After having a stronghold on Baltimore's airwaves this summer with his track, "Bank Rolls", Tate Kobang has been consistently dropping loose tracks -- presumably, to keep fans occupied before he releases his full-length debut on 300 Ent. His most recent offering is a freestyle over Drake and Future's Metro Boomin-produced "Jumpman" from their What A Time To Be Alive album. Here, he raps non-stop as he bounces around and, as always, shares the spotlight with friends breaking out into a combination of Baltimore dances. Watch the video below:
At this point, there's rarely a passing week where Grey Dolf isn't playing a show in Baltimore's downtown music scene. Active for almost an exact year, the 20-year-old who was born Brayaira Simms took on the challenge to finally pursue a career in music after playing around with the form since childhood, moving to New York at 18 for personal growth and coming back home to a continuously growing DIY scene fronted by black and brown kids. Dolf's music doesn't fit into any box, not even ones made for what "alt rap" is supposed to be. At times, she raps conventionally and even fits in a bit of comedy like performing a full tape worth of Chief Keef covers. Wailing uncontrollably over lo-fi production isn't out of the norm for her and neither is creating an impromptu mixtape with Blaqstarr called D'usse Blunts in a matter of four hours. No matter the classification for what Grey Dolf's music and overall aesthetic is, she's been attracting a growing level of support and attention since mustering up the courage to rap at local collective Llamadon's open-mic series, Beet Trip, last summer. We recently caught up with Grey Dolf and learned about some pivotal points in her growth as an artist and where she wants to move, going forward:
Grey Dolf: I started getting into music in middle school after people started to tell me my voice sounded like a boy. That actually made me sad and I became more conscious of my voice. It made me hate my voice and sometimes I still do. But my early music came to me when I was in the shower or in the mirror looking at myself, making up songs. In high school, I used to take academic things and take them to another level or more relatable through music. If I would be thinking about something that I was having a hard time with, and then start listening to myself to figure it out, it would turn into these ballads I’d be singing to myself. I have so much of that material from voice memos. It's actually ridiculous.
When Pursuing A Career In Music Became Real
I attempted to try college in Baltimore then I just had to leave because it was too much. I moved to New York when I was 18 and stayed for like 7 or 8 months before I came back last summer. I worked at Banana Republic in Soho (laughs) and lived in Lower East Side.
I came down to Baltimore like two times one month in the summer while I was living in there and I went to Llamadon's Beet Trip one night. I was drinking a lot of Patron and cooling it with people I hadn’t seen in a while and I was just really feeling it. I was really turning up and got on the mic and it felt really good. A lot of people were like, “Oh my gosh, I wanna work with you.” I was just listening like, “That’s what’s up.” But when I told some people that I was really about to do this, like really be Grey Dolf and perform and put on shows, some people were like, “You not gonna be able to build it up that fast.” It was funny when I look back. It was actually November 14th when I did put on my first show and performed last year.
I interned at this shop downtown called Agio when I was in high school and that’s where I met Jacob Marley, Butch Dawson, Black Zheep DZ and some other people. Seeing all them make music was a big influence. Even like being in studios with random hood rappers when I was younger was an influence to me. But I always thought Baltimore was super chill. I think everybody could work more collectively but like 2Pac went to Baltimore School for the Arts and it’s a lot of cool factories for manufacturing here. It’s just a lot of cool and inspiring things going on here.
How To Release Music
I’m strategizing from an energy perspective but I’m trying not to be too forceful. It’s all these different things. Like, I just deleted my whole SoundCloud just because I wanna release music in a better way. I can do better than that. I’d rather post all my songs visually. I was on YouTube and typed in my name and saw so much shit that I didn’t even post. Audio is great but I don’t think people will get me without a visual. It’s really fun. I’m still figuring how I want people to receive my work, though. At first I was just making things for me but the fact that other people are involved in that process now is interesting.
What Could Be Better
I could definitely sharpen my organization because it’s crucial to how people receive my stuff. I need to work on production too. I just got rid of my computer because the beats I was making on there weren’t quality. I wanna start incorporating more instruments in my work beyond digital sounds like piano, maybe clarinet and guitar.
At this point, there has been (and will be) countless accounts of Baltimore's Uprising this past April which happened in response to the Baltimore City Police Department's alleged killing of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. In a great deal of national news coverage, rioters, protestors and even children were painted as savage and unruly while smaller outlets like VICE came to film how the music scene responded to the events. Back in May, we premiered Baltimore-based filmmaker Theo Anthony's "Peace In The Absence of War", a dialogue-free short film which surveyed across the city, zeroing in on the faces of police officers, National Guard members, media and others' expressions throughout various events during The Uprising. Still, there has yet to be an in-the-action account shared from the perspective of Baltimoreans. During the unrest, filmmaker Malaika Aminata felt compelled to organize an Artivism (art and activism) march to not only combat the injustices that citizens suffered long before Freddie Gray's death, but to use creative expression as a way to reel people in to these issues. While doing so, she filmed these artists interacting with the community and now has a documentary to share, titled "Not About A Riot."
The film is being previewed in Baltimore this Sunday at EMP Collective to raise funds for its production and distribution and to get an understanding of its creation and intentions, I had a quick conversation with Aminata.
You were actively organizing during The Uprising. Did you feel a responsibility to your community to do so?
Malaika Aminata: I think I felt a responsibility to myself formost. During that time, emotions were super intense and I knew I had to do something productive with the energy I was feeling just in order to function. At first I felt helpless and completely overwhelmed, but then I started to think about how I could contribute to being part of the solution. Thats when the idea to organize an "Artivism" ( art + activism) march came up. That's also the reason I decided to make sure I was capturing what was happening. I did it because others needed it, but it was just as much needed for me.
The usual idea of someone organizing during something like what happened in April is to protest against injustice and discrimination but what you were involved in seemed to be more about promoting art. Why?
It was still very much focused around injustice and discrimination as well as a bunch of other issues. Art was just the language being used. Why art? So people listen.
Would you consider the pushing of this film to be an act of protest within itself? Like, dispelling the notion that Baltimoreans were destructive and unruly during the unrest?
I don't think it necessarily dispels that notion, it's just does not focus on that aspect because in the grand scheme of things, that isn't the part that really matters. There are much more critical questions. What matters is why. If someone is destructive, why? If someone was looting, why? What are the conditions that causes this reaction in the first place, and how can we change those?
I was living in Bolton Hill at the time on a super ritzy street with a chain that blocks people off from entering and a gazebo nobody touched, but right across the street is public housing. People were definitely taking things but what I saw being taken were mostly everyday necessities: toilet paper, diapers, laundry detergent, etc. You don't take those things if you don't need them.
Through the process of making "Not About A Riot" what did you learn about yourself?
I learned I truly love the city of Baltimore and the people who make it beautiful. I learned to use sadness and frustration as a means to create on a grand scale. I learned to ask for help.
What did you see art and music do for the people of Baltimore during such a vulnerable time?
I saw art do what it always does: communicate messages to people who wouldn't normally listen. But, this time, the message was clear and very intentional. The city was on the same page, everyone was singing the same song. That doesn't always happen but when it does, the impact is undeniable.
Why is it important for people to see "Not About A Riot"?
For people who experienced it, I'm not sure it's as necessary to see it as it is a necessity to remember what happened during that time, to remember the power of unifying, to remember there's still work do. But, I guess the film makes you recall all those things. So in that case, it's very important for people to see "Not About A Riot". It's very important to see it over and over again. I also think it's important to tell the truth. And for people who weren't there to know some of it. I think the film helps with that.
"Not About A Riot" will be screening in Baltimore, this Sunday, at EMP Collective to help raise money for post-production and distribution. For more information on the event and how to help, visit the film's Indiegogo page.
People with bodies like mine are manipulated, chastised, and exploited on a daily basis in a world ran and ruined by white supremacy and capitalism. Black people’s vessels have been shaded since the days of slavery where slaves were countlessly used to conduct inhumane science experiments to today where white people think it’s cute to dress up in blackface and mock the figures of our beings. Everyday is a struggle to be beautiful and to rightfully bask in that beauty. As a black queer, I am also constantly confronted with media from condom advertisements to porn that depicts my body as beastly, only good for a wild night and not even worthy if it's too femme or not “fit”.
But FAKA, a South African performance art duo, tells me differently. Through their work, I see myself as an enchanted figure with a gold hue that’s structured with brilliance and filled with gifts on top of gifts. Though very soft and cunt, they aggressively confront the societal oppression against black queer bodies via their bodies, which creates a progressively accessible dialogue and interaction between their themes and the world. I spoke to the duo about QTIPOC existence in South Africa, celebrating femininity and finding love as a queer people of color.
FAKA is composed of Fela Gucci and Desire Marea, who both live in Johannesburg. Their work has been featured on AfroPunk, Elle, and OkayAfrica.
“FAKA in is Zulu means to enter, to penetrate, to occupy. We chose this name to symbolize our intentions of penetrating and communicating silenced themes in the spectrum of black queer identity and also to dismantle the internalized heteronormative righteousness that has contaminated our community with its hierarchy of male privilege. FAKA, in the context of sexual intercourse, is an order given to the perpetrator to penetrate and our ownership of a term linked to the assumption of passivity is a protest to empower the most shamed identities. It is the ‘bottoms revenge.’”
Abdu Mongo Ali: How did FAKA end up expressing through performance art? You do music and video too. How do those mediums help beacon the themes of your work?
FAKA: A lot of the things that we express stem from the displacement of our bodies on the counts of race and sexual identity in a system that heavily operates through racialized hetero-patriarchal constructs. Performance came naturally to us as it puts our bodies, our immediate space, at the forefront of a bigger discussion about how our bodies intersect with the spaces we occupy. Performance is a form of resisting all these ideas that try to keep us oppressed. Music is what we first experimented with and seemed like the truest way to communicate our ideas.
I want to jump right into the theme of humanization because I am reading Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of The Oppressed” which speaks about how the oppressed are dehumanized and how liberation must involve the humanization of the oppressed.
Humanizing black queers to us means speaking openly about our existence and not allowing ourselves to be processed under the oppressive heteronormative gaze. Telling our stories without shame and knowing that they are valid. This is important to us because for a long time we’ve shamed ourselves for the way that we exist but, through learning about oppressive ideas and the structures that support and perpetuate them, we are constantly choosing to unlearn and hope to connect what we learn with our community as it continues to operate through oppressive ideals that say “you are nasty. So, humanizing black queers looks like liberation learned through self-actualization.
How has humanizing black queers changed due to the influx of the other reality: the internet? Does the influence of digital socialization have a radical effect on both dehumanizing and humanizing the black queer body, spirit, and mind?
The internet is working as an empowering tool for the black queer body. Of course, there are spaces within the digital sphere that work to dehumanize the black queer body but, ultimately, we are owning our existence in the digital space whether it is through posting a selfie or sharing our experiences through twitter, we are being visible to the world.
What is the Black queer body? Who birthed it? Who owns it? Where does it stand today?
The Black queer body is transcendental, it belongs to the spirit and mind of the individual who claims it and that individual is a liberated being who’s forced to navigate a world that tries to keep it silenced but it resists because it is self-actualized.
Gender to us is the fluidity of self-actualization, defining for one’s self is a way to exist in the world away from the behavioral constructs that are forcefully assigned to us when we come into the world that say you are either a man or woman. It is important to redefine gender to allow for non-binary realities to freely exist in the world, so that it's okay for all dimensions of love to exist.
Black queers often celebrate femininity within their bodies, minds, movements, spirits. I feel like some of your work's mission is about fighting against the debasing of femininity. Why do you think society has made sure to oppress femininity and how does feminine empowerment change the interaction between society and black GLBTQ?
Femininity is a demonized idea because it is perceived as submissive. This is a result of patriarchy, which teaches that the feminine has no power. Within the queer community, someone who identifies as fem is easily slut shamed. They are told that their bodies hold no value if not affirmed by heteronormative aesthetics. This shaming of femininity is more brutal in online spaces that are designated to help queer people find love or sex or any contact we desire. 16-year-old queer people are exposed to the profiles that violently state "No Fems and No Fats," and we feel that by expressing our femininity the way we do, we are not only fighting a genocide against femininity in our community but we are liberating those who feel unsafe and unlovable expressing their femininity.
What is it like being QTIPOC in South Africa? How do both heterosexual black folk and white people interact with South African QTIPOC?
Although the constitution claims to protect the rights of QTIPOC in South Africa, the reality proves otherwise. Hate crimes are often left unattended due to the deeply internalized homophobia that prevails in the country. Our lives are not treated with dignity as we do not fall under the dogma of religion or supposed African beliefs that were alternated by colonialism, demonizing queerness. Either black communities like townships can be free or violent spaces for QPOC. There are cases where the community does not react negatively but also there have been many incidents where QPOC have died from severe hate crimes. At some point, there was a massacre on black lesbian women in townships. A lot of these cases were not followed. This proves how unsafe it is, and white communities either fetishize or reject QTIPOC; if you’re not the model citizen, token QTIPOC, then you’re an intruder.
It is difficult to exist in spaces like school or workplaces where the oppressive force of heteronormativity rules. There are supportive structures that exist to assist queer persons but sometimes that's an issue of accessibility. As a QPOC from the township, you may stand at a disadvantage.
Also, there isn't enough visibility of black trans folk and this may be due to the fact that the majority of the people in the country are uninformed about trans issues or what it even means to be trans. Even within the queer community, trans lives are overlooked; there is a stronger focus on gay or lesbian issues. Our work celebrates trans identities in the way that we shamelessly explore our limitless queer identities, affirming resistance through self-actualization.
This is a bit off topic but is important to you to showcase the myriads of black queer relationships, specifically love relationships? Do you think it's hard for black queers to find love and be in relationships? I see being in love, loving yourself, and being in a relationship almost sort of a privilege that I see white gay people being able to access but not for QTIPOCS.
Finding love as a queer person of color could mean many things. You may find love in community or nightlife. Romantically speaking, it is a bit of a challenge as often there’s a recycling of heteronormative ideals that prevent us from loving each other. We are also still dealing with a lot of childhood trauma experienced from suppressing our identities. The lack of visibility of queer lives hasn't allowed us to have tangible references of what it could mean for queer people to love each other romantically. The concept of self-love does, at times, come under the umbrella of privilege, considering the prevalence of poverty that may force some queer people into sex work - these kind of situations need us to question the concept of self-love -- that maybe it may exist in a way that doesn't dehumanize the survivor.
What are your goals as FAKA and how far are you willing to go to fulfill your mission?
Our mission as FAKA is to teach complexities, to create visibility, to humanize and we are willing to go as far as the distance.
For more of FAKA’s work, visit faka-blog.tumblr.com and follow both Fela & Desire on Twitter.
Like Faka on Facebook as well.
At this point of Gucci Mane's career and the hundreds (probably thousands) of songs he's released in the past decade, there's probably enough material from his slang and colorful punch lines to create a dialect and subculture. His first single, "So Icey", has grown into an adjective for all things fresh, at least in Baltimore. Got some exclusives shoes? "Them bitches icey." Heard a new beat that's fire? "Damn, that beat icey." If you're icey, you're doing something right.
A rapper that I just found out about from a friend took that into consideration when naming himself; Baltimore's Icey Mike is an offspring of Gucci Mane's playful and boastful vocal aesthetic, and at times, a refreshing rewind back to the LimeWire days of the internet where finding random lo-fi offerings from rappers who tagged their music with phrases associated with popular artists was a regular occurrence. That's not a diss, though; it's more of a thank you. The bulk of Icey Mike's In The Snow tape is like a hybrid of Chicken Talk-era Gucci Mane and the early 90's horror core that Three 6 Mafia was releasing. His random metaphors about how high he gets is the Guwop side while the choppy flow over dirty, muffled production can be attributed to early Lord Infamous and Koopsta Knicca -- all of whom were huge influences on Baltimore culture in the late 90's to the mid 2000's.
In The Snow doesn't escape too many rap conventions, as most of the tracks detail his preferred ways of getting high, women and steering clear of flutes (lames) but it's the playfulness in his delivery that makes things interesting. He tries his hand at singing on "Bent Behind Tent" where him being off-key is actually a plus. On "6 AM," he wakes up, gets fucked up and heads to the studio. And although getting into lyrical pockets doesn't come consistently, he occasionally finds zones. On "Icey Avalanche", he flows: "You know I' bent behind tint, smelling like a pound of kush and Reggie Bush is your scent/ I'm 'bout to be major, Bitch I'm balling just like I'm Peja/ Stojakovic, I gotta get rich so I can ball on my haters."
With a Twitter account that hasn't been updated since the tape dropped on October 21st and a private Instagram profile, it's unclear on what Icey Mike has to come but his contribution to what feels like a sub genre of Gucci-esque raps is proper music to vibe to. Stream In The Snow below:
Over the summer, we spoke to Baltimore-based DJ and producer HI$TO on the eve of his performance at Trillectro. During that sit-down, he talked about his debut project of original music, Yung Spvce Cadet, getting through a period of depression and making a reality out of his dreams. Part of those dreams he planned on realizing was to have a more productive year than he's ever had with making music and taking steps in his musical career. It seems as if he's accomplished that and as a celebration of grind this year and his birthday month, HI$TO just dropped $TOVEMBER, a mix comprised of trap, house, club and juke tracks he's done this year including edits of Puffy's "Workin", Fetty Wap's "1738", an original cut called "Do What You Want" featuring Mr. 14th and DK The Punisher and more. Stream $TOVEMBER below:
Follow HI$TO on Twitter
Back in March, I found East Baltimore's Dakidd Moo through his "Just Bars" video and was pleasantly surprised by his distinct, raspy voice which cuts through each line, prompting you to pay attention to his tone alone before you get to content. Since then, Moo has been making his rounds by releasing loose tracks, performing at our FLATOUT party in September and dropping his Narcoticz mixtape last month. Today, he delivers a video for the project's title track which covers his complex relationship with narcotics -- the money he's made from them, his need to consume them and the cops who are out to get him for them. Peep the Visual Que-shot video below.
Follow DaKidd Moo on Twitter
This past Saturday, BaltiGurls, a Baltimore-based art collective of black and brown women, threw the first of their Edge Control party at EMP Collective in downtown Baltimore. The packed-out show, which was decorated with the collective's merch, projections of black hair commercials and wavy hair graphics had sets by Joy Postell & The Breedz, Trillnatured, Sneaks and DC's Kleonaptra. Below are photos from Edge Control by Branon Price and a few snagged from party-goers' Instagram posts.
Back in April, we spoke to Baltimore's eccentric, harmonizing rapper Al Rogers Jr. upon the release of his track "BlueGreen". At that point, he was gearing up to release his second project which was set to be titled Baby Al and spoke about the role of love in his work: "Love is the most important factor in my life. Without it, I would not have any drive to continue at all; it's the origin of passion and the origin of hate. My music from the beginning has always been very personal and it's not just about falling in love, it's about the act of love itself."
Today, Rogers released his second project, Luvadocious (instead of Baby Al) -- an alternate universe where God (Godina),who is played by long time local radio personality Ladawn Black, is a woman -- which stays true to his desire for love, getting through trying relationships, family struggles and overcoming odds. Luvadocious is solely produced by Baltimore-based producer Drew Scott and features Joy Postell, Baltimore club legend Blaqstarr, and Blacksage. Stream the album below:
QTIPOCS On The Block is a new column by Abdu Mongo Ali (best know as the performer, Abdu Ali) which celebrates young, driven queer, trans, and intersex artists of color.
Born in Long Island, Elliott Brown is a Brooklyn-based photographer and when experiencing his work I’m gifted with feelings of security, solidness and swank.
I wanted to talk with Elliott after digging into his work, which was suggested by mutual friend, Devin Morris, of 3 Dot Zine, but I already had gotten a glance of it on the musician SerpentWithFeet’s Instagram, where Elliott’s photos of the artist for Dazed Digital were posted. Through those photographs you can instantly see how visceral, honest, and unapologetic Elliot’s work is; no shade, it woke me up which is a desperate feeling in today’s oversaturated creative world. To be real, I wanted to write about him because he is me. My people would see Elliott’s photographs as vital not only to our existence but to our growth within this world. His work provides not only a relative expression, but also solidarity -- an on-demand noun both in the analog and virtual world within my community. I am here for that and so is he.
What lead you to start doing photography and what compels you to keep shooting?
Elliott Brown: I started photographing random shit at the mall and members of my family when I was younger. I watched America's Next Top Model, but only for the photo shoots. For some reason I didn't get that Nigel Barker was a professional photographer that made a living from his work. Once I realized you could make money from photographing, I decided I'd pursue it and my visions more seriously. Which is not to say I'm only here for money. I was more so excited that I could create something, be passionate about it, and make money from it. The second I realized this is what I wanted to commit to, I made it as much a part of my life as I could. Originally, I wanted to be a fashion photographer because that made the most sense to me because it’s usually dramatic, ornate, and glamorous. Once I got to NYU, I was encouraged to work outside of fashion in order to apply that vision to fashion later on. I don't necessarily want to work in fashion anymore, but I do want to work commercially. Editorial and advertising are still incredible opportunities to push ideas that haunt and submerge viewers.
Also, photography and visuals have become ways for me to process and understand my life. They are chronicles of my development; the person I am and want to be can be understood in what I've produced and the potential of it.
In your series “Foundations”, you explore and magnify the black body. The photos seem to be commenting on the exploitation and stereotyping of the black gay body, what are you trying to communicate to the viewer?
“Foundations” is like a diary: notes and reflections. It is my history, to date. It’s a compilation of images that are seeds for larger projects more than it is an actual series. The majority of images that are available of black gay men depict us as one of two options: the antithesis of white gay men--brooding, unfeeling, towering--or the antithesis of black heteronormative men--flamboyant, weak, superficial. These images are obviously insufficient and they don't reflect me or the wealth of black gay and queer men that I've met. Being a gay man is unfortunately informed by really stupid categories -- bottom, top, bear, leather, twink, otter, etc--and they dominate how gay men understand and relate to one another. I'm usually read as a twink and men assume that I'm submissive and can be taken advantage of. All of my behaviors are then extensions of my identity as a twink. I don't think I need to explain how limiting and stupid that is. I photograph myself so that I can dismantle any fear or shame that I've felt in defying these options. For that reason, a lot of my work is staged in public places. I want to access that tension.
You are in a lot of your photos. Why is that? I also like that when you are in your photos you give direct eye contact to the camera. Is that intentional?
I think most photographers end up photographing themselves out of sheer convenience and availability. It can be daunting to have to wait to work on an idea because someone isn't available. In the past people were less receptive to what I wanted to do. But, I would never ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn't do or if I didn't trust myself to engage the person I'm photographing appropriately and collaboratively. So, I turned to myself and found there was a wealth of shit I wanted to talk about that my own body could articulate.
My early self-portraits were working through the realization of my sexuality. Very simply, what does it mean to be gay? Is my experience as a black person linked in that meaning? I spent seven years interrogating my sexual identity. With so much of my experience being only in my head, I needed a way to confront it. First, by actually being intimate with other men. Then as sex became less fulfilling outside of the physical, I decided to document and abstract those experiences to further reflect on them. A lot of what I was doing was very gestural and performative--from signaling to men in the park that I was interested to parodying my social identity to suit others' favor or make it seem like I was enjoying what I was doing. I wanted to interpret what was theatrical about my identity--what social parameters informed my interests and the relationships I sought. That lead me to investigating my interest in white men. I struggled deeply with being black. Like most young black children who attend integrated schools and live in primarily white neighborhoods, I didn't realize my blackness until I realized it was different and apparently not in the way that meant you were special. Even as all my friends were black, the cultural lexicon I was most fluent in was black, the things I enjoyed most came from and were done by black people. Yet, I would observe white people and wonder deeply about them. What did they feel?
I didn't accept that I was gay until my first year of college, so all of my early interests in white men were characterized by admiring and wanting to be them. What I thought was merely an aesthetic interest or preference, ultimately translated into a disdain for myself, and a lack of trust in who I could be. It became necessary for me to do this project on my relationships with white men because it forced me to clearly identify the issue and be critical of it. The love and desire I sought in those relationships was regressive. Making direct eye contact in the images is a way for me to arrest myself and the viewer.
How do you feel about the imaging and narrative of the black male queer body in mainstream and underground American media?
LOL. The mainstream is always teetering between respectability and subversion. There is always a compromise in that visioning. Since there is a thirst for that relentlessness which is missing in a mainstream context, the underground can do that. I think also, because the mainstream is so predetermined and illusory, there's little room for responsiveness. The underground is determined and upheld by the environment it exists in, so it is constantly in conversation with the audience in a way that the mainstream can't be. Underground media sounds like my friends and communities. I think about people like you and Serpentwithfeet, and how comforted I am by what y'all are so relentlessly giving. I think about Kearra Amaya Gopee, who doesn't explicitly work with black male queer bodies, but works with imaging blackness as it exists within the Caribbean diaspora. Her work and palette expand on the internal productions of race. I think about Serena Jara, who makes empowering images of friends who have transitioned with her into womanhood. She reminds me that as a photographer you hold a lot of power and that it's important to collaborate with who you're photographing to negotiate and offset that power. These are just a few of the people that inform my understanding of underground media. The underground, from this view, is honest, accountable, self-aware, responsive, and mutating.
Do you think it is important for blacks to own the images of our identity and present them in a public platform by our own terms?
100%. There is a thirst for rich, intelligent depictions of black people, especially those that defy respectability, don't operate exclusively out of the past, and are inclusive of the various ways in which black people access, perform, and comprehend their blackness. That being said, it's important for black people of any and all varieties to visualize their realities and fascinations.
Your photos have a lot of velocity and bluntness, and they have this provocative exposition in them. Why do you stick with that aesthetic?
Right now, I'm just playing around and experimenting, seeing what speaks to me aesthetically and what doesn't. For the most part I've nailed down what I want to discuss in my work--how is race, specifically blackness, produced in an intercommunal manner? Regardless of the extent to which we agree on our position in America and how we've dealt with our past, we've been able to identify the hand responsible for this conversation in the first place. So let's look at us. What characterized our upbringing? Where have we been the most afraid? What don't we know about one another? What challenges are there in loving each other? How are we feeling? Those are the questions I'm interested in right now, as far as race goes. I'm far too proud of my blackness to only acknowledge it in its relationship to oppression.
What is on your brain right now as a photographer? What is the thing you want to talk about now or in the future?
I think a lot about the response to black and queer work being a pigeonhole. Blackness is so expansive, especially in its relationship to queerness. There's so much I've yet to discover, put together, or touch on. So how can something so limitless be perceived as limiting? That says to me that only one narrative regarding blackness is of interest: the one that is in constant tension with oppression. And of course it is that. This isn't an erasure or a desire to no longer work with that aspect of blackness but I'm equally as invested in black diversity and expressing that.
Elliott Brown is a student at NYU and his work has also been featured on Butt Magazine, New York Magazine, Afropunk and Gayletter. Go to his website to check out more of his work: www.elliottbrownjr.com
I met up with JPEGMAFIA -- the punk-leaning newcomer to Baltimore's DIY rap scene -- at his girlfriend's studio in the city's Bolton Hill neighborhood earlier this week where we spoke over jerk chicken dinners. A recent transplant to Baltimore, the 26-year-old, born Barrington Hendricks, surveyed the city's scene from his military housing in Japan in hopes of moving back to the states, somewhere close to New York but not as expensive to pursue a career in music. Over the past few months, JPEG has made it a goal to collaborate with as many artists as possible, quickly making a name for himself in underground circles for his candid, yet occasionally satirical take on liberal racism and the tension it creates.
Having moved to Baltimore shortly before April's Uprising, JPEG made Darkskin Manson -- a 40-minute "fuck you" to all anti-black sentiments with track titles like "Cops Are The Target", "Mask On The Masters" and "I Wipe My Ass With Confederate Flags" -- as he watched the city erupt over Freddie Gray's alleged killing by the Baltimore City Police Department. It was a spark to an amber that had been burning inside of him since his adolescence. Born in New York to Jamaican parents, Hendricks spent the bulk of his childhood in East Flatbush, Brooklyn -- a neighborhood deeply rooted in West Indian culture and black pride -- bouncing from place to place due to rough circumstances at home. That experience of Black Utopia was uprooted when his mom abruptly moved them to Alabama when JPEG was 13, where he had his first experiences with overt racism. It was also in Alabama where he first started to study rap music as a genre, having been exposed to mostly reggae for the majority of his life.
After a short stint in prison due to a racially-charged altercation in his late teens, JPEG joined the military where he'd be deployed to different parts of the world, meeting fellow artists and adding new elements to his producing and rapping repertoire. He moved to Japan and formed a group called Ghost Pop where he gained a local buzz in Tokyo before returning to the U.S. As we sat and ate, we talked about how each stop he's made in his 26 years has influenced his artistry, how he now deals with racism and how he plans to inspire fellow black people to act on their anger, instead of suppressing it.
Was your experience of living in Alabama the foundation for your musical content? Because most of it deals with racial tension.
JPEGMAFIA: Almost exclusively. But New York is too because I lived around nothing but niggas. East Flatbush was like Niggalopolis. I was surrounded by black-owned businesses so I came up with a weird point of view when it came to race. At that point, I didn’t feel like I was being held back for being black because my community instilled the whole black power ideology into my head, even though I hadn’t applied it to anything. When I moved to the south I learned what racism truly was and it’s not what everybody thinks it is. It’s not people riding round with the Klan on horses. It’s a lot sneakier. It’s like this quote from Eddie Griffin that I like: “People don’t say nigga anymore. They say ‘We’re not hiriing.’” I went through so much shit in Alabama. My first day of school, some white dude pulled up to me while I was walking and spit on me and drove off.
Your last project is titled Darkskin Manson. Are you inspired by Charles Manson in some way?
Not at all. I’m just appropriating his name. I’m just stealing his shit and using it the way I want, how white people do to us. He wasn’t doing it right. He’s a failure to me. He’s celebrated but he didn’t really do anything but brainwash a few stupid people.
What were you listening to growing up?
I came up listening to a lot of reggae with my dad but Dipset was like my first introduction to rap. My favorite rapper of all time is Ice Cube, though. That’s where I get the inspiration for my delivery and even my lyrical content. To me, he was the first rapper I heard as a kid to talk about black power but not in a preachy way. It was like, ‘We’re angry so let’s do something about it.’ Our anger is always so suppressed. White people can have the KKK and all these hate groups for no fucking reason but when we get angry it scares the shit out of people so they try to shut it down ASAP.
What was your music like when you first started making it?
My music was always about what it is now but it didn’t sound anything like my music does now. Cam’ron is where I got my first rapping style from and my production because he would always use the chipmunk samples. I always wanted to know how he did that then I started looking it up and realized that he was just using other songs. I wasn't even listening to him when I lived in New York. When I first moved to Atlanta, a guy I went to school with gave me the first Diplomatic Immunity like, “Yo, you're from New York. You’ll fuck with this.” So I was on some real hip-hop, soul-sampling, elitist shit. I liked a lot of punk music too like Bad Brains. I really liked punk music for the energy and not the content because most of it is trust fund baby bullshit. I wanted to harness that energy and put something to it that was actually worth being angry about. That’s why I liked Ice Cube.
Did your military experience make your music different?
Yeah because I came across a lot of artists there. I met a guy named Enso who’s on some of my stuff and we lived in Japan together and made a group called Ghost Pop. But my music changed mostly because being in the military is a stressful environment. I made a lot of beats overseas when I was deployed in Iraq, living in really small spaces where people were throwing little bombs at us nonstop. I really had to time when I made beats because of the environment and also I couldn’t record so I was writing a lot. But having so much time on my hands, I really got to harness my skills from practicing and studying people. Ghostface for the flow. NaS for lyricism. Ice Cube for delivery. Wayne for his non sequiturs. Jay for his wordplay. In the military we only got one day off which was Saturday for me so on Thursday I would download albums because the internet was slow it took a whole day to download an album (laughs).
How did you navigate through the Tokyo scene to gain recognition? Was that difficult as a foreigner?
I had lot of help. We had two Japanese people in the group and they were already connected within the scene. One of them was in the military so, based on that, I had a place to stay. Plus, a lot of stuff in Tokyo is in English so it wasn’t hard to get around. If I’d went there by myself and hit the ground running, I would’ve had a harder time.
You moved to Baltimore just before The Uprising. What effect, if any, did that have on your work?
I recorded the whole Darkskin Manson the week of The Uprising and put it out the week after. It had a profound effect because I was actually proud that people rioted and got angry. A lot of times they want us to shut up, hold hands and pray.
You were studying the Baltimore scene before you even got here but who’s been your favorite to work with since you came? Who are you learning from?
The first person I made songs here with is :3lon. I’ve made so much music with him. We actually have an EP coming out together. I really like working with Butch Dawson because we both are one-take kind of artists when we make stuff. I’ve probably learned the most from Abdu Ali; the way he records is really interesting. He doesn’t know much of the mechanical aspect of recording, but it comes together so well for him. It’s like a gift.
What does an :3lon and JPEGMAFIA project even sound like? Individually, your music is so different.
We hang out all the time and like the same kind of music so we wanted to create. We’re using my kind of production which is more industrial with his input and voice. We’re completely different but the same all at once. But it’s really genre-bending, which we both like. It’ll be bouncy but industrial. I also have an EP with Grey Dolf coming and another solo project called Black Ben Carson.
What experience do you want to create for people who listen to your music?
The only people I ever talk to is niggas ‘cause nobody ever talks to us. I talk about a lot of liberal racism. I just want people to get out of this turn-the-other-cheek mindset. I’m not saying I want niggas to kill people but don’t be a bitch about it. That’s the goal right now. But artistically, I just wanna create an environment like a Death Grips or a metal show, but with black people and shit that we’re angry about. I wanna create an environment for us to come get loose and say "Fuck all this shit." Death Grips is cool but they make music for hipsters. They talk about abstract shit that don't mean nothing. So I wanna take that energy and infuse it with shit that’s relevant to niggas in the hood.
Originally edited and published by The Fader.
Last month, news surfaced online that Baltimore’s legendary nightclub, The Paradox, will be closing in mid-2016. Open since 1991, The Dox, as it was locally known, was a sanctuary for Baltimore club music, sometimes referred to as “Bmore club.” A face-paced evolution of Chicago house that grew out of the Baltimore scene in the late ‘80s, Bmore club draws on breakbeats, claps, and vocal samples of vulgar outbursts. The genre’s most consistent platform in the city, The Dox has played host to everyone involved in its scene over the years, including late DJ and radio host K-Swift, Baltimore club pioneer Scottie B, and genre-bending artist Blaqstarr. Since the closure announcement, Facebook has been abuzz with sentimental recollections of locals’ favorite nights at The Dox but, unfortunately, a venue closing in 2015’s urban America is hardly a surprise, especially one that hasn’t been vibrant since the mid-to-late ‘00s, when K-Swift and co were a staple on local radio and at high school events across the city. With a staggering shortage of venues and little air time, Baltimore club as a scene has been fading fast in recent years.
The music, however, lives on—in part because, like rap, Baltimore club has a therapeutic appeal. Some of its most iconic songs speak to the pain that often comes hand-in-hand with inner city life and, at times, how to mend those wounds: Rod Lee’s “Dance My Pain Away” (2005), Miss Tony’s “Living In The Alley” (2001), and Big Ria’s “Hey You Knuckleheads” (1996) for example. That universal language of healing is also what helped Baltimore club take root outside its borders. In the early ‘90s, New Jersey producer DJ Tamiel was inspired to create the slightly faster Jersey club, and then in the early ‘00s, Philadelphia producers DJ Dwizz and DJ Sega pinballed off it to develop the manic-paced Philly club. Baltimore club’s influence also moved Diplo and M.I.A. to make a pilgrimage to its birthplace and learn the craft for themselves, spreading the genre to worldwide platforms in the mid 2000’s, giving life to tracks like M.I.A’s “U.R.A.Q.T” (2005), a bonus from Arular that uses the blueprint from classic Baltimore club track “You Big Dummy”, and Kala’s “World Town” (2007), an evolution of Blaqstarr’s “Hands Up Thumbs Down”.
Thanks to its persistent rhythm, Baltimore club has also found its way through the cracks into a more mainstream context over the past couple of years. In 2013, Bmore producer Matic808 received acclaim for remixing Kanye West’s entire Yeezus album into a Bmore club mix, and more recently, Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang landed a deal with 300 Entertainment, in part because of April’s “Bank Rolls,” which uses a Rod Lee beat. The infectious track’s Baltimore club production has been linked to the city’s uprising back in April, when residents stood up against local police for their alleged involvement in the death of 25 year-old Freddie Gray, who died the same day the track dropped, on April 19th. Even if unintended, the song’s release date, shouting out of specific neighborhoods, constant radio play and unofficial Instagram dance contests have served as local upliftment and unity since Gray’s death.
Now a new documentary from an unexpected perspective is re-evaluating Bmore club’s importance. Baltimore Where You At?, above, is the work of French director Tim Moreau, who was inspired to dig into Bmore club’s vaults after getting hooked on Diplo’s take on it in the late 2000s. Moreau’s background is with an activist film collective called Regarde à Vue—his work often circles politics and socio-economic struggles—so his fascination wasn’t just with the music, but also in the social climate of the city that bred it. Which is why, in between 2011 and 2012, he took three solo trips to Baltimore to make that happen. Here, he discusses which artists he chose to profile, the obstacles of shooting in unfamiliar neighborhoods and Baltimore club’s lasting influence on he and his work.
There are a few standard preconceptions about Baltimore: boarded up houses, high drug use, crime and everything else from “The Wire.” Was all of that what initially drew you to the city or was it club music from the start?
Tim Moreau: Club music first. I started listening to it around 2007. It's the music that first made me familiar with Baltimore. Searching for more Baltimore club music-related articles brought me to Baltimore in a larger perspective.
Do you remember what it felt like when you first heard club? Where were you?
I started listening to Baltimore club when I was living in the south of France, in a very quiet small village of 700 inhabitants, far from big cities. I grew up in the French suburbs so I was fond of hip hop culture, dancehall music, and Jungle/drum'nbass and more electronica music. The first time I heard it, I felt it was a perfect mix between urban and more electronic music. It was like the first time I heard something so raw, so rhythmic and so good to dance to.
When I first heard it, I was alone in my room, headphones on my ears and I danced like crazy in front of my computer. And to be honest, it wasn’t "real" Baltimore club but some MIA and Diplo track. Finding information on those kinds of songs is what made me want to know Bmore club and more tunes that sounded that way. Then I was hooked.
Did growing up in the French suburbs make Baltimore club and the culture that bred it more palatable to you? How do you personally connect to it?
In a way, yes. The French suburbs are like American inner-city neighborhoods; some places are calm, others pretty "ghetto". I grew up in between those two worlds, so I guess I was pretty influenced by all the rap music and urban culture that is predominant in youngsters’ taste in music. In the same way, audience and genre were (and are still) pretty separated from each other. Rap and dancehall is for the kids in the ghetto, and techno/house is for the suburban kids (in the way Americans understand suburbia).
My music background and appreciation, my analysis and my curiosity helped me learn and love club’s style. I was the only one I knew listening to it in France. For lots of people in my circle, it was maybe too rough and hard to understand to really love it.
Before coming to Baltimore, did you have a vision of what you wanted your film to look like and how you wanted to affect people?
Yeah. I had a pretty clear view on what I wanted to show and tell. My aim was really to connect the city’s socioeconomic background and its music; how a music, as raw as it is, helps people forget about hard times. All that is said in "Dance My Pain Away" by Rod Lee. If you're not from the U.S., club music may sound "dumb" or without a message, but I've tried to hear a message in it from the beginning stages of discovering it. I know that it was something special behind it, something more serious than it sounds sometimes. The rhythm is the message, and the rhythm is so crazy and raw that I tried to underline the link I’m talking about. Of course, those are unconscious links but my aim was to make them visible. And of course, I wanted people to love Baltimore club and to know the real story. I wanted to tell the people that Bmore club music is not (only) Diplo and Hollertronix. That Baltimore club was here before all of that and it has a long story just as important as hip hop, house and blues for me. That it is a major musical movement that is very influential to the mainstream music of today. But, I don't know if I managed to do so. Time was pretty short for the shooting, and maybe I was too much of an out-of-towner to get it totally. At least I've tried.
As a documentarian, being an out-of-towner can work in your favor, though. I think what a Baltimorean shooting this might have missed is the nuance. Like, we've seen vacant houses our whole lives. We may not have spent so much time showing them the way you did but it was crucial to the storyline.
For me, the opening scene tells all what I wanted to tell through the movie. Baltimore club is not bullshit; it has a real message. If I re-did the movie today, I think I would show less of the vacant houses but to be honest, it's probably the first thing you see when coming to Baltimore from an out-of-towner or a foreigner’s perspective. I guess it felt "exotic" in some ways but it shows the background too. I felt like it made no sense to show the inner harbor or Mt Vernon to tell the story of Baltimore club.
It's like if you give a camera to an American to tell the story of French rap. The first thing he is probably filming will be the high rises of Clichy or La Courneuve. But, yeah, It's pretty hard to nuance it, I get it.
I noticed that the majority of people profiled were of the pioneering generation of club music. Do you think you would have gotten so many layers and depth if you profiled younger artists and producers in the scene?
Maybe...I don't know. Thing is, I first came to Baltimore in 2011 and shot in 2012. My first contacts in Baltimore were from the old school. The only younger artists I met and shot with were TT and Schwarz. In the editing process, I felt that it was more important to go deep in the roots of the genre. Plus, spending so little time there, I felt it was too big of a mission for me to document the scene as a whole and besides Mighty Mark, TT and Schwarz, I didn't know too much of the young scene.
Shooting with the pioneers made me understand how it was important for them to tell the story, to take the time to do so, in a non-MTV format. I've seen a few short docs on Bmore club but I always felt like it was missing time to go deeper. That's often the problem with mainstream TV when they document sub-cultures.
How did the non-club experiences affect you? Like the scene with Johnny going to church. It felt like him being there helped carry out the film’s overall narrative without actually SAYING anything.
At first, I wanted more "non-club" sequences in the movie. Like people, characters living their everyday lives but besides Johnny, I missed that. I felt that American people were pretty used to the camera when it came to regular interviews but were more uncomfortable to be shot in everyday life. But again, extra time was missing for me. I had one more month to meet the people for real and not just to spend a few hours with them. I wanted to shoot some scenes in a church because Bmore club reminds me of gospel: repetitive rhythm and words that lead a trance-like feeling. I feel that non-fiction is more effective without words. Like if you show some Baltimore streets, you won’t have to put words on it. Like, "See for yourself, I don't have to tell you nothing. Form your own opinion on it"; Things that broadcast TV is not doing.
There was a scene dedicated to Miss Tony, the legendary Baltimore Club MC who was a drag queen and really our first club celebrity. What did Tony's existence within club tell you about him and Baltimore, considering that rappers who identify as queer are still widely shut out on a national and local scale throughout the U.S.?
If you listen to Bmore club AND if you're not open minded, you may say that Baltimore Club is a violent and sexist music (dick control, shake your ass, hoes, etc.). I felt it was important to say that the queer culture was overriding in the Baltimore club scene, as much as the presence of female artists in this scene. And, I felt that, even if Baltimore may seem very harsh, it's not a problem to be gay, or trans/queer and to be a leader of urban culture scene. I wanted to tell the audience "Yeah, Bmore club is raw as fuck, but it's not only a guy thing,” and like in every musical genre of the last few decades, the queer/gay scene is primordial. Plus, I wanted this scene to be a real tribute to Tony, because I heard many things about him. I felt it was justice to give Tony as much space in the movie as someone like Swift.
For a non-Baltimorean, that's a stance I haven't seen taken too often because, like you said, Tony is very much a local hero. He died before the mainstream got to us. From your perspective, was he just as vital as Swift?
I think so. According to people I interviewed, he was the first to shout lyrics on club. So, I felt it was important to tell his story in some way. I know that he was the first club “celebrity”, and for a scene that doesn't have too many, I felt that it was just justice to give him a shoutout. You can hear a real deep message in some of Tony' tracks like "Living In The Alley"; he’s shouting all the Baltimoreneighborhoods to promote unity in a city that needs some. It’s like he’s saying "Be proud of yourself, of your culture, and your city.”
Were any of the people you interviewed interested in how the culture of France's inner cities intersected with Baltimore's? Was anybody curious about your background?
In a way. I remembered some of the people I met asking if Baltimore club was known in France. I remember that I gave Scottie a Booba CD -- his first solo album. I don’t know if he listened to it. But in another way, I’d say no; I felt like the people I met didn't know too much about the urban French culture. We are a small country compared to the U.S. but one thing for sure is that people were pretty friendly with me and pretty amazed that I came alone to do this movie. Like, “The fuck is this skinny lonely white guy from France who wants to learn Baltimore club without being commissioned?"
As a white guy who speaks little English, did you experience any resistance while you were out in black neighborhoods filming?
No, I didn't feel any resistance. It was the opposite! It was crazy to see how easy it was to shoot, even in "hard" neighborhoods during daytime. People there were curious, and went crazy (in a good way) when I told them I was doing something about Baltimore club. For a lot of the people I met, Baltimore club was their teenage soundtrack. But, of course, I was aware of what to do and what not to do. Around drug corners, I just passed there and said hi, but I didn’t try to shoot anything, but that’s just normal; it’s the same here in France. I often felt that it was easier to shoot in Baltimore than in many French ghettos. Maybe due to the American architecture that is more "open" on the street level, than in France. Plus, people identified me pretty quickly as a foreigner so they were friendly when knowing that I came from so far to learn their culture. I had this funny experience at the U.S. boarders in New York, when an officer said to me, "Why the fuck do you want to spend time in Baltimore?"
While shooting in the streets, I was often with Patrick Joust, a Baltimore street photographer who knows the city well, so that helped a lot with learning the city's neighborhoods without doing some shitty ghetto tourism.
Even though you shot this between 2011-2012, the opening scene spends a good deal of time digging into the fabric of Baltimore and why it finds itself in the position it’s in. One thing you featured was a French broadcast of the riots in 1968 and, of course, the city rose up again this past April. This happens in France too which I learned from La Haine. Did spending time here help you empathize with the cities long history of pain and frustration?
Yes of course, it helped but I knew before. I knew the history before coming to Baltimore, and I felt, while being there, that the situation was full of injustice, oppression and segregation. I've seen so much poverty there and social despair while white folks and rich executives were heading to work downtown or in DC. You see it automatically when arriving in Baltimore. So, of course, being there helped empathize with the situation, because I saw it and felt it, not just read about it. That was one starting point of the movie too. Like, it's always in hard cities that the most powerful cultures are created in my point of view. Thing is, before doing the movie, I was in a mediactvist collective, doing small docs about social struggles in France and Europe, so I was aware of the fact that I wanted to tell that side of Baltimore too. I felt that an uprising was something that could happen, and is still a possibility in the future here.
What did you take away from Baltimore with you back home to France?
Some records: one original "I Got The Rhythm" by Scottie B , one Miss Tony EP and some breakbeats records. One or two boxes of Newports. I haven’t tried to bring back a chicken box, but I often think about it. Oh, yes, an Orioles cap too. Some Berger cookies...tourist things. But, last and not least, a deep love for the city and its people.
What would you hope people gain from “Baltimore Where You At?” What were you trying to prove to the world and to yourself?
I hope that people gain a better understanding of this city’s musical history. As I said, the genre is bigger than Diplo doing some Bmore-ish tunes. I want people to know that this genre is very important to music’s history, in general. I've tried to prove to the world, that even if a music genre has very few lyrics, it has a message and a social background. It makes sense. It has a sense.
Music like Baltimore club music is like a ruff diamond. Something strong, sharp, powerful and timeless. Something that can hide and eliminate your pain. Something that makes you want to look further, to forget your everyday life, and to be proud of what you are and what you want to be. For me, more personally, it helped me believe in myself and my projects. The first time I had the idea of making this film, I knew that it would be impossible to fund this, and to make it big. But I fought for five long years, making sacrifices, and struggling to make it happen, and finally, got to Baltimore three times, even if I was quite alone with this strange obsession with this music. It proves to me that if you come to a place like Baltimore with just love and passion for the people and the music, it is possible.
Earlier this year, Baltimore's manic, octave-switching JuegoTheNinety dropped his third solo project, Abandoned Mansions, which was yet another addition to his brutally personal rap catalog. The project's lead single, "When I Was A Boy", revisited a story of his father letting him fall to teach him a life lesson and touched on his insecurities with his rap career (being bluffed by A&R's, freezing up when freestyling, etc.) Like many of his tracks, his emotion climbs as time moves on, making his sentiments contagious as you listen. Now, almost a year after the single was released, Juego has a video to go along with it which features old footage of him, his brother, friends and dad. Through email, we briefly spoke about the song and video's significance:
At the start of “When I Was A Boy,” you question yourself a lot. Is that typical for you to self-analyze and is it helping you improve as an artist?
JuegoTheNinety: Yeah. You have to analyze yourself. Especially when you're trying to express yourself as honestly as possible. The whole purpose of talking to other people is to get to know them, but when you talk to yourself, you're crazy. How else do you really know you if you don't ask yourself questions about you? Rapping just makes me answer.
What does reliving this old footage of yourself rapping say to you about the path you're on right now?
I look at the footage as the birth of JuegoTheNinety and 9BMC. Not from the music standpoint, but more so the entertainment and brotherhood side. The earliest footage in the video is from 1998. It's from a movie called "Killers Arrive" that me, my father, and my brother (Witty Rock) wrote. My father directed it and shot it and me and my brother acted. Me and Rock used to always make movies with the camcorder after that but that started it. Then you see in the footage from like 2005 in the video we're freestyling all the time. Back then it was all about creating and having fun with your people and ain't shit change since then except wanting to get paid for it.
As it does for many people, your family and personal turmoil could easily turn you into a hermit. What is it about aggressively rapping that serves as some sort of salvation for you instead of getting out those emotions some other way?
I just feel like the topics that end up being typed into my phone need to have the matching tone to make you feel how they make me feel. It's how I hear it when I think about those type of things. Frustration's an emotion that pushes you. Lucky for me, there's a lot of frustrated people out here that feel me.
Watch "When I Was A Boy" below:
Baltimore's Basement Rap collective, which is made up of rappers Butch Dawson, Black Zheep DZ, Ryan P and a host of other artists, photographers, videographers and graphic designers just released the newest installment of their monthly Basement Rap Radio mix. Each mix is comprised of unreleased tracks by the crew and friends, instrumentals and comedic drops by whoever is around for the process (think Radio Los Santos). November's offering features a trap cut by Butch Dawson, guest verses from :3lon and DIY scene newcomer JPEG Mafia, and tracks by Black Zheep DZ and Ryan P. It also ends with an announcement of the collective's Basement Rap Artshow which goes down this Sunday from 2-8 p.m at Pipe Dreamz Clothing (879 N. Howard St) featuring photography and paintings by Ms3, video installations by Shido and Curtis Yuille and new merch. Stream November's mix below:
Next week we'll be helping celebrate the two year anniversary of Baltimore's bi-monthly party, KAHLON which is curated by Abdu Ali, Lawrence Burney of True Laurels and DJ Genie. It goes down on Saturday, November 7th at The Crown (1910 N. Charles St) with sets by DJ Angel Baby, Abdu Ali, DJ Juwan, Abhi/Dijon, Black Sage, Phizzals, Genie and a DJ set by Dan Deacon. Since the first installment in November 2013, KAHLON has been blessed by artists like Jungle Pussy, B L A C K I E, Princess Nokia, Lor Scoota and more. Look out for the True Laurels-curated zine section too!
Kush Jones is a DJ and producer, born and bred in New York City. Drawing influences from relatively niche, yet hugely influential, dance scenes in NYC and Chicago, Jones is a standout artist in the Jersey club and footwork scenes which have exploded in popularity in the last couple of years. Jones has an ear for sampling, and will infuse a song with anything from early R&B vocals, to the ubiquitous “Why the Fuck You Lyin’?” vine. The end result is a slew of songs that will make you dance and put a smile on your face.
Jones has an EP due out on trill.wav Records. With no firm release date yet, he’s working on crafting a project that's a perfect mixture of his trademark soulful, humorous and sporadic sound. I recently got to chat with the producer about his introduction to music, artistic goals and creative process.
What were your first memories of electronic and house music?
Kush Jones: I have a bad memory, and I consume a lot of music, so I don't really have a bunch of memories. However, "Gypsy Woman" by Crystal Waters makes me feel the same way today as when I first heard it as a kid.
What moment, or series of moments, influenced you to DJ? Were there any DJs/producers you looked up to?
One specific moment I can think of was the first time I got to play a live set at my brother Chong's crib. It was for Sim Simma Radio (link: https://soundcloud.com/teardropisfromnyc/kush-jones-ssrdtv-set-oct-13th) and I was preparing so hard for a 30 minute set. I wanted to make sure I played music that best represented where I wanted to go as far as my sound. It was my first time playing for people I didn't know.
I played the set on an APC20. Those things are built kinda janky. My whole bottom row of buttons stopped working after a month. I enjoyed the feeling of playing music I like and seeing positive reactions. I knew it was something I would want to do throughout life.
I have a ton of inspirations when it comes to DJs. A big one for me is DJ Paypal. He plays all my favorite kinds of music, and each time I listen to something from him it pushes the limit on what he did before. Suspect Bitch and DUCKY are two DJs I began watching recently. I listened to a mix they did a few weeks ago and those ladies are very talented. Women who DJ are just cool altogether because it's not the norm and guys in music are annoying for the most part.
Juke is still a relatively niche genre that was spread out of Chicago. Why did you choose to start playing juke and creating your own edits and tracks?
The reason juke and footwork stand out to me are because of the dance battle culture behind it. In NYC, we have “getting lite” or “lite feet” and when I saw video of Battlegroundz in Chicago it reminded me of the battles that used to happen all over NYC in different venues. Sample-based music is cool too; juke and footwork sampled some of the most soulful tracks to date.
What were your first few gigs like? What were the biggest lessons learned?
My first few gigs were cool because they were curated organically. Much of them came through friends and homies I performed or played alongside before. There was minimal stress and I was super comfortable.
If you get booked, make sure expectations from both sides are put on the table and discussed. In the end it'll prove to be beneficial for you and the venue/promoter to do so and it shows your professional and serious about what you do. If music is your livelihood then act like it.
How did you get hooked up with trill.wav Records?
They were a label that I came across while looking for outlets to get my music heard when I first started out. I sent them music and they were very open to what I presented. The first piece of music I have ever put out was through them. I have taken a very long time to put out an EP with them because I want it to be as perfect as possible.
What has been the process so far of the EP? Is there a central theme or concept behind it?
I have a ton of projects that I have worked on in Ableton the past two years. At this point I am just going back and cleaning up those projects and structuring them how I want them to sound. There isn't a real theme behind it. I just wanted to put the work from myself I enjoy listening to and have features from artist that I work well with.
What are your thoughts on online communities like Classical Trax?
I love Classical Trax and communities like it because it puts you in contact with people you thought were impossible to reach. It's a booming platform for artist to get their works out to even bigger mediums and I love them for that. Shoutout to Matt for getting it off the ground and everyone involved.
Sidebar though: the internet is a sus place. Sometimes people in internet communities don't really have anything contributing to say and that aspect of it sucks.
Do you ever get burnt out by music? What do you do when you want to get away from it?
If "burned out" means tired, then technically no. I definitely get frustrated with music all the time but it motivates and pushes me to overcome that. A lot of the time I feel like whatever I do next has to be better than what I have done previously. I necessarily don't know what that is or how to achieve it so I'll keep working until I know it feels and sounds right.
If I want to get away from music I either play video games or I'll go travel to see my friends and play video games with them.
Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with?
One super track with Feloneezy and Traxman. I also joked about making a bunch of tracks with Orange Julius and putting out a tape called Kush and OJ. I never proposed the idea to him directly but if he's down then I am bout it.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
Not sure. I've been blessed with family and friends that supported me financially so I can do what I do.
Before the highly anticipated “Love and Hip Hop: Out in Hip Hop” special, my mom and I watched cast-member Miles being pressured to explain his sexuality to his family after his ex-girlfriend Amber threatened to out him herself on “Love and Hip Hop: Hollywood.” There’s nothing unfamiliar about this scene for me: a queer black man asking his religious family to confront their ideas around sexuality and the importance of labels. “Make better decisions, Miles,” says one of his sisters. That’s when I began to feel uncomfortable. Every time I get uncomfortable watching reality television, I remind myself that it’s surreal. But this time, my coping technique failed. This scene reawakened my animosity towards the black church and the way religion is often used as armory in attempt to eradicate queerness from young black bodies. So many black kids have similar conversations with their families and are often left feeling ashamed and unsupported. I know from experience. I also know that this is not everyone’s reality. Miles tries to share his past thoughts of suicide and his sister quickly dismisses his statement, instructing him to not discuss death. That moment also felt way too familiar. The way our black families often perpetuate taboos while discussing unfamiliar topics like gender expression, sexuality and desire is such a subtle component to our social arena, it could easily be overlooked. In no way am I attempting to vilify the black community.
I received a text message from my friend Malcolm reminding me that there are other communities of people that actively promote intolerance against queer people like fraternities, sports teams and other hyper-gendered networks. This isn’t just a black issue. Intolerance is a social plague that most of us will encounter at one point or another, especially if you’re not a cis-white ‘masculine’ male body. The problem is the taboo around queerness and gender expression in black families, black churches and in hip-hop. We can’t possibly expect one panel to be the only agent advocating for more nuance conversations involving black queer youth and their families but we can hope that kids are using support groups like the one Vh1 kept promoting throughout to show to help them with questions they may be having. We have to start somewhere, right? I thought about transcribing the T.J Holmes-hosted panel but remembered that this is still a VH1 special that will more than likely air about 5,000 more times before the year ends. However, I was excited to see some familiar faces participate in the panel like Sharon Letterman Hicks, Big Freedia, Cakes Da Killa, Emil Wilbekin and Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels.
McDaniels explained that the hip-hop community has always tolerated gays as stylists, choreographers, anything behind-the-scenes -- they’re just not welcomed to be rappers. I thought about how obvious of a statement that was but kept reminding myself that this is a panel on Vh1 and no type of discussion has ever happened on a platform like this until now. I was annoyed all over again because if you’re actively checking for new music like I am, then you’re aware of projects like The Eulogy by Cakes Da Killa or Allure by Jay Boogie which are as much about queerness as they are hip-hop and are phenomenal because of that. There are also so many openly queer rappers! Has McDaniels not experienced these projects? It’s more than likely he hasn’t because like Buttahman, another panelist, explained: hip-hop is so much about being vouched for by bigger, more financially impactful artists that inform the masses. We’ve all seen examples of this. It’s sad and pathetic but true.
“Does the industry see value in a gay rapper?” Chuck Creekmur asks while explaining how he believes there’s a market for it now more than ever. “Hip-hop is based around the premise of knocking down doors,” says Creekmur. But is hip-hop still about knocking down doors? The panel begins to address the impact of language used in hip-hop, particularly words and phrases like ‘faggot’ and ‘no homo’. Most language has undergone an implosion of meaning. Everyone is an artist, feminist, queer or radical. Words just don’t mean what they used to. ‘Faggot’ and ‘DL’ are just urban buzzwords at this point. However, hearing ‘no homo’ took me back days in the high school hallways, where every boy was clarifying his hetero-normative position by saying ‘no homo’ whether it was before paying a friend a compliment or describing how another person looked. It never made much sense to me but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t unpleasant and incredibly violent. “As a black man, I love hip hop. Hip hop in many ways saved me when I was younger...hip-hop was our “black lives matter,” right? But at the same end, as a gay man, hip hop hurt me,” Clay Cane explained when addressing the role of language in hip hop.
I understood him completely. Hip-hop was the way you bonded with your black peers. I can’t begin to explain how conflicted I felt talking about rappers that probably would want no association with me. I was shocked at the amount of people that were rotating on to the panel like Reverend Delman Coates, an ally for queer black people in the black church, Pastor Kevin Taylor Smith, an out gay black pastor from the DC area, Clay Cane and Sharon Letterman Hicks who are both featured in video pieces that directly address the shortcomings of the black church acknowledging queerness. Hicks is a pivotal character in Yoruba Richen’s “The New Black” and Cane produced “Holler if You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church”. Both brilliantly introduce language like ‘theological violence’ and ‘spiritual violence.’ If you grew up black and in the church, how many times did you hear “hate the sin but love the sinner” when talking about homosexuality? Intolerance that’s not explicit but implied. As that moment lived out on the panel, I was taken back to my twelve-year-old self, sitting motionless in a pew at a non-denominational all black church on Chicago’s Southside as my pastor talked about homosexuality being sinful.
My mom is speechless at this point of the program. I’m feeling vulnerable again. I re-engage with the television as Coates talks about the need for biblical texts to be reclaimed and re-contextualized properly for black queer people to understand. This part made me feel the most optimistic about the panel because it’s important for queer black youth to know they have spiritual leaders they can reach out to that won’t try to “counsel” or “transform” them like Pastor Jamal Bryant, a panelist Skyping in. A lot of black kids grow up in the church and when an impactful network such as the black church shames us for who we are, that directly dismantles the way we value our own lives like Kamaro Brown, another panelist explained. Theological violence often attacks the morale in a body. It prohibits the body from living in truth. The Bible is a complex piece of writing and as I get older, I grow weary of people that use it as ammo to condemn folks. A spiritual practice without vulnerability is just extremism with a political agenda.
The part of the panel stuck out most was when an audience member informed the panel about October being LGBT history month, reminding us how important it is to remember that all black lives matter: black LGBT lives, HIV positive black lives, incarcerated black lives, indigenous and black trans lives. In this past year, over 20 black trans-women have been murdered. Another essential part of the panel is Cakes Da Killa addressing the over sensationalized trope of gay marriage as a symbol to persuade the masses that we are making strides towards a better nation. “It’s people that live on the pier… I feel like getting caught up in this whole gay marriage hysteria and pandemonium, we’re missing a lot of the smaller issues and the smaller battles that effect people of color.”
Do gay artists need to let us know they’re gay? What is our obsession with figuring someone out? Why do we sensationalize that component of an artist’s life for our entertainment? Something about this reminds me of Hester Prynne from The Scarlett Letter. Should all gay rappers decline on wearing ‘HBA’ and just wear a t-shirt with a big ‘H” for homo instead? I don’t get it. While we’re on the topic of fashion, can we all take a minute to realize how men in hip-hop have always been cunt? From the Sylvester inspired looks Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five wore to the photograph of Dr. Dre in a 2-piece sequined suit to Christopher Wallace in Versace. Men in hip-hop have always been femme and flamboyant but as consumers, we’ve made so many concessions for them to do that without acknowledging the source of their inspiration: Queerness. It’s the same way that so many rappers are wearing Hood By Air right now without knowing those clothes have lineage to the cunts in the New York City ballroom scene. The ‘masc’ is probably the most quintessential accessory for rappers. The ‘masc’ allows you to catcall, be aggressive, violent and body shame. The ‘masc’ allows you to love pussy but hate women. The ‘masc’ allows you to flex your muscles, grab your dick, be disgusting and talk down to people who don’t or can’t wear it without raising suspicion. The ‘masc’ is slowly but surely ruining hip-hop and ultimately ruining culture.
I’m not here to demonize straight men, but failing to address the privileges that straight men are granted would be aloof, especially when you have a little sisters that worry about protecting their transness daily, young queers that sleep on piers and talented queer rappers with songs that I can’t request to hear on my favorite hip hop station because chances are, the DJ will not jeopardize their job to play them. This all has to do with our participation in upholding a fragile template of masculinity. It’s the reason why there’s only one successful woman rapper and why we all thought it was a valid dig for one rapper to talk about another rapper dating a woman rapper that makes more money than him. I’m disillusioned, annoyed and bored as fuck with misogyny. I’m tired of buying into it. I appreciate the sentiment of VH1’s panel and all the visibility it created for artists like Big Freedia, Cakes and D. Smith, but if we’re talking about hip-hop, specifically music which is engrained in our culture, then what does it mean to be seen and not heard?
I find myself often forgetting that the things I consume are directly related to the way my body feels. Over time we become better at gauging what our bodies respond well to, but many people still feel too busy to be able to give ourselves what we need. For many people the fall/winter weather can cast a gloomy mood as our bodies respond to our environment. It is important that we take the time to cater to our mental, physical and emotional health.
Unfortunately for many people in this country, and around the world for that matter, this is not so easily done. Working day in and day out, whether by choice or circumstance, is the path most traveled. The idea of "taking the time" to do what is necessary for our bodies, has become a luxury that many of us can't afford to experience.
My mother always taught me not to verbally "claim" anything negative I didn't want or need, because by affirming them in our thoughts, words, and actions, they affect us. This is not to say that we have control over everything in our lives, and that if something bad has happened to you it is because you 'claimed it', but it is a reminder to be intentional with words, thoughts and actions; remembering that everything is mutable energy and romanticizing your own struggle can manifest real hardships.
That being said, I try not to claim "being too tired" or being "too exhausted to cook" because I know the source of my fatigue is a direct response to my actions; and as a young twenty something, I should have the energy. But I don't always eat as consistently as I should and I know I am not the only one.
In a study conducted by the IFIC (International Food Information Council) and the IFICF ( International Food Information Council Foundation) in 2013, they found that many young millennials between the ages of 18-35 have other factors in our lives, than previous generations, that affect the way we relate to food. Our lack of meal planning, skipping breakfast and other emotional triggers are a few pieces of what make our generation's general eating behavior.
In March, Business Insider released an article which revealed that the difference in millennial spending habits, as well as our working hours and time management, are major contributors to the way we eat and take care of our health. Many young people I know, don't work a 9-5 or simply don't have a routine work schedule that would allow the time to cultivate the eating habits our parents may have grown up with. What’s so interesting about this (for researchers) is that millennials are far more concerned about the quality of our food, yet we rarely act on our healthy ideals when it comes to eating out (restaurants and fast food chains), or purchasing food at the grocery store.
As part of a study, Millenial Marketing observed, "irregular work hours, time-shifted entertainment, and 24-hour access to games, shopping and communication are impacting more than just how we communicate, shop and consume entertainment. They are also impacting our eating habits... Multitasking now extends to meals- eating, whether alone or with family, often is an accompaniment to another activity such as the computer or TV, texting, or reading..."
When reflecting on the ways that we spend our time and money, and how that relates to food and health, I initially wanted to write about how we should spend more time taking care of ourselves, and how the way we eat is directly related to the way we feel and how much we are able to get done.
But doing just the slightest research on diets and food habits I remembered that talking about food is immediately related to class, and that there is really no way to innocently talk about how we should all just "eat better" and "treat ourselves" when there are still people who can't afford to do so. Inherently, we all have lead different lives and are able to support different lifestyles, but not all are as equal in access and quality as they should be. Eating organic and supporting local is great, but is expensive for more than just one person (and really even for just one person), let alone a family of four. There are so many things that affect our health, and the most direct is food. But the things that directly affect food choice are money, transportation, storage and the means to able to cook.
It is truly ridiculous that there are people dying from hunger and going without because of the amount of the amounts of money they don't make.
It’s hard to say what a mass solution to food injustice and insecurity will be, seeing as how capitalism is still concerned with profit instead of lives, but there are things that we can all try to do to support each other. The suggestion of a potluck is predictable but coming together to each contribute something to a larger meal is a great way to make sure everyone is fed and nothing is wasted. Many of us are used to the concept of taking a plate home from a large family gathering, but that is already a small, yet impactful act. This doesn't have to take place on the scale of a 15 person dinner every other night. There have been times when all I had in my fridge were some small helpings of vegetables and pantry items, but a friend of mine would only have a piece of protein. We would come together and make a meal that the two (or how ever many of us) could share. Another part of taking care of yourself is reaching out when you need help and having these experiences of communal meals as a part of relieving the food insecurity that some of us may be dealing with, but are too embarrassed or proud to admit.
Having two jobs that give me access to the food I need, has made me think a lot about the affordability of produce and healthy choices for people whose money and hard work aren't able to go as far as they should. It is easy to say "Eat Well" but harder to achieve; when we tackle these issues as a community and share our resources, we can start to further value the health and wellness of everyone.
For those who identify as young millennials concerned with social justice, we are catalysts for change in a world that needs help. We have a particular power as a political entity that is becoming stronger and must be looked after responsibly. There is no better way to start than with ourselves and with the lives around us, but this all requires an energy and a healthfulness that can be sustained and shared in order to grow.
Visual Qué? stopped through the fourth installment of our party, FLATOUT, to capture sets by Cakes Da Killa, Kelow, DJ Juwan, Dakidd Moo and Abdu Ali this past weekend. Peep the video above.
This past weekend we threw the 4th installment of our FLATOUT party with amazing sets by Cakes Da Killa, Kelow, Dakidd Moo, DJ Juwan and a surprise DJ set by Abdu Ali at The Windup Space in Baltimore. All photos by Antonio Hernandez. Stay tuned for our next show and much love to everyone who came out!