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.

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
www.myspace.com/ladiesofmawu


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.

http://www.justiceforsean.net/

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.