Giant Step’s Resident 35: Revelations 35:1–35:6 – Milk, TK Wonder and Alice Russell

Photo of Alice Russell

By Mawuse Ziegbe

This week is all about revelations. Firstly, TK Wonder is the greatest rapper alive. She rocked the When Boy Meets Girl IV show at Southpaw which featured acts like Sarah White who pumped out sweet, punky soul that is a pain to classify but easy to shimmy to. With her psychedelic leggings and a feather in her hair, TK looked like Gem playing a game of Cowboys and Indians. But then she spits over Taylor McFerrin‘s mouth-made beats with the rapid fire diction of Busta Rhymes and the mellow, gravelly tone of Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca. And the random, robotic dance breaks? She had me at the first hip-thrust.

Revelation #2: I hate spoken word. Hate it from the bottom of my Dolce Vita heels to the tips of my Ms. Jessie’s-lacquered afro. I’ve hated spoken word for years now (I nearly rioted the last time I went to Bowery Poetry Club) but I kind of thought I’d grow out of it. Even the quick-tongued observations of spoken word collective Ill-literacy at Crash Mansion couldn’t snap me out of it. They were definitely entertaining; calling out celebrity hypocrites and dropping the f-bomb to the glee of the crowd. But I just felt like I was in a freshman dorm.

Revelation #3: History is repeating itself. I checked out a screening of Milk about the first openly gay US politician Harvey Milk who was gunned down in the late 1970s. Sean Penn plays the affable Milk as the epicenter of the gay rights movement in San Francisco. Director Gus Van Sant authenticates the film with actual broadcast footage that echoes the current clash between proponents and critics of California’s Proposition 8. Milk’s rhetoric of hope is especially eerie in light of our incoming presidential administration.

Revelation #4: Rappers have no business anywhere near Broadway. Jim Jones, who has been building his indie cred by remixing MGMT and Kid Cudi, recently staged an off-Broadway two-night run of the autobiographical play, “Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life and Mind of Jim Jones.” The play follows Jim Jones as he completes community service after being caught up in a shoot-out. “Monologues” finishes with the goofiest non-ending ever: After Jones’ girlfriend gives birth, he sprays the stage with bubbly and launches into his latest single “Pop Champagne.” Like, what?

Revelation #5: I need to spend more time above 14th street. Friday night, Alice Russell lit up Hiro Ballroom with her snarly versions of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” After two encores, I moseyed over to APT where Jeannie Hopper was spinning. She dropped lots of twinkly electro-soul as her friend schooled me on how to fake my way into a prescription for medical marijuana. Later, I checked out Fedde Le Grand at Pacha. The place was brimming with bridge-and-tunnel charm and I spent a lot of the time dodging dry-humping couples (Fun fact: the columns at Pacha are padded to facilitate comfortable dry-humping). As Fedde dropped intense, bottom-heavy hard house, chalky fake smoke descended from the ceiling and a blitz of strobe lights shot through the club. My downtown posturing melted away and I raised my hands and gave into the amazingness. Show me someone who can resist flashing lights, growling bass and store-bought fog and I’ll show you a brazen lie-teller.

Revelation #6: Never underestimate the magic of nightlife.

Friends We Love: 120 Seconds with Erin Hirsh

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Los Angeles, California
Erin Hirsh, the Los Angeles-based celebrity fashion stylist responsible for the wardrobe of Rihanna and Kanye West on the Glow in The Dark Tour, shares her thoughts on the hipster phenomenon.

Giant Step’s Resident 34: Q-Tip, Jazzanova, K’NAAN and Miriam Makeba

margin-left:10pxBy Mawuse Ziegbe

So, I have this crush. He’s this mannish, dude-ly, male person. He builds things. He smokes things. He skies down things. It’s awesome. He’s also wicked different from me. When he tells me about his time on a ranch in Wyoming, all I can think is, “what the fuck is Wyoming?” When he invites me over for Scrabble I desperately hope it’s a euphemism for something involving latex and candle wax. Sadly, the earnest, good-guy gleam in his eye tells me it’s not. But in the interest of new horizons and all that, I accompanied him to a Reggie Watts show at Joe’s Pub. Reggie Watts looks like a cross between Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz and a down-on-his-luck Sideshow Bob. He beat-boxes and does all this nonsensical yet still politically biting scatting business that sounds like a cross between Doug E. Fresh and a manic Sideshow Bob. I mean, parts of it were cool – he made beats onstage by sampling his own voice – but lots of it was just…foolish.

When I’m not faking an interest in live music to get in a guy’s pants, I’m drooling over Q-Tip’s new album, The Renaissance. I was initially very apprehensive about this project (the internet singles like “Work It Out” were making my brain barf). But for serious, The Renaissance is gorgeous. Q-Tip has reined in his penchant for the stuttering, monotonous beats and stiff, shallow rhymes that sank 1999′s Amplified. The Renaissance is replete with dusty soul samples punched up by ‘Tip’s melodic flow and conscious yet not overly preachy messages. I literally gawked at my iPod when I heard Raphael Saadiq’s androgynous, syrupy vocals on “We Fight/We Love.” I’m all over the bendy Boogaloo beat of “Manwomanboogie” with a surprisingly sassy Amanda Diva. “Believe” is glossed with the sublime glow of D’Angelo’s trademark falsetto.

Jazzanova’s latest album, Of All The Things is also unexpectedly addictive. The German collective has handily produced one of the best albums of the year. There’s frisky nu-jazz and buttery soul that pulses with vibrant basslines and some of the most diverse voices in music. My favorite rapper Phonté tries his hand at singing “Look What You’re Doin’ To Me” and absolutely floored me with a papery falsetto that is identical to Dwele’s soft crooning. Detroit artist Paul Randolph flexes his dapper vocals throughout the album, including the sunny, inspirational number “Let Me Show Ya.” And Ben Westbeech, who’s moving feets with Kraak and Smaak’s recent hit, “Squeeze Me,” wields some UK soul on the groovy, “I Can See.” Of All The Things is like a mixtape packed with your absolute favorite songs by Mark Ronson, Solange, Coldplay, Al Jarreau, and Donnie. This is a good album to kick off any Jazzanova obsession.

African hip hop star K’Naan is kicking off his latest project with the lead single, “ABCs.” K’naan doesn’t really have a reason to make dance tracks, what with being a Somali refugee and the lack of body-rockin’ fodder that experience provides. So it’s good to see he found a way to make a party jam by spitting about the ills of street life over a souped-up version of Chubb Rock’s “Treat ‘Em Right.” Activists need to get down too.

And I’m lucky the first time I ever got down in concert was with the legendary African singer and activist, Miriam Makeba. I was about three and my parents took me to see her at Boston’s Symphony Hall. I was just barely able to see over the seats but I remember jamming to the horns for what seemed like hours. Miriam looked far away but she was washed in bright lights, commanding the sprawling band and just moving! That concert is one of my best family memories to this day; my parents were still together and Miriam’s fierceness was one of the few things they agreed on. There may not be many more Reggie Watts concerts in my future but when your first live performance is from an artist who can inspire nations, quell feuding spouses and sing until the last very last breath, you understand the rarity of greatness.

Giant Step’s Resident 33: Menahan Street Band, Hot Chip and Obama

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I’m gonna miss Michelle. And David. And Jon. And Nicole. And even Marianne, although we’ve only recently become acquainted. On November 4th we’ll have a new president but I’ll no longer get eloquent emails addressed to me from the good folks at the Obama campaign. Yes, most of the emails were like, “Mawuse– With your contribution of $25 dollars we can make it rain on this here election.” But still, I felt special. And what am I going to do with no more rallies to attend? I have to entertain myself now that we’re done with the Young Professionals, DJs, Promoters, Housewives and Seal Pups for Obama events. For instance, I went to a Yogis for Obama rally. And I hate yoga. I listened to Russell Simmons speak about how we can make change in this election while patiently sipping “liberation tea.”

If Barack and Michelle were really my homies, I would hip them to some other quietly superhuman talents: Menahan Street Band. MSB is a project featuring members from all the New York instrumental bands that have mattered in recent years: The Dap-Kings, Budos Band, Antibalas and El Michels Affair. Their languid “Make The Road By Walking” is the basis for Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys” and their album of the same name is just made so well. Think full, smoky soul that wags between plucky dub and crackly, wheezy country.

And something tells me that if Mimi and Barry weren’t busy saving the world, they’d be into the Delicious Rmmxology compilation. The premise is simple: A few DJs slice up classic Delicious Vinyl jams. I could see Barack grooving to Hot Chip’s gravelly re-working of The Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By.” Michelle would be easily enamored with the Philippians’ delicate synthy remix of Pharcyde’s “Runnin.’” And I’m convinced no one can resist the epic, hyper thump of Masta Ace’s “Sittin’ On Chrome” as re-imagined by Mr. Flash.

Like the Obamas, UK-based outfit, Friendly Fires is just what this country needs. They make flashy yet airy disco rock replete with tangy cowbells and turbo drumming. All while wearing these darling little pantsuits. Their cover of Lykke Li’s “I’m Good I’m Gone” makes great use of power piano chords once left to rot on old CeCe Peniston records. “Paris,” with its dreamy lyrics and mammoth chorus could easily be the soundtrack to an historic inauguration.

Even if he gets too busy to keep in touch, I’m glad I got to know one of the biggest hope dealers in American history. And on November 5th, while I’m listening to MSB’s “Esma” and planning what to do with all my free time, I just hope I get a very simple email: “Mawuse — We did it.”