Sunday, March 27, 2016

He has risen! Happy Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter Sunday) Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover. Many people gathered on the streets to catch a glimpse of him, waving palm branches as he rode by. However, it's important to remember that Jesus was a controversial figure. Some people, in particular the authorities, were extremely suspicious of his teachings and claims - today they would have regarded him as something of a troublemaker.

Today people remember Palm Sunday by decorating churches with palm branches, and giving palms out to the congregation, in some cases fashioned into the shape of a cross (in remembrance of Jesus dying on a cross).

Maundy Thursday

Jesus understands his time on Earth is nearly over. He gathers his friends and followers (his 12 Disciples, including the saints John, Matthew, Mark and Simon) together to share a final meal - the 'Last Supper'. Jesus passed round bread (which he told his disciples was 'his body') and wine (his 'blood'); his way of explaining to them that he would soon die. He also told his friends they should love one another - the 'mandate' or command from which the term Maundy is derived. It was on this night that Jesus was later betrayed by Judas, who identified Jesus to soldiers working for opposing religious authorities (the 'High Priests') in return for money - those authorities then passed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers who were to eventually execute him.

The ceremony of eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Jesus' life is practised today in Christian churches in the form of the Eucharist or communion.

Good Friday

The Roman soldiers who arrested Jesus took him to Pontius Pilate, who was in charge of the province at the time. On Good Friday, Jesus' fate was sealed - Pilate decided to ask a crowd of people outside whether Jesus should be put to death for making claims about being the son of God. They said he should. The method of his execution was one of the most brutal known to man - death by crucifixion, or being nailed to a cross. This is why the cross has such great significance to Christians and is behind the tradition of eating hot cross buns on Good Friday.

Jesus was made to carry his own cross to the spot of his execution, a hill overlooking the city. Here he was nailed to the cross and placed alongside two criminals. A sign was placed above Jesus' cross which read 'The King of the Jews'.

The Bible tells that suddenly, just before Jesus took his last breath, the sky turned black. He was removed from the cross and buried in a tomb.

Christians today often commemorate Good Friday by attending a 'Stations of the Cross' service, where Jesus' last hours on earth are retraced. As Good Friday is seen as a day of mourning, services are very solemn; churches are left unadorned with flowers or similar decorations, and in some churches pictures and statues are covered over.

Easter Sunday

Jesus had told his disciples in advance that he would rise again on the third day after his death. He had been buried in a tomb guarded by an enormous stone so that no-one could steal the body. When some women came to visit the grave a couple of days after his death they found that the huge stone had been moved and the tomb was empty. Jesus was seen that day and for several days later, and revisited old friends who realised what had been foretold had come true - Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

Easter is, therefore, a time of great celebration for Christians. Churches are sometimes decorated with white lillies, traditional Easter flowers, and the mood is joyful and uplifting.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Phife Dawg, rapper and co-founder of A Tribe Called Quest, dies at 45

There are reports this morning that Phife Dawg, co-founder of influential hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, has died. The New York-born rapper, whose real name was Malik Isaac Taylor, was 45 years old.

The news was posted by DJ Chuck Chillout on Twitter just after 1 a.m. eastern time Wednesday morning, and music  website Bluntiqjust tweeted the following: “We’re saddened to report that Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest has passed away. RIP to the legend.” Others, like Aesop Rock, Steve Aoki, and El-P, have chimed in with condolences.

Taylor formed A Tribe Called Quest in 1985 with MC/producer Q-Tip and DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The group is considered one of the pioneers of old-school hip-hop.

Taylor’s family released the following statement on Wednesday afternoon: “We regret to share the news that on Tuesday March 22, 2016, Malik has passed away due to complications resulting from diabetes. Malik was our loving husband, father, brother and friend. We love him dearly. How he impacted all our lives will never be forgotten. His love for music and sports was only surpassed by his love of God and family.”

Adds Taylor’s manager, Dion Liverpool: “While I mourn the loss of my best friend and brother, I also will celebrate his incredible life and contribution to many people’s ears across the world. Even with all his success, I have never met a person as humble as he. He taught me that maintaining a positive attitude and lighthearted spirit with carry me a long way in my career he will be sadly missed by not just his personal and close friends and family but the entire hip hop Community all over the world.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hip-Hop in Politics: What a Difference a Generation Makes

In the 1990s Washington was polarized on many of the same issues as today: taxes, the economy, gun control. But there was one cultural idea that seemed to have bipartisan support: that rap music was a symptom of the destruction of American values.
In 1992, Republican Vice President Dan Quayle called legendary rapper Tupac's acclaimed first album "2Pacalyse Now" a disgrace to American music.
"There is absolutely no reason for a record like this to be published," said Quayle at the time, calling on Interscope Records to withdraw the album. "It has no place in our society."
At the same time a prominent Democratic figure, Tipper Gore, was in the midst of a campaign against gangsta rap, testifying at a Congressional hearing on the genre's ills.
What a difference a generation makes.
Today attention is lavished on Republican Senator Marco Rubio's love of hip-hop, and specifically gangsta rap. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote a column, "The Rap on Rubio."
In an interview with BuzzFeed the 41-year-old Rubio said that he was not condoning the violence in Tupac's music and gangsta rap, but that he views the music as a mirror of American society.
"I think Tupac's lyrics were more insightful, my opinion, with all apologies to the Biggie fans," said Rubio. "In some ways, rappers are like reporters. In particular, at that time, from the West Coast, it was a lot of reporting about what life was like ... so the '90s was a time when this was really pronounced. You had gang wars, racial tension, and they were reporting on that," he said.
It's a sentiment that the current U.S. president, a Democrat, subscribes to as well. President Obama, who is a decade older than Sen. Rubio, is such a fan of rapper and businessman Jay-Z that he was a VIP at the president's inauguration.
Jay-Z has also come under criticism for his lyrics, with some critics claiming he has glorified violence and drugs. In response, Jay-Z says that like Tupac and his mentor Notorious B.I.G. (also mentioned in Rubio's interview), he is not advocating a certain lifestyle, but providing a window into a part of America that many don't see.
At a fundraiser in Ohio last year, President Obama said it was "an honor" to share the stage with the rapper, not only because his music is on the president's iPod but also because he tells "American stories."
Politicians are even getting personal with hip-hop stars. Sen. Rubio talks of knowing the real name of the Miami-born Cuban-American rapper Pitbull. President Obama has often said the he and Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, have led "parallel lives," achieving success in America despite early struggles with absentee fathers and poverty.
Since 2008, Jay-Z and his wife, the pop star Beyonce, have become staunch supporters of the president and friendly with the first family.
"I've gotten to know these guys over the first several years," the president said in a radio interview last October. "They're good people. We talk about the same things I talk about with all my friends."
Hip hop historian Davey D, a professor at San Francisco State University, told the Washington Examiner that the evolution of hip-hop in politics has less to do with a shift of values and more to do with time. He points out that Rubio and Obama favor hip-hop artists who are not new; they've been popular for a decade, if not longer.
"Anyone who's under a certain age -- at this point I'd say 50 -- probably has some sort of engagement with hip-hop," he said. "It's hard to ignore."