Giant Step’s Resident 19: Bugz In The Attic, Brown Girls Burlesque, The Roots Picnic, J*Davey

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I know a lot of you beautiful flowers were wilting in this weekend’s oven fresh heat but I was cookin,’ honey. And I ran into some children who didn’t let the heat stop them no way. Monday night, DJ Daz-I-Kue of Bugz In The Attic was serving up global burners including fiery Afrobeat, disco and tribal house selections at The Hudson Hotel. And Wednesday night, the fabulous people let me moonlight in their world at the Fashion Delivers Pay It Fashion Forward event (ooh, what a cute pun!) honoring young designers. It was hosted by chipper ex-”House Of Style” host, Daisy Fuentes (ooh, where has she been?) at Marquee. Of course, the hook for me was Janelle Monae who swayed the blasé fashion types with a table dance and blithe accompaniment from her bewigged guitarist Kellindo.

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Janelle Monae © Jason Green

Thursday night, the fashion types gave me a reality check as I partook in a long, storied New York tradition: getting shut out of a party. Giant magazine cover girl Kimora Lee Simmons hosted an issue release party at Indochine. We loitered outside – I was with a writer whose story appears in the issue – while the doormen shooed us away, barking some business about capacity and not being shallow enough (I kid, I kid). After catching Kimora’s dramatic arrival, towering above a clutch of bodyguards (for serious, that woman is like, 10 feet tall. I’m not convinced her name isn’t Kimora Lee Bunyan), me and some other little people went to the House of Campari and did it up royal. The three-story loft housed loads of the bitter Italian liquor with groovy 70s-era commissions lining the walls including a shrine featuring a disco album by Robert “Benson” Guilliame. Outta sight.

Chicava HoneyChild at Brown Girls Burlesque © Vishnu Hoff

Last week, Prince Rogers Nelson got his AARP card and I celebrated by taking in the Shockadelica tribute by Brown Girls Burlesque. You know, instead of choking down EZ-Baked brownies, shimmying topless to “Kiss” is what I always envisioned my imaginary big sister would teach me. It was all fun and boobs as women of all sizes got the crowd all hot and bothered to songs from all eras of Prince. Then at midnight, ladies with hot draggy names like Miss AuroraBoobRealis and Sunshine Fayalicious passed out shots of purple likka (which went down like a fistful of needles). And the crowd went batshit when Dame CuchiFrita, undressing to “Little Red Corvette,” clamped the jumper cables to her…nevermind. You can find out how to join at www.myspace.com/browngirlsburlesque

Saturday, I rode the Chinatown bus in 90-degree heat to The Roots Picnic in Philly (and why was Zoe Kravitz slummin’ it in the seat in front of me?). I love how their idea of “picnic” is an outdoor festival complete with inflatable castles and um, baked bean stands. I caught Deerhoof which was weird; beeping noises and disjointed “rhythm.” Yeah. Although audio problems plagued the day-long concert, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings as per usual, shut it down. And I’ve seen the The Roots googol times and they’re just swell. They rocked everything from their own “Love Of My Life” to a pop medley featuring “SexyBack.” Even legendary bassist Hub came back for a special solo. And 8 hours after the show began, Gnarls Barkley took the stage. Although Gnarls was fine (no funny costumes), the audience was kind of stoned, er…tired and the LSD grooves were not helping. Cee-Lo even asked, “Did you hear the album.” The crowd responded with a slack-jawed, “whaaa?” Blame the ooweee.

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Gnarls Barkley © Mel D. Cole

Sunday night back in NYC I tried to get my culture game up by taking in Rachelle Ferrell at Blue Note. Blue Note is one of those institutions shrouded in New York legend but the performance was memorable because they had zero air conditioning. Or a fan. Or a window. But the heat ain’t stop Rachelle no way and she performed a gaggle of jazz and pop songs until she was literally soaking. And I have never witnessed that level of vocal virtuosity. She would jump from a sharp, tinny falsetto to a cavernous, guttural bass note – in the same word. Can we get a summer blockbuster featuring Rachelle Ferrell dissolving amateurs with her vocal prowess?

Afterwards, I saw J*Davey pack the house at S.O.B.s. Following high-energy sets from Taylor McFerrin and the duo Heavy (homeboy had a key-tar that sprayed spoogy silly string on the audience), Jack Davey and Brook D’Leau, backed by a live band, played a grip of their famously synthy catalog like “Slooow” and even a cover of “Message In A Bottle” by The Police. The highlight was during the slow-jam “No More” when girl-crazy NYC photog Mel D. Cole undressed Jack down to her black bustier and lacy boy shorts. My girl who took the tempo slowdown as a cue to fetch a beverage came back just as Jack pulled on her shirt and chirped, “What did I miss?”

Oh and before I go, FYI: Wale’s “Seinfeld”-inspired Mixtape About Nothing is that good good. Download it (and maybe rub it on your teeth to make them tingle). You’re gonna need something to keep cool.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 18

Photo of Mickey Factz © Mel D. Cole

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I consider myself a hip hop head. But being a hip hop head with a vagina is not all tea and crumpets. For one thing, every show kinda feels like crashing a bachelor party. When I keep a hopeful eye for my sistren, I usually find a couple of ladies, eyes glazed over, clearly dragged to the show by their bedroom-producer boos. What really ruffles me is when MC Such and Such screeches, “this one’s for the ladies!!” Like, what? The other hour and a half of your set wasn’t for me? Why was I standing in heels and elbowing tipsy NYU kids all night? How about I return your album and just download that one song “for the ladies.”

So why do I keep going? Mostly, it’s hope (as Obama proves, yes we can!). For every clumsy cock-hop rapper flapping his gums, there’s a Kidz In The Hall. Back in undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, I heard about this senior, Jabari who was actually going to chase his dreams and become a rapper. Usually, Quakers file out of Penn and into cushy jobs like so many overachieving automatons (People don’t really blow 200 Gs on book-learnin’ and then go hustle and flow for a living). Maybe crippling student debt drives the duo of Naledge and fellow Penn album, Double-O because their latest album, The In Crowd, is all sorts of fantastic. Their influences are all over the place as glimmers of N.E.R.D., Camp Lo (who appear on the album), Little Brother (see track 2), and Eric B & Rakim are in the mix. They’re not immune from lyrical foolery but the Kidz do put their schoolin’ to work with the wordplay. They sound like good chilluns who cut-up in seedy pool halls.

Plus, they know err’body in the bourgeoning nerd-hop scene. Travis McCoy from Gym Class Heroes, Estelle, Skyzoo, Phonte from Little Brother, one of those beefy guys from Game Rebellion and more all came through their party at S.O.B.s like there was some collapsible clown car on stage right. The best surprise of the night was Mickey Factz who also impressed me at the In The Mood party last week at Midway. Ubiquita DJ SheRock (who you can often catch feverishly waggin’ her behind at a Hudson Hotel event) was unleashing burners in the DJ nook and downstairs Mickey was one big ball of dapper swagger, ending his set with a hearty version of his addictive midtempo track “Automatic.” He can be very on-trend (there is the boneheaded thump of “I Like Your Supras”) but his music is fairly classic – think powdery future soul with introspective lyrics and hot girls singing the hook. Overness.

The same night, the Brownswood Sessions 7 went down at NuBlu with José James. Another Ubiquita beauty, DJ Moni held court with the chunes as crackly projections bathed the walls. Once again, Brownswood, with José’s bold, round vintage vocals gives off that intimate, jam-session-in-my-bedroom feel that makes up for that wily trek to Avenue C. And speaking of home, I recently checked out Stanley Lumax’s “Back To My Roots” exhibit opening at Habana Outpost. I really liked his photos of rural Ghana when he showed at Harriet’s Alter Ego back in April and this exhibit features more colorful and poignant snapshots of Africa’s west coast. And thankfully there’s none of that forced “Africans are beautiful too!” visual rhetoric that cheeses up those Benetton campaigns.

But honestly, stark Benetton billboards featuring smiley Africans could have been the backdrop to every scene in Sex and the City: The Movie and I wouldn’t have noticed – I loved it!! It wasn’t the Couture Four still running around the island cocktailing and teabagging but rather sad yet lovely new phases for my favorite characters. Next week I may wax about what it’s like seeing the movie for the 4th time – because SATC is definitely for the ladies in the house.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 16

Photo of Muhsinah and Don Will of Tanya Morgan © Dorothy Hong

By Muwase Ziegbe

Hey lovers. Last week was all about the up-and-comers; the young’ns scrapping to the top of the heap with a song in their heart and a MySpace login. Tuesday night I hit up the issue release party for Theme magazine at 70 Greene Street (I love how “random recreation space” is the new “hot downtown spot”) featuring Eric Lau, Kissey Asplund and Muhsinah. Theme has its artful little eye on the deal-makers and rule-breakers making inroads in Asian culture and beyond. So having Eric Lau bring his Britain-based beatmaking skills to SoHo was definitely a good look. Lau flashed his head-nodding finesse on the wheels of steel, dishing out comfort soul from J. Dilla’s blissed-out take on “Think Twice” to D’Angelo’s guttural “Spanish Joint.” After swigging a few glasses of Black Swan Merlot, Kissey Asplund’s splintery, screechy vocals and absent-minded stage presence were disorienting. And Muhsinah is an able beatmaker and I was wicked excited for her performance but her gentle sound failed to connect with the audience. But impromptu performances from hip hop collective Tanya Morgan and rapper Eagle Nebula kicked up the energy a bit.

Afterwards, I upped the soul quotient at Be Easy, a Tuesday night jump-off at Tillman’s in Chelsea. Tillman’s is adorable with a nostalgic décor that reminds me of my rich auntie’s living room; the one who doesn’t want my grubby paws on her mid-century upholstery. But their recession-resistant prices definitely make me feel like an unloved stepchild. And as any night at the T, the people are like, totally beautiful; an after work spot for people whose jobs are obscenely cool – writers, artists, music heads etc. The playlist is powered by a rotating cluster of homies who take turns spinning and keeping the good vibes going. The music ranges from Little Brother to the Brothers Johnson to all the dusky hip hop soul in between. And host even hipped me to T.K. Wonder, a singer who makes buttery electro stuff and happens to slang dranks there. Even the wait staff is cooler than you.

Wednesday night I met the face of excess as Stoli and Wired magazine hosted a night of live digital art and dranky dranks at Hotel Stoli. The “hotel” was really just an expansive warehouse on the Hudson which Stoli tricked out with Ikea-esque rooms representing different flavors like Orange and Razberi. Conceptually the night was a winner: check out some artsy nerdlingers, like graphic artist Jelson Jargon, tinker and create digital art while you take your blood alcohol levels to new and exciting heights. And it was cool to see artists working in 10-minute intervals building upon each others’ work and birthing funky stuff like a radio tower inserted into a retooled photo of a soldier in combat. My only beef was that in such a huge space, there should have been more gargantuan screens on which to watch the magic unfold.

Thursday I saw your soon to be favorite singer, Janelle Monae. In the past month, I’ve seen everyone from Jay-Z to Erykah Badu and she handily threw down the best performance I’ve seen in a long time. She’s small and spry and kicked around the Highline Ballroom stage with trippy dance moves and spacey grooves. Imagine if a paranormal being landed in Roswell in 1957 and instead of seeking mind control over the masses, it just wanted to jam! Add a floppy pompadour and you’ve got Janelle Monae. Thoroughly satisfying.

Saturday night, I stayed up late to check out Korrupt, a party in a Chinatown food court hosted by Bijules and The Retro Kids (I actually missed the Retro Kids’ performance but one of them tried to get in my cab while I was still in it. I feel closer to God). Mussy-haired lost boys in too much day-glo infested the cutesy Chinese banquet room where I caught DJ Wools and DJ XXXChange packing the dance floor. The music was absolutely excellent with everything from choppy B-more club remixes of Curtis Mayfield to the Stardust’s Saturday night staple, “The Music Sounds Better With You.” Neo-disco begats debauchery so I was happy.

So what have we learned this week, boys and girls? The parties of tomorrow will be held in nameless rooms, footed by flossy likka companies where you’ll see MySpace singers before they become MySpace-sponsored singers. And you may feel closer to God.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 15

Photo of ?uestlove and Black Thought at Sutra © Michael July, Natural Light Studio

By Mawuse Ziegbe

This week, I’m summoning my awesome power as an online columnist and declaring Chin Chin your new favorite band. You kids pouting over the loss of Jamiroquai’s squirrelly baselines, buck up. And those who wish they could understand the cheeky lyrics that pepper the slinky disco of Los Amigos Invisibles, calm down. Chin Chin is here with a boatload of soul as their Tuesday night album release at Union Pool demonstrated. All warbling Rhodes disco featuring support from bubbling soul singer, Jesse Boykins. And the lead singer made it work in a satiny kimono. Genius.

Wednesday evening, Pharoahe Monch touched down at SOBs for some fun and games. He launched right into tracks like “Welcome To The Terrordome” “Let Go” “Got You” and “The Light.” About half-way into the set he stepped back and BK MC Talib Kweli bust out with a couple verses of his rally song “Hostile Gospel.” Of course Monch wrapped it up with the crowd favorites: the velvety “Desire” and the menacing, super hit “Simon Says.” The highlight of the show however, was Pharaohe’s backup singer who turned the stage into a pulpit, lighting up the stage with electric, churchified wails.

And bless jaded co-workers who think Erykah Badu tickets are soooo whatevs. On Friday one such co-worker ambled by, waving a ticket and noted, “you like The Roots, right?” Well, no duh. The concert was stunning for a couple reasons. One, I ain’t ne’er been to no Radio City Music Hall so I got a kick out of the vaudevillian drapery that even made the ginormous flat-screens all pretty-like. Two, I ain’t ne’er been to no Erykah Badu concert. She had a little on stage work station complete with a laptop, synth and thermos where she worked her wizardry. Most Erykah fans are madly in love with her and if “On & On” is like the first kiss then “Otherside of the Game” is like the first time you made love. On stage, the former was sprightly, the latter sensual. She also did extended versions of album cuts like “Orange Moon” and “Green Eyes.” And ooh chile, the performance art on “Green Eyes” is worth the ticket alone. Best $100 my co-worker has ever spent.


Photo of Mos Def and Rich Medina at Sutra © Michael July, Natural Light Studio

Afterwards, I checked out the URB Magazine after party featuring DJ Spinna and ?uestlove on the decks at Sutra. I’m really beginning to think there are multiple ?uestloves because in the 30 minutes it took me to get downtown, homeboy was well into a dizzying set of top shelf mid-90s hip hop (Biggie, Guru et al). ?uest took the top floor, Spinna took the basement and between the two everything from Jade (Don’t Walk Awaaay boy) to Janet pumped through the speakers. And it wouldn’t be Spinna party without the never-ending Prince vs Michael debate on the dance floor. Even Mos Def made an appearance. But I think the week belonged to Louie Vega. People were lined up around 5:45 before the 6pm kick-off at the Hudson and Louie wasn’t afraid of no disco heat. He served up sizzling hits like Jackie Moore’s “This Time Baby” and Cher‘s “Take Me Home.” Overness. People just couldn’t keep their feets still. Like this guy:

Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

But our Dancers Of The Week were couples who epitomized the decorous yet sassy partner dances of the disco heyday. The Hustle anyone? Lauren
Passion: Artist
Favorite chunes: Samba

Fauzi
Money-Maker: DJ
Favorite Louie-endorsed Jam: “Supernature” by Cerrone
Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

Herby
Day Gig: Consultant
Jammy Jam: “Time Warp” by Eddie Grant

Lensa
Honest Job: Public Health
Favorite Song: “Any Love” by Rufus and Chaka Khan

Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 14

Photo © Collin LaFleche

By Mawuse Ziegbe

You know that part in The Wiz when Evelline dies and all the workers unzip their fug suits and reveal themselves to be finely crafted specimens of muscular excellence swathed in cherubic linen? That’s how I felt this weekend. The sun finally dropped its deadbeat ways and while picking out miniskirts on Sunday, I felt like a liberated Oz worker.

The journey to freedom started with an acoustic set featuring Van Hunt at soul haven, S.O.Bs. Van is one of my favorite artists ever. Take a whole mess of grunting, sweaty Prince, mix in the panty-droppin’ falsetto of Maxwell and toss on stage. With no band and just his guitar and piano, he strummed and hummed through songs like “Hot Stage Lights,” “Dust,” “Being A Girl,” “Character,” and “Down Here In Hell.” All the while, he regaled the army of Van nuts with tales about everything from his penniless musician days to getting his dranky drank on. Sadly, he didn’t play his last Blue Note single, “The Lowest 1 Of My Desires” but he did take it back to the Dionne Farris slow jam “Hopeless” from the Love Jones soundtrack.

Friday night, I hit up Madison Square Garden to take in a performance from some rapper named Jay-Z and this rhythm and blues singer, Mary J. Blige. I think they’re big on the internet or something. But for serious, I’d never seen Mary in concert and only one word can describe her performance: Wooo!! Homegirl was squatting and bellowing hits like “Real Love,” “Be Happy,” and “Work That.” She shouted out celeb pals in the audience (Oprah, Jodie Foster) and ended the set with “Just Fine,” replete with hair-singeing pyro. “Lil’ Project Mary J. Blige” – as she charmingly referred to herself – put the “hot damn!!” in the Heart Of The City Tour. Sadly, Jigga was packing more “ho-hum” than heat. His set, although peppered with hits like “Can I Get A…” “H to the Izzo” and “Give It To Me,” withered into tedium. I genuinely screamed when Beyonce swished on stage for a 10-second booty wiggle but that’s only because I was really bored.


Photo © Collin LaFleche

The summer continued to blossom anew as Studio B unveiled its spiffy new rooftop with a par-tay featuring NuBlu stalwarts Brazilian Girls. Getting to the venue was on some ‘ol MacGyver foolery (Dear G Train: Get it together!) but I slid into the B’girls set just as they were in mid-song and the crowd was in mid-rapture. This night had a gang of potential. But, Spank Rock , who always brings sunny, good-natured debauchery, had to bow out due to illness (Curses!). The rooftop we were feting became too crowded (Rats!) and the music was almost amazing. However tinny, crowd-thinning tracks were not mixed out quickly enough (Foiled Again!).

I wrapped up the week with a beer at Habana Outpost, which is basically day camp for Brooklynites. Swiggin’ my draft in the cool night air, I knew that summer, in all its blockbuster tour and rooftop splendor, was finally rolling in. I felt like I could unzip my face and toast to a brand new day. Bring on the flying monkeys.