Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Verizon dumps Akon

The war to clean up hip-hop has begun.

Verizon dropped its sponsorship of Gwen Stefani’s Sweet Escape tour because of opening act Akon. (The tour comes to Charlotte on Saturday.)

In a performance last month in Trinidad, Akon simulated sex while dancing with a 14-year-old girl during a performance. When video footage of the performance got back to Verizon, the top dogs pulled their money from Stefani’s tour, which wasn’t related to Akon’s Trinidad performance.
They’ve also pulled Akon’s ringtones and music from stores and handsets.

Talk about a wake-up call.
Verizon is doing what consumers won’t do: holding artists accountable for their product.

In my That’s Wassup! column about Don Imus and previous columns and blogs about hip-hop, I’ve written that consumers can dictate what artists create by choosing not to support rappers who sell sex and violence. Verizon’s decision shows that big companies might be the ones who dictate the future of hip-hop.

Akon is one of the hottest artists out there. Verizon pulling him is like the Lakers benching Kobe Bryant. The cell phone industry is a lucrative market for artists, and Verizon’s decision to pull Akon is going to reverberate through the industry.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press ran a story saying that Akon apologized and that he didn't know the girl was underage. Um, unless this child has been eating steroids instead of Wheaties it's hard to believe he couldn't tell a 14-year-old from an 18-year-old. If you watch the video on YouTube, you won't care if the girl is 14 or 18, the way he throws her around the floor and simulates sex could be a considered a sexual assualt for anyone.

What do you think? Did Verizon make the right decision by pulling sponsorship of the tour and refusing to sell Akon’s ringtones and music? Post your replies below.

Me'Shell N'dego has lost her mind

I’m officially finished with Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s concerts. She’s too deep for me. She’s too deep for music.

I was skeptical about attending her show at Amos’ Southend on Friday, but I wanted to give her another shot.

The last time I saw her was in 1999, when she opened for Sting at Ovens Auditorium. When she finally arrived on stage, after her band had played for an eternity (think Parliament and George Clinton), she acted as if she didn’t want to be there. She sang with her eyes closed, and it took her several songs to hit her stride.
I worried Friday would be the same.

However, Kitch (who promoted the show) assured me she was going to perform at 10:45 p.m. When he booked the show, the deal was that Me’Shell would open for W. Ellington Felton. Then Felton would perform a set, after which the two would perform together. It had the potential to be great.

When I arrived at Amos’ about 11 p.m., Me’Shell was already performing, and she seemed into it. Between songs, she talked about issues such as hunger and poverty, and wondered aloud why people such as the Rev. Al Sharpton were criticizing hip-hop instead of fixing real problems. She sang a few songs, but focused mostly on her instrumental cuts. She played her bass and jammed with the band on rock and trippy jazz tunes.

She acted like one of those artists who is too deep to play older material, such “"If That's Your Boyfriend” and “Dredloc.” Instead, she force-fed fans her newer jazzy music. Selfish, but not surprising.

The surprise came 45 minutes into the set. I was talking to some friends when I looked up a the stage and noticed that Me’Shell was gone. Fans were streaming out of the door. In what seemed like 10 minutes, Amos’ was nearly empty.

Apparently, sometime during the day, Me’Shell decided she wasn’t going to perform with Ellington. She didn’t perform an encore. She came out later to introduce Felton, and she talked about how she was a fan of his music.

If Me’Shell was really a fan of anyone but herself, she wouldn’t have acted the way she did on Friday.

Opening for Ellington was dumb. Fans want to see her perform. She knows good and well that as soon as she’s done, people are going to leave.

Plus, if she really wanted to support Ellington, she should have performed with him and slowly fazed herself out and left him onstage. Then fans who liked what they heard would have stayed for his set. Instead, the stage was empty for at least 10 minutes, and people left.

Me’Shell comes off as one of those artists who is deeper than deep and believes the rest of us simply don’t understand how deep she is. I don’t want to understand. I want to see a good show, and have a good time. She can save that deep stuff for her boo.

Apparently, considering what I’m hearing about her recent shows in Washington (someone got cussed out) and Atlanta (she passed out, cussed out the audience, performed and left), we got off easy.

It’s a shame. She’s alienating fans and wasting her talent. She used to use her music to make people talk and think about uncomfortable topics. Now she uses it to try to prove how deep she is.