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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.