ESSAY // the southside of chicago is why i don’t vote!

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The Bus Ride

‘When I look outside my window I can get no peace of mind’
– Rihanna, SZA “Consideration”

I try to take the bus down Kedzie now. It’s a more middle class and diverse route. No one is screaming or selling counterfeits; there are less boarded up buildings. I feel like there is a lesser chance of me getting made fun of,  robbed, or shot. I have that choice. Yesterday, riding the 52A, I almost cried at the difference.


 

The House

‘Tell me what you’re willing to do’
– Rihanna, “Kiss It Better”

When my parents moved into this house 25 years ago, this was a white neighborhood. Between the divorce, the housing crisis, the house’s crises (Electrical and other structural problems), the rising violence and disinvestment in the neighborhood, my college debt, and my sick brother, my mother will never get out of it. Almost all of my grown cousins and their young children live with their parents in the house they grew up in. Just like my brother and I. We are trapped.


 

The Distance

‘Better wake up and act like nothing’s wrong. Just get ready for work.’
– Rihanna, “Work”

It takes me an hour on the bus to get to anywhere in the city with, like, a café. I’m an artist. If I want to educate at a school where I came from, chances are it’ll be in an area where gangs have risen up to replace and compliment the rule of government.  If I want to perform at a show, chances are I’ll have to travel across stretches of homeless and buildings that no one can inhabit until I get to a train that takes me to the other side of this city.


 

The Names

‘Dear Desperado,’
– Rihanna, “Desperado”

The names of the streets are taken from people who live just like us. “Indiana,” “Washtenaw,” “Michigan,”: these people currently live in areas where suicide, homicide, and failing infrastructure is high. Where a conflict that started against their will hundreds of years ago continues to kill.


 

My Mom

‘Run it back like you owe me something,’
– Rihanna, “Woo”

When I watch the news with my mother, it drives home how powerless she feels. When the TV says something about Obama recommending Supreme Court Justices, she comments “They’re never going to let him do that.” in a way that is resigned and matter-of-fact. When a man is sentenced to hard labor in North Korea, she blames him first for not knowing “how it is.” She has no faith in the system, though the other night we got into our traditional argument about voting. She says she does it because she feels like it’s her duty to those who died for it. I asked her what about the blacks who died to be free altogether.


 

My Dad

‘You needed me,’
– Rihanna “Needed Me”

When I returned to the Southside for the first time, I eventually ended up working with my father at the United States Postal Service. I quit two years later, after 8 seasons of waking up before the sun. It was a corrupt, dysfunctional workplace. I felt very demoralized there. When I quit to be an artist  it was a shock because it doesn’t make sense – especially as a black person from the Southside – to leave a job where they offer free healthcare and vacation time,  things we call “benefits.” No matter what, black people tell me, I should have stayed there. My dad likes to say “The Post Office isn’t for everybody.” A lot of people say that there; he’s worked there 30 years.


 

My Job

‘It’s pulling me apart this time; everything is never ending.’
– Rihanna “Never Ending”

My job isn’t to be an artist or a black person. It’s to be alive. I want to move into science by the time I’m 30, five years from now. I want to code, I want to cure death. I just want to do cool stuff with this big working brain of mine. I want to understand feelings and the universe, I want to feel normal and safe. Out here, walking home, looking for food, my job is to not get killed.


 

Money

‘Must be love on the brain! That’s got me feeling this way!’
– Rihanna, “Love on the Brain”

The President of this country is a black man who came into his political own on the Southside of Chicago. Perhaps the most critically and popularly acclaimed entertainer of the 21st century so far grew up here. Chicago is one of the richest metropolitan communities on Earth and my mother lives in constant fear of losing her sons.

Don’t leave me stuck here in these streets.

Voting is to recognize and support a kind of power that no one should have. It’s the power the Northside has over the Southside: money.  How long would it take money and the government to save this ghetto? Who and how when so much of every industry is designed around the Southside existing this way? The food companies, the school systems, the prisons, the tax collectors, the real estate agents and banks + the policymakers they invest in. How long until we could enter those buildings? Give the fresh food rotting in dumpsters behind restaurants right now to people who are hungry? How long until progress would reach the mentally ill on the bus rolling, rolling, rolling by my house at 9:36 AM, March 17th? How long til the prisoners born in a place like this could be free? Everybody has to go to work in the morning to make more money, when the heck are they gonna be able to stop and save us? Why are black & white people shaming me for empowering my self in a way that isn’t based on corrupt systems?

We are here and we are better than this!  If no one has told you today, let me be the one to say: don’t vote, it’s okay. we can make another way! 🙂

OLD ESSAY// Kyoko, of Psychedelic Noise Group OOIOO, Has Passed Away

 

kyoko

This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine,  July 2015. 

Kyoko was a founding member of OOIOO, often attributed as the most notable offshoot of noise lords Boredoms. She played guitar and contributed vocals to OOIOO’s first three albums before leaving due to the unnamed illness that eventually claimed her life. Bandleader Yoshimi P-We memorialized Kyoko yesterday, breaking the news via an Instagram post containing an old photo of the group.

Her caption reads:

This is Yoshimio.
I regret to inform you that my friend, Kyoko has passed away morning on July
19th.
Kyoko came from same hometown as I am . We started OOIOO together. She was
the first guitar player of OOIOO. She left the band to concentrate to cure
her illness but she came to help selling merchandise sometimes to our shows.
She started the band with Itoken who was also her longtime partner.

Kyoko was 183cm tall. She was on her own pace , optimistic and natural blur.
I loved her very much. I do not like to believe she is no longer with us
anymore. I love to see her again.

わたしとhometownが同じで一緒によく旅行行ったり遊んでた身長183センチの恭子
ちゃん。OOIOOも一緒に始めて初代ギタリストだった。病気になって治療とOOIOOの両
方は無理だったので身体第一にOOIOOはやめました。あ、やめてからはOOIOOの物販の
売り子でよくライブきてくれたな。で、身体も調子よかったりで、いとけん(恭子
ちゃんのパートナー)と面白い音楽始めたりもしてた。マイペースで前向きでかなり
な天然ボケで、大好きな人間だったが、7/19の朝、病院で旅立ちました。信じられな
いけど、また会いたい。

#ooioo #harpykyoko

From 2000’s Gold and Green.

OOIOO’s last album was 2013’s Gamel, released here via Thrill Jockey. Rest in Peace, Kyoko.

OLD ESSAY// The Moment Transcendent: A Brief History of Daymaker.

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This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine,  June 2015. 

So how did you start with music? How did that come into your life?

Dina: I would have to say it started in high school, it’s kind of like a love story/musical love story.

I liked someone who was in the drumline. And I thought it was the coolest thing ever that this person was in the drumline. In fact, I couldn’t really tell whether I liked him more or the drumline.

Egon: I had a secret friend crush on the kid with the Dead Kennedys t-shirt (that always got in trouble). And at that point I was already into like Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Green Day.

Eric: I started playing bass in high school, oddly because that was the thing  to do at my high school. Like, everyone played bass. And, I don’t know, I’d wanted to have something to do, I guess. Bass was fun, and yeah.

Erin: When I was in high school I had this chorus teacher. She gave me voice lessons and I learned how to sing jazz. And like shape note music and old hymnals and gospel. And some Byzantine operatic stuff that I was really into. I never thought I was very good. The first time I ever sung onstage was this Distillers cover at the Heartland Cafe open mic. And it was so bad that when it was finally over I said “Sometimes you have to fail to remind yourself what you’re good at, which is poetry.”

Eric: I’d mostly play with my friend Max, he had like fifty instruments or something. He mainly played mandolin but he had all these things that I hadn’t really heard of. He had this one thing that was called a mandocello. It’s called that cuz it has four strings and you play it like a mandolin but it’s in the same range as a cello. It kinda looks like a guitar.

Dina: It wasn’t like this burning flame for most of my life, you know, it was totally random for me.

‘I remember 2006, when you could still get away with shit.’ – #summerhit

daymaker live
Emporium, photo by Liz Nerat

 

Now is it like a burning flame?

Dina: Yeah! With years it became something much stronger. For example, this week I had four or five shows. In the realm of playing music I honestly do feel like it’s burning and taking up all my time in a good way.

Egon:  I’ve been playing guitar for over fifteen years now so it’s a huge part of my life.  And a little while ago, maybe two years ago, I told myself that I would practice everyday. Even if it was only for fifteen minutes. And I’m pretty good at doing that.

How often do you write poetry?

Egon: Poetry is the one thing even greater than music that I just do compulsively and it doesn’t matter how well or bad I’m doing or how rich or poor I am or whatever it is a compulsion that means the world to me.

And I’d like to see and do more of that, and to see if we can somehow build a platform for that. [Erin & I] are talking about trying to do a book when we go on tour, just to have something else that people can look at and engage with.

Erin: I try for daily. But – all we can do is try. Also sometimes it’s terrible. I realized, in talking to my mother, at bars I write poems on coasters, at work I write poems on receipt paper. When I’m trapped in a situation I find these listening objects that allow me to express a little something upon them.

Writing has always made me feel real. Like writing in a journal and the tangible act of putting your thoughts into this finite, real space of a page and ink and language, it’s like the only thing that makes me feel like I actually exist.

dm coaster

– Erin’s coaster poetry

Did you see yourself in high school as being this person you are at this point at this time?

Dina: I don’t think so, no, at the time it was very intimidating to me. I never really thought that I could get to this point. I was a closet musician for the first couple years of playing the drums. ‘Hey, I’m gonna play my drums in the garage when no one’s listening and uh if anyone in my house hears me I am gonna feel very embarrassed.’  I never really thought that I’d have the confidence to be where I’m at now. I feel very happy about where I’m at, playing with all kinds of people. It took me a few years to get to that point.

I think that I just didn’t have anyone to tell me that I could make it. And I just had to take baby steps.

So you wrote- is that song actually called “Dina’s Song?”

Dina: The one we’ve been playing live?

Yeah.

Dina: Yeah, we decided that it’s called “Dina’s Latin Number.” This particular song we were jamming one night and it was a struggle, that practice. We were trying to write new songs – some of the songs we were trying to write are on our new album. Toward the end of practice we were thinking we should call it quits and I was just being silly like “You guys let’s just play like a Latin-based [thing]” and I started playing *mimics drum beat* going along with it, you know.

And next thing you know, Erin’s getting all warmed up and like “Ok, let’s do this,” and Eric starts to play and Egon starts to shred.

Egon: I blew up my hand on that song!  The guy from Longface and Regular Fucked Up People, Anthony, I bled all over his guitar! My hand just like blew up during that song and it’s interesting cuz it was there and very palpably there. You knew what it sounded like,  but it probably took us another month to figure it out. And it was something that Erin and Dina always wanted to play live and Eric and I were like  “Nononono, uhhh we don’t know what in the hell we’re doing!”

dm dina

Dina

Egon: But it was there, you know. And it kind of took Eric and I kicking and screaming, not that we didn’t wanna do it, we just wanted it to be perfect. I think a lot of our songs get written that way. Where you’re like “Well, SOMEONE has entered the room here! Who are you?”

Eric:  I think the first time we jammed together he just belted out “#summerhit”

Egon: Emanuel, it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Monica [Wizgird, multi-instrumentalist and former member] was like “My friend Eric is coming over we’re gonna have band practice,” and our relationship was very young at this point. I was like “Oh, that’s really cool let me grab my things I don’t wanna like intrude,” trying to be considerate. And she was like “It’s really more of a casual thing if you wanna sit in I’m sure no one would mind, it’d be really fun, I know you play guitar.”

I was noodling around on her keyboard and her synthesizer and at certain point she said “Here do you wanna play the guitar? And I’ll play the keyboard?” And that’s when “#summerhit” was written.

And there was this really funny moment – cuz we recorded all of our early practices – where we make the skeleton for “#summerhit” and it finishes and you hear Erin go “Monica, I hope it’s okay but you know he’s in the band now, right?”

 

Photos by Monica Wizgird

So what was CONDO and how was it different from Daymaker?

Eric: CONDO was totally different from Daymaker. It never became a serious thing it was always just like me, Justin [Booz], Erin, and Viviana [Gentry Fernandez-Pellon]  jamming.

Justin was also super into noise and stuff and we would just kind of meet up once a week or at random times and just jam.  That’s pretty much how Daymaker started writing songs and still writes songs.

What’s weird is how CONDO and Daymaker both were weird, droney, experimental projects at first. I was playing guitar through my laptop and we would just improvise stuff and Monica and Erin would play synthesizer also through, like, Ableton.

And we would write some songs but it was a super super super loose thing basically until Egon came along and started playing guitar and I switched to bass, you know, which was my first instrument.  And then songs just started coming together.

How’d you meet Dina?

Eric: Erin met Dina. I met Dina when she showed up to practice. I mean, I had heard of Regular Fucked Up People and I think I had checked out some of their music and thought it was cool but I didn’t know Dina and I didn’t know Anthony (from RFUP) or any of them pretty much until Dina showed up to practice.

What about Ruby [Dunphy, former drummer]?

Eric: Ruby was another Erin find. I didn’t know Ruby until she showed up to practice too. I hadn’t heard of Haki or any of that. Erin just has a knack for finding cool people.

*A note on the author’s process: This Feature was compiled from four separate interviews with the members of Daymaker. over the course of one week!

OLD ESSAY// Hello, Stranger: Not For You’s Lindsey Sherman

lindsey

This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine, April 2015.

Lindsey Sherman was waiting for Not For You. Native to the Northwest suburbs, she’s been generating music that pushes at the barriers of the mind and heart for years. It’s never clicked for G-Shermo like it has with NFU though.

“What’s it like playing with other people?”
It’s really strange.

LS started playing music in junior high, fumbling around like the rest of us with saxophones, etc. before realizing that, actually, she wanted a guitar. A shoegaze outfit in high school was a lot of fun – and activated a love of sound design that permeates Li’s work today –  but couldn’t survive outside of the studio. Lindsey subsequently developed her solo voice as Cool Mom, producing oodles of “spooky, ethereal” songs that, in the end, she never felt cut it either.

A selection of those songs, dating as far back as two or three years, make up most of Not For You’s debut Canary in the Mine, which Lil Sherm also mixed. The band only started playing this year but their easy chemistry and belief in each other propels the three-piece forward to progressively resonant heights.

I got the chance to catch young NFU at the DIY venue Hostel Earphoria a couple weeks ago, a bill that included + favs DAYMAKER. Not For You straight up fucking blew people’s minds through Sherman’s powerful modulated vocals and compositions that mix a deep, emotive core with steely textures and explosive songwriting. Since then, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the preview of …the Mine that’s been up on the group’s official Bandcamp.

Update, 2016: This week Lindsey  & co. released a little thingie called I Dream of Sludge. Check out the pair of songs above!

“Do you feel a specific chemistry with [these] players?”
 Definitely.

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 guy 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.

OLD ESSAY// #LTAB2015, observations and feelings

 

ltab2007

note: this was originally posted on my personal tumblr 7 months ago during the 2015 Louder Than Bomb competition. my current recommendation is more workshops centered around community/writing etc included in next year’s festival (hopefully at least as an extension of the Queeriosity program 🙂 ). I look forward to continuing the discussion and thank everyone who makes LTAB possible! – +, 10/26/2015

In my experience, poets on the Louder Than A Bomb stage tend to perform provocative pieces about being great writers, free thinkers, and cultural revolutionaries; eager to break free of oppressive molds and affirm their truest self. With respect to the urgency of that spirit, I speak:

When I was in high school I pretty much only wrote “slam pieces” during the school year. Not just “slam pieces” but LTAB pieces.

In 2007 the Morgan Park High School team I was on made it to finals. I think we came in fourth. My piece was/is called “Price of Retribution.” In it I spoke to a Catholic priest who had abused a child and on behalf of the child who grew up to eventually speak out. I don’t remember my scores, they weren’t great. I’m proud forever, but I can admit now that on that Finals stage a good amount of my performance style was keyed up to make it seem like I was more emotional than I actually felt. Not for the audience, not even on behalf of my subjects, but for the scores.

Yesterday I went to LTAB semifinals. I went to the 4-6 PM bout and was a VIP judge for 7-9PM.

I left several times during the first semis bout. I was disturbed by the consistently upsetting content. I had to call a friend for help. To calm down and also to ask how I was supposed to judge in this setting. My friend asked me -my- criteria, I chose out of what they offered: word choice and complexity of approach to the subject matter.

In my experience, homogeneity has increased exponentially as the slam artform has gained in popularity and prestige. Fellow competitors (and current organizers) have talked about this trend for years behind doors and occasionally through satirical performance.

I gave 7s in my bout when I judged yesterday and people yelled and booed and ridiculed me the entire time. I can tell you, as objectively as I can, that those pieces of art entered into competition with one another were indistinguishable in terms of content, performance style, and diction. Within the bout itself and especially in relation to the hundreds of #LTAB poems I’ve seen in years past.

Louder Than A Bomb has become a themed slam. And a mold to fit or be rejected from. And when I thought that that was all these children, these judges, or these slams were good for I wasn’t thinking hard enough about what kids are actually capable of.

LTAB being presumed as the most authentic voice of these children is inaccurate. And dangerous, not least when it comes to the dis-ability of someone to dissent from affirming that concept.

If I see an [ethnic background] poet onstage and they are using their 20 or so lines in the group piece to yell about how they are more than the stereotype of [ethnic background], at this point of the culture on some level it can feel like they have unwittingly re-become a different kind of caricature for a different kind of audience’s gaze.  Is that still as powerful as they can be, as an artist or human? As liberated?  What other ways do they write? And when they “lose” with this specific presentation of self, in this specific format of a format of a format, and have been made to feel like this their most authentic outlet…Well, IDK.

My definitive question is, is LTAB now encouraging children to tell us only what we want to hear, how we want to hear it? And worse, are we tokenizing pain- actually encouraging insincerity as the norm? If not, then why is the slam the way it is? And what can we, as a community of thinkers, competitors, and co-creators do to shift to something more expansive and inclusive?

I made tweets criticizing the first slam and it embroiled me in some serious conflict with a few organizers of the event during.

My initial tweets read:
rly disappointed in & unenthused by this #LTAB semis. it feels formulaic, uninspired. “every piece” is quivering voices, generic complaints

and all the scores are like 8.5s.  realized what a specific event this is (has become) #ltab

The organizers feel that I was belittling the children.  Given the sensitive, passionate nature of my self, the children, the organizers, and the cause itself I hope you can empathize with how difficult and tenuous this is. I am trying to be direct. And kind. I do not intend to be destructive. Ever.  Forgive me, please. I offer this essay to give background to my truest, most complex thoughts.

“The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.”

ESSAY// Native Foods & Atheism, a worthless essay

worthless

I can’t tell if the person in front of me is laughing or crying
I went to a music festival called Fed Up Fest, by and for Chicago queercore punks. There were workshops, and vegan cupcakes, and support liasons, and there was a garden and the third day was at a nonprofit. It was a place where I felt especially whole yet charged up to be better. Safe & full of potential like a child. While there I thought of my brother’s Jehovah’s Witness conferences- how they must have felt exactly like this. “I feel saved, we are surely saving the world.”

I met Spaghetti at the fest. We danced a bit we felt a connection we went out on the town, sitting on the grass Spaghetti relayed to me how judged they felt by (some of?) the other organizers of Fed Up Fest because they weren’t punk enough or the right kind of punk – just outside of Jehovah’s range, right? I had written “and isn’t just love itself?” on my arm

Native foods & Atheism

I’m with Jesse in Indiana. No alcohol sales on Sunday, we talk about how cultures make up rules that calcify. I think about hip-hop, “dead” genres of music. Poetry slam. Cultures make & fulfill their own prophecies, have enemies & when people get together the high divine, the songs gospel. It’s just the sharing of information tho.

another essay about love

I go spend some money at a coffee shop, they play some music I deeply relate to. It feels special. It’s not special.

I go to Native Foods they play a song I deeply relate to, there is no god, love is just a chemical reaction that helps us mate, our experiences are shaped by our brain power, there can’t be a heaven if i have Alzheimer’s, if a fungus can take my brain from me, my personality, which personality? when i’m 19 and write my best songs because of my low self esteem? when i’m 24 and dying? when i’m a zygote? so malleable, when we die we die, when i’m funny because i’m afraid which me slave me only charming to you because you fit my cultural mating patterns i like your body shape and your clear skin that’s why i saved your life

We pretend that the aesthetics of our cultures are more than they are worth because capitalism makes it illegal to eat, sleep, and learn for free. We derive a context of meaning from Jesus, or Yeezus, or drugs, or rehab because money makes everything worthless. Post-that, when we have present-freedom, that is when meaning will be real again, for the first time.