My Life According To Phonte, Part 2: Blackface And A Storm Named Katrina

03.29.13 5 years ago 18 Comments

I’m not sure if this is true for everyone in college, but it’s pretty much law for everyone I’ve talked to. During the four years of being a minority on a mostly white campus, you’ll lose your sh*t. Someone way smarter than I am has probably written really interesting things about why this happens.There’s still something about the experience of being one of the few Black kids surrounded by hundreds (and thousands) of White people that causes us to lose it. While I tend to think I had the most awesome college experience anyone could ever experience, that didn’t stop me from reaching my breaking point sophomore year. And it started with Hurricane Katrina.

Even though I was all the way in North Carolina when the storm hit, I felt its impact. I lost contact with my entire family for hours after Katrina tore through Mississippi. I saw the city I love underwater and watched the government not give a single damn. As I watched what it truly meant to be Black in America from afar, I started to resent the racial issues present on my own campus.

But I’d felt frustration from both sides. Not only was I screaming at white kids who wanted to touch my hair whenever I’d undone my corn rows (shut up), I was increasingly disappointed by the African-American higher-ups at the college. Namely one Dean who I felt was more concerned with looking like the savior to black students than actually promoting progress. If you succeeded as a minority without him, he saw you as a threat. And we didn’t play nice with on another. He was the BET to my Little Brother.

So it was on September 13th, 2005 – two weeks after Katrina hit that I bought an album I’d anticipated for the last year and some change. (Aside: That was my 2nd best single store outing because I bought Damian Marley’s Welcome To Jamrock at the same time. It’s only second to the epic Supreme Clientele/Black On Both Sides Circuit City double whammy five years earlier).

Phonte’s first words on The Minstrel Show became gospel, pushing me to stay motivated when the sh*t hit the fan:

Each day’s another chance to do the things I could’ve
Done the day before, but didn’t and known I should’ve
So I say a prayer for the gone for gooders
Who left this world, then kiss my girl “Good mornin’, suga”
Another sunrise, and as much as I would love
To roll over on you, I cannot do it because
The good Lord I prayed to him
And he said, “Niggas is listening now”
So I better have something to say to ’em

Ironically, in an album full of social commentary and grand concepts, it was Phonte’s words on relationships that became the motto I lived by until I finally settled:

Sometimes I feel I’m in another world
When I’m tryina tell a woman just exactly where I stand at
I want a girl when I want a girl
And when I don’t want a girl I want a girl who understands that

Shit. I spent my whole sophomore year totally out of control. I was emotionally spent from Katrina hitting and my grandmother passing a few weeks later. I was fed up with living in Davidson and the last thing on my mind was keeping a girlfriend. So I spent the semester in my own world, doing what I wanted and I was probably the only kid in college not at all concerned with getting laid.

But as spectacular as the album was, it was the public circus surrounding The Minstrel Show that drew me closest to it. First, there was BET who refused to play the video for “Lovin It” thanks to some cockamamie “too intelligent” excuse. Then there was The Source refusing to give the album its highest rating thanks to shady editorial politics. I started to feel treated like the album. The aforementioned dean did his very best to stop me from shining on campus (long story short: he felt that me doing anything significant on campus put shine on my Greek organization I’d pledged off-campus and take away from his organization. It was a very petty way to go about things) and I was just so angry about the lack of response to Katrina that I started to feel like I was being stifled as a black man on campus and a black man in America.

However, retrospect puts everything in perspective. Much like The Minstrel Show, my approach could have been better. TMS clocks in at almost 20 tracks, way too many with a few fillers. Its critical tone gave the album – and Little Brother – the stigma of being “elitist” or “preachy.” Would a more diplomatic and less in-your-face approach have been better for the trio from North Carolina? Who knows. But that’s the beauty of the Minstrel Show. It was unapologetic in its approach. These guys were going to out-rap you, point out your contradictions and let you know why they should be the standard bearers in Hip-Hop.

That kind of no-holds-barred sh*t was what an angry soul-searching 19-year-old needed. I was fed up and so were Little Brother. They dropped one of my favorite albums of all time.

And me?

Well, I went to Africa.

PreviouslyMy Life According To Phonte, Part 1: Backpacking To North Carolina

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