THIS WAS MY THING FOR MY PAZZ & JOP BALLOT THAT GOT LOST IN THE SHUFFLE OF TIME. STILL RELEVANT!
Not to blithely compare revolutionary protest to music criticism, because those of us who do both know it’s a long haul from staring at a Google doc and getting spread-ass to marching against the megalithic money machine with moms, students, organizers, and inevitably off-beat cowbell players. But in thinking about my number two album, London grime rapper Lady Leshurr’s Friggin L mixtape, Butler’s speech came to mind, too. I’ve been concerned with/cognizant of the visibility of women rappers ever since I first learned every word to my favorite song of all time, “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo,” and since there is never a paucity of women rappers, I have come to the conclusion that we are failing, as journalists, to be thorough in our coverage. I include myself in this. Particularly in the internet era, when bloggers seem to manage to unearth every obscure man-rapper in the US with half a bar to his name, but sites like 2 Dope Boyz can’t post a rap track by a woman without uttering the condescending, otherizing, and dated term “femcee.” (To that site’s credit, they just linked to a fairly thorough listicle of the top 10 woman rappers to watch in 2012.) The apparent myopia when it comes to female rappers, coupled with many writers’ burning desire to characterize late-2011 rising star Azealia Banks as “potty-mouthed”—because she’s a four-year-old, apparently?—gave me bad dreams all year (with a bit of reprieve here and there, including Banks’ triumphant re-emergence).
Back to Lady Leshurr: she was a firestarter and a salve for me in 2011, devastating beats with casual velocity and staccato incisions. It’s not inaccurate when she compares herself to Freddie Krueger in her riff on “Blowing Money Fast”—and witness her “Look At Me Now” freestyle, on which she sarcastically intros, “I don’t see how you could hate on a little girl, I look 12 years old!” The latter’s a Sun Tzu move; she presents herself as playing defense, then sneaks up and bodies the original rappers on their own track, including Busta Rhymes, finessing triple-time raps smoother and more agilely than the vet. Compare this to my beloved Nicki Minaj, who allows herself on recent single “Stupid Hoe” (a far lesser “Itty Bitty Piggy”) to underachieve into the “female Weezy,” and get an inkling how much more vital rap could be if the long-hungry lady players were invited into the billiards room. Just one “bad bitch,” however bad, is not enough to keep all our voices from getting swallowed up. In Leshurr’s own words, from her “Did It On ‘Em” freestyle: All these dudes is my daughters. Personally, I’d settle for siblings.
The rest of my ballot unintentionally fans out from this frame. Gang Gang Dance’s Eye Contact and Fatima al Qadiri’s Genre-Specific Experience lived as twins in my mind, both projects compelled by women in an audacious vanguard of visual art and feminine experience. While al Qadiri reconceptualized genres like juke and dubstep through the lens of her experiences growing up in Kuwait (check her latest video), GGD frontwoman Lizzi Bougatsos offered a lush interpretation of her group’s love of global music. Both were open, freeing, vast, and embodied the kind of expansive world I wanna live in.
Meanwhile, Gloria Estefan became the first woman ever to debut atop the Billboard Latin charts (2011?! really?!) with an album that returned to party form, thanks in part to producer Pharrell. “Wepa”’s trilingual, cheerleading merengue was, in a year of amazing dancefloor jams, the most jubilant—and motivational enough to forgive that the stupid Miami Heat used it for their stupid theme song. (Go Knicks!) Houston noise-rapper B L A C K I E coincided with Estefan’s joie de vivre for me: True Spirit and Not Giving a Fuck, his second album, was exactly that, complete surrender to the punk clamor of his beats and the revolutionary nature of his lyrics. My favorite track “Warchild” is a protest against racist drone strikes that breaks down into a desperate, frustrated scream: “I DON’T CARE ABOUT AMERICA, NI**A!!!!” It’s as succinct a sentiment about 2011 as any, and one a lot of us can probably empathize with.
But on to the corporeal: Though I have ideological problems with its frontman, Big Black’s Songs About Fucking is the best album title ever, and that’s what Rustie’s Glass Swords was for me. Though it’s mostly an electronic album, every swoop of funk and glimmering pitch shift was a siren call to DO IT, from the swingy, fresh-to-death c-walk of “All Nite” to the eager, crystalline enthusiasm of “Ultra Thizz.” It’s the first time I can remember listening to a song and wanting to fuck purely based on sonics. Maybe it was emitting something like pheremones—the voices that do exist are a pitch-shifted melange of Rustie and his girlfriend, producer/singer Nightwave, so you can imagine they transmuted their chemistry onto the album. And, because you were thinking it: yes, the album cover looks like two giant crystalline boners both going for the same pristine a-hole. This year for me was about optimism, and the unending, silly hope that someday, the underdogs will get everything they ever desired.
THE GOD TIOMBE LOCKHART b/w WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES
My interview with Tiombe Lockhart of Cubic Zirconia in Scion’s Dance Fanzine is now outtie. But there was so much we couldn’t include due to space constraints. Here’s the rest of the unedited interview (minus the off-the-record parts) in which we talk about giving birth, black filmmaking, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. ALSO, take note, TT just directed a Y@k Ballz video.
Your videos seem like a trilogy.
I didn’t think of it like a trilogy when it first started, but I did kind of think of them as three things so it was kind of like with Hoes Come out at night, that was on my woman shit, that was from being born to being a gluttonous teenager to being a woman. And then Night and Day was kind of like going into the woods, I wanted it to be where I come out of Central Park and living this life in the city. And have it be this throwback to Sade and 9 ½ weeks, like all this great weird mysterious women that lived in new york city. it was kinda on my man shit like being a singer but i wanted it to feel really lonely, i purposely wanted to shoot it not in downtown in all these spots like hey we’re having a good time. i wanted it to be a woman alone in the bathtub, and kind of witchy. And then take me high i wanted it to be about LADIES.
Spike lee has a lot of being the black filmmaker in like 98 years. Tyler Perry’s cool when you’re high or with your family but. I wanted it to be… I think i just wanted to go with my gut and what i wanted it, logically figured it out in my head w/editing. I wanted it to be a throwback to black musical theatre, church plays, that type of feeling. But also kinda backstage and this mystical world. I wnated it to feel like a musical.
In all those videos, there’s a certain representation of sexuality, and when you’re onstage I feel like you have a sexuality that’s super subversive and powerful.
I don’t think that really, I feel like I’m a shy person. I know that I am. I really am pretty introverted and like okay, if I go to a club I will just sit in a corner and I’ll get fucked up and that’s when I open up. But when I’m onstage and all that stuff I think, that’s my job, to be in it and to just open up, you know what i mean? I’ve been singing for a really long time. and so close and safe and trying to be with PPP it was kinda like okay, but i feel all of these things intensely and the only way that i’ll survive is that if i take everything I feel and just put it back out there. Because if I don’t then it just becomes stagnant and not good for me. But i feel like it’s my job to get really open.
I feel like it’s subversive in a way that you’re almost challenging. It’s not typical “I’m a hot girl” performance, which you would never do.
The women that are hot to me are women like PJ Harvey or Toni Morrisson. That is power. It’s strong and so alive and here, i feel like a woman. Here’s how I feel about this: like if you have a whole bunch of motherfuckers that are just loud in a room, you should be the quietest.
Because there’s weight in words.
I feel like i took this road that is less traveled, and i understand my worth and my power and I don’t need to fake it.
So “Take Me High.”
I feel like I’m giving birth to a baby. With every video, but with this one definitely more. I had a small idea for it, told [Cubic Zirconia’s] Nick [Hook] about it. I’ll have multiple ideas for years and i just let them grow. Daowoud and Nick are cool, they just let me do what I want which is amazing. I feel like with every video i’m learning crazy ass lessons and like i’m being challenged, like I’m supposed to be here and I’m supposed to be doing this, but… who the fuck thought I could edit?
You never had any experience editing video?
No. I was just like, I have to do it. I know ProTools, and I kinda know Photoshop, but I was just like, I have to do this. I got Final Cut and taught myself and would get help from friends if I needed it. And with “Take Me High,” there was so much that I did with production and the wardrobe and the editing. Everything for it. It’s my baby, this little thing that i thought would be really cool, and then it turned into, like, people.
So what was the initial concept?
Black musical theater. It was just like, why is nobody doing this? I wrote that little musical nd was just like, okay. I think because I sing in Cubic Zirconia, which people know, and it’s okay and respected, I feel like I can do anything.
It seems to reference School Daze, with Tisha Campbell doing the torch song.
Yes, very much like School Daze and The Wiz. I wanted it to be this soulfulness, not downplaying anything and just being like, “This is what we are.” This auntie vibe, LADIES. Like, I’m gonna put an outfit on right now. And we’re gonna go out. This whole type that doesn’t really understand the concept of self-deprecation at all. Just like, I just got off work, gonna go home and take a shower, come over to my house and we’re gonna drink some champagne, we’re about to go to a club, ‘80s-style. With gentlemen. And we’re gonna dance, but we’re not gonna pop it. With the furs and stuff, I kind of felt weird, because I don’t really believe in that but I was like, I’m trying to represent this era of black people.
What was your process in making it?
Step by step i was like okay, this is what we’re gonna do, i want as many dancers as I can get, I need it to be fabulous in an auntie-style way. What’s interesting about videos that I’ve learned is that it’s not really about what you want all the time, so you start with your dreams and then mold them into what can actually happen. It was important for us to go with the flow a lot. There was no producer. Nick and Daoud were there whenever I needed them but it was on some shit like running from the make-up chair to the shoot. We filmed it at Music Hall of Williamsburg.
In each of the videos you’ve directed, it seems like you’re going for a certain era. Is there something you’re trying to preserve there?
For “Josephine,” I sent the idea to the director and totally produced it, like we just need to do old Tarzan type of shit, and maybe the black people aspect, just a different take on it.
And “Hoes Come Out at Night” was on some Toni Morrison vibe. It was really deep.
Basically Lex and I recorded that song in between us going out to a club. A 2010 club! Not an ‘80s fancy club. A club. So of course she had to be in the video. But then she got pregnant, and I was like, I can’t put a pregnant woman out of work! So we came up with this concept based on stuff we were both going through, she was pregnant and I was going through this weird transformation. I’m a hippie, so I felt in my gut that things were going to change. So we came up with this concept where it was like girl to woman, like I’m gonna take what I have and baptize myself. That was a special time. It wasn’t like any of the other videos, there were only a couple people there and we were just locked in at a lake next to a waterfall. It was so much. And cherries are just my throwback to David Lynch.
I knew that I would know Lex’s baby, and I didn’t want to have some foul-ass shit. I didn’t want a director making fun of us jumping out of a car. I knew that I would know this baby. And it’s already a video called “Hoes Come Out at Night,” I better do something!
So you love movies?
When I was younger I did some acting and when I went to college for the New School I wanted to be a music engineer or some other behind the scenes thing, I always wanted to be a part of the “boy’s” thing, and kind of be behind it and have that respect. But I never did film.
I always loved women like Millie Jackson and Teena Marie who were very allowed to wear their sexuality and talk shit but at the same time they were women and they were songwriters and doing very masculine jobs. I’ve always admired that. I mean, Toni Morrison was a beauty pageant winner! I mean, shit, really?! So I think there is a lie being fed that people dumb it down, where people say “she’s strong, so she can’t…” No! You can still be feminine and be in control with what you’re doing and roll with the men and have people respect you. Girl, did you ever read Women Who Run With the Wolves?
Okay the shit that she talks about. Everytime I pick that shit up it applies directly to my life.
I haven’t read it for a long time but I remember it blowing my mind.
She also talks about creating, always be creating. She talks about how it’s kryptonite for women to be, I don’t want to say rational, but… consistent. We’re women, we can do anything, we don’t need to be firm or rigid. All that bullshit about feminists that they’re just like… shit, I feel like I’m a feminist, and I’ll wear a little baby ass dress and some heels. I don’t care, I’ll shave my underarms and get a bikini wax. Shit.
Out of all the women that I know, you’re up there as far as being a dope ass feminist. Just by how you live your life.
I feel like I am! Seriously, I feel like it’s my responsibility, I’m put here because I like to feel a lot of shit. I feel a lot of shit, it’s physical for me at times, I feel so so much. Then I found out my moon is in Scorpio [laughs]. I feel like my job is to put it out there. I feel like I want to show like, little girls and shit that you can do anything you want to do, especially like ethnic little girls, when shit is so real. Because sometimes our cultures are not encouraging. It’s fucked up but it’s beautiful in a lot of different ways because you see so many things that would make other cultures collapse, and people are still smiling. But there’s a lot to where you’re just like, Damn, really?
When you were growing up did you have role models or idols?
I would sit in front of speakers and listen to music over and over again, and I loved Mobb Deep. I just loved the beats so much. I loved Common, all that shit. Also Sarah Vaughn. I just always have loved women who just talk and do very feminine things but could just like, roll. Like Teena Marie? Faith Evans! I flipped out, like oh my god she wrote this? I was young and that’s inspirational. A teacher once told me you should try to figure out why someone did what they did, rather than copy them. And Teena Marie produced some shit, that was so inspiring. It’s always been appealing to me, these women that could do it all. Most women have a nine to five and you’re in your office and you’re in the boardroom, do your thing, you’re not gonna act the same way around your man or your kids, we just flip into things. That to me is so tight.
Tell me about how the costumes and choreography come together.
My friend Desi did the choreography, the person who I did my musical with. The costumes, I just grabbed them. I went to boutiques and I was just like We need this stuff. We pieced it all together. I really wanted it to be on some lady shit, that’s why I had to have the furs and the black jumpsuits. I bought this wedding dress in Flatbush and I already had white gloves, and the white hat, a woman who’s a preacher randomly made it for the video! One of the boutiques that I went to I said, I can’t have a whole bunch of fancyass black people and not have them in hats. Because I wanted it to be kind of churchy. And the woman was like, I know a woman named Mary who makes hats and she’s a preacher. I was like, Mary, do you have a white hat? She rolled up in her Cadillac and gave it to me and I paid her 40 dollars.