For the first time ever, producer and emcee Pete Rock performed live with a jazz band. Aptly named Pete Rock And The Soul Brothers, the band’s set was a part of New York City’s Winter Jazzfest, a marathon music festival The New York Times described as designed to “encourage discovery” of new groups and sounds. I was very eager to hear the female saxophone player that Pete Rock was raving about on his instagram…
Pictured above: Pete Rock And The Soul Brothers – Maurice Brown (Trumpet) Lakicia Benjamin (Sax), Bigyuki (Keys), Mono Neon (Bass), Anu Sun (Percussion), Marcus Machado (Guitar), Daru Jones (Drums). Follow them on social.
Attending this concert felt like witnessing a historic moment for Hip-Hop. There was an urgency to my need to attend, an urgency underscored by our loss of iconic producers, emcees and other vanguards of the culture.
Pictured above: Maurice “Mo Betta” Brown (Trumpet)
These losses have shaken me, but I’ve found multiple lessons therein. One of those lessons involves not assuming that I can just “see someone another day” for another day is not promised. For these reasons and more, I made my way to Bowery Ballroom, despite the cold.
Watch the video mashup of a few of my favorite moments from the band who say they plan to do even more work together in the future.
As the band jammed, and guest emcee Smoke Dza crooned smoothly over the music, I look out at the crowd and was struck by the amount of lovers I saw. There were so many couples in attendance, they were wrapped in each-others arms, swaying and dancing together. There were groups of friends, and even strangers making new brief, joyful connections with the simple exchange of an excited glance and a smile.
Renee from Zhané was in attendance. At first, I didn’t know it was her! She had on a big, warm hat, and puffy jacket with a hood pulled over it. She was filled with energy as she danced in front of me. When she went live on social media, she spun in a slow circle, giving her followers a full view of the crowd. That’s when I was sure it was her in the legendary flesh.
As I waited for my friend after the show, I noticed Renee encouraged various artists in the band to see if there ways she could help them further their careers by making a few strategic introductions. She was doing what I want to do more of as a way to honor Combat Jack’s memory. Spread even more love, practice more collective economics, operate from a mindset of abundance, listen to my intuition, and be of service to others by connecting them to opportunities where I can. These are things I do, but can always do more of.
I tapped Renee and introduced myself. We had a candid conversation about New York’s arts and culture scene (endangered by gentrification), and supporting the growth of our Hip-Hop architects as they explore new avenues for their talent. I felt encouraged by her intense desire to see all of us help each other succeed.
When I noticed and introduced myself to Shara, (Pete’s manager for years), she greeted me with warmth. “Chevon? Wait, Chevonmedia, right?”
I nodded yes.
“I know you. You do good work,” she said smiling.
I smiled right back.
I admire many women in Hip-Hop, but the ones behind the scenes are some of the most inspiring, unsung heroes I look up to. It feels good when one of them recognizes my efforts. Salute to all the awesome women behind the scenes. And salute to Pete Rock And The Soul Brothers band, who put on a show that so many awesome women were delighted to attend.
My freelance communications work for the filmmaker Victorious de Costa involved bringing attention to the the Indiegogo fundraising campaign he launched for his film ‘Digging For Weldon Irvine‘. I booked him on interviews and today I’m sharing a bit about my favorite interview, which was on The Laura Coates Show.
‘Digging for Weldon Irvine’ is a feature length documentary, currently in production, about the life and influence of the enigmatic, highly sampled American composer, Weldon Irvine.
A Hampton alum, Weldon Irvine wrote the lyrics to ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, and was the bandleader for jazz singer Nina Simone. He was also a mentor to many hip-hop artists, including Q-Tip and Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Bars about Weldon can be heard in What’s Beef, if you listen.
A reminder of how little some things have changed, Weldon’s last major project before his passing was ‘The Price of Freedom’, a compilation featuring hip-hop, jazz, and R&B artists in response to the police shooting of Amadou Diallo.
Weldon’s own brilliant life ended abruptly when he shot himself in front of Nassau Coliseum in New York on April 9, 2002.
Director Victorious de Costa was in the midst of fundraising to finish off the balance of the film when he hired me to boost visibility of the campaign. One of the interviews I booked him for was in Washington, DC, on The Laura Coates show. Laura is a big Jazz fan who was eager to hear more about ‘Digging for Weldon Irvine.’
Listeners learned about the film that day, had an opportunity to donate, and speak with the director. Some callers even reached out behind the scenes with personal stories of their relationship to the composer, some of which may be included in the final cut.The fundraising video for the film features interview clips with Weldon’s family, DJ Spinna, and more. Victorious, an award-winning filmmaker and Sundance Institute member, has funded much of the film out of pocket. Still want to donate? Have questions about the film? Contact the director here. Have a great day and contact me if you want to discuss your need for communications consulting.
I tried to prepare myself for Reggie’s passing in advance but I didn’t prepare enough. My heart aches for his children.
Instead of joining in the public mourning that has become customary on social media, I succumbed to feeling robbed of an inspirational person; someone I dearly wanted to walk a longer road with. I also saw and felt there were people who didn’t honor him in life, trying to social-honor him in death. Realizing my own light was dimming, I signed off and focused on reflecting on my feelings, and letting them wash over me by observing and naming each emotion I was feeling – without judging myself for having any of them.
One of the main emotions that brought stinging tears to my eyes was this feeling of the culture (the people) being cheated. I turned that over in my head. Grief can be so unreasonable. I realized the feeling was because Reggie touched SO MANY people and was pushing (himself and everyone in this thing of ours) forward. I felt a sense of loss for the community and the culture because I couldn’t stop wondering what else might have happened if Reggie were allowed to be on earth for a few more years. Who else would he touch?
But this is life. None of us are here to stay. Not in the physical form, at least.
I imagine it doesn’t help that one of my parents has cancer and, I for a number of reasons, have been keeping that secret largely to myself.
Today was a better day. I cried but meditated on what I might learn from how I felt and what Reggie did for all of us. TTK took time out to comfort me which was dope. As I scrolled through old messages, I saw something Combat said to me that resonated. We had been talking about how we always seem to… see each other at the right place or time. Or be on the same wavelength about certain topics. “Trust the Universe,” Reggie said. “It never lies.”
As I stared at the quote I started to think about how much I missed another O.G. – Schott Free. He’s alive and well, but I’d been rifling through my newly updated phone the previous week, (unsuccessfully) trying to find where I saved his new number. Perhaps Schott crossed my mind again in this moment because I’ve had similar conversations with him. Real shit. O.G. shit. Honest shit. And the loss of Reggie Reminded me of that. Right then, I decided to turn Reggie’s quote into a graphic to inspire myself hereafter.
Suddenly, TTK walked over and handed me his phone, I looked at TTK quizzically. “Who is it?”
Incredulous at how the universe was again, working, I took the phone and had a conversation I’d been needing to have. I’m thankful Schott called. He was right on time. And I mean, Right On Time. We talked for quite a while, and I committed to not falling out of touch. It seems I fall out of touch with my O.G.s (men and women, peers and elders) when they seem far from me or when I assume (wrongly) that they are too busy to lend an ear. I gotta stop doing that. Distance is nothing in this age of digital communication, and half the time, when I am thinking of someone, the universe has them thinking of me too. Finally, we hung up and I regained this feeling of lightness and some optimism. I thought about how Reggie tweeted about wanting to be remembered for his Blackness.
Here are a few things I know.
I’m better at meditating on a loss, finding a lesson in it, and writing about it than I am at “tweeting through it” and that, is ok.
Combat Jack touched my life in ways I’m still working to comprehend.
I can never thank A. King, Jonathan Mena and Combat enough for connecting with me, for believing in me, in TTK, in Hip-Hop, in Black culture.
Combat was into helping our people by sharing knowledge. That included things like accepting my pitch to book a money coach (and friend) Tonya Rapley on the show. They even developed a relationship from there. His ability to make space for things we need to hear, should not be understated. We need more of it.
Combat was also becoming aggressively introspective, based on a belief that therapy, meditation and other forms of wellness practices are what many Black people can benefit from. I shared many similar views in this area and we exchanged wellness tips. Let’s all keep that going.
Part of interrogating his own beliefs involved doing a lot of listening to Black women (in public and private), as well as confronting any ways that he may have contributed to social norms that harm women, or behaviors that tacitly supported homophobia.
He also made space on his show to get real about relationships sometimes. And to talk more about healing and less about the divisive battle of the sexes that we have been fed. This man was pushing himself and challenging us to do the same. Some of these conversations occurred on the show. Some of these conversations were private ones we had.
In a time where macho or man vs. women attitudes can hurt women, hurt men themselves, and lead to behavior that isn’t productive, I felt Reggie spoke for the many men in my life who seek to exercise a balance in their masculinity. One that doesn’t disrespect divine feminine energy, but embraces that, and celebrates healthy masculinity as well. Because I see a need for Black people to heal with each other, I will admit– I despaired yesterday. I was angry at the world. Felt like a voice in that fight was taken. I felt just as angry as when Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson died unexpectedly of cancer.
But guess what?
None of us are here to stay.
There are things I told Combat about. Things he encouraged me to follow up on. Actions he expected to see me take. If none of us are here to stay, then I think I’d better get started, in a hurry. In that way, perhaps I can seek to honor the energy he poured into my life.
Peace and love to Reggie’s family. To all of his beautiful children and their mom. To King, Mena, Pete, Dallas, Just Blaze, Benhameen,.. just ALL of his friends and comrades in music, media and private life. We are so proud of you. You have held the mantle up. You are amazing.
To every person he touched in a positive way. To everyone who intends to keep the tenets of his legacy going. May peace and a burning fire to make Reggie proud, be upon you.
On a late night in New York City this week, Nas introduced his Mass Appeal Records signee, Ezri at a listening event for the young emcee’s new EP ‘Be right back’.
In an already packed room (with a line of fans outside) the twenty one year-old Cleveland native played his new EP and told us a little bit about himself.
A few years ago, Ezri’s mom really wanted him to go to college. He didn’t want to – but he went anyway. It was better than running the streets of Cleveland, a city Ezri described as dangerous place to step out your front door.
He enrolled in Kent State University for fashion design but came back sooner than expected. Fashion studies surprised him. He thought he would draw some fly shit, get it made and rock it.
“It turned out I was sewing skirts at 4am, and waking up at 7am to listen to lectures about FABRIC,” Ezri says, laughing. “I respect anybody who goes to school for fashion because it takes dedication.”
Ezri complained extensively to his mother, who agreed he could withdraw. He returned home inspired to solely pursue his music career.
“I decided I’m gonna treat this like school,” Ezri told the packed crowd at his Mass Appeal Records event. “Instead of essays I’m gonna write lyrics.”
Ezri’s mom was with it because she saw how seriously he was taking the work of developing himself as a hip hop artist.
“Hold up, let’s get moms on FaceTime, someone yelled out.
Just like that, one of Ezri’s crew members raised a cell phone high in the air, yelling that’s right clap it up for moms! As he panned the phone’s camera around the room, the applauding crowd caught a glimpse of Ezri’s mother; a cancer survivor whose endless support for her son is clearly one of his inspirations.
“I do plan on finishing my degree because I only have 2 years left he says.
Every track he played had production that caught the ear. Some tracks made you feel like you could rise to any challenge. Others made heads nod as they tipped the contents of 1800 tequila cups down their throats.
The music has a message. The message comes enveloped in a flow that seems mature for a 21 year old who directs his own videos, but boasts the musicality that makes for a singable song. The metaphors come quick and they aren’t obvious, so listen carefully the second time (because like the roomful of people, you’ll likely purely vibe to it the first time).
So why’s the album called Be Right Back? As Ezri explains it: Leaving for college when he didn’t want to prompted a “be right back” to all the homies he had to temporarily leave behind. Withdrawal from college meant another be right back (because Ezri intends to return and finish a degree in the future).
Finally, leaving Cleveland to sign with Mass Appeal Records and live in New York precipitated yet another farewell, this time to his mom, his dad (who made it to New York for the listening), and his siblings.
Wherever young Ezri may roam, his friends and loved ones are never forgotten. In fact at times it seems he’s chasing this dream for their success as much as his own.
When it comes to Rockness and myself there are a lot of things that don’t need to be said to be understood. But here is something that needs to be said.
When I listen to Rock’s new single ‘Shine Down,’ I hear GROWTH.
Growth is a keyword in life. Growth is what I want for myself. It’s what I want for people I love. It’s what I want for our communities. Rock and I have sat down and discussed many things before, from life, love, motivation, pain, success, family, you name it. But music is always a consistent topic.
Rock can rap his ass off.
Of course he can.
Yet I yearned for this brother to make a song. And not just any song but an honest song. Something with vulnerability that allows us to reconnect with musical soul of the artist we know and love. Something with a beat that complemented his gravel toned voice but didn’t overpower it. Something that displayed rap skills but prioritized the artful elocution of a rapper who knows how to cast a spell with laid back lyricism that leaves room for every bar to breathe and every word to settle on your mind.
I took the photo above over a year ago at 5am after a tribute set when we ended up at one of the most peaceful places in life if you know me–the park. “Stand still a sec,” I told Rock. In that moment, him in front of a tree with its branches stretching to the sky, struck me. I thought the composition of the photo looked like the mind of an artist. A living, growing thing. I saved the photo not knowing what to use it for. But today I know it belongs in this post. To symbolize growth.
I remember hearing raw cuts off Rock’s album earlier in its progression. I was impressed and optimistic about him focusing up. Bernadette was impressed also. But now here we are. The album is out and when I say Rock has given us a song? I mean this is motherfuckin song.
I’ve cried a few tears to it,and smiled to it for quite a few days and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) bring myself to really post about it until sharing my feelings with Bernadette the other night. So. Now that I’ve spilled half my guts, admitted my avoidance in trying not to get emotional by avoiding writing about Rock’s release sooner– I’ll end by saying: If you haven’t yet heard it, click below or head to youtube and search #ShineDown by #Rock. Then lay back and let the music, and the shining eyes of Rock’s baby girl lift your spirit. Just be sure to keep some tissues close by. You might get misty eyed.
Well done, Rock.
Rest in peace Sean P.
Rock (Heltah Skeltah): Shine Down ft. Kofi Black, was produced by Pascal Zumaque, with video direction by The Last American B-Boy, off Rock’s first ever solo studio album ‘Rockness A.P. (After Price)’ out now on iTunes, and in physical formatted CDs at Fatbeats.
The album is executive produced by Phil Anastasia (Blood Before Pride). Learn more in this interview Rock did with Jerry Barrowover at Vibe.
What do you get when you mix champagne, green juice and good people? The Juices For Life Brooklyn Anniversary event. For many years I’ve imagined the perfect celebration. It would involve refreshments that delight plant eaters, alcohol imbibers alike. Sometimes I want to sip veggie juice and a glass of bubbly in the same place. Last night, Adjua, Styles P., Angela Yee and DJ Envy made it happen at their Juices For Life Brooklyn Anniversary event.
For me, some of the highlights of the carefully curated evening included, the bubbly, the building, the positive energy from the crew and guests, the dancing, the selfies, the spicy vegan empanadas, and of course, the green juices. I saw people sharing wellness advice with each other. I even discovered a juicing newbie in the crowd, and got him all hype to make drinkin juices a habit.
I’ve given advice to friends, family and some of our favorite emcees on how to eat well. I know how much our collective saying: “each one teach one” matters. I know how fast good info can spread if we take care to share it with our friends, families and people with influence. Good info can save a life.
Similar to the climate during some of Hip Hop’s golden years, it seems there’s a renaissance happening that aims to rekindle the popularity of the edutainment and community-minded spirit of our beloved culture. From Styles and Adjua’s healthy juice talks and candid interview about their daughter’s sexuality, suicide, emotional health, and more–to Envy and Angela holding court on the breakfast club with finance gurus and mental health advocates–it’s clear that this collective crew wants to broaden the minds, hearts and health of hip hoppers, low income earners and other groups of people who could stand to learn more about how food functions as fuel for the body and mind.
There are many reasons why I’m moved by the celebration of this Juices For Life anniversary. Since a young age, I’ve been on a quest to listen to my body and reconnect with whatever my ancestral DNA tells me my body wants to eat. Plants became one of the staples for me. Being raised to give back, and to “tell a friend,” I make it a point to share info on wellness whether it be Byron Hurt’s Soul Food Junkie film, the Hood Health Handbook, my own juice recipes, or more personal essays, like the hip-hop community health reflection I penned after Sean Price was laid to rest.
I had a juice habit already but the first time Lord Finesse took me to the Bronx Juices For Life location, I knew The Lox were onto something special. They were running their business in a tradition I recognized. A tradition similar to the Rastafarian style of serving healthy food while educating the community and providing a place to convene and talk that multiracial, racial justice, solidarity talk on any given afternoon.
They say real recognize real and love is love. Looks like the Juices For Life owners are trying to show us exactly what real love, and good business sense look like when they are combined.