Oh, TriBeCa: you’re a gorgeous neighborhood in lower Manhattan. Many critics agree it’s the best place to live in the city. It’s close to the Hudson River and full of quaint cafes and restaurants, beautiful spacious loft-type apartments, access from almost every subway line and it just carries a feel like everything is okay down here. I have heard even crime is lower in TriBeCa. It has even taken over the Upper East Side as the city’s richest neighborhood. Oh yes—it is quite expensive. However, due to this, any racial and income diversity is long gone, so it’s the last place you would expect to attend and international multi-cultural hip hop concert. Believe me when I tell you, I tripled-checked the address before I went.
It’s the week of the College Music Journal (CMJ) Music Marathon, a weeklong series of showcases by independent record companies, panel discussions about the music industry, and more. This year, Nomadic Wax, a record company that focuses on publishing and publicizing global music, held its showcase, Planet Hip-Hop, at the 92YTriBeCa. Nomadic Wax is a fair-trade, international music, film and events company. They specialize in worldwide artists who use art for activism and social change. Ben Herson founded Nomadic Wax in Brooklyn in 2001. They have now set up shop in D.C., Boston, Portland, Oregon, Genoa, Italy, and Dakar, Senegal.
The event featured beautiful talent that had origins from around the globe. I had the pleasure of witnessing The ReMINDers, whose lead MC, Big Samir has Congolese roots, and Omar Offendum, who has Syrian roots.
“I am passionate about the potential for music and film to open people’s minds, see the world differently, and engage people to create social change,” Mr. Herson said in an interview.
I find Ben’s work to encourage more African artists to move into the spotlight amazingly important. Next, I spoke to Big Samir of the ReMINDers. He says the name came from a shared desire between him and his wife (and musical partner), Aja, to remind people of how good music and good people can still be. Big Samir and Aja go back and forth as they rhyme seemlessly like EPMD with the energy of a young Wyclef and Lauryn Hill. They also walk the same fine line as the Fugees did in balancing conscious rap with strong enough beats to attract both “thinkers” and party-goers. It’s a great balance.
Big Samir was born in the Congo and partly raised in Belgium and the States, yet he says he considers himself African. He raps mainly in English but slips in and out of French every now and then. His partner, Aja, duals as an skilled MC and vocalist. She covers both grounds equally, which was a surprise. They ended their set on the best note of their performance, with Samir beat boxing and Aja ripping a rhyme about many different diseases and how they affect her as a MC. It left you feeling they were just getting warm and wanting another set.
“The Way It Is”
During the show, I happened to meet a fan of Omar Offendum’s. Rayya El Zein’s roots are in Lebanon, and she’s attracted to the Arabic language they share. She admitted that she is very new to hip-hop but all of the uprisings in Arabic-speaking nations has given Arabic MCs a new light. Their music is vital to the movements and gives a needed view point to people who question what they hear and see in the news. Rayya is an educator and her new experience with the music has inspired her to launch a hip-hop journal based on the music that has captured her ears. Rayya says that Omar invests a lot in human dignity, works with kids, speaks publically often, and just finds his powerful music irresistable.
Last but not least, I spoke with a local MC by the name of Famus. He attended the event because although he was born here in the States and is a black American, he sees himself as an African MC. He says he rhymes with his heart toward Africa. He took the name Famus (pronounced “famous”) to redefine what being famous is about. In his eyes, it’s to use your talent to entertain as well as enlighten and uplift the people. He calls himself the Robin Hood of hip-hop because he is using the limelight of fame to give attention to important global issues surrounding Africa. He says his music sounds like typical radio rap music to attract the masses with a slight live music element. But if you listen closely, he has a very serious message masked by his swaggalicious flow and comedic punch lines.
“How to Rob, Part 2″
In all, it was a great pleasure to come across an organization like Nomadic Wax. The family vibe in the room was what you expect from a group of musicians who use their talent for social change. My favorite performance of the night was a female MC by the name of Masia One. She was born in Singapore, lived in Canada, and splits her time between Los Angeles and Jamaica. It only takes one song for Masia to sing, dance, and rhyme her way into your heart.
Looking back, it only made sense for an organization like Nomadic Wax to bring its gumbo of hip-hop to a place like TriBeCa. While the neighborhood may be outpricing a diverse community in living there, at least it can attract a huge range of incredible artists for an important cause: to celebrate conscious, and consciously good music, in New York City.