The HNIC Report

Month: June, 2007

Talk To Me: A Review

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Talk To Me

A Review

In Theatres: July 13th, 2007

Rating: R

Kasi Lemmons (dir.)
Don Cheadle
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Taraji P. Henson
Cedric The Entertainer
Martin Sheen

Years ago I read somewhere that the ultimate measure of a story is whether it raises more questions than it answers.  This isn’t to say that in order to be deemed worthy a story should leave its audience in a lurch; quite the contrary, a story, a good one, is always resolved by the final curtain. However, some stories take on a life of their own. The credits roll, the lights come on – as far as films go you’re completely satisfied – and still you‘re not done with it.  You’ve only just begun to digest what you’ve spent the previous two hours chewing on. Now you want to know more about the characters’ motivations, why they chose certain paths. You want to understand what their journey was about. This usually means the cast and crew succeeded in making you believe what you saw was real, that it actually happened.  It certainly doesn’t hurt when the movie is based on the life of a real person and is set within a time that was arguably America’s most alive.


Ralph “Petey” Greene is a straight talking, ex-con turned Disc Jockey who arrives on the Washington, D.C. scene just as the Black Power Movement is stepping into full swing. Dewy Hughes is the straight-laced executive on the rise who sees Petey’s talent and gambles his career on him.  Together they roughly represent the two sides of W.E.B. Du Bois’s classic double identity: one African, one American, both striving to make sense of who they are, both in need of the other to understand themselves. Dewey is ‘too afraid to say the things’ Petey has no problem saying. Petey is ‘too afraid to do the things’ that Dewey has no problem doing.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the unlikely alliance between the well-adjusted corporate negro and the maladjusted street nigga on the big screen – indeed this is well-worn territory by now – but director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) and writers Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood, Brown Suga) supply the über-talented tandem of Don Cheadle (Petey) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dewey) with subtleties and complexities that give the trope new life.  Indeed, the relationship between these two men is drenched in deeply intimate motifs – looks, smiles, head nods, handshakes, hugs, arguments, fights – that Lemmons skillfully structures in order to convey heterosexual black male love in a way that has rarely been seen on the screen before.   


But in as much as Talk to Me is the story of a two-decade long friendship, it is also a slice of recovered memory. History has a tendency to forget all but the main actors of an age. When we think of the 1960s and ‘70s certain tried and true names rightfully come to mind. But there were others who, in their way, made their mark as well. By telling the story of Petey Greene, Talk to Me offers a kind of ‘People’s History’ of black America that would make Howard Zinn proud. It documents a time of tumult from the viewpoint of someone whose perspective is usually left out of the history books; it offers the younger among us a glimpse into a time when radio was a site of social commentary, and radio personalities weren’t just people who followed scripted play lists handed down from the mothership; it gives a gripping account of the days that followed Dr. King’s assassination and the rioting that left numerous inner cities across American in ruins for the next thirty years. In fact, it is the delicate juxtaposition of the personal and communal that allows this film to seamlessly idle between drama and comedy.


Supporting the superb performances by Cheadle and Ejofor – Oscars anyone? – are an inspired and soulful soundtrack replete with classics by Sam Cooke, James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, tight, fluid plot structuring that builds, transitions and descends flawlessly, inventive insertions of original footage from the ‘60s and ‘70s eras, and steady performances by a cast of seasoned actors including Martin Sheen and Cedric The Entertainer.  As Petey’s loyal but intermperate love interest Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow) infuses her character (Vernell) with unanticipated depth and growth that defies clichés and stereotypes.  In the end, though, Talk to Me wins for one reason: Petey Greene. Petey lived a remarkable, albeit brief, life and he left his impression on everyone he came in contact with.  If the tragedy of his life was that it ended before the world outside of Washington, D.C. ever got to know his talent, then the triumph of his legacy is that modern cinema can offer him a second chance at stardom.


A History of Conflict: Entry #5

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Nas, Jay-Z and the ties that bind them to African-American Intellectual History

Part II

Note: If you have not been following this series you may want to begin with Entry #1

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A History of Conflict: Entry #4

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Nas, Jay-Z and the Ties that Bind them to African-American History: Part I


Note: If you have not been following the History of Conflict series the segment below may be confusing.

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The Good American

by Dax-Devlon Ross

The Good American

Ralph Ellison: A Biography

By Arnold Rampersad


Biographies are usually hit or miss. So much depends not on the life the subject led, but on how the storyteller presents it, which, of course, depends on how intimately he or she has lived with the subject, which, ultimately, depends on how much of a paper trail the subject left behind for the storyteller, which, finally, depends on whether the subject thought his or her life was worth preserving at the time he or she was living it.

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Beat of a Different Drum

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Beat of a Different Drum: The Untold Stories of African Americans Forging Their Own Paths in Work and Life

By Dax-Devlon Ross

Praise for Beat of a Different Drum

“In a nation that still struggles with its racial morass with all the deftness of a drunk in a glass house, this book is a fresh, hot cup of coffee.” – James McBride, author of The Color of Water and Miracle at St. Anna

“Beat of a Different Drum is a serious feat of journalism, yet it exhibits an honesty of narration that journalism usually lacks. It tackles some heady issues, from the purpose of our existence to the meaning of race in a less-stereotyped world. Dax-Devlon Ross is a strong new voice, and one we will be hearing often.” – Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do With My Life? and Why Do I Love These People?


Purchase this book on

A Staircase of Words

by Dax-Devlon Ross


By Derek Beres & Dax-Devlon Ross


In his introduction to his latest book of essays, Another Day on the Front, Ishmael Reed compares essay writing to sparring in a gym all day. I couldn’t agree more. Essays are the writer’s calisthenics. They’re not as ‘glamorous’ as novels, as ‘important’ as political tomes, as ‘serious’ as books of history and journalism, as ‘self-indulgent’ as memoirs, as ‘affecting’ as books of poetry, or as ‘marketable’ as self-help books. Notwithstanding these ‘shortcomings’ they are necessary to both readers and writers. Essays keep writers sharp, fit, ready to meet the task of sorting out the world, de-mystifying it, eliminating the illusions we live by and so forth. They’re where writers get to speak without artifice or literary pretense to an audience hungry for searching, stumbling, but always steadfast voice of a kindred spirit. – from Dax’s introduction

Derek Beres & Dax-Devlon Ross founded Outside the Box Publishing in 2005. That year photojournalist Beres birthed Global Beat Fusion: The History of the Future of Music, and more recently Tangled Web: The Best Music Tour You Never Heard Of. Dax published Beat of a Different Drum: The Untold Stories of African-Americans Forging Their Own Paths in Work and Life (Hyperion) in 2006, and more recently saw the The Underdog’s Manifesto: A Guerilla Artist’s Path to Independence, co-written with hip-hop artist Creature, and his novel The Best of Intentions come to life. A Staircase of Words, Volume One: Essays is the first chapter in an ongoing series of books co-written by these two men. Giving voice to their long-held and discussed philosophies on such topics as basketball, yoga, social relations, film, music, politics and psilocybin mushrooms, A Staircase of Words is a fine collection of essays from two authors whose voices are quickly finding their way into many minds.

Introduction (DDR)
Sacred Tripping: A Brief History on Mushrooms (DDR)
The Long Valley: Walking Through Ritual in New York City (DB)
Juice: A Cautionary Publishing Tale with a Genuinely Inspiring Ending (DDR)
Peace Within the Fury: The Tumbling of Industry and Return to Ritual (DB)
The Promise: A Gut-wrenching Tale of Friendship, Loyalty and the American Prison System (DDR)
Skeletons Emerge at Night: A Leaning Tower Crashes into Concrete (DB)
Vanillaroma: An Outrageous Tale of Air-Fresheners, Terror and Racial Profiling Run Amuck (DDR)
Hasidic Reggae’s First Born Son: Matisyahu Chants the Torah in Babylon (DB)
Confessions of a (Washed Up) Ballplayer: Or How Allen Iverson Ended My Basketball Career (DDR)
Laughing the Sacred: Journeying with Medicine of the Profane (DB)
Jury Duty: A Stream of Consciousness Encounter with Shopenhaur and Rosseau (DDR)
Borat in Babel: Architects of the Tower (DB)
Young Black and Disgraced: A Three-Week Obsession with Deception (DDR)
Will the Real Yoga Please Step Forward? (DB)
Epilogue (DB)

A Staircase of Words, Vol One: Essays: $12.95. Available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

The Underdog’s Manifesto

by Dax-Devlon Ross

The Underdog’s Manifesto
A Gue
rrilla’s Artist’s Path to Independence

By Creature w/Dax-Devlon Ross


Part memoir, part survival manual, The Underdog’s Manifesto isn’t just one artist’s story — it’s every artist’s story. It’s our laughter in the face of disbelief; our resistance of corporate domination and social apathy; our commitment to crafting something original despite our culture’s fascination with derivative, disposable mush. Underdog is the anti-How-To book. Creature’s aim isn’t to sell another rags to riches homily; through his candid reflections, raw wisdom and generosity of spirit he reminds us that there’s no shame in a hard day’s hustle. Throughout history underdogs have spirited the most authentic, audacious and original art, and spawned movements forever altering the creative landscape. Years from now Underdog may very well be regarded as the artistpreneur’s clarion call. In the meantime let the voices and visions of these artists inspire you to look within and ask yourself why you create, what you’re willing to sacrifice, what you believe and what it really means to be successful. Featuring interviews with Underdogs such as Percee P., Duo Live and “Lucky” Logan P. McCoy and afterword by revolutionary thinker Jeremy Glick – the man that frustrated Bill O’Reilly as no one else ever has – The Underdog’s Manifesto is an indispensable and evolutionary addition to the process of becoming a confident and full-bodied artist.

Having sold more than 10,000 copies of his debut, Never Say Die, directly to fans in less than a year, Creature stands at the forefront of an emerging vanguard of entrepreneur-artists. He has recorded with the Beatnuts, MF Doom, Mike Ladd, Slug and Rob Sonic, and has shared the stage with Papoose, Sadat X, DJ Premier, Common and Immortal Technique. His follow-up, Hustle To Be Free, reaffirms his status as NY’s hardest working artist. Visit Creature online here.

Dax-Devlon Ross is the author of Beat of a Different Drum and The Best of Intentions, and co-author of a collection of essays, A Staircase of Words. He is a founding publisher of Outside the Box Publishing and the editor of the HNIC Report. Ross is a graduate of George Washington University Law School and a former NYC school teacher. An underdog himself, he connected with Creature the moment the two met in 2004. Visit Dax online here.

The Underdog’s Manifesto: $10.95. Available now from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Powell Meets with Obama: Let the Speculation Begin

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Before there was Barack Obama there was Colin Powell. With the publication of his autobiography, My American Journey, in 1995, he cemented his status as a national hero of “Olympian” stature. Wherever General Powell traveled, droves of fans came out to support him, and eventually urge him to run for President of the United States. Just as Americans connect with Barack Obama’s mixed heritage today, they connected with Colin Powell’s combination of work ethic and American idealism a little more than a decade ago. In fact, Powell’s popularity was far more widespread among mainstream Americans than Obama’s is even now, which makes the possibility of the two men working together in some capacity should Obama be elected intriguing on many levels.

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Obama: The Media’s New All-Purpose, All-Terrain Whipping Boy?

by Dax-Devlon Ross

A week ago Senator Obama was criticized by the liberal press for not being aggressive enough in his health care plan. Articles and editorials in the New York Times, The New Republic and The American Spectator (see Searching for Obama for more) all openly opined that his plan reflected his character, that his failure to issue a health care mandate mirrored his caution or lack of audacity as a leader. On Wednesday, however, the tune the mainstream press seemed to be singing after Obama’s speech in Hampton, VA was far different. According to its reports on the speech, Obama was anything but cautious Witness just a few of the more insidious headlines:


Obama: Bush Has Neglected Looming ‘Riot’ Among

BlacksObama: Black unrest brewing

Obama warns of black ‘quiet riot’  

“Quiet Riot” Brews Among Blacks, Obama Says

Aside from the fact that these headlines are deliberately incendiary and misleading (more on that below), they all seem to link Obama with the legacy of the “race riot” without acknowledging  how deeply this image contrasts and conflicts with the “cautious” Obama who only a week ago couldn’t gather the nerve to unveil a truly “universal” health care plan. In political circles this is called “cherry picking” or selectively using facts to buttress a belief one already has while passing it off as “objective” information. In Obama’s case that means he’s not audacious enough one week and a week later (by way of implication at least) he’s prophesizing a race riot.


As my good friends over at Mirror on America have pointed out, this was the speech many of those who are still on the fence about Obama have been waiting to hear. It was the one that went beyond rhetoric and the political vacuity and spoke directly to the community that wants to believe in Obama but has too often been lied to and left with little more than the bitter taste of the latest politician’s pixie dust in their mouths.


The beginning of his speech is about a baby born during the L.A. Riots, that had been shot – in the womb, but miraculously, wasn’t seriously hurt, and the only marker of it would be a permanent scar to the arm.In this speech, Obama talks about: 


 1. SUPPORTING parents with young children
2. A nurse/parent program for low-income mothers to give them pre-natal health care that too many lack
3. Creating a Youth Service Corps
4. Supporting EX-Offenders with a ‘ Second Chance Act’
5. A Prison-to-work program
6. Investing in transitional jobs to help the homeless and disaffected veterans
7. Investing in transportation to help the low income bridge the ‘transportation gap’ that too many poor workers have, with regards to getting to the jobs outside of urban areas
8. Helping minority owned business
9. Affordable health care

Simply put, it was THE speech that many of Obama’s Black critics have been waiting for from him. For all those who have been asking, ‘What about an Urban agenda?’ 

The disturbing outcome of the speech in the national press, one almost solely mediated by Bob Lewis’s AP story which most of the mainstream press picked up and ran rather than send their own reporters to cover the speech (because, I imagine it was only being given to 8,000 black folks), was that all of these issues were either missed entirely or glossed over in favor of the divisive, fear-mongering “quiet riot” headline and its attendant distortions.



Here is how Lewis opened his story about the speech in his AP article circulated around the country:


 HAMPTON, Va. — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Tuesday that the Bush administration has done nothing to defuse a “quiet riot” among blacks that threatens to erupt just as riots in Los Angeles did 15 years ago. 

Now, here is what Obama actually said:

Many of the folks in this room know just where they were when the riot in Los Angeles started and tragedy struck the corner of Florence and Normandy. And most of the ministers here know that those riots didn’t erupt over night; there had been a “quiet riot” building up in Los Angeles and across this country for years.If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Hampton — you would have found the same young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge — the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities.

Those “quiet riots” that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better. You tell yourself, my school will always be second rate. You tell yourself, there will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at. You tell yourself, I will never be able to afford a place that I can be proud of and call my home. That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, “Not guilty” — or a hurricane hits New Orleans — and that despair is revealed for the world to see.

At no point in Obama’s speech does he suggest a riot is threatening to erupt. What he suggests is that the spirit of hopelessness that spawned the riots and was revealed via Katrina have yet to be resolved. Which, in turn, leads into his Urban Agenda, chief among which is solving some of the debilitating and grossly under-acknowledged ailments plaguing urban communities.   Now, here are some of the headlines and opening paragraphs from local papers that actually bothered to send reporters to cover the speech.  

Obama Talks of “Quiet Riots”


Daily Press—Hampton, Va Using the 1992 Los Angeles riots and hurricane-ravaged New Orleans as his backdrop, Obama talked about the “quiet riots” of frustration and despair felt by millions of Americans who lacked access to decent housing, quality schools, good health care and jobs. “This administration was colorblind in its incompetence,” Obama said, referring to the Bush administration’s handling of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He said the hurricane exposed poverty that had been there for generations.  

Obama warns of ‘quiet riots’ across America: 


(Richmond) TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER HAMPTON — Literally preaching to the choir, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke to a conference of ministers and choir directors yesterday of the despair that engulfs impoverished blacks.Recalling the riots that broke out in Los Angeles 15 years ago when Rodney King was beaten by white police officers, Obama said “quiet riots” are occurring daily across America.

In Hampton, Obama addresses war, poverty and black tensions


The Virginian-Pilot

HAMPTONThe sense of hopelessness that fueled the 1992 Los Angeles riots still exists in a daily “quiet riot” of poverty around the nation, Sen. Barack Obama said Tuesday.“It does describe the reality of many communities around this country,” Obama said at the Hampton University Convocation Center. “When the sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates, despair takes hold.”

All of these articles are decidedly less inflammatory (if at all) than Lewis’s AP story, which because it reaches 1,700 print/online outlets (not to mention 5,000 radio and television outlets), has a far wider reach and broader effect. This is exactly what makes the AP such a dangerous tool. While each news outlet can choose to alter the headline slightly and move bits and pieces of the story around, they ultimately run the same, in this case race-baiting, story. A service like the AP literally encourages lazy reporting, which inevitably means those who have less access to the media in the first place but who have a better more authentic grasp of the facts are shut up, out and down. Bob Lewis and the AP were so interested in creating a sexy headline that they missed the point and in the process made Obama’s speech seem far more outrageous than it was. Meanwhile the local reporters who actually took the time to attend the speech and seemed far less interested in exciting the reading public with provocative, eye-catching (not to mention career-enhancing) jive than Lewis got no real opportunity to counterbalance the tide of disingenuous blather.

To read the entire speech click here

Searching for Obama: Connecting the Dots between the Man and His (Health Care) Plan

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Barack Obama’s health care plan has been under heavy scrutiny since it was released this past Tuesday. Journalists, health care gurus and political bloggers alike have all thrown their two cents into the fray, offering a variety of thoughtful observations on the matter. Although there will certainly be more on the horizon, two stood out as I sat down to write this. Jonathon Cohn’s “Barack Obama’s Cautious Health Care Plan” on the The NewRepublic’s website gave short shrift to the “mixed” feelings he has about Obama’s plan. According to Cohn’s reasoning, Edwards’s plan is truly “universal” because it would require all Americans to get insurance by 2012; meanwhile, Obama’s would only require insurance for every child in the same time span and is therefore only aspirational. While glossing over the particulars of the plan, Cohn did a far more meticulous job deciphering what Obama’s failure to issue a “mandate” requiring every American to get insurance tells us “about the candidate who settled upon them.” (italics added). What Cohn ‘uncovered’ was that Obama’s reticence reflects both a policy and political concern on the candidate’s part.   

“Obama doesn’t want to make people buy insurance until, first, he’s sure he’s made it affordable. Otherwise, he fears, some working-class people would be forced to buy insurance when, in fact, doing so would impose real financial hardship.”

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