MC Ren On Why N.W.A Belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame


N.W.A (from left: Dr. Dre, MC Ren, Ice Cube, DJ Yella) accepting their Hall of Fame honors.

Earlier this year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted N.W.A as part of their Class of 2016. This was a huge step forward in recognizing one of the most influential and important artists of all time. Formed in Compton, California in 1986, N.W.A were one of the first artists to write about police brutality in black communities, and they were made into pariahs because of it.


It’s jarring to listen to N.W.A’s lyrics today, because even though these songs were written decades ago, they sound as tragically current as ever. N.W.A, whose classic lineup comprised of DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren, wrote songs about racial profiling and police brutality, including the seminal “Fuck tha Police.”

When that song was released in 1988, it was a lightning rod for controversy. The group found their music censored, their concerts boycotted, and even received a threatening letter from the FBI. But the root of all of the uproar was the simple fact that an artist was audacious enough to call out systemic racism in America.

Here’s a fact: About the same number of white people and black people smoke marijuana. But if you are black, you are four times more likely to be arrested for it than if you were white.

Four times.

This, in a nutshell, encapsulates the centuries long struggle between black people and racist law enforcement.

Beginning with the founding of this country, when sheriffs would bring back escaped slaves to their owners, to when cops prevented freed slaves from daring to enjoy the same amenities as their former owners, to the present day, there has always been a different set of laws if you are black.

This self perpetuating system of oppression and injustice has affected the daily lives of black people in this country literally every day since its inception. Somehow though, this dynamic has been willfully ignored by white people since day one.

A combination of hate, ignorance, and obliviousness has led most white people to live their lives either ignoring the reality of black life or outright denying that black lives are more difficult, or even matter.

That is why N.W.A was and is so important. From 1980s Compton to 2010s Ferguson, (and Florida, Staten Island and beyond), a number of police officers, as Ice Cube put it, “think they have the authority to kill a minority.” This stream of police brutality has been divisive, leading to a national conversation about race. (I highly recommend reading this brilliant piece on white privilege, especially if you are reading this thinking that racism isn’t really a problem.)

Shortly after the group was nominated for the Hall of Fame, I spoke with MC Ren. We discussed N.W.A’s impact as well as the resistance to acknowledge their success. This was their fourth nomination– they’d missed the cut three times before.

“I have no clue why we keep getting snubbed by the Hall when they have other hip hop groups in,” Ren said, adding that “our group had as big an impact as all the rest.”

Only four rap acts had been inducted prior to N.W.A: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (2007), Run-D.M.C. (2009), Beastie Boys (2012), and Public Enemy (2013). Depending on your point of view, four is either way too small a number, or four too many. But many listeners of both rap and rock would argue that rock isn’t so much a genre, but rather a style of expression.

“‘Fuck Tha Police’ is hip hop and has a rock & roll attitude by the statement alone,” Ren said.

Ice Cube later elaborated on that thought, saying during his induction speech:

Now, the question is, are we rock & roll? And I say you goddamn right we rock & roll. Rock & roll is not an instrument, rock & roll is not even a style of music. Rock & roll is a spirit.

That rock & roll/hip hop spirit means standing up to adversity. Calling out discrimination. Fighting the power. N.W.A embodies that spirit without a doubt. As they knock down barriers upon their induction, the larger problem of police brutality still looms large. But today, perhaps more than ever, there seems to at least be a raised awareness of the issues.

“It’s not that America is catching up with the brutality,” Ren said. “It’s just now with technology, more events are getting captured on film and [are] bringing light to more of these evil crimes committed by crooked police officers who abuse power because they wear a badge.”

Recently many of the cop-on-unarmed-black-man crimes have blown up nationally because there are cell phone videos of these crimes. There has also been a push for body camera laws to hold police more accountable.

N.W.A went into the Hall of Fame alongside Deep Purple, Chicago, Cheap Trick, and Steve Miller. I asked MC Ren what his thoughts were on a potential all-star jam, and he said “I think all the groups together would make magic.” However, N.W.A wound up not performing at the event, feeling that they “weren’t supported.”

But like it or not, MC Ren and the rest of “the world’s most dangerous group” are now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where they belong. In many ways, the resistance to their induction stems from the simple fact that they make white people uncomfortable. By calling out police brutality and systemic racism, they shatter the pleasant safe space that white people have created for ourselves. They scare us through their art.

But I have a feeling that they don’t really mind the attention, even if it is negative.

I asked MC Ren what his reaction was when N.W.A’s music was practically forbidden in white America, and they were villianized and censored. His response?

“Free publicity.”

Photo courtesy of

Van the Man


Last night I had the extreme pleasure of being in the presence of Sir Van Morrison. I got to see him perform at the Wang Theatre in Boston, MA, with my parents and my neighbor Sue.

Van’s daughter Shana Morrison opened the show with a delightful set of songs, culminating with a tremendous cover of “Purple Rain.” The tribute to Prince, who died less than a week ago, got the crowd hollering. After a brief intermission (and just enough time to visit some of my family in the crowd), Van the Man walked out on the stage and started playing saxophone. It was an abrupt and stirring entrance, and set the tone for a very special night.

Morrison opened with “Celtic Swing,” an instrumental track from his 1983 album Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. He then went right into “Close Enough For Jazz” from 1993’s Too Long In Exile. Up next were “Magic Time,” “By His Grace,” and “In The Midnight,” (spanning from ’91 to ’05).

Van Morrison has for decades had a reputation of being reserved onstage, almost to the point of weirdness. He has been known to not a say a word to the crowd, and even turn his back to them, all stemming from stage fright. But on an unseasonably cold Tuesday in Boston, he was shockingly animated. This first came to light when he brought out English singer Chris Farlowe to duet on “Born to Sing,” a 2012 cut from the album of the same name. When Van introduced his “friend” who “happened to be in Boston,” it was very surprising to hear him interact so casually with the crowd. He seemed like he was actually having fun!

After he bid Farlowe farewell, he brought his daughter Shana back out to duet on “That Old Black Magic,” an old standard popularized by Glenn Miller in the 1940s. Van’s shocking good mood continued while singing with Shana, and he rode it right into his cover of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and his own 1987 ballad “Someone Like You.”


Up next were his 1978 hit “Wavelength,” 1997’s “Sometimes We Cry,” and 1990’s “Enlightenment.” He followed these up with one of the night’s showstoppers: a long, loose cover of the Big Joe Williams classic “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” For some sections of the song, Van made a hand/harmonica/microphone concoction that gave his voice a very cool talkbox-y sound. During one quiet moment, after a fan yelled “I love you, Van,” he shocked the crowd (again) by singing into his contraption: “You love me? You don’t even know me!”

The “Baby, Please Don’t Go” jam included snippets of “Parchman Farm,” “Don’t Start Crying Now,” “In The Afternoon,” “Ancient Highway,” “Burn Baby Burn,” and “Raincheck,” and treated the crowd to the incredible sight of Van scatting, lost deep into the music. At one point he also told the crowd that he didn’t write this song, giving fair warning before launching into some provocative lyrics about legs, thighs, and higher…

Morrison launched into his 1971 classic “Wild Night” next, leading a singalong of one of my favorite songs. Next was “Whenever God Shines His Light,” which he originally recorded as a duet with Cliff Richard in 1989, followed by a mashup of “It’s All in the Game” and “Burning Ground.”

The next song he played absolutely floored me: he did “Brown Eyed Girl.” Van has been notorious for his longstanding disdain for this song, after he went through publishing/royalty battles over it many years ago. It was a foregone conclusion that he does not play “Brown Eyed Girl.” But he’s also supposed to be grumpy and not look at the crowd, and tonight he was practically jovial, so the inclusion made sense. The sold-out crowd of 3,500 was ecstatic to hear such a rare gem. This was a truly special night.

Van kept the magic going with “Into the Mystic,” a cut from his seminal 1970 masterpiece Moondance. (The couple next to me sang along pretty loudly and terribly, but they must have really been feeling the music. And hey, they knew all the words!)

The Man brought Chris Farlowe back out for the closing number, a sprawling take on Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” Morrison left the stage toward the end of the song, letting his incredible band finish without him. And just like that, he departed back into the shadows…

Well, not yet! On our way out, my dad took us down a side street to get away from the crowd, and we wound up next to the stage door. Our timing was perfect, because moments later, Sir Van came out and got into a waiting car. The small group of people waiting applauded and the car sped away, only to stop at a red light a few feet later.

All in all, this was a truly fantabulous night, to borrow a word from the Man himself. Van Morrison and his band were outstanding. We are very lucky to have had this once-in-a-lifetime experience. A wild night, indeed.


My family!

Setlist information courtesy of Mystic Avenue and


Last night, I had the extraordinary privilege of seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at the Boston Garden. For nearly three-and-a-half hours, Bruce and the Band fired on all cylinders and then some. A few highlights:

  • They played the entire 1980 double album The River. All 20 songs!
  • During “Hungry Heart,” Bruce went into the crowd and actually crowd-surfed! He made his way from the center of the pit all the way to the stage on the hands of his fans.
  • After concluding The River, the band launched into another set of hits, covers, and deep cuts. For the final song, a cover of “Shout” by The Isley Brothers, Peter Wolf of The J. Geils Band joined Bruce onstage.
  • Fun fact: I also heard Bon Jovi do “Shout” at the Garden in 2008 (on my 18th birthday!)
  • Chris Christie and Charlie Baker were both in the crowd. While I may not agree with them about politics, it seems that music and concerts are the ties that bind…
  • Also, a shout out to DJ Gary Titus (at his 37th Boss show) who I managed to bump into in a crowd of 17 thousand! Small world.
  • This was probably the longest concert I’ve ever been to, rivaling only Paul McCartney and the Foo Fighters. Both of those shows got right around the three hour mark, but Bruce pushed closer to 3.5…
  • During “Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce pulled a little girl from the crowd and danced with her, as in the iconic Courteney Cox video.
  • They were just so good. Amazing night. Here are a few terrible pictures (Bruce is in the crowd, wearing a grey shirt and black vest.)

Here’s the setlist, courtesy of

Meet Me in the City
The Ties That Bind
Sherry Darling
Jackson Cage
Two Hearts
Independence Day
Hungry Heart
Out in the Street
Crush on You
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
I Wanna Marry You
The River
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I’m a Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck on the Highway
Roulette (Tour premiere)
Prove It All Night
She’s the One
Candy’s Room
Because the Night (Patti Smith Group cover)
Human Touch
Play Video
The Rising
Thunder Road

Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Shout (The Isley Brothers cover) (with Peter Wolf)

It’s time for Tom Brady to cut the shit.


Photo courtesy of

Dear Tom Brady,

I think you are the #GOAT– the literal greatest of all time. At everything. Football, sports in general, even just walking and breathing. Like most of New England, I revere you. Your four (4!) Super Bowl rings and dozens of records, plus 15 years of great involvement in the community, have made you god-like. I defended you during Deflategate, the biggest ton of phooey the media ever created. I will always stand by you, Tom Terrific. Pats Nation for life.

However, you need to cut the shit about Donald Trump.

I defended you at first, and I still think that your overall intentions are good. You and Trump are friends, okay. You are both television celebrities who have brought big (huge) ratings to NBC. And Trump stood by you during the ridiculous witch hunt of the last year. But Trump’s rhetoric has gone from provocative to hateful. His policies are extreme and discriminatory. He is a fascist who wants to exclude people from America based on their religion. As a patriot and a Patriot, you need to cut ties with this hatemonger.

Enough with the non-answers, the “let’s focus on football” evasiveness. Because we all know that football is just a bullshit game. What Donald Trump is saying and doing is more important than football, and you need to reflect that truth. Unlike the score of a football game, Trump’s comments have detrimental real world effects on many Americans, especially Muslims, many of whom are Pats fans, I’m sure.

Your association with Trump adds validity to his gonzo, reactionary ideas. Every day that you don’t condemn him is a day that he is able to use your “support” to further his awful ideology.

I get it. You try to stay out of this kind of stuff. Focus on football. Do your job. But Trump has crossed a horrible line, and he brought you across that line with him. I’m not saying you need to endorse Bernie or Hillary or anybody, but the association with Trump needs to stop. You are a role model. You are a hero. You are an icon. Donald Trump is an asshole. Cut the shit, Brady. Dump Trump, and then go back to being the GOAT.

With (almost) unending adoration,

Chuck Daly