I Was a PhD Reject: Part 2

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Cue The Music: No Music, just the deathly silence emanating from the DC courtroom

In my wildest dreams I never thought that this would end in a drab, cold, and sanitary smelling courtroom in the depths of a building in Washington DC. The courtroom is located in the lowest floor reaching the depths of legal hell, spewing the coldest air you ever felt. The air conditioner is set to ultra high for the entire cycle of the year. No matter the day or time you will inevitably find yourself sitting down in the small rows of stadium seats freezing to your inner core. It’s probably a ploy to freak out both parties with sudden jolts of chills going up and down the body. As I sit on the right side I’m waiting patiently to be called up for the last status hearing of my separation to her. The room is set in a fashion where the judge and clerks look down on you and wait for the inevitable slip up in order to be able to slap you something to their liking, sadists I tell you. I sit, shifting every few seconds due to the cold, but remain fidgety because God only knows how the day, and the case, will end. Like a whirlwind through a city, my heart nearly leaps when she makes her appearance in the courtroom, oh Diana. I still can’t believe that I’m witnessing the complete breakdown of our marriage, the downfall to despair on my part, and sanity on her part.

Diana Castro came into my life at a precarious time, but I remember the first time I laid eyes on her I knew I wanted her. Years ago I worked for the Jewish Agency, as well as the Zionist foundation where the prime donors are decrepit old New Yorkers who still believe in the campaigns to plant trees all over the deserts of Israel. All I knew is I needed work after I got my Master’s degree from Brooklyn College so I got the job to fight for my country in a clerical sense. Then one day as I turned a corner I spotted her in her immense gorgeousness. I over shot the office she was working in immediately stopping dead in my tracks and reversing my feet to the door. There she was amidst a stack of large manila folders and books. Diana is from below the American border so she has this amazingly luring accent, which drives sailors wild all across the oceans. She is petit with beautifully soft light brown skin, very deep brown eyes, which could peer into a man’s soul, amazingly luscious jet-black hair that would make a crow jealous, and so much more. She has this smile that lights up your heart with such excitement, and she oozes sexuality that would make any man clinically insane. I gaze for what seemed a century of history, and then she says hello. The topic of conversation is not important, but what is more amazing is that later in the month I asked her out and she agreed. For the rest of the workday I was torn between taking victory laps all over the office, and sheer dread at the task of entertaining such a vivacious woman. From work we descended into the lower world of the subways in New York City, heading to the southern rim of Manhattan. South Street Seaport was the destination and the day was foggy covered with a mist, but humid. We walked and chatted it up until we climbed up the stairs looking over the river into the heart of Brooklyn. The moment reeked of magic when a small wave of mist covered our clothing due to a small drizzle. I couldn’t stop staring at the beautiful mist mixing with her falling on her beautiful legs, which were very accentuated due to her short black skirt. The mountain of mist electrified that very moment with such strong emotions that I still tear up every time I think of the excursion. Unfortunately we only went out on one more date and then as if destiny hit we went our separate ways in life. I decided to apply for a PhD program in Washington DC, while also taking a year to dig into the minds of many Jews in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. She returned to her country for a short period of time only to return to New York City so that she could work on a Mater’s degree. From the point I was in Israel and she returned to the States we emailed each other using playful language to liven up the mood. Although never awkward I still held a strong desire for her, which had only intensified over the years. We communicated and spoke, but I deeply wanted to admit that I always had a high school crush on her. Of course in life’s comedic turns she said the exact same, but the moment was killed with the silent pause. This inevitable silent pause, which is a leading cause of conversational death and other unknown maladies, went on for centuries. We then decided to go our own ways, but the bizarre desire still loomed very large in my brain. Like a ghost haunting me nightly, the specter of Diana couldn’t have been shaken.

Months passed as the summer heat descended onto the western world. We speak, but I pay no mind because I feel like she’s playing me like a slot machine. The few times we meet up it seems forced and I don’t feel completely comfortable because I just can’t stop thinking about my love/lust for her. One day she wanted me to give her a tour of Brooklyn, in the Jewish/Italian neighborhood of Bensonhurst where my father’s family lived. After walking around we end up back at my father’s place, where I used to live. This is a home with a nice Jewish Synagogue on the bottom, with a congregation reaching the age of one hundred including some of the congregants themselves. My father leaves for his late shift at the census office, and we stay talking to each other. We then seriously start speaking of the possibility to authentically start a tangible relationship. I’m talking over and over and over while trying to rationalize the differences by brushing them under the rug. By the way I’m an observant Jew and she isn’t. The entire time I was rationalizing she was looking at me with those deep eyes mesmerizing my thoughts. I started sounding like a salesman trying to sell Korans to a bunch of Orthodox Jews. She was so beautiful brushing her hair to the side with her gorgeous lips, and she was wearing this short light blue dress that drove my sanity out to the far corner of my mind. She broke the tension by slowly leaning over and planting a sweet kiss on my lips following her soft tongue. My heart was skipping at the usual techno beat pace as I was trying to figure out the reality of the situation. There was a lot of kissing and rubbing involved especially on her part because I was still in a state of shock, awe, and ecstasy all at the same moment. The embraces and kisses gave way to realization that she had to leave my hold and head to the drab subway half a block away. As we walked to the open gates of heavenly bliss my head was in the whitest of clouds while my heart was hovering towards the outer reaches of space. We kissed as she slid past the turnstile and out of my arms into the open stench of rats, ammonia and Brooklyn. I marched back in triumph, raising my chin like the New England snob I always hated. My march was that of victory, Julius Caesar would have been proud, pride ran through my body cavity. Finally, I uttered while screaming softly to the GOD above, I got the hot woman no questions and no reservations.

A day went by and she was plaguing my mind, running in concentric circles. Diana and her beautiful smile, luscious lips, tasty skin haunting my brain like the ghost of Christmas I never celebrated. Another day went by and I wanted to give her some space, but I knew something was somewhat awry. By day three I received her response as to why she hadn’t responded to my smoke signals. The email read that she didn’t want to be with me, don’t attempt to use any modern methods of communication to get in touch, all phones disconnected. Signed, good luck, good riddance, and nothing else good. I caught the whirlwind in my face, and I still couldn’t understand how this happened? My insides began to hurt like I just swallowed an entire vat of broken glass. The glass was churning, crunching, and breaking all inside while tearing me to bloody pieces. The glass scraped and spread throughout my entire body leaving blood all over, which would make Iggy Pop or Sid Vicious hungry for more. After my initial reaction of shock and awe, I decided to say “whatever” and dive into a bottle of bourbon. The hunt for a woman continued, dating sedate, fake plastic orthodox broads. Then, one day in late August I received a letter that would change the course of my universe, and yours.

The letter was from Diana and it simply read that she was sorry for the abrupt shut out and a big what if. Initially I wasn’t impressed thinking she would screw with my body, and then brain. I didn’t need this aggravation so I threw the letter away, deep in the garbage of thoughts, and refuse. However, I had a weak spot for her, tugging at my insides. This reflex spread like cancer to the brain, telling me to forget about all the differences between us, and just go for it! As if poking or prodding her without a full reach out I emailed her that I got her card, which opened a new set of cans full of dead worms. It got to the point where we both decided to take the abysmal leap of relationship faith and become exclusive. It was tough to process being a long distance relationship me being stuck in the waste land that is Washington DC and her in the cultural Mecca of the universe, New York City. I also hesitated because she wasn’t an observant Jew, and I was, and I didn’t want her to have any resentment towards myself, or Judaism. Still, we took the leap and became the item we wanted to be, and the following months were magical. From September to December we spoke every night for an hour or more. We would talk about our pasts, presents, and hopeful futures. The immigration issue always lingered because she was in the US on a student visa set to expire in the middle of January. Regardless, it was wonderful, and I remember the first time I showed up at her place for a short vacation in the middle of October. I showed up and she was prepared for me with a lavish meal in her cozy Wall Street apartment in the sky. She looked so beautiful in her short oriental silk robe, covering a white, and happily for me, transparent nightgown. All I could do was stared at her majesty while trying to eat with my mouth closed. After that I couldn’t keep my hands or lips off of her. The night was sheer ecstasy, which would only be possible in the dream world. My heart beat with passion as we embraced, and I couldn’t stop thinking of how fortunate I was to be in this situation. Life is fucking great, or so I thought.

The next few months were wonderful and full of fun with my Diana. There was a small stumbling block thrown when I was informed at a burlesque show that she wasn’t Jewish. Actually, she had some Jewish in her, but as far as Jewish Law she wasn’t one hundred percent kosher. It took me a while to grapple with that fact, but that night also pushed me into a new level or threshold with her. That was the first night we had sex, unprotected at that, and I couldn’t break it off the next day. I was a man caught between his Jewish principle and the girl he was growing so fond of. Not only that, she was the anti-Jewish chick. She was vivacious, passionate, fully aware of my needs, and so physical that she was the antithesis of the typical observant Jewish woman. In the back of the cobwebs of my mind I knew I should have thought it through a bit further, but why? I was looking into the eyes of a woman I knew was only once in my lifetime and I didn’t want to mess it up, or cause any waves in our sea. Still, all was well and quiet on the western front and each time we spoke she was interested in my schoolwork, as I was in hers. She was also very interested in the Bible portions of the week as we discussed them in-depth, as well as other theological topics. We were expanding each other’s minds, and I developed very strong feelings for her as I figured she was as well. At times it seemed like she had some emotional baggage from her past, but I didn’t want to pry. Besides that it seemed like nature was taking its course and I thought I was happy.

Then came the month of December where the insanity of finals for the fall semester began. Finals and papers galore spread through the mind so I think of Presidents, race theory, and the fate of Hip-Hop music as I toil in the stacks of the library. Shelves reaching the ceilings, so much reading and writing that after the hours your eyes look like spinning plates. To top it all off Chanukkah came early so I had to remain behind while the rest of the family, and Diana, celebrated in New York. Still, Diana was always there with me every night to light the candles together. It was such a beautiful sight to hear through the circuits of our cell phones. Each night I would call her as the sun was slowly setting and she’d have her menorah all set with the candles and ready to go. Then we would do the blessing together, she lit the candles on her end, and then we would speak briefly until I had to go to class. As my imagination would project her lighting the flickering lights over the horizon of the lowest office buildings in Manhattan’s belly of the beast I felt it. My heart would melt every night like the candle wax dripping down and slowly melting into the base of the Menorah. The sensation made me happy only thinking how we would be doing this every year for some time. Once I finished my work I ran up post-haste to New York City to meet her mother who came to see her daughter graduate. Her mother came from the old country, and barely spoke English. I tried my best to make her feel comfortable around me. It was a little frustrating having to share my love with her family, but she was presenting in her school, and she did marvelous.

After her mother left we cuddled and embraced for days until December 25th when the first signs of bizarreness peered through. That Friday night I prepared a dinner for us both at my father’s house. After the dinner we were joking with each other as she shot a joke at me that I presently forget. However, when I hurled the same back at her she froze dead in her tracks. As if on some robotic mode she coolly rose from her seat, put on her coat, and ran right out the door. I was standing on top of the stairs in shock. After a few minutes she returned stating that I could pick up my stuff from her place the next day. I ran down pleading with her explaining that she took the joke out of context. She eventually came back and relaxed, but that was an odd moment of unsettled ambiguity. Later that night we realized that we hit an impasse and we had very few options to keep the relationship going. Guess what we chose? I asked her to marry me, and she said sure. My family was very supportive although I knew that some thought it to be a little crazy and rash. Her family at first was fine with it, but as we shall see they began to resent me early on. So, in a matter of a week culminating in a city hall wedding on December 30th we were officially hitched and on our way. We decided that she would live with me in Washington DC and once I finished my course work we would return to New York City for a proper fun life. I had to leave earlier because of school and we agreed that she would follow me down a few days later. A few days later she called me in a panic, sobbing and unsure of the situation. Apparently her father told her that she should annul the marriage and return home to her parents and normal life south of the border. She was at a loss, but I was resolved to keep on by refusing to annul the marriage. She was alone and the voices of the demons were all around her, feeding her head with ridiculous thoughts of hypothetical consequences. She feared being disowned by her family, who are wealthy oil merchants full of money that makes my family look like ghetto dwellers. I kept pleading with her to come down and we will work it out together and she eventually agreed. That was early in the morning, so I left for classes and I figured I would call her after class to see how she was doing. Nothing. No answer. I called again later that evening, and still nothing. Later that night I got home and was on edge, shaking, and freaking out. Where is she? What happened to her? As I tried to settle my nerves over a few glasses of whiskey I had no idea what she was doing or if she was Ok or alive for that matter. After a few drinks I called my father literally crying over the phone feeling both confused and rejected. In the back of my mind, helped with the fuel of alcohol, I thought she got up and left the country. I couldn’t bear to think it sobbing over the phone while my father told me to just go to bed and sleep it off. The following day I was still at a loss with no success through contact of any kind. I asked all my family in New York to call her and even my mother to check on her, and still nothing. My younger brother, who lives in the DC area, came over by late afternoon and proposed to call the police. That’s when it dawned on me that maybe something did happen to her. After I called the police I needed to settle so I left with him to his place. As we leave I receive a text message from her asking for some alone time. Mind you this is after more than 24 hours of no communication, and I lost my shit. I got so angry, waiting to spew all the vitriol and ask her why she put me through this. We spoke later and the entire time she couldn’t understand how worried and hurt I was. After the police showed up she was angry with me for calling them, but this is where the psychological imbalance comes into play. To this very day she can’t understand how much I felt, and still do in some sense, for her. I worried, but she kept calling me insensitive and she was incensed because she spoke with my mother before me, and my mother unleashed the maternal screed. Never screw with a freethinking Zionist Jewish mother, born in the city and lived in Israel, unless you want to lose some limbs in the process. Their conversation was cordial until Diana kept criticizing me, and then my mother let her have it. She called her a rich brat who is more worried about retaining her financial connections than experiencing the consequences of true unbridled love. In the end we settled and I really wanted to make it work so I played the peacemaker and pushed aside that bizarre aura of emotional uncertainty. She came down a few days later, but she still had no idea how I really felt.

The following few months were fine, but one of the initial skirmishes with the Jewish community put her on the defensive and me in a rather precarious position. At first when she came to services on Friday nights and to meals with the local Jews all was nice and polite. However, one night after services the local head Rabbi came up to me carrying a very somber tone. He asked if I could speak with him the following week during his morning sessions. That morning I was nervous as I sat down and exchanged some pleasantries until he came right to the point. He said that some of the white village elders were questioning her. Now, my initial response was “mind your fucking business.” Apparently, a woman of color who veers off the elder white Jewish men’s radars causes concerns and alarm. Their used to the white disciplined Jewish female and Diana was the antithesis of that. I then explained to the Rabbi that I’m not the one to question her Judaism or Jewishness, but he persisted in wanting to question her. When I first told her this she broke down crying asking what she did wrong. I felt so bad because I understood the line of questioning, but no one fucks with my Diana making her feel inadequate. In the end she spoke to the Rabbi and told him of her status and that she wasn’t at all interested in conversion. Because of that my role was diminished so I had lost my “honors” and I couldn’t be within a few feet of the Torah without supervision, etc. Some cryptic old school shtetl thinking, which tore me inside.

Still, we were partners in crime doing many things together, travelling, hanging, talking, loving, and expanding, or so I thought. The oddest thing about the relationship was the feeling that she never believed me, especially when I uttered these three words, “I love you.” She would almost always counter that with a smile and say “bullshit.” Time and time again I would shrug it off, but at certain points I would grow weary and upset questioning her motives. She explained that due to an early childhood trauma she couldn’t experience that. Throughout her dating life she never was in love. Once I tried to dig and ask her why, and after dropping many subtle hints and dropping a few tears on her part I think I could connect the dots. I’m almost one hundred percent sure that either a relative or a friend of the family sexually abused her when she was a child. It also seems that her parents took the quiet road keeping all of it a secret and continuing their pathetic lives as if it never happened. This is why she had these issues, why she could be emotional one minute and the next cool, calm and collected at her detachment. She was also very wild in bed, changing roles and at times was borderline violent, saying things that would make me feel awkward and uncomfortable. She would tell me that she had many issues with her parents, especially her father who was a strict disciplinarian, and would beat her many times for no reason. During this time her relationship with her parents deteriorated and most told her that they were disappointed in her, while constantly downgrading me as a person. She would leave to see her family in New Jersey many times basically being a way a third of time we lived in Washington DC. This all came to a head during the holiday of Passover. We celebrated in New York City, and oddly enough she didn’t want to participate in the second Seder making me feel weird in front of my family.

We returned to DC and got into a huge fight, as she was planning to return to her family the next day up in Jersey. I think we both concluded that we should divorce because it would be for the best. Still, as I was going to leave and stay with my brother as she kept crying and pleading with me to stay. I stayed and she kept talking about saving the marriage and how this was a chance for the both of us to reexamine our commitment and the relationship while trying to grow from these experiences. The tears kept streaming from her face as she gently extended her soft hand grabbing mine so softly. She then brought me closer to our futon made bed and she slowly lay down and brought me down with her. She kept asking me to hold her closer as my mind just became more and more vacant with thought and emotion. I had no idea what was going on and my heart was breaking and collapsing under the pressure of love lost and torn from the root of my abdomen. As we held each other she wanted to make love, but I couldn’t get close to her, feeling a deep chasm between us the size of the black lakes known in the stories of HBO lore. I couldn’t give her an outpouring of emotions because I had no idea how to feel, and I was in complete misery as well as deeply lost in the jungle of my delusions of grandeur. The rest of the night I felt so uncomfortable around her in my own apartment, she became the gorilla and the egg shells were already spread all over the room floors, walls, and ceilings. She left the next day and would not return in almost a month. We didn’t have conversations over the phone because she would either not pick up or would become emotionally freaked. She began to experience these waves of intense panic attacks anytime anything sensitive came up. I had no idea how to handle the situation because she would either ignore me or fly into a frenzy or panic. Due to this I just kept it simple, but even after two weeks she didn’t understand that I missed her. Also, every time I asked about our marriage she kept saying that she needed to work on herself first and foremost before she returned.

What frightened me the most is that I became both her love and her worst enemy, both embracing and cringing me, my mind was slowly taking a leave of absence from the reality at hand. Before she left she had a hint where she would close down and ball for her own protection. She had some abuse trickling down from her past infecting her rational path of thought. When she was a young girl, little innocent Diana lived in her little jungle of beauty and ease. Her mother loved her while her father loomed over her sometimes for good, but at times for bad. She could have been fussy and out of line but no matter king dad always brought her into line because one day the black gold will be all hers. The trade of black gold was the king’s trade, uprooting the local who dared to live in the past and brought them kicking and screaming into the future. Little Diana lived happily ever after in her gardens of blue, beaches of green, and shades or purple swirling and swooping down for her control. Darkness in the soul came down in the form of Bob, black gold friend of the king. Diana was so happy to share the beauty with a new friend, showing him the mountains of glory and hills of uplifting vanity. But Bob was from the white/black room(s) and he was not interested in innocence of gardens. He came in for the kill racing little Diana to the point of exhaustion in the realm of nothingness. The path was set and he like an oily snake skin salesman extended his hand out, and the dark side grabbed her hand close. Ever since this event, years, days, ages, ago today she lost what she deserves, and what aches me to give her. Control.

Minutes, hours, days rolled as I incessantly stared at my cell phone for any missed calls, messages, hypothetically missed calls I thought I heard, I think. The time ticked slowly as every day I kept thinking to myself that this was amiss, what did I do? I kept asking that as I was pouring my brains and guts out, hitting the books and studying for my exams. After the first week passed I thought to myself that she was getting better and readying herself for our reunion. By the end of the second week I wasn’t sure if she felt safe or secure around me, so it was going to be a coin toss flicking the quarter into space and undoubtedly hitting the odds against me. Day after day dragged through the murkiness of my mind, and then before you know it we reached week number three. I was at a loss of words, and thoughts of what to do. We barely spoke, at least the way we used to before the dark day of marriage, no long conversations and time flying, no no. This time around it was forced where I would plead with her that I wanted to work things out. She agreed, but would then act very guarded about her own emotions, and any hint of the conversation getting a bit heated would send her into a frenzy of panic and anxiety ridden shocks all through her body. I yearned to make her feel better, but she made it impossible to reconcile with the meaning of this all. By the end of the third week I called telling her that if she didn’t return then just don’t come back at all. I refused to live in this miserable limbo. She caught the bus on a Sunday, which would trigger the beginning of the end, as well as the start of a bizarre week with my soon to be ex-wife/mutilation professional of my mind and soul.

Next Post is a return to madness, as well as more adventures from the bullshit world of American University.

Peace

#AmericanUniversity #DanielBCipriani1 #DianaKills

I Was a PhD Reject; Part 1

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I’m currently sitting in a white room sitting with my arms spread across the squared table. Facing me was my dissertation committee, flanking me with these grins and self-assured smiles of prepared destruction. All these years of hard work, mind numbing exams full of tedious details, research, and field work have all led me to this table. Not only that, but it was also a long two years where I re-wrote my proposal at least six to seven times, thanks to my confusing pain of an ass, and so-called, advisor. It all comes to this defense of my work, my soul, and my life. Sitting here amidst the words of devastation being hurled at me my mind constantly retreats to the Woody Allen film Stardust Memories. The scene that keeps reverberating through my mind is when he is being asked questions about his work. He then utters a great joke saying, “Intellectuals are like the Mafia, we only kill our own kind.” Every time I’d see the scene I would laugh hysterically. However, now it’s becoming apparently crystal clear that I was the next one in their sights. But why? Why was I being torn down constantly? Why was I left in the wind many times, not only by them but by scholars in my so-called field? And why was this meeting, which at first seemed like a constructive conversation, the site of my execution? In order to answer these questions your narrator has to divulge some information on his process before we get to the grand inquisition.

Cue the music, “Paid in Full (7 Minutes of Funk Coldcut remix)” by Eric B. & Rakim.

I was born to some far our parents in a far out land. My parents were the unconventional thinkers and doers of their generation. My mother protested the Vietnam War before it became a fad, and my father is an Italian stallion of a drummer. They eventually moved to Israel, or made Aliyah as they say in Hebrew ascending to the land, in the late 1970’s. Being born in Israel to New York City, or Brooklyn bred, parents was quite an experience. However, one thing that remained constant was the music. My love for music started at an early age as my father would play classical and world music, while my mother played nothing but black music. The only white band, besides the old school masters, we heard was the Beatles. They were also very liberal when it came to our explorations into music. That’s why when my older brother started listening to Rap music they encouraged it. This encouragement from my parents has remained to this very day. Growing up in Israel was also very different from the US because the notion of being a hard Jew was more in style. Once my brother’s and I moved to the US we could not connect with most of the American Jews because they were timid pussies. Because of that we tended to gravitate towards the non-white crowds, as well as their  music and culture. This is where Hip-Hop comes into the picture. Although I listened to rap music in Israel, I didn’t immerse myself in the culture until I moved to the US, and after my grunge and classic Rock phase. This is why to this very day I don’t understand the American Jewish ethos, and I cringe at the timidity and waspish tendencies. Hip-Hop was the guiding force in my High School years, even after my mother re-married and we moved to the suburbs of Connecticut. In the town of Guilford, where I learned how to drink cans of Bud and shots of Jack Daniels while bumping Yes, Blue Oyster Cult, Steely Dan, the Allman Brothers or the town favorites Lynyrd Skynyrd, I still bumped all the classic Hip-Hop joints.

Cue the music, “Doper Skiller” by Viktor Vaughn (AKA Doom) featuring Kool Keith.

This would continue into college and even more so when I relocated to Brooklyn for school in the fall of 2002. This is when I fully immersed myself into the culture. I did all that shit that we see in the nostalgia shows and the bullshit PSA’a from the “ambassadors” of New York who come from the corn fields of the Mid-West, fuck that. I DJ’d at Brooklyn College, and other hole in the wall dives. I went to shows constantly throughout the city, hitting up all the independent and underground rap groups. Me and my boys lived that life, smoking blunts, drinking beers, and causing much damage while enjoying ourselves. However, by the time I hit 25 years of age I started asking, “is this it?” What the fuck am I going to do with my life? I earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s from Brooklyn College, pseudo-respectively. I was working a shitty job at a Jewish non-profit in Manhattan. No direction. But I started getting more into my Jewish faith, and this is where I began to find my own spiritual depth. Still, I needed a turning point in my life in order to push me in that direction. Unfortunately, the event was the death of my beloved Aunt Lenore, who was a huge force in our family. Her loss pushed each one of us to discover, meaning me and the entire family, ourselves and the true essence of our lives. I did two things; first I applied to PhD programs, and second I decided to go sturdy at a Yeshiva, Jewish school, in Jerusalem for the remainder of the time before I go back to school.

Before applying I decided to look outside of New York for other viable options for graduate school. This is when I visited Washington, DC. My younger brother attended George Mason University, so I decided to explore the schools and their history programs. Mason was nice, but too far from civilization. George Washington University was too big, and it seemed as if you could get lost in the shuffle rather quickly. I then visited American University, where I was warmly received and got plenty of face time with the chair of the department. I was also introduced to faculty, and one of them took an interest in my story and my field of research, which I chose to be Hip-Hop. This faculty member, let’s call him Mr. K, told me that if and once I get accepted to the program that I would work under him. I was both delighted and excited to begin this chapter in my life. However, after my acceptance, I traveled to the Holy Land, Israel and lived in the Old City of Jerusalem while attending the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva.

Cue the Music, “PUNKLEZMERAP” by Eprhyme.

Those months in Jerusalem were amazing, as I learned day in and day out various text and scripture while breathing in the spiritual aroma all around me. Being an Israeli I also visited plenty of old friends, and my youngest brother who was living there with his mother at the time. Emotionally, spiritually, and in other ways these months changed my life, as I became more religious and started wearing the uniform. Although I was still the rebel sporting torn jeans, T-shirts, and long hair, I still wore a Kippah and Tzizit, which I still wear to this very day. The crazy thing is that after living there for that period of time I become more sensitized to the mundane cultural bullshit. I had a great time with all the guys there, but there were times where I felt that the brain washing was in full display, and how some of these Rabbis had such a patriarchal stranglehold over the young guys. Most of these guys were lost with no direction home, so these Rabbis created new directions, and at times new ideological outlooks which were the antithesis of the true core of these guys. I distinctly remember that before I left one of the biggest donors to Aish showed up in Jerusalem. He wanted to speak with me the week before I left. When we spoke he seemed kind and nice, but also a bit pushy with his assurance that I should remain in Jerusalem. I said “thanks, but no thanks.” My resolve was strong, but I knew that I did not want to become one of the black hatters who all dress the same.

Cue the music, “NY State of Mind” by Nas.

I landed in New York City in the summer of 2009, and within a two-week period I slowly moved myself down to the land of political slime, Washington, DC. The break-neck speed of change didn’t register until my first day on campus. That is when the bizarre ride of my body and soul began to swirl in many directions. While I was in Israel us Yeshiva boys were encouraged to visit other Jews around the city and literally invite ourselves over for a Shabbat/Sabbath meal. For many of my colleagues this posed quite a challenge. Why? Because most of these guys were your standard out-of-the-box American Jews, who were mostly timid when it came to these types of social interactions. However, for the loud mouth pains-in-the-ass, like myself, it was no challenge at all, but rather a welcome rotation of interesting meals and conversation. Another big part of the Yeshiva, as well as the greater Ba’al Tshuva movement, Jews who were born secular or unaffiliated and later became religious, is that we were conditioned with eternal optimism when it came to the Jewish people. We had bright smiles and optimistic views on the religion and the many swaths of Orthodox communities. However, these Orthodox communities were not always that hot for people like myself. Especially this guy who sported loose-fitting cloths, and very long hair. Walking through the uber religious neighborhoods like Meah Shearim or Bnei Brak was always a trip. All the eyes of the boys, girls, men and women were beaming run on me as if to dig a hole into my very soul. Still, in Israel the communities were far more friendly and open to us, as opposed to the wonderful Jews of the United States. Regardless of all the bad press and sensationalism, Israel is one of the friendliest places I have ever been to. Neighbors care for neighbors in such a way that the fear of private space is non-existent. This is such an American thing where it’s not about community, but more about this is my spot, and if you don;t like it, get the fuck out. In Israel I always felt as if it was an open land where I can rest in any spot without someone pushing me off their property, or “land.” Dominicans are just like this as I experienced from my in-laws and soon-to-be wife. But I digress…….So here I am back in the land of the US of A after being brainwashed, or just a little laundering, and trying to get my bearings. Before I left for Washington, DC I hung around the city mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan. That’s when I got the harsh truth of how self-segregated Orthodox Jews are, and how pathetically clannish the rest of the observant Jews are in this country. It’s not only the segregation that’s upsetting, but my family and I are very aware of certain Orthodox Jews superiority complex. They are the so-called keepers of the Jewish gates, and they are the ones who say who is Jewish and who’s not. We usually tend to stir clear of them. However, what hurt me the most in the beginning is the simple greetings that these Jews refuse to return. In Israel if you greet someone on the Sabbath you say “Shabbat Shalom” or the more yiddish friendly “Shabbis.” Usually it would be returned by the person you are saying it to. In the US it’s exactly the opposite in these Orthodox communities. These people not only refuse to respond, quite the keepers, but ignore in such disgust like you just ran over their father, while your buddies rape his mother and pour sugar in his gas tank. Fucking crazy! And crazier by the fact that if they were true to Jewish law they would be far less apprehensive. However, years of repression, incest, and other old world issues has stunted those people.

I’m now standing in front of my school’s spiritual center in the fall of 2009, and what a feel as well as look. Those first few days on campus were quite a shock to the system. For the past year I’ve been cloistered in this spiritual center taking in all this knowledge, but at the same time I also eschewed most forms of entertainment and popular culture. It’s amazing how that time period dramatically raised my sensitivities to the western ways, as well as sex and the sexualization of popular culture. Don;t get me wrong I ain’t no prude. After living in Brooklyn for years, and even before, I always enjoyed some nice drugs and a good piece of ass, preferably the non-white bread kind! But coming back screwed up some of my perceptions, as well as reminded me that the Yeshiva stint was my maturation period. So, here I am standing and read to learn. The first year was a tough adjustment period for many reasons, such as the change of style and content of my education. I was also looking for a place to live so for the first month and a half I had an hour and a half commute from the plush campus of American University to my brother’s apartment in Arlington, VA. However, by mid-October I was settled and slowly getting a grip on my academic performance. My advisor, as us PhD’s have, worked well with me and he helped me get through the adjustment period.

Cue the music: “Banned in DC” by the Bad Brains.

Washington, DC is nice, clean, full of politics and bullshit, and it’s such a bizarre existence living in the capital of the world. DC is also interesting as it’s the breeding ground for festering politicians and political movements. That’s why it can be a headache when your hanging with people whose political views don’t align with your own. Dc is also bizarre because it has certain northeast tendencies, yet it’s the opening slit of the south. You feel the progressive politics while traipsing over old plantations, which can be a real mind fuck. I showed up, literally two weeks off the plane into the land of DC, as a wide-eyed optimist with regards to my future in academia as well as integrating into the Modern Orthodox Jewish community. Lo and behold, within a few years my hopes and optimistic feelings took a nose dive with regards to both. After starting school at American University I also began to look for an apartment around the area in both DC and Maryland that were close to Orthodox synagogues. Maryland had nice communities, such as Kemp Mill, White Oak and others, but I couldn’t live in the wilderness devoid of city life. I also couldn’t live in these cloistered Jewish neighborhoods, that reminded me of the same segregated Jewish ghettos of Brooklyn. I ended up settling in Foggy Bottom, close to the modern synagogue Kesher Israel. Yes, this is the same place that sent its disgraced Rabbi to the clink not that long ago. Funny story, first time I was invited over to his house, with his family, for Shabbat dinner he did a round of introductions. He said that we should say our names, place of birth, and famous claim to fame. He then followed that by saying that “no one can beat me because I was on the Ali G Show.” Ironically this would not be his only claim to fame. G-d works in mysterious ways, but he’s got quite a sense of humor.

I joined the congregation in the fall of 2009 and began to integrate into the Jewish community. Now, I was not at all your typical Orthodox Jew boy. At that point I had very long hair, around 15 inches or so in length, baggy Hip-Hop and grunge era cloths, while wearing a big crochet kippah, and with flowing Tzizit, the strings that certain Jewish men wear outside of their belt line. I was a walking contradiction, thank you Green Day!, and the first time I walked into services the eyes were pinned to my back, and searing through my soul. The young men and women, the elders and the rest reacted with mixed caution. Some members of the community were beautiful souls who didn’t care. Unfortunately most of the men and women my age were basically WASP Jews who were so hardcore conservative and rigid in their beliefs. Once I walked in, I blew them out, which is why it was very hard for a single guy like myself to find a lady, let alone a date. For the first year I was content, and enjoying the Shul and the academic process. However, with academia it was a struggle at first re-adjusting back to the life, and my advisor did help me acclimate by the end of the year. By my second year I was getting far deeper into the PhD process. Unfortunately, my social life wasn’t the same as I kept going on pointless dates with either bizarre hippy Jew chicks, or certain women from the DC community who are were so repressed it was just sad. You’d think that these women, who mostly became more religious, would embrace the passion of faith instead of the repressive parts adapted by the Ultra Orthodox Jews. Also, almost all of these Jews came from very different socio-economic backgrounds than I. They all came from the lily white suburbs, and attended all white schools and were probably bullied, but now with their new-found spark of faith have a new method of control. It’s so sad to go to a thirty-something year old’s place for a Shabbat meal, as you’re surrounded by childish hobbies and meticulous bachelor pad. Once I was at one of these meals along with other guests including the parents of one of the guests. As the father extended his hand to reach for the wine, the host put his hand on the wine and said, “No, I do that.” This guy was bullied so much that now he’s become the asshole who pine for nothing but control. It’s sad how some of these men and women need to get laid.

Cue the music, “What’s Next” by Leaders of the New School.

Two years later my school work is going good as I began to wrap up all my required courses, and began to study for the oncoming torture of exams we call comprehensive exams. At the same time the dating scene was getting nowhere as I came to the realization that a modern Orthodox Jewish woman was not for me. This was tough coming from a person who wanted to stick to the more observant way of living. However, I began to delve into the world of secular and even non-Jewish women. That’s when I made the terrible mistake of reconnecting with a woman I’d worked with in the past. After living with my younger brother and his girlfriend and seeing the track record at the synagogue of either couples on their way to marriage or the aging spinsters (both men ad women) hanging from the galleries. That shit became old and depressing very fast.what was even more depressing was the local Lubavitch Chabad in DC. I’m a big fan of the Chabad movement, which was centered in my neck of the woods, Brooklyn. The Chabadniks in Brooklyn were, and remain, amazingly wonderful in their inclusiveness and unbiased look at who you are, regardless of your background. The Chabad of DC was the antithesis of all this and what Chabad stands for. When I first attended services Shem Tov, the Rabbi, came up to me and asked what brought me to DC. I said school. He then turned around and ignored me ever since. To call him a political opportunist is just the tip of the ice burg. That’s what happens when you mix spirituality with politics. You get dicks like that. Anyway, Diana was her name and she’s another load of words that I’ve written about in the past, which I’ll add next time around.

Peace, for now……

 

 

 

 

Let’s Go To The Movies: Rubble Kings

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After watching the recently released documentary, Rubble Kings, so much of my love started to make a hell of a lot more sense. This documentary chronicles visually the wreckage of the Bronx, and just how low and destitute the residents became by the middle of the 1960’s. It’s a perfect connective tissue to the many books, films, and documentaries made about Hip Hop. The gang life of New York City, especially in the Bronx, is an important root cause of Hip Hop culture. What makes the story even more profound is that it was the gangs themselves, not police, not politicians, nor anyone else, who stopped the violence. It was this peace treaty, which has been written about by Jeff Chang in his seminal work on Hip Hop’s history, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.

The film, and history, show that the gang life began because of the plight of the city in the mid-1960’s. New York City was dealing with massive cut backs, a crippling debt, roll back on police and fire fighters, social services, and all around optimism was waning. This was the de-industrialization of the city, where blocks and buildings were left to rot, just as the master builder Robert Moses erected his finishing touches on the city, and especially the borough of the Bronx. This led to white flight, and a rise of de-investment in these neighborhoods and communities that were thriving not to long ago. Out of the decay, depression, and anguish came the gangs. With the cuts there also came cuts to schools such as music and art programs and after school activities. Many members of the Nation of Islam and Black Panther Party, who gave these children some outlets were all arrested by Federal agents in the COINTELPRO initiative. So, what was a kid to do? Can’t get a job, nothing to do, living amidst rubble and ruins, and you are menaced every day by the local thugs? You join a gang, and unlike other sources this documentary shows how the gangs lived, as well as how vicious they were. However, they also point out that they had a substantial number of members, and they were in full control of their turfs.

There are many new aspects of history that make this film extremely important. One member of the Young Lords, and current activist and speaker said that history is shaped by individuals, and he is correct that all these individuals shaped what would become a dominant force in American popular culture, Hip Hop. One example is the fact that peace prevailed over violence. Conservatives constantly prod the notion that black on black crime is the worst offender in black mortality rates. However, this also shows that they can also come to terms without any help from the real enemy, the establishment. Another facet is the fact that they constantly echo the film The Warriors and how they convened a meeting like in the film years before the film’s release. The irony is that the film, along with other urban dystopia films released at the time such as Escape From New York, Fort Apache: The Bronx, and Death Wish, gave a negative stereotype of something that was slowly vanishing in New York City.

Another interesting aspect that can be lost is the fact that there were white gangs in the North Bronx. Popular culture, either through film or news, presents gang activities and gangs in general as black or Latino. The film shows that that is not the case as there were many Irish and Italian gangs, as well as Jews who belonged to these gangs as well, and they were pretty vicious as well. Another important aspect of the film, which is another aspect that naysayers and conservatives embrace, is that certain gangs were politically inclined and not just run-of-the-mill hoodlums. The Ghetto Brothers pushed for Puerto Rican recognition and unity amongst the gangs, which was in tune with the older Young Lords. The Black Spades also took certain elements from the Black Panthers. This is what led to the Hoe Avenue Peace Treaty, which should be marked as a crucial moment in Hip Hop history. It was after this treaty where gangs were able to step into rival gang turf without fear of repercussions. Now the focus was on getting to the party, enjoying yourself and hooking up with a nice lady without repercussions. Lo and behold this led to the spread of the music and the culture.

In the last part of the documentary you hear from the pioneers and how they were directly affected by the gangs and the peace treaty. If you just look at the early rappers they were mostly part of a gang, or group like the Furious Five, The Cold Crush Brothers, Fantastic Five, and many more. Also, just listen to the music leading up to today and how they represent or rep their gang affiliations. Ice Cube said it best when he rhymed that he’s from the dope gang called Niggaz Wit Attitudes. He didn’t say group he said gang, cause that was reality. The film is a must see for avid fans as well as historians who will be able to contextualize the story of Hip Hop in a better fashion.

An interesting side note is that one of the main leaders of the Ghetto Brothers who pushed for peace over war, by the name of “Yellow” Benjy Melendez found out that he was Jewish. He writes in his book Ghetto Brother: How I Found Peace in the South Bronx Street Gang Wars, about his experiences in the Ghetto Brothers and coming to terms with squashing the violence. However, you get a better grasp on his journey in tracing his Jewish roots in the great graphic novel Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker. coincidentally, or not, the leader who decided to keep the peace over violence was a crypto-Jew.

So kick back and relax, and get ready for some history and a great story.

Peace

#RubbleKings

The Year in Rap 2015: Looking to the Present Through the Past

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Every year we reach the inevitable end, and with we feel the unleashing of the floodgates. We are awash in various lists like top thinkers, top singers, top haters, top lovers, top fighters, top losers, top winners, top tops, top bottoms, tip tops, and the lists go on and exhaustively on. I relish in lists myself, but to spare you all the monotony I’m not going to give you a list of the present. Rather I want to show how much has changed, especially with Hip-Hop culture, or even more specific (for all you academics and scholar lickers), Rap Music. Before you all the young folk click over, and the old folk fold over whimpering not another rant by a 30 something lad residing in the NorthEast Corner of the US of A. However, many philosophers and historians have said that it’s useless to reflect on the present without understanding the past. In the present Hip-Hop culture is a strong force that has become ubiquitous in all walks of life. We not only see of hear it in its puritanical way within the four categories of Rapping, DJing, Breaking or B-Boying, and Grafittee or tagging, it’s bigger than that. Subconsciously we are all conditioned by it in various ways whether by the way we talk, use hand gestures, dress, converse, understand each other, and of course the way we consume popular culture. The top commercial tunes have rapping in them. The top soft drinks and sports wear use rap songs. The top grossing film of 2015 if about N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitudes) in the Hollywood critically acclaimed film Straight Outta Compton.

Hip-Hop is American popular culture, and at this point we have moguls from the Rap world who are the purveyors of the culture through the top echelons of media and mass consumption. However, in order to contextualize the innovation and how far it has evolved we have to look to the past. Where better than twenty years ago, circa 1985. So lace up your boots, get into your coke-filled DeLorean, flux capacitor ready, and here we go Doc Brown back to the future!

Now all you are bright scholars with sharp minds, but just to be basic let’s take a quick overview of the genesis of Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop came about in an urban center of the United States in the post-Civil Rights and Black Power Movement. This urban center was New York City of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s suffering from the de-industrialization of urban poverty-stricken areas. New York City was suffering a massive loss of money due to poor mismanagement from past administrations, including a massive nationwide recession and gas shortage. Besides mismanagement rollback was felt in all public sectors of the city such as assistance, transportation (mostly due to the decades of siphoning funds away for highways and bridge projects by the infamous Robert Moses), police, fire fighters, and all around shrinkage of all services. Besides all the financial rollback the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), let by the fearless leader J. Edgar Hoover, worked under the policy of Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). This policy called for massive sweeps and arrests of many members of the Black Panther Party in New York City, as well as members of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Both these groups were integral to local community help such as school lunches and after school programs. To put it mildly residents of these areas were handed plenty of shit to deal with, and how could they cope? A good number of Latino and Black youth joined gangs, but plenty wanted an escape, and that is where Hip-Hop comes in.

Originally they would be doing it in the park, or in the park area of the local projects beaming this magnificent bass! It popped up all through the borough of the Bronx, and would later spread like wild-fire through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Harlem section especially, and Staten Island for those taking the ferry. Originally we had the DJ who would do his routine playing and mixing records from various genres, as well as replaying the “break” section of a great song. The DJ needed a voice so we now have the master of ceremony or MC to hype up the crowd. This would later develop into a rhyme routine, and then into a choreographed group performance full of tight rhymes, great dance routines, and those flashy suits. Remember that the precedent was Bootsy, Sly, James Brown, Kool & the Gang, and Earth, Wind and Fire who rocked the outer space type cloths.

Hip-Hop drew from a number of influences such as past genres of popular music, popular films from blaxploitation to kung fu flicks, and local cultures, and scholars also point to the long tradition of rap coming straight from African cultural traditions and artistic and religious customs and expression (FOR THAT SEE CHAT BELOW),

Naturally the sounds of Hip-Hop, mainly through the guise of rap music, became the best translation when making the transition into the recorded world. We all know very well that it was The Fatback Band that dropped the first real rap record with “King Tim III,” but the first label to put rap on the map was Sugar Hill Records, and the brain and experience of Sylvia Robinson. We should also give credit to Enjoy Records and its owner Bobby Robinson as another important label of the time, but Sugar Hill was the first real rap label. They began with the group, that they assembled, The Sugar Hill Gang and the mythical release of “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. Now from 1979 to 1985 most Rap records were released as singles with two to four songs on each record. It wasn’t until 1986-1987 where you have an extensive release of long-playing records. However, twenty years ago had seven notable releases that can both prophetic and profound as the progenitors of an international phenomenon.

In 1985 Run-D.M.C. were starting to rise coming off the release of many notable singles, and their 1984 released debut self-titled album which was a compilation of these singles in one sitting. However, in 1985 they released their sophomore album King of Rock.

Unlike their earlier work Russell Simmons and producer extraordinaire Larry Smith (RIP and Z’L) veered the trio on a more rock-based core to their sound. Run-D.M.C. were used to the break beats so it took some convincing, like their band name, but they veered in that direction. This shows how brilliant Russell Rush was, how amazing Smith was, and how adapt Run-D.M.C. were to see the true potential for rap’s commercial appeal. In the present the appeal and distribution of rap is unprecedented. Run-D.M.C. were using Rush Management, but they were signed to Profile Records, started by two Jewish entrepreneurs by the names of Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki,

Profile also took interest in a duo who dropped the famous record “Genius Rap” by the name of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde (legally known as Alonzo Brown and Andre Harrell). In 1985 they dropped their only album titled Champagne of Rap, and boy was it bubbly.

This is one example of the many artists represented by the first real mogul of Hip-Hop, Russel Simmons. Of course we can’t speak of the man without linking him to the mythical music label, or the first and still remaining, lion’s share of rap classics, Def Jam Records.

Def Jam is the first real rap super label that propelled the art itself into the musical stratosphere. Created by the Jewish Rick Rubin and partnered with Russell Simmons, this label began in 1984 with the release of the critically acclaimed single “It’s Yourz” by Jazzy Jay and T La Rock. However, the first real full length was not released until 1985, by a teenage phenom from Queen by the name of Todd Smith, or better known to the universe as LL Cool J.

Legend has it that Adrock of the Beastie Boys found LL Cool J’s demo tape in the Def Jam mail heap. After playing it for Rick Rubin, Rick decided to the make the call as we can view so well thanks to Ed Piskor above.

LL’s debut album titled Radio was his screed of magnum force fueled by his fierce aggression and precision in his lyricism. Not only was he in full control and focus, he was aided by the bombastic production of Rick Rubin on the entire album. The album has many classics including “I Can’t Live Without my Radio,” “Dangerous,” “Rock the Bells,” “I Need a Beat,” and of course the lovely “Dear Yvette.” Two things should catch us and that is that,1. He started young, and like many of the present rappers such as Drake and Kendrick, he started young and fierce catching his fans by giving them an amazing show. Also, 2. We can all criticize him for his illustrious career and call it his weakness, including much of his work, but he has such staying power. He, like Cube, Dre, Jay Z, Puffy/Diddy, Will Smith, and many more are cultural fixtures with immense influence who all started out as rappers from the bottom of society’s socio-economic strata.

The Fat Boys, who unfortunately have at times been relegated as a side-show rather than a force to be reckoned with, dropped their sophomore LP twenty years ago titled Fat Boys Are Back. This album has some of their best bangers including “Fat Boys Are Back,” one of the dopest beatboxing track “Human Beat Box,” and one of the best cross-over tracks using a blend of rap and reggae titled “Hard Core Reggae,”

No sophomore slump here, as we can relate in the modern era. The other releases are perfect examples of how the multi-faceted rap became, and how it has expanded so broadly in the present day.

This would be the year in California where a young man by the name of Too Short dropped his full length cassette tape Raw, Uncut & X-Rated. Too Short influenced the way you can sell your tapes like drugs, which would be adapted and used time and time again by several artists. He also brought in that gangsta swagger while telling these sordid tales of Cali living, which again would be used many times since, thanks to his innovation.

1985 was also the year we were all blessed to hear the first album by the always forward thinking, and outer space living group known as Mantronix, The duo of DJ Kurtis Mantronik and rapper MC Tee, took Planet Rock to the outer space level dropping it all on their debut, and captured in future recordings. The album contains such gems as the jumpy “Bassline,” the singy-songy “Fresh is the Word,” and the extra bounce sampled by both Beck and the Beastie Boys titled “Needle to the Groove,”

The last album release to be discussed was a compilation titled Def Mix Volume 1, and this is where one of the greatest female MC’s dropped it like it’s hard. Roxanne Shante is known for getting her start as a dis track again UTFO’s song “Roxanne, Roxanne.” However, like some who saw this as a novelty she was a full-fledged battle rhymer, and four of her tracks stand out from the rest. She brutalized her competition, calling some of them by name while others are relegated to unknown status. All her songs pack a punch, and these particular songs are some her best. “Roxanne’s Revenge” grapples the competition while wiping out the suckas!!!

This all leads to the last song on the compilation, which is one of her sharpest swipes at the suckas, and it’s titled “Bite This,”

This is a perfect end because the track is a perfect example of the minimalism in rap recordings by the mid-1980’s. Rap music’s genesis was full of crews and artists who emulated and imitated the past. These artists began to add the gruff, rugged, and raw expressions before any of these sounds were captured on wax. What does this all mean? It shows how diverse, eclectic, and adaptive rap music was, and remains. You have many examples of where the art will go, while some didn’t age well over time. Still, this shows that twenty years later as we close the door on 2015, the rap universe will keep getting bigger and better.

Stay tuned for post #2 where we go ten years ago,

Peace

#1985 #LLCoolJ #DefJamRecords #TheFatBoys #RoxanneShante #TooShort #Run-D.M.C. #Hip-HopFamilyTree

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Show on Earth: The lyricist Lounge, 1998

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November was a cold affair, and by that month circa 1998, I was transported from the semi-city life in New Haven for the remote countrified feel of Guilford, all from the state that time forgot while Puritans relished, Connecticut. I moved to the United States, along with my older brother, younger brother, and mother, in the summer of 1992. We landed in New Haven, Connecticut where we would spread our sea legs in America. Being sons of Americans meant that we had a grasp of the language, and the culture as well. One of these defining aspects of culture was music. Music was a ubiquitous mainstay in the Cipriani household. Both pre-departure and post-departure our apartments, and later house, would always be rattling and shaking with loud music. Once I reached puberty, and later high school my taste in music began to change a bit. The once heavy metal loving, long hair sporting, ripped jeans and offensive Nirvana shirts wearing teen began to delve deeply into the world of Hip-Hop, mostly through the guise of Rap music. However, we listened to Rap music in Israel because I distinctly remember mouthing off the lyrics from 2 Live Crew’s “Dirty Nursery Rhymes” in front of my older brother’s friends for laughs.

However, once we reached the American shores I was profoundly influenced by a rock band I first heard of in Israel, thanks to the Dutch ladies in northern Israel. Nirvana would completely revolutionize my existence, and push me to further explore groups like them including Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Green Day and some of the heavier hitters like Biohazard, Metallica, Megadeath, Anthrax, and Slayer to name a few. However, once I reached high school things changed thanks to my new set of buddies who changed my perceptions of the magnitude of music.I had a few close friends who put me on to some of the best music and sounds, which I revisit to this very days. My boy Jared turned me on to the abstract and bizarre ranging from Radiohead to Aphex Twin, and from Squarepusher to Photek, and much, much more as we got laced in his room in the white ghettos of New Haven.

My boy Dan hooked me up with all the old school gold dust from artists like Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo, Eric B. & Rakim, and the rest of the top and obscure rappers from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

However, my boy Paul hooked me up with much of the indie and underground joints ranging from Company Flow, to the west coast based Freestyle Fellowship, Hobo Junction and Hieroglyphics, while also pushing some of his favorites like Tribe Called Quest and Pharcyde.

This cross-pollination continued from around 1995 to 1997. During my sophomore year I was told by my mother that she was getting remarried. My younger brother and I joined my mother, step-father and step-brother further down the east coast of Connecticut. We hit the town of Guilford, which was one of the biggest shocks to the system since we landed at JFK airport from Israel.

Guilford is where the country thrives. Guilford is a quaint corner where the kids scream for attention and fun by screwing around and experimenting with plenty of drugs and alcohol. Guilford is the type of American town that remained unchanged since it was founded. These are the types of towns that would look the same after a nuclear fallout. This is the land where I learned how to nurse a Budweiser beer while taking shots of Jack Daniels whiskey. Now that I’m in graduate school I highly admire the folk who taught me how to drink. Unfortunately, my friends remained in New Haven, and not having a car meant that we would only chill on the weekends. This didn’t hamper our relationships. Rather it was strengthened as my buddies would usually come to me, and then I’d show them the purgatory I moved to. But hey, enough about these small town issues. I still listened to all the rap, as well as Hip-Hop culture, that I could swallow in a sitting, and then some. In late Spring my boy Paul hooked me up with some singles that had this new and cutting-edge logo. The logo consisted of the silhouette of a mountain climber,

And some of the singles had a razor with a swipe in the middle,

This was my introduction to one of the greatest indie Hip-Hop labels, Rawkus Records. Shortly after seeing these releases Paul hooked me up with a compilation album released in the summer of 1998. Lyricist Lounge, Volume One was an amazing release for two reasons. First, at this point rap music became commercialized so a new strand of independent and underground labels popped up such as Rawkus. This was its inaugural release showing its roster of veterans and rookies who all sounded raw and precise. Second, this was another attempt of De-commercialization through nostalgia. Hip-Hop came from the streets, and these cyphers of rappers in street park jams and other parties. This release harkened back to the older days where Hip-Hop seemed far more free and fluid, unlike it’s rise in the corporate guise in the late 1990’s. This was also the album that gave us the single, which I own in all its artistic gorgeousity, “Body Rock.”

After I bought the album on vinyl I researched the covers and inserts meticulously, down to the lats detail. I realized that this Lyricist Lounge concept began years earlier as showcases for up-and-coming rappers and rap groups. I then realized that we were in the midst of a tour in the fall of 1998. Now, you have to understand that this was the era of The Source, Rap Pages, Fat Lace, Ego Trip, Urb Magazine, and other forums where we found out about this stuff. However, the underground scene was just that, underground. For people like my friends and I we had to sift through the information dust, in order to find leads to rap shows and other Hip-Hop related events.

I remember hearing about the lore of the shows, and how many rappers came up through the ranks at these shows in order to pay dues. This is where a 14-year-old girl, who would later be called Foxy Brown, tore up the mic with such precision. By the fall of 1998 Paul found out about tickets to a show out of the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. So, naturally these high school juniors decided to head to Paul’s older brother’s dorm at the University of Pennsylvania. It was on, and we were about to experience the Lyricist Lounge tour of 1998!

It’s amazing how harmonious the crowd felt as we nonchalantly carried on conversations about the state of Hip-Hop, wack rappers, and the new cream of the crop in the year 1998 with other lounge goers. The set up of the lounge consisted of a veteran who would be the MC or curator of the entire show, and another high-ranking wordsmith would headline. In the midst of this there would be performances by unsigned or newly signed rappers and crews. We were blessed to have the great De La Soul host, and this is still not long after the release of Stakes is High, which they performed from freely. The first slew out of the stable were quite a shmorgesboard of talent and disposition. Cipher Complete began with their anthem, which starts up the LP as well, “Bring Hip-Hop Back.” He was then followed by a white dude who I heard a few songs already from an indie EP he released.

Eminem was a force to be reckoned with and he performed three songs, that would eventually be re-recorded for his debut LP, later becoming the darling of MTV. Once he finished he came through the crowd and Paul and I struck up a conversation with him, as he bemoaned what he called the venue’s “play-school equipment.” He was funny and we then partook of some strong agents as he signed an autograph for a friend, and I wonder if he still has it? The funny thing is that after Eminem finished his set another newbie by the name of Sun Ra came on stage, but he tanked and he didn’t take kindly to being tanked by the audience. The crowd booed and booed due to his poor execution and his languid rhyme schemes. Mr. Sun Ra got angrier as a few members of the crowd began goading him, until one threw a water bottle at him. He then retaliated by throwing the microphone and then himself into the front of the crowd. This took a matter of seconds as he was whisked away by security, saying goodbye to his two-minutes of pseudo-fame.

We then were taken back through the portal of Hip-Hop history as we basked in the glow of KRS-One. KRS was the headliner and from the moment he hit the stage to the moment he left, electricity was beaming from his pores and into the audiences subconscious. He went through a rendition of his earliest work, all the way to the present with songs from his most recent release at that point, I Got Next. To reiterate, this was the period where commercial rap became ubiquitous so many of the purists, like myself, were craving this raw, unadulterated performance art as it looked in its earliest stages. Also, KRS was the perfect guide as he lived through the slums and poverty of the South Bronx, and rose up with his rap crew (Boogie Down Productions or BDP). I’ve seen plenty of rap shows since that day, but in my opinion seeing him was the best of the best.

Another great quality of the show were the surprise guests, who usually blessed the crowd. The guests were usually local legends or rap groups and MC’s who have a local following whether it be Goodie Mob in Atlanta or Fat Joe in New York City. Seeing the show in Philadelphia meant that we were about to see one of the best groups at that time. Coming straight out of Philly was, and arguably is, one of the best Hip-Hop bands, The Roots. Out of the corner of my eye I ask Paul, “Is that big hefty fella Questlove from the Roots crew?” Sure enough Questlove, and he was a big guy, brushed by as we both stared at Hip-Hop indie royalty. Unfortunately he brushed through us a few times to get water, and each time I extended my hand he ignored us like the plague. Still, it was great because a few core members of the group performed “Panic” and “Clones” from their undisputedly best album, Illadelph Halflife.

The end of the show remains rather blurry due to certain events beyond our control. All I remember is getting into a cab where the driver decided to blast his Indian music getting down with himself. We then exit on the shitty part of town, were accosted by a bum, who we then pushed aside while dragging back to his brother’s dorm room.

So, what’s the moral of the story, besides a selfish walk down memory lane? This show shaped my future by further solidifying my resolve to dive into any rap show I could see once I moved to Brooklyn in 2001. This also stoked my interest in DJing, which I delved in until I realized that I would be best served by teaching the truth, to the young black, latino, white, Asian, youth! Hip-Hop has shaped my way of living, much like most of my close friends, and many people in my age group. That is also why Hip-Hop has blown beyond the stratosphere in the present. My generation saw the change from independent, to commercial, and a recoil back to the underground, and beyond. That is why I’m writing on Hip-Hop in an academic setting, because of this fateful night, way back in my junior year, in the fall of 1998.

Peace

And a big shout out to my boys from the New Haven and Guilford hood!

Peace to Paul, Dan, Jared, Drew, Paul from the BX!!!

#LyricistLounge #Rawkus #LyricistLoungeVol.1

#Eminem #DeLaSoul #KRS-One

 

 

 

 

 

The Torah Portion in a Hip-Hop Universe: Noah

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This past Shabbat’s portion from the Torah consists of much information for the avid reader. This is the chapter where we are introduced to the one, the only, Noah! Thanks to the gladiator himself Russell Crowe, and the disturbed vision of Darren Aronofsky (the director of such greats as The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, and Pie) we have the visual for the story through his film, Noah!

So now Russell can literally ride around the world on his ship and fight! (That’s a South Park reference where Russell rides on his trusty boat Tugga and fights around the world). However, the film tries to capture the drama while Aronofsky takes many liberties in filling in the Biblical blanks. Noah, after generations of decline and immorality, was a righteous man in his generation. The great rabbinic scholars have constantly emphasized that every single word in the Torah is written for a reason. Noah was a heavy hitter, but he wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the next great heavy hitter, Abraham. One of his faults is his initial reaction to G-d’s announcement that the world will be destroyed amidst a great flood. Instead of warning the people, he goes right for the goffer wood and begins the work on the ark. Interestingly enough this point is solidified further where sages point out that G-d held off the flood for seven days in the merit of Methuselah who had just passed. The great Jewish scholar and commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Or Rashi as he’s most famously known as, bolstering his street cred as well) wrote that the passage reading “For in Seven More Days,” meant that out of respect for Methuselah that the seven days of mourning would go on unimpeded. The flood was not held at bay because of Noah, but rather in the merit of Methuselah. So, why was Noah such a heavy hitter? Easy. It was the will of G-d, thanks to Eek A Mouse who describes this to us in his song aptly titled, “Noah’s Ark.”

The song, beautifully done for the vaunted Greensleeves Most Wanted Album, describes Noah as smart. The wisdom is imparted by knowing where to build, and in this case he built the ark.

Eek A Mouse described the contents of the ark, and arguably this is one of the strongest images everyone can envision with the story. Noah miraculously stuffed with ark with his wife, three sons, his three son’s wives, and a slew of animals of all kinds. Not only was this facet a miracle, but the animals all came of their own volition, and they all miraculously fit on the super ark. Anytime I equate animals with Hip-Hop my mind, body, and soul zap back to the late 1990’s indie Hip-Hop albums scene. The scene I’m specifically thinking of is the far out in space, frenetic, and loopy beats associated with groups like The Freestyle Fellowship, and the such. One of the best compilation albums to come out of this ear is west coast producer OD’s (Omid Walizadeh) Beneath the Surface.    

This album, amongst a tiny population of progressive Hip-Hop artists, pushed the envelope into the sphere of the avant-garde. This is Hip-Hop’s future. The album consisted of many great songs, but the one that helps us bring out the animals is a track titled “Farmers Market of the Beast.”

Taking a page out of George Orwell’s dystopian book Animal Farm, each rapper takes on the persona of a specific animal, down to the sounds uttered by these animals. Rappers Xololanxinxo, Jizzm, Radioactive, Awol One & Circus take on the animal with full attributes in all. Unlike Animal Farm this could be another venue where we can hear the dialogue between beasts and burdens we’ll never fully understand. This bizarre exchange could only be brought out by the great mind and abstract beats of producer OD. Music critic Jon Caramanica wrote it best when he said that, “For a twist, peep “Farmers Market of the Beast,” an aural bacchanal that takes a page from Orwell’s Animal Farm and explores the thoughts behind a panoply of clucks, oinks, and nyaaas. After all the conversation comes the party in an animal farm way, so let’s boogie with the Kinks and their song, “Animal Farm,”

Beautifully British in all its glory.

The great menace in the entire chapter is water. The waters of the earth and the heavens came down, so think of being caught in a deluge where the rain is hitting you from every angle. Water is described in many ways in Judaism such as the idea of the living waters of Mayim Chayim. Water is both the savior and downfall of many great sages including one of the biggest wigs of them all, Moses. Noah’s waters are seen a bit differently because they were unleashed in order to clear the earth, clean shop, and purge the world of evil. Rap music covers an array of subjects and when it comes to water I harken back to the same era as Beneath the Surface. However, this time I will point to the great compilation by the dynamic duo of Dan the Automator and Prince Paul. Their first collaboration, under the tutelage of their Handsome Boy Modeling School, contains a song by the MC Encore, and is titled “Waterworld.”

Like the menacing waters throwing the ark to and fro, the song begins with a hard hit on the organ. Each hit gives that menacing feel being bit on your head a la Schoolly D’s “P.S.K.” The song continues with its menacing flow while the strips of water trickle at a fast rate. Completely by chance, after looking over the lyrics to the song I realized that Encore even dropped a line about Noah spitting that, ” You doubt me like the foes of Noah, embarkin in this ark, the soul controller.” Precision and divine intervention are a good combination.

After the travels of Noah he finally finds dry land, disembarked, and G-d promises that he will never do it again. Noah, being human, was deeply impacted by the death and destruction. So, he did what most of us do to cope with reality, he planted a vineyard of grapes, and proceeded to get wasted. His son Cham found him, and this is where it begins to unravel like a story in the tabloids. Cham uncovered his father, who was naked, and showed the world including his two brothers. Some commentaries say that he raped his father, or that he castrated him. Hence Noah cursed Cham, and certain pseudo-scholars used the words of the curse to concoct this insane theory that the Bible is racist!!! Oy vey for the lost souls. We then veer to the tower of Babel.

The Tower of Babel is interesting because to the modern reader it seems that G-d pulled a fast one on the inhabitants. Instead of building a structure and unifying a people the Divine Force decided to disperse the people to the four corners of the world. One thing to keep in mind is the idea that the builders didn’t care about fellow builders, but only cared fully about the building. It can remind us that at times we care more about the structure, or about certain groups of people in lieu of the individuals themselves. The track by Copywrite featuring Cage and Mr. Eon is interesting due to the word play. They call out all the rappers and MC’s who babble, focusing on the center which is located at the Tower of Babel.

Patti Smith’s epic song cycle “Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer (De)” encapsulates her struggles and comforts within the framework of religion. Patti Smith was raised as a strict Jehovah’s Witness, but she was interested in the depth of other religious thought, and in this case one of them was Judaism. This recent connection was argued by the insightful writer, and family royalty of musical Jews, Seth Rogovoy in the Jewish Daily Forward:http://forward.com/culture/music/322628/patti-smith-and-her-religious-influence/

With regards to this specific song he writes that,”On the song “ La Mer (de) ,” part of her opus “Land” on “Horses,” Smith sang, “At the Tower of Babel, they knew what they were after.” In hindsight, Smith was singing about herself. She once described her work as “three chords merged with the power of the word.” That is as pithy a description of the biblical prophets as any.”

I’ll leave it at that, until next time and next Torah portion.

Peace

 

The Torah Portion in a Hip-Hop Universe: The Genesis

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This past Shabbat we rewound the clocks back to the year zero, and like the title of a great blaxploitation flick, Started it all over again. This past Shabbat’s Torah portion takes it right back to the source, the creation of the world. Now we should take this into context with the Jewish Holy Day of Simchat Torah (The Happiness of Torah!!!), which was celebrated before this past Shabbat. One of the traditions of this Holy Day is to read the last portion from the fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy in Greek and Devramin in Hebrew. The portion tells us of the death of one of the greatest prophets, and Jewish heavy hitters, Moses or Moshe our rabbi. It is no coincidence that he dies, and then we go right back to the start of the first book. We are dealing with life in concentric circles, and in a way Moshe’s death needed to happen so that we can restart the universe, or even existence as we know it. In Kabbalah there is the idea that the visible attributes of Hashem (the name, or a name for G-d), equal the to the number 7. The same goes for the idea of the cycle of planting in the land of Israel, which also goes in 7 year intervals. These intervals continue in a 7 year cycle in intervals of 7. This ends with 49, and in a grand way the 50th year is the Jubilee. With the attributes of Hashem, us humans can reach the highest reaches of spirituality, but we must rid our mortal coils in order to reach the 50th degree. Moshe achieved this, and in my theory, it had to happen in order to unwrap reality and re-wrap it for a new beginning.

The Torah portion of Genesis has a lot of information as well as stories, which only last a few sentences. Each story is introduced and then reaches its climax in a matter of words. However, this is all a new and fresh start. To connect it with rap music, the first person that came to my mind was Busta Rhymes. Busta was part of the group Leaders of the New School, and has a very unique and brash way of getting his rhymes across. During the 1990’s he made many guest appearances, and frequently out shined the rest of his cohort, just listen to “Flavor in Your Ear (Remix)” or the soundtrack anthems from Rumble in the Jungle and Space Jam. However, by the year 2000 with the release of his fourth album Anarchy it seemed like he was replaying the same old formula. Then, without warning came one of his finest works, his fifth album titled Genesis. This was the album that brought him back to form in the true sense of the word. Sporting a treasure trove of coveted producers giving him the finest sounds, he crushed all the freshmen with his fifth day out. It had some great tracks, but the one that concerns the topic is the title track, “Genesis.” Ironically as we talk about new beginnings it dawns on us that not everyone can experience rebirth like the producer of the track, J Dilla who passed away a decade ago.

The beat has an ominous sound as the vocals of the chorus is swirling in a bath of ocean water. J Dilla provides us with a beautiful layout of music over the sample from the track “Cosmic Mind Affair” by Acqua Fragile. He lifts the entire hook from the track and you hear the voice in each chorus majestically saying, “As we welcome you all to the future, Oh! We come to give you that, Operating like we be official, Yeah! We come to multiply.” He spits hard about his trials and tribulations while he hits us on the head with what’s sacred for ya’ll. Busta also keeps us in full gear that all things must move ahead in order for our starts to be meaningful.

The story of Adam and Eve is pivotal to the narrative, and we have many renditions by many musicians about their story. The rendition by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which can be found on the compilation album Trenchtown Rock: The Anthology 1969-78, is a raw cut sounding like a wannabe Rasta Doo-Wop rendition.

Bob Marley and the Wailers give us the bare bones of the story, yet they ask why did they sin? While they also abide by the fact that we all live in sin, and the fact that “Anywhere you go, woman is the root of all evil.” He is commenting on the sexist side of the story that for some reason still looms large over women like the sword of Damocles. After Adam and Eve tasted of the forbidden fruit they became aware, but another important note is that sin was made aware, and death came into existence. One great song that rings this alarm bell is an older track by Kendrick Lamar titled “I Hate You,” where he pens a letter to Death. In the third verse he switches characters and raps in the guise of death.

In the third verse death spits that, ” I was born to be a killjoy, I’m an old brat, Conceived by Adam and Eve, so who you mad at?” Kendrick evokes the idea that death is like us, yet it was a bastard creation coming from our faults instead of beauty.

The narrative continues after the fall of man and woman with the birth of the first siblings. We are all very aware of the term “sibling rivalry,” because it’s origin stems from this event. G-d favored the work and labor of Abel’s hands, while Cain’s offerings were putrid and rather lacking. Because of this favoritism Cain rose up and smote his brother Abel dead. He then uttered those famous words, also uttered by the character Nino Brown in the film masterpiece New Jack City, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Let’s listen to Louis Armstrong for the moral of this story,

The masterstroke is the moral where he sings that, “You can’t run from the shadow of retribution, If you’re bad then you gotta pay for your wrongs, Let yourself take a lesson from Cain and Abel: Don’t lament, be content, Don’t resent what the Lord has sent, And you’ll find that you’re bound to get along.”

The rest of the portion lists the many descendants of Cain, and lists the genealogy of Mankind by tracing the line straight from Adam to Noah, next week’s star. This is further solidified at the end when it gives the reader and/or worshipper a prelude to the flood. So before we get ahead of ourselves let’s note the fact that these are lists of names. Names, names, and more names are common in parts of the Torah. This is done so that we can reference back to our past. It also has deeper value as each name is full of spiritual meaning. In rap music the song “Where Are They Now” by the great Queensbridge MC Nas gives us the list of names of past greats and rap legends of yester-minute.

Naturally the track’s beat is an ode in itself using a James Brown sample, which was widely used in the 1980’s. Nas in his naturally smooth delivery drops all these of past masters who had a hit, but faded into obscurity only to be remembered by the older guard, myself included. He is bemoaning how the younger generation doesn’t acknowledge these people because respect for the past gives you a stronger sense of the present. This might be why the Torah lists these names? Maybe the names were greats who should be remembered, but were far more salient in the past than the present, or future.

Enjoy the rest of the good week and Shavua Tov, and keep it live until next time.

Peace

 

#TorahPortionInHipHopUniverse #SimchatTorah #BustaRhymes #Genesis #CainandAbel #AdamandEve #Nas #LouisArmstrong