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 19: Bugz In The Attic, Brown Girls Burlesque, The Roots Picnic, J*Davey

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I know a lot of you beautiful flowers were wilting in this weekend’s oven fresh heat but I was cookin,’ honey. And I ran into some children who didn’t let the heat stop them no way. Monday night, DJ Daz-I-Kue of Bugz In The Attic was serving up global burners including fiery Afrobeat, disco and tribal house selections at The Hudson Hotel. And Wednesday night, the fabulous people let me moonlight in their world at the Fashion Delivers Pay It Fashion Forward event (ooh, what a cute pun!) honoring young designers. It was hosted by chipper ex-”House Of Style” host, Daisy Fuentes (ooh, where has she been?) at Marquee. Of course, the hook for me was Janelle Monae who swayed the blasé fashion types with a table dance and blithe accompaniment from her bewigged guitarist Kellindo.

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Janelle Monae © Jason Green

Thursday night, the fashion types gave me a reality check as I partook in a long, storied New York tradition: getting shut out of a party. Giant magazine cover girl Kimora Lee Simmons hosted an issue release party at Indochine. We loitered outside – I was with a writer whose story appears in the issue – while the doormen shooed us away, barking some business about capacity and not being shallow enough (I kid, I kid). After catching Kimora’s dramatic arrival, towering above a clutch of bodyguards (for serious, that woman is like, 10 feet tall. I’m not convinced her name isn’t Kimora Lee Bunyan), me and some other little people went to the House of Campari and did it up royal. The three-story loft housed loads of the bitter Italian liquor with groovy 70s-era commissions lining the walls including a shrine featuring a disco album by Robert “Benson” Guilliame. Outta sight.

Chicava HoneyChild at Brown Girls Burlesque © Vishnu Hoff

Last week, Prince Rogers Nelson got his AARP card and I celebrated by taking in the Shockadelica tribute by Brown Girls Burlesque. You know, instead of choking down EZ-Baked brownies, shimmying topless to “Kiss” is what I always envisioned my imaginary big sister would teach me. It was all fun and boobs as women of all sizes got the crowd all hot and bothered to songs from all eras of Prince. Then at midnight, ladies with hot draggy names like Miss AuroraBoobRealis and Sunshine Fayalicious passed out shots of purple likka (which went down like a fistful of needles). And the crowd went batshit when Dame CuchiFrita, undressing to “Little Red Corvette,” clamped the jumper cables to her…nevermind. You can find out how to join at www.myspace.com/browngirlsburlesque

Saturday, I rode the Chinatown bus in 90-degree heat to The Roots Picnic in Philly (and why was Zoe Kravitz slummin’ it in the seat in front of me?). I love how their idea of “picnic” is an outdoor festival complete with inflatable castles and um, baked bean stands. I caught Deerhoof which was weird; beeping noises and disjointed “rhythm.” Yeah. Although audio problems plagued the day-long concert, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings as per usual, shut it down. And I’ve seen the The Roots googol times and they’re just swell. They rocked everything from their own “Love Of My Life” to a pop medley featuring “SexyBack.” Even legendary bassist Hub came back for a special solo. And 8 hours after the show began, Gnarls Barkley took the stage. Although Gnarls was fine (no funny costumes), the audience was kind of stoned, er…tired and the LSD grooves were not helping. Cee-Lo even asked, “Did you hear the album.” The crowd responded with a slack-jawed, “whaaa?” Blame the ooweee.

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Gnarls Barkley © Mel D. Cole

Sunday night back in NYC I tried to get my culture game up by taking in Rachelle Ferrell at Blue Note. Blue Note is one of those institutions shrouded in New York legend but the performance was memorable because they had zero air conditioning. Or a fan. Or a window. But the heat ain’t stop Rachelle no way and she performed a gaggle of jazz and pop songs until she was literally soaking. And I have never witnessed that level of vocal virtuosity. She would jump from a sharp, tinny falsetto to a cavernous, guttural bass note – in the same word. Can we get a summer blockbuster featuring Rachelle Ferrell dissolving amateurs with her vocal prowess?

Afterwards, I saw J*Davey pack the house at S.O.B.s. Following high-energy sets from Taylor McFerrin and the duo Heavy (homeboy had a key-tar that sprayed spoogy silly string on the audience), Jack Davey and Brook D’Leau, backed by a live band, played a grip of their famously synthy catalog like “Slooow” and even a cover of “Message In A Bottle” by The Police. The highlight was during the slow-jam “No More” when girl-crazy NYC photog Mel D. Cole undressed Jack down to her black bustier and lacy boy shorts. My girl who took the tempo slowdown as a cue to fetch a beverage came back just as Jack pulled on her shirt and chirped, “What did I miss?”

Oh and before I go, FYI: Wale’s “Seinfeld”-inspired Mixtape About Nothing is that good good. Download it (and maybe rub it on your teeth to make them tingle). You’re gonna need something to keep cool.