Leaving No Pop Culture Stone Unturned with Panama Jackson for Very Smart Brothas Live! Pt. 1

Panama Jackson leaning on a fence

On July 7, 2018, Ace Hotel New Orleans hosted the inimitable Damon Young and Panama Jackson of Very Smart Brothas at the third annual Essentials, a series that Ace hosts concurrent with Essence Festival in New Orleans.

In Damon Young’s words, “the partnership between us and the Ace Hotel began as most good partnerships do — over black trivia and pancakes.” That meeting, in the spring of 2018, led to an invitation to collaborate with Damon (author of What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker) and fellow VSB co-founder Panama, setting the stage for the debut of “Very Smart Brothas Live!” at Ace Hotel New Orleans.

From arguing the forever relevancy of Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” (the lyrics, the gusto, the triumph, the Cheetos commercial) to conversating about the-word-that’s-definitely-a-word — “conversate” – to the slept on legacy of Janet Jackson’s career-spanning oeuvre, Panama leaves no pop culture stone unturned. Listen above and read below for part one of the conversation.

Panama Jackson: Hello, hello, hello, what’s going on everybody how y’all doing? My name is Panama Jackson. I’d like to welcome you all to the inaugural, uh, VSB Live AKA we tryin some shit for the first time. So we gonna see how this goes and thank you all for rocking with us. This should be entertaining at the very least. Um, perhaps we’ll all feel something in our something. But maybe not, maybe we just all gonna laugh and have a good time and hope everybody has something to drink. Is everybody in here familiar with VSB?

(audience cheers)

PJ: That’s pretty awesome. Okay. That doesn’t always happen. So, my name is Panama Jackson as I said, as most of you all know Damon Young back here. He’s our superstar. I saw LeBron James I get to be (Kyle Reid?) who gets traded on occasion. But you know, jokes aside. So what is VSB live? So what we decided to do was . . . create a live show of sorts that recreates what we do on VSB in sort of real time. So we’re gonna speaker box a little below this a little bit, so, Damon is going to, you know we write our posts. Damon does stuff, I write stuff and sometimes it’s similar, sometimes it’s different. So, I’m gonna take the first half, Damon’s gonna take the second. I’m gonna say some ridiculous things. I’m letting you know that now but I also believe in everything that I say, so everybody can kiss my ass.

But, I just want that out there up front. Damon is going to do a reading from his books, you all will be the first to hear an excerpt from his soon-to-be released book. Which he now has, the title is now tattooed on his arm, maybe he’ll show that to you, and the title is What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. So you all will be the first to hear an excerpt from this. You know, we’re gonna. . . we’re gonna keep it funky. Um, a couple ground rules so to speak. There will be strong language, made up words, there’s gonna be a lot of blackness. I just want everybody to be good, be clear up front. Umm, don’t start no stuff and there won’t be no stuff. Without further ado I’m gonna start it off. I’m gonna do my little, my little first set. I’m gonna set my timer so I can, um, not go over time. 

PJ: If I can get in here. So this is what I decided to title my set so to speak “What The Fuck Is Wrong With Panama Jackson?” cause the things I’m gonna talk to you about, everybody is gonna be mad at me. A monologue between me, myself and I, to me and you, yo mom and yo cousins. So there are three important things I would like to talk about with you all today that I think are important in the Black Community. But I want to tell you all how I got there first. I mean there’s a lot of stuff going on politically and, you know, I could talk about that. We do that sometimes on VSB, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the hearts and minds of people. My mother might be a racist, I could talk about that. Um, not gonna do that — she’s not very fond of me doing that. Um, she’s actually really not fond of me doing that actually. But then I decided the most important things to me right now, are a few. I’ll start with the first one. “Return of the Mack.” It’s possibly the greatest song of all time.

(Some clapping and cheering in the audience) 

PJ: I decided that’s what I care about more than anything . . . in the world right now. And I care about this and I’ve written a few pieces about this and everybody seems to get up in arms when I say that this is the most important, the best song on the planet. Do you agree, do you disagree? You don’t agree? See, and I don’t understand the disagreement. That’s effectively a VSB comment, somebody’s saying “Nah, no, nah.” You trippin’ that’s not what we do. But this is what we do here. So, I’m gonna present a case to you all. This is what I’m gonna do with my time, I’m gonna spend actual time that I could be using to change the world, to try to convince you all that “Return of the Mack” is the greatest song of all time. Show of hands how many people disagree with that statement? Ahh, so some people actually agree with that statement, okay, alright. 

PJ: I wanna start with . . . okay, you in the middle? Alright, alright, so, okay, okay. I would like to start with a few things. Number one, how many people have heard the song “Return of the Mack?” You have heard the song whether you believe it or not. “Return of the Mack” — it’s the Cheetos commercial! Oh, you know it! Don’t you? You’ve never heard it? Alright. We gonna catch you on the next go around, the next one’s gonna get you. 

PJ: Okay so. . . for one, the song is just really, really good.  Like just in terms of the way it makes you feel viscerally. In my heart and soul. . . I enjoy it. I sing along. Ain’t nobody in here that doesn’t know it. Aside from my friends here, who probably do — they just didn’t realize it yet, cause it’s on every one hit wonder station. I’ve heard it on the oldies stations and things like that. It turned 22 this year. Everybody knows lines from this song. If I say, “You lied to me.” Everybody knows what I’m talking about. Everybody can sing this so let’s do this together. (Sings, “You lied to me. All those times you said you would not leave.”

(Audience sings back and laughs) 

PJ: Wait? Who hit the “Oh my God?” Who hit the “Oh my God?” Look, “Oh my God” is one of the greatest ad libs of all time. And I’m gonna tell you why. “Oh my God” is featured pretty prominently in Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” Wanya throws an “Oh my God.” He throws that in there. It is a very prominent ad lib. But my point here is, generally, that everybody knows words from this song. Everybody sings along with this song even if you pretend you hate it. If you act like you don’t love this song it’s because you are one of those people who probably kicks puppies and hates everybody that posts pictures of kittens. Also, it takes very prominent components of some of the most popular songs. So it’s comprised of a couple samples. Ummm, what’s the Tom Tom Club, “Genius of Love” song? 

(Audience sings part of “Genius of Love”) 

PJ: So you all know this song right! Mariah Cary, ODB, “Fantasy.” Does anybody not like that song? No. That is the main component of “Return of the Mack.” It is literally the bedrock of the whole song. Then you have a black, I think Nigerian Brit, singing in his best English accent about the fact that you lied to him for all those times you said you would not leave. It’s the return of the mack. And it’s a song about triumph. It’s the Return of the Mack. He’s coming back, he’s been gone. But he’s back. If you have ever in your life, quit a job, or felt like, you know, somebody did not give you your just due. You have, it’s the Return of the Mack, that is what you have done. You have brought that back to the table. Chuckii Booker, playing games. (“Why you wanna play games on me?”). That’s the other bedrock of the song which, I’m assuming not everybody knows Chuckii Booker and there’s no good reason why everyone should know Chuckii Booker. But if you did and you heard that song you’d be like “Ohhhh that song is fuckin dope!”

Also the bedrock of the song. It’s okay. Great lyrics. It’s comprised of some of songs that are completely awesome. It’s triumphant. But ultimately. . . don’t you like good things? Do you like good things? Do you like good things? I think we all like good things. My black man in the back, you like good things? Yeah, alright, just, okay, you love Beyoncé so, clearly, you like good things. Uh oh, whoa, no Beyoncé slander, I’m not playin’ that’s not a Beyoncé shot. This is all Beyoncé. This is . . . Beyoncé territory over here. My point is with the time that I just used, I genuinely wanted to convince you all that “Return of the Mack” is one of the greatest songs of all time, and even if you don’t believe it is. I guarantee that you will listen to that song differently. You will consider it. You might listen to it when you leave here now like, “What the fuck?” 

(Audience laughter)

PJ: But you will have no choice but to acknowledge and understand that, yes, Mark Morrison is a one hit wonder. Mark Morrison is somebody who I’m pretty sure spent ten of the last twenty years in prison. 

(Audience laughter)

PJ: Tax evasion, some of that shit Wesley Snipes was doin’. I don’t know. Something along those lines. But ultimately and more importantly, he made one of the greatest songs of all time. And I need you to understand that. And even if you disagree, I need you to go forth, to prosper-flourish and listen to “Return of the Mack” as God intended you to. As one of the greatest songs of all time. That was the first thing I cared about. So we gonna talk about something a little more pressing in the black community. A little bit more pressing. Why the fuck do y’all hate the word “conversate” so much? 

(Audience laughter)

PJ: Listen, listen. “Conversate” is absolutely a motherfucking word I just used it. . . twice! And you all know exactly what I’m saying when I say it. If I say “conversate,” everybody knows I’m about to have a talk with someone else. If I walk out the door, you and me can go conversate, y’all know exactly what I’m talking about. The main, hold up, the main point of communication is to exchange thoughts and ideas with another human being in a way that they can understand it right? Most of us are black in here. We probably all listen to hip hop. In some way, shape or form. We all listen to rappers use words that they be making up for years. I’m from down south, half the shit I grew up on isn’t a real word. My grandma called oranges “errnges,” and I knew exactly what she was talking about. When she told me to get the “irn,” I knew exactly I need to go get the iron. I knew exactly what she was talking about. But the fact is, people accept that shit, people don’t accept “conversate.” I need somebody to give me a reason why “conversate” ain’t a real word. 

PJ: You know what, because I know his life, I couldn’t, I was gonna say somethin’, that would’ve got real personal. It got real personal. That’s one of my brothers back there, one of my best friends in life. So let me protest something to you all, okay. Way down in the jungle deep. I’m not going the dolomite route. Somehow, someway, one day, somebody decided that thing we walk in and out of is a door. Right? Somebody decided that shit and we all just accepted it. Nobody questions shit. Everybody was like, “You know what? That’s a good ass word for that shit. Door.” One day somebody came up with the word “orientation.” And they were like, “We gonna shorten that motherfucker, so instead of orientation, we gonna orientate some shit.” And everyone was like, “Cool.” 

(Audience laughter)

PJ: Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. I promise you if you look some of this shit up, it actually exists. And I read real good. So, the fuck? I read good as fuck, so. My point is, a long time ago people decided a whole bunch of things were gonna be words and nobody questioned any of it. I especially have a problem with black folks beefin’ with a word we didn’t come up with in the damn first place. Yeah, we about to go there for a second. Every conversation I’ve had arguing about the word “conversate” always comes down to the King’s English. That’s not a real word. It wasn’t your word in the first damn place. We didn’t come up with this shit, somebody just told you that was the word and all the sudden we accepted it. “Door,” “floor,” “whore,” “pole,” “microphone” — whatever, we just accept these things.

But somehow “conversate” is like grating on a chalkboard for people. So I’ve deduced that the only reason why we hate the word “conversate” is because we assume that’s one of those markers of “less-than” education, like if you were, everybody in this room probably goes out and uses the word “conversate,” it’s a joke. Like if I use it amongst any one of y’all, y’all know that I don’t mean it. Y’all know I know better, right. You know I know it’s converse, however you get around your cousins and your aunties and I got a bunch of them that do shit like that. Who say, “I conversate with my aunties all the time.” No bullshit like we’re literally — we gonna conversate right quick.

I’ve actually had that conversation. It didn’t bother me. But I think the assumption is, because we know better it’s okay to use it. Once you know the rules, it’s okay to break them right? But, we’re too hellbent on what the rules actually are for some shit we didn’t create in the first place. But we got caught up in the second place, tryin to get to the third place, being on some bullshit in the fourth place. At the end of the day, the word “conversate,” to me, to you, to yo mom and yo cousins too, is actually a word because when I say it, again, you know exactly what I mean. “Conversate” is a word. Alright that’s the second thing I was gonna try to convince you of. I don’t expect to change any hearts or minds, but I really — this is the shit that was on my heart when I was like, “I have time to go talk to people this is what I’m gonna do.”

We all listen to rappers use words that they be making up for years. I’m from down south, half the shit I grew up on isn’t a real word.

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