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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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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How Nicki Minaj’s Booty Started A Juicy Debate

If there is one thing that America loves, it’s a good ol’ scandal. Put race and a butt in the middle, and you get the buzz of the month!

Nicki Minaj is currently under fire for releasing the very racy art cover of her latest single “Anaconda.” From social media to online publications and even national news, everyone seemed outraged by the rapper for posing in a pink thong, leaving close to nothing to the imagination.

nicki anaconda

How was this exactly shocking news, when the show business industry has clearly made it a rule for entertainers to go naked or go home? This is the very question that Nicki took to her Instagram. For the first lady of rap, the nature of the controversy was strictly racial and she posted recent magazine covers to make her point.

Sports Illustrated

When white supermodels bare their booties for the world to see, it’s acceptable. When Nicki flaunts hers, it’s a massive attack. The rapper thinks society’s tendancy to hypersexualize black women is to blame. To her point, black women have been misrepresented in the media for centuries, and rarely portrayed as anything other than sexual objects. While she is bringing a crucial and usually silenced issue to light, is Nicki’s argument really relevant here?

Compared to the daily dose of female body images I am exposed to as a Millennial, the Anaconda art cover isn’t too different. But it does bother me more. Why? Because I do hold music – and especially hip-hop – to a higher standard than fashion. I don’t expect to be intellectually stimulated when I grab a magazine, but I do when it comes to music. That’s what the “Bootygate” scandal should be about. If the chorus of a song is “Oh my Gosh, look at her butt!” then what do you expect the visual to be?

The source of the problem is the content of the music, which is what Nicki Minaj, sadly, won’t take responsibility for. Like pioneer female rapper MC Lyte recently pointed out when asked how could hip hop be more substantial: “It would sound a little bit more realistic. It would be more reflective of the struggle that’s actually happening. It would be the reporting of truth. And right now, it’s a big party.”

If Nicki is going to compare the uproar her Ananconda cover caused to anything, why not mentioning Lady Gaga’s latest single cover instead of women that have nothing to do with the music industry?

gaga single

In that case, Minaj’s argument would be more powerful: it does seem like we are given free ratchet passes to white female artists. Her peer Iggy Azalea, who interestingly just dropped the teaser of the J-Lo remix “Booty,” is the perfect example.

But whether the raciness is served by a black or a white female rapper, the truth is hip hop lovers like myself are over it. We want to be lyrically challenged. Nicki Minaj may be the queen of punch lines, but the day of a punch song about something other than her booty (implants) is long overdue.

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