Category Archives: Music

Love N Roll

Remembering Sibyll Kalf, artist-musician-mensch-dreamer-gypsy-extraordinaire.
 
1967-2016
The quirky perennial outsider Sibyll Kalff

The quirky perennial outsider Sibyll Kalff

The death of a friend made me realize not how fleeting life is or how precious moments are, but how little time we actually shared enjoying ourselves.
She was aloof, eccentric, and at times utterly mysterious.  A fellow outsider artist, we’d hear from her, correspond intensely over several weeks…and then not again until years later.  Always in waves.
Through her I was introduced to the work of poet Robert Mitchell (rest in peace) and Lynda Crawford, who was one of the first (if not the first) American editor to publish my poetry in North America (Manhattan Linear poetry magazine/site).  Nina and I met Sibyll online in 2005 while living in Berlin, slowly emerging from our own hell and getting involved in a whole new phase of living, feeling, and being. She read some of my poetry, admired Nina’s photography and began to send us recordings of her music and sound poetry – many of the songs, in fact, with texts by Robert Mitchell.  We fell in love with Sibyll’s spirit.  She, in her own idiosyncratic way (she would always share our art work with whomever she’d come in contact with in Cologne and in return we’d do the same) represented the Last of the Romantics. She was peripatetic as we were and always seeking, searching for the next landing on that great mountain we all climbed – or tried to: Transcendence.  Her death sent chills up my spine because the last art-work she sent to us recently was a hand-made notebook she wanted me to use for some new poems I was intending to write and send back to her.  I never did.  Another collaboration that will never take place.
Sibyll, you were relentless in your optimism — or rather in your insistence on being hopeful in the face of all that life’s ugliness and daily unnecessary cruelty flings at us…But that’s also how we as artists burn out.  The desperation for something better, for a life in flow, for some harmony in and out of all that we do…Sometimes it never comes.  When good spirits fall to their knees – it is not they who lose out. It is the rest of the people in the universe who never got a chance to experience just a glimmer of what you share with some of those lucky enough to have been in your orbit – however briefly.
Thinking about the child-like rawness and the lovely crudity of your art-work, of course my mind goes back to the heart and soul of rock and roll which you loved so much…and in particular the punk of NYC’s old hey-day.
Sibyll, I know you yearned to return to the Big Apple. But trust me, NYC did not deserve your death. While a person’s death doesn’t matter as much as their living — there are constellations of energy in thie life that simply do not warrant our impassioned pleas or cries of resistance. New York has not been the city you first visited in the 1990’s in nearly 20 years and maybe it was good in a way that you never returned to see the mess and disappointment it became.  It, and the world, has changed so much, too quickly — that the promissory notes you clutched tightly became worthless.  And maybe you sensed that something around you too was just simply not worth it.  And I don’t blame you. Your courage is inspiring.  I hope your exit was joyful, wherever you bowed out…and I hope you keep them honest in the artistic pursuits beyond the stars or the molten lava.  Wherever delicate and beautiful souls like you go.
This song is for you, darling.
The Jim Carroll Band: “People Who Died”

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SPIT: A Hip Hop Sonata

A scene from Mtume Gant's debut film

A scene from Mtume Gant’s debut film “SPIT.”

Mtume Gant’s short film Spit is an impactful 16-minute Hip Hop sonata on one hand and a slightly precious, if not heartfelt, cinematic reflection on maturity, art, responsibility, and the decisions we all have to make as artists.

For some of us, the only option is death.  Literally, figuratively – you can interpret it any which way you want but the film’s thrust is about the crisis an artist goes through when unable to traverse or curtail the capitalist values and business mania of the zeitgeist that sees his work, culture, and spirit as nothing but fodder. The story of the artist being chewed up and spit out is not new – in fact, if there are any myths that still ring out in our world – this is one of them.  What is admirable however, is how Gant presents this struggle and how personal of a journey it becomes.

Gant’s strong directorial debut Spit follows Jeremiah “Monk-One” Sinclair (Gant himself) an underground NY Hip Hop artist, as he reaches conclusion to let his passion go because the pain of suffering as an artist is ultimately worse to him that the quotidian nightmares of civilian life or the cosmic rat race that nips at the artist’s heels.

Employing a first person POV (Gant has announced his admiration for Tarkovsky’s The Mirror) that gets shattered in moments of naked honesty such as the most moving moment in the film where, before a literal mirror, Monk-One tries to explain to his girlfriend Cassidy (Suzette Azariah Gunn) that he can no longer rely on her to support him and in just two minutes, a dialogue about love, trust, responsibility, and the existential crisis of black men come into full effect.  Scenes of this nature are rarely seen – anywhere.  And as one who has a particular interest in the revealing of our wounds and pathologies, I applaud the honesty between Gant and Gunn – in what is essentially a duo in the mirror; a dialogue of double-consciousness…and a soliloquy to the audience.

Spit is a ‘power ballad’ and it draws on multiple conventions more associated with musical techniques than recognizable cinematic expression.  But only because it is a “Hip Hop film” in terms of aesthetics – spiritually.  I want to state here that I firmly believe it is an “expressionistic hip-hop power ballad” – because it all takes place inside Monk-One’s head.  (The idea of sampling is also very prevalent. Monk-One “samples” his memory for context and pieces it all together for understanding.)

The rhythms, the vibration, the spare self-referencing, and the political consciousness all acknowledge the tight prism of true ‘conscious’ hip-hop as folk art and self-expression.  It is not an ersatz hip-hop film like 2013’s commercial atrocity The Great Gatsby (yes, the director Baz Luhrmann tried to bamboozle people into believing that it contained a hip-hop aesthetic film because he got Jay-Z to do the soundtrack!) nor is it a film that exploits the cross-cutting beats and rhythms of classic hip-hop in the way that, say, Darren Aronofsky used hip-hop as a frame of reference for his wonderful debut film Pi (1998).

Those films are referenced to give one an idea of what Spit is not. First off, those very different movies were done and conceived by white directors.  This is important to state because often when black artists are dealing with their own “folk arts” there is a tendency to coddle and patronize its audience as if they are tourists.  An example of this is just about any “culture” event taking place at any embassy on American soil or having anything to do with presenting something for a Western Audience.  Thankfully, Spit does not purport to make one understand anything about hip-hop nor does it try to appeal to the white gaze (a lesser and insecure African-American director would do that, in hopes of not “alienating” white mainstream viewers or the blacks who have been led to believe that Kanye West’s persona and music are representative of “true hip-hop.”)  It is a drama that turns a stringent coming of age ritual into a severe rumination on art, vocation, and identity in the 21stcentury. (As an aside, if there is a film that I had to refer Spit to it could be Larry Clark’s  [the African-American director, not the exploitive-schlock-White American photographer who made Kids] 1977 Passing Through.  A movie about a jazz musician struggling with his demons.  Both Spit and Passing Through share a thematic and emotional core, however different.)

Through a taut assembly of scenes reiterating the overriding theme of honoring one’s gifts (in the case of Monk-One’s artistic talents), personal family crisis (Che Ayende and a solicitous Erica Chamblee self-consciously staged to great effect emulating Monk One’s POV – as they relay the fears and hopes of his parents), monologues exploring the relationship of purity and art (or analog Vs digital in the case of Lameen Witter’s droll cameo as Fingers) and an explosive diatribe against the corporatization and perversion of hip-hop music – wonderfully performed with a very palpable frustration by Lance Coadie Williams, who plays Fryor, Monk-One’s manager; a figure caught in a “No Exit” situation; Williams’ burning eyes  captured in a funky hem-hawing long take imbues the scene with tremendous soul that makes up for weaker moments in the film, rendering them benign) the script is intelligent and personal and does not weigh itself down or cut its own knees off by wallowing in clichés or sentimental tripe or counter-revolutionary vulgar language and self-hating dialogue that I’m sure mainstream festivals and the State Department itself would have preferred.  The lyrical screenplay reveals itself plainly in its coming-of-age moments when it digs deep into lingering questions such as: What do fathers pass on to their sons? What is fear?  What does it mean for Black Men, in particular, to be responsible?

The uncomfortability of Spit resides in that last particular question – not because it criticizes or tries to flagellate in front of an audience, but because Monk-One is a highly conscious individual.  He knows exactly what his problems are, have been, will be – and the intellectual knowingness of his character puts a damper on any kind of Hallmark resolution or “Sundance” ghetto chic story.  In a Black context, Spit is a step forward because its characters are just that  – characters.  Shades of colors.  And by allowing scraps and fragments to reveal behavior, they become real.  And that is always the challenge for the dramatist.  Real people are not the issue.  It’s expressing truth – that’s where we often falter.  In both a Black context and a national one, truth is still the number one problem with independent cinema – which prefers to relay Hollywood lies and Liberal-media-sanctioned sentiments over the raw and strange truth of individual lives.

In the context of cinema at large, Spit (which I declare to be a Hip Hop sonata – because a sonata must be played as opposed to the Latin cantata – which is sung; so in this way – a musical piece can be broken down and expressed on a screen.  In essence, the song is broken down and “played” out cinematically as opposed to being a song) takes a small, but powerful step forward in the realm of non-linear cinema, because it does have something to say.  Its formal qualities do not overwhelm its human desire to want to genuinely say and express something.  Either “experimental” dramas allude to twenty other movies or they commit themselves to being abstract in a jokesy-vaudeville way.  Americans have a problem taking themselves seriously. (An aside: All those who prefer their stories of struggle or “hip hop” celebrations in the Hollywood sense will reject Spit on the basis that it is too naked or too dark – one of the greatest ironies coming from the “Hip Hop community” which traditionally championed the raw truth, but which has done virtually nothing to support this film…they’re too busy heralding Straight Outta Compton I suppose.)

Spit is a tragedy.  One cannot be shocked by its ending. The film progresses towards an ending that an audience mature enough and deep enough will understand.  Bleak endings are necessary.  Sometimes we have to step back.  Or even, simply, waive the white flag and give up.  Artists suffer for their art, for the people they speak for, and for their own un-reconciled demons and desires often torn and ripped out of so many years of dreaming and conceiving, doing and daring…sometimes we run out of steam.  As the director himself stated to me, “People are always miffed how artists can find such joy in art but struggle so much with existence. But if we choose a different pathway where does that lead us?”

And that is what Mtume Gant’s movie spits.

Update: As of August 28, 2015 Spit has screened in several national film festivals, notably Aspen Shortsfest and Philadelphia’s BlackStar Film Festival. It will be screening soon in the Harlem International Film Festival. It was a recipient of a San Francisco Film Award.

 Dennis Leroy Kangalee (“As an Act of Protest,” Endless Shards of Jazz for a Brutal World,”) is a poet & filmmaker living in NYC. He is the co-founder of New Poet Cinema. Mtume Gant starred in Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s production of Amiri Baraka’s “The Toilet” at the Here Theater in 1998. It was their first collaboration in the theater.

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25th Anniversary of Public Enemy & Spike Lee’s Legendary Collaboration…

Riot on the Set: How Public Enemy Crafted the Anthem ‘Fight the Power’

Twenty-five years after ‘Do the Right Thing,’ Spike Lee, Public Enemy and Branford Marsalis reflect on the film’s anthem

Chuck D & Flavor Flav of Public Enemy [Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]

Chuck D & Flavor Flav of Public Enemy [Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]

Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy perform in New York City.
Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

By Kory Grow from Rolling Stone

“We needed an anthem,” Spike Lee said. “When I wrote the script for Do the Right Thing, every time when the Radio Raheem character showed up, he had music blasting. I wanted Public Enemy.”

The director may have asked for an anthem for his 1989 chronicle of big-city racial tensions, but what he got was a salvo. A quarter of a century has passed since Radio Raheem’s boom box served as a megaphone to a generation, spreading Public Enemy’s rap reveille over and over again in the movie, but “Fight the Power” has not lost an ounce of its revolutionary power or poignancy. Chuck D’s lyrics praising freedom of speech and people uniting while decrying racist icons still sound just as vital as anything Pete Seeger wrote, and production team the Bomb Squad’s ultra-modern collage of funk and noise for the track has never been replicated. The fact that Public Enemy made multiple versions of the tune – including the Branford Marsalis–infused, free-jazz cut for the movie and the more straight-ahead approach on their 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet – only shows the versatility of the song’s message.

To celebrate the legacy of the tune, and its impact both in and out of movie theaters 25 years later, Rolling Stone caught up with Lee, Marsalis and Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav and the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee and found out how they made an anthem.

Where does the “Fight the Power” story begin?
Chuck D: Spike, [producer] Bill Stephney, Hank and I had a meeting, and Spike simply said, “Hey look, I’ve got this movie based on all this tension going on in the New York area, the clashing neighborhoods, and I’m looking for an anthem.” All I remember was Spike was saying, “I’m looking for an anthem.”

Hank Shocklee: Spike’s original idea was to have Public Enemy do a hip-hop version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is kind of like a Negro anthem or spiritual. But I was like, “No.” I opened the window and asked him to stick your head outside. “Man, what sounds do you hear? You’re not going to hear ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ in every car that drives by.” We needed to make something that’s going to resonate on the street level. After going back and forth, he said, “All right, I’ll let you guys go in there and see what you guys come back with.”

When did the “Fight the Power” concept come up?
Chuck D: We like to work from titles down, so we came up with “Fight the Power” first. It was inspired by the Isley Brothers’ song “Fight the Power.” But the challenge was, could we make something entirely different that said the same thing in another genre?

Shocklee: We lived in the suburbs and were sandwiched by nothing but white communities. It was like we were the leftovers: We got what the white communities didn’t want to have, we got their spillovers. So we always had to kind of fight this adversity. We wanted to just make something that was going to say, “I’m mad as hell, I’m not gonna take it any more – I’m going to fight the system.” So that song that the Isley Brothers did, “Fight the Power,” resonated, but their version was a little soft. It didn’t resonate as deeply as I thought it should.

Chuck, at what point did you write the lyrics?
Chuck D: I was getting ready to head out on a European run with Run-D.M.C. in the fall of 1988. I remember writing a big chunk of it on a plane as we were flying over Italy. And D.M.C. was probably in the chair next to me. So I had the aftereffect and the glow of Run, D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay to inspire me, so to speak, in the writing of some of the lyrics.

“Freedom of speech is freedom of death” is a line that has always stood out. What prompted that?
Chuck D: A lot of that stuff like that line is like Bob Marley or Frederick Douglass: “There’s no progress without struggle.” There are a lot of things like that that I was able to incorporate it in there.

Why did you pick out Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 single “Don’t Worry Be Happy” as a negative thing?
Chuck D: Because”Don’t Worry Be Happy” doesn’t apply to protests. If you’re not worried and you’re happy, you’re like, why protest? Not everybody’s gonna feel like that.

What inspired the line about Elvis and John Wayne being racists?
Chuck D: [Comedian]Blowfly had a record called “Blowfly’s Rapp”in 1980. And there was a line in there where one of the characters in the song was a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and basically he had a lyric, “Well, I don’t care who you are, motherfuck you and Muhammad Ali.”

Why did you pick Elvis Presley and John Wayne, specifically?
Chuck D: Elvis and John Wayne were the icons of America. And they kind of got head-and-shoulder treatment over everybody else. It’s not that Elvis was not a talented dude and incredible in his way, but I didn’t like the way that he was talked about all the time, and the pioneers [of rock & roll], especially at that time, weren’t talked about at all. When people said “rock & roll” or “the King,” it was all “Elvis, Elvis, Elvis, one trillion fans can’t be wrong” type of shit.

But as far as “motherfuck him and John Wayne”… yeah, fuck John Wayne to this minute [laughs]. John Wayne is “Mr. Kill All the Indians and Everybody Else Who’s Not Full-Blooded American.” The lyric was assassinating their iconic status so everybody doesn’t feel that way.

Is that also how “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps” came about?
Chuck D: That came from the fact that Spike also discussed how there was a wall in the movie with people we respected as heroes on it. So “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps,” was saying, “You know what, we’ve got heroes on the wall, too.”

Flavor, how did you end up getting the John Wayne line?
Flavor Flav: A lot of the songs that Chuck D has written, I took parts. I’d say, give me this part, give me that part. And I’m very grateful for the lines he gave me. I ain’t gonna lie, because those are the most memorable parts of the record.

Was “Fight the Power” the first song considered for Do the Right Thing?
Lee: That wasn’t the first song they submitted. It was not “Fight the Power.”

What was it?
Lee: Not “Fight the Power.”

Shocklee: It was “Fight the Power.” He got the preproduction version. It was a sparse outline of the idea of the song. Spike, with all due respect, is not a rap guy, so he’s not gonna understand where it could go until it’s a finished production.

Chuck D: [Laughs] Spike misconstrued it as being a different song. It was a song in a rough stage with different elements brought up to the front. But Spike used it, because he had to present the film to a bunch of different investors. I remember checking out a screening with Hank in Brooklyn, and Spike had put in the rough draft of the song, and every time he played it, I was sinking in my seat, because I was like, “Oh shit. The song is not complete. It sounds like shit to me. And he’s going to put in the movie this many times? What the fuck!” I was like, “Man, we’ve got to come better than that.”

Hank, what was your goal when you were putting together the music for the track?
Shocklee: I wanted you to feel the concrete, the people walking by, the cars that are going by and the vrroom in the system. I wanted the city. I wanted that grittiness, the mugginess, the hot sticky, no-air vibration of the city [laughs].

How did Branford Marsalis get involved?
Branford Marsalis: I think it was Spike’s idea. I don’t feel at that the time that P.E. or Hank would have been suddenly compelled to use a saxophone.

Shocklee: I wanted to have a sax in the record but I didn’t want it in a smooth, melodic fashion; I wanted someone to play it almost like a weapon, and Branford was the guy. He came in the studio and he was incredibly gracious and very humble. He treated us as if we were musicians just like himself.

Marsalis: Hank did something that I’ll never forget. He made me do one funky solo, one jazz solo and one just completely avant-garde, free-jazz solo. And I said, “Which one them are you going to use?” And he said, “All three of them motherfuckers,” and he threw all three up. And the shit was killer. You had this Wall of Sound come in and the saxophones came in, and it was a Wall of Sound to accompany a Wall of Sound.

Branford, coming from a jazz background, what was it like playing over a Bomb Squad track?
Marsalis: It was not a normal chord progression. If it was C minor then it went to A-flat 7. It has the same sensibility as a James Brown tune, which is completely where they got it from. If you listen to when they go, “Fight the Power” and you hear that voice that goes, “Aahh,” that voice is not in the same key as the other shit. A musician would never do that. But it works. It unwittingly helped me expand my brain in a way.

Did you think you had a hit?
Chuck D: No, but when I heard Spike Lee put it 20 times in the movie, I was like, pssh. We realized early that film was probably going to be our outlet to deliver shit. We couldn’t rely on radio.

Marsalis: They had the greatest marketing tool in the world. They had a movie that people were going to see two and three times, that was going to be all over the world and it scared white people half to death — which ensured that it was going to sell.

Flavor Flav: When “Fight the Power” was being created, all I did was just come in, lay down my lyrics and I was out. I didn’t know that the record was going to be as big as it turned out to be. I just wanted to make a great record and keep it moving. And next thing you know, this phenomenal record was being played on the radio over and over and over. I’m like, wooow. This is crazy.

Chuck D: For all the talk about “Fight the Power,” there was always resistance to Public Enemy. It really got no higher than 16 on the R&B/black charts, which just goes to show you how much help black radio and urban radio gave us. It didn’t even crack the Top 10. It’s crazy, because in hindsight when they talk about the Number One rap record that meant something, “Fight the Power” is always at the top of those charts.

The B side to the original 12 inch features a hilarious meeting between Spike and Flavor. How did that come together?
Chuck D: They’re having a conversation – about what? Who the fuck knows. Flavor won’t remember it [laughs].

Flavor Flav: I don’t remember the B side.

What did you think of the movie’s opening credits, when Rosie Perez shadowboxes to the song?
Flavor Flav: It was just incredible, man, hearing my voice in a movie [laughs]. It was buggin’ me out. It was like the first time I ever heard “Public Enemy Number One” on the radio. It gave me that kind of feeling. Then also hearing my voice all throughout the movie – because that’s the only record that they really played in that movie, [actor Bill Nunn’s character] Radio Raheem would play nothing else but “Fight the Power” on his box, man. It was just an incredible feeling.

Chuck D: It was cool, because I thought I could get away with not doing a video [laughs].

Marsalis: I dug the song. I thought it was a hit from the get. I mean, Rosie wasn’t my favorite dancer necessarily, as someone who had a relationship with the arts that was rather broad. But it was cool. It was great to see. You know, Rosie was fine as hell so I didn’t object to that.

Shocklee: The track intensified the story. When Radio Raheem was with the boom box playing that song, that’s what was happening at that time, exactly. You could have walked out the theater and into a pizza shop, and that would have happened at that moment.

What do you remember about making the video?
Lee: All Chuck D and I wanted to do was reenact a march. So we had everybody show up. We marched from a specific space through the streets of Brooklyn and ended up on the block where we shot the film. We had to do it there. The movie is shot on one block. Stuyvesant Avenue, between Quincy and Lexington in Bed-Stuy. So we definitely wanted the destination of the march was the block where we shot the film. The stage was there. Perform.

Shocklee: That video was a really good thank-you that Spike did for us. We didn’t get paid for using the song throughout the film. It was the first big production budget that we’ve ever had for a video. When I first got the treatment, I thought it looked very simple. It was just, “Hey, we’re gonna do this march, make it seem like it’s a march on Washington, but we’re going to do it in Brooklyn.” I got to the set around 5:30 in the morning, and people were lined up. It looked like the Million Man March.

Spike, how did you get so many people there?
Lee: We just put the word out: “Public Enemy video.” People showed up. The police were scared though.

Why?
Lee: That many people? They always get scared. But there was not one incident. It was great. And the police were not a problem. As long as you’re done by 6, we’re all right.

Chuck D: It was like a rose really sprouted in Brooklyn. It was seriously a black movement of just being able to stand up and demand that the systems and the powers that be don’t roll you over. And this was a threat to America and it was a threat to the record companies at the time. That video was really powerful.

Chuck, what inspired the video’s intro, where you talk about the Civil Rights March on Washington from 1963?
Chuck D: I remember coming on in the video saying that the whole concept of the march in Washington wasn’t complete, but my words weren’t as sharp as I would like them to be, so I ended up saying, “That’s some nonsense.” And the way it was cut, I sound like I’m out of my damn mind [laughs].

Flavor Flav: That was one of the most craziest days of my life. But it was so amazing. It was my first time ever really doing a video shoot. And with that many people at my video shoot, it was crazy. Not only that but we had Jesse Jackson there, Al Sharpton was there, Tawana Brawley was in the video, too, as well. And the whole of Bedford-Stuyvesant. We had a good time that day, man. I would give anything to live that day one more time, that day was so amazing.

Flavor, who is the little girl you’re holding at the end of the video?
Flavor Flav: That was my daughter Shanique. She was three years old at the time. Now she’s 28 [laughs].

Lee: Chuck and Flavor just had so much fun. It was a great day. VH1 named it the Number One hip-hop video of all time. Well deserved. Rightfully so.

The version of “Fight the Power” on Fear of a Black Planet stripped away Marsalis’ solo and remixed the Elvis line. Why make different versions?
Chuck D: “Fight the Power” came out on Motown first, because of the soundtrack, but we were with Sony. We had to pull some structural things in order have “Fight the Power” on Motown as a single but also our own video on Sony and then being on Fear of a Black Planet the following year as the final track.

Shocklee: Putting on the Public Enemy album, it just didn’t make sense to have the same exact version. And I’m a big fan of each. Each record, to me, should live in its own space.

Finally, now that 25 years have passed, how do you feel the song holds up?
Chuck D: I feel like Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome.” “Fight the Power” points to the legacy of the strengths of standing up in music. Spike really made that record what it is. Because who puts a song in a movie that many times? Who does that?

Flavor Flav: I think it’s one of the most amazing things that Chuck has ever written. I’ve always looked at Chuck as one of the most amazing writers and lyricists ever. And a lot of the stuff that Chuck wrote was all accurate information. Chuck has been right a lot of times and that’s why I always backed up my partner.

Marsalis: Come on, that shit is anthemic. And for all of the people that love popular culture, there are a handful of songs that are actually anthemic in hip-hop or otherwise. And that one is one of them.

Shocklee: I think it was Public Enemy’s and Spike Lee’s defining moment because what it had done was it had awoken the black community to a revolution that was akin to the Sixties revolution, where you had Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. It created such an energy surge throughout the community that it became the template for every artist, every filmmaker, every rapper, singer, and it also sparked community leaders and teachers to understand the power of hip hop. And it made the entire hip-hop community recognize its power. Then the real revolution began.

 

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The Nomad Junkie Interview – 2011

Read Sylvia Harvey’s interview with Dennis Leroy Kangalee at the closing of his 2011 performance piece, “Gentrified Minds” which was not only the end of a whole performance project, but his last sigh as his alter-ego, ‘the Nomad Junkie’ — which he abandoned so he could move beyond his rage about gentrification and the death of neighborhoods and, specifically, New York City.

Dennis Leroy Kangalee
*The interview originally appeared in the Bed-Stuy Patch as a part of the column Change for a Dollar that focuses on gentrification.

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For a Second I Thought I Was Mahler

DLK as Mahler

Stepping back in the room, I caught myself 
Frozen
Like a cat burglar who had lost his cool
And for a second I thought I was Mahler —
Perhaps it was my high forehead
And my reversed sloped hair
As if my roots were growing out of the crown of my head and up backwards
Towards the sun (or the Aliens who had neglected me)
I was disappointed to not have looked like Prince
But maybe that’s the price you pay
For living past the age you wanted to die at
I thought I knew that profile anywhere, having seen it stretched across the banner of an old friend’s door 
He was a classical musician
and loved all things sad
 
He would play Elgar on a piano
and insist that it sounded better without an orchestra,
We traded stories of madness and caught each other once again
years later when we both did our stint at Paine Whitney
Our vitals were low, we were anemic, we were angry, we were young
 
And once when I stepped into the sun, my wife cried
And when I asked her why
She said I reminded her of something she had forgotten about in her heart
And while I was hoping it might have been Prince or some rock ‘n roll revolt 
That jarred her memory —
It was the moving shadow around my head, landing into the new apartment we
had just rented —
 
And I cursed myself as I heard our new neighbor jerking off his new leaf blower 
in a coarse Sunset Park afternoon up on the highest hill of Brooklyn where some 
Rich and poor are now living closer and closer —
 
I heard the faint notes of a symphony spilling out of a broken heart. 

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“What Happened to the Brother on the Block? (The NY Horror Vol.1)” – Spoken Word Recording

“What happened to the brother on the block? He turned into a Starbucks!”

Inspired by the Twilight Zone, the comedy of Pryor & Mooney, Theater of the Absurd, & the Folkways Spoken Word Recordings, this darkly-poetic satire about corporate-friendly gentrification in “21st Century Urbana” was recorded in one take in May 2010 and was mixed by Isaiah Singer, who applied spare musical arrangements and sound effects to support the “surreal midnight vulnerability” of Kangalee’s reading. The result is a perfect introduction to Dennis LeRoy Kangalee’s dramatic spoken word and fiction.  It was the first installment in a series detailing the gross bizarre suburbanization of NYC and, of course, led to his theatrical realization of “Gentrified Minds(The NY Horror Vol.2)” which includes an abridged version of this story via his now abandoned persona, the ‘Nomad Junkie’. .

Read an excerpt of the original story here.

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The Chase Bank Murder

The climax from my 2011 performance of “Gentrified Minds” in which the Nomad Junkie invokes the refrain from my earlier short story, “What Happened to the Brother on the Block?” — my surrealist tale about corporate friendly gentrification..one that has become more and relevant, especially in light of the sinister times we live in, the demise of community, and the psychopathic behavior of JP Morgan Chase & Co. With a nod to Gil Scott Heron, Lou Reed, and the spirit of the NYC protest poets — this was punk theater all the way…

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My Final Scream: Punk & Poetry

“EVEN MORE POWERFUL LIVE THAN IT WAS ON THE PAGE! BRILLIANTLY STAGED BY NINA FLECK -A STRONG MIX OF WORDS & MUSIC THAT CREATES A DIFFERENT THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE…KANGALEE WILL BE FOUGHT EVERY STEP OF THE WAY, BUT HE ALREADY KNOWS THIS.”
– Reg E. Gaines, NYC Downtown Urban Theater Festival Director, 2011
Tony-Award Nominated author of Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk

Dennis Leroy Kangalee as The Nomad Junkie fronts his theatrical punk band in "Gentrified Minds" (2011)  [photo by J.Lehrman]

Dennis Leroy Kangalee as The Nomad Junkie fronts his theatrical punk band in “Gentrified Minds” (2011) [photo by J.Lehrman]

Every now and then it is healthy to remember your personal war stories. From time to time, I will share bits and pieces of past works that might fit such a definition. Below are lyrics to the title song of my 2011 performance piece, “Gentrified Minds: The NY Horror Vol.2,” a musical spoken-word piece about gentrification. I was coming out of a long deep-seated emotional stir regarding the virulently corporate-friendly gentrified nature of NYC. It was stifling, sad, and arresting to feel like an alien in my hometown. My wife and muse Nina Fleck, pushed me to express my views about it all in a theatrical piece that combined our love for poetry, protest, and punk in one. It was meant to be a dagger in the side of the suburbanization/homogenization of New York City. To this day I don’t know a single soul who has gained anything as a result of the gross over-development of NYC. And if they did gain, it was just more money…and they were probably already rich to begin with. The project came to a swift halt in 2012 but it was one of the most thrilling and freeing experiences I ever had. It was the tail end of a long phase that gave birth to a number of poems in the guise of my “Nomad Junkie” persona and it was my last sigh in a tense chain of ‘holy rants’ and aggressive works that I construed to be viewed as poetic grenades. In the end, I was reminded that protest art doesn’t really do much to the status quo, but it does affirm the tremors of each choir member you may choose to preach to. And that’s all right, because that says a lot. It solidified my belief that the nature of true rebellion can never be popular. For when it becomes tamed — so does one’s passions.


Gentrified minds
Speak in gentrified times
Of gentrified ways
In gentrified days
With tongues that they stole
From mouths that they sold
In order to live “that way.”

“That way” is the day
That you knew you would pay
For the sins of a hustler
Who gave birth decay
My gait ain’t my own
Nor the shoes that I own
Barely’s the air that I suck
Or the sounds that I groan —

We are
Gentrified Minds.

I have no culture
Only a vulture
That breeds on my dying days.

Click here to see video excerpt of the performance.

or visit this earlier post

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Visit this link for a glimpse into an earlier phase of my NY Horror series.

(c) 2011 by Dennis Leroy Kangalee; Words by DL Kangalee, music by Bob Kuch.

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Gentrified Minds: The New York Horror Vol.2

The opening poem & title song of my humble revolt: “Gentrified Minds”,a performance-piece about corporate friendly suburbanization of NYC, racism, the rise of the hipster, demise of folk art, the suburbanization of NYC, and erosion of a true counter-culture. Four years of rancor and frustration gave birth to this piece, which was a follow up to a spoken word recording “The NY Horror Vol.1 (What Happened to the Brother on the Block?) that was eventually published in the Nerve Lantern literary journal. This was my first live performance in over a decade and the debut of my short-lived poetry band, the Children of Warhol. Music was co-written by Bob Kuch, the guitarist. Video edited & Mixed by Isaiah Singer. This performance was directed by Nina Fleck for Downtown Urban Theater Festival, NYC, April 22, 2011.

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