Ask a Negro Leaguer Column

Week of January 26, 2006

 Hey Joe: Do you think rap music is inferior to '60s and '70s R&B soul, both in terms of sociopolitical relevance and musicianship?

Wilson Pickett, the Promised Land

Personally, I'm not too familiar with rapping, although it is not uncommon. During the '70s, I remember a group called the Last Poets. As far as I am concerned, they energized black America at the time. I truly loved them. Maybe my ignorance concerning future rappers stems from not being able to understand exactly what is being said. And it can't be said that I haven't really tried hard. But there is one thing that can be said about their musical inclination, and that is their product is not inferior. Believe me, most rap artists are geniuses.

For the better part of my life, I grew up loving music, period. I was unable to distinguish between blues or any other sentimental songs. During the '50s and '60s, not only was I fascinated with black performers' talent but also their stylish dress. Most revealing was the emergence of a white singer, Elvis Presley, who — after an abbreviated appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show — was put down by a sizable majority (white society) because of emulating blacks. Later he became the pride and joy of white America. However, many black recording stars — because of dependence upon white recording studios — wound up their careers short of money.

The brilliance demonstrated by most black rappers is their ability to see through a society waiting to put them down. Therefore, they've exhibited talent and formed their own studios. From their success, many became businessmen by peddling lines of clothing, etc. For example, St. Louis' Nelly is a businessman deluxe. He has yet to put down the inner city and, as a rapper, he has made his presence felt.

Over a period of years, I've seen several rappers interviewed by hosts, such as Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno and David Letterman. Not once have I heard one back off political statements that were made. It's about time that we all should do likewise. After all, I have often heard the words of a patriotic song, which includes lyrics such as "This land is your land, this land is my land."

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn?t know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman?s Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry?s most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they?d arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to heyjoe@riverfronttimes.com. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

 
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