would come from this movie.  The dynamic between he, Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan and the Black Widow, as well as the occasional Nick Fury outing, were even more entertaining than the fights.  This was also the film that introduced us to Don Cheadle as Rhodey, another actor who has maintained a compelling on-screen relationship with Robert Downey Jr..

Some of the fight scenes in this movie haven't aged well at all.  In fact Iron Man 2 marks one of the MCU's poorest performances as far as special effects go, now looking at them over a decade later.  But before the chastisements begin, there are a couple of important facts that need to take into consideration.  First is that prior to the MCU, effectively putting two superheroes on the screen simultaneously was virtually unheard of.  But here we got to see not only Iron Man, but him actually battling alongside War Machine, a character many of us never really thought we'd see in a movie.  And that brings me to the second point.  Some viewers were actually comic book fans even before the MCU came out.  And for such individuals, just seeing the aforementioned heroes duke it out with those robots (the first time around) was a major treat in and of itself.  So it's like give respect where respect is due.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: RHODEY (DON CHEADLE)

No one likes a major casting change after a series has already been established.  But in this case, I would say that Don Cheadle proved to be a better Rhodey than Terrence Howard probably would have been.  And that's taking nothing away from Howard, who is more lead-role kinda material.  And that's taking nothing away from Cheadle either, who has proven to be a mainstay of the MCU even more than some of its headline actors.


#10 - ANT-MAN & THE WASP (2018)

The first Ant-Man and second Ant-Man are like equal in entertainment value.  So the first one has to be ranked higher on the list since it was the original.  Also one major gripe I have with Ant-Man & the Wasp is that we all know, as mature adults, there's really no such thing as a realistic superhero movie.  But having a film where some giant dude is traipsing around New York City, with onlookers barely even gasping (and some not reacting at all) - on top of buildings shrinking down to the size of toys with no one noticing - is like an insult to the audience's intelligence.  This one is more like a Disney film in the truest sense of the word.


MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: HANNAH JOHN-KAMAN (GHOST)

Hannah John-Kaman isn't necessarily the most-talented actress, but man is she a pleasure to look at, just like in Ready Player One (2018).  And for the record she is mixed, i.e. her dad being Nigerian and her mom Norwegian.

Honorable Mention: Laurence Fishburne (Bill Foster)

According to IMDB, T.I., who is also Black and plays the role of sidekick negro Dave, is billed higher than Laurence Fishburne.  But still, the latter's character had a more profound effect on the plot and just as much, if not more, screen time.  Also, there may have never been a movie that Fishburne starred in where he didn't make a profound impact.


#9 - ANT-MAN (2015)

Hollywood has a history of movies based on people shrinking which predates 2015's Ant-Man.  And in all of such cases, it isn't so much about the storyline as it is effectively pulling off the related special effects.  And in that regard, nothing I've ever seen beats Ant-Man.

Yes, Paul Rudd did his thing.  But this movie wasn't the first MCU film, nor will it be the last where audiences are treated to the lovable, wise-crackin' White male protagonist.  Robert Downey Jr. had already successfully set the mode for others to follow.  But what it does hold the distinction of is perhaps being the MCU's first comedy, i.e. the first in which they employed a straight-up comedian in a major supporting role - that being Michael Peña.  And Marvel Studios also gets props for once again proving that they could take an antiquated character that no one has really cared about for decades and actually create an interesting movie based on hm.  But I recently came across an understanding that the reason they were doing so is because had already sold the rights to more-popular characters to Fox.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: T.I. (DAVE)

Whereas T.I. may have gotten more screen time in the sequel, he played a more memorable role in this one.  In fact out of the handful of times he's acted, this is the best performance from him I've ever seen.

Honorable Mention: Michael Peña (Luis)

In the 'hood no one really differentiates between Blacks and Latinos anyway.  And it's almost impossible to imagine this Ant-Man (as well as the sequel) without Michael Peña's presence.

 

#8 - AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

Infinity War could have been better, but it could have easily been worse also.  Whereas having all of these different, diverse characters in one movie may have been a dream for comic book fans, it must have also been a logistically nightmare for those tasked with putting them there.  After all 2015's Age of Ultron, which proceeded this in the Avengers' timeline, features a lot less characters but is whack AF.

The best parts of Infinity War were actually those that featured Thor.  That may be one of the reasons why out of all of the original MCU series (besides Avengers), his is the only one getting a fourth installment at the moment.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: LETITIA WRIGHT (SHURI)

There are a number of Black/ethnic characters, most of whom have already been acknowledged on this list, that have higher billing in Infinity War than Letitia Wright.  But I had to give the trophy to her as, besides for maybe Zoe Saldana, her scenes were the most memorable.  And even if you do feel that Saldana played a more noteworthy role, keep in mind that the best Gamora scenes, unlike those of Shuri, were buttressed by the presence of Thanos himself.


#7 - THOR (2011)

Being released during May of 2011, Thor was only the fourth film that the MCU had ever put out.  And unlike now, where the cinematic universe can survive a cornball or two or three, back during the early goings a project proving successful was more critical.  And this was the movie that established the fact that the first two Iron Man films and even the Hulk weren't flukes.  Marvel Productions was also able to make Thor a hit, unlike the other MCUs that had come out by then, without putting an established actor in the lead role, and Chris Hemsworth fit in perfectly.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: HEIMDALL (IDRIS ELBA)

Back in the day Heimdall was one of the coolest characters in the MCU.  And Marvel must've known it, considering the love they showed him on the movie's poster.  I'm not sure what happened to the character since, though I think he perished in Ragnarok.


#6 - MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS (2012)

The Avengers was not the first movie to do a respectable job of putting a bunch of superheroes into one film.  That distinction rather belongs to Fox's X-Men series and perhaps more specifically X2 (2003).  But it was the first outstanding movie to feature a bunch of superheroes.  It also accounted for some of the best acting scenes the MCU has to offer, such as the exchange between Tony Stark and Loki inside Stark Tower.  There was a whole lotta hype leading up The Avengers, and unlike some other films in the MCU's canon it actually lived up to it.


MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: NICK FURY (SAMUEL L. JACKSON)

I'll admit being skeptical upon first hearing that Samuel L. Jackson was cast to play Nick Fury.  And it's not only because the character is traditionally White, but also Sam is kinda old to be portraying an active action hero.  And accordingly the fights scenes involving Fury, such as the one on the Helicarrier, do appear elderly-considerate.

But when it comes time for Nick to preach to an Avenger or two, which is actually his main occupation in the MCU, it's hard to imagine the people who cast Jackson having made a better choice.  And at this point it's also impossible to imagine the MCU without him, especially as far as the Infinity Saga is concerned, as he has appeared in almost half of the movies contained therein.


#5 - SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

The first Spider-Man film had a number of advantages over most other Infinity Saga flicks.  First is that the special effects are gorgeous.  Second is the appearance of Iron Man in the ferry scene, which is perhaps the coolest MCU cameo to date.  Third is the fact that the main character had already experienced plenty of Hollywood trial and error under Fox.  And fourth would be the performance of Micheal Keaton as the Vulture.  That scene where he's threatening Peter Parker in the car makes your skin crawl, not to mention him taking an outdated villain and transforming him into perhaps the most-relatable bad guy in MCU history.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: MICHELLE (ZENDAYA)

The trophy would once again go to Zendaya in the role of Michelle, or whatever her name is supposed to be in the MCU.  And as I sit here writing this post, the latest big news is that she and Tom Holland are actually dating - a movie romance turned real life.  So perhaps what MCU fans are hoping for in the back of their minds is that they manage to stay together at least until the completion of the trilogy, with the third Spider-Man slated to be released about five months from now.


#4 - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

Out of all of the films the MCU has put out, this was the one that was the most-surprisingly good, even if a bit racist.  Characters such as Iron Man and Ant-Man may have been anachronisms when their movies were released, but at least their powers are intrinsically compelling.  Such cannot be said for the Guardians of the Galaxy, give or take.  But this proved to be one of the best space action movies ever.  Moreover, Lee Pace's depiction of Ronan the Accuser is underrated.  And you also have to give to it Chris Pratt for adding new flair to the never-too-serious, reluctant White hero trope.  And another thing Guardians of the Galaxy doesn't get credit for is starting that (increasingly annoying) trend of movies utilizing old songs for their soundtracks.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: KORATH (DJIMON HOUNSOU)

I almost forgot that Djimon Honsou was in this movie until I just looked it up on IMDb.  Whereas his character was pretty interesting during earlier parts of the show, as the movie progressed he became more and more generic - more or less your typical African lackey.

Honorable Mention: Gang of Black Dudes in The Kyln

I'm looking at Guardians of the Galaxy like damn, niggas is even getting locked up in space?  Indeed it's rare that you come across any movie with a prison scene where there isn't at least one Black dude locked down, even if the facility is like in Siberia or galaxies unknown.  I tried to look up up the actors who actually played said prisoners via IMDb but unable to track them down.


#3 - CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

I know I already mentioned a couple of times in this article how much of a wonder it is that now we're able to enjoy comic-book movies that put virtually-unlimited characters into a single film.  But Civil War is when Marvel really let the world know that, theoretically, they can feature as many quality superheroes as they'd like.  And it wasn't one of those cases where they all have the same power.  Instead we were treated to a wide range of personalities and abilities.  In terms of the former, such would be the result of Marvel hiring serious actors.  So then you can afford to have someone like Paul Rudd, who is able to carry a movie as a leading man, rather getting less than six minutes screentime.  This movie also sports some of the MCU's best fight scenes - the introduction of Black Panther, Avengers vs. Avengers and Captain America vs. Iron Man - and is actually one of the more consequential stories in the canon.  The only downside is that Daniel Brühl's Baron Zemo is boring with a capital B.  In fact the only MCU villain even less-interesting was Red Skull from the first Captain America.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: BLACK PANTHER (CHADWICK BOSEMAN)

Both Sam Mackie and Don Cheadle are apparently billed higher than the late Chadwick Boseman, who played the Black Panther.  And respectively, both War Machine and Falcon had notable moments in the Avengers vs. Avengers battle.  But overall the Black Panther was more memorable, maybe because this was his introduction, and Marvel brought him into the mix really well.  In fact during this point in time, it almost felt like the MCU couldn't fail even if they wanted to.  Indeed, little did we know that future stinkers such as Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017) and the ambitious yet sleep-worthy Captain Marvel (2019) were on the way.


#2 - CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

Civil War is actually the Infinity Saga film I saw last.  One reason for the delay was being so turned off by the first Captain America that I just wasn't interested.  Also, Sebastian Stan simply doesn't have a bad guy's face.  Marvel Productions perhaps recognized this when casting him, considering how his character arc has developed.  But anyway, The First Avenger probably has a higher general rewatchability factor than any other movie in the cinematic universe.  It's like a Fast & Furious, Mission: Impossible and MCU film all rolled into one.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: NICK FURY (SAMUEL L. JACKSON)

I could've easily went with Sam Mackie on this one or both he and Samuel L. Jackson, but the latter gave a more memorable performance.  Indeed this may be the best depiction of Nick Fury in the entire MCU, a fact that lends to the movie's overall greatness.  And even though Zoe Saldana may have gotten more Infinity Saga screentime than any other Black actor, Samuel L. Jackson, who doesn't lag too far behind on the list, actually appears in more of the films.  Also considering that Jackson has had just as many appearances as any other actor (i.e. Robert Downey Jr.) in the Infinity Saga, then he can also be considered the main Black character of the first 23 films altogether.


#1 - DR. STRANGE (2016)

I bet you didn't see this one coming.  Most MCU rankings I've come across didn't appreciate Dr. Strange at all - the ingrates.  And no, this movie isn't perfect.  For instance the hand-to-hand combat scenes are lacking.  And Mads Mikkelsen's portrayal of Kaecilius seems as if it were intentionally designed to be dull.  But everything else is on point, even down to the casting and music.  In fact Dr. Strange is the only movie I've ever watched where afterwards I looked up its score.  I'm not talking about the soundtrack, like songs from other artists that are featured - I'm talking about the score, i.e. the instrumental designed specifically to be featured in the film.  And my favorite is the end credits:

But of course this music is way better, as intended, with the associated visuals and within the context of the movie.

MAIN BLACK ACTOR: MORDO (CHIWETEL EJIOFOR)

This is something I wasn't even thinking of when I first started this list, but Chiwetel Ejiofor, taking nothing away from the likes of Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, etc. is the best Black actor to ever work for the MCU.  In fact he may be the second best in Hollywood after Denzel, even if he doesn't get a lot of high-profile leading roles.  And man did he kill it in this one, like that scene where he's arguing with Stephen Strange in the New York Sanctum.  In other words, his performance is one of the reasons this movie came off so well.  In fact considering the performances of Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams and even to some degree Benedict Wong, this may be the best-acted MCU to come out thus far.


CONCLUSION

Black Widow, the first MCU Phase 4 (i.e. post-Infinity Saga) film, finally came out a few weeks back.  And whereas it wasn't a bad movie per se, it did suck as an MCU outing.  Then there was the surprisingly-whack Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as well as the snoozefest known as Loki, not to mention that the Infinity Saga closing out with the dreadful Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019).  So isn't like a good MCU film is a surefire thing.  And whereas Armor Wars, Shang-Chi and Dr. Strange 2 may be something to look forward to, for all we know the best may already be behind us.  All that really remains is for them to come up with a role appealing enough for Denzel Washington to agree to.