PÉROLAS NEGRAS

It’s what Rio-based rap trio Pearls Negras used to be called, in their nascent stages, in 2012, after they met at drama school and formed a crew: Mari, Jeni, Alice. They lost a member—Andressa, Alice’s sister, who decided she didn’t want to rap—but they kept at it, and did what all teen girls do, which is record themselves practicing their talents:

God, I wish I had the tapes of the dances I made up when I was 15. But I am old, and Pearls Negras are young, and the above recording is from 2012. In December they dropped a mixtape via Bolabo Records, which is run by Jan Blumentrath and David Alexander, who also produce their beats. (I met Alexander in 2010 when he was producing for Dominique Young Unique and I was conducting her first interview ever; he also helped produce for Yo! Majesty.) I wrote a little background on Pearls Negras for Rolling Stone here, because they are fantastic. H/T: MYSELF. That RS piece is the most contextually informative, but here’s the rest of our Q&A, conducted via email via translator, because I don’t speak much Portuguese and they don’t speak much English. My questions are extremely basic, because I am (and the world is) just learning about them, but I thought they were background-informative enough to put out there, and: I LOVE their confidence and self-assuredness.

You met at a theatre company, is that true? Describe the program and how you knew you would be friends and make songs together?

Alice: It all started in the theater here called “Nos do Morro” where we were acting, singing and taking drama classes. We took a rap class at the theatre with Jackie Brown, who is a well known rapper here in Rio and she began teaching us rhyme classes.

Mari: That day I brought two songs from my father (Claudio Valadares), who is also composer, and Alice brought her own lyrics with her, because she was already into writing songs and playing with rhymes. In the class the Jeckie taught us to rhyme, to understand better the concepts of rapping and making music, helping us to write better words and after a while we started taking it more seriously. Then Jennifer showed up and we invited her to sing a cover of a song by Panteras mc’s with us and we voted to keep her in the group! :)

-What types of music have you grown up listening to? What inspired you to end up with your current sound? Have you been rapping your whole lives?

Alice: We haven’t been rapping since we were babies (laughs) we started only after we met Jackie. I always liked Beyonce and Destiny’s Child, which people always compare us to. And I also love also Rihanna, growing up I identified myself a lot with her.

Mari: I was already involved with music as a child because of my father who is a composer – like Alice, I also really love Rihanna and Beyonce.

-Why did you title your mixtape Biggie Apple?

Mari: It’s the name of the first song on the mixtape and it’s the most catchy song! It rocks and it’s super trendy in the nights haha. It’s very energetic and perfect for clubbing. The title Biggie Apple is about New York (how we call the big apple), just about a big place with energy and fun clubs. We would love to go to New York soon!

I don’t speak Portuguese, but I have read that your songs are an antidote to more traditionally misogynist lyrics in funk carioca. Is this true? (I can figure out some of it, but Google Translate only takes me so far, ha.)

Alice: Yes, female rap in Rio de Janeiro is not recognized very much and we struggle to gain a space here, our songs talk about many different things such as love, fun, parties, and about what is happening in society, about where we live and where we come from.

What’s it like in Vidigal? Is it important to you to reflect your life there?

Alice: Life in Vidigal is wonderful for us, because we are here since we are tiny!haha, and it has a story for us in every little place of Vidigal. People like our music because here is a place of much talent, dance and music. We have actresses, singers, a bit of everything. So now people recognize that stuff that is made in Vidigal has quality and as such are very open to listening to new talent from here.

-How did you link up with the British Bolabo dudes?

Oh, yeah… this was our gig on Morro do Alemão. After the gig Jan from Bolabo approached us, he was very eager to talk to us and we did not understand a word! After we found a person to help the translation we arranged to meet him right here in Vidigal, where he was staying in an apartment.

Mari: We went but did not think it would be anything serious or that would record! We recorded between 7 or 8 of our songs right then!! And he returned to London. After a year him and David returned with the whole production team to make a music video that will leave now.

Alice, you are also an actress in novelas? How does working on TV affect your music group?

Alice: Well, it actually a little busy because of all the rehearsals, its sometimes hard to act as well, we want to give our best on the tour we have in March, so it gets a bit complicated for me, but I can conciliate both at the same time, cause I have focus and faith! I think it can happen to each of us actually, because we are all actresses…but so far everything is working out for us!

You’re doing a European tour this Spring, right? When will you come to the States? What do you have up next–and what do you want?

Alice: What we want is people to recognize our work, We want to mark our space so that people know who the Pearls Negras truly are and how much we have worked to get here. What we want is to rock! And have the success that we deserved and we are confident that we will achieve this! Yes we will be coming to USA soon we hope. JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

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BOOTY BOOTY BOOTY BOOTY BOOTY EVERYWHERE

Early in Spring, 2012, just after Nicky da B’s “Express Yourself” video dropped, an online publication asked me to write an essay about bounce music, and why so many white people seemed to like it. I ended up writing not-that, but turned in a pretty thorough piece, I thought. They decided to reject it for unknown reasons without an edit, but obviously myself and the editor (who is no longer there) had different goals for the piece, which is fine. It happens. I recently rediscovered it and instead of letting it go to waste, I am publishing it here. It is totally unedited. The first half is a little clunky because I was attempting to describe and contextualize bounce music for a non-music audience, but the Nicky da B part is interesting, I think, and his quotes add to an ongoing discussion of an ever-evolving genre. Also, in case you didn’t know, “Express Yourself” became BANANAS POPULAR (search the hashtag) and is now even in some kind of car commercial.

Nicky Da B – Go Loko (Official) from Clayton Cubitt on Vimeo.

THIS BOOTY IS RECLAIMATIVE: SOME THING I WROTE ABOUT BOUNCE THAT NEVER GOT PUBLISHED
by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
In fall 2009, the New Orleans rapper Big Freedia made her first foray to New York City to play a handful of shows at downtown mainstays. Regional rappers experiencing an NYC debutante moment is built into hip-hop’s fabric, but two points were unique to Freedia. First, she plays bounce music, a style very specific to New Orleans that incorporates aerobics instructor-esque chants over a rigidly clamoring beat, as well as a signature, booty-cheek-quivering dance that celebrates the derriere in all its glory. Second, Freedia was a transgendered rapper in a New Orleans scene that was just starting to be dominated by her crew of gay and transgendered friends—most notably the bounce rappers Katey Red and Sissy Nobby. With hip-hop being historically homophobic, and New York being historically hostile to Southern rap, it was unclear how, or whether, Freedia would be accepted.

Termed “sissy bounce” by the New Orleans Gambit in 2008 after bounce parlance for gays and trans women, Freedia, Nobby, and Katey necessarily reject the moniker, as it separates them from the history of bounce music for no other reason but how they identify. The bounce style evolved throughout the 1990s, with its instructional lyrics riding mostly on two distinct beats, and while New Orleans artists like Juvenile, Lil Wayne, and Mannie Fresh have all done some variation of bounce, but Freedia is arguably the first bounce rapper to popularize the overall style outside of both NOLA and hip-hop fans. As it turns out, the nation loved Big Freedia, with gusto. Since that first foray from the Big Easy, she’s become a figurehead for her style of bounce music, selling out crowds across the nation—and it’s been interesting to see, considering straight bounce artists like Choppa, who’s had the support of major rap labels like Bad Boy, No Limit and Cash Money, haven’t been able to break out in this specific way. As with all of bounce music, it seems the answer is the booty.

“Sissy bounce” shows in New Orleans have been tolerant by necessity: women like to go to them because they’re the most live, and where they go, straight men will follow. Other cities where it’s become more popular, including New York, Austin, and Portland, tend to be more gay-friendly across the board, but at least in New York, these shows have been populated by a curious crowd: it’s not odd to see a mix including nerdy, straight white normy types; smartly dressed gay black rap fans; young female college students; transgendered art stars—all dancing with the requisite booty popping (to varying degrees of success) across the board. As rappers like Big Freedia have become more popular outside of New Orleans, there’s an undeniable dynamic that shifts for women, especially, who might be more reserved dancing with their rears in the air at literally any other type of show, rap or otherwise. And even though sexual objectification is intrinsic to the performances—any way you look at it, even participatory audiences are staring at the preternaturally talented back-up dancers onstage shaking it for us—the spirit can elevate it. With an artist like Big Freedia, specifically, her positive delivery and instinctive leadership can diffuse any negative sexual energy. The point is liberation—and in a different context, gay and trans bounce rappers like Big Freedia, Katey Redd, and Sissy Nobby might attribute some of their popularity to homophobia, as they create a home for hip-hop fans who might otherwise feel excluded from or object to the politics of other rappers. These rappers aren’t that different from other bounce stars, and the topics are similar—it’s just that sometimes the genders are flipped.

Still, there are lyrics that go deeper. Last year, Rusty Lazer, a DJ who works and travels with Big Freedia and Nicky da B, marveled to me that Katey Red’s track “Punk Under Pressure” was a staple on New Orleans radio. “The lyric is punk under pressure/ when you’re finished put your money on the dresser. It’s a song that an entire city accepted, on the radio, that basically said ‘I am a transsexual prostitute,’” he said. “Everyone just dealt with it. That to me is the song that made me feel like, this is something that changes culture. If a transsexual person can say this in a song and have it be a hit on the radio, this thing’s never gonna die.” But the popularity of these artists both within and outside of New Orleans has already changed culture: never before has a single out gay or trans rapper been so prominent in the national mainstream, let alone an entire scene.

A couple of weeks ago, a story hit Twitter entitled, “Does Your Child Sissy Bounce? The Dangerous Anal Trend Sweeping America’s Colleges.” Posted on the Onion-style spoof website Christwire.org, the article warned “parents” about the dangers of a “raunchy,” “ethnic” “form of erotic gyrating that has become the latest subculture ‘fad’ among reckless kids looking for quick, cheap thrills.” Satirizing racist and homophobic fears the site imagined would emerge from the Christian right if it ever actually discovered bounce music, accompanying the piece was the video for Big Freedia’s “Azz Everywhere,” as well as a stock photograph of two muscular, fratty white boys with matching six-packs and their arms around each other. The caption: “America’s college students. Are they at risk of ‘bouncing’ and anal sex with black men?”

But what was most incredible about the spoof was not that some people believed it was real (blame that on the tenor of conservative rhetoric in an already absurd election year). It was that this strain of bounce music has become well known enough to for make a competently viral satire. In a sense, it was another touchstone that this genre has crossed over on the internet thanks to popular bounce-friendly websites like Diplo’s Mad Decent blog. That, and the “sissy bounce” story is a compelling one that’s proliferated through music sites and alt-weeklies, even a ten-page feature in the New York Times Magazine in 2010: a positive angle and something of a redemption story for homophobia in rap music.

***

At the end of March, Nicky da B and DJ Rusty Lazer, who also works with Big Freedia, booked an entire week of shows in New York, with performances spanning lower Manhattan from East to West, then dipping across the bridge to Williamsburg and Bushwick and back again. On the Saturday night in early April I saw him, he and his dancers put on a full hour’s worth of sweaty bacchanalia at Brooklyn Bowl, then decamped a few blocks over to Public Assembly to play another set, until the lights flipped on around five AM. Each time, he held the audiences enrapt: with four dancers (three ladies and a dude), Nicky’s commanding, chaotic staccato charmed full crowds to drop it “Hot Potato Style” and to “Go Loko,” tracks from his latest album, Don’t Forget da B. At each requisite drum trill on the beat, a leggings-clad dancer or Nicky himself dropped to the floor, flexing impossibly and jiggling their gluteouses to frenzy; most everyone in the audiences followed, no matter their race or gender. At bounce shows and parties, how you move transcends who you are. Says Nicky da B, “If you don’t know how to shake in New Orleans, you get whacked. There’s just something that you just have to know how to do: you cannot walk the streets in New Orleans and can’t dance. That’s just impossible. Boys and girls; boys, if you can’t show the hustle or something, it’s just wrong with you.”

Katey Red is Nicky’s “gay mother,” he says, and he considers himself part of a new, younger wave of bounce rappers, making a different style of music than Red or Big Freedia. One afternoon at the Chicken Hut, a communal bike-punk apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where Nicky and Rusty were crashing, he explained the differences. “As far as I’m concerned, there are other bounce artists in my generation, but everybody’s still stuck on Katey’s and them’s generation,” he says. “We got this new wave of rappers who are starting to come out. I’m more influenced by techno and pop and stuff like that, versus them, who are more influenced by rap and R&B. So it’s very mixed sounds.”

Nicky da B’s next-gen influence is most apparent in “Express Yourself,” a collaboration with Diplo that loosely borrowed bounce music’s drum structure but freaked it with belching basslines and twerked synths. Nicky expounds on his call to “express yourself” with chopped-up dance demands: “get that poppin,” “shake what ya got now,” “work it low,” “spread your legs… and make it clap.” In March, the duo dropped the technicolor video; directed by web meme-star Lil Internet and filmed mostly at Dithyrambalina, the art project mini-town adjacent to Rusty Lazer’s house, it was mostly about Nicky’s striking neon presence and full-screen shots of young women and men shaking their booties, some half-clad, flaws and all. Far from the objectifying fodder of the types of late-night rap videos that used to air on BET Uncut, its new energy and sexual ambiguity transformed the ass as a locus of liberation, the dance less suggestive than confrontational, a challenge to one-up the twerker next to you. This booty was reclaimative, its message crystal clear: this rubric is built to last.

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BAD BITCHE$ BOMB FIRST


The following is the thing I wrote to accompany my 2011 Pazz & Jop ballot but did not get published on the Village Voice because of various time suckage issues. BUT IT IS STILL IMPORTANT cuz it addresses thoughts about women/feminism/rapping/fucking that I have had this year. As B. Ames would say in an entirely more combative context, READ THAT BITCH (DJ MikeQ RMX):

Last week, I heard the awesome Code Pink organizer Melanie Butler speak about her experiences at Occupy Wall Street, and how she came to be active about women’s issues within the movement, even though her purpose for joining Occupy wasn’t initially about said issues. Though she wanted to simply protest against corrupt multinational banks and corporations, she said she found Occupy to be a microcosm of the country’s overarching misogyny, so she ended up working against sexism within the 99%, too. One aspect she was particularly focused on was that the media’s coverage of Occupy wrote women from the story; though we are equally represented in the movement, reports on OWS tend to blot us out.

Not to blithely compare revolutionary protest to music criticism, because those of us who do both know it’s a long haul from staring at a Google doc and getting spread-ass to marching against the megalithic money machine with moms, students, organizers, and inevitably off-beat cowbell players. But in thinking about my number two album, London grime rapper Lady Leshurr’s Friggin L mixtape, Butler’s speech came to mind, too. I’ve been concerned with/cognizant of the visibility of women rappers ever since I first learned every word to my favorite song of all time, “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo,” and since there is never a paucity of women rappers, I have come to the conclusion that we are failing, as journalists, to be thorough in our coverage. I include myself in this. Particularly in the internet era, when bloggers seem to manage to unearth every obscure man-rapper in the US with half a bar to his name, but sites like 2 Dope Boyz can’t post a rap track by a woman without uttering the condescending, otherizing, and dated term “femcee.” (To that site’s credit, they just linked to a fairly thorough listicle of the top 10 woman rappers to watch in 2012.) The apparent myopia when it comes to female rappers, coupled with many writers’ burning desire to characterize late-2011 rising star Azealia Banks as “potty-mouthed”—because she’s a four-year-old, apparently?—gave me bad dreams all year(with a bit of reprieve here and there, including Banks’ triumphant re-emergence).

Back to Lady Leshurr: she was a firestarter and a salve for me in 2011, devastating beats with casual velocity and staccato incisions. It’s not inaccurate when she compares herself to Freddie Krueger in her riff on “Blowing Money Fast”—and witness her “Look At Me Now” freestyle, on which she sarcastically intros, “I don’t see how you could hate on a little girl, I look 12 years old!” The latter’s a Sun Tzu move; she presents herself as playing defense, then sneaks up and bodies the original rappers on their own track, including Busta Rhymes, finessing triple-time raps smoother and more agilely than the vet. Compare this to my beloved Nicki Minaj, who allows herself on recent single “Stupid Hoe” (a far lesser “Itty Bitty Piggy”) to underachieve into the “female Weezy,” and get an inkling how much more vital rap could be if the long-hungry lady players were invited into the billiards room. Just one “bad bitch,” however bad, is not enough to keep all our voices from getting swallowed up. In Leshurr’s own words, from her “Did It On ‘Em” freestyle: All these dudes is my daughters. Personally, I’d settle for siblings.

The rest of my ballot unintentionally fans out from this frame. Gang Gang Dance’s Eye Contact and Fatima al Qadiri’s Genre-Specific Experience lived as twins in my mind, both projects compelled by women in an audacious vanguard of visual art and feminine experience. While al Qadiri reconceptualized genres like juke and dubstep through the lens of her experiences growing up in Kuwait (check her latest video), GGD frontwoman Lizzi Bougatsos offered a lush interpretation of her group’s love of global music. Both were open, freeing, vast, and embodied the kind of expansive world I wanna live in.

Meanwhile, Gloria Estefan became the first woman ever to debut atop the Billboard Latin charts (2011?! really?!) with an album that returned to party form, thanks in part to producer Pharrell. “Wepa”’s trilingual, cheerleading merengue was, in a year of amazing dancefloor jams, the most jubilant—and motivational enough to forgive that the stupid Miami Heat used it for their stupid theme song. (Go Knicks!) Houston noise-rapper B L A C K I E coincided with Estefan’s joie de vivre for me: True Spirit and Not Giving a Fuck, his second album, was exactly that, complete surrender to the punk clamor of his beats and the revolutionary nature of his lyrics. My favorite track “Warchild” is a protest against racist drone strikes that breaks down into a desperate, frustrated scream: “I DON’T CARE ABOUT AMERICA, NI**A!!!!” It’s as succinct a sentiment about 2011 as any, and one a lot of us can probably empathize with.

But on to the corporeal: Though I have ideological problems with its frontman, Big Black’s Songs About Fucking is the best album title ever, and that’s what Rustie’s Glass Swords was for me. Though it’s mostly an electronic album, every swoop of funk and glimmering pitch shift was a siren call to DO IT, from the swingy, fresh-to-death c-walk of “All Nite” to the eager, crystalline enthusiasm of “Ultra Thizz.” It’s the first time I can remember listening to a song and wanting to fuck purely based on sonics. Maybe it was emitting something like pheremones—the voices that do exist are a pitch-shifted melange of Rustie and his girlfriend, producer/singer Nightwave, so you can imagine they transmuted their chemistry onto the album. And, because you were thinking it: yes, the album cover looks like two giant crystalline boners both going for the same pristine a-hole. This year for me was about optimism, and the unending, silly hope that someday, the underdogs will get everything they ever desired.

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MAKING MY FACE YR WORLD

Oh, LO! I have been writing my facial features off! HERE ARE SOME (not all) OF MY MORE RECENT JAMS FOR YOU TO READ.

I wrote an essay on 2011: the year dubstep became a thing in the legit American mainstream (instead of just the thing that American bass fiends fight with each other over on Dubstepforum). Obviously some maniac left a long, angry comment about how I suck because I only wrote about the mainstream (even though that was the point of the article), which was pretty great, though I wish he (def a he) had invoked Jesus and God more. Read that over at MTV Hive, and also be sure to check the infographic I made with stellar graphic designer friend Ho-Mui Wong.

Oh, that thing was part of a series I’m doing for MTV Hive on some of the year’s best electronic dance music. One more essay TK in that one, but til then, the others: one on Night Slugs, the amazing UK label run by Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990, who are great but even greater because their girlfriends are like even THAT much cooler than they are if that’s possible (girlcrush central!). Then this one over here on Rustie’s Glass Swords, which was my absolute number one album of the year not least of which because it reminded me of Cameo’s wang-armor. (And because the album cover looks like two glorious crystal-men touching boners, about to penetrate an eager a-hole. [Or vag I guess but I like the dude-boner narrative more.])

I’ve been doing a bunch of stuff for Spin, particularly since my Odd Future cover story (more on that in a separate post), often related to said cover story, including this uncut Q&A with Tyler, the Creator, and a Q&A with the Internet (the outre supergroup consisting of Matt Martians and Syd the Kyd). Also, reviewed their album. Additionally: my reviews of Rihanna’s new album and of Amy Winehouse’s posthumous release.


ANDDDDDDDD, my Billboard cover story on Adele, their artist of the year. Also, here’s our Q&A, and another interview I did with Trey Songz (cue squeals), sensitive abs-flasher.

And, as ever, I write two pieces a week at Alternet about pop culture’s intersection with politics (my author feed). Most recent/end of year-related: 10 Pop Monstrosities That Almost Destroyed Culture in 2011 (AYN RAND AND BRUNO MARS, TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME). Also, cop our Occupy Wall Street book! Crucial to understanding the movement from zygote to now. Non-profit!

I SWEAR MY NEXT POST WILL READ LESS LIKE A RESUME, BUT YOU KNOW, HUSTLE HARD slash YOLO and WHATNOT.

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ALL SKIN AND BONES BUT IN YOUR EYES I SEE THAT YOU

A couple of months ago, I spent hours with Dee Dee Penny, leader of Dum Dum Girls, for a cover story for Self-Titled magazine. We walked around the NYU area forever like the loner nomads we both tend to be and discussed the events that fueled DDGs’ latest album Only in Dreams, which makes good on the promise of Spector girl groups, and amplifies their predecessors’ emotional energy, too. The album is largely about her mother’s sudden death, and about being apart from people you can’t live without. One day, after Dee Dee got out of therapy not far from where I go to therapy, we met in the Whole Foods Union Square food court. She was in the bathroom when I arrived so I slouched over by the coffee condiment section until she emerged wearing sunglasses. We talked about everything, forever.

The piece is viewable as a Philip K. Dick style virtual flip-mag here though it looks best on an iPad, or so I am told. With excellent photographs by Bryan Sheffield, who took the above photo as well.

One of my favorite songs from the album, “Caught in One”:

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THE GOD TIOMBE LOCKHART b/w WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES

Cubic Zirconia Take Me High from Tiombe Lockhart on Vimeo.

My interview with the inimitable Tiombe Lockhart of Cubic Zirconia in Scion’s Dance Fanzine is now outtie (along with profiles of Falty DL, Dillon Francis and French design house Ill-Studio). But there was so much we couldn’t include due to space constraints, yet I feel the world should be able to receive the full spectrum of Tiombe’s total G nature. LOVE THIS GIRL. Here’s the rest of the unedited interview (minus the off-the-record parts) in which we talk about giving birth, black filmmaking, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. ALSO, take note, TT just directed a Y@k Ballz video. And Cubic Zirconia’s album Follow Your Heart is out now on Fool’s Gold Records.

Your videos seem like a trilogy.

I didn’t think of it like a trilogy when it first started, but I did kind of think of them as three things so it was kind of like with Hoes Come out at night, that was on my woman shit, that was from being born to being a gluttonous teenager to being a woman. And then Night and Day was kind of like going into the woods, I wanted it to be where I come out of Central Park and living this life in the city. And have it be this throwback to Sade and 9 ½ weeks, like all this great weird mysterious women that lived in new york city. it was kinda on my man shit like being a singer but i wanted it to feel really lonely, i purposely wanted to shoot it not in downtown in all these spots like hey we’re having a good time. i wanted it to be a woman alone in the bathtub, and kind of witchy. And then take me high i wanted it to be about LADIES.

Spike lee has a lot of being the black filmmaker in like 98 years. Tyler Perry’s cool when you’re high or with your family but. I wanted it to be… I think i just wanted to go with my gut and what i wanted it, logically figured it out in my head w/editing. I wanted it to be a throwback to black musical theatre, church plays, that type of feeling. But also kinda backstage and this mystical world. I wnated it to feel like a musical.

In all those videos, there’s a certain representation of sexuality, and when you’re onstage I feel like you have a sexuality that’s super subversive and powerful.

I don’t think that really, I feel like I’m a shy person. I know that I am. I really am pretty introverted and like okay, if I go to a club I will just sit in a corner and I’ll get fucked up and that’s when I open up. But when I’m onstage and all that stuff I think, that’s my job, to be in it and to just open up, you know what i mean? I’ve been singing for a really long time. and so close and safe and trying to be with PPP it was kinda like okay, but i feel all of these things intensely and the only way that i’ll survive is that if i take everything I feel and just put it back out there. Because if I don’t then it just becomes stagnant and not good for me. But i feel like it’s my job to get really open.

I feel like it’s subversive in a way that you’re almost challenging. It’s not typical “I’m a hot girl” performance, which you would never do.
The women that are hot to me are women like PJ Harvey or Toni Morrisson. That is power. It’s strong and so alive and here, i feel like a woman. Here’s how I feel about this: like if you have a whole bunch of motherfuckers that are just loud in a room, you should be the quietest.
Because there’s weight in words.
I feel like i took this road that is less traveled, and i understand my worth and my power and I don’t need to fake it.

So “Take Me High.”
I feel like I’m giving birth to a baby. With every video, but with this one definitely more. I had a small idea for it, told [Cubic Zirconia’s] Nick [Hook] about it. I’ll have multiple ideas for years and i just let them grow. Daowoud and Nick are cool, they just let me do what I want which is amazing. I feel like with every video i’m learning crazy ass lessons and like i’m being challenged, like I’m supposed to be here and I’m supposed to be doing this, but… who the fuck thought I could edit?

You never had any experience editing video?
No. I was just like, I have to do it. I know ProTools, and I kinda know Photoshop, but I was just like, I have to do this. I got Final Cut and taught myself and would get help from friends if I needed it. And with “Take Me High,” there was so much that I did with production and the wardrobe and the editing. Everything for it. It’s my baby, this little thing that i thought would be really cool, and then it turned into, like, people.

So what was the initial concept?
Black musical theater. It was just like, why is nobody doing this? I wrote that little musical nd was just like, okay. I think because I sing in Cubic Zirconia, which people know, and it’s okay and respected, I feel like I can do anything.

It seems to reference School Daze, with Tisha Campbell doing the torch song.
Yes, very much like School Daze and The Wiz. I wanted it to be this soulfulness, not downplaying anything and just being like, “This is what we are.” This auntie vibe, LADIES. Like, I’m gonna put an outfit on right now. And we’re gonna go out. This whole type that doesn’t really understand the concept of self-deprecation at all. Just like, I just got off work, gonna go home and take a shower, come over to my house and we’re gonna drink some champagne, we’re about to go to a club, ‘80s-style. With gentlemen. And we’re gonna dance, but we’re not gonna pop it. With the furs and stuff, I kind of felt weird, because I don’t really believe in that but I was like, I’m trying to represent this era of black people.

What was your process in making it?
Step by step i was like okay, this is what we’re gonna do, i want as many dancers as I can get, I need it to be fabulous in an auntie-style way. What’s interesting about videos that I’ve learned is that it’s not really about what you want all the time, so you start with your dreams and then mold them into what can actually happen. It was important for us to go with the flow a lot. There was no producer. Nick and Daoud were there whenever I needed them but it was on some shit like running from the make-up chair to the shoot. We filmed it at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

In each of the videos you’ve directed, it seems like you’re going for a certain era. Is there something you’re trying to preserve there?
For “Josephine,” I sent the idea to the director and totally produced it, like we just need to do old Tarzan type of shit, and maybe the black people aspect, just a different take on it.

And “Hoes Come Out at Night” was on some Toni Morrison vibe. It was really deep.
Basically Lex and I recorded that song in between us going out to a club. A 2010 club! Not an ‘80s fancy club. A club. So of course she had to be in the video. But then she got pregnant, and I was like, I can’t put a pregnant woman out of work! So we came up with this concept based on stuff we were both going through, she was pregnant and I was going through this weird transformation. I’m a hippie, so I felt in my gut that things were going to change. So we came up with this concept where it was like girl to woman, like I’m gonna take what I have and baptize myself. That was a special time. It wasn’t like any of the other videos, there were only a couple people there and we were just locked in at a lake next to a waterfall. It was so much. And cherries are just my throwback to David Lynch.

I knew that I would know Lex’s baby, and I didn’t want to have some foul-ass shit. I didn’t want a director making fun of us jumping out of a car. I knew that I would know this baby. And it’s already a video called “Hoes Come Out at Night,” I better do something!

So you love movies?
When I was younger I did some acting and when I went to college for the New School I wanted to be a music engineer or some other behind the scenes thing, I always wanted to be a part of the “boy’s” thing, and kind of be behind it and have that respect. But I never did film.

I always loved women like Millie Jackson and Teena Marie who were very allowed to wear their sexuality and talk shit but at the same time they were women and they were songwriters and doing very masculine jobs. I’ve always admired that. I mean, Toni Morrison was a beauty pageant winner! I mean, shit, really?! So I think there is a lie being fed that people dumb it down, where people say “she’s strong, so she can’t…” No! You can still be feminine and be in control with what you’re doing and roll with the men and have people respect you. Girl, did you ever read Women Who Run With the Wolves?

Yes!
Okay the shit that she talks about. Everytime I pick that shit up it applies directly to my life.

I haven’t read it for a long time but I remember it blowing my mind.
She also talks about creating, always be creating. She talks about how it’s kryptonite for women to be, I don’t want to say rational, but… consistent. We’re women, we can do anything, we don’t need to be firm or rigid. All that bullshit about feminists that they’re just like… shit, I feel like I’m a feminist, and I’ll wear a little baby ass dress and some heels. I don’t care, I’ll shave my underarms and get a bikini wax. Shit.

Out of all the women that I know, you’re up there as far as being a dope ass feminist. Just by how you live your life.
I feel like I am! Seriously, I feel like it’s my responsibility, I’m put here because I like to feel a lot of shit. I feel a lot of shit, it’s physical for me at times, I feel so so much. Then I found out my moon is in Scorpio [laughs]. I feel like my job is to put it out there. I feel like I want to show like, little girls and shit that you can do anything you want to do, especially like ethnic little girls, when shit is so real. Because sometimes our cultures are not encouraging. It’s fucked up but it’s beautiful in a lot of different ways because you see so many things that would make other cultures collapse, and people are still smiling. But there’s a lot to where you’re just like, Damn, really?

When you were growing up did you have role models or idols?
I would sit in front of speakers and listen to music over and over again, and I loved Mobb Deep. I just loved the beats so much. I loved Common, all that shit. Also Sarah Vaughn. I just always have loved women who just talk and do very feminine things but could just like, roll. Like Teena Marie? Faith Evans! I flipped out, like oh my god she wrote this? I was young and that’s inspirational. A teacher once told me you should try to figure out why someone did what they did, rather than copy them. And Teena Marie produced some shit, that was so inspiring. It’s always been appealing to me, these women that could do it all. Most women have a nine to five and you’re in your office and you’re in the boardroom, do your thing, you’re not gonna act the same way around your man or your kids, we just flip into things. That to me is so tight.

Tell me about how the costumes and choreography come together.
My friend Desi did the choreography, the person who I did my musical with. The costumes, I just grabbed them. I went to boutiques and I was just like We need this stuff. We pieced it all together. I really wanted it to be on some lady shit, that’s why I had to have the furs and the black jumpsuits. I bought this wedding dress in Flatbush and I already had white gloves, and the white hat, a woman who’s a preacher randomly made it for the video! One of the boutiques that I went to I said, I can’t have a whole bunch of fancyass black people and not have them in hats. Because I wanted it to be kind of churchy. And the woman was like, I know a woman named Mary who makes hats and she’s a preacher. I was like, Mary, do you have a white hat? She rolled up in her Cadillac and gave it to me and I paid her 40 dollars.

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HEAR ME TALK ALOUD PON THE INTERNET

OH AND. If you are dying to hear said bitching sailor voice, on the radio it comes off more like “a high-pitched man doing Quiet Storm.” You can experience this spectacular audio beverage every Saturday on East Village Radio (dot com) from 4-6 PM EST, on my show Universopolis. It’s generally Latin/Afro-Caribbean dance music for raves and temazcals, though I reserve the right to play music from any country of my choosing.

Tomorrow, my special guest DJs/interviewees will be El G and Chancha via Circuito of Argentina and ZZK Records — a chance happening thanks to NYC monsoon season delaying their flights back to the motherland. Here’s my Cluster Mag feature about the incredible Chancha via Circuito’s journey into the heartbeat of Bolivian jungles and Andean mountaintops to make his new record. THIS WILL BE A SPECIAL THING.

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CAUGHT IN THE ACT OF NOT UPDATING VS. HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW

Before Tumblr ruined everything, Twitter did. I distinctly recall having a conversation with my friend Emil Nassar (aka Philly producer/DJ Emynd) about this, in a club, circa winter 2008. He shouted into the din, Why haven’t you been blogging and I shouted back Twitter and we both felt very hyper-conscious about the ridiculosity of it all because Twitter was newish and seemed indulgent and gossipy at the time. (His twitter handle is Emynd and “crackheads” have, apparently, stolen his license plate.) But now I’m blogging on my original blog, begun eons ago in 2004 and chronicling events that I barely like to think about anymore, along with many that I do, making excuses for not writing here because of the instantaneous and conversational response factor of social media. (Here is my Tumblr, follow my face). Everything has really gotten kind of stupid, in a theater of the absurd sense, no?

There’s something else, too. I always feel pressure to keep the writing on here more elevated than on my Twitter (a real cursefest, although feel free to stab me if I ever churn out an emoticon) or on my Tumblr, which often feels like the garbage receptacle of the capital letters-and-caffeine concoction that is my stream of consciousness brainpiece. If we have ever met you know I tend to speak in this way as well, in paroxysmal loudmouth mode, the linguistic inclinations of a 16-year-old sailor from the Valley. OH MY FUCKING GOD, AMIRITE? I like CnP to be a quieter space, except when I don’t.

More importantly, I’ve set this seven-year precedent (I AM SO OLD) of writing in the first person here and frankly, I no longer feel the compulsive desire to write about my personal life in public, per se, for several reasons. There’s tweets for that, and a whole media culture revolving around first-person narrative that is far more often self-indulgent than it is thought-provoking, and do I really need to contribute? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about documenting women’s real experiences, but if I told you everything here, what would I have left for my memoirs. I might change my mind on this, later. Whatever. Maybe I’m full of shit.

The other thing. I am super busy! Writing on Alternet and on Thirteen (NYC PBS) and freelancing for Billboard and VIBE and HIVE and Cluster Mag and various other exciting places that you and your family will enjoy.

WHICH IS TO SAY, I’m going to make a dedicated effort to write here more. Particularly I’m starting a new music dealmabob that I don’t want to reveal too much about before I’ve got the first three installments in the can, but suffice to say it will involve interviews and it will BLOW YR FACE OFF ITS AXIS. Until then you should read my 2008 piece about New York’s ball scene, bka VOGUEING, which the people at the Fader magazine recently posted on the internet. The photo below, by Krisanne Johnson, is gazongas. (The tall drink of water in the sun goddess pose is the gorgeous Lola Balenciaga) And as I noted before… I did not use the term “trannies” derogatorily, I was really just unaware about the debate around it at the time.

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O HELL YEAH I’M FANCY. MARY J. BLIGE, SWIZZ BEATZ AND RAPTUROUS ATONALITY.

I have to talk about ‘Fancy.’ I know I am L8, but I can’t stop thinking about it, mainly because every time my morning alarm goes off, the various ‘rhythmic’ NYC stations to which I’ve programmed the clock radio — mostly hot-9 – play Drake and/or this song. Even now that Lil Wayne is out and making music! DUDES, DIVERSIFY YR PORTFOLIO ALREADY. But having heard ‘Fancy’ 8 million times, both by choice and by force, in work and in leisure, in lucidity and in alertness, today on the train, I thought about the chorus and got a little emotional.

The atonality of ‘Fancy’s MJB and Swizz Beatz chorus, particularly on the sub-chorus [nails done/hair done/everything did] is a melon-carver to the guts. MJB has never been close to a pitch-perfect singer, but the sound of her reaching to harmonize with Swizz’s off-key monotone [dude’s got the all suaveness of a golfing loafer] attains some point of jagged perfection. It’s a jenga tower a piece away from toppling.

Swizz loves atonality. At first it seemed like pitch probs, but witness his vigilant blase-ness when rap-talking over his own beats, compounded by the fact that those beats, when perfectly Swizz, roil in their own cacophony. You’d think he was tone-deaf if you didn’t also think of ‘Roman’s Revenge,’ of ‘Ring the Alarm,’ even ‘Diamonds on My Neck.’ He likes parts to rattle and for the passengers to feel slightly uncomfortable. Imagine a sound installation of those three songs playing at once? Dude, imagine ‘Roman’s Revenge,’ the beat, as a sound installation in and of itself. [Well, maybe the beat and the chorus.]

Swizz elevates ‘Fancy’ with his inherent minor-keyness, broadening it to populace-size, reminding every woman that she can be fancy however she pleases. The uncomfortable celebration of luxury in third-step chords — the cosign of the tried, true tenets of vintage MJB-style upkeep and attitude. Before the Gucci, the Prada, the Margiela… there was the manicurist. Imperfection is the point, because most of us are not in the perfect percentile. All the subtext lies with MJB and Swizz, heavy on the clash. And even though I can never imagine gorgeous MJB without a floor-length white mink, glowing in a halo of highlighter and greatness, she really is forever just the girl with the doorknockers. In that mismatched harmony is an appreciation of ‘the regular’ that feels big even in Drake’s gentle repertoire.

ALSO, CAN I POINT OUT THAT SWIZZ IS SHOUTING OUT NARS???? Orgasm is a great shade of coral-pink that looks good on everyone. Mashonda/Alicia trained him well.

[cross-postered at ze tumblr, where i'm trying to only do short shifts and keep the longies here, but i became verbose.]

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¡COMING PRONTO!: DESIGNER HANDBAGS, BROWN STEREOTYPES, YOUR HOMEBOY AND MY MEXISTACHE

My Mexistache started filling in a couple of years ago. In my family, it’s something you’re either born with, or that emerges later in life, like tumors and menopause. It’s fairly light at this point, relegated to the corners of my mouth, and soft like a rabbit. I probably won’t wax it until I start looking like my boyfriendo, whose natural and robust duster rivals that of a ’70s porn star. Or maybe I never will wax it, because having a little hair above my lip is my birthright as an Escobedo, like gianormous chichotas and the metabolism of a rock.

You know what’s not my fucking birthright? INSANELY SHITTY COMEDIES PREDICATED ON MEXICAN STEREOTYPES. And yet I cannot resist them thanks to my impulse towards total reverse schadenfreude, based on the hope that maybe the trailers are lying in order to get racist Americans and DREAM Act killers into the theatres where they can then smack them down WITH THE TRUTH. So far this has never happened. Even if Edward James Olmos is starring. Maybe barring Ugly Betty. RIP. Instead we get various Chola-poseurs on YouTube, Gwens and Madonnas who exoticize the culture, and Fred Armisen in Mexi-face. I don’t care if you’re 1/27th Venezuelan, dog, shit is wack. Enter the forthcoming Camilla Belle and some generic blonde chick vehicle From Prada to Nada. BECAUSE IT LOOKS SO FUCKING AWESOME!

PRE-RELEASE ASSESSMENT BASED ON ABOVE TRAILER.
Camilla and some blonde chick play super rich Mexican-American sisters but seriously, ‘no hablo espanol’ because like, espanol is frowned upon in the upper echelon of white privileged culture to which their characters/characters’ family have assimilated. This is actually not so far out there for 2nd gens and beyond. But in addition to condescending to their own heritage, they also act like general blights on humanity–stereotypical LA aristocracy spawn. So obviously when their dad dies and leaves them bankrupt, they act like it’s a bigger deal that they can no longer go scorched earth on Rodeo Drive than… the fact that their dad totally just died. Also, now that they are poor, they are afraid they are going to get fat because EBT only provides for starches and ketchup (per Reagan), which frankly would be an awesome plot twist––former Vogue It Girl in weight gain scandal!–but don’t see that happening. Maybe in the sequel. Have another churro! What does happen is the rote riches-to-rags plot imperative where they have to go live in East LA with a tia they’ve never met who will surely be pious, matronly–the spitting image of La Virgen.

On the way driving their fancy SUV to East LA, they get stuck at a stop sign next to–gasp — real life cholos driving a hydraulics-juiced donk. OH MY GOD, THEY’RE WEARING… FLANNELS! By minute one in the trailer, you already know the dumb younger sister is going to fuck one of the dudes in the car maybe 3/8s of the way into the movie. ¡¡¡¡¡¡COMING PRONTO, Y’ALL!!!!!!

Oh wait, Tia’s cool, she makes a lot of great jokes that play on the fact that the rich sisters — who, as protagonists, we are supposed to identify with — arre sooooooo out of their element! Also, she’s running a sweatshop in her living room LOLLLLLLL. If the sisters are lucky, her employees will be sewing the delicate innards of Birkin bags.

CUT. Hot fake homeboy fixes the girls’ car. Dumb younger sister who I would like to stab’s all like ‘I’m not Mexican,’ even though like, honey, not to break the fourth wall, but it’s already been established that you are. Hot fake homeboy mocks her –with a broadstroke comment referencing ponchos, huaraches and tamales, sure — but he mocks her nonetheless. Levity. Breathe. Even though their antagonism is clearly a prelude to a bone.

CUT. BEST PART. Tia’s Sweatshop Shack decides to have a fiesta, where everyone wears traditional Mexican dresses because obviously Mexicans in Mexico do not wear modern clothing, then Camilla Belle gets dressed up as Frida Kahlo! 37 million American girls celebrating Halloween can’t be wrong. (Disclosure: I totally went as Frida like four years ago, obviously. Trad Mexican dress you already have plus kohl eyeliner, no effort costume.) White guy dating Camilla Belle’s character remarks, ‘You look just like Frida Kahlo,’ right after dumb sister tells hot fake homeboy, ‘You clean up all right… for a homeboy.’ Just FYI, everyone… Mexicans are either dirty, or we are Frida. DO NOT GET IT TWISTED. Actually, that part of the trailer is a bit of editing genius––so brutally transparent––and led Durga and I to speculate that trailer editors are smarter than most directors. Perhaps they’ve been giving away the endings of movies for decades because they’re trying to send us a secret message: seriously… don’t see this.

Cholas that look like Juggalos, feel-good music, cultural understanding and jokes about HOW WILD AND CRAZY IS SPANISH, THOUGH, REALLY? ensue. Angels die. Camilla Belle books another fashion mag cover. The world turns. And I leave you with this:

SOMEWHAT RELATED (CPN?): Anand of Yeasayer responds to Kanye’s response to GW Bush’s response to Kanye on Hima’s blog. This small miracle of the internet and Brooklyn colliding makes you, the reader, 18 degrees of separation from Ahmed Rashid, at most.

ADDENDUM TO THE ADDENDUM, i started this post like 2 weeks ago then got immersed in, you know, work, hence the non-timeliness of the addendum. But you should still go and read that response, though.

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