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Lyric Breakdown & Background

Lyric Breakdown & Background provides insight into the meaning behind my songs and the reasoning behind them as well.

Detroit Ruin Porn

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This week (July 10 – 16, 2016) I’m joining a panel discussion with friends Phreddy Wischusen and Heidi Jugenitz on a panel Disuccion about Detroit’s Ruin Porn. Heidi and myself decided to share our takes on the concept for you all, as read below.

MOCAD EVENT: CONVERSATION
Ruin Porn Chinwag (noun\chin-wag\: a friendly conversation)
Thursday, July 14, 2016, 8pm
Admission: Free ($5 suggested donation)

Love it or hate it photography of Detroit’s modern ruins has shaped the public’s perception of the city. Is ruin porn a guilty pleasure, a form of exploitation, important historical documentation, clever marketing ploy, or sincere tribute to the ephemeral beauty of decay?

Join us for an evening of polite debate, drinks, snacks and chitchat inside Cafe 78 at MOCAD. Host Phreddy Wischusen, a comedian, musician and multi-time winner of Detroit’s Moth StorySLAM, and his gang of wits and scholars will help us exorcise our feelings about ruin porn during this fun, informative, and participatory conversation.


 

Ruin Porn maybe in Europe but not in the 313
By Khary Frazier

As a Black person, and life-long Detroit resident my understanding of the world is heavily influenced by race and process. This relates to the concept, term, and idea of ‘Ruin Porn.’

I first heard the term used in a discussion 4 years ago. I was sharing ideas about my soon to be released album ‘If Detroit were Heaven,’ and conceptually how I saw photography being coupled with the music to provide a better understanding of the album’s premise. As the art student from Center for Creative Studies I was talking with used the term he prefaced it with a negative connotation about Detroit. I listened. His opinion at the time, was that Detroit is becoming a trendy marketing vehicle because of it’s perceived abandonment. His argument was that a contingency of people use the barren image of Detroit as a way to market the city as an empty canvas to do, try, or build anything. The argument he provided was correct in presentation, but missed the context for understanding.

I think through conversation. Everyone who’s met me knows I can easily talk for hours (to gather a better understanding). The understanding I generally seek is context. As a child I gravitated to Hip-hop because it provided many young Black men (I identified with) a platform to offer insight and perspective. My interest and appreciation has led me to develop the skill and talent to create/ perform Hip-hop music too.

As Tupac Shakur stated in ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’ … in reference to RUIN PORN, “let me tell you how is affects the whole community.”

I live and own the home I was raised in as a child. My neighborhood doesn’t have a name. The nameless neighborhoods throughout the 140 plus square miles of Detroit are full of transient renters, abandoned unkempt dilapidated properties, and low income families. This generalization is used often from people who live outside these neighborhoods to describe who lives inside these neighborhoods. Inside these neighborhoods are people. People who start, carry, or carry on the legacies of their families.

Across the street from my home are two houses that have not been occupied in over a decade. The structure of both homes remain intact as exterior components have been stripped or weathered away. Guests to my home see these houses, and often shake their head in disgust with comments like ‘this is what makes Detroit so sad,’ or ‘the city not developing these neighborhoods cause Black people live here.’ I look at the houses every day I collect mail, and think, that’s Ms. Teresa & Ms. McCaughey’s house.

Ms. Teresa and Ms. McCaughey were like many of the first non-Jewish families to move into my neighborhood shortly after the 1967 Rebellion (Uprising or Riot if you prefer). My neighborhood was anchored by elders like Ms. Brown (my maternal Grandmother Motherdear), Ms. Deemer, Grandma Cook, Mr. Male, Mrs. Craft and many others. Ms. Deemer was a retired plant worker and numbers lady. She provided loans to many of the families on my block as a child. She lived to be well into her 100’s. Williard Scott missed her dedication, but our block never did. At the height of community unrest in the early 90’s as gangs, drugs, drive-bys, and the prevalence of drug addiction rose. These elders were unthreatened, protected, honored, and respected. Courtesy newspapers, lawn service, snow removal, and meals were delivered home to home from one family to another. Christmas gifts between neighbors and neighboring families with children were often shared as well.

I apply my revisionist history, with what I see, to view standing structures in my neighborhood. It’s not only a space, it’s where people live/d.

I believe the value of Detroit is in it’s people. I grew up surrounded by families of people who came to Detroit seeking opportunity. Born in 1982 I had the privilege of living in a neighborhood full of elders who recently retired from decades of service. In retirement they finally were provided an opportunity to appreciate the homes they purchased in the 60’s. Lawns full of seasonal flowers, gardens filled with foods (before urban gardening was a trend), and porches modeled similar to the comforts they once attributed to their Southern homes.

As a child visiting the South with my elders was boring. These trips were cherished and dear for them. I now realize that’s because of their revisionist attachment to their childhood home/s. So with pride I understand that my home resides in a neighborhood that was filled with proud Black matriarchs and patriarchs. People who proudly completed mortgages and appreciated their community as a portion of their Southern roots. Also I understand that my home is ‘rustic,’ as my friend described to her Spellman sisters.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as value is found in the reverence for which one finds in a possession. I don’t see Detroit as a place for Ruin Porn because I understand the value of the spaces to the people who have lived here, do live here, and will live here.


 

Ruins Photography and the Diminution of Human Pain
By Heidi Jugenitz

“Ruin porn” – photography that takes the decline of the built environment as its subject – is booming in Detroit. Its representations of empty, windowless, decaying buildings juxtaposed with open fields are striking in their “otherness:” they show barrenness where we expect life, reversion to nature where we expect industry. I will focus my critique on the politicsof ruin porn: that is, what does ruin porn communicate about whose rights and interests matter – and to what extent – in today’s Detroit?

To explore this question, I will consider two essential preconditions for the existence of ruin porn. The first, an external condition, is the presence of a noticeable concentration of dilapidated physical structures, or ruins, within a defined space.Ruin porn mobilizes these structures as signifiers of decline – economic, social, political – that stand in stark contrast to the Euro-American ideal of human progress. But when we dig deeper into the history of Detroit and other American cities, it becomes clear that this form of progress – material wealth and mobility – has never been experienced in a monolithic way. The opportunity to “stake a claim” to land, to build or purchase a home in a neighborhood of one’s choosing, has always been mediated by race, whether overtly (as in the case of mortgage redlining, segregated public housing and white race riots) or covertly (through realtor “steering” of clients to like-race neighborhoods and predatory lending practices). These and other policies and practices, enacted over time and physical space, have created an indelible pattern of human pain (physical harm, eviction, displacement, marginalization) especially – though not exclusively – for people of color. Detroit ruin porn could not exist if not for this pattern of human pain.

A second condition for the existence of ruin porn is the diminution of human pain. A central feature of ruins photography, showcased in the coffee table book Ruins of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, is the omission of human bodies from the camera frame. By focusing on non-human signifiers (dilapidated structures) and relegating humans to a position outside of the frame, ruin porn invites the viewer to dwell on a representation of decline that is alienated from the human experience. While humanity is implied (who built the structures? who used to inhabit them? who is responsible for their demise?), it is not engaged directly. This omission allows for – even encourages – the minimization of human pain and the obfuscation of the historical causes of that pain, including deeply entrenched patterns of racism and discrimination. It also feeds into one of the most prevalent – and fraudulent – narratives about Detroit: that the city is the sum of its buildings, and by investing in blight removal and physical developments we can “re[blank]” Detroit.

If a city is the sum of its people, Detroit never died. But by silencing human life and fixating on decaying physical structures, ruins photography serves to reinforce – rather than interrupt – the stereotype of Detroit as a “dead” city. It diminishes both the fact of human pain and the significance of that pain as a testament to our failure (past and present) to create spaces where every person has the right and the opportunity to thrive.

All Eyez on Me 20 Years Later

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February 13, 1996 Tupac Shakur released the double album ‘All Eyez on Me.’ It was his 1st release on Death Row records. After his release from prison in 1995 he recorded the album in 1 month. This is a look back at the music, time, and message of ‘All Eyez on Me.’ Featuring interviews from David Alexander Bullock, Khary WAE Frazier, Yuser Bunchy Shakur, Supa Emcee, and Sterling Toles.

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuZ0vPlLkJE”]

Song Background: “It’s so Fresh” featuring Ashley Nicole

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Most of my songs are about family, Detroit, friends, and hip-hop (I often opened shows sharing this). “It’s so Fresh” captures all of these dynamics, and more. I share names and experiences that have shaped my perspective of family, women, and cool.

I wrote “It’s so Fresh” in 2003. It was originally on my unreleased album “Mama’s Kid.” “Mama’s Kid” sampled exclusively Motown music. Upon advice from everyone I knew (especially my Entertainment Attorney Stephanie L Hammonds, Thank You!) I never released that album. Withstanding the time was the content. I’ve always enjoyed the lyrics from the album, particularly the lyrics used for “It’s so Fresh.” I feel the writing was remarkable. I always remembered the lyrics. I believe if I write a good song, I should have the ability to remember it verbatim. If I can forget a lyric, I should not use it.

Originally the song was titled ‘Baby Boy.’ It was recorded on my Roland 1880 Digital Recorder at the Track Cave Studios. The Track Cave Studios was the recording studio in my basement. The Track Cave welcomed a host of talent from Detroit. Recognizable hip-hop artists such as Off-Rip, Early Mac, Mike Posner, Supa Emcee, Danny Brown, Tone Tone, Finale, Kaunn, and a host of other acts all recorded in my basement. It inspired me to write, record, and produce more of my own music.

Ian & his brothers: Casey, Khalid, & Robb; Ian; Ashley ; Ashley & her son Ray
Ian & his brothers: Casey, Khalid, & Robb; Ian; Ashley ; Ashley & her son Ray

Working on my soon to be released “If Detroit were Heaven,” album with producer Ian Sherman, I wanted to include a song that had an offering of a past styling in which I wrote lyrics. Listening through Ian Sherman’s music I landed on the music to “It’s so Fresh.” I feel the texture of the synths and drums used capture an optimism that’s reminiscent me of the joy of my childhood. Matching this music to a story about my childhood is sonically balanced. Ian challenges me to create with a purpose. Therefore “It’s so Fresh” is one of the greatest pieces I feel I’ve made.

The chorus for “It’s so Fresh” was originally written for a song I was making with Lola Damone. We drafted a series of songs in the summer of 2012 (Lola, if you’re reading this we still need to do a 5 song project ASAP). One of the best ideas to come from these drafted songs was the idea of playing with old hip-hop sayings hence: fresh; dope; flyy; phat; and def. These adjectives are dated, but match my childhood in which the story I’m telling takes place (though I still use flyy … I’m a fan of Ron O’neil). That foundation matched up to create the chorus for “It’s so Fresh.”

Soon after writing the chorus I invited General Population band vocalist Ashley Nicole to sing the chorus. She delivered an amazing performance which is what you’re hearing. One of the best things about the performance was Ashley brought her son Ray to the session as well. I always feel children are the best ears for music. Ray loved “It’s so Fresh.”

Lyrical Breakdown: Living Proof (Young Black Youth)

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Living Proof (Young Black Youth)

Written by K. Frazier // Vocals performed by Khary WAE Frazier // Produced & Composed by Joe Black // Mixed by John Brown Jr. // Recorded at Sights & Sounds Studios Southfield MI & John Brown Jr. Studios //From the ‘Broken English Ideologies’ EP 2015

 

VERSE ONE
Kids looking up to me I don’t know what to tell them
Ain’t no options out here cause Detroit done failed them
. . .So I try to just listen
And offer them some love if they make a bad decision
Though I wish things was different
Hard for me to justify still living where I’m living
Doing what I’m doing and getting what I’m getting
In Detroit skies I can clearly see a ceiling

Performing hip-hop it’s many assumptions made about the benefits of the art form. One of the biggest I’ve always received from friends and strangers is that there is a collection of groupies connected to rap music. For my artistry I have not found anything close to that. Often then women who approach me have sons, nephews, or mentees who are young males they’d like me to meet. These younger artists are seeking ways to use hip-hop as a platform of opportunity. I have no map for success in hip-hop. At a younger age I believed in the market of hip-hop and music. Today I think a career as a music artist is a testament of virtue. Financial sustainability in music is dwindling more by the day. So I often challenge all younger artists to study the music and be creative.

Antiquated thoughts and old ideas
Of assembly lines and unionized men
Everything that’s left for the past 40 years
What the politicians say they can bring back here

I was born in 1982. During, and before my infancy many of the manufacturing plants that established the culture of Detroit in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s were leaving the city limits. The impact of globalization of industrial jobs leaving America impacted Detroit first with surburnization (I’m coining a term Dr. Cornell West style). Most plants inside Detroit’s city limits closed and were relocated to places further from the city. This reality limited the access for work in Detroit. My whole life changes in public service residency laws, manufacturing plant closures, and retail outlet closures have consistently led to underemployment, unemployment, and lack of employment in Detroit for residents.

I’ve always found the idea of politicians ‘bringing jobs’ preposterous. It’s sad I think most politicians will say anything to be elected. I believe ‘jobs & careers’ are circumstantial variables based upon a business’ viability connected to that job/career. Michigan politicians have built political legacies upon the idea of ‘bringing back jobs.’ It’s tragic because Michigan’s prominence as the wealthiest state in the America throughout the 50’s and 60’s was built in the industrial age. The industrial age no longer exists.

Packard Plant, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and Good Times cast
Packard Plant, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and Good Times cast

And I wanna believe but its hard when you see
A college grads options just like a GED
And I wish things was different, . . .it ain’t up to me
I accept the worse, . .  it’s just what I think

VERSE TWO
Life ain’t fair and its worse if you Black
It’s the land of the free but the ghetto is a trap
it’s a state of mind not a place where we at
That don’t trust people but it will trust cash
we don’t understand how this philosophy is born
Evans family here what Plato was to Rome

I believe race is the most polarizing dynamic in America. The role of Black people in America initially being enslaved and discriminated against for centuries still impacts America. Many of the divisive policies, laws, and opportunities have equaled empowered and hurt America. I think race is a cultural reality that is embraced and rebuked dependent upon the situation. In Black America it’s impact of achieving the dream has always been to assimilate.

The Evans family is the family from the 70’s television show ‘Good Times.’ The premise of the TV show was to follow a family in Chicago’s Cabini Green Public Housing Project Unit. The Evans family struggles from episode to episode with earning enough money to sustain a viable lifestyle. The ‘Good Times’ theme song of makes reference to temporary lay-offs, credit rip-offs, and waiting in chow lines which ties to the idea of urban survival. Conceptually the idea of surviving related to money in America is prominent. Rappers, athletes, scholars, and politicians alike culturally have accepted this philosophy as the overwhelming oppressor of the Black community. This makes my analogy to Plato clever to me. Plato’s book ‘The Republic’ built the system Rome and now America has used as the blueprint for society.

So I brush it off with the books that I read
to shake off the laziness, jealousy and greed
with notes of Marcus Garvey thoughts of Fuad Muhammad
quotes of Dudley Randle and Assata’s sonnets

Here I acknowledge a series of my favorite writers and the father of the Nation of Islam. Marcus Garvey is the original leader of Black Nationalism. His ideas of Black empowerment in business, residency, and education are phenomenal. Considering the timing of his philosophies and actions are humbling. Garvey’s UNIA organization stands today as one of America’s largest. Tragically it also was infiltrated by J Edgar Hoover and the FBI.

Fuad Muhammad is the master teacher of the honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Fuad’s teachings of eating, learning, business, and family have created one of the strongest groups in the Black community.

Assata Shakur is the writer, revolutionary, and leader who has the Black Panther Party and more. Assata’s writings are humbling. Her takes on transforming state of mind to community empowerment are fundamental for my progress.

Dudley Randall was the leader of Broadside Press. Broadside Press was the publisher of many Black poets throughout the Civil Rights movement till today.

Dudley Randall, Lil Wayne, and Assata Shakur
Dudley Randall, Lil Wayne, and Assata Shakur

cause without knowledge slavery’s not abolished
and I find myself even shackled to a dolla
//Hard places makes rocks get softer
Can’t find work? streets got job offers
Why young kids even robbing and shooting
And we blame parents, teachers, and music

VERSE THREE
I got a little homie who just graduated
Ex-dropout alternative education
As he thinking now that he can just make it
His alternative prison and basic training

Rap Technique:
Starting this verse I play on the harmony of the ending rhymes for the introductory stanza. This technique I’ve always found intriguing. My favorite rappers to use this are Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg, and Lil Wayne. I rarely use this technique but effectively done I feel it brings attention to the rest of the verse.

My favorite song using this technique is Lil Wayne’s “Hustler’s Musik” from his album Carter II. He subtly uses the harmony to mix his words with the music production.

It’s a harsh reality but a sad truth
When you can barely read college not you
You ain’t got no money college got you
You ain’t gotta plan life stops you
Things stack up as time moves on
thinking what’s next, not right or wrong
Why I make decisions that might risk it all
life is a hustle I can flip or I fall
On a high wire I’m Dominique Dawes
With my information that’s of value when I talk
Coming together everything’s in my palms
To catch all the snakes that fatten up the frogs

Song Background: Living Proof (Young Black Youth)

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In 2010 I got back to my hip-hop roots. Wrapping up my time as a partner of the historic ‘1440 Collective Studios’ I entered into an agreement with my longtime friend Mio Thomas, and Saba Grebrai to open ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ in Southfield MI. ‘Sights and Sounds’ started at the Regal Apartments in Southfield MI.

The focus of ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ was to provide a home for audio recording and professional photography. Mio’s work with 3M Photography has been nationally recognized. His work’s impression upon urban modeling is the premiere brand from Detroit MI. Saba Grebrai has been one of my strongest community partners for nearly a decade now. Her work with her Blue Babies group has helped Michigan’s foster youth find housing, employment, and other opportunities. ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ was to be a place to show students interested in learning the process of running a studio.

3m Photography, The Regal Apartments, Saba and friends
3m Photography, The Regal Apartments, Saba and friends

The first partner of ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ was producer Joe Black. Joe Black is a hip-hop artist, producer, recording engineer, and soul vocalist. We met initially through my friend and community leader Yusef Shakur. Joe Black’s work for the soundtrack of Yusef’s autobiography was phenomenal. Joe Black was also the host of ‘Detroit Rap TV’ directed & produced by the late Damani Robinson (RIP).

As the engineer of ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ in the beginning there was little or no work. For hours I’d sit and talk with Joe Black about hip-hop. Our conversations led to me challenging him to sample some of my favorite hip-hop songs. These challenges reignited my love for hip-hop. Joe Black responded to every idea I had with amazing music. That music became the foundation for my “Broken English Ideologies” project. The “Broken English Ideologies” project is a collection of lessons I learned from some of my favorite hip-hop records overtime.

“Living Proof (Young Black Youth)” is a sample taken from Wu Tang Clan’s song C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) from their first album ‘Enter the 36 Chambers.’ The sample is taken from the second verse of C.R.E.A.M. as performed by hip-hop artist Inspectah Deck. Inspectah Deck’s verse has always left an impact on my life. The stanza in which the foundation for the chorus of my song “Living Proof (Young Black Youth)” are words I recite often.

Joe Black & Detroit Rap TV Logo
Joe Black & Detroit Rap TV Logo

Inspectah Deck in C.R.E.A.M.

Leave it up to me while I be living proof
To kick the truth to the young black youth
But shorty’s running wild, smokin sess, drinkin beer
And ain’t trying to hear what I’m kickin in his ear
Neglected for now, but yo, it gots to be accepted
That what? That life is hectic

So when Joe Black completed the sample of Inspectah Deck’s stanza I immediately was drawn to complete the song. Within hours I wrote “Living Proof.” There after the development of ‘Broken English Ideologies’ sparked my love for writing hip-hop music again.

Interestingly enough the recording of “Living Proof (Young Black Youth)” I completed this past Monday September 8, 2014 before the Detroit Lions vs. New York Giants football game. My cousin Rae joined me to watch the game as I mixed my vocals. In my home I’ve recorded most of my songs myself. I’ve named my home studio after my maternal grandfather John Brown. It’s where I’ve done my best work thus far. “Living Proof (Young Black Youth)” adds to that legacy.

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