The Week of Champagne and Ice T

At the risk of having Cindy Adams come for me… I must express that the events of last week can truly happen “only in New York”.

Last week, I accompanied one of my girlfriends to a screening in Tribeca of Ice T’s directorial debut “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap”. The nearly two-hour long documentary was a love letter to the craft of the Rap/Hip Hop genre, in which the former rapper turned actor and reality television star waxes poetic and gets poetic with over thirty-five legendary (and soon to be) hip hop artists.

With a roster that included Big Daddy Kane, KRS One, Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian, Kool Keith, Run DMC, Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambaataa, Mc Lyte, DJ Premier, Raekwon, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Nas and Kanye West — to name a few — it was a miracle that Ice was able to edit his four hours of footage to make an entertaining and still relevant movie. That he not only had them speak their mind and occasionally display their varied styles, and manage to squeeze a few classic tracks in for the soundtrack clearly shows his love of the art that got him where he is today, and shows what he’s learned from the lucrative one he currently embraces.

Of course, there will be some questions as to some notable omissions, but the OG director assured the audience it was more a matter of scheduling and content, and encouraged any potential filmmakers in attendance to carry the torch and continue the story. “The artists I included were the ones I had direct contact to,” he explained. “These were the people I came up with and the music I listened to. Y’all can make another movie!”

From my personal thoughts and experience, I felt Ice’s message and the movie was right on time. In a day and age where most “Hip Hop” currently being played on the radio is heavily materialistic and misogynistic, the original storytellers who created songs about struggling with poverty and racism  are becoming forgotten heroes. It’s his hope that the film becomes part of a curriculum for future students to understand the origin and history of the music they’ve come to identify with in various forms, and not to forget those who laid the foundation for the current crop of “entertainers”.

That being said, the move is a must-see for my generation and beyond, and not just for the nostalgia. Sitting across from Ice T (which was a moment in itself), it was hard not to catch the intensity in his face… somewhat akin to that of an artist who just unveiled his masterpiece for the world to interpret. While the rest of us laughed, cheered when we saw our favorite artists and bumped to the familiar tunes, he simply looked at the screen; pleased with the story he had begun and eager to see who would take on the next chapter.

A few days later, I would go from Hip Hop to the Horsey set.

Attending the Fifth Annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic is the only acceptable reason to dress up for a picnic. Although I sadly didn’t bring a large hat to wear, I managed to have a nifty basket on loan which drew lots of envy, and the dubious honor of being one of the relative few “ethnic” attendees.

While I frown upon the obscene markup of the champagne bottles, there is something to be said about taking  a ferry on a sunny Saturday to the picturesque Liberty Island and indulging in a day of watching and meeting beautiful people and Polo players like Nacho Figueras, while sipping bubbly. Yes, the game is essentially an abridged version of soccer played with horses, mallets and smaller balls, but there’s a grace and majesty in it nonetheless that should at least be experienced once.

…And the way I see it, if you’ve owned a garment or fragrance by Ralph Lauren or watched “Pretty Woman”, it’s sort of rite of passage, really.

It’s all the more fun when you’re there with a globe-trotting, social-climbing bestie, who serves up wicked commentary on fashion and feet faux pas while on the prowl for his next heiress. Sadly, he only got to take pictures with a bevy of leggy models and a few fierce sisters. Tough life. 

And what were they playing at this upscale soiree, where Clive Owen, Rachel Zoe, Zoe Saldana, and Padma Lakshmi whooped it up in VIP, and men wearing boater hats and cravats bought bottles of Veuve in nifty carrying cases to share with women dressed in their finest CFDA-approved outfits? Biggie, Jay-Z and Kanye, of course!

Upon return to the island of Manhattan, while the polo masses headed to Beauty & Essex — no doubt to partake of even more champagne in the ladies room (seriously, my friends and I spent a good half hour or more in there once) — I joined the rest of Brooklyn for a night of music, comradery and art with free admission at the Brooklyn Museum’s Target First Saturdays.  Surveying the crowd, I knew Ice T would have had a proud papa look to see the mass of men, women and children dancing to what is now old-school Hip Hop.

It only seemed appropriate to end the night having faux-southern cuisine at Pies N’ Thighs in the hipster enclave that is now Williamsburg. A day full of juxtapositions called for mac and cheese that seemed more “gourmet” than “Georgia”.

I can, and will, go so many places in this world, but only in New York can I have a week, a night, and a life that allows me to be all things and still remain true to myself… and have a blast learning in the process.

There might be a Jay-Z song for that…

 

 

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Fashion Weakened and Legends of the Fallen

For all its glitz and glamour, Fashion Week can be a pretty ugly scene for those seasoned in the process. 

Beautiful clothes, gorgeous models, endless parties, celebrity-filled front rows and flamboyant personalities are what the world has come to know when they hear the words fashion week. The pageantry that takes place twice a year gives New Yorkers a shot of decadent escapism, as many flock to Lincoln Center and other venues around the city just to get a glimpse of the famously fashionable — some hoping to be photographed and discovered themselves.

What people don’t see are the moments that just aren’t pretty. The fights for invites and seating. The show crashers. The falling models. The plethora of unbalanced personalities with an obscene amount of self-importance. The freebie-scavengers who descend on goodie bags and open bars with the speed and lazer focus of a hawk snapping up a field mouse. The obvious look of desperation from someone hoping to be photographed or filmed in their most revealing outfit — which they’ve worn on a day baring 30 degree temperatures and snowfall. For some people, fashion week is the adult version of prom, and many are still waiting for their dance.

Overall, the week was a boring mix of lackluster collections and D-list celebrities making the rounds because everyone worth seeing was in California for the Grammy Awards. It did, however, take an unusually dark turn when this particular week was marred by not one, but two major deaths. The death of Zelda Kaplan, a woman who went from being a suburban housewife to a champion of women’s rights in African countries was jarring not only because she was a seemingly ageless 95-year old woman who outlasted 20-somethings on the club scene — but the fact that she literally checked out in the front row of Joanna Mastroianni’s fashion show. My colleague and I watched with curiosity and later with horror as we witnessed the guards race across the live streaming screen and seconds later return with the hoisted body of Ms. Kaplan. We’d only learn later her condition was fatal. It was a fitting exit for someone whose life was devoted to fashion and fanfare.

While Kaplan’s passing certainly was tragic, it was the death of Whitney Houston that sent ripples around not just the fashion community, but the world over. When I first heard of her death, I was hoping it was one of the many false deaths posted on Twitter. But once CNN and the Associated Press confirmed it, my heart sank and all hopes were effectively dashed.

In a way very similar to Michael Jackson, Whitney’s life had become more scrutinized from a flawed human perspective over the years, and she was often spoken about as a punchline more than as the incredible artist that she was. Admittedly, my thoughts as of late had mostly been her unfortunate public appearances — the damning interviews, the awful reality show, and the unflattering shots of her looking too thin or sickly — but at the core, we all wanted Whitney to make a comeback.

Like every little black girl growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I’d do my best Whitney impression, belting her hits from the top of my lungs and singing “The Greatest Love of All” with my school chorus. When “The Bodyguard” came out, you couldn’t escape the song “I Will Always Love You”, or resist the temptation of trying to hit that note the way she did… as only she could. We couldn’t wait to exhale with her and Angela Bassett in “Waiting To Exhale” or stop playing that soundtrack. She was that spiritual sister who brought church to every performance and we were her devoted followers. We grew up with her. Her songs were the soundtrack to our lives.

Like a lot of people, I felt so connected to Whitney through her music that we blurred the fantasy of the ingenue songbird with the grown woman facing personal demons, who ultimately made extraordinarily self-destructive decisions. When she chose to marry Bobby Brown, the world collectively gasped and hoped she’d come to her senses. Years of drugs, domestic abuse, fidelity issues, and publicly embarrassing episodes would ensue before she finally parted ways with Brown, but as much as we’d like to point the finger at him for steering her in the wrong direction, the awful truth is Whitney made the choice to stay with him. We can all say she deserved better, and should have been with someone who elevated her as opposed to bringing her down, but how many of us actually practice what we preach? I’m sure those who did say it was likely met with a strong and possibly expletive-laden response.

Her death still doesn’t feel real, but if anything the last week has taught us is to be grateful for the life we have and never take our blessings for granted. Her voice was a gift from God that was ravaged by drug use, and her determination to stand by her decision to be with Brown overshadowed the amazing career and reputation she had built before doing so. I cried for Whitney, but now I pray for her daughter and mother, who must now face the devastating loss of a mother and child gone too soon.

For the rest of the world, we have lost a true artist who didn’t rely on theatrics or barely there outfits to keep the audience enraptured. She simply sang like the angel that she has now become.

It’s ironic that a week in which the main goal is to focus on newness… mostly championed and honored retro looks, artists whose style favors said retro period (Adele), ageless doyennes and a diva who showed us the greatest love of all.

Clearly some things never go out of style…

No Commercial Interruptions

It has been said time and time again that music is food for the soul.

Anyone, anywhere can attest to a moment where a specific song has changed their entire demeanor within a matter of seconds.  Memories are made in instances when you are engaged in anything from a breakup to a personal triumph or a traumatic life experience, and whatever was playing on the radio or television or iPod drives you to burst into either song or tears.  Years later, when you hear that song, it transports you back to that time and — for better or worse — show you how far you’ve come.

For me, and I’m sure many others, music has been my escape into other worlds and minds.  When I listen to Jazz, I’m in a blue-lit room swaying with people who are so immersed in the sound that they don’t utter a word.  When I listen to my Buena Vista Social Club album, my hips and legs have a mind of their own and I think to myself how much more I’d enjoy the songs if I comprehended more Spanish.  When I listen to Talib Kweli and Mos Def, I want to join a revolution or go back to school cause their poetry is just brilliant.  Listening to Prodigy amps me up to clean things with purpose.  Listening to Adele makes me cry and wonder how someone so young managed to put all my pain and heartache from past relationships into the perfect songs and realize that I’m not the only one who experienced it.  Reggae and Soca sometimes makes me feel I could be dangerously prone to promiscuous behavior, but it’s all good fun. 

You get the idea… I’m a musical schizophrenic.

For some time now, I’ve been embracing more artists that aren’t as commercially mainstream as the Beyonces and Katy Perrys of the world.  Not to take away from their well-earned success and exposure, but the amount of both undiscovered talent and dues paying veterans out there are overwhelming.

Last night, I went with one of my “super music-afficionado girlfriends” to see N’Dambi at the BAM Cafe.  I’d heard of her some years back and was especially fascinated by her look; she emerged on the music scene around the era of Angie Stone and Erykah Badu — singing backup for the latter — and had their natural “soul sista” style, with a badass afro that channeled Pam Grier.  Although she’s since eschewed that look for a funky two-toned fauxhawk that she sways and rocks from side to side, Miss Thing commanded the stage in that intimate cafe setting as if she were performing at the Highline or Roseland Ballrooms.  For a minute I thought I was watching a young Tina Turner as she jumped, shimmied and squatted in what looked to be 5-inch heels, all while maintaining her smile and especially her vocals.  My friend and I were so blown away, we ran straight to the table after the performance to buy her CD and personally meet and profess our awe, and then rushed back to her apartment to listen to the incredible set finale “Can’t Hardly Wait“, the unofficial anthem for women whose love for a man keeps her in a relationship longer than she knows she should be in it. 

Last night’s performance capped off a week of amazing talent. This past Sunday, I went to The Village Underground’s open mic night with another SMAG to catch the abundance of talent that braved the stage to perform amongst strangers.  That night, one singer performed a gospel song so powerful that it sent shivers through my body and brought me to tears.  Apparently, it also brought her to tears, because she burst into them directly after her performance. 

In a time where MTV and VH1 have replaced music with reality train wrecks, and the radio only plays the same regurgitated pop “hits”, it’s refreshing to be not only in the presence of true musicians but fellow lovers of real music that doesn’t come in a can or hyper-sexualized industry products.

For those of you who haven’t experienced BAM Cafe on a Friday or Saturday night, or Village Underground on a Sunday — consider your itinerary for the weekend made.