The Hack Diaries – 13/11/18

Sunday. Rest, gluttony and an unhealthy dose of introspection.

Still beat from a trying Saturday night in the bougie box, I haul ass to Chinatown for a dim sum feast with a friend in the early afternoon. We stifle the grey (if only temporarily), shoot the breeze, and buy a pair of training chopsticks so I won’t embarrass him on future visits to our temple of dumplings and swine. We part ways outside my coffee shop, where I aim to coddle my neglected caffeine levels and seduce the French minx that’s usurped the bootyful Venetian on my docket since I found out she was taken.

She’d mentioned a boyfriend on one of my previous visits, and as with nearly every woman I’ve coveted since I was old enough to enjoy a hard-on, I’d remained intent on charming her until the day she’d break the chain of unavailability and that ass would be open for business. That all changed when she cheekily revealed she was a scorpio, a bratty scorpio. I’m not one to let the stars take the reins on my daily conduct, but if you’re a grown, self-proclaimed brat, I don’t care if your ass puts Tracee Ellis Ross’ to shame. It’s time to boogie.

Luckily, I’ve found promise in the same building. A Parisian with short, dark hair, a warm smile. Our instant rapport goes through my twangy, mangled, Montreal-honed incarnation of her mother tongue, and she introduces herself before long. I’ve yet to ask her out, but already my lonely ass is splicing myriad scenes of intimacy together from my barren bed in the small hours of most mornings.

I find her working the bar on this weary Sunday. That invincible smile draws one from me before I post up at my usual perch to finish off A Confederacy of Dunces. The hopeful, longing glances I sneak between pages aren’t met in kind, and my reluctance to make my intentions known only spikes with every minute I see her brave the King West bustle. I all too readily accept defeat without a goodbye and give myself ’til week’s end to do the deed.

I head north to a jazz bar I’d been meaning to visit for months. Converted hip-hop gems, dim lighting, bourbon, close quarters. Approved. I glance at the young couple huddled next to my swivel chair between sets, watch its better half embed her fingers in the other’s hair and remember how K loved running hers – long, cold and bony – through mine. The feeling was mutual, just not enough.

On one of a shameful amount of bathroom breaks, I take a minute to curse the dim sum, look at my cowlicky, bearded mug in the mirror, showered in red light, try to convince myself of my value and to move accordingly. Another time.

I head out for a walk through the crisp autumn night before second set’s end to resume boozing with my best friend at an Irish bar on my side of town. We catch up, commiserate for a couple hours before heading home to put the cunt hair of motivation that’s left to bed with the weekend’s fights and enough A&W to sate a pair of well-adjusted adults.

The grey and my grinning inner-fatty are working in tandem, and they’re pitching a shutout.

The Hack Diaries – 23/10/18

Confidence is a fickle prick. It took four months for mine to turn on me.

Another six have passed since my dalliance with K put another premature investment in the red and sent every ounce of chutzpah there with it. But between the bougie box, steady flow of cabbage, and freelancing that fills the occasional afternoon, I’ve finally worked my way into a day-to-day without routinely questioning my decisions or barreling down the existential rabbit hole. With that has come just enough gall to chip away at two women I’ve set my sights on of late.

C bows and scrapes in the box alongside me and dozens of others whose dreams have reluctantly taken a backseat to the paper chase and all its temptations. Her looks haven’t ballooned her sense of self-worth, nor is she prone to the chubb-stifling hissyfits synonymous with her colleagues. Almost alarmingly sweet, but indecisive and unavailable, just like those who came before her. Her glorified paramour’s status remains intact, and I’ve already had far too many women run hot and cold on me with their divided allegiances to do anything more than regale her with the occasional witticism until she sends his ass packing. Even in a drought, the name of my game is the long kind. So much for learning from your fuckups.

Which brings me to the Italian bird, a tall, redheaded Venetian thing with the ass I’ve made the subject of my praise once before. My scruffy, olive-toned mug graces her cafe a few times a week for white-collar work as much as it does to build the rapport and gumption required to take the plunge. She’s told me of her origins and aspirations between short spurts of banter, but true to my ass-backwards ways, I’ve yet to obtain her name.  I made it the mission of my past two visits, only to catch her in the weeds and get anxious as a motherfucker over my lack of progress. Still anxious, but undeterred. The things I do in the name of companionship.

The Hack Diaries – 10/3/18

For reasons largely related to my wardrobe and curmudgeonly disposition, I gleefully awaited fall’s arrival not a month ago, only for the grey to sink me further with every morning it’s greeted me over the past week and change. The season turns up the dial on my undying feelings of longing, and every frustrating night in the bougie box leaves me coddling my seasoned inner-fatty until the itis lethargically pushes me from the couch to bed for another marathon of maiden-filled dreams.

The women at work have been fawning over me since I got my hair cut, but that’s done little to renew the long expired lease on my confidence or make life in the box any more palatable. I wonder if I’ll have a shot at wooing C away from her glorified paramour once she’s back from Europe. I’ve been angling for position with every opportunity. Pre-trip returns were positive, but the fear of premature attachment to another woman who’ll leave me in the dark never fully subsides. Maybe I should repurpose my efforts toward the redhead with the onion-shaped ass who works at the coffee shop.

I woke up late for a morning flight home. The visits to old haunts, existential crisis and update on my mother’s health will have to wait. N came through with some more work in my field, yet I spend the afternoon looking for some sense of immediate and eventual purpose in my dusty-ass apartment until my bar opens. Neither sleep nor gallivanting leave me feeling rested or anything even flirting with serene. Maybe I should stop living like a knockoff Travis Bickle. Maybe J was right. Maybe this isn’t a temporary, but a permanent condition.

The Hack Diaries – 28/9/18

A nightmare featuring a hairy, naked monstrosity rousts my ass out of bed shortly past noon. I’ve yet to figure out how and why this otherworldly creature made its way into my erratic subconscious, and I don’t think I want to. Never been an early riser, but long shifts of bowing and scraping in the bougie box have made me burn nearly as much of the midnight oil as my worst self did with regularity when I first moved here.

I hit my coffee quota, take an alarming handful of dumps, call my mom, whip up an article I’d egregiously put off for my rinky-dink website, and rub one out to one of several foreign beauties that work at my coffee shop before leaving the confines of my east end abode. The changing of seasons, my mother’s health and an ill-fated opportunity botched by yet another wastecase intermediary have put me in a place I’ve struggled to leave of late, so I aim for a day of blissful solitude on the west side.

I read up on a variety of fascinating theatre productions I can’t make in an issue of NOW over a couple of paper planes at Northwood before taking my ass south for an early dinner at Bar Isabel. A half hour to kill until the tapas joint opens its doors to the hipsters, the faux creatives, the gentrifiers, the targets of my perpetual contempt. Ain’t no thing, at least not today. I detour to a nearby Scottish pub for a pint and a scotch egg. My waitress, a redheaded 30something with blue eyes approaches me as I – an Irish and bourbon man to the bitter end – interrupt my reading to admire the joint’s scotch program. An inquisitive D lets a few terms of endearment fly and leaves me smitten before tending to a pair of schlubbs who just walked in. The my loves and sweethearts I chose to believe were solely meant for me ride that Scottish brogue to new destinations.

Con artists, all of them. I’ve killed nearly an hour.

The grub was worth the wait. Consolation. I leave Isabel sated and get to steppin’ on College Street while the damp chill of fall sinks its hooks in. I think about the prospect of crossing paths with K and whether I could emerge from the resulting interaction unscathed as I head east through her stomping ground, D’Angelo’s “Another Life” the aptest of soundtracks to my dome’s denizens and the season’s abrupt arrival that feeds them. Enough, T. Enough already.

I cap the day with some Haagen Dazs, regional MMA and laundry. What to make of it? Great food and drink were had, a respectable – albeit uninspired – piece of work was published on a site run by a gang of glorified fanboys who’ve never heard of a nutgraf. Maybe I’d deem it a success if it had gone down at another time. I’m on the fence.

LFA 51’s Paul Elizondo: Flyweights are undervalued, but need to make themselves household names

NOTE: Originally published via MMA Today on 27/9/18 It’s hard out there for a flyweight. The frenetic pace and myriad scrambles synonymous with the men’s 125-pound class haven’t translated to headliners or box office receipts in this corner of the market, which could be as easily attributed to a lack of initiative from flyweight competitors in drumming up interest as the UFC’s apparent reluctance to do so itself. So says one of the division’s own, at least. Speaking with MMA Today ahead of his professional debut at Friday’s LFA 51, Paul Elizondo deemed his weight class worthy of the accolades and riches that have long proved elusive, but urged his fellow flyweights to take matters into their own hands if they’re to share a marquee – and pocket substantial cabbage – with their hard-hitting, albeit geriatric, heavyweight counterparts. “I don’t think the flyweights are (appreciated), and they have a responsibility as well to make themselves a household name,” Elizondo said. “When it comes to highlight reels and stuff, the heavier you are, the more gravity you have working for you, and heavyweights only need to touch somebody one time on the chin and they get put to sleep. “To be honest, the flyweights don’t get that much credit, but they should because we have way more longevity. Our cardio is what allows us to stay in the fight when we do get cracked, and most of those fights, those guys just don’t stop.” True to Elizondo’s assessment, one would have a rough go of unearthing an Ngannou vs. Lewis-esque stinker from any flyweight film archive, but that hasn’t kept MMA’s preeminent promoters from repeatedly relegating its pint-sized fighters to middling slots on the average card, even with ex-divisional UFC champ and luminary Demetrious Johnson in the fold. Despite owning the UFC’s record for title defenses with 11 (most of them one-sided), the recently deposed Johnson’s drawing power has never held a candle to his abilities. UFC 191, capped by his rematch with John Dodson, pulled a paltry 115,000 pay-per-views. Johnson hasn’t entered the brass’ good graces or headlined a bill that wasn’t on free TV since, and most recently saw his air of infallibility – and what little clout that came with it – revoked by Henry Cejudo as UFC 227’s second fiddle last month. The way Elizondo sees it, the powers that be might have bungled their investment at 125 pounds, but his colleagues aren’t doing themselves many favors in letting the fighting and only the fighting – however enthralling – do the talking. “I believe it has a lot to do with marketing. There is a fine line between competing and getting respect, but at the same time, it is the fight game, and if you don’t want to sell a fight and just be a good competitor, you’ll be a Demetrious Johnson with 12 titles and no one knows who (you are). I’m not saying no one knows who he is, but it took him 12 title fights just to be a co-main event on a (pay-per-view) card. It does have a lot to do with them. “We’ll see what happens with Cejudo being the champ now. He’s got Olympic gold, so he knows a little bit about marketing. He’s already challenging (bantamweight champion) TJ (Dillashaw), so he’s already making some noise. I’m excited for it. Personality has a lot to do (with) this business. It’s turning more into entertainment than a sport.” The sport’s purists may bitterly agree with Elizondo’s assessment of MMA’s state of affairs. UFC president Dana White himself, a man in the business of grooming bankable bruisers (in theory, at least), called for the fighters within his purview to build themselves into stars earlier this year. As a young upstart competing in an unheralded division, Elizondo aims to mitigate the trials that have plagued Johnson and Co. by – oddly enough – heeding White’s divisive words. “Not at all because no one’s ever going to hand you anything. It’s the flyweights who aren’t working. If people don’t see you working, they’re not going to be behind you. Going back to the Conor (McGregor) thing, everyone’s hating on his jock, they all say he got it handed to him, but he was putting out footage and marketing before the UFC did it themselves, and little did they know, he can also fight. So it definitely helped. As long as you want me to put on a show, I think everyone will be fine.” Elizondo makes his first walk to the cage as a professional on Friday at Selland Arena in his native Fresno against Freddy Mendez, one of six scalps he collected on the amateur circuit.  

Skyzoo – Music For My Friends Album Review

Purists have rightfully lamented the lack of identity in New York hip-hop in recent years. Luckily, Skyzoo doesn’t need to, as they say, “bring New York back”. He already embodies it.

His latest LP, Music For My Friends, is an ode to everything that molds us: our environment, our era, the company we keep. In Skyzoo’s case, the album is a peek into the formative years of an 80s Brooklyn baby, during which innocence was tainted, but not altogether lost, and nature took a backseat to nurture. The 16-track opus only reinforces the notion that for better or for worse, we are all products of our respective habitats.

In depicting the elements of the Skyzoo equation, the MC tells tales of relentless pursuit of money, happiness and everything in between. If “Luxury” and the “erroneously” titled “Suicide Doors” are any indication, luxury is the endgame, as it once was for Sky’s neighborhood elders, a teenage pipe dream, but one within reach nonetheless. While “The Moments That Matter” preaches living in the now, “Money Makes Us Happy” delves into carpe diem‘s inevitable ceiling and the duplicitous nature of the paper chase. As for the means of materializing their street dreams, Sky and his crew know fully well that slinging dope is a dangerously easy fix. On the Jadakiss-assisted “See a Key (Ki’)”, Skyzoo almost innocently flirts with that temptation and on “Asking Bodie For a Package”, details the road to succumbing to it. Sadly, the youthful recklessness and childlike abandon that fueled Sky’s adolescence also spawned some casualties, with the wordsmith paying homage to them on “Things I Should’ve Told My Friends”. Lyrically, the Brooklynite’s rhyme scheme is complex and the wordplay singularly cryptic. But for all the evidence of lyrical mastery, Music For My Friends is best summarized by one no-frills bar on “All Day, Always”: “All the shit we saw is what we all became.”

The nostalgia in Skyzoo’s lyrics is mostly echoed by the production, but never more so than on MarcNfinit’s horn-laced “Suicide Doors” and soul-sampling “The Experience”. Longtime collaborator !llmind contributes four tracks, all of which, in serving the LP’s focus, veer away from the “boom trap” sound that made his name. On “Money Makes Us Happy”, The Rvlt.’s piano and drum loops add a blissful, yet regretful tone to Skyzoo, Black Thought and Bilal’s musings. In short, the album’s sound is reminiscent of a bygone era, as it should be, but remains far from dated. Echos of New York are heard primarily through samples, but are sometimes absent, meaning the beats occasionally fail the LP’s primary vision. Therefore, the album isn’t “bringing New York back”, but it still satiates both old and new hip-hop heads.

Ultimately, Music For My Friends is audible evidence of the cloth from which Skyzoo and his running mates are cut. Nostalgia abounds, but regret is seldom heard. In essence, Sky’s childhood stories of hustling, chasing dreams and toying with disaster only epitomize the notion that we are what we come from.

Grade: 8/10

Gems: Suicide Doors, See a Key (Ki’) ft. Jadakiss, Money Makes Us Happy ft. Black Thought & Bilal, Civilized Leisure ft. Mozaic, The Experience, Asking Bodie For a Package ft. Skarr Akbar

Malik B & Mr. Green – Unpredictable Album Review

As an original member of Philadelphia hip-hop group The Roots, Malik B often performed in the shadow of one the genre’s greatest MCs, Black Thought. In the 15-plus years between leaving the group and the release of his full-length debut, Unpredictable, the “Illadelph” native has figured “it” out, both as a wordsmith and a self-aware, albeit imperfect man.

The term “grown man rap” often gets thrown around when referring to rappers who’ve stood the test of time. Their first few releases, driven by unabashed braggadocio, a voracious appetite for peer validation and loads of raw talent slowly, but surely get swapped for technically sound and introspective rhymes. Malik B has reached that stage…without the discography. With New Jersey beatsmith Mr. Green rounding out the partnership, Unpredictable has all the fundamentals of a solid hip-hop opus in spades.

The album’s lyrical content is a mixed bag befitting its title. Clocking in at under 40 minutes, several of the LP’s 13 tracks are evidence of Malik B’s quest for self-improvement and/or enlightenment, spiritual or otherwise. If the first few bars on “We Gonna Make It” are any indication, the man has done a lot of soul searching: “It ain’t no stressin’ no more, ’cause God blessin’ me/I got the secret to success, it’s a recipe.” Moreover, while “Crown of Thorns” acts as the MC’s account of hardships past, the self-explanatory “Fake Friends” brings Malik’s path to self-acceptance full circle. But in a genre as competitive as hip-hop, even the “grown man” rappers can’t abandon self-agrandization altogether. Simply put, machismo never takes a back seat in hip-hop, hence muscle-flexing tracks like “Dolla Bill”, “Definition”, “Rips in the Paper” and “Rhyme Exercise”. Between the delicate, but harmonious balance of humility and ego lies one of Unpredictable‘s thematic (and sonic) gems, “Devil”, where Malik B details the catch-22’s and psychological toll in navigating a seedy Philadelphia underworld.

As for the production, the LP’s master on the boards, Mr. Green, does more than merely set the stage for Malik B’s musings. He raises it. The sampler Green flaunts on the cover art is a proud claim of a student of “boom bap”, a 90’s sound characterized by looped drum breaks, re-purposed samples and scratch hooks. Unpredictable is somewhat reminiscent of that golden-era sound, most notably on “Dolla Bill” and “Tyrants”. In short, Mr. Green, like his contemporaries Marco Polo and Apollo Brown, is applying the old-school’s production style to 21st-century hip-hop.

All art-snobbery momentarily aside, the merit of a hip-hop album lies in its rhymes and beats. Even though Malik B wasted most of a Mr. Green banger by following a killer verse with three minutes of Jamaican Patois on “Tyrants”, the LP succeeds on both of those fronts. That being said, the duo, as much of a peas-and-carrots pairing as they may be, are not reinventing the wheel so much as bringing it back temporarily. Nevertheless, boom bap, like any sound that’s attained “classic” status, never gets old, making Unpredictable 40 minutes well spent.

Grade: 7.5/10

Gems: Dolla Bill, Metal is Out ft. Benefit, Devil, Definition, Rips in the Paper, Rhyme Exercise, Dark Streets ft. R.A. the Rugged Man & Amalie Bruun