Archive for the ‘NYC’ Category

Ready for Summer?

June 1, 2009

One of my favorite things about NYC is the free summer concerts. Every spring, I make a list of about ten shows I want to see—but I usually only actually make it to one or two of them.

Little Brother in Fort Greene Park, BrooklynSome of the best (or at least most memorable) concerts I’ve been to have been the free ones: the Roots on Pier 54 in July 2005, one of the best nights of my first summer in New York; Little Brother in Fort Greene Park in 2006, where they said hello to me before the show on my way to the bathroom, but I was too shy to respond; Cafe Tacuba in Central Park in 2007, where I was knocked around in a humid, smelly, dusty mosh pit; Girlyman at Madison Square Park in 2007, when we took awkward pictures with Ty and found out that Doris used to be a camp counselor of someone my girlfriend knew from college; Lauryn Hill at Wingate Park in 2007, even though she showed up three hours late, looked and sounded almost unrecognizable (and, well, not that great); Jean Grae, 9th Wonder, and Talib Kweli at Fat Beats in 2008, where I stood five feet from the Jeanius herself.

Here are some I might make it to this summer:


A Nine-Year-Old Girl Rocking the Mic, Paying the Bills

May 7, 2009

P-StarOn Saturday I saw the documentary P-Star Rising at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s the story of nine-year-old rapper P-Star (Priscilla Star Diaz) growing up with her father and sister in Harlem. She is one interesting character, and a genuinely talented emcee; she was writing her own rhymes, battle-rapping on the streets, performing in clubs, and sharing studio time with Remy Ma, all as a nine- and ten-year-old kid.

As cute as she was, it was far from a cutesy/feel-good film. As a young girl, Priscilla became the breadwinner of the family, as the early profits from her music career allowed them to pay all of their bills and move into a more spacious apartment. The family went through a lot of problems, from trying to track down their druggie mother to sorting through trust issues with record executives. And as P-Star’s rap career started to go downhill while she was still only 11 or 12 years old, viewers were left wondering if she and her family (and especially her father) had really been making the right choices.

Check out the trailer here! (I couldn’t embed it.)

Priscilla, her sister, and her father, as well as the filmmaker (Gabriel Noble), were all at the screening to answer questions from the audience. The family seemed to be doing well, and P-Star—upon request—spit a nice verse for us all.

I hope to hear more from P-Star as she gets older!

“M79” in danger

February 26, 2009

Cross-town busIf you’re like me and your favorite Vampire Weekend song is “M79” (or even if it isn’t), listen up!

The M79 crosstown bus referenced in the song is just one of the New York City bus routes that risks losing its overnight service as part of the MTA’s proposed service cuts. Most of us in the five boroughs will be affected by the proposal, which includes huge fare hikes, less frequent subway and bus service, and completely eliminating some bus routes.

Visit the Comptroller’s website to find out more and to send a message to New York politicians letting them know how you feel about the proposed service cuts!

Mos Def and Black Radio at the Blue Note

January 25, 2009

Mos Def Blue NoteStood for two hours in the 15°F wind last night to get into the Blue Note to see Mos Def. Good thing we were the first two people in line, because there were only two good seats at the bar (that actually faced the stage).

Sitting right behind the wait station and next to the bar was very distracting—I kept catching myself paying more attention to the waitresses filling their drink orders than I was to the performance; and my back and shoulders were killing me from standing tensely so long in the cold; and I was exhausted from staying out late the night before; and some of Mos Def’s songs were less than thrilling.

However, there were a few memorable gems:

“The Boogie Man Song” (one of my favorites from The New Danger) turned into an extended jazz version. I think that song shows off his smooth voice better than any other song.

They did a totally unexpected cover: Radiohead’s “All I Need.” And it was surprisingly good!

Apparently Mos Def plays the piano: He started to play a goofy instrumental song which he said was about his kids and their stylish ways, called “The Kids Look Fresh.” Then he showed how that song became the background of “Perfect Timing” (from True Magic). It was the first time I’ve seen him rap/sing while playing an instrument.

Just when I thought the show couldn’t get weirder, he started to recite the poem read by Elizabeth Alexander after Obama was sworn in at the inauguration. Strange choice. But I have to say, his style of delivery certainly made the poem sound much better.

Five feet from the Jeanius herself

December 13, 2008

On 6th Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets, there’s a small sign for Fat Beats record store, which is up a narrow staircase above the storefronts. I’ve walked on that block countless times without noticing it.

dsc011691Half an hour before the show is to start, there were still only about ten people in the store, which is only about the size of my apartment. We waited around, browsing the albums. It’s all hip hop, and mostly vinyl. It’s cool that this place is still in business, at a time when even Tower Records can’t stay afloat.

The place filled up quickly, and after a while we were all standing shoulder to shoulder and starting to sweat. My umbrella was still wet, my legs and back were starting to hurt, and besides the expectant crowd, there was still no sign of a show starting anytime soon. I was beginning to wish I hadn’t come.

Then DJ Evil Dee came in the door, unannounced (at least to us). After greeting some staff people like old friends, he hopped into the DJ booth and started spinning on the electronic turntables. With each new beat he put on, the crowd bobbed their heads in appreciation, and chatted excitedly with each other about their favorite obscure albums and mix tapes.

Two tall guys in front of me were blocking my view of the DJ, so I finally tapped one of them on the shoulder and asked to stand in front of him. That was a good move: I was now about five feet from the DJ booth.

DJ Evil Dee

Finally, almost an hour late, Talib Kweli and 9th Wonder showed up. They squeezed their way through the crowd to make it to the DJ booth, Talib did a bit on the mic, and 9th and took over the turntables.

9th Wonder

Finally, Jean Grae showed up. With a laugh, Talib introduced her as “the greatest lyricist in the world.” She crammed into the DJ booth with Talib and 9th and joked about how hot it was in the store. (Indeed, Talib had sweat streaming down his face and had already taken off his hoodie.) She chastised the crowd for not showing up to her Highline Ballroom concert and only showing up now because it was a free show.

9th and Jean did a few songs from Jeanius, including my favorite, “Don’t Rush Me,” which she said was the very first song they had made together, and that it was extra special because she even got 9th Wonder to sing a little bit on the track. Jeanius indeed.

Jean Grae

After a few Jeanius tracks, Jean did some a cappella verses. Talib attempted to do one of his new songs a cappella, but after some trite rhyme schemes (like fly/high) and stops and starts, he forgot the rest and gave up. Then they did a couple of Kweli’s songs, and Jean joined in on some verses.

The funniest moment came when Talib Kweli started his song “Black Girl Pain” and Jean Grae said, “Where are my black girls?” There was silence. So she was like, “Black girls? … Black girls?” (There were definitely some black girls in the room, but I guess they weren’t very vocal about it or they weren’t in Jean’s view.) Her directness was refreshing.

Soundtrack: Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot

December 8, 2008

I just watched the documentary Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot, about some of the best high school basketball players in the country coming together for a game in Rucker Park in Harlem. The movie was pretty good, but kind of boring, as I’m not that into basketball.

The soundtrack kept me entertained, though. The movie was made by Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, and in all the reviews of the film that I read, the soundtrack was highly praised. But I was surprised to see that the soundtrack is not for sale yet, and there isn’t even a track list anywhere. So I started to figure it out for myself….

Here are the tracks from the movie that I could identify. They’re generally in order, but there are also a lot of songs missing—there were a bunch of jazz and funk and other old-school tunes that I couldn’t identify but I wish I could.

  • 50 Cent – “Hate It Or Love It”
  • Ludacris – “Number One Spot”
  • Kool and the Gang – “Hollywood Swingin'”
  • N.W.A. – “Straight Outta Compton”
  • Fat Joe – “My Lifestyle”
  • Jay-Z – “Lucifer”
  • Staples Singers – “Let’s Do It Again” (written by Curtis Mayfield)
  • Jay-Z – “My 1st Song”
  • House of Pain – “Jump Around”
  • M.I.A. – “Amazon”
  • Nas – “Halftime”
  • Joe Budden – “Pump It Up”
  • M.I.A. – “Pull Up the People”
  • Jay-Z – “Dirt Off Your Shoulders”

Also, somewhere in there there was supposed to be a new song by the Beastie Boys called “Bass Line Is Nice.”

Let me know if you know of anything else I’m missing.

Playlist: On the bus to New York City

October 20, 2008
  1. DJ Cappel & Smitty –
    Biggie @ 5 Pointz in Queens

    Biggie @ 5 Pointz in Queens

    “Juicy/New York, New York” (from Blue Eyes Meets Bed-Stuy, the Notorious B.I.G./Frank Sinatra mix)

  2. Jay-Z featuring Lil Wayne – “Hello Brooklyn”
  3. Kevin So – “New York City” (gotta love the cheesy lyrics by this man)
  4. Pete Miser – “From the 718” (interlude)
  5. Mos Def – “Brooklyn”
  6. Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk” (“I saw Joanna down in the subway/She took an apartment in Washington Heights”)
  7. Joni Mitchell – “Chelsea Morning”
  8. Suzanne Vega – “New York Is a Woman”
  9. LCD Soundsystem – “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” (I don’t really listen to LCD Soundsystem, but the title of this song is pretty irresistible.)
  10. Talib Kweli & Jean Grae – “New York Shit” (better than the Busta Rhymes version, I think)
  11. Mobb Deep – “Best of Queens” (I have trouble finding songs to represent my borough.)
  12. Grandmaster Caz – “South Bronx Subway Rap” (from Wild Style, the best movie about NYC ever)
  13. La Bruja – “Nuyorico” (“And if you’re in the mood to view the city lights/Of paradise, you don’t even have to go to Paris/You can go out on the Rosie Perez Terrace/Where tropical sounds can be found”)

TMBG loves the World’s Fair site

October 14, 2008

One of my favorite buildings in all of New York City is the New York State Pavilion, which was used in the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens.

I was pleased to find out recently that the video for my favorite They Might Be Giants song, “Don’t Let’s Start,” was shot inside the Pavilion!

Notice the map on the floor that John and John are rolling on around 1:10 in the video. It’s a road map of New York state. Nowadays it looks like this:

And another one of TMBG’s songs, “Ana Ng,” which I also like (especially because that’s practically my name), mentions the World’s Fair site:

All alone at the ’64 World’s Fair
Eighty dolls yelling “Small girl after all”
Who was at the Dupont Pavilion?
Why was the bench still warm? Who had been there?

My summer anthem: the Mister Softee song

August 4, 2008

Ever since moving to NYC, I’ve had the Mister Softee ice cream truck song stuck in my head. The trucks are only around for a few months of the year, but they’re so omnipresent during the summer (and that song is so damn repetitive and loud) that I find myself singing it even in the middle of winter. Apparently it drove Mayor Bloomberg nuts; and Michael Hearst disliked it so much that he composed 13 original songs that he thinks the trucks should play instead. (Doesn’t Track 1, aptly named “Ice Cream!”, sound like it could be a Sufjan Stevens song?) The Mister Softee song used to drive me nuts too, but this year—my third summer here—I think I’ve started to embrace it.

So I was pretty excited to find out today that the sheet music and lyrics are on the Mister Softee website. I didn’t even know it had lyrics. It’s my lucky day!

If you can’t sing and play it yourself, here’s a video of some guy singing it. (He says he’s Mister Softee himself, but I thought Mister Softee was the ugly cone-head man.)

If copyrights allowed it, I bet the Mister Softee tune—mixed with a hot beat—would make the perfect backdrop for a catchy NYC hip hop anthem. It pretty much already is playing in the background of everything I do, though, so I guess it wouldn’t make too much of a difference.

KRS-One does not perform tonight at the East River Park amphitheater

July 31, 2008

I must have gotten confused, because I was getting excited about going to the free KRS-One concert today in NYC, but it turns out it was last Thursday and I already missed it. (Argh—I just found out that I missed a Bahamadia show in Brooklyn last week too, which I’m much more upset about. I am clearly not on top of my game!)

I know KRS-One‘s a hip hop legend and all, but he wasn’t the real reason I was excited about the show. The real reason was the venue: the East River Park amphitheater.

A couple of years ago, after I purchased the first bicycle of my adult life—an old, rusty “Free Spirit” bike with a wide, comfy seat aptly named “Cheeks”—at Recycle a Bicycle in the East Village, I rode over to the East River Park so I could try it out. As I was savoring my newfound freedom and winding though the park, I came across the amphitheater. There was some very indie band playing there, with very few fans and onlookers. It seemed like such a special, secret venue, and I instantly became enamored.

That’s why, two years later, I was simultaneously glued to the screen and jumping up and down with excitement as I watched a rented DVD of Wild Style on a quiet night by myself. Wild Style is an amazing movie from 1982 about the early days of hip hop in the South Bronx. I would recommend it to anyone who lives in New York City, anyone who has been to New York City, or anyone who has thought about coming to New York City. I would recommend it to anyone who has ever listened to hip hop in their life. I would recommend it to anyone whose eyes have brightened or widened or narrowed at the sight of graffiti art or any kind of art.

Anyway, in the movie, the main character is a talented graffiti artist named Zoro (Lee Quiñones). At the climax of the movie, Zoro gets commissioned to paint the entire East River Park amphitheater with one huge mural. (You should see him paint!) And then there’s this amazing hip hop show there with, like, the very first hip hop stars of the city, and they’re coming out of the South Bronx and just getting famous, and the energy in the crowd is just so fresh. You just have to see it, I think.

The soundtrack is awesome too, especially the “South Bronx Subway Rap” by Grandmaster Caz.