OLD ESSAY// Late Pass: Glasser – Interiors

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Those six pulses that make up “I WAS RUNNING THROUGH THE 6 WITH MY WOES” exploded in that bar, exactly how they should have. You had your six headbangs, your freeze for five counts followed by an eruption of limbs, people climbing on their chairs and spilling their drinks, people beating their chests like Training Day Denzel, people doing the Rick James couch kick. It was all terribly uncouth and totally appropriate. The worst behavior was the right behavior — it mirrored what was being heard over the speakers.”

Rembert Browne, “Drake, At Night”

I’m not certain what the IRL equivalent of this scene would be like for any given track on Glasser’s Interiors. Since we can’t wrestle with dimension-breaking spoons like Glasser (aka Cameron Mesirow) does in Interiors’ accompanying artwork or anything like that. But I think I might have an inkling:

I found this album again after a long, torrid affair with the aforementioned Drizzy’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and Kanye West’s “All Day.” I was in a state of extended conflict with and isolation from many of my closest friends and family, and at the end of an interminable winter experience I found that I was sick of shutting the world out. Even if I hadn’t been trying to, I was tired of healing by listening to anxious men objectify the world around them and warp my perception to their cold landscapes.

Ironically, my journey brought me straight to Interiors, an album full of, you guessed it, cold landscapes and struggles with objects. But where a Drake song sounds like a mean mug, Interiors is an pensive gaze, mouth slightly agape and curled upward. As Mesirow appears in Interiors‘ visual component, a collaboration with artist Jonathan Turner, she is struggling with her most intimate of environments and invigorated in the eager humility it takes to keep going. Interiors is a purposeful wandering, borne of insatiable curiosity.

I’ve had many wonderful moments with the album over the past couple of months but the one I hope to always remember is the piece that corresponds to our preceding Drake quote. As I pack things up in my apartment of two wild years, the album finale “Divide” fills a sunlit living room. My father arrives to move me back to the home I grew up in while Mesirow makes a wish to fold space & time and be back with her fam. “I miss the idle moments that define who we are,” she sings from across the ocean on a bed of live strings and soaring ghost voices. Moving backward and forward – familiar spaces smaller and larger than ever before – Glasser and I fulfill each others’ wishes.

This piece originally appeared in Side by Side Magazine.

ECSTATIC BLUES! vol. 2 – DOES YOU INSPIRE YOU? is now available


DOES YOU INSPIRE YOU?, the second installment of +’s eighteenth album ECSTATIC BLUES!

ECSTATIC BLUES, vol. 2: DOES YOU INSPIRE YOU?

4. “trippiest nigga alive+untitled”
5. “happy 60th anniversary, grandma & grandad!”
6. “DOES YOU INSPIRE YOU?”

Vol. 3, coming soon!

filmed at The Cooperation Operation, a community garden+organization on the Southside of Chicago (Pullman).

shot by & edited w/ stash4d

*~Click to watch vols. 1 & 2~*

OLD ESSAY// Ireashia Monét is QUEER, ILL, & OK

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This piece originally appeared in Side by Side Magazine.

Now entering its fourth season, QUEER, ILL, & OK is a performance series that features Queer-identified artists exploring their relationships to chronic illness. Last year’s production took place July 24 & 25,  at the Storefront Theater.  Leading up to the show, + talked with performer Ireashia Monèt about her many, many forms of expression, QIO curator and creator Joseph Varisco (of JRVMajesty Productions), reading Alice Walker and more!

THE INTERVIEW

Every community knows this but I feel like I hear it  a lot in the queer community: that sentiment of ‘If we don’t tell our stories, who will?’

Yeah, it brings up that quote, I think it was Zora Neale Hurston, it’s like “If you don’t say you’re in pain, they’ll like…” I don’t know, I’m  butchering the fuck out of the quote but, basically, if you don’t talk about what’s hurting you or what’s going on, they’ll  say that you enjoyed your life. (Ed: ‘If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.’ )

Especially coming up in a time where we’re taking our own narratives and telling our stories because we were so afraid to before.

Is there background you want give to the piece you’re going to do at QIO? 

Well, yeah, I suffer a lot from invisible ailments. And these illnesses interfere with my everyday living. Sometimes I’m in constant pain, I’m very weak. I have a lot of mental anxiety and stuff like that. This past year was a really hard year for me. My grandfather died a year or so ago, and so my family, we’re all still grieving, going through that grieving period. During this time I felt really stuck  in-between a lot of things, not really knowing if my life was going anywhere. That’s when I started to develop a lot of my visual artwork and a lot of my spoken word pieces.

I think what I bring to QUEER, ILL, & OK is more visibility to black, queer women of gender variation who suffer from visible and invisible disability. And sharing how we deal with that. I’m kind of  breaking down, or demolishing that “Strong, Independent Black Woman” stereotype that’s forced upon us.

What did you wanna do with journalism when you first started?

I studied magazine journalism, which is more long-form,  narrative-type journalism. My focus is film, music, culture, and talking about social issues. How do musicians deal with whatever they’re absorbing in their environment, and how do they manifest that in the music they make?

I was also interested in photojournalism- I’m still interested in photojournalism! Like, all this is still continuing. I love being around people, I love hearing people’s opinions, their stories. I love capturing them for who they are, their essence.  I guess I use journalism to break out of my own introverted-ness. Through that I learned that I can do that with my own story;  I can express it in any way I want to.

 I just asked somebody the other day if they were an artist and they told me they preferred the word “Creator.”

Mmhmm.

Because it’s like, everything, you know?

I just want to encourage other people to just be as free as they wanna be.

There’s gonna be obstacles but you can always find a way over, under, between, behind. There’s always ways for liberation and this piece that I’m going to perform is [about] how even despite all this racial tension, political uncertainty, and a lot of spiritual unrest in myself,  I still found the time, the power, and the energy to really look beyond all of this and see that there’s nothing really stopping me and to try to grasp or attain any dream or vision that I see.

IREASHIA A

Have you met Joe [Varisco, curator of QUEER, ILL, & OK]?

Yeah! I met him a few days ago, we were talking about my performance. He’s very nice, he’s been very helpful and supportive through this whole process. He actually mentioned you, emanuel.

*Laughs*

I forgot what we were talking about, but he was like “emanuel vinson.”

Aww! *Laughs* That’s cool. I love Joe, he’s so sweet and so hard-working. He’s got such a bigger picture, you know?

Yeah, yeah.

He’s just so about it.

He was really nice. You should apply next year!

I wanna do something that he’s doing but I’m not sure QUEER, ILL, & OK is the place for me as a performer. But as an audience member and as a community member I feel really filled by it and grateful. I mean, when I saw that you were doing it it was like Heaven, it was so awesome. *Laughs* Do you know any of the other performers that are in it this year?

I know Sky Cubacub. Do you know Sky?

No, no.

sky

QIO photos by Kiam Marcelo Junio

Sky has a company called Rebirth Garments. She does a lot of clothing for trans-bodied folks, disabled, and plus-sized people. She also has really cool jewelry that she makes with chainmail and she has this really cool headpiece that she wears that looks kind of like armor. She’s just a really genuine, open, beautiful person.

I’m actually modeling for her in a show and it’s gonna be really nice. She’s the only person that I know but I look forward to meeting the other artists and understanding their vision as well.

What else are you working on besides QUEER, ILL, & OK?

Oh, man, that’s a big question.

*Laughs* Maybe a couple things?

Something that I’m really passionate about right now: I’m doing Script Analysis for Amir George’s upcoming film Decadent Asylum. It’s still in production. It’s like an afro-surrealist film, basing the imagery from different types of symbolism and stuff like that. It’s very abstract in a way, but it’s really cool to be on a film set and be a part of it.

I’m  doing a short film that I’m writing a script for  about black motherhood and breaking down expectations of mothers. Looking at my own personal relationship with my mother and developing, even through this film, how we perceive motherhood, and how limiting that idea of “What is a Good Mother?” vs “What is a Bad Mother?” [can be]. That kind of thing.

And I’m also looking at grad schools, so I have a lot of things. I’m just all over the place. But it’s gonna be a cool few months in Chicago. I’m still tryna get out and start performing again. Performing more with spoken word and stuff like that.

I’m tryna get in touch with Young Chicago Authors, just going in and performing there. It’s so close, it’s like “How can I not?” In the meantime I’m just, like, going to art shows, hanging out with people. Living. *Laughs*

I love that you just said so many things. It’s hard to get good at something!

I love failing. I mean, I hate it but it pushes me you know? Like ‘Damn, I really…I really fucked up, huh?’ So I try it again, and I try to get it right and, yeah, I get discouraged but my own self-doubt and my own barriers, I wanna get beyond those. That’s why I’m so focused on this performance. I’m afraid as fuck. I’m not gonna let fear get the best of me, you know? And I wanna give the audience my best.

I’m really grateful that I have the time to meditate on this performance. Last year I was running around doing all this other shit and I didn’t really have time for myself, but now [that] I’m done with college  I can really calm down and think about this and really meditate on it.

Cool. I’ma ask a couple more quick things. What are you reading, what are you listening to, and if you’re watching anything…?

I’m reading Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. It’s a series of essays she’s written since the 60s, through the 80s and 90s. And it talks about her as a black writer, her days in the segregated South when she was in an interracial relationship. She talks about womanism, what it means to be a womanist, how she would describe a womanist. And also a lot about other writers, like Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. Jean Toomer. All these names that I never really heard about but her essays really brought them to me in a very critical way and at a critical point in my life as a black woman. As someone who’s absorbing all this, like, energy around me, noticing all of the racial… just all the fucked up shit in the world.  It’s been kind of a solace to read her words.

I’m listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar, a lot of Toots & the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Nneka. And Nina Simone.  *Laughs* So there’s where I’m at. *Laughs*

And I’m watching re-runs of The Boondocks and this Netflix series Sense8. Which is about this group of people who share this common thread between them. They were all born on the same day and they can look into each other’s lives and help out. I guess it’s about empathy, in a way. Like, imagine a world where we could all just feel each other’s pain and we could all live in other people’s shoes, like, how would we react, how would we be? How different would the world be? So I really like that series a lot.

I’ve seen previews for that, that’s cool. And finally, is there anything else that you wish more people knew, either about you or anything?

Um. I guess people already know this, but I just wanna say on the record: I’m a super introverted person but… I’m like an introvert/extrovert type thing. So I think people don’t really know how to approach me but if you’re just like “Yo, we should chill!” I’d be really receptive to it and I think that’s something  I’ve been trying to come to terms with in myself.

It’s kind of an awkward situation. But other than that, nah.

Soon, you’ll be able to purchase tickets to this year’s QUEER, ILL & OK, or make a tax-deductible donation to the production. Follow QIO on Facebook and stay tuned!

ESSAY// #LEMONADE is Anarchist

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“Justice is what love looks like in public,” – Cornell West

In past writing, I’ve defined love as “a state of mutual vulnerability.” I meant it both emotionally and as a political definition. That’s how it appears, too, in Beyoncé’s new album LEMONADE as the personal reconciliation of Bey x Jay gives way to images of mothers of young black men killed by law enforcement.  Beyoncé’s happy ending for these mothers – their “Freedom” – portrays black women growing food together in a boundary-less community. Here, class isn’t a factor: literally everyone has a seat at the table. There are no prisons. I feel like it’s my responsibility to state without ambiguity that there is only one political concept that encompasses LEMONADE’s perfect reality. It’s already championed by millions of people all over the world and it’s called Anarchism.

Beyoncé’s self-titled album from 2013 is not an anarchist work. It’s feminist, yes, as Bey examines unfair gender expectations and fights to express her full spectrum of emotions.  However, the Beyoncé of that album also brags from penthouses (“Jealous”) and limousines (“Partition”) while staging many of her videos in lavish isolation (“Haunted,” “Drunk in Love”). It was a milestone, but compared to this year’s LEMONADE it feels selfish, unsophisticated, wanting for (any) acknowledgement of economic inequality’s impact on women in the real world. I believe the same way Bey affirmed the risky term “feminist” leading up to that project (solidifying the movement’s entrance back into the mainstream), it is even more essential for her more recent work to be explicitly named.  Until Bey claims her radical politics, the dream of LEMONADE will remained unfulfilled.  

Beyoncé (and Kendrick Lamar and any of all of their powerful peers) have to say “I am a prison abolitionist, I do not support borders; I advocate classless communities where people of all backgrounds and abilities can find housing, education, and be as gay as they want to be.” She has to conceptually reject the system of money ruling her artistry in “6 Inch” to get to the relaxed truth of “All Night Long.” This is an election year, after all, when influential people argue 24/7 over their plans to continue in this broken history whilst unable to conceive the revolutionary vision of community & love that  Beyoncé Knowles-Carter suggests throughout LEMONADE. Enough with the metaphors, Bey: we’re with you.  Hurry up, get brave, and save the world!

ESSAY// We Have to Save Batman v Superman!

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Throughout Man of Steel (2013),  there are vignettes of young Clark Kent performing acts of heroism in small settings despite his father’s advice. They’re acts of pure passion for Clark, compulsions, even though he’s terrified the world will hate him.  They contrast with a dreamlike montage in Steel successor Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) of Superman doing amazing feats with an intense sadness and mechanical presence.This montage is interspersed with him being torn apart in the news media. It’s like the mental and emotional weight is holding him down way more than any rocket or ship. It’s so sad, and reminiscent of director Zack Snyder’s controversial Watchmen adaptation (2009) on multiple levels.

People think Zack Snyder is a hack. His films have been critically divisive for years, though his reputation is obviously powerful enough for him to continue to take on bigger projects. This makes him more than just a regular hack to people when it comes to beloved properties such as 300 and Watchmen, it makes him a dangerous hack. Zack has cemented himself among icons; superheroes, devils, gods. Now that’s he’s helming the start of the DC Extended Universe (Dawn of Justice) he’s become the only thing scarier than any of the above- a hack in a suit.

And now I feel like Lois Lane.

The creator of this world is a complex human being with feelings, just like the rest of us!  Dawn of Justice uses its platform to heal humanity’s hatred.  Childhood trauma leads Bruce Wayne down a path of bitterness and rage.  Barely passing as a “normal” person himself, a fearful Clark Kent disses the Caped Crusader for working with the state to target and brutalize marginalized people. But despite what the trailers may show, its ultimate lesson is that our misunderstandings are not inevitable. Lois knows it from the start: the most heroic thing anyone can do is stop fighting long enough really try to listen to someone’s truth.

I’ve been talking about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice  in real life a lot the past two weeks, and it’s always fun to do. Batman vs Superman is one of those movies that’s about itself a bunch! Which was demonstrated when it came out: like its heroes, the film was wildly successful with people but then heavily shat on in the media.  This is about how reality can shift around depending on perspective and press and fears of the moment.

The plot of BvS itself is triggered by real life – people responded negatively to its predecessor‘s relatability and collateral damage during fights so Batman hates Superman because of collateral damage from a Man of Steel fight and people find it hard to relate to Superman in BvS world. That the two are characterized as a racist billionaire and an undocumented immigrant respectively is also super relevant, this U.S. election season.

Of course my friends know about the film’s massively negative reputation but when I relate BvS to our everyday struggles with social media, it perks them right up. I’m increasingly worried about the iconic filmmaker behind the crossover, and the dystopia he depicts in film being so true to life that a perfectly good person is going to get crucified yet again for a planet that can’t – or won’t – relate to his beauty and grace.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in theaters worldwide.

OLD ESSAY// Defcee, Master of Ceremonies

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These pieces originally appeared in Side by Side Magazine.

Defcee is an excellent rapper. He’s such a good storyteller and sensitive soul that his words and presence would do well to be on any stage in this world. Attendees would experience a soulful vision of hip-hop dripping with knowledge and good humor. But what about his classrooms: the Chicago school kids who need Adam, their teacher? What about the Adam that needs those kids? The further you get into Damn Near Grown (2015) you get the sense of a vivid, aching world with Levin’s huge, overflowing heart reaching out to bring it all in. Any ceremony he masters isn’t just better because Adam is such a gifted speaker, it’s because he’s an even better listener.

Def is funny too.  Sometimes, such as on “Timeless,” he’s tearing apart other rappers. But his battle raps here are more riffs on the culture than anyone in particular, which gives the song a freewheeling joy. You’re ‘on the outside looking in like Dule Hill on the Cosbys;’ when Defcee imagines putting on Gucci goggles he compares himself to Horace Grant and then, with an implied and hilarious sigh, Luc Longley. Def is self-deprecating in a way that reveals itself as legitimately dangerous on “alter(ed) ego” but the production is hot so who cares? Def soars over jazzy boom bap, reminding us what it’s all about in the first place.

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I meet Defcee at Young Chicago Authors, a mecca for art kids in the city. Before I can do anything, Toaster shouts at me from across the room to settle a disagreement. He and a kid, probably 17 or 18, are arguing about Lupe Fiasco’s sophomore album The Cool. A class just got out: chairs are everywhere, hip-hop is playing, there’s teenagers chatting, young adults, mentors, and everyone is there to rap. Adam Levin, aka Defcee, is the teacher in the room.

Our interview takes place in December shortly after the release of the Timeless maxi-single, where Defcee captures the complexity of his own heroes.


Timeless
 starts off with “Forty II” highlighting Defcee’s history as a raucous battle rap emcee.
This time he’s subverting it though, roasting himself just as much in the process. It’s all about the line. The mix of dedication to craft and self-sacrifice is a defining characteristic of the Damn Near Grown (DNG) rapper. He’s only 24, but an elder statesman of his scene. Maybe it’s his influences.

“Wu-Tang is part of the bedrock, obviously. Jay, Nas.” Levin pauses to think. “Scarface.” Defcee has always had an affinity for rappers who popped in a bygone era. He keeps the energy alive, bringing East Coast lyricism to Saba’s jazzy trap beats and pairing Chance the Rapper references with Horace Grant jokes. Then, when his old soul is bare on Timeless’ last half, he searches openly for himself through tragic observation and magical realism.

“Purplewatersugardrank,” the first single for Def’s long-awaited DNG project features half of PIVOT Gang, Noname, and Bay Area word wizard Benjamin Earl Turner. Though Timeless is all about a solo journey through Adam’s world, Defcee’s rap family is large.  


And though Defcee has only a handful of projects to his name as a solo artist, he is always working on just as many projects as he has released. Grand Total, an EP project with the aforementioned Ben Turner followed DNG‘s release late last year. Following those two are 
a “love” project Hell of a Drug, and a “drug” project named Adderall Adam. Adam Levin is all of these things: a legendary MC, a tender love poet, an overprescribed Surburban kid, and he is damn near…

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Happy #DefceeWeek!