Monday, September 28, 2015

Rappers in the Holy Land

12th century monastery we
explored in Jericho
Paul and I recently travelled to Israel for a friends wedding in Tel Aviv. An Israeli wedding is an experience in and of itself, but we were also excited to travel around Israel afterwards. Our trip was truly an adventure: we took a cable car up to a 12th century cliffside monastery in Jericho, explored King Herod’s mountaintop palace in Masada, floated in the Dead Sea, climbed Roman ruins in Beit She’an, walked the Ba’hai gardens of Haifa, got lost in the walled cities of Jerusalem and Akko.

As two lapsed Catholics, it was particularly fascinating to visit so many religious sites remembered
Jesus's body was anointed here,
ergo a VERY holy rock
from our Sunday school days. It seemed like just about every other rock was holy. Jesus was tempted by the Devil while sitting on this rock, he fell on that rock while carrying the cross, his body was anointed on this rock after he was crucified, he was standing on that rock when he ascended to heaven. People were fully supplicated, foreheads pressed to these holy rocks in prayer, and Paul and I would awkwardly put a hand down to seep in a little Jesus power. Cause well, you never do know.

Besides an abundance of holy rocks, the other constant throughout the trip was a heightened awareness of Paul’s “otherness”. Mostly it came in unwelcoming stares, but there were also comments and, on one occasion, a group of jeering teenagers that surrounded Paul. Although we saw plenty of friendly faces too, those moments kept us on edge.

Everywhere we went, people would yell “Baba Israel”. We finally looked it up and discovered that Baba Israel is an Israeli rapper currently residing in Brooklyn. In fact, he’s involved with many people that Paul knows and works with. We even found an old flier for a Baba Israel show when cleaning our apartment after we came home. Amazing coincidence, yes. But still not OK to shout rap names at the black guy.

It didn’t help that while there, we were also watching news from home unfold about the shooting in Charleston. Ironically, the blatant prejudice we felt in Israel gave me a greater appreciation of the Zionist zeal. What oppressed group of people wouldn’t want a place to call their own.
Paul with Tamar after she
played Woods' album at
Uganda Bar

It was in the midst of all this that we found refuge at Uganda Bar. Our AirBnb host recommended it to us as a place that captured the heart of the artistic community of Jerusalem. Not only a bar, it also serves as a record and comic book store, a performance venue and an independent music label. They offer the controversial beer of Palestine and it seemed to be the hub of all tattooed people in Jerusalem. It felt like Brooklyn.

While there, we struck up conversation with the bartender and a couple from New Zealand. Answering the “what do you do” question, Paul replied that he was a record producer and engineer, which led to the “anyone we would have heard of” question. Turns out the bartender is a big fan of Billy Woods, and she opens iTunes to show us her copy of History Will Absolve Me. She insists on playing the album, and suddenly the bar is flooded with voices literally from our kitchen. It was surreal and comforting to hear our friends, and even my sister, when we were an ocean away from home and feeling like outsiders.

Our experience in Israel is likely to be repeated most places we travel, even within the United States. There are certainly no regrets, and we won't be deterred. We saw so many amazing places and had such incredible experiences, and we will forever be enriched. But, it sure was nice to find a sanctuary for rappers in the Holy Land.

Overlooking the ancient city of Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pack the Converse, Wear the Jordans: A Helpful Guide to Packing for Rap Tour

Paul has been on tour for the past three and a half weeks doing shows all over the middle of the country. Apparently the crowds are great for indie hip hop in places like Montana and North Dakota because no one ever makes it out to see them.

When it comes to packing for tour though, I generally lend a helping hand. Paul has questionable packing skills. One time we went to a wedding and he forgot to bring his suit pants. Packed the jacket. Left the pants. Being a former Girl Scout, I consider myself an expert packer. Two weeks at summer camp with just one trunk means I can certainly pack for three weeks of tour with one bag and a road case. I got this.

In his effort to pack light, Paul decided that he was only going to pack one pair of shoes. One pair! I mean these are shoes. You gotta have ‘em. What happens if something happens to his only pair of shoes on the road. He’s going to have to find a Foot Locker in the vast emptiness that is Wyoming? I set him straight. Pack the Converse, wear the Jordans.

In addition to clothes and gear, he also had to pack merch. Paul decided to get custom wood USB drives containing six of his albums. He also brought some leftover CD’s from past collaborations, but realistically, CD’s are already outdated. A friend of mine bought two PremRock CD’s at one of his shows and then realized she had no way to listen to them. Her computer doesn't have a CD drive to add them to her iTunes, and no one has CD players or discmans anymore. So Paul decided on some cool USB drives. They take up less space and can be reused after the music is uploaded.

I also convinced Paul to pack a tote bag. This was a HUGE triumph for me. Paul does not carry totes. I always ask him to bring one when he goes to the grocery store so we don’t end up using a million plastic bags (why do they double bag paper towels?), and he usually sighs and grabs his backpack instead. Since he had to pack other things in his backpack, he was going to use plastic bags to carry his merch into the clubs each night. First, plastic bags look bootleg. Second, they tear and fall apart. Paul was eventually persuaded that a tote bag was the most efficient and logical way to carry his merch.

Paul sent me amazing pics from the road

Paul also has some of his own great tips for touring. After doing this a couple of times, he figured out a few tricks. Laminate your merch sign. You need to have a price list printed for when someone else is manning the merch table. And considering it’s going to be on the road, you can’t print a new one every time someone spills a beer on it or when it inevitably tears. Go to Kinkos and laminate.

He also got a Square reader. We live in a time where literally anyone can accept credit cards. Which is why it annoys me so much when restaurants in NYC are cash only. It is easy, efficient and only takes a small percentage of your profits. It seems worth it.

Although touring on the indie level is never easy, it seems that if you pack efficiently, it can improve the experience. Especially when you have three guys driving twelve hour stretches through the middle of nowhere with all of their stuff in a sedan.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Suite For Souled People

You really can change the world if you care enough -Marian Wright Edelman

Following the murders of Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Victor White, etc. etc. etc., the murder of Michael Brown by the police in Ferguson has been weighing heavily on us. Feeling more than a little helpless about the state of racial inequality, Paul created a beautiful and heartbreaking response: a three movement suite, entitled A Suite For Souled People featuring Elucid, Curly Castro and Billy Woods.

"Souled People" is both a reference to African Americans as soul brothers and sisters and as the descendants of slaves - “sold people.” Paul’s family has traced their family lineage from their arrival on some of the earliest slave ships to when they purchased their freedom in the 19th century. My family has also traced our lineage. Back to when mine were slave owners. In some respects, it’s heartening to see how far things have come in the past 150 years. But just because we don’t enslave people anymore doesn’t mean that we all have the same freedoms.

Paul and I know we want to have children one day. As each of these tragedies has repeatedly lacked the judicial response deserved, the reality of having a black child in America has begun to sink in. My children will be faced with so many difficult situations that I was never exposed to during my own childhood.

When I was still dating Paul, I heard the following claim more than a few times: this world is hard enough so why make it more difficult for myself and my children. Basically, I should choose to “stay white” and not deal with those injustices; the implication being that this is just the way the world is and there is nothing you can do to change it, so let it stay “their” problem.

If society really is as horrible as they seem to think, then thank goodness I found such a strong and caring person to help me navigate it. It seems more critical to find someone you can trust than accommodate a bunch of people you don’t. At the end of the day, the world is scary and hard for everyone.

I recently read an article from the website, Black and Married with Kids. Curious about a family website intended only for black people, I started browsing. And then I found an article that made me realize this website was for me too. Entitled How I’m Preparing My African American Son to Live in Today’s Society, it’s a mother’s guide to instilling confidence in her black son, as well as her advice on how to be safe, including a section about interacting with the police. I recommend reading it. It reminded me of Woods’ verse in the third section of the suite:

“but it's on you Boy to keep those hands in plain sight
Don't touch your belt
reach for your wallet
or happen to be holding your cell
normal speech is a yell yelling is a reach for the gun
silence an admission of guilt
Don't try to walk away
if you're running then run!
if you're smart play dumb
Don't get caught in the slums or a nice neighborhood you ain't from
if you need help Don't call 911”

The first time I heard those lyrics, I cried. Because we’ve been shown time and time again that this is a reality for young black men.

When we decide that some people are less worthy of basic human rights, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, etc., we lose a little bit of our own humanity and we pass along that inequality to the next generation. Not to mention, fostering a corrupt police force can’t be good for anyone in the long run. We need to be able to hold people accountable, as much as we need to listen to alternative perspectives.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Celebrating Two Years!

Photography by Edwina Hay
As of today, we have been married for two years! Sometimes it feels way longer, but I mean that in the best way possible. We were at our friends Matt and Marissa's wedding this past Friday, and a picture was taken of us that I think captures how we are already a seventy year old couple loudly bickering in public. Sigh, I thought it would take so much longer before it came to that. But I got 'pinions (something I state frequently when giving my 'pinions), and Paul either agrees or disagrees. Clearly, I think this was a moment of disagreement...

Our friends' wedding was actually more of an elopement. Matt referred to it as a guerrilla wedding, which was pretty accurate. They invited friends to meet them at a bar they frequent to witness and celebrate as one of their online-ordained friends married them. The bar took it in stride and managed to find some Hostess cupcakes, Oreos and whipped cream that they made into an impromptu wedding cake for the couple. It ended up being a perfect night celebrated exactly how they wanted to celebrate it.

Because it was an elopement, they did away with all of the wedding traditions. But seeing as Matt was best man at our wedding, Paul dubbed himself best man of theirs. And as a wedding gift, Paul arranged for a photographer friend of ours to shoot their wedding. We know how much we loved remembering the night as we looked through all the pictures, not to mention seeing all the moments we missed! Plus it would be something that they could share with friends and family that weren't able to be there. We got a sneak peak, and considering how much joy and fun and spontaneity was captured in the pictures, I'm pretty confident that they will be thrilled with them. 

Their wedding made me nostalgic, so I went through and found some of my favorite moments from ours:

When the whole church erupted in cheers as we were announced husband and wife
This moment
When this little girl asked me if I was a princess
When I got to make out in the park with this handsome fella
Continuing a family tradition and having Paul's uncle and aunt perform at our cocktail hour
Dancing to our wedding song Sleepwalk by Santo & Johnny
Dancing with Glo- the ultimate dancing queen
Belting my heart out with my Texas girls to our favorite Country songs
Paul booty dancin' me until I noticed everyone was watching 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rappers With My Ducky Pillow - The Mo Niklz Edition

When I first started my blog, I began it with a post called Rappers With My Ducky Pillow. I had hoped for it to be a recurring post, but over the past year we haven’t hosted as many rappers as we have in previous years. Maybe they are fearful of me stalking them while they sleep? That’s fair. Luckily, Mo Niklz crashed on our couch the night of PremRock’s album release party and I was able to revive the series!

In case anyone thinks I’m a really big creep, Mo was aware that this would happen. No Mo Niklz were eMOtionally harmed by the taking of this photograph.

For those of you who don’t know Mo. He’s a DJ based out of Connecticut, but he seems to DJ most of the hip hop events in the tri-state area. There is rarely a NYC show that I go to where Mo isn't behind the turntables. After winning the title in 2012, he was nominated as a finalist for best DJ again this year in the Connecticut Music Awards. Good luck Mo!

He is also a big fan of “Mo” puns- as seen in this charming photograph of Mo Niklz with monocles. When meeting him, the easiest way to his heart is through a good Mo pun. For more on Mo's music or for Mo merch, check out his bandcamp.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Professional Shout Outs

In my last post, I joked about how I tone down my work attire on days when I also have rap shows in the evenings. But sometimes when you have the annual Silver Society dinner to attend before your rap show, you don’t have that option. Then you have to show up to the rap show in your most professional business attire. Occupational hazard.

It’s always a bit of a shock to the system to go from my work events to Paul’s work events, but I kinda love it. It reminds me of how much we expand each others world views. At the Silver Society dinner, we heard a talk on some of the silver from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent catalog of their American silver collection. When I was in grad school, I spent a year long internship at the Met doing research on colonial silver for this catalog, so it was a topic near and dear to my heart. I formed great relationships with the two silver curators there, so I was super honored when they both thanked me for my work during their lecture. I got a shout out in a room full of silver curators, scholars, and researchers from major museums and institutions across the world. I felt like the coolest nerd in the room.

But as soon as the lecture and dinner were over, I hopped in a cab and raced to Williamsburg to get to PremRock's release show for his new album, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. It's Prem’s fifth album, all of which have been engineered by Paul, and there was no way I was going to miss celebrating that achievement! Prem always puts on a fantastic show, and this new album is some of his best work. You can buy it for only $5 on his bandcamp. One of my coworkers came, liked what she heard, and bought two of his albums. Maybe we’ll be listening to rap (instead of classical) in the silver department soon?

Willie Green & PremRock
Prem asked Paul to join him on stage to perform a few oldies from their album, PremRock & Willie Green. Following a glowing introduction from Prem, Paul took the stage to a crowd chanting his name. It’s a good feeling to be celebrated for your work. I imagine the exhilaration he felt was equivalent to mine as I got shouted out at the Silver Society. I kid, I kid. Kind of.

So here’s my shout out to all the musicians that night- PremRock, Willie Green, Armand Hammer, Curly Castro, Zilla Rocca, Karma Kids, and Mo Niklz. This isn’t a hobby for these guys. This is their passion, their calling, and they put in the work. A special congratulations to PremRock, who treats his pursuit of music with the up-most professionalism. He is very deserving of all of his success.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Corporate by Day, Rap Show by Night

Dressing is always tricky when I know I’m going straight from work to a rap show. Occasionally, I’ll bring my evening outfit to work and change before leaving. Obviously I prefer not changing in a bathroom stall, so I've reached back to my Cosmo magazine days to try and choose clothes that “transition from day to night”. Mostly I just throw a blazer over evening outfits and that’s a pretty quick fix. Or sometimes I wear work skirts over mini dresses and then lose the skirt before I head out.

It didn't use to be as difficult. Working in the arts generally means a more relaxed office attire, so I could get away with wearing trendier outfits on rap show nights. But now that I work in an auction house, it’s pretty corporate. Blazers, suits, business attire. But on rap nights, sacrifices must be made and I might not look as professional as usual.

Corina Corina’s release party for her album, The Free Way, was last Wednesday night. Paul produced the album and was involved from start to finish, so it was almost as important a night for him as it was for her. Which meant I had to look fresh. After tearing through my closet, I found a black and white patterned dress and paired it with a clunky gold-tone necklace. Inappropriately tight for work, so I threw on a long sweater that came off as soon as I walked into the venue. Done.

This is the second album they've done together, and it’s clear there is a lot of mutual trust. She gave Paul freedom to experiment and get creative with the production on this one. Paul and I have been really into heavily produced albums lately. After Paul made his album, We Live In The Future, we started noticing how many major label artists were also experimenting with beat changes and more elaborate arrangements. Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience, both of Lana Del Rey’s albums, and most recently Pharrell’s GIRL. We listened to those albums a lot, and they were a source of inspiration for the production on Corina’s album. And allow me to have a brag moment, but Village Voice just called Paul one of East Coast's indie rap "it"-producers.

Paul also acted as musical director for the show. It was Corina’s release, so he wanted her on stage all night. She was joined by her four guest artists (rapper Henry Canyons even flew in from LA!), who also performed their own material. Paul arranged their solo sets to follow the joint songs they had with Corina. Which meant that she got to keep getting back on stage to perform instead of having a designated set time. I don’t think Corina’s smile could have been any bigger.

I know how much work goes into this, and I am so proud of how it sounds. The album's been on repeat on my iPod since it dropped, which is impressive, considering I've heard it a million times over the past year. But I've come to love listening to the transformations as an album evolves and gets fleshed out. When an album is finished, it's always something worth celebrating. And getting dressed up for.

Pictures from Corina Corina's release show. All photography © 2014 c. bay milin:
Corina Corina performing The Free Way
Melissa Czarnick on America, America
Willie Green, Corina Corina, and Johnny October
Dan Dillinger
billy woods
Henry Canyons
Corina Corina and the perpetually mysterious billy woods