Photo via XL Recordings
Listening to Bobby Womack on Spotify while I was at work last Thursday afternoon took me back to the good old days. The year was 2005; I was fresh out of college; and as far as rap was concerned, if it wasn’t G-Unit, Diplomats, Roc-A-Fella, Ruff Ryders, Mobb Deep, or Clipse you weren’t relevant to me. Particularly 50 Cent & G-Unit was the most important. They had the most musical catalog because so much of my parent’s music shaped their beats. This was also when Kanye West was resurrecting the soulful feeling of ’70s singers like Irene Reid and The Masqueraders for his own debut, and producing beats for fellow Roc-A-Fella artists. It would be Bobby Womack’s voice though that cut through for me.
When “Woman’s Gotta Have It” came on, it slowed down my pace. I felt each click of the box cutter against the palm of my hand, then gravity seemed to collapse the boxes without me barely folding them. Bobby Womack was singing to the blue collar worker that day. Then I caught a flashback of 50 Cent saying, “I’m fucking with this” when he sampled Bobby Womack on “What If.” I was determined to hear Fif’s version as soon as I got home. There was also “Wait Until Tonight,” a more recent 50 Cent record that samples “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” which I planned to queue up ASAP.
To hear that Bobby Womack died a day later frightened me. It also doesn’t help that a few weeks earlier I met Damon Albarn and Dave (Plug 1) from De La Soul at Governor’s Ball. Damon Albarn collaborated with Bobby Womack on Plastic Beach by Gorillaz (2010), and produced Womack’s XL Recordings LP, The Bravest Man in the Universe. I was closing the gap on my six degrees of separation from one of the greatest singers of all time. Mr. Womack’s passing opened my eyes. The obituary written by the NY Times did him justice. They described his reputation for scratchy vocals saying, “His sandpaper vocal style made him more popular in England, where audiences revere what they consider authentic traditional American music, than in the United States.” I knew after reading the article that I should look up which song of his was big during the rise of Northern Soul in the UK. By now playlists, and mixtapes like the recent 9th Wonder tribute are reminiscing on Bobby Womack’s legacy. Rest in power.
“In the hip-hop ebonics, bad is good, and dope is dope—it’s good.” – Rast RFC
The spotlight shining on New York was brighter than usual this past Tuesday. Timeless Truth, the rap duo from Queens released their latest EP, Dominican Diner, on a day when the the Knicks announced their new head coach, Derek Fisher; their beloved Mets snapped a 6-game losing streak against the Milwaukee Brewers; the Rangers prepared to rally for a do or die win the following night in the Stanley Cup Finals. For brothers Solace and OPrime39, they were the voice of the city’s collective energy focused on the tradition of victory.
Timeless just celebrated their third album—Dominican Diner, an EP—their best work to date. The songs have a lush musicality that gives space to digest Prime and Solace’s crafty metaphors for their Ralph Lauren-inspired lifestyle and Dominican heritage. Thanks to their producer FAFU, Timeless’ new material is on another plateau because of some of the beat construction. The buttery xylophone melody on “Creme De La Creme” and the brooding piano chord on “Power Pieces” play on both MC’s strengths: Solace is calm yet assertive and dangerous like Christopher Walken as Frank White, and OPrime39 has Al Pacino’s chainsaw voice that’ll make you give up the goods like Mobb Deep in ’96.
I watched Timeless Truth perform tracks from Dominican Diner on Tuesday at Apt. 78 in Washington Heights. I was excited to go support Timeless, also because I don’t get uptown as much as I used to—back when eating mangu, and drinking endless Presidentes was routine for me with an old flame. But so much Spanish music, food, and language are in my DNA that the shots of complimentary Brugal Añejo, courtesy of Timeless Truth, were throwbacks to my past. I missed out on playing capicu (dominoes) when I arrived about two hours after the party started. The custom capicu board with the cover art to Brugal & Presidentes emblazoned on it was begging for another round of the blanco rectangular pieces shuffled across its radiant surface. I simply let the flash on my IPhone soak in its glory. Timeless Truth provided the experience of their Dominican and Lo-Life roots that has been nurtured by rappers they would consider forefathers of their music and even fashion sense: Rakim, Nas, and The Beatnuts. I’m always honored to be welcomed to these family functions where I witness the evolution of Solace and OPrime39 Grab all their albums now on iTunes. And peep the graphics below.
If Rast RFC ain’t better than B.I.G., he’s the closest one.
He casually backs up his legitimacy as a veteran of streetlife on “Bad Dope,” word to his Beretta. And while that might sound cliché in rap, Rast is above average. What I’ve read about Rast in the past few days—with his song “Mark David Chapman” on repeat—I am a believer in his will to be one of the greatest of all time. I never used to put anyone above Biggie, not even Jay Z. But Rast is so damn close that I am afraid to think he might be Biggie’s truest counterpart. It also helps that Rast’s “King Tut” and “Super Nintendo” use instrumentals from two of Biggie’s most prolific performances: “Long Kiss Goodnight” and “Flavor in Your Ear (Remix).” Across West 3rd Street, Rast’s new mixtape
even has an uncanny likeness to Biggie’s unpolished demo tapes with DJ 50 Grand and Mister Cee. I actually still play B.I.G.’s demos more than Life After Death. So when I heard “MDC” for the first time last week, starting with the opening sample from EPMD’s “Rampage”* (another fav song), I knew I was going to like what came next. Rast’s delivery felt like flying down the FDR Drive in a car chase. Quentin Tarantino couldn’t direct a better movie than the wild, uncontrollable, and fast times of Rast in the ’90s. I spent about two hours yesterday listening to this man’s catalog on Soundcloud; by far it was the best use of my time engulfing myself in one rapper’s fun yet sad stories that spoke true to everything I grew up hearing on the streets of New York when I was in high school.
[*Ed. Note: Rast RFC raps over Pete Rock's remix of "Rampage."]
As far back as I remember, passing through West 4th St. and 6th Ave with my homie just to cop from the local dealers was relatively easy. We never got robbed or jumped regardless of what brands we wore when we were on RFC’s (Running From Cops) turf in the West Village. We were regulars of the neighborhood because we were loyal to our weed smoking habit. We were the prep school custies, similar to the ones mentioned in the “Prep School Gangsters” (1996) cover story in New York Magazine. So much in New York has changed since 1996. I’m much older now, but I remember so many times the mood shifting from low-key drinking and smoking with a few friends after school (when parents were away) to paranoia because there were way too many kids from various crews (like BAF-Blunts and Forties) who invited themselves over. Fights broke out, things got stolen, and shit just got way out of hand. This time when New York City was rampant with mischiefs was scary, but I knew it as the norm, and it made me wise at an early age. I feel like I’m coming full circle listening to Rast’s tales from the darkside. In my mind, Biggie was the architype of what real Brooklyn hustlers were like, and everything he rapped about—before Puffy came into the mix—you could walk the streets and somehow be reminded of B.I.G.’s inspiration. Like B.I.G., Rast rhymes effortlessly because he doesn’t have to fabricate anyone else’s reality. He’ll admit some things are exaggerated, but truth be told, underneath Mike Bloomberg’s façade there are guys like Rast RFC, Droog, and Timeless Truth who have me spinning in a time warp.
Peace to Eskay at Nah Right who gave some proper perspective to Rast, and Lord SHR who also documented Rast’s story in Mass Appeal.
Wiki, frontman of RATKING might have thumped the microphone against his forehead to punctuate a rhyme during his Wednesday night performance of “Piece of Shit.” I might also be confusing the powerful-impact-boom from the mic with another sound coming from producer/DJ Sporting Life’s MIDI controller. Truth be told, the night changed from that point onward. My double-fisting of Budweisers at the magazine release party for The FADER came to a halt because I would need my hands to be free again once I entered the mosh pit that stood before RATKING at Gilded Lily. Too many dudes, and one too many women posed to push and shove each other to the soundtrack of these young throne bearers.
Back when I interviewed Raekwon for Suite903.com, he named Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey as part of his “vintage selection” of R&B singers. These ladies are two of a kind, whose voices have rippled in music history. For instance, they’ve both worked individually with the Notorious B.I.G., Mobb Deep, and Wu-Tang Clan but have been name-checked by the latter on separate occasions because of their iconic presence on the microphone. Check the rhyme from Biggie, “Mariah Carey’s kinda scary, wait a minute what about my honey Mary?” or Inspectah Deck’s “rap styles vary, and carry like Mariah.” Each chanteuse has inspired a handful of quotables that are as timeless as their own legacy. With that in mind, I put together a mixtape as a prelude to the next installment in #TheVS party series. The “When Mary Met Mariah” mixtape features hit songs from MJB and MC, plus some b-sides that really shows the depth of their take on the ebb and flow of relationships. Listen via Mixcloud below, and watch the video flyers I made for Thursday’s event after the jump.
When Mary Met Mariah by Dj_Treats on Mixcloud
Every review I read about Ratking’s So It Goes album praising it for planting a new flag for New York rap makes me want to hock a negative comment on the site that is just one word—TOURIST. I imagine it was written by someone that was not born in NY, or hasn’t at least spent ten years entrenched in the city to feel the effects of its conflicted evolution. It takes a New Yorker to know a True Yorker. And I have to honestly say Wiki and Hak, the vocal members of Ratking, are the best narrators of a New Yorker’s joy and pain. Sporting Life, the group’s producer and DJ, from Virginia, now rooted in Bushwick, is a city insider too because of his creation of a frenetic sound that appears as big as the buildings it’s meant to bounce from, preferably at high volume. When you have two stimulated personalities in Wiki and Hak, absorbing their surroundings to tear through the days of their lives in a matter of 6 minutes and 53 seconds on “Snow Beach,” it’s easy to tell a native from a transplant. That’s not to say that Ratking discriminates against those who migrate to New York. Many of their fans are quite likely were born outside of a 212, 917, 718, 646 or 347 area code. I’m not mad at New York’s newcomers either. The problem is how New York City has allowed corporations to turn specifically Manhattan and Brooklyn into a mall. Gone are the characters who inhabit Gray’s Papaya or Max Fish in exchange for condos and Chipotle. The beneficiaries unfortunately though are those newcomers who see luxury rather than institution. If New York was ever in search of a new tagline it surely has one now for being “safe” and sterile.
Vote or die.
I experienced the art of deejaying last night in Miami. Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots was the teacher and we were all his students during the relatively quiet start of the annual Winter Music Conference. Unlike South Beach, where the electronic dance music is aimed to numb your senses into a rhythmic stupor—whether or not you’ve already been sedated by drugs and alcohol—the scene at Bardot in the design district was more laid back. After two hours studying ?uestlove’s playlist, his scratches, and sonic reinterpretation of rap, soul, and pop records we’ve come to expect as the standard of nightlife soundtracks, I took away more than just three drinks and a brief ringing in my ear. No matter how long I’ve been deejaying, I can always learn something by observing another master at work.
We haven’t seen all there is to graffiti from the 1980s. Wild Style and Piecebook: The Secret Drawings of Graffiti Writers are definitive works about artists that gave the ’80s a visual identity through aerosol paint. And now, City As Canvas, a new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, stands as a treasure trove of over 150 works of art, donated by former artist and collector from New York’s East Village, Martin Wong.
MCNY previewed the exhibit last summer through the release of the City As Canvas coffee table book, that features Wong’s collection. I deejayed the opening party for the book, which coincided with Red Bull’s Write of Passage event—a six-week program aimed at educating participants about the impact of graffiti on global culture. And recently, I returned to MCNY to deejay the opening reception for City As Canvas. See work by Keith Haring, Lee Quiñones, LADY PINK, and FUTURA 2000 now, through August 24th, 2014.
The Lego Movie is a reminder that it can all be so simple. Rules, structure, instructions, these are the pillars of adulthood that create a rubric for our complex lives that need organization. But when you’re a kid, there are few borders on your life because it’s just starting to assemble, and that is AWESOME. This young, rebellious spirit is what drives The Lego Movie. Since the previews started showing last year, I basically planned my beginning of 2014 to seeing it as many times possible. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was the last time I really fanned out. I caught an early screening of the film—in 3D—last night before it was formally released today. There had to have been at least 7 people in the theater for the 10PM showing. None of them were toddlers, or adolescents basking in the mixture of CGI and stop-motion animation. To be as generic as possible without giving away details, my favorite parts were the way LEGO bricks were assembled on-screen, the explosions, the atmospheric wide shots, the comedy, the plot twist, and the end credits. Yes, the credits were works of art on par with the 1 hour and 35 minutes of action and adventure.
Between kids, parents, and grown-ups, there’s something for everyone.