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Matic808: Laurels Mix

Lawrence Burney

As an exclusive for True Laurels Volume 5, Baltimore Club producer/DJ, Matic 808—who's featured in the issue—put together a sick club mix of select artists who've been featured in True Laurels so far. Songs from DonChristian, Abdu Ali, Chiffon, Butch Dawson and B L A C K I E are featured, with their vocals chopped, sped up and distorted. Artwork for the mix is provided by Denver-based artist, Antonina Clarke. Listen below! 

 


UNIIQU3: Gunning For Club Kween

Lawrence Burney

Today marks the release of True Laurels Volume 5! Below, read the issue's feature story on rising Jersey Club DJ and producer, UNIIQU3 and be sure to follow her on SoundCloud. Buy Volume 5 HERE

Photo: Ryan Lyons

Photo: Ryan Lyons

I’ll admit, I’m a bit late. Growing up in Baltimore, the only club music that ever existed to me was what came from my hometown. With Blaqstarr, Miss Tony, Rod Lee, K-Swift and all the other club legends being spoon-fed to me on the daily, I never felt the need to look elsewhere for similar music. But over the past year, with club music seemingly getting some of its best press since Diplo infiltrated the Baltimore scene, my curiosity for different variations of the genre has definitely elevated, leading me to dig deeper into the catalogues of Philly and Jersey artists. And while I’ve enjoyed the contributions that artists like Sliink, Nadus, Dirty South Joe and others have added to the culture, no one has gotten my attention like Jersey Club’s leading lady, UNIIQU3. So far this year, she’s been selected for Red Bull’s Music Academy in New York, played at Afropunk, and released a comprehensive history of club music with her mixtape, The New Klassiks. What could easily be looked at as an out-of-nowhere come up has actually been a life-long dedication to music from the Newark native. “I started off with music and the arts at a very young age,” UNIIQU3 tells me over the phone. “I play the piano and I was in dance classes where I was being exposed to classical music and ballet which were completely different from what I’d been hearing on the radio, obviously.” Eventually, UNIIQU3 branched out to auditioning for Broadway plays like The Lion King but didn’t take long to give that up as it was taking away from her everyday kid activities.

Her comfort with performance is still in full effect, though. At this year’s Afropunk while doing impossible vocal chops and repeated claps over radio hits during her set, UNIIQU3’s charisma illuminated through her designated corner of Commodore Barry Park. She was feeling it. After almost every track dropped, she’d look out into the sea of people going nuts, let out a smile of pure joy and get right back into her no-bullshit gameface—Kanye on The Kris Jenner Show style. Reflecting, she says, “I usually do mixes off the top of my head. I don’t like to plan stuff because it’s takes the feeling away from it. Everything is spur of the moment and that’s why it’s special.” In comparison to vocal artists whose emotion, or lack thereof, is almost instantly detectable, DJ’s and producers can sometimes come across as worker bees—people so meticulous in the arrangement of sound that picking up on their emotion is always an afterthought and a real challenge--for me, at least. That’s not the case with UNIIQU3, though. What’s so infectious about her work is the evident, close-knit connection she has to club culture. In a short interview with Fader earlier this year, Fade To Mind producer, super DJ and Jersey-native Total Freedom spoke on his fondness of UNIIQU3 by saying, “She clearly works hard but nothing about the way she’s out there seems forced or corny.” And that’s spot on as her hustle seems to be genuinely from the heart. While on the phone she tells me about an all-female club collective she started right out of high school called Vixens who would dance to her music and shoot over-the-top themed videos around Jersey: “Every DJ had a dance crew in Jersey,” she says. “Sliink had his dancers and rappers. Brick Bandits had dancers and I was the only girl so I’m like, ‘Damn. I want something too!’ I went on Facebook and blasted that I was having auditions at this youth center. I got mad girls to come out.”

And while being a pillar of the female community within club culture is a priority for UNIIQU3, she’s not limiting herself when it comes to bringing people together for the genre’s advancement and preservation. In April she released The New Klassiks—a collection of her favorite club tracks, both original and with her own spin on them. For Baltimore Club legend Rod Lee’s “Give Em Some Room” which was originally featured on K-Swift’s 2005 compilation, The Jumpoff Volume 3, UNIIQU3 chops his vocals to unrecognizable pulsing burps and couples them with claps she calls “sexy”. She makes similar manipulations to songs by DJ Dwizz, DJ Techniques and Jersey Club pioneer, DJ Tamiel. She spoke passionately about the tape while we were on the phone: “Jersey Club is like a new thing to the world--not to us--but people are really just starting to get hip and I was just over talking about the whole appropriation thing. I realized that it’s happened to every genre of music, you know? The black people who actually created the music are living in poverty and people from elsewhere are making all the money from it. But I felt like instead of making a Facebook status about it or addressing it on social networks, I could approach the situation by making a mixtape that teaches people who started it and my perception of what the future of club is.”

Clearly, the club compilation is not a new thing for a DJ/producer but the leadership that UNIIQU3 assumes isn’t common, especially in club music’s place of origin, Baltimore. So naturally, one is forced to look at her role as one that’d make the late K-Swift proud: a young female DJ, endorsed by her hometown’s dominant club music collective (she, Brick Bandits and Swift, Unruly Records) and branching out to other cities where club music is created. “Jersey is different from Baltimore because when I was just starting out all we saw was Tameil taking things to the next level and getting booked in Paris,” she says as she reflects on her journey. “That was crazy but it’s a lot different than seeing someone making moves that’s only two or three years older than you. Jersey’s younger generation has that now with me, Sliink and Nadus.” And UNIIQU3 is just starting to get into the full swing of things. Earlier this year she quit her part time job to fully pursue music and she’s already gearing up for a tour in Australia while putting together an EP of original content set to release in early 2015. Her push to become the queen of club music--while sure to be a long, challenging journey--seems to be within arm’s reach.

Photo: Ryan Lyons

Photo: Ryan Lyons

-Lawrence Burney

Baltimore Beings #9

Lawrence Burney

Location: Pratt St.

"My mind is my greatest asset"

Keem Griffey: What do you regret the most?

"Not speaking it."

Location: Howard St.

"I want to fix myself before I worry about a relationship. That is one thing I believe in. You got to worry about yourself first before you can do the same for someone else, ya know?"

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Location: Northeast Baltimore

"I'll be honest. I was in PG County just on some spending the night shit and I couldn't really sleep well. I didn't hear any sirens. No helicopters. None of that shit. Shit was weird as fuck to me! (laughs). I am a legitimate city person. I don't see myself wanting to live anywhere but a city. The convenience. If I get up, and say fuck it I want to go to the corner store and get me a soda and some chips, I can do that! Or if i hear the ice cream truck and want a soft cone ice cream, I can get that. I don't want no Mr. Jolly's shit. Ice cream and Nachos. What the fuck type shit is that! (laughs). This is all I know. Breakfast sandwiches and chicken boxes. You end up loving it. Even though you hate it once you realize how fucked up it is. But at the end of the day it's still you. You can't let it go"

Follow Baltimore Beings on Instagram: @BaltimoreBeings

 

Baltimore Beings #8

Lawrence Burney

Location: Eutaw St.

"People get stuck. Become a victim of circumstance. They start feeling sorry for themselves. Baltimore, being the kind of city it is, it makes them a little deterred from their goals and dreams. And thats the worst part: seeing people do that to themselves." 

Location: Charles St

"Once I realized that no one gives a shit and people are going to judge you regardless, and you can do whatever you want with your time and like, once I became myself, I became empowered and just, happy. 'Cause it's like, nothing is stopping you from ANYTHING. Nobody's rules. The only thing that limits you is money. I mean, because that's just how it is. (Laughs)"

Location: Kenyon Ave.

"I love my twin sisters so much. They're my world. They're 11 now."

Baltimore Beings #7

Lawrence Burney

Location: Howard St.

Keem Griffey: What have you been listening to lately? 

"Random commercials. Like I'll skip the music and go to the commercials (laughs)."

Location: East Baltimore

"My son makes me happy. He's six years of age. Another thing that makes me happy is being a clown. Living life out loud. Without a care. Not worrying about what the critics have to say."

Location: Downtown Baltimore

"My last relationship is a thing that should've been in a movie. Yeah. The shit you see in these Tyler Perry movies, I should've been one of those girls. The heartaches. The fights. Anything you name, I've gone through it. Rape. Domestic violence. The real kind. Not just pushing and head mushing. Scrapping. Straight scrapping. Everyday. So, I'm emotionally drained. It's been like that for the past two years. And people tell me to let things go. No. You can't let shit like that go. Plus that shit has made me a stronger person. All those fights, all that shit that happened. All the side bitches. All the beefs I had to go through. The bitches I did lose. The bitches I was friends with. I'm extremely grateful for my last relationship. It's unfortunate that I had to go through the things I went through but I'm happy for it. It makes me the person I am now. Can't nobody take that from me."

Let's Get Hi

Lawrence Burney

Photo: Ryan Lyons

Photo: Ryan Lyons

I'm spoiled. I grew up with the privilege of being raised in a city that has hunger pains for music that summons holy ghosts, intense emotions, and ceremonious body movements even within the inert and impermeable: Baltimore Club Music. This is my music. A genre that propels at 130BPM with enchanting, repetitive vocal melodies, and a powerful thumping bass that thrived at family cookouts, block parties where people danced for their  lives, and at clubs like the Paradox where people lost their fucking minds to it. It's a poignant part of my identity—as much as eating crabs is, busting my first nut with a guy, or hitting my first blunt (and of course doing my own musical shit. I mean duh). So, of course, when I went to the Boiler Room TV's Baltimore Club edition which featured James Nasty, Mighty Mark, TT The Artist, and legends Scottie B and DJ Technics, I was simply happy. I was high. I was proud.

My first thought when I heard about the Boiler Room Baltimore Club edition was how the fuck did this get to Brooklyn, on this medium, traveling hundreds of miles to me even when I thought I left it behind? I just moved to Brooklyn and felt home sick as hell and there it was, Baltimore Club at its finest, illuminated by such a grand musical platform like Boiler Room for thousands of people to get into and feel what I felt as a child.  After thirty years of existing, it's still here and it still resonates. Yes---it wilted a bit. Now in Baltimore, you barely hear it on the radio, at parties, and now there is only a few young Baltimore Club music producers/DJ's that are trying to keep it alive. It did grow and spread to other cities like Philly and Jersey, with great DJ's like Uniique and DJ Sega putting their spin on it. But in Baltimore, it is not what it used to be. It was everywhere, and heard it a billion times during the day in cars, through house windows, and especially on the radio. But no shade, I think it's a lot of reasons: gentrification, radio buyouts, the internet, blah blah. We live in America. Subcultures are murdered all the time. It's all shade and very shameful. Niggas can't have nothing. Not even replications of our own identities. I’m getting angry. Ok OK Ok, Let me take a breath ----------- NAMASTE. So that's why I was so fucking emotional seeing my music so alive that night in the Boiler Room. For one, it’s rare to see the new school and old school together in one night. Shit, even Scottie B said him and DJ Technics haven’t played together since 1989. Also, there was a surprise appearance by two other legends, DJ Amir and Rod Lee. It was too much history in that room and I wondered if the folks at Boiler Room even knew what they was doing for a kid like me. I didn't even care if it sucked. I was going to be content regardless.

But it didn't suck at all that night. Everybody went the fuck off on their sets. You could tell that all the DJs was feeling too damn good to play anything that slacked. James Nasty went first and slayed, playing tracks from yours truly, to Schwarz’s “Lose Your Mind”, to old school classics like “Peanut Butter Jelly Time.” His set started off soft and nostalgic but in the end it was very aggressive, playing tracks like “Work” by A$AP Ferg mixed with crazed Lil John ad libs. Mighty Mark set was full of Baltimore pride. A lot of his tracks referenced the Baltimore scenery, neighborhoods, and terminology by playing tracks like "Baltimore Up in This Bitch" and a track that shouted out Cherry Hill nonstop. TT, of course, brought in her take of Baltimore Club with her empowering femme liberating tracks like "Pussy Ate" which had people gasping for glory! Then legend Scottie B, came on with so much confidence when his set began. He fucked it up. His set had attitude and guttah vibes with tracks like Soulja Boy's “Turn My Swag On” and Three 6's “Tear Da Club Up.” DJ Technics ended with a set of that Baltimore Club/ House hybrid, full classicism, which was very, very smooth.  People was losing it. Everyone was drenched in sweat and everybody’s hair was in an electrified frizz from the power of these DJ’s. Every time I looked into someone’s eyes, they were wide and joyful. Everybody was connected, not just by sweat that they were dripping on others, but by being on the same musical metaphysical drug, feeling the same high, liberated by the provocation of the soundwaves of my city.

It was a beauty. I was up and down with emotions the entire night. A lot of my Baltimore music friends were in the building and it felt like I was at home. It made me not want to leave the sound behind as I see many rappers or singers from Baltimore do. (Side note: I wish there were more female and queer DJ's doing Baltimore club too.) It's important to me that I carry on the sound til I die because Baltimore needs an authentic mascot for this distinctive expression and voice. Secondly, it's obvious that people still lust for it. The whole room was crazy during the event and it ranged from younger people to older, black, white, and many other types of people who rejoiced in this musical goodness. And I also feel like a lot of DJ’s outside of Baltimore are fucking wack. They have good taste but I think most of them are selfish and don't really get that you have to make people want to dance. They play music to boost their egos and to be “cool”. If they do play localized music like Baltimore Club, they don’t do it right, and it doesn’t feel genuine. I go to a lot of parties and don't really ever feel enticed to dance. But at the Boiler Room that night, all vibes felt authentic. I was provoked to move nonstop and, mind you, I was on no drugs at all. I didn't need it.

-Abdu Ali: @AbduAli

Baltimore Beings #6

Lawrence Burney

Location: Downtown Baltimore

"Me and her have 3 kids. I got 8 all together with 4 different women. But I got 3 with her. She's the love of my life. I'd do anything for her. And she'd do anything for me. One time she beat a woman halfway down the street."

Location: Howard St.

"One of the best times of my life was when i went to Pittsburgh to see the Steelers."

Keem Griffey: You know you're going to get killed right? 

(Laughs)

Location: Brehms Lane

"Im only 17 but I want to be a doctor. I want to help people"

Dad screams from the back:

"Yes! He wants to be a doctor. For real!"

Follow Baltimore Beings on Instagram: @BaltimoreBeings

Baltimore Beings #5

Lawrence Burney

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"I want to be an investigator. I want to be in the lab."

Keem Griffey: Do you like school?

"I hate school."

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"I hate to see someone down. If I see someone down, I'm down. I hate to see someone out of their normal character. If I call you family or a friend, I want you to wake up smiling. If something is wrong, let's go fix it. Right now. Growing up, I saw people upset all the time. That shit sick yo. I used to be an upset person, yo. My father had a talk with me for like three hours. You feel me? It was days when I ain't have no job. No money. No grass to get high (laughs). Just seems like ain't nothing getting fixed for real. He told me 'Yo, you gotta keep grinding. You have to find a reason to smile.' And I enjoying seeing people smile. Even if it's me just buying you a piece of candy. Give a nigga a dollar. He's smiling. He's happy. His day just got better. Even if I'm dead broke, in the house with no money but I give someone a call and they sound excited on the other end of the line because my name popped up in their phone. That's something I can die with. That ability."

 

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"I love my job man. It brings me joy. I can tell it brings joy to the people I sell my fruit to.Yeah, that's what I'll say. I feel like I have a purpose. And it's not the GREATEST job in the world but it's my job."

Follow Keem Griffey on Instagram: @keemgriffey

Diary: Al Rogers

Lawrence Burney

Photo: Keem Griffey

Photo: Keem Griffey

Days seem longer when you broke but when the money flows time flies, spend a little bit and have fun, right? It's a 50/50 chance with me every single cent goes to my music but when you haven't mastered your craft sometimes even your passion can be frustrating. I remember growing up my brothers had me in this fiend’s house in Essex. I might’ve been 14-15 and although it's just hitting me, they were serving and had me in a crack house--the experience was real. My mother tried keeping me away from trouble as much as possible coming up and all I could think about was a dollar. Sometimes we reflect and learn from those who we love and I can recall looking up to my brothers until I found some sense. Until this day I still have a major respect for them they let me know at a early age life isn't always easy and not to let my mother spoil me and give me a foolish notion. Hell, I just got the message from my homie Lb to give y'all this piece I guess the cop cars outside my window inspired it who knows why or who they're out there for. I talk to my boy Ryan a lot about what moves would be wise to take so that I can prosper, one thing he said that hit home was that I should leave Baltimore as much as possible to share my message. Isn't it so easy to lose faith? And finding hope can be underwhelming but when you know your direction I guess the work you put in will help guide you. These are all tangent thoughts so forgive me if I'm like a bouncing dodge ball in closed quarters; maybe not the eat analogy but fuck it. In the year 2013 I said some things I'd accomplish that I didn't although some things came surprisingly and this year has still been one of the better years since I started this journey. I had a misconception of what fear was but now I truly understand the idea of fear not existing. So failure doesn't get under my skin like it once did I'll get to where I'm going regardless of the time it takes. Hey I found love this year as well it's been a pretty rough couple of months but worth it when someone inspires you to make pretty awesome fucking songs as a musician they're definitely a keeper haha. I'm not the best with this whole love thing. The few times I've tried it’s bit me in the ass. Those playboy days have been numbered before they started. Yo I hate to sound corny but my mama tells me I am all the time so don't mind me, btw mama is what I call my shorty. You know when you close the door on one issue another one always presents itself and the second I lost sight of fear a new problem arises—"anxiety " I'm at odds with that fucking word. It's not about time though, it's about me being anxious to find the right sound for this next project because right now it's good but it's everywhere. I'll get on top of that though before y'all mothafuckers even read this. My mother has had me on some real grind mode shit lately she got me this little part time gig with the MTA so I can continue paying for my music she supports my dream 100% now that's love. Growing up my family called me Baby Al because I am the youngest and well I'm a Jr. That will also be the name of the next project "BABY AL" It got a ring to it right?

Follow Al Rogers on Twitter: @ALROGERSJR


Baltimore Beings #4

Lawrence Burney

Location: Northeast Baltimore

"When I come home from school I do my homework. Then I get my mommy and daddy to check it. Then I ask to go outside and ride my bike and play outside with my friends." 

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Location: South Baltimore

"I'll be happy when me and the girl that I'm in love with can finally spend some real time together."

Keem Griffey: What's holding you two back from spending time with each other?

"I mean, we do sometimes but it's just like...My phone is messed up right now and her's is messed up right now so it's hard for us to get in touch with each other."

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Location: A Skatepark 

"I love skateboarding man. There's no rules! I do whatever the fuck I want. You know, in other sports you have time. You got rules. Encroachments. Yards to go. I can only take it but so far but everyone's different (haha)."

Follow Keem Griffey on Instagram: @keemgriffey

 

Interview: Lightshow

Lawrence Burney

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My first introduction to rap music from D.C. was in 2007 with Tabi Bonney’s “The Pocket”, which, if anything, turned me away more than intrigued me. However, it did make me want to see if there was some music coming from The District that I’d actually like. Wale’s mixtapes Hate Is The New Love and 100 Miles And Running became mainstays in my iPod Classic. Rappers like Phil Ade pretty much followed his mold and I began to think that D.C. was only going to offer backpack raps—a space that was already occupied by Lupe Fiasco for me and much different than the Three 6 Mafia and Project Pat I came up listening to. But over the past few years with Fat Trel gaining more recognition and Shy Glizzy’s song “Awwsome” gaining traction, the street narrative of D.C. is starting to come to the forefront. A lesser known rising street artist out of D.C. is Lightshow, from the Southeast quadrant of the city. He’s worked with Glizzy, members of Fat Trel’s Slutty Boyz and was featured on Wale’s “Georgetown Press”, from his 2012 mixtape, Folarin. A la Meek Mill, his raps are fueled by his near-yelling delivery and his content often touches on the struggles of street life while presenting an existential outlook on the choices that people make in the streets. Before he took the stage at D.C. station WPGC 95.5’s Birthday Bash, I talked to him on our way to the Howard Theatre about what fuels his music and how he feels about the cultural changes that D.C. is undergoing.

True Laurels: Tabi Bonney and Wale started were the first rap artists out of D.C. that I knew about but recently there have been more street artists surfacing like you, Fat Trel and Shy Glizzy. Which group is a more fitting representation of D.C.’s identity?

Lightshow: D.C. is changing a lot but you still see more people drawn to the street aspect of the city because that’s what we come from. D.C. is a real turned up city, well the underground. So street music is gonna resonate with people. They can listen to us and say, “Oh, I ride past this street,” or “I’ve been through situations like that.” When you start at new school you still go sit with the people you relate with the most. So we’re in the same school as those other guys but the fans are more at our table.

A recurring theme in your music is survival. Did dedicating yourself to music help you survive and get out of shaky situations?

Lightshow: Hell yeah. It’s been a lot of times when I’m doing something music related like being in the studio, performing, or just trying to stay focused and something fucked up will happen to someone I’m close with. I just think that could’ve been me. Music saved me a lot of times.

Towards the end of “Regardless” you take time out to tell kids “Fuck the street shit, stay in school.” Are you aiming to use the voice you’re granted through rap to be a mentor, as well?

Lightshow: I feel like I have to be both—a mentor and a rapper. It’s not even up to me. It’s responsibility. When you first start it’s all about “You, you, you.” My music is about me but I can’t just go to the studio and make a 100 songs. I wish I could, but it has to come from a real place and an honest place. People will always be able to relate to honesty. I have a pretty good following on social media and it’s kids included in that, it’s mothers in that, adults. I gotta be mindful of what I say. If I stand for something as a person, then I have to stand for that in my music. It can’t be two separate people.

You spoke on how much D.C. is changing. Do you see that change as a negative effect on your community and your own personal growth?

Lightshow: I don’t know if I look at it as negative. I just look at it as them trying to modernize the most powerful city in the world. Things have to change and this process has been going on for a long time now. Things are moving in a good direction. I like seeing these big buildings and condos popping up. It motivates me to step the level of my hustle up. Back in the day you could hustle and get you a nice apartment and you’d be good. Now I can say I want me a condo with a rooftop terrace and a pool.

Who are the unsung heroes in the streets of D.C.?

Lightshow: I gotta give a lot of thanks to a group of guys called the Real Live Gangstas. The music they made was so street conscious. It made me wanna get my morals and principles in order. Their music made me want to become a man’s man. Even though their music was harsh, it was real. They told you every side of the coin. Growing up without a father, I was looking for that street knowledge from older guys and they changed my life. I saw that it’s a thinking man’s game. So learning from them, how could I not assume the responsibility of a teacher or mentor? It’d be impossible.

There’s a sense of existentialism in your music where you repeatedly bring up the choices that people have and how they shape the outcome of one’s life. Is that an ideology you eventually adopted or is that how you’ve always viewed the world?

Lightshow: It’s not really an ideology I picked up but I always think back to a school I went to in Southeast D.C. where a lot of my teachers were white. I had one teacher named Mr. Ben who taught me how to play chess. I always think back to how they were so much harder on us than they had to be but it made me realize that not knowing is not an excuse. Knowledge is free. You have to know what’s going on. Read up on your rights and find out what your purpose is out here. All the hours we have in this world, you gotta really work to get what you want.

How does the music you’re working on now differ from what’s been heard from you so far?

Lightshow: The music that I’m working on right now is all centered around what I’m learning. I make songs whenever I get new information. It’s not specific to the streets either. It could be about girls, myself, anything. I’m always gonna talk about whatever I see. I always want my shit to be relatable. I don’t pull this shit out of nowhere. The streets are so fucked up right now because everybody is misguided. You got rappers who aren’t even living what they’re rapping about but people will follow them and do what their songs say; it’s reckless.

Follow Lightshow on Twitter: @Lightshow10thPL

Review: PARTYNEXTDOOR- PARTYNEXTDOOR 2

Lawrence Burney

Last summer, OVO Sound artist Jahron Brathwaite a.k.a. PARTYNEXTDOOR’s self-titled debut introduced him as a hybrid of all things that had been clicking for his Canadian predecessors. When the demo-length tape relied on ambient, downbeat production, he mirrored collaborations between Drake and producer Noah “40” Shebib. His stripper-themed cuts centered mostly around sex and drugs were immediately reminiscent of The Weeknd. And while PARTYNEXTDOOR was only 28 minutes in length, it was a solid indicator of PND’s range in production and his vocal talent with highlights like “Break From Toronto”, “Wus Good/Curious” and “Make A Mil”. The tape faltered in its content, though. Albeit a short project, there was nothing distinctive learned about PND—a stark contrast to Drake’s sappy and vengeful sentiments and The Weeknd’s too-tormented-for-love schtick. The bulk of the tape fell on popular conventions of strippers, sexual prowess and drugged-out club nights.

In months following his debut, Brathwaite kept busy with loose releases that expanded his sound from a strip club rap/R&B fusion to conventional R&B tracks like “Muse” and “Persian Rugs” where his serenading falsetto winded through piano riffs and finger snaps. Still, he failed to progress elsewhere which is still the case in his new full-length, PARTYNEXTDOOR 2. Unlike last year’s tape which felt like a public audition of his varied ability, PND 2 doesn’t attempt to be as experimental. From beginning to end, he relies on atmospheric, hazy elements and seems less concerned with making chaotic, danceable records that made his debut so intriguing. At times, Brathwaite’s lack of depth becomes a distraction from his exceptional production skills. “Her Way” is a barrage of snare rolls, horns, and bass that loses impact with lines like “She’s the light-skin girl with a dark-skin crew.” Too often, as a listener, you have to ask, “What is this music really about?” That question especially comes to mind with songs like “Bout It”,  “SLS” and “Grown Woman” where it becomes a chore to detect line-to-line narratives, let alone verses.

PARTYNEXTDOOR 2’s biggest deficiency is in its lack of transparency and vulnerability— traits that make artists like FKA Twigs, Kelela, SZA, The Weeknd and Drake so captivating. He’s too unbothered. That machismo is easily translated in rap where equal attention is paid to the variety of flows and cadences an artist can have. PARTYNEXTDOOR was much more digestible than its sequel for that reason. With longer and slower songs this time around, PND’s lack of content is far more evident. Still, with tracks like “Options”, “Muse” and “Thirsty” Brathwaite’s artistic ability isn’t in question. There’s just not much motivation to listen to guarded, unflappable R&B when there are artists who deliver production that’s just as good with tangible and meaningful subject-matter to couple it with.

-Lawrence Burney

Baltimore Beings #3

Lawrence Burney

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Location: Belair Road

"I was good in basketball. I went out for Lake Clifton's team. When I was in 10th grade I made varsity. I was playing with the big boys. I was on the playground one time and I told a guy to hold my soda while i played a game. Then I drank it man and i was gone. They had to rush me to Johns Hopkins. I was poisoned, man. I was done, man. I couldn't think. Couldn't talk. I didn't know where i was. I'm coming back around, though. I'm getting back around to be able to do stuff. I'm in a rehabilitation center. They never told me what it actually was. I'm glad they never did though because, to be honest, if they told me I was poisoned, I would've went back around there and killed him."

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Location: Northeast Baltimore

"First thing I do when I get home from school is my homework! I like it 'cause I'm smart! But I want to be a basketball player when i grow up."

Keem Griffey: (laughs out loud) I think you can do that.

"I know I can."

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Location: Herring Run Park

"The happiest moment of my life is repetitive. When I'm making music, it's nothing I'd rather be doing. True freedom, I can do what I want. Say what I want. All that. And that's the whole point of any form of art to me: a source of happiness and escape. A lot of people don't understand that. So many people pick up a microphone or a camera for financial gain. If I never make a dime from this shit, I'll have over 200 songs I can play when I'm 60-years-old and smile hard as shit. And even if only one person listened to the stories I've told thru JustUs' music, that makes me happy."

Follow Keem Griffey on Instagram: @keemgriffey

 

Do Your Fucking Homework: Some Baltimore Club Obscurities Worth Searching Out

Lawrence Burney

From True Laurels Volume 4:

DJ Precise, Precise and the Boys (Master Mind, 1992)

From that club-but-not-quite-club era where the "Bmore" blueprint was just beginning to be sketched out and local producers were mostly making nice lil' DJ tool-type tracks to creatively fill the void left by the slow burn dissolution of hip-house, which for some weird reason, didn't quite go out of style around these parts. As a result, there was a demand for goofy party time synthesizers and brass knuckle drums combos like this. Precise's "Get 'Em" is the one of obvious note on this 12 inch, because it's got a platonic "Think" break, but the most interesting thing here is "En Mochen": cheapo synth beeps, party music pulses competing with a trickier take on "Think" and oh man, a lo-fi, chipmunk'd sample from Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" that beat Nas and Large Professor to the punch on the super subtle almost subliminal atmospheric MJ sample flip tip. Raps on the other side, including Marty Cash's "I Don't Think You Gonna Make," featured on Secret Weapon Dave's recent mix, "A Different Kind of Dope: 90's Baltimore Random Rap Mix Vol. 1."

Miss Tony, "Bitch Track II - Yes!" off Frank Ski's Club Trax - Volume 3 (Deco Records, 1993)

So yeah, in 1993 Miss Tony recorded a house-influenced sequel to "Bitch Track" that features Tony declaring, "Yes I am gay, no I'm not ashamed," and telling the military to kiss his ass (President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was put into practice the same year this was recorded). While doing research for my recent article for the Baltimore City Paper, "Miss Tony Stands Alone," on the life of Miss Tony, I learned from Frank Ski that this record was courted by Luther Campbell who wanted to put it out on his label Luke Records (Frank Ski being the obvious Miami/Baltimore connection here) and make a video and all, which totally makes sense: this was made in the early '90s when urban-skewing music could court controversy and actually cash out on that controversy. It is easy to conjure up an alternate reality where "Bitch Track II - Yes!" became the early '90s version of a meme and put Tony in the weird position of like, arguing with hateful homophobes on the Donahue show or maybe even becoming RuPaul famous!

*not available online*

DJ Ice featuring Ms. Nick, "Oh Baby Oh" (Iceland Records, 1997)

A weird one powered by some erotic-ish panting (echoes of Scottie B and Equalizer's "All About Pussy" from 1991), a few snippets of Basement Boys-like house horns, and almost industrial drums that invoke Underground Resistance-ish techno. Somewhere in the accidentally Detroit din, there is DJ Ice and Ms. Nick doing some in-the-club, sup' girl, sup' boy talk and a mid-song seduction breakdown that's genuinely kind of sweet: "Baby I want you so bad/ Girl I want to tap that ass...I give you everything that thing needs/ I'll make you my one and only." Then the XXX clips return, bringing the temporarily sweet song back into bonerland, which is how it should be. If Prince around the time of Diamonds and Pearls tried to make a club record, it would've probably sounded stupidly funky like this.

Krazy B, Pop Club EP (Unruly Records, 2000)

This record is not exactly an obscurity at all, but it isn't talked about much, and for some reason, it is one of the most easily available club records if you go digging around these parts. It's from somebody named Krazy B and Unruly put it out (and if the relative abundance of copies still around are any indication, they pushed it rather hard) and it's from 2001, which is a pretty interesting between-time for club: right after most the clubs closed in the late '90s killing club's hey-day and right before the yes notable, though heavily mythologized teen scene/hipster love moment that popped up in just a couple of years. This record's a good and strange, though, especially "Pop Club," which deviates from the flip-a-rap-song or resurrect an old club classic formula to deliver something that's New Jersey Nervous Records edgy with some Thomas Bangalter "Club Soda" fizzle and some synth-horn corn that trippily changes thanks to constant fidgeting with filters and effects. Four and a half transcendently monotonous minutes.

-Brandon Soderberg: @notrivia

Abdu Ali: On Infinity Epiphanies, Moving to NYC and Developing A New Sound

Lawrence Burney

Photo: Keem Griffey

Photo: Keem Griffey

In his The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, James Baldwin said: “Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one's nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one's nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one's robes.”

Those words always come to mind when listening to Abdu Ali's music. While the quality and energy in his music has changed since his raw ballroom-tinged debut Invictos to the electricity and supernatural ambience of last month's Infinity Epiphanies, Ali's music has always been centered around the recognition of his own identity—a habit that we could all stand to adopt. Comfortable or not, he's always shared his personal trials with being gay, growing up in the hood or just figuring out who the fuck he is. And even though he seems to be more self aware than most hope to be, he's still digging. He's fresh off of releasing his third project, the end-of-man themed Infinity Epiphanies,  a self-curated tour with Chiffon through the south and midwest and will soon be moving to NYC in hopes to expand his artistic reach. To get some insight into how all three are helping him shape a new chapter in his career, I sat down to talk to Ali. Check it! 

True Laurels: Last month you released Infinity Epiphanies. How do feel about its reach? Did you accomplish what you wanted to with it?

Abdu Ali: I did have a set out plan as far as the delivery and I achieved a goal with that. It was all set up from being premiered to dropping a video. The tour with Chiffon helped extend its reach to new people too and more people are starting to know me. It also helped really define what kind of artist I am and what I sound like.

Everything about the project felt post-apocalyptic from the industrial production to the lyrics centered around destruction and rebirth. Where’d that inspiration come from? Is it a metaphor for where you are in life?

AA: I took a class on post-apocalyptic literature and was in awe of the stuff we were reading because I felt like, even though it was about this end-of-the-world scenario, it’s still relevant to now. We’re always living in a post-apocalyptic world where people think the world is about to end. People think that’s some kind of new thing.  We’re obsessed with the end and destruction. Look at how we destroy celebrities and destroy ourselves with the shit we put in our bodies from shitty food to drugs.

Post-apocalyptic stories are usually about how this main character has to adapt to a dystopian world and learn to survive. Conscious or subconsciously, we’re constantly figuring out how to survive in a crazy world. I just wanted to artistically create music that’d be the soundtrack to these stories I was reading.

You do everything on your own. From touring to releasing music to sitting in with producers. Do you like how that’s working out or would you consider letting other hands in the pot?

AA: Well the tour was already kinda set up but yeah, I’m definitely a control freak. I’ve always been very conscious of everything I do and how it represents me. I can’t imagine me doing something at someone else’s will. Maybe because I grew up in the hood and if I wasn’t this person who always went out and did what I wanted to...I don’t know. If I left it up to my environment or the social structure to shape who I would become, I probably would’ve been a fucking mess. Ever since I was little I knew I had to take control over my life. I treat music like that too. I never want it to falsely represent who I am. Whether it’s a pop star like Beyonce or somebody like Erykah Badu, you can tell they’re in control of every process.

You’re moving to NYC. How do you think that environment will help you progress as an artist?

AA: I think it’s gonna push me and motivate me. It’s gonna make me extend my reach even more. At least, I hope it does. Baltimore is cool and I think I did a lot. Doing what I’m doing based in Baltimore is kind of a gag. I’m not sure if NYC will artistically inspire me because I get bored by the scene. I also hope to bring more traffic from Baltimore to NYC and help those who I see with talent here. If I didn't have that type of help when I first stayed in NYC, I would’ve went nowhere.

From Invictos to now, you’re aggression has steadily risen. Is it still climbing with the music you’re working on now?

AA: It’s not necessarily aggression that’s on the rise but it’s the freedom. I feel less constraint every time. I was thinking aggressively with my projects before but I was getting bored with it. It’s part of me but not all of me. I’m gonna try to be a bit softer and intimate with my music.

How hard is making a transition in the energy you put out over tracks?

AA: I’m an emotional person so it’s not hard. With my friends I’m very open. I just hope it makes sense and doesn't confuse people who’ve heard the stuff I’ve done so far. It’s gonna be genuine, though.

As you’re getting more and more into your sound, do you want to start producing all your own records? You’ve managed to carve out a distinct style even while working with different producers.

AA: It has to get to that point. I do love working with people but I gotta make my own. Me and B L A C K I E were just talking about how back in the day everybody played an instrument. Every artist that I look up to knows how to play an instrument or has a hands-on role in their production. To progress my sound I have to get to that stage. I realized that when I listened to B L A C K I E’s music and how his shit is so solid all the time because he makes it. I’m not gonna lie, it’s intimidating but I feel like there’s so much strength in being a producer and an artist.

What’s been your biggest reality check as an artist?

AA: Same thing. Knowing that I need to get more into my production. Also, a really big reality check was accepting that I really need to believe in myself. It’s like if I don’t believe in what I’m doing, what’s the point? Touring taught me a lot too. I learned how important traveling is from bands like Future Islands, Chiffon and Dan Deacon. People think indie artists just pop up out of nowhere but they tour their asses off non-stop. They have core fans in different places. That made me realize that I need to do that more.

The lack of Baltimore artists being represented in music isn’t a secret. How do you think relocating will help you chop down that reality?

AA: I think it’s gonna help but I’m only one aspect of the city. Every time Baltimore gets national or international attention it’s always exaggerated and exploitive. I hope we can get it together and take control of our own image, as far as black culture goes. It’s hard for black artists to get it here. I can’t even blame the social structure of the city because who says that people in Chicago don’t face the same shit? Sometimes I really do think it may be something in the water. But I hope the hood and backpack crowds get it together and break out. The main problem is that some artists here try to sound like everybody else. 


Follow Abdu Ali on Twitter: @AbduAli

 

Baltimore Beings #2

Lawrence Burney

Last week, we debuted a photo series by Baltimore-based photographer and True Laurels contributor, Keem Griffey, called Baltimore Beings. As promised, here is the second installment of the series with three new local faces and stories. Check it out: 

Location: Inner Harbor

"I fear nothing. That shit is all in your head man. And i hate when i hear that word. Being fearful is a disability (laughs out loud)."

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Location: Noodles & Company

"My biggest fear when I was a child was my father not coming back to get me. I've had many friends that had the "Dad didn't come get me" story. I was always glad he came back. I knew he would but it was still my fear."

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Location: Lombard & Howard St

"Worst part about being out here...there is no one out here to say, 'Hey Tony, you're doing a good job.' Or, 'Keep up the good work.' And maybe it's not "good work" but this makes me, me. Been out here since 2006, you know? Mom died in 2005. But it still hurts because i hadn't talked to her since 2004. 

Keem Griffey: What happened to your leg if you don't mind me asking?

"It was all drugs man. Shot myself so many damn times in the groin. I got an ulcer and it developed into gangrene."

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See more of Keem Griffey's work on Instagram: @keemgriffey

 

Diary: Buffa7o

Lawrence Burney

Photo: Keem Griffey

Photo: Keem Griffey

Sometimes I sit and think to myself "am I so great?" or does everything suck so much that I'm able to feel this way.

I digress, but I am never put at ease with everyone's onslaughts to be the most original. I find happiness in the smaller and sometimes the finer things of life. Despite my poisoned mind, standoffish personality and attachment to individualism, older people I've met say I give off a hippie vibe. Also due to the massive amounts of marijuana I smoked up, earning me the name Leafy Lo. I started this whole rap experience by jacking for beats and making homemade video recordings of me spitting on Facebook. My friend Curtis discovered these ancient artifacts, passing them on to BlackZheep Dz thus earning me a spot with the 7th Floor Villains. Prior to these recent events I grew up all through Baltimore moving every school year due to my mother's financial instability. This caused the streets to claim me for its own, transforming my promising potential into probable potential.

All in all, I live and lived my life vicariously through others while still playing my vital position. I hate hate hate an unjustified hater so for those who hate with no debate for goodness sake consolidate!


- Buffa7o

Follow Buffa7o on Twitter: @Buffa70

Butch Dawson: On Lower Mercury, Unwarranted Advice & His Creative Space

Lawrence Burney

Photo By: Micah Wood

Photo By: Micah Wood

Butch Dawson has been rapping in organized cyphers, playing underground shows and helping shape a concrete scene for anyone interested in rap in Baltimore (something that didn't exist more than five years ago) for the past two years. Initially an indistinguishable member of his 7th Floor Villains collective, whose style all seemed to overlap in their earlier days, Butch has positioned himself as the group's most musically productive as he produces the bulk of their output, in addition to regularly releasing his own material. Of late, his style has gone from purely rap, to melodic harmonies over spaced-out, bass-heavy production. Lines that'd previously be about serving around the way and eating chicken boxes have transitioned into songs about his annoyance with unwanted feedback ("Yada Yada"); there's more to be learned about him now. Even with his improved intensity and focus in his performances, there seems to be a current leap in his artistic development. He's set to release his new album, Lower Mercury, next week and to get a feel for how his music has changed and what alterations he's made to his process, I chatted with Butch over the weekend. Read below: 

True Laurels: Your new project, Lower Mercury, is set to drop soon. How has your approach to making music changed since you started putting this together?

Butch Dawson: My process always changes based on what inspires me everyday. Also, every time I’m in a new environment I start making new shit. I move a lot—like three times in the last year— so when I set my room up, I do it in a way that reflects the current music I’m making.

What is Lower Mercury? Take me into that world.

BD: I came up with Lower Mercury because it’s blue, which I like a lot as a feel and mood. It’s kind of like having my own planet in space, it’s home. I always mention home in my music and this is kind of bringing you into that world. Into my room, really.

“Yada Yada” is one of the first tracks you released from Lower Mercury and it expresses your dislike for unwarranted feedback. How do you gauge that as an artist? Like, who’s worth listening to?

BD: I try to get as much feedback as I can from people who keep it real with me. Some people just tell you shit without trying to get to know you. There just always seems to be a misunderstanding when it comes to making art. People don’t always get it after the first listen but they’ll still react without knowing.

Most of the work you’ve done up to this point has always been heavily assisted by people within your circle. Lower Mercury is more solitary than you’ve ever been with your music. Why?

BD: 7th Floor Villains are my brothers but I really didn’t want anyone else rapping on this project. This is my story and I need to convey my message to the listeners by giving all me. There could be good ass lyrics from those features but it wouldn’t be the same.

Do you ever think you’ll eventually choose either rap or production one day or are you happy doing both?

BD: I always have a mental war over that shit. I love rapping and that’s what I did initially but when I couldn’t get beats from people, I started doing it myself. I don’t know. Sometimes I think I’m not gonna be rapping forever but I’ll still be making beats. I am committed to rap right now, though.

What do you feel is the most blaring deficiency in your work?

BD: It’s really hard to say but I definitely wanna spit better bars.

“Red Leather Chair” from Lower Mercury looks back at your favorite place to put music together. What's your favorite way to create material now that the chair is gone?

BD: When I moved into the house where I had the red leather chair, it was always there. I started out making beats on it. I made the actual song really quick sitting in it. Now I live with a bunch of creative people where I can be constantly inspired and influenced to make stuff. It’s hard to get a block on your creativity when you’re in that kind of environment. Especially when the people I live with are so supportive.

Deep down, when you made this project, what did you want to get out of it? From who it reaches, to its overall sound, and beyond.

BD: I want people to cry when they hear this. I want people to have some kind of emotional connection to it. I try to make my shit like a movie. Like when Spike Lee or Wes Anderson make films you can feel their signature on it. That’s what I’m trying to do here and I feel like the sound creates some visuals.

In music, Baltimore is overwhelmingly underrepresented so what unique quality do you have to offer? 

BD: My creativity. I think just making my ideas come to life whether they're complete, incomplete or whatever anybody wants to classify it as; it's unique. Baltimore has definitely forced me to think outside the box, prior to music. Before I started doing music, there was no different music or videos in the Baltimore local scene and being in that circle made me wanna do things my way. 

Follow Butch Dawson on Twitter: @butchdawson_

Baltimore Beings

Lawrence Burney

Keem Griffey is a Baltimore-based photographer whose new "Baltimore Beings" photo series was featured in True Laurels Vol. 4. For the series, he approaches random people walking around the city and asks them about themselves, hoping to create some sort of comical and therapeutic relief. He says that in a blue-collar city like Baltimore, people can often be worn down by day-to-day worries so stopping them to ask about their lives can brighten their day. By sharing their stories, he hopes to touch other people whose experiences are similar, as well. 

We'll be sharing new installments of Baltimore Beings every week on True Laurels. Check the newest below:

Location: Pelham & Mannasota

Left: you know what i got to say? Motherfuckers better wake up now!

Right: It cost $0.00 to keep it Real! 

Location: Workplace

"Being gay is one of the hardest challenges I had to face in life and to be honest there have been times I wish I wasn’t just to make everybody I love happy. But, this isn’t about everybody’s happiness but my own and I choose to live the way I was born. It’s like trying to change my skin color! Love yourself by all means"

Location: Herring Run Park

"At this point in my life, I honestly can say I'm hungrier than I've ever been to make it with music. There isn't a minute of an hour in any single day in my life where I don't think about being successful in it. It's to the point it eats at me so much that I think I might lose my shit soon if I don't make it. I write like a madman and every time I use the bathroom to poop or shower, I usually come out with four or five lines to save in the notes section of my phone"

Follow Keem Griffey on Twitter: @KeemGriffey

On The Other Side: The Barbershop Chronicles

Lawrence Burney

Derrick Adams. Human Structure Headquarters, 2013

Derrick Adams. Human Structure Headquarters, 2013

Written By: Kasai Rex

I should’ve known better than to come in for a cut when life’s nippin’ at my ass. My girl’s texting me heavy, asking when we’re gonna start moving her stuff into our new spot, and I definitely didn’t get enough sleep, at least not enough to steel me against today’s trial. But I need this fade like a motherfucker, so I convince myself this is all worth it.

That chair I’ve been waiting on little man to get out of for a minute (for a few dozen minutes) is finally free, and I spring for it. But that’s the thing about plans.

A wild LIGHT-SKINNED DUDE appeared!

“Hey brother, I’ve been waiting a while and have somewhere to be,” I offer up, assured that my calm, kind approach will be rewarded.

“Sorry brother,” he offered, without making eye contact. “I’m a lawyer. I got appointments.”

Yoooooooo!

Appointments?

On a Saturday afternoon?

The fuck is that supposed to mean? Is this what I get for acting with tact and courtesy? I’ve been sitting in this hard ass seat, listening to fake revolutionaries on AM radio invoke Malcolm X like they were in the 3rd grade together, rolling my eyes while cats slander white folk (what if they find out my girl is white? what if they knew most of the people I work with are white? most of the people I grew up with?), sweatin’ my ass off in the basement of this spot (a new shop I figured I’d try after saying ya basta to my old joint) for over an hour. I guess it’s my own fault for not checking upstairs, for not scoping out an open chair. But damn all that, Gina! This dude clearly thinks I’m the one.

Watching this crusty old dude in the 3X Pelle Pelle button up (who’s been called a no-good drunk by one of the barbers no less than five times since he walked in, well after me mind you) slide into the seat I’d laid claim to ages ago, if only in my head, I feel my face get hot, every muscle in my body taut to the point of feeling like they’re going to pop right off the bone.

I hear the sirens blaring, impossibly loud in my head, critical mass having been reached, perhaps foreshadowing of the actual blue and red and black and blue I’ll see if I act on my basest desires. A familiar feeling, deep in the darkest crevasse of whatever my Self looks like in the Now.

The precursor to a “nigga moment,” with a side of a potential “when keeping it real goes wrong” moment wrapped up tightly like my friend Matt’s killer angels on horseback, tucked inside that bummer of a u2 song “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” running in the background (that’s some dual-consciousness for your ass right there!). This struggle is real. And unlike THE STRUGGLE, which we’re all embroiled in from the womb to the tomb (if not all of us being “all in”), this tumult right here is centered in the mind.

Walk with me.

There is an “I” inside of the me you’ll see, the latter mildly worried about white readers seeing the word nigga in this piece so many times. The former? He’s the one they call Dr. Feelhood, and he couldn’t give a fuck, wish a nigga would cuz he’s the toughest nigga on earth who’s also afraid of his own shadow, of living up to society’s subterranean expectation of him, of expressing himself outside the solid white lines on Blackdom Boulevard.

I’m always gonna bring Dr. Feelhood with me to the barbershop, or to the bodega or anywhere else I feel his services might be necessary. I can tag him in or out on the fly, as the situation demands, and that’s just the way the shit be.

But back to the lecture at hand, because I won’t call on him this day. I’m almost thirty, have never been locked up despite my best efforts in harsher times and don’t plan on starting that shit up now. So on this day, the lawyer homie doesn’t get the hands, I get my cut (while also getting the Full Barber Shop Experience when finally in the chair, replete with a dude telling a story about getting punched so hard he shit himself) and I leave the previous hour and a half’s anger and otherness from another motherness behind like a mildly bad memory.

See, the thing is, my pops used to always cut my hair. I got my first regular in a barber shop on the south side of Williamsburg at age 22 by a Dominican named Exotic (much respect to this dude and the framed pics of him rap squatting in front of rented Lambos flanked by infinite mamis). I’d sit there in silence, hands clasped under the sheet, picking the occasional word or idioma out of the smoke-filled air.

I would graduate to THE BARBERSHOP years later. Strolling in, with no particular bond to patron nor barber. Most of the time, I’d just sit there like Cuba Gooding in the barbershop scene in “Coming To America.” I was a customer, paying for a service and then leaving when done. If the movie “Barbershop” was about my experience there, it would’ve resembled a poorly made student film exploring the spaces of postmodern solitude and the futility of blah blah blah.

I’d like to say, that sweltering Saturday afternoon was the first time I’ve been cut while waiting for a cut, straight up dissed, on some invisible man shit with my own people—but it’s definitely not. Whether it’s at the shop or at a cookout, when I get the “you ain’t a real nigga” look/line/whatever (was it my tiny pants that gave it away?), I want to ask, hat in hand, if I walked up in Barney’s, would I not get followed, scoped out, harangued even after droppin’ hard, legally earned stacks, only to be stopped and frisked once out on Madison Ave., cuz I should know better, right?

I’ve been on the receiving end of this trip my whole life, so you’d think I’d be used to it, or at least able to reconstitute it and use it to my advantage, like I did with initial childhood anger at an old white lady clutching her purse when I drew near. Now, I know that another’s fear-based thinking is not a reflection of who I am. I think.

Before this latest trip, so frustrated with the experience at my old barber, I vowed to embrace nappy hair and rock my shit in natural mode, on that Kunta Kinte steez (That real nigga enough for you?! I wanna scream at no one in particular, at everyone, at myself, at my other self). Madame CJ Walker and her “good hair” bullshit be damned. But sure enough, the warm and fuzzies brought on by a fresh-ass fade called me back to the jagged rocks and crashing waves like sirens of the shape-up.

On the real, I can’t front like I wasn’t pissed when a dude who looked like an undergrad version of Braxton from the Jamie Foxx Show walked in about half an hour after me and was helped almost immediately. The sight of his powder blue, above the knee shorts, slate v-neck tee and light skin made my brain tickle in a way that I’m not proud of, the thought that he was now the “whitest guy in the room” definitely crossing my mind. As with so much in life, “it’s levels to this shit.”

As alluded to in the interview that writer Ernest Baker attempted to conduct with Rick Ross (real name withheld) for Noisey, there are Vans niggas and there are Reebok niggas (Ross’s words, not Baker’s; I think yung Braxton was rockin’ Tom’s, but I could be wrong about that). And whether the performance artist-cum-rapper knows it or not, this is an existential battle stretching back well before cats were even in sneakers. W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington’s alternating schools of thought, reform vs. accommodation, sought out in their own ways the most promising path to prosperity for downtrodden black America. Today, we’ve got Reebok vs. Vans, two sides of the same damn coin, the spiritual core of the dichotomy same as it ever was.

(This paragraph has been dedicated to my old pair of pink and blue checkered Vans SK8 HIs, which earned me more than a few threats from rowdy teens on lonely bus rides home from work. Time will not dim the glory of your deeds.)

Stepping within the Veil, as DuBois put it, sometimes without even realizing it, is just part of the game when navigating “this white man’s world,” as Yeezy put it. And similarly, I can be hanging out with Dr. Feelhood without having expected it, like when a white girl asks you to talk “thuggish” for her because “The Real You” isn’t quite enough.

And when someone like Bill Maher is adamant that President Obama is “not black enough,” at the end of the day, even if it is cable chat show schtick, Bill Maher can go back to his crib or the Playboy Mansion or wherever the fuck and chill, but the stakes are higher for the target of his fire-and-forget bullshit, and for those close enough to feel the shrapnel, which in the age of the internet is anyone with a phone, phablet or two-way pager (I see y’all two-way freaks).

When even the most well-meaning friend/co-worker/girlfriend throws the “you’re the whitest guy I know” at me, it’s like Nat Turner’s ghost taps me on the shoulder and says “Just Do It.”

As much as whites in America must acknowledge and work to dismantle this country’s white supremacist constructs, erected centuries ago yet still alive and well (if you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case For Reparations,” please do so for a much more eloquent discourse on this matter than I could hope to muster), blacks (and latinos) must work to push beyond what ethicist Victor Anderson calls “ontological blackness” if there is any hope in a fight against disenfranchisement that again grows realer and more vicious by the minute.

Those wiser than me often tell me that it’s none of my business what others think of me, be it the homie hovering over an empty chair at the barbershop straight clownin’ me when I approach him or the matronly old white lady who can’t stifle her disbelief when I tell her I’m a writer.

But god dammit, I’m due for a cut this week, and I’ll be damned if I stop writing because the Better Homes & Gardens crew can’t process or acknowledge my intellect. Despite that one asshole contributing to a negative experience on my most recent stop by the barbershop, I can’t swear them off. Nor can I let my head fuck with me to the point of not cherishing who I am, of cutting myself off from my fellow man because of perceived slights, of not reveling in the fact that every moment, good, bad and neutral, has led me to the present. And neither a dude in a Pelle Pelle button up and some PePe jeans, nor a decrepit Barbara Bush lookin’ creature can take that away from me.

When walking to get a pack of smokes in my old hood one day, a woman shouted out, “them pants too tight!” Before I could whip around and snap back a retort, her drinking buddy replied, “no they ain’t baby, mmmph!”

No they ain’t indeed. And I need a fresh cut.

Follow Kasai Rex on Twitter: @KasaiREX