Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 13

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Last week kicked off with another blessed Hudson Hotel jump-off featuring Jo Jo Flores. The Montreal-based DJ launched into a very capable set that included sparkly disco and deep house gems that put the shine in Michael Jackson’s pre-Off The Wall era jheri curl. Plus, DJs with dimples make the world go around.

Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

As usual, a few kids kicked up some dust and we here at the ‘Step thought we should give props where props are due with our Dancers Of The Week. Three people whose dazzling footwork warranted mention were:

Tine Machine
Manhattan via California
Day Gig: Lighting/Photography
Favorite Jammy Jam: “Jesus Creates Sound” by Marlon D

Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

Her bite-sized stature didn’t fool anyone. Homegirl was all fierce voguing flourishes and show-stopping spunk. It was like she came with the party in her hat.

Art Vega
Flatbush, Brooklyn
Passion: Actor/Dancer
Fave Ditty: “Prayer” by Lolita James

This dude didn’t hit the floor that often but when he did, all the townspeople stopped in wonder. He was all agile hand spins and fluid breakin,’ like his joints were made of mercury. Twas’ a sight to see.

Emily Hawkins
Harlem via Ohio
Honest Job: Publicist
Song To Get Right To: Michael Jackson “I Can’t Help It”

Emily came off almost haughty as she went toe-to-toe in an old-timey ’80s style dance-off. It was all in good fun but something about her furtive arm pumps and hardcore waist-twisting said “this ain’t no game.” Bless her.

On Thursday, one of my new favorite bands Apollo Heights shut down (the back room of) Union Pool. Union Pool has that old-timey stage which always makes me feel like I’m at a state fair waiting for two people in a pony suit to hobble on stage and pretend to eat hay. Anyway, the set was opened by The Juggs who put forth a thoroughly enjoyable show and proved that the stage is just a limiting performance construct. The lead guitar head, Kareem kept hopping off, joshing with pals in the corner and taking healthy swigs of beer during songs. Some in the friends and family corner kept the heckling to a maximum which kinda made the set feel like I was crashing a family reunion but everyone was too soused to throw me out. The rowdiness continued when the ‘Heights took the stage and put on an extra dramatic version of my jammy jam, “Disco Lights.” The Heights’ singing twin, Daniel (aided by the strummin’ twin, Danny and rest of the crew) brought it, swinging the mic with abandon and ending with a heady crescendo where yet another pal, bounded on stage picked up a guitar and brought the number of on-stage strummers to 3. It was a fine time indeed (despite the absence of pony-related theatrics).

Later, I went to the Brownswood Sessions featuring Taylor McFerrin at NuBlu. Sadly, I went wicked late only to catch some late-night stragglers milling about the bar. I did stay long enough to hear some good tunes get spun and to get into a discussion about the relative merits (or lack thereof) of a certain African-American-themed network. To be real, said African-American network signs the checks at my day job. But before that, I rarely gave it a shake and like most bourgie, educated Northeastern black folk hyper-sensitive to media portrayal, thought the network was tossing the race into the toilet.

But being on the inside, and looking at ratings, I learned programming is determined by popularity – our big-budget shows are our highest-rated. We still put money into educational, political, socially relevant programming that tank in the ratings. When the Sean Bell verdict came out, within a day we dedicated a show to the tragedy. We even invited cool kids like Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Nas to give their thoughts. Now, this isn’t to say we couldn’t stand to improve our coverage on the recent international food riots (and useless lipservice dispensed by the World Bank), clashes in Zimbabwe and Kenya stemming from dubious election results and well, just everything else in the world that’s not so peachy.

My point is institutions don’t change on their own. It has everything to do with the people they serve. Television networks and police departments will continue to screw us over if we suggest we’re ok with it. If we want more TV shows that delve into the political issues of our day, we’ve got to tune in when they’re on. If we have issues with the Sean Bell verdict, now is not the time to stop protesting. Now instead is the time to keep-a-marching and putting public pressure on our politicians, demand an appeal and bring attention to the injustice. It’s not a simple solution but it’s a healthy start.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 12

Photo of 9th Wonder

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I watch way too much Sex and the City. I used to have a two-episode-per-day habit that I’ve whittled down to a more sensible once-every-few-days dependency. Luckily, my irises haven’t dissolved into jelly. But one thing I’ve picked up from the show is that sometimes the glamorous New York life is hit or miss. Sometimes you lose your Manolos at a self-absorbed photographer’s baby shower. Sometimes your boyfriend dumps you on a Post-It. This week was a whole apple cart of “meh.”

On Friday, I checked out Design of the Elastic Mind at MoMa which was in many ways fantastic. Some of the world’s most skilled nerdlingers rigged up systems that create furniture from free-hand drawings and conceptualized artificial body parts that can be used as mementos. But I guess I’m just too plebian to appreciate Color Chart: Reinventing Color to 1950, MoMa’s survey of the transitional use of color in the 20th century. As someone who freebases pop culture, I was pretty jazzed to see Andy Warhol‘s iconic series of Marilyn Monroe silk-screens in poppy hues. There were nods to the color bible Pantone and several artists who re-imagined color in contemporary art. But mostly I just felt like I was looking at paint swatches. The exhibit was not unlike a weekend trip to your neighborhood Sherwin-Williams.

Saturday night, 9th Wonder manned the decks at the West Village’s creepiest bar, Love. (With underground caves and an in-house waterfall connected to an unfinished basement, that bar is downright goofy). 9th Wonder took to the DJ set like your moody older brother giving you a lesson on “real hip hop.” The ex-Little Brother beatmaker played timeless tracks like Nas‘ “NY State Of Mind” and Gangstarr’s “Dwyck.” Now while these songs are arguably the hallmarks of great hip hop, 9th relentlessly pushed gritty, grainy head-nodders with no regards to our feets. I wanted to dance but the set just brought out the moody, backpacking teenager in me. It was a great set because not many DJs unleash that many DJ Premier hits with lusty abandon. But it wasn’t so great because I didn’t get to use my dancin’ shoes.

Sunday, I went back on the art kick with the Takashi Murakami exhibit at Brooklyn Museum. I liked how he made those staid Louis Vuitton bags all purdy-like usin’ all them clown colors and I liked the demonic co-ed cub he made for Kanye’s Graduation album art. However, an entire wing plastered with Murakami quickly went from inspiring to overwhelming. The benign (bouncy, animated daisies) gave way to the strange (hypersexualized Anime characters engulfed by spirals of projectile sperm) which gave way to the horrifying (said daisies snarling in angst) which gave way to a mild headache. More than anything, I appreciated Murakami’s ability to conflate the realms of fine art and mass culture and basically create a shopping frenzy for stickers of drooling cartoon bears.

The week had its moments but it was mostly chock full of blah. But if I was a fictional columnist who lived on the Upper East Side and spent 40 percent of my income on Jimmy Choos, I would just have a Cosmo and look forward to next week’s misadventures. So, cheers.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 10

Photo of DJ Spinna & Jazzy Jeff © Michael July

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Many of you may know that being a proper New York resident means flitting off to warmer locales and scaring the natives with your frenetic pace, ever-present dark sunglasses and debilitating ache for anything caffeinated. It’s even more fun when you infest said locales in groups. Such was the case this March, when all the cool kids left NYC to the office monkeys for the SXSW festival in Austin and the Winter Music Conference in Miami. Sadly, my day gig as a dedicated office monkey doesn’t allow for such indulgences so I tapped some cool kids to regale us with tales of some of the biggest events in independent music. Turns out both events were optimal for networking and raising awareness about rising and established artists. Or, for as you’ll read below, boozing it up and not stopping ’til you’ve got enough. Personal goal for March 2009: Quit office monkey position.

Winter Music Conference – Miami, FL
$mall ¢hange – DJ, B.A. In Snappy Verbosity, PhD in procuring rare and dusty disco rhythms
Even with the silicone and overpriced society of South Beach, it’s hard not to have a good time. Some highlights: dinner at Puerto Sagua with Monk One and Gas Lamp Killer rocking doubles of hip hop instrumentals at Mad Decent vs Turntable Lab, Sinbad destroying Raw Fusion at Jazid with broken beat to B’more soul remixes, myself dropping crackly sevens at the James Brown tribute party, the paparazzi set checking DJ Spinna with Ms. Baduizm at Giant Step, Dam Funk and Stones Throw Illuminati at the Raleigh Sat. afternoon, Subatomic Sound System dropping chilled vibes at Miambient, and ending with sneaking a J with a mud bath at The Standard. It’s not so bad after all, even with the spring break bs and $7 bottled waters.

Photo © Phillip Angert

SXSW – Austin, TX
Christie Brown – Video Editor, Derby Hat-and-Mussy Hair Combo Enthusiast
Me and mine snuck into an unofficial iheartcomix/JellyNYC party by haggling security and claiming we were a DJ collective. The party ended up being completely WACK – they were denying droves of people entry and the space was super empty. Their one bar had retarded lines, and while the acts were alright, I wasn’t feeling the music possibly based on the difficult circumstances of getting there. So no booze, can’t get all my friends in, nothin’ to do, no where to go. Well, turns out there was a party on the North Lamar pedestrian bridge so we sauntered over there. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the previous 2 hours of my life, but No Age played and it was fucking great. Apparently, NME claimed there was a riot which caused police to come, but I must have missed it; I was talking to random stragglers like a drunken fool ’til the wee hours of the morning.

The weather was nice all week, at every hour of the day people found it personally offensive if you didn’t have a beer in your hand and would place one in your grubby hands. I ran into Brooklyn kids left and right… I was filming for Jay Buim’s Todd P documentary from the time I woke up in the late morning/early afternoon to the time I went to bed, starting by hopping in a van on my birthday and driving pretty much straight through to Austin with assorted hijinks along the way. Didn’t sleep much at all, pleasantly lost my damn mind, saw Jah-Jah [from NYC's Ninjasonik] more times in 4 days than I’ve seen him in the last 6 months. Ate lots of meat ’cause that’s what they do in Texas. Oh, but check this, I got a fucking original Salt ‘n’ Pepa concert t-shirt for 8 dollars. Don’t tell me that isn’t straight flamboastin’ cause I will say “Emphatically No” to that.

Photo of Retro Kids © Michael July

Winter Music Conference – Miami, FL
Michael July – Photographer, Occasional DJ and Frequent Dance Floor Connoisseur
I would definitely say the most eventful moment for me at the WMC was captured in this photo I took. DJ Spinna was killing it on the 1s & 2s. Mixing classic hip hop joints at Jazzy Jeff’s “Nothing But An Old School Party,” which featured performances by Common, Talib Kweli, Biz Markie, King Sun, Skills and DJ Jazzy Jeff. All of a sudden pandemonium broke out…the Retro Kids came out of nowhere and started taking it back with all the old school dances as Spinna did his thing. The young lady in the photo, obviously a true head, suddenly paused from her torrid dancing, turned and looked up at Spinna and Jeff and shouted “that’s my jaaammm!” The intensity in her face says it all.

Photo © Michael July

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 7

Photo of Little Jackie at SXSW BMI Showcase © Randall Michelson

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Hey boys and girls, today’s theme is friendship. Last week I was able to support some chums as they made their dreams come true – all while being comped and whisked into places like I was special (Maybe a more apt theme is nepotism).

On Monday night, I hit up Southpaw to catch friend-in-my-head, Imani Coppola and her group, Little Jackie. I’ve been an Imani fan since way back in the ‘90s when she logged MTV-time with that nutty video and song “Legend Of A Cowgirl.” Her work with Little Jackie is no less kicky (and loopy) as she sauntered on stage and muttered pleasantries to her two stuffed bunnies. The band bubbled through a lot of new stuff which combines the breezy doo-wop riffs of The Supremes with the biting, self-aware lyrics of well, Imani Coppola. My favorite was the swingy “Black Barbie” that takes the piss out of daffy celebutantes. Throughout the night she tossed bubblegum to the crowd and took her top off, because, well, why not. It was like watching Amy Winehouse if her eccentricities were triggered by a sugar high and not a crack binge.

Tuesday, a good friend hooked up me up with list space for Dizzee Rascal’s performance at my new Slope haunt, Southpaw. Dizzee pounced on stage with his incredibly chill hype man and pummeled through his three-album deep catalogue of punchy rhymes and steely beats. The crowd went batty on ditties like “G.H.E.T.T.O.,” “Paranoid” and “Flex” from his upcoming U.S. release, Maths & English. Backstage, a bouncy Aaron LaCrate discussed 2Pac while a sleepy-eyed Dizzee recounted slap-happy times as a rowdy East End teen and dropped sage ruminations about his Nigerian and Ghanaian heritage. It was a time.

Wednesday night, another buddy put on an acoustic showcase at The Cutting Room. Real talk, I hate acoustic music. I was there simply to send some sublime head-nods of support. However, I was not prepared for the billowy-haired songstress with the mega-dimples, Stephanie Michelle, and her sharp-edged version of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Her voice was this rich cocktail of feathery tones and bold melisma. With her vulnerable and generous voice, the lyrics were that much more emotive. By the end I was down right dewy-eyed and I took my behind home to blubber in private.

Finally, I caught religion at a Saturday night performance of the Broadway hit Passing Strange. I first heard about Passing Strange about this time last year through this black rock blog, and how it was about identity and colored people strummin’ git-boxes. I’m pissed that I waited for it to blow up on Broadway (everyone from Toni Morrison to Barbara Walters have checked it out. We sat behind Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz). I have never seen an artistic narrative that spoke to my experience as a surly, arty, black girl constructing her identity in a too-postmodern world. The writing, the music, the performances were literally the best things I’ve ever seen – I was pelting out giggles in one beat and nodding in tearful empathy the next. Maybe I was just having an emotional week. The friend I saw it with gave me a hug.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 6

Photo of Jazzy Jeff © Nick Digital

When I told my friend about my weekend, she flatly informed me with thinly-veiled horror that it was “bizarre.” I’m on the fence about the term. You, gentle reader, can be the judge. Let’s pretend the weekend started on Wednesday where I was eagerly awaiting a performance by Kid Cudi at Left Village bar Le Royale. The whole hourly-motel air makes my head hurt (where do establishments still get mirrored walls after 1978?). Anyway, I was excited to see Kid Cudi hit the stage because his MySpace page be poppin’ with his spacey brew of intergalactic hoodness. But live…wow. He rocked the crowd with all the vibrancy of a Saltine. His stage presence was desperate and inelegant. Overall, crappy. There was a lot of shouting out “peoples” that helped him through the struggle. Once again, desperate. The anti-climactic set wrapped up at midnight as the crowd unceremoniously filed out into the stinging cold.

The bizarreness really cropped up Thursday evening when I saw author and Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis interview Mos Def at the 92nd Street Y. Mos ruminated on everything from his childhood (“too much basketball” nurtured his interest in acting) to his reservations about the good life (using the complimentary Bentley shuttle at a snooty hotel was a trifle much). He spoke with candid wit, dazzling the crowd with low-key astuteness and even previewing a freshly recorded track from his upcoming album, The Ecstatic. However, the question and answer period devolved into bedlam as the restless crowd began to claw at lofty echelons of inappropriateness. Shouts of “next question!!” rang out as an older woman told Mos his music had changed her son’s life. A fan behind me kept screeching “Mos!!” arbitrarily (or perhaps for the optimal annoyance factor) in my ear. Brassy women began loudly interrupting each other, vying recklessly for Mos’ attention. There was a bit of a “WTF” factor watching grown people ready to wrassle each other for some eye contact with Mos Def.

Friday night, I hit one of my favorite bizarro events, Flavorpill’s One Step Beyond jump-off featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff at the Natural History Museum (Rockin’ next to rock formations just never loses it’s heady “where-the-eff-am-I” appeal). This time, instead of the usual infestation of downtowners it was very grown n’ sexy: lots of wizened uptown cats and fly broads who bought “Summertime” on vinyl. The vibe was much more “family cookout” than “tight pants competition.” Jazzy played it safe but his comfort hits straddled a gang of genres. There was Crystal Waters’ never-say-die dance jam, “Gypsy Woman,” Mims’ mind-numbing ode to braggadocio, “This Is Why I’m Hot,” and Dee-Lite’s sunny heart-pumper, “Groove Is In The Heart.” The brazenly cool, Retro Kids made an appearance, bedecked in parachute pants, split-level fades and jocular dance moves that made the early ’90s the hotness. Between the Kids, Jazzy and the tunes, it was like 1992 came back for a quick spin around the planetarium. I was entertained.

The actual weekend was a furious blur of hookah smoke, karaoke, Sparks and disco as my posse and I decamped to this loopy loft party in the Brooklyn. One minute I was chatting up locals in a plastic spaceship, the next precariously creeping down an iron ladder in my pin-thin stilettos and later screeching on stage to an oddly captive audience with my boozy pals. When we finally stumbled out of the rabbit-hole into the pale dawn sunlight, we cabbed it to my friend’s Midtown hotel and ordered $17 fried chicken. However, I wasn’t licked yet and spent Sunday afternoon with my artist friend, Alexis Peskine in Hoboken, NJ (aka Stepford. I mean, is that place serious?) who asked me to pose for a painting. It was slightly disorienting to discuss the tension in the “subject’s” face when the image was my own surly mug.
Since I went this far without sleep I decided to keep the party going by hitting up the 718 Sessions with Danny Krivit. If anyone is deserving of a loyal groupiedom it is Krivit. He spun my brains into jelly with tons of extended mixes of plucky disco and early ’90s Euro-house. As I bounced to the beat, I felt like I was in the New York you see in movies. Lots of dark corners, never-ending vocal house and people having moments on the dance floor. This wasn’t a pageant where everyone is casing each other but a party where people swayed to the music with their eyes shut. Bizarre must be another word for “damn good time.”