Giant Step’s Resident 41: Soulwax, Jesse Boykins III, Dr. Dre

jess

Posted by Mawuse Ziegbe

I’ve always said that getting involved with friends is a no-no but recently I thrust my hand in the fire – and got burnt the hell up. There were red flags from jump: Brooklyn-based artist/actor/ “creative entity” (whatever), vegan (which to an African woman means starvation) attractive, tight-pants-wearing Black man (so he’s already hooked up with half of Fort Greene). As friends, we would giggle at parties and talk shit about people. With that kind of spiritual connection how could we lose? Well, now I’m out of a partner in bitchiness and I’ve added a name to my “please God don’t let me run into this yokel” list.

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Giant Step’s Resident 40: Lykke Li, Alaska In Winter and Friends We Love Festival

By Mawuse Ziegbe

So many rising stars sell out shows, sing along to a DAT, bask in their blogosphere buzz and call it a day. But congregates, believe wholly and fully in the hype of
Lykke Li. Rapturous Lykke Li followers enveloped Webster Hall and homegirl brought it. Her album Youth Novels is all feathery textures, pillowy vocals and naked emotion. And while she opened with the ethereal “Melodies & Desires,” she spent the rest of the show busting up the stage with rollicking versions of her dreamy break-up jams. Swathed in black layers she rocked “Dance, Dance, Dance,” banging on her drummer’s cymbals and shaking up the folky number with freewheeling spunk. The crowd drooled when she went into “I’m Good I’m Gone.” The band gave “Little Bit” a downtempo, acoustic revamp that heightened the vulnerability of the original version. During the encore she slipped in a cover of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” and finished with “Breaking It Up.” For a Swedish pop star, she was mad hip hop. It was kinda like Lil’ Kim Presents Lykke Li. Amazing.

Alaska in Winter is also doing some fun stuff performance-wise. A slight fellow with a penchant for suits and fur hats, the project’s Brandon Bethancourt tinkered with an assortment of homemade key-tars (like, guitars duct-taped to keyboards), ukuleles and synths at Williamsburg’s Monkeytown. The show had all the makings of crappy experimental theater (one guy, too many instruments, a tolerant, touchy-feely audience). But unlike crappy experimental theater it came across as a meticulously planned performance experience. Bethancourt projected video of himself playing each instrument individually on Monkeytown’s four screens. He dressed in layers and disrobed throughout the set to match his virtual doppelgangers. So say before he goes into his pulsing, New Wave jam “Berlin,” he’ll take off his brown slacks to reveal some crisp white skinny pants that match the four celluloid Bethancourts strumming banjoes, slamming key-tars and wearing horsey masks. Ok, my description sounds like I huff glue but I pinky swear it’s a totally great show.

I had a ridiculous time at the Friends We Love Festival. It was all beautiful Brooklyn folk who only come to the city for gritty yet fabulous parties such as this one. DJs like the legendary Bobbito and DJ Moni spun the chunes and Platinum Pied Pipers’ Wajeed made an appearance. And there was the requisite indoor street art and that everybody was too drunk to really notice. The party also had the rowdiest entrance sitchy I’ve ever encountered. You go to the door and there’s a sign saying the party’s moved across the street. Fine. You get to that address and there’s another sign saying it moved around the corner. Um, ok. The next entrance says it’s on the other side of the building. Just when I’m about to give up thinking the party’s in Narnia, I find the entrance. And the elevator isn’t working. Joy. Five flights later, I get to the party. Sarah White and DJ Don Cuco hit the stage and I bop to their snappy number “I Wanna Be With You.” Hopefully this bit of blog buzz doesn’t make them switch to DATs. I think more rising stars need to slam key-tars and channel Lil Kim.

Giant Step’s Resident 39: Theophilus London At The Studio At Webster Hall and A-Trak At Mehanata

Photo of Theophilus London (c) Gina Erdmann

Let’s be adults about this – I’m fat. This isn’t insecure Bridget Jones whining. I’ve honestly packed on some pounds. At first it was kind of cool. When I rush downstairs my belly fat quivers. Kinda like the stomach flip you get when going down a rollercoaster. If I jerk my head to the left, the right side of my body jiggles. Sorta like there’s a waterbed underneath my skin (groovy). Every morning I play the challenging game of “stuff the thighs into the dark wash denim.” And every morning it’s like shoving a television set into a condom. I know I can free myself of the flub through simple diet and exercise. However, I waste more time haggling with the membership director at the Bedford Avenue YMCA instead of actually spending the measly 45-minutes on the treadmill. I cancel out the nutrients of a salad by dumping bits of cheese pizza into it. The times when I could be feeling the burn (I live a whole two blocks away from the aforementioned Y) I’m stuffing my face with candies and watching Mahogany.

In an effort to end Operation Pork I’ve tried to be more aggressive with my nightlife excursions. Recently, I attended the glorious Flashing Lights party at Mehanata. The first floor of Mehanata had crazy iridescent plastic leaves covering the ceiling which made me feel like I downed some ‘luudes and partied in an enchanted freezer. A-Trak spun some dizzying Euro House jams from Fedde Le Grand and Mylo. Upstairs was a Balkan Beat party where I danced with a slight fellow from Albania and jumped around like the harvest just came in.

Also, I’d been curious about Theophilus London for a while. I finally got closure at his This Charming Mixtape release party at The Studio at Webster Hall. Performance-wise, he has a loooong way to go. It’s a pale version of the slobber over the microphone, hump womenfolk in the audience, me against the mainstream thing that Spank Rock has been owning for years. It was like watching a bunch of really hyper zoo animals trying to break the cages with their screams. The ubiquitous Jesse Boykins III was his backup singer which was not a great look for London. Boykin’s easy cool was more captivating than London’s desperate mayhem. It was like watching Smoky Robinson two-step next to Ol’ Dirty Bastard. However, the music itself is proper. London and Boykins’ “Cold Pillow” is an airy electro-soul jam with an addictive beat. His remix of Solange’s “Sandcastle Disco” is equally catchy.

Maybe I can listen to it when I hit the gym. Or when I wallow in my own flub eating candies.

Giant Step’s Resident 38: Illa-J, Here We Go Magic, Jay Rock, President Obama

(Chuck Kennedy-Pool/Getty Images)

I’ve been spending too much time on Chinatown buses. When I hosted Pop Off! a party in D.C. with The General Store Inc., I took the crackiest mode of transportation possible: Apex Bus. There is a level of decorum on the Boston to New York routes that the D.C. and Philly lines don’t even pretend to bother with. Sparky ticket-takers in neon jackets spat bold-faced lies at me muttering, “5 O’ Crock, 5 O’ Crock” when at 5:25 I asked them what time the bus was leaving. I arrived at the party two hours late but I did get to catch the very promising RA The MC. She charmed me with a little ditty about some cute boy with the unfortunate name of Nikki. And DJ Sharkey massaged my ears with jams from Human League and The Pharcyde that I rarely hear outside of my own bedroom.

The worst thing about living in New York is going to your hometown and experiencing how profoundly silly it is by comparison. When my mom broke her hip I took the next Chinatown chariot to Boston. At the hospital, some mouthy RN noted I had “real Negro hair.” I ruined my leather boots wading through a foot of brown slush surrounding Boston Medical Center only to watch yet another news report on regional hockey results on the hospital TV. Boston is like this odd, arctic plantation where President Obama is just another Negro and hat-tricks are far more newsworthy than clashes in Gaza.

All this meant plenty of time to sit by myself and listen to music. Lately, I’ve been mad about Here We Go Magic and their song “Tunnelvision.” It’s all plucky guitar festooned with whimsical, billowy vocals. It’s like crashing a ho-down with David The Gnome. I’m also intrigued by this song, “All My Life” by Jay Rock. He’s a Watts, California native who ostensibly looks like any other rank-and-file rapper. But he has humility and an ease about his sound that’s appealing. Awash with velvety violins, it’s both a throwback to the balmy G-Funk that made Dr.Dre famous and a slick update on the sample-heavy sound. And I finally sat down and listened to Illa J’s debut Yancey Boys. J. Dilla’s textured beats for artists like Q-Tip and Slum Village turned my early flirtation with hip hop into a full-blown affair. Illa J pays tribute to his late brother with a collection of supple, artful beats reminiscent of Dilla’s handiwork. A solid 50 minutes of music.

As a Chinatown bus veteran the one time I really should have been on a titanium clap-trap with a cartoon dragon emblazoned on the side was when Obama was inaugurated. I had to work but I spent most of the day awestruck, choking back tears and committing CNN’s coverage to memory. At least I can tell my kids that long ago, back when people still rode busses, people with Afros were harassed in hospitals and American presidents were hopeless, I witnessed the exact moment when one of those things changed.

Giant Step’s Resident 37: The Roots, Q-Tip, Estelle and More

By Mawuse Ziegbe

The holiday season is always a sickening deluge of parties, stiff “holiday cheer” (which I temper with stiff drinks) and a glut of obligations. In a year of highs (getting my own column, fluffing an increasingly enviable Afro) and lows (finally ending that relationship, trying not to strangle yokels at the day job) I needed the festive distractions of the silly season more than ever. I spent Thanksgiving in the ER grappling with my mother’s decaying health taking breaks only to try to coax her into retiring and to bitch about the lack of beer in the hospital gift shop. At dinner, I looked after my mother during one of those large family gatherings attended by old African aunties and uncles who think “my writing career in New York” is a euphemism for “hooking on Hunts Point.” I returned to New York only to field calls from relatives who dropped clumsy hints (“why don’t you move back to Boston and take of your mother?”) about how I should handle the situation. Hello stress-related acne.

Managing her health crisis from another state, doctors regarded me like a crackpot with reverse-Munchausen syndrome. After rattling off a list of concerns M.D.s would respond “well she looks just dandy! We sent her off with some Halls and a smile. To do any conclusive tests we’ll need her consent and $20,000 for a new vending machine in the break room. Where are you calling from again?” Doctors would announce to colleagues that I was her daughter from New York as if I wasn’t interested in her well-being but instead looking for the right moment to steal her wallet. Between witnessing my ever-fabulous mother (we used to get mistaken for sisters until, well, I moved away) fade into a shadow of her former self and dealing with residents who act like they got their book-learnin’ from the Fisher Price School of My First Malpractice Suit, I needed some cot-damn holiday cheer.

The only fete I could drag myself to was the Okayplayer and Frank 151 bash at B.B. Kings. The lineup was like The Roots Present Everyone They’ve Ever Met – EVER. Melle Mel milled about in a white suit that can only be described as “pimpalicious.” After a tepid set by Tanya Morgan featuring 88 Keys and a jazzy appearance from Alice Smith, Res and Talib Kweli satisfied fans with “Get By” and “We Got The Beat.” When The Roots began rocking the frenetic thump of “You Got Me,” we knew it was time for an extra special female guest. Out came Estelle with a completely uncalled-for bowl cut. Despite the “Family Ties” hair, she delivered a dubby version of the classic Roots joint and segued into her dubby single, “Come Over.”

After The Roots performed Fela Kuti’s “Beasts Of No Nation,” Bilal, looking and sounding like the bastard love child of Melvin Van Peebles and Prince, howled his way through an epic rendition “Soul Sista.” Q-Tip performed “Manwomanboogie,” “Gettin’ Up” and a few gnarly freestyle bars. Pharoahe Monch and Black Thought joined in and then, smooth as pie, Q-Tip swapped drumming duties with ?uestlove. So then, it’s ‘Tip on drums, Thought on the mic and my jaw on the floor. I left around 2 AM with the plucky tones of The Roots’ “Next Movement” as my traveling music.

I dread it every year but in 2008, I learned that the holidays can always be worse. So bless The Roots, a band that has given me countless memories that don’t involve congested shopping malls and tense family moments. Bless the friends who have been able to slip in a festive distraction here and there. And bless my ma, whose wallet I hope to make off with come Christmas morn.