Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

My colleague James Fair and I did a short documentary piece on the veteran hip-hop artist Tame One for Wax Poetics TV. Tame talks about his experience as an independent artist and the politics of dealing with major labels back in the ’90s.

Click here to read the story that goes with it.

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Vinyl Records

By Damian Ghigliotty

We used to call the best places and things gems because they were hard to find. Places and things you had to dig for.

Back in high school, my friends and I would spend a lot of our time (and lunch money) at the record store Fat Beats in the West Village. The biggest craze among us, as 16-year-old Brooklyn kids, was original, unfiltered underground hip-hop. It was the same music anyone can find on iTunes today, but back then — ’95-’99 for my graduating class — it was usually local, almost always on vinyl, and extremely sacred compared to what everyone else was listening to on the radio at that time. The only exceptions to that were Stretch & Bobbito, two well known voices on 89.9 FM (WKCR.) From 1 am to 5 am on Thursdays, they spun nothing but good hip-hop. And a lot of us stayed up to record it.

The albums and 12-inches that generated the biggest buzz across the five boroughs were quickest to disappear off the walls of Fat Beats, and one day my friend Frank and I became the envy of 20 other Brooklyn teenagers for having found two of the last original pressings of the debut Juggaknots LP (later re-released on CD as “Re:Release.”) I soon came to learn with a tinge of jealousy that Frank also owned an original pressing of the Company Flow “Funcrusher” EP, a fresh clear-green vinyl, and Frank later became a little jealous as well when he found out my sister’s friend had given me a copy of the original Slim Shady EP (though he won’t admit it now that Eminem’s beyond famous.) Funny enough, all three of those records had plain white sleeves, meaning no cover art and no pictures of what the artists looked like.

When the internet started to become a recognized place to find and buy independent music — I would argue around the beginning of 1997 — my friends and I discovered a website called Sandbox Automatic that gave us instant access to even harder to find records. It was a sudden maturity in our exposure to the whole subculture of hip-hop and we went to the site as much as we could to buy albums, EPs and singles that record shops like Fat Beats and Beat Street in Brooklyn didn’t carry. Less local, but just as precious and just as tangible when the packages finally came in the mail. Then suddenly, the next few years shot ahead something like this:

I quickly jumped into the first wave of the Napster phenomena in my first semester of college, went back to buying records when I came back to the city feeling guilty, had trouble getting those records onto my computer, awkwardly began buying CDs (blasphemy though it was), got tired of spending money on full-length CDs, quickly moved onto LimeWire, then SoulSeek, and occasionally iTunes, where my access to music — hip-hop, rock, soul and otherwise — thrives today.

Needless to say, most of the value we placed on underground hip-hop throughout high school has dissipated with the past. The physical records will always look and feel like gems in a way, especially caked in dust these days, but in 2008 that same music is ubiquitous and no longer hard to find. And that’s a disappointment at times. Not just due to personal nostalgia, but also due to a fear that when I have kids one day they won’t be able to cherish something the rest of the world hasn’t already seen or heard.

And here’s the much needed caveat I can’t seem to find a proper place for: I hold no resentment against the growth of the Internet and digital music (only a minor grudge), nor am I adverse to other forms of digital media, or digital networking sites like facebook, or blogging (though I hate the word.) But I do believe the ultimate downside to the digital era hasn’t been fully realized yet. Or I’m too reluctant to join an online chat group about it.

Since last year I’ve been a regular contributor to one of the world’s oldest hip-hop magazines, HHC, based out of London. As a personal formality of sorts, whenever I interview artists I ask them what they think of the Internet as a promotional tool. And almost every time I get the same response albeit in different form: “It’s great.”

“But don’t you feel like hip-hop is becoming oversaturated?” I ask.

“Nope, I stand out,” is the usual reply.

It’s arguable that iTunes and LimeWire have been good for most independent artists — since so few choose to stay underground. But something was lost in the transition to ubiquity and it wasn’t just the physical embodiment of music.

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Development along the Brooklyn Waterfront.
 

There’s not a neighborhood in the city that has ever stayed the same for more than a few generations. If they don’t get better, they get worse, but they always take on a new face after a certain amount of time.”

My friend Lee said this to me about four years ago, when I told him overdevelopment does more harm than good to the city. There I was sitting on the L train, reminiscing back to when DUMBO was an absolute no man’s land and Williamsburg was a pretty sub-par place to go drinking — back when New York seemed a bit more comfortable with itself — and somebody else had to rain on my pessimism by reminding me of a time before the time I remember, when Brooklyn Heights was a ghetto and Flatbush was an epicenter of commerce. Sure, taking the longer view always makes things easier to digest, but neighborhoods in New York City have stopped going down since 2002.

And why does that matter now?

Because suddenly, in the media’s eye at least, Mayor Bloomberg might conceivably run for president in 2008. And try as I often do these days, I’m still unable to disassociate New York’s wealthiest and most accomplished leader from all the overgrowth in the city as developers are given greater access to lower- and middle-class neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.

Of course, it’s not Bloomberg’s fault alone that the cost of living won’t stop rising, and while some New Yorkers have trouble noticing, it’s not only a local phenomena. Neither is overdevelopment, which might be inevitable in the long view. But apart from all the new people coming in and no longer going out, Bloomberg has certainly helped speed up the process a lot faster than it was moving before.

On the horizon, city planners are projecting: redevelopment of the Atlantic Yards, a revitalization of Coney Island, expansions for the Jacob K. Javits Center, further spreading of NYU facilities in the South Village and Columbia in Manhattanville, another convention center in Willets Point, new condos in Bed-Stuy, and the long sought after 2nd Avenue subway line.

Some of these initiatives are for the city’s benefit, some are ruination on the horizon, and others are for the most part innocuous. But when they all happen at the same point in time, a lot of New Yorkers will have to struggle to keep up, and City Hall, these days, seems incapable of not giving developers the green light. Hence the dozens of articles printed within the last few months in Time Out New York and umpteen other magazines about how underappreciated Queens and the Bronx are, and about how many little gems of culture they both hold.

And while the features that promote economic development might not come from the mayor’s office directly, they all carry Bloomberg’s invisible seal of approval. Ironically, most New Yorkers who live in Queens and the Bronx know that the best thing to appreciate about the “other boroughs” is how they haven’t become real estate hotbeds like all of Manhattan and the outer half of Brooklyn. Which causes me to wonder whether the mayor and his associates are simply projecting another million by 2030 or equally endorsing that amount.

The toughest question these days is when does development suddenly cross the line. Is it the misuse of eminent domain?

I’d say it’s when too many neighborhoods no longer have the capacity to change and New York becomes stuck one way for too like an overfed waterbug lying on its back. Bloomberg’s vision of the city has always been new developments and high-rises from the west end of Northern Manhattan (also known as Harlem) to the corners of every other borough, which admittedly has its ups and downs. But pace is key. As is affordable housing.

It might be hard for advocates of city development to notice, but the nicest neighborhoods in New York City got to where they are through gradual spurts. Like healthy adults who grew up properly; foolish fist fights and arguments to valuable lessons learned. DUMBO, on the other hand, is that unbelievably awkward kid in high school who started taking steroids, and Bedford Ave is the 30-something-year-old nerd who still tries to overcompensate for a late entry into hipness. So, yeah, that whole aspect of the Bloomberg legacy still makes skin crawl.

Or… as Lee would likely point out if I were reading this to him on the L train back in 2003… maybe I’m just being too nostalgic over everything old about New York these days. After all, the UN is estimating 3.3 billion people (half the world’s population) to live in cities by the end of next year and 5 billion by 2030, while apart from overzealous development plans, there’s not much else to criticize about Bloomberg’s incentives: going green, raising the standards for public education, dumping the Republican Party for political independence. Not to mention the fact that he’s incorruptible with or without affiliations. And 311 is the best thing for the general public’s protection since Giuliani stopped being mayor. Imagine that on a national level.

So… the question has been asked and everyone has an answer… “Should Bloomberg run for president in 2008?”

I would have to say I’m completely torn to say the least. That’s what happens when you take the personal view and the long view both at once.

You Limy Bastards

Posted: April 27, 2007 in Brooklyn, Business, Culture, Food, Trends

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By Michael Hicks aka Mad Mike Mean Face

What goes perfect with a Corona? Yes, you little booze dumpster, you guessed it: a slice of lime. Getting a lime in the city is no problem, but the variety of prices can be daunting. Take your standard bodega where a lime can cost anywhere from 25 to 50 cents. Some have deals such as four for a dollar or buy four and the fifth one is free. The super markets sell limes for 33 cents apiece, which is generally a standard price in most produce departments.

The trendy organic stores like Dean & Deluca, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have a few different kinds of lime for the real connoisseur. You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted the citrus delicacy of a rumored $3.00 Dean & Deluca lime. These limes must be kept in a small temperature controlled oasis as not to spoil the moment that that $3.00 slice of lime hits your $1.50 beer. One example of variety is the Persian lime, which is commonly called the bear lime. The Persian lime is cultivated in the good old US of A, so those people bitching about the movie 300 should shut the fuck up cause we got yo limes bitches. The American manufactured limes are most likely harvested by immigrant workers earning around 33 cents an hour, which gives them plenty of money to buy limes from their local food stores. There’s also the infamous Key lime often called the West Indian or Mexican lime. Key lime pie is gross.

Down in Chinatown you can usually find a vendor selling four limes for a dollar next to a sewer drain. These limes tend to have a more flavorful taste but usually need a day or two to ripen. This is okay, unless you’re a raging drunk in need of a beer that requires a lime at that exact moment. Then again most raging alcoholics don’t drink beer that requires lime. Real drunks will drink anything, or in the case of the closet alcoholic soccer mom, wine is usually the weapon of choice. MADD would be so disappointed.

I walked past a hipster haven food market in Midtown where the name of the store was written in graffiti font. I guarantee those limes are at an above average price, say maybe in the 55 to 72 cent range. I don’t know about you, but I really could give a shit less if my limes go all city. I want my limes cheap and accessible. I bet those hipsters keep their limes right next to the fat cap carrots and the style wars broccoli.

The Korean grocer on my block sells limes for 29 cents each, but forget about organic that’s another tax bracket all together. So go ahead everyone, waste your hard earned money on limes, I’m drinking whiskey. Ice costs nothing in the winter and in the summer there’s always shots.

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By Damian Ghigliotty

(Photo by Michael Hicks)

There have been enough arguments over the immigration debate post-2004 to make a pie chart look like a kaleidoscope. Every dispute from how unwanted immigrants (typically those from Central and South America) help our economy and sense of cultural diversity— bringing little crime with them —to arguments concerning overpopulation, language changes, and national security in post-9/11 America. Even the weighted statistic that 85% of current child predators are criminal immigrants. What interests me though is what motivates the different points that people, including members of the federal government, make, regardless of their actual stances.

Nina Bernstein, an immigration reporter for The New York Times, covered a local story on April 10th about a raid against a family of legal Ecuadorian immigrants in East Hampton by federal agents searching for one illegal immigrant, Patrizio Wilson Garcia, who was ordered to be deported back in 2003.

The Leon family’s story is one of several thousands that have been occurring around the country— especially in small suburbs near larger cities —increasingly since Bush proposed his 2004 immigration reform plan. The questions it raises now are not only how accepting we should be of illegal aliens in our country, but also what procedures our federal government is taking to find them. On a slightly more suggestive level, it brings up the question of whether or not illegal immigration takes precedence over crimes, such as domestic violence, murder and rape, committed by fellow American citizens.

Of the 600,000 fugitive immigrants being targeted by federal agents, which is about 5.4 percent of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, some, perhaps the majority, were convicted of serious offenses such as rape and murder. The rest were labeled as felons after they re-crossed the border having once been removed for minor infringements. However, Garcia’s only known offense was the divorce between him and his wife, Adriana Leon, which instantly made him an illegal alien in the United States. The rest of the Leon family is a three-generation immigrant household, where every member is a legal citizen by naturalization or birth.

Quoting Christopher Shanahan, the director of deportation and removal for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York, Bernstein wrote that “unlike a criminal search warrant, which requires a judge to review the evidence and find probable cause for a search, the ‘administrative warrant’ used by immigration agents is approved only by the team’s supervisor – and is valid only with the consent of the occupants.”

“Valid with consent” translates to the fact that when federal agents appear at the suspected home of an illegal immigrant, they must first receive permission from one of the household members before they can enter. The grandmother of the Leon family ostensibly said “yes”, which gave Shanahan’s team the immediate go ahead. Perhaps Mrs. Leon is an informant for the FBI; but in all seriousness, restrictions on federal warrants for non-citizens are proven to be more liberal and less conscripted than the restrictions on warrants for suspected murderers, rapists, and crime organizers. The argument against that is that federal warrants for American criminals are restricted under the maxim “innocent until proven guilty”, while the 600,000 fugitive immigrants being targeted have already been proven guilty of illegal citizenship.

An interesting socio-economic factor behind the Garcia situation is that what happened on April 10th in East Hampton, a generally white, upper-middle class suburb, has been linked to long running complaints from neighbors about Leon family barbecues, where, as with most other Latin American parties, noisy outdoor games, loud music, and booty shaking can often be found. At the same time, those neighborhood complaints have led to over eighteen inspections by local code enforcers. Other common complaints about immigrant families around the U.S. include: sanitation, overcrowding (especially in the realm of education), language barriers, the deflation of property values, and the exploitation of social assistance.

It’s hard not to see the issue of legal citizenship as being a bit more culturally affected than our federal government is willing to admit. Would Mr. Garcia be as much of a priority if the Leon family lived in the middle of Sunset Park, Brooklyn? Doubtfully. Then again, to paraphrase something my father once told me, suburbs like East Hampton have their defining characteristics just as much as neighborhoods like Sunset Park. From that point of view, urbanization is no better or worse than gentrification. It just depends on your outlook and how unused to change you are.

 

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