Early Fall 1992. New York City. My totally awesome grades awarded me with 2 complimentary semesters of night school. I went to Art & Design High, aka where the "talented" kids went when La Guardia High School decided you were "too urban" for their academic "I wanna live foevvvaaaaa!" taste. I couldn't understand why I needed to study Math or History to draw stupid cartoons, but there I was; in Washington Irving (located a block away from the nightmare that was Union Square Park) in what should have been known as the Riker's Island of public education. Actually that's not fair, every public school in NYC resembles a jail, but staying in class till pass 9pm was PURE PURGATORY.
Every kid had battle scars to match the boosted Polo & Nautica they were wearing. Nobody fought fair and everyone got jumped. Rumor had it the stair case had a mattress for horny urbanites to "train" their female gang applicants. The school must have been one of the first in America to have metal detectors, and the security guards - along with the teachers - were Mike-Tyson-Punch-Out ready for anything.
It was around 2011 when I first noticed his name up. Didn't think much of it, except that there goes another gentrifying transplant with a weird Thundercats type name ragging everything and anything (I would later learn this was very far from the truth). I was walking down the Broadway in South Williamsburg when I pointed out this floater (or heaven spot - it's basically when you catch a tag on a rooftop and the building that you stood on is demolished so now your tag is completely unreachable unless you and your 3 friends get hit by gamma rays and now you don't ever have to use a remote because you can stretch your arms all the way to your neighbors TV down the block) this one writer with a game system sounding name to SERF PPP, who I ran into while he was walking his dog and I was taking photos.
"You like that?" SERF - a fat cap veteran (or venereal disease, depending on who you asked) who managed to spray paint his name into some of the top galleries in the world - always had a way of asking a question in a way that made you second guess yourself.
"Uh, yeah, I mean the kid has style..."
"Nah, I mean it's cool but, you know who I'm really feeling? ZEXOR."
"You mean that over there?" Pointing to a huge tall tag stretching from one side of the many gates that crowded Marcy Avenue and Broadway intersection to the other, making adding your name or ignoring his name virtually impossible.
"YEAH!!!" SERF's excitement spilling over like the cup of coffee he was carrying. "He just comes through and smashes everything, doesn't care who or what he goes over, this shit is INSANE!!!"
This was followed by maniacal super villain laughter with his arms flailing about like he was about to fall, almost strangling his pooch, and a very confused & curious me walking away.
And he was right, later that summer he went over a huge Peter Pan Posse hollow we had on East Broadway & Canal St in Manhattan with a big bully fill in, but he was nice enough to put us back up at the end of his tag.
I remember my first real bomb like it was yesterday. I was standing outside of night school waiting for FOCUS RFC to get out of class. We usually walked or took the M14 bus back together to Alphabet City. I was anxious. I was shook to death. The 9pm prison let out had the worst degenerates imaginable in one mighty typhoon wave spilling out of and disintegrating the school doors. Lo-Lifez (a gang of kids that lived for Ralph Lauren The 90's were really weird and you just had to be there) would stand on the corner of 15th street waiting to mug anyone too busy flipping their cassette tapes over on their Sony Sport Walkman to be aware of their surroundings. Drug dealers and their lackeys would park in front of the school waiting for their hood rat girlfriends, all dressed in Canal Street Gucci and Benetton. It was the first time I heard Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth's "T.R.O.Y." blasting from some pharmaceutical salesman's souped up Jeep.
The night had a subtle Fall crisp with a hint of summer humidity under a clear night sky. FOCUS walks up me to with his Jansport backpack half open. When I looked inside it felt like I was staring straight into the tomb in "Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark". My eyes widened, my sockets peeled back to the back of my forehead along with my lips and every other facial feature my mother birthed me with. Then it all snapped back together in an a very awake instant.
"Yo let's go bombing!" FOCUS was nothing but a rubber ball of energy, bouncing off every single surface at annoyingly lighting speeds.
And we did.
We walked all of 14th street, from the Meatpacking District (back when it was only meat, and pause, meat) all the way down to Avenue D & 6th Street. Every fear I had vanished. I was quick, I was agile, I was alert, I had the worst hand style EVER! We pissed off many passing pedestrians and was chased by a couple of concerned citizens along the way. Some people high five'd us. For a quiet kid who kept to himself and avoided any confrontation; this was most alive I'd ever felt since the doctor slapped my ass when I shot out of my mothers juice box. I ran home and wrapped my teenage hand around my dick and jerked off to every single Fredrick's of Hollywood catalog I had stashed in my apartment (I couldn't afford porn magazines and this was pre-internet). AAAAAUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! I WAS LIT!!!
(Just kidding, I only had one Fredricks...)
I can't quite remember my first time meeting ZEXOR, but I do remember the first time being grateful for him. I was throwing a underground speak easy in basement under a chicken sandwich spot on Orchard St. It was damp, hot, dirty, and PACKED.
Everyone and their mother had showed up; John Waters gargled cheap beers near the bathroom like studying party girls for his next blue movie, the Home Alone kid brought his own security, a Playboy Playmate didn't need any security at all and let her 3D-printed titties out. It was classic NYC debauchery at it's finest. The next thing you know i see this towering figure, Jenga'ing his way through the crowd. He wasn't rude, but if I had to describe it, imagine seeing a truck barrel through a bouncy house. Before I could take a step to remedy the ensuing calamity, the GMC pulled up right in front of my low top Nike Blazers.
"Yo OJ my bad, thanks for the invite but I'm gonna leave before I ruin your party..."
Say what you will about ZEXOR. And you're allowed to, if you can back it up, with your fits or facts, but mostly your fists. Graffiti culture is the freedom to let loose your uncontrollable vanity. A violent and vulgar form of self expression, unbiased in its brash in-your-face form of narcissistic (and sometimes ineligible) communication. Graffiti owes no one apologies; it steals from hardware store owners then returns to paint a "I WAS HERE YOU PUSSY" on their wall. Everyone tries to make rules for it, especially the older heads, but when the only consequence for breaking the rules is a beat-down (or worst) and you're already running from Vandal Squad (an elite NYPD unit created solely for vandalism and wasting taxpayers money) and you look bummy because every item of clothes you own has paint marks and dirt smudges from climbing stuff in them... who the fuck cares?!.
The MIRF said it best in their book "Support, Therapy, And Instability"; "Three things are certain when it comes to becoming a graffiti writer:
1. You will fight
2. You will get arrested
3. Your work will not last"
"Yeah man..." ZEXOR laments, rubbing his bald head as a soothing mechanism..." Some toy is here and he was with these kids that shot at me and I know how much you risk to throw these parties so I'ma leave."
"Chill fam you don't gotta..." I stutter. It's 5:30 in the horrible morning and all of my high's are having a wrestling match with my better judgement. I hold all my guest in high respect and my immediate thought was to start a kumbaya circle. I love all my guests. All I kept thinking about was that if this mammoth of a man threw one punch EVERYONE in the party would had walked out with a black eye...
"Dude, you're fucked up, just let me go, it's cool I'm just respecting your space. I love you OJ..."
He gave me a bear hug so warm I felt like I was a child jumping into the teddy bear pit at F.A.O. Schwartz. And before I could counter, he was gone. My party went on without incident (and a little extra dance room). He could have easily Bushwick-Walls ragged my whole event and none of us could have stopped him, but he didn't. Sometimes you gotta thank God you're on the right side of a rabid pit bull.
I could tell you so much more about him, How he's a graffiti legacy still fighting his fathers beefs from over 25 years ago, or how much of a devoted father he strives to be, or his level of intelligence and comprehension of an unforgiving world not taught in school books. I can tell you about his bouts with death and his worship of life... but I'll let him tell you that. Why else did he rack all that paint for? For me to type his legend on a freaking PC?! Fuck Outta Here! The legend of ZEXOR is for ZEXO to tell alone. And he will, in broad day light, without the blur on his face or his voice autotuned to hide his identity, because he is THAT LIFE... That scream of a life we all wish we led while trapped in our confines of our so called civilized logic cells, in TALL AGGRESSIVE BEAUTIFUL LETTERS & COLORS.. all over your favorite writers shit....
And it's gonna be LIT!!!
Antik – located off Bowery in Money Making Manhattan - was part bottle service club, part basement dive bar, and all horny and high Upper East Side & East Hampton minors carrying black Amex cards stashed in their mangled pack of Parliament’s. Not everyone was young, but it sure did feel like it. While the upstairs lounge catered to suited up sugar daddies and the stilettos on a Tuesday night social types that wiggled on their laps to the latest top 40 music, the downstairs was more art school meets high fashion meets Wu-Tang meets the Yule log that comes on TV every Christmas morning… Imagine the entire cast of KIDS with fake I.D.s and exclusive fits. I had to, in order to rationalize the scene that was laid out before me. It was 2009. The New York I left was no longer there; the Jeans got tighter, the bars got clubby, the apartments got Condo-y, and recreational drugs went lowbrow luxury.
It was a school night back in late fall when I sauntered downstairs towards the tables in back of the beehive packed bar. The air smelled like stale booze, Chanel No. 5, high grade weed, and fresh spray paint. The patrons were as colorful as they were frenetic. Designer dresses under motorcycle jackets and plaid shirts under denim jackets over crispy Timberlands. The Yankee’s were huge that year so everyone had that stupid hat (Met’s fan, sorry).
My hello & handshakes took me from one end of the scene straight into the bathroom with its porcelain trough of a urinal. The bathroom was the Writer’s Bench for my crew, and our names on every inch of tile & plaster meant we’d always return. I left New York because of my bad habits, and I returned in full force for all of them. My hero’s welcome came in a form of vitamin B cut powder on the tip of someone’s skuzzy key chain. Then someone handed me a marker. Then I wrote my name as someone handed me a beer. And repeated that vicious cycle until my legs gave away and I had to sit down. My self-induced 9 month rehab back in the west coast had my tolerance on newborn baby levels.
Across from me sat this... blonde. I had never seen her before but I felt I should have, or something. I noticed how everyone I knew circled around her like she was the sun using all of its gravitational pull like a cowboy in a rodeo. She might as well been. She was absolutely stunning.
Her lion’s mane of hair was sunrise bright. Her face was in the shape of an alien, not like a green alien, but an alien supermodel with the shiniest tan skin. Her eyes were Japanese anime bright with a book behind them, dying to be read. The fur she wore was fresh out of Antarctica fluffy and her rosaries dangled off her slender neck aggressively like a gold chain on the most gangster rapper. Everything about her was chaotic but meticulously controlled.
And her smile, a smile covered in the reddest of lipsticks…
Girls like this would usually intimidate me, playing on every insecurity imaginable like a nerd asking the head cheerleader to prom (like that would ever happen).
But I had to…
“HI!!!” she said, her teeth gleaming against the bar’s subtle darkness.
“Uh, is that, A Balenciaga motorcycle bag?” I said, grasping at straws and mentally flipping through every single Sex & the City cliché for small talk, praying that this observation would make me at least a little relatable.
“YEAH!!!” Her response was expensive champagne on New Year’s Eve bubbly. “How do you know…?”
“Well my girlfriend…” Our conversation was all chopped and screwed under the 90’s rap music breathing heavily on us.
“WRITE IN ON IT” SAME slurs out in between swigs from the promoter vodka that was struggling to stay alive under his grip.
“Huh?” I was so wrapped up in the blond’s simmering charisma I totally forgot that SAME and the rest of my PPPeople was sitting at the table with us.
“Yeah man its cool just write on the purse…” Same offered as he pulled out a couple of Markers from is pocket, passing me the Kool Aid like the dangerously charming Jim Jones he was.
“Dude that’s a very expensive and very hard to find purse, I remember how hard it was for my…”
Before I could finish my anxiety filled sentence SAME grabs a fat black industrial marker and proceeds to write both of our names with the broad tip screeeeeeaming on the cracked white leather sack of excess.
“AYYYOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” I shouted in complete culture shock and utter amazement of this sacrilegious event occurring before me. “This is cool?!” My eyes shot at her like pool balls during a break. My inner geek squealed from behind my lips.
“SURE!!!” she said. Her smile widened, excited by the fashion vandalism taking place like it was some sort of underground performance art. By then barkeep had now yelled at us for the 5th time, begging us to leave.
“Let’s go to Cat’s!” SAME announced, and we all bullied our way out the bar and followed the Pied Piper to 252 East 2nd st.
“I’m Cat!” The blond proudly exclaimed, her hair leaving a trail of pixie dust behind her.
Everything in Cat Marnell’s book is true. And as honored as I am to have my mentioned in it I also see it as a Scarlett Letter of sorts. In her book she describes the years in which we hung out with us as the good years, but I read the book and lived that period so I’m conflicted. I remember the apartment, all storage room scattered and filled with tagged up magazine tear sheets and costly beauty products spilling and caking on everything. It was like being inside a drunk socialite’s bird cage. Her fridge was filled with a mountain of empty prescription bottles. Her bathroom was a grimy churched, filled with rosaries and whatever she wore and tore off within the last month. The apartment was always full of people; wanna be party girls negotiating their morals while stealing whatever swag their poorly manicured nails could touch and aerosol scented degenerates feeding their own personal narcissisms with their cries for attention.
And it all felt delightfully glamorous.
I had been here before. My ex – a NYU Chevron fortune heir who had severe drug issues – who I had moved to San Diego to save – was the same damn person minus the literary bug. By then the iron flag (cocaine smoked out of aluminum foil) I was force fed (I’m totally lying I went and brought the foil) by SAME had taken effect, slowing all my motor functions. I needed to leave. I couldn’t tell if I was still in the same solar system from earlier, or if that was all in my head and we were all just after party parasites living off a decaying beauty editor.
Wait, how did I even know she was an editor? Why did it feel like I always knew? Where is my phone?!
And that’s the thing with drugs kiddies.
I don’t even think I said goodbye to my sprawled and rung out friends. The thoughts of my ex and the turbulence in my life before I left my beloved city and flew into the palm tree lined sunset; I wanted to save Cat, put her on a plane and send her somewhere far from the eye of the tornado of over indulgence we were standing in. I was drowning in guilt with just another bump of nose candy and a lukewarm beer filled with cigarette ashes as my buoy.
The sun started to crack through her mostly blacked out windows. I leaned over the convoluting bodies writhing in their mania and whispered to her to walk me out. Cat – like a bleached Bambi prancing through the Disney kingdom – pounced to the door over the entire ego orgy smoking cocaine caked Newports on her couch. The elevator ride was a quick 2 or 3 floors to the exit, but the silence between us lasted an eternity. I didn’t even know her, what could I even possibly have tell her?!
“So wazzup?”, her eyes now glaring at me, sparkling like glitter trapped in headlights.
“Nothing.” I said sheeply. I didn’t see her standing before me anymore, I saw my troubled ex morphing into my broken heart. I saw how dope it was with all the ATM withdrawals for the all those crazy nights and the very high highs and darkest of lows. Cutting dope on the cover of Mein Kampf while dressed in Patricia Field's neon listening to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on repeat dark... Wasted OJ loved all of this; sober OJ was deep inside me, yanking every single nerve, trying to puppet me into doing the right thing.
I gave her a bear hug like she was leaving me to fight in Iraq, and placed a light, angelic kiss on her forehead.
“Take care…” I said turning away from her – separating the magnets of curiosity that had me trapped in her trap house. I walked away feeling like a coward, in the middle of a bar brawl, he knew he couldn’t win.
Years would go by, and Cat & I would continue to mirror each other in weird ways. I guess she didn't need saving, or maybe we all really did. We had zero time for weakness. You can't buy drugs and booze with that. When I started writing my ultra-personal please-forgive-me-son blogs, she was changing the face of writing by being ultra-personal. The year she was nominated for a Paper Magazine award for best nightlife social media personality, the bar I was managing at the time was also nominated. We both lost, but our unruly crew was the only thing anyone remembers of that vapid event, and she scored us mention in Page Six the next day. When she started writing her book, Kara and I opened up La Petite Mort. And when she completed her magnum opus, we were closing our doors. So it’s only fitting - because both of our lives are about to change again - that our last art show is with her.
Hope you can make it.
Oh and the book? BUY IT - IT’S FUCKING AMAZING. Who knows? It might save your life...
If you were an underground hip-hop junkie in NYC from 1990 to ‘98 – I mean Diamondhead needles making tracks on your arms addicted - then you went to school or work (or to the yard in Riker’s Island) every Friday morning exhausted with bloodshot eyes and your headphones turned up to 10. Didn’t matter if the train was delayed or if The Rapture occurred, everyone went to Heaven (except you) and your commute involved you stepping over now vacant outfits scattered on the asphalt, you was in the zone. Your head was nodding furiously on a beat you’ve never heard of. Your mouth reciting lyrics written by a rapper you never heard of before but who is now on your Christmas card list.
The minute you arrived to your destination, you became that guy; shoving your dingy earmuff over anyone’s haircut that was close enough to get ruined by the warped plastic that held your two baby speakers together. Why? Because you knew that no one else had what you had. They were too busy doing stupid stuff, like homework and going to bed at a decent hour. You were awake, a TDK cassette tape jerking back and forth while you pressed record, pause, rewind, play, pause again, then record until your fingertips blistered up into fleshy notary stamps - or you ran out of tape. Then you would record over your mom’s old tapes (and lied about it like a politician on the take) until your alarm went off. And if you were like me, you’d make a couple of extra copies to sell to your commercial radio brainwashed friends.
Why? Well; because of the legendary 89 Tech 9 featuring Stretch & Bobbito. That’s why.
(I probably owe Stretch and Bob a drink huh?)
There’s not much I can say about this creative stretch of 9 years that they haven’t already covered in their documentary. You can find it HERE. All I know is that I got to hear all the great rappers months, if not years, before the general public heard them.
Nas, Wu-Tang, Jay-Z, Big L – I used to walk around like I was some hot shot reporter who had scooped all the major magazines, DJs, and fortune tellers. Almost every Friday morning from 1 AM to 5 AM, me and my brother fought over who was gonna lord over our mother’s stereo system. Remember those? Eventually our shitty stepfather would find ways to sabotage us by stealing the power cords or dishing out another one of his never ending punishments.
My parents claimed that we never let them sleep, the incessant noise was like a Tell-Tale heart of their kids being the least Dominican they ever could, Americanizing themselves with an urban music they couldn’t comprehend except for all the “nigga this and fuck that”. The vulgarity! One day I called in to freestyle. I might have whispered my whole unorganized & sloppy rhyme into an incoherent mumble and the entire cast eviscerated me. Pretty sure they hung up on me and lost a kidney laughing. And then my parents woke up. And I was grounded all through high school and straight into my second year of college.
The best part was that if it wasn’t for Stretch & Bob, we would have become the “urban monsters” that our parents feared. All MTV played during that time was hardcore rap or pop rot. “gansta rap” was swallowing radio frequencies whole like the ‘bitches’ they would rap about. Yeah, the show did play some aggressive rap, but most of the music played on the show was a genre we would later name “backpack rap” - named after the hiking book bags that kids wore with the functional but very excessive straps.
This music was made by kids who went to school, had jobs, were insanely creative and didn’t conform to what some exploitive record company wanted to force feed the culture. It was spoken word over jazzy beats, real ideas about racial progress and must know information that wasn’t covered in my text books. My new friends were rappers that had names like the superheroes I would read in my Marvel comics. They had names like SUPERNATURAL and LA THE DARKMAN and were doing things to syllables that would have gotten them kicked out of English class. My vocabulary improved listening to INI & RAS KAS. I learned how to walk in NYC listening to NATURAL ELEMENTS (imagine my joy when I booked them for La Petite Mort’s 1st anniversary party) and you couldn’t scare me when I was listening to O.C. or BUMPY KNUCKLES. I didn’t have to pretend to be a goon anymore; I could wear my preppy outfits and finally be ME.
Time is the savior and destroyer of all things. After a successful run both Stretch and Bob got drafted to the Majors (Hot 97) and I got into going out (finally, I was on punishment forever). Soon my musical taste grew into a crazy person’s iPod playlist on shuffle while Stretch got into disco & House music and Bob got into sneakers. It was in the LIU Brooklyn campus where I got my first party flyer; ladies night at Club Vertigo.
My friend Adry was the promoter at the time and I couldn’t escape him, every single time at the dining room, pressuring me to go. One day my other friend Marlon (RIP) and I said fuck it and went. My virgin eyes! Girls were being called to the stage to strip for drink tickets. Dudes were trying to fight as many people as they could for every scuff on their sneakers. Booze was everywhere. Everyone was grinding up on someone until they dissolved into sweat and shredded weaves. The lights were Sonic the Hedgehog dizzying. The music was GOD in church loud. I might have thrown up all the way to Brooklyn. My friend totally made fun of me and I prayed there wasn’t any lasting evidence. I wouldn’t say my first clubbing experience was EPIC, but I definitely regret not keeping the flyer.
But guess who did? And he released a book of them today. In his very own words:
“Club flyers, by design, were ephemeral objects distributed on street corners, outside of nightclubs and concert halls, in clothing stores and retail shops, and were not intended to be preserved for posterity. Through the 90s, they became both increasingly prevalent and more sophisticated as printing technology evolved. However with the advent of the internet, the flyer essentially disappeared overnight, despite it being common at one time for promoters to print thousands for any given event.”
Sorry millennials, you guys are never gonna have this (unless your screen shot and print game is tight or I do a book of every flyer I post on @HiLOVENEWYORK - see you in 10 years suckas!!!)
Stretch Armstrong & Evan Auerbach’s book No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988 to 1999 is now available on Amazon and in a few cool bookstores and select shops near you. Click on the flyer above for more info. And please, don’t be like me and keep yours..
Not all art can be hung in a gallery. Some art you just have to hear and feel. Daggering was an art. Pioneered by a Jamaican dance hall scene bursting with unreal physical exuberance, the performance of it is a virtual “WTF?!” to the untrained (and virginal) eye. The dance was birthed in 2006 in where I have to assume was underground please-no-pictures-you-might-get-shot Kingston. Soon reggae artists like Mr Vegas & Mavado started making music specifically for daggering and spreading the frenetic movement like a bunch of yardie bumble bees spreading pollen. And one camera phone and upload later, it was everywhere.
Considered vulgar and obscene to the Gilmore Girls prude, the dance and all associated big tunes soon was banned in Jamaica. Skerrit Boy – the once MC of the super electro reggae group Major Lazer – made it mainstream in America, using festival after music festival to trampoline onto unsuspecting fat asses and dry hump them into a body cast and a couple of months of disability pay. None of it was Teach-Me-How-To-Dougie cute and everything about it was World Wrestling Entertainment great. And then the dance got a little too popular.
Dance floors started looking like roman orgies in stilettos and Nike dunks with a side of a natural disaster triage. Music venues had to take out extra injury insurance policies as the pelvic assaulting just wasn’t enough for the maturing teens and young adults and everyone kept running out of things to spin on and jump off. People started leaving parties looking like they had just paid a cover charge for a fight club starring only themselves. Babies were made and relationships were ruined as the intensity of the movement grew into a chafing supernova of fully clothed gang banging. Then someone's (was it yours?) mom saw a video it on YouTube and called up her local politician with a bunch of &^$#%^#@$@%@&?! followed by a goodbye and a dial tone.
Soon enough it became a freedom of speech issue after it was banned from all forms of media in Jamaica. Even the most esteemed medical professionals had a hot take on it and warned of the dangers of daggering. Now imagine being that surgeon general. Citing tissue damage and other horror stories, they asserted that those trying to replicate the powerful moves in the bedroom can end up with some pretty dramatic injuries. They had even claimed that incidents of broken penises being checked into emergency rooms had increased since the year dance became popular. I'm just curious as to what poor nurse had the job of keeping count. Crazy huh? It was like an urban version of Dirty Dancing, except the people were not white (yet) and the girl wasn’t a minor (ah, something malicious to ponder when you re-watch that movie… #PizzaGate). But as they say, when the old people hate it the young people just do more of it.
The fad eventually faded away - probably due to the rising cost of health care or something - and the threat of a broken penis was enough for Skerrit Boy to quit the Lazers and go find God.
You can google Daggering videos on your own damn time, this is a family website.
What was my point again?
Oh, 2009 to 2011 were great years.
It was in those years that Dances with White Girls picked up daggering as a hobby like a vagrant would pick up a million dollar bill. It was LIT Everyone within his albatross long reach got jostled like they had a label on them that said “shake before opening”. Nothing was boring about it. Even brunch couldn't escape the dance rape. It was playground Catch and Kiss - but with a couple of MMA moves tossed in - all over again. Everyone giggled at the consensual non consensual battering. Many drinks were lost to gravity the minute your Spidey senses felt his bear hugging energy slowly encapsulating you. And it was infectious as hell too.
During that time Dances threw a (legendary) party with a couple of goons called Rando (RIP). To be quite honest, I don’t even think we could even call that a party: it was a ZOO. A zoo where the animals ran the asylum into total froth of pandemonium while Dances casually got naked and yelled stuff while DJing. Every Tuesday night had a different guest (zookeeper) DJ. The one I fondly remember - that had me banging on the walls until the plaster chipped and my wrist fell off, ruining my NBA career - was a back to back set featuring Jubilee & Star Eyes. If I had owned a real gun at the time I would have shot the ceiling dead.
Star Eyes was the lady anchor of my favorite dark rave parade: Trouble & Bass (RIP). A Hardcore/ breakbeat/ EDM/ big room phenomenon under a creased leather jacket and bangs, I once betted my two Jamaican bred DJ friends that Star Eyes & Jubilee would demolish them in a sound clash. No one ever took the bet, but my relationship with the guys soured after that. Nobody wants to be beat by gurlssssss… which is sad because this girl can not only match a beat but also create and recreate it. The best part was that Star Eyes is in no way a reggae DJ (and I might have a gambling issue). The way she selects her music and her execution behind the mixer is as aggressive as a Stone Love vs Kilimanjaro (two of the biggest arch nemesis in Jamaican sound clash culture) gunfight complete with military grade weapons and nukes. Did I forget to mention she actually won a soundclash? That’s probably why when she was spinning a Brooklyn After Hours – and after my voice went hoarse from all the airhorning (I do a great airhorn impression, very embarrassing to be around) – I daggered her in the middle of her set. On stage. In front of a small group of our 200 hundred closest friends.
Damn you dances!!!
Both Star Eyes and Dances have a new music out. Star Eyes dropped two singles on her Chaos Clan imprint and Dances dropped some vocals on a new Chris Lake track. Apparently it’s the hottest record in the world, but please, you tell him it’s not. Although both of their styles are different, each sound will have your mind right and focused before you walk out into the jungle that is nightlife (or life in general, people still listen to music at the gym right?). Just don’t be around anything you can jump off or break. And please, dagger at your own risk.
Legacies are hard to create and even harder to maintain, especially when it comes to music in this now digital age. Trends come and go faster than you can “Shmoney Dance” into “The Nae Nae” and maintaining relevancy is one Ellen Show appearance away from being nil. Capturing the ears and the imaginations of the youth is even more challenging in a decade where an iPhone can be your production, marketing, and PR Company and all you need to do is pay your phone bill or steal Wi-Fi. We are saturated in content, like nature is filled with nature stuff, but what “stuff” forges the concrete and metal needed to build cultural sustainability?
I know two guys that found the cheat code.
Fool’s Gold has come a long way since their first release with Kid Sister, just like music has come a long way since the days of the legendary Hollerboard. And while kick snares have turned into sample glitches before going back to heavy bass and Pitchfork starting using every prefix imaginable before the word “House” (Deep, Tropical, Blog.., still waiting for House House), Fool’s Gold has maintained an work ethic enviable of the most diligent of robots. Created by Nick Catchdubs & Atrak (RIP Dust La Rock), their music label remains an industry titan & underground darling with cult following that gets younger and crazier with every release. They tap into talent like a farmer tills the soil and patiently wait for the quality to grow. Everything you’ve ever heard they heard it yesterday. Their sound isn’t exclusive to one genre, as their roster covers everything from EDM to Rap. And being a premiere indie label (by Billboard standards) does help, as they aren’t forced to produce or entertain what’s hot according to YouTube views – they create the “what’s hot” that gets the Youtube views. In a scene where it’s hard to make waves with your own identity, they have set the gold standard for the “fuck them, do YOU” generation. Case in point; Danny Brown.
Now if you’ve had the pleasure witness Nick Hook crowd surfing an entire festival from stage to from court or waited in line for any of their events, then you know going to a Fool’s Gold party isn’t safe for the nightlife novice. The lineup at their Fool’s Gold Day Off festival (which now tours in so many cities that you can let a balloon go in the middle of a jet stream and wherever it lands there’s probably a FG sticker and a wheatpaste poster campaign already in effect) are stuff of logistical legends. The lines at their parties are stronger than a Shake Shack at lunchtime and the word “sold out” is thrown around any event they do as much as “but I swear I’m on the list!”. Personally, I’ve never waited on line for a Fool’s Gold party. I would just pretend not to go while tweeting up a shit storm on how hard it was to get into the party from the comfort of some dark corner inside the party. I don’t know why I did that – actually I do – because Nick is a friend to EVERYBODY, and managing an effective door to their parties required a Secret Service level of organization. If I ever said I was there my phone would have gotten flooded with every single message Nick was ignoring – so yeah I trolled my way out of that quagmire. This several years long farce got me my first award ever in the Village Voice (Thanks!!!).
But yeah, I’ll be honest; I couldn’t get into a bunch of them… so maybe my tweets did have an air of truth. But when you want success for your nightlife friends, not getting a spot on their comped list is exactly what success looks like.
This past month FG celebrated their 9th anniversary. Their innovative way of marking milestones landed them in Club LUST – a strip club located in the heart of Brooklyn. As a man in a very committed relationship – I skipped it – not because I scared of my fiancé (I am), but because I was afraid to make a fool out of myself in front of guest headliner Raekwon and Ghetto Gothic babe Venus X. My “making it rain” would have looked more like I was trying to put out a fire with flammable paper. Needless to say that - for a guy who’s graffiti name is SLUTLUST - I’m very 40 Year Old Virgin. But if you want to know what the festivities looked like, I’m pretty sure there are some incriminating photos in someone’s divorce proceedings. But for those that wanted to know what it sounded like, Catchdubs did an exclusive 9 year anniversary mix for that covers damn near a decade of great party music. Listen HERE.
HAPPY 9TH ANNIVERSARY FOOL’S GOLD, AND HERE’S TO ANOTHER 9 YEARS OF CURATING THE CULTURE.
It’s Thanksgiving Day USA! Also known as by most experts as “36 hours of soul crushing insanity just for one moment of gratitude that may or may not come in the form of ‘I love you’ but will come in the form of someone taking an extra plate home so you have less to clean up and that’s it” day. Someone you want to see isn’t going to show up. A bunch of people you don’t care about will. Someone is gonna claim vegan, angering the cook after someone else forgets the damned canned cranberry sauce. Someone isn’t gonna control their kids. Someone won’t control their mouth. Someone’s definitely not gonna know how to hold their booze. Everyone is not gonna want to help clean up.
This year is special.
Special as in you finally might have a not legal but legitimate reason to kill someone you share a bloodline with. Politics is gonna swallow the dinner table whole like a horrible centerpiece your untalented nephew created in order to hide is Popsicle addiction. While most of you spent the last 3 weeks fact checking any possible flaw in your Facebook fed arguments, most of us were planning out our elaborate excuses so we wouldn’t even have to show up. Not cool. But understandable. Mental health is now in vogue. Now I’m all in favor of snipering your point of view from afar through social media, but this fight is gonna require a more intimate touch if we as a family are to survive it. So instead of blocking your Republican parents or poverty shaming your liberal friends, let's open up the floodgates of dialogue and really talk to each other. Look each other in the eyes and remember that that’s your cousin and he was there for you when the neighborhood kids tried to rob you or that’s the grandmother that always slipped you a $20 when you were being disciplined. And if that doesn’t help, shut up and watch football, or play some music instead. Or remember they’re people who have it much worse than you.
This is a growing nation. And every growing nation is gonna have its struggles, or growing pains if you will. Just like your cousin who was super Goth in High School but is now a tiara rocking beauty queen. Or like your school cutting younger brother who is now a stringent school principal. Or like your Cracker Jack super cool uncle who is now a disintegrating crack head. Change is always good (although that’s relative: your Uncle’s crack dealer might be ecstatic but the family he steals from? Not so much) but sometimes change doesn’t happen or go your way. That’s no reason to alienate the people that have a God given mission to love and support you unconditionally. When I first met Petey Complex, we weren’t on the same side of the lunchroom table, but a little bit of listening and compromise goes a loooooooooog - longer than your aunt’s Virginia Slims - way. Peace of mind (that has health insurance) is what we all want in the end, and it starts at home first, you just gotta keep your eyes on the prize.
Speaking of eyes, Petey has the most adorable eyes on this side of a light skinned n*ggas on the Atlantic. A Queens resident in a wolf’s attire – Complex has ravaged every turntable the farmer leaves unattended. A 2015 Redbull 3Style DJ and 2014 DMC NY champion, Petey can out scratch a meth tweeker on a bender and blend any genre of music effortlessly better than if Bill Nye himself was Heisenberg on Breaking Bad. His arrogance isn’t in his talent or accomplishments, it’s in his glowing humility and capacity to be love and loved in any situation. From any dive bar to Club to Central Park Summerstage to Lincoln Center, Petey’s natural demeanor is every-need-you-need-met-in-order-to-feel-comfortable concierge. You need to get onto a spot he’s your doorman, when you need a drink he’s your bartender, when you need security he’s your diplomatic bouncer, and when you need to dance, he’s the ants in your pants (ya’ll know I mean this in a good way, right?).
So on this Thanksgiving morning, Petey has gifted us with a mix that - like a potluck Friendsgiving dinner - has a little bit of everything combined into that perfect one thing. One full hour of something for the mumble rap fans in your family to Milly Rock to and something for the older heads to remember when rappers didn’t mumble. It’s great for the cannonball run up to your family’s house or perfect for drowning your screaming family out when someone brings up the “T word”. Just remember this, your words - just like music - have a rhythm and a relevance, and they are very important. So whatever you put out your mouth, make sure it goes all the way platinum and can still hold critical acclaim as to attract a wider audience. And bring pound cake. Everyone loves Entenmanns pound cake, especially with a side of ice-cream. And music, especially with a side of Get Summered.
Turn it up HERE.
And from our family (a family fortunate enough to include you) to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.
It was sometime back in 2009. I was going full Grizzly Adams in the face in North San Diego. No more Papi from uptown shape ups for me, I was a washed up beach comber without a clue. My beard was the home to many of small indigenous birds and their eggs while I watched the days roll past me on the tip of the Pacific Ocean waves. My New Yorkisms had me trapped in an Oceanside beach house as I couldn’t even drive myself to learn how to drive. My girl at the time did the best she could for me, keeping me filled with Muscle Milk & Taquitos that she would buy on her unlimited Chevron card and her mother’s homemade cookies… but it wasn’t enough.
The gently crashing waves of easy street could never replace the 3 am impromptu block parties of fun and violence that could happen on any corner and at the slightest whim. The regional chatter of the local surfside watering hole could never drown out the infectious baseline of an urban dive bar drenched in jizz, watered down whiskey, surrounded by blown out studio monitors. I missed home. I missed everything I needed to escape from. I was a slave to my city. And like any escaped slave, there was always a bounty hunter not far behind. Mines came to LA to DJ at Cinespace.
Dance with White Girls – or Frog, as known to his friends and foes alike – was making his big premiere at Steve Aoki’s Tuesday night baby EDM fest in the city of Los Angeles. Frog was also the cellphone-and-drug-bundle-smuggled-in-someone’s-butt-into-my-west-coast-rehab my fix needed. The Pacific Surfliner was about 50 bucks round trip and 2.5 hours away from my self-imposed exile. I had a little over 100 in leftover singles and loose change. I was very unemployed. I charged up my iPod and left a Road Runner sized puff of smoked as I kissed the lady goodbye. I chuckled as she confused my “I’m never coming back!!!” for “luv ya!!!” Silly rabbit, I was FREE.
Two hours and a sweaty Amtrak leather seat crotch later I’m waiting for Dances to appear outside of some train station swallowed by construction in downtown LA. It reminded me of the bum smudges you’d see on the escalators at Herald Square. That's when that electric NYC anxiety starts to hit me. Fucking frog is late. He pulls up in a crispy Mercedes BMW coupe driven by a future chicken entrepreneur. Oh, he’s fashionably late! I roll my eyes. We hug. We eat at some LA jaunt that he googled then Yelped followed by crowdsourcing the intel from his ever growing Twitter following. Dances also invented the smartphone. You know when you look at a Apple commercial where people are doing amazing things on the same cell you only use for texting and nudes and the shame frustrates you? Dances is the one shaming you. We order food, I eat water (I’m on a budget, remember?), he eats something with a bunch of unnecessary sauces & syllables, and we NASA launch ourselves to the club.
The night is a blur. A blur I NEEDED DESPERATELY. This is what happens when you roll with one of South Philadelphia’s top exemplary exports. We don’t ask for a table, just bottles, and no chasers or cups, just more drink tickets. We drink straight from the nipple and don’t wipe the top off when we pass it to you. If we pass it to you. We yell arrogant obscenities and do air horns all over the music. We look so intimidating it's comically inviting. By the time the night is over Dances has destroyed the club by spinning “Y Control” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the middle of a bass heavy EDM set. The venue collapses form all the jaws dropping. He becomes BFF with Will I Am from The Black Eye Peas. I may or may have not made out with a 17 year old scenester (warning: if you get lucky with a model in a club and you look like me she’s either 29 and strung out or 17). We both promise not to tell anyone about this ever. The club shuts down ay 1:45 am and by 2 we are fighting all of our inner demons on a bunch of chocolate mushrooms with a couple of LA girls and a caravan of traveling DJ’s in what appears to be a DJ hostel. Our monologue sounds like a sped up record cut up by the sounds of credit cards scraping a mirror. Soon enough we run out of stuff. Then we run out of words. And the sun rises. And everyone has a vision they can’t remember. And no one gets laid. It’s time for me to go home.
The clock is nearing noon now and the sun is at its highest point in the sky, stiff arming the smog Hollywood is famous for to send a light beam of hell straight onto my already overheated neck. I’m salty-grandma-on-steroids-complaining about everything as my phone dies in the middle of my girlfriend’s 7th “where the hell are you?” phone call. Frog is furiously hitting the Googles to find out where we are and how I can get home. 1 minute turns to 5. 5 turn’s into 30. 30 turns into “WHAT THE FUCK FROG WHERE THE HELL ARE WE GOING AM I GONNA DIE ON SKID ROW?!”
Out of nowhere - or somewhere off the 101, whatever they call the Christmas ribbon of highways Angelinos like to drunken drive on – local heroes Them Jeans & Dan Oh pull up in a convertible that might as well been a St Bernard with lifesaving whiskey as I was dying on this overheated Swiss Alps expedition. I might have met Dan before in NYC but this was my first time with Jeans. Jeans is as tall at the Amoeba Records building. Dan knows karate. They both DJ and are the people you need to know in order to survive a complex and exhausting LA nightlife. I didn’t know at the time so all I do is make white people basketball jokes. My jokes were as original as when people make Simpson jokes when I tell them my name (it's OJ). My sense of humor is Melba toast in this guacamole-and-chips heat.
After a quick nibble & sip they drop me off at a train station with a map and a prayer. After 23 handshakes and 8 homie hugs I walk off to find an outlet to charge my phone. As I’m walking away I can hear the 3 break out into uncontrollable laughter. Later, when my phone powers up, I find out why. Apparently while I thought he was trying to find directions, he was prolonging our hang out together by purposely pretending to look while documenting the entire exchange on twitter. So every time I asked him if he was still searching, my life in shambles, he was tweeting jokes about it. Fucking asshole. I repaid him on his next visit by smuggling a male foot oriented sex toy into his carry for the TSA to enjoy.
Fast forward to 7 years and one “Trading Places” type scenario later. I’m happily back on crack in the city that raised me and Frog is on his “To Live & Die in LA”/ Dances 2.0 shit – having miraculously survived the impossible (you can donate here). Them Jeans and his partner in cybercrime, Nikki Jagerman, had the esteemed honor of being the 2nd to interview Frog (the 1st being Frog interviewing himself, as he’s an open book on social media. It’s ridiculous how much he posts now. They should have never gave this n*gga Wi-Fi…) after his accident. If you ever wanted to know the voice behind the tweets, JUST CLICK HERE.
(Spoiler Alert: H2O LEAN SAME THANG)