Urban haps of a grrrl on a mission to be a better writer, a new music master-blaster and a wonderfully brilliant razor-packing, MAC LipGlass wearing feminista...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Magazine Mayhem

Urban magazines are becoming more and more like urban radio formats-- redundant, desperate and seemingly out of step with their supposed demographic. Like who still listens to the radio and doesn’t have an iPod? And who is still reading The Source or Vibe when there is XXL and The Fader? Many of us urban peeps are becoming more and more diverse, acculturated and dynamic, yet our mags are seemingly becoming more and more staid and homogeneous in their reach and content.

Speaking of The Source, just two days ago the former publisher, Dave Mays, was on the Star and Bucwild show calling Steve Stoute an Uncle Tom without so much as admitting to how his and Ray Benzino’s self-aggrandizing ways have led to the downfall and ever-plummeting sales of what was once the most authentic source for everything Hiphop. Not only was Dave, a white man, calling certain Black people Uncle Toms, but he also talked a lot about how Eminem and Jimmy Iovine were destroying “our” culture and how no one seems to understand and value Black business the way in which The Source did: “This was our job to expose what was happening in hiphop,” he said to Star who made Dave squirm and even questioned his stance in the Jewish community—basically flipping his whole race and cultural stance back at him from an ethnic pov. I worked at The Source for a hot minute and it was not, needless to say, a bright moment for me. I had to fight for every nickel and dime I earned, while dealing with more than a bit of unprofessionalism and ego from the boys in charge.

I don’t read VIBE either and haven’t for a while. The content doesn’t interest me in the least. It seems like they are more geared toward pleasing teenyboppers who don’t particularly like to read their mags as much as they like to flip through them like picture books ala Right On. For awhile I thought I was the only one not feeling the urban glossy, but even folks that are currently (and formerly) employed by VIBE are bitter and jumping ship.

I do read XXL every now and then but mostly I turn to Trace and Fader for my music info. Fader always has the next ish that’s about to blow and really does a fantastic job covering the alt music scene.

Trace is known for their Black Girls Rule issues, which I absolutely love. They also dig kinda deep and pull out some nice international music features. Like I gotta give them props for their most recent issue about Jamaica. Some of the articles and photos are typical and expected like Sean Paul and the fashion pictorial of magga girls in a Kingston market. But the stories on some of the lesser-known players, esp the women in reggae was refreshing.

In terms of mags for us “urban grrrls” the scene is terrifyingly dry. No Honey, no Suede, no Wink. Not that I was in love with the last issues of Honey or really got Suede’s angle, but it was nice to at least have options. I’m not at all feeling Vibe Vixen, but then I guess from the look of it, they aren’t trying to talk to me or to any of my grrrls over the age of 28.

Jolie oddly has nothing to do w/ Angelina and well, there was just nothing appealing or even new on their pages. It looks like something I may have wanted to read in 1984. Essence seems like they’re making moves to retain…errr assuage their former Suede readership with their recent cover story on Lauryn Hill. The feature was okay. It just didn’t offer anything new or insightful like the previous and very long Trace cover story on her. But I won’t blame the writer for that cause I know L-Boogie is not the easiest person to interview. And oh yeah, big up to Barbara Britton former VP of Essence. Last month this media heavy resigned after a 17-year stint to head her own multicultural marketing firm. Of course Essence will be her first client cause we all know their Music Fest would not be what it is today without her longstanding efforts to bring sponsors onboard.

Well for all y’all that keep asking, theHotness is still kicking. I’ve had some personal matters that I’ve had to attend to (thus the lack of blogs and everything else related to scribin’), but I'm working hard to get the next issue out very, very soon. I am even considering a print version in light of all the insipid blahness that abounds from the urban recesses of newsstands. So give me a shout if you have any ideas, recommendations or advice. I’m ready to make some noise.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Black Coffee, French Toast, Straight Chillin

Initially I was going to write about magazines today, but I just don't feel like being analytical right now. I had a great weekend, 62 degrees in the city. Nothing going on, but a light jacket, mango ice cream, pizza, and champagne. Everyone was so frickin happy and friendly. Harlem was a buzz with hotties and loud music blasting from small, fast cars. My number even came out-- 471, but since I've stopped playing the numbers and started playing these damn scratch-offs, I didn't win squat. Bumped into a neighbor and went to her place where we laughed and talked and she fixed me the best salad ever. Some kind of secret dressing she made... Newman's Family Style and something in a red bottle. Anyway it was slamming!

Sunday was unexpectedly wonderful too. While making egg salad I got a call inviting me to brunch. Needless to say my hard-boiled breakfast became sublime French toast stuffed with caramelized pears and pecans. My friend and I both love Kitchenette because it's one of the few spots uptown that understands that breakfast is more than chicken and waffles or fried whiting and cheese grits. Our conversation was just as refreshing-- Seydou Keita, Obeah, Dinah Washington vs. Billie Holiday and why coffee is better black. I personally like mine with milk and two sugars, but always feel young, immature even, when in the company of coffee purists. I thought jazz purists where bad, but these java heads are the worse sometimes.

It was crowded as usual but for some reason I never seem to mind the crowd or as some of my friends have pointed out, "the whiteness," of Kitchenette. As if whiteness in Harlem could be avoided or should be for that matter in 2006. Yeah, the theories of why coffee is better black is one conversation, but why Harlem is better Black is something entirely different. But today I'm supposed to be straight chillin and non-political, right? I really don't know how I even got here. Now I feel like erasing this entry and writing about urban mags. Okay, I'll say this. Kitchenette is white-owned and they fill a void on 123rd. They serve really good food that isn't necessarily fried or dripping in gravy (don’t get it twisted there are days that I like my honey fried smothered chicken, but I also love French Toast, seasoned turkey sausage and frittatas) and the service is great. On the other hand, Black folks are opening restaurants in Harlem where in a new Chinese food establishment my man tells me they were actually out of chicken wings one night. Huh, out of wings at a Chinese food joint in Harlem? Or there’s the all American fusion spot that has good food but the service is horrible. I ALWAYS have to ask for black pepper and by the time the dude comes to grind it on my linguini, my plate is lukewarm at best! Then there are the martini bars that are popping up all over uptown where a cosmo is $13 and there is the requisite red velvet rope outside the front door of the venue that is right across the street from the projects. C’mon people! I’m down with Wu-Tang when they rhymed, “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” Why can’t it be so simple now? And this has got to my favorite new opening-- a Caviar Café on Lenox Ave. Yep, yep these brothers have pooled their loot together to open a lounge that serves smoked salmon and caviar, never mind that the UN just put a worldwide ban on the import and export of caviar, and that Lenox Ave. or for that matter the entire Morningside Heights area doesn’t even have a sushi spot yet, but now we have fish eggs. Gimme a break! We have gone from fried porgies straight to beluga. I may be wrong but, damn it’s all got me wondering and I’ll leave it at that.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Life Is The Dash (Part2)

Well I guess I've kept you waiting long enough, but dang it couldn't be a better time to hit you with Part 2 of my Dame Dash interview. I mean with all the name calling and beef that Cam'Ron is stirring with his freestyle rhyme dissing Jay-Z where he also makes no bones about his allegiance to Mr. Dash. Cam definitely takes it back to the old school where heads used to diss and (verbally) battle each other for respect. And yeah the line about Jay being an "ugly Alf a*s nigga" is corny, but then the line, "But your publishing should go to Ms. Wallace. Honest. Stealing B.I.G.'s shit. He made two albums, you wildin'..." is icier than any Jacob timepiece and I won't even tell you how loud I hollered when he asked, "How's the King of New York rocking open-toe sandals with jeans?"

Here's Part 1 and this is Part 2:
With Muhammad Ali and Russell Simmons as mentors, Dash has constructed an empire that is at once urban, uppity and ubiquitous. Not so much the bling-bling type of guy, Dash is more the ka-ching ka-ching type, so it’s no wonder that in the last decade Dash has built a $350 million company from scratch. There’s Roc-A-Fella Films, which has been the platform for a number of flicks including Paid In Full and Death Of A Dynasty and his new film company Dash Films, where he executive produced The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon. Currently he is producing Shadowboxer with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren, and The Council about the infamous Harlem gangster, Nicky Barnes.

But his first entrepreneurial foray under The Roc brand, Roc-A-Fella Records, has however seesawed between success and loss. The setbacks and achievements have been both massive and minor. There was Jay-Z and his over 15 million albums sold to date making Damon and Jay instant millionaires, even though in 1997 Def Jam bought a 50% stake in the record company for about $1.5 million (well under what most insiders felt it should have gone for). "They got us for cheap. But never again," says Dash as he reclines in his leather chair. And so when Universal bought out the remaining 50% for a little under $10 million, it was retribution. To add fuel to the brush fire surrounding Dash and Jay-Z’s parting of ways, it was rumored that Dash's new record label the Damon Dash Music Group — a joint venture with Universal Music's Island/ Def Jam-- has already fallen apart (Dash was unavailable for comment about the dissolution). Allegedly Dash resented his former partner's rise to the top ranks of Def Jam and also wanted more money from Universal for promotions and that request didn't sit well with the top brass at the label.

Rumors be damned, Dash insists that everything is cool. “There ain’t no problem. He chose to be a corporate individual and I chose to remain independent,” responds Dash to Jay-Z's decision to take the position as president of Def Jam. “Let’s say I did have a problem with him, even though I don’t. I wouldn’t like to use the press as a venue to air it out. I ain’t never gonna say anything bad about Jay.” Dash goes on: “I have no emotional attachments to any of my businesses. Like when I sold Roc-A-Fella. For me it’s just a name. I don’t give a fuck. That’s the purpose of business to build equity and to sell it,” says Dash. “The music industry is probably the most lackadaisical industry I’ve been in. Just to get shit done is impossible. So for me the industry is the most frustrating but I also realize it’s the most influential. So I do what needs to be done.”

Discretion may be what’s up with Dash, but others aren’t so tight-lipped about The Roc’s transition. Roc-A-Fella’s new top dog, Kanye West, alludes to his allegiance to the man who gave him his first major break in his single “Diamonds,” from his upcoming Late Registration album: “You know the next question, ‘Yo, where’s Dame at’/ This track's the Indian dance to bring our reign back.”

On MTV.com, M.O.P. manager, Laze E. Laze, talked about the group’s split from Roc-A-Fella. “I want you to understand that Dame Dash doesn't own Roc-A-Fella any more, and we actually obtained our release” from the label, states Laze. "We saw the company was going in a different direction. To me Roc-A-Fella's over."

Dash seems unfazed and is continuing to do what he does best—plot and hustle. There’s still a dozen or so other projects that he is currently overseeing including America Magazine, releases from Nicole Wray and the legacy of Dirt McGirt (formerly O.D.B.), N/A-- the ultra hip nightclub he owns, a licensing deal with PROKeds, Tiret watches, his non-profit organization for Harlem teens called Team Roc, the Roc Box 2 (his version of the iPod), Armadale vodka, and of course, his crowning jewel, Rocawear—the clothing line he launched in 1999 that's racking up sales to the tune of about $300 million a year.

Dash’s background and rise to fame is your typical survival-of the-flyest hiphop rags to riches story. He grew up--fresh and fast-- in East Harlem with his single mom, Carol, who wanted the very best for her only child. Like most young men in New York City growing up in the 80’s, Damon lived and breathed hiphop. He skated at The Rink, danced at The Rooftop and hosted parties at The Cotton Club with his boys known as the Best Out Crew. Damon attended a private school on Manhattan’s upper eastside to his molther's delight, but at 15, Damon’s young world began to come apart. First he crashed his first car, a black Nissan Maxima complete with a customized body-kit (even back then he had “the best cars and the best women”). A few months later his mother had an asthma attack that took her life. In her honor, young Dame took the little money he inherited and used it to enroll in a private boarding school, where he hung out with folks who had private jets, personal chefs, and summer homes. From that moment, Dash made a pact with himself that he too would have wealth beyond belief.

“The lessons I learned about loss are very defining. You know you can’t be mad at death cause it’s a real natural thing,” he ponders. Damon's close relationship with loss would continue. By the time his fiancé, soul singer Aaliyah’s plane crashed in 2001, he understood death’s inevitability and randomness. “With Aaliyah I gained the ability to appreciate another individual’s company. The fact that I was able to spend such quality time with such a legendary individual who was loved and respected by the masses so much...,” his voice fades and then he takes a deep breath. “So when people say I’m such an asshole, I couldn’t be that much of an asshole cause Aaliyah loved me. She was one of the better individuals I ever met—spiritually and soulfully and she acknowledged me as another good individual. She would often tell me how cool I was and all the things she liked about me. Now seeing how many people respected her opinions it makes me know that I probably am everything that I think I am because she told me. It’s an honor to have spent time with that kind of individual.”

For someone who wears his clothes and sneakers only once and is criticized for being arrogant and extravagant, Dash at this moment seems like a man who has experienced the best and worst of life, and is set on living it up while he can. He’s a hustler whose heart has been broken more than once, and so now for Mr. Dash it’s all about the money, the vision and the legacy.

“I’m the boss, and I definitely make people suffer that try to take advantage of certain situations. If you make me lose money I will step up and make an example out of you,” he admits. “In five years I want to have a quarter of a billion dollars. So yes, I be screaming and yelling. But I profess positivity. I fight for the underdog. All I’m trying to do is inspire the rest of the world. 'Cause I’m just a regular guy. If I got it, anybody can get it.”


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy '06!

17 days into the new year and I'm finally back to blogging. Got no resolutions just big plans, big plans. New Year's Eve was crazy fun! Went to Brooklyn had Champagne with my girl and then around 1am we headed to 275 Grand where we danced, drank ginger martinis and sang to classics like P-Funk's Knee Deep. The place was packed with the usual beautiful Grand set-- Sharon, Michaela, Barron, MeShell, Jacquette, Jeffrey, Eric. If this is how my first few hours of 2006 went down, I can't begin to tell you how friggin' excited I am about this year!

I am in no way confused about what I'd like to accomplish this year-- secure a book deal, get fit, capitalize on some Hotness ish and domestic organization top my list of priorities. I've come to realize that it's all about being disciplined, creative and confident. Personally I haven't been able to harness all three of these qualities simultaneously in quite some time, but I'm feeling like all my stars are aligning with the sun and this is going to be the year I really get my swerve on. Other things I'd love to do and accomplish would be to see this play, visit this country especially since I read that more than 400 million women worldwide are illiterate, but not one of them is from there, buy these, learn more of this, read this and take classes to improve this. Ha, I'm exhausted already! So what are some your goals for '06?