Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

  • A Really Stupid Idea

    Awhile back commenter and blogger KevDog, asked me to compile a list of essential hip-hop records, for non-hip-hop fans looking to expand. I've resisted doing this, mostly because these sorts of lists always end with some dude whose tattoed "THUG LIFE" on his chest insisting that Tupac is the most slept-on artist of all time. Or some other dude whose pissed that Divine Styler wasn't on the list. The partisans and the extremist tend to love his sort of thing, and somehow they always manage to take over the conversation.

    Anyway, I'm going to venture forth and offer a highly biased, incredibly subjective list of records that are my favorites, and that, I think, display the genius of hip-hop. I encourage people to disagree. I also encourage people to create their own lists. Maybe at the end, we can come up with some sort of highly biased, unauthorative, unofficial master-list. But please, people who stand stand on the trains loudly reciting hip-hop lyrics should not comment here. If you think you may begin your list with "I love hip-hop more than my own Moms, son!!" then nuff respect, kid. But if it's all the same to you, I'd ask that you sit this one out.

    Anyway here it goes, in no particular order.

    1.) Outkast--Aquemeni
    2.) A Tribe Called Quest--Midnight Marauders The Low End Theory
    3.) EPMD--Unfinished Business
    4.) Ice Cube--Death Certificate
    5.) Jay-Z--The Blueprint
    6.) Nas-Illmatic
    7.) Raekwon--Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
    8.) The Fugees--The Score
    9.) Gza-Liquid Swords
    10.) Public Enemy--It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
    11.) De La Soul--3 Feet High And Rising
    12.) Gang Starr--Full Clip
    13.) The Roots--Illadelph Halflife
    14.) Mobb Deep--The Infamous

    There's a lot wrong with that list--it's rooted in the early to mid-90s, there aren't any women on there, and its skewed to the East Coast. But beyond that it ignores some truly great feats of MCing. We'll save that for another day, though.

    UPDATE: Couple changes, I had the wrong Tribe album as someone mentioned. Also added The Roots--Illadelph Halflife. And yeah Mobb Deep, also. Just forgot those.

  • Wunderkind

    I saw the video of 14-year old Johnathan Krohn at CPAC, last week. I thought about posting it, and didn't, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to say was defensible. I'm a strong believer in social skills, and in children being children. I'm not a fan of, "child-preachers," "pageants" for five-year olds, or intense basketball camps designed to make six-year olds go pro. But as I thought about it, I decided that that's me. Those are my values. And what did I know of the kid? Maybe he actually had a gift, and his parents were just letting him live the dream.

    But I do think Matt raises a pretty good point:

    I really struggle to understand why this particular gimmick appeals to conservatives. What does it accomplish to put a 14 year-old front and center at CPAC? What's the message it's supposed to send? That the conservative message is childish? That the right's talking points can be easily mastered by a 14 year-old? That the CPAC audience doesn't care about the knowledge-base of the speakers there, they just want to hear certain ritual beats repeated? I wouldn't want to claim that liberals are so high-minded as to be above all that, but I'm hard-pressed to think of an example of liberals trying to flaunt disdain for knowledge and expertise.

    And then there is this: When you're young, and you come into some political consciousness, self-assurance, intellectual arrogance, and prejudice come easy. When I got conscious, I would have told you that the Egyptians invented airplanes, black people never had slaves, and that the cold made white people acquisitive by nature. And I would have told you this publicly, in front of a crowd of people. And I'd have slapped you with a Chancellor Williams tome if you dared to disagree. Thankfully, I had parents who protected me from myself. But more importantly, I had people around me who valued reading, listening and life experience over talking, writing and publishing. The dispensation of knowledge must be grounded by the acquisition of knowledge

    If you're a conservative and you care about this kid, you don't give him a public forum. You give him your card, and you take his e-mails. You give him a list of books that he needs to read. Then when you see him, you quiz him on those books. You tell him that you're glad he showed the initiative to write and publish himself, but his thesis is actually banal. That if he's going to play in the big leagues, he should expect to get hit and prepare himself thusly. You warn him away from sideshows, and teach him to pride hearing over being heard. You teach him that these are his weapons and his shield in the great war of ideas.

    Of course if you did all that, you'd risk turning him into liberal. But that's the chance you take, and that's what a person confident in their ideas does. They don't urge their pupils to turn away from the challenge of foreign ides, but to embrace it, to attack it, relishing the possibilities of how they could ultimately come out. Conservatives should encourage the kid to take himself seriously. Challenge him, and make sure he understands that conservative ideology isn't so rudimentary that a 14-year old could master it.

  • Translating World Of Warcraft

    Today we had a lot of comments like this:

    All well and good for the black world, but can we get a translator for the World of Warcraft?

    Are you non-WoW people really interested? With WoW/NFL/Comic book posts, I mostly assume that they're only for the hardcore. Is there, like, a 67-year old black grandmother in Mississippi trying to figure this stuff out? All jokes aside, I'll explain if you guys are interested...

  • All Natural Flavor. No Black No. 9

    About that Michele Obama "dark-skin" post. A few interesting responses. From Chet:

    I confess my white ass has a hard time understanding this post, since Michelle Obama seems kind of light, to me. But I suspect I'm just not calibrated to "the line" when it comes to light vs. dark skin re: black Americans.

    And then from TexasGirl:

    @ Chet - I don't understand the post either. Sometimes I really feel white reading this blog.

    I suspect pulling you guys out in block-quotes, isn't helping things. To the point about color, I think Amari gets it:

    No worries. We Black folk aren't calibrated either. Ask five different Black people their opinions of who's light versus who's dark, and you'll get five different answers. It's all relative, and, as I've also found, it's all relatives.

    I find that folks who grew up around mostly dark-skinned people have a much lower bar for what constitues lightness. Many of my dark-skinned friends think I could easily trip over it, while I'd put myself firmly in a caramel category. On the other hand, my family is chock full of light-skinned folks, so I tend to err on the side of thinking someone is brown when browner folks would categorize them as light.

    If that makes any sense at all.

    Heh, like most things about human beings, it doesn't. I generally describe myself, to other black people, as "brown." But in my house (where everyone is darker than me) whenever I say this, I'm laughed at. Kenyatta insists that I'm yellow, or red at best, and she's now recruited Samori to her way of thinking. Meh, the perils of family.

    Anyway, this isn't even taking into account the seasons when Negroes start changing color, and the fact that eyes are known to go from brown to gray. I've never actually witnessed that last point. I tend to think it's something that girls, back in high school, used to say to elevate themselves from nickel to dime-piece. It's right up there with "My great-grandmother was Cherokee." Whatever. Ain't no Cherokees in West Baltimore.

    Where was I? Oh yes, the deeper point. One reason why I resist explaining too much in my post, is because I think it's a good thing for white people, who come here, to "feel really white," as TexasGirl says. I don't define that as "feeling guilty" or any of that business, so much as a nagging sense of having to work to get it. I imagine that many of my black readers have spent some of their lives feeling exactly that way, just in reverse. My first years working professionally made me immediately conscious that I was black, and that there were many people (in fact most people) in the world who were not.

    I think we all need more of that in our lives. Here at this site, I try to present the black world as it is, or at least, as I see it. No frills. No translations. Just immersion. I was never the type to go to an island and lay up in a resort. Or go to Paris and eat at McDonald's. I want to see how other people talk, walk and live. I want to see our difference. It's the wierdest thing, but that's where I find the humanity--not in the sameness--but in the small details which I never would have imagined. I don't know how to explain it, but that's where I find unity. And that's what I try to give you here. Just black people as we are. Fucked-up and beautiful. No tourist trap, just the raw.

  • Some Thoughts On Naxxramas (Warcraft!)


    So, in my previous WoW life, I was mostly a PvPer. I still PvP quite a bit (Resil just hit 500. I know, long way to go.) but since I joined a new guild, I'm doing a lot more PvE. I've developed a healthy respect for the teamwork it requires, and how one idiot can ruin the whole thing. People can get a little too intense at times, and when that happens, I start to wonder why I'm even playing. If I want to be stressed out, I could be somewhere writing. But that isn't really a problem in my guild. A couple of weeks ago we wiped like seven straight times on a boss (I kid you not) and no one started yelling. We just needed to learn how to beat him.

    Anyway, my larger issue is with the limits of PvE and narrative. WoW is set up in a wierd way, given than both sides are basically warring factions fighting against the same enemy. What you do in PvE doesn't really affect the internecine struggle between Horde and Alliance. One thing I'd love to see in the next big MMOs is for the actions of players to have long-term consequences in the greater war. As I recall, I think they tried this years ago with Total Annihilation--your online matches actually affected the greater war. And, I think, some of the other MMOs have tried it (Shadowbane maybe?) but the word has been that they've been too buggy.

    An MMO is a huge enterprise, no doubt. But I can't escape the feeling after downing some boss, and winning a roll for some kick-ass gear of "Now what?" What do I use this arsenal for? Why to kill another kick-ass mob, until you've beaten them all. I'd love it if there was better integration between PvE and PvP. I think Wintergrasp is a really good start (though we lose constantly). But I hope Blizz takes it a little further, as they advance the game.

  • T.O. And The Bills

    My man, Eyal Press is a Bills-fan, and Buffalo guy. So I'm wishing the Bills and T.O. nothing but the best, when they aren't playing the Cowboys, and probably the Ravens. Here's Peter King on how it all went down:

    The only team to seriously kick the tires on Owens got its man a day later for three major reasons:

    1. The Bills think Jauron is the perfect coach -- calm but commanding -- to handle Mount Terrell.

    2. The organization is sick of perpetually being one weapon away from catching New England (and Miami and the Jets, as it turns out), and it's willing to take the risk of having Owens ruin the locker room so it can have a chance to win the division.

    3. The Bills did the one-year deal for a fairly strategic reason, in my opinion. Owens is good when he's trying to make a good first impression. Check out his first years in his three prior stops -- with the San Francisco season being his first without Jerry Rice on the team, when the focus of the offense was clearly on him:

    See the numbers on the link. I like the one-year deal a lot. Gives the guy an incentive to perform.

  • I Reserve The Right To Be Late

    Which I am with this portrait. I think funniest response I've seen to the new First Lady is this:

    Some of the adolescence on the House floor could be chalked up to excitement. Even the Republicans went gaga.

    When Michelle Obama walked in, one young Republican House member turned to a colleague and mouthed, "Babe."

    It's been said that Obama's presidency means black people can't complain anymore. I've issued a rather different dictum in my household--With the elevation of Michelle Obama, dark skin shorties are no longer allowed to talk about high yallars, good hair, and redbones. That ain't held weight since A.J. Johnson slayed Tisha Campbell, since  the Jungle Brothers got on that "Blacker the berry\Sweeter the juice" tip. That "Sexy young ladies of the light skin breed" line deaded Kane's career. All whining about how hard the darker female side is official banned in my home. Now, if only I could enforce that edict...

    Anyway, here's your first lady.


  • The Case Against Racial Dialogue

    From the NY Times:

    "I think it's fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language," Mr. Obama said in a mild rebuke from America's first black president to its first black attorney general.

    In an interview with The New York Times on Friday, the president said that despite Mr. Holder's choice of words, he had a point.

    "We're oftentimes uncomfortable with talking about race until there's some sort of racial flare-up or conflict," he said, adding, "We could probably be more constructive in facing up to sort of the painful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination."

    I remain confused about what Holder meant, mostly because I thought the words that followed were vague. People should go back and look at Obama's speech on race. I think one of the things that makes it great is its specificity. He talks in detail about crime, about white resentment of Affirmative Action, about his grandmother's prejudice, and of course about Wright. I just wasn't sure what I was supposed to get out of Holder except, "Hey, we need to talk more about race." But I'm not sure we do. I think we need to talk more about specific policies that may disproportionately affect black people. But I don't know that we can--or should--make each other do the right thing.

  • On Terrell

    I haven't said much because there really isn't much to say. I think a lot of you know that I found last season to be really depressing, as a Cowboy fan. I think getting rid of T.O. was the right thing to do. I think it's T.O. is ultimately going to pay the penalty for his need for attention. It's a fatal flaw, career-wise. I think the Boys have deep-seated issues, beyond T.O. I simply can not see Wade Phillips coaching a Super Bowl team. But, I've been wrong before.

  • BSG And Gender Politics

    I don't entirely agree with this article from Slate. I particularly think this cliche of sci-fi and comic book geekdom needs to go:

    Perhaps because science fiction has historically appealed to men who don't leave home much, the genre has often used alien mores and alien technology to rationalize pornographic depictions of near-naked women. (Think Jabba the Hutt forcing Princess Leia to wear that ridiculous gold bikini in Return of the Jedi.)

    Sci-Fi movies are, at this point, a billion-dollar enterprise. You don't get that way by appealing strictly to "men who don't leave home much." Moreover, the comment assumes that women somehow fare better in, say, horror movies, in comedy, or in hip-hop movies. Geekdom has its troubles when it comes to rendering women. But all one needs to do is watch a few Spike Lee or Woddy Allen flicks to realize that this isn't about sci-fi at all. Anyway, that's just a personal pet peeve. Sorry for the mini-rant.

    The part of the piece I found most convincing is the indictment of the rather casual way rape is deployed in the series:

    Even more insidious than the lack of female friendships are the casual threats of rape made throughout the series. In Season 2, a "Cylon interrogator" attempts to violate Sharon, a Cylon pilot and the only East Asian on the show, but her husband Helo intervenes in the nick of time. In this season's "The Oath," Helo fights with a mutineer--"Frak you," he says (that's Battlestar's four-letter-word variant), and the mutineer responds, "Sorry, I'm saving myself for your ... wife." He means it. Rape is a trope on the show: Starbuck finds herself in a bizarre insemination farm on the Cylon-occupied planet Caprica, and Adm. Cain orders some cronies to rape and torture a Cylon in "Razor." Naturally the show doesn't condone rape, but it's discomfiting that the writers drop sexual violence into the script so often without comment. If nothing else, this pervasive threat--directed only at women--negates the idea that Battlestar conjures a gender-blind universe.

    I found that rape scene with Sharon, particularly disturbing--and not in a good way. I'll be honest--I have yet to put my finger on why. It wasn't because I like the character. Joan, from Mad Men, is one of my favorites. But I thought the rape-scene with her and her husband was troubling in the exact opposite way. I don't know how to explain it except in the following, admittedly creepy, language--it felt necessary and organic, given who the characters were.

    On BSG, evil comes so easy. So much of it passes without explanation or context. The rape scene with Sharon left me horrified--but not at what had just happened to this woman. Indeed, I felt almost no sympathy for her. It was like watching a sadistic cartoon, or something. And that made me really angry and ultimately horrified that someone would write a scene like that.

    I think so much of this revolves around the fact that, in the past decade, the ceiling for writing and acting on television has been raised. I can't have watched "The Wire," watched "Mad Men," watched "Big Love" and felt as I used to. I simply can't go back. BSG isn't operating in the world that Star Trek: Voyager did. The game is the same, but more fierce. Measured against that backdrop, I think the writing, and acting, on the show is rather lackluster (skipping ahead in time, at the end of season, was incredibly lazy). When narrative isn't done in a particularly inspiring fashion, it seems that the first people to suffer are women, and minorities. It's no mistake that "The Wire" is not only one of the best written shows ever, it is also one of the best depiction of black people ever committed to television.

    This will not be a popular thread. I understand that I have just pissed off half my readership. But you guys asked me to watch. You asked me to behold. I could never guarantee that we'd see the same thing.

    UPDATE: "Suffer" refers to the quality of the writing, not the actual characters themselves. More aptly put, when the writing is bad, the writing of women and minorities tends to be really bad--or really just stand out.


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