Via Medium, I’ve wrapped up my seven-part serialized short story, Molly, which is now published as one long-ass read. Give yourself half an hour to sit down, relax, slap that whiskey to your best glass, and read. I won’t post the full thing here, but here below the fold, an excerpt from the story’s beginning. . .
This weekend, a hipstery bar in hipstery Brooklyn will throw a hipstery party called Madam Wu’s Good Luck Banquet of the Senses. Based on the invitation, it will be like going to a party thrown by actual racists in 1950, but apparently someone thought it was okay because it’s happening ironically in the year 2013. Good, easy-to-follow, basic rule of party throwing: don’t throw “race-themed” parties.
This is the first paragraph. What have you learned from it? Hold that thought.
Madam Wu’s Good Luck Banquet of the Assholes will be held in the Red Lotus Room, a venue in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, on Saturday. The invitation originally encouraged attendees to wear “coolie couture” or clothing for “tea with the Emperor, dragon dancing, silk pajamas.” There will also be “ancient Chinese secret” and “open sesame noodles.”
This the second paragraph. What have you learned from it? Well, for one, we learned what the offense is that I’m supposed to be mad about in the first place. Except, miraculously, I knew that the offense would, grrrrrrrrrrrrr, offend me by reading the first sentence of the first paragraph. Before I even knew any details of the offense. I knew decisively that I’d be offended by, was preemptively enraged by…whatever it was, I didn’t yet know.
What’s the deal here?
Whatever you think of the racist party concept in question, this post is clever, and we’re all morons. The Brooklyn-based writer, Erin Gloria Ryan, knows, and late-reveals, that this party is possibly hosted by some mix of white people as well as brown people. (Which is irrelevant, I agree.) But several paragraphs prior, the post intros with that flat declaration of the bar and hosts’ identities…
This weekend, a hipstery bar in hipstery Brooklyn will throw a hipstery party…
…that (I’ll wager) means to make us imagine a bunch of chalky Millennials wearing glasses that look like Cadillac side-view mirrors. The writer made us bristle at a mock identity before she even told us what their offense was. If the subjects were, I dunno, enemy combatants or some particularly disgraced individuals, that approach might seem fair enough. But in this case, do we really doubt that the hosts of this party, or the staff of this bar, or the bar’s clientele, are any more or less hipster than, say, Erin Gloria Ryan?
So with that sleight of projection out of the way…
Reading this post, are you most enraged by
- (a) the notion of the party,
- (b) the hosts as particularly offensive individuals, or
- (c) the notion of the hosts/type of people who would even exist within six blocks of this party?
If (c), why?
There’s racism happening, and here you’re stewing about some hipster leviathan that you’ve imagined?
Oh. I see. That was the point.
As noted in this post, I moved from D.C. to Brooklyn at the end of August. Lately I’ve been grinding my freelance gears over at Complex and The Root. There and elsewhere, expect more pieces from me in the coming months, though I won’t index all of them here on the blog. Catch me on Twitter, or on Facebook, or just Google me.
Novel’s still in progress. I’ll update Molly again soon.
Peep the bylines, fam. We gon make it.
Over the next few weeks, via Medium, I’ll be publishing installments of a short story, Molly, which I’m serializing for online. I like the exercise of my publishing in spurts and editing along with the feedback. The first installment is already up in Medium’s fiction section, and I’ll publish part two tomorrow morning. Expect seven or so installments.
Please read, please share, please do holler.
Listen. You can step in the booth and spit an infinite cypher freestyle a la Joell Ortiz, or you can box a fledgling rival slightly, in good humor, with a couple sly jabs. Lupe Fiasco went limp against Kendrick Lamar, perhaps, but in this case, limp was nimble. Limp was efficient.
He so crazy,
Look at the lil baby;
Nigga, you ain’t Nas;
Nigga, you ain’t Jay-Z.
Lupe pivoted wisely, I think, from the universal contention of Kendrick’s #shotsfired last week to, instead, a unique, subtle parody of rap’s present forefront. Listen again through the track and absorb those hints of Ross, Meek, B.O.B., T.I., Kanye, Jay, Drake, Wayne, 2 Chainz — conceivably mimicked as follow-up to Lupe’s likewise clowning on Twitter in re Kendrick’s verse.
Now, does ‘SLR 2′ even approximate the best rapping Lupe’s ever done? No, and that’s the point, as Lupe rather knocks the many underwhelming styles over which Kendrick might claim contemporary superiority.
None of this is to say, by any stretch, that Lupe bested Kendrick. But Lupe’s so far the only contestant to outwit the supposed invincibility of Kendrick’s posturing on ‘Control’. Yes, Kendrick spanked the world, and Lupe knows it. But it’s the immensity of that victory that Lupe doth sparsely deride.
What happened to the game?
Niggas think they jappin cuz they rappin like they Wayne.
Lupe wins. Lupe, out.
BONUS: If you do, in fact, want to hear some of the best rapping Lupe’s ever done, the original ‘SLR’ is a sound start.
UPDATE: Last night Lupe was inspired to–
–and it’s surprisingly quite dope, if more traditionally dextrous than ‘SLR 2′ as far as brainy-emcee flexing goes.
No, Kendrick Lamar is not the King of New York.
Yet the ludicrous claim of the young Compton, L.A., native — one of an escalation boasts in Kendrick’s verse on Big Sean’s “Control” — has struck approximately 8.2 million nerves and brought our SoundClouds crashing down.
I’m Makaveli’s offspring; I’m the king of New York,
King of the Coasts, one hand, I juggle them both.
When Big Sean leaked the track on Monday night, Twitter erupted well into Tuesday morning. For 24 hours, Kendrick’s verse yielded not just a moment, but a gleeful holiday of hashtags, frequent rewinds, and #snarkfired at the several targets of Kendrick’s all-inclusive diss — namely, Drake, J. Cole, Wale, and even the two homies accompanying Kendrick on the track, Sean and a hopelessly preempted Jay Electronica.
Are people really here for Big Sean tho? How are we feeling, community?
— Heben Nigatu (@heavenrants) August 13, 2013
J. Cole is already in the studio for his next project, “Let Kendrick Down.”
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) August 13, 2013
Drake alone in his jacuzzi drinking a Diet Cherry Pepsi right now like, “I’m good.”
— Justin Charity (@BrotherNumpsa) August 13, 2013
Lupe spitting an ill rebuttal right now and everyone in Starbucks is like “sir u gotta buy something or leave”
— Desus (@desusnice) August 13, 2013
What’s most remarkable of Kendrick’s wry boast of a foreign crown is how impotent, in fact, the scepter is. King of New York. Lately, who cares? As a nappy head might snipe from the barbershop sidelines, New York been fell off for a minute now. Not since 50 Cent’s insurgent coronation a decade ago, by the release of Get Rich Or Die Trying, have stoops afar of New York obsessed whether Big or Nas, Nas or Jay, Jay or 50 runs the city.
Rather, the King of New York is eclipsed by the Best Rapper Alive, arguably Jay Z, who is more prime minister than he is mayor these days. Indeed, Jay recently confessed that apart from Kendrick, Kanye, Drake, J. Cole, and Wale — all regional outsiders, mind you — he’s at a loss for native talent worth shouting out or putting on. This from a champion who, in eras prior, had to spar Biggie, Ma$e, DMX, Ja Rule, Nas and 50 Cent for a now-effectively retired title.
A decade after the reconciliation between Jay and Nas, hostile rap verses are contention for supremacy within the art form rather than beef between borough squads. In 2013, the hottest singles and most anticipated LPs are straight out of Compton, Toronto, Atlanta, NOLA, Detroit, and Virginia Beach. The competition spans far and wide, and unprecedentedly even, on some Tom Friedman shit. Among New York rappers, even, save an Action Bronson or two, rap is cosmopolitan affair. Gone are the soundtracks of gravel and dust blunts, yet gentrified by the incursion of 808s, stuttering synth, chopped and ghastly drawls, arena hooks, and vast Clear Channel appeal, both mastered and sold nationwide.
Some tri-state emcees do protest, of course. By Tuesday afternoon, Slaughterhouse butcher Joell Ortiz cut a rebuke of Kendrick’s verse with predictable affect: a livid freestyle, as clever as it is breathless, fit for the grimiest of cyphers but otherwise failing to recalibrate the cruel gravity of Kendrick’s backhand. In fact, many fledgling and veteran emcees alike surrendered to Kendrick in awe, if not gracefully. Rather than knocking the kid’s implausible hustle, several NY rappers stoked the city’s languishing roster.
If ur upset that a “West Coast” rapper claimed King of NY….. U CAN ONLY BE MAD AT URSELVES… U DID THIS.
— BON VIVANT (@ActionBronson) August 13, 2013
ATTENTION M.C.’S: Complaining about @kendricklamar verse on twitter is Gossip. Getting in the studio trying to write a better one is Hip Hop
— Big Daddy Kane (@bigdaddykane) August 13, 2013
Not sure if it has anything to do with anything, but not many studios in the city are available today.. Isn’t often the case.
— Joe Budden (@JoeBudden) August 13, 2013
Still, local supremacy is a challenge too self-obsessed — too pathetically esoteric, at its worst — to rock a crowd out in Houston. It’s why Drake is the prince of our radios, even if he’d have flopped in The Tunnel. Kendrick, too, surely recognizes that King of New York is an ancient reign, and that his truer claim is to a global throne. A supremacy that’s lately contested by no less than five cities, and least of all by New York.
All of us who work with words might need to just quit for the month of August. Kendrick Lamar got be embarrassed to call myself a writer.
— Kiese (@KieseLaymon) August 13, 2013
Last Friday, in an interview perfectly timed to preempt the fan rancor in re “Control”, Kiese Laymon, author of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, pronounced the desk-gazing shame of a class that’s been vastly out-rapped by a sophomore savant.
When you compare [Kendrick's major label debut] Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City to everything that came out afterward, it’s just frightening. I wouldn’t have put out Magna Carta, I wouldn’t have put out Yeezus. If I was J. Cole, I wouldn’t have put out that shit J. Cole put out, because Kendrick just dropped some shit that should make y’all never put out an album until you can get close.
Who will heed? Kendrick’s status as rap’s Victor Hugo doesn’t make him the day’s greatest act, necessarily, but he’s a wonder to all and a terror to some. As the good kid intended, let “Control” strike fear as warning to the city’s emcees. Salute to that timeless, riotous command: New York, stand up.
Despite my oft-prevailing flakiness, I blind-copied 43 names to the email hyping my departure, assuring all local friends that we’d grab drinks together before I go. Now, my introversion is prohibitive of one too many of these rallies, and my friends do know this about me. But I will give it a raucous try, for old times’ sake.
I’m moving to New York, which by now is the motto of a generation and fair enough translation of YOLO. At the end of the month I will leave my job and start anew, with no plan, but with sufficient pluck (I hope) to draft the latest chapter of young days, which I think ought to be so tumultuous and (gulp) fun. Preceding me, many friends of mine have departed long and wide, to Nairobi, Cairo, Johannesburg, Beijing, London, and in exodus to New York. Given that I’m so consistently sapped of good company, perhaps it was inevitable that I’d hurl to their reconstituting swarm in the vast buzz of Brooklyn.
Promoting from D.C. to New York is a departure in many respects. For one, I’ll have you know that Washington is a town, not a city. East of 14th Street, D.C. is a forest of bus stops and tilled sidewalks. D.C. is quaint. D.C. is delightful. From west to east extreme, D.C. is largely knowable. I steer disoriented tourists with learned confidence, flexing proud in my pointing masterfully, exactly toward the White House from Georgetown, a sure call from 20-plus blocks away.
I’ll miss improvising as maestro to the families of fanny packs and cameras.
Lately I bristle nostalgic wherever I go. At a favored bar in Columbia Heights just last week, by my third gulp of gin, I clenched a tear and meant to pledge my entire checking account as the bartender’s tip for no reason at all, except to declare a sum satisfaction sorts. That inarticulate love of a place that you must leave. Inspired away despite myself, I must be sure to confirm my appreciation to local friend and foe alike, perhaps to the waddling nurse at Howard Hospital who, in 2009, instead of stitching my frail wrist to IV saline, handed me an 8oz Gatorade. My name is Justin Charity, ma’am, and I am leaving you.
Among us young turks, the love of a city is, at times, adolescent. We mock the nagging of train operators to please, y’all, please stand clear of the doors. We scowl at the cop whose proximate vigil precludes us from pissing in this flank of bushes. We shake our common fist at PEPCO as if the latest blackout has grounded us to our bedrooms indefinitely.
Cut your city some slack, I say. One day, you’ll be gone and lost in a labyrinth of strange trains with foreign hisses.
A weekend ago, when my mother was in town, my sister drove us out the Chesapeake Bay to crack crabs on a pier. For me, the afternoon was serene retreat, if only for a few hours, from too-familiar whooping of the neighborhood kids who scuff up and down my back alley. But it was the ride back into town from Deale, Maryland, that pried me precisely aware that my time in D.C. is waning. Whooshing through dusk, craning my head out the backseat window, I braced a wind-battered gaze of the panorama marble. The Washington Monument, due to historic repair work, is presently sheathed by a condom of plasma-lit glass. Up close, it’s a gnarled dystopian sight, but from such welcoming distance it’s stellar and triumphant, like a holy broadsword plunging from earth to purple sky.
Perhaps that’s how all cities strike you from thankful afar.
In re my parting email, a friend of mine who’s spent the past few post-college years combing the Florida panhandle replied. In a glitch of chance, she informed me that, just as I leave, she’ll be returning to D.C. and accompanied by the love of her life, whom she lassoed abroad. Too removed from the latest restaurant hype and gallery itineraries, my friend asked me, “What would you say a person moving back to D.C. would absolutely have to experience?”
I thought, and replied:
- Devour infinite pupusas.
- Rock out to The Roots (or whoever) shuddering Kastles Stadium on the Southwest Waterfront.
- Brave the vast recoil of a firing range out in Loudon County.
- Fall asleep on the Mall, in your homegirl’s arms.
And now, my fond memories endure as breathless recommendations.
Upon many returns from New York, once and again, I hope to brace my eternal town as that horizon of shenanigans past and to come. And decelerating further inbound, as my Brooklyn comrade Desi’s truck stutters along H Street NE from New York Ave, I’ll point out that tilted sign post just up ahead, where a cherished ex lost the seat, front tire, and rear basket of her bike to unseen vagrants.
Ah, we’ve all got our bike stories. We’ve all been knocked one way or another.
In the past eight years, I myself have been deprived of three bicycles—three!—from stoops widely apart in both time and era. In my final week here, I will revisit the scene of the latest larceny, the house off North Capitol Street that I shared with three cerebrally ticklish St. John’s grads, two of whom remain. Adam will insist that we soak on the porch to allow him the calm of a cigarette. As we so recline, I’ll remind Adam that a year ago, on this very railing, my third bike was plucked and abducted in the black of night, without a trace. Adam will crack wise about this regretted besting, we’ll laugh, I’ll shake my head, and then I’ll leave.
Somewhere in these streets, I imagine, some kids or else vicious scruffy adults are mounted to the scrapped skeletons of my three long-lost Schwinns. As my will to a city that forged me carefully, if not always kindly, I bequeath those scuffed frames. I’m consoled by knowing that, in spirit, I will strafe the diamond grid as a ghost of stolen bikes. At the end of my lease, I expire. But know, D.C., that I intend to haunt you forever.
Perhaps Biggie and Jigga could trade bars without spoiling your favorite television shows, but we can’t. Not that we spoil everything–we’re admirably vague about the course (if not the culmination) of season one. But otherwise be warned that the below contains spoilers of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, which me and T. watched in marathon shifts, like hopeless fiends on a delicious bender. At your own peril, please do read on.
Netflix series are becoming my entertainment Krispy Kremes: I think I’ll just consume one at a time, but then I end up gorging on three or four and feeling guilty afterwards, yet satisfied. First it was Breaking Bad, then House of Cards, and now Orange is the New Black.
Behold, a premise:
Snared by an expiring drug conspiracy charge, nice white lady Piper Chapman gets sent up for a bid in federal prison, where she fears for her decency and fiends for a mere dollop of cocoa butter. Tampon McMuffins are served, with bloody vengeance.
I was hooked by the second episode. Crazy Eyes had just expressed her interest in Piper by sharing her headphones and then coincidentally caressing her inner thigh to let Piper know that she now had a prison boo. That was the point where I went from:
“This show is aight.”
“EHRMAGAWD MUST WATCH ALL OF THE EPISODES”.
So many prison boos. The fact that we’re even joking about lock-up cuddle buddies is our telegraphing that Orange isn’t, you know,Oz. The ladies get off; the ladies get by.
I was prepared to like Orange about as much as I’m primed to enjoy a complementary Boston Cream or a Meek Mill mixtape. I was not prepared, however, to bawl alone at 5am while inadvertently strangling a box of Triscuits as I begrudged a ‘buffering’ bar. Seriously, what kind of comedy dare flood your homeboy over here with tears?
How do you distill the greatness of a show that you’ve seen in a marathon session into a brief write-up? It’s hard.
For one, I really liked the show’s use of flashbacks to show how the ladies ended up in prison. It humanizes their experiences and the myriad paths that led them to prison. It also powerfully illustrated why one ought not mess with Ms. Claudette. SAK PASSE!
The flashbacks are crucial, both creatively and (I’d argue) culturally. Gripes about stereotype abuse and exoticism have lately emerged in criticism of the show, but it’s the flashbacks that chiefly undermine the presumption that the women who are holed up in Litchfield are cast merely as types–as “the kind of people” that one will conjure when one thinks of prison. Forgoing vast shame and leaden grace, Orange’s hallmark proficiency is its animating how variously, wonderfully wrecked human beings can be.
While Litchfield isn’t the most glamorous setting we might wish upon these sisters, I’m thankful that Orange is proudly brown, with an emphasis on ‘proudly’. Anyone who’s viscerally ashamed of, say, Taystee, or Diaz, or Janae, or Sophia is, I think, underreading these portrayals. Much as the many narrative trajectories upend Piper’s perception of threats and comforts, showrunner Jenji Kohan challenges the audience to understand, e.g., Taystee not as Big Loudmouth Black Chick, but as a woman who’s been routinely failed by a civil framework that isn’t much interested in how she landed before its courts in the first place.
All to say, these characters are savory reductions. Piper, Alex, Red, Sam Healy, Officer Mendez—the paced evaporation of their facades and careful reveal of their animating anxieties are payoffs of patient, masterful storytelling. Healy is a waddling testament to the caution that, nope, No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Back to Mendez for a sec, because God this man is sooooooo bad—but soooooo good. I imagine that Officer Mendez smells of upper lip, smoke and Stetson cologne. The relish with which Pablo Schrieber plays this role makes Officer Mendez such a great villain. He deserves an Emmy.
In contrast, Alex Vause’s charisma is enough to convince me to fly to overseas in a terrible blonde wig and shoulder pads, just so I can be locked in women’s prison with her. Though she’s kind of a prick, and I’m not really sure I trust her. But that’s what makes her alluring to both the audience and Piper. Also, the Piper-Alex chemistry is way more believable than the Piper-Larry chemistry.
As far as paramours go, I mostly loathe Alex. I prefer Larry’s sheepish brooding to Alex’s ever-wavering Daria / Holly Robinson shtick. She’s too often a clang, deployed to make Piper act beyond the bounds of her character–though of course Piper’s core struggle is discerning who, exactly, she is.
In any case, while Alex throws a few screwdrivers into Piper’s life, collateral damage is done to the emotional logic of the plot. Chiefly, that Piper and Alex’s chapel tryst yields a bizarre and implausible aftermath. Throughout the episode that follows, Piper isn’t particularly vexed by having just cheated on her fiancé, which made me wonder whether the show takes lesbian sex somehow less seriously than it regards heterosexual love. i.e., if Piper had instead jumped a dude (somehow) in that chapel, would we really be expected to play along with the charade of Piper proceeding as if her transgression weren’t immediately remarkable?
Yet I’m steering us into the weeds here. T., reel us back.
Everyone is interesting to me—except Piper. For now. Ten or eleven episodes in, I realized that everyone else was meatier, curvier, more alive than our protagonist. Maybe that was something the writers did on purpose, maybe not, but it seems like Piper is supposed to be a representation of what a ‘normal’ person would be like in prison. She remains fairly normal until the point that she cusses Healy out in solitary—SHIT, she took that man’s dignity.
The last scene of the series, I think, is where we see Piper get real. Really real. Viciously real. Will she ever get out of prison after that? And is it wrong that I was woofing it up like I was at an Arsenio Hall taping when she beat the brakes off that girl?
Piper’s our lead and chief vantage, but more often than not, Chef Red is the center of narrative gravity, as much as Red’s kitchen is the nerve center of prison society. Honestly, I’m glad that we’re thus spared from endless thumbing of Piper’s navel.
Exemplary of Piper’s worst tendencies is the ‘WAC Pack’ episode, in which the prison’s demographic blocs elect delegates to lobby Sam Healy for better living conditions, variously defined. Dawning earnest and high-minded, Piper urges recommissioning of the prison’s GED program and restoration of the jogging track out in the yard. From an audience perspective, we perhaps admire Piper’s clamoring: The college-educated white girl is the only delegate who’s inspired to fight for something greater than free donuts. But we already know that Piper wants the GED program and the outdoor track because these are resources in which she, individually, is desperately interested. She’s advocating for herself, incapable of considering that only two inmates in the entire prison will derive any joy or sanity from running those lonesome laps.
I think Pennsatucky was right: Piper Chapman needs a friend…in Jesus.
A few more things before I sign off:
- The representation of black and brown women in this series deserves its own separate analysis. We’ll get back to this, I hope, maybe in a later, specifically dedicated post.
- The rapidly maturing puppy love of Daya and Officer Bennett is both heartwarming and frustrating. I yelled “DON’T DO IT, RECONSIDER!!!” every time I saw them on screen together.
- The hardest scene for me to watch was when Crazy Eyes heard what Piper thought of her via Larry’s faux-‘This American Life’ interview. I cried.
- Trivia: The actor who portrays Red is Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager! Pablo Schrieber is Liev Schrieber’s half-brother! The Haitian and Russian accents on Red and Claudette are terrible!
OK, LIGHTS OUT.
I think Crazy Eyes landed the heaviest line of the season, that plaintive ding of naiveté when she dared to ask Piper, “Why does everyone call me Crazy Eyes?” That unanswered silence plucked my heart offbeat for the rest of the episode.
You know, what most surprises me about Orange is all of the love. It’s not romantic love in all cases, but there’s an overarching treatment of the show’s characters as chipped hearts on the long, idle mend. Just as The Wire coddles its dope boys, Orangecherishes the wily inmates of Litchfield Women’s Correctional. Even Piper, who’s a bit of a dick.
What’s funny is that our initially sympathy for Piper rests in the commiseration that Piper doesn’t really deserve to be in prison—rather, that she doesn’t deserve to be surrounded by so much filth and menace and crude rehabilitation. But ultimately, it’s Piper who proves to be the monstrosity, and it’s all of Litchfield that’s sanded her to an unexpectedly rotten core.
By the end of season one, we’re not inclined to like Piper. We’re not inviting her to our bootleg Scrabble matches, nor do we share our headphones with her pale ungrateful ass. But we’re definitely rooting for her to suck it up, sort her life, and maybe do something with that hair. It took until the final two episodes of the season, but I finally give a shit about Piper Chapman. In a stall with no door, I pray that she one day squats at ease.