ESSAY// VIEWS: Album of the Year Edition

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“But unlike his earlier solo efforts, Sign “O” the Times wasn’t a record by an ambitious kid trying to make impression. At 28, Prince had already made himself into a pop superstar  (and movie star too), and he easily sold out arenas. In one sense, he had nothing to prove. Yet Sign “O” the Times is the most varied, accomplished record of his prime 1980s period, a testament to the range of his gifts and the bold artistic ambition that gave his music shape.” ~ Pitchfork

Previously.

The reason why it’s not STARBOY is because Drake isn’t sounding like Michael Jackson in the future, he’s sounding like Drake in the future. The reason why it’s not The Life of Pablo is because Views is easier to listen to. The reason why it’s not LEMONADE is because Views is easier to listen to. Drake is, if you want to listen to it that way, furious throughout for sure. Just like Pablo and Bey, Drake is terrified and at the end of his rope and fighting for his fucking life and the lives of his family and friends.

But he never screams his heart out or has a multi-part breakdown. He and his collaborators stay ice cold~ even the warmest, most bounciest beats have a grim determination undergirding them. There’s an unshakeable momentum to the music, a timely airtight-ness. VIEWS is the album that got humanity through this year, it’s the sound of the biggest star in the world on the eve of revolution.

The reason why it’s not Coloring Book is Drake doesn’t sound like Kanye anymore. I mean, everybody sounds like Kanye but Chance the Rapper REALLY sounds like Kanye; he sanded the edges off Graduation and brought it to the present. However, candy-coated Christianity can only take one so far in the real world and Lord knows it’s taken us far enough, thank you but please no thank you! Drake keeps it real. Chance’s “Blessings” aren’t actually coming for you: you’re not as handsome as he is and your dad isn’t friends with Obama. You’re not going to blow up without a record deal! But you might be able to get your ex back if you can grit your teeth for long enough through all of life’s beat changes and let da riddim guide you through the God-less, gunshotted summer. Better yet, you might even find someone new. Imagine that.

The reason why it’s not Solange is because that album is too slow. The reason why it’s not Blonde is because that album is too sad! The reason why it’s not your album is because your album isn’t this sexy or well-produced and it doesn’t have “Hotline Bling” as a bonus track.

More Life is on the way.

OLD ESSAY// Why I Quit the United States Postal Service

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This piece originally appeared in Side by Side Magazine.

I quit my job this week. This is why:

I wake up at four, angry, dark as the sky. I lay in bed a few seconds, then throw my upper half up. I change the music on my laptop and start working out. Around 4:20 I alternate between making lunch and working out. I’m making spaghetti. At 4:55 I take a shower. I start wrapping up the odds and ends of my morning: snacks, keys, decide what I’ll be listening to as I leave out the front door. It’s old jazz. It’s February so I’m on the 30s in my jazz discovery program. Next month it’ll be the 40s.

It’s cold, I’m still angry. The walk soothes me, somewhere deep inside. I’m still smiling on the bus, on the train. “Good morning. Thank you!” We huddle.

I brush my teeth at work. I look in the mirror. I look good. I go out to the floor.

There’s always something. There’s always something not right when I get to the unit, something to compensate for, to ask a supervisor for, to restock, to reorganize, that just isn’t there but should be. I’m angry and I’m moving fast. There is no trickling in for me, I am the bowl.

I am the Expediter.

That means I have patience, discipline, balance, speed, strength, empathy, and hopefully, eight hours of sleep. It means I am everything I was not growing up. It means that when I f*ck up, or when someone tells me I f*ck up, it soaks me deep. It means I’m angry. It means I’m grinding my teeth. It means there’s nowhere else in this building I’d rather be. I only started grinding my teeth after I started expediting. I started expediting around the same time I got back in school. The employees who were doing it before me all quit. An employee and her friend, the supervisor, got me to do it one day, two days, three days, weeks, and now they’re both gone and it’s my job. Time flies when you don’t have enough of it, and I have mail falling always. Always containers getting full, always containers to pull out and dispatch, always containers full of mail designated for a flight that’s leaving in 30 minutes 20 minutes 10 minutes right now it’s late, always people asking me to make a new container, always something late, always something they can’t find, always homework to do, always lover, always lonely, always independent, always an attitude, bury the attitude with love. By noon I’ll be fine. I’m just underrating the day because I’m grumpy. But this is my life, this is all I have, this is work, this is production, this is beautiful. Look at all these people. I love them. And I am the expediter. They depend on me. Always never knew I’d be here.

Written summer, 2014

One of the last things Bruce told me was “Don’t Panic.” He told Benjamin I had a good heart. He told me I was a kid, that he was in high school in 1992, a year after I was born. Bruce was working 7 days a week, 4 hours overtime. Bruce was in the Marines eight years, was a sergeant. Bruce got there an hour early every day, at six, to get paid, but also to clean. “I hate chaos,” he couldn’t work in an unclean area.

I’ve been trying to reorganize myself. Make this writing thing happen, make healthy veganism happen, make being a weed smoking genius artist happen, befriend everybody everywhere. Watching Bruce, talking to, working with Bruce is the most fruitful work relationship I’ve ever had.

It happened fast. I was asking him and Marcus to stop making fun of me, they had taken to calling me “MIGOS!” I don’t know why, and chuckling to themselves. I’d been “experimenting” with sticking up for my self. I asked them, in front of another guy, to stop calling me “Migos,” I had asked Marquez if he was making fun of me for my pink hat. Both experiments changed their attitudes toward me, toward one of quiet respect and deference, both confrontations rattled my bones and made me anxious as hell.

Then, the holidays started again. I started telling Barbara I was going to need help expediting. For a while last holiday season every day someone or multiple someones told me I needed help. Expediters from other shifts, people in my unit, the military people watching the mail. This past November, I got Bruce.

I had just started listening to Dr. Dre’s 2001. While playing some from his speakers, Bruce looked at me “Best producer of all-time” I said “I dunno. Maybe Pharrell” he winced skeptically. The few days Bruce and I worked together before the speakers shorted out, every day at 2:45 PM, 15 minutes before closing time he would put on “Still D.R.E.” I loved it. One time after the speakers shorted, I played it on my phone and showed Bruce my screen from far away. It’s been very hard for me to connect to black men, to feel comfortable to love. To feel worthy as a friend. Everyone at my job was my friend.

My job was rife with prostitution, illicit drug use, fat black women, tired mothers, nepotism, abrupt and unexplained regime changes, corrupt supervisors, an easily manipulated justice system, a corrupt and cantankerous union, white people in button-ups with power, brown people covered in dust, in-fighting, gossip, repression, oppression, safety hazards, sharp and drastic personnel changes (Firing/hiring hundreds of people in months), failures of command, gambling, sexist men, sexual harassment, fights, unsafe driving, and deaths on the workroom floor. I quit because that’s fucked up, and hopefully I can make it as an artist or at least a human being out here.

Oh, and it matters because these are these are the people in the system handling your mail.

+’s SIX MONTH PLAN as President of the World is now available

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The President & 1stBoi

This speech was given at Hostel Earphoria on October 8, 2016. (VIDEO)

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THE TEXT

I would like to start by taking a moment of silence for the life of Corvus Humphries aka Chrono. ~~ Chrono, you are loved.

In two days, I am leading a communication and conflict resolution workshop for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative at Northern Illinois University. In the following months I will continue to lead workshops, conduct mediations, facilitations, and lead and be led in trainings based around community engagement, education, and communication. Also I am a rapper.

I’m all about the call and response. And I hear you. I hear you Nicollete trying to bring conflict resolution to your Inglewood students. I hear all of you  in my facebook message requests (when i can remember to check them), asking what’s up with FASN because your venue really is committed to having support liasons at your shows. I hear you Jamila, trying to work on checking in with your fam.

I will move through this world with purpose and clarity, on the straight edge of sobriety, making this world safer for people of types who want to go to shows and not have to suffer through scary conversation and constant inebriation. With thoughtful partners, I will subvert and enhance these spaces, make workshops out of wastelands and invent choruses out of dischord.

There are several big issues on our mind as a planet. The foremost, of course, being the climate crisis. How can we, as humans, restructure our communities and resources in ways that are sustainable. How can we exist ethically, healthily, while staying true to the promise of forward progress? And how should we, the people of the future, police ourselves?

The Cooperation Operation rose from the ashes of the Occupy movement. We were an intentionally leaderless organization of young people that came together to transform a vacant lot on the Southside of Chicago into a little slice of paradise. There were moments, our ribbon cutting ceremony, summer talks on the back porch, the first time the sunflowers bloomed on what was once a toxic wasteland, where utopia was ours.

Though that same flame still burns, we have grown up. We are not intentionally leaderless anymore. We are leaders of a new world and we recognize that the next phase of the Coop Op is to take greater responsibility for meaningfully involving the community around us in building that world, right from the center of the universe on the Southside of Chicago. Here, we protect the environment while we feeding those today who otherwise would not have been fed yesterday.

As President of the World, I pledge to extend the work my partners at The Coop Op have cultivated these past growing seasons throughout Chicago and the world and provide opportunities for artists and organizers like myself to transform fallow wastelands into creative utopias. To give little black boys and girls tiny little shovels and knowledge of our most sacred cycles. To cut down emissions from food traveling across the world while/by giving people everything they need to grow everything they need right down the street from where they live. Let me know what you need to get involved in the gardens across Chicago reversing the tide, quite literally, of our rising seas and dying trees.

They don’t want us to win. They want us broke. They want us miserable.

THEY don’t want us to win because of capitalism, where dollar signs hide food, water, and knowledge. Where life is conditional, where love comes after violence. We all know it. In a world where we call for alternatives while struggling to stop the violence that seems to come from every direction.

I, the president of the world, am an anarchist and an ardent advocate and practitioner of transformative justice. In the Cooperation Operation, in my home life, and elsewhere, I believe in forgiveness and communication above all else. That’s why I need Feminist Action Support Network. That’s why i believe we need it. The past year we, at FASN, experimented with responses to sexual violence in our arts community. Many of my closest friends have been affected and continue to be affected by this societal disease.

We failed. A lot. We cried, people did not heal, and yet the feeling deep down is good. Because we tried. And there were serious positive impacts. With the advice and support of our friends and peers we shifted the current culture of our DIY community using the tools granted to us by punks in Philly, by the femme black activists over at Project NIA, and indigenous people from hundreds of years ago. We are able to synthesize this information into better & more inclusive practices and resist the oppression of capitalism to get free from this culture of violence.

I want you to be the mediators & Support Liasons. I’m just a door.

We are a rising alternative to this police state, a rising where communities of people are trained in understanding the causes and effects of violence and can contain and heal that violence without resorting to guns and handcuffs, electric chairs and prison cells.

Round the city round the clock, everybody needs you. And we need everybody. In the following months, I pledge to do my part to revitalize and stabilize the Feminist Action Support Network. We play an essential part in the movement and the artists, as ever, are on the vanguard of this very necessary stuff.

I love you and I’ll see you in six months.

+

a life of meaning vol. 2 is now available

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THE SICK MUSE is a semi-monthly zine featuring lyrics, paintings, poetry, and musings from the underground scene in Chicago. Find them in stock at Quimby’s Bookstore, Permanent Records, Bucket O’Blood Records, Saki Records, Reckless Records, ECO, and a (not) DIY show near you!!

This is +’s essay from The Sick Muse vol. 5, released this week, accompanying a revolutionary sticker collection, part of +’s ongoing a life of meaning multimedia project.

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U.S. Presidents have said a lot of nice things about art over the years~ perhaps most famous is John F. Kennedy’s speech at Amherst College in 1963, a partial eulogy for the poet Robert Frost, where Kennedy says “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.” In 2014, current president Barack Obama stated that “the arts are central to who we are as a people.” And a few years ago, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wrote to Vanity Fair:

“In my line of work, we often talk about the art of diplomacy as we try to make people’s lives a little better around the world. But, in fact, art is also a tool of diplomacy. It reaches beyond governments, past the conference rooms and presidential palaces, to help us connect with more people in more places. It is a universal language in our search for common ground, an expression of our shared humanity.”

She’s kind of talking about art as “soft power”: a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence. However, I’ve been fascinated lately with thinking of what art might be like as “hard” power. What if we could, to paraphrase singer Frank Ocean, actually draw on fantasy to make things hyperreal? When I watched Hillary’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, talk about her political career during a speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, a major theme was her existence as a Change Maker. She would pick up a phone or go to someone’s office building or sign off on a bill and suddenly thousands of parents would be able to take their child to preschool or a hundred clinics would stay open. It made me think of how I can’t do that; no matter what I put in a song, my words are just words that you’ll soon forget.

The purpose of a life of meaning is to empower a new connection between real life and popular art ~*~*~*

There’s an imaginary land of freedom and peace that music often refers to- think John Lennon’s “Imagine,” or The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” I believe that place exists as a physical reality right on the other side of the political condition that we live in. The Staples family can’t actually take you through that looking glass the way a politician can but placing these stickers on plants, walls, on bedroom doors and bathroom stalls works to realize the potential of our greatest art and our purest selves.

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 visual 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.

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.

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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!