Nas and Damien Marley Discuss Distant Relatives & the Politics of Hip Hop and Reggae

Tomorrow at 7pm, National Geographic Live presents a one-of-a-kind evening with some of hip-hop’s most legendary figures. The event will feature Nas and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley in a discussion about the often under-appreciated evolution of and deep-rooted connections between reggae and hip-hop.

Hip-hop, now a multibillion-dollar industry, originated as a vital form of cultural expression in Africa that was translocated by the slave trade to the Caribbean and the American colonies. It blossomed a half century ago in the dance halls of Kingston, Jamaica, and soon migrated to the parks jams and recreational centers of New York City, where the culture became known as hip-hop. This evolution forms the basis of the Distant Relatives music project, a collaborative effort by Marley and Nas, which will comprise of an album set for release in early 2010, a documentary film, performances and a series of public discussions.

Joining Nas and Marley for this conversation, moderated by MTV VJ Sway, will be key players in the development of both musical genres, including Kool Herc, Rakim, Daddy U-Roy, King Jammy, Jeff Chang, Pat McKay, Waterflow and DJ Red Alert.

You can watch the event live streaming here.
Saturday 12, 7pm EST

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.

The Green Album and Stay True

Check out this album which features remixes of Al Green’s classics with artists such as Jay Z, Common, Fugees, Method Man, MF Doom, Busta Rhymes, The Pharcyde, Notorious B.I.G., De La Soul, AZ, Nas, Pharaohe Monch and Mos Def.

The Green Album is a free download! But if you love the album as much as I do, please donate to Stay True. Stay True is a Philadelphia based non-profit organization dedicated to offering under-privileged, at-risk youth the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to become powerful agents of social/political change in their communities.

Giant Step’s Resident 26: Giant Step’s SummerStage and Rock The Bells

Photo of Jamie Lidell © Phillip Angert
View photos here. Archive link here.

By Mawuse Ziegbe

When you miss things, your good friends will fill you in on the highlights and assure you that no matter the pyrotechnics, special guests or bales of free money thrown in the air, you didn’t miss much. Well. If you missed Giant Step’s 2008 Summerstage show, your friends probably fed you a barrel full of fibs. The vibe was laid-back with adorable chubby-cheeked kids and their still-hip parents splayed on blankets. In between sets, Gilles Peterson spun everything from “Creator” to “California Soul.” José James was all midsummery goodness, showing off both his bold, round vocals and his brain-liquefying scatting skills. Little Jackie pumped the crowd with “The Stoop,” “LOL,” “The World Should Revolve Around Me” and probably scared the chubby-cheeked kids with rebellious directives like “put your middle fingers in the air!” But throwing up the potty-finger wasn’t the most jaw-dropping antic by far.

Jamie Lidell turned out an epic performance looking like a crazy person in a dark shirtless blazer and darker tapered pants. He began his hour-long set with syrupy soul jams like “Green Light” and “Figured Me Out,” and soon switched into talkbox scatting. Most of the band was dressed in snappy man-onesies and the sax man even blew two horns at once. After the solos, Jamie was left to his own devices and sampled his own vocals to make a beat onstage. I mean, can humans do that? Even still both Jamie and Little Jackie began their sets with, “whoa! Did you guys see Janelle Monae??”

Monae took to the stage after her android-inspired introduction and unleashed her frenzied footwork and fiery energy that perked up the crowd. She rocked “Happy Hunting/Violent Stars!” “Smile” and “Sincerely Jane” where she kicked over the mic stand (much to the chagrin of the Summerstage audio guy) and crowd surfed. She rode the crest of concertgoers with enviable abandon, as husky security guards lumbered after her and weary label people in the photo pit began punching away on Blackberrys. In a moment of cartoony chaos, a pair of shoes flew through the air. She ended with “Lettin’ Go,” a track that’s good a ratio of The Neptunes’ spacey clinks to Miami Sound Machine’s calypso funk. Just before running off and leaving a park full of slack-jawed, sweaty, newly-converted fans in her wake, she crashed the mic stand against the stage more violently than before.

After the Summerstage show I ran off to Long Island to check out the Rock The Bells tour. 7 PM I leave Central Park. 10:30 PM I arrive at Jones Beach Theater. It took subway, rail, foot and gypsy cab to finally arrive in the amphitheatre in the middle of Nas’ set. I’ve never seen him live and he was…simple. A white T-shirt and a rope of bling completed his ensemble and only a spare N-A-S lit up the screen in the background. He played a ton of songs including, “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” “One Love,” “Hate Me Now,” “Nastradamus,” and his current single “Hero.” The hip hop heads nearly exploded when he brought Jay-Z out for their two duets, “Success” and “Black Republicans.” But I personally believe that bringing out your erstwhile rival on wax to perform your mediocre collabos is not so crescent fresh. Overall, it was very…whatever.

The show closed with the legendary A Tribe Called Quest reunion I’ve been waiting on for, oh, ten years. At first Q-Tip came out alone performing “Higher,” “Let’s Ride” and other selections from his painfully jiggy solo debut that no real ATCQ fan gives a hoot about. Tip is out there shakin’ his tailfeather and I’m truly getting angry. Where is the group, the collective, the Queens trio that has never been the same since they disbanded? Making the show all about him was appalling. He didn’t come off like the Wyclef or the Lauryn – he was the Pras. Delusional, self-important and wasting the audience’s time. The show really started when finally, about 20 minutes in, Ali Shaheed descends upon the wheels of steel and Phife Dawg gallops out. And then they bring it. “Award Tour,” “Electric Relaxation,” “Find A Way,” “Bonita Applebum.” A fiery Busta Rhymes rumbles out for the posse cut of the ages, “Scenario.” Then we all, about 10,000 of us, put one finger in the air for hip hop – and for the 3-hour sojourn back to NYC.