Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Strength of Street Knowledge: An Interview with Tariq “King Flex” Nasheed Part 1

Anyone familiar with the pimp game knows the old saying, “The game is to be sold, not to be told.”  In keeping with that adage, many self-described “players” have offered their take on “the game.”  They often do so sans the criminally exploitive aspects of that philosophy, so as to better tailor it to the needs of the common man.  That makes perfect sense, as most men have no desire whatsoever to have young ladies walking the “Ho stroll.”  They simply want to attract beautiful women.  They also want to maintain that attraction to the point of achieving a particular goal, be it casual sex or marriage.  Such desires might be base, but they aren’t necessarily sinister.  They have been the driving force behind the “pickup artist” brand of literature. 

Tariq “King Flex” Nasheed was well ahead of the curve when he wrote and published The Art Of Mackin': The Official Book on How to be a “Player” and a true “Mack” back in 2000.  That book eventually turned into a New York Times bestseller, spawning a cottage industry in the process.  Tariq has ridden that wave to completion, as his subsequent books have also enjoyed healthy similar sales.  As of late, he has made various forays into filmmaking.  The two Hidden Colors documentaries offer an unprecedented look at Black history from a worldwide scope.  They’ve also generated a fair amount of controversy, with many wondering just what Tariq’s motivations were in releasing such a product.

Fortunately, Tariq has always been more than willing to explain himself.  He recently chopped up game with me over the phone.  He is well aware of the criticisms regarding his philosophy and his products.  In true player fashion, he presses on regardless.  Though one may not always agree with Tariq’s “Playerisms,” they always offer serious food for thought. 

Scott Wilson:  What made you decide to write books about relationships? 

Tariq Nasheed: The relationship thing started in the 90’s.  If you remember, in the late 90’s, the literature that was out was extremely anti-male.  That was the whole Waiting To Exhale era, and it was run by feminists.  Everything was throwing men under the bus, Black males in particular. This was especially true of the relationship books from that period.  They had all these rule books for women.  The only books that men wrote during that time were token male feminist books.  They would suck up to women and tell them what they wanted to hear.  

I wanted to do something that was revolutionary at the time, which was to write an unapologetic book that taught men “game.”  That’s why I called the book The Art of Mackin.’  The subtitle was The Official Book on how to be a “Player.”  That was extremely controversial at the time.  It opened a lot of doors.  No books like that were out at the time.  In conjunction with my subsequent books, like The Mack Within, it opened the door for the entire pickup artist/seduction community.  That was an underground thing, but it wasn’t commercially successful until The Art of Mackin.’  The whole industry thought that it was a very revolutionary book, and a lot of similar books came out afterwards.  I did it out of necessity.  People were afraid to talk about that.  I wanted to go ahead and be the sacrificial lamb, so to speak, and say what needed to be said about male/female relationships.

Coverart for the first printing of The Art of Mackin.'

Scott Wilson: Speaking of things that people are afraid to talk about, you’ve expressed certain opinions regarding the feminist movement.  Would you say that it has played a divisive role in the Black community, specifically in regards to male/female relations and the family dynamic?

Tariq Nasheed: Feminism is the white community’s thing.  They have their issues and grievances.  Some of those issues and grievances are legitimate in the white community.  I think a lot of White females feel like they are oppressed by the White patriarchy.  I think that may be a valid issue, but that’s their issue.  In the Black community, that’s a contradiction.  That’s not our fight.  Unfortunately, a lot of Black women latched on to the feminist movement, and it was something that was not really applicable to the Black community.  It’s still not applicable to the Black Community.  Our issue is not one of gender, but of combating White supremacy. 

Black feminism is really a contradiction in terms.  I’ve been very critical of that.  The thing is, when you try to get an explanation for Black feminism, you’ll be labeled as a misogynist for even asking certain questions, like asking people to define what Black feminism is.  The whole argument in feminism is against patriarchal rule, but the Black community is matriarchal.  It’s been matriarchal for decades.  There’s such a contradiction in terms in regards to the ideology of Black Feminism.  Who’s holding Black women back? It’s certainly not the Black male.  The Black male isn’t being oppressive, but the Black male is usually scapegoated in conversations about Black feminism.  The Black male is held up as the poster boy for patriarchy and misogyny.  That is a contradiction, and that is the grievance I have with that.               

Scott Wilson: In regards to misogyny, the titles to a few of your books have employed the term “Macking.”  In most people’s minds, that term is exclusively associated with the pimp game, which causes many people to automatically label your works as misogynistic.  Why do you think that people are so quick to jump to that conclusion?

Tariq Nasheed: I purposely named the book that.  I knew that a lot of people who weren’t really into literature wouldn’t understand metaphors and symbolism.  Those people would be some of my greatest promoters.  I have a saying that haters are the best promoters.  If I just did a book about regular relationships, their reaction would have been like “eh…Blasé blah.”  All you’ve got to do is put certain words in the title and people will run screaming “fire!”  And that’s exactly what people did.  You’ve got to look at it like a game of chess.  Not a checkers, but chess.  I’m two or even ten moves ahead of them.  None of my books teach people how to be “Macks,” which is the charge that I get.  That’s cool.  I don’t mind it, because it promotes my work for me.  None of my books teach dudes how to go out and manipulate women.  Not one of them.  In my book The Elite Way, the word “Mack” is not used in it period.  

John "Goldie" Mickens (Max Julien) and Slim (Richard Pryor) from the 1973 Blaxploitation classic The Mack.  The film is popularized widespread use of the term "mack," which is derived from the French word maquereau, meaning pimp.

When people want to oppose something, you’ve got to give them ammunition.  If they try to oppose something without any ammunition, it becomes very disorganized.  So I gave them the ammunition that they needed.   The word Mack is the only ammunition they could use against me.  Again, I don’t mind, because what happens is that people read my work or they hear my show and/or my lectures for themselves and they see that I make a lot of valid points and it’s not what they were told it was.  I gained more listeners that way.  My show, the Mack Lessons Radio Show, is a podcast where I talk about man/woman relationships and social issues.  The word “Mack” is just really a metaphor.  It’s always been a metaphor: For life, manhood, and understanding.  That’s what the word “Mack” is.  It has nothing to do with manipulating a woman at all.  It works.

Scott Wilson: Would you say that a lot of young Black males have a problem carrying themselves in the proper manner around women, or properly communicating with women?

Tariq Nasheed: Yeah, many of them do, and that’s because they’ve been primarily raised by women for the last 45 years.  They look at situations from an emotional/egotistical stand point.  Logic is usually thrown out the door.  That’s not to say that all women aren’t logical, or that women can’t teach logic, but women are emotionally based.  That emotionally based thinking is transferred into the males, and it doesn’t work for males as it works for women.  Women have more of a cushion to think emotionally.  The world doesn’t deal with men on an emotional level.  It deals with men, Black men in particular, in a very straightforward and logical way for their actions, whereas women get more of a cushion to waive responsibility for certain actions or decisions that they make.   

Men don’t have the luxury of looking at situations from an emotional standpoint.  Unfortunately, many men do.  That’s been detrimental to the male population over the last 40-45 years, Black men in particular.  Black males who grow up in this environment are the first ones to say that they don’t need any information.  They don’t need any game, they need anybody teaching them anything.  That’s an emotional reaction to information and turns around to bite them in the ass later on down the line.  

Scott Wilson: Would you say that there’s a movement on the part of the media and a lot of social programs to figuratively emasculate Black men? 

Tariq Nasheed: Yeah. That’s always been the case, because Black male strength has always been seen as a threat or a negative in this country.  Unfortunately, Black male strength among Black women is seen as a negative.  I’m talking about strength in the mental and social sense.  People often confuse that with male masculinity, meaning aggression.  Like a thug.  That has become the personification of Black male strength within our community.  A lot of people get confused, because that type of strength is a very short-sighted type of strength.  It’s a temporary, short-sighted strength that people can feel comfortable with because it can be contained and controlled.  There are no real repercussions for that.  Women can replace dudes like that very easily, and the system can easily replace dudes like that.  You can make a physically strong dude bow down if you put guns on him, but a mentally strong guy, or a psychologically strong Black man is more of a threat.  Because of that threat, the Black male has to be emasculated and feminized.  He has to be put into a subservient position under his woman.  

Tupac Amuru Shakur is a perfect example of the aggression which Tariq describes.  Pac had a brilliant mind.  He was also highly talented and charismatic.  Yet his penchant rage ultimately proved ineffective and easily contained by the powers that be.

The Black male in America is really the only man in America who is totally dominated by his woman.  No matter how tough these brothers act out here, these dudes can’t even control their baby mommas, much less a society.  Brothers got to step their game up and understand what’s going on.  In our situation (African Americans) the warriors were destroyed early on.  The fighters, warriors, and rebels were either contained, destroyed, or they managed to escape.  So the subservient Black male mentality is what’s been programmed in our community.  That’s how you survive, by being a subservient, non-threatening, damn near emasculated or effeminized male.  You can look at that today.  If you go into corporate America, or many White owned places and see Black males working there, it’s usually an effeminate type of Black male.  You either see an effeminized Black male or a Black female working in these mainstream locations. 

Scott Wilson: Your books kick started the pickup artist subgenre of popular literature.  What would you say makes you stand out from the other people who work in that  same genre, aside from the fact that you’re a Black male?

Tariq Nasheed: What makes me stand out is the way I came into the game.  I was very bold and unapologetic.  I kicked open the door.  They had similar books at the time that were very underground, but not that successful.  Back in the 1980’s, there were a couple of guys who wrote books on how to get women, but it was like an underground geek network.  It wasn’t commercially successful.  My book, The Art of Mackin,’ was commercially successful and became a bestseller because I stood behind it.  I put my face behind it and launched a marketing campaign.   I just boldly and unapologetically put the information out there.  A lot of people are afraid of criticism, and that’s why they keep it on the low.  I wasn’t afraid of the criticism.  I was able to articulate things in a way that everyone could relate to.  When people saw me explain what my books were about, and they saw that I was not being deceptive or manipulative to women, they could respect what I was saying. 

Mainstream audiences only understand stereotypes when it comes to Black people.     As a Black male who is trying to market his stuff to a mainstream audience, you have to work and manipulate that to your advantage.  You don’t fall into the stereotype, but you use it as bait.  Let me say that again.  As a Black person, when you market yourself to a mainstream crossover audience, you have to use certain stereotypes as bait.  That was another reason that I used the term “Mackin.’”  When White folks see a Black dude talking about Mackin,’ automatically they think about Huggy Bear and Superfly, all those great old stereotypes from the 70’s that they know and love.  

Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas) from Starsky & Hutch.

When I came out with The Art of Mackin,’ I got booked on a whole bunch of TV talk shows.  They thought I was gonna come out there with green suits and hats and all that bullshit.  But I came out there very normal and I articulated myself, and the people still loved it.  That’s how I got my foot in the door with the mainstream audience without falling into the stereotype.  I used a certain stereotype as a form of bait.  Unfortunately, Blacks have to do that.  A White cat can come out and say “Hey, I have this philosophy and here I am,” and he can just kind of do him.  That’s across the board when it comes to Black folks, or Black entertainers crossing over and getting their information to a crossover audience.    They can only understand the stereotypes they grew up with when it comes to people of color, and that’s a very unfortunate thing. 

Scott Wilson: would you say that the term urban literature marginalizes and/or puts a clown mask on Black literature in general?

Tariq Nasheed: I wouldn’t say it puts a clown mask on it.  They want to let you know that this type of book is for a Black audience, usually a Black female audience.  Usually stuff like that has to be specialized, and you have to market it aggressively to that specialized audience.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s not a bad thing at all.  It’s just a marketing thing that keeps your books from getting caught up in the mix.  I’ve noticed that if you put a Black person’s face on a book the major bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders will automatically put you in the Black section.  No matter what the book is about, if there’s a Black face on the book, it’s going in the Black book section.  Usually, the Black book section is somewhere in the back of the store.  They have one little section with Black, gay, and Native American titles.  All that shit.  I call it the “Affirmative Action” section. 

My second book was with Simon & Schuster, and they put very androgynous people on the cover.  They didn’t put the people’s faces on the cover.  They put a woman’s silhouette, and you couldn’t see who she was.   The Elite Way and Play or Be Played didn’t have Black people’s faces on the covers, and they were put into the relationship sections.  But all of my books that have me or another Black person on the cover were put in the Black book section.  So I had to learn not to put any faces on my book’s covers anymore, because I want to get into the same section as all the other people.  Unfortunately, we have to think like that when we’re Black authors or “urban” authors.  I don’t even consider myself an urban author because my stuff has kind of crossed over to a major market.  Unfortunately, you have to look at marketing like that.  That’s just a reality that we (Black people) have to deal with.

Scott Wilson: You mentioned on the Zo Williams Morning Show that there was some resistance from a certain contingent within the academic community to you making the Hidden Colors films.  You said it was due to your background in literature.  Would you elaborate on that?  What was the nature of this resistance?  Why was it so pervasive?

Coverart/poster for Tariq Nasheed's groundbreaking documentary Hidden Colors.

Tariq Nasheed: It was just a handful of people within the so-called conscious community.  I don’t want to paint a negative picture of the entire conscious community because it wasn’t all of them.   I’m not a part of the conscious community.  I’ve always said that and I maintain that.  After Hidden Colors came out, there were a couple of people in the conscious community who said “Well how can this guy tell us our history.  Why is he doing it?  He wrote the ‘Mackin’ books.”  To anyone with that mentality, I say that it reflects badly on you if the “Mackin’ book guy” has to come out and put all of his finances and resources behind a movie that you should have been doing.  I don’t accept any criticism for Hidden Colors or Hidden Colors 2, because I did something no other Black entertainer has really done.  I say this very humbly, but I’ve done more for the Black community in the last 20 years with my Hidden Colors films than has been done since Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.  Nobody else has really given out this information, which is going to help the community.  Hidden Colors and Hidden Colors 2 are taught in schools around the country and around the world.  They’re teaching it in schools and colleges.  They’re doing studies on it.  It’s opening up new avenues for Black authors and Black scholars to do lectures around the world.  No other entertainer has done that.  

Teaser image for Hidden Colors 2.

A lot of Black entertainers and Black people will sit up and say “We need this and we need that.”  When you’re able to do it, a lot of people don’t want to put their money where their mouth is.  People talk a good game when there ain’t no money involved.  When no money’s involved, everybody’s pro-Black, everybody’s saying “We gotta help each other, brotherman!”  But let somebody get some money in their pockets, then you don’t hear nothing.  Then everybody starts looking the other way and twiddling their thumbs.  Nobody wants to dig in their pockets.  The thing is, I put my money where my mouth was.  I dug in my pockets and put these movies together.  I didn’t get no grants.  We did a kick starter campaign.  We got some donations, which made up about 5-10% of the donations from kickstarter, and those were from the regular listeners of my podcast.  Other than that, these movies were funded out of my pocket.  I felt that passionate about our history, and about our community needing to know that information.   

The problem is that once Black entertainers get on and get into a position where they can make money, they go out of their way to distance themselves from the Black community.  They know that embracing the American Black community beyond a certain degree will make Whites uncomfortable.  They want to tell Whites “Don’t be afraid of me, I’m not like those other ones.”  That’s a very negative mentality to have.  You get money and you have to run away from your culture your community.  That’s what I don’t want to do.  I’m very proud of my community.  I’m very proud of African people.  I love Black folks.  That isn’t to say that I hate anybody else.  I’ll break bread with anybody, but I have a desire and a passion to see my community uplifted.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and it shows in the commitment to the movies that I make.

Scott Wilson: So you don’t see any inherent contradiction between writing books like and The Art of Mackin’ and making documentary films like Hidden Colors 1 & 2?

Tariq Nasheed: Not at all. With my books, the only thing that people might have a problem with is the titles.  And even then, the only thing they’d have a problem with is the word “Mack.”  My books are not negative.  The Art of Mackin’ is not a negative book.  It doesn’t “teach men how to be Macks.”  It doesn’t teach men how to manipulate women.  It’s really just a book on relationships.  It teaches dating and relationships using modern, popular language.  None of my books or my podcasts teach men how to do anything negative.  The only problem that people have is the word “Mack,” and that’s fine.  If you have a problem with that, I can handle it.  That’s not a big deal.  



  1. Mansa Musa / @KareemACFebruary 7, 2013 at 9:44 PM

    Excellent article!

  2. yes yes well put Tariq has did a great deal for his folk

  3. Best interview anyone has ever done with Tariq. Looking forward to part 2.