“People are not looking for [our] articles, they are looking for me and Damon Young when they read Very Smart Brothas,” explained Panama Jackson, co-founder of Very Smart Brothas, about people who ask to be in the publication in order to gain some notoriety. I have been an avid reader of the blog and The Root column (also partnered with Very Smart Brothas) for a while now. After meeting Jackson at a few events, I knew it was time to feature him in Taji Mag.
The first time I heard about Very Smart Brothas, I was talking to another freelance writer at the 2018 African American Black Film Festival in Miami. She suggested I read their published works and I found myself pre-occupied with doing so on my flight back to DC. The first article I read was Panama’s “So It Turns Out ‘Electric Boogie,’ the Song Your Mama ’nem Electric Slide To, Is About a Vibrator. Life Is Different Now.” It was then I knew I had a couple of writers I could look forward to reading and, hopefully one-day, meeting. My list now included the Very Smart Brothas and Jemele Hill, but that’s a feature for another day. Stay tuned! Wink wink.
Me and You, Your Mama and Panama’s Book Too!
Panama Jackson is known for his hilarious blogs that cover everything from family political debates to film and book reviews. He is also known to post his monthly book list which is typically composed of some of his favorite women writers, including the following:
Zora Neale Hurston. Well-known Black writer and essayest, some of her work has been released posthumously like Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo and Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance.
Nafissa Thompson Spires. Known for her multiple award-winning book, Heads of the Colored People: Stories.
Toni Morrison. Jackson mentions he has a love-hate relationship with her stating “Some of her work is brilliant, her work is not an easy lift, but I am a person that appreciates an easy lift in reading. It’s not that I can’t understand what’s happening but sometimes it’s just difficult to weigh through it.”
Samantha Urby. He stated, “She is a great essayist and I cannot do what she does. I could try, but I just can’t.”
Bassey Ikpi. Jackson stated, “Her newest book I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying: Essays is one of the best books I have read in my life. Off the strength of one album (book), she makes my list!”
Jackson’s colleague, Damon Young, has published a book titled, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. When asked about his personal book deal, Jackson responded, “I am looking to have my own book out one day, it will be titled Elevators because the book will be about me and you, your mama and your cousin too!” (If you don’t know, the title is a nod to the legendary Hip-Hop group, OutKast, and their early chart topper entitled Elevators). Jackson talked about his ideal book which would include things like parenting, how Hip-Hop is tied to his masculinity, and a few other areas of his life. His goal is to explain how music and entertainment have shaped him as a man and as a human being.
In the Words of Nas, “Keep Integrity at Every Cost.”
Being asked to review films for other popular platforms, Panama speaks on the importance of maintaining integrity when taking on commissioned pieces. One instance he recalls was when a notable publication asked him to write a review of Cardi B’s song Bodak Yellow and the cultural significance of the song. Jackson wrote the piece and turned it in, but the publication did not like his review. They wanted something more “culturally sound.” He recalls, “I had to leave the money on the table, I just thought Bodak Yellow was a great song. Cardi B killed it and that was it. I wasn’t going to force-feed this idea to their white audience that there was cultural significance in the song. It’s just good music and Black people make good stuff.”
He went on to talk about how he felt Black culture gets short-changed in the most popular publications. He used last year’s Jidenna album, 85 to Africa, as an example. “I read a lot of reviews on that album because I loved it so much. I really didn’t see anyone do the album real justice, so I told myself that I had to. Most reviews I saw were 200 words or less. I wrote 1500 words because I felt it needed context and as much effort as possible since I didn’t see it happening anywhere else.”
“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” – Zora Neale Hurston
Panama Jackson: From Black Bloggin to Very Smart Brothers
Panama explained the process it took to get to where he is now as a writer and even talked about his improvement along the way. “If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell myself to be more thoughtful and not be so hell-bent on a hot take. Back ten years ago, if I had an idea, I was willing to defend it to the ends of the earth and that’s not the way to be. This definitely took longer for me to learn than it should have.”
Jackson went on to explain his most significant growth as a writer stating, “I have also become Blacker in my writing. Very rarely you will see me write about white people. I have not done that for years and it’s something you would not notice unless you are actively paying attention. I write about Black people, Black experiences, and that’s it. My writing has become intentionally unapologetically Black.”
Panama Jackson talked about how lucky he and Damon were to make Very Smart Brothas as big as it is now. “It was timing. We started during the Black blogger’s scene and were lucky to build from there. It’s kind of like Jay-Z’s albums presently. If he comes out now, I don’t think he matters. But because he’s been around for so long, when he does put out an album now, people pay attention.” Jackson said he and Damon wrote everyday about their thoughts and opinions. From there they were able to build a fan base.
As we practice social distancing and quarantine ourselves during this Coronavirus pandemic, I recommend you head over to Very Smart Brothas to find some entertaining articles and videos to help pass the time. Jackson has also done a podcast called “What If Tyler Perry Had a Writer’s Room” which can be heard on SoundCloud and Spotify. The first episode features one of his favorite female writers, Bassey Ikpi, as they discuss Perry’s Netflix feature A Fall From Grace. Check it out and don’t forget to stay safe during these rough times.