At various points in my life I aspired to be authors Richard Wright and Ernest Hemingway, critic/historian Greil Marcus, filmmaker Frances Ford Coppola, and playwright August Wilson and a few other powerhouse creators whose work I admired. Then, at a certain point, you realize that emulation only gets you so far and you have figure out who you are.

Part of that process was defining success for myself. Okay a Nobel Prize or Academy Award is not likely at this point. But I did win a Grammy for liner notes, which was very cool, and I’ve been nominated for some…

Recent deaths of hip-hop vets puts a focus what it means to be old in hip-hop

If hip-hop is a musical form, a cultural expression and an ever changing representation of the black working class experience in America (and it is all that and probably more), then the recent deaths of three middle aged MCs reflect a sad truth of black men and health care. DMX (Earl Simmons), Black Rob (Robert Ross) and Shock G (Gregory Jacobs), celebrated in their 20s, had thirty years later struggled, not simply to remain relevant in a young person’s game, but physically and mentally healthy in a society that gives lip service to elevating old heads, but in reality doesn’t…

Three men who helped shape my life died during the dark spring of 2020

Between April 25 and May 19, 2020 my father, one of my oldest friends, and my most important mentor all died. Nelson Elmer George from Covid-19 complications in April. Andre Oneal Harrell from a heart attack May 7. Robert ‘Rocky’ Ford May 19 from what his wife described as natural causes. They were black men aged 87, 58 and 70. My father had lived the life of minimum wage worker after serving in the Korean War, his last major gig was as an security guard at City College of New York. Andre had been an MC, president of the crucial…

With the anniversary of his death upcoming I look back at our interactions at the beginning of his career and mine

Of all the musical forces that defined the ’80s I had the most unusual interactions with Prince Rogers Nelson, that bold singer-songwriter-producer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He would be in and out my life quite a bit in “the Me decade,” I’d have no interaction with him for years after, and then he’d become my unlikely benefactor in the 21st century.

My first serious introduction to his music occurred at a house party hosted by friends from St. John’s University, which we’d all graduated from in June 1979. I knew “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Sexy Dancers” from the radio…

Reflections on the late rapper’s historic career, one-of-a-kind talent, and hilarious ‘Top Five’ cameo

Photo: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images

When I first heard “Get at Me Dog” in 1998, I thought, Def Jam is back.

The Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons-founded label, then home base to LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys, ran in the hip-hop wars. Yet it had been outpaced, first by West Coast gangsta rap, then by the luxurious lifestyle rhymes of Diddy’s Bad Boy and the rise of Southern juggernauts like No Limit. Akin to Cold Chillin’, Uptown, and Tommy Boy, Def Jam seemed ready to be another once-important New York rap music enterprise slated for irrelevance.

DMX’s aforementioned debut single sounded…

Maxwell’s debut is a beautiful product of a time and place

(Anytime you want, I’ll always be free)
Anytime you want some
(You’re welcome babe, you’re welcome to me)
Make yourself at home cause you’re welcome

From “Welcome” the opening song on Urban Hang Suite

Released April 2, 1996 Maxwell’s ‘Urban Hang Suite’ was an instant landmark in the history of black popular music, connecting the dots between classic ’70s soul music and the suave dance music of ’90s New York City club culture. …

I was having lunch at my favorite dosa spot in Soho pre-pandemic when I heard a voice by the cash register say the order was for “Benjamin.” I looked up and there, waiting on his dosa, was the world’s most mysterious MC, Andre Benjamin aka Andre 3000 formerly of the innovative duo Outkast. I’d interviewed him for Spin magazine not long after the explosive success of ‘Speakerboxx/The Love Below,’ but we were hardly friends.

Still, I invited him to sit down, and he did. For about forty minutes we ate dosas, talked life, art and hip hop. Andre was living…

Thoughts on the Brooklyn MC’s social media obsession after watching the Showtime Doc series

Nelson George

Just watched the Showtime documentary, ‘Tekashi 6ix9ine: The Rise and Fall of a Supervillain,’ which brought me back to the summer of 2019 when his trial captured the intersection of contemporary musical stardom and 21st century gangsta life. I became fascinated with the testimony of Daniel Hernandez, better known as Tekashi 6ixX9ine, partly because it felt like Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellows’ come to life and largely because it spoke to how powerfully the gangsta ethos resonates in our popular culture. …

There are two biographical visions of Aretha Franklin in the streaming pipeline — one starring Cynthia Erivo and the other toplining Jennifer Hudson. Well good luck to them since the documentary ‘Amazing Grace,’ released in 2018, is the definitive document of her extraordinary vocal ability. The Queen of Soul died in 2018 and had blocked that film’s release for years, apparently unhappy with proposed payments. Whatever Aretha’s reservations about the film I believe her estate did her legacy a great service in agreeing to let this testament to her singular, unmatched talent see reach cinemas.

Every time one of the…

When Rick Rubin signed the Beastie Boys to Def Jam and Russell Simmons booked them to open to for both Public Enemy and Madonna in the late ’80s they took a risk by putting a white rap group before two very different audiences — one comfortable with black nationalist rhetoric, the other in thrall to a female pop idol. Through those very different experiences the Beasties found their own audience, one that was largely white like Madonna’s but musically way more adventurous and open to the kind of sonic experimentation practiced by PE’s Bomb Squad.

At the time there was…

Nelson George

Author and filmmaker. Current books: a novel, The Darkest Hearts (Akashic); music collection The Nelson George Mixtape (Pacific)

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