To Those Who Can’t Stand Summer

For those who can’t bear the heat of summer, here’s a friendly reminder of what we dealt with a few months ago.

image

So, would you rather break out the shovel and the salt, or would you rather break out the sunglasses and sunscreen? đŸ˜‰

Tales From The Bargain Bin: Jamiroquai, The Return of the Space Cowboy

image

The same day I purchased Jamiroquai’s 1993 album, Emergency on Planet Earth, I also had the fortune of purchasing their 1994 follow-up, The Return Of The Space Cowboy. Amazingly, the first time I had heard of Jamiroquai was when this album debuted. I had the fortune of catching the music video of the album’s first single, “Space Cowboy”, on BET when I was 12 years old. Even then, I was hooked on the band’s sound, well before they eventually found massive success with their hit music video, “Virtual Insanity”, from their 1996 album, Traveling Without Moving. And while everyone has heard that album since that year, it can be said that only true Jamiroquai fans can say they’ve traveled with the “Space Cowboy”.

The band’s performance caliber had stepped up quite a bit compared to Emergency on Planet Earth. It could be said that the collective of vocalist/producer Jay Kay, keyboardist Toby Smith, bassist Stuart Zender, Drummer Derrick McKenzie, and Wallis Buchanan on the didgeridoo, had learned and matured  a bit between the two albums. The first single, “Space Cowboy”, an ode to weed (“at the speed of cheeba”), is a smooth, feel-good song to zone out to. The vibe smoothly transitions into a state of self-reflection with the second track, “Stillness in Time”, and revisits that self-reflection with “Light Years”, the latter track offering an uplifting hook to boot. (“Now I’ve got that sunshine in my life.”) Another change compared to Emergency is the presence of more love and relationship-themed songs, such as the broken heart anthem “Half The Man”, which reflects a man feeling that he’s missing his other half of himself after a breakup, and “Mr. Moon,” a lyrical plea to find that special someone, using the moon as a confidante for heartbreak.

The album does have it’s share of preaching, with tracks such as “Scam”, highlighting the common man’s economic struggle and the government’s efforts to tax the working class dry, “Manifest Destiny”, a somber reflection of the plight of the indigenous peoples of the world driven from their homes, and “Just Another Story”, a tale of a young man caught up in the drug game. The last song is as potent as Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” and Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”. Much like Emergency, even the preachy tracks on Space Cowboy are catchy and infectious.

The Return Of The Space Cowboy is a great follow-up to Emergency on Planet Earth, and it’s a must for any true Jamiroquai fan. Of course, the strength of this album was dwarfed by the massive success of its successor, 1996’s Traveling Without Moving. Stay tuned for my review of that album.

Tales From The Bargain Bin: Jamiroquai, Emergency on Planet Earth

image

About a month ago, I hit up my favorite thrift shop and managed to purchase not one, but two Jamiroquai CDs, their first album, Emergency on Planet Earth, and their second album, Return of the Space Cowboy, for the low price of $2 per CD. I couldn’t wait to start listening. Of the two albums, Emergency was the one I gravitated to immediately. I was familiar with the album’s pro-environmental stance, and I had glimpsed at the music video for the title track, which was a montage of environmental clips, from oil spills to endangered animals. Preachy, yet catchy.

Songs like “When You Gonna Learn (Digeridoo)”, “Too Young To Die”, and the title track, “Emergency on Planet Earth”, are the prime examples of the album’s preachy side. Even as heavy handed as the messages are, the groove of the music makes it impossible to stop listening. The band borrows influence from everyone from Earth, Wind, & Fire to The Brand New Heavies.

If you feel the need to skip the Captain Planet-caliber environmental and anti-destruction messages, you can always check out tracks such as “Hooked Up”, which offers the track’s music as a sound opiate/anti-depressant, or “If I Like It, I Do It”, a catchy song about anti-conformity. The instrumental piece, “Music of the Mind”, is so peaceful, it can be used for meditation, which I suspect was the purpose of the composition. Getting back on the up-tempo groove, the James Brown-esqe “Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop” is a first-person observation of the struggles of alcoholism and addiction. The music is so catchy, you’ll have to read the lyrics to pick up on the message. Amazingly, with so much funk on this album, there’s only one track that comes close to a love song, the smooth, “Blow Your Mind”, a cross between an Earth, Wind, & Fire ballad and a roller rink jam.

Overall, this debut album is a good place to get your feet wet if you want to check out Jamiroquai. Yes, it’s got “Message” written all over it, but I’d be a fool to ignore how good the music is.

Tales From The Bargain Bin: Jamiroquai (Prologue)

image

Looking through my CD collection, I just lately realized how many great and classic albums I have in my possession. Many of these albums, I’ve bought for less than $10, a lot of them I bought for $2 from my favorite thrift shop, and in  one case, one album I bought for 99 cents!  So, amazingly, without having to bleed my wallet, I’ve managed to satisfy my need for good music. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy paying full price for a new album too (Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet was worth the $13.99 I spent on it), but you’d be amazed with the classic albums you can find in the bargain bin. I’ve found everything from Norah Jones to classic Chick Corea. My most prized finds in recent months, however, have been of a beloved U.K. funk/dance band that thrived in the 90’s, during my teen years: Jamiroquai.

In the past 2 1/2 months, with random but regular trips to a local thrift shop, I’ve managed to purchase five Jamiroquai albums, helping me rediscover the band that I heard so much of in high school. These five albums are (in order of release): 1993’s Emergency on Planet Earth, 1995’s Return of the Space Cowboy, 1996’s Traveling Without Moving, 1999’s Synkronized, and 2001’s A Funk Odyssey. These five albums have not only been my biggest treasure from the bargain bin, but they’ve helped me look beyond the band’s biggest hit single, “Virtual Insanity”. As such, I’ll be reviewing these albums in chronological order, and I hope that I’m able to paint a picture for you the appeal of this band. Keep watch for my review of Jamiroquai’s first album for Sony, Emergency on Planet Earth.

Don’t Be Discouraged

Do you have someone in your life who’s a constant naysayer? Someone who shoots your dreams down whenever you share them? I’ve had quite a few people like that in my life, especially in my family.  When I had dreams of becoming a radio DJ, they were shot down. When I wanted to be a professional photographer, they shot those dreams down too.  I remember when I first started writing rap lyrics in high school. My mom went through my stuff and found them.  My father crumpled up and threw out the pieces of paper right before my eyes. Lately, my older cousin had been the cause of my self-doubt, shooting down whatever plans I have for myself in the future. Funny, he tells me “don’t sell yourself short”, but that’s all he ever does.

I watched a clip from The Pursuit of Happyness yesterday that made me think of all the people who have tried to crush my dreams or stand in my way. It was the scene where Will and Jaden were talking about Jaden wanting to be a basketball player. Will starts to tell Jaden that it’s a silly dream, but stops short when he realizes that he had been told the same thing all his life. Then he proceeds to tell Jaden not to let anybody crush his dreams, to go for it, no matter what they say. This spoke to me.

It hurts when the people you grew up with, people in your own family, crush your dreams, thinking they know what’s best for you. I’ve gotten more support and encouragement from people who weren’t related to me by blood than I ever did from my own family. Sometimes, you have to be your own motivator, your own cheerleader.  You have to push on when those close to you call you a fool, even though you know what you’re doing. Believe in yourself, even if the rest of the world doesn’t believe in you.

In A Slump

As my birthday is two weeks away, I realize that I’ll be alone again. Three years of lonely birthdays. As I see Facebook pics of friends at the bar living it up, I realize that no one will be there for me. My closest friends have moved away or have schedules that conflict with mine, and all I’ll receive are a flood of Facebook posts that are only there because the app advised it. Is this the cost of adulthood, or am I the only one going through this? I miss the days of being able to see my friends on a Saturday, watching kung fu movies or listening to Frank Zappa together. And meeting new friends in this city isn’t as easy as you’d think. At least in the Bronx. I have people telling me to go to Harlem or Manhattan, but where? It’s not exactly a bargain to go around Manhattan, and most people in midtown probably wouldn’t feel comfortable hanging out with a 6’2″, 285lbs Black man from the South Bronx. It’s a frustrating thing to think about. I miss my friends.

Life’s Curve Balls

The past few weeks have taught me that even if you expect the unexpected, you can still be blindsided.  When I started this blog, I thought I’d be doing updates, essays and articles every week. As it turns out, my life is pretty time consuming at the moment for a blog. With my direct care job being as consuming as it is, and other external factors coming at me, I have rarely had the chance to live up to the “pop culture” and “politics” parts in my blog’s motto, only having rare moments to share personal  insight.

Lately, my blog has turned into a photography outlet for me, sharing my snapshots with the world. For all of you who enjoyed my snapshots throughout the winter, I thank you for the support. It’s a hobby, but one I absolutely love and take seriously.

As I type this entry, it amazes me how much is going on in the world, but how little time I’ve had for myself to share it. Hopefully, that will change soon. For those who stuck around, thank you greatly. I hope that  these next few weeks, I’ll be able to bring something new and read-worthy to your attention. Stay tuned.

Make A Difference in Someone’s Life

Last Friday marked one year since my grandmother passed away. I should have been sad, but for some reason, an aura of positivity washed over me, as if she were embracing me with goodness. Every time I wanted to feel sad, I not only felt joy, but wanted to motivate others to feel that joy too. Thankfully, when you’re a direct care worker, there’s ample opportunity to spread positivity to your consumers. Little things such as listening to their day, playing darts with them, even doing a corny impersonation of The Swedish Chef from The Muppets was all that was needed to brighten up what could have been a downward day for any of them.

I learned a lot about spreading kindness from my grandmother. She was one of the most welcoming, warm, loving and caring people I knew in my life. From an early age, she instilled in me the value of being kind to others. She was the kind of woman who would be a mother figure to children who weren’t her own. Everyone from neighborhood kids to my cousins’ friends referred to her as “Nana”. Her kindness and guidance was the backbone of so many in her community. When my family held her memorial service days after her passing, it was standing room only. My grandma wasn’t a famous celebrity, but her kindness was the kind of thing that brings people together. Anyone who’s been to her summer barbecues can vouch for that.

I invite you to do something to make a difference in someone’s life. It could be as simple as offering your seat to someone on the bus, inviting an old friend to hang out, or even lending an open ear to someone who’s feeling like they’re had the worst day ever. You can decide how you want to spread positivity in this world, but the most important thing is that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, no matter how big or small. That’s what I learned from my grandma.