Matic808: Laurels Mix

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

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

Diary: Al Rogers

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


Interview: Lightshow

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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

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

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

Diary: Buffa7o

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

On The Other Side: The Barbershop Chronicles

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

Diary: The GTW

Photo: Ryan Lyons

Photo: Ryan Lyons

Days seem to blur together for me, not having a traditional job takes it's toll on me when it comes to time management. Most days i'm pretty busy working on what I need to do for my career, and other days I push stuff off because I realize that everything I do is on "my time." It's not a good habit and it's something that i need help breaking.

When I was a bit younger creating was way more fun most of the time than it is now. Now, it's fun only 75% of the time, which isn't bad but that other 25% contains procrastination, doubt, fear of my life, and a nagging girl who requires of me more attention paid to her. I'm finally at that stage of my artistry where one step on the ladder towards what I see as success for myself isn't celebrated like some super bowl party. True, I'm not used to having drunk goth chicks, online feminist, prepsters and hood chicks mingling together at my shows. I was more used to either or, separately. Seeing this clash is really cool and it gives me confidence that if I do whatever it is that I like, peeps would dig it.

Chigeria, umm, what can I say about this? It's definitely the name of my upcoming album and It's definitely a clash of everything i'm going through right now. My Jolly boy, Edgy Boy, Innocent boy sides all rolled into this global mix of sounds and feels. My family members somewhat smirk at the term "Chigeria" since I wasn't as enthusiastic about my background as I am now. Being a caramel skinned Nigerian in Chicago with the name James King growing up Honestly was a bit easy. I didn't experience much name calling or teasing about my name like most of my fellow Naijamericans did. ( yes, i'm just making up words here).

I pretty much just skated through grade school like a head arse with my Phat Farm jeans and Rocawear track jacket completely oblivious to the fact that the culture i had at home was pretty cool (even though i lived in Nigeria all of 5th grade). It wasn't until my freshman year in High school where I developed some type of genuine tolerance and pride in who I am. I started my first job at Abercrombie and met the coolest Sri Lankan kids ever, They were like speaking their language openly which I think was called Sinhala. I was pretty much like "F - IT " after experience that whole other world outside of my school. I started coming to class wearing abercrombie jeans with air force ones and west african print shirts on occasion. It was tacky, but fun. I spent my whole 4 years in High school experimenting with whatever I was into at the moment, sonically and aesthetically.

It pretty much shaped me up to be who I am today, A full time musician that draws and plays dream league soccer on my iPhone during my free time. I also tried to apply to Home Depot for some spring cash but I haven't heard back from them yet. Hopefully they hit me up before I head on tour this fall or something. <3

Photo: Ryan Lyons

Photo: Ryan Lyons

Follow The GTW on Twitter- @THEGTW

Scottie B: Baltimore Club 101

Photo: Keem Griffey

Photo: Keem Griffey

If you’ve listened to any Baltimore Club music, then chances are you’ve come across something that Scottie B has touched. A DJ, producer and label owner within the genre, Scottie has been a part of club culture since its infancy in the late 80’s and was one of the first to bridge the gap between outsiders wanting to gain insight and locals who wanted to keep it for themselves. His label, Unruly Records—which he co-owns with DJ Shawn Caesar—has released music from K-Swift, Miss Tony, Rod Lee, among others, and he still keeps a tight grip on what younger artists in the city are doing with club music. Recently, I got to kick it with Scottie at his crib to watch the NBA playoffs and to get a full lecture on how club music started from house parties to being sought after by Diplo and M.I.A to fading out in the city it was spawned. Here’s our convo:


True Laurels: What drew people into club music when you started out?

Scottie B: It was a hybrid of a lot of different music. House was big everywhere in the late ‘80’s. Even the hip-hop spots.

Was there always a concerted effort into making Baltimore club music an original sound?

SB: We weren’t trying to make a separate sound but we were trying to make music that would fit into the parties that we were playing. We had an idea of what worked but we weren’t thinking outside of the box. It was really small-minded. We thought on weekly terms. Like what we could play at our next gig.

What were clubs like before Baltimore Club started to pop off?

SB: Even before club was poppin’, in a hip-hop club they would play all house music. It was no Baltimore Club but it was fast music the whole night. Hip-hop faded out in clubs here in like 1990. A little later, me and Shawn Caesar started going to New York and they were playing hip-hop in the clubs—something we had been stopped doing. It was back and forth with new and old. Around the time “Scenario” was out and black college kids were into Native Tongues. We looked at each other and said, “We gotta do this.” People were going crazy.

With no internet, was it difficult for you to get new records broken?

SB: I was on the top list for club DJ’s and mixtape DJ’s and producers. I always had access because I would make something hot. I was selling a shit load of mixtapes. This was when the customer was more into being a part of something. That’s why it took off. People looked at club music as theirs. A lot of the music was shouting out neighborhoods and if you mentioned someone in a song, it was a good chance that your listener knew who that person was. There was a lot of ground support.

Describe the atmosphere of the clubs back then when Baltimore Club was at its height.

SB: Back then, the black clubs that played club music were 16 and up. Hammerjacks, Godfrey’s, O’Zone. The music was fresh and people came out specifically for that music. That’s what sparked the clubs having nights for younger people. Older people would party with younger people because the scene was so vibrant. You had 23-25 year-olds partying with younger kids in spots without alcohol because it was that hot. It was about dancing all night. You planned on sweating. That time is gone. The scene drives itself now and back then the music drove it.

When did you notice other cities starting to take note of the club scene and music?

SB: You would always get dudes coming into the record store from DC or somewhere nearby to grab a specific record but around ‘94 we started hearing they were bootlegging our shit in Philly. So we went up there and it was true. That was really hurting us in such a small market. We started getting cool with the record stores to find out who was doing it.

Do you think that Baltimore’s pride in local music has gone down with club music’s presence diminishing?

SB: It’s different for kids now because back then it was Miss Tony grabbing the mic shouting out people’s hoods over house music. Then he changed it to something a bit harder that was an actual song. It was able to be ingested. There was always a conflict between rappers in the city versus people within the club culture. Back then, the club music dude was also the DJ so rap dudes would say, “they’re not playing my shit because it’s not club.” But it was honestly because nobody was asking for it. I think that’s the same case with local music now. People aren’t asking for it.

Why do you think so?

SB: A lot of young kids are making music because they’re trying to get on the radio and trying to blow up instead of wanting to make good music. You can feel that.

People like Rod Lee, Blaqstarr, Miss Tony and K-Swift were all Identifiable club figures when I was growing up and I don’t see that anymore. Why don’t they exist?

SB: People don’t realize that in the early ‘90’s 16 year-olds and 30 year-olds were listening to the same club music. When K Swift and Blaqstarr took off, club music had become a younger music. Most people over 21 (except maybe hipsters) didn’t wanna hear it. Maybe not because of them individually but it was the sound. It became a big dance contest music. It got smaller when K Swift came around. When it was big with her, it was big with kids.

Does the lack of mentorship from your generation play a role as well?

SB: That’s what it’s always gonna be. At the same time, the younger crowd ain’t gonna understand an older dude flipping “Follow Me”. That’s not slick to them. The main reason club was so impressive is that it took old house music that people recognized and it flipped the track. But if you have no connection to the root, it’s not gonna stick for you. It’s not really a knock from either side. It’s like when they bring Jordans back out with all these crazy colorways. An older dude is most likely not gonna wear them because it doesn’t suit him. They’re made for now. It’s the same with the music.

How do you feel about Diplo’s involvement in club culture?

SB: It’s funny. At first, people were like “Oh, they really like our shit”. Then when he started to make it and get credit, it changed to, “They didn’t even give us…” Give you what? You were alright with them getting it at first but you get mad when natural progression happens? If people start liking something, they’ll start emulating it. Just like Baltimore Club emulated something that came before it. We took some other shit and we flipped it. People like to start the history when it benefits them. It’s not linear. It goes in a circle. It’s no year to when it’ll change. Music is like a kaleidoscope. It’s the same shit inside of there and you can spin it a million times and get a million outcomes but the elements in there never change.

Follow Scottie B on Twitter- @scottieBmore
 

Diary: Chrissy Vasquez

&nbsp;Photo: Keem Griffey

 Photo: Keem Griffey

Today I realize that I'm not like many people. As I've been told my entire life by many people. I'm similar to my music, my music is me. Different...astranged...created off earth. Where ever I go, my music goes with me. Journeys written into a melodic tune. It flows in my head through times of melancholy and when I feel joy it takes off into my body. Wave length. Taking off in to outer space. Let me go so I can free my mind. I swing my maschete full of treble cleffs, eight notes, do...re....me's...fa's...and sorrows. I'll blow you away baby, blow you away. Chrissy Vasquez. That's what they call me. I smile. As well, I'm hesitant. As I step on stage. The tune plays, I sway my hips and range my vocals with my hand. Strange voice. Numb and glazed. They didn't expect this, did they? Capturing pictures of the essence. Fifteen minutes...only fifteen minutes. Fifteen fucking minutes.

As they applauded, the noise filled up the room. The smell of drunk, the smell of fucked up...I still smelt a scent of love.

Love is universol. Love is all you need.

...

I grew up...without love. I grew up, with heartaches. The house on Rogers Ave, living bottom under the crack addict on top of us. I struggled. I've seen more than you think. You'd think the only thing I'd be witnessing in a child stage is the frog pad, and cartoon figures on the televsion screen. I knew what guns were before I even seen one, I knew what fear was because I scent it. I knew what pain was. It was all around me. Mami don't cry, I will protect you. The cops knocked the door down...

Love...love.........it's out here. Mami...do you hear me? Love...love.

He blacks out.

Follow Chrissy Vasquez on Twitter: @CHRISSYVSQZ



Interview: DonChristian

Photo: dumb.tired

Photo: dumb.tired

The beauty of rap music in its current state is the range of musical styles artists are willing to experiment with. Artists like B L A C K I E channel a punk-like aggression while Young Thug takes auto tune-era Wayne and creates a near-tribal element to his music. The bounds are looking limitless and the walls of the old guard are being torn down (don’t let Troy Ave tell you any different!). Philly’ native, DonChristian, brings his own style to the table as well. Cloudy, weighted and melodic, his rap falls into introspective and romantic states almost exclusively. He shouts out Drake for his honesty and likens himself to Odysseus in his latest project, Renzo Piano. It’s named after the world-famous architect whose vision has brought the New York Times building and the Whitney Museum of American Art to life, among a host of other works. To find out how Piano has inspired Christian to name a rap release after him and how he manages to make romantic rap not sound cheesy, I got to chat with Don recently. Check it:

True Laurels: Your recent project, Renzo Piano, is named after the renowned architect of the same name. Aside from you liking how his name sounds, were there any specific works of his that you feel correlate with yours?

DonChristian: Yeah his structures are really wild in the way that they exist in the sites and I really admire his work because it’s so site-specific. Work that’s curated and built for a space is something that’s always fascinated me. One in particular is his workshop in Genova. It’s this mountain-side office space that he built into a cliff. It’s so ill. I always dream of working in a space that’s built for your craft. His work is just so suited for light, movement and programming.

A lot of creatives who wear different hats often struggle with overexerting themselves and how to be equally committed to multiple mediums. Being a painter and musical artist, how do you manage? Or are you struggling as well?

DC: That’s mad poignant to my life right now. I’m thinking about it more than ever. I think I’ve always been trying to balance but my end goal is to be able to think of it all as just art-making and have it be less specific to the individual mediums. I won’t have to say I’m a painter, singer, rapper and a performer. I’d rather just be an artist.

Your delivery is distinct in its ambiguity and flow. Did you develop that intentionally?

DC: It’s mostly the way I translate rap. I listen to a lot of shit and I’m open to letting it rub off on me. Flows are the most exciting thing about rap because of the diversity of delivery and cadence. When I hear Young Thug, I get mad inspired. I’m always trying to do something different the next time.

How would you say being surrounded by artists like Le1f and others in your circle help you to churn out material and develop your own identity as an artist?

DC: It all tends to work because of the fact that we’re friends. I don’t feel like I have to uphold some standard of something; it’s all organic and I make work that my friends would fuck with because, above all else, I respect them most. If they can’t rock with it I know I’m doing something wrong. I just really try to be sincere and honest about what I say.

On Renzo Piano, you liken yourself to a pastor, priest and a clerk. What’s the common thread with those three that you see in yourself or your artistry?

DC: Being a pastor, you’re in charge of a congregation and you have the platform to convey a message. A priest has a more reflective denotation to it and more introspective stance. A clerk is about business and being efficient. I try to be all those things.

You give a shout to Drake on “Designed II Work” when you say “It takes a real dude to say what he means.” Why do you think vulnerability is such a rarity for people?

DC: I think there are systems in place be it religion, education or whatever that are hindrances to vulnerability and honesty. They’re supposedly founded on all these values, they’re really not. We’re taught and fed the opposite of what we need to thrive. It’s hard to be vulnerable and let yourself make mistakes and have flaws.

Is it easy for you?

DC: I’ve always been a very sensitive dude but I’ve only been cognizant of how sensitive I really am since I started making art and showing it to people. Making songs and letting people hear them made me realize it’s levels to this shit (laughs). I’m more aware and more vocal about what I think. You still have to find a balance though and it’s hard because you don’t wanna hurt people’s feelings or step on their toes.

Your music is melodic, lush and romantic. Is that an extension of your everyday personality or is that something that writing brings out of you?

DC: I’m definitely a romantic person and that probably comes off. And when I’ve recently began to sing, it’s all starting to come out. Especially when I’m performing, I get really into it like I wouldn’t expect.

What artists—musical, visual, or otherwise—have had the biggest impact on you as a person?

DC: Musically, Erykah Badu has always been mother to me. She’s the first person that made me immediately aware of vulnerability when it comes to performance. Barkley Hendricks is another guy who’s a painter from Philly. He did portraiture of people he met on the street in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and was kind of like a predecessor to Kehinde Wiley. He captured emotion and style in such a great way. He inspired me to paint. And my aunt Karen, yo. She’s a dancer in Philly who danced and taught at this school called Philadanco. If anyone instilled some performative bug in me it was her, just from watching.

still by neo sora.png

I read that you didn’t start recording until you got done with school and moved to NYC. What effect did the city have on you that led you to start making and pursuing music?

DC: If you don’t work, it’s not gonna happen for you here. Everybody is trying to do the same thing. So I got here, got my apartment, got a computer and it was just a matter of doing it. I went really hard for a year and I’m still going hard. I’ve worked like six jobs since I’ve been here. I’m a freelance painter so there are times where I have a week off and I can really sit down and work on my music shit and outside art. You gotta make your rent and your dreams happen at the same time here.

Are you happy with the sound you’ve began to carve out or do you want to start exploring different textures and energy levels with your music?

DC: To be honest, I’m happy because I know I’m making the music I wanna make. Now I definitely wanna do new shit. I realized that I wanna keep singing and I’m working on a summer EP that’ll be more high tempo.

Describe your most rewarding performance.

DC: It was recent. Me and Jungle Pussy opened up for Le1f at Music Hall of Williamsburg. It was surreal. We packed the house and it was flooded with people that came to see Le1f. He makes me so proud; to see all these people moving in sync and mouthing every single word of his music...it was remarkable. To be in that vibe was so cool. We gave it our all and we’re all friends. It was really familial.

Follow DonChristian on Twitter- @don_jones