Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2 Philly Native Lives His Dreams at BET

By: Marvin DeBose
September 18th, 2013
Frank 'Franky J' Jenkins, BET Correspondent

The lights are on, the cameras are rolling, and a young man with the tall, lanky build of a basketball player, clad in a retro, red 76ers snapback cap and a blue polo shirt, takes the stagenot an actual stage though. In this case, the stage is a street corner.

“This is BET’s 106 and Park top ten countdown, we’re going into another video right now, stay tuned,” the energetic young man says.

He is animated with lively body language as he announces the next video, pausing between phrases and using his hands to accentuate nearly every word, “Lotus Flower Bomb, Wale, Miguel, let’s go!”

But this is just a YouTube video, more specifically, it’s 24-year-old Frank “Franky J” Jenkins’ audition video for the popular BET music video show, 106 and Park back in 2012.

The video has about 1,800 views, far less from what Franky J was expecting.

“My video was not popping,” he says, with a mixed tone of both reflectiveness and humor. He didn’t make the cut for the auditions, yet, that wouldn't be the end of his journey.

Franky J wanted to be a host in some capacity ever since he was a kid. He grew up in North Philadelphia, around 7th and Diamond Sts, gaining inspiration from former 106 and Park host AJ Calloway, as well as Philly DJs and radio hosts such as Pooch Man, Tasha McKee, Mikey Dredd and Uncle O.

He reminisces on how his upbringing in a tough city like Philly shaped him and pushed him into his career.

“It could be discouraging… sometimes people don’t see your visions and your dreams,” he says. “But, it played a big role in my motivation because I wanted to see better and I knew there was better.”

Franky J’s motivation pushed him to pursue his dreams at all costs. At the young age of 17, he was already a host for a local Philly music show, Urban Xpressions.

During his time as a young host, he experienced many of the hardships of the business which further molded him.

”I remember not having the money to go [and cover] shows,” he says. “I used to walk to shows, nothing could stop me from going to a show.”

Franky J went even further in pursuing his dream when he attended Community College of Philadelphia, where he majored in Communications. There, he polished his writing skills, which he sees as an highly significant skill in his career.

“My writing wasn't on key so I would jot things down on pieces of paper until I knew how to set them up [properly],” he says.

Honing his ability to write in a structured manner sparked his growing interest in writing TV shows. It even led him to write the format for Kitchen Music, a cooking show which was one of the first shows he ever wrote.

Yet, Franky J still had dreams to make it big, after he submitted his video to BET for the 106 and Park host audition in 2012 to no avail, he thought he’d have to get back to the drawing board and rework his strategy, but eventually, he'd see things change.

In January of 2013, he received a message on his Twitter account from a woman who left her number claiming to “have an opportunity” for him.

Franky J called her number, yet there was no answer, nor was there a voicemail message. However, the number soon called him back, and on his caller ID, he saw: BET Networks.

“I was still in shock that BET called me,” Franky J says. “[The BET executive] said ‘drop what you’re doing, pack up, we’re gonna bring you out to New York’."

He had been selected to audition for a new BET show, set to premiere in 2014.

After his audition, Franky J finally got the news from the executive. “She told me, ‘You’ve got the job, you aced it,'” he recalls.

Yet, the next thing which he would hear would blow him away even more.

“She asked me, ‘Why are you so nervous, you don’t look nervous in your video?’“ Franky J says,  “I said, ‘What video?’”

It turned out that someone at BET had got a hold of his audition video from 2012 and got it into the hands of some powerful people.

“She said, ‘My boss [Stephen Hill, BET president of programming] saw your video and requested for you to come here,” he says. “She told me that [Hill] said, ‘I don’t know why, but I like this kid.’

Since then, Franky J has been signed to work as a host/correspondent for the BET show, for which he auditioned, that is set to premiere in 2014.Yet, In the short time that he’s been with BET, he’s already had some quite unforgettable experiences, one of them happened early this year.

On the day of the New York premiere of Beyonce’s autobiographical documentary, Life is But a Dream, in early 2013, BET was looking to get correspondents to cover the event. Yet, most of their hosts had already left for the day, except for Franky J.

The BET staff got him dressed up and ready for the star-studded Red Carpet, where he’d get his first real taste of what it’s like to be a BET correspondent.

“My first interview was with [producer and R&B star] The-Dream,” a fact which he saw to be ironic in itself. “I was interviewing The-Dream, while living my dream, all on the red carpet for Beyonce’s Life is But a Dream.”

That night, Franky J got to interview a variety of celebrities from Russell Simmons, to even Beyonce herself.
Franky J interviews Beyonce at the premiere for Life is But a Dream 
Yet, he'd run into one star whose presence presented a once in a lifetime opportunity; Oprah Winfrey.

“She was finishing up with her last interview and security was trying to sweep her away,” Franky J says. “But I yelled to her, ‘Oprah, let me get 2 seconds of your life!’

That phrase caught Oprah’s attention and allowed him to get an interview with one of the most well-known people in the world.

Of course, Franky J credits occurrences like these, and much of his success, to years of hard work and determination, but he also attributes much of his success to his faith.

“God is everything,” he says.  “I wouldn’t be anywhere without him and I couldn’t get through anything without him.”

These days, Franky J, the once local teenage TV host from North Philly, lives in Brooklyn, NY., and has goals such as hosting the BET Awards as well as writing and producing shows.

Despite his already impressive experiences, he says the fact that he’s beginning to live his dreams hasn’t really hit him yet. Yet, he stresses the importance of having a dream.

“Believe in your dreams, we get these visions for a reason, it’s because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing in life.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

3 The Misunderstood Brilliance of Tupac Shakur

By: Marvin DeBose
September 13th, 2013

"Now I understand what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
...They did not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will..." -Don McLean, Vincent

In 1971, folk singer Don McLean wrote the song, Vincent, which was a heartrending tribute to the talented, yet, personally troubled 19th century painter Vincent Van Gogh. In the song, McLean vividly describes the artistic talents of Van Gogh distinctly remarking on his "Flaming flowers that brightly blaze/Swirling clouds in violet haze".

Yet, what is most memorable about this song is how McLean speaks about Van Gogh's personal struggles from a voice of empathy and recalls how under-appreciated and misunderstood Van Gogh was.

The depth and raw emotion contained in this song would end up influencing the work of another artist who would become troubled in his own right. That artist, who, coincidentally was born in June of the same year in which McLean birthed Vincent, was none other than Tupac Amaru Shakur.

Seventeen years ago today, Tupac died at the young age of 25, at the height of his career.

However, when Tupac died on September 13th, 1996, I was only 6 years old, so I only vaguely knew of Tupac's work in his lifetime. I wouldn't really become familiar with his work until I was about 10 years old.

It all began one day when my dad picked me up from school, and in his car he was playing a hip-hop CD and I was awestruck by the sound of a rapper's voice.

The voice was loud, bold and full of rage with coarse, colorful language. Then, I heard the rapper start to go on a brutal, profanity-laced tirade, dissing famed rapper, the Notorious BIG, his crew, Junior Mafia, as well as his record label, Bad Boy Records.

As a loyal Bad Boy/Notorious BIG fan since the age of 5, I was shocked, and that's when the voice yelled, "...And if you want to be down with Bad Boy, then f*** you too!"

I thought to myself, "Who is this guy?" When we got the home, my Dad ejected the CD from his CD player and I saw that it read: TUPAC, Greatest Hits, Disc 2.

It turned out that I had just heard Tupac's classic 1996 diss record, "Hit 'Em Up".

I thought, "Damn, this is Tupac?" Even though I'd just heard him diss one of my favorite rappers, his fiery spirit and passion had just blew my 10-year old mind. After that, I began to listen to both CDs of the 2-Disc greatest hits set and I was amazed. Never before had I heard such raw emotion and versatility.

The same guy who could deliver lyrical death threats to his enemies was the same guy who could write a emotional tribute to his mother. The same guy who could playfully rap about "getting around" with the ladies could write a song about how we need to "heal our women" and "be real to our women". The guy who could write about the pitfalls of the street life could write a song comparing the activism strategies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

Like many people, at first, I just viewed Tupac as the bald headed, tattooed, bandanna-wearing, finger-gesturing caricature which is usually promoted in the media.

However, the more that I listened to Tupac's songs, watched his interviews, read about his life and how he dealt with police harassment, false accusations, and even family problems, I realized the complexity of who he really was.

Today, for many people, Tupac is nearly seen as the patron saint of hip-hop. Yet, during Tupac's career he was one of the most misunderstood artists of his generation, and to a certain extent he remains so to this day.

We often see the pictures of Tupac spitting at reporters, flashing his middle finger, getting arrested or engaging in behavior commonly associated with criminals. Yet, Tupac, a rapper who famously claimed, "I never had a [police] record until I made a [rap] record" was far from a criminal.

An angry Tupac spitting at reporters circa 1994
One of the biggest things which people fail to realize about Tupac is the fact that he was an intellectual. He was a voracious reader; a student of history, philosophy, poetry and literature. Despite the fact that he dropped out of high school in his senior year, he spent most of his life educating himself.

"There should be a class on drugs. 
There should be a class on sex education, a real sex education class...
there should be a class on scams, there should be a class on religious cults, 
there should be a class on police brutality, there should be a class on apartheid, 
there should be on racism in america, there should be a class on why people are hungry, 
but there not, there are classes on... gym, 'physical education', 'let’s learn volleyball'."
-Tupac Shakur at age 17 

Tupac was a scholar at heart, and for some, this fact might cause confusion. After all, this was the same man who flaunted a tattoo on his stomach that read "THUG LIFE". Yet, even those two words reveal another layer of Tupac's complexity.

The phrase he popularized "Thug Life", which was famously used and repopularized in the 2008 film, "Pineapple Express", actually held deeper community-rooted meanings, one of them being an acronym which Tupac said stood for "The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everybody"I know, it sounds crazy, but it actually makes a lot of sense sociologically, hear me out...

What Tupac meant by the "THUG LIFE" acronym was that the negativity, violence and hatred which society feeds our youth eventually manifests itself in social ills.

Tupac also saw "THUG LIFE" as a philosophy of pride and dignity for the young, poor urban youth of America. He constantly argued that the idea of THUG LIFE was not a celebration of crimes or the dictionary's definition of "thug". Yet, this philosophy was similar to that of the Black Panther Party, of which his mother was a member, who mainly focused on organizing the "lumpenproletariat", the lower classes of society to get them to work for the advancement of their communities.

“To me 'thug' is my pride... Not being someone who goes against the law. Not being someone that takes, but being someone that has nothing and even though there is no home for me to go to, my head is up high, my chest is out, I walk tall, I talk loud. When I say thug ... I mean the underdog."
-Tupac Shakur

A common mistake that many people make when looking at Tupac's life is overlooking the fact that he was a work in progress. Like all of us, he had personality flaws and he made many mistakes. However, the man was much more than the sum of his flaws.

He was a young man who was still growing, learning, maturing and finding his way in life. Now that I'm in my early 20s, as Tupac was during his career, I realize how young he actually was to have such remarkable influence on so many people. Then, I think about what he could have been had he lived longer.

Entertainment icon, Quincy Jones, who knew Tupac well (based largely off of his romantic relationship with his daughter, Kidada Jones), once made this profound analogy related to Tupac's potential:

"Tupac died at 25. 
If Malcolm X died at 25 he would have been a street hustler, named Detroit Red. 
If Martin Luther King died at 25 he would've been known as a local baptist preacher. 
And if I had died at 25 I would've been known as a struggling musician, 
only a sliver of my life's potential."

So, my message to those who are interested in not only "2Pac", the artist, but Tupac Shakur, the person, is to learn about him and the image which the mainstream media often promotes as this one-dimensional "gangsta rapper" who "lived and died by the gun" (as many insensitive, unoriginal journalists were fond of saying after his death).

Learn about his mother's activism and his family's history, listen to his early songs, listen to his words, go beyond his image and learn about his message and then you can understand who he really was and what he was trying to say.

"Now I understand what you tried to say to me... 
They did not listen, they did not know how 
Perhaps they'll listen now..." -Don McLean, Vincent

Pages - Menu

The Mind of Marvin Copyright © 2011 - |- Template created by O Pregador - |- Powered by Blogger Templates