Summer in the City. Weather-wise, New York has felt more like New Atlanta lately, and in some ways, maybe the excitement over growth and attention that was felt in hip hop circles down in “The A” over the last few years, might really be (re)materializing in the Big Apple, as we predicted it would when we started our lofty, but necessary mission to document New York hip hop news, artists, events and organizations. Perhaps it’s simply the blind optimism of youthful fearlessness and rage against the anti-NY machine, but when we speak to those long embedded in the underground NYC hip hop circuit, there seems to be a bit more hope these days. A bit more confidence that New York still lives up to it’s historic rap mecca landmark status. This week, a random thought popped into our collective head, and we twittered out, “NY doesn’t need to ‘take over’ hip hop again… The rest of the world just needs to pay more attention to what we got.” This we thoroughly believe, and hopefully, these five additional examples, compiled into the third installment of our monthly series, will help them do just that.
The International Human Beatbox Convention
Hip hop, for all of its inherent expressive qualities, has often been misunderstood, and each of its “elements” have faced their own hurdles in being accepted as a full-fledged art form. Rap music has long been looked at as a fad, not worthy of musical status on par with other genres. Tagging is often considered mere vandalism. The B-Boy community has had its share of splintering, with disparate factions, each with their own version of how things were, are, and should be. This is why it is always a pleasure to see an element or sub-genre of hip hop highlighted in an environment of peer enjoyment and respect from outsiders. We saw it in the Rapathon, a 27-hour-long display of verbal prowess from much of the NYC rapping underground, and we saw it again July 30 through August 1 at Littlefield, in Brooklyn, as the International Human Beatbox Convention, an organization that for years staged a major convention and competition out of the U.S., brought it home to the birthplace with the 1st U.S. Beatbox Championship, hosting an exhibition of sonic dexterity that, despite NY’s affinity for all things hip hop, just doesn’t happen every day. Check our recap of the weekend, including photos and videos, and keep an eye on www.BeatboxConvention.com for future events.
As we mentioned in our write up of his excellent “Angel Dust” video, Hasan Salaam has been on our radar since before we even began the Birthplace Magazine mission to document all that is good in NY-area hip hop. One of the main reasons why the outlying areas such as NJ and CT made it into our editorial jurisdiction, we have run into this Garden State representative on several occasions, and in each, his surprisingly booming voice, precise verbal diction and commanding flow have proven memorable. The conscious-minded MC, who participates in many area events, (rapping at the aforementioned Rapathon, emceeing the aforementioned BOXCON main event, participating in the impressive and inspiring “Impossible Music Sessions”) has strong personal feelings about politics, racial relations and international affairs, and is not afraid to speak on them in his music, or discuss them on his Facebook page. Hasan Salaam is a talented, well known and well respected MC, worthy of discovery and following. Keep an eye/ear out for his solo work, as well as his collaborative project, Mohammad Dangerfield, with Rugged N Raw.
The B.B. King Blues Club and Grill
New York City provides countless venues for performances of all kinds. From musicians, to artwork, from Broadway and off-Broadway shows, to the posing of hundreds of nude photograph subjects, there’s a space in NYC for anything. To us, it seems like there are more and more venues opening their doors to a hip hop audience these days, and we’re hopeful that perhaps the past stigma attached to hip hop shows, the stereotypical-but-all-too-often-true high risk of violence, etc., might be in the process of shedding. While there are still blemishes on New York’s track record, such as the recent South Street Seaport debacle when Drake came to town, as our NY-area hip hop event calendar shows, there are a multitude of hip hop concerts taking place at various spots throughout the tri-state region, on any given day. However, the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill, with its shiny, glittery, prominent 42nd street location, is for many reasons, one of the premier venues to take in hip hop in New York. Having hosted such events as the “I Love NY Hip Hop Concert,” the Duck Down 15 Year Anniversary Show, Lloyd Banks and various Hip Hop Legends concerts, B.B. King’s has the right layout, provides drink and food, hold just the right amount of people and is just the right size to fully enjoy our hip hop heroes in all their glory. And in the interest of full disclosure, the venue has always been hugely receptive toward BirthplaceMag.com, essentially giving us carte blanche when covering hip hop events at their spot. We truly appreciate that kind of professional courtesy. (Honorable mentions do go out to Highline Ballroom, SOBs, Southpaw, Santos Party House, Bowery Poetry Club and all of the other venues, large and small, who allow us to put on for our city, in our city.)
WBAI, 99.5 FM
The importance of radio stations like WBAI extends way past hip hop music. Even in the age of the internet, when a simple(ton) blogger can set in motion events that reach all the way and alter the course of the most powerful man in the world, the idea of protecting free speech remains sacred to all Americans, particularly those involved in media, news and entertainment. WBAI is governed by famed listener-funded radio pioneering organization The Pacifica Foundation, whose mission is to create “radio that would foster understanding amongst nations and individuals, encourage creativity, and promote innovative, uncensored distribution of news”. And WBAI, as they tagline themselves, provides this radio with “progressive & independent news & talk, arts and music”. This very much includes hip hop, as the (usually) yearly Hip Hop Takeover recently demonstrated. Even through regularly scheduled programming, thanks to shows such as Rise Up Radio (Fridays, 9pm), Chuck D’s AndYouDon’tStop! (Mondays, 9pm-11pm), the inimitable Jay Smooth and his Underground Railroad (Saturdays, midnight), the fusion of activism, intellect and hip hop, thankfully, has a home on the NY airwaves. And it’s not just hip hop. Expand your sonic horizons and tune in Sunday mornings to get your opera on, or listen to the WBAI evening news for a perspective you won’t necessarily find on Eyewitness News. In any event, for non-mainstream hip hop with a heavy New York feel, WBAI is for the people, by the people.
Her blogspot begins, “Jean is a super hero. She’s better than you at doing everything. Even stuff you haven’t done yet. She writes raps and makes music too. All of which are better than your raps or music, if you do that sort of thing.” Well, Jean Grae does that sort of thing, and many in her rabidly loyal fan base would argue that her lofty claims are not mere hyperbole. Despite her own occasional self-imposed musical hiatus, Jean Grae remains a revered favorite among hip hop elite such as 9th Wonder and Talib Kweli, under whose Blacksmith label she is currently signed. She was called “one of the best MCs alive” by the Washington Post. NPR said “there’s no better femcee”. Her twitter page is entertaining in of itself, apt to makes one wish they were in her inner circle. She re-opened some eyes with her recent verse on the Ski Beatz-produced “Prowler 2”, alongside one of our June “5 Reasons,” Joell Ortiz and her recent snippit, “The Climb,” posted on her blog to hold over those eagerly awaiting her upcoming “Cake or Death” project, is an effortlessly dope slice of hip hop heaven, as is she.