With the sun burning a hole in his back, Atlanta native Kyle Nielsen's admiring his finished product. He's standing in the parking lot of a dilapidated apartment complex in Vine City, getting a photographs of his and Xuan Alyfe's work.
The Atlanta-born, Marietta-raised artist now living in Chicago and attending art school (the School of Art Institute of Chicago) focuses his work on geometric abstraction. Nielsen's a visiting artist for the 2014 Living Walls Conference, and he spoke to Creative Loafing about how the Atlanta arts scene nurtured him, the importance of healthy debate, and going from volunteer to featured artist.
By the time Toni Blackman was nine, she was already a hip-hop head. But popping and locking in Pittsburgh, Calif. couldn’t hold a candle to her aspirations to live in hip-hop’s birthplace, New York City. “I realized my dreams were not going to be lived in that small town I grew up in,” she says by phone from her current home in Brooklyn. As it turns out, her passion for the culture wound up taking her further beyond her Bay Area roots than she imagined.
In 2001, Blackman became the first hip-hop cultural specialist for the U.S. State Department. Wherever she goes, from Senegal to South Africa, she takes the wisdom of the cypher with her. For the educator, spoken word artist, and hip-hop ambassador, the circle in which rappers have long gathered to spit rhymes is more than an impromptu freestyle session, it’s a form of fellowship. After years spent using the cypher as a cultural tool for healing and community building, she’s turned it into hip-hop theatre with a stage show that premieres this weekend in Atlanta, co-starring D.R.E.S. tha BEATnik. Before her Wisdom of the Cypher world premiere at the Loft at Center Stage, we talked about the questions her choice to rap after college provoked, how she reconciles the relationship between hip-hop and the U.S. government, and her hope for the future of the culture.
In one of your TED Talks, you said that early on you were criticized by other emcees for trying to feminize the cypher. How did you get started and was it a challenge to find your voice in hip-hop?
Omari Hardwick isn't a household name yet, but he's working on it. The local born actor has been in the business since 2001, but the movie roles were small and the series cancelled. Nearly a decade later he caught the eye of Spike Lee who cast him as Commander Huggs in Miracle at St. Anna and things started to change. Since 2010, Hardwick has been in several blockbusters including The A-Team, Kick-Ass, For Colored Girls, and a leading role in Ava DuVernay's award-winning film, Middle of Nowhere. Hardwick has a recurring role on BET's "Being Mary Jane" as the fidelity-challenged Andre Daniels but he takes center stage in rapper 50 Cent's new crime drama "Power," premiering this weekend on the Starz Network. In the series, Hardwick plays James "Ghost" St. Patrick, a smart and street-savvy drug boss with aspirations that go far beyond the streets he came from. Hardwick recently stopped by the Creative Loafing office with his on-screen wife, portrayed by Naturi Naughton (Notorious, Lottery Ticket), to talk about the new series and growing up in Atlanta. "Power" premieres Sat., June 7, at 9 p.m. on Starz.
There's more to your 'Ghost' than meets the eye. How would you describe your character?
Omari Hardwick: Using that moniker, he is kind of a ghost. He's "phantomly," [he] comes and goes. I think a person who has a bountiful box of stuff is actually successful at making you think there's nothing there.
He's very good at hiding. He loves his wife and finds it very difficult to hide from her because she's the same woman who aided him in becoming the person we know him as on paper: a drug dealer. The [story] behind Ghost is that he wants to leave drug dealership and not be somebody that's seen as your basic Frank Lucas character of sorts who made his way out of nothing. At best he's everything he dreamed of being that Tasha is holding him back from. At worst he was simply a knucklehead. He's a bright knucklehead whose figured out how to make New York City his and the rest of the country his with the club thing.
But these aren't dry, didactic dialogues. Topics range from sexuality and OutKast's "user-friendly patriarchy," as termed by Dr. Treva Lindsey of Ohio State University, to a recontextualization of ATLiens using W.E.B. DuBois' racial theory of double-consciousness by Dr. James Peterson of Lehigh University.
While hip-hop scholarship might seem like an oxymoron to the unschooled, her series is part of a wave which has seen the recent naming of a Harvard University fellowship in honor of acclaimed rapper Nas, Texas MC Bun B lecturing on Religious Studies at Rice University, and producer 9th Wonder becoming a professor at Duke University. Following OutKast's triumphant homecoming performance at CounterPoint last week, Dr. Bradley shared how the duo helped shape her sense of identity as southern black girl growing up in Albany, Ga., and how she uses their body of work today to expand on her own.
I have to start this interview off by asking the same question that you ask of all your guests. So when did you become OutKasted?
1998. I was 14, awkward and lanky, and I'd just moved to Albany, Ga., so I was trying to figure out a way to embrace this new southern space I was in. I came from northern Virginia, which is a totally different environment, if you will. So I started making my little homemade mixtapes on the radio and most of the songs that were on my playlist came from Aquemini and [Goodie Mob's] Still Standing. That's when I became OutKasted; they just gave me another way to think about being young, southern and black.
A hint of the absurd also fuels Swinsky's obsession. Like an amalgamation of horror's most iconic villains - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface, Halloween's Michael Myers, Friday the 13th's Jason Vorhees - his main character is a masked murderer named Lazer who makes quick, sometimes comical, work of his victims.
Swinsky began honing his own eye for the gruesome during his teens as a skateboarder in Atlanta, where he documented the scene from a filmer board while using an old hi-8 camera with a telephoto lens taped on it to create a makeshift fisheye. Those early skate films, including one titled Southern Comfort that earned him a lawsuit from the liquor brand, deepened his fascination for shock footage and raw reality as explored through his work with Vice and his Vrille video series.
Today, as director of photography for directing team Motion Family, he contributes to music videos for many of rap's biggest names. It's a complementary career for the horror king of Vine, as he was crowned last year upon winning Tribeca Film Festival's first Six-Second Film Competition. In preview of the April competition, for which he's again nominated, we explored the roots of his repulsive vice and the rape scenes featured in his recently directed Black Lips video "Boys in the Wood."
Emily Kinney might be best known for her role as Beth Greene on AMC's hit series "The Walking Dead," but she's also a rather talented musician off screen as well as on. I had a chance to talk to Kinney about both her work on the post-apocalyptic show and her burgeoning musical career during this past weekend's SCAD aTVfest. Kinney talked about shooting her scenes during the hot Georgia summers, how Beth will react to the events of the mid-season finale, and what's next for her character. She also talked about her recently released album, Expired Love and a planned re-release with additional tracks this March.
So how often are you filming in the area?
We end up here more than half the year. I'd say seven months. This last year was May through ... I didn't go back until December, so May until the end of November or so.
So you guys shoot through the summer?
We do! We shoot through the hot Georgia summer.
Hopefully you're caught up with this season of AMC's hit series, "The Walking Dead." If not, you might want to skip this interview with star Scott Wilson if you want to stay spoiler-free. I had a chance to talk to Wilson during this past weekend's second annual aTVfest, hosted by Savannah College of Art and Design. Wilsom talked about the popularity of the show, being involved in the worldwide phenomenon, the state of television today, and his part in the upcoming series pilot for "Bosch."
What have you been up to since you, unfortunately, had to leave "The Walking Dead"?
Well I've been in the process of moving and finding a place to move [laughs]. So it's been very busy. I've been reading material, reading scripts, and looking for something to do, which will be fun to do. Actually, I worked on a pilot called "Bosch," based on a Michael Connelly book. He's been writing this series of books about Harry Bosch, who's an LAPD homicide detective. I'm not playing Bosch, but I was in the pilot. I love his books. He called me, asked if I would be in the pilot, and I said, "Sure."
If you're looking for the perfect gag gift to round out your Christmas shopping, you might want to think twice before putting Ben Palmer's book, "Stock Photos with Captions," on your list. With its mix of idiotic, politically-incorrect, creepster captions, his compilation of mundane stock photos culled from the Internet puts a new twist on the meaning of "stocking stuffer."
"I wonder how long it takes him to get hard," reads one above a photo of a middle-aged woman and grey-haired man harmlessly collaborating in a corporate setting. Then there's the photo of televangelist Benny Hinn, arm outstretched while cradling the Bible, with a caption that reads: "Fall over dammit I'm healing you."
That sardonic sense of humor, paired with his penchant for pranks, pretty much sums up Palmer's comedic approach. Since moving to Atlanta two and a half years ago, the Ohio native has become a staple in the local comedy scene, with regular appearances at Uptown Comedy Club, Laughing Skull Lounge, Punchline, Hole in the Wall, and elsewhere.
But his preferred stage might be his Facebook page. He uses social media the way traditional standups use a hot mic. And his posts run the gamut, from seriously depressing screeds on his personal quest for meaning to totally inane comments left on Fortune 500 companies' sponsored pages.
"That's what I love to do, just get high and try to make people laugh on the Internet," he says.
I caught up with Palmer offline this week to talk about the differences between black and white crowds, the money he's earned from running TV court scams with friends on "Judge Joe Brown" and "Judge Alex," and the reason why his dad blocked him on Facebook.
I just want to tell you that I will not be giving anyone your book for Christmas because I'm scared of what they'd think of me as a result.
Ben Palmer: What? C'mon, they'll love it man. I just wouldn't show it to any kids.
So what was the inspiration for "Stock Photos with Captions"?
Which is exactly what I thought upon hearing "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Kandi Burruss was rehashing the same storyline for season six that earned her a boatload of fan sympathy during her first season on the show (Season 2).
Once again, the former Xscape artist, hit songwriter and successful sexpreneur is engaged to be married. And, once again, her doting mother Mama Joyce is hot on her fiance's "ass." (That's a direct quote.) Besides being the plotline for their televised surreality, it inspired the premise behind "A Mother's Love," the musical written by Burruss and co-produced with her partner Todd Tucker, which premiered to star-studded audiences at the Rialto last weekend.
But here's why I really cared. Amid the cesspool of Atlanta's fiction-baiting reality TV divas, Burruss has always been the anomaly. Already acquainted with riches and fame, she had no reason to manufacture drama just to collect a check.
When I interviewed her in 2009 after season one, I was struck by how real and unpretentious she kept it. She even told me at the time that she couldn't imagine herself pursuing reality TV past one additional season. And yet here she is, four seasons later, fully immersed in the role. So in preview of "A Mother's Love," I talked to Kandi and Todd last week about navigating the blurred lines between real-life drama, reality show drama, and their new onstage drama.
As far as I can tell, they passed the bullshit detector test.
Kandi, we got to see a lot of the same kind of tension between you and your mother on your first season on the show, regarding her suspicion of your mate's intentions at the time. Would you say it's as serious now as it was then?
Earlier this month, CL asked candidates running in contested races for seats on the Atlanta Public Schools board to fill out a questionnaire about their views and plans if elected. We inquired about the political hopefuls' opinions on charter schools, the size of the APS Central Office, and school safety, among other issues. Some responded and some didn't. We've compiled all the answers we received to give readers a deeper look at the candidates. Note: These responses are unedited.
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