Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fela! On Broadway

Been meaning to blog about this, while I was in New York I went to go see the Broadway musical Fela! This is a musical produced by Will and Jada Smith as well as Jay Z. If you don't know who Fela is go get a late pass.

He's to African music what James Brown is to funk. What Bob Marley is to reggae and what Malcolm X is to Black Power. When your in NY go see Fela! It was just got nominated for 11 Tony awards.

Quote of the Week...

The other day, there was a heated discussion on Facebook. Former Furious Five MC Rahiem rattled a few cages and shook a few nerves with his remarks about who and what a pioneer is.

I won't go into everything he said but his ideas do merit note. First, there are very few "true" pioneers in hip-hop. He says outside of Kool Herc, Afrika Bam, Coke La Rock, Timmy Tim and DJ Hollywood, there are no pioneers. Why does he say that? Because the previously mentioned brothers were the ones who blazed the trail and started this thing of ours. What blew me away was a Bronx cat gave Wood credit for starting rap as we know it today. Usually, it's the cats from Harlem that cite Wood as an influence, the Bx dudes have been frontin' for years.

Second, he says that Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore and Grandmixer DST are not just pioneers, but they are innovators. Flash, innovated the theories and practices of the quick mix. Theodore, added the scratch, and DST was the one who took all of that and made the turntable an instrument. That's innovation.

He says everyone else that came after -including himself, are legends.

That's alot to think on and maybe we'll discuss some time soon.

Anyway, Cold Crush deejay Tony Tone questioned Ra's theory. Let's put it this way, they had a very spirited discussion. Tone, says he doesn't care one way or the other, he knows what his contributions to the culture are. For those that don't know, Tone was the sound man for the Cold Crush. He started with DJ Breakout in 1974. That's a long time back. Especially when you consider that Herc's first party was in August of 1973!

Anyway, Tone gets the quote of the week, he says he was talking to a brother he's known a long time, who told him that he's "out grown hip-hop." Upon hearing that statement, Tone pondered on it a moment and then asked the brother: "...Well, what have you grown into?"

The brother didn't respond, or his response doesn't matter. Hip hop is real. It is who I am. It is who Rahiem is. It is who Tony Tone is. It's who DJ Hollywood is. And all of us that love this culture and music. I still walk with a bop - not when I'm working, wear my hat backwards - not when I'm working, and lose my mind when I hear breaks like "Listen to Me". This is forever, baby. I'm 41 now, and if God says the same, I'll still be a b-boy at 71! Ain't no outgrowing this here!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Mark Skillz and Travis Senger on WFMU

Ok, now you know I ain't really into the glorification of myself, i like to highlight the music and the people, but in this case where, its about a film that i am extremely proud of, its like the old saying, "If you don't blow your own horn, no one will know you can play..."

Anyway, here is the show we did, but first a little background would be nice here.

Twenty years ago, yours truly was a struggling MC trying to get on. A good friend of mine (Damina) worked with a guy named Billy Jam who had a show on KALX. I took my demo on his show. After playing the demo he opened the lines up to the audience, audience gave it five thumbs up. Billy didn't like it. At that time Billy like a group called APG.

Anyway, Bill loves this movie. I've been redeemed.

...And the winner is: "White Lines and The Fever"

"Wow" and "Daaaaamn" are the only words I can think of to describe my reaction to "White Lines" winning yesterday at the Tribeca Film Fest.

Let's go back a sec. I was in New York last week for the film's premiere at the Chelsea Cinema. Had fun in New York by the way. My parents were there also. Anyway, the first night, Friday night, I sat there watching the film, I've never been so focused on a film before in my life. So much anticipation. From beginning to end, it was great. I knew the story - hell, I co-wrote it with Travis, but I hadn't seen it on that big of a damn screen before. Everything was extremely well done. The editing (Michelle Witten gets a strong shout here), the audio was well mixed, the story flowed extremely well. There is nothing I would change. Absolutely nothing.

As I sat in the theatre looking at the big screen, my eyes clouded up as I remembered that day eight years ago, when I first started writing, I had given up on my dream to be an MC. I was out of work, unemployed, and had this kooky idea to take up writing, at what I felt was a little late in life. At the age of 34, i had finally decided to listen to my mother and see if there was anything to this writing thing. My wife, who was extremely frustrated with the idea, asked me as I wrote one of my first stories, "Are you gonna get paid for it?" I told her no, that I would have to do some free work for a minute, before I could get paid.

I thought back to that morning when my publisher Andre Torres called me and said, "Yo, is this Mark?"

"Yeah," I said, as it was eight o'clock in the morning and I was still asleep.

"Yo, my name is Andre Torres, I'm the editor of Wax Poetics. Hey man, I got your query, hey, you're what we're looking for at our publication. I don't know if you've ever heard of our publication before..."

Heard of his publication before? Hell yeah. I have the first issue. I kinda borrowed-it-and-still-haven't-returned-it-yet from a guy called Cool Chris at Groove Merchant Records in San Francisco. Uh, Chris, if you should be reading this right now, when I get back to the Bay I'll make every effort to get over to the city to give you back your magazine. Trouble is I don't know when I'll be back in the Bay Area...

Anyway, so Andre asks me what do I want to write about. I pitched the Fever story to him. He said, "How many words do you want? 7,000? 6,000?"

I said, "Nah, 5,000 should be enough."

"You sure, man?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I said. A few weeks later I called him back and said, "Say, about those 6,000 words..."

Anyway, I wrote the story as I was transitioning from the West Coast, my home of many years, to the South. I drove across the country. I stopped at every Barnes and Nobles along the way to see Wax Poetics issue 14. I had to read it. I had to see my work in the stores. It was a great fuckin feelin. All of it was there. The little sub chapters "The Place to Be", "Chillin' VIP Style", "Junebug the Baddest Deejay Ever".

Fast forward to December 2008. I get an email from a guy named Nydrin Barnes. "The reason I'm writing to you is because I came across your article online entitled 'When the Fever was the Mecca" and wanted to know anything you can tell me about DJ Junebug, the reason I'm writing is because I'm his son, and I never got to know him. So anything you can tell me would be greatly appreciated..."

I didn't know Junebug. But I knew some guys that did. As a dad it touched my heart that there was a person out there that never got to know their dad, who was an extremely talented and celebrated person among his peers. I put him in touch with Disco Bee and Sal. And I left it at that.

When Michael Mouncer hit me up about optioning the rights to my story for a film project, i was overjoyed. Man, great, someone wants to produce this. Travis and I sounded the story out. We narrowed it down to be about Junebug. I reached out to Sal. Sal, the typical Bronx, New Yorker was a little leery at first. "Have these people ever done anything before?"

Travis and Mike sent me a link to their previous work. They did a video for a group called The Counts. What caught my attention, was that they went out of their way to make an authentic looking Sesame Street episode. They used the same camera and same graphics, that the show used way back in 1969, which was when I used to watch it. My street instincts told me to work with these guys.

"Sal, these are young, hungry, professional filmmakers. I have alot of confidence in them."

Sal agreed.

Now we needed Sweet G.

G lives in Columbia, SC just like i do. I've been here for four years and had never ran into G one time. And then one day, the day after Sal agreed to do the film, I'm standing on line at the gas station. That little voice in the back of my head started whispering to me in my inner ear. Cop. Cop. There's a cop near by. I don't know how to explain this to you, unless you've been in the streets before, but I can feel a cop or pick a cop out of anywhere. I turned around and there was a cop behind me. But this wasn't any ordinary cop. There was something familiar about this cops face. I turned around and looked at him again. Thought for a second, looked again. It was Sweet G.

"Are you Sweet G? George from the Fever?"

"Yeah, that's me."

"Lawd hammercy," I thought to myself, "there really is a Gawd."

"I'm Mark Skillz from Wax Poetics."

"Hey, I know that magazine I have it in my house."

"Yeah, I wrote the story."

We talked for a minute, I told him to give me his number. I couldn't believe how all of this was coming together.

Then we needed to get someone else who knew Junebug well. I reached out to my friend Disco Bee. "Yeah, I knew him," Bee told me. Turns out Bee and Bug were best friends.

We didn't know Junebug's real name. I called Sal, "Hey Sal, Sal, what was Junebug's real name?" In Sal's defense, he is close to 60. "Uhhhhhhhhh, I don't remember. Hey, I know look on G's record, you know that one "A Heartbeat Rap"? it's on there."

The credit reads: DJ Junebug.

I asked DJ Hollywood the man that taught Junebug how to spin. "Yo Wood, what was Junebug's real name?"

'Julio something or another."

Finally, I asked Sweet G.

"Yo G, yo man, I need your help. Yo, what was Junebug's real name?"

Without missing a beat, he said, "My friend's name was Jose Almeda."

It was at that moment that I knew that not only had I found one of Junebug's best friends, but I knew that we had a story with a lot of emotion.

And that's why we won at Tribeca....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Road To Tribeca Pt. 1

So, "White Lines and The Fever" has been accepted into the Tribeca Film Fest! Could I be happier? I dunno, I was stunned silent when we won the Grand Jury award for Best Documentary Short Film at SXSW Film Fest, and now we're heading into Tribeca?!? Wow...

I got the call at somewhere near midnight a few nights ago. Honestly, I was sitting in my other office (the bathroom) when my cell phone started ringing. "Who in the hell is that calling here at this time of night!" I said out loud, cause I don't want my wife thinking some woman is calling me or no shit like that. Anyway, she opened the door to my other office and handed me my phone, it was Michael Mouncer.

"What in the hell is Mike doin' callin' me at this time of night?" I thought to myself. "Oh no, maybe we got booed or some shit like that at the film fest. Goddamn it.

Me: Hello
Him: (loud party noise in the background people cheering and shit like that) Hello Mark
Me: Hey Mike, what's the deal?"
Me: Huh?
Me: How?
Him: We won in our category, we got the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Film Short
Me: No shit?
Him: No shit buddy!

I couldn't move. Damn. We won. Still sitting on the can I called the one person in the world to whom I owe it all to.

"Hey Pop!" I blurted into the phone in the middle of the night still sittin' on the can.
'Hey!" My dad said, probably looking at his clock and wondering the same thing that I did: "who-in-the-hell-is- this, and if it's Mark calling my house at this time of night, something is really wrong."
"Hey Pop, we won."
'You won, won what?"
"Hey Pop, we won in our category at the SXSW Film Fest."
"What? Hold on a second Mom's up. Hey, Mark's film won it's category at the film fest."
"Oh shit!" I heard my mom say in the background.

Understand this, I didn't start writing until I was 34 years old. And please believe my mother has been encouraging me to write since I was in the third grade. But I couldn't see it.

"Wow," she said into the phone, "did you ever believe something like this would happen?"
"Nope, not ever," I told her.
"Hey," My dad said in the background, "bet you didn't see this comin' fifteen years ago!"
"Hell no I didn't," we laughed.

Fifteen years ago...what was I doing? I need pencil and paper. I can write my ass off, but I need pencil and paper to do math.

Oh shit, I was twenty-six years old. I was working as a telecom tech and mailroom clerk at James River. I was hustling my demo tapes everywhere and was getting nowhere. I had my heart set on my music. Glad to see I had more to offer the world than just music. And I'm even happier to realize my God given gifts, millions of people walk through life not knowing what they were put on Earth to do. It is truly a blessing....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Turntable Skillz 101 with Grandmaster Flash...

I didn't get to see this back in the day, basically, cuz my family was too poor to afford cable television. I remember asking my moms, "Yo Ma, when're we gonna get cable?" To which she would look up and say something like, "When somebody around here can afford it!"

I remember hearing about HBO when I was a kid in the late 70's and early 80's, but I never saw it. I heard about MTV in the early 80's, I didn't see it until one day at my home boy Rod's house, he was watching Mike Jax singin' "Billie Jean".

Back in the 80's I heard stories of Flash being on MTV demonstrating his "quick mix" skills. At that time, on MTV, if you were Black and weren't Mike Jax or Prince, then you got no love from MTV! So to hear about Flash being on MTV with his turntables was some other shit!

I never got to see it until now...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Makes You Wanna Holla

This ain't hip-hop related but humor me for a moment here...

When I think about what the forces of evil (the Machine) have done to our culture, I swear it makes me wanna holla, throw up both of my hands and yell from the tallest building.

But I'd get arrested and thrown in the looney house so I won't be doing that anytime soon.

But for real. Look at the values that have corrupted our culture. Materialism is first and foremost, there used to be a time when you would say that a person was so fake that they were plastic, now look, girls wanna look like Barbie, so much so to the point that they literally look plastic.

Let's take inventory here:
Fake lips
Fake hair
Fake nails
Fake tits
Botox in forehead
and last but not least, and probably should be at the top of the list

What da fuck?

I saw a pic of a video model, who shall go nameless here, and this chick looked like she weighed no more than a 130 how can that ditz have a 60inch azz?

Women i know and have seen with 60 inches of azz are clearly over two hunnit. They ain't pushin' two hunnit, they are over two hunnit. Ain't no way some broad 5'3 and 130 lbs can have 60 inches of azz!

Makes me wanna sing that old Teddy Pendergrass song "Be For Real..."

And the homo thugs aren't any better. Recent news about an artist I have always respected has me looking at him sideways now. Didn't see that one coming.

When I think about all of it, I feel like the last man that really cares. That forgotten person stranded on planet in some Twilight Zone episode. Wait, not the Twilight Zone, right about now I feel like Chief Iron Eyes Cody, from the "Keep America Beautiful" commercial. You know, The Indian in the commercial from back in the day.

You know the commercial, right? the Indian cat is rowing his boat in the peace and serenity of the great and beautiful outdoors. Everything is lovely...and then all of a sudden some jackoff in a station wagon drives by and throws some trash out his window. The camera pans to the Indian who has a lone teardrop fall from his eye.

Remember it now?

That's how I feel, when I see what these morons have done to our culture!