Holler If Ya Hear Me Adds to the Legacy of Tupac Shakur

It’s official kids… the force of nature that is hip hop has crashed down on the Great White Way.  The music and culture that was created in the Bronx has changed the course of music and pop culture and influenced the world.  Hip hop and I grew up together.  When it was still a burgeoning form of music, hip hop served as a medium to convey the joys and sorrows of one’s neighborhood.  It was through hip hop that I learned how folks got down in Cali, of Bloods and Crips and low riders.  I learned what it meant to be chopped and screwed.  Through the vivid stories of MCs nationwide, I got to see what made all impoverished areas different and the same.   No MC reported the tales of the streets and the ills of society more poetically than Tupac Shakur.  When Tupac passed away on September 13, 1996 of respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest in connection with multiple gunshot wounds, a part of my heart and youth died.  Since his untimely death at the age of 25, Tupac rose to the heights of icon status.  His lyrics and life inspired college courses and he is considered one of the greatest artists and MCs of all time.  Now the music of Tupac Shakur is the driving force of a new musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me, playing at the Palace Theatre.

5.201699Holler If Ya Hear Me uses Pac’s music to tell the story of urban plight, love and change.  John, played by the Saul Williams, has just returned to the neighborhood after serving a stint in prison.  With his hustling days behind him, he is hell-bent on changing his life for the better, but it’s hard to find change when the cycle of poverty keeps circling.  John’s friend Benny is murdered by a rival gang and the neighborhood is reeling.  Revenge weighs heavy on the heart of his brother Vertus and the homies that are left behind.  Violence seems imminent.  Even John has appeared to have discarded his plan of peace, until he is reminded there is a better way.  As John and Vertus decide to abandon any notions of retaliation, the neighborhood is rocked by another senseless death, which proves how the cycle of violence will only continue if strides aren’t made to break it.

5.201697The jukebox musical is a sure fire way of guaranteeing a successful theatre production.  The music and lyrics already have a legion of dedicated listeners, which promises at the very least the ability to recoup the monies invested in bringing a production to a Broadway stage.  One can almost argue that a jukebox musical is cheating because half the work has already been done.  The struggles of inner-city life and the desire to break away from its hopelessness isn’t a new theme.  In fact, one the most brilliant productions to ever explore this topic, A Raisin in the Sun, is currently enjoying another revival on Broadway.  Even the idea of hip hop isn’t entirely new.  Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced elements of the musical genre to the stage in In the Heights. But what is new is a jukebox musical based off of hip hop, and now rap has one with Holler If Ya Hear Me.

5.201700With the music of Tupac Shakur fueling this production, Holler If Ya Hear Me was poised to blow the roof off of the Palace Theatre.  However, there was one thing that stopped this production from rocketing off into the stratosphere, the book.   The neighborhood, which is set in the present day, could be any ghetto USA.  I’m in total agreement that Tupac’s lyrics are timeless, but the story could’ve benefitted by setting it in a specific city or region of the country.   One can argue that the story is clichéd taking cues from Menace to Society and Boyz in the Hood as well as West Side Story.  Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s just challenging to create an original story in this century, but the book didn’t deliver on the dynamism reflected in Pac’s music making the production unbalanced.    The choreography wasn’t as explosive as I had hoped and the lack of a set left the actors drowning in on a half empty stage.  But even with these flaws, Holler If Ya Hear Me still shines because of Tupac’s music and the ability of Saul Williams to transcend past an overdone story to deliver a powerful performance.  Williams is no stranger to exuding passion on stage, after all he is one of the world’s most well-known slam poets.  Williams rage, sensitivity, charisma and presence were felt in every corner of the audience.

5.201701When it is all said and done, Holler If Ya Hear Me will join the long list of musical productions made during this millennium that teeters somewhere in the middle, not disastrous but not reaching the glorious spectacle of what musical theater used to be.  But I know very well that the people won’t come to this musical because they love musicals or Broadway.  They will come to pay homage to Tupac Shakur – a man who indeed was like a spark and through his ignition he succeeded in changing the face of hip hop and the world.  If nothing else this production shows how relevant Tupac still is. Holler If Ya Hear Me roars and I holler back, “Viva Tupac Amaru Shakur!”

Photos: Joan Marcus

Nicki Minaj Premieres “High School” On MTV

Hate her or love her, Nicki Minaj certainly has the right to crown herself the “Queen of hip hop”.  She has completed feats that no female rap artist ever has and the 30-year-old “Starships” rapstress is only two albums in the game.  Personally, I like to refer to her as the Joan of Arc of hip hop.  But I digress, yesterday she premiered her new video for “High School” on MTV and I don’t know about you FAMERS, but this ain’t like the high school I went to.  The video also featured some racy scenes between Minaj and Lil Wayne.

So without further ado….

Photo: Young Money

Video:  YouTube.com

MOS DEF-initely Not for Long

Last month Mos Def announced at the “Rock the Bells” concert in New York City that he will be retiring his stage name at the end of the year. The actor and rapper whose real name is Dante Smith will soon join the ranks of entertainers such as Nas and Diddy as he takes on a new moniker.  And who will Mos Def become?  Yasin.

Mos explained to MTV’s Sucker Free the purpose of the name change.  “Mos Def is a name that I built and cultivated over the years, it’s a name that the streets taught me, a figure of speech that was given to me by the culture and by my environment, and I feel I’ve done quite a bit with that name and it’s time to expand and move on.”

Well as Dante prepares to move on, we at F.A.M.E NYC would like to pay homage to music that was created under the name Mos Def by sharing with you FAMERS our favorite Mos Def track.  Happy trails Mos…


The Reemergence of The Night Queen

If Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary featured a photo for the colloquialism “Renaissance Woman,” then Yejide The Night Queen’s picture would prominently be placed underneath showing the indie hip-hop empress in the stoic stance she is known for.  This Brooklyn-born and bred artist is not only famous for dropping conscious rhymes on the frontal lobes of those thirsty for creativity, she is also a dancer, photographer, paralegal, mother and grandmother.  In the underground house music scene, she is a living legend.  A fixture at clubs such as Sound Factory Bar, Afterlife and Club Shelter, Yejide has been an active member of the New York City house scene for over 20 years chronicling its evolution through photos and gaining respect on the dance floor for her mastery of multiple dance styles.

In 2001, Yejide released Seventh, her first full length CD.  In 2006, she released The Smokey Chronicles, a collaboration of unreleased tunes, in-studio bloopers and seven-inch dub plates dating from 1997 to 1999. The Night Queen has also been a featured vocalist on several projects from 2002 to 2009.  Currently, this Lyricist Lounge and Knitting Factory all-star is in the studio completing her second full length CD; the release date is tentatively set for winter 2011/2012.  To give fans an early treat, The Night Queen has released a video for the single “Half,” a potent diatribe about self-empowerment and manifesting one’s own destiny in an industry known for being shady.

Discovering Yejide’s insightful, informative and expressive lyrics is a hip-hop head’s equivalent to unearthing rare gems.  The force that is The Night Queen harkens back to an era where being an individual, having a flow and ability to spit comprehensive bars were more important than following the hip-hop industry’s “How To” guide on building a rap brand.

And without further ado FAMERS, here is Yejide’s video for “Half,” enjoy!

To follow and learn more about Yejide The Night Queen, click the following links,





Photos courtesy of Yejide




Pop Beats?

Many mourned the departure of Fat Beats when they closed the doors to their Manhattan and LA stores last year.  But as a wise man once told me, nothing is ever really gone.  The legendary record store is back and in Brooklyn, at least for day.  That’s right, those who crave the crackle only vinyl can supply will be ecstatic to know that Fat Beats will begin a monthly pop-up shop in their warehouse, located in the DUMBO section of the borough at 110 Bridge Street, starting on March 5.  On hand to bless Fat Beats’ reopening will be some of Brooklyn’s heavy hitters on the ones and twos, DJs Spinna, Evil Dee and Rich Medina.  Doors will reopen at noon.  If you consider yourself to be a true hip-hop head, mark your calendar for Saturday and pop-up at the pop-up shop.

Photo courtesy of Audible Treats, www.audibletreats.com.

Reek Da Villian’s Gift to Hip Hop

When it comes to hip hop, each part of New York City has its own story.  The Bronx is the genesis; the cradle of hip hop. Brooklyn has spawned arguably some of the greatest rappers that have ever touched a Mic.  Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island have also generated its fair share of legends.  Long Island, or Strong Island as we called it back in the day, is not part of the five boroughs, but its contribution to hip hop has been no less than impactful. 

Rakim, considered to be one of the greatest of all time, hails from Wyandanch, Long Island.  His cadence and lyrical prowess single-handily created the departure point from how MCs used to spit in the early 80s, showing hip hop heads the future of MCing, and produced the blueprint for lyrical MCs of the ‘90s and beyond to use as an influence.  Political super group Public Enemy was formed in Long Island.  The forceful delivery of Chuck D along with his pro-black lyrics harkened back to a time when Black was beautiful and offered a voice that stimulated our consciousness, allowing us to understand the power of the burgeoning medium the streets had birthed.  Strictly Business was the name of hip hop duo EPMD and set the mark for their career.  On the Mic they played no games and their no-nonsense lyricism made them staples on the hip hop scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Rap group De La Soul also formed in Long Island and ushered in the “Daisy Age.”  Their witty lyrics and unique samples added a much needed eclectic layer to hip hop. 

As a native of Long Island the inspiration of these trailblazers was not lost on Reek Da Villian when it came to developing his own style.  “My music is all different types of styles and genres,” he says, “I can make the comical records, the serious records, the good-feeling records, the street records [and] the club records.  That all comes from listening to groups like De La Soul and EPMD and MCs like Rakim mixed in with Big Daddy Kane whom I love and Slick Rick and Kool G Rap.”



Reek Da Villian is a true child of hip hop.  He began rapping at age seven, and by 15 he was recording music in his cousin’s studio in Freeport.  In 2006, a chance encounter would serve to be his big break.  Reek met Busta  Rhymes , long known for being one of the liveliest MCs in hip hop and a founding member of Leaders of the New School) at a mixtape/clothing store in Uniondale.  After rapping for him for five minutes, Busta asked for his number.  That meeting would be that catalyst that propelled Reek into stardom.  Busta became a mentor, fellow label and group-mate as Reek would become a part of the Flipmode Squad, appearing on BET’s 106 and Park and Rap City.  In 2009, he left Flipmode, but the experience he acquired was invaluable.  “I’m the type of person that can watch and learn something better than someone teaching me,” he confesses, “so as far as musically I just watched stuff [Busta] did and picked it up on my own.  But as far as the business side, he taught me how not to rub [label] executives the wrong way, how to greet them and talk to them.  He gave me all those little pointers.”

Although Reek Da Villian has yet to release a studio album, he is definitely a veteran in the underground hip hop scene releasing 10 mixtapes since 2007.  “Being a new artist, record labels can tell you what they want you to do.  Mixtapes give you a chance to go out and give the fans what you want them to hear.  If you want to give them a more street record, you can just go out there and give them a whole street album and it could be a mixtape.  And it works hand in hand with all the blogs because you can get them up and the fans can go on and support you.  You can give them out for free and it’s a way to promote yourself and get heard.”  Reek also points out that there are some rap artists that are just releasing mixtapes to manufacture a career and considers the mixtape game a blessing.

In 2010, Reek released his 11th mixtape titled The Gift.   “I made The Gift CD like an album because I want everybody to hear it and be able to say wow if he did this for a mixtape, I can imagine what his actual album will sound like,” he states.  The title reflects his attitude about the commercialism that is present in mainstream hip hop.   “I wanted to give the fans something they could appreciate and that wasn’t about a dollar bill.  It is a free mixtape for people to listen to like or not, but overall I say it’s the gift because it’s beautiful music, which is something the fans haven’t gotten in a while and I know that they want,” he adds.

Along with promoting The Gift, Reek plans to drop another mixtape as well as release his debut album in the summer.  Hip hop has seen many changes in style since DJs took their equipment out to battle each other at block parties, but one staple in the music and culture has remained – hip hop has always been about repping where you are from.  Reek Da Villian is holding the banner for Long Island and adding to long list of MCs from this area that gave depth to hip hop with good music and engaging lyrics. 

To download The Gift, visit http://www.livemixtapes.com/mixtapes/12916/reek_da_villian_the_gift.html.

Photos:  Courtesy of Trio Entertainment

Masterpiece in the Making

In 2000, the idea of the female MC standing on her own was non-exisistent – almost laughable.   It had seemed that the pioneering efforts of Salt & Pepper, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Lauren Hill were all but forgotten about as female rap artists were relegated to play the sexy side-kick in a hip hop buddy movie literally – only playing a role in a male dominated crew.  Fast forward to the end of 2010 and a female MC’s debut album was one of the most anticipated albums of the year.  Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday garnered platinum status within a month of its release and along with BET’s documentary My Mic Sounds Nice; it appeared that the industry and the world was taking an interest in female rappers once again.  Poised to take the stage and stake her claim on hip hop is Kyah Baby. 

Kyah Baby is a Queens native with a regal vocal delivery that has not forgotten her hip hop roots.  Proof of that is her single titled “L.O.H.H (Ladies of Hip Hop)” which pays homage to all the women who paved the way for the female rappers of today.  Since signing with Selfish Music Group a year ago, Kyah has been featured on “Standing on Couches” with Jim Jones, Lil Kim and Lloyd Banks and has received spins on Hot 97 and Power 105.1.   At the end of 2010, Kyah released her debut mixtape titled The Rough Draft, a slight glimpse of this female lyrist’s true talent.  If The Rough Draft actually lives up to its title, then I predict this female MC will definitely be a part of the new wave of female rappers sweeping hip hop. 

F.A.M.E NYC had an opportunity to speak to Kyah Baby about The Rough Draft, her musical style and influences.

How did you first begin your relationship with DJ Self and the Selfish Music Group?

I first began my relationship with DJ Self when I met him through another artist on Selfish Music Group. Self had heard me on a mixtape and was interested in having me as an artist as soon as he heard me. I went to go meet him at the station; we discussed some things and took it from there.

How did growing up in Queens influence your musical style and vocal delivery?

I don’t think Queens itself influenced my musical style and delivery; I think my experiences in life did that. But, growing up in Queens has given me certain knowledge and encouragement that it is possible for someone like me to make it.  When growing up, I saw people like LL Cool J, Mobb Deep, 50 Cent [and] at present Nicki [Minaj] made it, it gives me a lot of faith and hope.

How did you receive the name the Freestyle Princess?

[Laughs]  I never heard that nickname before, maybe the “Princess of Hip Hop.”   But I am known for blessing the people with a quick 16 [bars].

What compelled you to write and record “L.O.H.H (Ladies of Hip Hop)”?

It’s funny because I tell the same story every time. What actually influenced me was when I was at Summer Jam.   I was saddened to see only one female performing there. It just made me reminisce on when there were many females in the game all at once – all for one in unity. I just thought it would be the right thing to do, to show these women that they are remembered and have made a difference for females in the game as well as up & coming females like myself.

The new millennium has thus far seen a virtual disappearance of female MCs from mainstream hip hop.  Do you believe that the success of Nicki Minaj is ushering a new age for ladies in hip hop?

I really can’t call it, it’s just the beginning.  I’m focused on my music.   My first mixtape The Rough Draft is out right now and available to download for free on www.datpiff.com.

How did you come up with the title of your new mixtape?

It came from the first title I had for my mixtape, which was actually Sincerely, Kyah, but then I thought that sounds like the end of something.  I’m fresh and new, so I have to start from scratch. That’s when I thought…before you compose a proper piece of writing, you go through the outline, the rough draft, the edited version, the final essay, things like that.  So, I just figured ‘Hey, why not start out with the rough draft.’

What is your favorite track off The Rough Draft?

My favorite track off The Rough Draft is number five, “Doesn’t Matter.”  The song is really personal [and] about things I’ve been through with friends and family as well as my personal thoughts on a lot of things.

Name your top five Hip Hop albums/mixtapes of all time.

Wow, top five in hip hop.  It’s funny because I grew up off R&B, [Laughs].  I would have to say Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Lil’ Kim’s Hardcore and Biggie’s Life After Death.

Do you have performances lined up?  If so, where?

There’s no official dates yet, but if you stay connected with me and follow me on twitter.com/KYAHBABY_SMG, that’s @KYAHBABY_SMG , I’ll definitely post show dates, radio interviews, videos and photo shoots, so look out for that.   Also, make sure you type “Kyah Baby” in YouTube.  My videos are up, so go check that out as well.

Besides The Rough Draft, what else should your fans expect from you in 2011?

The Rough Draft was 2010, [Laughs].   For 2011, they can expect more videos, more songs [and] more mixtapes… basically a takeover!

Top NYC Documentary for 2010

80 Blocks from Tiffany’s

Actually, this documentary is an oldie but goodie – a cult classic.  Re-released after 25 years on DVD, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s resurrects the apocalyptic conditions of life in the South Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s that later gave birth to hip hop and its culture.  Released in 1979, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s focused on two street gangs, the Savage Nomads and Savage Skulls.  The idea for the documentary came to director Gary Weis after reading “Savage Skulls,” an article by Jon Bradshaw published by Esquire Magazine which centered on both gangs.  After convincing SNL producer Lorne Michaels to help him produce the film, Weis and a camera crew went into one of the deadliest areas in New York City – a combat zone where various gangs ruled the streets serving their own brand of justice and terrorism.  Weis, Bradshaw and crew spent two weeks in the South Bronx speaking with and recording gang members, police officers, community activists and civilians. 

The title, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s, referred to the distance between the much glamorized jewelry store on 5th Avenue and the South Bronx.   A viable walking distance for anyone that has the moxie, but too far the young men and women living a virtual Mad Max existence who had never been out of the Bronx.  The dilapidated, burned-out buildings, plots of barren land, and abject poverty displayed in the film were light years away from the famed store turned iconic by a Truman Capote novel and Blake Edwards film in which the heroine claimed that nothing could go wrong in Tiffany’s.  These young adults had no fabulous shelter to run to, so they created their own shelter, families, laws and opportunities in hellish conditions. 

Stark…inexorable…undeniably real, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s has received a following that far outreached the expectations Gary Weis ever had for the film.  Part of the reason for its cult status is because of the participants in the film.  These young men were angels with tattered wings and filthy faces who admitted to beatings, rapes, robbery and other crimes, yet their compelling presence demanded viewers to see past their deeds and peer into their souls.  As mundane and clichéd as it sounds, they were the fruit of their environment, how could any viewer really judge having never experienced their life. These men and women were the displaced members of the civil rights movement that did not come up like George and Weezie, but instead got left behind.   And as the dust settled from riots, arson, the flooding of drugs into their community and the economic climate of the day (which was just as dismal as our present condition) they were forced to fend for themselves by any means necessary. 

The other component that draws people to the film is the portrait it casts on New York City, which serves as a microcosm for all inner-cities in the 70s.  After watching this 67-minute narrative of barrio life, you will completely appreciate how granular this metropolis really was.  Also, you will understand the correlation between the gang culture of NYC and its influence on the genesis of hip hop.  These gang members were the catalyst and founding fathers of hip hop culture, patriarchs like Afrika Bambaataa, a founding member of the Black Spades who used hip hop to thwart kids away from gang life and the violence that accompanies it.  

Mesmerizing from beginning to end, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s is a collector’s item for anyone that loves New York or hip hop history, it is an essential slice of Americana that worth revisiting and should never fall back into obscurity again.


Photo and trailer courtesy of Audible Treats

SAMO and OZ in NYC

A Preview of Ugly-Kid Gumo

To create graffiti is to engage in urban guerilla warfare.  Renegades of refinement, graffiti artists take cold, inanimate slabs of concrete and other disregarded objects from our society and manufacture fleeting masterpieces.   The fact that these works are both illegal and transient is what makes this medium one of the most authentic forms of expression and those who lurk in the shadows of night, spray cans in hand, to partake in this illicit act, mavericks of culture.    In the ‘80s, graffiti art was an extension of hip-hop, a subculture emerging from the Bronx that also fused a particular style of music and dancing.  Street artists also started to become recognized as rising stars in the international art scene – artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who along with Al Diaz created the SAMO Graffiti in the late ‘70s and also signed his early work as SAMO.   

Following along the same vein as these iconic artists is a young street artist from France named Ugly-Kid Gumo.  Gumo was born in France in 1980 near Paris, the same year in which Basquiat began to kill the SAMO legend by writing “SAMO IS DEAD” all over downtown.   Using the raw electricity of the streets as his canvas, Gumo uses his art as a mirror to reflect back to society the Babylonian condition in which it finds itself.  On November 20, I received a slight introduction to the chaos Gumo evolves from when I attended OZ le visage du mal, a single-evening preview of his work.  Using spray paint, photography and other heterogeneous schemes, Gumo related a story that was a stark, unflinching dose of reality.  It was jarring, emotional, pensive and powerful, causing my stomach to stir from the intensity.  Crude faces illustrated on white pieces of paper and posted against a cardboard backdrop exuded the essence of street culture and were reminiscent of Basquiat’s work.  The amalgamation of early ‘90s American and Parisian hip-hop added to the gritty element of Gumo’s chaos. 

While walking around the preview, meticulously ingesting all of Gumo’s art, I was ensnared by the soul of the pieces, which may be Gumo’s true intention.  I was particularly attached to the series of faces constructed from scrapings of graffiti Gumo completed.  With these pieces Gumo accomplished a rare feat – he transformed a momentary work of art into a fresh conversation piece.    Another series that captivated my attention were spray painted faces with heads shaped like keyholes.


As I looked through what appeared to be a keyhole into the primitive faces of Oz, I realize these striking images speak. They speak for the same impoverished people that used mattresses as trampolines, cardboard boxes as dance floors, parks as clubs and trains as canvases.  They speak for the youth that carry their discontentment on their shoulders like backpacks.  Oz is omnipresent – it is New York City, Paris or any place where there is a disconnect with certain members of the community, where people are lost and slip through the cracks.  It is there that Gumo finds the chaos and translates it the world.

Adding to the compelling artwork is Gumo’s personal story.  He is not a man that comes from the ghetto, in fact he was raised in the suburbs, but he identifies with a struggle most people choose to overlook in their quest for recognition and riches.  I find his empathy to be extremely admirable.  It also transforms him from a mere artist to a griot, chronicling the history of our time through mixed-media and poetic expressions.  Gumo is represented in New York by the Marianne Nems Gallery.  The preview was only to wet our appetite for a full scale exhibition coming in March 2011.  Gumo’s work transported me back to the New York City of my youth, where the grit was as thick as the humidity in the summertime.  Before Times Square received consumer-driven porcelain veneers and hip-hop lost its soul.  I am eager to see more of Gumo’s work – it is definitely not the same ole shit.

Photos and Slideshow:  F.A.M.E NYC Editor