Cuba’s Got Talent

Cuba has Talent


As some of you may know I just got back from Cuba. Before I left on my trip, I asked my only contact in Cuba to help me set up a party. My plan was to host a freestyle party and invite some dope emcees in Havana to join in. To make it more attractive, I supplied the booze and paid them to come to my party. This produced some music that I’m very proud of. But we also had a meeting of the minds. What follows is my address to the rappers that showed up for the party.

Requerda La Lucha

Message to the Cuban Rappers

 Welcome to my party!

This is an amusing paradox: you are guests at my party, and I am a guest in your country. And, if you consider the brief span of human life, we are all guests on this planet.

In the few days that I’ve been here, I can truly say that I love Cuba. The spirit of the people has touched me in a heartfelt way. You may find it strange when I tell you this, but outside of knowing that I wanted to throw this party, I came to Cuba without any preconceived ideas, or any kind of agenda. If I did have a goal, it was a very general one. I wanted to improve my meager Spanish. But for that I could have gone to any Spanish speaking country—to Nicaragua, for example, as I had originally planned. But something drew me here instead. It was the right move. Cuba is where I should be.

My friends and family don’t exactly know where I am. I cut off all communication with everyone because I wanted to be completely here in this moment with you. Now, bear with me when I say this— but I feel certain that I’ve lived here before! Perhaps in another life, or in a parallel life, but I feel certain that I’ve been here before.

Like I said, it’s crazy. I don’t know why I’m here. But something attracted me— some mysterious electro-magnetic force brought me to your country. On an intuitive level, I knew that something special would happen, and it’s happening! This party is a part of that unfolding.

My friends, I propose that we are making history tonight. History is not made by political gestures, but by socio-dynamic forces. Here in Alfredo & Julietta’s backyard— with a talking parrot and a pet alligator—we’re transcending national boundaries and building bridges of friendship across the world, in this case, from Havana to the San Francisco Bay Area. What to an outsider would seem like a little freestyle session is for us, a heart to heart conversation; a spiritual discourse on U.S./ Cuban relations. That’s the power of hip-hop. It’s an international passport to go anywhere. If you have skills and you can spit, you can enter any cipher. It transforms strangers into friends and family. That’s the alchemy of hip-hop. We speak intelligently through our hearts in rhythmical waves that are electrocardiographs of consciousness. We feel each other in the deepest sense.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the “heart was the seat of intelligence.” A rapper from the United States doesn’t have to know Spanish to feel the intelligence in what a Cuban rapper is saying. Your intelligence comes across in the execution of your delivery.

That’s why I say we’re making history. This reunion is a significant step forward in effecting positive change in the world. That’s what hip-hop can do. It can awaken people to their own power. As far as being a uniting force, and bringing people from all over the world together, hip-hop may be more powerful than any religion. The reason I say this is that hip-hop, real hip-hop shorn of its bling and glamour, is a meritocracy, a worldwide movement rooted in authenticity.

Please believe me, I have nothing against fine jewelry and diamond-encrusted watches, but that’s not what brought us here. Everybody here tonight is an authentic rapper. It comes with the territory. I can feel it emanating from you. Authenticity requires courage and it comes with a price. You’re not always going to be poplar or famous. But that shouldn’t faze you guys. You’re not the masking-wearing type.

News flash: this just in— a tidal wave of material wealth is heading in your direction. When it hits, it will turn artists into celebrities. So my message to you tonight is this: don’t lose sight of who you are. To quote Public Enemy, don’t believe the hype.

To my mind, an artist can only be great if he makes himself vulnerable to censure, and risks failure. In today’s world, truth telling is in short supply. So putting your ass on the line is a heroic act. But the people that are starving for something genuine will love you for it. They’ll celebrate your talent, and shower you with respect. Your authenticity is your soul. Please don’t lose it when the dollars start flying.

Havana, Cuba        1-24-15

As some of you may know I just got back from Cuba. Before I left on my trip, I asked my only contact in Cuba to help me set up a party. My plan was to host a freestyle party and invite some dope emcees in Havana to join in. To make it more attractive, I supplied the booze and paid them to come to my party. This produced some music that I’m very proud of. But we also had a meeting of the minds. What follows is my address to the rappers that showed up for the party.

   M.C. Mars © 2015

MC Mars clone, Desoto Selby III, speaks out on SF taxi business

The Ride Share Parasites

OPINION These days, all signs point to the eventual deregulation of the San Francisco cab industry.

On any given weekend night in the city, you can find a wide array of illegal taxis operating with impunity, including limo drivers, out-of-town taxis, Super Shuttle vans, ZIP cars, and even some sketchy folks driving their private vans down Valencia Street at 2am soliciting rides for hire. If you have wheels, you can become your own livery service.

It’s a free-for-all out here. The city appears to be giving all comers carte blanche. And while the courts wrangle over ride-sharing rules and what constitutes a taxicab, the cab industry could cave in under the unfair advantage given to its competitors.

The general manager of ride-share startup Uber, Ilya Abyzov, has been quoted as saying that cab companies have had a “state-sanctioned monopoly. They’re not used to competition.” I have two words for him, and they’re not, Yo taxi! We’re competing with about as much chance as the proverbial one-legged man in a kicking fight.

The advertisement on the website of another startup, Lyft, uses for recruiting drivers reads: “Make $22 an hour, have a blast, drive when you want, meet new people, make friends, learn about new restaurants …” This idyllic version of a cab shift could never happen without real cab drivers holding up the foundation.

I don’t think you’ll find a Lyft cab willing to take a sick grandmother from Kaiser Hospital to her home in the Alice Griffith projects. A pink mustache sighting at Griffith and Fitzgerald will probably coincide with the next great earthquake because only a drastic geological shift will cause that to happen.

Right now, it’s a cakewalk for the ride-share drivers. But without the cab industry picking up the rear and girding the underbelly, these parasites couldn’t exist. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a parasite as an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. Substitute the word “nutrients” for the word “money” and you have what in the cab business we call a bingo.

At the end of the day, driving a cab is a hustle. And once your host is gone and the cab business gets deregulated, kiss your city tours goodbye. You won’t be able to rely on donations anymore, and your legal babble and dishonest terminology won’t save you from a harsh descent into the street, into the dog-eat-dog world of a real cab driver.

And then, you’ll know what it’s like to hustle, in the middle of the night when you’re worried about your gates and gas, and it gets real slow, and you have to take chances with your life.

New Music in SF

Went to see a cohort of friends, young deejays on the cusp of creating a new sound in the ever-evolving realm of music created on turn-tables and computers, music that is mixed live.They use terms like slump, dub step, trap music, Southern screwed (with elements of soul dropped into the mix) to describe their music which to my ear is a new hybrid, a fusion of electronica and hip-hop beats. At the Ikon in SF…Citizen Ten, and deejay centipede. Mostly instrumental, with a few rap lyrics thrown into the mix…Old German movies with German subtitles from the 30s, and light show…I have a fascination with musical innovators, and in my book Burner, I create the character of Jason Teal AKA Deejay J-Keen Deprez, who fashions his own hybrid marrying hip-hop producers like Alchemist and Pete Rock with the like of Philip Glass and Jimi Hendrix. Centipede believes that after dub step the music is in a gestation period, a sort of trough, where energy and ideas need to percolate before they coalesce into the next Big Thing. One of the most intriguing elements of the performance were the seamless transitions to the following act. Each new act gave a shout out to his predecessor in such a way that their movement as a community took precedence over the work of an single act. In fact, each act served as a distinctly essential component to the greater whole. Some of the sound was atmospheric, with the beat intentionally going slightly off tempo in places. What this event demonstrates is the way in which new art gets created, and that is that it must always be done away from the spotlight.

The T-Shirt as a Novel

At a time when some people argue that the Gutenberg Universe is dead, and books are quickly becoming obsolete, and is desperately trying to sell us on the practicality of the Kindle— the time has come for a novel in the form of a T-shirt. Although I lay claim to this concept—this particular fusion of fashion and literature— I would expect you to be skeptical at this point.

The great Italian novelist, Italo Calvino, wrote an essay[1] on concise literature, in which he said: “I dream of immense cosmologies, sagas and epics all reduced to the dimensions of an epigram”.

When I first read this statement I was on the Elliptical machine at the gym, moving my make-believe skis in a counter-clockwise groove, and BAM, I stopped dead in my tracks. I walked over to the nearest mirror, put Calvino’s book up to my chest[2] and tried to imagine draining all of the text into a singularly potent phrase, a phrase that would capture the entire book and distil it to its essence.

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