OLD ESSAY// Noname Gypsy, Real Human Being

NonameGypsy100813

This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine, October 2014.

Noname Gypsy sits across from me in a Hyde Park Native Foods. “I wonder why everybody’s world when it comes to rap is the same. My world, I feel like, is different from Saba’s world, and Saba’s world is different from Chance’s world, but when we’re talking about people who are on the radio all of their worlds are damn near the same.” She throws out the names of current hot boys Migos and Travis $cott, but for Noname, born Fatimah Warner, it’s not a dismissal, pedantic or otherwise (Travi$ Scott’s Days Before Rodeo is her favorite shit out right now).  Instead, it’s a thoughtful, well-meaning observation about potential friends.  If hoes can bring everyone in the rap game from Nicki Minaj to Kid Cudi to Too $hort together, Noname Gypsy inevitably ends up in the corner with the Cherrypie Blues. “I don’t pull hella niggas so I can’t rap about that. I don’t pull…,” she laughs,“hella bitches so I can’t rap about that.”  It’s not that Warner is female that makes her stand out, it’s that the desires and observations that Noname Gypsy blends into her sweet, poetic molasses are so innocent that they seem truly obscene (“offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency)” in the obscenity-obsessed world of modern rap. “I’ve been rapping a lot about having a husband and kids recently. I really want to be married with kids, I don’t know if that’s a rap thing to want,” she jokes.

One thing Noname has in common with a few of her most special peers is a missing album. Not delayed,missing. As in the fans think it should be here now and their almighty creator hasn’t delivered (See: Jay Electronica, Chance the Rapper). Noname says at least three people ask her about her highly anticipated Telefone project a day. On Mick Jenkins’s recent jam “Comfortable” Noname actually raps ‘Telefone never coming out.’ When I ask her if she would consider the project “Zero percent complete,” she laughs and says “Yeah.”

She’s been writing with Saba- the two send each other a new piece a day to keep the creative juices flowing. Well, Saba’s been sending her verses. True to form, Noname has been writing but second-guesses everything too much to show it off. If you start to type “Noname Gypsy” into a Youtube search, her song “Paradise” will be the first entry. Except Noname took the music video for “Paradise” down; it’s her biggest solo song and she hates it. “It’s not like I haven’t been making music and don’t have raps, they’re just not at the level I would like them to be. I’m not at the place where I feel comfortable releasing music.”

noname 2

For Noname, having that level of discretion is essential. “Taking shit down when I want to and being able to control my image is kinda what keeps me sane.” It brings her back to her oft-spoken appreciation of Jay Electronica, a role model for her patience and desire to remain down-to-earth and experimental. “Dizzy,” the piece Noname dropped this week is a hot bomb. Her style is fresh as ever and only becoming sharper, the song recalls the new FlyLo/Kendrick joint if they decided to just chill out. Noname Gypsy spins around the track describing sunsets, blurring timelines and never allowing her grin to become inaudible. As always she imbues intimate vulnerability with a grand serenity throughout, spitting ‘Lotion on my skin got me feeling super smooth, like I could save a life…’. The juxtapositions in the song are telling of the contradictory impulses Noname experiences – she wants to be a legend. On her own time; without videos, interviews, or television. Just music. “And I think there’s a way I can do it,” she says. A smile isn’t far off.

Telefone never coming out. Follow Noname Gypsy on Twitter

ESSAY // “Beyoncé is not an actual artist.” – A Response to Radical Faggot

blue-ivy-beyonce-formation-music-video

There’s a phrase coined by Sigmund Freud, “the narcissism of small differences.” – “the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other.” I felt challenged and enriched by reading Radical Faggot‘s piece on Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, and by responding to it I hope to add to a complex, perpetually relevant discussion, rather than detract from dialogue by attempting to destroy or ignore the points I am struggling the most with.

I didn’t type that sentence in passive-aggression, but I do want to start by saying I think this response is necessary because I feel that Rad Fag, in their piece, is minimizing and ignoring parts of Beyoncé’s work and identity in ways that are unfair and sadly ironic. It genuinely makes me sad because people dehumanize* artists all the time, and it’s ironic because it’s happening in response to a piece of work that’s specifically about the dissonance Beyoncé Knowles feels as a black woman who is struggling on-and-off-camera to be seen as a full, real (Black, female) human.

Oh, yes, you besta believe it

1.  Big Freedia is not a trans woman. This leads to my disagreement with the points in general on cis, female pop stars “appropriating” queer and trans culture. It’s a sometimes ambiguous, but overwhelmingly symbiotic relationship. When Madonna or FKA twigs seemingly co-opt vogue in the middle of successful professional careers, they are already undeniably in a conversation with a large queer and trans audience who is supporting them and adopting their mannerisms, language, and iconography, too. Not to mention their collaborators, staff, and friends. Of course, not every cis-female entertainer is known to be especially beloved in the queer and trans community, but Bey is. Her using language like “slay” or sampling the voice and images of queer people is, at the very least, showing love and giving visibility to people who adore, mimic, and exalt her expression as a cis female.

Furthermore, what is the operative difference between Big Freedia (positively described by Rad Fag as “a force”) and Beyoncé? Freedia is a black, feminine, Southern entrepreneur and entertainer with hyper-sexualized (and empowerment-themed) music, corporate sponsors, and big-name producers and collaborators. Beyoncé operates at a larger scale than Freedia but if you put their actual work side-by-side they do the same thing. If Big Freedia puts out a Black Lives Matter-themed video, is she also responsible for deflecting the attention away from the racist mayor of Chicago, the people of Flint, and the police state, too? Or is Freedia not famous enough (yet)?

2. Beyoncé has a black child, a black husband, a black mother, father, sister. Beyoncé is black. No amount of money erases that, and the idea that it ever could, or that having a lot of money makes someone able to un-feel or express their blackness does not sit right with me. A little boy roughly her daughter’s age is still facing down a line of police, and her Southern family (“Momma Lousiana;”) are still suffering from Katrina – are we assuming Beyoncé has no loved ones in New Orleans?  As stated earlier, this is what “Formation” and its video are explicitly in response to. Beyoncé is wearing modern “sexy” clothing like a rich pop star and she’s dressed like a classic Southern Belle and she’s wearing a “modest” dress that covers up everything and yet she still drowns. She uses the mechanics of a pop video to draw a line through time, space, and class.  Which brings me to the subject of #3:

Bitch, I’m back by popular demand

3. RF‘s first point expresses sincere frustration at constantly being asked to respond to the “Formation” video. Without attempting to invalidate, I object to the implication that people are primarily talking about “Formation” because Beyoncé is popular or they’re being somehow fooled; people are talking about it because they believe it is an exceptional piece of work, first and foremost. People talk incessantly about Beyoncé because we believe she is an exceptional artist. Not always. But very often, whether she’s singing acapella in a dressing room, making a song about the joy of having a daughter or one about going down on her famous husband in a limousine.

4.  There’s a JAY Z line, “Heard niggas saying they made Hov, made Hov say ‘OK, make another HOV.'” If a corporation “making” Beyoncé or any pop star was as easy and effortless as it is made to seem, every pop star would be Beyoncé, you know? But they’re not. Taylor Swift isn’t, Britney Spears wasn’t, even Rihanna isn’t. Justin Timberlake, her closest pop peer, clearly pales in esteem as well.  Outside of the pop landscape, I, and we, truly believe that Beyoncé is a uniquely powerful creator – she’s a once-in-a-lifetime creative genius and “Formation” carries any To Pimp A Butterfly, “Missippi Goddam” I could name. Beyoncé is in conversation with bell hooks, not to be talked down to, is to be celebrated and studied alongside Hurston, Brooks, & Angelou.

5. I am an anarchist. I believe that capitalism fucks up this world in a bad way. I do not idolize Bill Gates (or Steve Jobs or Beyoncé) as capitalists. We have political differences; Beyoncé believes that participating in capitalism in the way she does, at the scale she does, results in a net benefit enough to keep doing it. So does my mom. To treat an ideological difference as a chance to minimize someone’s struggles is not any less destructive when someone has a lot of money.

Slay trick, or you get eliminated

6. I also believe that no matter where you are in this system, you are going to suffer, consciously or unconsciously. I do not believe that Beyoncé or any rich artist is happier than I am just because they are “successful.” In fact, most celebrities, most rich people, will tell you all the time about the tolls being rich and famous takes on them. A lot of large scale art is explicitly about that. JAY Z’s most recent album Magna Carta Holy Grail is about that; in fact, all JAY Z is about that. Bey and JAY’s On the Run tour was about that. That “Formation” projects superhuman confidence, and that because of our current condition this confidence is both what endears Yoncé and her peers to their audience and enrages onlookers is one of the central tragedies of the piece. Making explicit the parallels to and, roots in, black, queer, & class struggles (with a swag rap cadence) is one of the deft, masterful things about the work. And then she gave it to the biggest audience on Earth.

*7. I used the word “dehumanizing” earlier: “Beyoncé is a logo. Beyoncé is a commodity. Beyoncé is a production. Beyoncé is a distraction. Beyoncé is a ruse. Beyoncé does not actually exist.” I stand by my use of the word.

I encourage you, if you are reading this piece, to read Radical Faggot‘s piece, multiple times. It is full of important information and your eyes and mind will do a better job of processing its value than I ever could as I am writing in “opposition” to it. I am grateful for it.

Always stay gracious

 

 

 

ESSAY// If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late: Album of the Year Edition

DRAKE ~ JUNGLE from October’s Very Own on Vimeo.

Of all the loosies Drake put out last year, from “Trophies” and “We Made It” to “0 to 100” and “How Bout Now,” the searching power ballad “Heat of the Moment” stood out from all others in its promise of the man Aubrey Graham might be about to become.  “Heat” Drake sings about global warming, muses on the power of the soul, and tells the kids to stop having so much darn unprotected sex. Graham, approaching thirty, had reached a new plateau of cultural power and creative excellence in the wake of 2013’s Nothing Was The Same and was syncing up with the “conscious” wave the mainstream was then tuning into. Alongside Kanye West’s “Only One,” Kendrick’s bubbly “i” and Chance the Rapper’s emerging gospel pop rap persona, “Heat” promised 2015 as the year corporation-friendly rap would take its “moral” responsibilities seriously in a way it hadn’t in decades, if ever.  I couldn’t wait: after Soulja Boy, swag, and the “I Don’t Like (Remix)” the millennials were finally coming of age, bro.

Then, in early February ‘15, Drake dropped the short film Jungle and something was off. The young man of the people I expected to see was conspicuously absent. The film starts with an exhausted man diving into an all-black luxury vehicle and being shuttled out of a city in the dead of night. Away from people. He’s got this heavy beard, the lines under his eyes are starting to look like bags for the first time. He sounds bitter about fame in a way he hasn’t in years and is completely unsure of who in his personal life can be trusted. Well yeah, Drake! You know, that’s the system! Making black men hate each other and disrespect our fe-males, dude, yeah, totally, we’re about to go tear it down with D’Angelo and the cast of Selma – come with us! It’s time to go unify! Except Drake doesn’t go anywhere. He builds higher walls. The first lines of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late are about making N-words back up. The last ones concern taking your girl while covered head-to-toe in Prada. Somewhere in all that darkness and ice emerges my favorite project the rapper has released to date.

If You’re Reading…  is the album-long culmination of JAY Z’s prophetic letter to A. Graham on “Light Up,” from the latter’s Cash Money debut Thank Me Later (2010): the harder you appear, the more you become a study in loss and sadness. Accordingly, both Jungle and IYRTITL are overloaded with subterranean emotion. During the Travi$ Scott-assisted “Company,” dogs woof and synths moan ominously. Even when Drizzy isn’t spelling his pain out to mom on “You & The 6” or to a lover on the Eric Dingus-produced slow jam “Now & Forever,” the production flourishes tell the story of a mind drifting through war. The lyric “I don’t deserve her,” is cut by a woman on the phone saying “at least you fucking know.” On “Star67” the bass seethes like a brooding child while Drake goes from telling off models to a heart-breaking story of selling drugs in his teens.

Throughout, Drake achieves the most effective rapping I’ve heard since JAY’s The Black Album (2003). “Energy” is punchline after punchline, like some uproarious, highly concentrated form of stand-up comedy. The entire album is hilarious aside from the embarrassingly sincere “Now & Forever;” even “You & The 6” is pitched perfectly, replete with a quiet, immaculate irony. Sonically, Drake is Jackie Chan catching the beat by the scruff and flipping over its head while winking at the listener – “You was popping back when Usher wore a U chaaaaaain!” Each couplet holds a unique voice modulation and every phrasing sparkles with creativity as Drake takes unfamiliar routes through places we’ve all been before.

 
Back in Jungle, the 6 God falls asleep and awakens at an OVO party on his Donnie Darko ish. Our boy wanders through the dramatically lit dream compound seeing everyone there for what they truly are: cold, calculating, alone. Elsewhere, in real life, he watches a female dancer walk past a cafe window and imagines her practicing in an empty studio, ever drawn to the idea of solitary passion in an unforgiving landscape. Some teens go by in the other direction, we “see” them dipping off to do hard drugs with their hard friends as the chimes of IYR’s “Know Yourself” fade-in and the movie transitions to footage of Drake and his own crew of homies.

Despite, or perhaps because of, success Drake remains trapped in a slick, hypermasculine exterior. His woes are locked up for real for real while Toronto kids rule over playgrounds littered with paraphernalia.  True to its scrawled album cover, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is a crime mystery of sorts. Someone or something has taken hope from us. Drake is not a Civil Rights icon floating through the air, but he’s another young human trying to figure it all out and he is a very thorough artist.

#WATTBA.

the homies blog//INTERVIEW: sam and lam make magic

sam and lam

*~“There is no good or evil, only power.”
      – Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (1997)~*

My interviews usually only last 20 minutes. It’s the perfect length! We are recording in filmmaker Samantha Wakefield’s apartment; rapper Lamon Manuel has work in a half hour. At the 21 minute mark, however, an awkward silence intrudes at the prospect of our talk ending. The three of us have covered the ins-and-outs of Lamon and Samantha’s working relationship, and it’s certainly been a very fun time, but something is amiss. I finally ask if there’s something else either of them wants to say.

SW: No, I’m just so appreciative to be able to find someone to work with on this level.
I don’t know if that’s why we’ve worked so well together, [because] you needed someone like that in your life but I feel like I probably did.

LM:  I definitely did. Working with Sam is the first time I’ve given real creative control over something I do to another person… That’s never happened for me. And I’ve worked with people in different forms, whether through a rap group, or, you know, trying to work on videos with other people, but like really giving it over to someone and following through like “Alright, cool, I trust you…” I don’t have that relationship with anybody else. I’m super thankful for having that with Sam.

“Skies,” featuring fellow Tomorrow Kings member SKECH185, is the first in an ongoing series of companion pieces to Lamon’s upcoming debut solo album Music To Feel Like Shit To. Manuel worked on production of the video prior to meeting Wakefield, but didn’t feel happy with its direction. “It was too much guided by an ownership relationship. One of the original treatments for the ‘Skies’ video was for SKECH and I to be present and for there to be women fighting each other representing us in some ways. Or we would just be watching…  I just felt like that was real fucking weird.”

Samantha became involved after Lamon saw her at one of his shows and later asked if she would like to play the central character in a string of music videos he was planning. Yes, she said, but she’d be willing to direct as well. “I feel like from the time we started working on that video, till the time it came out our friendship grew a ton,” Wakefield recalls. “It paved the way.”

The work that has come since is uniformly dark and challenging, with Sam and Lam’s connection the light at the end of the tunnel. The pair’s initial collaboration, and my favorite to-date, is a video in Wakefield’s The Window Series. It’s just Samantha watching Lamon (through her lens) and Lamon speaking as honestly as he can about things that hurt him. The simple presentation allows for its principle’s presence to overpower the listener like a quiet fart.

Our interview takes place October 25, 2015, only days after the 1 year anniversary of Wakefield choking Lamon for the first time during one of his shows. “Each time I try to choke a little harder. Before I would use one hand, and lately I try to make sure I use two,” Sam explains. “I’m just trying to do my part, for you,” she says, looking over at Lamon. “But it’s always intense. It always feels intense.”

Control, and loss of it, is a heavy theme in Manuel’s work. It’s safe to assume that the protagonist of “Skies” goes where she goes to in an attempt to re-assert it and that the leads in “Shit…” (played by Lamon and Samantha) have lost it. At the same time, the real Samantha and Lamon continue to push forward, surrendering to each other as artists and homies. “It feels like we’re not afraid to venture somewhere if we come up with an idea.”

“maya and the two brothers” is now available

+’s seventeenth album maya and the two brothers, released October 31, 2015

children of rock
rapping again
trans presz/kid forever
hey u na!
mind changer
tiny dog safari
tiny immortAL people
perfect forever I
perfect forever II


Audio:
https://soundcloud.com/plus_sign/maya-and-the-two-brothers

For the full HALLOWEEN experience, start the audio track then in thirteen SPOOKY seconds start the video on SPOOKY mute!

tenderdiscovery.com