Racial Ambiguity: Caught in the Middle of Gentrification in New York City

The changing demographics of neighborhoods in New York City is nothing new. The Bronx, my home borough, was originally home to Native Americans, then the Dutch, the British, Irish, Italian, and Jewish diasporas long before it is as today, with Latinos as the slight majority. Oddly enough, there are times when I’m on my home street and I can’t help but feel like an outsider. Allow me to explain:

I live in Wakefield, a primarily African American and West Indian neighborhood. I have lived here since I was 3, with the exception of my years in college. Looking back on my life, my friends, neighbors, and family as well have always been very diverse. I went to elementary school a few neighborhoods over in the Bedford Park area of The Bronx, a neighborhood far more diverse than my own. I grew up unassuming, open minded, and figuratively colorblind.

In retrospect, I feel like it took me a while to grasp the idea of ‘race’ and different ‘races’ of humans. I just didn’t see it that way. Seeing that my friends’ ancestries vary tremendously and some people in my family are of mixed races, I just didn’t take much heed as a child. I still don’t take that much heed at all nowadays….

 

My best friends and family on my birthday.
My best friends and family on my 24th birthday.

….EXCEPT when the topic of gentrification arises. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. When I walk through Williamsburg, Bushwick, or Downtown Brooklyn it’s almost as if there’s not humidity, but tension in the air. I can feel it lingering around every train station, bike rack, street corner, and every other public place where Native Brooklynites now co-exist and share public space with out of state, 20-something transplants, or ‘Hipsters,’ if you will. I feel that same tension pressing on my lightly tanned skin, dyed blonde hair, and casual/rocker style of dress as I walk through certain neighborhoods.

I’m a Latino who can pass as Caucasian, or even Pacific Islander depending on who’s guessing. It’s great to look racially ambiguous when you’re talking to a pretty young lady at a bar in WIlliamsburg, but once you leave that bar you become a hipster to the natives of the neighborhood, and a questionable figure to cops, wondering why they see some surfer-looking whiteboy strolling through the ghetto.

About 2 months ago I was headed down White Plains Road, the main avenue of my neighborhood and also the closest shopping district to my apartment. It makes sense that I would go down this street for an innocent afternoon of commerce, right?

Well, it didn’t make sense to the cops who saw me chatting with a tattoo artist outside of his shop.

They parked their patrol car, approached me and asked me “What are you doing around here?”

Kinda like they didn’t think I belonged in the neighborhood I have always lived in.

I told the 1st police officer that I had always lived around here while the 2nd proceeded to stop and frisk me.

He felt up my bookbag, which contained nothing but my netbook, a book I was reading and a few ‘Living Buddhism’ magazines.

“Whoa, you got a heavy bag,” said one of them, “You got a gun in here or something?”

So there I was, not even half a mile from my house, being questioned for being in my own neighborhood. I didn’t know whether to be confused or enraged. I was a mix of both, but I held my tongue. I knew better than to make the cops feel as stupid and racist as they were actually being, and I knew if I had said anything back to them things could have gone much worse.

After a few more patdowns and another “What are you doing around here?” they realized that I wasn’t exactly Tony Montana, and let me go.

This was a rude awakening to me. I never did mind growing up my whole life as a Latino in a mainly black neighborhood. I actually liked it very much, as well as the Bronx and New York City in general. I do find it alarming, however, that upon first glance nowadays I may be viewed as a neighborhood invader to my own block and as a result being on the NYPD’s radar. I usually get along with everyone I see; my friendliness and the reciprocation of such from most people I meet have allowed me to keep my inner-child’s eyes figuratively colorblind. As a child and adolescent I had always felt that I fit in everywhere. With gentrification on the rise in many minority neighborhoods in New York City, coming from a neighborhood that I’m the minority as a Latino has never mattered to me until recent years, and especially since the cops breathe down my neck as a result. Sometimes I feel like my notion that I fit in everywhere is a naive illusion; when I see an organic grocery store next to a bodega, I still feel like I could fit in at either place. There are times, however, when I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere, especially when I see a police cruiser around. -RSM

I was inspired to write this article by When Gentrification Brings Racism to the ‘Hood by Irvin Weathersby, via ebony.com.

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Why I’m Proud Of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

When I was a junior in college, I attended a Greek Life workshop with a few fraternity brothers of mine as well as representatives from every other Greek lettered organization on campus. It was an interesting workshop; there were large photos of famous, groundbreaking leaders from many different but equally important walks of life. The workshop facilitator, a middle aged, upbeat motivational speaker kind of guy, asked all undergrads in the room (about 50 of us, at least) to go around the room and write down comments about each of these leaders of their professions. After about 15 minutes, the workshop host then asked students to volunteer to pick a leader, say what they knew about this leader, read off the comments anonymously written by people in the room, and say whether you agreed or disagreed with said comments.

During the first phase of the workshop I immediately spotted Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. I wrote a few positive comments on the posterboard next to her photo, and went on to Bill Gates’ posterboard, that of Oprah Winfrey, etc. During the second phase, I gravitated back to Justice Sotomayor’s photo and read the comments attributed to her. There were some positive comments, including my own, but they were outnumbered by many negative comments about her. She had recently been appointed to her position as Supreme Court Justice and her name and image had been circulating in the news, mostly via smear campaigns in order to sabotage her appointment as a Supreme Court Justice. Sadly, many students believed what they had heard on the news about her, and as a result posted comments like “Underqualified” and “Too Liberal” on her comment section. Most, if not all of these comments were short, vague, and ultimately baseless and void of any fact. She is one of my personal heroines, so I was not happy about this.

I volunteered to read off the comments and tell everyone what I knew about her. I let off some fumes as professionally as I could. Most of my classmates in the workshop were surprised to learn that not only did she go to my high school decades ago, but I had actually shook her hand myself at a career day event a few years back. More importantly, I took my time happily dismantling every negative comment that was attributed to her, tearing down every falsehood and half-truth with facts supported by evidence. My favorite part of my informative rant was when I took apart the ‘underqualified’ comment, refuting it with details about her education and how she had served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for quite some time before being nominated as a Supreme Court Justice, notably ruling on the 1994 Major League Baserball strike case. Ending my onslaught of corrections and highlights of Sotomayor’s career, I put the nail in the coffin with a personal challenge and said: “And if anyone who wrote these false comments or anyone who disagrees with me would like to prove me wrong at all, I invite you to try.” No one took me up on it.

 

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

 

Justice Sotomayor has been in the news recently for expressing her dissent on the ruling regarding Michigan’s affirmative action policy. The ruling upheld that affirmative action, currently banned in Michigan, could be successfully defended and remain banned by decision of a popular vote. The logic is a bit wishy washy, considering that affirmative action is designed to try and level the playing field for underpriveleged college hopefuls who are mostly minorities. Now, does it really make sense to leave this decision in the hands of a popular vote when the decision would be based on the majority vote, when those who would be most directly and negatively affected are minorities? This decision will potentially threaten affirmative action policies of other states, which is sure to have been a factor in determining the future of many lesser fortunate and/or minority students who would otherwise not be able to afford or even be given a chance at higher education due to economic or other social or circumstantial issues. If all goes horribly, affirmative action may be repealed in more homogenous, conservative states (where it is actually needed most) and will shut the door of a quality higher education experience on the next generation of high school grads. When you factor in the rate of arrests and imprisonment for petty crimes amongst black and brown teenagers, the perpetually dilapitated condition of inner city schools, and how both of these factors tie into the prison-industrial complex, the odds for more impoverished teens of getting into college are grim, specifically those in inner-city neighborhoods across the U.S.

This is especially disheartening to know as it stands, even with affirmative action in place. To eliminate affirmative action in college admissions offices would kind of be like running a basketball shot game at a carnival, giving the one kid with the worst shot an extra ball, and then taking it away just because you changed your mind. Picture that, but with the educational aspirations of kids who have been through some shit, and want a better life.

All in all I commend Justice Sotomayor for expressing her dissent. Given the fact that she is a minority from an impoverished area and had excellent grades as an adolescent and young adult, affirmative action may very well have played a factor in her education, as it probably did for my education, and many of my friends and family members. Quite contrary to conservative responses on her dissent, I feel that if she didn’t express her dissent for this decision she would be doing all potential college students a disservice. In a world where college tuition and debt is through the roof, the only worse fate than having a degree with no guarantee of finding the means to repay student loans and finding a job is the fate of not even having a fighting chance of getting into a good school after high school. Let’s face it, Generation Y is damned either way, but at least let us have an equal chance to be damned with an education under our belts than without. -RSM

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With COLLABORATIN MINDS, Hip Hop Duo from The Bronx

I recently sat down with BX hip hop duo Collaboratin Minds. The team includes Queensbridge born, BX raised and all-NYC rapper Young InQ with his right hand man, first cousin and hip hop mentor Lapse. These two are poised to take the hip hop scene by storm with their new mixtape ‘Dead To America,’ which was just released yesterday on iTunes. Hip hop heads, take heed: If you haven’t heard their music yet, you’re missing out big time. The duo has been rhyming since their early years (especially Lapse) and have collaborated with Don Mega, Fred the Godson and Rsonist of the Heatmakerz. They recently released their new music video for their single ‘BX to BK’ (Prod. Hesam, Directed by Ian Schwaier):

This is my interview with Collaboratin Minds, recorded on January 26, 2014 at Diamond District Studios. Lapse and Young InQ discuss their plans for 2014, their humble beginnings, talk about their (unexpected) musical influences and offer much insight and advice to rookie MCs. Here it is:

The transcript for the interview is below:

Ruben M.: So you’ve been rapping since you were 12 years old?

Lapse: Nah, I’ve been rapping probably like, I wouldn’t say 12, I was probably like, 8, but it wasn’t like, real shit. It was like fake shit, little kid shit.

Young InQ: You were serious! You would go HAM back in the day! He used to have these rap battles online-

L: But that wasn’t until I was like, 13.

YI: Until later right?

L: Yeah. I didn’t have a computer at the time, so-

YI: Yeah yeah yeah.

L: I’ve been trying to write since I was like 8 years old.

YI: I’ve been at it since I was like, 16 or seriously since I was like 18 or 19, I’m 23 now, so you can do the math (laughs).

L: I’m not going disclose my age right now.

(laughter)

L: I’m like 45 right now, yeah I’m 45.

(More laughter)

(Editor’s note: He’s not really 45.)

RM: Alright, I got a good question for you guys, especially considering these 2 gentlemen on the wall (points to mural of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur): Who are your biggest influences in hip hop?

L: My biggest influence was Tupac, this man right here (points to mural), until after he died then I had to get new rappers to follow and to learn their style and everything like that. And I only say ‘learn their style’ to improve mine, to make mine better, to improve my own style.  I’m not a biter, I don’t take anybody else’s style.

RM: Word. Original is the name of the game man. What about you, InQ?

YI: Well, originally, my mom had me listening to old school classics, stuff like that. I listen to like, Marvin Gaye and things like that. I know that’s not hip hop but that’s how my music knowledge started,

… Otis Redding, and things like that but as far as hip hop goes, not on some sentimental or suck up shit but this guy right here (points to Lapse), he taught me alot about what I know about hip hop and things like that.

L: That’s the good thing about InQ, he doesn’t really have any other rappers that influence him like that. He has his own unique style, period. Like, that’s InQ’s style.

RM: So ‘BX to BK’ was dope. Do you have any other releases or big plans for 2014?

YI: Hell yeah.

L: We got a lot of big releases. First, we want to release ‘BX to BK’ on a huge platform. Right now we released it through a blog site, but we definitely want to te release it through a huger platform, so if anybody has information about that you can contact us, collaboratinminds@gmail.com.

But we’re also trying to release our mixtape, called ‘Dead to America’. Our start release date was supposed to be January 28, but most likely it will be a little bit further than that, but this whole year we’ve been releasing things.

YI: Yeah, the whole year is just about performances, and releasing the mixtape and we actually have a couple of projects we want to slap the world with back to back to back on like some combo jab shit (laughs). Yeah, you know, we’re just trying to hit them with a lot of things but for right now we started off big with ‘BX to BK’. Shout out to Hesam, shout out to Ian [Schwaler], they really helped us out. We got this project coming out ‘Dead to America’  like he said, and that’s gonna be absolutely sick.

L: We got the video ‘Witness to a Murder’ dropping off soon. We put that out  last year, but we’re gonna release the video this year

RM: Alright, so I know you guys mentioned Collaboratin’ Minds. Is this the same thing, is it affiliated with Lapse Entertainment? Is this a bigger group, smaller group, how does that work with Lapse Entertainment?

YI: We’re Collaboratin’ Minds is basically us. It’s under Lapse ENT. He mentored me. I told him anything I do with this music shit is gonna help you boost your label to the top because he deserves to have his own label in my eyes, so Collaboratin’ Minds is what we do together, this is our group that we do together, and then its under Lapse ENT. Lapse ENT is the label, so basically like how Lil Wayne is under Cash Money, you have Drake who’s under YMCMB so that’s how it is, Collaboratin’ Minds is the group, Lapse ENT is the label.

RM: Who would you say you had the best experience working with so far, in your career?

L: Hesam.

YI: Beat wise, yeah. Hesam is a beast. Like I said it goes back to me working with my cousin. I watched this dude go HAM since he was like literally 8, doing the rap thing.

Pretty cool people I worked with, Rsonist of the Heatmakerz, we got him on a feature, and Fred the Godson.

RM: I heard about that.

YI: That’s really big cause that’s 2 people who come from where we come from in The Bronx, and they made it to spot where they have success. We want to follow that. It’s cool that they got back and did things with us. Pretty dope.

RM: Was being an artist always goals of yours or was it something that you just naturally fell into?

YI: Say that again?

RM: Like, was being rapper in the game- did it naturally occur, or did you just wake up one day and was like ‘One day, I’m gonna be an artist’? Or did you just naturally fall into it? Basically how did you end up making the decision like ,‘I’m gonna start hitting the studios, I’ma start recording things, I’ma start doing performances’, what made you turn up your game from like, an idea into a thing that you’re doing, is what I’m trying to say.

L: Well for me, I’ma go back to the other question you asked us too, my bad to cut you off. We also worked with [Don] Mega.

YI: We cannot forget about Mega.

L: We went out to Miami to work with Mega. We did the project, in like no lie like 5 days. Probably like a couple of hours.

YI: We started writing at JFK, we started writing at JFK, finished the writing a song from JFK literally to Miami International.

RM: You should make a new one, ‘BX to BK’ Remix, ‘JFK to Miami’.

(Laughter)

L: We got tracks about us flying out there, we had one on the mixtape called ‘Do It All’, and its about us coming from New York, flying out to Miami, working with Mega, and just going crazy. We did a whole mixtape in like, a couple of days.

YI: Everybody goes to Miami to party and shit like that.

L: No parties.

YI: We’re the only dickheads in the hotel, like, writing our ass off.

(Laughter)

L:  And the last day we were invited to a party. And we were the only ones, like, yeah we ended up going, we were knocked out.

(Laughter)

YI: Bro, imagine trying to do a mixtape in literally like, fuckin’ 4 days.

RM: I don’t want to imagine that. I’d probably knock out in the hotel too.

YI: Yeah you know what I mean, it was crazy.

RM: Your trip to Miami was my next question, but-

L: We can get into it-

YI: That’s like whole other interview.

L: Yeah that’s a whole different subject.

YI: Wait, what was the last question?

RM: The last question was ‘Was being an artist always a goal of yours, or was it something you naturally fell into?

L: It was something that was a goal, but was natural also. Like in my house, my mom, she listened to everything. Like from ODB, to basically the whole Wu Tang Clan, I was about to say Method Man but the whole Wu Tang Clan she would listen to everyday. She got mad Biggy CDs, then she had all the R&B which I hated. I hated R&B, I never liked R&B, at a certain point I was like ‘I don’t wanna hear that shit, break that CD.’

(Laughter)

She had mad shit, like OutKast, a whole bunch of different people, we listened to it, we came up on it. Big Pun of course, was definitely a big influence.

RM: Alright, Alright.

L: After a while, my aunt started coming around. She did music too. She was successful, but that’s a different story. My aunt was the best at it. She would come over, and she would like, write rhymes for my little cousins and all that, everybody she’d write rhymes for all of them and most of the time I’d be like ‘Nah, don’t write nothing for me.’ I wouldn’t tell her I would write my own rhymes and she’d be like ‘I wrote a verse for you, wanna come to the studio and record?’ and I’d be like ‘Nah.’ I write my own verses, so I would write my own verses when I got older, doing everything like that.

So basically my friends found out like ‘Yo, this nigga raps.’ I started having battles in like the 7th grade. So 8th grade came, 9th grade came, and that’s when the internet started getting into play. I started getting online, started battling everybody online. When I couldn’t see them in person, I would be online, battling people through text, through the microphone, through songs, whatever it is.

RM: Carrier pigeons? Any way you can get in contact right?

(Laughter)

L: Yeah, like niggas had crews. It was like Grand Theft Auto: Rap Version.

(Laughter)

YI: For me like, in my eyes I started late. I started in my teens but I was writing for a long time. I did poetry. For anybody who knows me, I did poetry way, way back. I used to take that shit so serious. I used to pass it to girls in school across the room and shit like that. (Laughter)

It was good, you know, it was a way to express myself ’cause I didn’t have any other way to express myself. And then one day, I was like, ‘Maybe I can put this on a beat.’ So my friend gave me the beat cause he did beats for a long time in high school. We kept it on the low, we didn’t wanna tell nobody at the time that we were doing these beats and we were doing the song and stuff. So I brought it to him [Lapse] and he was like ‘Yo, this shit is dope’.

We were in his crib recording in this hot ass basement. We were in there sweatin’. I started recording. I did the track and it was one of the best things I ever heard in my life so i was like, ‘Let me call my cousin and tell him I made a song.’ He was like ‘Yo, we’re gonna fly with this! We gotta keep doing it, keep doing it!’ Ever since then I’ve been on this seriously. Pretty natural right?

(Laughter)

RM: My next question is: What are some ups and downs about being in the rap game? Good and bad.

YI: I say the main thing is the help, the real rap. And I don’t say ‘real rap cause if you rap it’s real, cause you’re a human, you’re a person expressing yourself in a beautiful way. If you wanna be successful, you do what you have to do. What I’m saying is like, the help for other artists to help other artists. You know me, sometimes I feel like I hear a rapper who is not as far along as I am, or not sounding as good as I do, to keep it real, I would just click them off, I would just ignore them. Not knowing no background of them, not knowing anything about them or anything like that, I just wouldn’t do it cause I didn’t like what he was doing.

And that’s the worst thing about us as people. It doesn’t matter, you could be any race it doesn’t matter what race you are, we fail to recognize other people’s artistic side, and to say, ‘This is actually OK.’ Recently I’ve been trying to change. I’ve been trying to tell people ‘I actually like it. Keep doing what you’re doing, if it makes you happy, do it.’

L: For me it was like, what he said but the reverse. When I was a kid, I used to listen to everybody. It didn’t matter if you were wack, if you were nice, I would listen to you, I would do a song, I don’t care. I was getting on everybody’s track. I would say in my mind, ‘If he could make it, I could make it. I’m getting on the track with these wack niggas but after a while started seeing it as a waste of time. I was giving out too many opportunity verses. Too much stuff, so after a while I would be on someone’s track, give them my best verse, but nobody was ever gonna hear it, cause I was rapping with wack rappers.

YI: We fail to help each other out. It’s sad because I know what it’s like to do music to express yourself. And I really feel like if we had more music programs and stuff like that out there, there would probably be less violence, be a lot less, you know, murders, and all that shit would go down. Yeah, the drug rate will probably go way up, but-

(Laughter)

But at the the end of the day, you know it’s like to express yourself we gotta listen to each other more, that’s the main thing.

RM: Well said man, alright. If you could collab with anyone, dead or alive, hint, (points to mural of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac) dead or alive who would it be and why?

L: I would collab with Stack Bundles. Dead or alive, if Stack Bundles was alive right now, I would collab with Stack. He was one of the best to ever do it. Period. He died way ahead of his time.

YI: Way ahead of his time.

L: He was super nice. Like right now, his music right now if you put that out, it would go crazy. Period.

YI: I think dead or alive, that’s a good question. When you say dead or alive you’re automatically gonna think dead, cause you know the dead-

RM: They’re usually the better ones.

YI: Yeah.

L: With alive, they could look back on this interview and be like ‘This nigga said he would collab with me back in the day and now he said nah’.

(Laughter)

RM: Dead’s like a cop out.

YI: Yeah, I’ll take dead, I’ll take dead.

(Laughter)

YI: I’ll do both. A lot of people don’t wanna don’t want to collab with this guy but I’ll collab with Kanye [West].

RM: Alright.

YI: I’ll collab with Kanye and Common on the same track. I know that’s crazy but I want them on the same track.

RM: Chicago, OK.

YI: Yeah. If i had to pick dead, and I know everybody’s gonna look at me like ‘huh?’ but honestly, I’ll go with Whitney Houston. Why?

RM: Why?

YI: Why? Because her voice was so fucking powerful! She’s one of those people where if you’re having a bad day and you just broke up with your girl and you hear some of her music, a tear’s gonna come out your eye.

(Laughter)

You’re gonna drop that one Indian tear. Nah, I’d love Whitney Houston on the track. Just a little something you know what I mean, it’d be beautiful.

Rest in peace to all of our people, we didn’t give you the typical Big and Pac answer, I’m sorry.

(Laughter)

RM: Well, I was looking for something different, So-

YI: Yeah.

L: Well for me, alive, personally alive right now I know there’s a whole bunch of big rappers, popular rappers that’s out there but for me, who I learned, like a lot of my stuff from, is [Lloyd] Banks. I would collab with Banks.

YI: For me, what I want to, or what I’m going to do I should say, is have a big New York City Mixtape. I love New York City rap. Like, it’s different from anywhere else. If we could get not all the New York City rappers, but the big ones like the Fabs and the Jays, D-Block-

L: Maino-

YI: Yeah, you know what I mean, like-

L: Uncle Murda-

YI: Yeah, Uncle Murda, like no disrespect to A$ap Rocky, Juelz [Santana], everybody at Dipset, like if we could just get everybody together on a mixtape that would be the biggest thing ever. Make it a New York thing. In hip hop, it’s not like it left New York, it’s just been sidelined by-

L: Everything else that’s going on.

(Laughter)

YI: Not trying to get into that beef, I respect the South but-

L: It’s not even beef it’s like, nigga if you grind it’s what will happen. They created a sound, like they created a trademark. Like that autotune, they went with that autotune. Like, you can’t even be mad.

YI: Nah, you know what I would never be mad if someone’s successful, cause that means they worked their ass off, that’s respect.

L: Yeah, they iight, they’re grindin’ right now. They could keep it right now, but we’re bringing it back.

YI: Oh yeah we’re bringing it back.

(Laughter)

YI: We’ll bring it back home.

RM: Alright. My last question for this part is if you could give any piece of advice to any up and coming rappers, what would it be and why?

L: Always go with your first instinct. They tell us we think too much. We try to think about stuff, like, ‘We’re playing too much,’ –

YI: That’s perfectionist.

L: ‘We’re playing too much,’ but like, just go with your first instinct.  You gotta make all the decisions. If you think a nigga’s jipping you, he’s probably jipping you. He’s jipping you. That’s it. That’s your first instinct. If you think this nigga’s  fooling you out of money, he’s fooling you out of money. Don’t give him any money. You know this whole game revolves around money. Stop paying everybody.  If you think the nigga’s a scam artist, he’s a scam artist.

Make sure the person is as professional as anybody else. Like this establishment, this establishment right here.

YI: Shout out to Diamond District by the way. Diamond District Studios, downtown.

My thing is for up and coming artists, is you can always get better. And I think that’s the sad part about a lot of rappers. They get that one hit, and then they slow down their productivity. You can always get better. Your best song is your worst song. You get what I’m saying?

RM: I like that.

YI: You know what I mean, your best song is your worst song. So just keep grindin’, don’t stop. Take it to the moon.

Wale (off camera): You’re only as good as your last joint.

YI: Exactly.

L: Another thing, if you’re recording in your house, make sure you get Pro Tools. And get to know how to use it.

(Laughter)

YI: Word. I’m tired of hearing people with horrible- listen, there’s too many studios, there’s too many people recording out here, if you have a wack sound and it’s behind, how do you say it, it’s behind, your vocals sound all choppy and-

L: Distorted.

YI: Yeah distorted. If you have wack vocals and your shit is distorted-

L: That’s 2 no-no’s.

YI: Yeah.

L: You gotta sound good, my nigga. If you’re creating, take it to an engineer or someone who can take it to the next level.

YI: An engineer. And that’s not even talking shit, that’s just real shit. That’s the truth.

L: You need an engineer, period.

YI: You don’t have one? Pay this guy (points to Lapse).

(Laughter)

Word. If you don’t have one pay this guy! That’s real talk.

RM: Any closing remarks? Anything you wanna send out there to anyone before I shut off the camera?

YI: Shout out to you, Ruben.

RM: Thank you, thank you.

YI: Shout out to Wa.

Wa: CM nigga! All day!

(Laughter)

RM: These guys are the fucking future right here! These guys!

YI: Just look out for us. I’m not even gonna say everything we’re doing. I wanna catch every last of ya with a fucking jab, I’ma say this straight to the camera: I wanna catch every last one of ya with a jab straight to the jaw and knock y’all the fuck out, cause our music is that good.

Wa: Two words: SUCKER. FREE.

(Laughter)

YI: And it is Sunday by the way!

-RSM

What Makes A Hipster?

L train J train

You’ve heard the term before and have probably noticed an eruption in recent years of art, various movements of social awareness, reports of pomposity, a retro-chic style of dressing and a rekindling of interest of many things that have long fallen into the realm of nostalgia (including those gentlemanly moustaches that were so two centuries ago). The question “What makes a hipster?” enters the local dive bar of my mind every time I hear the term, and all it does is order PBR’s and talk about its new artistic venture when its there.

The term ‘hipster’ seems to be used more and more today as a derogatory term. Although it doesn’t carry a fraction of the offensive gravity of that of a racial slur, it still isn’t exactly seen as a compliment nowadays. Nobody wants to be labeled a hipster nor do most people who are considered hipsters by other believe that they are, YET THEY STILL EXIST. Whoa dude, that’s like, sooo trippy!

One thing I left out so far is the link between hipsters and gentrification, which although has created many an urban haven of young artists, musicians, writers, etc. it has also uprooted families from low income neighborhoods. Rent for apartments in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, for example (the hipster capital of the United States) has skyrocketed over the past several years due to increasing demand in the neighborhood. The general consensus among long time residents in neighborhoods that have recently transitioned from low income to American Spirit smoking, thrift store shopping 20-somethings is that hipsters are directly responsible for their neighborhoods being gentrified and ultimately is seen as a reason to greet their new stylish neighbors with hostility.

For some, it unfortunately takes a racial angle. Many low income neighborhoods in New York City that are being hipsterized are minority neighborhoods i.e. Williamsburg, Bushwick, South Harlem, etc. Many transplanted, floppy moustached New Yorkers who have recently moved to these areas happen to be Caucasian. Many critics of the hipster culture argue that the entire movement/trend (not sure which word to use there) is based on white privilege and that while recreating a neighborhood into a post-graduate conglomerate of art and dynamic culture may seem to be a beautiful idea, one must consider how this will affect those who already occupy said neighborhoods on a micro-migrational scale.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Ultimately, the hipster culture in my opinion has a good side and a bad side. In a rephrased quote from Chris Rock, I will explain:

“There are bohemians, and then there are hipsters, and hipsters have got to go!”

What I mean is both bohemian types and hipsters usually self identify as artists, but I equate the term ‘bohemian’ to a true starving artist who does not give off the snarling stench of pretentiousness and is actually making his or her own adventure rather then following a trend to be cool. A ‘hipster’ to me would be a cocky, judgemental poser who just wants to be accepted by the reigning ‘culture of cool’ in our present day.

Its hard to tell how long the era of non-prescription, clear-lensed Ray Ban’s and the vinyl record store resurgence will continue, but a word of advice to young artists: be a bohemian, and not a hipster. Nowadays, hipsters are just too mainstream. – RSM

Why Ned Vizzini Will Always Have A Special Place In My Heart

When I was 19 I stumbled upon a curious looking novel at the Borders that used to be at The Shops at Columbus Circle. I had never heard of the title or author before but the description and art work really caught my eye. I bought the novel and instantly fell in love with ‘Its Kind of A Funny Story’ by Ned Vizzini.

The novel spoke to me on many different levels. From the spot on ‘teenage New Yorker’ rhetoric to the descriptions of the city, I was taken to a magical new place which in reality I had always called home. The most profound and apparent way that I related to the story was with the main character, 15 year old Craig Gilner. There are two main ways we related, starting with something that I have never stated on the internet:

Craig and I have both been to a psychiatric ward.

Craig and I were both depressed at age 15.

The story I was reading felt so much like my own. To this day, ‘Its Kind of a Funny Story’ is my absolute favorite book of all time ever in the history of words, not just for its funny anecdotes, unlikely romance and motley crew of characters, but because it helped me let go of so much anguish and guilt that I had kept from my experience.

I mustered up the courage in the summer of 2009 to e-mail Ned Vizzini, just to tell him I appreciated his work.

To my surprise, he responded. I was elated to find a genuine reply in my inbox a few days later from a successful author, what I aspire to be. I told myself I would have to meet him one day. After my study abroad trip in early 2010 I attended a Young Adult Fiction event at the New York Public Library on 6th Avenue and 12th Street. There were several authors there, but I went just for Ned.

I got there early and saw him walking around the room, just wandering like I was. I was talking to a fan of another author and she encouraged me to introduce myself. I walked up to the Average Joe-looking writer who wrote the book that changed my life and asked “Excuse me, are you Ned Vizzini?”

We started talking and I mentioned our email conversation from the previous summer. He remembered me and said he was glad to meet me. I felt on top of the world as I discussed literature, particularly my favorite book, with the author of the book! It was a dream come true. I asked if he could offer any advice about writing, and I’ll never forget what he said:

“Don’t focus right away on writing a book. If you do that it will never get done. Try writing longer and longer stories to build up. Also, read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.”

I bought ‘On Writing’ a few days later. I left the event with an autographed copy of his novel ‘Be More Chill’ with a dedication to me which read “Ruben, I’m sure you don’t need a squip!”

To top off the day, I got to take a picture with him. Here I am with Ned Vizzini, in all my overly eager fanboy glory:

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He posted it on his blog a few days after we met. Our acquiantanceship didn’t stop there. I came prepared that day and asked if he could critique a short story I had written about a night I had in Rome. A few months later I got a sloppy hand written envelope in the mail, bearing my name and address as well as his. He wrote a handwritten critique of my work. I challenge you to find any succesful author who would do all this for just one fan. The review came with my original copy of the story with his notes, which were very positive, along with his favorite quote highlighted via brackets written in with black ink.

I emailed him again earlier this year, asking him to read my article ‘The Millenial Latin American Identity Crisis Of The United States’. He read it, said he really enjoyed it and even shared it on his news feed on Facebook. I recall him telling me his favorite sentence from my article, which was “We are emigrating to, and reproducing in the United States like a giant herd of nomadic rabbits.”

Given all this, I was completely heartbroken to find out that Ned Vizzini committed suicide on December 19, 2013. His family lost a father and husband, the world lost a great author, and I feel like I lost a friend. My condolences go out to his family, friends and fans. I will always remember his warmth and kindness when he could have just brushed me off as just another kid who read his book. I will more so remember his best novel in my opinion, for changing my perspective of certain life events of mine from what I considered the worst times in my life to, well, kind of a funny story. Rest in peace Ned. -RSM

Top 10 Things To Do When Unemployed For The Hopeless & Frustrated.

In an effort to better practice many of the points I’m about to delve into, I’ve comprised a list of things to do when you’re unemployed and sick of it. I have recently been freelancing for different publications, but in terms of official employment, I would much rather do 8 hours a day to keep the broke doctor away, if you catch my drift.

With an economy recovering, at best, and underemployment for young professionals at record highs I have not been dealt the best hand in terms of a fruitful job market. However, when life gives you time off you find ways to make the most of it. That’s what I have been doing the past few months in order to make the time off more bearable and less boring, unproductive, and excruciating.

I’ve realized something about myself in the past few years: the only thing I do better than party my ass off is work my ass off. So after a couple of months without a day job it has gotten very frustrating to have no day job to dedicate my time to. Usually my schedule between good times on weekends and productive hours on weekdays would work itself out pretty nicely. For example, as with most people, working from Monday-Friday produces enough income for whatever you wanted to do on any given weekend, and with every paycheck cycle the sequence would repeat. When unemployed, money never seems to stretch far enough, even when festivities on weekends are scaled down a great deal. It sucks, I know. Not only have I been there, I’m there right now still, sort of. Here are a few tips of things to do from someone who is still technically unemployed:

10. Relax.

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Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. You can’t find a job? Got laid off, or even fired? Great! Now you can begin a new adventure. Think of it that way, it could turn your frown upside down. Try doing little things daily to take your mind off the angst and stress. Try meditating, even if you’re not into it at first. Watch your favorite show or childhood cartoon. Hang out with your friends. Get out of the house. I can’t stress that last one enough.

9. Exercise.

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I’m a bit guilty here of not practicing what I preach, but nevertheless getting a daily dose of exercise can make all the difference between a boring day with time inching along and a wonderful use of extra time. I haven’t been exercising daily in the conventional sense, but whenever I get some exercise in the endorphins kick in and nothing matters but that runners high or the satisfaction of finishing up a set. Exercise as much as you can when you’re unemployed. Who knows, you may land your next job at a modeling agency!

8. Clean.

Cleaning supplies with bucket

Another one I need to work on myself. Keeping a clean home is just as rewarding as exercising daily. It’s a very productive hobby and will result in a beautiful and attractive living space, which will serve as a breath of fresh air if you’re frustrated with your job situation. If you have nowhere to go all day, you might as well keep the place clean.

7. Record a journal of some kind.

This is a great thing to do your whole life, not just when you’re unemployed. When you get home, just like you would clean for an hour or exercise, try writing for a little while. No matter your mood, try writing about it and how your day went. Express your jubilant thoughts – and dump your sad thoughts – into a journal or diary.  Write about absolutely anything you want, it will make hard times way more bearable and will eventually double as a nostalgic keepsake of a particular time in your life.

6. Spend time with family.

Family outings and hangouts can be a great way to take your mind off being unemployed. Above is a photo of me, my sister and several cousins at my uncle’s wedding this summer. Family members who are your age probably know exactly what you’re going through or have known at some point, and older famalams can offer insight and maybe even a connection to a new employment opportunity. You never know! Your crazy aunt from Minnesota may have a good surprise up her sleeve for a change!

5. Have fun!

at stj

This is a photo of my band and I performing last year. Aside from the shameless plug, I chose this photo because this is what I enjoy doing the most with my free time. Whether it’s rehearsing, recording or playing live my favorite thing to do is to play music with my band. What do you like to do most? Don’t tell me, do it! Do whatever makes you happy when you’re unemployed and have nothing to do, it will make such a big difference. Aside from playing music, I love writing, hence, I’m writing right now to kill time and add to my blog. See what I mean? I’m having an awesome time being unemployed, at least at this particular moment. Woo!

4. Work on acheiving other goals.

One goal I have in mind is obtaining a Master’s Degree in Spanish. In my time off I’ve visited colleges and asked about their programs as well as have started refreshing my knowledge of the language by working on a self-teaching advanced Spanish grammar workbook. You can do the same, whatever your goals are outside of getting a job, work on them in your time off. It will pay off greatly and may even help you land something better than you thought you could, job-wise.

3, Polish your skills.

infinidad writing

Right now, I’m working on my writing skills. I play guitar and sing at least for 20 minutes or so a day. I practice speaking, writing and reading Spanish almost every day and also practice French sometimes too. What things are you good at? What did you go to school for? What do you like to do that can you can use work on? Try doing at least one thing that fits into each of those questions.

2. Volunteer your time.

This is the next best thing you can do for yourself besides landing a new job.  Volunteer work looks amazing on a resume and can provide skills and experiences necessary to land the next job you’re hoping to do. Can’t find a job? Try helping out somewhere. Anywhere that needs help and has a setting that you can learn new skills from, or could just make a positive difference. I volunteer my time at Soka Gakkai International – USA’s Culture Center. I learn how to basically be a part of a security detail and building maintenance team, all while learning more about Nichiren Buddhism. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. Get out there and find a resume building, skill learning and awesome volunteer experience!

1. Apply to jobs!

If you’re complaining about being unemployed and haven’t applied to any jobs, punch yourself in the face. Right now. That was from me.

Now brainstorm: what kind of job am I looking for? What are my short term and long term goals? Do I need a job or have time for a job right now? How practical would it be to land job type A over job type B?

Make a list of at least 10 employers you would like to work for. Apply to all of them ASAP. Keep looking for opportunities that fit your needs and wants at all times and all places possible.  If you start feeling like there’s no hope and you want to bang your head against the wall, try suggestions 2-10 but eventually get back this one.

I hope this list helps in your crusade for employment. Even if it seems like there’s no hope, don’t despair. The more you apply, the better chances you have and doing things that are productive and also fun can help your chances of landing your dream job, or any job, tremendously. Hope you find something soon! -RSM

Why It Sucks And It’s Awesome At The Same Time To Be A Performing Artist

I’ve been a performing artist for a few years now, be it solo with my guitar, with Solitaire Revival or doing spoken word poetry sometimes. Being on stage has its fair share of perks as well as challenges, just like anything else.  The experience of performing your own creations on stage, be it poetry, music, theatre, etc. is truly exhilarating and rewarding, no matter how much money one makes doing. I would know, being a musician that doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around. Since I always like to deliver the bad news first and the good last, I’ll start with why it sucks to be a performing artist:

WHY IT SUCKS:

1. Haters.

When I first started playing guitar I felt a little behind the curve, considering I was 18 going on 19 with absolutely zero musical experience or background, save for classes in school that never put an instrument into my hands. I never joined the school band, was not confident in my singing voice and didn’t know the first thing about guitars.

For the most part people were supportive. I learned from a friend how to play the basics and eventually took lessons, which amplified my progress a great deal. It wasn’t very fun though when I would encounter a few negative remarks here and there in regards to my new venture into becoming a musician.  Some people I would talk to about it would tell me that I had started too late and wouldn’t get anywhere. Starting a journey into an art form is a lot like wearing a new piece of clothing: many people admire the new look, but the few that notice that tiny little imperfection on the right sleeve are the few whose comments you can’t seem to forget.

I got a bit more flack when I started singing. I knew my voice was lackluster but I just did it anyway. I figured I wasn’t getting any younger and I have my whole life to improve, why not try and sing? Once again many of the people around me told me I sounded nice and to keep working at it, but the few people who told me I sounded horrible or shouldn’t try were the comments that stuck. I had one friend tell me that if I didn’t sound good already there was no point in trying.

I still getting the occasional negative comment on my Youtube channel or what have you, but I’ve learned to shake off the negativity and if anything to use it to improve my skills.

2. Finding places to perform.

In a place like New York City, there is no shortage of places to play by any means, but a lot of places want experienced artists. If I learned one thing from job searching this year it’s that you need to have experience to get more, and to initially get anywhere you need to be humble and start smaller than you may originally want to.  I began going to open mics and performing my original songs, starting with a very supportive crowd where I had my guitar lessons, The New York City Guitar School. There’s actually a video on Youtube of my very first performance there! My voice was very shaky and out of key, and I was extremely nervous but afterwards I felt the stagefright lift from my shoulders. I was lucky to have the resource of a supportive atmosphere for an open mic, because many musicians just starting out don’t know where to begin.

3. Hobby? Or Job?

Where I currently am on the spectrum of my musical career is trying to turn my favorite hobby, performing with my band, into a paid gig. It’s way harder than it seems to keep up with bandmates, draw enough people to get paid for live shows, pay for studio time, etc. Everyone in the band has their own personal, work, and/or edcucational endeavors to deal with in addition to the band, which is the case for most young musicians in any sort of musical group.  As a hobby it’s already an amazing experience, but the dream has always been to get paid to play one’s own music.  It takes a lot of hard work and diligence as well as creativity and good chemistry with the people around you to do this. It’s very hard to break through into paid gigs, but I’m sure if I acheive a level of skill where I can live solely off musical earnings the rewards will be vast.

 

WHY IT’S AWESOME:

1. Creativity coming to fruition

There’s nothing better than putting a brainchild of yours into the universe and having it received well by your peers, especially strangers who have never seen you before and will offer a truly unbiased opinion of your work.  I wrote most of the lyrics for my band’s songs as well as over 50 solo songs, and there’s nothing better than getting positive feedback from a song I wrote myself or had a part in creating somehow. Whether its someone rocking out to our music when we’re on stage or if it’s someone commenting on Youtube or Facebook that they like a video of mine, I feel the utmost appreciation for whoever sent that love my way, and love my own creations all the more at the same time.

2. Performing artists make great friends

It’s true. Many startup artists become friendly right away when in the same room, because no matter what venue of the arts one is in, the struggle is shared of looking for work, picking one’s own brain to write/compose more works of art, and most of all the all-too familiar feeling of being on stage where as proud and vibrant one may look, they are actually at their most vulnerable point. It’s one thing to be on one’s own at home, ‘woodshedding’, or practicing and rehearsing to yourself, but to share your art with others who do the same is one of the best pleasures I know. It’s so great to find someone new to jam with, to write poetry with, or to be in a band and to play a song together.  Also, I have found through my journeys as a musician that performing artists of any kind are usually the most chilled out people alive and are great to have around, whether you yourself are an artist or not.

3. Immortalization

Now I don’t mean that I’m invincible. What I mean is that hopefully after I’ve left this earth, my great grandkids will ask what I was like as a person, and someone down the line will have saved recordings of my music.  To publish art, be it paintings, illustration, jewelry, music, theatre, literature, means that it is out there in the universe and you never know where and for how long it will float around, but if you’re an artist of any sort you may like to think that your creative endeavors may have resonated somewhere with someone in the world and hopefully helped them somehow in their own life.

4. “Hey, I’m in the band,” is an excellent pickup line after a show. – RSM