Program Notes 35

There is one good thing about this. People can find me. Even if I'm not lost, were that ever the case. I try to avoid righting, or writing, or usually ranting, about racism. Don't believe in it. All blood's mixed.

Stop me if you've heard this one -- so these three African-American g-rappers walk on stage to receive some big music-biz award. The host of the show, Phil "Brains of a Small Rodent" Collins, says "It suddenly got very dark in here," the first of several racist comments last Wednesday night. I thought I was just tripping when I heard this so I called Brother Chuck and made sure. Yeah, racist banter on national teevy. "That should take some of the heat off Ted Danson," my wife offered. The niggaz are coming, the niggaz are coming...that's my brother Ice Cube, who makes sense of it all on his new album, Lethal Injection, a masterpiece.

Yes, I read Danyel Smith's compelling essay in the January Spin, the one that smartly makes a case for never using the N-word again. I'm with that, even though I think the overuse (mostly by dark-skinned rappers of some African heritage) has weakened the hurtfulness.

But yikes and by God, after Phil Collins successfully embarrassed light-skinned people everywhere, I flip channels and there's 48 Hours telling America that if they visit South Florida, young black men will eat their babies alive. So I turned off the teevy and cranked the Cube album real loud and felt much better.

One person that found me last week was Terry Williams. He's my boy A don't get your hackles up, "my boy" has been resurrected as a street term of endearment; I picked it up from Umynd, Chicago R&B groovesters who recently hooked up with Luke Campbell -- man, there's a guy who looks like he must've stolen that nice car. (Actually Luke once had one of his nice rides, a Bronco I think it was, splacked by thieves unknown. Cops bugged on that shit.)

That's my brother hangin' in that tree out there. Natural Causes suck, but we'll get to that in a minute. Skin is my sin says Cube. Buy it. Believe it.

"This is Mr. Big Dick," Terry Williams said when he called, freakin' me out momentarily. He was joking around, reading too much Baker and gettin' too nasty. He's allowed -- me and TW went to skool together about a million years ago, college, I dropped that like a cap off, but not before I got some education. Like when we went to a journalism convention in Orlando. (Total number of panel discussions and seminars attended by me and TW: 0.) It was postmidnight and me and TW -- a big man with an automatic-for-all-people smile, great sense of humor, warm heart, and a distinctly non-Eurohuman exterior -- went to a diner. I was sitting at the counter between TW and some blue-collar Mexican-looking guy who'd been there a while. The waitresses made an artform of ignoring us. The spic wanted a bowl of chili is all, and me and Terry had heavy cash and lots of hard liquor in us. As the one member of this trio for whom I can't come up with a racist slur -- honky? Mr. White? butthorn? A I was the first to receive waitstaff attention. Told the bitch to take the spic's order.

You gotta understand that me and TW ran together. At the diner, though, it was clear how the niggers -- very white people -- behind the counter felt about the opportunity to serve Mr. Williams. I looked at his face in the face of this overt racism. TW grew up Miami north side, if you know what I mean. One morning he went out front to get the paper and found a riot. He came up Miami. Black. Wise. And big as in bad big, he could hurt you if he wanted to. But when I looked at his face I knew that if I did decide to leap the counter and splatter these redneck waitresses, TW, for once, wouldn't be there to cover me. There was no anger in his face. All I saw was hurt.

Epilogue: TW now works in Washington, D.C., for some huge federal something or other, writing speeches and such.

I saw on teevy last week some guy walked around a train in New Yawk busting caps in innocent people he saw as enemies to his race.

Nothin' goin' on but this bomb-ass rap song. Maybe the N-word still means something after all. Action.

So about this honky Ice Cube: best album of the year, Lethal Injection. Begins with a white boy being strapped down for a cold jolt of what time it is, but this is no gangsta diatribe. By combining Luther Vandross richness and Cypress Hill funkiness, and referencing everything that's ever been described as "cool like dat," Cube has dropped the best-grooved, slow-keyed rap-hop album I've heard. Cube's cinematics (hell, he's a movie star) and dog-near-singing vocal comforter even makes us crackers on the mack smile and hold our arms around our shoulders in that palsied way Negroes in baggy shorts do. Do this thing.

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Greg Baker