Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Here at The Root Down, as many of you know, we're a hip hop friendly environ in which discussions or simple declarations are often made about it's greatness or failures. We critique, we praise, we question and we clarify. Because we proclaim to be friendly to hip hop, much in the way that sometimes being a "true friend" or a friend of notable awareness and honesty might require someone to confront a friend in their asinine behavior or otherwise erred perspectives, we too feel like we were granted the license to do the same to hip hop. Maybe only because of our investment in it as consumers, but nonetheless, even if not performers...we all critics, homie.
This is not to be an argument of who's realer or who's the realest. This is not to pin underground against mainstream. East against west. This is just a brainstorm I had when jogging the other night and thinking (as my brain was light on oxygen, admittedly) what were the splits, the events or the eras in hip hop that did more harm than good in the long run? Where did hip hop go wrong and play itself? What created this creative sinkhole that dominates the game right now? We have to be able to trace it back to something right? Man, I love italics.

This ain't in chronological order. In fact, it's in absolutely no logical order at all. Chrono or otherwise. I'm a big fan of hip hop history, though. If I could somehow draw it out on paper, I would. Maybe I will one day. I've had interest in dropping everything and becoming a film maker and doing a huge 20-part series on hip hop from the beginning to the end like Ken Burns. That'll be after I do this marathon. It's true, though. Like in religion or politics. You can look back in the church and it branches, breaks off and creates new denominations as a result of a disagreement, a fundamental argument, how worship is conducted, etc. Hip hop kinda did that as well. There's all these splits, sub-genres, movements, regional sounds and trends, but let's be real, it's all just hip hop. Politics are politics. Beliefs differ, but there's consistent underlying themes that perpetuate it from generation to generation. But for hip hop (and all popular music, jazz, blues, reggae, country, punk, etc) it was in this constant mutative state for about 20 years until it basically mutated to nothing. What are we left with today? I would contend that 90% of the hip hop out there now (as opposed to about 40% about ten years ago) is like the waste product of a pop factory that is simply broken. It's uninspired. It's dry and, unfortunately for its listeners, it's barely waned in popularity. It still remains as the most vital cultural impact of the last 30 years even though it's last ten years has been riddled and marked by a definitively miserable output.

You can debate that last point all you want. You ain't gonna change my mind.
Ah, my very favorite of the ambiguous and sometimes completely undefinable sub-genres to come out of the late 90s. Let's be real, though, there's always been acts that many would attempt to classify as "conscious" hip hop from the very beginning. It's been how hip hop has tried to correct itself by saying there's an alternative to, basically, everything else and that is this weird and peculiar presumption of "consciousness." Identifiable by cats who carry themselves as educated, esteemed and enlightened as if there's a jet stream of consciousness that they coasted in on that's going to settle hip hop's score and bring thought and context to what is otherwise an unconscious state. It was really heightened by the surge of Christian hip hop acts that were reversing many of hip hop's sins of the past with clean, scripture-based prose that essentially washed the blood off of hip hop's hands in the eyes of the popular media. It gave families a safe alternative to the edgier acts on the market. While this rise in Christian hip hop was happening, Common Sense dropped the "Sense" but actually upped his consciousness from his earlier recordings. Rappers started donning sweater vests and collared shirts. They dropped the thuggery for a new costume that was visibly more affluent. Lyrically, they shed their references to all things "street" unless they were talking about the traps of the streetlife and how to avoid them. I mean, let's keep it positive. Kids are listening.
C'mon. Be real now. What this unfortunate fabrication would suggest is that hip hop, up to this point, was not conscious. That 2Pac and Biggie were just thuggery and not capable of speaking on a conscious level. It's like Tipper Gore got her way. Like government-approved hip hop. That's not to say these self-proclaimed "conscious rappers" were not indeed talented and genuine in what they were doing and rapping about, but making the distinction that this was conscious would suggest that everything else was less or not at all. My suggestion would be that all hip hop is in one way or another conscious not just that which is defined as conscious. NWA was pretty conscious. Public Enemy was definitely conscious. So was Mos Def. So was Ice Cube. De La. Geto Boys. Yes, 2Pac. You bet. These small and insignificant splits in the genre are really no splits at all because they all reconnect to the main highway just over the hill. It just gives a fan a piece to grab onto during a transitional period in their life. Whether it was created by a bank of writers, Tipper Gore, All Music, the fans or the artists themselves, such splits in hip hop are futile. They're truly silly. And, in most cases, they're created by those who have the least invested in it. In protest, I always wanted to listen to the most unconscious hip hop...reckless, irresponsible, socially damaging, violent, obscene and altogether wretched hip hop with no regret. I turned out alright.

There's possibly nothing that more perfectly exemplifies the idiocy and ignorance of modern hip hop better than the "chopped and screwed" trend of the early 90s. In short, a DJ from Houston discovered a new and less-innovative remix method in which you slow down the rap recording to approximately 70 BPM and then "chop" up the recording by skipping and cutting the record in single-second increments which effectively made bad records even worse (editorial influence). DJ Screw contended that by slowing it down, it helped a listener ease into a more mellow state and then could more easily soak in the lyrics now being delivered at a punishingly slow and low tone. It was something that not only did I really fail to see the genius in it, I found it straight up comical. It sounded like something was terribly wrong with the record player (again, more editorial influence). Click here to get an idea. The DJ was named DJ Screw and, after making this "discovery," referred to the tapes as "screwed and chopped." Before long, it took massive hold over the southern sound and dudes were "screwing and chopping" up rap recordings from Houston to Memphis. It was said that the best way to enjoy these recordings was to listen to them while drinking "syrup" (also known as "drank" or "sizzurp"). And to take excessiveness and irresponsibility to new levels, DJ Screw, the genre's founder died of a lethal dose of "syrup" which was a potent combination of alcohol and cough syrup. The irony is almost too much to bear. That'd be like Charlton Heston getting fatally shot in some horrible hunting accident.

Now, I'm from Texas and I was selling records in East Texas when "screwed and chopped" (see also "slowed and throwed") was hitting its regional highmark. Nationally, it was still waiting to peak (and it never really did). Every stoplight, every fast food drive-thru, every basketball court, every mall parking lot...it was everywhere. How it caught on I'll never know. You ask others from deeper in the state and they'd say, "How could it not?" It has since died down in popularity and is likely to completely phase out in the next couple of years, but let's be real, it'll be back.

So why, you ask, would something so popular be considered amongst the worst developments in hip hop's history (according to The Root Down, of course)?

Firstly, in my humblest opinion, something that takes very little talent to create should have never left a city block, much less half of the nation. These crazes happen all the time. It's like the autotune in popular R&B music. Singers no longer need talent to carry a note. Autotune will do it for you. To call DJ Screw a "deejay" is a little far-stretched. Wouldn't you say? That practically makes me a DJ. I mean, I can put on a record. I can slow it down. I can chop it in Audacity. Hell, in two years, they'll probably have an iPhone app so you can screw and chop anything. By the simplest of means and least effort possible, cats thought, all of the sudden, that DJ's came out of a box like some Alphonso Ribero b-boy kit. It cheapened the game. It stunk up the DJ's claim. DJ's used to be all hip hop had. Rappers were just mouthy fools that would tell people to get off their asses and dance. But the DJs were the force. DJ Screw slowing down records so you can listen to them and enjoy them while drinking cough syrup? Why don't you just go by your birth name, bro. You ain't no DJ.

Sometimes the dumbest things actually stick. And when they do, everyone wants to do it. It's like that party that everyone within a five-mile radius goes to. And once they're there, you have to basically run out of beer or have the cops come in and break it up. That was screwed and chopped. We let too many morons into the game because someone left the back gate open. They came and drank all of our beer. Or sizzurp, if you prefer.

Secondly, I'm a little pissed that Houston's legacy is more screwed and chopped and not Geto Boys. Not Def IV. Rap-a-Lot. I was talking to someone a few weeks ago and they thought that the Geto Boys were from Los Angeles! I hated to react the way I did, but I bounced back, "Bro, Geto Boys are not only from Houston, they are Houston." I guess we all go through this as aging heads though. That argument of who was first. Who was better. The thought that the Geto Boys' lock on Houston has been erased by DJ Screw and Michael Watts is a depressing one. Signed "Sincerely, Crotchety Old Hip Hop Head"

I need to start a Hip Hop Preservation Society. Every art form and musical genre seems to have one.

NO LIMIT RECORDS (1997-1999)

Hip hop was on a pretty good roll going into 1997. 1996 brought us classics like Reasonable Doubt, Ironman, Stakes is High, ATLiens. But as the sun began to set on the "Golden Age," Jiggy was coming in. Collossal rap radio took form on hits like "The Crossroads," "Mo Money, Mo Problems," and Freak Nasty's "Da Dip." 1997 was the year of two labels. Bad Boy Records which brought us Ma$e, Puffy and, of course, Notorious' Life After Death in the same month he died. And No Limit Records which actually had been around since 1993. Master P and his camp were like a freaking record plant. They would record, produce, gloss and release records at a rate that would make the major labels' jaws drop. And they were rolling in it. I remember working in music retail these years and it seemed like anything these cats put out just flew off the shelves. And, lucky for us, they put out tonnage. Unfortunately for hip hop, though, they put out tonnage.

All they needed was a hit to keep the cash flow up and they got it with "Make 'Em Say Uhhh!'" which came out in 1997 sending Master P's Ghetto D soaring. Once that cash started making its way back to the label, there was no stopping them. And if there's any label that perfectly hit on the "strike while the iron's hot" approach, it was No Limit. They weren't interested in longevity. It was strictly an I-gotta-get-mine operation.

This label (an indie, mind you) released an astounding 46 full length records. Master P, the label's founder released a solo record in each of these years along with running the label all while retiring and coming back from retirement. Problem with No Limit, though, was we're not necessarily talking about a Def Jam or Tommy Boy here. These guys weren't really that talented. So, in essence, you had a dominant label with very little talent at all split amongst it's stable of artists putting out more records than any one record store clerk could keep track of. And when the toilet backed up, shit went everywhere. They flooded the market and ruined it for everyone else.

These were formidable years for hip hop. You had the game shifting back to this capitalistic, short-term model where artist development was secondary to the quick buck. The game's veterans were going into other business ventures. And we left the control the Master P's of the world and they quickly took that crappy old mixer and beat machine and converted it to cold hard cash. Do I solely blame Master P for hip hop's demise? No. Absolutely not. Not solely. But for the volume of releases that this dude put out in the marketplace and not really a single classic record among them, it makes me truly ponder on what hip hop would've been like had he not shifted 30 million units of sub-par hip hop into the marketplace in three years. He owned the sound of 1997-1999. That's three years or 10% of hip hop's existence. You don't think that's not enough to change the taste of hip hop heads for years after? I don't know think we've yet recovered from those years. I liken this period to the steroids era of baseball. If you're wanting to put butts in the stadiums, hopping up hitters to crank 480-foot home runs every night is one way to do it. Not sure if the overall contribution to the game is healthy, but you can make some serious cash along the way. Another New Orleans label by the name of Cash Money Records rose to popularity at the same time on the strength of Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up" and, much like the No Limit model, they were quick to react putting out Hot Boys, Big Tymers, BG, another Juvenile record and Lil Wayne's first solo over the next three years. Ain't nobody in the game bigger than Lil Wayne and it's almost 2010. You have 1997 to thank.

*Big Bear neither a No Limit or Cash Money artist--just a notable Pen and Pixel gem.


It always seems to be the cats that are out to save the game that end up doing the most damage. The intentions of the "backpacker," I believe, were always good, but it always backfired and hip hop suffered because of it. The term "backpacker" is said to have a few different origins. Likely, though, it's origin was from graffiti writers who would tote paint, tapes, tips, a bag of weed, and whatever else around town as they'd be tagging different structures or trains. You were a self-reliant warrior going into battlegrounds and train yards to hone your craft. In the mid-to-late 90s, however, the backpack was part of a wardrobe, an accessory that was less functional and more an identifiable element of a "freedom fighter" for hip hop...the backpacker. What they wore or what they were called is really less important, it's what they stood for.

The backpacker, often times a late-adopting caucasian, felt that, firstly, garb and sneakers would give them an edge into the hip hop community and they would "dress the role" firstly and then modify their tastes and musical preferences to fit the mold of a hip hop fan with, of course, an "underground" hip hop lean. Their pants were baggy, usually rocked skate shoes or Adidas shell-toes with the loose laces and they had their backpacks doubled up on both shoulders and always rocked a lid to the side. What they were always carrying around in their backpacks, I'll never know. The backpack became this symbol, almost, of something that was part of their artillery. Like they were always ready for anything. I saw a dude at show, one time, hop out of his car and put on his backpack. Whatta nincompoop. That was like driving the skatepark.

There were two main arguments of the backpacker and they couldn't just help but get into it wherever they went. It was their never-wavering mission.

First, there's the "underground" vs. "mainstream" distinction that they always were preaching on to ensure that everyone knew how to identify all. And, in short, "underground" was the dopest hip hop out and "mainstream" represented the major label machine that was incapable of making good hip hop because it was played out on the radio and supported by BET and MTV. It was a position that was riddled with fallacies because any underground artist that wasn't trying to make it to a major label is either stupid or a liar. The upstreaming of an act from the minors to the majors is really all that independent artists want unless, of course, they can maintain their artistic vision and make dough at the same time. Those labels and/or artists represent the lucky miniority of the independent game. They have no interest in going to the major label. The argument that underground hip hop is inheritantly better because it's undiscovered is laughable. I would contend that underground hip hop has never really been any better than the "mainstream," there's only been more of it. 80% of the game is not on an independent label and out of that 80%, probably only 15% of it is close to meritable musically and artistically. The remaining 20% of the recordings come from the majors and only about 30% of it is close to meritable by the same definition. For the sake of my argument and nothing else, let's assume these numbers to be sound. Out of the 80 records that came from independent labels, 12 of them would represent some of the finest hip hop out that year. Out of the 20 records from the major labels, six of them would hit the same mark of artistic achievement. By the numbers, it would appears that independent hip hop doubled up the major labels, however, it took them 80 albums to do it. They're mainstream nemesis was batting .300--much better than the .150 of the independent labels. But it would appear to the backpacker, that the majority of the good records came from the independent sector. Incorrect, the overwhelming majority of the bad records came from the independent sector...68 to 14 to be exact.

You couldn't convince these kids, though. Their tendency to enter arguments with unrivaled bias was expected. Mos Def was their king. Jermaine Dupri was the enemy. Jay-Z had some respect, but only for his early recordings. Once a dude sold a million records, it took you off the cool list. When Eminem came out, it really rattled the backpacker's argument because here was a cat with legitimate talent, but he was building his success on mega-producer Dr. Dre and super-major Interscope. In response, they hailed white emcees Slug and Eyedea from Rhymesayers camp as their response to Em's successes. We've got talented white emcees too. Slug's actually only part caucasian. His father was part Native American, part African American, but visibly he appears white. White enough to a backpacker. Such arguments are silly, I know, but these come from actual run-ins I've had over the years. Wonder what those same cats are saying now as they're taking a smoke break from dropping frozen french fries into a hot friolator at Sonic when the talk about Mos Def and Talib Kweli who, both individually, got upstreamed to major labels. Jean Grae's been dying to get picked up. Warner Bros blew that chance. She's blowing up the blogs now saying that the independent game just doesn't make ends meet. It's like backpackers almsot want their heroes to suffer, live poor lives as independent artists. It's like some sort of weird martyrdom. So there's the "underground vs. mainstream" battle and then there's the even more dreaded "hip hop vs. rap" argument.

In short, the two names became almost commentary on the quality of the music. Hip hop had the "emcee" and rap had "rappers." Rappers were less introspective. They talked about guns, women, cars. Rappers were incapable of being political or sparking social change. They were just thugs with mics. Emcees, however, were truly more invested in the game. They were lyrically gifted. They possessed an uncanny ability to "battle" or "freestyle." Rappers didn't even write their own material so they'd never be able to "battle." It is by that distinction that would set Eminem apart--an emcee in the mainstream game. A rare breed, indeed. The sounds of rap music would make a backpacker's ears bleed. The harsh sounds of a rapper stinking up the mic, talking about weed, drive-bys, the ghetto. The only exception was that you could get grandfathered in. Ice Cube was safe. Although, his current recordings would be measured on the same level. His first four records were safe, though. The backpackers thinking was anything old could be good. Anything new, had to come from this pocket of independent labels or else it was considered to be below the level of listenability. They had a preference for the Golden Era. Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, all Native Tongues, EPMD, etc. 2Pac wasn't assumed though. He was a little too thug for most backpackers. Eazy E, maybe.

The grand fallacy in this thinking is that, inevitably, it only prides itself on the past and doesn't embrace current artists. It's hung on nostalgia and anything from a certain era is automatic. Anything past a certain era is suspect. I don't mind the notion that anything from, say, 1992 or 1993 was dope because, largely, it was. Things were good back then. But to suggest it's impossible for good hip hop to come out in 2009 or 2010 is a little lame. In my most restrospective moments, I've said things like this. I guess to know a backpacker's thinking is to kinda be one yourself. But I denounce their presumptions. They write the rules and hold everyone to them. There's no fairness in their thinking. They can argue against everything. Like James Brown said, "Your talking loud, but ain't saying nothing." It's argument for argument's sake. The noise that these fools created over about a five to seven year period in their circles, their forums, their threads on their websites just played the whole game out with their fingerpointing, their accusations and their crucifixions. It's because of these dudes that I kinda fell out of love with hip hop. Every show I went to was littered with them. Every independent record store I went to was infested by these chumps. I felt like to like hip hop, I was somehow one in the same with them. They wrote too many rules. They preached this elitist bullshit which was coded with something so cryptic that no one could make sense of it. And they held everyone to it. And, worst of all, they preyed on the weakest of hip hop's fans so their army grew to a size which was unstoppable and it just kids who thought they knew, but in the end had very little clue. Hell, most of them weren't even born when Raising Hell came out. What do you really know, son?

It's like Krush Groove meets the trailer park meets thousands of soda-guzzling carnies meets Hot Topic meets the WWE meets every junior high school's remedial math class meets the Kiss Army meets the Wal-Mart pregnancy test aisle meets the Wal-Mart break room meets the Wal-Mart smoker's lounge meets the tractor pull meets the meth lab meets the Cheetos aisle at Wal-Mart meets the furthest place from a treadmill meets every failed gimmick to sell a hip hop record meets every knuckle-dragging primate who thought he/she knew what hip hop was the first time he/she heard The Slim Shady LP.

The biggest problem is that they sell like crazy.

Not that I'm fair of judging off looks alone, but damn, now I know why they wear facepaint. Don't know I would've picked the Insane Clown Posse to outlast most of the other groups from the early 90s. It's definitely a statement on the brain cell count of their average fan that this same gimmick wouldn't get old after 17 years. That's a freaking lifetime. I'm thinking back to 17 years ago. I was 15 years old. I thought I'd marry my first girlfriend, play in the NBA (even though I hadn't notched one minute on the A-team) and enjoy my offseason in my cabin up near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Well, I'm 32 and none of panned out for me. And I didn't just realize that wasn't going to happen yesterday. I realized that about, uh, 16 years ago. The typical ICP fan (and yes, I intend on generalizing), still lives like they're in high school (or junior high if they're now in college). They're consumption of recreational drugs, video games, caffeine and ICP's music has stunted not only their behavioral development but also their potential as contributing members of society.

Yes, that's a mattress and a garage door. These are your juggalos--the affectionate name given to ICP fans and faithful followers. As much as I hate elitist pricks that make rules and say things like "they suck" or "that ain't hip hop."

They suck and that ain't hip hop.


Back in 1991, MTV "Unplugged" hosted their first ever rap-only "unplugged" performance featuring among others De La Soul, Tribe and Mr. Deodarant Balls--LL Cool J. If you remember the performance, you know what I'm talking about. Featuring a supposed "electric unplugged" performance of "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL, we all knew it was only a matter of time before live instruments replaced the drum machine or more sample-based hip hop. Samples were expensive. Drum machines sometimes were quite dry and lacked any heart. Live instruments had the ability to bring soul back to the music. To give the music another dimension not yet realized. Plus, it would make dreadlocked morons dance like hippie chicks.

What bringing in live instrumentation into the game, hip hop began to cross over to cats who had always denounced hip hop because it lacked any significant musical accomplishment. It didn't require it's participants to do anything other than rap and, we all know, that takes no talent at all. It also relieved the stigma that rappers and, moreover, the DJs/producers were thieves of previously recorded music. By performing live the breaks instead of sampling them, it gave credibility to the music because, let's be real, if you're performing it live, it's not really stealing. Right?

What really happened with live hip hop is that it opened it up to a larger audience that really had no appreciation for hip hop's core. And it always seemed to be bigger in the Mountain states: Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Montana. One could only guess it's because of the large contingency of jam band fans in the mountains. In Houston, hip hop's best enjoyed in their car, rocking the trunk and absolutely annihilating the eardrums in every car at the intersection. Once you dip into the mountains, it's like hip hop's best enjoyed on bongos and an acoustic guitar.

It's not unusual to find that these peripheral fans of hip hop truly enjoy the live performance, but find very little takeaway from the actual recordings of those performances. As great as that night's performance was, that elation only lasts as long as their buzz. When they wake up in the morning, they take off their hip hop hat and are back to their lives. Ask one of these cats about Kool G. Rap. The Beatnuts. They wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about. Go save a whale, duke.

The whole live hip hop game is played. It's tired. It's not this new revolution that's going to save hip hop. Simply because the excitement is only in the performance. The recordings don't translate. And it's the recordings that will act as hip hop's archive for future generations. The immediacy of live hip hop quickly expires. It's like milk in that way. KMD's Mr. Hood is like raw honey...it never spoils. Live hip hop is too gimmicky. It relies on too many conditions to be consumed. And I don't care how good your drummer is, they can't replace Clyde Stubblefield on vinyl so don't go into no "Funky Drummer" because I don't wanna hear it. Give me the original.

Look at the best in the genre: The Roots. These dudes have been doing it for years and there's certainly something to be said for being first. However, every record they release, they sell less and less, but they have no problem selling out shows wherever they go. Less "fans" and concert goers are concerned about their records. They just wanna see them jam live which they've proven reliable for. Here you have one of the most talented crews in the game whose albums are actually getting better, it seems, with every release, but no one would know because no one buys them. They'd be the best selling crew out they had the same ratio of record-buyer to concert-goer as, say, Insane Clown Posse.

Recognize, son.


The Root Down.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Almost 400 miles later, my longest run behind me, I await and finish out my training heading up to Runday Sunday in Dallas, December 13th. Only fitting that I return to the town that raised me and do the "award tour" of Lubbock. It started early on Saturday morning. The goal was to finish it in three hours and 35 minutes. Accomplishable. By doing so, I would have just enough time to shower and then make it to our seats at the Jones for OU versus Tech.

I'd go to 98th Street all the way to 4th Street. Close to entire latitude of the city. I started at 4:55AM by stretching, eating my two bagels, one banana, ibuprofen, water. I had some technical difficulties with my iPod but substituted the 80G in the Nano's place. I made it to my starting point by 6AM and began my run by heading south. It was freezing and I had not planned on such a low for the morning. It was 27 degrees and I had my running shorts and my Lions t-shirt. Nothing else. It was so cold that I got hypothermia on the third mile stretch between Slide and Frankford. I was jogging and trembling at the same time. I couldn't wait for the sun to rise. It was so cold that water was not exiting my body. A problem because my fluids were to replenish me in the places I needed it. It just went straight into my bladder and stayed there. So I ducked into a yard on the way down Frankford to empty my bladder.

Almost got run over on Frankford by a driver that threw his brights on me, failed to yield to me and stayed in my lane and honked at me as he passed by. Yeah, I gave him the one-finger salute as I pressed onward.

Passed our old house on Frankford and continued down toward what is now Marsha Sharp Freeway. It was passable at Chicago which is what I originally planned, but then remembered my dear friend Ty who was killed at the intersection of Chicago and, what was then, Brownfield Highway. Thought better of it and changed my route slightly. Passed Danny's house. Passed Danny's parent's house. My old junior high as I made my way toward my old neighborhood. Passed Agape Methodist where I was a member of Troop 543, the meanest Scout troop in history. The corner of their lot where I first played tee-ball. Past 13th and Vicksburg where Aaron and George were killed when we young. Past another one of my childhood houses right across from my first elementary school...Rush Elementary. Headed down Toledo past Dale's childhood home. Went by my 7th Street home and hugged family at the corner. Proceeded up Salem to my grandparents street where my Gommy handed me an apple the size of a softball. It was the juiciest apple I ever had. I continued to 19th and Quaker where I turned it toward Covenant Lakeside where I'd circle the park. Fatigue was setting in. Family kept making drive-bys as I pressed onward. Good to have them along the way.

My hip was giving me serious problems. And my left hamstring. I continued back across Quaker to head toward my high school. Passed Coronado and headed south on Utica toward 50th Street. Passed Westmont Christian where I went to church after my parents divorced. Continued to Dupree Park where my mother lived nearby just after my parents divorced. Headed over on 58th Street to Memphis. Up Memphis to 66th Street and then around the park where my lovely wife and I once pondered on what was going to happen to our relationship when she moved to Tyler, TX. Her apartment was right there. I stayed in one just up Quaker.

Ended at the EZ Mart on Quaker just south of the loop. It took me three hours and 35 minutes. Not a minute more. Not a minute less. When I arrived back at my mother's place, my lovely wife was frying up my favorite...bacon. With eggs topped with salsa. I ate the eggs, the bacon, two Krispy Kreme chocolate cake donuts, two glasses of chocolate milk, one glass of orange juice and about 30 ounces of Gatorade.

So now, I finish out my training by scaling down my runs. I'll fill in the time with working on my hip and hammie. Maybe a little swimming. Keep my diet in check.

It's been a long run to this point. Don't want to screw up now. Stay healthy. Plenty of vitamin C. Water. Don't get sick. I gotta get Kool Aid back out on the trail. Dude's been ill for the last two weeks or so.

Lovely wife celebrates a birthday on Tuesday. Not telling you which one, but I'll give you this clue: Larry Legend. Fams coming in on Wednesday for Thanksgiving in Amarillo. Fried cajun turkey, sauerkraut and chocolate bourbon pecan pie on the menu amongst other things. Gonna be some purdy good eatin'.

Ya'll rest up and enjoy your week and Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Been a bit, Root Downers...regrettably. Have had a busy couple of weeks. Always do this time of year. Nothing different there. Of course, you put "training for a marathon" into anything and it eats up whatever else you were planning on doing. If you're not running, you're recovering. Like this morning behind a nice mug of coffee listening to LL Cool J's Walking With a Panther recounting yesterday's first 18-miler.

This is it. I got two 36-mile weeks consisting of two 5-milers, one 8-miler and then one long run at 18 miles. That's a big week. I'll do this twice and then we wind down going into the marathon. Even with the marathon on the final week, I'll only run 34 miles that week so this makes the longest distance weeks in the training. I've had some killer runs this week. There was the five on Monday where Kool Aid and I tore through the neighborhood like killers on the loose. We started out at "prowler" and ended at "predator." We were trucking that night. Then, my eight on Tuesday was my historic "Prefontaine on Fire" sprint where I clocked eight miles in eighty minutes. A personal best for that distance. The 18 I was set to do yesterday came at an optimum point in my training. Of course, as luck would have it, Kool Aid's gotta temperature so I was going to have to leg this one on my own. I drew out my route which would take me from essentially center city all the way out to the northwestern edge of town. Preferably at sunrise. There's something great about hitting the path before everyone else. Get to the earth before every moron in hurry tramples it to death. There's just something about it that's intoxicating. At that hour, the city is not only silent, it's paralyzed. Nothing's going. It's just you in God's great landscape splitting the air and breaking the serenity with your soft footsteps and light pants of breath. Here's the path.I woke up feeling great. A little tired, but whaddya expect for a Saturday morning at 4:45. I stretched, lubed up, munched some ibuprofen, a banana, a bagel. I stepped out into the morning air and it was thick with this wondrous fog. I couldn't even see the end of the driveway. It was cold and a wind was hurriedly pushing the fog down the street. Perfect.
Pressed play on the iPod and started out. The pace was good. Breathing was quickly locked into tempo. Hydration was optimum. I carried with me enough food to fuel me out and back. Two bags of jelly beans, two goos and a banana. As I made my way out on 9th all the way to the edge of town, the sun began to slowly rise lighting the landscape around me. The heavy blanket of fog surrounded me. It was so thick at one point that I wouldn't have known I was even going up hill until I saw headlights that appeared to be coming down from the sky in front of me.
It was the greatest setting for a solo run. Just me, a few rabbits, a herd of cattle and a punishing northern wind. When I turned north into the wind, it almost reduced me to a walk. And, just at that moment when I was rocked backwards, the intro to LL Cool J's "Goin' Back to Cali" broke the silence. I took a deep breath, put my head down as the wind drenched my beard with morning dew and tore northward. Thanks, LL.
Geez, you'd think this cat was never a rapper with Google image search. I had to hit up five different pages before I could find a picture of him not in a beautiful suit on the red carpet smiling like a nincompoop. Here we are. Here's the LL I was running with.

You know, LL's pretty played. Dude's from Queens. Don't you root for the Mets if you're from Queens? Everytime I see that dude, he's rocking a Yankee lid. Guess Mets are old school. That was back in 1986 with the World Championship team with Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter. That was a long time ago. Yankees have won five championships since then. LL probably doesn't even watch baseball. He probably just has problems matching his outfit to the orange on the Mets hat.
Why is it that anytime there's a special on Led Zeppelin on television, the Wilson sisters of Heart are flown in as the Zeppelin experts. I swear, I turned on Biography this morning and, in the first five minutes of the Led Zeppelin Biography, there's Ann and Nancy in their gypsy garb talking about Zeppelin in their whispy fascinated tone. Seriously, don't you have a state fair you should be playing at? Go away. I hate Heart with a passion. Chicks were Zeppelin biters. Go listen to "Barracuda" and tell me it ain't a direct bite of "The Immigrant Song."

But I digress.
When I made out to Soncy and Tascosa Road, it was time to turn it back to the city. Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" blasted into my brain as I jogged onward. With the wind now shifting to my left shoulder, I powered forward actually gaining speed as I climbed back into the city. The inclines and declines on this path were remarkable. Easily more challenging than anything I'll see in Dallas. I think the most brutal portion of White Rock is a 1.3% grade for about two and a half miles--18 to 20.5 and then it goes downhill for the rest. I was doing 2.5% grade for a half mile at a time.
As I came into town, I arranged to have my lovely wife follow me for mile 13 to the end at 18. She met up with me in West Hills with dogs in tow, threw the hazards on and crept behind me offering encouragement along the way. As we made way back into our neighborhood, I was approaching 16 miles. Only two more to go. So I took a route that I knew would measure up to two miles and I would end just down the road from the house. I sprinted the last block to make sure I didn't end in a crawl. End strong.
I doubled over at the end. My legs immediately tightened up. It only took about two minutes for the muscles to shrink and shrivel. I stretched as quickly as I could to avoid cramping. Walked back to the house and perched myself on a stool in the kitchen and chomped a sandwich, a glass of milk. Hopped up and it was too late. My muscles already tightened up. I could barely walk. I went into the living room and laid out. The pain lasted for about fifteen minutes. Took a shower. Some ibuprofen. Walked it out. Felt a little better.
My ending time was 3:35. Pretty long for 18 miles. Not yet convinced that my ending time was close to 12 minutes per mile, I decided to go out and drive the entire thing and confirm the distance. Turns out that my distance was 19.4 miles--overshot my goal by 1.4 miles taking my average per mile down to 11:05. Overall, that's a great time for the hills I ran, the wind that I was jogging headfirst into and the hour at which I started.
I ate a burrito from Sharkeys after that, laid down on the couch and immediately passed out. When I awoke, I was hungry again. I stood up from the couch and my right leg almost gave out from under me. My knee, thigh and hamstring were on fire. I sat back down. Now's when you let your body heal. Nothing strenuous. Take it easy. That's the rule on Sundays.
Last night, we had some friends over for dinner...birthday dinner for the wives. I ate a ton of food. I was so hungry. Bruschetta, a NY strip, shrimp, zucchini, spinach ravioli, chocolate cake and ice cream. I had a couple of beers over the evening and by about 10:30, I could barely keep my eyes open. I went to bed on by back, with my legs outstreched and my hands on my belly. At 5:00 this morning, I awoke in the same picture....the pillow still folded behind my head and the blankets over me not even slightly disturbed. I laid in one position for five hours. Something my body never does.
Snapped to my feet at 6:00. Leg feeling better. Had two bowel movements already this morning. Hungry again. These 36-mile weeks have my body going crazy.
Doing it all over again this week. Marathon's under a month away. This morning's a perfect morning for Sly's There's a Riot Goin' On.
Keep up, kiddo.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Tuesday morning, the fourth official day of the j3 Family Runaway 2009. We awoke early needing to catch a 8-ish train from Boston's South Station to Penn Station in Manhattan. Big day for a Dallas girl and a high plains drifter like myself. This was the city. Not only that, it was our first time on a train that went faster than highway traffic and didn't just go around the amusement park all day. In fact, I spent most of the morning worrying about whether or not I would be spotted as that cat that's never been on a commuter train. It was really just a practice in imitation. I just followed what everyone else was doing. Plains, trains and automobiles, homie. Hell, we'd even sneak a ferry in there for good measure. When they approached the train, so did we. When they boarded, so did we. When they sat down and put their tickets up above their seat, so did we. And when people decided to knock out and take a nap, so did I.

The train was perfect for sitting back and listening to Mingus which is what I did as I drifted in and out of sleep. We were on the shady side of the car so it was perfect napping although it was difficult to not want to take it all in as Massachusetts and then Connecticut sped by. I'd be watching businessmen poised in their seats playing on their laptops and thinking, "Man, this makes my four-minute commute look straight-up heavenly." To think of doing it even twice a week is almost too much to stand. By foot, I'm only 25 minutes away. These dudes are crossing three states for work. Say what you will of the Panhandle and the Yellow, you can't front on a four-minute commute. For lunch everyday, I'm sitting in front of my television in my house for 45 minutes of Dan Patrick, a nice salad and a handful of peanuts. Would New Englanders/New Yorkers consider that a significant upward step in the "quality of life" scale? Not sure, Connecticut looks really nice as it flies past your huge eight-foot Amtrak window. Sure has something on West Texas there. Or was it Rhode Island?

At one point, I switched over to Steely Dan which went quite well with the ride into the City. Pretzel Logic to be precise. Some parts of the rail were a blinding and confusing series of tunnels, canals, ravines, bridges and otherwise unsightly areas. Worth sleeping through, really. But it was interesting because you knew you were nearing the big city by the quality of the tags. As you crept in on the city mile-by-mile, it became more intense, more inescapable and more vividly overwhelming. I didn't get much because, well, it was moving by so quickly.

Before we knew it, almost every crevace, nook and corner of everything in sight had been tagged. Nothing was off limits. These dudes would tag your grandma if she was within a block of the train. No where was out of reach.
This led to the cyclical argument that my lovely wife and I always tend to get into. What's graffiti worth? Who benefits? Truth be known, she hates almost everything it stands for. That's alright. I hate about half of what it stands for. The other half, I fully embrace. At one point, she just stopped talking and, instead, any time we passed a tag (which was every ten seconds really), she'd just look at me, pinch her lips together and then just shake her head at me. Like I was the one that did it. I've always loved graffiti. I don't love vandalism though. To qualify graffiti as vandalism before even considering to be art firstly is a tragic mistake. In my humblest opinion, some graffiti is undoubtedly art and then some is just vandalism. It's now a matter of where you did it, it's how you did it. If someone keyed my car, that's vandalism. If someone took white spray paint and wrote the word "chump" on my car, that's vandalism (and incorrect). If some cat bombed my car with a bumper-to-bumper burner with three-color faded fill-ins and shadows. I'd still say that my car was vandalized because, by definition, it was. However, it's art first and foremost. When you're sitting on train watching the countryside fly by at 60 MPH and no idea how close you are to your destination, the only indication that you're getting close is the underpasses start to become these flashes of kaleidoscopic colors. You can't read what any of it says because it's moving by so fast, but it's walls absolutely covered from the inch closest to the ground to 20 feet up the wall. It's like the city speaking for itself.

We ran into some nasty delays on the way in because there were trains backed up on the track. After about forty minutes, though, we were moving again and the city began to reveal itself to us as we snaked through the outskirts of Queens on our quest for Manhattan. I fired off pictures panickly as I saw more and more of Manhattan. I was fixated. Sometimes not blinking. From this distance, Manhattan looked small. I was pointing out landmarks that I recognized frantically.
This was likely the last good view of the city that we had before entering the final stretch of track into Penn Station. We'd disappear into a series of subway tunnels taking us under the city, under the river. Before any of us could blink, we were there.

We grabbed our bags and, again, just imitated what everyone else was doing. "Just do what they do. Go where they go." We needed to get a cab to our hotel. And MetroCards. First, we make our way up to the street. The City's not very friendly to luggage. Made me want to retire to a backpack fast. I've got my crazy-pimp suitcase with three wheels trying to navigate it through the crowds, halls and staircases. There's just no easy way around it.

Once we came up street level, my jaw dropped--momentarily, of course. You gotta keep moving. It's quite a sight for a cat from Lubbock, Texas where municipal codes prevent businesses from erecting signs taller than their building and billboards are strictly governed to protect "the flat" of Lubbock. When you see Manhattan and you stand in the middle of it, the City not only feels like it goes on forever laterally, it also feels like it goes on forever vertically. It's hard to not become slightly suffocated at first sight. I'll admit it. It was awesome.

We quickly waved down a cab which was much easier than I was anticipating. Hopped in and began heading uptown to our place which was just a stone's throw from Broadway/Times Square.
More on the cabbies later, but I gotta tell you, it's like a headrush sitting in one of those things flying through traffic. Amazing how traffic works in a city like New York. It's almost like objects floating in a rushing river except nothing ever touches. The traffic has a behavior all of its own. It's instinctual. It's anticipative. It knows every next move. And almost 70% of the vehicles are cabs. They absolutely rule the streets.
I was looking for the Cash Cab because, as it would turn out, we would need the cash desperately. More on that later as well.

After arriving at our hotel, we found that, as luck would have it, our room wasn't ready, but it was cookie hour and I learned in my travels, if anyone offers you a free cookie, take it. We chilled in the lobby, made phone calls, dropped off our luggage with the concierge to lighten our load and then, my lovely wife reminded me to tip. It's at least a buck a bag anytime someone touches your bag. Lesson learned. Only I'm touching my bags from here on in. The city's an expensive place to live because everyone expects a tip, it seems. And I'm a cheapass. So you can see where this is heading.
I just put on Jeru the Damaja's Wrath of the Math. An old dusty vinyl copy that I haven't played in ages. That good ol' Brooklyn illness.

We headed down to the subway to grab the train out Brooklyn for dinner and sights. We're attempting to buy a MetroCard and the damned machine is saying that my debit, which is all I carry, is invalid. In fact, so is my lovely wife's. So not only do we find in Boston that you can't rent much on a debit and credit's king, now our lowly debit card isn't even working. So I fork out another $50 or so for two MetroCards. I inventory our cash flow--good enough for dinner and dessert, but not much else. Maybe the machine just wasn't reading our cards right. I mean, for one, it might make sense, but both cards not reading was a little unsettling. Anyhow, boundlessly, we boarded a train bound for Brooklyn.
Once arriving, we took a short walk through the neighborhood and ended up at the highly recommended (thanks, George) Grimaldi's Pizzeria.
Once again, we're seated next to people we don't know. Like at the same table. Takes a little getting used to. Good thing about NYC though, is that there are so many different languages, they're more likely to not even know what you're saying and, if they do, changes are they don't care enough to listen. It was pretty amazing, though, that the majority of people we ran into spoke something other than English. You were almost expectant that someone wouldn't speak English. It was almost everything but. English is still the most prominently spoken language in New York, say, 60%, but the other 40% is split amongst a hundred different languages. I'm from Texas. It's predominantly English and Spanish. That's about it. And that's about a 85/15 split.
Nonetheless, my lovely wife was looking, well, lovely. I was too hungry to think about much else than a nice warm pie and a tall Brooklyn Lager which I hadn't had since the Sox whooped the Yanks back in 2004 and an unfortunately Yankee fan lost a little bet to yours truly.That pizza was the real deal. Makes me kinda jealous of New Yorkers. I mean, being from Texas, we don't really have anything super cool to claim as definitively Texan. I mean, barbecue? Is that definitively Texan? Cowboys? Hmm. Okay. Anything else? Country music? I mean, Nashville's the capital. You can get damned good barbecue in Memphis--probably better than Texas barbecue. When you're sitting under the Brooklyn Bridge chomping on a big ass piece of pizza with a nice tall beer, you feel pretty special.

We exited out into Brooklyn and walked around a bit before ending back up at the Bridge for some ice cream and enjoy the sunset as well as the beautiful view of Manhattan as the night draped the city in darkness. From this vantage point, you feel pretty small as the skyscrapers of Manhattan tower into the sky.

Likewise, Lady Liberty looked tiny just sitting in the harbor. She was absolutely dwarfed by everything else around her. You grow up thinking she's the size of fifty Godzillas and then you realize that's she's not even the size of one. That little excursion was on the second day.
Also feeling pretty small in Brooklyn was probably the only other Texan under the Brooklyn Bridge at that same moment: Country recording artist Jack Ingram. He was there attempting to break a world record for the most consecutive radio interviews. I don't think there was a previous record though. If there was, no one was talking about how much that was. Jack was just shooting for 24 hours. Does that mean that the previous record was 23? Who would stop anything at 23 hours with 24 is just such a nice round number? It's such a cool number. Divisible by two, three, four, six, eight, twelve. Twenty-three? Lame. So I don't think there's anyway that there was a previous record. So Jack set up camp under the Bridge and people were just calling in and asking him questions. What's funny is that if he did this in, say, College Station, Texas, he'd be surrounded by drunk and hollering college kids until the last minute. Here, though, in New York City, no one cared. There was a lingering manager, publicist, label rep. I met him a long time ago and I was thinking of reintroducing myself until he mentioned you pick up his new record at Wal-Mart or Amazon. Thanks for nothing, Jackass. Hope you sell two units. And both to your parents.
We walked back to the start of the Bridge near sundown so that we could begin our walk back to Manhattan as the City was lighting up.

I love Brooklyn. It was much more my steez. Manhattan's cool, but Brooklyn was just the right pace. Just the right people. Just the right view. Just the right attitude. And, man, there's some crazy music that came from Brooklyn. You'll just have to peep that NYC MetroCard Mix that I threw up a while back. As we walked on the Bridge, the City offered its money shot.
The Brooklyn Bridge, while enjoyable, was a panicky and frantic affair as cyclist and joggers ruled it's wooden footbridge. I almost watched a child get obliterated by a cyclist who was about to take flight he was moving so fast. Guess there's very little slow in an urban environment of such a size. There's no loafing lane. It's go fast or go away.

We did find time to snap a few shots as we handed off the camera to a German couple. Or was it French? Slovakian? Who knows.
Shirt courtesy of Daunda. Thanks Wil. End day one.

Monday, November 02, 2009


Photoblah-g from Halloween, 2009.

Started it off at 500 with a banana, a bagel, four Advils and two glasses of water. It's standard for a +10-mile run.

At 600, I sat down in front of the TV set in the living room and enjoyed a Biography on Stephen King (I guess that Halloween is the connection here) while I stretched. Interesting that he was about to throw Carrie away until his wife found the unfinished manuscript in the trash and demanded that he re-write it. Gotta love lovely wives.

By 630, Kool Aid and I were on the road and running. I love running in the morning. It's so peaceful. You can basically run in the middle of the road without worrying about getting mowed over. Especially on a Saturday morning. I enjoyed TV on the Radio for the earlier part of the run, White Stripes for the later part. 16 miles total. Hammy still giving me issues. Left IT band tightened up around the ninth mile. Here's a pic from Kool's neighborhood. That's an oncoming car. One of a few very few we encountered at that hour.

By 800, we were on the backside of the Tascosa Country Club making our way to West Hills. This was about on the eighth mile.

Mile 12 at 900. I was attempting to take a pic of me blowing a snot rocket. No dice.
Flew by the store at 1000 to get cash, some syrup and sausage for breakfast. My lovely wife offered to make waffles and sausage. I had two waffles, a fist of sausage, some milk, gatorade and a couple of Advils. And at 1000, I got kisses from Tucker who was happy to see his Pa.

At 1100, I was still drinking my coffee. Planning a trip to Lubbock. Yes, I stole this mug from Daybreak about 14 years ago. Still use it.

1200 I was packing my bags for the Hub City. Lot on my plate for the day.

At 1300, I was passing beautiful Happy, Texas. I love the panhandle. I love how flat it is. It's good for clearing the mind of all the garbage and noise. Just point the front bumper south, hit the gas and enjoy the view. I brought a box of CDs to audition on the road. I hadn't done that in quite some time. Just left the iPod in the Yellow.

1400: discovered a gem in the stack. A compilation from BK One courtesy of Rhymesayers. I haven't heard good hip hop in probably three years. This was a welcome listen. I jammed it all the way into Lubbock. Also notable from the stack was this Shades of Brown record. Dopeness. 1500: Ice cream at my grandparents' place. Gommy insisted, I obliged. We watched Tech struggle with Kansas. Our quarterbacks suck. Either way, though, they're my team. Can't change that.

1600: helping my father get hooked up with Facebook in his office upstairs. This is overlooking the park out back.
1700: my nephew showed up dressed as Shrek. My niece was dressed as a princess. I jacked his mask and played Shrek.

1800: Tech decided they wanted to win on Saturday and turned it up in the fourth quarter breaking a 21-21 tie and winning 42-21. It was enough of a bore to knock out Austin the cocker spaniel. I was at my mother's place talking to Sharon and enjoying a little relaxation. Mom was playing Catholic mass.
1900: dinner with my Mom at Rosa's. I had the burrito plate. My mother made a comment about how no one else in our family eats raw onions like I do. They should.
2000: I have no picture for 2000 hours because I was attempting to take a shot of Krispy Kreme at night going about 40 MPH past the store front. The result was a blurry picture of a Wal-Mart. Just worth noting that I was that close to a Krispy Kreme and resisted stopping and locking myself in the bathroom with a dozen of devil's food donuts. Instead, I proceeded to the local stores to do a couple of compliance checks and then stopped in at United to buy my first six pack within Lubbock city limits. I chose Harpoon. This was at 2100. Harpoon is so good. One of the many great things that come from Vermont.
At 2200, I arrived at Danny's house. Dude went off on decorations for his Halloween party/fiancee's birthday. Nothing sets it off like the bloody shower curtain, though. I'm a fan of the classics. Psycho specifically. And duke had more smoke machines than a Ted Nugent concert.
By 2300, the party had jumped off. I was enjoying my Harpoons talking to the many interestingly dressed folk. Kinda felt like the party pooper for not dressing up, but I never do. I have a hard enough time being myself that being someone else is just too much of a challenge to have fun doing it. Ran into Leangelo...the man of many trades. Tonight, he was a German countryman. It would figure that he would opt for the only costume that is accessorized by a 80-ounce beer stein.2400...midnight. When the real freaks come out. I always feel bad for girls who feel forced to dress like prostitutes for Halloween. I mean, it's really a shame that girls feel pressured into wearing close to nothing like Halloween is some sort of stripper contest. Even more bizarre, though, is when men feel like they need to dress like prostitutes. Like this cat. Kudos for the most awesomely weird costume I've ever seen a dude his age wearing.
And just take my word for it...yes, he was wearing the shorts too. Just another day in the life of yours truly.