10 Times Drake’s Hotline Bling Was About Life In New York

#1 When winter is coming and you have to learn how to walk in the snow all over again

#2 When your Dominican friends plan a Washington Heights night and you have 3 days to learn how to dance

#3 When Seamless texts that your food is on the way

#4 When you realize bed bugs are taking over your life

#5 When you are drunk on the train and fall asleep on the person next to you

#6 When Times Square rappers try to sell you a mixtape

#7 When you need a ride to another borough and find an Uber code

#8 When something drips on you while walking and you are praying it’s AC residue

#9 When you beg the cab driver to take your drunk friend in

#10 When that Shake Shack vibrator bling and that can only mean one thing

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Straight Outta Prejudice: Media & Hip Hop Meet Again

As a hip hop fan, I am sad to admit that I have learned to lower my expectations when it comes to the big screen. I am unfortunately used to low-budget music biopics or dance movies designed for a teen audience with cheesy lines and mediocre acting.

So when I decided to check out Straight Outta Compton – the film recounting the rise of legendary rap band N.W.A and its prominent members Eazy E, Dr Dre and Ice Cube – I only expected a good soundtrack and a polished story about the geniuses who gifted the world with “Fuck Tha Police.”

I guess I underestimated the refreshing talent of the cast portraying the rappers we all know, and the director’s bold decision to let LAPD’s infamous early 90s practices resonate with the police brutality crisis that America is currently facing.

Ironically, CNN was more prepared for the intense content of the movie than me. So prepared that the network not only expected violent scenes in theaters across the nation, but seemed truly disappointed by the riots that failed to erupt.

This segment leaves me with so many questions. Because the movie contains violent scenes that hit a nerve, we should expect violent behaviors from viewers? In that case, let’s consider deploying security for the next Tarantino! But even if we followed this bizarre logic, why would people affected by racial tensions express their frustration while watching a movie that actually backs their opinion? And while we are on the subject, do I really need to remind the ethnicity of the last two shooters who brought chaos in movie theaters? I didn’t think so.

In the end, I am not shocked that CNN assumed the movie would cause violence. It’s just a reflection of the constant misrepresentation of certain communities and cultures in the media. Scorsese’s depiction of savagery in Gangs Of New York is an artistic interpretation of History, but Straight Outta Compton is an invitation to rebellion, right? Again, not surprised.

But for the media to be astonished by the million of dollars that Straight Outta Compton is generating just shows how disconnected journalists are from reality. If only their job was to report the news! Why, in 2015, does it still feel like the mainstream media is just being introduced to hip hop? Have they not done their research about N.W.A and the 10 Million copies sold in the country? Maybe they suffer amnesia. But where were they last week, when Drake became the only artist with a platinum album this year? Have they not heard of the overwhelming success of TV shows like Empire?

It’s sad to see that hip hop is never good enough for the media to recognize its global influence and power. I just hope to see the day when this culture no longer suffers the negative treatment from those I’m going to start calling journalists with attitude.

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New York Trend Alerts – Spring 2015

Movie Theaters: OUT/ Museums: IN

Oscar season has passed, winter is officially over, and “HBO Now” is finally available, so why would New Yorkers want to pay 15 dollars to pile up in the dark? If you’re not convinced, just google “NYC movie theater bed bugs” and that should do it. Between the new cultural attractions and upcoming exhibits, ain’t nobody got time for movies, unless they are playing in outdoor parks of course. The new Chelsea location of the Whitney Museum just opened, and we can’t wait for the Hudson Yard Culture Shed to arrive in 2018. The High Line will be connecting the two centers for the perfect cultural stroll. In the meantime, The Met is hosting a Van Gogh exhibit this May and the Moma is currently showing Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, an artistic look at the mass movement of African-Americans from South to North that marked the 20th century. Y’all gonna learn today!

Apple Watch: OUT / Ringly: IN

I personally don’t think the Apple Watch was ever “in” but it’s now officially dead – sorry Karl and Queen Bee, maybe it wouldn’t be if we could all get the same custom-made (and free) gold Apple Watch. The New York-based jewelry brand Ringly came up with a much better concept: a tech accessory that will allow you to live in the moment instead of being a slave to your messages and emails. Ringly is the perfect combo for people who do suffer from FOMO but choose to enjoy life. The smart ring is connected to an app allowing you to filter all your notifications. The cute device will change color or vibrate only for things you want to know about. That way, you won’t reach for your phone unless it’s for something important. Hopefully they come up with a design for men soon!

Ringly is available on ShopBop & Bloomingdale’s

Soul Cycle: OUT / Walking: IN

Don’t get me wrong, New Yorkers are still addicted to Soul Cycling. But the fascinating practice of biking in a candle-lit room to a Beyonce/Lady Gaga/90s playlist has already made it to France, which tells me it will soon make it everywhere else, which also tells me that New Yorkers will soon be over it. While waiting for the next crazy work out to take over, walking is making a huge come back. This is mostly thanks to technology: the newest smartphones or wristbands allowing to convert steps into burnt calories motivate people to walk more. Many New York offices started hosting “Walking Challenges” and reward the most active employees on a weekly or monthly basis. Plus, recent studies have shown that “sitting is the new smoking.” We are basically wasting years of our lives and ruining our bodies because…shocking…we weren’t made to stay at a desk all day! So this Spring, ditch the Soul Cycle studio and save $40 for a free walk in Central Park.

Fancy Restaurants: OUT / Fun food districts: IN

If there is one trend in New York that will never go away, it’s food. We will always be foodies and do ridiculous things to try the newest places like waiting in line for two hours or hopping a ferry, a bus and a train to taste the latest treat. But it feels like New Yorkers are no longer down with paying the price of a plane ticket for a fancy yet non-filling meal. Upscale “food districts” seem to be the new hype and a good alternative to boogie restaurants. In the past few months, Gotham Market, City Kitchen and Le District opened in Manhattan, following the foot steps of the successful Eataly and Brookfield Place. Smorgasburg remains a Spring & Summer all time favorite, with an open-air flea market and beautiful view on top of an amazing selection of food vendors. Bon appetit !

Michael Kors: OUT / Backpacks: IN

Has New York’s favorite handbag brand gone out of style? Michael Kors’ shares are down 37%, and it looks like the designer is victim of its own success; now that everyone wears the famous purses, watches and accessories, why would people be willing to pay a premium price? For shopaholics and early adopters, it’s time for a new brand. Until fashion gurus announce the “new Michael Kors,” another trend has made its way to the accessories department: welcome back…to the backpack! The 90s have been invading our closets for a quite a while now, and it wouldn’t be a true revival without the iconic backpack. I knew that the Brooklyn’s hipsters had never really forgotten about it, but it’s now spreading everywhere, from corporate offices to Manhattan nightclubs. So don’t be afraid to embrace the nerd in you!

 

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5 Shows That Capture The Real New York

There are many TV shows that are either shot or set in New York, but only a handful are truly New York-centric. Here’s my top 5 of the ones that capture life in the City in the best and realest way possible:

#5 LOUIE

The only reason why “Louie” stands in fifth position is because it’s harder for me to relate to a mid-age divorced father than let’s say, a columnist with a passion for heels and fabulous girlfriends. But that doesn’t take anything away from the genius of Louis CK. The comedian describes the contrasts of life in New York with subtlety and a sharp sense of humor that is reminiscent of Woody Allen: from the low-key downtown artist life to the loneliness and anxiety of the Big City, “Louie” just gets it. I only wish there was as much jazz in the streets of New York as there is in Louie’s head.

#4 GIRLS

Having no idea where you’re going in life is a pretty common feeling for Millennials living in New York…and whining about it at a vegan Brooklyn coffee shop is their local sport. Yes, Hannah is annoying and that’s why “Girls” only gets the fourth position. I mean the girl has a paid writer position at GQ and quits because it’s not intellectually challenging enough for her? I die. But besides the obnoxious elitism of the show, “Girls” does a great job at capturing the mixed experiences of young adults living in New York. From trying to make it as an artist to having your heart treated like “monkey meat,” “Girls” is the first show to reveal the not-so-glamorous side of life in the City as a twenty something girl in a raw, yet hysterical way.

#3 HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA

A show that was cancelled after two seasons as #3, really? Yes, really. Because to this day, no other one did a better job at grasping the vibrant hustling spirit of New York’s youth. Ben and Cam have that cool group of friends you wish you had when you first arrive in the City. They are all fighting not to get sucked in the system and dream of becoming the best version of themselves. They are creative and street smart but get easily distracted by New York’s random adventures and endless parties. “How To Make It In America” is touching because it represents our complex generation: diverse, ambitious but also incredibly lazy and impatient. I’m still hoping for its return one day.

#2 SEX AND THE CITY

Do I even need to explain? “Sex and the City” was the first show to introduce New York as a character as opposed to a place. The City is one of the girls: it has a personality, a voice, a style. It’s magical, cheeky, and fabulous. “Sex and the City” is a  New York institution, restaurants or neighborhoods featured in each season  reflect what was “in” at the time of the episode, but also set the trend IRL. To this day, we still don’t know how Carrie could afford her stunning brownstone apartment and countless Manolo Blanicks by writing this one magazine column, but it doesn’t matter. The ups and downs of single life in New York and most importantly the sacred aspect of female friendship in such a crazy City are the reasons why the show will forever live on.

#1 BROAD CITY

How can I explain the hilarity of Broad City? If you haven’t started following the adventures of Ilana and Abbi, then stop everything that you are doing and turn on Comedy Central. If you have, then you probably screamed “YAS QUEEEEEN!” while discovering my #1. “Broad City” is simply the best show I’ve discovered in a very long time, and my favorite New York-centric show currently on air. “Broad City” is to 2015 what “Sex and the City” was to 2000. It paints a colorful portrait of what young souls in New York are up to these days: carelessly partying, smoking, Tindering, procrastinating, and laughing…a lot. You wanted “Girls” without all the whining? Broad City did it. Ilana and Abbi who both created and star in the show as fictional versions of themselves don’t take anything too seriously which is what makes the show so real and relatable. “Broad City” wasn’t the result of an all-star production team in search of the next big thing in comedy: it comes from the talent, energy and sass of two New York comedians who were trying to prove their parents they were actually working on something. It has that “Started from as a web series now we’re here” liberating format that makes it unique. Now go binge watch the first two seasons!

What are your favorite New York shows?

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Widow Basquiat: A Must-Read New York City Tale

Picture New York in the 80s. Graffiti is slowly emerging from the Lower East Side’s dark alleys to the trendy galleries. Artists, drug dealers, and pimps own Downtown: a (not so safe) haven for visionary minds. A girl buys a one-way bus ticket to New York with only a few bucks in her pocket. Suzanne Mallouk’s story starts like many others, but the rest is History. Literally.

I am not a fast reader, but I finished Widow Basquiat in 3 days. This book is as addictive as the nature of Suzanne and the legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s relationship. Once you start, you just can’t stop. Kind of like the heroin that the two lovers used to do in the Great Jones loft.

It’s hard to imagine that the city described in Widow Basquiat is in fact New York. It made me wonder if we traded creativity and irreverence for safety and Starbucks at every corner. On her first night in the City, Suzanne witnesses a murder:

“I went straight to the Seville Hotel. The first night a prostitute was murdered by the infamous “Slasher.” (…) There were cops everywhere and the women who were staying at the hotel were moaning and screaming and cussing at the police officers. I was so frightened that I moved out to the Martha Washington Hotel on 29th and Madison, which was only for women.” 

But New York was also the beating heart of a new vibrant art scene. Running into Andy Warhol or Keith Haring was just a typical night out:

“My strongest association with Keith was at the Paradise Garage club. (…) There was no liquor so everyone came high on mushrooms, pot and mostly hallucinogens like ecstasy and acid. (…) It was really (Keith) who brought graffiti into the SoHo galleries. (…) He was a real social radical. (…) The white art world disgusted him. Jean was black and had to present himself as separate from graffiti somehow. Keith was gay and white and could glamorize graffiti in a way that Jean could not.” 

Today, Chris Brown throwing bottles at people is considered a hot club experience. Suzanne even got into an epic pre-TMZ era cat fight with no other than Madonna over Jean-Michel Basquiat:

“One night Suzanne goes out to the Roxy and finds Jean-Michel with Madonna. Suzanne throws herself at Madonna and starts pulling her hair, scratching and punching her. (…) Jean-Michel laughs and laughs. (…) Later he paints A Panel of Experts. (…) On the collage he crosses out the word “Madonna.”

Race was at the heart of Basquiat’s work and remains one of the most powerful themes of the book. If certain anecdotes tend to show that racial tensions eased compared to the 80s, it’s only in a superficial way. Obviously, Suzanne wouldn’t get fired for dating a black man today. But she could still be discriminated for it. The tragic death of Suzanne’s friend Michael Stewart in 1983 also feels sadly current:

 “He had a massive hemorrhage at the base of his brain that appeared to have been caused by strangulation from an illegal choke hold (…) A grand jury investigation did ensue, (…) but those police officers are still out there walking the beat.”

The addiction to both people and substances is the main subject of the book:

“They do coke six or seven times a day. He tells Suzanne she can only wear one dress. He tells her she can only wear one pair of very large men’s shoes. He does another line of coke and paints Big Shoes (…) Jean-Michel sticks black paper over all the windows so that they won’t know if it is day or night.”

Widow Basquiat gives such a unique perspective of what it was like to be a twenty-something rebel in New York City at that time. Finding drugs and finding love was definitely easier back then (Jean-Michel moved in with Suzanne a few days after meeting her.) People could live in Manhattan like a complete Bohemians and give zero fucks about society:

“They dress in long black waistcoats and walk down 3rd Avenue carrying black and silver walking sticks. (…) They live without electricity and only use candlelight. They have no appliances or even a telephone.”

Beyond an inexplicable form of nostalgia – it’s not like I WANT to be a heroin addict in an abusive relationship –  the book made me want to explore today’s New York art scene. Basquiat only gained recognition as a major artist in the last few years of his young life, and even then, his paintings sold for the fraction of what they do today. I’m now on a mission to meet the legends of tomorrow. And even if we all know how this love story ends, Widow Basquiat still makes it a fascinating journey.


Order Widow Basquiat on Amazon.

If you want to immerse in Basquiat’s world, don’t miss The Unknown Notebooks Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum until August.

Learn more about Jean-Michel Basquiat here


 

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10 Times Beyoncé Helped You Deal With New York Life

Because no one else is schoolin’ life better than Queen Bee herself…here’s some advice we can all use when life gets New York tough:

#1 When you wake up and get ready to face the concrete jungle 

#2 When tourists ask you which way Times Square is

#3 When the Starbucks barista misspells your name 

#4 When you’re having a ladies’ power lunch

#5 When someone is messing with your money and there’s really no right way to say it

#6 When people think they can cut you in the Shake Shack line

 #7 When your friends invite you to the Meatpacking 

#8 When you run into the guy you date while he’s on another date

#9 When your friends are flaking on you because it’s raining or snowing

#10 When the door guy at the Box doesn’t believe you’re over 21 

 

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How To Get Away With Diversity on TV

It’s not revolutionary to say that black people and minorities in general need more representation in Western media – just turn on your TV and see for yourself. So when ABC – one of the United States’ historical Big Three TV networks – announced a new all black cast sitcom, it definitely caught people’s attention – including mine. The first thing that came to mind when I heard about Black-ish was: “A new show featuring a black family? Great! But wait…why is it about being black?”

I guess the talented TV guru Shonda Rhimes got me used to dramas where black characters can be the heroes even when race isn’t a central piece of the plot. By taking over ABC’s Thursday night with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and her new show How To Get Away With Murder, the screenwriter/director/producer is not only the first female African-American to produce all shows on a network’s primetime – she’s the first person ever.

Shonda Rhimes has not only given leading roles opportunities to many African-American actors, she also made America care about powerful Female, Latino, Asian, Gay, and Lesbian characters. In a country where race and gender still affect salary, education, health and justice…this is a huge deal. But just like any race-related matter in the USA, Shonda Rhimes has raised controversy as some people don’t seem to understand her vision. And by some people, I don’t mean your average casual racist – I’m actually referring to a New York Times editor.

A very doubtful article written by Alessandra Stanley was recently published on the prestigious publication, in which the author questions Shonda Rhimes’ tendency to tell stories through the lens of strong Black Female characters, while ignoring racial issues in her scripts. Even if Stanley’s intention may have been to start a debate on minorities in the media vs. real life, it’s hard not to deem her piece as offensive when it starts with this: “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.” Ouch.

The writer tackles interesting issues but creates confusion by not explaining why they are interesting: “They (Rhimes’ characters) struggle with everything except their own identities, so unconcerned about race that it is barely ever mentioned.” By not putting things into context – which is a not so post-racial America –  it seems like Stanley’s says it’s totally normal for Black Women to question their legitimacy as powerful individuals.

As awkward as it is, this article does lead to a deeper and everlasting question: should art be a reflection of our society, or should it be a vector for change? Shonda Rhimes’ shows may be Utopian, but if all screenwriters created content that mirrors reality, our perception of the world would stagnate.

The New York Times’ article backlash made me consider Black-ish in a different light. The new comedy is uplifting the audience by showing something you rarely see on TV: a successful African-American family. But it also addresses the issues that come with making it as a Black person in America, like the struggles of staying connected with black culture in a white world or the lack of diversity in the workplace. The one thing it might be missing is the complexity of black identity itself, but for a 20 minute sitcom that has already been compared to Modern Family, I still think Black-ish is a necessary complement to Shonda Rhimes’ achievements.

Will you be watching?

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