Rap's fighting words: rival stars Jay-Z and Nas revive the art of the hip-hop dis in an old-school feud that just may be about fun and profit.
"We're gonna keep it in the truest essence of hip-hop: the battle" said Jay-Z, the lanky rapper, during a recent MTV Unplugged concert. Then he launched into "Takeover" his scathing lyrical assault on fellow rapper Nas.
"That's why your l-a-a-a-m-e!--career's come to a end/There's only so long fake thugs can pretend" Jay-Z rapped, as the audience laughed and sang along.
One of the most hotly debated topics in the hip-hop world is the New York Police Department's reported clampdown on the rap industry.
In the wake of high-profile investigations into the slaying of Jam Master Jay, the joint FBI-NYPD raids on the offices of Murder Inc., and the recent arrests of 50 Cent and Fabolous on weapons charges, the hip-hop community is abuzz with talk of an elite "hip-hop squad" or "rap task force" whose duties include tailing rappers' vehicles and even monitoring their lyrics.
During a recent stint as a guest DJ on New York's Hot 97, 50 Cent tauntingly shouted out the "hip-hop cops" that he claims follow him everywhere. But does such a task force targeting rappers really exist?
continue reading the MTV News feature
Is the NYPD at War with Hip-Hop?
“See how it is now?” Ilan Benshoshan said. “Since all the assassinations started, every young mob guy goes everywhere with two bodyguards.”
We were just off Rehov Etzel, the main avenue of Tel Aviv’s notorious slum, Shchunat Hatikvah, inching our rented Mazda down a narrow lane to the entrance of a secret loansharking office run by Yossi, one of Ilan’s childhood friends. A late-model SUV was parked out front, and from the front seat, two granite-jawed recent IDF vets in sports jackets—Yossi’s security detail—locked eyes with us.
The son of Moroccan and Yemenite Jewish immigrants, Ilan grew up on the streets of Shchunat Hatikvah (literally “the Quarter of Hope”), long a breeding ground for Israel’s toughest mob bosses, bullet-scarred loansharks, drug-dealers, and junkies. And though he has lived in New York for over a decade, many of Ilan’s childhood friends stayed in Tel Aviv, rising through the criminal hierarchy to positions of power in the rackets. Ilan himself scrapped his way out of the hood, becoming an expert kickboxer. For a week now, he has been acting as my translator, driver, and hypercaffeinated guide to the deadly precincts of Israel’s underworld, often invisible to outsider eyes.
—continue reading the five-part Tablet series: Holy Land Gangland
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In January 2008, the painter Boris Lurie lay dying of kidney failure in a New York hospital, with a large poster of Joseph Stalin positioned at the foot of his bed. Few outside Lurie's intimate circle could have suspected that the Russian-born Holocaust survivor—one of the founders of the NO!art movement—had been leading a double life.
For decades, while outwardly living as a penniless artist and espousing leftist politics, Lurie spent his spare time buying penny stocks and real estate, amassing a substantial fortune. When he died, on January 7, 2008, at the age of 83, Lurie’s investments were worth an estimated $80 million. He left no heirs, and his handwritten will specified that his entire estate go toward creating the Boris Lurie Art Foundation.
continue reading Saying Yes to NO!
But five years after he first checked into a Florida rehab center, a humbler Storch says he has put that debauched period of his life to rest. He is once again writing and producing songs (for rapper Rick Ross, DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike and DJ Steven Lee) and prioritizing a new career as an electro-pop singer. In early 2015, he plans to release a four-song EP of melody-driven EDM, drum’n’bass and trap that he wrote, performed and produced almost entirely himself. The club scene shot at Mansion appears in the video for the first single, an infectious dance track called "Your Light"
"I always said that someday I'm going to sing on a record," Storch, whose smooth vocals calls to mind Calvin Harris, says during a break in shooting. "F--- it, it's time." He is slightly paunchier than he was during his streak in the mid-2000s, but behind his signature oversized aviator shades, his eyes are clear. "I'm trying to be brave and fresh with my career," he says. "I'm trying to take this medium and make it mine."
DOUGLAS CENTURY has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, Billboard, Details, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, Radar, Blender, Vibe, ARTNews and The Guardian. He is a contributing editor at Tablet Magazine: a New Read on Jewish Culture.
RIDING up the 41 floors to the Park Avenue offices of WBLS-FM, Melyssa Ford nervously smoothed a skintight blue pinstriped skirt over her thighs and fidgeted with a six-carat canary-yellow diamond ring. "I feel like I'm going to the firing squad" she said.
Ms. Ford, 24, whose wasp-thin waist and voluptuous curves have earned her prominent supporting roles in more than two dozen hip-hop and R&B videos (and subsequently the nickname Jessica Rabbit), was on her way to an interview with the self-described radio gossip queen Wendy Williams. "I'm a little star-struck" Ms. Ford said in the elevator, closing her eyes and letting her makeup artist do a last-minute touch-up. "I mean, Wendy Williams -- this is not a joke."
But Ms. Williams, whose on-air baiting has previously led to shouting matches with stars like Whitney Houston, treated Ms. Ford with kid gloves, teasing her gently about her dating life and inquiring whether the ice rink on her finger was a present from a platinum-selling rapper or basketball star. "Not at all" Ms. Ford answered. "I don't accept what I don't need." The six-carat diamond ring, she explained, was a loaner from a Fifth Avenue jeweler because that evening she was to be the host of a party at the nightclub Float, and was being trailed for the day by an MTV documentary crew.
continue reading The New York Times feature
How to Succeed in Videos Without Really Dancing
SPRING is just around the corner, and baseball fans everywhere are focused on Florida's Grapefruit League, where Derek Jeter, the Yankees' newly minted $189 million man, is nursing a tender shoulder, and the Mets' Mike Piazza is still fielding questions about the vicious beaning he suffered last season at the hand of Roger Clemens, the Rocket.
Meanwhile, in subfreezing Wyckoff, N.J., at the Bergen Thunder's indoor spring-training camp, Chris Hogan is perfecting a Rocketlike fastball, and Kyle Lustenberger is blasting moonshots that might sail 300 feet if they were not snagged by the heavy green netting of the batting cage. Some players sport Cuban link necklaces with glittering pendants bearing their uniform numbers. But the Bergen Thunder has one thing the Mets and Yankees don't have: algebra homework.
That is because the Thunder, one of the best youth baseball teams in the country, is made up of junior high school boys 13 and under. They play in the pressure-cooker world of travel baseball, all-star squads that tour the country, often by airplane, and cram as many as 100 games into a summer.
Forget the headline-making heroics of the world-class Little League team from Toms River, N.J. In contrast to Little League, travel baseball has no league at all. Instead, coaches accept invitations to dozens of tournaments across the country in a throwback to the days of barnstorming, a form of baseball that vanished with the passing of the Negro leagues.
In the days following the murder of Jam Master Jay, police, the local community and the music world all seemed to agree that whoever committed the brutal crime was going to be caught.
The killing of the beloved DJ/producer, in the neighborhood that success had never pried him from, seemed to cross every line that might prevent witnesses from cooperating with police. It was an intolerable offense, and everyone was confident that there would quickly be an answer to the question: Who killed Jam Master Jay?
Six months later, that answer still has not come. Since Jam Master Jay was shot and killed in his Jamaica, Queens, recording studio on October 30, the case has offered more questions than answers. Has the killer's trail gone completely cold? Or are detectives carefully lining up their chess pieces before making an arrest?
Jam Master Jay (born Jason Mizell), the hugely influential DJ and producer, was by most accounts one of the most well-liked men in hip-hop. There's a reward of more than $300,000 — funds raised by the Hip-Hop Summit Youth Council, the New York Police Department and a coalition spearheaded by rap mogul Russell Simmons — for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Given that the murders of two other rap legends, Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., have been unsolved since 1996 and 1997, the Mizell family and the entire hip-hop community are asking if Jay's death is fated to be yet another case of a slain hip-hop icon whose killer goes unpunished.
continue reading MTV News investigative feature Who Killed Jam Master Jay?
ON a scorching Wednesday in August in Miami Beach, Scott Storch is blasting a new dance track of his from the elevated DJ booth at Mansion nightclub. Puffing on a Marlboro Red and dressed in designer jeans, spotless white Louis Vuitton sneakers and a gray Diesel T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Mr. Cool" he is waving his arms and driving an adoring crowd into a frenzied state as lasers flash and semi-clad dancers writhe in time to the music.
It's a seductive scene, but a manufactured one. Outside Mansion it's actually late afternoon, and aside from the throng around the DJ booth, the club is empty. At the age of 40, Storch is shooting a music video for what he hopes will be his second act. After a white-hot career making hits for Beyonce, Chris Brown, Pink, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake -- he wrote and produced nearly a dozen Billboard Hot 100 top 10s between 2001 and 2005 -- Storch self-destructed in a spectacular and very public way. Thanks to a monstrous cocaine habit and a profligate lifestyle, he burned through much of a $70 million fortune (he earned a reported $17 million in 2006 alone, on par with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams that year) and alienated the labels, managers and artists who had helped make him rich. With his $10 million Greco-Roman mansion on Miami Beach's Palm Island, fleet of exotic cars and reliance on private jets, the media branded him the "Most Loathsome Man in Music" and "McDouche"
HIP-HOP made Cristal a household name. Can it also unmake it?
Since the rapper Jay-Z called for a boycott of the Champagne after its maker seemed to sniff at its popularity with rap stars, some in the music, night life and beverage industries are predicting a long-term flattening of the $300-a-bottle bubbly.
The first evidence of any effect the boycott might have come Tuesday night in Los Angeles at the BET Awards, which drew an A-list of African-American entertainers like Kanye West, Sean Combs, Mary J. Blige, Prince and Jamie Foxx. But something was missing.
THE Bronx belonged to Tito Puente last Tuesday night. As dusk fell, stars were heading uptown on the Major Deegan, and local Bronx heavyweights like the rapper Fat Joe were suiting up in their flashy best. All were coming out to pay homage to Mr. Puente, the godfather of Latin music, who was celebrating his 76th birthday in grand style at Jimmy's Bronx Cafe.
But first, Mr. Puente had to make a stop. Clad in a light cream double-breasted suit and collarless gun-metal shirt, he stepped onto the infield of Yankee Stadium to throw out the opening pitch. Introduced as "The King of Latin Swing" Mr. Puente swiveled his hips in a deft mambo step, went into his windup and then delivered an anemic, one-hopping pitch over home plate. The stadium erupted in cheers, as if he had just burned a hole in catcher Jorge Posada's mitt.
"I was a little nervous," Mr. Puente explained moments later, exiting through the stadium's underground passageways. As a child on the streets of Spanish Harlem he had always dreamed of being a professional ballplayer. Instead, he became the most famous of the Latin band leaders, and a seemingly ageless pop icon. His fans range from grandmothers who grew up dancing to his mambo rhythms, to teenagers who know Mr. Puente from crossover pop records like "Oye Como Va" and TV appearances on "The Simpsons"
continue reading A Night Out With: Tito Puente
JUST after midnight on a rain-slicked stretch of Manhattan's West Side Highway, Funkmaster Flex is taking a joy ride in his new toy, a gleaming 1966 Chevrolet Impala rolling on customized chrome wheels. "This is my favorite old-school ride" Flex tells me with a broad smile. "I'm so proud of this car because it took three years to get it together." The Impala's paint is a candy-apple red; its dashboard is festooned with sharp angles of spotless chrome; the seats are made from brand-new, buttery black leather that makes the interior smell like a Roche-Bobois showroom. Idling at a red light, the 454-horsepower engine strains under us like some caged ogre.
"This is the first time I ever really got into performance" says Flex, the Bronx-born hip-hop D.J. and radio host, before stepping on the gas and watching the red-glowing digits of his tachometer as he hits the slap-shift four-speed transmission. "In the past, I was more into cosmetics. But let me tell you: once you get into the classics, you can't go back. It's like a disease. This 454 big block engine can move, yo. I could do the quarter-mile in 13 seconds."
continue reading New York Times Magazine feature
You Can't Floss In Those Shoes