December 9, 2012
To begin at the beginning: meeting Fab 5 Freddy in 1980. I felt as if making this movie with him would be a snap—or as Rodney Cee would say, “Nothing to it, but to do it!” Lee Quinones’ struggle to create his art inspired me to work harder as a filmmaker. We were all Hip Hop artists struggling to take this culture to the next level. Who knew that Fred would dazzle on screen or that Lady Pink would be so intense on film? Hell, she isn’t acting! Busy Bee grabbed me at my first MC jam, got the part, and I am grateful for 25 years of Busy Bee. And I am so thankful to Grandmaster Caz, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Waterbed Kevie Kev, Rodney Cee, and all those who invited me to their parties and welcomed me into their homes.
After I had written a few essays for powerHouse Books, Miss Sara Rosen sidled up to me at one of their events and asked me if I wanted to publish a book with them; without hesitation I said “Wild Style The Sampler.” In the two years since that conversation I would often picture Sara dressed in a cheerleader’s outfit, shaking her pom poms from her desk, shouting, “Great! Great! Yeah great!”
In 1982, Charlie Ahearn wrote, directed, and produced a small, independent movie that released a year later, taking the world by storm as it screening in Cannes, Tokyo, and Times Square. Wild Style, the first film to unite the underground urban art forms of nascent hip hop culture—DJing, MCing, b-boying, and graff writing—was filmed on location in the South Bronx without permits or pretensions. Some twenty-five years after it’s release, Wild Style is truly a classic, having inspired countless artists, musicians, and writers with unforgettable scenes starring the era’s most memorable personalities.
To celebrate the film’s silver anniversary, Wild Style The Sampler provides an inside look at the making of the film, it’s release, and the reverberations it caused around the world. Narrated by Ahearn, the book introduces us to a cast of characters and outrageous adventures through a carefully curated collection of never-before-published photographs, original artwork, production stills, archival materials, and personal stories from stars Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quinones, LADY PINK, ZEPHYR, Patti Astor, Busy Bee, Grandmaster Caz, Frosty Freeze, and Glenn O’Brien, insights into the film’s influence by artists, writers, and musicians including Sacha Jenkins, Carlo McCormick, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Melle Mel, Biz Markie, SHARP, REVOLT, Martha Cooper, Cathy Campbell, Cut Chemist, and DJ Krush, and additional photographs by Joe Conzo, Henry Chalfant, and many others. Recounting the film’s influence over the past quarter century, Wild Style The Sampler offers incomparable insight into hip hop’s most indelible film.
October 29, 2012
Cotton is more than the fabric of our lives, it is a screen, a place upon which we project our wishes, hopes, and dreams. It has become one of the most democratic mediums in the world, tearing the picture off the wall and breaking through the frame, then transposing it on to a t-shirt and inviting anyone to engage. No longer do photographs live in the rarified world of museums and galleries, prints and books. The photograph now lives on the shirtfront.
And when it is positioned here, it changes our relationship to the image. At once it becomes a symbol of the self, a projection out into the world. It is that which we choose and identify with, a way to communicate non-verbally to tell a story or myth. And in wearing art, we do more than simply advertise its existence; by wearing art we become one with it, in a way that paper can never make possible.
DRKRM is the brainchild of Dan Sears and James “Koe” Rodriguez, which has just launched its line of high quality apparel online. Rodriguez observes, “I’ve always viewed clothing and accessories as a perfect medium for self expression and art. I believe a great T-shirt has the same impact that a great painting has. Because clothing is a part of our everyday lives, it is a great vehicle for exposure and conversation. It’s also a practical and functional way to be creative, not to mention profitable, too.”
DRKRM focuses on the work of artists whose work has defined the world in which we live, photographers including Martha Cooper, Joe Conzo, and Jamel Shabazz. This triumvirate of talent has created some of the most definitive images of our time, providing us with a look at street style and culture as it was being created by those who lived it, and not by the marketing directors who cash in on the latest fads and trends…
July 24, 2012
I have an entire vocabulary of words few have ever heard. Spoken word, rare to be written. I can string them along in a sentence, no problem. Usually tho, it’s just a word here and there. Some would call it a sound but I know it is deeper than that. It is the creation of my own language. My friends, they know me for it and they understand exactly what I am saying.
I learned it from The Cat. Because I speak with her, she speaks with me at great length and often with intensity like she insists I know exactly what she needs. She has a wide range of tones, of intonations, of intent. But more than this, she has a full array of vocalizations. Far more than miaos, she has chirps, whines, prayers, hymns, banter, and good lawd, she loves herself some small talk. She doesn’t scrowl, like the Tom in the garden because she hasn’t learned the language of the prowl, so I dig there are more words to the language of the Cat that have yet to be heard.
It can be overwhelming, this need she has to speak to me. To tell me things, and seriously, sometimes she yells at me. We do that. We argue. It’s my own fault for teaching her this but damn if I thought she was a beta cat. I neva seen her back down from one argument yet. Sometimes, though, she’s just chatting to chat. She’s a girl and we know, girls love to chat. But sometimes it’s clear she needs to have a heart to heart. We can go back and forth, me imitating her so that I can feel her words. Still, it is hard. I know she’s learned some basic English, you know how cats do, they disregard. Felines, females, I dig the vibe. But two of us talking, sometimes we miss the point.
My point, yes, I do arrive. There are words never written, only vocalized. It would do no good to try to set them down now unless they ask to be told. They appear only in context and I cannot summon them on my own. But I thought of this as I read Day Seventeen: Which genre of writing is your forte? Why?
And me with my one word answer :: euhhlehchk.
I’m walking somewhere, the sun is shining, my shoulders are golden brown against a hot pink bra. My hair is down, curls spiraling through the air, my stride is long, my hips swing whpshh whpshh whpshh as the clouds go round. Words float through my mind, real words that is, and as I’m putting them together in a sentence, my heart breaks open.
I have no background, zero, zip. Writing is self-taught. Mr. Ex comments how he’s like a musician who can’t read music. I’m digging that. I have no idea what I’m doing. I never do. I’m from the school of dive on in, then once you in the deep end, betta learn to swim. That’s not for everyone. Some people are prudent. Some people plan. Prepare. Consider consequences. Me, nope, I am a creature, for better or for worse, of instinct, impulse, and faith in the universe.
Especially when it comes to Love. Love. My muse, my heart. If I ever stopped to think for a minute, good lawd, would I have ever done anything at all? Sometimes I feel like the most conservative person in the world but I’m also hell bent for leather, so you do the math on that one. Maybe the thing is equilibrium exists in the modulation of (seemingly) opposing forces. Sometimes I call it fusion. It is also balance.
I used to do cartwheels on the beam. Never cared if I fell off. Was too into all that drag queen walking back and forth. All those arms thrown overhead, all that posing and voguing, way up above everyone’s heads. Fall down ten times, get up eleven.
Still doin that. A tiger got her stripes. I’m learning how to write through risk and failure and putting my soul on the line. Except there is no line. And there is no risk. Only risk is to never go for mine.
But. Day Seventeen (mmrghhh). This is deep because this is what’s been on my mind, rockinn hard since I saw Mr. Johnson and walking through Brooklyn in a hot pink bra. Here’s what I got, those words in that sentence that I no longer recall. Those words that broke my heart open and returned to the ether. Those words, whatever they were, they spit game.
I’m in my own damn way. It’s ego residue. I’m all over my writing and it is muck. It confuses and weakens and it’s just not good. Not bad. But not good. And whas that song I can’t remember, but it’s got the refrain, Hot Damn I”m Great. Maybe not today. Or rather, maybe not at every moment, but when I strike that chord and my entire being vibrates…
A girl gotta have aspirations. Because what is life with limits? But to touch the sky you can’t be scared of falling. This ain’t no Icarus. I’m not coming for God. But I am seeking communion. I’m not scared of failing and falling to earth, cause I am gonna die for my passions. Know your category. Took me a long time to own who I am.
But to get there, there in that pure and simple state. To write as life and to live as art, I gotta gitthafuckouttamahway. Because. There are so many genres of writing. There are so many voices. So many styles. So many stories. So many ideas. So many connections. So much to release and the question is not Which, but How to make this happen?
Were I to say I excel in any genre I’d be, umm, a liar. I don’t know what I’m good at. It’s just begun like Jimmy Castor told the world. How about: I have no forte. I hope to never be an expert. I hope to never know something so well that I become the face for anything other than myself. I hope that each time I sit down to write, I can discover something I never knew until the words tumbled out.
Speak with your hands, your fingers, your body, your heart. Speak with your soul, which uses no words, how strange that is. Speak the untold, the unknown, the secret, the hidden, the brilliant, the glowing, and, yes, speak the unbidden.
All I know, that is to say the best I can do to answer today’s question, is to try to pull apart the strands and purify them so that when they are as they are, I can write what has been written. Because it’s like this. I used to write by hand and sometimes, wow, I felt like that I was tracing the outline of words already there, unseen until my pen touched paper and returned them to this earth.
June 12, 2012
May 18, 2012
In 1970, photographer Martha Cooper spotted a man in a crowd. On his back was a Japanese tattoo, figures drawn in the style of a woodblock print. Entranced by this vision, Cooper followed him until he disappeared, and soon thereafter began questioning her friends about the subject. It was a touchy topic—it had been outlawed in 1872 and legalized again in 1948 and as the decades intervened, tattoos became symbols of the yakuza, the gangsters and the underworld of Japan. This is because the images of tattoos were seen in films, and is all too common, what is constructed for entertainment is taken as truth.
Fortunately, Cooper delved deeper, and discovered an ancient art, the art of the ornamental flesh that has traditionally defined members of the working class. As Cooper explains, “Tattooing properly is a difficult skill and therefore to get tattooed has always been expensive. A bad tattoo artist could kill you by pricking your skin to deeply with poisonous inks. A laborer who as a full upper body tattoo has to earn a lot of money to pay for it. Thus the most beautiful and extensive tattoos are symbols of wealth and prestige.” And it was with this basis for understanding that Cooper visited tattoo master Horibun I in Tokyo and documented his world….