On Stage at The Frunchroom – South Side Style

The Frunchroom
The Frunchroom

A strange thing happens when you visit The Frunchroom. You learn all kinda stuff you never knew that you didn’t know.

Allow me to explain.

I’ve lived near Mother McCauley – a Catholic girls high school in Chicago – all my life and had no idea that MM was a feminist well before the word became a trendy word to embrace. I’ve lived near Hardboiled coffee for some time and had never quite managed to stop in, despite the fact that the signage is ultra cool, and I know the owner plays records all day long. I also learned that I’ve lived in a food dessert, and that income has little to do with access to good, whole, fresh foods when it comes to living in a black neighborhood. Then there was the guy from Bridgeport who bikes all the time, even to Rainbow Beach on the South Shore – a place that I love but have never, ever considered riding a bike to.

That was The Frunchroom, a place where a few fine folks gathered to read a story or two – most of it true. It’s a Chicago tradition, and I’m glad to have been a part of it. I read an essay about the ghetto gold of Evergreen Plaza and how I coveted that stuff. The Plaza of my youth is long gone, but the memories are fresh, and it seemed that everyone nodded in agreement when I brought up the now-closed movie theatre, the cookie shop, the Jesus store and the arcade that was in front of that Orange Julius. (Frunchroom is a Chicago thing, in case you were wondering. It’s all in how we pronounce it…)

My Frunchroom compadres were assembled by Scott Smith, aka “@ourmaninChicago” on Twitter. You should follow him. He’s a thinker and has a blog worth reading. (And I’m not saying that just because he invited me to read.) Who else was there? Natalie Moore, a WBEZ reporter and author who read a chapter from her upcoming book about contemporary segregation on the South Side; Dmitry Samarov, a writer and artist whose sketches adorn the walls of Hardboiled; Jen Sabella, a McCauley grad and the director of social media and engagement over at DNAinfo.com; and Chuck Sudo, the former Editor-in-Chief of Chicagoist and the before mentioned  biker.

You can actually read a write-up of the series here, at DNAinfo.com. Howard Ludwig wrote it. You should follow him too.

Beverly is on the far South Side. I stress FAR. Most people don’t even know that this is Chicago. And that’s a shame. But with the new Frunchroom series, the upcoming Beverly Art Walk and the revamped Beverly/Morgan Park Home Tour, I bet a lot of North Siders – and others – might come to see the far Southwest Side in a new light.

I’ll be posting that Evergreen Plaza essay soonish. Stay tuned for more.

Adriennewrites on Chiraq and the anti-Chiraq movement

Repost to add context to the Spike Lee “Chiraq” movie discussion, as reported in The Chicago Tribune. The below story first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on June 1, 2014. It was a front page story, and I decided to research and write it because of the popularity of the word Chiraq paired with the oncoming summer weather – which to Chicagoans means both construction and more shootings.

Why was Chiraq such a popular term? Who created it? And how did it impact the city? Also, I wanted to know more about the anti-Chiraq movement. Read on.

By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, Chicago Sun-Times Chicago, aka Chi-town or The Chi. Or Chiraq. That latest nickname might not be as popular as the others, but it caught on in pockets here and across the nation as the city’s killings and shootings made headlines. Blame it partially on the pundits: They’ve long suggested, often erroneously, that Chicago’s violence is similar to that found in Iraq during the war. And to those who use the word, it embodies the attitudes that have created a Chicago where shots fired are commonplace and shooting deaths are expected to climb as the weather warms up. But some people are ready for the word Chiraq (pronounced Chi-rack) to retire. To finish reading this story, please click the following link: Chiraq

Behind the Scenes of Common’s Album Release Party: Nobody’s Smiling

This story first appeared on voices.suntimes.com.

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Attending an album listening party is sometimes a hit or miss. Many are dull, accompanied by humdrum music. Quite a few are full of earnest-to-the-point-of-rudeness fans and self-important music bloggers who talk more than they listen.

But Common, always the consummate professional, managed to pull off a top tier listening party this week complete with an intimate crowd of about 200, a dash of local celebrity, an revealing on-stage interview with fellow rapper <a href=”http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/25895584-421/rhymefest-stays-close-to-his-roots.html” title=”Rhymefest talks to the Sun-Times Adrienne Samuels Gibbs about new album Violence is Sexy” target=”_blank”>Rhymefest,</a> two internationally known deejays and, of course, a rousing examination and explanation of the work and worth of his upcoming album<a href=”http://www.okayplayer.com/news/common-announces-nobodys-smiling-lp-with-no-i-d-revolt-video.html” target=”_blank”> “Nobody’s Smiling,”</a> due out July 22.

Not one to mince words, Chicago’s own <a href=”http://www.suntimes.com/24319954-421/leaders-of-chicagos-new-school-hip-hop.html” title=”King Louie sits down with Adrienne Samuels Gibbs and talks about Chicago’s new hip hop” target=”_blank”>King L</a> only had this to say about it: “It was dope.”

Here’s a bit of what I heard and saw:

I heard portions of each song off the sometimes moody album. Some of the tracks add perspective to the ongoing discussion surrounding Chicago’s violence, minus the glorification. Others are hip hop club bangers. And one in particular, “Hustle Harder” will be a hit with the ladies since it features Common giving a big ups to women who are the mother and father in the home. That track specifically features Snoh Aalegra and local on-the-rise lady rapper Dreezy.

<a href=”http://voices.suntimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/COMMON_NOBODYSSMILING_DLX-copy.jpg”><img src=”http://voices.suntimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/COMMON_NOBODYSSMILING_DLX-copy.jpg” alt=”Adrienne Samuels Gibbs” width=”250″ height=”250″ class=”size-full wp-image-191699″ /></a> This is the album cover for the deluxe edition.

Common doesn’t shy away from his city and the album is amazingly, and refreshingly, Chicago-centric. First off, it’s on a new label overseen by well known producer No I.D., who is Chicago born and went to school with Common all the way back to the duo’s Luther South days. (This album is Common’s first release from <a href=”http://www.defjam.com/artists/?label=artium-records”>I.D.’s anticipated Artium Records</a>. Note to newbies: No I.D., though young in years, is almost an old-head experience-wise on the music scene and has had his hands on production of most of what’s hot, including cuts by Jay-Z, Jim Jones, T.I., Drake, Big Sean and Rihanna.) Continuing the Chi-town-ness of the album, the South Side’s own Lil Herb figures prominently on a track entitled “The Neighborhood.”

<a href=”http://voices.suntimes.com/arts-entertainment/the-daily-sizzle/chicagos-lil-herb-a-key-voice-in-nicki-minajs-latest-song-chiraq/” title=”Lil Herb shines in Nicki Minaj’s song, “Chiraq””>Lil Herb</a> and Common?!! Yep, that’s what I thought too. Common deftly addressed the age, and topical, differences: “Man, he came on that track and ..he blessed it. [Herb] got an introspective which sometimes you don’t get from some of the younger artists… He was talking about how he grew up in a small house and was staying with his grandmother and you kind of get to know somebody through that… He really stepped up when it came to being on that type of track.”

Who else was there? <a href=”http://tv.suntimes.com/video/entertainment/sunday-sitdown-hebru-brantley” title=”Hebru Brantley talks to the Sun-Times’ Mike Thomas about his new exhibit, Parade Day Rain” target=”_blank”>Hebru Brantley,</a> <a href=”http://www.suntimes.com/news/27541587-418/attack-on-chiraq-activists-want-the-word-to-die.html” title=”King Louie talks to Adrienne Samuels Gibbs about the creation of the word Chiraq” target=”_blank”>King L</a>, <a href=”http://voices.suntimes.com/arts-entertainment/israel-idoneji-and-the-prince-of-wales/” title=”Izzy meets the Prince of Wales” target=”_blank”>Israel Idonije</a>, DJ Timbuk2, <a href=”http://www.suntimes.com/photos/galleries/24319954-417/leaders-of-chicagos-new-school-hip-hop.html” title=”Rockie Fresh talks to the Sun-Times Adrienne Samuels Gibbs about local hip hop” target=”_blank”>Rockie Fresh</a>, Rhymefest, Dj Jermaine (who spun for part of the night) and superstar hair stylist AJ Johnson (who once starred in the Style Network show, ‘Chicagolicious’.)

<a href=”http://voices.suntimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/hebru-brantley-at-Commons-listening-event.jpg”><img src=”http://voices.suntimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/hebru-brantley-at-Commons-listening-event.jpg” alt=”Hebru Brantley and friends at Common's album release party. Image by Desmond Owusu.” width=”300″ height=”250″ class=”size-full wp-image-191745″ /></a> Hebru Brantley and friends at Common’s album release party. Image by Desmond Owusu.

Some outlets are reporting that there are seven or more album covers, each giving shine to a local rapper. The label only provided me with two covers, the one you see higher up and another featuring just Common. The deluxe cover, shown higher in this post, is a composite of Common’s face along with King L on the right and on the left, Lil Johnny.

For hard core fans, the deluxe CD or the CD sold at Target will be the best bet. The Target version has 14 tracks, including the bonus track “City to City.” The deluxe version has three bonus tracks. The standard version has 10 tracks. There’s also a vinyl edition being released as well for turntable aficionados.

The event was hosted by <a href=”http://www.complex.com/music/2014/06/common-finds-his-fortune” target=”_blank”>Miller Fortune</a> (an un-distilled “spirited” golden lager that debuted in February 2014 and was presented to the crowd in pretty little tumblers,) and <a href=”http://www.complex.com/music/2014/06/common-finds-his-fortune” target=”_blank”>Complex</a>.

— Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

Catching Up with DJ Mustard

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs and DJ Mustard at Double Door.
Adrienne Samuels Gibbs and DJ Mustard at Double Door.

This article first appears on the now defunct voices.suntimes.com and you can also read more about it on my Facebook page here.

“You ratchet!” “Stop acting ratchet!” “That song/video/tv show/church sermon is ratchet!”

The word ratchet has reentered the everyday lexicon and is taking on a meaning decidedly outside of what’s printed in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. In today’s world, ratchet usually is a combination of lewdly, humorously bogus shenanigans. But for DJ Mustard, born Dijon McFarlane, ratchet is music. His music.

Recently signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, and slated to drop an album before summer’s end, the LA-based Mustard swears his next album will showcase his vintage style and feature “the usual” collaborators, including Nipsy Hustle, Ty Dolla $ign and “Jeezy, of course.”

Adds the beats maestro: “Of course it’s going to be ratchet! Who you talking to? Ratchet. For sure.”

Let’s back up a bit. This conversation took place Saturday at the Double Door, where Mustard performed for free as part of the Brisk Iced Tea “Brisk Bodega” concert series in conjunction with Noisey and Chicago’s own hip hop website Fakeshoredrive. Mustard got on stage after WGCI’s DJ Moondawg warmed up the crowd, and local artist Tree performed. (Scroll way down for the Youtube. Note: The Fakeshoredrive video features occasional strong language, so it might not be OK for listening at work. Break out those Beats please.

And just before Moondawg made things way too loud to conduct an interview, I chatted with the West Coast producer about his groundbreaking career and what it’s like to have a hand in some of the hottest club bangers out right now.

As Complex says, Mustard is “running hip hop.” And though he has worked with Wil-I-Am, Miley Cyrus and French Montana, Chicago’s own Jeremih and others, including Wiz Khalifa, his songs are best experienced in a club situation. There, you can experience the beat. Feel it. That said, in a world where hot djs (think: David Guetta) are as popular as rappers, Mustard is winning.

“We are headed that way but in a hip hop way,” says Mustard, referring to his goal to meet or exceed Guetta’s radio domination. “It’s gonna be my own translation though.”

LA Weekly captured Mustard with this gem of a paragraph:

His breakthrough was Tyga’s “Rack City,” a quintessential summer jam with a minimal-funky bassline, snaps, and cold-blooded 808 drums. It detonated stripper poles and satisfied the “menace quotient” for guys who’d prefer death by rockslide to dancing to radio trance-rap. Mustard’s beats bang hard enough for the hood and catchy enough for the Top 40.

Again. Ratchet.

Last fall he signed to Roc Nation, and he actually likes it. (Who wouldn’t?) “It’s like being with the family,” he says. “I need help with anything I call them and they’re there. You know how people have bad tastes with labels? My label is fine.”

He also stopped by Chicago’s uber trendy it-restaurant Girl and the Goat for a dinner with the entourage. They didn’t have a reservation but somehow got in anyway. Maybe it was the Jay-Z connection.

“I had a lot of food I’d never had before,” says Mustard, reflecting upon Stephanie Izard’s award-winning fare. “I was just giving them a try you know? Broaden my horizons. I had something, some flower s**t. It was good though. Squash Blossom. It was actually dope.”

Video below:

— Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

On The Run Concert Recap

This review, by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, first appeared on voices.suntimes.com.

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When the king and queen of pop culture take the stage together, the results are flawless. Beyonce and Jay-Z rocked out a crowd of nearly 60,000 with a set list of some 45 songs that lasted around 2.5 hours at Soldier Field Thursday night. More than a concert, the “On The Run” tour was entertainment. Beyonce’s windblown hair, bedazzled costumes and spiky heels only added to the glamour of the evening as she and her husband performed duets (for lack of a better word) of the rap and R&B nature.

They kicked it off with “Bonnie and Clyde” at around 9:30 p.m. Expert mixing wove in “Upgrade U” and then “Crazy in Love.” The songs weren’t performed in their entireties. It was more like Beyonce and Jay gave the best snippets of their hits in an effort to keep things moving and to keep the crowd guessing. That treatment worked, allowing the power couple to breeze through 10 more hits (“Show me what you got,” “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and “Tom Ford,” to name just a few) which increasingly revved up the crowd and even caused the metal beams of the top tiers of the football stadium seating to sway.

The couple worked the overwhelmingly diverse crowd into a frenzy. After a furious and tightly danced routine, Beyonce often would do nothing more than stand still – booty cocked out – and raise an eyebrow to illicit screams. And Jay had only to shout out the South Side to coax out a crowd roar that needed no meter to measure.

Beyonce’s dancers, (including captain Ashley Everett, who blazed bright with her shock of red hair) were as much the show as Queen Bey. They slithered. They jacked. They stepped. They profiled. They “danced hard,” as some might say on the South Side. Jay, as usual, had no dancers (except for two short transitions between songs.) On those rare occasions, he “borrowed” Bey’s ladies and two gents (the fabulous brothers who ought to be called the Wonder Twins, with their capoeira-graceful moves.)

Was it the Beyonce show featuring Jay-Z? Or was it the Jay-Z show featuring Beyonce? I’d argue that Jay-Z was the act who came on between Bey’s songs so that she could change clothes. Then again, mid-concert, it seemed the reverse was true. The couple, who are dealing with rumors of divorce, seemed to present an open book with their home movie-centric interludes shown over two to three big screens. But Bey’s rendition of the infidelity-swirled “Resentment” slowed things all the way down. As she has in other performances in the On The Run tour, she changed the words of the song to reflect the dalliances of a man she’d known for 12 years – which sounds amazingly like Jay and was sung so sadly that people began to cry.

Beyonce.jpg”>Beyonce performs during the On The Run tour at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on July 20, 2014 in New Orleans. | Photo by Robin Haper/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images Beyonce performs during the On The Run tour at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on July 20, 2014 in New Orleans. | Photo by Robin Haper/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images

Beyonce surprised with eloquent sound production, and interesting dual-location staging, that added new life to old hits. “Bow Down/I Been On,” already a banger, seemed even more… heartfelt when laced with extra guitar licks from the all-lady band. Then “Flawless” was well, flawless, and then Jay stepped in with “On To the Next One,” which is still the best you-don’t-matter-but-I-do song I’ve ever heard. Despite the cavernous size of the venue, Jay’s words clearly rang through the 55-degree air. I’ve been to Bears games and could barely understand whatever is said on the loudspeakers, so Jay’s extraordinary vocal clarity was astounding given the sheer size of the space and the noise of the crowd.

This was a tightly scripted concert which didn’t much deviate from performances held in other cities. Beyonce only occasionally shouted out the Chi. Jay did much better, frequently asking the city to raise their hands, or throw up a diamond or finish a verse. He even quipped: “You know I had to slow it down for all the weed smokers tonight,” he said.”Yeah, I smell it.”

Other standouts include “Partition” which had people running back from the bathroom (the concert, frankly, had gotten slow just before this point) to see Beyonce spin on a stripper pole in her boudoir outfit and slink sexily around a chair, even performing some moves usually seen on the Las Vegas strip. Jay got no parts of that though. In fact, though the storyline of the concert was about the couple, complete with home movies, Mr. and Mrs. Carter first openly touched – awkwardly – at the finish of “Drunk in Love,” which was midway through the show. They exchanged more affection near the end, after a sweetly-sad rendition of “Young Forever.” Sweet because the music stopped and the crowd chimed in to finish the song. Sad because some 60,000 people, mostly under 35, were singing about living forever. And we all know know that can’t be, and yet in that moment, under the spell of Beyonce’s flowing hair and her powerful voice, and listening to the empowering wordsmithing of Jay, it does seem that anything is possible.

Set List

03 Bonnie &amp; Clyde
Upgrade U
Crazy in Love
Show Me What You Got
Diamonds from Sierra Leone
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Tom Ford
Run the World (Girls)
Flawless
Yoncé
Jigga My Nigga
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
Naughty Girl
Big Pimpin’
Ring the Alarm
On to the Next One
Clique
Diva
Baby Boy
U Don’t Know
Ghost
Haunted
No Church in the Wild
Drunk in Love
Public Service Announcement
Why Don’t You Love Me
Holy Grail
Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit
Beach is Better
Partition
99 Problems
If I Were a Boy
Ex-Factor
Song Cry
Resentment
Love on Top
Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Niggas in Paris
Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
Hard Knock Life
Pretty Hurts
Part II (On the Run)
Young Forever
Halo
Lift Off

VIDEO FROM MIAMI

— Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

Anointed Debate: Should Beyonce Have Performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord?”

adrienne samuels gibbs

The 2015 Grammys gave us all a lot to discuss. There was the old-young mashups, the kick off with a song about going straight to hell, a Kanye sighting or two or three and a send-off that included one of Black America’s most beloved gospel songs. Beyonce can sing, for sure. But many people took issue with how she sang Thomas Dorsey’s seminal classic – and made in Chicago – song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the issue of how Ledisi sang the song in the movie “Selma” but was unceremoniously left out of the Grammys performance lineup. Welp. I went straight to the sources to figure out what happened here.

This story first appeared on the Chicago Sun-Times website and, I’m proud to say, it garnered quite a bit of clicks that day and the days following. The debate continues though. Should Beyonce have sung that song? I talked with some of the giants of gospel to find out. You can continue the conversation on my Facebook page. Otherwise, read on.

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There’s something everyone should know when considering and analyzing Beyonce’s Grammy performance of Thomas Dorsey‘s gut-wrenching gospel staple “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

It’s this: The song was written after Dorsey’s wife and newborn baby died and he writhed in pain, begging God to take even a piece of the hurt away. And anyone who is familiar with the African-American church — funerals in particular — has heard this song sung with a gut-punch. It’s not upbeat. It’s not fast. Rather, it’s poignant and intended to show how God does heal the singer and, as many in the black church might say, it offers proof of the “comforter” of the Holy Spirit.

Beyonce in her angel dress at the Grammys. | Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP

It’s not a song to be sung lightly or without consideration. And that’s why there is a schism between those who appreciated Beyonce’s literal, angel-in-a-see-through-dress translation of the song and those who preferred Ledisi’s rendition (as Mahalia Jackson) in the movie “Selma.”

Beyonce also swiftly came online today to post a video explaining why she asked to sing the song.  Being that Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church is the home of Dorsey and the birthplace of gospel music, it is only fair that local musicians and ministers weigh in on the controversy.

Grammy-nominated gospel producer Percy Bady, who sits on the local Grammy chapter, says he woke up to a Facebook timeline chock-full of judgments. “The concern is this: Look, this is a staple for us who grew up in the black church,” says the well-known producer who has years in the industry and is the minister of music for New Life Covenant Church. “And, coming out of Pilgrim Baptist Church here in Chicago, there’s a reverence that we have. No disrespect to Beyonce; she can sing anything. But, her rendition of ‘Precious Lord’ did not move me. It’s one of those songs you sing from another place.”

The writer, Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, saw this on a friend's Facebook timeline this morning in response to a Beyonce post.

He goes on. “I saw it for what it was: She performed. I wasn’t expecting to be slain in the spirit and wallowing on the floor or anything. It almost makes you wonder if this was a situation where the Grammys said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re gonna d0.’”

Bady is not alone. Many of Chicago’s Facebook pundits are saying they believe Beyonce really sang the song because that’s the only way the Grammys could get the superstar to show up for the telecast. The official word, however, from John Legend, is that Beyonce asked, and he and Common said yes.

Regardless. It’s the talk of the town for churchfolk everywhere. The memes alone — some of them using Jackson’s image — are to die for. And of course Black Twitter very quickly created the hashtag #beysus, which was trending by midafternoon the day after the show.

“It wasn’t a bad performance,” says Walt Whitman, founder of the Soul Children of Chicago. “It wasn’t like she was horrible, but maybe it wasn’t the power piece that would best represent that piece of music.”

But, says Whitman, there’s the political side of the performance as well. “There’s so many different levels to this that you’re dealing with. You had all those gospel artists in the room and any one of them could have killed it, but you chose not to. And in some cases, I believe they just don’t know. We’re making assumptions that the people [who produce] the Grammys know about anointing.”

And here’s Whitman’s clincher: “We’re not dealing with church. We’re dealing with people who do music as a profession, and they are looking at numbers and the bottom line for the TV show.”

RELATED ARTICLES BY ADRIENNE SAMUELS GIBBS

Beyonce and feminism is a new course at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Did Selma get snubbed at the Oscars: A look at race and Hollywood

The general consensus of those interviewed here is that Queen Bey was not there to bring people to God — and perhaps it was unfair to expect that she might. She’s a secular, not a gospel, artist. “Beyonce did what Beyonce does: She performed,” says singer and Deacon Joi Buchanan-Johnson, also one of the conductors for the woman’s choir at Trinity United Church of Christ. There is a difference between performance and ministry. If you’ve heard the song, you know it was a song that comforted you. And visually [she] has this semi-see-through dress on. Beyonce is a performer to her bone.”

Other pundits say the entire incident — including a so-called “snub” against singer Ledisi, who portrayed Mahalia Jackson and sang “Precious Lord” in the movie — was contrived in order to get more people to talk about the controversy and increase ratings. And on that end, all agreed that Ledisi was gracious in her response to ET’s Kevin Frazier when asked about it:

“What I will say and what I’m excited about is that I had the pleasure of playing an iconic figure in ‘Selma,’ and the song, ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord,’ it’s been going on forever — starting with the queen, Mahalia [Jackson], the queen of soul Aretha Franklin,” said the soul singer. “Then, I was able to portray and sing my version of the song, and now we have Beyoncé. Her generation will now know the song, so I’m a part of history.”

Behind the scenes of independent film “Hogtown”

hogtown2.jpg

It’s not everyday that I get to talk with a director who loves Chicago as much as I do. It’s also not everyday that said director, Daniel Nearing, chooses to highlight an extremely diverse cast in a murder mystery set during the not-oft-discussed Red Summer of 1919. The movie is “Hogtown” – so named for Chicago’s title as the butcher capital of the world.This was a time when white Chicagoans rioted and lynched hundreds of Black people after a little black boy floated to the wrong side of the invisible racial line in the waters of Lake Michigan.

You can click here to read the story on www.suntimes.com or you can keep going and see it below. Nearing’s other film, “Chicago Heights” was about a suburb just south of the city. It’s interesting that Nearing, a white Canadian, has decided to tell stories that encompass the wide variety of history and stories in the city. Read on.

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The following story first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sunday Sitdown: Daniel Nearing explains his indie flick ‘Hogtown’

By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

An image of a frieze from the movie "Hogtown."

Director Daniel Nearing’s “Hogtown” is a Chicago love affair presented in black and white. A true art film, it conjures a time when stark contrast and glared down dialogue defined the cinema. It’s also sort of a combo murder mystery, racial tension exploration and art noir film. With A score performed by the orchestra at the College of William and Mary, it’s a micro-budgeted movie that delivers big. Nearing, 56, has a history of working cable documentaries, but his first film, “Chicago Heights,” earned the attention and praise of Roger Ebert. This second is a kind of variation on a theme. Here’s what else Nearing had to say about “Hogtown.”

In his film more than most, it seems that Chicago is actually a character.

It’s a character for me. Hogtown is Chicago, the hog butcher to the world. The whole back of the yards thing. The whole difficulty of life. Chicago was an acquired tasted for me. I came from a city that didn’t have lot of crime and doesn’t have the racial tensions in the communities you encounter in American cities. Over time I came to fall in love with it. I think of myself as a chronicler of the soul of chicago. that’s what Hogtown tries to do; it tries to get at the essence of what it is to be a Chicagoan in the period in which we live and the prior generations live – a ridiculously ambitious thing to try to do.

How did you achieve the look of the film with it’s high-contrast black and white imagery?

It’s the picture profile in the particular camera we’re using, a Sony. I worked closely with the cinematographer so it would look like the cinematography of Gregg Toland in particular who shot ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Grapes of Wrath.’ Really super-black blacks and the contrast is very, very high. You’re focused more on the presence of light and shadow and the characters rather than what’s populating the negative space. We worked on that for a long time.

This is a period piece except it’s not. I spied electric street lights and modern-day El trains.

I wanted an anachronistic approach – to shoot in the contemporary context but have the feel of the period pieces. We call our films ‘period less.’ In 1919, [a character] has an iPhone. We play with that a bit. The suggestion is that the more things change the more they stay the same. Chicago particularly has this underbelly of racism and we may think it changed significantly from 1919, but [the times] are not that much different. A hundred years from now, a historian looking at this time may say [it] blended.

You managed to reference a plethora of important, but not-oft-discussed, events in Chicago’s racial and workers rights history. The Race Riot of 1919, for one.

Carl Sandberg wrote a book about the race riots and the epigraph of our film comes from Sandberg. It was something I didn’t know much about and then came across it. I was surprised how many people died. The deeper meaning that we’ve committed to is that we are talking about the present as much as we are about the past.

Where did you film in Chicago?

Lawrence and Broadway, near the Aragon Ballroom. We shot everywhere and we had such great support. We got locations you normally would have to pay a lot to shoot in.

Such as?

In Indiana there’s a jailhouse that was the actual jail that John Dillinger escaped from. That movie Public Enemies was shot there and they completely renovated it and we shot in there for free. We shot in St. Michael’s Church, the oldest surviving church of the great Chicago fire. The old Naperville Settlement gave us access.

When you say minuscule budget, what does that mean?

It means nobody got paid. No one. And they’re not likely ever to get paid. It’s an experimental film. It is an art film. It is a labor of love. Roger Ebert put our previous film “Chicago Heights,” on his list of his best art films of 2010s . We used that as leverage to tell people we were making something that was worthy for their involvement. We didn’t provide gas money but we did provide food. We had a little bit of budget for costumes. A couple thousand. Melanie Parks did the most incredible job.

The orchestra didn’t get paid either? How did you do that?

They donated talent and time in recording this really beautiful music. I don’t know what’s gonna happen for the third movie but for the first two we just had the incredible good fortune to meet Minister Raymond Dunlap. At the time he was on the south side on 107th and Vincennes and he brought us into his church with his gospel choir and man, I would write lyrics for him. Kill me now. Kill me now. Re (pause) mem (pause) ber this. He takes those simple words and makes this magnificently moving gospel song that I relied on for a lot of different purposes.I also met up with Paul Bassoon, who is now at the College of William and Mary. These old soundtracks, films like ‘Citizen Kane,’ were scored by Bernard Herrmann. I wanted that anachronistic, antique sound like a film from the 40s. I wanted something like a theme from ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ or the Theme from Godfather. Really rich themes that stay with you when you leave the theater.

I couldn’t help but to notice that the only fully naked people in the film are the black people, and one is a child who appears to be an older toddler. Was this race-specific nakedness intended?

I wrote a lot of the screen play in Paris. I spent six weeks there. I”d write in the mornings and in the afternoons go to the museum. A lot of the motifs and elements and aspects of paintings from the Renaissance forward, are in the film. The riot scenes are moving friezes of people borrowed from Greek sculpture. The protagonist is a man who has to be naked. And the women he’s with. The most frank depictions of intimacy come from his relationships. And, I saw all kinds of cherubs in these paintings, and I thought “I’m gonna put cherubs in my movie,” And we put wings on that little boy [and a girl] and had naked. They were not happy with those wings. They were not willing to cooperate. It’s so beautiful. [In the film] it’s him dealing with the reality fo life but it was really him going ‘no I’m not going to put those wings on.’ You see those infants in the paintings. He represents innocence. It’s really a beautiful moment.

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs covers arts and culture for The Chicago Sun-Times. Email her at agibbs@suntimes.com. Tweet her @adriennewrites

Afrobella Dishes on Her New “My Black is Beautiful” Project

Adrienne Samuels GibbsOne of the cool things about my gig is that I have a Sunday column called “The 312,” This week I decided to chat up Patrice “Afrobella” Yursik about her cool new campaign with Procter & Gamble. The company is continuing its “My Black is Beautiful” marketing plan, and as a woman of color, I certainly appreciate and understand why the company is reaching out to women like Yursik. This column appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 22, 2014 issue of The Chicago Sun-Times. You can click here for the link, or you can read the outtakes below.

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The 312: The Business of Black Beauty Blogging

Beauty blogging is big business. Just ask Patrice Grell Yursik, otherwise known as Afrobella.

The former journalist is the face and brains behind one of the internet’s most respected blogger brands: www.afrobella.com. But to that add Yursik’s social media savvy and sassy everyday girl attitude and you begin to understand why her stamp of approval makes her extremely popular with the people who want to put their lotions, potions and perfumes into the hands of the masses.

“You can’t buy a positive review, and I don’t stand behind something I don’t personally touch,” says Yursik, a native Trinidadian who first got her first product itch as a young girl who won a lotion and perfume set in a contest. Since then she’s moved to the States and finished an MFA at the University of Miami and spent some time writing for the alt paper there, the New Times. “In 2006, no one knew blogging was a business.”

But they know now. Yursik has 192,000 Facebook followers, 61,000 Twitter followers and around 14,000 Instagram followers (“I was a late adaptor to Instagram,” she says, thoughtfully. “I regret that now.”) And those followers know that women of color, curvy women and women who have decided to ditch chemical hair treatments are a huge market. Yursik – who fits into all three before-mentioned categories –  was one of the first to seriously celebrate and then monetize brown-skinned beauty on the internet. In fact, she was doing it years before Vogue in 2010 decided to create a black channel offshoot of their brand. She was also one of the first bloggers invited to write for the site, which can be found at http://www.vogue.it/en/vogue-black

More recently, the South Loop resident curated a “My Black is Beautiful” box of goodies from the world of Procter & Gamble. The company, which owns brands such as Covergirl and Oil of Olay, reached out to Yursik for this Black History Month promotion. The company already works with Queen Latifah, so bringing Yursik into the fold seemed to make sense – especially when you consider her reach.

“The intention behind this is that we are all multifacted,” says Yursik, whose face and YouTube story is part of the MBIB marketing campaign and website. “The box was for influencers. And I selected things that keep you happy and lift your spirit. I tried to pick vibrant, hot, fun colors to transition from winter to spring to summer.”

Procter & Gamble isn’t the only business doing this. The black-owned Fashion Fair Cosmetics kickstarted the trend decades before brands such as MAC and L’Oreal started to catch on to the new “hot” market. Back when Yursik started her blog, there were just a handful of companies that deliberately created , say, a large range of lipsticks that could be comfortably worn by women of color. But now? Everyone caters to a wider variety of skin tones.  L’Oreal has a multicultural beauty research facility on 21st and Wabash. And, market intelligence agency Kline in 2014 found that the multicultural beauty products market outpaced the growth of general market cosmetics and increased by 3.7 percent in the United States alone.

But when Yursik talks about it, it’s clear she didn’t get into blogging for the dollars. “Our beauty cannot be defined by mainstream standards,” says Yursik. “I wanted a celebration of our unique beauty.”

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a writer for The Chicago Sun-Times. Reach her at agibbs@suntimes.com or @adriennewrites on Twitter.

Chatting with Chief Keef (A short recap)

Chief Keef cracks a smile with Adrienne Samuels Gibbs. This was actually a tough interview yall...

It seems like it was yesterday. Except it wasn’t.

But I still remember the group of guys standing outside the nightclub, hollering and yelling for Chief Keef. They either wanted to be let in, or they they wanted him to out and put up his dukes. Our interview, meanwhile, was going south. I could barely concentrate because, you know, thugs were apparently outside. And he, despite trying, could barely concentrate either.

Some people get a thrill out of being around riots, or crowds or dangerous rap stars. Not me. I get a thrill out of hanging with rap stars so I can tell their authentic story. But, given Keef’s run ins with the law and the fact that various people seem to be out to get him, this meeting was swiftly going awry.

We raced upstairs to get away from the door. We were sitting way too close to the door. Yes. That must be it.

There’s a YouTube video of part of our interview. It’s not the best interview I’ve ever done, but it was the best I could manage given the throngs of people milling about who wanted to punch Keef. He also had a number of handlers who all seemed to disagree on what exactly he was doing, what he should be doing or why he should be doing it. But my task was clear: to find the humanity in this young man and figure out a little bit more about who he is.

You can read that Chicago Sun-Times front page story here or you can see the PDF if you scroll down a bit.  And frankly, I was shocked he finally smiled at me. It’s so tough sometimes, to find that sort of artificial friendship that must happen between interviewee and interviewer.

In the end, I got to see Keef perform, I saw everyone wish him a happy birthday, I met a ton of his fans and his entourage, and I got exclusive scoop on his new album. Of course, said album is now on hold since he was released from his record label. But there’s hope yet. I don’t think Keef’s done yet, and there’s plenty more story to be told.

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And because I’m THAT person, here is the original blog entry in totality. But note that the blog and the actual story are very different pieces of work.

Chasing Keef, a profile by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs. This story originally appeared in The Chicago Sun-TImes.

<em>Updated 6 a.m. PST</em>

The good news is that Englewood’s own Chief Keef, born Keith Cozart, showed up early for his birthday concert and he even took the stage 20 minutes before his scheduled showtime. The fans went wild — quite literally — as the event turned into a kind of hip-hop mosh pit.

Though Keef looked spick-and-span from head to toe in white, newly stitched Glo Gang-branded pants, shirt and leather jacket, he still had to deal with negative people trying to follow him into his own Hollywood set.

These men appeared to be older than Keef, not from Chicago and said they were members of the Crips. While hundreds of Asian, black, Hispanic and white fans of all ages waited patiently in line to get into The Attic, these self-described gang members hung out by a secret side door on the famous Hollywood Boulevard to catcall Keef (or ask for his photograph, as his manager interpreted the situation) as he walked in.

Talk about a buzz-killer.

Strong words were exchanged, tempers flared and few people kicked at the door but Keef eventually took the high road and walked away from that crowd. After all, he’s the one who is “finally rich.” Later on, his management said the group were guys who followed him to the club and who all believe they are great friends with the rapper. Some were angry about not getting a selfie and others, say management, felt as though they should also be able to enter a VIP entrance with Keef and got extremely angry and belligerent when told they would not receive the star treatment.

Despite that charged hiccup, the teen rapper, who celebrated his 19th birthday early this morning with friends and a yellow, sun-shaped cake, whipped the crowd into a frenzy in a way that only music drenched in equal parts bass and machoism can do.

Keef, whose fans inside the club were unaware of the growing disturbance outside, performed a number of songs over pre-recorded tracks. The club’s sound quality left much to be desired, but “Love Sosa” was easily recognizable. The sing-songy, oddly catchy chorus is difficult to shake from the brain once you hear it.

Say what you will about Keef’s music, one thing is for certain: Many of the songs actually fare better in a club situation than a private, listen-in-your-car-by-yourself situation. There is an intensity — and vocal clarity — to his presence that is clear as he gets an overwhelmingly male (gay and straight) audience to swing and sway to his beat, like he’s the conductor of a bravado orchestra.

The concert was streamed live via stageit.com, and fans could pay $10 for a view. By show time, only 200 spots had sold, but that number could have jumped once Twitter and Instagram went live with the news that Keef, in what is becoming a rare move, actually showed up to his concert. (This post will be updated with final stageit numbers once they are reported.)

Organizationally the event was a bit frenetic. The place is a nightclub, not a concert venue, and there was no clear stage and no green room. Keef wound up rapping in the middle of the largest room in the club, flanked by his “Glo Gang” — the young men who are either signed to his record label or actual family members. To some, the whole situation looked like a hot mess, especially when the air conditioning couldn’t keep up with what appeared to be a crowd of 600. (Case in point, in the wet heat, all those perfectly flat-ironed blond tresses began to frizz out.) But for the handful of 18-year-old Justin Bieber look-alikes who waited in line at 9 p.m. for a chance to take a selfie with Keef, it was a riotous dream.

People danced on tables and chairs and bars. “Scarface” played on a large movie screen in back of some couches randomly placed on a riser. The kids couldn’t drink liquor, so they had to buy water or soda and weren’t happy about the prices. (Overheard: “Water isn’t free? Well, can I have the ice then?”) But all was forgotten as the rapper pushed and swayed his way to each corner of the room, giving most people a decent chance to record a video or snap an image for Vine, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Security had a tough time keeping the fans off of Keef, but Keef kept diving right back into them.

Apparently the kids really do love Sosa.

Pussy Riot’s first English-language song is called “I Can’t Breathe”

There’s really nothing more to say other than even Pussy Riot “gets it.”

This new song, “I Can’t Breathe” features a stark baseline, simple music and a wailing vocal as the ladies are buried alive in dirt. At the end of the song, an unseen man repeats Eric Garner’s last words with ferocity. The last image is that of an empty and partially crushed Russian cigarette box, the dirt and shovels.

“I need to catch my breath.”

Watch the video below.

 

According to Pussy Riot: “This song is for Eric and for all those from Russia to America and around the globe who suffer from state terror – killed, choked, perished because of war and state sponsored violence of all kinds – for political prisoners and those on the streets fighting for change. We stand in solidarity.”