Saturday, May 30, 2015

On Being An Alternative Hip-Hop Artist...and its Pitfalls

WARNING: THIS IS ANOTHER POPCORN ENTRY. So get comfy and grab some.

I might just join you as I write this.

I met a person of station awhile back who tried to clown me a bit because I said I was an alt. hip-hop artist. Challenged me, in a sort of condescending tone, to explain.

I did, and he basically "corrected" me and told me I am what is called "underground". I told him that there are many underground hip-hop artists that would disagree vehemently with that assessment. I've even been told as much by a respected so-called underground hip-hop "tastemaker", that my stuff is not underground.

Yes, I may actually BE under the radar, if we used the term "underground" in that sense, but I am still alternative, in the sense that what I'm doing is not what you would expect from hip-hop when you first hear that that is my genre of choice. There are artists under the radar with me that are doing exactly what one would expect of hip-hop, creatively. That ain't me.

I've also been called a pop artist, which, frankly, I am sick to death of.

I know pop really is supposed to mean "popular"--which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, being popular-- but in this day and age, for someone who strives to be authentic to who they are, it also means "death sentence", "disposable" and "dismissable", and I don't wish to own being any of those things, no matter what bent my sound might take in its journey.

People have a tendency to just kind of shove things in a box when they don't understand it, and more often than not, the box they shove you in is wrong. Because you can dance to the majority of GATA City, you would think that I'd be shoved in the dance category, but since people think of EDM/EBM, dubstep and the like when you say, "dance", I am demoted to pop. I also get told a lot that I don't belong here, I belong "Overseas" where I would "do much better", as if Overseas is one big land that will solve all my problems like it's the Emerald City.
And I know there's the typical/not-so-typical-but-accepted-cuz-they're-conscious hip-hop brethren, sistren, and cousins of mine who would look down their nose at me, side-eye me, or tell me, "That's cute, sis" and give me a virtual pat on the head, but go on and on about how ill certain mainstream female rappers are when I know I could run circles around some of them lyrically.

I won't pretend to make myself bigger than what I am; I won't even sit here and say I'm at-par with some of the other unrecognised ladies under the radar with me. There are so many down here that I've heard, been introduced to, or whatever...some, I've even been called upon to emulate, but my days of emulating anyone have been far behind me for years. I will, however, tell you that I know I deserve a fair shot at being taken seriously and listened to.

Talking of "listened to"... that's also another pitfall that comes not so much with being alternative, but just being a hip-hop artist-- NOT being listened to.

For example: there is an event that Newark is trying to do called Better Block Newark, and they were looking for people to get involved. Someone on its organisation team had somehow gotten hold of my email address and was sending me so much mail about it. So, naturally, I submitted myself... and got no response for a month, save for more email about volunteering.

When I did get a response, this is what met me (and two other people on his staff the sender sent to via CC):

Thank you very much for your interest in supporting our efforts in hosting Better Block Bergen. Unfortunately, the intention of the event is to provide family friendly entertainment for this celebration. Otherwise, we would surely be provide the platform to present your work. I'm sure it will be a great occasion and welcome you to contact my colleague Perris for an opportunity to setup a vendor table. 

Again, please accept our regrets. We hope that you still choose to support Better Block Newark as we intend to expand the initiative and need all the support from entrepreneurs/residents like yourself.

Mind you, I was asking about performing, but they're talking about selling at a table.

I replied, pointing out that my stuff is mainly profanity-free, and is indeed family-friendly--that in fact, I had been complimented by parents on that very thing (and sometimes, even shunned for it by others, but I digress). I mean, I wouldn't have been booked at family-oriented block parties if it wasn't, would I? But, I get this back:

I appreciate your cooperation and I must insist if you have materials or goods you would like to share and/or sell during the event we can surely provide space and a table to do so.

I did notice the lack of profanity and such in your performance and I commend that. Please continue to support the event and we can work to better curate the next event's programming to potentially include your stage set.

Huh. Okay, so, basically, "Get a vendor table and be happy. If you play ball, perhaps we'll let you do your li'l thing. but not now."
When I brought it to the attention of friends and GNOtaku, they thought that the "family-friendly" bit was a joke, with at least one friend surmising this:

Oddly enough, Peace had said that very same thing right before she posted that!
I'm pretty sure that they didn't bother to listen, just saw the words "hip-hop" and ran the other way. And for them to sit and say they "noticed the lack of profanity and such" when I could tell they didn't listen was insulting. If they had listened, pointing out that they were looking for "family friendly" entertainment wouldn't have been an issue.

I bet, though, that they'll have a local dance team that either a) has little girls doing inappropriate choreography but excused as cute (and wearing tutus...which didn't really start much here until after Fashion Is Art) or b) is using music that wasn't pre-approved and ends up full of curses and suggestive themes.


Because that's what's acceptable around here in the Brix. And it's acceptable because it's what they know.

Someone always tells me to look for ops in my own area; music blogs always suggest becoming a thing in your hometown first. Well, this is what happens when I attempt to do that...unless I meet someone like the true owner of Majesty Loft or someone else willing to take a chance on the weird girl in the cat ears. I'm mostly ignored (not even an email saying "no") by anything you'd think I'd be welcome to perform at in Newark--including Newark Gay Pride, if you can believe that. Newark is nothing if not afraid of new or different, and I think it is time that I truly accepted that and looked for gigs elsewhere, or make my own. Then show up at theirs anyway in full Nyan Regalia, like: "AND WHAT...?"

Which leads me to...addressing this past week's incident involving the "different".

For years, I have been trying to get involved in Afropunk somehow, due to the many suggestions of others (sent press releases, joined featured bands group), only to be mostly ignored, and I think a lot of well-placed badmouthing by certain individuals killed that to begin with. But, being somewhat undaunted and willing to believe that perhaps I might be mistaken, I entered the Battle of the Bands voting competition after much encouragement.
Days later, I received this:

We see some suspicious behavior for your entry, as it receives runs of repeat votes from the same or a series of closely related IP addresses.

166 votes come from duplicate IP addresses.

As this is evidence of cheating, we regret to inform you that your entry will be disqualified immediately.

Okay. Here is the math on the voting process:
--It is a single click voting platform.
--You must vote through Facebook.
--It will not let you vote twice from a single IP address.

And yet...I cheated, and was disqualified. Yup.

Of course, this brought cries of outrage from my friends/GNOtaku. Some thought "sabotage", some thought that they could have just discounted the duplicates, since there seemed to be trouble voting from phones and devices--a lot of people complained that they weren't sure their vote had even gone through. "With this knowledge," one said, "surely a malicious person could systematically get everyone disqualified, except the one they want to win!" And most agreed with that assessment. But I just chalked it up to Mercury Retrograde and the former badmouthing taking its toll.

Ironically, I didn't even enter to win, just get involved in something of theirs IN SPITE of them...and get noticed by their audience. I wasn't even as upset as I should have been about being accused of cheating.

What I was upset about--which I figured out after some reflection...was that here was yet another place where several people have told me I "belonged"...and it was very clear that they still don't think so...for whatever reason.

I can't begin to tell you how many people have said "Oh, you need to join Afropunk, do their shows, get featured!" Anyone from a music business mentor of mine to the graphic designer of my CD art: "Afropunk is for you!", apparently, it's not.
And that has been sorrowfully driven home by this final nail in the coffin.

So, let's count the places I've been told I should belong and apparently don't: my city, the culture as a whole ("you're a pop artist"), America ("go Overseas!"), Afropunk, and let's not forget Hip-Hop Sisters Artistry, who apparently thought there is only one kind of female hip-hop. (Yup--ignored by them, too.)

This shxt makes you want to run away from home sometimes, LOL. Join the circus. I did actually joke in a Facebook status about buying a town like Kim Basinger did and establishing it for those of us who fit nowhere else.

But...I was reminded (thank you for finally being useful, Mercury Retrograde, you cankerous whore) of something I once told a young strangeling-in-the-making when he came in from outside play, disgusted that the other kids didn't want to play with him at all after they decided they wanted to play tag after he said he'd wanted to still play ball, and decided to confess to me.

"Do you still want to play ball?" I asked him.
"Then be proud that your vision of playing ball-- doing something you want to is strong enough to survive what everyone else thinks you should do. They might not want to play with you now, but they might later; someone might. Always feel proud that you chose what you really wanted."

So...I will reflect on that years-old piece of advice I gave my eldest cub, and take it myself and let it nurture me. They might not want to play with me now...but...someone eventually might.

Monday, May 18, 2015

On Finding Out You're Not Such a Crappy Parent After All

This past weekend, we laid my Tomcat's (my eldest son) father to rest. Upon hearing the news, my boy was amazingly strong, yet he'd expressed concern about not feeling more immediate grief about his passing. I reassured him that whatever he was feeling was okay, and that no-one would judge him for his feelings, and that everyone here would be there for him if he needed us. After a bit of a cry from most of us here Lairside, he seemed strengthened, and carried on as usual.

Soon after, he wrote this... incredible status on his Facebook regarding how he felt/his goodbye to his father:

 It was extremely well-received by not only people on his and my friendlists, but by family members and friends of the family he did not know.

He was asked to read his good-bye at the memorial service, and both before and after the service, people were so good to my son and said such nice things to me about how well-mannered and intelligent he was. Some even encouraged him to consider attending the college his father attended.

It was a bit overwhelming but gratifying to know that the work (and I use that word loosely, because it really wasn't work at all; it was a privilege) I put into making sure my boy loved to read, encouraging him to express himself, teaching him to be his own person, and insisting that he use his manners, if nothing else, was not in vain. To receive confirmation that he is indeed a wonderful kid is the best gift and comfort I could ever get.

I'm probably the happiest weirdo parent in the world right now. Thank you to everyone who was so sweet to my boy, and thank you for confirming that I'm not such a bad parent as was previously said.

Thank you, my beautiful boy, for being you.

And, thank you, Jermaine, for giving me our brilliant son. For that I will always be grateful.
Rest well.