RIP Phife Dawg

Phife DawgA Tribe Called Quest founding member Malik Taylor, better known by his stage name of Phife Dawg, passed away earlier this week at the age of 45.  Over the course of his career, Phife left behind one of the most influential bodies of work in hip hop.  His family has confirmed that Phife’s death has to do with diabetes, the reason behind his 2008 kidney transplant.

A native of Jamaica, Queens, Phife befriended the other founding members at a young age.  In the documentary Beats Rhymes and Life, Phife and bandmate Q-Tip discuss playing hooky during grade school and writing rhymes together.  He said that the excitement behind the whole scene led him to risk getting kicked out of the house to just be a part of it.  Strongly influenced by other New York groups, particularly De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest came to prominence with their 1990 debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, which featured Phife delivering fast, high-pitched verses that perfectly contrasted with the smoother delivery of Q-Tip.  Although he admittedly didn’t care for his early work when looking back, Phife came into his element with the second album, Low End Theory.

With the single “Yo!” and everything else, Phife was able to secure a name for himself among the greats of hip hop.  No longer the sidekick of Q-Tip, he was able to prove his wordplay, musical chops and energy, helping make Tribe stand out.  1993’s Midnight Marauders featured Phife handling entire tracks on his own and delivering some classic one-liners.  Yet the rest of the 90s proved tougher for Tribe, with tension between Phife and Q-Tip being accentuated by Phife’s failing health.

Even though he knew that he had diabetes, Phife had an addiction to sugar.  Many have suspected that the revenue from A Tribe Called Quest’s sporadic touring in the 21st century was to pay for Phife’s medical bills.  Yet despite this, he was always excited about getting back on the road and doing new projects.

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from Ari Kellen | New York City Exploration


10 Most Annoying One-Hit Wonders

Figuring out what makes a “hit” has been puzzling artists and record company executives since the start of the industry.  Plenty of hits are catchy, well thought-out pieces, written by respectable artists or a breakout musician on their path to greatness.  Yet not always; many unfortunate musicians fall under the category of “one hit wonder”, as they fail to follow up their one radio smash hit and spend the rest of their professional careers playing the same tired song set in front of a gradually diminishing crowd.  While plenty of one-hit wonders are great songs, others aren’t so much, and we can be all too happy that their makers became footnotes in the book of music history.  Here is a list of what are, in my opinion, some of the most annoying one-hit wonders:

Blue (Da Ba Dee) – Eiffel 65: The sci-fi-video-game-themed video, featuring blue aliens in crude and choppy CGI, is so dated that watching it feels like a time portal to the start of the millennium.  Yet if you do choose to watch this video, be sure to mute it, otherwise the music will kill any nostalgia you thought you had for the 90s.  The lyrics seem to just list off objects that are blue, and the chorus is literally “I’m blue da ba dee da ba di”, as if the writer couldn’t think of anything to say apart from the fact that he was blue, and even then his insight was astoundingly limited.

Who Let the Dogs Out – Baha Men: The only good thing you can say about this song is the clear energy behind it.  Having been active since the late 1970s, the Baha Men sing this song with the gusto of a group realizing that their fifteen minutes of fame could end at any moment.  Yet that end couldn’t come soon enough.  Anybody who remembers late 2000/early 2001 could tell you how their blood boiled hearing this song come on the radio for the 10th time in the day.

Friday – Rebecca Black: The story behind this song is a tragic one.  In all fairness, this wasn’t supposed to be a hit; it was released by the Ark Music Factory, a company where rich parents can spend a few thousand dollars to put their child in a heavily-autotuned song.  Plenty of these tracks, such as “My Jeans” or “Chinese Food”, have gained Internet infamy for how bad they are, yet none have reached the level of “Friday”, a song where the bridge literally involves naming off days of the week.  Yet when it did go viral, “Friday” quickly earned the wrath of the Internet, forcing a thirteen year-old Rebecca Black into a negative spotlight which will most likely haunt her forever.

Barbie Girl – Aqua: While the Norwegian group Aqua were definitely in on the joke of making an annoying song about one of America’s most iconic toys to parody the greed and shallow materialism of American pop culture, they got pretty carried away.  Stylized as a sort of dialogue between Barbie and her boyfriend Ken, the creepy growl of Ken’s singing makes you want to shoot your radio, while Barbie’s screeching vocals make you carry out the act.

U Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer: Sampling a much better song (“Super Freak” by Rick James”), packed to the gills with unwarranted braggadocio and backed by an uninspired music video of MC Hammer dancing in front of a bunch of women, this song represents almost every reason people were hostile to rap when it first hit the mainstream.  Yet what makes this stand out from so many other brag rap tracks was MC Hammer’s storied ill-advised financial decisions after his success, making him some sort of Greek tragic hero in a tale about responsible spending.  Such outlandish spending decisions as putting 200 people on his payroll, building a $30 million house for himself and buying 19 thoroughbred racehorses, despite the fact that he failed to follow up his one hit, meant that Hammer quickly went broke.

Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice: Much as I hate myself for saying this, as one of the first white rappers with a mainstream audience, Vanilla Ice is actually somewhat historically significant.  And if at the height of his career (i.e. this one song) Vanilla Ice were to die in a sudden motorcycle accident, he would possibly be remembered as such and earn a sort of cult following.  Yet luckily, history was kind.  Vanilla Ice didn’t die, went on to star in the mercifully forgettable film “Cool as Ice” and fade into obscurity before fate could turn him into a James Dean-esque hero for young rappers.  People have since been able to look back at “Ice Ice Baby” and realize that solidly mediocre rapping about a shooting you witnessed as a teenager and how good you are at rapping, is nothing worth remembering.

Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm – Crash Test Dummies: Despite Brad Roberts’ delusions, he’s not a particularly good singer.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to this song.  When Roberts isn’t trying to croak his way through possibly (but probably not) meaningful lyrics, he’s starts humming “mmmmm”, as if he ran out of things to say.  It almost sounds like some sort of highly conceptual Campbell’s soup commercial, where Roberts is trying to hum “mmm mmm good”, but arrived at the recording studio too hungover to actually record a decent version of it.

Achy Breaky Heart – Billy Ray Cyrus: Before jump starting Miley Cyrus’ career as part of a desperate stunt to regain relevance, Billy Ray Cyrus created this uninspired schlock that takes a trope of country music and distort it into a Frankenstein monster of sorts that represents everything wrong with both country music and the 90s.  Country music is like horror movies: there’s some fantastic work, but you have to wade through a lot of garbage to find it.  Billy Ray Cyrus is definitely the latter.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Deep Blue Something: Catchy as this acoustic tune is, the lyrics are astoundingly stupid: a woman, fearful that she and her boyfriend have nothing in common, is contemplating breaking up.  Yet he recognizes that they both like the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, which he claims is enough to save their relationship.  The sentiment is nice, but it seems doubtful that one two-hour movie from the early 1960s is enough to save a relationship.

Butterfly – Crazy Town: With their frosted tips, lack of shirts, obnoxious piercings and even more obnoxious tattoos, the band Crazy Town look exactly like the kind of people you hate.  And if their appearance didn’t turn you off enough, the cheesy lyrics to their one hit, rich with enough obnoxious terms of endearment like “butterfly”, “sugar” and “baby” to make Johnny Bravo blush, certainly will.

from Ari Kellen | Musical Minded

Chinatown’s Best Food

As small as it is, there’s no shortage of Chinese food in Manhattan’s Chinatown NYCChinatown, representing food from every part of mainland China and Hong Kong.  While these choices may seem overwhelming, here is a list of the best restaurants in Chinatown, no matter what you’re looking for:

Nom Wah Tea Parlor: Located in the heart of Chinatown on a crook of Doyers Street known as the “bloody angle” due to its use for gang fights in the early 20th century, Nom Wah has been open since 1920, and the restaurant is rich in history.  Here, you can get plenty of delicious dim sum plates made fresh to order.

Ah-Wah: While it looks like any run-of-the-mill greasy spoon Chinese restaurant, Ah-Wah, located right off Bowery, boasts one specialty that no other spot in Chinatown has come close to replicating: bo zai fan, listed on the menu as “rice casserole”.  This is a rice dish cooked in a clay pot until the edges are crusty.  The perfect comfort food, it’s warm, stick-to-your-ribs and delicious.  While it’s often easy to overlook soy sauce, the house-made sauce here will make sure you never view this condiment the same way again, and you’ll want to pour generous helpings of it all over your bo zai fan.

Joe’s Shanghai: While many spots around Chinatown boast soup dumplings, the undisputed master here is Joe’s Shanghai.  In addition to their legendary soup dumplings, the cold sesame noodles, greasy and covered in peanut sauce, are excellent.  If you do visit, be sure to not go into neighboring Joe’s Ginger instead; while good, Joe’s Shanghai does everything else better.  It might also be a good idea to go at an odd time, because it tends to get crowded.

Xi’an Famous Foods: Part of a New York-only chain made famous by none other than Anthony Bourdain, the food here is inspired by the city of Xi’an in western China.  As one of the last stops on the Silk Road, the food from Xi’an has plenty of Middle Eastern influence, as evidenced by the restaurant’s signature dish of spicy cumin lamb noodles.  The flavors here are a combination Whatever you order here, make sure it includes noodles, which are the house specialty.

Peking Duck House: Before serving it, the waiter here parades the roasted duck here past your party before dramatically slicing off meat.  Yet it’s important to remember that you need to order this specialty in advance.  Select the “three way”: the duck main course, complete with pancakes, plum sauce, vegetable stir-fry and a cabbage soup.  While there are other options on the menu, you’d be foolish to go to the “Peking Duck House” and order something other than Peking Duck.

from Ari Kellen | New York City Exploration

New York’s Best Theaters

movie theaterNew Yorkers love movies.  For one, the city has plenty of amazing locations for filming, and its central location means that you can regularly brush elbows with stars on the subway.  Unlike other places, where the only movie theaters are large corporate chains, here in New York there are plenty of small movie theaters where you can see all sorts of films.  I recently came across an article that shares some of the coolest movie theaters in New York, listed below:

Nitehawk Cinema: This Williamsburg hotspot mostly focuses on third-run and indie films along with the occasional blockbuster.  However, the main draw here is the event programming, such as “Country Brunchin’”, which offers brunch and western films, or “Booze and Books”, which focuses on film adaptations of books.  And to make it even better, they offer drinks so that you can drink while watching your movie.

Film Society of Lincoln Center: With a tagline “film lives here”, the Film Society of Lincoln Center talks a big game, but they’re able to back it up.  It’s best known for its two festivals: the New York Film Festival and New Directors/New Films, although it’s busy all year round.  The offerings here are diverse indeed, with plenty of unique films and no shortage of fun events.

Landmark Sunshine Cinema: Located on Houston just a couple blocks from Katz’s Deli, this is a surprisingly large theater that offers art-house films, midnight showings of cult classics and special screenings.  It’s located next door to Fool’s Gold, one of the neighborhood’s best beer/whiskey bars, which offers a 10% discount to anybody who can show their movie ticket.

The Paris Theatre: Unless you’re looking for it, you’ll miss this small theater just south of Central Park.  It only shows one film at a time, so your options are limited, but it’s a wonderfully cozy place, where you never have to wait at the theater before the film starts (queuing in the lobby is banned).

IFC: If it hasn’t been played here, then it probably doesn’t exist.  The IFC screens a whole array of films, from sci-fi cult classics to Oscar-nominated short films, and has a reputation for showing the best independent films; if you go early, you’ll even be able to catch a short film that screens before every feature.  With the exception of the “main” theater, the theaters here are small and cozy, making films here an intimate and immersive experience.

from Ari Kellen | New York City Exploration