Posts Tagged ‘NYC’

After spending years on rapping hiatus, NYC bred foodie, University of Maryland alumna, veteran Undergrounduate, and Hip-Hop freestyle phenomenon Lex Rush is gearing up to release her debut EP; but she needs your help. Lex is asking for donations and contributions to help pay for mixing and mastering of the many hits she’s compiling for your listening pleasure. Check out her Indiegogo and listen to some of my favorite songs and freestyles featuring Lex below and be sure to donate to help this project come into fruition. The campaign ends July 7th and trust me, Hip-Hop needs this project!!!

 DONATE HERE!!!

 

 

DONATE HERE!!!

As some of you may know, I graduated from Baltimore City College High School. (City Forever!) While at City, I met a lot of people. Some of whom are making or have made some pretty big waves in their fields. One of these individuals, Trae Harris, recently starred in the film Newlyweeds, which has gotten a lot of indie and mainstream buzz in the past few months. Less Half-Baked and more Eternal Sunshine in its approach to relationships and the like, the film, in its honesty, has gotten rave reviews from international critics. I had a chance to catch up with Trae recently and got to ask her about her role, her thoughts on some of the films out there, and a bevy of other topics.

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Image courtesy of traeharris.com

Speed on the Beat: Trae, I’ll be honest. Growing up with you at City, this was a side of you that I thought existed but never knew for certain. Where did the desire to go into acting come from?

Trae Harris: Well, I began acting in junior high school. I started writing plays and performing them as one woman shows. The first play I wrote was about Ruby Bridges and the Desegregation of New Orleans schools. I won a young playwright completion, and from that moment, I knew I wanted to perform in that capacity more often! I joined the Arena Players youth theater and was able to incorporate my dance background, vocal training and a musical theater element. In high school, I took IB Theater and had the opportunity to direct, act, write and really grow as a theatrical performer. (Interviewer’s Note: If I’m not mistaken, Trae also makes a brief appearance in season four of The Wire, alongside fellow Arena Players—and City College alumni—Rashad Orange, his sister Rakiya and others.) I knew that I wanted to go to college and continue pursuing that path, and I did. I went to New School in Manhattan and studied theater there. So, to be honest this is not a new part of myself, it’s just that I am now getting recognition from others who don’t know me or my path personally and it’s awesome!

SOTB: I notice you also do photography. Did the photography lead to your film work or are they mutually exclusive?

TH: Actually, I’m not a photographer and never have been. You’re not the first person to think that, but I have no idea why. (Laughs) I have been shot by numerous photographers from all over the world, but I myself am not a photographer. I do not even own a camera! (Interviewer’s Note: While Trae does not do photography, she has made music, some of which is available for your listening pleasure on her homepage.)

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Image courtesy of traeharris.com

SOTB: Well, at least I’m not the only one. I feel a bit less silly for asking. (Laughs) Now, for those that don’t know, Newlyweeds was shown at Sundance in early 2013. How’d it feel for your first film entry to be mentioned in the same breath as, for instance, Fruitvale Station?

TH: Well, it wasn’t really being mentioned in the same breath as Fruitvale. That was the honor for me. But, rather just that, my first feature film that I had a starring role in was being received so well and that people really loved our story!

SOTB: Did you get to meet Michael B. Jordan? Sorry, I have to ask. I’ve been following that kid since his “Wallace” days on The Wire (Laughs).

TH: (Laughs) No.

SOTB: Darn it.

TH: But, I met the screenwriter and producers from Fruitvale and they were amazing!

SOTB: But, back to Newlyweeds. I’ve read some of Shaka King’s interviews, specifically the one he did with Gawker. What was it about this film that made you pretty much jump up and say “hey, this is a project I want to be attached to?”

TH: I was excited to see a New York story being told in an honest, truthful way. I want to associate myself with work that is meaningful and honest. Newlyweeds is that on so many levels!!

SOTB: Would you say that there is a political element to the movie? I’m rehashing the Gawker question to Shaka to get your own take on it.

TH: Political? Hmmm, not really in my opinion. But, I’m sure that some folks can pull out certain social commentary about class and coming of age in an urban environment.

SOTB: What’s your take about the “uproar” concerning Miley Cyrus and “white” people “stealing” what’s perceived as black culture?

TH: Well, “blackness” as a cultural identity and “black art” as a legitimate art form historically, have always been appropriated and that obvious. Miley is only following her roots; her southern roots are deep and her family is very big in the country music world. Country music historically—just as jazz, classical, and various other musical genres—have very blatantly done the work to suppress and outright “steal” songs, musical styling and nuances that were created by black people whom were never credited. Now, with that said, Miley is not reinventing the wheel, nor is she doing anything that her family and friends in the industry have not done! This whole appropriation of blackness is not new, it’s always fashionable. I’m just not sure why now it’s a national discussion. No one is saying the same things about Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke. Why have those white males been given the “appropriation card?” (Interviewer’s Note: This will be discussed in a future post to a degree)

SOTB: What’s your opinion on the upcoming 12 Years a Slave versus last year’s Django Unchained? While both movies are completely different in tone, they have similar topics—to a degree. (Interviewer’s Note: Trae’s Newlyweeds costar, Amari Cheatom, appears in Django)

TH: I have not seen 12 Years a Slave yet, so I do not have much to offer, but Django was an action film and a bit of a comedy. 12 Years is a drama so slavery is being addressed in very different ways!! I do believe or hope that 12 Years will finally bring a sense of humanity to enslaved people and their experience, as opposed to simply sensationalizing it.

SOTB: What’s next on the horizon for you?

TH: More work, writing, and performing. I just want to release more poetry and share my work on a global scale. I have new projects coming up and I am very excited!!

SOTB: Should we expect a sequel? (Laughs) Silly question I know, considering how the film ends and what it deals with. But, I mean, we know how Hollywood gets when they find a good property, independent or not.

TH: (Laughs) Not to my knowledge!

SOTB: Would you be open to working more “mainstream” films or is independent where your heart’s at?

TH: I just want to do progressive work. I don’t really care what the medium is. Do I long to be an indie artist without mainstream success? NO! But I am not willing to comprise my integrity for the industry.

For those even more interested, here’s the trailer for Newlyweeds. Be sure to check it out when it comes to your city.

Trae can be reached through the following social media sites:

www.traeharris.com

www.gypsybruja.tumblr.com

@gypsybruja

Facebook: Search “Trae Harris” or gypsybruja

Instagram: gypsybruja

While perusing the internet yesterday I managed to stumble upon this gem of a story. It’s about teachers using hip-hop as a tool to teach their students the fundamentals of science. I must say that I couldn’t have seen this video at a better time on a better day. After being told I shouldn’t write or share posts about “rap” music because of its negative connotation during a conversation I had with a very significant family member earlier in the day, I managed to find a video that displays hip-hop in a positive light. Given all of the negative rap lyrics that spew from the mouths of many current purveyors of the genre, it’s definitely a breath of fresh air to see it being used as an instrument for good. And while I can understand the reasoning behind certain people’s apprehensiveness toward hip-hop, I still appreciate the genre for its creativity and its ability to make a lasting impact on people.

People tend to forget that since its inception in the 80’s, hip-hop has always been a tool of expression, storytelling, and nostalgia. But where rap got its bad rap isn’t from the street corner ciphers, the boogie down Bronx block parties, or the poetic tales of black youth. It got its negative image from the vulgarity in the language, the excessive misogyny, and the hyper-sexualized and at times ultra violent images in its audio and visual representations. But, the problem so many viewers and listeners fail to understand is that Hip-Hop portrays realities. And whether those realities are caricatures (fictional) or biographical (real), every rapper is an artist in his or her own right. From vividly painting the experience of being a young black male in Compton on “…a good day” of a 1993 summer, to personifying a favorite art in an evolutionary tale of a maturing muse undergoing various trials and tribulations throughout H.E.R. life, Hip-Hop has always had the ability to take us places we’ve never been and teach us things we never imagined.

Hip-Hop is so powerful and can be used for such great things that it is a shame so many members of the older generation avoid its messages. But, a lucky few youths in New York City, are actually learning through the art of rhyme. I wish I would have had the opportunity these kids have when I was in grade school. When I was growing up, most of the music played in my household was rhythm and blues, 80’s pop, or jazz. My most fond memory, or what I call my intro to Hip-Hop, occurred during a 1990’s summer visit to North Carolina. At a family cookout, an older friend of the family put a tape in the tape deck and the first sound I heard was, “Wooooh ooh ooh” being harmonized by a young female who I would later discover was rapper/songstress Lauryn Hill, followed by a bass drop and a verse from an artist whose name I would later discover was prolific hip-hop artist Nas. The song was titled, “If I Ruled The World“. With Nas’ rhymes of hypothetical world domination and the actions he would take preceding it, I loved what I was hearing, I wanted more, and I have been hooked on the boom bap and the intricate cadences of hip-hop ever since.

So, what I have to say to those giving rap a bad rap is: WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW and see how hip-hop can positively influence lives.

DroppingScience

As a lover of music and film, I try to keep my ears and eyes open to the digital streets for anything that might be sonically and visually appealing. While searching YouTube today I randomly ended up at this visually artistic video from “Electro Hip-Hop Soul” music producer Derek Vincent Smith best known by the moniker ‘Pretty Lights’. I’m certain some of you who delve into the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) world are going to shake your head at me for saying this is the first time I have ever heard of Pretty Lights. But, I really just recently gained my love for audio synthed, bounce beat, wub wub, sample dropped music that producers and music artists like him create. So please do pardon my ignorance, but I am being enlightened slowly but surely. With that said, his latest visual for “Around the Block”, a record featuring vocals from NYC hip-hop artist Talib Kweli displays some ultra creative videography in its ode to New York City, while giving us a slight glimpse into the music production process. For me, the beauty and the artistry of the video comes from the dynamic camera perspectives throughout the video and the trippy, acid-drip like visuals nearer to its end. Smith says, “It’s all about slowing down and enjoying the best moments in life.” and I can definitely see that being portrayed in the videography of this visual. This song is from his new project titled, “A Color Map of the Sun” and will be available for free download here http://www.prettylightsmusic.com when it is released on July 2nd. Check out the video and let me know what you think. Artistic or just another music video?

Around The Block

Skipp Whitman’s BANDCAMP (DL HERE) , TWITTER  and FACEBOOK
OFFICIAL SITE: http://skippw.com

Snack – Insomnia Cookies

insomnia-cookies2Before my fiance and I embarked on our New York City Spring Break, I took the liberty of checking out the surrounding businesses of the Park79 Hotel and discovered that there was a cookie place right around the corner from there. After reading a lot of positive reviews, I knew we just had to get some cookies from Insomnia Cookies located on Amsterdam Avenue of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Because we were so full from dinner the night before, we decided to grab some cookies on the day of our departure from NYC. So we left the hotel loaded down with bags in each hand and decided to get in line at Insomnia and see what the rave was all about.

insomnia-cookiesAs we waited in line behind a large group of kids (who should have been in school at the time), I looked at the overhead menu and tried to make a swift, decisive choice of cookie. After finding out they were all out of oatmeal raisin (my favorite cookie), I decided to go for chocolate chip which the cashier pulled fresh out of the oven below the cash register. That initial bite sent my taste-buds into a state of bliss that led to what can only be described as a chocolate supernova (no relation to Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” by the way). The chocolate morsels literally melted in my mouth as we walked to the subway station. It’s ooey gooey goodness had my tongue begging for an ice cold glass of milk to wash it down. Lucky for me, the cookie was so chewy and soft it didn’t really require any additives for the experience. Insomnia Cookies made our exit from NYC a good one and made me wish they would expand to the DMV (DC, MD, & VA. area). But hey, at least I got to enjoy it while I was there. (Official website of Insomnia Cookies: Insomnia Cookies)

BreakfastManhattan Diner

The next morning we were on another mission to find somewhere to eat. As we walked around NYC we stumbled upon this place called Manhattan Diner. Initially I was a little apprehensive about eating there. Up to that point my experiences with diners hadn’t been a good one and I wasn’t too sure about chancing my dining experience on another run-of-the-mill “Diner.” But lucky for me, I decided to throw caution to the wind and eat there and had a great experience. The Manhattan Diner is located in a ritzy area of the Upper West Side of NYC. Just to give you an idea of how ritzy the area is, about one block down the street from the diner there are condo’s selling in excess of $1.5 million dollars. And now that I look back at it, I should have known a run-down diner would not have been able to stay in that area for eleven years if the food was less than amazing. So there we were, seated at this restaurant that has all the features of your basic diner. There are bar stools situated in front of a large wrap-around kitchen counter top in the main area of the restaurant, tiled walls,  tables for two and four guests and large windows for viewing the busy NYC streets.

After we are greeted by our server and given menus, we look through the extensive list of dishes that all look and sound great. I loved the wide variety of food options. I could get breakfast, lunch, or dinner and me being the omelet connoisseur  that I am, the sound of feta cheese, fresh spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms was too enticing to pass up. So I ordered what they refer to as the “Athenian Omelet” with a side of home fries. Now you have to trust me when I tell you, it was one of the best, if not thee best omelet I have ever had. It wasn’t overcooked or undercooked. The feta cheese melted well into the omelet and the mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach gave me the flavorful, veggie filler that every healthy breakfast needs. The dish went well with the two slices of toast that accompanied it. I only finished one slice of the toast. I was so full and the orange juice on the side put me over the top from full to borderline stuffed.

Who would’ve known that on the corner of Broadway and 77th Street sat a gem of a diner. But, don’t get too overjoyed my fellow foodies. If you were to go to that same very spot today you won’t see the booming Manhattan Diner that I speak of in this post. Its land, like many parts of other major cities, was apparently bought up by a big developer and it is currently being converted into a large high rise. But, with that said, there is some good news for all of you diner lovers. Manhattan Diner did not go out of business. It still exists. They simply moved to 2532 Broadway between (94th & 95th street). So as a satisfied customer, I am advising you to experience the Manhattan Diner at least once in your lifetime. And whether you live within a mile, or a hundred miles of it, mark my words when I say, “the trip will be well worth it!”

Manhattan Diner Official Website: Manhattan Diner

My NYC Spring Break To Be Continued in Part 2.3: The Insomnia Cookie Experience

So there we were. After a four hour ride from D.C., we had finally arrived in Manhattan. The excitement filled the air as we off loaded our stuff from the MegaBus and began to take a bite of the Big Apple. And I use the term “bite” figuratively and literally. As I am sure many of you may know, NYC offers some of the best places to dine at, serving some of the finest cuisine you can get in the great ol’ U.S. of A. Well, I don’t know if any of you have noticed or not, but I LOVE food. I am a sucker for delicious and unique dishes that leave a long-lasting impression on me. So I was prepared to take full advantage of  all the great food that NYC had to offer during our stay. With that said, here’s what we ate during our mini-vacay.

Lunch – Bettola

Bettola Dining Room

After arriving at our hotel and being without food for the last few hours of our trip, we needed something to eat. Since we were staying at Park79 on the Upper West side of Manhattan, we didn’t feel like taking the train all the way back down to Time Square. So we searched for places to eat near the hotel and after walking for a few minutes we walked past a very warm, cozy looking Italian restaurant named Bettola. We briefly looked over the menu and were instantly sold. The brick and stone walls combined with the amazing scent of  homemade Italian food, the occasional sound of wine glasses clinking and the look and feel of a wood burning oven added to the romantic, earthy ambiance. The pretty Italian server we had, who, unlike myself,  pronounced every word on the menu perfectly added to its authenticity. Her courteous attitude combined with the hospitality and polite persona of the bussers and other servers made the evening feel special and reminded me of those family owned businesses who actually value their food and their customers. Actually, the only thing better than the customer service was the food.

Bettola Outdoor Cafe

For a starter, or as they say in Italian, the “Antipasti,” we ordered the “Calamari Alla Griglia.” It was grilled calamari! Yes, you read me correctly, Grilled Calamari over mixed greens and tomatoes and it was De-Lic-Ious! I had never tasted calamari prepared in any other way than pan-fried or deep-fried until this point, so it was definitely a pleasant surprise to taste it grilled. The greens and tomatoes blended well with the taste of the calamari and it was seasoned perfectly. As an entree, I ordered the “Braciola Di Pollo” which was stuffed baked chicken with spinach, fontina and mushrooms with aged Marsala sauce and pureed potatoes. This dish was PHENOMENAL! The combination of the semi-sweet and salty from the Marsala sauce with the hint of salty from the spinach, the cheesy fontina with that great texture from the pureed potatoes and baked chicken made me want to savor each and every delectable bite. This was not your momma’s spinach stuffed chicken meal. This was heaven on a plate and ecstasy in food form.

Bettola Wood Burning Oven

My fiance ordered the “Salmone Al Forno” which was their oven roasted salmon filet with vegetables and roasted potatoes. After we sampled from each others’ plates we knew we made the right choice in dining at Bettola. The salmon was moist and flavorful and went perfectly with the vegetables and potatoes. And just as we thought the meal couldn’t get any better, we ordered their “Apple crisp with vanilla gelato” for dessert and simultaneously gave sighs of satisfaction as the warmth and sweetness of the apple crisp collided with the cold, sugary, creaminess of the vanilla gelato. Needless to say, we left the restaurant pleased, making our server the benefactor of our wonderful dining experience. So, as a word of advice: If you are ever in the Upper West Side of NYC and looking for a place that offers great food and a great atmosphere, this is what quality looks and tastes like.

Official Website of Bettola: Bettola

My NYC Spring Break To Be Continued in Part 2.2: The Manhattan Diner Experience

When most people hear the words ‘Spring’ and ‘Break’ together they automatically picture palm trees, sandy beaches, cocktails, clubs and crazy parties. This is the Spring Break that many of us college students dream of. So you would think when I found out I would be spending three days of my spring break in a windy, cold, snowy New York City, I would be upset. But, on the contrary, I was ecstatic. Unlike many other University of Maryland students I hadn’t made plans for my Spring break. Prior to Friday, March 18th I had been contemplating getting away from the D.M.V. (DC, MD, & VA). For about a week before my break actually started I had been picturing a road trip. I didn’t really care where to. I just wanted to get away. Sadly for me; I had no car, no plan, no destination and no friends to bring along for the ideal trip I’d wanted. So the road trip idea was a bust. Although this realization temporarily lowered my morale, it was quickly boosted back up when my girlfriend suggested we go to NYC to visit her family and enjoy ourselves in the Big Apple.

(Enter Beginning of NYC Spring Break)

During my spring break I spent three days in New York City with my girlfriend. Wait! Hold up! Sorry to abruptly interrupt this story, but,before I can go into detail about my actual experiences in New York, allow me to tell you about my trip to and from there. So my girlfriend and I endure a journey in D.C. in our attempt to get to the MegaBus pickup location. I refer to it as a pickup location because that is exactly what it is. I guess in an effort to cut costs there aren’t any actual MegaBus bus stations like what the PeterPan or the Greyhound have. So they pretty much pick you up from some designated  random location in whatever major city you are leaving from. Which apparently in D.C. is right next to “da hood” because not only are the buildings next to the newly paved, chain-linked fenced MegaBus area pretty rundown, there are always people outside of them and always police around there. So happy that we left and arrived there in the daytime.

Au Bon Pain in Union Station

Au Bon Pain in Union Station

Anyways, the journey begins with me taking the metro from Silver Spring to Gallery Place to pick up my girlfriend and then fromgallery place we have to take the metro to Union Station. When we arrive at Union Station (looking like a bunch of homeless people) we had so many bags and we had to endure a long line of people waiting to walk up one of metro’s many broken escalators. At Union Station we bought some food from Au Bon Pain to take on the bus with us. This was my first time buying food from Au Bon Pain so of course I was in awe when I discovered that a bottled water, turkey sandwich, Mediterranean wrap and small bag of chips cost me $17.50. I definitely could have eaten a nice meal at a decent restaurant for that price. But hey, it was convenient and it was in Union Station.

Inside Megabus: Upper Level

So we leave Union Station and walk to the MegaBus pickup location only to arrive forty-five minutes early. We stand in line behind this large group of what looked like D.C. Public School students. Ughhhh! And we wait to board the double -decker bus. Forty-five minutes later we are on the first level of the bus eating our Au Bon Pain and waiting for everyone to get settled. Here’s where the funny part kicks in. For those who don’t know, all MegaBus’  have free Wi-Fi and many electrical outlets located near the seats. As the bus was departing D.C. a girl who sat diagonal to me turned on her laptop and started reading what I initially thought was a Harry Potter e-book. However, after reading a paragraph of the book, I discovered it was some kind of kinky Harry Potter sex stories. LoL Until this point I had no idea stuff like this even existed. My girlfriend was the first to notice that the girl wasn’t reading an actual Harry Potter book. After she pointed it out to me, we both laughed hysterically.

My NYC Spring Break Part 1: Exit D.M.V.

Disclaimer: Not The Actual Woman Reading The Harry Potter Book

When I think about it, the trip to NYC really wasn’t that bad. Although the D.C. Public School kids were pretty noisy at the beginning of the trip. Because they all sat on the upper level of the bus we could hear their noisy, annoying conversations for the first 30-45 minutes. But after a while I think they fell asleep because it became pretty quiet up there. I think the biggest annoyance that transformed into comedic relief was the loud cell phone conversation some girl had on the back of the bus. The first level of the MegaBus has a lot less seats than the second level. This means there are a lot less people within that space. So of course when the girl in the last row was talking on her phone all of us on the first level could hear her entire conversation and quickly became annoyed at her loud tone and its boring subject matter. Thus, after twenty minutes of enduring her voice, a woman sitting a few rows ahead of her said out loud, “I thought cell phone convos were supposed to be kept at a LOW volume.” My girlfriend and I along with a few others on the bus gave the shared, “UN HUH!” which proved we were all in agreement and had  enough of the girl at that point. She must have gotten the message because she immediately lowered her tone and ended her conversation five minutes later. I guess there IS power in numbers.  Ha! The nightmare part of the MegaBus trip came on the return trip back to D.C. which you will read about in part three of this story.

(Enter NYC) To Be Continued in My NYC spring Break Part 2