Hip-Hop Fridays: "Living Lenny Bruce, Tilting Towards Totalitarianism, and The Business Of Being A Boss " - A Conversation With Star
It isn’t everyday that you build with the most controversial figure in a multi-billion dollar industry, much less only minutes before and after they perform community service. But that is just the same as saying it isn’t everyday that you speak to Star, of the Star and Buc Wild Program.
"Man, I own acres of land, and work on it all the time, this ain’t shit for me," Star told me as we spoke in preparation for a more lengthy discussion later that afternoon, after ‘The Hater’ had fulfilled his civic duties. I remarked that if there was anyone I knew who was getting the most out of community service, it was him.
A few hours later – with the experience of 100 degree heat added on for good measure – I was speaking to the same man. The voice was a little less vibrant but the enthusiasm had not waned, and he was busy at work, from what I could tell, busy, as usual, multi-tasking, with the business of his brand, Star and Buc Wild. I made a light comment about the sun’s effect on his energy and with good humor, Star chuckled and indicated that indeed, the weather of the Summer of 2006, had impressed him.
The sun’s physical heat is the perfect metaphor for what Star has experienced since he was terminated by Clear Channel, not even three months ago. The media glare, criminal charges and civil activity, not to mention the finer details, have provided more than a few rays of shine for the New Jersey-native. But as was suspected, when we last commented on the evolution of his journey, a day after he was no longer employed – this man is built for this kind of spotlight.
And so, when others might have begged for mercy and positive press, the bass-playing godfather of his own philosophy, ‘Objective Hate,’ is facing the grenade that exploded – as he told me he would – in July of 2005.
Closing ranks with a tight inner circle and creative and legal team, but far from hibernating, the man who believes it is his job to test us all – whether rapper, intellectual, spiritual leader, journalist, or man on the street – has re-conceptualized his fall from corporate grace as the ultimate opportunity for reflection, personal growth and refinement of his business model.
The long hot summer of 2006 for some, has become The "Summer of Serenity," for Star:
Now they know my gain at the small cost of freedom.
Now they know my face from a top news debate.
Now they know my voice like an old Victrola.
Now they know my name in the big halls of state.
The above words are taken from a missive written by the 40-plus year old master of satire, polemics, reverse psychology, and dialectics. A man some think has been so good at what he does that he can’t survive in an industry that dumbs down on a daily basis.
The proprietary philosophy, streams of consciousness, raw humor and brutal honesty were all there - in our 45-minutes of on and off-the record conversation. But I also sensed that something else was present – the kind of intangible that one has when they are in their zone. More than ever, it was clear to me that Star fully accepts and recognizes that he is the man of the hour, whose idea and time – not 15 minutes – has come.
This man's presence and impact isn't going anywhere, any time soon. He has more work to do.
Things are about to get real interesting, and even more political.
Flash back, if you will, to Friday, May 12, 2006.
There he was, coming out of a New York City police station, in handcuffs, led down the stairs by the NYPD.
"You’re looking at the new Lenny Bruce," Star quickly stated while leaning into what appeared to be the microphone of a surprised reporter observing his arrest.
That quote and statement appeared in the New York newspapers, and television newscasts the next day and several thereafter.
‘Now, this is interesting,' I thought to myself, as I continuously saw these words in the articles I read, and reflected over them. Star, in only 7 words, had offered a new interpretation of a series of events that had only previously been defined in terms of the code(s) of the radio industry and the 'streets.'
This new view of the termination and arrest of a man who every morning spoke to over 5,000,000 people wasn’t an accident, nor was it spontaneous, as were none of his carefully constructed 'rants,' delivered while on-air, over the last 18 months.
"I had a lot of time to think before I came out of that station house and I chose my words very carefully because I wanted to try to make an impact. I didn’t want to say something that people got a chuckle off of, because that was my moment in time. If this is the hallmark of my career then so be it. I welcome it, right now,” Star explained to me, of his motivation for raising the name of a man that few of those most ‘caught up’ in Star’s drama would recognize.
When I asked him why he identified with this man, Star elaborated.
"At the time when Lenny Bruce was alive, people were not in support of him who are now trying to claim an allegiance to him. It is just like that with Malcolm X. When Malcolm X was in his heyday, Martin Luther King Jr., and the rest of these so-called Negroes shunned Malcolm X. And Lenny Bruce was shunned as well. But he fought a system. He walked the walk and talked the talk. Lenny Bruce knew the police were waiting for him before he even performed sometimes, and he still went out there and performed, and he was arrested - during his act and sometimes after his act. But yet and still people don’t necessarily want to acknowledge his pioneering efforts. They would prefer to keep the lie alive by claiming that Howard Stern pioneered something. Howard Stern just paid speeding tickets compared to Lenny Bruce. He never had the cold steel placed on his wrist. So yes, I identify with Lenny Bruce because my walk was something for all to see. And I truly believe then, and I truly believe now, that there is no crime in what I said."
Like his expressed admiration and respect for the legendary Frankie Crocker, Star's calculation to point our attention to another historic figure is important, if not just shrewd and effective.
When one considers the political content of Star's show (Have we all forgotten that he repeatedly mentioned Skull and Bones and Geronimo's bones, and that he stated that he needed to get off of that subject before he turned up 'missing,' only one day before he was terminated?) which included discussions of eugenics; debates on religion versus rationalism; reparations; the CIA's alleged relationship with Al-Zaqari; the Bill Cosby versus Michael Eric Dyson debate; the Newark, New Jersey mayoral race; the promotion of Black historic museums( like the Slave Museum in New York City and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore); the Muslim conqueror Saladin; LB 1024 and the Omaha Public School System; the importance of Jewish Yeshivas; and Black Wall St., then the comparison to Lenny Bruce is not without merit, in a political or cultural sense. To see this, perhaps all one has to do is examine Mr. Bruce's FBI file, and read a study of his famous 1964 trial.
Even if Star's termination by Clear Channel and his arrest by the NYPD does not appear political, he and his show certainly are.
Star’s interpretation of Lenny Bruce is critical to examine if one is to understand where he is right now. It is not the same place where we last saw him. Perhaps the New York Daily News captured a snapshot of the transition we are in, onward to the next phase in the evolution of The Star and Buc Wild journey, when they quoted the highest rated morning personality in the Big Apple as saying, "I'm through with hip-hop radio. It's not really my music, especially now that I'm 42. It's someone else's, and I'm more of a rock kid anyway. But also, I'm not sure you're ever taken seriously on a hip-hop station. There's a stigma attached to it, and I want people to know I have things to say. I don't need to be on a decoy station.”
For industry watchers, Star’s words were significant. They clearly have implications for the show’s business model and suggest a unique market position and exciting possibilities for the host who is possibly the only man in his profession, in America, who could hold a program down on a Hip-Hop, Classic Soul, Rock, Alternative, Free FM, or even a news-only AM format, and generate tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue for the fortunate employer.
But Star’s primary dissatisfaction with Hip-Hop radio is not ‘industry’-oriented or a result of his commercial ambitions. And although the first portion of his New York Daily News quote might suggest otherwise, his problem with rap radio is not even artistic in nature. It is political.
"I am here to be a voice, not a Hip-Hop voice, and not a voice to defend a certain genre of music. I am not here to alienate any particular crowd and I am not here to wave the flag of tribalism. But at the same time I am not trying to turn my back on any particular group either. I’m looking to speak to the new intellectuals. And I am looking to be taken seriously in America. I’ve got 42 years of knowledge and wisdom. And if the Hip-Hop market will not let me be taken seriously, then I don’t need it," he told me.
And to punctuate his point, he made reference to another cultural media icon whose relationship with a corporate giant recently ended.
"Some might think that Clear Channel was the epitome of what a Negro could do. Some would think that foolishly. Just like some would think that Dave Chappelle reached the epitome of what a Negro could accomplish on television. But clearly Dave Chappelle knows what I know and that is – you have to believe in what it is you are doing, wholeheartedly. Dave Chappelle is a smart guy. He’s a good guy. I respect him. I can’t say that I have spoken to him regarding his decision but I think I understand why he turned his back. We are in a much different time in our society, right now. And I have to have a platform where I can be taken seriously.”
Over the last year and a half and over, and over again, Star suggested that he had the most informative, political, and progressive show on radio (he even recorded advertisements for his program proudly stating this). I have always agreed with him. And I am not alone.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that a man who has crafted his own philosophy, “Objective Hate,” would see his termination by Clear Channel, not in terms of FCC decency standards or supposed street rules of etiquette, but in terms of the political climate of the United States of America.
"The real issue here is free speech. We're a centralized country on our way to becoming totalitarian. We're getting to the point where if you say anything that offends anybody, you have to answer to someone about it," he recently told the New York Times.
Star told me of where he thought his circumstance fit in terms of the current political environment, which is increasingly dominated by special interest groups who work in public and private.
"The pressure groups are motivated people who don’t like for someone to speak freely anymore. You can have a valid point. You can make reference to something that is correct, and if someone just doesn’t like the way you phrased some words, you’ve got yourself some trouble on your hands. My case is a perfect example because you may not like what I said, but in what I said, I didn’t break any laws. And that has clearly been established here. It is just like someone who doesn’t like a different ideology or system of beliefs. If you are pounding a Catholic view all of the time, you are going to have to now realize that there are people of other faiths that can easily now say, ‘you know what, this person is insensitive to my faith.’ And then everybody launches into a state of panic. And we keep ourselves in a state of panic as well. So you can’t just blame the government, even though they do have a lot of power now by way of the Patriot Act.”
But, as Minister Louis Farrakhan has frequently said, ‘politics without economics, is like symbol without substance.’ And if there is anything we have learned from The Hater, over the years, it is that we should ‘Get Money.” Or, that would be, ‘Get Money, Black Man!’ when his comments are directed at his creative team member 'DX 21' (Dasun Allah), or the Original people of the planet Earth who make up much of his listening audience.
And in this area, Star has led by example.
Anyone who does not think the Star and Buc Wild brand is not poised to reap a windfall from years of working a carefully-developed business strategy is probably well, not getting money, as Star has urged. And failure to realize that the current controversy over Star’s termination by Clear Channel – now known as ‘Fear Channel,’ by its former employee – hasn’t set the stage for this man to make even more money by speaking to more people, in entirely different ways, might be a sign that one is more interested in the gossip of the industry or maybe dominated by the moral implications of this issue. Nothing wrong with that latter point, perhaps, but maybe a little naïve in the context of pressure groups, revised ratings formulas, and a radio and television business that is always looking to throw millions and billions at talent that it believes will impact the bottom line.
And Star is very clear on where he wants to go next, and it definitely is no longer fitting in with any props or music format, "I have concerns about anything that is more music-driven than talk-oriented. I am looking to be promoted in the right areas. Don Imus doesn’t have all of that fluff and flare in the mornings. He does a straight talk-show. You sit there, you listen, you watch. There are no slick gimmicks. He just gets down for his and I have to respect that. And that is the area I have to try to be in. That area," he indicated to me.
But at the end of the day it isn’t about getting money or even being political, for the sake of it. It is about Star’s journey and what drives him. I asked him to tell me as deeply as he could, what has propelled him and driven him to emerge so brightly in a time that some describe as cultural darkness. Why him, why now?
With confidence, calmness and what I felt was deep sincerity, Star said:
"A lot of people don’t know that Star is actually an acronym. It stands for Strange Thoughts And Revelations. And what drives me is what has always driven me since I was a young child and that is simply to be the boss.
I have actually matured enough to the point where I feel that not only have I reached my goals tenfold but I am qualified to be the boss.
A lot of folks want to lead you but don’t necessarily have the wisdom and the insight to do so. It was a long process to get to where I am, and to feel good about where I am.
There are so many things that drive me, but if I had to say what is central with me, it’s the confidence and the desire and the fact that I do want to educate within my journey.
Its not just a selfish journey, I want to share things with people. And that’s motivating within itself.
Whether I am perceived as a charlatan or the most hated man in radio - as long as I can open up some type of door to somebody or window, then I think I have truly lived up to the term, boss."
I prefaced that vital question to Star by reading him something from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad about stars and how they appear in our sight. Star, very humbly told me that out of respect for the man he calls “The Messenger,” and his 'having laid down such a powerful blueprint,' he did not want to comment behind his words. But in that context, he kindly gave me the heartfelt words just quoted above.
But, what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said one day in July of the Summer of 1972, bears repeating here, as I think it places Star in a context that helps shed light on why he is so misunderstood, offends so many and is so inspiring, while being envied, hated and loved, simultaneously.
In a Theology Of Time Lecture, the leader of the Nation Of Islam said (emphasis mine):
Now, if we see one emerged out of all this darkness, what force of power in the darkness brought it out? One could not have come out of darkness unless force was in the darkness to bring it out.
In the universe now there is a force in the universe that moves seemingly unmovable stars. After so long, and so long, the star, which we saw here – at this point – has moved over here, to another point. And if that star moved over here to another point, within ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty or a hundred years or a thousand years – force made it to move.
It could not move alone.
So this teaches us, Brother – you go back and get your scientists and I will contend with him and he will contend with me, that the force of the actual space, seemingly looking as though it doesn’t, is moving. To bring us objects that is hidden in it, to our view.
We don’t wind up the universe like that. And tell it to bring Jupiter over to us. No, Jupiter is moving by force. It is already out.
Again, we don’t say to a star that is a hundred trillion years, probably back out there, to ‘come out and show us yourself.’ There are already forces...out there to bring it to our view.
We should never judge by appearances. Especially that which we don't understand. We can best evaluate an object in motion, when we are acquainted with the force that is driving it. And even then, we really can’t judge that object, until it stops moving.
Many of us would have been so much more comfortable if this man, this star, had never appeared. But for those who have carefully listened to him and observed his movements, I don’t think that we would have been the better off for it.
May this Star continue to shine, in a most illuminating journey.
Gross darkness abounds....
Friday, August 11, 2006