If you haven’t heard the case of Kiera Wilmot of Bartow, Florida, then get familiar. She’s a teen with good grades and no prior behavior problems who messed up a science experiment and got charged with a felony.
As I get older, sadly, few things inspire me to write in for change. It could be that, as the world evolves, there are more instances of ridiculous behavior and of sad people trying to hold on to injustices to others so they may keep their perceived safe space. It could also be because sometimes you write and you never hear…things go into the ether. I’ve written ridiculous politicians and educators plenty of times with no word and that’s mostly fine since I’m usually calling them out on something.
This Kiera Wilmot story though, moved me in a way that I haven’t been moved since maybe last year with Trayvon Martin, perhaps more so. Kiera could have been me at that age. I got good grades, had no prior behavior problems and was pretty clumsy when it came to science. I had the best science teacher in the world, Mr. Ishakis, who believed we all had the ability to cure cancer if we tried. Imagining him punishing me for trying something is beyond comprehension. I could have been Kiera though.
So I wrote whomever I could about this little girl that I don’t know. I do what most do, scour the internet for contact information. Because most articles don’t have specific details, I collected contact information for almost anyone of authority in Bartow, FL - police, sheriff, state’s attorney, principle, you name it.
Here was my email:
To Whom It May Concerned,
With regard to the Kiera Wilmot case, I sincerely hope that you plan to drop the charges against this girl - a girl with good grades and no behavior problems - for a science experiment gone wrong. Your actions have now set this girl on a course from which few ever recover from. Her bright future is now tarnished because of the decision you’ve made to charge her with something from which few recover from…there was no malice, no injuries and no damage. Was there no other recourse but to charge her with a crime? Is it impossible to think that there may be another course of action suitable for a CHILD? Could you not have suspended her for the possible danger and then welcomed her back so she could go on to achieve any success she may be destined for? Are there no other criminals in this county that deserve your attention other than this child?? This case is making news across the country and I hope this forces you to reexamine whatever excessive disciplinary action you’ve deemed appropriate in this time.
T. Tara Turk
I clicked send and tried to think of something else I could do to help this girl, whom I imagined in juvenile hall, scared and worried about her future since she’s being expelled from school. Just as I almost walked away from my computer, here’s the response I got from Donna Wood, Public Information Officer for the Sheriff’s Department:
Had you, or any of the individuals who have been littering the Polk County Sheriff’s Office PIO inbox bothered to research this case, even superficially, they would have discovered the investigation and arrest was conducted by the Bartow Police Department – not our agency. It’s not our case. The suspect is not in our custody.
Please contact the Bartow Police Department for any further comments or complaints about this case.
Donna C. Wood, MSM, CPM
Public Information Officer
Polk County Sheriff’s Office
At first, all I saw was the word “litter” and I saw red. She must be mad or off her rocker. What public official uses the world litter to someone who pays taxes and writes them to express themselves? Then I read the email and realized that she clearly handled this the wrong way. Though their office is not involved, she responded to me in a way that says she doesn’t think her replies out to the public. But she works for the public. Are people in her county used to hearing that kind of tone? Having worked in customer service most of my life, I know tone and word phrasing is everything. Never would I think to tell someone that they are littering my inbox by emailing about something that bothered them, even if it didn’t apply to me. You see, I have answered general lines for a major magazine. I have talked to people who think they are Halle Berry’s parents and have sent hair samples to prove it. I have talked to people who want to sue a publication because of a documentary where they are shown kidnapping someone, simply because we reviewed the documentary. None of those people ever heard me utter the word “litter.”
This was my response to Donna (I was raised to use Mr. and Miss for people but I can’t do it this time):
Apologies if this has reached you in error. We don’t consider it littering when we are trying to find the right agency to reach out to. And perhaps this email will reach someone who can actually help. You are an agency so there for we appeal to you. Littering may not be the right word to use but thank you for your reply. I have sent an email to that agency as well as the State’s Attorney. As a tax payer, I feel as though I have a reach out to you directly. Good day.
You see, I had to remind her that we don’t know each other and I am a tax payer. I had to remind her that she is there to help. How come I had to do that? I understand she in inundated with emails about this subject, as she should be because it’s ridiculous, but she lost the focus of the point. It is about Kiera. It is about directing information the best way you can. If it’s not about that, then it’s definitely not about littering inboxes.
Like so many, New York had a pull on me even before I moved there. The benefit of growing up in the 90s meant there was SO much good music, hip hop specifically, happening there that I had to go even when I had no idea what I was going to do there. I grew up, really, in New York even though I was raised in Detroit and born in Pasadena. New York made me an adult.
If it hadn’t been for the Native Tongue movement, Jazzmataz and Digable Planets, I have no idea what kind of person I would have turned out to be. Scratch that. If that music hadn’t affected me like it did, I don’t know what I would be now. The whole idea that there was a quest for identity and a consciousness that nobody else seemed to really need except for a selected group of us, was an amazing moment to be connected to.
I get weary of docs about that time because, well, if you didn’t love it and didn’t feel like it was pulsing through your veins, then it’s hard to capture. Michael Rapaport obviously loved it as much as many because his doc “Beats Rhymes Life”, all about the journey of A Tribe Called Quest, captures it like he was taking a picture of each lyric, each loop, each crazy concert where we all nodded our heads so hard that we came away dizzy.
I can remember most of my growing up moments with this soundtrack underneath. I remember Pierre Bennu giving me a tape of a De La Soul album and playing it until it broke. I remember listening to Midnight Marauders in my Shockwave extra bass Sony Walkman, the joint vibrating, while sitting on the 4 train to Brooklyn. Bonita Applebaum set a standard for how I wanted anybody to step to me. It’s just clearly amazing to remember these moments and how they’ve built up like muscle in my whole being. Like jazz, this kind of hip hop will never leave me and I’m so grateful for that.
Every group that is formed should watch this doc. Not just hip hop groups but any time you work with people you start off caring about like family and then realize that sometimes, when you grow up, the dynamic doesn’t always keep always keep you on the same page. And that’s okay.
Hopefully folks won’t view the non-beef between Phife and Q Tip as an impetus to watch some dramatic tale unfold. It’s really about how art can be so collective and it’s process can be so dividing. At the end of the day, what lives is the music, thank whatever diety that’s over that. The group succeeded because they are still at the top of the major playlist of so many around the world. It’s just life.
In the spirit of John Legend’s new crusade “Wake Up Everybody” (though some of you from Detroit may remember this as Teddy Pendergrass on WJLB reminding you that it was time to get to school and not necessarily an anthem for grass movements), I’d like to reflect on teachers that changed my life. No I don’t think teaching is some sort of “Ghost Whisper” job you get when you can inherently talk to the natives without moving your lips. I think teaching is damn hard work for no money and you just might as well go into it without expectations and lots of Five Hour Energy Drinks. In other words, it’s the new brick breaking.
When I was in third grade in Detroit, my teacher, Miss Bailey, read a horrible poem I wrote and proclaimed me a writer. The poem was about our visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts (not only a cultural institution but also a great place to play hooky where many of my friends stole their first kiss obviously in front of the Diego Rivera mural) and somehow I made a rhyme with ants. After that I wrote horrible stories in a notebook that got passed from friend to friend until the end of the week when I was forced to keep going.
I would love to say my high school, Renaissance (the ultimate college prep at the time - and I say that because we had no fun distractions like a football teams - only tennis, golf and helluva girls’ basketball team that had no following), had great teachers. In fact, I can say it but none of them made me feel as special as Miss Baily did. Actually, I made myself feel special back then out of sheer hormonal need puberic angst (I still don’t know how one can combat an unfresh perm, acne and a minimal clothes budget).
Eugene Lang College changed my life. One day, in Sekou Sundiata’s 1960s art social class, it all made sense to me. I realized that everything I learned was connected. There was no separating history from art, from social studies to math. Time, Sekou taught me, was the glue that held everything together and made everything a living organism that needed to be addressed. “Leave room for the ghost,” he told us several times. He and Kurt Lamkin were able to allow me to pull words out of the depth of my gut and make them wrap themselves around what I was thinking. Peter Wallace made realize I could stage all of this.
Sarah Lawrence was a joint educational process. Ed Allan Baker was the best playwrighting teacher around. He taught me timing, humor, appreciation for my working class roots and how that’s just as interesting as Shakespeare - Ed was the babysitter you prayed your parents would leave you with. Kevin Confoy taught me producing and imagination. To this day, his staging of Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal” was the best I’d ever see and I still strive to capture the moment the main character, on the brink of her death sentence, shoots several feet up in the air just as the electric chair switch went down. I think of it and am breathless.
I don’t know what kids have people who teach them and leave them breathless anymore. I know I wasn’t the easiest kid to teach because I was a Know-It-All and incredibly defensive but did I have the sense of entitlement present today? I was too scared to. I knew my parents would kill me. I’m hoping there are still some of those parents out there who are able to peel through the onion layers of these crazy modern times and can reach their kids before the entitle themselves out of reality. So if you’re a teacher, hats off to you. Keep breaking the bricks of whatever this present state of chaos is we have surrounding us. If you want me to, I’ll email you everyday to remind you that you’re valued.
I had to post this article from Clutch Magazine (if you don’t know them and you got some color, even if its rosy, you need to) because it’s been a long time since somebody really got down to the lovely bones of why Beyonce is either loved or hated.
I personally have ZERO issue with Beyonce, even when others are annoyed by her repetition, the rumors of her song ganking (listen, I only know the music biz from the sidelines and there’s A LOT of that going from a whole lot of folks AND let’s not ever forget the biggest creative rule of all: EVERYTHING THAT’S HERE HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE SOMEHOW!), her secrecy, her ability to use her power without question…none of that bothers me. I am sometime bothered by the fact that she could use a few more words in her vocabulary when talking to the press but I don’t know her personally and, for all I know, she could be Shakespeare with the fam. Who cares? At the end of the day here’s what I know: most of her songs are catchy, she can dance her ass off on screen and in concert, I heard her SING in concert and not mouthed the words, she is not afraid of her thighs like I’m a little shy of mine.
In other words, she gets play on my music player without shame. I’ll not say the same for J. Lo who could learn a few things from B (neither one of them should be acting very much, btw, unless they go hard in acting camp like Marilyn Monroe did) in terms of song selection, being private (dude - Bennifer thoughts still makes me cringe when I listen to that WHOLE album dedicated to a due who’s now married to another Jennifer) and commanding her choreography.
Geneva Thoma’s article goes further:
Step into my office. And just for a second, let’s leave our ultra-feminist/womanist egos at the door. The imagined barriers that separate us from our “other” sisters. The “I graduated from college–she didn’t” wall–you understand. This isn’t another postmodern feminist read. This is rather best received as an unsolicited response. Guns down ladies. I come in peace.
Why does Beyonce get under our skin?
Beyonce presents a hybrid of stan allegiance, angst and utter disgust. And dare I say, closeted envy? She’s pretty dumb, pretty blonde, pretty fake, pretty married, pretty paid and pretty pretty.
Face it, the sista has it all. Or at least all we were sold on having. She has the dream career and the dream marriage (would you have ever thought we’d describe the “Girls, Girls, Girls” Jay Z as such?). But we no longer gag at these classic “I have arrived” formulations. We’re more interested in substance–why do we presume this is the very thing Beyonce lacks?
The singer’s early interviews revealed she wasn’t the smartest chick off the Houston block or the best prepped. She fumbled over words, appeared uneasy, and at times her eyes roamed to the ceiling. Beyonce quickly earned Black music’s airhead title and we’ve given her little room to out grow it. Beyonce’s ‘60 Minutes’ interview however has shut down those staining coming of age moments. Albums later, the strings were seemingly unfastened, a 28-year-old confident and mature Beyonce emerged– in charge of her brand. The superstar declared she puts herself first.
She’s far from the loud mouthed industry prima donna, she saves her “Diva” antics for the stage brilliantly marketing an alter ego Sasha Fierce. The gusty temptress allows space for a more private Beyonce she leaves only to a curious public imagination. We actively wonder what of Beyonce, the woman and Beyonce, the wife.
On Jay: “Make him think he’s in control”
Beyonce gives the Southern Belle makeup able to compliment a larger than life hip hop king’s ego. She stands in demure posture; the 16 Grammy Award winner is a quiet storm who quietly upgrades. Imagine the couple vacationing on a private island (as they probably are right now). In the company other wealthy lads Shawn Carter boasts on a yacht about his latest capitalist venture and his “on to the next one” spend. The men blow out hearty laughs and cigar smokes. Somewhere in a noiseless corner Beyonce sits near a pool smiling on the inside giving only the gracious *sigh*. Nearly 10 years later she epitomizes Destiny’s Child’s chart topping “Independent Women Part 1″ single — she tops the Forbes list and yes she makes more dough than her man. Lest we forget with a pretty crafty prenup in tact.
She simultaneously offers her latest alter ego creation B. B. Homemaker. A stylish 50’s housewife where dusting in 4-inch designer heels is a fashionable inconvenience. Beyonce belts out lyrics Betty Draper could only imagine. A nostalgic symbol of Americana juxtaposed by sassy temper–to many of our counterparts this is a shock factor, but for Black women in America, it’s in our matrilineal blood–audaciousness is what we do.
“You ain’t never seen a nigga like me ever in your life.
And that’s what you can’t understand!” — Diddy, “Hate Me Now”
Beyonce the branded brainless girl is no distinction. The artist has clearly taken cues from her mother. Tina Knowles quietly dismissed herself from a cheating husband, managing to skip Wade-like controversy. Beyonce’s squeaky clean image is perhaps more than due to a PR strong hold, could it be her rearing? Beyonce’s success rivals if not out performs her counterparts. Yet we’ve seen little of a wild party girl. No DUI. No criminal court appearances and no panty-less car exiting. She seems to have mastered old school ‘good girl’ rules — the kind that will make him ‘put a ring on it’ while concocting an unparalleled career arguably unseen in recent memory. Beyonce sells sex and ‘House of Dereon’ sheets. What’s outwardly unusual about it all is that she anchors and sails her own ship.
What’s wrong with being sexy?
Decades after the women’s/feminist movement, some how we still conceptualize the feminist or more liberally, the socially conscious woman as a makeup-less, bra-burning, hair wrap wearing butch. A disregarded or misinterpreted sexual revolution unrealized, today a woman in towering Brian Atwoods and a cute mini is still not taken seriously. Beyonce’s stage costumes and sidewalk paparazzi shows are visual appetizers to men and an eye-rolling, nose-turned up presentation to some women. No doubt some looks and moves are suggestive and we aren’t co-signing ‘Single Ladies’ children. But why can’t a near 30-year-old woman be sexy? Much of her off-stage looks are often casual and understated ensembles, excluding her signature fire-hydrant red lips.
A friend-less Bey?
Notice she never runs in packs. That is outside of her own entourage. Beyonce isn’t spotted conveniently lunching at a California camera hotspot with the coveted Hollywood BFF crew. Her friends much like her image is protected. Entertainment’s female rat packs often appear to be constructed to solicit some kind of media attention. Twitpics of peace sign and kiss throwing images shows industry camaraderie gone fake. Ever since Beyonce tied the knot with Jay Z, she’s rarely seen with anyone else. This is met with relative contention and understandably so. But when you’re on top of the world its presumably hard to have genuine friendships, even with a cousin. Damn.
Beyonce vs. Black Women
Beyonce strikes a strange discord with Black women. We’ve undoubtedly witnessed a decade of Beyonce-over load–making her the woman we love to hate and perhaps the woman we’d like to miss. What really stops the singer from receiving the kind of nobel Alicia Keys praise? Even amid the Swizz Beatz-MaShonda controversy, Alicia Keys escapes the fight nearly blameless. We spare no punches with Beyonce. We deconstruct her every flaw–such is the life of an international celebrity.
But can we stand to consider the things we can learn from her? Is there some concealed part of our collective selves that admires her? Perhaps her pleading vocals in “Why Don’t You Love Me” speaks not only to an ungrateful man but also to her estranged sistas, “why don’t you love me, tell me (sista) why don’t you love me?”
This video is Kill Billy Genius. Even for “older” women like myself, the dancing totally takes me back to when people really memorized routines for videos. Even if you don’t get Lady Gaga, you have got to admit that she has put her own box around herself and nobody else is able to penetrate it. Everyone else is damn near xeroxing each other. Hell, she even made Beyonce avant garde (off page that is - we all know Miss Thing loves to pull some “Mahogany” shots on the regular)…not so much for the acting though. Sorry, B. I stan for you but you need to pull a Marilyn Monroe and get some more method training. Tyrese…just thank them as many ways as you can, brother. Pray to the relevancy gods…
Having just gone through a slew of birthdays (mine and my dad included), I’ve discovered another tendon important to maturing in life. Auto correct. You may have read this elsewhere in this kind of phrase “pay attention to the little voice in your head” but I think it’s really larger than that.
There comes a moment in your life when you’ve got to give yourself a little credit on first impulse. Everything that has come to past in your life has lead you to this moment so sometimes, your first reaction is correct. Yet it seems we are taught to second guess our first reaction just in case it’s incorrect. Even if it is incorrect, sometimes it is incorrect for a reason. It’s to auto correct you.
I’ll give an example:
The other day, someone asked if I was okay because there were a couple of things I was doing that fell through the cracks. This is a normal question of course because I pride myself on my work. But this person was also witness to some of the reasons behind this crack falling episode I had (actually just two things that went left of center but not two major things) that were including but not limited to a bank fraud on my account, a tire with a nail in it, that woman monthly visitor, some crazy work stuff and a low immune system. My initial reaction was to be who I was and say outright why I was acting the way I was acting. Without an attitude but definitely with perplexion because this person was a witness to said things. In the past, I would have tried to cut myself around the idea of being nice as opposed to calmly truthful. I would have shucked and jived my way into making the situation comfortable as opposed to letting it happen. I’m not saying that I didn’t think about my actions over and over again after my response. What I am saying is that I don’t regret how I responded because somewhere I autocorrected myself without realizing it. Something in me needed to be me at that moment and not listen to the fears, expectations, proper blah blah that we are taught to layer over our own feelings. Feeling what you feel is just as important as understanding where someone else is coming from. In fact, it should give color to all other things that relate to relating to other people.
This is a tangent but then most of my posts are because they are coming from my own experience as I navigate the art of autocorrection and hashing out my life without “putting all my business in the street” (I’ve been accused of that before).
The purpose of this though is to acknowledge that my thirty some odd years have lead me to unconscious lessons that have benefited me in areas where I don’t have to overthink anymore. Think of Neo in the Matrix when dodging bullets. He was not sitting there contemplating the bullets so much as he listened to his own rhythm. I’ll not tell you this works ALL the time but I can tell you that sometimes it’s just what you need to do to be you.
If you know anything about me, you know that I love this woman. She can do zero wrong. I even went to her concert alone without even thinking asking anyone if they wanted to go (folks are too slow and I had to be there! I made it a date. Took myself to dinner. Had an allergic reaction. Showed up at MSG with a swollen face. Got moved down to the ground floor through some miracle of God and was close enough to see her freckles. Real talk).
Her new song is below:
The above is literally one of my favorite quotes from my homegirl, Jessica care Moore. We’ve known each other for _________ years (I’m so not telling but it’s been a long time) and she never ceases to amaze me with what her lovely talented brain comes up with. Below are some poems on light skinned girls and Michael Vick. I watch her and I think, maybe that poetry scene from the 90s wasn’t a comet in the sky after all. I hope not.
Listen, I remember Roxanne Shante from back in the day. Granted I was too young to completely understand her rhymes but I cop to being there and really wanting some doorknocker earrings just like her. But if you look at her presence from a hip hop historical perspective, she was an inspiration to a lot of women since she was busting down some rhyme doors that were previously closed to women (as usual) let alone girls. We haven’t made THAT much headway since then save the few mainstream acts you can rattle off that completely fall short of the dudes still trying to get their old man wordsmithing on and the new dudes who’s words I can’t even understand. But the interesting perspective in the story below is that for Roxanne Shante, it was not enough to just be dope early on as a female. She had to take a few steps further and cross the fourth wall with her imaginings. I like a good story as much as anybody but as professional storytellers, there’s a skill in knowing where the stage ends and where it begins. When you go two steps too far, especially now that Kylie from the Windows commercials can put together an internet Power Point presentation for you at seven years old, you’re bound to get caught and likely not forgiven. Old marketing trends from the 80s might as well be the marketing campaign for the 1900 World’s Fair. Ancient is yesterday nowadays so Roxanne pulling the rulebook out from when she was hot and trying to pass her game off is, well, insulting and shows her age. Lady, get it together. Just get a reality show like everybody else.
Roxanne’s Nonexistent Revenge
Heard about the rapper who forced her label to pay for her Cornell Ph.D.? It never happened.
Updated Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009, at 7:19 PM ET
It was the feel-good story of the summer. According to the New York Daily News, Roxanne Shanté, a 1980s female hip-hop pioneer famous for the 1984 underground hit “Roxanne’s Revenge,” had finally gotten her own revenge on Warner Music, the record label she accused of “cheating with the contracts, stealing and telling lies,” to avoid paying her what she was owed. How? After valiantly fighting, reported Daily News freelancer Walter Dawkins, Shanté had convinced Warner to honor a contractual agreement to “fund her education for life.” Warner ended up paying more than $200,000, Dawkins reported, to finance Shanté’s education, which Shanté said included an undergraduate degree from Marymount Manhattan College and a Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell. And now, said the Daily News, “Dr. Roxanne Shanté” has “launched an unconventional therapy practice focusing on urban African-Americans,” in which she “incorporates hip-hop music into her sessions, encouraging her clients to unleash their inner MC and shout out exactly what’s on their mind.”
The story was endlessly blogged and tweeted, heralded as an example of a heroic triumph by a girl from the projects over her evil record label. Credulous music-industry critics lapped it up; Techdirt, after stating flatly that Warner had “tr[ied] to cheat [Shanté] out of her contract,” reflected the online sentiment: “It’s nice to see how Warner Music actually did some good in the world, even if it had to be dragged there kicking and screaming.”
One problem: Virtually everything about the Daily News‘ heartwarming “projects-to-Ph.D.” story appears to be false.
An investigation by Slate has revealed:
- According to Warner, neither it nor any of its subsidiary record labels ever had a contract with Shanté, and it was not obligated to pay for her education. Indeed, there’s no evidence that it ever did.
- Shanté—real name Lolita Shanté Gooden—doesn’t have a Ph.D. from Cornell or anywhere else. Indeed, she admitted it in an interview withSlate. And Cornell has no record of Gooden (or “Shanté”) ever attending or receiving a degree.
- According to Marymount Manhattan College records, Shanté enrolled there but dropped out less than four months later without ever earning a degree.
- New York state records indicate that no one named Lolita Gooden or Roxanne Shanté is licensed to practice psychology or any related field.
In the course of several phone interviews and exchanges over Facebook’s internal e-mail system, Shanté—who refers to herself as “Dr.” and “doctor”—admitted that she never received a Ph.D. The Daily News, which trumpeted the false accomplishment in its headline, made a “mistake,” she said. And she insisted that she received an M.A. from Cornell. “I got my master’s in psychology. I didn’t complete my Ph.D.,” she admitted. But according to Cornell records, provided through a service called National Student Clearinghouse to which the university directed me, Cornell “was unable to locate either a degree or enrollment record for the subject of your verification request.”
Marymount Manhattan College records, also provided through National Student Clearinghouse, indicate that “Lolita S. Gooden” attended “02/06/1995 to 05/23/1995″ but did not earn a degree. “Student withdrew for the semester and never returned,” according to a notation from Marymount Manhattan. And in an interview, Marymount Manhattan communications director Manny Romero confirmed: “She was only here for the three months in 1995. She did not graduate from Marymount Manhattan.” Romero would not discuss the source of Shanté’s tuition money, citing federal privacy laws.
Told of the records indicating she attended only briefly and never graduated, Shanté maintained that she “absolutely” received a B.A. from Marymount Manhattan in 1995. “I didn’t attend [the] graduation ceremony; at that time I was …” her voice trailed off. “I had my own reasons for that.” Yet she insisted: “Yes, I do have a diploma.” Shanté did not respond to a request for a copy, and Marguerita Grecco, the Marymount Manhattan dean who, Shanté told the Daily News, fought Warner on her behalf, did not return several phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
In a subsequent e-mail, Shanté wrote, “I also attended College under an alias, because of a Domestic Violence situation” and speculated that she “made a mistake on an application and put my old name so maybe that’s the reason for the computer error?” But she was unable to substantiate such claims.
In a prepared statement, Warner denied that it ever had a contractual relationship with Shanté, explaining that “her agreement was with an independent record label known as Cold Chillin’ Records.” According to court documents reviewed by Slate, Shanté’s record label Cold Chillin’ did have an agreement with Warner starting in 1987 to distribute Cold Chillin’s records—a common arrangement between a major company and an indie label. But Cold Chillin’ was not owned by Warner, and, in fact, those two companies ended up battling each other in court; in April 2006, a federal judge ordered Cold Chillin’ to pay Warner $230,000 for copyright infringement.
And Warner’s statement made clear that it had no obligation to pay for Shanté’s education: “Our examination of that file [of Warner's relationship with Cold Chillin'] … has not revealed any evidence of any ‘education clause’ in any agreement.” Of course, Warner had no objection to her using any money she made in the music business to fund her education; it just wasn’t Warner paying the bills: “Roxanne Shanté’s story is a compelling one and we wish her all success in her good works. … In fact, our view is that artists’ compensation can be put to many good uses; if Cold Chillin’ guided this artist’s compensation to education expenses that would certainly be a worthy one.”
None of the half-dozen music industry sources contacted by Slate for this article had ever heard of a record label making an open-ended commitment to finance an artist’s education.
Although the Daily News article said Warner declined to comment about the newspaper’s allegations, Warner Music Group spokeswoman Amanda Collins denied that the Daily News contacted WMG for its Roxanne Shanté article. “No one at the company was called for comment on this story,” she told Slate. “It’s quite possible he attempted to reach someone at a subsidiary label, but he did not contact Warner Music Group directly.”
When Slate told the Daily News about the problems with the story this morning, spokeswoman Jennifer Mauer said the newspaper would look into it. Slate has so far been unable to track down freelancer Walter Dawkins, who wrote the Daily News story; the Daily News has not responded to requests for his contact information.
There is also no evidence that Shanté’s original record label, a small indie called Pop Art Records, ever promised to finance her education. I spoke with Jonathan Black, an attorney who represented Pop Art 1982-88. He said he negotiated the company’s 1984 recording contract with Shanté, signed by both her and her mother, since she was a minor at the time. Black, who no longer has a copy of the contract—he stated in a sworn declaration filed in federal court that the company’s copy was destroyed in a flood—is confident that it contained no obligation to pay for Shanté’s education. “I’m sure that I didn’t negotiate a contract that covered that kind of arrangement. I never did anything like that,” he told me.
In a reversal of the common “my label ripped me off” scenario, Pop Art actually sued Shanté in 2005 after allegedly discovering that that Shantéwas trying to rip off Pop Art by seeking to collect license fees for music whose copyright was owned by the label. The case quickly settled, said Paul Rapp, an attorney who represented Pop Art in the lawsuit. For her part, Shanté told me that she never had a contract with Pop Art, suggesting that her mother may have entered into an agreement with the label without her consent.
When told of Warner’s denial that it financed her education, Shanté repeated, “Hip-hop paid for my education, kept me from going to the streets.” But she was unable to provide detail. “To my knowledge, that [Warner] is exactly where the checks came from. … All I know is that it was done.” In a later e-mail, Shanté wrote that she was informed by Cold Chillin’s former CEO Tyrone Williams that Warner “along with another party that chose to stay anonymous paid for my education.” Shanté did not respond to Slate’s request that she put us in touch with Williams.
Shanté’s claim to be a “doctor” also fails to check out. She’s not a medical doctor, and she admits (and Cornell confirms) that she lacks a Ph.D. And a search of the New York Office of the Professions licensing database fails to reveal licenses to practice psychology or in any related field for either “Lolita Gooden” or “Roxanne Shanté.”
Update, Sept. 3, 7:19 p.m.: After Slate posted its debunking of the New York Daily News‘ story on rapper Roxanne Shanté, the Daily News sentSlate the following correction, which it has now appended to the Web version of the original article:
It has come to the attention of the Daily News that a number of statements in this article written for the Daily News by a freelance reporter are, or may be, false. Cornell University has told us that Shante did not receive any degree from it under either her birth or stage name. We have confirmed that prior to the article, at least four publications on Cornell’s own website reported that Shante had earned a Ph.D. from the university. Those references have now been removed. And in response to an inquiry today, Marymount College stated that Shante attended there for less than one semester.
Numerous e-mail and telephone inquiries by the freelance reporter to Marymount during the preparation of the article to confirm Shante’s account were not responded to. Finally, there have been recent media reports that there never was an education clause in Shante’s recording contract. When the reporter contacted Warner Brothers Records about the contract before the article, its only response was that it was having difficulty finding someone within the company who could “talk eloquently” about it.
I’m just gonna let it go. … What he’s trying to do is trying to get himself known, to get the popular sites to read after him. This is not a $5 billion Ponzi scheme. What would make someone go so hard and heavy at that?
Shanté did not call me back, despite promising Tuesday that she would do so.
Cornell, from which Shanté falsely claimed to have received a Ph.D. (the university says she never attended at all), has altered references to Shanté on its Web site. Click here to see one such change, as documented by users of Reddit.com.
Techdirt, which trumpeted the original Daily News story, has struck through its entire post. After Slate’s piece appeared, Techdirt posted its own debunking of the Daily News story. Later, the site posted a bizarre interview it conducted with a man the site believes to be Walter Dawkins, the freelancer who wrote the Daily News article. Techdirt reports that Dawkins told the site he had relied on information in a Cornell alumni publication and a “Hot97 interview” as sources.
Ben Sheffner is an attorney and journalist in Los Angeles, currently employed by NBC Universal. While an attorney in private practice in the early 2000s, he represented numerous AOL Time Warner entities, including several Warner Music Group companies, on issues unrelated to Roxanne Shanté. Sheffner blogs at Copyrightsandcampaigns.blogspot.com. The views expressed here are his own.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2227090/
My first tapes (yes, tapes, and for you youngins I mean a CASSETTE tape - look it up) I was ever allowed to buy on my own were from the gas station around the corner from us on St. Antoine in the D. I eagerly selected my choices carefully: Eric B. and Rakim, LL Cool J, Salt N Pepa and Whodini. For the better part of the year, those tapes were played on my purple Finger Hut boombox with the built-in mic whenever and wherever possible. Not only would I make my own mix tapes with the dual cassette recorder (Pause, play, pause, play. Throw a little “West End Girls” in there to show my versatility.) but I would also rewind and play, rewind and play to write down the lyrics. By the time the school sockhop or the next grade school neighborhood party happened, I was in the know. I would faux rhyme and faux beatbox and make faux music with my mouth like nobody’s business. All while rocking the ribbons my mother INSISTED on, Pre-Con gel baby hair hugging the side of my face, my fiercest gear (a red and blue sailor top and matching pleated skirt with red socks and navy shoes - shut YOUR mouth) rocked the only way I could rock it - FRESH.
This was my special life event.
Gradually more special life events featuring hip hop came along. I mean who could forget Two Live Crew. Sixth to eighth grade I spent riding with my best friend Kerry and her old sister Kim with her friends in her mom’s car spouting lyrics that would be illegal in most countries. In her living room is where I learned the fine art of girl booty dancing and how it can be chorea graphed to flow with a nice young man behind you.
High school brough NWA and my girl Trena (the first to get a car in the group) who liked drive down Six Mile and break to the beat of Easy E and Dr. Dre. Soon that gave way to the Native Tongue movement where I forced my father to listen to De La Soul (he thought they were WEIRD with all that D.A.I.S.Y movement business) as we drove down Woodward to the NBD Bank to cash his check from Ford. He really just wanted to listen to Sir Mix Alot and would, eventually, just palm that tape from me in the end. I learned how to jump in a car to Blacksheep and House of Pain. I would feel most grown up once Cathy Kelly and I had dinner, went to see Deep Cover and immediately needed to play Dre and Snoop’s “Deep Cover” cut from the soundtrack. This is also how I learned police codes such as 187. This would eventually lead to my addiction to Maurice Malone’s parties at Stanley’s Chinese Restaurant after hours (me explaining to my parents that their favorite chinese food place transformed into a baggy jeaned and black medallioned Maurice Malone flagship store where you could buy his latest t-shirts for twenty bucks and dance to the the most innovative hip hop in the city. They still didn’t understand. It’s a restuarant, they said). At Maurice Malones, I would meet Darryl Dawsey, the journalist to whom I had the most respect because he was young, unabashed and the closest to temperament of these new hip hop kids the Detroit News had ever seen. I would also keep in vague touch with Maurice group, including his then fiance whom I’d later run into in Florence, Italy of all places, joyfully recounting the dark, disco lit hot dining room where everyone danced like a Ernie Barnes painting.
Then I hit New York and the DOC had his vocal chords injured in a car accident but still made his scratchy Deep Throat appearance on Dre’s new album, Boss was the hottest female rapper anyone had ever seen, Onyx was the midget crew that everyone swore was on some kind of coke driven binge because of their energy and my college professor, Kurt Lamkin, had us study Das EFX.
As a new semi-journalist in New York, I was in heaven. My first week I saw KRS One live and not just on BET videos where he appeared with Miss Melody and kicked off the first ever hip hop peace summit video with “Self Destruction.” Then I saw the NOTORIOUS on stage in cheap windbreakers, about fifteen deep with a little bitty girl swimming in her windbreaker jacket, thick eyebrows visible from the back of Irving Plaza.
Through Jessica (the Care Moore of my life) I would eventually meet Mos Def and Talib Kweli in the EARLY stages of Blackstar when only my poet friends like T’Kalla and Jasiri were in the know at Frank’s Place in Brooklyn. There was the night that we left a small club after seeing them hold the mic down, traveling through Prospect Park and almost getting swooped up by bats, only to end up at Wood Harris’s apartment, drinking and watching crazy movies while the boy half of the living room, tried to rap to the girl half (Tyren, you remember there, right?).
Somewhere along the way, these joyous moments faded as hip hop got bigger and people did summits and held festivals about its impact on kids from Columbus to Japan. The special life event sort of became regular and not so special. There are shining moments like the first time I heard Eminem (a white boy rapping is not so odd in Detroit, FYI, especially with the infamous reputation of the drug dealer White Boy Rick who was almost more powerful than most drug dealers on the Eastside of the D. I should know. Kerry made me keep my eyes peeled for him wherever we went so she could make herself known to him in THAT way), Jay Z’s smooth and almost quiet rise to the top, Salt N Pepa maturing, DMX and the Rough Ryders hard sexy dangerous carefree lyrics, Mobb Deep really ill and dark samples, Wu Tang Clan’s storming the entire set, Tribe Called Quest quietly disbanding (but it sounded like a thud to the fans, trust) and De La Soul’s eventual rare release of always innovative musical themes (Pierre, I will always think of you when I hear De La Soul!). At some point, John Coltrane became louder to me than hip hop. Even hip hop flavored R&B got louder with Mary J. and the whole Bad Boy crew (especially when they all became Bad Boy alumni). Eventually, it just drowned out. Sure there are moments where I hear something fresh and can’t stop listening to it (Mos Def’s “Black on Both” Sides, Kweli’s “Get By” and “Four Women” featuring the Queen Goddess herself Imani Uzuri) but all in all, it has became a sea of choices with the notable storms too few and far between.
Today I just listened to Jay Z’s “Blueprint 3″ and I think I’m back to where I was before. I jumped in my car to some tracks. Others made me feel like that cool girl back in Detroit who drove down the block with her man in the passenger seat, leaned all the way back, as they enjoyed the crystal fresh sharpness of the Detroit sun. Some tracks made me feel like I was in that Maurice Malone club that doesn’t exist anymore where people are there for the music and the company and not the company alone. I feel like a special life event is once again in the spotlight with the Jigga Man. I’m not saying that there aren’t fantastic underground groups or groups that are a little below the mainstream. Lupe Fiacsco is great. I’m learning to get Kid Cudi. I unfortunately am no where near understanding Lil Mama. Weezy is an epic story but in no way do I know half these kids like the artists trapped behind the plastic cash register glass at the gas station like I used to. And I refuse to believe it’s because I’m getting old. Recently Scott and I went to Power House 90, solely for Jay Z of course, and I realized that some of this music isn’t so bad if you hear it live. It wasn’t until Jay Z took the stage though that we felt like we were in a brand new LaZBoy chair. There is no mistake that there is a way things are done. And that was a return to the special life event.