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.

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 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.

Giant Step’s Resident 31: Pete Rock, N.E.R.D., Raphael Saadiq, Kelis

Photo from Pete Rock at Hudson (c) Bartek Radwan

By Mawuse Ziegbe

The most authentic thing about Sex and the City is all the bitchy conversations New Yorkers have about relationships. Every single time I venture out for dranky dranks, the talk always turns to how batty single people are and how dating in New York is like lighting your head on fire. There’s the girl whose ex-boyfriend used to beg her to go to crappy parties and then ignore her while he danced with other girls. There’s the guy who freaked out and sent his lady friend home in a cab when she received a text message after midnight. And then there are my poor guy friends who, no matter how fugly or partially unemployed, always end up swatting away giggly girls who furiously claw at their nether-regions simply because they’re single. Yeah, boo hoo. Anyway, finding a meaningful relationship in NYC is like trying not to laugh during a Sarah Palin speech. But for knuckleheaded dreamers like myself, that doesn’t dull the chase.

And that’s why Pete Rock’s recent Giant Step throwdown at the Hudson was double the fun. Everyone there was simply too attractive. Men with velvet blazers were sipping cocktails like they were born with a pinky ring. I spent most of the time nursing a red wine and making eyes with the fellers (I’m too much of a loony tunes to actually talk to boy people). Pete Rock was getting all House Party 2 with it, blasting Johnny Kemp and TLC like it ain’t no thang. Despite his groovy, soulful album offerings, as a DJ he’s usually good for a boot-stomping, ashy-knuckle, Boyz N The Hood type of time. But I liked the switch up because pajammy jams are like totally more fun than drive-by shootings.

Also high on the funness scale is Raphael Saadiq. Raphael touched down at SOBs for his last New York performance of the year. He’s one of the few artists that I just become a drooling mess for. Me at a Raphael Saadiq concert is just this sad mix of two-stepping and screaming. Raphael takes the stage and then I’m just bellowing foolishness for the next 40 minutes: “Oh my god, he’s doing a rock version of “Be Here!” Oh snap! He just mixed “Get Involved” with “Feels Good!” Is that a 12-minute reprise of “Sky, Can You Hear Me?!” Yes, dear god encore!” Then I mouth the lyrics like he’s talking to me, impale other people’s feet with my stilettos and steal posters. I’m that person. And it feels great.

Another semi-authentic thingy about Sex and the City is getting into that party. Last week, one of the places to be was arguably the N.E.R.D. and Nas throwdown sponsored by Smirnoff at Capitale. I used to constantly hit up these corporate ragers, knocking back cocktails and hi-fiving the typical group of industry ankle-biters who crowd these things. I stopped going to these events because there is always an infestation of people at the door trying to get in. The crowd was also this goofy mix of ruddy, balding corporate fatheads and shallow, downtown hip hop fatheads. However, all was forgotten when N.E.R.D. took the stage and did their “I’m wild at 35!” dilettante rock. Nas is talented and all but he has the stage presence of a brick of cheddar. But he did get my attention when he brought out Kelis to sing “If I Ruled The World.” She wandered out, drink in hand, and listlessly crooned the chorus before kissing Nas and wandering off as unceremoniously as she came. Yes, honey, it’s late and we’ve all seen this pony’s tricks before. But at least you got into the party and you’ve got a man. Some of us are making careers chasing both.