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.

Giant Step’s Resident 30: Detroit, Home Sweet Home, Sarah Palin, Maxwell

Photo of Jazmine Sullivan at STEVEN (c) Donna Ward

By Mawuse Ziegbe

When I’m not camping out in craptastic bars in the LES or at a concert furiously scratching notes like a geekazoid, I daydream about the most fantastical situations. Maybe one day I’m making Smores with Amy Winehouse. Maybe I’m taking a magic carpet ride with Diddy. Maybe I’m shaving Common’s head. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m in the Midwest having the bestest time in a truly underrated city. Last week, I went to Detroit on business which is like Narnia for cheap beer-swilling, early ’90s dance addicts like myself. God bless the Motor City Casino Hotel where the driveway is lit up with a maze of rainbow lights like so many glittering Quaaludes. Ce Ce Peniston and Crystal Waters jams are pumped throughout the lobby and the rooms look like the set of a J. Lo video. I partied with some friends at an “apartment” (which, after living in “cozy” NYC apartments, looked like an airport hangar) that held a boutique, a DJ booth and a mess of bedrooms. People were cheery, the music was good and when it wasn’t good, it didn’t matter because alcohol in the Midwest basically costs a hug and a kiss.

But New York is the only place you will find buxom soul singers sweatin’ out a shoe store full of beautiful people. Our precious Giant Step orchestrated another throwdown at Steve Madden’s LES outpost which was swarmed by rapturous Jazmine Sullivan acolytes who knocked over precarious stiletto displays. It was a short 3-song set which she ended with her balmy reggae single, “Need U Bad.” Music heads who have been waiting for her time in the sun and newly enchanted well-wishers were all pouting for more. But children, she is going on tour which, by the by, is fronted by MAXWELL!! I mean, THE Maxwell – in all his singing-naked-in-the-bathtub, Afro-and-sideburns-before-it-was-cool, making-songs-for-sex-scenes-of-every-Sanaa Lathan-movie-since -1995 glory, – is actually coming to your city! You can pay to watch him gyrate for a few hours and maybe touch his head or something if you camp outside the tour bus. With Maxwell, John Legend and Raphael Saadiq on the road, 2008 is officially the year of the intellectual groupie.

2008 is also the two-year anniversary of one my favorite bars, Home Sweet Home. It’s basically an unmarked, unfinished basement packed with taxidermy and a broken disco ball. But its appeal is the reckless, sensual and, if I may, crackity sensibility that makes downtown NYC so legendary. I’ve had nights where one minute I’m teaching some hipsters the Soulja Boy and the next I’m vomiting onto a stuffed weasel. So, of course the anniversary party had to reflect that psycho glamour with complimentary Patrón and a giant moose ice sculpture which doubled as a shot luge. Resident performers Sweatshop Labor and Young Lords held court and even smiley trip-hop vocalist Sia came out for a drink and a dance. And yes, I got a little reckless, sensual and crackity.

However, more than taxidermy and making up adjectives, the hottest thing in the streets right now is the election debates. When they plucked that Sarah Palin woman from Baby Siberia, I thought she must have been a brainy, ambitious, innovative politician who could really shake up the stodgy and grim Republican ticket. Instead, we have this aging beauty queen with prom hair and a foreign policy perspective that’s seemingly informed by Rainbow Brite. I wish I could skip through the most important test of my life winking and giving shout-outs to 8 year-olds. Maybe, just maybe…if I keep dreaming.

Giant Step’s Resident 29: Raphael Saadiq, Jazmine Sullivan and More

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I recently went back to Boston for a truly mystifying experience: my middle school reunion. Unlike high school or college reunions, it’s too long ago for grudges or festering sexual tension to result in a truly glorious Ricki Lake moment. Instead, I was peering at people who I last saw eating glue and making macaroni art talk about diversifying their portfolio. The Capri Suns and knee scratches have been replaced by Blackberrys and breasts. The girl who used to wear goofy leggings is now dating a mayor. The girl who I used to build forts with is now doing nerdlinger stuff at IBM. The curly-haired boy who used to live for “soccah (God bless those Boston accents),” now owns a landscaping business and looks like a skinhead. Someone brought out a faded lit-mag where booger-picking classmates wrote 5-line stories about the history of pizza. And at one point I heard the unmistakable wail of the Macarena. Even the post-reunion toke-up had that unshakable element of “I’m going to wake up from this foolishness any minute now.”

So let’s ditch my awkward memories for music reminiscent of a simpler time: Raphael Saadiq’s latest album, The Way I See It. Saadiq is having no part of the 21st century and that’s just grand. There are lots of sunny marches and churchy grooves that sound like they come with vinyl furniture and a pair of saddle shoes. I’m all about “Stayin’ in Love” and “100 Yard Dash” and Saadiq’s liberal use of the tambourine. The only handicap is that the songs sound very similar and are mostly distinguished by their relative amounts of tambourine (“Big Easy,” moderate tambourine, “Love That Girl” mega tambourine). But most importantly he still has that earthy sensuality and those magical basslines that really melt my butter.

Sonically, each track on Jazmine Sullivan’s debut Fearless is distinct but lyrically, she’s got the torch thing on lock. Imagine every possible way one could muck up a relationship and Jazmine’s got some lyrics dripping with melisma and “drama with my ex-boo” sentiments. There are speaker-crushers for any occasion: If you’re getting cheated on (“Live A Lie”), if you’re cheating (“In Love With Another Man”), if you want your boo back (“Need U Bad”) and if you’ve just caused sizable property damage (“Bust Your Windows”). A truly versatile record for those who think happy endings are for tossers. The Lauryn Hill comparisons can easily be made (the melodies, Wu-Tang samples, Salaam Remi connection, etc) but for the most part, Jazmine is her own woman. The biggest difference is back in the day we used to dub artists like Hill and Sullivan “Neo-Soul.” Now they’re simply known as “talented.”

Giant Step’s Resident 28: New York Fashion Week, Solange and Barack Obama

By Mawuse Ziegbe

New York Fashion Week is like a flu virus: most people are affected and the city is overrun with lots of sickly-looking people pretending they’re extra fabulous. But, it’s an NYC rite of passage and like all stupid traditions you have to do it once. I have one of those freakishly put-together friends who just mounted her first fashion show for the Spring 2009 collection of Harlan Bel. Underfed waifs stalked down the runway to the startlingly cool sounds of The Pharcyde’s “Passing Me By,” The Knife’s “Heartbeats,” “I Belong To You” by Lenny Kravitz and “Blow Ya Mind” by Styles P. The clothing was a survey of sleekly architectural construction; prim minidresses detailed with sharp pleats, daringly asymmetrical cocktail frocks and pin-thin slacks with choppy, low-slung waistbands. The types of looks you might find in the Judy Jetson Resort Collection but not at all cartoony and comfortingly wearable.

However, the lead-up to the show was the most nerve-wracking thing, not because I was involved in the process but because I had to show up to the damn thing looking, well…good. After stressing for days, I finally settled on a beige tunic, shorts and these vintage-y black and white flats that made me look like an abolitionist out for a lark. I was all smug until I arrived and realized that next to real fashionistas my “effortless downtown chic” looked more like “useless bumpkin,” complete with the sad clown shoes. Good thing the actual show was no longer than 20 minutes and I was free to run off into the night where I could be judged not by ability to accessorize but by my hearty alcohol tolerance.

Fashion week is all about celebrities – none of whose shiny Botoxed glamour I’ve witnessed up close – but some of them still release music on these flat donut thingys called compact discs. Solange’s second album, Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams is the best reason I’ve seen for not stopping at one child. Beyoncé (or Robot Knowles as I like to call her) is all oiled abs and billowy hair extensions and not enough actual personality for my taste. But Sol-Angel swings from downy, Mid-century soul to ethereal trip-hop to languid, churchy blues; all powered by Solange’s plucky vocals and candid, catchy lyrics. On this record she gets mad, ecstatic, vulnerable and high on “life.” Plus, she prances about in obscene amounts of chiffon like an extra in Mahogany. Lovely.

And since I have a degree in Political Science and not fussing over dry-clean only clothes, my only other fashion week event was a Barack Obama fundraiser at Sutra. Questlove lorded over the club crammed with supporters still gussied up from the tents. It was fun and all but I’m just praying that America judges the candidates on their ability to lead and not the just their runway potential. Although Obama has it sewn up either way.

Giant Step’s Resident 27: Gilles Peterson, Hercules and Love Affair, Bobbito

Photo © Erik Schneider

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Recently, I experienced one of the truly crappy things about living in New York: getting your bike stolen. My Schwinn still had that new bike smell when it was jacked on Bedford Ave. What’s different for me is that it was my first bike since I was 11 (why I never learned to ride is a long, stupid story). Most of you already know the sting of losing your first set of wheels and the accompanying playground anguish and can handle it with aplomb. Not me, however. For the first few days, I would narrow my eyes at anyone on a blue cruiser. I imagined myself pummeling the thieving hoodlum and riding off into the sunset as a row of toothy schoolkids cheered me on. But really, was I going to bound into traffic, outrun a thief with robust pedal-pumping thigh muscles and reclaim my bike without further incident? Hell and no. But after trawling Craigslist and following dead leads on free bikes, I thought, this is America; why not just steal me another bike? Now I narrowed my eyes at poorly secured racers and suitably daffy owners who have wondered off for a latte. But again, how conspicuously nutty would I look yanking on locks while the owner fetches an espresso? And if I was successful, what happens when the owner sees me pedaling off and chucks the scalding coffee square at my back and I fall off writhing in the street. Then I’m not just a failed criminal, I’m a stupid, failed criminal. And really, I can’t be a thief – I don’t even have a mask!

But on a more growned-up note, Giant Step brought Gilles Peterson to Cielo which was wicked awesome. I never realized how amazing the sound at Cielo is! Gilles warmed up with some punchy Afrobeat and sped up the BPMs with some chunky deep house – including a sassy cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain Of Fools.” But when Gilles launched into his Latin Jazz set, it really sounded like a 12-piece band was crouched beneath the turntables. It was like if you just conquered an empire and trumpeters trailed you constantly with your own saucy theme music. Plus, the man must eat music encyclopedias because in an hour he hops between Afrobeat, disco and Latin jazz, easy as pie. And Gilles Peterson sets are also awesome because he’s got some loyal diehards. I spent a couple songs chatting with a fellow who would pause the conversation to shriek at the DJ booth “Whoo!! This is what we paid our money for! DAMN!” Indeed.

I also caught Hercules and Love Affair at Irving Plaza and ain’t they the bees knees! The rainbow-friendly NY collective released their self-titled debut this year which makes my heart flutter. It’s unapologetically new wave, nu-disco, New York nightlife fun combined with the theater of ancient Greece. So, of course the show was one big ol’ shameless dance par-tay! Doors opened at 9 and they didn’t hit the stage until midnight but the voguers and 7-piece band turned it out. They played the late-night torch song, “You Belong” and “Athena” with come-hither coos. It’s like if you took the words “hot damn!” and made them into a recording group.

And in other hot damn news, the kids were hotfooting it at Bobbito’s turn at Giant Step’s Hudson Hotel DJ series last week. Bobbito dropped a range of hits from Chrisette Michele to Paul Simon to Parliament. Dancers of the Week, Brian Polite, DanSir and Dashuan got all Saturday Night Fever with it, wiping the floor clean with their synchronized moves and b-boy swagger. When you’ve soaked your starchy button-up so much that everyone can see your chest hairs through your pocket, you don’t need to mention how crazy the party was.