Interview: Jose James Checks In Before SummerStage on August 11

 

jose

Before hitting SummerStage this Sunday, August 11, Jose James catches up with us about his relationship to Giant Step, his growth as an artist, and what’s up next.

Giant Step: How would you say Giant Step most influenced your music and/or career?

Jose James: Wow. It’s been so great, thank you guys. The first show was at the Hiro Ballroom in NYC opening for the amazing Alice Russell. Then we started the Brownswood Sessions at Nublu with DJ Moni and Taylor McFerrin. Beautiful times! Giant Step really paved the way for what I do, connecting hip-hop, soul, jazz and DJ culture. The London connection, Gilles Peterson, all that. It’s a global movement to present quality music.

GS: We’ve been with you from the start and it’s been a pleasure to see you progress; how would you say No Beginning No End Jose has evolved from The Dreamer Jose?

JJ: Well, I’m more well traveled. That influences you tremendously. When I made The Dreamer I was still in school and had only been to a couple places outside the US – now I’ve toured in 40 countries and counting. I’m actually in Mexico right now. You meet people and see how your music is loved worldwide and that’s a powerful thing. Now I have worldwide family and a great relationship with my fans. It’s beautiful. Musically I’m more comfortable expressing all the worlds I love – soul, R&B, jazz, rock, blues, gospel, hip-hop – and you can hear that on the new album, and in the collaborations – Robert Glasper, Pino Palladino, Emily King, Hindi Zahra.

GS: And where do you see yourself going next? Any challenges/goals you’re keen on tackling?

JJ: I’d like to reconnect with electronic music. I just dropped an EP on Blue Note with remixes by FaltyDL, Oddisee, fLako, and Taylor McFerrin. I lived in London for a year and went to Plastic People, Fabric, Cargo and met great DJs and producers like Benji B, Benga and Skream, Floating Points. So I miss that and want to do more in that world. I’m working on a new album now for next year called Desire.

Read the rest of the interview after the jump

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 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/