206UP continues its run of special features in celebration of the blog’s five-year anniversary.
Today, we’re super pumped to be handing the keys to the blog over to the uber-creative Hollis Wong-Wear. Hers is the third entry in 206UP’s series of guest posts written by different members of the Seattle hip-hop community.
I met Hollis for the first time back in 2010 at Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, where she performed, along with fellow MC/singer MADlines, as one half of the duo Canary Sing. Since then, Hollis’ various musical projects have led her back to NY a grip of times, most notably with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis during their three night Madison Square Garden run last winter, and for a handful of shows with her own band, The Flavr Blue. Hollis wrote this essay in early July, on the eve of the electro-pop trio’s third and fourth shows in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Like many people — myself included — she has an intensely romantic relationship with New York. I’m always struck by how easily the ethos of the relatively low-key Seattle music community vibes with the perpetual turnt-up-ness of Gotham. Blue Scholars, THEESatisfaction, Shabazz Palaces, The Flavr Blue, and, of course, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have all experienced success here, which is a testament to the Town’s hustle and universality of its music. NYC can be a shark to those brave enough to swim in its entertainment waters, but none of those Seattle cats have ever gotten eaten.
Read more from Hollis below the jump.
“Dispatch From the Summer Music Journal of Hollis” (by Hollis Wong-Wear)
July 2, 2014
It’s 7 AM in July in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I’ve awoken unreasonably early for my west coast ass, to the drone of an air conditioner and blunt sunshine through apartment windows. The clock within my body is triggered easily when I’m in this city, as if dizzy or confused, or perhaps on some subconscious carpe diem-type shit: not wanting to let anything pass it by, even though my brain and bones could really use the rest.
Yesterday, my boyfriend Jeff and I flew from SeaTac to Newark Airport. On the flight I crashed out, lying poorly folded upon the tray table watching a murderously slow stream of the U.S. versus Belgium World Cup game which I paid sixteen dollars for. After landing we took a bus into Manhattan’s Port Authority with our weighted backpacks, personal items, two electric guitars, and a massive bag containing a mixer and a drum pad; thirty percent our stuff, seventy percent Flavr gear. The lug down into the subway was nothing but heat, muscle ache and humid sweat. On the express A downtown train into Brooklyn, I braided myself into the bags, embracing the guitar — an instrument I can play only glancingly — in its hard case, wrapping my legs around the rest of the luggage, trying to take up as little space as I can.
When we emerged from the subway it was into the thick heat of Bed-Stuy, a swirl of fried Caribbean smells and livery cabs, working folk and hangers out. This is the home of the prodigiously gifted Biggie Smalls, a man who posthumously inspired me to freestyle with a smirking, booming confidence — a man with whom I share a lisp.
To be in New York City in July is a slick, shallow-breathed cruelty. It is a reminder that there are extremes here that millions rise and fall asleep to, although I can only be awake. I have been tempered and coddled by Seattle’s moderation – its weather, its politics, its muted tones – and so plunging into the stick and din of a Brooklyn summer oven is a system shock.
I crave it sometimes. I lived in Manhattan for a summer when I was twenty for a human rights fellowship. We stayed in dorms on 1st Avenue and 22nd Street at Hunter College. My bed was plastic stiff and I slept miserably. At some point I contracted bed bugs — the natural habitat getting under my skin. It was the summer I first kicked it with Blue Scholars who were here for shows aligned with the Asian Pacific Islander American Poetry Summit. I was low key and extremely geeked that Geo and Sabzi had hit me up to kick it; I had been a fan of theirs since I started college. We ended up going to see The Simpsons Movie because I was too young to go anywhere interesting, and I marveled quietly at the guys’ iPhones, which I had been dissing amongst my friends with a technological integrity and purism that’s since expired.
After the movie, we fed ourselves, and ventured to the Financial District where Sabzi’s cousin was living in a sprawling, unkempt loft. Friends gathered and at some point – with no fault to the Scholars – I got impossibly high on a passed blunt, and any intimidation I had chopping it up with my favorite Town rap crew flattened under billowing reverberation and hella thoughts. Geo and Sabzi kindly walked me to my train stop, and I rode the 6 back to my dorm hovel at 4 AM, prickled by each eye that swept past, my suburban paranoia on full blast. It was not the last time I would get way too stoned that summer and ride the subway feeling different shades of crazy. Looking back, it was really the only way I was able to get some sleep.
New York, New York, big city of dreams.
City of vibrant tongues, of drama and glamour, of hunched shoulders, and of stenches that alarm my Pacific Northwest olfactory. The living is decidedly not easy out here: it is pavement and hustle. For so long my goal was to be here; to move around these streets and undergrounds knowingly; to have a shitty apartment that I paid too much for; to write voluminously and feel the most alive. I told a mentor all of that once, a couple of years after the summer of 2007, and she said: “If you want to go to New York, you better go now or else you’ll never go.” It’s 2014 and I never did. I’m only here for visits and shows now.
Next week will mark the third and fourth time my band, The Flavr Blue, will perform in New York City. The first time was our very first legit show ever, at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had used every potential hipster connect in my arsenal to get us a slot – a Wednesday night, the 12th of December, 2012 – and since we timed it for when I was tour managing with Blue Scholars for their #TOWNALLDAY tour, and Macklemore also happened to have a show in NYC that night, our debut performance ended up being quite the Seattle affair. We were scrambling and sweating in a web of cords for fifteen minutes beforehand, and I’m pretty sure the sound cut off abruptly within our first couple of songs. It was rough, but it was love. And afterwards we felt like we had just defeated the first level of a seriously hard RPG.
Last November we had a triumphant, drunken show at the Mercury Lounge on Houston Street. Immediately before our performance I took a cab straight from performing “White Walls” with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at Madison Square Garden to the beer-drenched swirl of the Mercury Lounge green room basement. Stepping on stage to perform that night was all adrenaline, and perhaps a type of self-awareness I’ve never mustered out here before, where it’s the hardest. I felt all things were possible. I felt connectivity in a city where the paradox of people and isolation thrives. It was one of those experiences that I could call “out-of-my-body,” but was actually the most within-my-body I had felt in quite some time.
Next week, we perform at Brooklyn Bowl where I saw Pharoahe Monch and Jean Grae two years ago; and then at Piano’s, the dankest party loft in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. We’re more confident and poised than ever now, a far away cry from the chaos of Cameo Gallery. We have more live instrumentation, a few new songs and covers, a stronger sense of ourselves collectively, and a determination that anything can really happen when it comes to us and our trajectory as a band. I’m thrilled to see what unfolds.
I love how this city dislocates my comfort and internal status quo; how it shoves me like I’m always getting off the train. I feel unsettled here. I am awake. Maybe I’m too old to move here, too disillusioned as to how it would be to wiggle my way into a “scene” or blindly feel my way into community. I am too ensconced in my ways — my West Coast ease. I’m too used to knowing who my people are and to whatever notoriety I’ve achieved in nine years being posted in Seattle.
But New York City is my kryptonite: a healthy glass of you-ain’t-shitness, but you could-be-the-shitness, if you carve that space out. Chiseling a place from concrete is ugly work, let alone in the booming July heat of this city. But dragging my gear from the air conditioned bus terminal into the light of a bustling New York summer, I’m ready to step up and own this, as it’s all too easy for this city to take away.
Hollis Wong-Wear is a writer, poet, artist, activist, singer, songwriter, fashion maven, MC, producer, director, musician, and the homie. Visit her website for more information.
Hollis, you’re dope. Thanks for these great snapshots of city-living and artist-hustle.