Saturday, December 4, 2010

ESPN, the magazine: Best Advice Ever Received

My editor, Carmen Renee Thompson at ESPN, the magazine, had me and a dozen other reporters conduct over 300 interviews with a diverse group of athletes about the best advice they ever received from someone. Only about 15 made the cut for the tight space in the magazine. Here are a few compelling ones that didn't make it:

Boxer Bernard Hopkins:

"Society has been tricked and told that credit is better than cash. I was always told by mom and my grandmother the opposite. They had mortgages. My first 85,000K house in Philadelphia I had a 30-year mortgage. I paid it off in 5 years. The bank wasn’t happy. Then I got another one in Delaware. Paid that off in six years. I saw my mom scuffle for years and years and years, for a house she paid for 30 times over.

The most people told me about finances was to be a risk taker. I did the opposite. I never wanted to play in the stock market. I couldn’t get a lot of big returns.

I took the old school thinking, remembering when we didn’t have. I took care of my sisters, got them all houses they could afford. I didn’t want them to have mortgages. I am blessed to be in the position to give tough love. I bring my nephews to my crib. At the end of the day I want my nieces and nephews to see what 17 acres look like. I want them to see where the Vice President lives in Delaware. I want them to see what old money looks like. Any of these players throwing punches or dribbling a ball, think they got it. Let’s talk 20 years from now. Old money takes time to become old. I will be the first one in my family to start a trend. It starts with me to start that trend, so my kids can have something set aside as a trust. We don’t think that it doesn’t end, we don’t think about the heirs, about a dynasty trust, we think about the right now, let me get the rolls Royce, the Bentley, I'll get all the bling and it stops with us. That’s why we don’t have that dynasty. If you do, your name will never be forgotten.

My mother was the disciplinarian, she was always the one that kicked our butt. We had to get the biggest switch off the tree. She told us to stand up for what you believe in and never let anyone take anything from you. Those were the rules in any inner city in the US where black people lived. Detroit, Chicago, that was probably said to 90 percent of black young people in the hood. Keep your lunch money in your pocket. There was a lot of that going on in Philadelphia. My mother always told me to go back out there and fight. I always fought bigger guys. I always fought guys that were a couple of years older than me. Not by choice, they might have tried to take something from me. I remembered that and it carried me through today, always fight for what you believe in and never give up. I strayed from that. And when I strayed from not letting people take advantage of me I became a part of that industry on the street. I started not following my dreams.

But I got two educations—one in life and one in prison. A guy who has never been in a bad neighborhood will get swallowed up if he goes to that neighborhood. A guy from a bad neighborhood who never crosses out of the neighborhood will get swallowed up by corporate America. I have both. One was very painful. If you're not educated corporate America will swallow you up and spit you out and won't even kiss you before they screw you. In the other world you know what will happen--it's in your face. That’s why I'm a problem to some and a breath of fresh air to most, cause when you have that type of individual that can deal with both sides--I can put the suit on and still be me and not try to be other people and still get mad respect and still get that same respect on the other side. I can be comfortable in any setting. Whether I fail or I succeed I can look in the mirror and say it was my call.

See highlights from Hopkins:

Legendary Hoya coach John Thompson:

Click here for highlight of 1985 Georgetown Hoyas vs. Villanova game

My mother told me, "You can do anything you think you can, it's all in the way you view it, young man. It's all in the start you make. You must feel you're going to do it." Anytime I got depressed or discouraged about the team it came back to me. It wasn't just what she said, it was the fact that she said it. I believed everything she said. I had a lot of difficulty in school when I was young--trouble learning, I repeated sixth grade and her words helped me come through it. I would hear her voice in my mind eye's whenever I would come off a loss. I remember when I first started out at Georgetown. I inherited a program that was 3-22 and I had been a high school coach. Everybody was telling me I shouldn't have come to college. You tend to look at yourself and question your decision. But my recall would come back and I would think about what my mother told me. The other person who gave me the best advice was Bill Russell. He told me, "If you don't accept the praise, you don't have to accept the criticism." In other words, "Don't believe the good shit people say and you won't have to believe the bad stuff people say about you. Don't believe the hype and you won't have to believe the criticism." You can get caught up in your own hype, but if you believe that, you have to believe the criticism too. But his advice wasn't more important than my mother's. I was a mama's boy. When mama went left, I went left. When mama went right, I went right. [Laughs].

Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins:

Click here for Wilkins Top Ten Dunks

When I was 12, a guy basically showed me and taught me how to play basketball in the streets of Baltimore, MD. He said if I listened and learned I would be great one day and he said, "You will owe me and you will owe me big, but not in the sense you think. The only thing I want from you is for you to give to someone else what I'm giving to you." In other words, give them the same advice that he'd given to me. The advice was from Skip Wise, a playground legend and former NBA player for the Baltimore Claws and briefly with the San Antonio Spurs. I wonder if Skip Wise even remembers that. That's the best advice I was ever given.

He was considered one of the greatest of all time, but drug addiction and an eventual prison sentence derailed his career.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard:

Click here to see the left-hander hitter's triple deck grand slam

Stay on an even keel, don't get too high or too low--Jim Thome told me that. And the other one is you're only as good as your next at bat and that was my old high summer ball coach, Deron Spink. When Jim Thome told me that I was just trying to break into the league, this game can be up and down, you have the good and the bad. You can be up and at the drop of a dime you can forget how to hit. He was just saying make sure you stay on an even plane. You'll have that day where you go 5 for 5 and hit for the cycle the next day you may go 0 for 4 with four strike outs. That's just the law of averages in this game. He's a Midwest guy and I'm a Midwest guy, we were both the same in our beliefs. He's a humble guy as well.

My man D. Spink was just saying try to stay in the moment. Don't dwell on your previous AB whether you made an out or what not, but just stay in the present. You're only as good as your last at bat.

My dad and my older brother kind of prepared me for the fame, they prepared me before I got there. My older brother was in sports, so he told me things to look out for. I was always careful and watching myself and try not to put myself in compromising situations. My brother told me about being careful as far as girls are concerned. Being smart. Watching your environment when you're in clubs or whatever.

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard:

See highlights from Leonard vs. Hagler

The best advice that I ever received was from my father. He said to me one day "I’d rather be a man who has nothing but has it all, rather than a man who has it all, but has nothing. At the time, I did not understand his obscure words of wisdom. However, as I got older, I cherished his words. I began to understand what he truly meant. It is not the man with all of the materialistic amenities that has a fulfilling life, rather the man with the simplistic things that finds the most joy in life. I have found my most cherished moments to be when the only things surrounding me are my family and friends. It is only then that my heart is filled with joy and happiness that builds the memories that last a lifetime.

As I look back on my boxing career, I realized that my most cherished memories came from looking out into the audience and seeing the love and admiration on the faces of my family and not the endorsements that came with winning the title, which I can barely remember.

Boxer Kelly Pavlik:

See Pavlik's greatest hits:

Advice from Bernard Hopkins: It is something that's always said, but when it comes from a fighter you just fought, it means something. After I fought Hopkins, he said, "Every great fighter loses, some lose once, some lose twice, but you have to bounce back." He told me that after the fight in the corner. When it comes from a fighter that will be a Hall of a Famer it really hits you when its someone who has been in this situation.

From Ray Boom Boom Mancini: "If you had the opportunity make the most of it." Its a common saying. All those years coming up as a pro I was fighting on big cards, undercards, De La Hoya, big promotional companies. It was still a long process, so a lot of times you get frustrated--you know it's been five years and I haven't had a title shot and I am signed with the biggest promotional company. But then you think, well I'm signed with Top Rank, they're not just gonna sign me to not do anything, they sign the best fighters. I am getting a chance to fight in Vegas on the biggest cards you could possibly think of you gotta make the most of it because that window could close at any time.

I got good advice from Jim Brown--"Once you get to the top, its a hard road to get to the top, but it's even harder to stay at the top." A lot of is not just physically by being an athlete. Anything you do you're in the public eye--people are there to support you 190% and a lot of people seem to support you but really they want to see you down. One thing with this layoff over the summer and most of '09 you have a lot of the fan support. It helped me. It let me know I am not the only one going through that.

Miami Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis:

See Vontae Davis's rookie year:

My grandmother has also been a big inspiration in my life. There is nothing I do that I don't talk to her about. She has always told me to believe in myself and trust in God. If I do that, I can't go wrong. She has always been supportive of the decisions I make as long as they are the right ones. She would tell me, "No matter what your friends are doing, you continue to be their friends. Just because they do something wrong, doesn't mean you have to do it either. One day they may grow out of this phase in their life and you will need them or you should set a positive example for them. You never know how your life will affect someone else's."

Dallas Maverick's Caron Butler:

See Caron's Buzzer Beater when he was with the Wizards:

I think the best advice I ever got from a professional athlete was from Pat Riley, telling me to keep my disposition as a player, my aggressiveness on both ends of the floor the same, and to never shy away from who you are. I think that was great because me being a rookie coming into the game, I was really shy of being who I was in a man's league. I was trying to feel my way around and find out what's my niche and he was like, “Just be you. Don’t shy away from your identity.” That was the best advice. That’s why I am successful today. When I originally came to the Heat and was trying to fit in, I wasn't fitting in. I wasn't being the guy they had drafted--being aggressive on both ends of the court--just having an edge. Once he told me that, I played with that edge for the rest of my career.

My most inspirational advice has to come from my mother and my grandmother. That's where I got the three D's from, determination, dedication, and discipline. That's what I base my foundation on. They taught me about never giving up, about sacrificing and always giving back to my community. Those are values I live by.

A lot of people helped me in my teens when I was getting in trouble. I had strong support. There was a guy named Jamil Aguirre that ran a recreational center, he served as a mentor to me. He was always in my ear preaching positive messages and just trying to guide me to do positive things in life and never deter back to the wrong path. He used to tell me just to stay humble because your gifts could easily be taken away from you. I always look at it like that, that's why I like giving back and serving my community because I look at where I came from. I remember where I came from and thinking, "If I made it out, I would do this..." So many guys that made it out never came back--not that they were obligated, but it was just the right thing to do.

For more quotes, see the July 28, 2010 issue of ESPN, the magazine with Ron Artest on the cover

Etta James vs. Beyonce

Last month, in the Kimmel Center on Broad Street in Philadelphia, a petite and raucous 72-year-old Sugar Pie DeSanto came onstage dressed seductively in a spaghetti strapped dress, heels, and a long gray ponytail hidden under a silver sequined beret. The 4’11”vocal powerhouse, who toured with James Brown’s revue and sang with childhood friend Etta James, belted out her 1960 hit, “I Want to Know,” with a gravelly voice and a cheeky smile.

Sugar Pie and Etta, "In the Basement"

There was sashaying, pelvic thrusts, kicking off of the heels, writhing across the stage, and---what in the world!---a backwards tumble! It wasn’t quite Shawn Johnson’s Olympic feat, but it was a tumble. The men, women, and the children screamed. She likely picked up a few internal injuries, but she also picked up a lot of respect from the younger fans in the crowd.

Sugar Pie doing her thing at R&B Foundation:

The venue was the R&B Foundation Pioneer Awards, brought to the City of Brotherly Love by hit maker Kenny Gamble. The Foundation, created to provide a financial cushion to aging R&B singers down on their luck (many who unwittingly signed shady deals in the days before artists started their own labels), helped DeSanto pay her rent for six months after an apartment fire left her homeless two years ago. Her husband, Jesse Davis, (who was her third and fourth husband) died while trying to put out a fire started in their Oakland apartment. DeSanto had called out to him to follow her as she ran out the door. By the time she got outside she realized he wasn’t behind her.

DeSanto is a Chess Records alum, like legends Fontella Bass, Moms Mabley, Muddy Waters, and Etta James. It’s not certain whether she will be featured in the upcoming December film, Cadillac Records, by writer/director Darnell Martin (I Like It Like That, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Prison Song), detailing the story of the record label. But her childhood pal, Etta, is being played by none other than Mrs. Shawn Carter. Beyonce is also serving as the executive producer of the film.

Howlin' Wolf's panty dropping Smokestack Lightning:

While no one puts on a show quite like Beyonce--with her man crushing thighs, abs of steel, universal beauty, and acrobatic dance moves--often performed in heels--red high heels---I have to wonder--Etta James? For real? Besides the obvious physical inconsistencies (they’re both thick, but Etta’s just a tad bit thicker) where is Beyonce going to go emotionally to get that?

True, when B turns into her alter ego Sasha Fierce onstage, anything is possible. From 20-foot high swings, to tight white T’s, short denim shorts, and singing chops for days, she gives an all out, sex drenched performance. There’s no hint of the safety and security of a Matthew Knowles boot camp or the stiff prestige of training at a Performing Arts High School in Houston. She becomes somebody you’d want to go to the club with and not just cause she’s the designated driver.

She has the spirit of independence like Etta, rebellious, unaffected by what people think. And she’s mesmerizing to watch.

But then the clock strikes midnight and Sasha turns back into Beyonce, a sweet, accomplished model, fashion designer, wife, singer, and dancer. The wild girl is gone. It took Etta more than a click of the clock to calm down. It took almost sixty years for her to just sit still.

Etta’s mother, Dorothy, a beautiful girl who was pregnant with her at fourteen, was a tornado of restless energy, who danced in and out of her life. Sometimes kidnapping her, they would travel on a bus for a weekend of adventure until being kicked off when running out of cash.

Staying in rooming houses and motels, her cocaine stash close by her, Dorothy was always ready for a party. So desperate to keep her around, Etta would tie a string around her diamond ring and hold the other end of the string, so if she fell asleep and Dorothy tried to slip out to a party, she would wake up.

There were other times when she took Etta to smoky clubs, lounges, ballrooms, allowing her to meet all the big names in the business. When Etta became a mother, Dorothy repeated history by kidnapping her grandson. Etta went her entire life wondering who her real father was and came closest to an answer in pool-shark Minnesota Fats.

She was raised by an aunt who died when she was twelve. She ran with a gang with her childhood pal and one of the finest girls in their neighborhood, Sugar Pie DeSanto. She bounced from school to school, stole, lost her virginity by fourteen, and by fifteen had dropped out of school, was on the road, and had begun her professional recording career.

Etta James, "I'd Rather Go Blind"

She sang gospel, blues, R&B, rock-n-roll, and jazz. She snorted coke, freebased, and mainlined heroin. Became a Muslim. Hung out with Ike and Tina, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Mick Jagger, Marvin Gaye, Minnie Ripperton, and Bob Dylan. Fought with James Brown. Hung out with drag queens. Was kindred souls with Aretha. Was adored by some men. Was beaten within an inch of her life by others. Was a party girl and a devoted wife. Had Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X knocking on her door to hang out. Got high with Miles Davis. Pulled guns on promoters who tried to cheat her out of her cash. Walked through a revolving door to rehab for most of her life. Shot heroin in her hands when she ran out of veins. Contracted tetanus from a dirty needle. Had an outside kid. Did jail time. And could count Elizabeth Taylor as one of her fans.

In Etta’s biography, Rage to Survive, by David Ritz, she details an exchange between her and her idol, the Queen, Dinah Washington. When she saw her walk into a club where she was performing, she decided to sing one of her hits, “Unforgettable.”

Dinah Washington's "Unforgettable" and she is:

In the middle of the song, she heard a crash. The Queen had swept the glasses off of a table.
“Girl! She screamed, pointing at my head, “Don’t you ever sing the Queen’s songs!”

She later told her in private:

“Don’t you ever pull shit like that, not when I’m around.”The Queen gave her a hug and the next day they hung out.

Etta has said in interviews that she doesn’t mind Beyonce playing her, though they don’t look much alike. She is fond of music by younger artists--Keith Sweat, Aaron Hall, Mary J. Blige--and doesn’t believe in the notion that younger singers can’t carry the musical torch.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Beyonce. I like her music. I just don’t want to look at the screen and see Beyonce playing Etta James. I just wanna see Etta.

And it seems like she has so many other things to do. She has an album dropping in November and is starring in a thriller. She models, she fashion designs, she sings, she wifes. Now she executive produces. Can somebody else have a job?

Beyonce: Check on It:

I understand we are in times of convergence, where one person has to be able to perform multiple tasks, but I’m a bit skeptical. Maybe I’m old fashioned. I like my hairdresser, but I wouldn’t want her performing my pap smear after she juiced up my jheri curl.

What if Stevie Wonder had decided to put out a fragrance, maybe call it Rocket Love? And got an endorsement deal from Nike? At the height of his career in the ‘80s, signed on to executive produce Beat Street AND starred as the breakdancer Lee? Would we have had Innervisions? Songs in the Key of Life?

Stevie's Rocket Love:

Lee, in all his glory, in Beat Street:

I’m not knocking the business savvy of artists today. There’s a reason the R&B Foundation is necessary. But I have a revolutionary idea. Why don’t we let trained actresses act in the movies?

Can’t we find a big-boned, supremely talented actress to play Etta? Someone who looks and feels the part? The casting director in Martin’s last film, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s book, already hurt my feelings by having Halle Berry play the character Janie and Michael Ealy play the character Teacake (wasn’t Teacake dark-skinned in the book? Are Ealy’s eyes blue?).

But then, B is full of surprises. She pulled off giving up Popeye’s chicken and biscuits. I don’t know anyone else who has accomplished that. Maybe she will come through for me.

Seventy-year-old Etta James is still dazzling. In 2006, she released an album, “All the Way,” and I’m willing to bet, like DeSanto, she’s still shaking her hips. If we’re gonna do this convergence thing let’s get Etta James in the movies and maybe even her own fragrance. In the movie, she could play a take-no-prisoners, bad ass singer, no housecoat having, blues girl gone wild.

She could play, well, Etta James.

Originally published on

Review: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan

Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan will premiere tonight on BET. It follows the Wu from their beginnings in Staten ("Shaolin") Island through their groundbreaking business practices- inside and outside the record industry, to their eventual break-up. Following the staid format of traditional documentaries-narration, interviews with childhood friends, quick cuts to neighborhoods--the Staten Island ferry, city landscapes-it simplifies the world's most influential hip hop group to an hour and 30 minutes.

But it's not entirely the fault of childhood friend Gerald K. Barclay, director and executive producer. It should have been told in parts-like their albums-one group story, separate solo in-depth examinations of each member, then coming back to the clan again. Wu-Tang Story I, II, III, until all of its told.

It fails to show their eclectic influences of Five Percent ideology, Inspector Clusoe, The Bible, a medley of drugs, the Qur'an, Taoism, the Iliad, Marvel comics, to every kung fu flick shown in a seedy 42nd Street movie house.

It just grazes the tip of their ballet on the microphone, their resurrection of the Wallabees with a new multi-colored flavor, and futuristic musical styles from their beats to their rhymes to their musical influences ranging from kung fu soundtracks to the Original Savannah Band.

Chez Chez La Ghost

Incarcerated Scarfaces--Raekwon:

What '70s girl group is sampled in this? What's the title?

The most poignant moments come with the formulaic, "Behind the Music" approach. Childhood friends come up with the brilliant idea to form a music group, the group becomes wildly successful, they're each lured away by the temptation of having more, being more, and then it all implodes. Competitiveness becomes compulsion and the group breaks up. It usually ends with a breakout star who goes on to a successful solo career, drug addiction, or Melba Moore-like acting in the Chitlin' circuit theater. In this case, the foreshadowing of destruction is Ol' Dirty bastard and his warring personal demons.

Midway through, Ol' Dirty is chubby-faced, recently released from prison, and seemingly having won the war of his addictions. Then vultures pull at him from all angles. Damon Dash signs him to a $1 million deal. His mother brags to the cameras that they have a book deal, a record deal, and a successful clothing line.

Members of the Clan are concerned for his health and urging him to lay low. It's when Ol' Dirty tells Mitchell "Divine" Diggs, CEO of the Wu, "I'm waiting to die, cause when I do, you mf's are gonna wake up," that empathy rules out over the Behind-the-Music irony. It's the moment where you see that Ol' Dirty, dubbed a free spirit by some, out of control by others, needs the Wu, the spotlight, needs to rap and to showcase his talents to stay sane in a newly sober world. He's on fast forward as he realizes his window to say no to the devil is very short.

The Wu story shows rare footage of the group performing in Hawaii, overseas, and in hole in the wall clubs, all in front of breathless, crying fans. It hints at their success in fashion, comic book lines, kung fu videos, all while continuing to sell millions of records.

This is where BET succeeds--in telling the young black youth about the innovation of what the clan did--a community of MC's that were able to step out from the pack, shine, and come back and be a family again. It shows RZA, the genius behind their making, who bargains for less money up front for their deal with Loud Records, in order to have the freedom to sign individual crew members to solo deals.

And it shows how he brought nine MC's from the warring Stapleton and Park Hill projects together in a basement to record Protect Ya Neck, where they were forced to come correct to prove a point. It gives us a slice, albeit a small one, of nine men that in 1993 emerged from the forgotten borough to form one of the most successful rap groups of all time.

Wu-The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan, premieres on BET tonight at 8pm. The soundtrack, due out Nov. 18th , features Wu's biggest hits as well as classics from several of their solo endeavors.

Originally published on How fast can you name all nine members?

Review: Raphael Saadiq at Ram's Head Live

On a nostalgic night at Ram's Head Live in Baltimore, when raucous gospel church stomping is mixed with Temptations-styled spins, slides, shuffles, and crooning, it's difficult to distinguish the old from the new. Raphael Saadiq's new album, "The Way I See It," a new downtown sound that's an ode to Motown-Stax-Philly International eras, when R&B, was, well, R&B, is the crux of the show, but it's when Saadiq sings his hits from the Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl days that the crowd sings along with the most fervor.

Lay Your Head on My Pillow

On a black and white inspired set, Raphael Saadiq stands out in a mustard-colored suit, (is that a zoot suit?!)-- black-framed glasses and a skinny black tie. Ram's Head is intimate, standing room only-more after-work happy hour than concert setting, with a few tables for couples-- giving the audience members a feeling that they are part of the show as they reach out to give Saadiq a pound whenever they feel like it and rest their drinks right on stage.

100-Yard Dash

After a 15-minute set from neo-soul/punk Southern California group, Tha Boogie, it seems like this is primarily the classy casual two-stepping crowd, more than the at-least-one-Colt-45-per-night getting down crowd. But as anticipation builds for Saadiq, the two-stepping gets a little more thunderous and the folks with the pink furry boots start to show up. By 8:45, the lights dim, the band comes out, and you hear: "Aii-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi!!!" from the previously calm crowd. Purses are dropped, bird calls ensue, and Saadiq runs out playing the bass guitar. There's stomping, tambourines-and suddenly the two-step has morphed into a gospel stomp. He dives right into "Keep Marchin,'" an infectious and inspirational Temptations-meets-Marvin Gaye ditty that evokes images of fire hoses and barking German shepherds. He slows down the tempo, bringing in the holy rollers, double-clappers, and club heads, stretching it out for 5 minutes, before bringing it back up tempo, sending the crowd into a guttural roar.

Then he brings them down to a romantic purr when he steps into "Love That Girl," a song reminiscent of a Sam Cooke kind of innocent ecstasy, as he launches into 5-6-7-8dance routines with his two dancers complete with hand rolling, high knee kicking, and double-clapping. By the time he gets to "100 Yard Dash," he screams out, "I know y'all got some soul in Baltimore!! If you don't move to the back! There's leg room up in the front!" And all of a sudden, it's more juke joint, than high school disco. Then he launches into the Lucy Pearl hit, "Dance Tonight," and the crowd is giving him pounds, singing, stomping, and clothes are coming off.

He slows it down with "Just One Kiss," and then with a Jackson Five-like falsetto on "Oh Girl," a Joss Stone duet, and he and his two dancers are back to dance routines that end with freeze poses. Then he launches into a medley of his old school hits: "Lay Your Head on My Pillow," "It Never Rains in Southern California," "Anniversary," "Ask of You," "Just Me and You." By now the crowd has lost all inhibition and there's back rolling and grinding in between high pitched screams, "take your times," and lip poking.

He switches it again (mind you he hasn't broken a sweat yet) to "Be Here," his song with D'Angelo (no, D's not there. C'mon there's only so much a crowd can take). The crowd is rocking it out, arms pumping, and the scene now resembles a mosh pit. Then he gets naughty, throwing off his tiny tie to the audience, opening his shirt, and telling the ladies, "This place is crowded, don't know 'bout you, but I need some sex, some sex with you!" and launches into "Take a Walk," then moves into "Sure Hope You Mean It," and a gruff baritone voice in the back of the crowd screams out, "C'mon now!!" He stretches the song out for 10 more minutes, before he shuts it down.

"The show was fabulous," says 52-year-old Baltimore city worker, Deborah Hamilton, who is there with her girlfriend. "He puts on a classy show. It was old school and new school. I think I'm in love!!"

But, wait, it ain't over.

He comes back out with the bass guitar and people start boxing each other out for their positions back in front of the stage.

He finishes it up with "Never Give You Up," with Stevie Wonder on the harmonica, (No, he ain't there. C'mon people!) and raps it all up with his tribute to Katrina, "Big Easy," complete with the trumpeting sounds of a New Orleans brass band (The Infamous Young Spoodie and the ReBirth Brass Band).

Big Easy

As he finally ends it after a two hour church-meets-juke-joint-meets-teeny-bopper-concert, the drawers-down-to-the-back-of-their-knees thug set, the classy-casual set, the old-school set, and the healthy-eaters set, are all equally at ease and satisfied.

Originally published on