Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Una Serata Con Gucci Mane

My August 31 piece "How I Became A Member of Gucci Mane's Entourage For A Night" was translated and published in Italian culture magazine DATSHIT.

(You can read the original article in English here.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lean, Gucci Mane, And Me

I will be writing a semi-regular column on Rap Genius from now on, "ZACH TWO TIMES," about rap music, literature, drugs, art and life in general.

Here is the first post, titled, "Lean, Gucci Mane, And Me" w/ verified annotations.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ghetto Talk — I Was Interviewed by Italian Magazine DATSHIT


Mattia Salvia: I often read Rap Genius' blog, I think it's awesome. The articles are always interesting and well written. What I like the most is trying to figure out what do americans think about their rappers, how artists I listen to 24 hours a day are seen in their nation, and to compare my impressions with theirs, who sure know them better than me–even for the fact they live in the same nation, they share the same cultural context, they watch the same tv shows. 

One of the most interesting writers on RG's blog is Zach Schwartz, a very nice guy from Cleveland, Ohio. Because me and Zach are basically doing the same thing, but he on a larger scale, I decided to contact him to talk about the thing that connect us: writing about rap music as a serious thing. So we had this little conversation that I thought was the perfect start of the new seasons of my column Ghetto Talk. Thank you Zach!

MS: First of all, is this particular form of music journalism (I'm thinking about RG's blog, but also about the famous NYT's article about French Montana and the meaning of "fanute" or the interview Zadie Smith did with Jay-Z last year) something new in the US? Or is this the standard way to write about music in general and rap music in particular? I find quite interesting the fact that here in Italy it just doesn't exist.

Zach Schwartz: I would say that this particular form of rap journalism—meaning in-depth pieces on hip-hop culture—is new in the US. This goes along with the progression of rap music in general. I mean, rap music used to not even be considered music. Someone like Jay-Z wouldn’t be considered a “role model.” Now we are in a time where rap music is finally treated as a legitimate artform and Jay-Z is on the cover of Time.

This is similar to the way rock music used to be treated in the United States. Rock n’ roll used to not be treated seriously, but as it gained momentum and become one of the predominating cultural forces in the United States, a need for cultural journalists, for people to document it, arose. Hence the start of publications like Rolling Stone. Nowadays, with hip-hop as our generation’s rock n’ roll, publications like the Rap Genius blog and Complex Magazine arise to address its huge social presence.

This type of music journalism arises when a genre gains force. People already write this way about established genres like rock n’ roll. Rap is at an all-time high in terms of cultural acceptance, and is only growing, so I envision this type of music journalism about rap proliferating not only in the United States, but eventually around the world.

MS: But, I think, the fact that rap is something so easy to do is a game-changing element. Even here, where people are now discovering that rap music exists, we have thousands of 14 to 16 years old kids putting their tracks on youtube (fun fact: among them you can find three different versions of "Empire State Of Mind" for Milan, Rome and Naples). 

This makes rap music something way more pervasive. I mean: talking/writing about rock was just talking about music and the way music influenced culture, but talking about rap is talking about pretty much everything—every aspect of life: from music to literature, from politics to business (as you did with your piece about how selling records is just like selling crack).

ZS: That’s sweet that those kids in Europe are taking a Jay-Z song and making it their own—that’s the essence of hip-hop. Borrowing, taking from tradition, and making it your own. 

The game is always evolving, always changing, whether it is the music or the writing that follows it. Rock n’ Roll and its cultural documentation blew down barriers and showed how music could be its own culture—rap music continues that progression, but it shows how music can be its own lifestyle. People live, breathe hip-hop. It’s about so much more than the music: hip-hop is a way of thinking, of doing, of acting. The fact that it’s so easy to do only multiplies its influence.

Rap is startlingly honest. It’s about anything you want it to be: sex, drugs, struggle, how much we hate the police. Even look at somebody like Action Bronson—he raps about being a chef. And so the writing is also liberated, not restricted to talking solely about the music. Hip-hop is about borrowing, taking from tradition, and making it your own, so when we write about rap music, we start with the music, but then we make the piece our own. It becomes not only about hip-hop music, but the hip-hop lifestyle, and even life itself. So while rap cultural journalism is based on the cultural journalism that came before, it’s also a new thing, uniquely related to the honesty and the accessibility and the freedom that is hip-hop.

MS: You think that this new style of journalism so influenced by hip hop culture is going to be something hip hop itself? That one day we'll see writers dissing one another in their articles or read self-referential and ego-tripping pieces on the NYT?

I mean: you think that writing will be just like rapping in another form and writers just like rappers using articles instead of songs? That would be something redefining the writer's role and essence—like, a post-modern end of literature.

ZS: I don’t think it will mirror it exactly, but hip-hop will definitely and already does have an influence on the writing that covers it. Case in point would be when rap blogger Andrew Nosnitsky of Cocaine Blunts and Brian Miller of Rap Radar “beefed” over their opinions on Chief Keef last year. Wilbert Cooper of Vice Magazine employed a gonzo journalism approach when he interviewed Gucci Mane and Flocka, keeping up with their drug intake all night.

I think that anything influenced by hip-hop will have its touch. For example, Rap Genius isn’t a typical startup. The founders act like rappers instead of traditional entrepreneurs: they flaunt expensive clothes, use hip-hop lingo, and “beef” with perceived competitors like Facebook and Complex. Contemporary American alt-lit authors like Jordan Castro and Steve Roggenbuck that are heavily influenced by rap (Jordan by Gucci Mane, Steve by Lil B) act and talk like rappers, Jordan labeling his short stories with names like “Back To The Trap House” and Steve Roggenbuck stylistically borrowing from Lil B by using words like “rare” and employing intentional misspellings.

I think hip-hop is quickly becoming the attitude of young America, or at least one of its primary influencers. We think of generations in terms of their music—we associate the 20s with blues, the 60s with rock, the 70s with disco. The early 21st century is undoubtedly pop and hip-hop. Maybe, it will get even more hip-hop, and we’ll see the trends that rappers set—the emphasis on struggle, hard work, aggressiveness—manifesting themselves in almost everything our culture produces. And I think, that if rap writers truly understand the culture they are covering, they will naturally blur the lines between rapper and writer more than has ever been done before.

Zach Schwartz has written for Rap Genius, Thought Catalog, and Medium, and has his own site at www.zachtwotimes.com.

Follow Zach on Twitter: @zach_two_times

Follow Mattia on Twitter: @mttslv

Monday, September 16, 2013

Blood Types in Japanese Culture (Wikipedia Remix)

I "remixed" a wikipedia article titled "Blood Types in Japanese Culture." Source article here.

There exists a common, popular belief in Japan that a person's blood type predicts his or her personality, temperament, and compatibility with others, similar to how astrological signs are used in other countries throughout the world. Blood type, however, plays a much more prominent role in Japanese society than astrology does in other countries' societies.

The belief derives from ideas of historical scientific racism. In 1926, Japan’s Rin Hirano and Tomita Yashima published the article "Blood Type Biological Related" in the Medical Journal of Army. It was seen to be a non-statistical and unscientific report, motivated by racism. By the 1930’s, Japanese interest in the theory faded as its unscientific basis became evident.

The belief was revived in the 1970s with a book by Masahiko Nomi, a lawyer and broadcaster with no medical background. Nomi's work was largely uncontrolled and anecdotal, and the methodology of his conclusions was unclear. Because of this, he was heavily criticised by the Japanese psychological community, although his books remain popular. His son continues to promote the theory with a series of books, and by running the Institute of Blood Type Humanics. The scientific community has dismissed such beliefs as superstition or pseudoscience.

Asking one's blood type is common in Japan, and people are often surprised when a non-Japanese person does not know his or her own blood type. Facebook in many Asian countries allows users to include their blood type in their profile.

It is common among anime and manga authors to mention their character's blood types, and to give their characters corresponding blood types to match their personalities. It is common for video game series to allow for blood type as an option in their creation modes.

The Japanese national softball team has customized training to fit each player's blood type. Companies have given work assignments according to their employee’s blood type. Children at schools have been split up according to their blood type. 

Many people have been discriminated against because of their blood type. Employers have been asking blood types during interviews despite the warnings they have been given.

After then-Reconstruction Minister Ryu Matsumoto's abrasive comments towards the governors of Iwate and Miyagi forced him to resign, he blamed his behavior on his blood type, saying "My blood is type B, which means I can be irritable and impetuous, and my intentions don't always come across."

Blood type harassment and discrimination, especially against Type B’s, has been blamed for the bullying of children in playgrounds, loss of job opportunities, and ending of happy relationships. An example can be seen in the film "My Boyfriend Is Type B" where a girl is advised not to date a man because his blood type is B.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Three Poems About Heartbreak


when you came in it was all pastels

bright but ugly, and unfocused

you took your purple soul and pinned it to mine

and i was happy as the colors 

settled into a warm rhythm

like the washing 

of clothes

but you 

took those away from me with one phone call

and everything lost its hue

in one night

i went outside and it was all grey

like winter had come too early 

in the city we share

now i have to

color in the world you inhabited

with other people, places, and things

but no purple soul to swirl like stars

around the center of the universe, a heart

you once told me 

was the color of gold

that has grown dim

and unwilling to be corrected

not without

the help of an artist

such as yourself

i want to hold you but i can’t

i want to hold you but i can't

as my parents scream at each other from the front seat of the car

i slip into my music and thoughts 

my outer level of consciousness like an outfit 

i shed to swim in a lake somewhere

where there is a sign that says,

“no trespassing”

two people have been there with me: you and her 

but it was always so much fun with you

and since we’ve ended i've wanted to hold you one last time

but i can't

you stole my clothes and ran off with them

now i'm wading here alone

hoping you come back

before the cops come and find me here



and naked

’13 bonnie and clyde

i’ve never met a soulja like you

carrying so much heartbreak on her shoulder 

firing a gun at the world

we could have robbed banks together, a

'13 bonnie and clyde

a dark personality to match mine

but one night you stuck up me too

turned on me and robbed me of my stuff

i guess i never could trust a thief

who committed the same crimes as me

i don’t want my money back

i just want to know 

where you went

Saturday, August 31, 2013

How I Became a Member of Gucci Mane's Entourage For a Night

UPDATE: In October 2013, this piece was translated into Italian and published in Italian culture magazine DATSHIT.

When we arrived there was already trouble. I had called the promotion company on the morning of the concert, explaining my credentials: that I wrote for Rap Genius, had my own blog, and wanted to cover the concert. They seemed down for it. In the afternoon, I met up with two guys in an alley to get my press passes—one for me, one for my photographer.

Unfortunately, I didn’t remember either of their names when I arrived at the back entrance of the Cleveland venue. A hulking security guard and the dreadlocked head of the promotion company were standing outside smoking black n’ milds. When I tried to come in, the dreadlocked dude grabbed my pass, compared it with his own, and asked me who gave it to me. When I told him I didn’t remember their names, he laid down the law.

“Uh, you see in this business, names are everything,” he said. “And you can’t tell me a name. So this is what I’m going to have to do. I can let you in the front, in the crowd, for free, otherwise you’re going to have to wait for this dude you talked to to come out.” The security guard’s grimace confirmed the finality of his words. For this kind of joint, you needed either a name they knew or a face they recognized. I had neither.

Was this already the end? I told my photographer—Jacob Roscoe, a 16-year-old kid who owns his own clothing company in Cleveland—“don’t worry, I’ll handle this,” though I wasn’t sure if I could. Eventually, I got out my phone and showed the dreadlocked guy the number of the person I had talked to earlier. He seemed to recognize it. He told me in he would go in and find him.

10, 15 minutes passed. Nothing. When I saw the dreadlocked guy outside again, I pulled him aside and asked him what was going on. “Don’t worry, I’m not trying to finesse you,” he assured me. “It might look like I’m doing something else, but I always follow through with people. I’ll go find—op! there he is! Oats! get over here!” 

“Oats” came over and verified my face. He said, “you don’t remember my name? what were you, in a daze this morning?” I half-smiled and said “I don’t know man, I was really tired. What was the name of the other dude you were with?” 

“Polo. His name’s Polo.”

So now we were good to enter the backstage. But first, we had to go through some heavy-ass security. We got the whole shakedown—they searched our bags, patted us down, and waved a metal detector over every inch of our bodies. This was, after all, a Gucci Mane show. We might have been the most unexpected people to try to kill him, but that made us the perfect people to try to kill him. We were clean though, so we were allowed to go inside.

We got right to checking out the gig, scoping out the best spots to film and speculating where Gucci would come in from. To say that we kind of stuck out would be an understatement. We were the youngest people there by at least a couple years. And we were the only white people there, apart from two hip, bearded, and pierced dudes hired to film the event.

The opening acts came and went. About an hour before Gucci was schedule to come on, the crowd still looked dismal. With this kind of turnout, there was a chance Guwop wouldn’t even show. He had, after all, missed his last two concerts in Cleveland—just straight-up not come. But everything was unpredictable with him: that was part of his greatness. Not showing up would be consistent with his brand. He could stick his middle finger to the crowd and say “Fuck y’all, and fuck Cleveland!” and we would still cheer him on.

While we waited for him to (maybe) come, we hung around with the opening acts backstage. These were Cleveland rappers we’d heard of before—Ducky Smallz, Congrez, etc—and they were all really friendly. A lot of of them had chains and designer shit on. The girls who walked around were all beautiful in the way that would appeal to a rapper. They wore high heels and paired no-sleeved, buttoned-up shirts that showed off their cleavage with black skirts that showed off their butts. 

The last opening act finished at 11:30, and the place started heating up. The crowd, at this point, was looking good enough for him to show. It couldn’t be much longer. He was scheduled to perform at midnight. 

Of course he was late by 90 minutes. But at around 1, the guards suddenly started getting more aggressive. “Clear the hallway! Clear the fucking hallway!” they shouted. Those who didn’t jump at their word were booted out of the venue. 

We were almost about to get booted too when Jacob, my 16-year-old photographer, recognized the security guard as his study hall teacher from school. “Mr. King!” he yelled. The security guard stopped and stared. “Who the f...aww, is that who I think it is? What are you doing out here buddy!” They went in for a slap-hug. “Ay yo man, you know I love you but right now you gotta move!” he said. “They don’t want anybody in this hallway!” “No problem Mr. King,” Jacob said as we shuffled upstairs. “I’ll see you at school on Monday!”

Everyone was gathered upstairs, waiting around, when we finally heard a commotion from the stage and a roar from the audience. He had arrived. We all bolted like rats towards the balcony, where we could get a good view of his performance.

He was as big as linebacker and his personality was as big as the room. He captured everyone’s attention simply by existing. He was wearing a leopard-skin backpack with leopard-skin shoes and a leopard-skin belt—one of the top-5 outfits I'd ever seen. And not only was he here in the flesh and fresh, but he had also brought OJ Da Juiceman, another trap legend from Atlanta. They began the show by performing their 2008 hit “Make Tha Trap Say Aye.” The crowd went wild.

But enough of the balcony. When I saw that a bunch of the opening acts and the filmers had made it onto the stage, I figured we would give it a try. We walked downstairs and asked the security guard if we could come in. He told us that he had orders to not let anyone through.

Of course I couldn’t take that for an answer. I started talking out of my ass, saying words that sounded good but meant nothing, telling him that there would be trouble “from the top” if we didn’t get in. I didn’t think it would actually work, but finally, miraculously, and I have no idea why, but he just opened the door and let us in. He told us not to tell anyone. 

We were on stage. For a while, we just stood there, enjoying the concert. At one point, someone started throwing CDs on stage at Gucci, and this tub of a security guard went wild at that. He grabbed a billy club and started running around. But instead of going into the audience and pummeling the perpetrator, he took it out on us. He started shoving virtually everyone who wasn’t part of the entourage off stage. I protested: “We’re supposed to be here! We’re filming the event! We’re cool with the dudes running this!” But my words were lost on him. Everyone was thrown off stage. We stood there, deflated. “Wow, this is a bummer,” someone said.

At this point, my barely-legitimate press credentials had evaporated and we had only gotten half a story. We were out of options, and our desperation pushed us to try something drastic. We ran to the other side of the stage, where we were originally let in. I had formed some sort of story in my mind about how the camera had broken and we were coming back in after fixing it, but I doubted the security guard would buy it. But when we arrived at the entrance, the security guard had left his post for a split second, going to throw something away in the trash can a couple of meters away. A miracle from God.

I looked at Jacob. We had a second to make our decision. Getting caught in the act would ensure our expulsion from the venue. But fuck it. This was our shot. We had nothing left to lose. We darted in, and we made it. We made it.

Except this time, there was nobody on stage but Gucci’s entourage, a few of the promoters, and the white guys hired to film the event. They were all in the front of the stage, standing in the inner circle. The crazy blood rage security guard was still walking around, and I realized that we only had one option if we wanted to survive: to join that inner circle and pretend to be a member of Gucci’s entourage. 

In life, if you want to take something you’re not supposed to have, sometimes the best way to do that is just to be really fucking obvious about it. The best way to steal stuff from Wal-Mart is to just walk out with it. They figure that no one would be that brazen and stupid, but they figure wrong, because I’ve jacked a ton of stuff from there in plain view. This was a similar situation. They wouldn’t expect anybody to be standing in that inner circle, in front of the entire audience, unless they had a damn good reason to. So, Jacob and I confidently strode up there, crossed our arms, and assumed our positions in the circle.  

I was freaking out with anxiety standing there but it seemed to be working. Eventually, I looked to my left and what do you know, there’s OJ Da Juiceman standing right next to me. I figured, why not talk to him? After all, everything else had been solved this night by just saying “fuck it.” I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself to him. I told him what I did and that I’d be interested in interviewing him sometime. He said, “you know man, I’d love to, but the only problem is I gotta be two other places tonight. So let me give you my number and you can just call me.” So I gave him my iPhone and he wrote his digits down, along with “Juiceman” next to it. He gave me a slap-hug and took a picture with me.

At this point, I was so conspicuously on stage that people I knew in the audience started noticing me. Two friends from school who who were in the front row got my attention by pointing at me and were like, “fuck yeah!” I was like, "fuck yeah!" back. I also kept making awkward eye contact with some girl who I kind of knew from school, who had a look of confusion on her face as she kept pointing me out to her boyfriend. I hadn’t seen her since 9th grade and here I was, standing next to OJ Da Juiceman at a Gucci Mane concert in downtown Cleveland. Jesus...

After Gucci’s 7th or 8th song, he suddenly stopped. He pointed to the crowd, took his sunglasses off, and hulked away. He definitely stopped way too early, because the show promoters were all confused. They kept playing a song and saying stuff like “let’s get him back out here!” to the crowd. But he was long gone. The room deflated as the lights came on and everyone started filing out, us included. What a hell of a night...

When I came home I reeked of blunt smoke. I told my parents about the concert and went to bed.

Check out some of the video footage that Jacob took below. Shouts out to Rap Genius, Vexum Supply, and The Phat Startup. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jordan Castro - Last Day Before Rehab Interview

Last week, I interviewed author Jordan Castro at a Chick-Fil-A in Ohio. Jordan is the author of two poetry books, “YOUNG AMERICANS” and “if i really wanted to feel happy i’d feel happy already,” and is affiliated with the popular alt-lit publishing press headed by Tao Lin, Muumuu House. He has starred in a movie, “Shoplifting From American Apparel,” and has written a bunch of other chapbooks and ebooks. He also has a serious drug addiction.

Jordan got into some trouble re his addiction a couple weeks ago, landing first in a hospital, then a Cleveland city jail. He bonded out and is headed to a court-ordered rehab for the next 120 days or so. This is his third time in rehab in the past 9 months, and the most serious one—if he fucks up (pisses dirty) he goes to county jail for a year. The day before he left, we went to Chick-Fil-A to hang out, talk, and eat chikin. (chicken). The video below was the result...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dreams and Heartbreak

I haven’t been posting anything on my blog this summer because I’ve been really busy with something else. LightHouse Ohio, it was an entrepreneurial incubator I started with two of my friends and it took most of my summer. Other than that, I spent a week in July getting <5 hours of sleep a night baking and selling gourmet cupcakes at my town fair.

I wrote this staying up late at my friend Ziggy’s house, about to go back to school and get back to this New York life. I leave on Thursday.

This summer was really good for me. I felt like I grew a lot as a person. Home always helps ground me, helps me see perspective. I’m grateful I got to spend quality time with my friends this summer, and for all the quality conversations we had. They and my family are the most important people to me in my life. 

Everything was going so great with work, relationships, etc and then my girlfriend broke up with me a week ago. It was really shocking and heartbreaking. I felt different, in the days after...sentimental, really, alone. Like driving home, everything was glass and I risked shattering it by existing too hard. Passing by all these places I grew up around, thinking about how my dad’s side of the family has lived here for generations and I was going to New York City to pursue...flashes of a dream, an environment that I need right now for what I want.

It was sad to see, this first year out of high school. Real life has descended on us like a cloak, around our shoulders. Those who are in college, catch glimpses of the cold reality that faces them. Those who aren’t, are already in that reality. Some aren’t handling the burden well. I see drugs, immaturity, lack of privilege hindering some of the people I’ve known since I was young.

But back to the breakup. When you break up with somebody, it’s like you shared this dream and now it’s gone. And you’re left with your own dream, to nurture and care for, but all by yourself. You’re climbing the mountain alone now. It’s lonely but it’s necessary for growth sometimes. You need to let your dream grow big enough on its own. One day you’ll share someone else’s dream again, one day it might end, but always with new insights and colors and ways of seeing the world. And one day if you’re lucky, you might find somebody you fall in love with forever.

For the past two years, I haven’t listened to anything other than (trap) rap, Grimes, and Lana Del Ray. Rap hasn’t been as appealing to me lately, except for the new Gucci Mane mixtapes “World War 3: Lean” and “World War 3: Gas.” Recently, I’ve just been listening to Lana Del Ray, Nana Grizol, and The Ohioans. Here is a song by Nana Grizol that I really like:

I’ve reevaluated a lot about my life this summer. I thought I completely knew what I wanted to do with my life last year, but I found out I’m still looking. I don’t know if I care about money as much as I thought I did. I did at one point, because I believed in it in a certain moral way, as an obligation to provide and to help and also—for myself and my friends—to have fun. But money doesn’t matter if you’re not doing the things you love and being with the people you love. Those two things are more important than anything. I think a better way to phrase it is, “I want enough money so that I don’t have to care about it anymore.” Whatever I want to buy, I can get...

So now it’s going back to school alone. The lonely grind. It’s sad I lost my partner-in-crime...I was going to write “but” after the ellipses, but there is no “but.” It just is the way it is. It’s a situation I have to deal with. 

I feel hopeful, and sad, and sentimental. I feel a muted excitement for the future. The times of reflection are just as important as the times of doing. Being sad teaches you to want to be happy...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Growing the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

Last Tuesday, I spoke at the Merrimack Valley Sandbox Summit Conference in Lowell, MA. I was on the panel "Growing the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs" representing my organization, LightHouse Ohio. There is a blog recap on the LightHouse site here.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

City Girl Visits Midwest and Loves It

My girlfriend grew up in the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and now lives in Manhattan. Being in both those places her entire life, she has never lived in a city that is particularly known for being friendly. In Florida and New York, the maddening tourist crowds and resource scramble makes open hospitality a rarity.

Then she came to Solon, Ohio, my hometown, to visit me. Solon is a suburb of Cleveland. As with most Ohio suburbs, it tilts towards a rural, small-town feel rather than a truly integrated suburban space. I took her all around Northeast Ohio to get a feel for the place. One thing she kept saying was how nice the people were. In ice cream stores, the employees waited patiently with smiles on their faces until we were done tasting all the ice creams. At the West Side Market—an indoor old-school market we visited—other customers made small talk with us while we waited for our food. In the airport, on her way out of town, she told me that she saw four people who were late for their flights being escorted by security to the front of the line. Instead of being mad, people smiled and waved, “have a safe flight! Good luck!”

That is the Midwest for you. The people here are considered pretty nice, honest, and ordinary. There’s a slower way of life here, a more isolated one. When a shooting happened recently in our town—something that happens once-in-a-decade, if that—everyone buzzed about it for weeks. 

People from the Midwest often take pride in their humility. I remember reading a local sports columnist write—as if they were trying to convince themselves of it too—that the professional athletes who stayed in Cleveland stayed because they fell in love with our “hardworking, honest people.” The fans of the Indiana Pacers, when facing the big-city Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA playoffs, wore shirts that read “blue collar, gold swagger.” 

Our fashion is composed of a lot of flannel and colors that mirror our infernal and distinct Fall season. The landscape is criss-crossed by mostly the same stores and franchise restaurants, but there are pockets of fringe culture here and there, punk and art and drug scenes in cities like Columbus, Ohio, or Bloomington, Indiana, closely connected with the major state colleges, Ohio State and Indiana University.

The mass media often profiles Midwesterners as the most American of Americans. This sentiment is reinforced by linguists, who assert that what they consider “Standard English” is the dialect spoken by Midwesterners. 

The American pioneer spirit is still locked away in the Midwest. Since the beginning, foreign culture has arrived at our harbors and, like a tidal wave, surged inwards, losing power and form. It hits its farthest point inland, then receded, for a year, two years, a decade, maybe longer. Life grows in its shadow, deep in the heart of the country, nursing the heart of American culture. Then one day it gets up and moves away, an inversion of the process, to deliver the message of Appalachia and Americana to the cities and the coasts. That is why so many New York City people are secretly Midwesterners.

A great place to raise a family.

Friday, May 3, 2013

i will always love the memory of you (though we haven't spoken since october)

"Barnard Echoes" literary magazine published a poem by me titled "i will always love the memory of you (though we haven't spoken since october)"

i will always love the memory of you (though we haven't spoken since october)

i still check your facebook a lot

but don't read your tumblr as much
because i know the poems
are no longer about me.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Business Lessons in Hip-Hop Panel

Last Thursday, I moderated a panel called "The Business Lessons in Hip-Hop." The panelists were:
The event was dope as hell. We got a huge turnout, with 85+ people, including ~25 people from outside of Columbia, including Mick Boogie, the famous mixtape DJ. All the panelists previously knew each other, and I knew all of them personally as well (James and Shawn in-person, Mahbod and Anthony from the Internet, and Corentin from a Rap Genius party the week before), so there was really good chemistry between everyone involved.

The theme of the night was the business and life lessons found in rap music, and each panelist brought something different to the discussion. James and Anthony talked about how coming from bad circumstances themselves, they could relate to rappers' stories. James specifically quoted a Kanye line about how he didn't play the cards he was dealt, instead he changed them. Mahbod was really funny and entertaining, and he did give some good advice, including the tip not to deal drugs if you go to an Ivy League school. Shawn, a huge fan of Jay-Z, brought a really intellectual standpoint to the table. Corentin, as somebody who's in constant contact with 50 Cent, was able to give us an insight about how that man works and thinks.

What stood out to me the most that night was something Shawn said. He said there were two kinds of really successful people: the Diddys and the Jay-Zs. Diddy was someone who became successful purely because of how hard he worked. He had been grinding his ass off since he was young, and you're either born that way or you're not. But then you have the Jay-Zs, the people who are able to become successful because they take the time to really evaluate and understand every situation they're in. This is how Jay-Z, in the cultural eye, has really never made a business mistake. He's smart about every decision he makes. This is something that anyone can aspire to become. This hit home hard, because I wasn't really raised with a work ethic inbred into me, so I had to acquire one. Some of my most successful friends have been hard workers since day one, and props to them, but either approach ultimately works.

Corentin also said something he personally heard from 50 cent, which was "who you know gets you there, what you know keeps you there." And because the game has changed so much, and you can get anyone's email within a couple hours nowadays, it's not really a problem of knowing people anymore. It's a problem of actually being able to offer something of value to them. 

But everyone took away different things from the panel. If you're interested more in the topic, I would check out The Phat Startup—this is what they're all about, teaching entrepreneurship through hip-hop. You can also check out the event photo album here. Thanks to CORE (Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs) and CUSH (Columbia University Society of Hip-Hop) for co-sponsoring the event. And thanks to everyone who came out and enjoyed the event!

Left to Right: Anthony, Mahbod, James, Shawn, Corentin, Me


Bwog (Columbia University Official Blog)

Jada Ashley Says


New York Daily News

Birthplace Magazine

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Last 10 Albums/Mixtapes I've Listened To

Gucci Mane & Young Scooter, Free Bricks 2

Kanye West, Late Registration

Big K.R.I.T, 4eva N A Day

Gucci Mane, Trap God 2

Young Scooter, Street Lottery

Lil Reese, Don’t Like

Doe Boy, Boyz N Da Hood 2

Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE

Lana Del Rey, Paradise

UGK, Ridin’ Dirty

I recommend all of them.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Make Friends, Not Connections

On the subway yesterday, I sat next to this kid from my school who wants to be an investment banker. He told me that he was on his way to an internship. I told him that I was on my way to eat lunch with James Lopez, co-founder of The Phat Startup, a blog about rap and entrepreneurship that I really like and that I contribute to sometimes. 

Then this kid starts talking about connections. Success in business, he says, is all about who you know. He tells me that he has an Excel spreadsheet of 200-plus names that he’s emailed asking to connect with them. He says that he color codes them based on their responses—green means keep talking, red means they’re not interested. On holidays, he emails them wishing them a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year. This is how he builds his social network.

It seemed so artificial. I guess if you want a job, this might be an effective approach, but what a soul-draining thing to do. But maybe that is the best way for him to operate—I mean, he’s objectively successful, he’s going to an Ivy League school, he has a very bright career as a Wall Street investment banker ahead of him. 

I did a pre-orientation program with this kid before. We used to talk a lot. In high school he wanted to be a doctor. He got into some incredibly prestigious direct-med programs (which means one is guaranteed acceptance into medical school upon college graduation). My ex-girlfriend got into these programs too, so I know a bit about the application process. You really have to convince their admissions committees that you are dedicated to service and have a genuine desire to help the world.

This kid told me he switched from wanting to be a doctor to an investment banker when he watched “Inside Job,” a documentary about the 2008 financial crisis. He said that rather than feeling anger towards Wall Street, as many viewers would, the film instead made him want to become an investment banker. During our pre-orientation program, we listened to a panel of successful entrepreneurs talk about their lives. One of them said “For so many of you who have always been overachievers, the best advice I can give is don’t be a performer. So many people just perform all their life. They fulfill the expectations of their parents or society rather than what they actually want to do. If you don’t do what you love, you’re not going to be happy.” Afterwards, that kid told me “you know how that guy today was talking about performers? I think that’s me.”

I see flyers all the time for "speed networking events" at Columbia. The pictures on them disgust me: a bunch of young professionals in suits, sitting at white-cloth tables, glassy eyes and painted smiles on their face making small talk for 5 minutes and then moving on. Ain't no way in hell I want to be a part of that. 

I'd rather make friends. Friends seem like the best connections of all: people who genuinely like you and who you like back, who would actually put you on. When I told that kid I was going to meet James, he said something like "good networking." I never once thought of it as networking. I thought of it as meeting a mentor-like figure for me. At lunch, James and I talked about our shared interests: rap and writing and sneakers and entrepreneurship. Never once did the conversation feel forced. I guess you could characterize him as a "connection," but he's someone who I genuinely like and admire. He's a friend.

As an introverted person, the prospect of success being so reliant on making connections used to terrify me. But that’s because I was thinking about it wrong. Trying to meet people because you want to make connections is fake and self-serving. Trying to meet people because you want to make friends—well, that’s a different story. Before I started reading The Phat Startup, I didn’t know that there were people out there who also saw the similarities between rap and entrepreneurship the way I did. I reached out, not because I wanted to make a “connection,” but because I liked what they did and thought that we would have a lot to talk about. As it turned out, we did, and I've been working with them since.

Life is all about your social network. But who’d you rather have in that network? Fake friends or real friends? People who are numbers on a spreadsheet or people whose numbers you actually have? The answer, I think, is obvious. At least if you’re real.