Welcome 2014!

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Last year was the year of the selfie and I got some really good ones.

But more important than the mobile phone enabled exercises in mental masturbation, were the real connections with people. I was very fortunate to meet many folks I’ve admired in music, film, makeup artistry and other creative media.

So go ahead and touch someone (or yourself) as we reflect on 2013.

The highlights:

I moderated an International Music Conference panel discussion on publicity.

I did makeup on a film set for the first time. More to come…

I met Young Guru.

I wished Talib Kweli happy birthday.

I met a really nice guy with whom I have A LOT in common.

I talked to CeeLo again in a brief, but meaningful conversation.

I got a quick interview with Erykah Badu.

I got a good sit-down interview with MC Lyte.

I met people living in other countries that are better at keeping in touch with me than people a few neighborhoods over in ATL.

I was blessed with a new career opportunity very late in the year.

Finally, I took a selfie with Questlove.   Yes, ?uestlove.  Quest-freaking-love, the drummer of the Legendary Roots Crew that I’ve jammed to before Fallon, before he was named Time magazine’s coolest person of the year and long before the global acknowledgment his group are hip-hop’s preeminent, improvisational, badasses.

That, as the kids say, was everything.

Why gold-diggers make terrible friends

Some of the most easily accessible, yet badly distorted images are of the mainstream media concept of hip-hop. We see a mess of drama-filled relationships, catfights and of course good ol’ gold-diggers over a soundtrack of fully disposable beats.

Before you get fired up in the comments section, let me say clearly: this is not an anti-feminist rant. Feminism is about responsibility and the gold-digger chick is anything but. I’m not talking about the women and girls trapped in the horrors of sex trafficking, I’m talking about privileged (or semi-privileged, educated and or gainfully employed) women who make conscious decisions to manipulate men with their beauty and sexuality to acquire more privilege.

If you’ve had a gold-digger in your life, you probably met her through mutual friends, co-workers or other shared contacts. Early on, you likely mistook her laughter and exuberant energy as the signs of a kindred spirit. You hung out with her because she made you feel “special” for opening a window into her unbelievably awesome world. What you didn’t realize is that her life is a series of calculated, grimy, narcissistic, greed-driven pathologies hidden behind an expertly applied mask of high-end cosmetics.

Everyone is a pawn in her game. You’re no different. She’s your friend because you have something she wants: you work with celebrities, you’re in a well-paying, male-dominated career field where you interact frequently with your colleagues, or you have one or more handsome, straight, single male relatives with money. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you hang with her, she’ll keep you on the come up. She’s totally out for self.

If you’re blessed to have real friends in life, you know that the best moments don’t cost much. They happen over casual meals or coffee where you find peace and humor through the biggest issues and challenges.  The gold-digger is not interested in heart-to-heart talks unless she can make it all about her. Or she’ll pretend to listen intently just to find your weaknesses, of which she’ll remind you in a series of conveniently-timed backhanded compliments designed to make you second guess your success, attractiveness or social skills right before your next outing.

And to hell with your indie rock/underground hip-hop/new soul/art gallery/documentary film screenings – she only go if there are men – lots of them; preferably collectors or corporate types who are into the cultural scene. She’d rather go to parties filled with velvet ropes, red carpets and Bentley-driving ballers.

You’re the quintessential friend with benefits – you provide the benefits of accommodating her massive ego until she moves onto the next one. Quiet as kept, she hates you because she ain’t you. You earn a respectful living while she sold her body and soul to get what she’s got.

No new friends? Absolutely not. A vibrant life includes many opportunities for new friendships; just let the gold-diggers dig a ditch for themselves.

One time for your mind. When rappers could call out ratchetness without misogyny.

Why I’m still talking about A3C

I don’t know about you, but I can remember when hip-hop was unwelcome in many public spaces. Surely there are places in the world where this remains. When I was growing up, authority figures –particularly teachers and principals—discouraged rappers and their supporters from congregating. Even rap music itself was locked in cases at record stores because, you know, “those people” steal.

The ninth year of A3C made me realize just how far we’d come. The Meliá hotel in Midtown Atlanta was a central meeting place; the site of most of interview sessions and panel discussions. We, and when I say we, I mean all of us – the media, the artists, the producers and the fans from the most buttoned-up plain folks to the gold-grilled, tatted up, peacocking standouts – were not only welcomed, but with open arms. And no it wasn’t the money; hip-hop has always had money. The global cultural force is simply undeniable.

It’s the only event where an inexperienced MC can have his or her name appear in the same program as an international mogul.

To paraphrase the First Lady, this was one of the few times in my adult life where I can say I’m proud of hip-hop. I was proud to see so many different kinds of people come together not only peacefully, but productively while having a great time.

Here is the breakdown of highlights from all five days:

October 2

I headed to the Quad downtown to check out the Dunk X Change after party headlined by Too $hort.

Nappy Roots dropped in as a pleasant surprise with amped up renditions of “Po’ Folks” “Aw Naw.”

Too $hort ran through the most popular of his long catalogue of hits, “Gettin’ It,” “Freaky Tales” and “Don’t Fight the Feelin.’” Back in the day, I snuck and listened to Too $hort.  As a good kid in a protective household, this felt very rebellious, like Richard Pryor set to a beat. As a grown-ass woman, his nasty rap shtick is useless, misogynist tripe that has no place in my life. The crowd must have agreed because they mostly dipped out well before his set was finished.

The real gem of this showcase was Tom P, whose concise stage set ended in a super-fast flow veering into Twista territory. More on this guy, coming up.

October 3

The A3C Film Series presented Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This is Stones Throw Records at the Plaza Theater. Attendees were treated to the very first ever showing of the film’s final cut. The story of the iconic label was told through rare photos and video clips of Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf along with commentary from Questlove, Kanye West, Common and more. Both director Jeff Broadway and Wolf were in attendance. Wolf is a rare label magnate who stands up for his artists, no matter how different or commercially viable they are.

Once again A3C enjoyed some Wu Tang representation, this year in the form of a headlining Ghostface Killah at Variety Playhouse. Also on the bill were the grossly underrated Jean Grae and Phoroahe Monch who performed with an energy usually reserved for new artists. I hate to say it, but Ghostface was a little disappointing. He rocked alongside former Lox member, Sheek Louch. The two traded bars in a series of their popular group and solo tracks. Unfortunately Ghost’s late start resulted in an abbreviated show.  Instead of hearing verses from his first hit, “Daytona 500,” the instrumental played as background music to the audience’s exit.

October 4

In a live interview session with Big Rock of Heltah Skeltah, Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch, the three veteran MCs broke down the meanings and madness of their upcoming projects.

Grae literally completed Gotham Down in her hotel room after the show and dropped it exclusively on her site, jeangrae.com.

“Mine comes with orphans, kittens and free crack. I just try to push envelope; not for anyone else but myself,” said Grae, exhausted but still funny.

“Three months behind on my rent and car payments. I need people to support. No,” Pharoahe Monch said only half-joking.

“It’s a follow up to the last project I did called W.A.R. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, deals with health issues mental issues in the sense of being an independent artist… Just like the W.A.R. which stands for We Are Renegades, this talks about the reality of the situation.”

“I’ve been in the game in the long time, but I’m essentially a new artist with this solo release. I’ve written my whole life to this moment. It’s easy to write things that rhyme, but things that rhyme ain’t always the truth. I can’t help that I’m intense,” Big Rock added.

On the panel front, engineer, DJ and producer,Young Guru held it down with A3C founder, Brian Knott during “The Evolution of Production from a Music and Event Perspective.”

“You gotta change your mind on what success is and what you want. You have access to the world now,” said Guru on gaining traction through international outreach.

Later at Old Fourth Ward’s, Space 2, the Man Bites Dog Records session jammed with performances from J-Live, Copywrite and Boog Brown – who generated the most lively crowd response. Rasyrious and Yamin Semali laid down the sounds through the evening.

October 5

Veteran lyricist Talib Kweli paired with influential A&R Dante Ross for “How Technology Has Affected Artist Branding.” Kweli talked about releasing independent music and his unique relationship with MC Hammer. He went from dissing: “f*ck Hammer” to “thank you” after forming a business friendship.

“[As] an artist who’s a lyrical, miracle, spiritual – you need to pay attention to what’s happening in your industry whether you like their music or not,”  said Kweli in dispelling “conscious rapper” myths.  Kweli dropped lots of quotables. I could listen to that guy talk all day.

That evening Schoolboy Q  was entertaining, but overall underwhelming on Old Fourth Ward stage in a headlining show, performing “Hands on the Wheel” and “Collard Greens” along with a new track from his upcoming Oxymoron.

A few streets over, the Stuart McClean Gallery housed The Art of War of Art 2: Talk Panels of Death, Fabian Williams’ visual art trash-talking smackdown as part of the A3C lineup for the first time. Featured artists included P.S. I’m Dope, who garnered attention at earlier events with her powerful renderings of hip-hop artists. CP the Artist Palmer created what could be described as the Best Visual Art Depiction of a Hip-Hop Metaphor when he presented a pre-painted “cheat piece” of a battered and hospitalized Williams while quoting Notorious B.I.G.’s “beef is when I see you, guaranteed to be in ICU.”

Saturday night went well into overtime as East Atlanta was home to a series of late night performances as iNDEED and Scotty ATL packed 529 with DJ Burn One mixing it up between sets.

October 6

Because A3C cares, there were two awesome events free and open to the public.

The one and only Questlove stopped by Criminal Records for a quick signing of his memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues, The World According to Questlove. I snapped a quick phone pic with the funky drummer.

He (and I) then hightailed it to the Fourth Ward Stage on Edgewood Avenue for The Best Block Party Ever. It really was the Best.Block. Party. Ever.

Questo jammed in a crowd-pleasing, time-traveling, mutli-genre set before the heavy rain forced everyone to take cover.

20131005_164439CP OS ICU DisA3C 2013 logo

The festival wrapped with DJ Premier at Space 2 as an appropriate finale to an excellent week in hip-hop.

Images: Big Rock, Pharoahe Monch, I and Jean Grae

CP The Artist’s Art of War of Art 2 “cheat piece.”

A3C 2013 logo

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