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.”

Friends We Love: 120 Seconds with Gilles Peterson

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London, UK
Music pioneer Gilles Peterson of Brownswood Recordings & BBC Radio 1 shares the extent of his obsession with Arsenal Football Club and some insight into why he’s taking a break.

Check out Gilles Peterson at: myspace.com/gillespeterson
Worldwide streams exclusively in the US from the Giant Step Jukebox

Giant Step’s Resident 32: TV On The Radio, Alphabeta In Greenpoint and Studio at Webster Hall

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Recently, I’ve been making some fun social gaffes that I thought you would enjoy. I must have spent the past few months with my head up my butt because I completely missed that TV on the Radio was playing three shows at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. I absentmindedly texted a friend close to the source about 3 hours before the show for tickets. Due to my tardiness, I expected him to type back “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL” or delete my number but he graciously came through. Now, most frou frou music critics will tell you TVOTR is significant because of how transcendent their discordant rhythms and twisty vocals are. But sometimes, I have no idea what they’re saying. To me, the lyrics on Return To Cookie Mountain often sound like, “I undressed my mother, and peed by the sun” or “I wake up in flour, go fetch the gun.” Their latest project Dear Science infuses their woozy soul rock with sprinkles of Afrobeat, big band and new wave, making their new stuff preternaturally funky. The hour-long show was stacked with numbers from Science like “Crying,” “Golden Age” and “Dancing Choose” and well-worn faves like “Wolf Like Me” and “Province.” I had a blast but I think TVOTR fans just aren’t used to dancing. Boo.

Backstage after the show I began chatting up a cheery guy who recognized my name from the guestlist. I’m making vapid small talk and then I ask, “so what do you do?” The smile melts and his gaze hardens as he says, “I’m the guitarist.” See, when he said his name was Dave, I didn’t realize he meant Dave Sitek, guitarist, producer, founding member and friggin’ epicenter of TVOTR. Asking what Dave Sitek does at a TV on the Radio show is like waltzing into the Vatican, eyeing the Pope and asking “who’s that pale feller in the dress?” Silly.

So on Friday, I left my foot-in-mouth foolishness behind me and checked out the opening reception for the Younity Heart & Soul exhibition at Alphabeta in Greenpoint. Younity is a group of around 60 female visual artists which includes legendary graf writer Lady Pink, and co-founders Alice Mizrachi and Toofly. For this exhibition, all the artists made a piece which represented love. The walls were plastered with obvious symbolism like hearts and smiley children but there were also photographs of pink heels, skateboarding wounds and a display of wooden jewelry. The subject matter had a lot of schmaltz potential but I thought the ladies executed the show handily (I’m trying to get through this without bellowing, “girl power!”…oh wait). There was also a freshly painted and incredibly intricate mural that was admirably intense. I dug it.

Easily the most intense performance of the week was the Robot Sex Guy (I never caught his proper stage name) at the Studio at Webster Hall. It started innocently with some DJ in a lab coat spinning a bit of hard house but it quickly got ridiculous. The main performer, covered in what looked like neon Christmas lights, marched onstage and started yammering about how robots are sexy too. Ok, whatever. Then, he started singing about amputated fingers (which, I guess is integral to robot sex) and then crooned into a camera that was attached to a steering wheel. The show climaxed during a song about self-love where he stroked a huge metal hose between his legs and leveled ping pong balls at the unsuspecting audience. I was in the front row and caught three to the head. I finished my drink and left. It was like watching Daft Punk if they had considerably less money and ate paint chips. Now, for some a ping pong facial is enough reason to never venture out again. But no matter the type of humiliation, there is nothing – not robot lovin’ gone awry nor complete ignorance about Brooklyn visionaries – that a stiff drink and hasty retreat won’t fix.