Navani Knows Radio: Life Lessons from ‘The Halftime Show’

halftime flyer 18thIt’s the first week of March and while for many that means jumping right into March Madness, for me it means high anticipation for the annual Halftime Show Anniversary show extravaganza. This year marks the 18th anniversary but not only that, tonight marks the last ever broadcast of the NYC radio show staple. It’s a sad day for listeners as one of NY’s longest running independent terrestrial hip-hop shows will end, leaving a huge void for those seeking the best in the indie scene. Today I am reminiscing about all the great times I’ve spent there while being a member of the show from 2011-2014. It was a time to meet amazing artists I looked up to my whole life while working with a great crew — including a legend in the industry, DJ Eclipse. Just being around for the hip-hop conversations and debates was a learning experience in music history in itself. But as I think back I realize I learned so much about life too. Here are my top life lessons from working on WNYU’s The Halftime Show.

Treat Every Opportunity Like a Job
One of the many aspects that make The Halftime Show so special is that everyone on there is a professional. They take their craft very seriously and it shows on the music and the mixes. DJ Eclipse treats the slot which is at a college radio, with all that comes with it – not always great equipment, no money, and he puts on a professional sounding show that would be fit for any of the major radio stations. That is something that he takes pride in. The point is you never know what opportunities might come from something you do now even if it’s a favor. When Eclipse was organizing the Rock Steady SummersStage Anniversary events he did such a great job that he was asked to return and organize more  SummerStage events including the 25th Anniversary concert / screening: Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives event and the 40th Anniversary of Hip-Hop Culture featuring DJ Kool Herc show. So, you never know what opportunities can come of something. In life, treat every experience and opportunity like it’s the major leagues.

halftime show crew

Photo via PhotoRob

Let Opportunities Find You
I would frantically seek out opportunities, whether it was professionally or personally. I always felt the need to make things happen. I have to be constantly ‘doing’ something. Whether it was trying to get my name in another publication or manipulating a romantic situation. But constantly chasing something leads to distraction and exhaustion. Want begets more wanting. I watched Eclipse conduct himself in a totally different way. He instead focused on his craft and just did really good work and the opportunities came to him. People noticed him and reached out to work with him on a plethora of things — anything from organizing a Summer Stage event to booking an Australian tour to DJing on MTV. He never had to chase anything. It completely changed my mindset moving forward on how I show up and operate in life.

Talent Trumps All
The best part of being part of an independent college station was the freedom. There were no program directors telling you what to play, no advertisers to appease, no payola influencing what gets spins. It meant it didn’t matter whether you were on a major label or not, or if you just sent in a really great demo – you had the same chance of getting airplay. All it came down to was one simple question: are you dope or not? Talent trumped everything. So, even if you were a big name and came out with a mediocre project, you won’t get play. But then you could be an up-and-coming artist with a dope project and boom now you are on the playlist right next to names of veterans. I think that standard garnered a certain level of trust from listeners in the show and in its practices. This was a tough crowd and rightfully so. This was the place that a pre-Grammy nominated Kanye came to freestyle over only his own beats. Where Rhymefest spit what would later be the lyrics from “Jesus Walks” in a freestyle. Now it was the place where I would be introduced to great artists like Rapsody, Rasheed Chappell, Maffew Ragazino, Wyld Bunch and Timeless Truth. At the end of the day what matters is talent.

halftime turntables

The Show Must Go On
In the time I was with Halftime we never canceled or pre-recorded a show. Not a once. No matter if people were touring or it fell right on a holiday. No matter if it was inclement weather. Not even during the black out that came after hurricane Sandy. Even Halloween was canceled that year and there went our idea to dress up as the Seinfeld crew. But the show went on. The members at the time were DJ Eclipse, DJ Skizz and Petey cologne. We all carpooled that night. I remember riding together in Petey’s car driving through the pitch-black streets of the city. It was scary af. No streetlights, no nothing. But that’s just how dedicated everyone was to the show.

External conditions aside, sometimes things would go down while the show was going on. Guests cancel at the last minute. Sometimes they get lost and come super late. Technical difficulties ensue. One time when Kool Herc came to the show someone accidentally turned the lights off in the studio and we had no idea how to get them back on. I was mortified because this was Kool Herc and now the live Ustream was pitch-black. Eclipse, Skizz and Petey all happened to be away that week. Nightmare. Finally, the lights came back on by themselves like 10 minutes later. This stuff would stress me, the rookie, out to no end. But the guys were totally fine. They didn’t stress about these things. I guess they had years more experience in dealing with it. At the end of the day they were there and the music was there and the show goes on. Being around them I learned how to not sweat the small stuff, or even big stuff that is just not in your control.  You roll with the punches, just like in life.

Salute to DJ Eclipse for holding it down for 18 years! Shout out to the crew Petey Cologne and DJ Skizz who were always supportive of me. Shout out to Lynn who was the original pioneer along with Riz. And to the countless others that would pitch in over the years: D-Stroy, Torae, DJ Boogieblind, JS-1, DJ Ready Cee and DJ Mixx, DJ Boo, DJ Amore, DJ Chela, SUCE, Dharmic X and Marz One just to name a few. Shout out to the chat room that became a community week after week. Old School Randy, I’m looking at you! Thanks for all the great memories!

Tune in to The Halftime Show finale tonight, March 2nd, live at 10:30pm EST on WNYU 89.1FM and www.wnyu.org.

Navani Knows 10 Women Who Rocked the Music Scene in 2015

As the year comes to a close and all the “Best of” lists have gone viral it has come to my attention that as per usual, women are left out of the conversation when it comes to lists for music. Maybe the people in charge just don’t bother to listen to female artists, or some will argue that this was an awful year for women in music in general. In any case, I’m taking a moment before this year officially ends to pay homage to the ladies of 2015. In case you can’t remember how much influence women still have here are my 10 fave moments of women ruling the music scene in 2015 (in no particular order).

  1. That time when M.I.A. dropped a timely political video about the refugee crisis LIKE A BOSS. When the video for “Borders” dropped I played it on repeat almost all day. How could you not question our country’s politics after listening to those lyrics:
    “Borders (What’s up with that?)
    Politics (What’s up with that?)
    Police shots (What’s up with that?)
    Identities (What’s up with that?)
    Your privilege (What’s up with that?)
    Broke people (What’s up with that?)
    Boat people (What’s up with that?)
    The realness (What’s up with that?)”
    Asking all this while sitting perched on top of a pyramid of refugees only accentuated the message. Such a powerful visual for a powerful cause. M.I.A. never shies away from the controversial topics that need to be addressed.
  2. That time when Missy Elliott made her comeback with puppets in “WTF”and the internet lost its mind. I mean, I lost my mind back in February when Katy Perry bought her on stage and the beat for “Get Your Freak On” dropped. It was a little foreshadowing that there would be more to come from Missy this year. But when the video finally did drop for “WTF” I was in Argentina and I still felt a collective “YES” scream across the world from here. YES! for creativity, YES! for dancers, YES! for being a dope female musician in a blinged-out track suit. Oh Pharrell can’t make the video shoot? No problem, we’ll just make some fly dancing puppets. Oh Missy, how we missed you so!
  3. That time when Erykah Badu dropped a mixtape featuring a collabo with her baby-daddy Andre 3000 called  “Hello” and made us reevaluate our relationship goals. When Andre says, “Okay, challenge/Leave your phone unlocked and right side up/
    Walk out the room without throwin’ your bitch off balance/
    It’s either on or off, ain’t no in between when it’s valid.” It’s his first verse of 2015 and it’s OOF, super deep. I love the entire concept of “But You Caint Use My Phone” being a social commentary on the influence and obsession of our phones in this day and age. So much so, that how we interact with them around significant others is the new test of a relationship. I mean yes, Erykah is my spirit animal so she can rarely do wrong in my book but still, this song reminded us what soul music could be.
  4. That brings us to the OTHER “Hello” of this year: That time Adele dropped her album 25 and sold more copies than anyone in one week –  3.38 Million copies in the U.S. alone to be exact. Then continued to sell over a million copies two more weeks, breaking other records along the way. BONG.  I love it when artists can rely solely on their talents to win big and not make the focus about their appearance. Adele does that brilliantly (in my British accent) time and time again. Kudos to her also for having Tristen Wilds AKA Mack Wilds AKA Michael Lee star as her love interest in this video:
  5. That time the Amy documentary came out and gave us all the feels…
    I can’t talk about Adele without thinking about my other fave British Songstress, Amy Winehouse.  I miss her so much at times like this. Luckily, this year we had the release of Amy, which gave us a few more live moments of her on the big screen to hang on to. The documentary gave an intimate look into the back story of Amy’s quick rise to fame and her fall from grace. As sad as it was to watch, I really appreciated the movie for giving an honest portrayal of someone completely overwhelmed not only with her demons but with her unwanted fame. I left with an even bigger respect for Amy as an artist, someone who valued her process and her artistry over everything else. She didn’t care about being a  pop star, she just wanted to make authentic music.
  6. That time when we learned how to say twins in Yoruba with the release of the debut self-titled album from Ibeyi. Two Afro-Cuban Parisian sisters rocked my world with their Yoruba chants over self-made hip-hop infused drum beats. If this is the year of authenticity and showing up as you are, these two take the cake. They sing about dealing with grief, loss of love, and paying homage to our ancestors in ways no 21-year-old should know about yet. Cheers to women that honor every aspect of their culture and their soul. It was an amazing album that bough traditional Afro-Cuban Yoruba music to the mainstream. And kudos to their hat-tip to Jay Electronica in the song “Exhibit Diaz” Can’t wait to see what’s next for these sisters.
  7. That time Jennifer Lopez hosted the American Music Awards and killed the opening performance, reminding us she is still a ‘Fly Girl’ at 46. And, she looked amazing doing so. I mean come on, did you think I would have a list and not mention her? Have we met?  Yes, I ride for JLo regardless but she really killed it! she performed the year’s hits better than the artists themselves. Say what you will about her as a singer or actress, but at the end of the day she is a true dancer at heart and her skills cannot be questioned in this performance.
  8. That time Florence + the Machine dropped their third studio album and it was even better than the first two… I didn’t think it was possible but then there she was, Florence and her tambourine were back with a vengeance in How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Songs like “What Kind of Man” and “Hiding” became my living room dance party anthems. I immediately channeled my barefoot, inner-hippie and followed her all the way to Montreal just to catch a peek of her singing about love, loss and her drinking problems. This album was extremely raw and personal. Well done, mate.
  9. That time Janelle Monae reminded us that #blacklivesmatter with the song “Hell You Talmbout.” It’s been a tomultrorous year in the fight against police brutality, especially on the heels of the non-indictment ruling of Tamir Rice’s case. We are hurting and tired, we scream Black Lives Matter but feel like it falls on deaf ears. Janelle Monae screamed back and let us know we were not alone when she dropped this song along side her Wondaland crew. In it she recites the names of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and the many other lives unjustly lost to police. I dare you to listen to this song and not get chills.
  10. Lastly, that time Aretha Franklin, her clutch and her fur coat, graced the stage at the Kennedy Center Honors and made President Obama cry with her performance of “Like a Woman.” Yes, she was paying homage to Carole King who wrote the song, but we know who made the song a hit. Aretha plays the piano, she drops her fur coat and all without missing a beat. If you forgot what the Queen of Soul looks like, here is your reminder.

Navani Knows the Ferguson Decision: Where is Hip Hop?

The Grand Jury decision was made Monday night not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed teen Michael Brown and I like most of America – at least my America, am heart-broken. Not surprised really, but still heart-broken. Amidst the anger and frustration I am also confused. As I watch people take the streets to protest I can’t help but wonder, where is Hip Hop in all this?

I fell in love with Hip Hop over 20 years ago for it’s rebellious nature. I loved that it talked about things that were considered taboo and went against the grain. It was brave, honest and fearless. It was a movement created and made up of people that represented me – the economically challenged, invisible person of color. For the first time people were talking about the things that went on in our communities, sharing our personal struggles and putting it out to the mainstream. It was as if we actually mattered.

Artists like Public Enemy, KRS-One, NWA and later on Nas gave a glimpse into what daily life was like for the underprivileged and underserved. The communities that are so easy to ignore. It gave a voice to those without one. It felt empowering. That’s what started my love affair with Hip Hop and that’s what I miss about it today.

20 years later and Hip Hop has grown into a huge, international, powerful cash cow yet the communities that birthed it still suffer needlessly. So many people feed off of Hip Hop culture yet no one is protecting the people it represents. It baffles me that nothing has changed. The same issues of police brutality and injustice KRS-One spoke about in “Sound of Da Police” are still happening.

These are not new issues for anyone looking in from the outside. This has been going on my entire life. If you listen to “Fight the Power” you will see that. If you watch “Do the Right Thing” and “Boyz n the Hood” you will see that. If you ever pick up a book written by a person of color you will see that. The same reoccurring themes continue to show up. It’s so easy for those that are not personally affected by it to be completely oblivious and turn a blind eye.

No matter what your thoughts of Michael Brown are – whether you classify him as a “thug” (which I have seen a lot of in my Facebook feed) or not, deserving or not – I just want to remind people that this is bigger than one case, one cop, one non-indictment. I grew up with a huge mistrust of the establishment and law enforcement as it was ingrained in our culture. We were told rules to abide by like if you ever get pulled over make sure you keep your hands up where they can see, don’t reach for the glove compartment. But now keeping your hands in the air doesn’t even work. I constantly feared and still do, for any of my male relatives or friends to ever interact with the police. If you didn’t grow up feeling like that consider yourself lucky, it’s a privilege that most people I know do not have.

I recently went to see a Keith Haring exhibit called “The Political Line.” It showed how he addressed many social and political issues like racism, gay rights, media and consumerism in his work. He used his art to make a statement and take a stand. In the gallery write up it said Keith Haring “saw the role of an artist as that of an antagonist, with a responsibility to speak out against inequity and injustice.” I agree with that statement. I have always considered true emcees to be artists.

So, now I am wondering when Hip Hop will go back to its roots and use the power of their million-dollar corporate sponsorships, the 360 deals and the millions of followers on social media to speak out against injustice? That’s the Hip Hop I know and miss.  And we need it more than ever now.

Navani Knows Esteban Castro: Latino Jazz Star ‘In the Making’

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It is always nice to see the passion of an artist that has spent their entire life honing their craft. You just have to respect them, knowing it is something they eat, live and breathe daily – even if their entire life is only 10 years. Enter Esteban Castro, the Cuban-American Jazz prodigy. Yes, I know, this word gets thrown around so much it becomes a boring cliché. Trust me, I looked for another word to replace it when describing him but it’s true, his talent is “something that excites wonder or amazement” as the dictionary defines.

At 10, Esteban’s reputation already precedes him as a musician, pianist and composer. He successfully funded the making of his debut album, In the Making via a KickStarter Campaign, in which a portion of the album proceeds was used to purchase instruments for underprivileged musicians. Okay, so add humanitarian to his list of titles. I know many grown adults that can’t even pull that much off. He then records an album with 13 original compositions and five cover songs paying homage to some of his favorite artists. So, that’s 18 songs total. Then his album is donned numerous awards including the 2013 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award from the ASCAP Foundation, making him the youngest recipient to date for his song “For Chick.” In addition, he was recognized by Downbeat Magazine winning the Best Lead-Sheet Composition for “Painted Face,” a song on his debut album.

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Super fancy, right? Well the accolades don’t even hold a torch to actually hearing his music. That is when the magic happens. Esteban successfully couples the simplicity and joy of a child with the discipline of a master in his compositions. His music has a subtle and inviting way of engaging the listener to take them through a sonic journey of rifts and clefts. His greatest appeal is in the transparent joy that he infuses in every piano stroke, every note, leaving the audience truly touched and uplifted by his utter lack of ego. If only more artists could take a page out of the Esteban Castro book, and play without pretention, without any grandiose ulterior motives other than to simply share his music.

When asked about the rave reviews of In the Making Esteban humbly states:

“I’m very fortunate and honored that my Debut Album In the Making has received critical acclaim, along with ASCAP and Downbeat awards. My dream is to grow as a musician, and continue to compose and share my music. I’ve had many great influences, and I hope to inspire other children to find expression through the universal language of music.”

Jazz lovers and general music lovers alike will find something to resonate with on In the Making. Whether it’s the upbeat, playful melodies in my personal favorite track “For Chick” which opens the album by paying homage to legendary Jazz musician Chick Corea, or the effortlessly complex title track “In the Making,” Esteban keeps the listener wanting more. I don’t know what else to say except listening to In the Making makes me incredibly happy! That in itself counts as a tremendous feat in my book. If this is just the beginning, I look forward to what the future holds for one of Jazz’ not only youngest but brightest luminaries.

Catch Esteban Castro performing live on June 26th at Mae Mae Café at 7 pm at 68 Vandam Street in New York City. For more information visit www.estebanjazz.com.

Navani Knows Radio: The Halftime Show 15th Anniversary Special

halftime 15th flyer

For the past 15 years The Halftime Radio Show has set the bar and become a rite of passage for breaking Hip-hop artists. It’s a place where people go to get the sound and the quality they have come to expect from NYC radio. After 15 years and outlasting many other shows of it’s caliber this is def a huge feat to celebrate. It’s a testiment that although how people consume music is changing, there is still a need and a niche for displaying the craft of Djing, freestyling and all the aestetics that drew most of us to Hip-Hop to begin with. Tune in tonight as the crew celebrates it’s 15th Anniversary with a slew of legendary guests DJing, producing and spitting live from 10:30 pm – 1 am on 89.1 FM and on Ustream.

 

Navani Knows NAStalgia: A Nas Fan Necessity

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I’m still salty about Nas’ Grammy snub this year but luckily DJ Petey Cologne and DJ J-Smoke dropped a project to help distract me. The homies dropped the NAStaglia mixtape recently and I am still rocking it pretty frequently (yay for replay value). I know, I know what you are thinking, “Another Nas inspired project? Haven’t there been enough? What could possibly be different?” I hear ya. But I am here to report that this mixtape does have something different to offer and is def worth the download.

The project came about when Petey was asked to create a mix to accompany the release  of a Nas tee. He explains:

I was approached by Carlos from Classic Material to put a Nas mix together to coexist with a Tee he created. Carlos is the homie and Nas is one of my all time faves, so it was a no brainier to accept the offer.

Shortly after I ran into J-Smoke of the Motherf***in Allies at The Halftime Show. I’ve been a scratch nerd and a huge fan of the legendary crew since day one. I immediately thought it would be ill to collaborate with someone as talented as J. Fast forward a few months, and you have the official release of NAStalgia.

As the clever title suggests, NAStaglia is a conceptual trip down memory lane of Nas’ career, the more off beaten path. It’s a journey all Nas fans are sure to appareciate. Maybe I am just biased because I’ve seen first-hand the effort that went into taking this idea to the end result. Whether it was watching Petey approach the right people for drops,  him coming into The Halftime Show describing the intro and having us listen to different parts or going over different concept  ideas for the artwork – there was nothing left to chance when it came to NAStaglia. Everything was precisely thought out. That is what happens when people take their craft seriously, and yes, if nothing else this project illustrates there are still people out there that treat DJing as a craft. I am happy to see all the pieces come together. You can tell from listening to the intro it took a while (DJ Eclipse comments that it’s seems like two years already and DJ JS-1 orders them to hurry up and finish, lol) but was worth the wait. Yeah, it’s funny to give them grief about it now, but it’s refreshing in this day and age where people rush projects to saturate the internet in the name of relevance that there are still those who choose quality over quantity.

Some highlights include –  well let’s start with the fact that it is true to my definition of a mixtape – it contains actual blends. These days’ people label anything with songs on it a mixtape. But on NAStalgia you’re not just going to hear the mainstream Nas songs, but demos, original samples and B-sides BLENDED in a mix. For me, I got giddy when I heard the sample for “Phone Tap” in the intro (that was new to me) and the “Stillmatic” blend was a totally fresh take.  I enjoyed the “One Love” remix with Sadat X, and the sample of “Sugar Man” was new to me too. The “You’re Da Man” blend was one of my favorites. Of course, D-Stroy’s story is classic but the placement of it made it even stronger. I was excited to hear one of my fave songs “Doo Rags” make the cut, I think that song is often overlooked simply because it is on The Lost Tapes. Last but not least, the signoff with wise words to live by from Nas himself ties it all together nicely.

The fact that projects like NAStaglia continue to be inspired by Nas is a greater testament to his success and influence as an artist than any Grammy Award in my book.

Listen below and check the download courtesy of 2 Dope Boyz:

Artwork by ArtekNYC

Navani Knows Hip-Hop Charity: Serious as Cancer


Legendary Rock Steady Crew Deejay, DJ JS-1, is proving that Hip-Hop has a heart and can use its powers for good with his upcoming benefit event “Serious as Cancer.” The benefit – inspired by JS’ own experience with family members who struggled with the disease – will donate 100% of the funds to aid children’s Cancer research. Named for the infamous Rakim lyric, the event boasts of performances by Masta Ace, O.C., Sadat X, Rahzel and many more special guests to be announced as the date draws near. Serious as Cancer goes down August 27th at Highline Ballroom. Get your tix here.