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Hootie & The Blowfish Talk 'Cracked Rear View''s 25th Anniversary, Being Secretly Political And "Old Town Road"

Hootie & The Blowfish's Darius Rucker

Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images

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Hootie & The Blowfish Talk 'Cracked Rear View''s 25th Anniversary, Being Secretly Political And "Old Town Road"

Lead singer Darius Rucker sits down with the Recording Academy to go deep on his band's best-selling album, feeling pressure to change the "Hootie" name, breaking racial barriers in country music and more

GRAMMYs/Jul 31, 2019 - 09:53 pm

Hootie & The Blowfish are a household name, possibly for the worse. Despite being four of the most regular guys to make one of the 20 best-selling albums of all-time with 1994's Cracked Rear View, which has shipped 21 million copies worldwide, their popularity is viewed as somewhat of a fad from the era between grunge and teen pop. It's hard to account for why their success was less stable than that of peers like Counting Crows or Dave Matthews Band, but the name probably has something to do with it. At the same time, one could argue they achieved critical mass because of it, and more staggered successes like Counting Crows didn’t.

Regardless, it isn’t much of a stretch that Hootie's jangly folk-rock has transitioned from '90s frat-guy audiences to Tom Petty-loving dads and families in the 2010s as they tour to celebrate Cracked Rear View's 25th anniversary and prepare to release a new album later this year, with the likes of Ed Sheeran co-writing a song. And it doesn’t hurt that frontman Darius Rucker, 53, has enjoyed unexpected number-one success making country music solo for the last decade and change. Rucker spoke to the Recording Academy via phone about the legacy of Cracked Rear View, the political bent that's gone unnoticed in Hootie’s songs and his belated conversion to hip-hop.

You'd been playing these songs for years before Cracked Rear View was a smash. So you’re officially celebrating the 25th anniversary, but is it 30 for some of them?

Oh goodness, yeah. "Let Her Cry," "Hold My Hand," definitely 30 years.

How much time passed between writing a song like "Only Wanna Be With You" and it being completely inescapable everywhere you went?

Probably six, seven years! Before any of those songs really did anything, we were just playing clubs. We were still that little band in South Carolina that wasn’t ever gonna get a record deal, writing songs, playing out, and people kept coming to see us.

You had no idea you had several hits on your hands?

Goodness, no. All we knew is that they were good songs. At the time we were in clubs, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a hit. We didn’t think "Hold My Hand" was gonna do anything like what it did.

That’s incredible because "Hold My Hand" sounds like you're addressing a mass audience with those first lines. It’s hard to imagine singing those to just your bandmates in an intimate space.

We were auditioning drummers, and Soni [Jim Sonefeld] said "I want to write songs with you guys," and  he played "Hold My Hand" for us. And we said, "That’s a good song, you're in the band."

That's dangerous to bring a song like that to an audition. What if you guys just took it and didn't call him back?

[Laughs.] That wouldn’t have been cool!

How much of the backlash do you attribute to just the name "Hootie & The Blowfish"? You played with Dave Matthews Band a lot; have you wondered if you guys were just the Darius Rucker Band…

I’m sure it had a lot to do with it. The backlash had to do with the name of the band and just the raw success and grunge ending and people just being like, "This little pop/rock band from South Carolina telling me to hold their f**kin’ hand." [Laughs.]

You don’t have a backlash that big unless people were affected by the music so, you know, it’s okay. Thriller is the number-one selling record in this country, and it sold what, 28 million copies? That means 322 million people didn’t like it. [Laughs.] People who don’t like it, I don’t care.

There must have been pressure on you guys to do something different with your sound.

We've talked about it, but anytime we played any kind of songs, they just sounded like us. Atlantic sucked as a label, they treated us like sh*t, but that’s a record label.

What were some of the crazier things they tried to pressure you to do?

Well first, to change the name. To be honest with you, not much. We got a lot of good stuff in the rejection letters that we got back, but once we got to Atlantic, it was just "do your own thing."

Did you ever think about changing the name?

We definitely had a conversation about it, but we were already doing so well in the Carolinas and on the East Coast, it was too late. If we changed our name we would've had to start over.

When's the last time you spoke to the college classmates you named the band after?

We were friends! But I haven't spoken to those guys in decades, it’s been 20-something years. VH1 did a whole half-hour show on those guys.

Cracked Rear View is one of the best-selling albums of all time, but you guys still feel like underdogs. What song on it have you always wished would get more attention?

There were still songs on that record that we thought would be a good single, but we stopped that record, you know? If it was up to our record label, they would've gone with another single or two. But we were ready to move on and do something else. "I'm Goin' Home" I thought would’ve made a good single.

Do you think Cracked Rear View is your best album?

Oh no, I don’t. [2003’s] Hootie and the Blowfish I liked a lot, and [2005’s] Looking for Lucky I liked a lot, too. Those are two great records. But the first record was the biggest record so people always say that, and we’re cool with that. We’re still kids from the University of South Carolina who got real lucky, people are still talking about us 25 years later, that’s pretty cool.

"Drowning" was campaigning against the confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse 25 years ago. Did more people comment on your political lyrics in 1994 or do you find newer audiences now pay more attention to that?

No, I don’t think most people really got how political our records were. I mean, I always say “Hold My Hand” was a protest song. If you listen to the words, it just was. But no one ever got that because everybody was too fixated on… “God, this new band, I love it” or they were too fixated on hating this new band. [Laughs.] When people like you actually bring that up it shocks me because I always thought we were a very political band and nobody got it.

Did your political lyrics raise more eyebrows when you began a solo career in the country world?

Nah, not really. When I got into country, some people were like, "This guy from Hootie & The Blowfish…" but it was really like a brand-new start. When you listen, it's not like I was making that big of a jump anyway. No one ever really brought it up.

Country has a way of embracing artists from other worlds who aren't what’s necessarily considered hip, like Jimmy Buffett had kind of a big country revival, and the alt-rock band Lit, and you’ve scored some serious solo hits.

It’s really funny how Kid Rock had that big hit, and you said Buffett, "It’s 5'O'Clock Somewhere." I was really surprised because all I wanted to do was make records, I wasn’t really counting on any success to be honest with you. When it did happen, I was shocked.

Listening back, something like [Cracked Rear View’s] "Running From an Angel," could’ve fit right onto one of your solo albums.

Oh yeah, absolutely. When you listen to [Hootie] records you can feel that country influence because I was definitely listening to some country at that time.

Do you feel like the country world has gotten more welcoming for non-white artists?

Oh, absolutely. When I came in, it was the first time in 25 years an African-American hit the top 25, and then it the first time in 25 years that an African-American was in the top 10. Women and guys coming up, they're getting a chance. I don’t know if I broke down a barrier, but maybe now these singers of color, an A&R guy will give their tape a listen.

Are you a fan of "Old Town Road"?

I love that song! That song is like "Who Let the Dogs Out," who doesn’t like it? If you say you don’t like that song, you’re lying. You get a song like that, where kids everywhere are singing it… a song can get big with adults, but when you get the kids buying it and saying, "Mom, put on 'Old Town Road'," that’s a smash.

I think a swath of my generation considers Hootie to be the ultimate "dad" rock. What do your own kids think of the band? Do they have any awareness of how massive you guys truly were at one time?

Not really. They’ve never really known anything else but their dad as a musician, you try to explain that to them and they don't get it.

Ed Sheeran wrote for the upcoming Hootie album. Did your Nashville career help open Hootie up to outside songwriters?

Our last couple records we sat around and wrote with some people, that’s something we do now. Nashville, everyone’s inspired. You could write a song at any time. It might be a shitty song, but you could write one right now. [Laughs.] It’s totally different there for sure. I love it, I’m excited for people to hear this record.

Have you thought about writing songs for other people?

I’ve done sessions to write for other folks, but every time, the song was so good I ended up taking it for myself. [Laughs.]

Have you seen the Key and Peele sketch

Love ‘em, love ‘em, love ‘em. I’ve seen ‘em all and I laugh every time. That line he had where he walked into a room of white people and said he knew exactly how Darius Rucker felt? Frickin' hilarious.

Are you a fan of any artists that would surprise people?

Musically? Barry Manilow. I don’t like him; I love him. I saw him live a couple years ago and he blew my face off. He was 72, dancing the whole time. I was sitting there in the audience going, "This is f**king incredible."

Is there any angry music that you like?

Ahhh…I don’t have any angry music! [Laughs.] I listen to the Notorious Big! [ed. note: he pronounces it “big”]

That’s fitting because you guys were two of the most influential stars of 1995, in completely different worlds.

Yeah, it’s funny you said that because I didn’t realize until recently that [Hootie] and gangsta rap happened at the same time.

Was there great music you felt you missed at the time?

Oh yeah, most of hip-hop! I listened to Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett and Tim McGraw. Going back now I’m listening to Wu-Tang and being like, "Where the hell was I?" [Laughs.]

Well, you were topping the charts and singing to millions. Have any hip-hop artists ever reached out to collaborate or sample you?

No, they haven’t, and that’s one of the last things on my bucket list, to sing the hook on a really big rap record. I had this fantasy that Eminem was gonna call me, I thought that would be really cool to sing on an Eminem song. But I’m not holding my breath for that one.

That would be amazing. I mean, it seems more plausible now in a post-"Old Town Road" world.

I’m surprised he didn’t call me for that record, but I thought Billy Ray was a good choice.

Maybe you should call Lil Nas X and hop on another remix?

Nah, man, he’s gotta get another hit now!

You could write it for him.

I could write it with him.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Ice-T In 1993

Photo by David Corio/Redferns

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Led by iconic rapper Ice-T, the L.A.-based seven-piece keep their socially conscious themes consistent and the music louder than ever on their seventh studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 10, 2020 - 10:06 pm

In early 1992 Ernie Cunnigan visited the Burbank office of Howie Klein. The guitarist (who goes by Ernie C.) and the then-president of Reprise/Warner Bros. Records were listening to the upcoming self-titled debut from Cunnigan’s band, Body Count, fronted by his Crenshaw High School buddy Tracy Marrow, already famous as rapper Ice-T. Ice, with the savvy creative connectivity that guides his multi-hyphenate media career to this day, introduced his forthcoming metal band in 1991 via tracks on O.G. Original Gangster, his fourth album.

It's not unusual for high school pals to form a band. What was unusual, though, was that Body Count was a hardcore thrash metal band comprised of all-black musicians, with point-blank lyrics that were both insightful and incite-ful concerning racial and social inequities and the climate of America. Listening to the 18-track debut, Klein praised it, while voicing concern about the lyrics of "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," a song about the matricide and dismemberment of a racist parent. Turns out it was the last track, a ditty called "Cop Killer," that should have given the executive pause. 

While Klein was and remains stridently opposed to censorship and is a dedicated free speech advocate, Body Count, per the era, was released with a parental advisory sticker (as was Original Gangster). Less than two months after Body Count dropped, Los Angeles exploded in fiery violence in reaction to the acquittal of four policemen in the beating of Rodney King, as well as the shooting death of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer. (The grocer was given only probation.) It was the worst possible climate for "Cop Killer," with lyrics including "F**k the police, yeah!" and shout-outs to then L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates, Ice's "dead homies" and King. The blowback went all the way up to then-President George Bush, and though Time Warner supported Ice-T in his fight against the song's opponents, he eventually pulled the cut from new pressings of the album.

Currently, streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music offer the version sans the group's most (in)famous song, replacing "Cop Killer" with "Freedom Of Speech" from Ice's 1989 solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say, edited to add samples of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" and the voice of political punker Jello Biafra. On YouTube, "Cop Killer" has more than 1.5 million views, with most of the comments thoughtful and positive, understanding the intentionally incendiary messages Body Count was delivering. Ultimately, if Body Count isn’t a classic record in the way that critics consider Nirvana’s Nevermind or Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back to be, it’s an important and groundbreaking one. As Ice-T has said, Body Count is: "a protest record,” not the norm in the metal world, but still the way BC's songs operate today.

Indeed, 28 years later, things haven’t changed. Biafra is also on Body Count's powerful new album, Carnivore. Police actions like "stop and frisk" (the NYC law enforcement program that was proven to disproportionally target black and Latino men) wasn’t legally discredited until 2014. Body Count’s one-time bassist, Lloyd "Mooseman" Roberts III, was murdered in South Central Los Angeles in 2001 in an accidental drive-by; in the last 12 months, 126 black men were killed by guns in L.A. County, as opposed to 23 white men. And Ice-T and Body Count are still raging against the machine.

Ice-T enjoys pushing buttons lyrically, and if they’ve sometimes been heavy-handed or misguided ("KKK Bitch" or "Bitch In The Pit"), Ice-T is a politically eloquent, passionate and personal songwriter, which can be too easily overlooked given Body Count's volume-heavy metal chops and Ice's delivery, a speedy vocal style that’s been traditionally more aggro-rapping than melodic singing.  

That said, Carnivore is Body Count’s best album to date; it’s the most fully realized musically, and there’s a cohesion to the vocals and music that led Body Count bassist Vincent Price to lay out the band’s growth in a Metallica timeline: "Manslaughter [2014] was basically Kill ‘Em All; Bloodlust [2017] was our Ride The Lightningand Carnivore’s our Master Of Puppets."

He's not wrong, and though Ice-T’s more than 20-year stint as detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has precluded lengthy Body Count tours, the buzz is loud for this seventh album.

Ice-T may be the original gangster, yet he’s patient, articulate and fervent in explaining songs and motivations to audiences and the press alike. "When I'm Gone," featuring Amy Lee of Evanescence, was inspired by the killing of Nipsey Hussle. It’s a reminder, as he says in the tune, to "tell the people that you love, that you love them now. … Don't wait; tomorrow may be too f**king late."

His prolific musical social criticism and seemingly left-leaning views are thoughtful and targeted, despite the vitriol of so many Body Count songs. In the nearly 30 years since founding his revolutionary band, Ice-T observes, "I think you’ve got less racism; less people, but more avid racism. It’s unnerving to think that we’ve come so far but there’s still so far to go." As he advised in a 2017 interview, "Don’t just be angry. Know what you’re talking about so you don’t alienate someone who should be an ally."