Hand Styles

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It’s fall fam. Welcome back.

Summer writing was plentiful. Lots was said, some was published, some went to the stash. All in all, it was a much needed return to the pen for your boy.

Most importantly, I was able to get my first few pieces published at hiphopdx.com. I’m working with Riley Wallace, a fantastic writer from Toronto, on an editorial column called “5 Chances To Convince Me”. I guess I’ve become the Joe Budden of the blog world with this one. Riley tosses out five reasons I should hop on board with a popular or polarizing artist (think Wale, Lil B, Uzi). My job is to concede his points or stand my ground. Since I rarely run out of shit to talk, I do just fine.

I also wrote a few reviews and an interview for Above Average Hip Hop. I have total creative freedom over there, so it’s a pleasure to put words together for those guys. This weekend I’m finishing a fantastic interview with Rude Jude Angelini from Shade 45 ahead of his new book Hummingbird, which releases on September 19th. That should be published by Tuesday afternoon.

The most rewarding project I got around to was outlining my next novel and completing the initial five chapters. I’m taking my time in order to nail the nostalgic feel of the 90’s, but I’m not sitting on it like I did with The Electric Confessional, my first book which took way too many years to “complete”. The shit still isn’t done, even though the last page says …the end. There’s no such thing as done. Revision is life, but it can also drive you insane.

I’m back to work. Back to the gym. Back to reality. Stay tuned for more.

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Movies are usually more fun in the summer…

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I take advantage of my time off during the summer. No trips planned this year, so I’ve been doing the things that make me happy. Listening to a ton of new music. Relaxing with my better half. Reading a little. Writing a ton. And thankfully, I’ve made time for the movies the past few weeks knowing that the summer months are when the film studios come with that fire.

I’ve seen three “notable” releases of the summer, and I think I chose wisely. Spiderman: Homecoming was fantastic, considering my expectations. I’m not a nerd for comic movies. To be honest, I can take them or leave them. I haven’t seen a X-Men movie, I know nothing about The Avengers, and I couldn’t tell you what the upcoming Black Panther movie is about.

But Spiderman was dope. I appreciated the film because the protagonist was who he was created to be. By that, I mean he was a kid; an insecure high school junior. I went in expecting over the top cringe, and was pleasantly surprised by a decent script, an eager Spiderman (no idea who played him), and Michael Keaton as a (somewhat) believable villain. There’s no need for me to reveal anything else.  You can get the gist from taking ten minutes to read a comic.

Next up was Dunkirk. If you have any anxiety issues or fear of odd death, you might want to read about this one before buying tickets. I went into the theater nursing a pretty prominent hangover, and was on the actual edge of my seat for two hours. The film is set in WW2, but there’s no blood. No half-blown up bodies. Nobody carrying a leg up the beach, but it was every bit as savage as your favorite war flick. The sequencing of the scenes, the concept, the action, the acting, all stellar. Christopher Nolan at the top of his game. You can add drowning to my slowly growing list of ways not to die.

Last, and most recent for me, is Detroit. This one was a must see on the strength of the film-maker, Kathryn Bigelow, who blessed us with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. I had to see it, and I’m glad I did. It drops you directly into Detroit during the race riots that rocked the city in the late 60’s. It’s gritty and at times tough to watch, but it’s a crucial reminder during the Trump Administration of what hate and a blind eye can do to cities right here in our country.

I’m kicking around the idea of Atomic Blonde and I missed Baby Driver. That Lucky movie with Adam Driver and Channing Tatum also looks alright, but I might have to illegally download that. Let me know if there’s something I need to see, and enjoy the weekend nerds.

 

 

Fiction Friday.

Here’s a short piece I found mixed in with my music stuff. Not titled, and probably written early last year. It’s got a similar feel to the book I’ve been working on, which centers on two boys from Queens roaming the city in the summer.


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There was a girl in New York City once.  We used to follow each other, block to block, crafting hair-brained schemes on days when there was nothing but the sun and no curfew.  Those summer days we’d walk for miles, smoking joints, plotting on bottles of liquor.

We were city kids after all, so we’d end up in a dusty, Spanish bodega, shoving forties into backpacks.  Bolting up the block, we’d heckle the old man in the apron as he chased us past four or five parked cars.  We’d make sure to remember the street signs and wait a few weeks before coming back.

I couldn’t have been more than sixteen.  She and I went to parties to steal from coat pockets and raid medicine cabinets.  We hunted that numb from chewing pain pills. If we were lucky and trendy enough, we’d swallow ecstasy and anticipate the sweats and deep chills.  Like clockwork, we’d end up on the roof of her building, high as kites talking shit about clouds and the Knicks.

Some days we’d cruise through Central Park to the museum.  We promised each other we’d never get wrinkles as we watched the grannies and the baby sitters shuffle in and out of the massive glass doors pushing strollers, carrying packages, living normal daily lives that our impatient teenage brains deemed inane.

She kissed me once on the platform waiting for the 7.  I saw stars.  A mash of lips and mess, a combination of saliva and sweaty faces.  It felt like two hundred degrees underground in the middle of July.  I rode the next six stops with a huge grin, hands in my lap.

Her name was Jocelyn. She was a tall, brown skinned Cuban with giant green saucers for eyes.  The kind you could see from the bottom of the lake.  So pretty it hurt.  The type of girl every boy wanted but didn’t deserve.  Fiery, loud as hell, and drop dead gorgeous.  I loved riding the subway with her, arguing for hours. Mets or Yankees?  Buckshot or Rakim?

We spent three summers running around the city.  It was a fantastic time to be young in New York.  Our existence was defined by hip hop, cheap weed and long, steaming days.  One of those wondrous summers I got my first blowjob and my last nose bleed.  Jocelyn stole a gram of coke from her older brother and chopped four decent sized lines on the back of a toilet in a mid-town McDonalds.

I didn’t catch a nose bleed from the coke.  It happened two weeks later, when my friend Connor had too many shots of Bacardi at house party in the Bronx and called Jocelyn a whore.  I have yet to meet a female with a better left hook.

After my sister died, Jocelyn and I sat for hours on a bench across from St. Pats on 5th.  We didn’t say a word.  I just cried and stared at the tourists and lonely wanderers pushing in and out of the great cathedral doors.  I didn’t have the strength to step inside. She held onto my hand like if she let it go I could float away.  And I might have.

Jocelyn got pregnant during the winter of our senior year.  She started showing up to basketball games with a Puerto Rican rocking braids and gold in his mouth.  Her parents wouldn’t condone an abortion, and my parents knew I was in love.  That love faded over time, but the city and the stories remain.

Upcoming Release Radar

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July has been good to us. Shawn Carter got back to rapping. French Montana dropped Jungle Rules which is an end to end banger, Vic Mensa’s Autobiography debut will be one of the best records of 2017, and Meek Mill is about to destroy all doubt with Wins and Losses.

French is out now, and currently in my heavy rotation. Check iTunes if you purchase your music, or any of the streaming sites if you’re into that method. Do not sleep on “A Lie” featuring The Weeknd and Max B. No idea how they got a recorded Max verse for this one, but it’s ILL. It’s also a little late in the season to crown a ‘song of the summer’, but it’s damn close for me. The video is hilarious. French and The Weeknd with a bunch of bikini-clad women on a boat, Hudson River, cloudy day. Classic.

People seem slow to get on board with Vic Mensa, and I’m not sure why. He’s a standout in the Chicago scene for me on the strength of his candor. He’s not hiding behind God-raps or trap star brags. He seems realer than all that. “Wings” featuring Pharrell and poet Saul Williams is dope, and gets me excited to hear the record next week.

And then there’s Meek, everyone’s favorite punching bag. I have no idea why this man doesn’t command respect. He’s dropping fire at all turns. He’s done nothing but release fantastic singles since his split with Nicki. None of that Drake shit matters anymore because Meek Mill is making music that pours out of him and that’s as genuine as possible, not the music that pulses for the charts like “the 6 God”. I’m calling it now, Wins and Losses will silence the hate, mark my words. There’s also a short film coming to accompany the album’s release.

Last thought… I don’t understand Jay’s video for 4:44. Maybe highbrow art is lost on me? Who knows. My review for that record should be posted at Above Average Hip Hop some time today.  Enjoy your week and comment if there’s something I should be hearing. I’ll leave you with the visual for Jay’s “The Story of O.J.” Powerful stuff.

The Kids Ain’t Al(t)Right

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Disclaimer: I don’t fuck with politics. I say that in regards to my personal interactions and my social media presence. Sure, when pressed in a crowded saloon I’ll let you know where my head is at, and once in a blue moon I’ll let off a tweet in response to some public or social occurrence that rattled my cage, but I truly keep to myself when it comes to the state of the union.

If you know me, you know that I’m well-educated. I dedicated a handful of tedious and expensive years to earning multiple degrees that have afforded me the luxury of living a life above the poverty line. I don’t say that to gloat, I mention that so you have some context in which to gauge my level of bullshit.

I haven’t been schooled in public policy, nor have I studied socioeconomics beyond a few undergraduate courses many years ago. What I have done is wholeheartedly thrown myself into this community where I help kids on a daily basis, who reside on the streets all around me, in an attempt to bring some slow-moving change to the city where I’ve laid my head for the past 18 years. I’ve held the same position for the past ten years, and I have zero intention of walking away.

I’ve made it my business to stay on the second cut of the political fairway in 2017 to keep my sanity. I have smart, passionate friends who would love nothing more than to hear my thoughts on Trumpito’s reign at the top, but all I got is my drink and my two step.

When it comes down to it we’re all arguing at the top of our lungs for whichever side we ride for. The only way we’ll affect real change is to first acknowledge the counterclaim, and second: get involved and stay involved working hand and hand with local legislators to draft and pass laws that have nothing but the best interests of the city residents in mind. I haven’t seen that happen quite yet, and yes, in that regard I am part of the problem.

As much as I admittedly enjoy burying my head in the sand the second politics becomes the active topic, there was no way I could ignore an article that came my way today. Apparently the “Alt-Right” is alive and well in the Capital City of New York. I moved here when I was 19, and I’ve always viewed my city as progressively liberal, generally aligned with the democratic ideals of the left.  “Alt Right” formations might not be alarming on nationwide scale, but it certainly caught me off guard in context to the 518.

If you’re scoring at home, the “Alt-Right” ideology was introduced in 2008 by Paul Gottfried during a speech in which he highlighted a new conservative, one who no longer identified with the current conservative (Republican) movement. According to The New Yorker, Gottfried never used the term “Alt-Right”, his remarks were later reported by a website under the headline, “The Decline and Rise of The Alternative Right.” And just like that, a new breed of right-brain extremists were born.

So what the fuck does “Alt-Right” mean? If you don’t subscribe to The Neon Tangerine’s insane tweeting, or the Vice Prez’s theory that you can “pray the gay away”, but you lean a bit towards the conservative side, are you “Alt-Right? The term itself is evolving as quickly as our system seems to be diluting itself.

While many would argue the “Alt-Right” is a clever way to subscribe to the “Make America Great Again” mentality of a country tired of slick talking politicians, others would claim the “Alt-Right” is actually blatant promotion of white separatism while simultaneously backing homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-feminism, discrediting media sources, and flat out social and political bullying tactics (which have been documented, complied, memed, and shared at an alarming rate online).

From all this political jargon emerged new phrasing like “Alt-Light” and “New Right”; youth-led movements which aim to distance themselves from both the Republican political thinking and white nationalism, and instead looked to strengthen “Western values.” Either way, these “alt” movements feel angry, isolated, and motivated by extreme judgement and hate.

This divided thinking leads to the organization of like-minded ladies and gents, which brings me to the Proud Boys, a group who are allegedly finding footing in my home, Albany, NY.

The Proud Boys surfaced sometime in 2016, and stand behind the theories found in The Death Of The West, a 2001 book by Pat Buchanan. These confused little boys (and girls) believe in a “pro-Western” society; they’re a frat of pale-skinned cowards who refuse to apologize for the triumphs (and tragedies) forged by the white man over the course of the last 200 years. They also don’t cop to their clear-cut “pro white nationalism” stance, but instead claim they’re supporters of the men who shaped the modern world. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

Social media propagates these movements. The key stroke is mightier than the sword, and unfortunately these groups aren’t just about spreading their rhetoric via blog posts, rallies, and the word-of-mouth brainwashing of weak-minded kids looking for a family. They’re violent. They stand behind their “beliefs” so strongly they will fight. They will stomp. They will hurt people to “save” people, and it’s sick.  I’ve always been more Malcolm than Martin, so I will forever defend me and mine.  But before any of us react, we must consider the source of the message and the landscape of our nation.

The “alt” movement concerns itself with what “real Americans need.” Yet, real America is a collage of sights, smells, and tones. Real America is a place where we’re free to chase the almighty dollar. Real America is a blurred, fractured land. But, real America is also the place where free speech is protected and the Internet is the actual wild fucking West.

So, live above the bullshit, and if you subscribe to any of this hate-mongering rhetoric, do your research and only then speak your mind. Because until you’ve lived in or among any of the cultures, groups, cities, or communities you condemn, your opinion won’t be worth the bandwidth you used to spew it.

Newsboys.

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By the end of the weekend I’ll have my very first paid piece of freelance journalism published. Seeing my byline on Hip Hop DX is going to be a trip. I’ve written and published years worth of content through this blog, as well as my contributions to the now defunct Mishka Bloglin (there’s no online archive, and I think all my work has vanished into cyberspace), and my current work with Above Average Hip Hop, but, there’s something special about receiving compensation for my words. Feels pretty damn good.

I pitched a few ideas for editorials (shout out to Riley for the assist), which were all rejected. The editor at DX and I decided on a review for the latest album from Brooklyn’s The Underachievers, which I had been playing quite a bit since it dropped a few weeks ago. It’s an interesting record, in that it’s definitely not the sound that’s currently dominating the culture, but it’s not entirely stuck in place either. I had a good (albeit a bit stressful) time putting the piece together, and I sent it off for editing.

I expected nothing but pats on the back and glowing praise. Rude awakening when I opened that draft and saw a sea of red ink. Comma splice errors, quotation mistakes, you name it. Ya boy got chin checked. I’ve been writing for a long time, but I’d always been given the green light to operate by my own devices. As a writer, there’s no such thing as too many edits, so I can’t take any of the suggestions personally, yet, you’re never ready for someone to point out all the shit you should have caught the 1st time through. But I focused, made the appropriate changes, fleshed out a solid concluding statement and got that 1st piece in the books.

I sent (what I imagine to be) my final edits, and I have to admit…I feel like I bodied the it. And that’s the feeling you need to have when creating subjective prose such as reviews and editorials. Be your best and worst critic, but most importantly stand by the shit you say with conviction and pride. I cannot wait for the comments section to pop off. That will be my true ‘Mama I made it’ moment.

Keep your eyes peeled to the reviews section at DX over the next few days, and have a great weekend.

What’s Beef?

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An early defining moment for me came when I got punched in the throat on the playground in the 6th grade. I ran my mouth and the kid came and found me, which wasn’t hard to do since we were in the same class. When it came to it I failed to guard my grill and ended up winded, lying on my back silently surrounded by my friends. Nobody had a phone. Nobody stomped me out. Nobody told a soul. That morning I had been listening to Naughty By Nature and felt invincible. I was filled with this burning energy that I was untouchable; soaked in that blind hubris we enjoy as kids. I was ready to knuckle up. I was the man. I learned a invaluable message that day; I was not made of glass and I did not have the juice.

I shared my ‘got my ass whooped once’ story this morning because I cannot ignore my Twitter timeline. Florida rap is making such seismic waves we’d be remiss not to talk about it. In a nutshell you’ve got a few young rappers (XXXtentacion, WifisFuneral, Ski Mask The Slump God, Lil Pump…I couldn’t make these names up with an online randomizer) who are the leaders of this new age wave that may or may not be the future of the genre. Sounds heavy, I know. But listen to this. They’re selling out 1000 seat venues, amassing millions of streams on soundcloud, and doing it on the strength of social media. Instagram live drops their life directly into your life, and the kids cannot look away.

So this XXXtentacion kid (yes he’s a kid, he’s 19 years old) is a troubled soul. Like many of the success stories in rap, his rap sheet is impressive. Impressive in the sense that he’s already caught a few cases and has logged some time in jail…at 19. He’s facing an upcoming case for home invasion, holding someone against their will, and allegedly battering his pregnant girlfriend. These are our heroes?

As Twitter cannot let me forget, XXX is on tour. He’s calling it the revenge tour. He shows up, spins the crowd into a mosh pit frenzy, shouts words over the words he’s recorded, flips and kicks off the stage into the arms of his eager fans and secures the bag. The crowds have been massive and the response has been feverishly rabid. The kids have fully bought in.

XXX also has no filter. He hasn’t heard a beef he won’t jump into. He doesn’t pick his spots, he doesn’t hold his tongue, he’s simply all in all of the time. Commendable, most definitely. But for this guy it’s a flaw that finally caught up to him. Earlier in the week he was onstage in San Diego (home of Rob Stone, a rapper XXX has beefed with prior) and caught the wild fade. The punch was something straight out of Mortal Kombat. Apparently, XXX pays 12 security guards to keep him safe, yet he still got snuffed worse than I’ve ever seen during any live performance. Ever. Take a look.

Joking aside, XXX was instantly knocked out and was carried off the stage by his team. There’s a lot to dissect here. First, did anyone else realize he was simply standing at the mic lip-singing? He hit the deck and the verse he was “singing” kept right on playing. And how about that track? It sounded like a Weezer cover…but I digress. The important thing here is that this young man is bringing the violence with him from city to city. The kid who leveled XXX with the punch was stabbed during that melee and was taken to the hospital. The following stop on the tour was postponed by the venue in hopes of dodging any San Diego fallout. Completely insane stuff.

What does all this mean for hip hop? Is it breathing life back into a genre that loopholes itself into periods of complacent boredom? Is this whole new wave simply a blip on the radar? A passing phase of youth and energy? It’s entertaining for sure, but it also feels cheap. Take a few minutes and google some of these kids. Watch some YouTube clips. Visit a soundcloud page or two. It’s a pulse. It’s a vibe, but it’s lacking any semblance to the beats & rhymes formula that’s worked for the last 30 odd years. Hard to ignore that it’s catching like a cold and spreading from high school to high school like an epidemic.

I blame anime. I blame drugs. I blame teachers and parents. I blame Macbooks. I blame history for repeating itself.  I never imagined I would live to see an emo invasion of the genre I’ve loved as long as I’ve been alive. 2017…you’re a real motherfucker. Rap is becoming a Tracy Morgan gif one day at time.