Giant Step’s Resident 37: The Roots, Q-Tip, Estelle and More

By Mawuse Ziegbe

The holiday season is always a sickening deluge of parties, stiff “holiday cheer” (which I temper with stiff drinks) and a glut of obligations. In a year of highs (getting my own column, fluffing an increasingly enviable Afro) and lows (finally ending that relationship, trying not to strangle yokels at the day job) I needed the festive distractions of the silly season more than ever. I spent Thanksgiving in the ER grappling with my mother’s decaying health taking breaks only to try to coax her into retiring and to bitch about the lack of beer in the hospital gift shop. At dinner, I looked after my mother during one of those large family gatherings attended by old African aunties and uncles who think “my writing career in New York” is a euphemism for “hooking on Hunts Point.” I returned to New York only to field calls from relatives who dropped clumsy hints (“why don’t you move back to Boston and take of your mother?”) about how I should handle the situation. Hello stress-related acne.

Managing her health crisis from another state, doctors regarded me like a crackpot with reverse-Munchausen syndrome. After rattling off a list of concerns M.D.s would respond “well she looks just dandy! We sent her off with some Halls and a smile. To do any conclusive tests we’ll need her consent and $20,000 for a new vending machine in the break room. Where are you calling from again?” Doctors would announce to colleagues that I was her daughter from New York as if I wasn’t interested in her well-being but instead looking for the right moment to steal her wallet. Between witnessing my ever-fabulous mother (we used to get mistaken for sisters until, well, I moved away) fade into a shadow of her former self and dealing with residents who act like they got their book-learnin’ from the Fisher Price School of My First Malpractice Suit, I needed some cot-damn holiday cheer.

The only fete I could drag myself to was the Okayplayer and Frank 151 bash at B.B. Kings. The lineup was like The Roots Present Everyone They’ve Ever Met – EVER. Melle Mel milled about in a white suit that can only be described as “pimpalicious.” After a tepid set by Tanya Morgan featuring 88 Keys and a jazzy appearance from Alice Smith, Res and Talib Kweli satisfied fans with “Get By” and “We Got The Beat.” When The Roots began rocking the frenetic thump of “You Got Me,” we knew it was time for an extra special female guest. Out came Estelle with a completely uncalled-for bowl cut. Despite the “Family Ties” hair, she delivered a dubby version of the classic Roots joint and segued into her dubby single, “Come Over.”

After The Roots performed Fela Kuti’s “Beasts Of No Nation,” Bilal, looking and sounding like the bastard love child of Melvin Van Peebles and Prince, howled his way through an epic rendition “Soul Sista.” Q-Tip performed “Manwomanboogie,” “Gettin’ Up” and a few gnarly freestyle bars. Pharoahe Monch and Black Thought joined in and then, smooth as pie, Q-Tip swapped drumming duties with ?uestlove. So then, it’s ‘Tip on drums, Thought on the mic and my jaw on the floor. I left around 2 AM with the plucky tones of The Roots’ “Next Movement” as my traveling music.

I dread it every year but in 2008, I learned that the holidays can always be worse. So bless The Roots, a band that has given me countless memories that don’t involve congested shopping malls and tense family moments. Bless the friends who have been able to slip in a festive distraction here and there. And bless my ma, whose wallet I hope to make off with come Christmas morn.

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.