Never Drank the Kool-Aid: Essays

Never Drank the Kool-Aid: Essays

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by Touré

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His name is Touré--just Touré--and like many of the musicians, athletes, and celebrities he's profiled, he has affected the way that we think about culture in America. He has profiled Eminem, 50 Cent, and Alicia Keys for the cover of Rolling Stone. He's played high-stakes poker with Jay-Z and basketball with Prince and Wynton Marsalis. In Touré


His name is Touré--just Touré--and like many of the musicians, athletes, and celebrities he's profiled, he has affected the way that we think about culture in America. He has profiled Eminem, 50 Cent, and Alicia Keys for the cover of Rolling Stone. He's played high-stakes poker with Jay-Z and basketball with Prince and Wynton Marsalis. In Touré's world, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sits beside Condoleezza Rice who sits beside hip-hop pioneer Tupac Shakur, and all of them are fascinating company.

Never Drank the Kool-Aid is the chronicle of Touré's unparalleled journey through the American funhouse called pop culture. Its rooms are filled with creative, arrogant, kind, ordinary, and extraordinary people, most of whom happen to be famous. It is Touré's gift to be able to see through the artifice of their world and understand the genuine motivations behind their achievements--to see who they truly are as people. This is a searingly funny, surprisingly unguarded, and deeply insightful look at a world few of us comprehend.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a varied collection of lucid, colorful pieces, journalist Toure, author of the novel Soul City and the story collection The Portable Promised Land, takes readers from the inner sanctum of Prince's Paisley Park to Jennifer Capriati's practice court, Lauryn Hill's Christmas party and beyond. Deftly organized by theme, the book comprises mainly magazine articles dating from 2005 to the mid-'90s, and its title refers to the author's insistence that he never bought into the philosophies of the people he profiled but rather aimed "to understand who they were beyond the image they want us to think they were." He succeeds with meteoric personalities, like Eminem and Al Sharpton, and with people like junior-tennis phenom and eventual professional bust Al Parker Jr. Toure has a knack for putting his subjects at ease, and he blends their intriguing candor with apt observations on the nature of their careers. He describes his own place in events without overshadowing the story itself. He's just interested in bringing us along for the ride, even if that means sitting shotgun while DMX pulls a full-speed 180 in a Cadillac Escalade on Sunset Boulevard. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Collected dispatches of the de Tocqueville of the Hip-Hop Nation. Journalist Toure's (Rolling Stone; the New Yorker) impassioned, insightful and stylish articles on hip-hop make up the bulk of these collected pieces, and their cumulative effect is staggering; Toure employs his sly voice, clear sense of mission and novelist's eye for the telling detail to elevate his profiles and interviews above conventional celebrity journalism, creating a political and personal manifesto that is provocative and deeply felt. As the author grapples with hip-hop's place in American culture and his own complicated responses to it, his subjects come to startling life: Embattled rapper 50 Cent's girlfriend proudly displays their young child's pint-sized, bullet-proof vest; genial MC DMX casually recalls the time he stabbed a first-grade classmate in the face; fearsome record exec Suge Knight decorates his offices with framed portraits of Lucille Ball and Elvis Presley; and soul diva Alicia Keys confesses her painfully conflicted reaction to post-9/11 patriotism. Fascinating bits of off-the-cuff sociology abound: The author compares rap collectives such as the Wu-Tang Clan and the Junior M.A.F.I.A. to traditional African family structures; the plight of the gay rapper is frankly addressed; graffiti artists play cat-and-mouse with authorities in the pursuit of their ephemeral art. To lighten the mood, Toure takes on Prince and Wynton Marsalis in one-on-one games of basketball, and the doyens have rarely come off so likable and human. Venturing beyond black popular music, Toure proves equally adept at limning compelling portraits of tennis players, race-car drivers and Ivy League counterfeiters. Toure includes asearing personal essay, What's Inside You, Brother? (tapped for The Best American Essays 1996), near the end of the book; it's a tour-de-force of punishing, articulate introspection that clarifies and deepens the searching tone of the preceding work. Like his subjects, Toure occasionally indulges in boastful self-mythologizing-the book's title is a testament to his incorruptibility, and a piece on his bad-boy sexual exploits seems ill-considered. Still, this is a wholly involving and piercingly intelligent examination of contemporary popular culture.
From the Publisher

“Touré's an exceptional journalist. . . . He is--if you can imagine it--Oscar Wilde as a street thug. This is the marvelous tone he's been able to achieve.” —Tom Wolfe, author of I Am Charlotte Simmons and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

“Touré is one of our nation's most astute and witty observers of the American scene. Not only is he one of the most gifted writers of his generation, but his sharp insight, poetic phrasing, and biting humor--and his brilliant command of so many aspects of pop culture--make his dazzling performance on page a sheer joy to read. Never Drank the Kool-Aid is a Touré-de-force!” —Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler if You Hear Me and I May Not Get There with You

“Touré came to Rolling Stone as an intern in 1992. He was a lousy intern--we fired him--but a great writer and we soon hired him back. From 50 Cent to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., we sent Touré out on stories and he got it, whatever it was, every time. His work is like his subjects: stylish, vivid, and burning with energy.” —Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine

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Never Drank the Koolâ"Aid


By Touré


Copyright © 2006 Touré
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0109-3


I'm Audi

It Was a Wonderful World

{Biggie Smalls,The Village Voice,1997}

Dear Sakeem,

Because I love you, my sweet cousin, I did not give my hiphop CDs to you. Because I love myself I threw them out — Paid in Full, Death Certificate, Strictly Business, Criminal Minded, Ready to Die — they're all out there, classics and roaches, lying at the bottom of the old dented trash can on the corner. I've turned in my ghetto pass and burned up my hoodie, too. Stay and live in this Hiphop Nation if you want, but I won't. I can see now that murders and killings come with the beats and rhymes. And because those murders and killings are coming from the same hands that make the beats and rhymes, how is living in hiphop any different than living in the dysfunctional Black family writ large? Cousin, count me out. I'm gone.

If you're going to stay and love hiphop, know this: for a young Black man in America, loving yourself no longer necessitates loving hiphop. And, loving hiphop does not automatically mean loving yourself. The self-destruction has ended all that. It wasn't always this way A few years ago, before Tupac was killed, before the East/West feud turned homicidal, before Eazy-E passed — back before I wrote this line: "I guess by now we should be used to Black heroes dying in public," the culture was still so young that people sometimes said, "You know, with the exception of Scott La Rock, no major hiphop icon has died. They're all still here." It was as though they were saying, You know, all my grandparents are still around. Back then the explosive joy of young Black men — us — riding rhythm for rhythm's sake and speaking our minds and making cash money was embedded in the beats, and it was all beautiful.

One summer toward the end of those days Big was the undisputed king of hiphop. You couldn't walk around Brooklyn without hearing his rhymes seeping from Jeeps, Walkmans, and thick brown lips. Oh my God them rhymes! No rapper was more like High John the Conquerer, the Black mythological hero who Zora Neale Hurston said "could beat the unbeatable. He was top-superior to the whole mess of sorrow. He could beat it all, and what made it so cool, finish it off with a laugh." That was that nigga Big and that's why you couldn't drag us off the floor when his records came on.

One night during that summer I go to Nell's. The place is packed. Everyone looks like they're getting dollars and gulping deep from the cup of life. Then the DJ spins into "Who Shot Ya" and you couldn't have told us we weren't in Utopia. As Big rhymes, "I can hear sweat trick-uh-lin down ya cheek/ Ya heartbeat sound like Sasquatch feet/ Thunderin/ Shay-kin the concrete," a brother in the middle of the room starts doing pull-ups on a water pipe hanging from the ceiling. Then another does some pull-ups. Then a third, and as he strains through his fourth pull-up, the pipe breaks. Water rains down! The pull-up men rejoice, dancing in the downpour like kids in the stream of a fire hydrant. The rest of the crowd dances tenuously, unsure of their next move, until, a moment later, the DJ fades into "One More Chance." Then, though it's raining on the dance floor, everyone is moving with abandon, shaking and bouncing amidst the water and chaos, getting water all on their Tommy Hil and in their Moet and not giving a fuck. Over Big rhyming, "Lyrically, I'm supposed to represent/ I'm not only a client/ I'm the playa president," someone yells, "Rain, motherfucker! Rain!"

Toward the end of that year I interviewed Big. Even then things were changing. Tupac was in jail for sexual assault and Snoop was about to go on trial for murder. And Big, the man who'd been responsible for a summer's worth of joy, sat in the hallway of his building, gripping a gat, surrounded by six members of his crew, arrayed like Timberland-wearing Secret Service agents. Every time the building's front door opened up, someone looked down the three flights, to see who it was. Every time someone started coming up the stairs, Big stopped talking and called out, "Who's that?"

"Nigga could be coming to blow my head off," he said that afternoon in late 1994. "I'm not paranoid to the point where —" He paused. "Yes I am. I'm scared to death. I'm scared to death. Not all the time, but most of the time. Scared of getting my brains blown off. But if it happens it happens. That's why I never want to do nothing different. Like you would think a nigga that was scared to death would, as soon as he leave the Apollo, run in the limo and jet home, cuz he's scared to death, but," he said and started to smile, "I got to hang out with my niggas, I got to see what's going down, where the party's at. Nigga that's scared to death ain't supposed to be making no moves like that. But fuck it, I'm just ready. Can't live my life in no bubble."

Well, cousin, for me, all that's over. What do we gain staying in a family that's slowly dying by its own hand? From now on, when you come by you'll find me sitting up with my Louis Armstrong. And the next time you catch me walkin down DeKalb and you see my lips quietly flipping a rhyme, just know I ain't rhyming "Criminal Minded" or "Sucker MC's." When you get close you'll hear me singing, "I hear babies crying. I watch them grow. They'll learn much more, than I'll ever know. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

Your cousin,


P.S.: Send me a card when the first rapper dies of old age.


Sensitive Thugs

The Family Man

{Eminem, Rolling Stone, 2004}

Eminem has become a family man. During two long conversations over two days in Detroit in October, he constantly mentions the kids he's raising, as any proud father would: His daughter, Hailie Jade, will soon be nine, his niece Alaina is eight, and his half brother, Nate, is eighteen. In October, Marshall Mathers turned thirty-two. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and Detroit without a father figure, but he has grown into a committed parent who goes to school plays and everything. He schedules most of his recording in Detroit and has put his movie career on hold so he can be home with the kids at night.

He has slowed down his drinking and his drug use since two 2000 gun charges that he feared would take him away from Hailie, but his ex, Kim Mathers, has slogged through her own legal morass. In June 2003 she was arrested for possession of cocaine, then failed to show up in court and for a short while hid from the police. Eminem says that explaining the situation to Hailie and Alaina "was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through." At the time of our first interview, Kim was in jail. At the time of our last interview, she had been released. "She's out right now," he said. "We're hoping that stays kosher."

Encore is Eminem's fifth solo album, and he remains one of the most skilled, compelling, audacious, obnoxious, and important MCs in hiphop. He thanks his mother for the troubled childhood that still fuels his anger in "Never Enough"; he tells Kim that he hates her in "Puke" and that he still loves her in "Crazy in Love"; and he declares his devotion to Hailie on "Mockingbird," which he calls his most emotional song ever. He also attacks President Bush for the Iraq War in "Mosh" and says, "Strap him with an AK.. ... Let him impress Daddy that way."

On Encore, Eminem refers to himself as "Rain Man" because, he says, he doesn't know how to do anything besides hiphop. He doesn't consider himself "a good talker" because his conversation is rarely as direct as his rhymes, but for two days when he sat for the Rolling Stone interview he was open and introspective. We started out in a dank little room at a photo studio and continued in the recording studio where he does most of his work. The first day he lounged on a small black couch, wearing Nike gear and Jordans and picking at white-chocolate-covered nuts. Ever the fifteen-year-old, he said, "What's up?" and then asked, "Would you like to eat my white nuts?" He laughed. "C'mon, put my white nuts in your mouth."

Who in your family loved you? Did any of the adults make you feel special?

My Aunt Edna, which would be my great-aunt Edna, and my Uncle Charles, my great-uncle Charles. This was in Missouri. They're from my dad's side. They took care of me a lot. My Uncle Charles passed in '92 or '93, and Aunt Edna passed away just six months ago. She was, like, eighty-six. They were older, but they did things with me; they let me stay the weekends there, took me to school, bought me things, let me stay and watch TV, let me cut the grass to get five dollars, took me to the mall. Between them and my Uncle Ronnie, they were my solidity.

Did they connect you with your dad?

They'd tell me he was a good guy: "We don't know what your mother's told you, but he was a good guy." But a lot of times he'd call, and I'd be there — maybe I'd be on the floor coloring or watching TV — and it wouldn't have been nothing for him to say, "Put him on the phone." He coulda talked to me, let me know something. 'Cause as far as father figures, I didn't have any in my life. My mother had a lot of boyfriends. Some of 'em I didn't like; some of 'em were cool. But a lot would come and go. My little brother's dad was probably the closest thing I had to a father figure. He was around off and on for about five years. He was the dude who'd play catch, take us bowling, just do stuff that dads would do.

When I saw you playing with Hailie back in February, you were so respectful. A lot of people talk down to little kids, but you talk to her like she's intelligent.

Thank you for seeing that. I just want her and my immediate family — my daughter, my niece, and my little brother — to have things I didn't have: love and material things. But I can't just buy them things. I have to be there. That's a cop-out if I just popped up once in a while, didn't have custody of my daughter and my niece.

Do you have full custody?

I have full custody of my niece and joint custody of Hailie. It's no secret what's been going on over the past year with my ex-wife. I wouldn't down-talk her, but with her bein on the run from the cops I really had no choice but to just step up to the plate. I was always there for Hailie, and my niece has been a part of my life ever since she was born. Me and Kim pretty much had her, she'd live with us wherever we was at.

And your little brother lives with you.

I've seen my little brother bounce around a lot from foster home to foster home. My little brother was taken away by the state when he was eight, nine.

You were how old?

I was twenty-three. But when he was taken away I always said if I ever get in a position to take him, I would take him. I tried to apply for full custody when I was twenty, but I didn't have the means. I couldn't support him. I watched him when he was in the foster home. He was so confused. I mean, I cried just goin to see him at the foster home. The day he was taken away I was the only one allowed to see him. They had come and got him out of school. He didn't know what the fuck was goin on. The same thing that had happened in my life was happening in his. I had a job and a car, and me and Kim, we bounced around from house to house, tryin to pay rent and make ends meet. And then Kim's niece was born, which is my niece now through marriage. Watched her bounce around from house to house — just watchin the cycle of dysfunction, it was like, "Man, if I get in position, I'm gonna stop all this shit." And I got in position and did.

So you have joint custody of Hailie, but she lives with you and spends most of her time with you and not with Kim.

I don't know if I'm inclined, or allowed, to say more than what is fact. In the last year, Kim has been in and out of jail and on house arrest, cut her tether off, had been on the run from the cops for quite a while. Tryin to explain that to my niece and my daughter was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through. You can never let a child feel like it's her fault for what's goin on. You just gotta let her know: "Mom has a problem, she's sick, and it's not because she doesn't love you. She loves you, but she's sick right now, and until she gets better, you've got Daddy. And I'm here."

What are your goals and principles as a dad? I'm sure there are boundaries.

Bein a dad is definitely living a double life. As far back as I can remember, even before Hailie was born, I was a firm believer in freedom of speech. I never wanted to compromise that, my artistic integrity, but once I hit them gates where I live, that's when I'm Dad. Takin the kids to school, pickin 'em up, teachin 'em rules. I'm not sayin I'm the perfect father, but the most important thing is to be there for my kids and raise them the right way

What are your biggest rules as a parent?

Teach them right from wrong as best I can, try not to lose my temper, try to set guidelines and rules and boundaries. Never lay a hand on them. Let them know it's not right for a man to ever lay his hands on a female. Despite what people may think of me and what I say in my songs — you know, me and Kim have had our moments — I'm tryin to teach them and make them learn from my mistakes. It's almost like juggling — juggling the rap life and fatherhood.

Well, in the nexus of that juggling is Hailie, who's in some of your songs, like "My Dad's Gone Crazy," from "The Eminem Show." Does she get to hear the songs she's in?

Most of the time I'll make clean versions of the songs and play them in the car. When she made "My Dad's Gone Crazy," it's a crazy little story. If I feel like I'm working too much, I let the kids come up to the studio. I get this little guilt trip inside, so I would have Kim just bring her up and let her hang around the studio. So me and Dre were working together, and Hailie was running around the studio and she was like [in Hailie's high voice], "Somebody please help me! I think my dad's gone crazy!"

Instantly that locked in with a beat we'd made the day before. I went to my house, and I had her go in the booth and say it. When she opens up, she's just like her dad in a lot of aspects. I just told her what to say and she nailed it, the first take. It almost was scary, to where I had to slow it down. I don't know if I wanna put her on any more songs. I don't wanna make her any more famous. She can live a life. She didn't choose to have her father become a rap star. Nor my niece, nor my brother. So they're able to go outside and live a normal life, go to stores and do things normally that I can't do. Which is why, a lot of times, certain things I can't be there for.

What about school events?

School is different. In school, when they have plays, field trips, all that stuff, I don't miss them, even if I gotta deal with the craziness. And the teachers are really good about telling the kids, "When Hailie's dad comes in, he's Hailie's dad, Mr. Mathers." Last year I went and read to the class. Two books. It was reading month or something.

There's a Hailie love song on this album.

Yeah, a song called "Mockingbird," to Hailie and Alaina. When Mom was on the run they didn't understand it, and I'm not the greatest talker in the world, especially when I'm trying to explain to two little girls what's goin on with someone who's always been a part of their life and just disappeared. So that was my song to explain to them what was goin on, probably the most emotional song I ever wrote.

Michael Jackson called your mocking of him in the "Just Lose It" video "demeaning and insensitive." Are you picking on Mike?

I didn't do anything in the video that he hasn't said himself he does. With the little boys jumping on the bed and all that — they're just jumping on the bed. People can take what they wanna take, decipher it how they wanna decipher it. But it's not actually Michael Jackson, it's me playing Michael Jackson, studying the moves and doing the impressions. I don't have an opinion, really, neither here nor there, against Michael Jackson. When Thriller came out, you couldn't tell me nothin about Michael: Dude was the ultimate, dude is a legend. But the allegations that are thrown at him and the seriousness of the case — the guy's jumping on top of his van dancing?

And showing up to court late.

I showed up to that motherfucker an hour early every morning. I'm not playing with court. And now I think my fans should rally around me for making fun of myself

Paris Hilton is in the "Just Lose It" video. She seems like the sort of person you'd normally be dissing, not doing a video with.

Well, when I was on MTV with La La it kinda slipped out. La La said, "How did you manage to get Paris?" I said, "Well, I love Paris. I love her almost as much as she loves herself." Then I was like, "Damn, that was fucked up." I try not to attack people who haven't attacked me first. As far as the image she portrays right now, as far as the way my girls look at her, do I want them to grow up to be like that? No. But for a video, for entertainment, that's a different thing. The song is about goin to the club and losin it, and you get so drunk you say the wrong thing. And we needed somebody to punch me, slap me, and pull my hair. Our first candidate was Jessica Alba. We couldn't get Jessica, and Paris happened to be in town.


Excerpted from Never Drank the Koolâ"Aid by Touré. Copyright © 2006 Touré. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Touré is the author of the novel Soul City and the story collection The Portable Promised Land. A contributing editor at Rolling Stone, his writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Tennis Magazine, The Best American Essays, and Da Capo Best American Music Writing, among other publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Touré is the author of the novel Soul City and the story collection The Portable Promised Land. A contributing editor at Rolling Stone, his writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Tennis Magazine, The Best American Essays, and Da Capo Best American Music Writing, among other publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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