The fourth excerpt from J-Zone’s book, Root for the Villain: Rap, Bullshit, and a Celebration of Failure . This installment is for all who are socially homeless in a constantly changing, insular neighborhood-infested, and deceptively segregated NYC (despite NYC’s bogus reputation as a “melting pot”). Don’t let the 2011 remix of Brooklyn fool you. One hilarious night on the town for J-Zone explains it all. Or, maybe he’s just getting old! Root for the Villain is available for pre-order now on J-Zone’s createspace.com storefront (direct link) or on amazon.com (direct link) . Official release date is 11/15/11.
New York City . The Rotten Granny Smith. Ol’ Blue Eyes claimed that you want
to be a part of it in his unmistakable tenor. Jay-Z found enough inspiration in
this place to window dress it in a song that now finds a home in karaoke bars.
New York Yankee hats are now being manufactured in pink, for fuck’s sake. As
a New York native, I’ll claim this place until my ashes get tossed off the Throgs
Neck Bridge, but I stumble off the road at the notion that NYC is some type
of liberal melting pot. You know; a place where everyone intermingles and accepts those outside of their respective bubbles in some poster-worthy show
of tolerance. A place where people wiggle in their seats with smile-coated IBS
discomfort when discussing racism or class difference, although they cling to
those differences for dear life when deciding which part of the social lunchroom to sit in.
An image of NYC’s Union Square (where a diverse crowd cuts through
the congested transportation hub to disperse back to their own respective enclaves) neatly captured in a magazine photo I saw once is as deceptive as a
RuPaul photo; five percent of those people in the snapshot actually live there. Brooklyn’s long-standing racial tug-o-war (displayed in old Spike Lee
films and Al Sharpton-quarterbacked rallies of the ‘80s) can seem like a blast
from the past when walking through the northwestern quadrant of the borough
today. A twenty-something white girl from Idaho strolls down Flatbush Extension peering into an open Mac Book in broad daylight, while a black man in Nation of Islam garb walks right past her. The 2011 remix of Brooklyn has people actually thinking that because those two people co-exist, they also commingle.
In many ways, this place is as segregated as the belly of the Deep
South and it always has been. Many recent arrivals to the Big City of Dreams
have difficulty believing me when I speak of high school cafeteria race riots in
the ‘80s, the real estate agent-fueled polarizing of Long Island’s bedroom suburbs, or the city of Yonkers’ staunch refusal to desegregate its public schools
and housing until being ordered by the court to do so in the late 1980s.
All I have to say to those who believe in all seriousness that NYC is a
true melting pot is go out and try to play a social game of Twister in different areas of the city – see where it gets you. After six years of field study (and about
8,227 miles on my car), I can honestly say that it’s pointless to mill around in
any given NYC social “scene” for more than 15 minutes unless you call that
scene home. Everyone is so face deep in their own convoluted reality, that an
outsider is handled with tongs. The disconnect is parallel with Khalid Muhammad and Jennifer Aniston alone at a Woolworth’s lunch counter discussing interracial dating over plates of bean pies and bacon. I will also say that it’s a Haley’s Comet occurrence that anything worthwhile happens after midnight except for the occasional drunk girl fight.
One particular weekend about four years ago will always be etched
into my brain as Another Wasted Night. Every stereotype about every enclave
I passed through rung about 97 percent true. Today, the same generalizations
ring true. Then again, I’m not making generalizations, but…no, fuck that, I’m
Stop #1: Home (Jamaica, Queens)
As a kid, I knew I would always come back to my grandparents’ home to live
and build my studio. It’s only right; this is the place where I first discovered
music. Rochdale, Queens is a black, working-class section of South Jamaica,
closer to Long Island than just about any other area of NYC in appearance and
distance. Public transportation is limited to hourly Long Island Railroad service
and a few sketchy bus lines that never seem to come on time, if at all. It hasn’t changed too much since white flight left that dust cloud on it in the early ‘70s;
I doubt there will be a Whole Foods popping up anytime soon. I don’t mind
shoveling snow for the old folks on my block, but old folks are just about the
only people worth talking to over here for any length of time. A good percentage of the few young adults left over here are only good for about 15 minutes
of conversation before we veer into rap gossip (the new Smack DVD or the
whereabouts of Bang ‘Em Smurf), Superhead’s latest dick-sucking adventure,
or some shitty Tyler Perry movie that unfortunately left the cutting room floor.
“Yo Jay, you be on the creep man, where you been at?” asks Rasheem, a cat from my neighborhood. “I ain’t seen your high-yellow ass in a minute.”
I explain that I was in Europe doing gigs, and after an “aight aight,”
the subject changes immediately. Why? Because if you aren’t on BET or World
Star Hip-hop, nobody around here gives a fuck. If you can’t brag about it in the
barbershop, it has zero significance. Nobody over here is the least bit curious
about me attempting to drive in Australia with the wheel on the opposite side
of the car; it’s just not on their radar. When you admit that you’ve eaten sushi
or banged a girl with a flat ass in Europe, all you get is, “you on that other shit,
you nasty son!” I realize that the conversation has peaked and I try to break
north, but we’re interrupted by a girl with a fat ass walking by.
“Yo shortay! Yo ma, lemme holla at you real quick!” Rasheem shouts.
“Yo Jay, holla at that. You gay, nigga?”
I’ve never known a girl worth a bottle of Colt 45 backwash that would
respond to “Yo Shorty!” so I don’t say shit. Then, he informs me that the crew
is rollin’ down to the strip club tonight. He passes me a flyer with a picture of a
Patra-looking chick with a delicious ass in mid-Bogle move. Looks good, but I
“Yo son, you gotta be gay! You ain’t hollerin’ at these chicks out here,
you ain’t fuckin’ with the strip club? Nigga, what the fuck do you do?!”
I then explain to Rasheem that I’m not gay, but I don’t see the point
in lap dances. Strip clubs are a financially stupid way of catching blue balls. If
you need further explanation of why they’re a bad move, ask Pac-Man Jones.
I’ll jerk off free of charge, and then throw my dollars at my Con Edison bill. I’ll
only throw dollars at one of those bitches if I can get them back at the end of
“You my nigga Jay, but you’re on that other shit!”
I give Rasheem a pound and try to see where I’ll head next in my
socially motivated game of Twister. I make a few phone calls and get some
Stop #2: Some Loft Party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
This is a 15-mile drive for me. The whole time I’m driving, I’m mumbling to myself, “This shit better be worth it.” As I drive through “East Williamsburg” (formerly Buswick, soon to be E.W.I.L.L. or some stupid-ass acronym that solely
means the local bodega became a wi-fi café) I can’t help but think to myself:
People pay $5,000 a month to live in these
beat up ass ex-factories with 22 other people
and the shower stall is in the middle of the
living room? Smooth.
I arrive at the party and do my best to mingle. There’s a metro-sexually-tinged thrift shop fashion sense in here and the DJ just threw on a God awful mash-up of a Lil’ Wayne song and some ‘80s pop tune. I pause and reminisce about the one time I did a show over here and got semi-booed for coming out on stage to a Big Tymer$ song, but here we are a few years later. Sure enough, there are people walking around in extra medium Trap or Die t-shirts and wearing sunglasses indoors at midnight. I gotta drain the weasel, so I run to the bathroom and I really don’t like what I see when I get there. Obviously all 300 of the people that live in this loft share one bathroom, so I guess it makes sense that the toilet bowl has a mysterious tan ring around it. I’ve been to quite a few of these loft parties; this tan ring around the bowl shit is a common theme. There’s also some hair in the sink; this is totally my kind of party dude!
I step out into the party and make small talk with some broad with a flat and wide ass drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and sporting a t-shirt that has a defunct breakfast cereal on it. She tells me she’s a vegan that only goes organic, and that goes for that American Spirit cigarette she’s puffing on too. She asks where I live, so after explaining where Jamaica, Queens is (usually in relation to JFK Airport, the only Queens point of reference any current “New Yorker” seems to know besides the Beer Garden in Astoria) she responds with, “Daaamn, how do you live without the subway?!” I retort with, “Daaamn, how do you live with alternate side parking and late night track construction?!”
After I explain to her that there is indeed life beyond the Broadway Junction stop on the L train line, point out that Westchester County is not “upstate” and remind her that people do actually live on Staten Island, in Eastern Queens, and other communities that are remote from the subways (noting that her sanitation man is probably one of them), she tells me about her new dog and how much she loves to travel. She’s making soporific small talk to acquiesce me, but her insouciance reeks in her facial expressions; she really couldn’t give less of a fuck about anything I’m saying.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, I’m happy to be an official NYC girl now!”
she says in closing. No bitch, you’re a Vermont girl who bought “Empire State
of Mind” on iTunes and crashes on someone’s couch in Bed-Stuy. When you
fall asleep on the A train and miss your stop, sweetie, be sure to text me when
you wake up at the Mott Ave. station in Far Rockaway after dark. I want to be
there to watch your “official” NYC street smarts and internal NYC GPS system
Then, a guy in a pair of $400 Flight Club retro sneakers walks by. I notice that he has a Crack Is Back shirt on. I ask him about Keith Haring’s original Crack Is Wack anti-drug mural in Harlem that the shirt tried to put a spin on. He didn’t know what I was referring to, because he just moved here from Utah and finished his graphic arts study at Pratt University. Ah, I get it now, he’s going for irony. The emo-indie rock fan boy blogger becomes Young Jeezy all of a sudden, that’s so fuckin’ creative! I’ve had a crack head relative show up at a family function and it was a seminar in fear to say the least, so I ask him if he’s also had the honor.
“Nah, but the shirt is fresh,” he spat back.
I know “crack” is slang term that‘s widely used in entertainment, like “dope” is. But it’s agonizingly obvious that listening to too many rap songs has caused this little guy to talk out of his ass. When the crack epidemic was ravaging neighborhoods like the one we were standing in at that moment, he was a mere toddler on the farm and his feet were too small to have any sneakers worth being stabbed for. After he called Queens, Long Island, and Westchester “the ‘burbs” (in a tone that suggested that maybe he was calling those places soft), I just laughed. I’m hoping that one day he makes a pit stop in Wyandanch, Mount Vernon, Hollis, or New Cassel and lets his guard down when he sees the Leave It to Beaver-style homes with the neatly kept lawns. Of course it won’t be long before someone emerges from a dainty Tudor style house and pops a cap in his ass for looking out of place. For now though, I’ll let the little fucker blindly enjoy the experience of living a mile from where Biggie Smalls sold crack and rolled dice without living in fear of being murdered for a
Starter jacket. A decent-looking chick walks by, but she’s sloppy drunk and screaming the words to Kanye’s “Stronger” in my face. I’d rather thrash the bitch than bone her at this point, so after a whopping 26 minutes, I’m ready to leave. Maybe if I had never quit drinking, I could stretch it to an hour.
Stop #3: Some House Party in Park Slope, Brooklyn
My ex-girl was invited to a party thrown by her little yuppie co-worker. I stop by to pick her up, but it would be rude of me to just come and go, right? My ex (who was Japanese) can’t see that this party full of upward-nosed, newly-transplanted-to-Brooklyn snobs have made her the designated photographer, but won’t offer her any drinks or talk to her beyond giving orders. I mention this and she gets mad. To end the arguing, I allow myself to get dragged into small talk with her co-worker and her Alex P. Keaton tool of a boyfriend. I don’t expect the conversation to last long. Somehow, the purpose of doo-rags comes up. Of course this was after they deduce that I am indeed a black man, because I’m not “black like 50 Cent black, he’s black.”
I used to joke with friends about how being seen as the “non-threatening black guy” will cause conversation like this to fall out of the sky when folks decide that they no longer have to hide the silverware and get a little too cozy. The girl will ramble on about how she voted for Obama and divulge her dislike for Sarah Palin. The guy will claim he’s a closet Lil’ Jon fan. I have more respect for a man waving a Confederate flag than a makeshift “liberal” with a rap guilty pleasure who wouldn’t come to Southeast Queens to visit me anyway. Sarah Palin would behave like an ignorant redneck to my face, but my chances of fuckin’ her after a few beers would be exponentially greater than laying the pipe to soap box Becky who’s telling me fur is wrong. I went to school with folks like this, but in 1993 we both got in where we fit in. Now that Brooklyn is the hip spot, here they come – to a neighborhood that was merely another place to avoid after the sun went down. In 2011, they pass judgment on anybody who doesn’t live there and participate in that cockamamie text message network for open parking spots. Over the course of 18 years, their open snobbishness has morphed into an NYC-customized faux-liberal outer layer – and it stinks.
“We live near where they filmed The Cosby Show!”
I know that already, you fuckin’ cunt mouth. I answer their question about doo-rags. Then (like I did in the eighth grade when the blonde girl in my gym class started touching my Gumby haircut and asking me how I kept it in place) I ask them, “How do you make your hair straight like that without a hot comb?” They don’t know how to react, and neither does my ex, who then leaves with me and chews me out in the car for being “inappropriate.” As a native of Japan, I can’t blame her for not understanding the snide, Pepto-Bismol coated racism and class discrimination that stinks up the “hip” and nouveau enclaves of NYC today.
Stop #4: “Grown-N-Sexy” Event, Midtown Manhattan
Mid-90’s Bad Boy era hip-hop and R&B blasting inside, plenty of chicks with fat asses lined up outside – on paper it looks better than it is. I’m gauging the scene from the line but the dickhead bouncer, who is a dead ringer for Kay Slay, starts beefing.
“No sneakers and no Tims, bruh. White on white Air Force Ones or
Nigga please. For a $30 door cover, I should be allowed to wear whatever the fuck I want. A pair of white on white AF1s on my feet is a guarantee that I won’t go in there and start grabbing asses and throwing bottles, you know. I have a pair of shoes in the car, so I go get them and come back to bite the bullet on the door charge like an idiot because fuck it, I feel there’s nothing else to do. My friend’s 30th birthday party is going on inside, so that’s a dollar for each year. Of course 70 percent of the women in here are straight out of a Diddy video, but if you ain’t buying drinks and looking hustler fresh, you’ll be with your hand tonight. Whenever I hear these docked yacht party-going Negroes claim they’re getting their Grown-N-Sexy on today, I flash back to the flyer for this particular club, which sported the phrase Grown-n-Sexy in bold 18 point Impact font next to some made-for-BET movie-looking couple. So you cut your hair short, started shopping at Kohl’s, look like Rick Fox, and now have an iPod full of quiet storm R&B instead of rap. Nigga please, you’re still a fuckin’ punk.
After being told my afro was “so cool” by a white chick at the loft party earlier, I’m told I need a haircut “badly” by a Nia Long-looking broad in here. I guess in the land of “Grown-n-Sexy,” an atypical black hairstyle means you ain’t “grown.”
After 30 minutes of evil return stares from chicks I make eye contact with that can tell I have no money and probably notice that I’m sporting Ralph Lauren Chaps instead of real Polo, I’m again ready to leave. “Gadget hoes,” “flash hoes,” and “huddle hoes” are all out in full force; I’ve had enough. It’s now 3AM and I’ve spent the last six hours fighting to find parking spots, fighting through Houston Street traffic, and fighting to stay interested in different scenes of NYC. I’ve also dinged up my axle just a tad more on Atlantic Ave. on the way home and put 57.2 useless miles on my ride, which is the place I spent most of my time in just getting to the functions. I even drive past the local strip club Rasheem told me about earlier. A brawl had broken out and it got shut down early. Hey, at least the dude who got cracked in the dome with a Hennessy bottle won’t be falsely accused of being gay.
Ignore thy neighbor
Why can’t we all just get along and be one big picnic-in-Prospect Park-having, hand-holding city? Because the world’s greatest city is filled to capacity with residents who are only aware of what’s on the tip of their noses. For a city that prides itself on diversity and variety, the greater NYC area is the most deceptively segregated area in America. Although every part of this city has some alright people, every “scene” itself is pathetic. This is why nowadays you can find me hanging with the elderly folks in my neighborhood. Hearing their secrets to a successful marriage are pimpishly hilarious (“young brother, you gots to lay that pipe to the broad, no matter how bad the arthritis is kickin’ in!”) and their opinions hold more weight than someone who has never been north of 42nd Street, east of Broadway Junction, or south of Prospect Park telling me that racism doesn’t exist here because we’re a blue state. They also hold more weight than someone who never left Southeast Queens speaking of strip clubs like they were just invented or some Sarah Jessica Parker knock-off bitch claiming “Bed-Stuy Brooklyn!” with volume, but she never attended a basketball game at Boys & Girls High School.
Four years after my wasted night, NYC has continued to move along the path it was trudging at the time. Urban renewal of areas that are commuter friendly with Manhattan has spread deeper into Brooklyn, Queens, and even over the Hudson River. How about in Jersey City, NJ last year, where a party I was invited to was broken up by neighbors calling the police to squash the noise?
“C’mon dude, the music isn’t bothering anyone,” some guy wearing
his little sister’s pants told the cop. “Lighten up.”
But at 1AM on a slowly-changing block that was still predominantly working class, the complainants were trying to get some fuckin’ sleep so they could rise early and open up their stores for this clown to stumble into later on that day to buy a bottle of smart water. No, you “lighten up,” asshole.
It was also evident on a cold March morning in 2008, as I watched a pack of young women holding Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bags, giggling loudly, and wearing DKNY coats frolic through Bed-Stuy like it was their college campus.
“Go back where you came from white bitches!” screamed a junior high age kid on a dirt bike, as he rolled by clad in a hoodie and a baseball hat too big for his head. The knucklehead Brooklyn teenager versus the transient stranger is a tension that’s a by-product of NYC’s revitalization efforts. These people share a neighborhood in the midst of transformation, but neither cares nor understands how the other lives. The same can be said of Rasheem and the flat and wide-assed girl at the loft party. He only knows and respects what’s in tennis ball-throwing distance of his front stoop and she would never care enough to ask her postman, cab driver, or sanitation man what’s going on in their respective neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, people in Park Slope bitch about a commute to Williamsburg to see their lover because there’s no common train line to connect the two gentrified neighborhoods that are a mere three miles apart. Life sucks because they have to journey into Manhattan and back into Brooklyn to sit around and discuss their old lives in Wisconsin. Folks in the brand new, picturesque, Arverne by the Sea developments in Far Rockaway, Queens love their scenic view of the Atlantic Ocean. When they have to catch the A train or get some yogurt from the local Stop & Shop though, they’re face to face with longtime residents from the other side of the tracks who’ve been posted up in the public housing of former NYC Mayor John Lindsay’s forgotten dumping ground for the last 40 years. Hasidic Jews thwart hipsters’ attempts to re-paint bike lanes in their overlapping neighborhoods. Longtime friends move to different boroughs, and suddenly their entire relationship is based on Facebook comments. Jane from Kansas calls Harlem “Northern Manhattan” now, and it’s pretty ironic. That “Harlem World, Uptown represent, stop bein’ playa hater, Cristal bottles are poppin’ and we ain’t stoppin’” banter from rappers of the mid-‘90s was pretty God damn flossy, but the braggarts couldn’t stop Jane and her buddies from taking over the block. NYC is one big, subdivided, surface level, oblivious, and ignorantly happy city. In its current state, it’s no longer that much greater than any other major city in America. Melting pot my ass, but I’ll be damned if we don’t have the best restaurants.