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Posts Tagged ‘hip hop’

A Gritty Little Something on the New York Street

March 25, 2016 | by

Remembering Phife Dawg—a family perspective.

Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg.

I lived in New York for the first time for the summer of 2006, between my junior and senior years of college. I was in love with words. I’d started writing, but I needed a job, so I entered book publishing. Two days a week, I read manuscripts in the magnificent but decaying Flatiron Building; at night, I worked the coat check at a white-tablecloth restaurant on Union Square for spending money (the perfect gig, as in the summer I had few customers, and spent most of my time reading). After my shifts at the restaurant, I took the 5 train uptown to Harlem with the typical collection of bleary-eyed late-night workers and drunk revelers, where I slept on a cot in the living room of my aunt’s two-bedroom apartment.

The apartment was modest but warmly decorated in pinks, oranges, and turquoises—colors that undoubtedly reminded her of Trinidad, her island home. Our sleeping arrangement mirrored that of my great-grandmother’s house. She’d lived till she was ninety-eight: a former caretaker who’d immigrated from a rural part of the island, she’d saved enough money to buy a semidetached three-bedroom house in Jamaica, Queens.

As several family members and friends before and after her did, my aunt, the poet Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, had stayed with my great-grandmother to get on her feet in America. She married young, had a child, and, after an amicable divorce, started dating women—a shock to our family of devout Seventh Day Adventists. When I was younger, my parents, in a typical move of the time, never discussed her sexuality. I only knew that she had many female friends, and after a while, sometimes they would be gone from her life in a way that was unusual for just friends. In that apartment, she finally gave me a name for what she was, speaking to me openly about her life like I was an equal, capable enough to understand and not to judge.

On the wall of the apartment hung a portrait of Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, who was her son and my cousin. She told me that when visitors came by, they would uniformly exclaim how much they loved him. Why do you have a picture of him? they’d ask, before dropping one of his verses, and she would answer with pride, He’s my son, her perfect white smile beaming. Read More »

Get It Together: On Mourning Adam Yauch

May 16, 2012 | by

The Beasties at Grand Royal’s G-Son Studios in Atwater Village, California, ca. 1995. Photograph by Brian Cross.

I’m not sure who had the ball when George Clinton passed by in a golf cart. It could’ve been Mike D. It could’ve been Yauch. I just remember standing there astonished, watching George quietly scoot by in his Mothership mini, while my defensive assignment broke to the basket and scored. The Beastie Boys were playing some intrasquad hoops in a parking lot behind the Atlanta Amphitheater, a Lollapalooza stop during the summer of 1994. A portable basketball goal had been traveling with them, providing a transitional arc and some adrenaline for the stage. I don’t even remember who was on my team. I just know that I was playing with a bunch of guys once falsely accused of throwing pies at kids in wheelchairs.

Yauch evidently hadn’t given up his outside shot for Buddhism. Adam Horovitz dribbled with an Archibaldian low center of gravity, while Mike D crashed about with his Kurt Rambis hustle. Keyboard player/carpenter Money Mark spent much of the game in midair. I spent much of the game looking for my fadeaway. In my defense, I was firing into the sun on a freshly reconstructed knee, ligament grafted, no brace. If I had reinjured it that day, I would’ve told anyone with a working set of ears that I’d blown out my knee playing basketball with the Beastie Boys—that I was treeing out of my mind until George Clinton put a golf cart on me.

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Lizzi Bougatsos on Gang Gang Dance

November 8, 2011 | by

Lizzi Bougatsos. Photo by Brian De Ran.

Gang Gang Dance was founded in Brooklyn in 2001 by Lizzi Bougatsos, Brian Degraw, Tim DeWit, Josh Diamond, and Nathan Maddox. Informed by hip-hop, eighties pop and goth, and a wealth of international traditional musical styles, the band blends disparate sounds into a global amalgam. This collage approach has garnered attention from the art world; the band’s mixed-media work was included, for instance, in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and Bougatsos’s installations and collages have been shown at James Fuentes gallery in New York. Last May, Gang Gang Dance released their sixth album, Eye Contact, a tribute to the many loved ones the band has lost—including Maddox, who died in 2002 when he was struck by lightning on a Chinatown rooftop—and a fusion of large, swaggering beats, polyrhythmic sampling, and Bougatsos’s raw, personal lyrics.

“Glass Jar,” on the new album, opens with a sample of a couple phrases that are clearly audible, and then goes through a movement that sounds like it’s contained in glass. The song feels as if it’s hermetically sealed.

It is its own ecosystem, a geo-dome. You can create your own world with your surroundings.

Does music produce common experiences with others?

Music is universal, and extending your music to somebody is about sharing it. But it is also about how they receive it and how a message travels back to you. The best way to receive information about your music is when people talk about it through experience. We have a spiritual adviser named Babylove who travels with the band. And Tony Cox has been documenting our performances for a long time now. When he photographs us, he calls the experience a sphere.

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Jesmyn Ward on ‘Salvage the Bones’

August 30, 2011 | by

Jesmyn Ward’s second novel, Salvage the Bones, is set in the fictional Mississippi Gulf town of Bios Sauvage in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. It centers on Esch—fourteen years old and pregnant—and Esch’s family in the aftermath of her mother’s death in childbirth. Her alcoholic and abusive father readies the house for the storm; her brother Randal dreams of a basketball scholarship; her brother Skeetah obsesses over China, his prize pit bull; and Junior, the youngest, clamors for attention. Bois Sauvage, also the setting of her first novel Where the Line Bleeds, was modeled on Ward’s hometown of De Lisle, Mississippi. Ward, the first person in her family to attend college, received her MFA from the University of Michigan and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She teaches at the University of South Alabama.

Why did you want to write about Hurricane Katrina?

I lived through it. It was terrifying and I needed to write about that. I was also angry at the people who blamed survivors for staying and for choosing to return to the Mississippi Gulf Coast after the storm. Finally, I wrote about the storm because I was dissatisfied with the way it had receded from public consciousness. Read More »

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Kevin Young on ‘Ardency’

February 15, 2011 | by

Photograph by Kate Tuttle.

In Ardency, the poet Kevin Young chronicles the experiences of fifty-three Africans who mutinied aboard the Amistad slave ship in 1839. After killing two of their Spanish captors, they sailed up the coast of the United States, only to be intercepted by a naval brig and thrown in a Connecticut jail. Their case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the earlier court’s decision: because the international slave trade had been abolished, the men and women aboard the Amistad were not legally slaves and thus had been illegally captured. They were entitled to use force to secure their freedom. The Amistad mutiny would be one of the many events that gave the abolitionist movement traction leading up to the Civil War. In this book, Young conjures their voices in letters, poems, and songs, documenting their violent capture and eventual return to Africa in 1842. Young has tangled with the complexities of American history in his six previous collections, including For the Confederate Dead and Dear Darkness. He recently edited the anthology The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing and is finishing The Gray Album, a nonfiction work about music and history, forthcoming from Graywolf next year.

You spent twenty years working on Ardency. What originally drew you to the story of the Amistad?

I stumbled on letters the Amistad prisoners wrote from jail. I was struck by their poignancy and how the prisoners spoke in this new language of English. But I was struck by what the letters didn’t say, what was permitted of them to say, and, then, what they did mange to say because of or despite those limits.

What was so great about working on this book was that no one knew about it. I didn’t know if I was ever going to do anything with it, but I knew that there was this story I wanted to learn more about. Also, I knew that I wanted to write in the voice of Cinque, who led the rebellion, but wasn’t ready to write in his voice yet.

There are many strangely beautiful phrases in the letters—“be my dear benefactory,” “Cold catch us all the time,” “I am your perfect stranger”—that have the urgency of someone really trying to master the language.

Master is an interesting verb. They had masters who bought them in Cuba and forged documents giving them new identities saying they were born in Cuba. Though he international slave trade was illegal, you could still purchase slaves who were born into slavery. So they were learning English to become free, but there is a sense in the letters that they are trying to free themselves from English.

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A Week in Culture: Caitlin Roper, Editor, Part 2

July 15, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Roper's culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

11:30 A.M. John Waters interview. He’s in Provincetown for the summer, so we have to talk on the phone. I’m disappointed not to meet him in person, but still excited to talk. Waters is a charmer. I’m instantly enthralled and never want to hang up1.

1:00 P.M. My friend Max sent me some images of paintings by Walton Ford2, whom we both admire. I think Ford is my favorite contemporary painter. He paints gigantic, detailed watercolors. There’re sort of Audobon, naturalist illustration-inspired, with a dark, anti-colonial, anti-industrialist twist. I spend about fifteen minutes looking at all the Ford paintings I can find online. This is an example of a kind of culture that is not best delivered via computer screen. I long to see some Ford paintings at full size.

4:15 P.M. "Puritan, Inc.," a review of Making Haste From Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History on TNR’s The Book written by my friend and colleague David Wallace-Wells3.

5:00 P.M. Max sent me this video, probably captured by a security camera, of a guy strolling down the street in a track suit and a pair of sunglasses. He does a double-take, and nearly gets hit by a car careening down the sidewalk. He leaps to safety, missing death by inches. I find it so alarming I watch it over and over again. The way the guy looks up, jukes to one side, then leaps expertly out of the way—I cannot believe it.

6:45 P.M. The Kids Are All Right at the Loews Village 7. I liked Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art. I saw it in college. I know little about this one, which is my ideal4 movie-going scenario. As soon as the movie starts, I’m engaged5. This is the best movie I have seen in a theater since Joon-ho Bong’s Mother. Also, Mark Ruffalo is hot.

9:15 P.M. Kickstarter and Rooftop Films teamed up for a film festival. The roof in Park Slope is vast. We slink in during a film and settle in folding chairs. The film shorts are projected on a screen hung on a brick wall. It’s a warm night, but there is a gentle, steady breeze. I watch two shorts and find my eyes drifting back to the horizon, where a herd of clouds makes its way across the plains of the blue-black sky. Read More »

Annotations

  1. We talk for about twenty minutes and the transcript of our conversation is twenty-four pages long. Waters: “I am astounded by the behavior of people that think they’re completely normal, and can act so insane and not realize it.”
  2. I first saw Ford’s work in person at the Brooklyn Museum in 2006. I was there to see Ron Mueck’s impressive, wacky hyperrealist sculptures, but it was the last day of the Annie Leibovitz show, and the place was mobbed. I snuck away from the masses and found myself in an empty room, each wall had just one vast Ford painting. I spent about an hour in there staring at the detail in a painting of a tiger.
  3. He didn’t show me this piece, but I came across it myself (I was looking for Philip Roth’s 1958 review of The Bridge On the River Kwai). I’m impressed, as usual, with David’s intellect. I’m lucky to know and work with someone I genuinely admire. When I tell him I liked it, he says, “I should've cut the second paragraph."
  4. I never read reviews before I see a movie if I can help it.
  5. It’s set in California, and the characters are appealing and real in a way I have rarely seen on film. Most important: the writing is excellent. Lisa Cholodenko, wow.

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