“The Greatest Day Ever”- 2017 Festival Review

Written by R. Ruiz

Take a moment to imagine the following, tides upon tides of young Black, White and Brown Americans flooding over the Bruckner Boulevard. Gay, straight, transgendered, all walks of life colliding at this historic cross way of history and culture; the port of Bronx creativity. This past weekend such a sight was to behold as hundreds came from all corners of the city to celebrate “The Greatest Day Ever”, a music festival currently in it’s 5th year.  The venue was The New York Expo Center, nestled in the Hunts Point area of the Bronx.

Hunts Point has a long history as an artist’s paradise especially for musician types. The neighborhood was a hotbed for liquor and jazz, boasting famous names like Thelonious Monk, Maxine Sullivan and Herbie Hancock. Robert Moses’s famed Bruckner and the crippling wave of industrialization that followed has removed Hunts Point from the pantheon of Jazz capitals however for one brief moment, it almost felt like I was apart of history.

The Greatest Day Ever is a two day festival that features an array of musical guests, mostly hip-hop or edm based. This year’s line-up featured  Anna Lunoe, Dillon Francis, Post Malone, The Internet, and Diplo just to name a few. There were classic rides like a ferris wheel and the zipper along side popular carnival eats. It was like going to the fair and not having to deal with the responsibility/annoyance of children. (admit it, you wish kids weren’t allowed at Dave and Buster’s as well!) It really was what you would think of as a kid growing up to be the Greatest Day Ever.

On Day 1 of the festival I was immediately impressed at the number of locals employed by the venue. I struck up conversations with several workers at the entrance and quickly learned who was from where, what spots to avoid and if the “boys” will be giving tickets that night. The vibe was relaxed. Everyone seemed to be on the same page: that no drama was to be tolerated today. Free water and vitamin water stations were set up as people boldly sparked their various herbal supplements throughout the park. The sweet smell of marijuana and fried dough filled the air. As the night lingered, I connected with friends from high school just in time as Bro Safari was about to take the stage. We slithered, elbowed, and shimmied as far to the front as we could so we could really feel the energy of the crowd wash upon us. Ice Cube would’ve been proud… it was a good day.

On Day 2, after struggling to build the strength for another day of rides and twerking, I managed to make it to the fairgrounds just at Post Malone was set to take the stage. Again, the overall energy of the event was quite chill. There was genuine enthusiasm from the crowd but I could tell people were tired.  After making my rounds on all the rides one last time, I piled in to watch Diplo close the show. Needless to say if you are a fan or have ever experienced a Diplo show, the scene is insane! Balloons flying through the air, women flying through the air, inhibitions just flying through the damn air.

Overall it really was “The Greatest Days Ever”. There was a serious attention to making sure people felt safe and comfortable in an often misunderstood community. I’d love if another festival of a similar nature would consider hosting here again. My only issue, which is not to be taken lightly, is there should have been more of an effort to reach out to local businesses in the area. As I walked to and from the 6 train, on a lone corner not even a mere 5 minutes from the venue stood Milly’s Bar & Restaurant. Had the owners known what was going on just a stone’s throw away from them they would’ve prepared a happy hour, an after party, a pre-party, something so that they could benefit from the thousands of visitors (and their wallets). While safety is key a more concerted efforts needs to be made to include small business owners. Hopefully next year these missed opportunities can be seized upon.

Bitcoins and The Bronx: An economic proposal for a financially independent future

By R. Ruiz

In today’s age of modern technology, new terms are being introduced to us everyday. One we are beginning to hear more often is “Bitcoins” or “Crypto-currency”.  What are bitcoins? Put simply, bitcoins are a new form of digital currency that can only be exchanged online. There are no banks, no transactions fees, NO MIDDLE MEN. Bitcoins can be used to buy virtually anything from anywhere. It is a universal, unregulated form of money.

Bitcoins can be obtained two ways, the first being through the “Bitcoin Exchange”. This is an online market where you can convert your physical money into bitcoins and then trade them for goods or services. The second way, which brings me to the point of this introduction, is “Bitcoin Mining”.

What is “Bitcoin Mining”?

Because there are no banks in the “Bitcoin Exchange” there is no central bank or treasury that can administer the distribution of new coins. The network must be maintained by individuals or groups of individuals dedicated to operating its servers. Programmers must solve complex math equations whose summation feeds the network’s cycle of coins. Only those who are able to solve the equations are rewarded with bitcoins. This is how the system maintains its structural and financial integrity.

In order to go “mining” one needs the proper equipment and space. Bitcoin mining requires a lot of energy. Remember, the system runs on mathematical equations so as more people join the network; the complexity of the equations will increase therefore requiring more electricity, faster processing speeds and extra ventilation so crashes are avoided.

Welcome To The Bronx: The Borough of Parks and Universities

The Bronx is home to about 10 or more institutions of higher learning, most notably Fordham University, SUNY Maritime, and  Albert Einstein College of Medicine. We host one of the nation’s largest zoological societies as well as the New York Botanical Gardens. I guess you could say we have a lot of thinkers around this way. We also have a lot of space. About 1/5th of the Bronx’s area is dedicated to parks or open spaces. Not to mention the inordinate amount of abandoned property that still stands as testament to the decades passed. A reminder that we as a community, still have a long way to go.

It’s the Economy Stupid

The New York Times published an article in 2012 where author, Adam Davidson bluntly asked “Why can’t the Bronx be more like Brooklyn?” He points out that after the 1970’s the Bronx was never able to re-establish its financial identity. The most productive parts of the Bronx’ economy stemmed from industrial activities based in Manhattan. For example, the Hunts Point Market is the largest food distributor of its kind in the world. The market provides for most if not the entire tri-state area. It’s annual revenue sits somewhere just past $2 billion. The neighboring community, once plagued by homelessness and prostitution, sees none of this money.

We have seen in the past few years the incredible power gentrification has played on the demographic and architectural makeup of this city. It’s almost impossible to mention gentrification without examining the massive impact it has had on local economies like Brooklyn and Queens. Brooklyn was once a city and Queens, a collection of  towns whose  economies were rooted in Long Island agriculture. The Bronx, however, never developed its own economic drivers.  “As of 2003, Brooklyn saw an increase of 21% in new businesses. Manufacturing jobs are increasing in Brooklyn and the borough is attracting a growing number of technology and creative firms with relatively high-paying jobs”.

An Economy for the People, by the People… Literally

With gentrification looming further north everyday Bitcoin Mining may provide a feasible solution for locals looking to invest and revitalize their own communities rather than outside influence dictating how our economy is set up or more importantly for whom will it be set up?

Bitcoin mining will allow natives the opportunity to exchange freely on the market. Especially with the federal government threatening cuts to necessary social services, Bitcoin mining gives locals the opportunity to pay for the services themselves.  Local infrastructure can be funded and supplies can be provided all via the bitcoin market. Cryptocurrency offers the Bronx the chance to leap into the new age while also developing its own self sufficient economy.

Mumble Rap is Mumble Crap: The Difference Between Culture and “Just Music”

Written by R. Ruiz

 

Hip-Hop is a culture. It is based on four key elements; the beat, the words, the art, and the fashion. It is a symphony of creative mediums working simultaneously to saturate the senses with perspective and passion. “Hip-Hop isn’t just music, it is the spiritual movement of the Blacks.” To trivialize it as just another genre of songs is to blatantly disregard an entire generation, if not several generations of people of color struggling with poverty and representation. It is the literal manifestation of the first amendment for Black America. Hip-Hop has endured public scrutiny. It has spread and evolved, offering itself up for various interpretations over the years. It continues to change and grow just as the needs and wants of the public do. The most recent adaptation of this art form, however, threatens the legitimacy and ideals on which it was originally founded.

Artists like Future and Lil Yachty are just two waves in this tsunami of musical artists known as “Mumble Rappers”. Mumble rap is self-explanatory. It focuses on the typical Hip-Hop beat, heavy bass, great for dancing… and that’s pretty much it. Individual’s record themselves mumbling inaudibly on beat with the song usually intertwining one liner’s with a poorly written chorus. Listeners don’t pay attention to the lyrics, because there really aren’t any. And therein lies the problem. Mumble rap eliminates one of the integral elements of Hip Hop culture, the words. The message. The needs and wants of the people during these increasingly tumultuous times.

For those who may not already know, Hip-Hop culture began during the late 1970’s in The Bronx. New York at the time was rife with corruption and the phenomenon soon to become known as gentrification had already begun dismantling the city. Block parties like the ones most notably held by “Kool” Herc served as safe havens for former gangsters and graffiti “vandals” to congregate without consequence, whether it be from the cops or the crackheads. Instead of bullets, the room was filled with a barrage of lyrical shots. It was vital that an MC had his arsenal of synonyms fully stocked otherwise you were sure to be another victim of verbal assault.

As Hip-Hop has spread across this country it has embraced different regional qualities, maturing in sound, shifting from simple break beats to new technology. The emergence of “story tellers” as rappers ushered in the Golden Age of Hip-Hop giving us a pantheon of political rap Gods like Public Enemy and NWA, artists focused on highlighting the racist and often times violent conditions that have plagued poor communities of color since the Civil War. For the first time since Jacob Riis’s iconic photos of New York’s slums, “…an underground art form has become a vehicle to expose a lot of critical issues that are not usually discussed in American politics.”   

In 2016, Hip-Hop continues to be astoundingly proliferate. It has enraptured nations worldwide from Haiti to China, Brazil to Japan. Hip-Hop has transcended its American origins to become rooted in one of the basic fundamentals of humanity. The unquestionable and inalienable right… to hope. Mumble Rap does not align with this message because it has no message. To take away the words of Hip-Hop, to take away this decades long mission is to kill its spirit and ultimately the spirit of Black America.   

The Original Gang of New York: How Corruption Shaped America’s Police Force

written by R.Ruiz

 

“It has been charged and maintained that the police department of the city of New York is corrupt”. The preceding is not another headline from any recent media but the opening statement in a nearly one hundred year old document that unfortunately still rings very true today. The New York City Police Department is the first of it’s kind in America, the gold standard for municipal policing in our country. It’s model, originally adopted from the Metropolitan Police Service in London has been emulated and duplicated throughout the country. Today we are faced with increased racial tensions either segregating or completely eradicating poor/ethnic communities, an overwhelming disregard for police brutality, and above all a frightening disregard for human life. The police force in America was never  established to enforce law and order but rather separate the poor from business affairs, protecting millionaire assets and performing favors for the upper echelon of the city’s elite. 

In 1844, at the request of the city council then known as the common council, the Municipal Police Act was drafted. In 1845 after cutting through reams of bureaucratic tape the nation’s first professional police force was created. The department was created largely with the intention of limiting the federal government’s role in everyday city life. There was an inherent mistrust towards a standing army in a city built on an island. But more importantly officials believed it was vital that municipal services like law enforcement be accessible to the people.

New officers were appointed to one year terms by their district aldermen. Many poor, uneducated and family burdened young men saw this as an opportunity to try and gain favor amongst their peers. There was never a task too incredulous during these times. The aldermen or councilmen by today’s terms had an infinite supply of ballotstuffers, looters, kill-for-hire’s, bootleggers and bodyguards at their fingertips. During the days of Tammany’s sway it was said the Boss Tweed used his “Crushers” to block off the room where the election ballots were counted. Two uniformed men would stand guard at the door under strict order to not let anyone out until they’ve reached the number that satisfied the Boss.

Because political clout was the only way to ensure a successful career under the Democratic machine’s reign, policemen were constantly vying for new business opportunities. The capitalist ideal was practically embedded into the foundation of the force. Rewards were giving to those who maintained a ticket quota, recovered stolen goods or even helped out friend’s of Tammany Hall.

On April 25, 1970 the New York Times ran an article titled “Graft Paid to Police Here Said to be into Millions”. 75 years after the Lexow committee held its first trial, journalist David Burnham outlined the sordid dealings our men in blue were allegedly engaged in. Drug dealers, gamblers and businessmen alike were all apart of a long list of individuals being extorted by the department. In exchange for hefty bribes, much like the mafia during most of the twentieth century, policemen offered protection against other precincts or agencies. For the second time since it’s foundation the force is publicly scrutinized and labeled as “Corrupt”.  

Nearly one hundred years after the “Report and proceedings of the Senate Committee” had been submitted, New York’s police force had remained the same. The city’s opium dens were replaced with crack houses, the tenements of the five points had all been cleared. Now it was the destitute slums under the Bruckner Bridge that rich people avoid.  There was a significant impact on society. The seeds of distrust had once again been sown. Disillusion set in and crime was rampant. Murder rates had hit an all time high, 2,245 that year. Hope had practically disappeared.  In 1990 the city made its final plea to then mayor, David Dinkins. “DO SOMETHING!!!” 

Today, America’s police departments are a much larger, better trained and seemingly more professional force than that of the mid 1800’s but what does that mean exactly? In June 2016, Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara released a statement against the city’s police, “Corruption is rife in a lot of institutions in New York and throughout”. The accusation comes amidst an avalanche of fatal police shootings, political back room deals and a large gift for favor scheme involving some of the departments highest ranking officers.

Countless hours have been dedicated to investigative committees. Teams have been assembled, dismantled and reassembled to no avail. History has shown us that a successful prosecution of corrupt cops is extremely rare and almost always a drawn out affair. Unfortunately, the appearance of the law must always be upheld… especially while it’s being broken.

 

Where the Bronx at??? : My Experience at the #Nocommission Arts Festival

written by R. Ruiz

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.This was the case for Bronx born and bred Hip Hop artist Swizz Beats who recently wrapped up his first Arts and Music Festival in the borough.

The #NoCommission Arts Festival aimed to “Bring art back to the Bronx” by welcoming upcoming artists to display their work for free, to network, and sell their pieces without fees. They also invited big name rappers from Fabolous to Young Thug, DMX and A$AP Rocky. The festival had the makings to be groundbreaking, a first of its kind in our borough. An arts event, sponsored by Bacardi, in a primarily latino and black community: Genius. A free event in an area where the average household income is less than 20k a year: Great. #NoCommission was an arts event with relatable celebrities that could target nearby neighborhood youth living in the miles and miles of New York City Housing developments. It had the makings to be everything the people of the Bronx had been asking for. But it was missing the most important thing… Bronx people!

On day 2 of the festival, after spending about 20 minutes trying to traverse vague instructions on how to download tickets and snarky attendees pushing past me, I was able to get inside to the event. After walking through the metal detectors, I was greeted by the bright lights of a carnival ferris wheel. In front of me stood a modest group of people, modest when you consider the names on the bill, I’d say maybe 300-400 people at best. In front of the group, Brooklyn native and NYC Rap all-star, Fabolous was rocking the stage. He was laying down a few classics like “Young’n”, “Can’t tell me nothing”, and “Throw it in the bag” while interweaving them with new joints from his upcoming mixtape. There was a part in Fab’s performance where he stopped and asked,“Ayo where Brooklyn at?” Around 80% of the crowd raised their hands and cheered.

After Fab concluded his set, Swizz kept the party rocking by bringing the beast, DMX on stage.  “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem”, “Party Up”, and “X Gon Give it to Ya” had the crowd throwing  drinks, shirts, and even other people in the air! Still… something was missing.  When DMX asked to see X’s in the air, few obliged. “Where’s the Bronx at?!” fell on deaf ears several times. When I left the festival that night, I was left wondering: where is the Bronx at?!?

Day 3 proved no different. Again I arrived to a shit show of staff members trying to keep pushy concert goers away from the “at capacity” show. I flashed my credentials and got in this time as press, making a beeline straight for the stage. I was excited at the idea of the show being at capacity, maybe that meant more people from the hood had heard about it and decided to show up. Unfortunately, that was not the case. After passing the metal detectors, I saw the same amount of people as the night before, give or take. I even saw familiar faces but they were mostly bloggers from the scene.

Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash were on stage when I joined the audience. Mel had just finished flexing for the crowd as the Grandmaster addressed the people and Swizz. He gave thanks for everyone who came out to support Bronx art and once again asked that all important question “Where’s the Bronx at?”

I wish someone had a soundboard because a cricket noise would have been perfect at that moment. Swizz jumped on the mic to fill the silence. He pumped the crowd up for another song. It was clear to me that the Bronx was not invited to this party. I stood until the very end to see if there would  be a difference from the night before, perhaps a mention of an after party or a surprise guest since it was Saturday. Who wants to go home early? Alas, the bars closed and Swizz wished everyone blessings as usual. I walked along Bruckner Blvd hoping to see folks linger, hop into a local bar or restaurant. Instead they all scurried in different directions. Some to the trains, some to their cars, some flagged cabs off the street. No one stayed.

During several of his mini speeches on stage Swizz was vocal about how much he wanted the Bronx to have this because he’s from the Bronx. Before and during the show, Swizz made attempts to reach out to local artists as best he could but it was an attempt too little too late. I believe Swizz wanted his people to enjoy a great show, and that he wanted it to be like shows he wished he had while growing up. However I don’t believe that the hosts for this event, Keith Rubenstein and the Somerset Group agreed with the guest list. Speculation can be made but the facts are evident. Port Morris is ground zero for gentrification in the Bronx.

The neighborhood has already undergone significant changes within the past few years. Residents have been vocal about their opposition to speculative investors, like the Somerset Group, invading poor communities in order to accommodate Suburbia’s thirst for culture. Several protests have been held against Keith Rubenstein and his partners after they insensitively tried to rebrand a neighborhood whose roots extend back to to the American Revolutionary War. Last but not least the party was held on Sommerset property. Mr. Rubenstein might as well have been perched on the rooftop, waving to the borough, shouting with background piano music: “You can’t sit with us.”

It’s painful to think that we aren’t allowed to enjoy the fruits of decades of Bronx labor in our own home. #Nocommission had a goal to bring art “back” to the Bronx but instead it ignored the rich art communities and organizations already rooted in the borough, and reignited a heated debate over gentrification and how art dictates new communities. They say in real estate that if you’re looking for the next best thing you just have to follow the drips of paint. Whether Swizz Beatz meant it or not, he helped draw a pretty line right into our backyards.

Third Thursday Open Mic – 8/18

blaqlistevent

An open mic night dedicated to the people of the Bronx. Its artists, its businesses, and its families. We welcome all who are interested in either a great performance or a stiff drink to join us. Pitorro moonshine will overfloweth from the taps while our homegrown talent performs on stage next-door. Singers, dancers, poets, rappers, comedians, artists of all kind. We invite you to join us. To become a part of the most elite group of creative masters in the city, join the BLAQLIST.
Email us at thebronxblaqlist@gmail.com to sign up early

Where the Rooster Crows, There’s a Village: 2016 Summerstage Concert Review

written by R. RuizIMG_20160715_020845

Despite a much needed downpour around late afternoon today, this July evening was particularly searing to say the least. As I was walking through St. Mary’s Park enroute to the Tito Rojas concert presented by Summerstage, I couldn’t help but pretend I was trekking through El Yunque in Puerto Rico. I closed my eyes for just a moment as I made my way up the hill to performance site. I could feel the tropical winds just barely kissing the sweat on my cheek. I could hear the steady rhythm of the congero’s drum in the distance. As I inched closer, I could see dozens of Puerto Rican flags waving in the air. It was as though they were floating amidst the sea of people.

They say timing is everything and tonight mine couldn’t be more impeccable. I arrived just as DJ Kazzanova began to play Marc Anthony’s “Preciosa”, a song I hadn’t heard since I was 12 years old, waking up on Saturday mornings to help my mom clean. The lyrics came flying back to me, with a little help from the roaring crowd behind me, “Yo te queiro, Puerto Rico! Yo te queiro, PUERTO RICO!”

I’ll admit, the energy of the audience was intoxicating and I almost didn’t notice when El Gallo, El Salsero Primero, Tito Rojas joined the stage. He immediately began speaking to the crowd. But it was more than just speaking. He was listening to them as well. He somehow managed to engage in conversation with over thousands of people at once. It was truly a sight to see. Tito did this several times throughout his performance, which included songs “Doble”, “Senora”, and “Siempre Sere”.

At the end of the show ,Tito waved to the crowd. He blessed everyone for coming out “A dios de bendiga y gracias Bronx!” To which the crowd responded with “Otra! Otra! Another! Another!”. Tito was helped offstage but not after another round of waves and blessings.

The Bronx has a very close connection with Puerto Rico and Latinx culture. It has mothered some of the most iconic names in Salsa history such as Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and Tito Puente. U.S. census data shows that 55% of people living in The Bronx are Hispanic or Latino.  The Bronx is a village, tight knit and caring. We raise each other because all too often we are neglected by the city we helped create. And although El Gallo is not from the Bronx, we are honored to have had him share in our rich tradition of block parties and fiestas. Just like the old African proverb; where the rooster crows, there really is a village.