Evan Gabriel

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Speaking from The Middle: Ebro Darden, August Wilson and Cultural Identity

In Current, Nonfiction on May 30, 2013 at 3:32 am


How does someone compare Hot 97’s Program Director Ebro Darden with the late playwright August Wilson? And more so, why?

I recently saw an interview that New York radio station Hot 97 did with Hip-Hop’s Riff Raff, or that dude with a 16 on Harry Fraud’s “Bird On A Wire” who’s gaudy style and antics are ridiculous enough for us to question whether he is for real or not. And this question is exactly what Ebro asks Jody Highroller on Hot 97. After mumbling through his grill about custom diamonds and tattoos, which as he explains, “ain’t stickers,” Riff Raff eventually lets everybody know that despite his clothes and fucking rowdy custom jewelry, the man underneath the purple lenses is as serious as cancer.

Although I’ve read that under the direction of Harmony Korin, James Franco embarked on a character study of Riff Raff, along with this Florida cat called Dangeruss, for Korine’s new film Spring Breakers, I didn’t know much else about Raffy. Yet what I was struck by most during the morning interview was the way Ebro, who’s father was black and mother white, gasses Riff Raff on his demeanor and how it perpetuates negative black stereotypes. Through his calculated manner and pertinent points, Ebro reminded me of a modern August Wilson—who’s mother was black and father white—because he was so well spoken about the issue of identity based on race and how labels of black and white are easily dictated through popular media.

If you don’t know about August Wilson, I will refrain from diving into anything too didactic and just write a few sentence fragments: mixed playwright who grew up broke in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, dropped out of school in 10th grade after being accused of plagiarizing a paper on Napoleon, autodidact from the Pittsburgh Public Library and wrote The Century Cycle: 10 plays detailing African-American life at different intervals of the twentieth century. Oh yeah, and he won two Pulitzer prizes and a Tony Award.

In speaking about issues black and white, Ebro and Wilson are very similar in their viewpoints because they have lived the life first hand and seen the effects of what it means to “act” or “speak” black in comparison to the typical white vernacular. In his interview with Bill Moyers, Wilson breaks down his experience understanding the differences between African-Americans and other cultures. Ultimately Wilson states that black folk are specific, as any race or ethnicity is specific, based on the circumstances of upbringing. On the other hand, Ebro accuses Riff Raff of “reinforcing materialism in Hip-Hop [while] being white,” which, as he states, is wrong because he’s not from that world.

Ebro stresses that it’s unacceptable to be white in Hip Hop while perpetuating materialism in the same manner that was made fashionable by “predominately black men” who “came from an environment where they had shit, and the only way they could make themselves feel better was to overcompensate by spending money on jewelry and clothes.” In this quote, Ebro distinctly conveys, much to Cipha Sounds dismay, that due to Riff Raffs upbringing and circumstances as a white dude from Houston, he’s not merited in his rap persona.

During the Hot 97 interview, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Wilson’s elegant description of the black experience in America along with it’s subtle nuances. Where does that leave us? Is it cool, or more importantly, culturally acceptable, to be white and get your shit rowed with beads, rock an MTV and BET tattoo while being regarded as the influence behind James Franco’s gangster character in Spring Breakers?

Despite what color your skin is it comes down to this: If Riff Raff was as nice on the Mic as Eminem, Eyedea, Quel, Action Bronson or any other white rappers, then yes Raff, swerve on. If Riff Raff was, as Wilson says, raised in the circumstances that necessarily dictate one’s speech, public demeanor and cultural standing, then yes. Yet in the Hip Hop world today it boils down to skills and how much someone can pack into a flow, and this Riff Raff definitely did not bring at his Hot 97 morning session. Hell, the dude sounds like any other human who just steamed a morning L and downed three Coronas.

In Case You Slept: Danny Brown’s XXX and Why You Should Listen

In Audible on May 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm


by Evan Gabriel

For Danny Brown, 2011 marked the beginning of fame with the release of his XXX mixtape. Listeners were hit with an X-rated style, which even caused non-Hip Hop fans to google the Detroit rapper.

On one hand, the first half of XXX is extremely celebratory—touting life as a fresh superstar, being signed to A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold Records and spoils of success, which in Brown’s case are most notably sexual exploits. Tracks like “Lie4” and “Bruiser Brigade” celebrate these triumphs endlessly. Yet beyond the superficial fluff of money and the smorgasbord of substances that power the thirty-one-year old, there is a darker side to XXX that sheds light on the beauty of duality.

On the second half of he album, Brown explores his history, the grim details of present day Detroit and all the natural horrors that plague most of the city’s impoverished inhabitants. On songs like “Scrap or Die,” Brown illustrates fictional (or nonfictional) accounts of the grim copper and wire trade in Motor City. What’s more, Brown directly addresses his audience taunting, “You probably laugh/ ‘cause you know it’s true,” eerily predicting his listeners’ responses to this practice of modern barbarity, like the pillage of the crumbling city’s shambles, its abandon houses and structures providing the very livelihood of natives. Can anyone say concrete jungle?

Throughout XXX, however, Brown refuses to let the listener settle on his depiction of fame or famine as the album’s sole focus. Instead, like reality, he balances the two seamlessly. To use a phrase from Detroit author Jeffrey Eugenide’s, Danny is not acting as “a cheerleader for Detroit.” Instead, the rapper depicts Motown as a real place, one of squalor and desperation. Yet above all the grit, the city is simply his home.

Brown’s debut mixtape ends in painful realism as he portrays his life constantly teetering on destruction: “If I don’t make it my life’s a failure,” he airs with a high-pitched delivery, causing the listener to view his unabashed history of poverty and drug abuse as essential to his fame. While songs like “Blunt After Blunt” and “Radio Song” have clearly reached a wide range of listeners, the skeleton of XXX comes from a darker place, one of financial frustration, self-consciousness, and the struggle to make it in the city’s iron heart.

Listeners of XXX are left with a graphic picture of the dualistic lifestyle that Brown continues to live. Whether celebrating raucous evenings backstage, nods of Xanies on his couch or ordering girls to sit on his face, Brown also shows the pain of drug-dependencies, the influx of mindless ramblings, MDMA infused sublimity and the overbearing past that leaves the rapper with a wide smile despite his missing front tooth.

Evenings “Yore”

In Audible on May 28, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Hot new low-fi EP from Los Angeles-based producer Eveningsartist_low

Evenings “Yore” evenings

Get Incorporated

In Audible on May 28, 2013 at 6:17 pm

The Incorporated Clothing: Throwback Thursday


50’s Five Best Joints, by Evan Gabriel

this is... The Neighborhood

the Story within the Story


that almighty turn up

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