Episode 20 – Good news, Jay Z, and Ady Barkan

Transcript, Web links and Credits below.


Hey Everybody. It’s Monday, April 29, and today I have nothing but good news for you. It’s been a rough few days. If you’ve seen The Avengers and Game of Thrones, no spoilers, but some of your favorite characters may have just died. We had a horrible mass shooting in Tennessee. We had another white supremacist shooting at a synagogue in San Diego. We had multiple shootings in Baltimore. Trump is still President. But today, I have two good news stories for you! Let’s talk about that new verse honoring Nipsey Hussle from Jay Z at his concert on Friday night. I wanna tell you all about Ady Barkan — who is my hero — and one of my favorite people on the planet. And I’ll close with a few action items for us to take together OK?

This is Shaun King and you are listening to (THE BREAKDOWN)



Hip hop is the soundtrack of my youth. I was born in 1979 as hip hop was just coming onto the scene, and, as I grew up, hip hop grew up. The producer of this podcast, my best friend, Willis, who I’ve known since kindergarten, is a lifelong rapper and producer. And for all of the credit that hip hop gets for setting trends and shaping culture, to this day I don’t think hip hop artists have gotten the credit they deserve for the poets that they are. At its essence, hip hop music is poetry. Really more than any other genre of music, hip hop lyrics are just poems.

They have more style and swag than poetry once you see and hear it delivered, but if you strip the beat, strip the style, and just look at the lyrics of some of the best rappers, you’ll quickly realize that what you are looking at is some of the best poetry ever crafted and that the people behind those lyrics, like Nas, like Biggie, like Kendrick and Cole, are the poets of this generation.

On Friday night in the East Village of New York City, a historic concert venue called Webster Hall reopened after being closed for two years for renovations — and they had Jay Z open up the venue with an amazing, creative set. You can’t watch the whole concert anywhere. I wasn’t there. I wish I was. But I’ve caught a lot of great little snippets from people who were in the audience. And one of them in particular has been on my mind ever since I heard it.

While almost all of the music from the concert was old stuff, this verse was new, and it was about the power of ownership and entrepreneurship, about Nipsey Hussle, and I want you to pay particular attention to the line about crabs in a barrel.

Here goes.

(Audio of Jay Z)

What did I tell you? Rappers are just poets — using rhymes and style to capture our attention.

Two things about Jay Z’s verse.

First, that little lyric about the crabs in a barrel is brilliant.

Have you ever used the metaphor about crabs in a barrel before? I have. It’s mainly used to describe how often we tear each other down when we should be lifting each other up — like crabs in a barrel — but Jay, very simply, just says, hold up. Crabs don’t even belong in barrels and why aren’t we talking about how much of a problem the barrel is?

That’s hip hop! He used the well-worn crabs in a barrel metaphor, flipped it on its head, and used it to talk about gentrification and red-lining in Black neighborhoods, and how sometimes our conditions cause behaviors more than behaviors cause conditions.

Anyway, every sample I hear from that concert is just brilliant.

The second thing that I want to talk about is how people are criticizing Jay Z’s mention of how we should basically be gentrifying our own neighborhoods. On one end, I get the criticism, because the word gentrifying is problematic, but that’s not what he’s saying, he’s just talking about how we need to invest in our own communities. But here’s what I love about the debate.

Jay Z has us debating the definition of gentrification. And to me, that’s a good thing.

Which leads me to my second story.

Ady Barkan is my hero. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t think any single person on earth inspires me more every single day than this man. Now he’s a young man. He’s several years younger than me, but he’s my hero. And just a few years ago, I had heard about him, but didn’t know him. He was widely known and respected in progressive circles for being a brilliant organizer and a fighter. He created brilliant campaigns for progressive causes and candidates. Then, soon after Ady and his wife Rachael had their first baby in 2016, a beautiful little boy named Carl, Ady began noticing some strange pains in his arms. They weren’t normal, like cramps, it was something much worse.

And to Ady’s surprise, it was ALS. He had probably already had it for months, but it was undetected, and now it was rapidly destroying his body. In a matter of weeks he was struggling to use his limbs, but could still walk, talk, and move. In a matter of months he required a wheelchair, but could still talk and use his arms some.

In a year, it was impacting every single part of his body, including his voice.

I wanna play a little love letter Ady recorded for his son, Carl. I’ll post the video on all of our social media channels so you can see it, but it’s beautiful.

(Insert here)

That was last year. Thankfully, Ady and I got to do some events together — and support each other last year as well — because today Ady has lost his ability to move and most of his ability to communicate with us. His mind is as sharp as ever and he’s now having to use his eyes to speak to us.

And tomorrow, which will be Tuesday, April 30, Ady is doing something so brilliant and so beautiful. At the risk of his own health and well-being, he put his entire life on the line this weekend to travel from California to DC to testify before Congress about why he loves and supports Medicare For All. And I’m so proud and grateful for his courage.

This man is using every ounce of energy in his body to stand for something. He can’t move his limbs. He can’t talk. Can’t walk. Can’t speak, but he is going to use his eyeballs to speak through a computer about why he believes this country needs Medicare For All to change our healthcare system once and for all.

Which leads me to our ACTION STEPS for the day.

Please follow @AdyBarkan on all social media networks and support his work. Make him your hero. Learn from him, retweet him, but more than that — be inspired by his courage and decide to live like him.

We’ve never done this on The Breakdown, but I want us to all pre-order his new book together. It’s called “Eyes to the Wind: A Memoir of Love and Death, Hope and Resistance” and I’ve read it. You can pre-order it now, but these are the dying words of a man who loves us and wants to see this nation live up to its potential. It’s beautiful, painful, and so inspiring. Let’s pre-order it together. You can go now to: http://www.bit.ly/eyestothewind or just look at the pinned tweet on the top of his Twitter page ok?

Lastly, I want you to pledge to watch his testimony before Congress tomorrow. He’ll share it live on his Twitter page and we’ll share it live from ours as well, ok?


Thank you all for making it all the way through this episode of The Breakdown!

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Take care everybody.



Produced by Willis Polk II

Additional Production by: Christian Idris “Idrys” Shannon

Additional Instrumentation by: Christian Idris “Idrys” Shannon, Lance "Lance Fury" Powlis, Markeith Black & Smok Tagous

Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library

Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush

Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg