Last man (and woman) standing: Why Fabian Willams and Shannon Barbour are the new Jay Z and dream hampton

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About four years ago, I was a regular at a music and art function held every other Wednesday night at the now closed Sambuca Jazz Café on Piedmont Avenue – home of Atlanta’s grown up restaurant/bar scene. From the beginning, I was in my element. The soundscape was dominated by young instrumentalists and vocalists doing funk, soul, jazz and a little hip-hop, or any combination of them all. They jammed alongside several visual artists live painting mostly musical themes on canvasses or nearly nude models.

Fabian Williams was one of them. The event’s hosts introduced me to the talented group. Williams, who always secured a spot near the front left of the stage, looked me squarely in the eye, cocked his head back, grinned and said, “Interview me.” So I did.

Enter Occasional Superstar – Williams’ brand persona and key character. When we first sat down for an interview he was in one of those contemplative moods not unusual for creative and writerly types. Once we dived into the art conversation, he turned up like he had an amp in his back.

When I listen now to the audio of that talk, I think I sounded like a little kid at her first magic show. The unintended oohing and ahhing embarrassed the hell out of me. The cool part, though, is that it reawakened my love for art and taught me a lot of new things. I’m from Pittsburgh, the city of Warhol – one of the coolest cultural districts in the U.S., if not the world. By writing about Fabian, I also realized – and I told him so  – that I was honoring the memory of my high school friend, Javon Thompson, a brilliant young artist and writer who was tragically gunned down during a home invasion in 1994.

By reconnecting with the arts in a new way, I felt powerfully inspired. I can’t draw worth a damn, but just being in the same space with Fabian and his peers was cathartic. I’ve done some of my best writing alongside painters.

I was very shocked to learn that I was the first to write about him. He not only had a house full of paintings, but video, illustrations and a deck of face cards featuring hip-hop stars with two-sided, but different images. After, about forty-five minutes of conversation, almost as an afterthought, he talked about the art battle.

Performance art.  My last experience with performance art was in high school at a warehouse where some kid rode around a dim light on a tricycle, wearing a tin foil mask while reciting a poem. Weird shit.

The World Wide Arts Federation, Williams’ promotion vehicle, was anything but. He took the best of everything – from classic paintings, to video, hip-hop and, yes the Ric Flair days of WWF pro-wrestling -and put it in a crazy, never-done-before kind of mix. Dude sings, he acts, he’s loud and he’s badass, but he has an inner humility that helped him keep it all under wraps until it was buffed, polished and fit for public consumption.

Now with Last Man Standing, the 10th battle, Williams wants the baddest to take home some cash. In the past art battles, like my personal favorites, Paint, Sketch or Draw Blood! and The Art of War of Art, participants “won” crowd favor by virtue of applause. This time, there is a diverse panel of judges, who will see that the last man or woman takes home $1000. If I could draw…

Anyway, if you’ve never been to an art battle, this is the one to watch. Over the years, I’ve written over half a dozen articles about Williams’ work. My editors at Creative Loafing Atlanta chose him as a staff pick for Poets, Artists and Madmen in the 2011 Best of Atlanta issue. They invented the category, “Best Local Art Beef” to describe his brand of painterly mayhem.

Like my favorite music journalist, dream hampton, who introduced hip-hop’s critical thinkers to Jay Z, I wanted to readers to see what Fabian Williams is up to and reach the unanimous decision, that this kind of performance art should be as much anticipated as a new album from a classic MC.

Last Man Standing Takes place at the Stuart McClean Gallery on 684 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, Suite A-1 30312 in the historic old fourth ward.

new jay-z and dream hampton

Linking up with 2 Chainz

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I first met 2 Chainz, then Tity Boi, in October 2009 after the BET Hip-Hop Awards. I was watching performers exit and chatting with fans and anyone else who wanted to talk. He introduced himself and gave me his cell phone number.

We did not talk again until this interview from fall 2011.

At the time, the artist formerly known as Tity Boy talked collabos, codeine and what he really thinks about hair weaves. This all went down before the release of his Grammy-nominated album,  Based on a T.R.U. Story, and his part as a major component to radio rap singles – “The Birthday Song,” “Mercy,” “I Love Dem Strippers,” “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” “I’m Different,” and “F*ckin’ Problem” –  in a flurry of releases of the past year.

Articulate and polite, he’s different, yeah he’s different – very much than his strip-club and round-rumped birthday gift loving video persona. A lot has changed since my phone conversation to the College Park, Ga. native, born Tauheed Epps. Tity Boy was no more and he was busy re-introducing himself.

“My fans understand me as an artist. I believe in prosperity so I grow with every project. I know each one is better than the last one,” he explains. “Everyone has to be better than the last one.”

His previous mixtapes, Codeine Cowboy and T.R.U. REALigion generated only moderate buzz. In 2011, he was promoting his now shelved mixtape, Hair Weave Killa. Instead of breaking down the song content, he made a point to tell me that he doesn’t have a problem with women’s hairstyle choices.

“Hair Weave Killa is just another a.k.a. My whole take is pulling hair whether in the bedroom or partying hard, just sweating it out,” he says laughing.

As for his “Tity Boi,” moniker, the true meaning has little to do with mammary objectification. “It’s a country name,” he explained. “It’s nothing derogatory towards women. It comes from my family. It has to do with being spoiled, being an only child.”

He continues, “My name has always been 2 Chainz. I had them on in my 8th grade yearbook picture. It just kinda happened one day.”

His unceremonious name change came after the release of Playaz Circle’s 2007 album Supply and Demand while on Ludacris’ Disturbing The Peace imprint.  The single “Duffle Bag Boy,” featuring Lil Wayne, was their biggest hit. Chainz is still grateful for Wayne’s contribution.

“Not as many people would know me if it wasn’t for Dwayne Carter. I’ve known him for a decade,” he says, “Shouts out to Young Money.”

His connection to Weezy and their shared passion for “purple drank” also had a major influence on Chainz’s mixtape, Me Against the World 2: Codeine Withdrawal. Followers of southern hip hop are intimately familiar with several artists’ love for the sweet but dangerous stuff – Texans DJ Screw and Pimp C are among the drug’s best known casualties.

If you do too much of anything, it’s bad for you,” 2 Chainz warns. “[Codeine] is prescribed by doctors to help, not abuse.” (At the time of the interview, I was battling a cold and he said that I could use some. I stuck to Mucinex).

Whether he’s still sippin’ on sizzurp or not, he’s focused and been since he hit the scene through DTP with childhood friend Earl Conyers a.k.a. Dolla Boy. They chose the name as an acronym of Playaz (Preparing Legal Assets from Years A-Z) to let fans know that they planned to be around for the long haul.

“We had the same common denominator, talking about hustling and making money,” 2 Chainz says about his now long defunct duo.

The two met up with Ludacris through a mutual friend when they lived in the same apartment complex near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. While he and Luda have known each other for more than a dozen years, online rumors circulated that their friendship was strained at the time of the eventual departure. Ludacris cleared the air in a June 2012 interview on New York’s Hot 97, stating that “I still call him Tit. That’s the homie man, that’s family…I’m extremely proud of him.”

At the time of our interview, 2 Chainz offered no details on his relationship with Luda.

As the conversation moved deeper into his past, he was reluctant to talk – particularly about the violence and incarceration of his Playaz Circle rhyme partner that stalled his career. “Where I come from we call that puberty; we consider that part of adolescence. I don’t even want to elaborate on that,” he says with grave seriousness. “People get shot.”

Nowadays, 2 Chainz  is mostly concerned with shooting videos. When we talked, there was nothing anything unique or unusual, nor was there anything indicating that he was on the brink of new success. Despite the protest of parents, women and proponents of  lyrically meaningful hip-hop, his star continues to rise.

His new single is set for debut at the Hot 97 Summer  Jam in New York City.

Hope for Olivia Pope: One Scandal fan’s unique take on the obsession

Viewers love an intricately plotted series about fiery human emotions and the way lustful passion, no matter how virulent the circumstances, will drive poor souls to desperate acts.

via Hope for Olivia Pope: One Scandal fan’s unique take on the obsession.

ABC’s Scandal is finally returning from a three-week hiatus. The show has one of the most dedicated and diverse fanbases since HBO’s Sex and the City, which ended almost a decade ago. During the network’s break, The Scandalistas, as I like to call them (though they’re not all women), were going through withdrawal—evidenced by social media commentary lamenting the wait and the noticeable “silence” of tweets and Facebook status updates.

Full disclosure: I’ve never seen a full episode of Scandal. I know, I’m totally late to the party on this one.  I can’t say I have a “good” reason other than simply not getting around to it. I am also not a huge TV watcher and a show has to be mighty good like the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning, Mad Men for me to sit down to a whole hour every week.  I’m a fan of Kerry Washington, so I guess that’s a good enough reason. Exclusion from real and virtual show conversations is a close second.

Until this one.

A colleague whom I’ll refer to as Ms. Majorfan broke it down. When Ms. M. is not working her career as a busy creative management professional, she’s serving as a voice of reason in her friendship circle. The attractive single suburbanite has spent several Thursday evenings hosting Scandal events that ultimately turned into revelatory heart-to-heart sessions on life and love.

“It feels like Olivia is one of my friends and I’m cheering for her to get it right.”

By ‘getting it right,’ this devotee wants America’s favorite crisis manager to as Ms. M. says, “overcome the bad habit that she has,” an addiction to toxic relationships.  Amidst the tales of danger and espionage, the juiciest buzz centers around Pope’s affair with President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). While mainstream media appears to have approached the racial dynamic rather delicately, blogs and Facebook posts from African Americans have gone in. The black woman-white man extramarital dalliance has seen Washington’s character labeled everything from “whore” and “bed wench” to the “new Sally Hemings,” with equally harsh words for devoted, particularly black women viewers.

A post by TheRoot.com went as far to ask if black women are “hypocrites” for loving the “home-wrecking heroine.”

No matter the intensity of Olivia and Fitz’s flame, Scandal is hardly a primer on interracial romantic exploration.

“They’re all caught up in iniquity; that’s all I talk about,” says Ms. M.

It is very easy to dislike a philandering president and his weapons of mass distraction to throw Olivia off her already troubled course.  The lack of clear-cut heroes and villains makes all the key players loved or hated depending on the scene. Viewers love an intricately plotted series about fiery human emotions and the way lustful passion, no matter how virulent the circumstances, will drive poor souls to desperate acts.

Until now, no one ever told me exactly why they were so intrigued.  Some, though well-meaning, assumed that since it’s another top-rated Shonda Rhimes creation, I should just get it.

For Ms. Majorfan and her friends, Scandal strikes chords of empathy and sympathy for Pope, her supporting characters, and their real-life loved ones caught in a bad romance.

“They like it and don’t know why they like it. It’s just art imitating life.”

A messy life, but a life lived by people who without the high-level politics are something like us, quietly mitigating scandals of their very own.

 

 

Robin Thicke has blurred the lines between sexy and sleazy

I don’t know where to begin with Robin Thicke’s new video, “Blurred Lines.” The song itself, featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I., is a funky, soulful slide reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.”

The lyrics and juxtaposition of nearly nude women with farm animals are where the problems lie. Thicke wanted to convey an image of women free from restrictive relationships with, “OK now he was close/tried to domesticate you/But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature/Just let me liberate you.”

Liberate? With three men in suits next to topless women? Where is the liberation in that?  Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude. Even the unrated version of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” has quite a few mammary flashes.

The biggest difference is attitude. The Adam Levine-led vid has a much stronger air of self-assurance among everyone involved. The women in “Blurred Lines,” when not rhythmlessly prancing around a bale of hay, riding a stationary bike, or cuddling baby goats, appear visibly uncomfortable. One model practically shrinks away as T.I. brushes her hair during his raunchy verse, “Yeah, had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you.” Really T.I.? To whom are you referring? Not your wife, Tameka “Tiny” Harris.

Which leads to another curious point. Thicke supposedly asked his actress wife, Paula Patton, for “permission” to launch this video, but there so far have been no reports of T.I. talking with Tiny or Pharrell conferring with his fiancée, Helen Lasichanh, on the content . Does that indicate that they are simply lesser participants in Thicke’s vision, or that it is weak for black men to consult the women in their lives on professional matters, particularly those involving the inevitably sexually charged art in R&B and hip-hop?

Unfortunately, the ends, or rear ends, don’t justify the means. Instead of a sexy career revival, (especially for Williams and Thicke), the trio comes across like dirty old men trying to push up on barely legal college girls. Thicke almost looks like he’s trying to up-sex his oft-compared, blue-eyed soul contemporary, Justin Timberlake, who spent a few months in media purgatory in the aftermath of the 04’ Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” incident with Janet Jackson – who suffered even worse, but that’s another story.

I don’t know where to end with this either, except to say that people like uncut videos, but Thicke could have done better. A lot better.

Take a look for yourself. This is clip is NSFW, so check it out before you go to sleep, not when you get to the office.

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