Skip to content Skip to site navigation



the Earth-based God

Cryptic rapper Lil B drops environmental wisdom. Here are his greatest hits


You may or may not know who Lil B the Based God is. Or, according to his legend, you can know who Lil B is, but you may never know who the Based God is, or you may not want to know, for your own sanity. Some have tried to explain his mystique, but to little resolution.

My buddy Eric Tullis, hip hop expert and music contributor for the alt-weekly Indy Week, calls Lil B “an accidental eclectic who’s made a career out of being an idiot savant rapper.” He’s revealed so much on his Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Youtube pages, and yet we know so little. The little we know:

  • He was or is part of the Bay Area rap group “The Pack,” popularly known for their hip hop ode to Vans footwear.
  • It seems that he has a mouth full of gold teeth.
  • He appears to have a large, faithful following as a solo rapper based purely on social networks.
  • His Youtube music video hits reach into the millions, including this one named after Ellen DeGeneres (4.8 million+ views to date).
  • He’s been in a number of high-profile Twitter feuds with badass rappers like Joe Budden and Joey Bada$$.
  • He’s also involved in a long-standing feud with NBA MVP Kevin Durant (a guide to which you can read about in Grantland.)
  • He’s a motivational speaker who once gave a lecture at NYU.
  • He’s a misogynist.

And his latest reveal: He’s an environmentalist.


Ask Umbra: Can I survive in the city with just a bike?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Driving everywhere makes me feel like a cretin. However, I live on a hill in Los Angeles. I've considered a bicycle (with some type of engine or motor boost) alternative, but several things stay my hand:

  1. Bike safety.
  2. Hill. Big one. And my job is one where I'm on my feet and moving, so long rides after a hard day don't sound fun.
  3. Groceries. Tools. My dog. There are certain things I can't imagine accomplishing with a bike.
  4. No public transport stations within walking distance.
  5. Dear old mom trained her girl to always be wary. There are times when it’s a relief to be able to lock my doors and be in an enclosed car.

What's the next most eco-friendly decision for a busy gal in a city of cars? Or are there just more lifestyle changes I could/should make?

Los Angeles, Calif.

A. Dearest Remy,

Your personality-filled letter – which, regrettably, I had to edit for length – neatly identifies the hurdles many of us face when contemplating life without our four-wheeled gas-guzzlers. While the benefits of ditching the car are huge (among them saving tons of cash, no traffic and parking hassles, and more exercise), it can be intimidating to take the leap – especially in a place as stereotypically auto-crazed as L.A. But fear not: With the help of a bicycle, public transit, and perhaps a little technology, you can indeed reduce your reliance on that fossil-fuelmobile. You can even dump it entirely.

Read more: Cities, Living


Billions of oil dollars will buy you the largest mall in the world

When Busta Rhymes released the seminal hit "Arab Money" in 2008, was it a prophetic vision of this century's most absurd testament to conspicuous consumption to date? How could Mr. Rhymes possibly have envisioned a 48-million-square-foot, climate-controlled indoor city, complete with sparkling waterfalls and the largest mall in the world?

Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, a global petrodollar symbol in his own right, has announced plans to construct a massive, hermetically sealed city in the UAE's most populous emirate. In addition to 20,000 hotel rooms, 50,000 parking spaces, and something ominously called a "cultural celebration centre," the development will include an 8-million-square foot Mall of the World. (Is that really a title that anyone is vying for?)

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Dead Heat

Hot summers make for a bloody Chicago

Seth Anderson

The Fourth of July weekend is widely recognized as a nice little oasis in the middle of the summer for Americans to reflect on their love of country through explosions, grilled meats, and beer (not necessarily in that order.) By contrast, this year's holiday in Chicago was commemorated by 82 shootings, including more than a dozen murders. Yesterday, the murder count for the city hit the 200 mark.

In a city so infamously beset by violence that it's earned the nickname Chiraq, the general trend has been that murders become more frequent in warmer weather. In 2012, there were 500 murders in Chicago, and many attributed the jaw-dropping figure -- the highest in the country -- to an unseasonably warm spring and unbearably hot summer. It wasn't hyperbole: I was there, and I didn't fully comprehend the meaning of "stifling heat" until July 2012.

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics


parks and reparations

How our fear of “wilding” colored the Central Park Five case

PBS - The Central Park Five

The New York City men known as the “Central Park Five” will reportedly receive $40 million for their wrongful convictions and imprisonment after police falsely accused them of attacking and raping a white woman 25 years ago. It’s hard to imagine what financial amount, if any, could adequately repair what was taken from these five lives: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise, and Yusef Salaam. They were just boys when they were arrested, the youngest 14; all of them of African American or Latino American heritage. They spent the rest of their teenage years in jail, one of them in the notorious Riker’s Island penitentiary.

They were exonerated in 2002 when Matias Reyes confessed to sexually assaulting the victim, Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker who was jogging in Central Park. Her almost lifeless body was found in the early morning of April 20, 1989. Police picked up the other five boys for the crime because they were part of a larger group of kids who were in Central Park that night causing other mischief -- what the media referred to then as “wilding.”

The story leading up to their absolution is an instructive tale of how prejudice functions specifically in spaces where the general public is supposed to exist harmoniously with nature. The greenspace of Central Park wasn’t and hasn’t been a shield against racism and rape culture. In this instance, the park was used as an instrument for dehumanizing black and Latino youth, felon-izing their behavior in the process.

Read more: Cities, Living


Location, location, location

When storms hit, scrappy local reporters rush to the rescue

Damage in the Rockaways.
Reuters / Keith Bedford

With yet another hurricane roaring up the coast, Ned Berke was determined to keep a cool head. The publisher of a small, online news startup in South Brooklyn called Sheepshead Bites, he had seen this routine before: A storm whips up and the media circus begins. Just the summer before, then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg had ordered hundreds of thousands of city residents to evacuate in the face of an approaching hurricane, but while the storm gave the city a good soaking, little damage was done.

“Our approach was, we’re not going to go all alarmist like the rest of the media,” Berke says, thinking back to Hurricane Sandy's approach in late October, 2012. He created a resource page where locals could find information on how to prepare, notices from the city, a storm-related Twitter feed, and a live video of the nearby bay. But the general message to his readers was, don’t freak: “Take care of yourself. Don’t be an idiot.”

Berke was so ensconced in his website, which serves a portion of Brooklyn often ignored by other city media, that he didn’t bother to prepare himself. By the time his girlfriend decided it was time to go to the store to buy emergency supplies, all that was left on the shelves was a tiny pink flashlight, a scented candle, and a bottle of Gatorade.

“I did not take the storm seriously like I was telling everyone else to do,” Berke says.

Not too smart, perhaps, but the result was that Berke got a front-row seat to Sandy’s trouncing of south Brooklyn — a vantage that he used to report (first via his computer, and later, when the electricity and wi-fi went out, by dictating stories to a friend until his cellphone battery died) on the damage done to his community, and later, on the long, slow cleanup process.

Berke is among a breed of small-time media entrepreneurs who are working mightily to fill the void left by shriveling urban newspapers and local TV news outlets. I wrote about these people recently in a feature story for Next City — the latest chapter in an ongoing tale about the changing media landscapes in urban America.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Between a hawk and a hard place

Rats! Rodent poison kills hawks, too


Several years ago, I noticed that hawks had moved into my neighborhood. Well, one hawk. A dead hawk, actually. It was lying on its back on my front porch with its little feet in the air, looking fierce and magnificent and just totally dead. I had never seen a hawk that close before. My roommate stood over it, taking pictures with her phone.

"Juvenile red tail," she said. "I already posted a picture on the internet and three people already asked if they could come by and pick it up. What is it with our neighbors and taxidermy?"

The realization of how the hawk had come to die on our front porch sank in gradually. Hadn't the landlords said something a few weeks ago about sending someone over to "deal with" the mice that were establishing a dynasty in the wall behind our stove? Hadn't I not heard from the mice in a while?

The hawk had probably thought that it was its lucky day, finding these sluggish mice in our yard, probably all fattened up on our organic kitchen scraps. It wouldn't have realized they were stuffed with poison.

Read more: Cities, Living


Bike race

Want to empower African American kids? Give them bikes


Cycling has a reputation for being a white man’s sport, hobby, and mode of transportation. It’s an image rooted in truth -- white people accounted for about 80 percent of the cycling population in the U.S. as of 2009 -- but it’s far from a complete picture. From 2001 to 2009, the rates of cycling among African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians grew far more than among whites.

Ed Ewing is working hard to keep that trend going. He’s the director of diversity and inclusion for the Cascade Bicycle Club and co-founder of the Major Taylor Project, a program that uses cycling to empower underserved youth in the Seattle area. The program is named after Major Taylor, the first African-American to win a cycling world championship race.

Ed Ewing.
Cascade Bicycle Club
Ed Ewing.

I sat down with Ewing at his office to talk about his work, his history in bike racing, racism he’s experienced as an African American cyclist, the importance of diversity, inclusion, and equity in cycling and bike advocacy, and much more. Through the course of our conversation, Ewing dove deep. He discussed the systemic issues of race and discrimination, policies like neighborhood redlining, and poverty that shape the lives of the students he works -- and he explained how cycling is connected to all of it.

As he told me, it’s always about more than just getting kids on bikes.

Read more: Cities, Living


The Civil Rights Act at 50: Protecting people of color and the environment, too

rosa parks

This week marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, which made segregation unlawful and ushered stronger constitutional protections for people of color. There are still people who think that social justice and environmental issues are totally separate things, but as I’ve argued before, they’re not — and the Civil Rights Act is a case in point. The climate justice and environment worlds have benefited much from this law, particularly Title VI, which protects people of color from discrimination in any program or activity that receives federal funding.

While Title VI has been a somewhat suboptimal civil rights guardian in the environmental realm, it has had some successes in keeping people of color from suffering disproportionate pollution burdens -- and in ensuring equal access to public transportation. Some of these successes were discussed this week in the webinar "Transportation Equity: A 21st Century Civil Rights Issue,” which was hosted by a coalition of civil rights groups called the Transportation Equity Caucus.

Three presenters each provided examples of how precisely transportation policy meets at the nexus of civil rights and environmental protection. After all, the original 20th century battles leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 were over rail and labor (check the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) and buses (check the Montgomery Bus Boycott). Civil rights advocates still rely on the law to address transit inequities, and not just in the post-Jim-Crow South.


Neighbors transform abandoned mall into a giant aquarium


American malls have been invaded by just about everything -- from Santas to zombies to the fitness-crazed elderly. But this? This is new. When the abandoned New World Mall in Bang Lamphu, Thailand, flooded and became a breeding ground for mosquitos, neighbors had a solution: Fill it with carp.

Supoj Wancharoen with the Bangkok Post has more on this fishy tale:

The history of the fish pond dates back to 1994 when the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of the seven-storey extension of the 11-storey New World. The judges uncovered the fact that the store operators originally asked for permission from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to construct a four-storey building.

The seven floors illegally added to New World were then demolished by the BMA. The work left a four-storey structure, with no roof or covering. Over the years … rain turned the waterlogged ground floor into a 500-square-metre pond.

The mostly stagnant pond became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. To fight that dangerous and annoying development, nearby residents bought fish of assorted species to eat the mosquitoes and larvae.

"The fish only came in around 2003-2004 after people around here were affected by the mosquito problems from the water-logging inside the New World building," said Sommai Chuanpak, who owns a coffee stand in front of the mall.

"We even bought carp and raised them. At first there were not many, but the number grew after several years."

The Verge has some amazing photos of the fish mall here.

The giant indoor malls that dot so much of the American landscape are falling out of favor and into decay, and what to do with them has become a hot topic, so let’s get to brainstorming! Some have suggested some “practical” uses, but I think these fish mall folks are on to something.

Read more: Cities