President George W. Bush had a lot of screw-ups during his eight-year term, but he did do a couple things right. One of them was proclaiming June as Black Music Month on May 31, 2002. June is here,* and to celebrate Black Music Month, I'll be featuring one of my favorite artists each day, sharing my first or most personal memory of them, and explain what their accomplishments are and why I felt they should make the Black Music Month Top 30 list. There will be some oldies, some newbies and some artists you may not know of yet.
Black Music Month Heat Factor "Why's this artist hot?": There are many hip-hop artists who complain about what needs to happen to improve a community. And right after they ﬁnish complaining, they jump right on stage calling each other all kinds of negative names, talking about thug life, big-upping drug dealers, ﬁlling the room with smoke trying to look as cool as possible while they're causing lung cancer, disrespecting women, paying homage to gold diggers and promiscuous females but then wonder why mentally they're losing. Mike-E is one of those artists who isn't doing any of the above, and he's still making quality music that you can dance to, rhyming about the beauty and issues in Africa, his second hometown Detroit, politics, current events, love, living, brotherhood, relationships, anti-smoking and the music industry.
Regardless of what record companies and puppet rappers will tell you, it is possible to do positive and productive music and still get people on the dance floor. AfroFlow proved that on their CDs "AfroFlow" and "AfroFlow II." Is Mike-E hot physically? Yes, he's very nice on the eyes and Pelle Pelle clearly knew that by letting him model for them. But it's his mentality that makes you look past all that Detroit cool; the mud cloth hanging out his jeans; the fedora tilted on his head; the bright, white smile; and see this is one beautiful mind on what just so happens to be a handsome face of a married man. And a positive, inﬂuential mind always overrides physical appearance.
First Memory, Most Personal Memory of the Artist: I got a press release from AfroFlow's publicity team (his manager was his father, the late Bob Ellison, who was also a White House Correspondent) while working for the Chicago Defender newspaper. When I found out he was a Def Poet from the HBO series "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry," I knew I had to have seen him because I planned my schedule around watching that show and attended the Chicago Def Poets tour. I saw his face and immediately started laughing, remembering his poem "Light Skin-Did," his ode to light-skinned men while making fun of the color complexity issues. I thought the poem was amusing and wondered how he got involved with ACS. As the Web Editor of the newspaper at that time, I was already looking for artists who were talented enough to bring in web visits for online exclusives so off I went to the DuSable Museum to meet Mike-E. In total, I've completed two interviews with him and seen him perform three times. And every single time I see him live, it feels like the ﬁrst time. The way he commands a crowd is amazing. The coolest teenagers in the crowd suddenly go bananas when AfroFlow steps on the stage rapping, dancing, singing and playing their instruments. I've been to a lot of concerts, but AfroFlow is deﬁnitely in my top ﬁve**.
Accomplishments from the Artist: You may have heard of him or maybe not, but from the way the audience chanted his name at the Illinois Institute of Technology, he deﬁnitely has support in the Chicago area. Every single time I've seen him perform, I've walked past crowds of people asking where they can ﬁnd his music, observed standing ovations, and saw more smiling parents and grandparents encouraging their kids to go meet the group. I've never heard of a hip-hop artist who had a notable organization like American Cancer Society foot the bill for a fully wrapped tour bus, plan concerts, sponsor national positive hip-hop events and give away free CDs. His ﬁrst tour was for ﬁve weeks at HBCUs; the second tour was three months at a combination of HBCUs, non-HBCUs, hospitals, middle schools, clubs and cafes; and his last two tours (including the one that just ended on Juneteenth 2010) were national tours. At every show, someone (and sometimes groups) comes onstage and promises him to give up smoking.
While some artists‘ accomplishments are solely from the charts or record sales, the artists who do things behind the scenes like charitable events or speaking to the youth or ﬁghting for a cause are what truly matters. Many people can have hits on the Billboard charts, but not many hip-hop artists leave a legacy behind that helps save people's lives no matter where they grew up from the hood to Hollywood. But in the spirit of showcasing the music accomplishments the same way I did with the other artists, he's done that, too. Besides doing commercials for ACS, he was in "Butterﬂy Effect 3" and had a small part in "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." He also had another poem on "Def Poets" called "Mezeker Means to Remember." (Note: Mezeker is his wife's name, who was also featured in the following video.) Mike-E has a popular song in Ethiopia called "Ethiopia (Everything Will Be All Right)," which includes Mezeker dancing and posing in various scenes with him while he raps.
He was touched when he found out the effect the video had on the children there. I can't do the experience any justice so here are his own words:
"The highlight of my career was being in Ethiopia. We shot a video and did our song 'Ethiopia (Everything Will Be All Right)' with children we work with...and seeing scores of children coming out of the [Nile] river singing my song and screaming my name was the highlight of my career, and that let me know that I'm on the right path. The [music] industry could never give me that feeling."
* This entry was originally published on Associated Content in June of 2010. It has been republished with permission from Shamontiel. To find out who the other 29 artists were who were selected in 2010, visit this Pinterest board.
** My other top four concerts were seeing Big Daddy Kane and MC Lyte at Chicago's House of Blues, Angie Stone at Country Club Hills, Ne-Yo at the Taste of Chicago and Mos Def at Juneteenth’s 'Takin' It to the Streets’ concert.
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