Sunday, May 28, 2006

keep on truckin'

My new interview with Too $hort is up now on, where he reveals developments that he didn't share with the major hip-hop magazines.

You know how we do . . .

Saturday, May 13, 2006

makin' babies: the prequel

From the May 10 issue of SF Weekly:

For this tour, R. Kelly is performing as "Mr. Showbiz," and audiences can expect an elaborate presentation from a crooner who may be unsure of his future, but who is going for broke to entertain nonetheless. Kelly will surely push boundaries in every sense of the word, including far-out new song arrangements: His recent Radio City Music Hall gig reportedly included an operatic rendition of "Feelin' on Yo Booty." Backed by a DJ, Kelly runs through quick-shot medleys of his many R&B hits, most of which feature his undeniably infectious, worm-like melodies that burrow deep into the brain, whether or not they're invited there. Best of all, he assumes the roles of the multiple characters from his infamous "Trapped in the Closet" serial. Kelly sings for his life on Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13, at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland at 8 p.m. Admission is $39.50-$75.00. Call (510) 465-6400 or visit for more info. — Tamara Palmer

It took quite a lot of restraint to write that preview without snide comments or jokes.* But I'm glad I didn't stoop to that level; I really wanted the fact that this is an entertainer knocking himself out to put on what he thinks is a good show to shine through. I also wanted to not think about his (and I use the term begrudgingly) alleged criminal activity for a minute, as impossible as that really is.

R. Kelly has always fascinated me. And since his trouble with the law surfaced, the curiosity has gotten a lot more morbid. I find it a continual source of amazement that his career has only continued to peak since the charges came down.

Not long after his initial arrest in Florida in 2003, I found myself browsing clothes at the Harlem branch of the H+M department store. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" came on, and every female that I saw over the next four minutes was either humming or singing portions of the song. And I was too: "Ignition" is really the song that made that enduring phrase about Kelly creating worm-like melodies that burrow into your brain stick in my head.

This is nuts, I remember thinking. He's just going to get more and more popular, even though most people think he is guilty of some terrible things.

These days, the public outrage over the incidents has lessened to a dull roar, and it seems that his cases continue to be stretched out in court forever. Michael Jackson's trial, for example, came and went already, and that all got started after Kelly was arrested.

These slow wheels of justice notwithstanding, when previewing this show, it seemed to me that this tour might well be the only time to catch Kelly in his natural habitat ever again. R. Kelly giving it all he's got on stage? I had to see it.

I also had to see who all would pay $75 plus "convenience charge" to see this show.

He did not disappoint me at all. Nor did the crowd.

A new song (whose name escapes, but has "Zoo" in the title) about jungle love was performed a cappella, including monkey mating calls. That ruled. The operatic version of "Feelin' on Yo Booty" was about a zillion times better than I thought it would be. His ultra medley was even more rapidfire than I had guessed. One musical highlight was when he sang about 30 seconds of my favorite R. Kelly song (ie. the one I will actually admit to loving) "I Wish," dedicating the song about his mother's passing to the ravaged New Orleans. Another musical highlight was his merciful decision to not sing "I Believe I Can Fly."

The Oakland crowd really knew them some R. Kelly songs. I thought I knew most of his stuff but there were at least three or four songs I didn't know with parts that the crowd sang loud and strong even without him.

There was an impressive six (count 'em) costume changes, though he thankfully decided to leave the chinchillas at home. Sartorially speaking, he didn't really wear anything provocative. Nothing too flashy, though he did have lots of sparkly jewelry.

Six was the perfect number of times to put on a new outfit -- a few less than Beyonce's staggering eight changes on the Ladies First Tour last year, but enough to be notable. I forgot to count how many times Madonna changed on the Re-Invent Yourself Tour, but I'm pretty sure it was less than six.

There was also a most awesome dance sequence. They basically did Atlanta's snap dance to Dem Franchize Boys and D4L.

Robert Kelly shook his Laffy Taffy, his Laffy Taffy.

The show was recorded for a live DVD, which begs at least a few questions:

1. Was Oakland the only stop on the tour that they filmed? (If so, they will definitely have to add some enhanced extra crowd noise in certain places, even though he had some big cheers.)

2. Will this DVD include a commentary feature similar to the Trapped in the Closet DVD? One can only pray. (If so, it will certainly give comedian Paul F. Tompkins an excuse to extend his stand-up schtick of giving commentary of Kelly's rather dull Closet commentary.)

My photo pass allowed me to shoot from the side of the house for about four minutes, enough for his medley to scoot through three songs. I wasn't very close up, nor do I have any sort of telephoto action, but at least you can tell it's him!

After I got back to my seat, Kelly invited the audience to take out their camera phones and take a picture of him. I noticed that all the ushers were gone for the moment, so I snuck out my camera again (naughty!) and took this quick flick. Note our pimpin' seats (15th row center, on the aisle).

In the end, it was a terrifically entertaining show from top to bottom, pelvic thrusts and all. I have never laughed so much while at a concert; the only thing that ever came close was watching Digital Underground (and a young Pac) humping blow-up dolls on the stage of the Shoreline Amphitheatre in 1990, but that only lasted a few minutes. This was funnier than most comedy shows I've been to -- like, ever. My cheeks hurt.

He had great parting words: "I've got a new album coming out. It's called Makin' Babies, so look out for it."

I liked that during the show, for once, Kelly was in on the joke rather than just being the joke. As inexcusable as his alleged actions are and as guilt-inducing as this feels, it was still good to relax a bit and watch him make so many people happy with what he was really meant to do.

It almost makes you want to believe that it really is his brother in that video, if only for a moment. . .

*That restraint is the very opposite of how Garrett Kamps and I savaged the "Trapped in the Closet" series last summer. We just couldn't help ourselves. . .

Originally published by SF Weekly on 8/10/2005
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.

Department of What the Fuck?
Predicting the further installments of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet"
By Garrett Kamps and Tamara Palmer

R. Kelly does not know how to write. Really. He admitted to Vibe Magazine last year that he isn't good at reading or writing, period. Yet this apparent fact has not prevented the accused statutory rapist from penning "Trapped in the Closet," a monstrous, multipart song that the crooner refers to as an "urban soap opera." So far he's completed videos for Parts 1 through 5, each one more jarringly ill-conceived than the one before it; Parts 6 through 12 are soon to be released, and Kelly has intimated that he may go to 20 or more. (There's a somewhat charming Arabian Nights quality to all this, considering Kelly's looming court date.) Adding insult to injury, he's also developing a play and a film for the saga.

Except the story line isn't much of a saga at all -- it's downright boring. So far it goes like this: Kelly hides in the closet after the husband of the woman he's freaking comes home; Kelly argues with said husband, who is a pastor, and who, it is revealed, has a gay lover (?); talk of being gay ensues; Kelly phones his own wife at home and is shocked to hear a man answer the phone; Kelly races home (getting pulled over by a cop along the way [the same cop who ... oh, never mind]), berates his woman, does the do with her, then finds a used condom in his bed; Kelly rants about the condom: "Oh my God, a rubber! Rubber! Rubber!" his voice crescendoing skyward.

For obvious reasons (and this is true), the New Yorker has declared the elements of the work as falling somewhere "between John Coltrane's open-ended searching and gospel's time-honored combination of improvisation and hamminess."

Um, what the fuck?

While we hate spoiling endings, Department of WTF? has recently come upon pages of lyric sheets for upcoming installments of this epic. Here, then, are some of our favorite couplets:

Part 6: "I can't believe that cop done fooled with my girl/ If I find him I'ma make his head whirl/ My wife says, 'Wait! There's more to this rocky boat!/ I haven't yet mentioned, my other boyfriend's a goat! Goat! Goat!'"

Part 7: "After my wife says all this mess/ Gotta leave, can't handle the stress/ Drive to the club, hopin' the ladies are tight/ Gotta get laid at least four more times tonight/ That's my plight/ What rhymes with 'plight'?/ Fight? Might? Lucite? Lucite!"

Part 10: "Decide to leave up out the club/ In the car, hit the gas, wanna find me a cub/ Stop, voices in my head, please stop, please!/ I'ma find me a girl at Chuck E. Cheeeeeese! Cheese! Cheese!"

Part 15: "Chuck E. Cheese is off the chain/ The way these girls look is causin' me strain/ Oh shit, a video game/ Mayor McCheese/ Man, I think I'm gonna hit up Mickey D's/ Why are thousands of spiders crawling up and down my arms?"

Part 73: "The seventh-grade girls say, 'We can go to our house, Daddy ain't there'/ I say, 'Great! Just show me where!'/ And, 'Can I plug a video camera in up there?'/ Now the three of us are upstairs rockin'/ Ain't no way I'm stoppin'/ Look out, the Kelly volcano's about to start pop-- [the rest of the words on this page are smeared and indecipherable]"

Part 1,379: "Now I'm flying a spaceship with 20-inch rims."

Part 73,431: "People of Earth/ This is your master, R. Kelly/ You will obey me as I am the one and true leader of all men/ Now who wanna go fuck in a kitchen?"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

dead letter office

Sometimes I feel like my resume is littered with the bodies of so many dead publications.*

A lot of them deserved to die -- especially the ones that had trouble paying their writers -- but plenty of solid ideas and strong teams haven't been enough to save some of the good ones from sad and or/dramatic demises.

I just stumbled across Magazine Deathpool's Museum of Dead Magazines and got nostalgic.

People who don't work in this industry are often surprised that I have no interest in starting my own magazine. In the future, I will refer them to this site as part of my explanation why.

I have gotten behind the causes of plenty of independent publications and I actually still find that a worthwhile and exciting venture, but ain't no way in hell I'd want to put it all on the line when there's only a grim chance of survival. Lately it's been a reality that magazines have had to take a backseat in my freelance life in order to work with publications and other clients that have quicker editorial and pay turnarounds. But that will hopefully change some day . . .

Magazine Deathpool, which is headed by "The Reaper," is pretty funny, taking regular wagers on which mags will survive and which will perish.

*My personal graveyard of publications I contributed to includes: The Face, Muzik, Bikini, Raygun, Huh?, 7, Option, UHF, Detour, Blah Blah Blah, Project X, Underground News, DMA, Lotus, Hypno, and more that escape me at this point in time. . . R.I.P., some of y'all. . .

Friday, May 05, 2006

teemoney and the east side boyz

"There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book; books are well written or badly written." -- Oscar Wilde

I wish everyone who will ever write a book or zine can experience the feeling of seeing your creation displayed well at one of your all-time favorite bookstores. Especially one that did a bit of a nice job of camouflaging it upon its initial release.

Woooooooooooooooow. That's all I've got to say. Even if they might have already taken down the display!

This is the 50-year-old literary landmark known as Cody's Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, which tonight hosted a great panel discussion about hip-hop in the family with my San Quentin celly Adisa Banjoko, Eric Arnold of East Bay Express, Guerilla Funk's T-K.A.S.H., and local Universal Zulu Nation leader and educator Joseph Miclette. Oh yeah, and me, who is not worthy but very happy to have been there throwing in a few cents (not sense).

In super ultra double-plus brief, we all agreed that the cultural aspects of hip-hop -- the dancing, the art, the DJing, and so forth -- are the most positive elements that can be taught to children of all ages. Those concerned about the proliferation of strong language, misogyny, and violence might prepare themselves to spend some extra time investigating those artists within the genre that do refrain from those ills. They may not be as easy to find, but they're definitely out there. And above all, parents would do well to cultivate an interest in what excites their children, musically or otherwise. Communication is at the root of a solid family foundation.

It was stressed that hip-hop, as an entity that's about 35, is going through the same maturation process that an adult of that age does. The metaphor seemed to hold up fairly well when talking about questions such as, "Does hip-hop have a moral compass? If not, should it?"

One of the most practical, blog-friendly tips for any parent that came up in the conversation is to look up the text of the lyrics of songs that their children might hear that may seem alarming. The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive is an ambitious online project that archives hundreds of popular and underground songs alike, all searchable by artist.

It's only the first of many discussions and projects to come for a great, yet woefully underexplored subject.