This year’s Cinco De Mayo wasn’t marked by our nation’s natural inclination to misappropriate history with grand festivities, binge drinking, and clearance sales at Aldo. Rather, America was confronted with a more subtle taste of history, bitter with dark realism and overt criticism of our country’s problematic past with its previous and ongoing relationship with chattel slavery, oppression and exploitation of marginal communities and Third World peoples, all in the form of an art installation in a sugar factory in Brooklyn. The full title of the installation was poetic at best: A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. Two weeks ago, I took a semi-lengthy trip to Williamsburg via bus to Kent Avenue, home of the infamous 285 Kent, recently shut down for reasons unknown to myself. But being a Stan for Kara Walker’s work, I knew that she was going to be present at her own installation in a neighborhood about 15 minutes away from my homestead, so that was enough motive roll out of bed and trench through the pouring rain – no raincoat, locs super wet, my Everlasts soaking into my socks. I finally found the line at the bottom of the hill leading to the factory, completely wrapped around the block, a string of black and blue umbrellas shielding bodies from the roaring storm, eager to witness Ms. Walker’s visionary work. Apparently I had missed the press conference that was held that morning, though, I had a feeling that even if I did make it to the place on time, I wouldn’t have been let in. So, like everyone else – with or without a camera and press badge – I waited in line. After about 15 minutes, the herd of people were finally brought forth into the factory, bringing them that much closer to experiencing the realities of sugar like they have never before.
The moment I walked in, I felt an imbalance almost immediately after scoping the space. This reflex was not triggered by the multi-ton sugar and molasses figurines of young children carrying waste baskets on their backs, dripping and melting materials to the ground. Nor was it set off by Kara’s mega-sized sphinx Mammy/Jezebel/Sapphire sculpture made entirely of sugar, and most by hand. My unsettled deposition was triggered not by the space itself, but those who occupied the exhibit. For every 10-20 patrons, one was of color. Maybe. Depending on my memory, that may even be a stretch. The contrast between the dark, blood-black child worker figurines and pale skinned men and women were probably one of the first things I recognized immediately when I walked in. I began to grow curious not of the installation, but those walking around and viewing each piece, taking selfies with the dissolving sculptures, their melting material mirroring the same properties as sweat or even blood, something I knew that Ms. Walker wanted people to either recognize or realize at one point during their visit. I also began to realize that the space itself and even the people coming to visit and their questionable motives for doing so were a part of her “subtlety” theme she developed from histories drenched in racial tension, violence and oppression.
When I caught a white guy photographing the backside of the sphinx sculpture, vagina lips protruding from its region and all, I couldn’t help but die a little inside, knowing that he would never understand the explicit significance of his actions and the painful irony projected from his iPhone onto the space he occupied. Contextually speaking, this sort of exercise of privilege and disregard for the personhood of the black female body doesn’t begin with the video vixen, refracted Jezebel caricatures in Tyler Perry movies, or even exhaustive stereotypes cycled on WorldStarHipHop or Black Twitter. We’ve watched this embarrassing monster of misrepresentation and appropriation shift and transform all throughout world history, from the first glance of the Venus Hottentot by European travel writers and explorers, all the way to constructing the ugly trifecta of the black woman on screen and in our nation’s economy, seeping down into the imagery projected on our smart phones, social network platforms and web browsers. Our vision is continually populated with distorted ideas of black female sexuality, as well as convoluted ethics of exported labor. And with this bombardment of inconsistent imagery, we filter and yield conclusions based on majority opinion of whether to entertain some and dispose of others.
Privilege was definitely another theme scaling the significance of the space, totally made prominent and apparent by the types of people patronizing the arena. I had to remember and consider the location of the exhibit, as Williamsburg is the poster child for gentrification in its most successful form; so attracting upper-middle class, work-from-home, daddy-pays-my-rent-and-utilities group of guys and gals couldn’t have shocked me any more than it had even before I realized all of this. From the symbolism extended from the space itself – a Domino Sugar factory that use to house some of New York City’s most hard working labor forces, transforming brown sugar cane into white crystals, resold to Americans so far removed from systems of exploitation and oppression - all the way to the immediate context of Cinco De May 2014, a holiday still misunderstood by most citizens under 30, Kara Walker’s exhibit was far from “subtle” in objective. As citizens of the West, as well as byproducts of empire and imperialism, the unconscious consumer in our contemporary global economy remains incredibly underwhelmed of their role in the continual repression of black and brown bodies working to keep their seemingly free-trade coffees and expressos sweet, and neighborhoods free of the people who are responsible for their comfortable lifestyles. Walker’s exhibit spoke very stark volumes on the current status of race relations, how we position and juxtapose our identities with the sorts of images we consume and produce – independently or collectively – as well as how we fathom the phenomena of space and time. The spaces we occupy undeniably dictate and configure our understandings of time and its role in either sharpening or abstracting realities found within or external to ourselves, figuratively and/or literally. I was most interested in how those present appreciated their surroundings, I eventually finding myself speaking with an older gentleman who claimed to have worked in the factory all of his life and is now collecting benefits from his blue collar career back during the economic boom of the 40s in post-war America. Shelton, the elderly black man with a warm smile and patient posture, explained to me his experience setting up the exhibit as a volunteer, how the space brought him back to his time as a younger, more vibrant version of himself, working to make a living in a space that gave him economic liberty, yet living during a time that didn’t allow him to liberate himself with the power of the dollar alone. So, that dynamism and insight into the warped relationship between space and time was both helpful and and intriguing, especially hearing from a primary source like Shelton.
And as I remember leaving the factory, I walked past an ice cream truck where I spotted a middle-aged black woman serving a young white girl right outside the gate. The irony couldn’t even finish crystalizing and freezing over my nerving experience in the exhibit. My logic was left unchallenged and I decided to journey back to my neighborhood over the Pulaski Bridge, into my own gentrified playground of Long Island City, all the while melting into bitter sweet thoughts of pride, prejudice, and a whole lot of “What Would Walker Do?”
Support your neighbors, build with your community™.Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” Exhibit | A Critique on Race, Space and Time This year’s Cinco De Mayo wasn’t marked by our nation’s natural inclination to misappropriate history with grand festivities, binge drinking, and clearance sales at Aldo.
nmusinguzi.com | Organic Photos ©
Photographs from Cinco De Mayo spent with Hanif in Brooklyn and Alphabet City // May 5th, 2014.PHOTOGRAPHS | Nuyorican, @LuckOne, Cinco De Mayo ‘14 Photographs from Cinco De Mayo spent with Hanif in Brooklyn and Alphabet City // May 5th, 2014.
I’ve been a bit quiet on the editorial front of things over the past couple of weeks, mostly for the purouse of preparing for an intense summer spent in Saint Paul, Minneapolis co-directing a youth violence initiative project alongside Robin Hickman, the niece of Gordon Parks, and urban youth education non-profit, Youthprise. And for this very reason, I’ve reverted back to my foundational roots in photography, taking the medium more seriously than my other ventures in videography (total bust), blogging for editorial journalism (laughable), and other services that take up incredible amounts of time I could spend elsewhere. So, for the next couple of field notes I will publish from my days spent in Newark, Williamsburg, and Long Island City, I will post more documentary photography than writing and video.
Here’s a visual recap of my day and night at Rutgers-Newark, The Life Lab, and moments had with members from New Jersey’s most innovative collectives and communities:
Support your neighbors, build with your community™.PHOTOGRAPHS | Thread World Wide, NJ Rebels, The Life Lab, Newark, NJ I’ve been a bit quiet on the editorial front of things over the past couple of weeks, mostly for the purouse of preparing for an intense summer spent in Saint Paul, Minneapolis co-directing a youth violence initiative project alongside Robin Hickman, the niece of Gordon Parks, and urban youth education non-profit, …
Top 10 | Best Non-Hip/Hop Tracks to Sample
I can only imagine how tedious and tiresome it must be for new artists to have to comb through catalogs and CD collections dense with the same sounds, instrumentations, beats and production when starting up a new project. Grappling with the questions of “What should this sound like?” or “Where do I want my aesthetic to develop into throughout this journey?” can always be the stun gun that…
This past Thursday, New York City experienced one of the most iconic moments in music history when it witnessed the solidarity of hip-hop grow with depth as the New New York performed side by side on stage in the heart of Williamsburg. Sold out within moments of its announcement, the hometown heroes from Flatbush Zombies, A$AP Mob and Tan Boys headlined Converse’s Rubber Tracks show held at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, bringing in staggering numbers of young Beast Coast loyalists, hip-hop enthusiasts and trap lord geeks by the boat load, creating an impressive dynamic between crowd members.
Opening up the show were Brooklyn locals Suede Jury and Cavalier, setting the evening’s vibe at a chilly warmth with articulate flows, bars filled with metaphors for the ages, appealing to the soul-hop head lost amongst Zombie cult fans and Trap Lordians. Mosh pits were formed shortly after, and then became oceanic as soon as A$AP Nast and A$AP Twelvy hit the stage, repping Harlem over everything, assaulting ear drums with bone crushing trap beats, spine breaking 808′s, performing familiars and favorites like “Gotham City” and “Trillmatic” that transformed the space with dark and eerie aesthetics that literally set the stage for their downtown counterparts to follow suit. Zombie Juice came flying down the stairs descending to the stage, rushing from one end of the landing to there other, body overdrawn with enough adrenaline to resurrect the dead, thereafter zombie brothers Meechy Darko and Erick Arc Elliot joined in a collective mobbing of the stage and began a set that what would then be remembered as a memory for the ages.
A performance glorious enough only for the undead to appreciate, the Brooklyn collective brought on guest performer Bodega Bamz for their collaborative banger, “Thrilla,” of which illustrated how incredibly gifted New York City artists truly are. Harlem’s Don Francisco murdered his verse on the track, rapping with a gritty flow that could’ve made Big Pun smile like a proud P.A.P.I. The chemistry had between Bodega and FBZ was not only inspiring but also raw, honest and true, one that reverberated the beliefs of friends, family and fans that East Coast artists are still naturally inclined to embody the spirit of the Underground, despite their spiked success within the mainstream music industry.
Witnessing the raw moments had between A$AP Mob, Tan Boys and Flatbush Zombies provided the hard evidence for myself to finally establish a functioning faith in East Coast hip-hop. And in addition to my sentiments had on Pro Era, it is evident that the Beast Coast Movement is well underway in taking over the entire nation and is now moving listeners to declare similar conclusions about unity in hip-hop, eclectic lyricisms in rap music, and other various notions regarding creative collaboration and regional aesthetics in music making in and throughout NYC. Legendary nonetheless, praise is in order for Converse Rubber Tracks booking Harlem, Uptown, and Brooklyn all on the same bill.
Can this mean a possible Beast Coast Festival in NYC in the near future? With performances that could move Flatbush Zombie’s manager to proclaim the evening as, “one of the best performances to date,” post-Cochella and all, we could expect astounding developments made in each collective’s respective camps.
LIVE | @FlatbushZombies, @ASAPMob, @BodegaBamz, @SuedeJury @ Music Hall of Williamsburg This past Thursday, New York City experienced one of the most iconic moments in music history when it witnessed the solidarity of hip-hop grow with depth as the New New York performed side by side on stage in the heart of Williamsburg.
During my time uptown at Harlem Penthouse this afternoon, Hanif took me out to Lenox/Malcolm to work out in a community park at the heart of Harlem.
Last night, The Smokers Club took over Brooklyn at the Music Hall of Williamsburg with their 4/20 celebration show, Legalize NY,featuring some of the East Coast’s heavy hitter contemporaries (with the exception of Lil Bibby from Chicago), including: Brooklyn’s Pro Era rap collective – in attendance were Joey Bada$$, CJ Fly, Kirk Knight, A La $ole, Dyemond Lewis, Rawle, Ali, Dessy Hinds, Nyck Caution, and Dirty Sanchez; Kris Kasanova, Black Dave’s Stone Rollers Skate Gang (SRSG); and Shakespeare, the hall was packed wall to wall with fans from all over on Easter evening.
I arrived a bit late coming from The Harlem Penthouse, but just on time to run amuck backstage with SRSG thanks to one of their members – Zoo - a hometown friend I know from way back when the NJ Hardcore music scene still had a pulse. Thereafter, I went downstairs to the main landing of the stage and witnessed Chiraq’s Lil Bibby move the crowd with heavy bass and 808s that are signature of GBE’s Chi-Rap, playing familiar tracks from group affiliate Chief Keef and others off of his own records. Nyck Caution came on stage and switched up the mood with flows that bubble-wrapped all in attendance with a nostalgia that threw most back into the womb (because no one there was over the age of 30). Caution gave off an air character of NYC in the summer of 1994, Illmatic just dropping prior, a sound that preserved the East Coast flavor that hip-hop has somewhat lost its taste for in recent years with the rise of trap music and minimized elements of storytelling in music. The rest of Pro Era came on mobbing the stage, eventually bring out Joey, of whom kicked a dope freestyle while Kirk Knight beatboxed on the spot, all before stage diving and crowd surfing to M.O.P.’s “Ante Up”, New York City’s national anthem.
In all honesty, I only noticed Joey after listening to 1999in the last semesters of college, my curiosity mostly driven by his young age, dexterity in verse and flow, using throwback beats and melodies I grew up listening to because of my father playing De La and Tribe in our home as a 90s baby. I really started becoming a fan of his when I spun Summer Knights for the first time, completely hooked after “Death of YOLO,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “Sit N Prey.” And even with his classic feature on A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train,” I really started paying attention to the Brooklyn emcee. At first I was a little hesitant about his aesthetic because it was super nostalgic of 90′s rap, afraid that he may be a gimmick artist, not thinking him as someone who simply refracted the mood of his mentors and muses. Crested by a sound reminiscent of Nas at his prime, when Belly was still considered a block buster, and geopolitics determined tour dates and album features, Pro Era (or the Progressive Era) are a group of incredibly gifted and creative artists with souls more vibrant than the melodic samples used on each track, engineered with the importance of message and delivery in mind. I also learned a lot about deceased/founding member, Capital Steez, understanding how impactful his legacy was and still is to the rest of the group he helped create with Joey. I was thoroughly impressed by the brilliant chemistry shared between each young musician on stage – DJ’s included – and can confidently state that the young collective has more than enough innovation and potential to become as iconic as their predecessors like Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and The Pharcyde, while at the same time maintain their individualism as separate artists working together to make great music.
Wasn’t able to make it out to Brooklyn for 4/20? Don’t trip. Peep The Recap Reel™ above or head on over to EARFLOAT TV™ for the video as well as other performances by Pro Era. For photos, check the gallery below.BK TALES | The Smokers Club Present: Legalize NY 4/20 Show | @joeyBADASS_/Pro Era, Lil Bibby, SRSG, Kris Kasanova, Mick Jenkins, Shakespeare @ Music Hall of Williamsburg Last night, The Smokers Club took over Brooklyn at the Music Hall of Williamsburg with their 4/20 celebration show,
This week, I traveled back to Jersey to see MoRuf perform live at Newark’s SEED Gallery. An intimate space built on top of some nondescript establishment below, I walked in with Billlzegypt and was greeted by lo-fi tunes, DIY oriented art work being hung on the walls by a young man with amazing freeform locs, hammer in hand, greeting me with a smile warmer than bear hug.
After music journalism, documentary photography, and other miscellaneous creative projects I am involved with in between, I am primarily a filmmaker.