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eyes opened wide.

An Educator/Emcee

Autor Jesse Abraham | 30.01.2010 | Category Uncategorized

A press-piece I wrote about being an educator and an emcee.

9:50 PM.  Thursday.  Marcus, a student I have been tutoring since he was in 6th grade, is stressing about his upcoming SATs.  We discuss the quadratic formula, the advantages of applying to UCLA over Cal Berkley, & methods for managing test anxiety.   Less than an hour later I will be standing on a stage in front of hundreds of concertgoers as they grip their $3 PBRs & wait to be moved by my music, my style, & my words.  Little do I know that the DJ’s sound equipment will fail moments before my set begins, forcing me to improvise the first 10 minutes of the show, without music.  “If you have a word in your head right now, that’s what I’m goin’ to rap about. So shout it out!” I urge the crowd.  Some will scream the first thing that comes to their minds, “Peanut butter! Dinosaurs!” Others will intentionally try to trip me up, “Orange! Chlamydia!”  As if explaining the difference between “affect” & “effect” to a student, I lead the audience through a lesson in discourse.  MC stands for ‘move the crowd’.  And as I attempt to stand apart from the competition, that’s exactly what I do.

Although it all started with the DJ, it was the MC who made hip-hop go from being a party to a worldwide, billion-dollar industry.  Emcees perform with their voices, exude style with their bodies & charisma, & project an idea with their image, but their most valuable tool is their words.  In the 1500’s in West Africa there existed a concept known as Nommo.  Nommo was the notion that supernatural power existed within the spoken word.  It was believed that words actualized life & gave people control over the elements.  Many Africans believed that no medicine or potion would be effective unless accompanied by words.  Even warfare was preceded by a verbal battle.  As an emcee in hip-hop today, having control over one’s language is a must.  As an artist, my lyrical ability, both when crafting songs & when improvising, is what sets me apart from the pack.

Miles apart.  I kicked my first rhyme when I was five years old, as I stood up on a table in the mess hall at a summer camp that my parents were working at & recited a line I had just made up during a sing-along.  Not only were both of my parents teachers, but my earliest musical influences were KRS-ONE, Rakim & A Tribe Called Quest.  The combination of the conventional academic guidance that I received at home & school & the captivating musical lessons I learned every moment in between created an ideally balanced education for the infantile emcee that I was.  I went through many phases as I was grew up, but the two elements of my life that remained consistent, & continue to be so, were learning & writing.

I am a writer.  I won my first national writing award for a short story I wrote when I was 14 years old, & I had a collection of poetry published the following year.  By the time I graduated high school I had committed myself to a life of authorship.  But every time I sat down to write something, it turned into a song.  From the time I was in my 8th grade history class presenting my term paper on the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 & I ended up rapping a song I wrote called, “Free Or Slave,” I knew that it would be impossible to separate my adoration for hip-hop from my infatuation with writing & knowledge in general.

Now, I have found myself in the felicitous position of being able to put both of my passions to practice on a daily basis.  I have been working as a tutor for nearly six years, & have been the managing director of the Hartman Tutoring Company since we became accredited in 2006.  Working with children in a one-on-one capacity has provided me with an amazing opportunity to not only help guide & mentor over 200 students over the past few years, but I have also learned invaluable lessons about communication, discourse, & the ways that different types of individuals take to the same set of concepts.  Additionally, working on such a personal level with kids has kept me in touch with youth culture, & as I have moved closer to the role of business executive it is my relationships with my students that keep me grounded within this necessary realm of my field.

As I leave Marcus’ house he asks me, “What does the JA on your hat stand for?”  I smile at the thought of where this line of questioning could go.  “Just ask,” I reply.  He laughs, understanding that I’m not going to satiate his curiosity.  The game of words and wonder continues. .Yep.

LOL

Autor Jesse Abraham | 24.01.2010 | Category Uncategorized

Of course, it started in Canada.  Allegedly LOL was first coined on a Bulletin Board System called Viewline in Calgary sometime in the early 80’s.  And now, it signifies something significant…at least to me.

The death of cool.

It’s over.  Hip is over.  Alternative doesn’t exist.  Against the grain? What grain!?! South Park is normal and boring and outdated.  Jackass is passé.  Unconventional became conventional the second that we IMPEACHED OUR PRESIDENT for getting a blowjob and lying about it.  So now, I go and look at some gangster rapper’s Twitter page, and he’s saying “I’m LOLZ!  Dem iz sum cra-z catz!!” OK, what? ‘I’m LOLZ?’ Are you. Are you really. You are laugh out loudz?  Aaaaaand you’re a hardcore thug guy with a scary picture of yourself, typing onto a computer, saying these things.

But it obviously isn’t only about these extreme situations.  High-society Manhattanite parents of students I teach type LOL in text messages they send me.  My friends use it in conversation.  My students say the word “lawl” instead of laughing.  Now, the whole LOL thing is not that big of a deal.  Although I abstain from using it 100%, I certainly don’t judge people who use it (within reason).  Additionally, I understand that often, in text messages and internet-based conversations, tone is difficult to establish and the use of LOL simply exemplifies the good-hearted nature of the comment.  I get that.  But perhaps it’s time we come up with something else.  I remember back in the AOL chat room days, I would see that someone replied to me saying “LOL,” and I’d be like “Wow! I just made that person laugh out loud with something I typed.  Very cool.”  Now when someone types it I’m like, “Oh, this person doesn’t want me to think that they’re bored or displeased by my comment.  How kind of them.”  It would be fascinating to conduct a study that might reveal what percentage of the time people who use LOL are actually laughing out loud.  Like, even a little bit.

It’s gotten ridiculous.  LOL! SMH!! ROFL!!! Imagine if these statements were true 100% of the time.  We’d be a nation of lunatics, constantly rolling on the floor with our heads shaking as we laugh out loud.  I’m laughing out loud as I picture this.  Ha.  Oh yeah, that’s what I type.  “Ha.”  It’s bland, it’s boring, but it feels more honest.  It’s in actuality the sound I’m making, kind of.  And if someone’s comment doesn’t evoke a sound, I don’t type it.  Yes yes yes, I’m a curmudgeon and should stop my bitching.  But there’s more at stake here.

The death of cool.

What used to be cool?  Being a badass was cool.  Not giving a shit was cool.  Cigarettes were cool because people could inhale fire and breathe out smoke.  Motorcycles are cool because they’re friggin psychotic death traps.  Drugs were cool because they’re dangerous and affect your sense of judgment.  And what do we have now?  Parents FORCING their children to take drugs to help them STUDY.  Sex tapes starring high-profile celebrities being released that hardly anyone cares about.  Actually, these are things that were going on in 1998.  I don’t even know what’s going on now.  What’s going on now?  I feel like…nothing’s going on now.  We’re watching youtube clips of babies biting each other’s fingers.  We’re walking around with $400 toys in our pockets called telephones.  We’re saying LOL.

We’re all saying LOL.  Cool is dead.  Sorry.

Amusingly, lol is a Dutch word which means “fun.”  In Welsh it means “nonsense.”  Actually, if you are talking to a person who speaks Welsh and you want to say “utter nonsense”, you could say “rwtsh lol.”  Try saying that.  How the hell do you say that.  Ha.

Ha.

Additionally, if you were to go to the town of Colchagua in Chile, you would find a commune called Lolol.  2,000 people live there.  That’s cool.  Also, it appears that many Hebrew-speaking folks agree with me on some level.  It’s common in Hebrew for people to use “ההה”, which in English would be “HaHaHa”.

Yes, I looked up LOL on Wikipedia.  Whatever.

You know what I used to do to try to be cool?  When the phone would ring, I would let it ring a few times before picking it up so it seemed like I was busy doing something.  And now I find myself having the same urge to replicate that when someone texts me or hits me on Twitter.  But then I catch myself doing that I’m like, “Dude.  What’re you doing.  What’s next?  You gonna, you gonna go pants somebody?  You gonna tell someone that if their hand is bigger than their face that they have cancer, and then smack them in the face when they put their hand up to measure it?  Stop.”

But I digest.  As far as I’m concerned, typing LOL is not a bad thing to do, if you’re really laughing out loud.  But some get carried away, and as Twitter has become a public form of texting, LOL abusers are being exposed.  My apologies to friends of mine who are guilty of such a quality who might be reading this, but odds are if we’re really friends I’ve already called you out.  And then there are those who agree with me.  “LOL is herpes,” I was told by a wise friend of mine. @Yugimotta said “Mi próxima banda se llamará: LOL ABUSE, eso si rifa \m/(>.<)\m/” I don’t know what this means, but it sounds like it’s in accordance with my sentiments.

One thing I’m digging about Twitter is how people now aren’t only typing their thoughts, but they’ve turned their Tweets into full-on screenplays with stage directions.  One dude I follow had something exciting happen to him and he tweeted, “YES!! Awesome! *does running backflip off the wall, falls on face, suffocates, dies*”  This cracked me up.  I even laughed out loud.

So where do we go from here?  Huh, Jesse, Mr. Critical Know-It-All?  What do you suggest? We all wear backwards hats with our initials on them and rock the same pair of baggy cargo pants we wore in high-school?  Ummm, I don’t know.  Maybe live more and abbreviate less.  Laugh more and imply less.  I think that the high-speed internet, immediate gratification, pill-popping ADD culture of the 90’s has created quite an interesting world these days.  By the way, I love the fact that I’m supposed to capitalize the first letter of “internet.”  I’d love to hear the explanation for why that’s the case.  OK I’m bored.  You must be too.

Oh and I’m dropping a mixtape on 2/16 entitled “XS”.  .Yep.

Alphabutter

Autor Jesse Abraham | 10.01.2010 | Category Uncategorized

Alphabutter: An album that in many ways hopes to reflect the organic, joyful manner in which the material itself came to life.  As musicians, Spills and I both have a lot to share and many angles to explore, but this particular project required hardly any strategy or planning.  We knew we had a deadline due to the fact he was headed to Cambodia right around New Year’s, so we pumped out as much material as possible, smiling.  We wrote and arranged most of the tracks in a 2-week span at Spills’ apartment in Bed-Stuy, surrounded by friends & family, dogs & bottles, lighters & vegetables.  Although as emcees we both have a more serious side to us, this project is meant to be a celebration and an adventure.  The album, unconventional and eclectic, was created while we discovered one another as musicians and people, as well as while we were embracing the songs themselves.  The other artists involved are good friends of ours, so the entire experience is coated in music’s mucilaginous mayhem.  It’s universal, and it brings us together.  That’s what this album did for us, and it’s what we hope it can do for its listeners as well.

FREE DOWNLOAD: www.alphabutter.bandcamp.com

Picture the scene: I’m walking from the Myrtle-Willoughby G train stop over to some “studio” where I’m gonna meet a dude named Spills & possibly record some stuff.  I had just met his fiancé a few days earlier & she urged me to come by to work with him/them.  I walk into their house not knowing what to expect, and not really expecting anything in particular – just ready to rhyme when asked to, as usual.  I’m welcomed by Angelo opening the door a crack and saying, “I HAVE A DOG!! IGNORE THE DOG! HE’LL EAT YOUR FACE!!” Accustomed to this from my job (I run a tutoring company and am often in people’s homes with crazy pets, and occasionally the parents use me as a guinea pig for how their new psycho beast will respond to strangers), I sauntered into their home comfortably and met Spills as he was setting up his 34 lb. microphone in the middle of their living room.  We said whatup and the beats started playing.  Moments later some friends of theirs walked in & found themselves chilling in the midst of the infantile stages of Alphabutter’s creation.  I wrote, I freestyled, I recorded – and before the night was over we had 4 songs done.

Days later I found myself on stage with Spills vs. Feleciacruz performing “Still Shootin”, and that night I got Spills to freestyle for the first time in his life.  Shortly after that I was at Gallery 151 chilling with the two of them, and I invited my boy Prem over to peep the scene (I had been telling Spills about Prem & urging him to get him involved in the project we had just started.)  We all ended up in the basement hanging out & freestyling, and Spills & Felecia approved of Prem’s presence and flow and such quite heartily.  From that point on it was a team that couldn’t be decelerated – recording in Bed-Stuy, mixing in Queens, performing wherever.  The project has the names Spills & Jesse Abraham on it, mostly because we put in the most work and it was our creation from the beginning, but it truly is a community-driven product.  If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a movement to create movement. Alphabutter is simply a manifestation of family-based love & passionate energy.  What up Bleu.

The album’s been getting a pretty energetic reception from this world of wide webs.  Much appreciation to everyone who’s been spreading that Alphabutter the way it deserves to be spread.  And + shouts to all involved in the creation and promotion of this project wordup.

Oh, and yes; there is more to come.  We’re already working on Betabutter.  24 letters in the Greek alphabet:::so that’s a lot of butter. .Yep.

Recording at KDS Studios

Autor Jesse Abraham | 01.01.2010 | Category Uncategorized

This past week I spent a few days down in Florida recording some tracks for my upcoming EP.  My attorney linked me with this dude named Trace, a super-talented producer, engineer and technical officer.  He sent me a smattering of beats and set up some time for me at KDS Studios in Orlando.  The tracks he sent me were different than most I’ve worked with in the past, as they were much more musically intricate and less conventional as far as beats go.  Trace has a pretty thick background in rock and hip-hop, and the combination of his progressive beats and the history that KDS has was rather inspiring for me.  Not only did this opportunity spring up at the exact same time as when the Alphabutter album was being knocked out, but it also coincided with the weeks leading up to college application deadlines.  My students were in full need of attention and I had dozens of songs to craft and finalize, all along with the standard holiday headaches that late December can bring.  Smiles.

The heavenly energy generated from the Alphabutter sessions spilled seamlessly into my writing to the beats Trace sent me.  I freestyled my way through a bunch of possible hooks and various flows for the songs he sent, penned a few ideas, and before I knew it I was flying to Florida to make some music.  Walking into KDS Studios on Monday morning, I already had a sense what kind of zone I was about to enter.  KDS was where Eminem recorded the majority of Relapse, and has been the home to absurd amounts of successful recordings from Chris Brown, Justin Timberlake, DJ Khaled, and many more.  Not a bad place for me to record a few tracks for an EP.

The “booth” was larger than my apartment.  The microphone and mixing board (SSL 9000J) cost more than my entire building.  And I had to be sure to knock out these songs in only a few days, seeing as how Flo-Rida had the room booked for the remainder of the week.  So I got focused.  Trace mentioned he really liked one of the rough mixes I had sent him earlier that week, for a song called “Who’s That?”  This was a song I wrote back in 2006, but had never used for anything because I never found the right beat for it (I write a lot of songs and verses without any music – a habit I picked up from writing tons of rhymes during class in high-school and college.)  “Who’s That?” is a really interesting record, as it has a pretty intricate back-story, three separate intended meanings, and a chorus that’s just as long as the verses.  Ahhhh well – more details will be presented about each song from the EP as the release date nears.

Next we moved on to a song riddled with drollery and amusement called “Abraham.”  This track ended up being a compilation of like five separate verses, all of which revolved around introducing (the lighter side of) who I am.  I didn’t have a hook for it though, so Trace and I put something together while I was standing there in the booth with my headphones on.  Crazy.  Following that joint we moved onto “Life is a Free Throw,” which was another song for which I had yet to write a chorus.   This was a wacky little narrative, the theme of which was how the direction of our lives is really up to us, and when it comes down to it, nobody is standing in the way of our happiness and success except for ourselves.  But somehow the story became about me waking up, eating breakfast, going to the gym, meeting a girl, going out with her, finding out she’s a prostitute, then running away from her and going back home.  Either way we all viewed it as a fun track to have in the bag, and we figured I’d write a hook later that night and we’d track it the next day.  As we were finishing a rough mix on that song, Trace pulled up an old beat he had sent me a while back that I was digging.  We had about an hour left on the day’s session, so I figured we’d just try and utilize the time by doing something with that beat.  We loaded it into the engineer’s computer, and as Trace went outside to make a phone call I walked into the booth, not really sure what I was about to do.  As Trace came back from his phone call like 10 minutes later I emerged from the  booth.  “Get Off Me” suddenly existed – an adventerous diatribe against the modern (post 1998) era of bling-bling, nerd-core, shinier-than-Diddy hip-hop.  A risky, but necessary, track.  I had it in me for years, and now it’s out.  Good.

The next day I came into the studio realizing I still hadn’t written the hook for “Life is a Free Throw.”  I had spent most of the night and morning finishing verses for a few beats that my man KO had sent my way, and I figured that writing a hook for the free throw song wouldn’t be an issue, which it wasn’t.  I wrote it as I waited for Trace and K-Lion (the studio engineer – very cool dude).  Recording that chorus was the first piece of business for the day, and it felt great as it was coming out.  I harmonized the hook, which is something I’ve never done before but knew would help strengthen the tone of the chorus.  What started as a silly little story song became a pretty powerful track right then.  Dopeness.  So we moved right on to “The Moment,” which was a glorious experience.  This is a song about loving music, women, life and energy.  I was in a real groove by this point and the physical process of singing the song was rather enjoyable.  I mean, I’ve spent the last ten years of my life recording in my bedroom, friends’ apartments and dorm rooms, closets, and seedy basements.  The joy of finding myself having flown across the country to sing some songs I wrote in such an illustrious facility comes through on this record I believe.  As we listened to a rough mix of that song, I tweeted the word “goosebumps”, right as Trace turned around to tell me that the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up.  Word.

So the next few hours were spent adding little bits and pieces to the tracks, playing them for other folks who were working in the studio (including some heads you probably have heard of) and generally vibing out to the songs.  The tracks were bounced out, we had another note-writing session the next day, and Trace made plans to send me some proofs of the tracks for approval this weekend before he starts the mastering process.  During the journey I spent some invaluable time with some Orlando-based family, wrote a few new songs and inherited my great Uncle’s bomber jacket.  This was significant as I got off the plane at LaGuardia the next day to the sight of humorous amounts of snow, ice and wind.

So tomorrow is the listening party for Alphabutter, the album by Spills and myself.  Sunday I’ll be performing in an emotional sendoff show for Spills vs. Felecia Cruz.  Then next week it’s time to live.  I’ll be listening to the mastered tracks as Trace sends them out.  I’ll be tutoring lots of kiddies.  And I’ll be enjoying this galvanizing emergence of 2010.  .Yep.

Meeting & Working with Spills vs. Felecia Cruz

Autor Jesse Abraham | 01.01.2010 | Category Uncategorized

On 11/20 (ha, that was a billion miles ago) my man Warren Britt was kind enough to book me in a show at The Exchange in Manhattan.  The lineup was stacked with talent and it had the makings of yet another righteous underground hip-hop event.  Unfortunately the sound system was being rather rebellious, so when I took the stage I opted to rock the spot a capella style, instead of spending most of my set battling with feedback, distorted levels, etc.  And when there’s nothing but a mic, a crowd, and me, I almost become immediately disinterested in sharing my prepared material, and am more inclined to improvise about the given moment.  As I freestyled my way through like 80% of my set, I happened to catch the ear of one of the shows’ promoters and performers, the almighty miss Felecia Cruz.  She watched, she listened, she enjoyed & appreciated – and clearly became the subject of a few of my rhymes as she continuously exclaimed, “Who ARE you?!? Who IS this kid!?!?!”

2 days later I was brought over to the home studio of the renowned duo, Spills vs. Felecia Cruz, in Bed-Stuy.  Their lovingly vicious dog Bleu, as well as an assortment of friends and provisions that inhabited the living room warmly greeted me.  Spills played me some beats, handed me his 18 pound mic, and off we went.  A few hours later we were four songs deep into what has now become a savage of an album, Alphabutter.  The style and tone of the album directly reflect the organic and merry manner in which the project came to life.  Spills and Felecia welcomed me to the world of their music, home, family and friends with a level of generosity and warmth that I am not accustomed to, but greatly appreciate.  Days later I found myself on stage with them at Crash Mansion, and our musical alliance was solidified.  That was a magical evening unto itself.  Homeboy Sands rocking the JA hat during his surprise set, Spills freestyling for the first time in his life outside of the club, and Dres of the Black Sheep performing to 15 ardent fans at 3 AM.  Good things.

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As the weeks progressed we ended up developing the project into a 2-sided affair.  The A-side was recorded, mixed and mastered by my man Sosa up in Jamaica, Queens.  This portion of the album featured Premonition on 5 of the 6 tracks (because he’s just that dope), Warren Britt, Felecia Cruz and Jeanette Berry.  The B-side was recorded and mixed at Spills’ crib, and he took on the responsibility of mixing those joints as well.  This side was blessed with additional features by such talented emcees as Pete Colon, Cavalier, Top $ Raz, Dyalekt and Crosby.  Every track on the album was produced by Spills, who is a freak of a cannibal of a carnivore of a zooplankton of a beat maker.  Kid’s got some skills wordup.

So we met on 11/20.  And now, 6 weeks later, Alphabutter is ready for its release.  .Yep.