Navani Knows Voodo Fe’ Mathelier: The Art of Freedom

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This piece was originally published on www.livedancelove.com

When my homegirl Selene first told me she was filming a video piece about the artist Voodo Fe’ and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing him I was intrigued by the way she described his work. I am always up for meeting creative folk. But what really captured me about him was this overarching theme in his work to take items and materials deemed trash and make them something beautiful. It’s this idea of being reborn, reinvented and making something from nothing, that really resonated deeply with me. It’s what initially drew me to other art forms like Hip-Hop. On the heels of his latest exhibit opening I had the opportunity to speak to Voodo Fe’ Mathelier and get the story behind his many triumphant ventures in street art, music and fashion leading him to work with brands from Calvin Klein to the NFL. To my surprise, the most outstanding tidbits he taught me were not even about art, but rather how to live life. Here the Brooklyn-bred artist shares why he believes he has been able to make a living as an artist, what his greatest gift is, and what everyone’s number one job is.

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Navani Knows The Wonder Year

I love when I go to a movie or an event and leave feeling so inspired. Such was the case last night when I went to see the documentary The Wonder Year at BAM. No, I am not talking about the coming of age TV series starring baby faced Fred Savage, I am talking about the doc that chronicles a year in the life of super producer 9th Wonder.

Directed by Kenneth Price the film is an intimate look at who 9th Wonder is from his roots in Winston-Salem where he shows us the house his father built with his own hands to him talking about his sister that passed away, BrightLady, for which his studio is named after. I was a little skeptical about the movie in the beginning because the camera angles were a little weird, and it seemed like the whole film would just be a close up of 9th talking in a room which could be zzzzzzzzzz.

But alas, there was more to the story than that. We not only hear 9th in his own words tell how he came up with his stage name, what his influences in music were and how he played 9 instruments by the time he was in high school – but we hear from others that know him too including industry peers DJ Premier, The Alchemist, J. Cole, Phonte, Young Guru, DJ Green Lantern, Murs and more. One thing they all have in common is a respect for 9th’s diligence, craft and style. A style that 9th aka Patrick Douthit so eloquently defines as life music – music that is more complex than the average joe can make but not overly complicated in an attempt to impress other producers. Instead, it is somewhere in the middle which to me is a dope concept.

Besides the talk of his background, some of my favorite parts of the film were when you get to see him in action: creating a beat from scratch in his studio and the look on his face while doing so. At the end of the day he is still a fan and that is what drives him. He clearly enjoys it. Even more amusing is the look on the face of anyone in the studio with him that witnesses his magic, they are astounded. As Illmind says, he just has an ear for it. He is truly ahead of his time and that’s what makes him so successful. That and of course the fact that he makes a ridiculous amount of beats in a sitting… like 4 in 40 minutes, and over 400 in one summer. I laughed when he told the story of when he played beats for Jay Z for the The Black album. He played 29 tracks. Then Jay Z described the sound he was looking for for a particular song and 9th pulled out his laptop and sat in the corner and 20 minutes later had the beat for “Threat”. This is just one of many stories proving that it’s not about the machine but really the man behind it. It doesn’t take millions of dollars of fancy equipment to be successful, it can be as simple as a program downloaded off the internet.

9th already has many titles before his name including father, son, husband, CEO, NAACP ambassador, Duke University professor and of course Grammy Award winning Producer but he says he wants to hold one more when he is done making music – that of board of ed member in his hometown. But that won’t be for awhile. In the meantime 9th’s focus is paying it forward like Jay Z told him to by making sure his artists grow (Jamla Records) and get to a good place. Then he can go back to solely making music for fun.

Check out the trailer here:


If you weren’t able to make the New York premiere of The Wonder Year check out www.thewonderyear.l-r-g.com for updates.

Navani Knows: 5 Minutes With Q-Tip

Everytime I am dead set on moving out of New York, I have a classic moment that reminds me why I can’t. For instance, the moment I went to Brooklyn Bowl just to hang out and ended up meeting Q-Tip. It was a random Thursday night and I heard last minute that ?uestlove (Roots Crew) was spinning there. So, off I went with a friend to check it out. Turns out it was ?uest’s birthday and alongside him at the DJ booth was none other than Q-Tip, just hanging out. I flirted with the idea of talking to him (being the journalist I am I am always looking for another story) but I quickly chickened out fearing I would appear like a groupie.

After bowling a wonderful game of 51 and a few drinks later, I allowed my friend Duane to talk me into approching the legendary MC. I never know what to expect when meeting an artist, especially someone so iconic. Some artists that you think will be awesome turn out to be uber cocky or rude and then it changes their whole image for you forever. Luckily, I found out that Tip was not one of those people. He was as humble as he is talented and immediately agreed to do an interview with me.

While my main goal was to find out if him and Amanda Diva were truly a couple (which he never confirms but does list her as a fave artist -hmm lol), I did manage to get some other insightful nuggets from him on the future of hip-hop, his relationship with legendary producer J. Dilla and a special request for Jay-Z. Check out what the former Tribe member says in the interview here.

Shout out again to D-Nice for giving me the pep talk to make this happen. And shout out to Dee Phunk for giving me the lead that Brooklyn Bodega was looking for new writers 🙂

Photo via Google Images

Navani Knows Wedding Bliss, Sorta

I was finally beginning to regret my decision. Don’t get me wrong, I was super honored and flattered to be asked to be a bridesmaid for my cousin Christian. It showed me that our relationship (although not by blood) was special enough for him to include me in his big day, and I vowed not to let anything during the process take that away from me. Plus, I had my dearest cousin (the grooms’s sister) along with me for the ride. But I must admit, I almost met my match.

Besides being treated like an outcast since the engagement party (the sorority sisters of the bride had no interest in making conversation with me and the groom’s sister), there was the bachelorette party. A weekend getaway in Atlantic City seemed harmless enough. Until my cousin and I got there and discovered we were left out of the dinner reservations. Instead, were left walking around aimlessly without anyone’s phone number because the maid-of-honor never thought of exchanging that info. Oh, and then there was the heart-to-hearts between the bride-to-be and us.

“Oh you know Adria, I never though you liked me cause you know, you are so Ghetto, and I am like, not” She told us as nonchalantly, as if she just told us her favorite color was blue.

Us being the only people not in her sorority. Us being the family of the groom. You might as well have called us Andre and Big Boi at that point cause we were def outcasts.

“No, I don’t mean ghetto in a bad way, just like you are so into hip hop and stuff, you know.” She continued.

Still totally confused and shocked me and my cousin stood speechless. Were we on a candid camera show? perhaps some new reality show that would air on Bravo or WE. That seemed like the only feasible explanation for this.

Then there was the “I am not sure if I am ready to get married” comments that ensued all weekend. They were followed up with the “you are sooo old comments.” Still, I kept pressing on in my bridesmaid duties, smiling and nodding pleasantly. Even when it was me and my cousin who got stuck setting up tables for the rehearsal dinner at 10 o’clock at night, getting splinters and walking in poo. I desperately held on to the honor I once had in saying “I do” to this whole arrangement.

The wedding day finally came, and with it more chaos. Besides spending an obscene amount on getting hair and nails done and rushing back to the hotel to get dressed with the girls, there was the joy of getting left in the salon while everyone else got done before us. Nothing beats getting dressed for a wedding in the wax room of a Dominican hair salon. It was quite the scene, walking down 94th street in Queens all dressed up in wedding attire. Even though the bridesmaids left us stranded (“umm there is too much traffic for the limo to come there, you should just meet us at the church”) we still tried to hold onto our dignity and our make-up as me, my cousin, make-up artist and the groom’s mother rode in her non-ac car to the ceremony.

I believe it was on the steps of the church, after the ceremony, when the Nazi Photographer yelled at us, that I asked myself why I agreed to this:

“No bubbles!!”

“Ok now bubbles”

“SEMI CIRCLE”

“LOWER FLOWERS!!!” He screamed at us as if we were in bridal boot camp.

I had had enough! I was ready to shove my bouquet down someone’s throat! Then we finally left the the VIP room with the leaking ceiling and lined up in the reception hall and heard Jay’s Encore come on. As we walked out in pairs to Jay Z and flower pumped along the way (and after a few shots of patron) it all started to make sense again. I watched my cousin and his bride run out to the dance floor to Enur’s Calabria and realized how happy they were. It was all about that moment – that one moment of being oblivious to anything else around them, just being so happy to have each other that mattered. And for me, believing that kind of love still existed only because I witnessed it first-hand, made the whole ordeal worthwhile again.

Navani Knows injustice…

Dear Hip Hop,

It has been exactly one week since the verdict in the Sean Bell trial was announced and I have yet to hear from you. I waited patiently all this time, hoping and believing that one of you would do something to let the powers that be know we won’t tolerate this injustice anymore. But a whole week has gone by and I have heard nothing. Where are you? Where the hell are our so called “leaders”? Yeah, leaders = you. Even if you don’t want to embrace it, by default hip hop is our leader. You all are role models. Whether you like it or not, it comes with the territory, so just take responsibility for once. Take ownership, especially when you have the money, influence and power to make changes. Why haven’t you?

I am talking specifically to the “Kings of NY” – Jay Z , the self proclaimed “presidente,” 50 Cent, Vitamin Water tycoon, Diddy, Russell Simmons, where the hell are you now? You are supposed to be New York’s finest, the trendsetters and the tastemakers. You can use your influence to get kids to wear button down shirts and say Jewish phrases but not for something worthwhile, like protesting an injustice happening in your own backyard. I am not talking to Mos Def or Talib, or Joell Ortiz, or Papoose- these “underground”/ “conscious” emcees do their part. It is expected of them, and they speak to issues like these daily. However, their audience is also a very conscious audience, who doesn’t need much reminding. Besides, they don’t have the reach or the power that the mainstream rappers I am addressing here do. Where are the press conferences now?

Maybe you have too much money and are too detached from where you come from to care anymore. Maybe you are too scared to lose your money, because that’s all you have to define yourself. In that case, you are no better than any one of us, working 9-5 trying to get by. Or maybe you are just too busy vacationing off on some exotic island in your linen pants and open toe sandals to care about what is going on in your hometown. I just don’t get it, you kings of N.Y. can band together and dance around on the same stage at MSG when it’s time to promote your albums and record a new 50 Cent remix (I was there, I saw you), but you can’t band together and make some noise when it is time to stand up for justice? What kind of men are you? Instead you are just going to turn a deaf ear and carry on business as usual next week when Jay Z and Mary J bring their tour home to MSG? Why don’t you take a stand and show everyone that we are not tolerating injustices by shutting down your show? Oh no, you can’t do that huh, too much money is at stake. Maybe you don’t think our community is worth it – you know, the people that got you to that stage in the first place.

I am beyond disgusted with you right now N.Y. hip hop. More so, I am tired of defending you to everyone else when they attack you. Why do you have to wait for someone to call you out before you stand up and do something? Despite the attacks by Oprah, Imus and political naysayers, I stood by you. We grew up together and I always had your back. I was sure when the time came, you would have my back too. I guess I was wrong. Here we are, in a crisis in your hometown and you left me hanging. Where are you now? Off making some idiotic reality show for MTV? I guess if MTV doesn’t sponsor it, you won’t go out of your way. You sure had no problem flying to Africa when it got you good press, but you can’t do something in N.Y.? Instead you spend your free time attacking and mocking each other and uploading it to youtube and you wonder why no one takes you seriously. I don’t think I take you seriously either anymore.

I grew up looking up to you hip hop, believing you were the voice box of my generation, but now I see nothing could be further from the truth. Then again, what do I know? I am just a naïve entertainment journalist/ hip hop enthusiast that supported you all since day one. I just hope and pray four years from now I don’t have to dig up this letter and post it again, after another one of our own is unjustly murdered.

Sincerely Yours,

One Disillusioned Journalist