The Boys of Summer!

BARACK OBAMA ::: Politician

Kenrya says…Barack Obama, who else?! Call him a celebrity if you want to, but I haven’t been this excited about a politician’s drive and potential in, well, ever. Did you see that ish (edit: Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech) last night? That man is a rockstar with a purpose!
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Angela says…
No, it’s not just for the fine figure he turns in a swim suit, the barriers he’s already broken, or even the incredibly fine woman on his arm, though all those things are pretty awesome. Instead, there’s something about the way his name continued to pop up in the conversations we had with all our BOS nominees, revealing a genuine sense of excitement that is in the air. Yup, Barack Obama has to be the ultimate Boy of Summer for 2008.

The whole thing smacks of a movement. For the first time in our lives, young people are going to the mat, and the booth, for a candidate we actually believe in. Obama’s candidacy has forced us to challenge our own cynicism… Is this really happening in my lifetime? Yes, perhaps it is. This sense of movement is even inspiring artists—from Shephard Fairey’s “Progress” propaganda posters to Will.i.am’s hyped “Yes We Can”. For a generation that has thus far willingly defined ourselves by a carefully draped insouciance, suddenly we’re all socked in the face with a dose of starry-eyed hope. And you know what? It feels good.
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Mahogs says…
A good 60 percent of my conversations this summer have been about this year’s political race and the magnificent force otherwise known as Senator Barack Obama. He IS the man of summer.

David Sedaris ::: Author

Ms. Skeptical says…No one says it better than he does. “Real-ish” or not. Check out the latest When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Admittedly, not his best, but nothing could beat Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Tim Russert ::: Broadcast Journalist

JBakes says…I admit, it took me FOREVER to write this…there are so many boys and summer is so short! But seriously, my Boy Of Summer was hard to decide. I literally went nutso trying to come up with a super-celeb type dude who could hold this title, and then it dawned on me that my BOS has been my Sunday, post-hangover wake-up call for the past 10 years. His name was Tim Russert and he HELD DOWN “Meet The Press” on NBC with honesty, dignity and grace. Tim kept himself down to earth for political novices like myself and could decipher through the bullshit like no other. As I waited for Barack Obama to deliver his historic acceptance speech and watched Wolf Blitzer and company deliver their takes on the evening, I wish that Tim could’ve be with us to offer his insight. I can’t wax poetic about how I knew him, nor how he changed my life or anything, but I bet that if he were still alive, he would drop a few classic gems about what we are witnessing right now. Tim died the past June, but thanks to YouTube and the wonders of the Internet, you can see for yourself why he is my Boy of the (Political) Summer!

Usain Bolt aka ‘Lightning Bolt’ ::: Olympic Phenomenon
French Kissed says…So this is why he’s hot….the entire world was talking about swimmer Michael Phelps’ Olympic wins. Then, in 9.69 seconds Bolt was able to steal the spotlight becoming the first man to set world records in the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay at a single Olympics. Not to mention, he did it with his trademark swagger and great smile!

Lil Wayne ::: Hip-Hop’s Greatest Surprise

Zoe says…This kid stayed relevant in an over saturated, boring music scene. Just when we you thought people had had enough of him, Lil Wayne sold 1 million albums in one week. I can’t stop listening to his masterpiece, Tha Carter III. Definitely top five of the year. “You thought Lil Wayne was Weezy, but Weezy is Wayne”-“DontGetIt” quoted from Tha Carter III.

David Oliver ::: Olympian

Says The Single Girl…Oliver is a track star and I would definitely sit on his face!

David Miliband ::: England’s Foreign Secretary

Miss London says…My boy of summer was a bit of a difficult choice as most of the boys I can think about are American. So I had to get the help of a few of my girlfriends to come up with a boy who we respected, admired and had the potential to be kinda cute. So we chose a politician, David Miliband. He’s currently our Foreign Secretary…and one of the strongest possibilities to become Prime Minister if good ol Gordon Brown is thrown out of office.

There were rumblings this summer of ousting Gordon as PM, and David came out on top as a candidate and most younger folk respect him. So what makes him great? He’s got an American wife, they’ve adopted two children (almost unheard of in political office) and he took paternity leave when they received both children… (a politician taking paternity leave?! Heavens no!!!!!!) It’s also possible that he may well inject a spot of life into what is otherwise a boring political landscape this side of the Atlantic.He’s also – at 43 – a lot younger than the alternatives. He can also carry off a suit… which a lot of politicians in this country seem to be incapable of doing. Especially our PM… Gordon always looks a bit like his mum dresses him every morning. Sad….but true.

LL Cool J ::: The Greatest Lips MC of All Time

Amelda says…LL is my Boy of Summer…He STILL does it for me!

Heath Ledger ::: The Dark Knight‘s Joker

Steely D says…The Dark Knight was AMAZING and Joker-mania was completely justified because of Ledger’s 2008 twist on the character Jack Nicholson made infamous. I’ve already seen the film twice and both viewing, Heath’s performance is breathtaking…it’s truly a shame that he’s no longer with us. He would have been one of Hollywood’s brightest stars.

What are yours???

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TOMOKAZU MATSUYAMA / 32 / BROOKLYN / ARTIST

You may know him as Matzu-MTP, the painter/muralist/installationist who’s blessed corners and galleries throughout the world. (No doubt our NYC readers will have noticed one of his more conspicuous works, the mural outside the former Triple Crown space on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg). Lately, the artist has let go of the moniker and is now signing his birth name, Tomokazu Matsuyama. This openness to reveal himself has fed into his latest work, a vibrant mish-mash of color that explores what it is to be birthed of two cultures. Tomokazu grew up between a small and largely traditional town in Japan and ’80s-era Los Angeles, a teenage riot of skate and graffiti culture. He manages to marry both into his work beautifully. With a San Francisco show coming up this December at Frey Norris Gallery and solo show this spring at New York’s Joshua Liner Gallery, we’re expecting to hear a lot more noise from Tomokazu in the coming year. We caught up with him over the phone from Tokyo, not even a thirteen-hour time difference can stop us!


Hi Tomokazu! Can you tell us what are you’re working on right now?
I’m going to be having a solo show… I try to create an experience that’s almost like going to an amusement park. I want to make my art a little bit more physical so you wouldn’t go into the gallery and just see a piece of painting on a square shape. I want it to be almost like going inside a Disneyland-like feeling. The entire gallery space becomes like one big work.

We heard that you first came to the States right smack in the middle of ’80s skate culture LA.
It was back in the days when the whole skateboard thing was really big. Initially, I was interested in more of the street art, or the younger art… but as I grew up I wanted to kind of take away something that’s a little more built towards galleries and museums. But at the same time, I still like to be who I am.

Your work really reveals how you’re the product of two cultures.
Some of those cultural identity issues that I felt, now that seems to be a very natural thing [to experience]. One of my biggest interests is trying to capture [that sense of] being brought up in so many different places and migrating from here to there—almost like looking at a kaleidoscope with every culture blended in, because that’s who I am. I think that kind of portrays where we are now.

You’re based in Brooklyn now. How does the city inspire you?
The energy of New York really motivates me a lot—the amount of galleries and artists, the whole art scene is really the capital of the world. Nothing is like New York.

So what do you think about everyone saying that the city is so rich now that it’s unkind to artists?
It’s actually the opposite because of the whole art bubble thing… Now everybody wants a piece of art. As an artist, now is a good time to start a career, whereas if you were to start in the early ’90s nobody bought art at that time… there’s a unique movement right now.

Some of your work, like the mural you did outside of the former Triple Crown bar, can seem deceptively simple, but you feed it with symbolism. Is it a personal language that you’re working with?
A lot is personal but I try to bring in traditional Asian art motifs. The bird in the Triple crown mural is one of the traditional motifs representing longevity and happiness. I’m trying to make something that has a deeply cultural meaning into something physical but still attractive.

Is it weird to walk by the mural now that the bar is closed?
It is! No condition is permanent, so I knew it wasn’t going to last forever but it’s lasted three and a half years which is longer than I thought it would stay up for. People were kind and didn’t really go up and bomb it. They gave me good respect.

Do you come from a graf background?
Not really. I was kind of inspired by the whole wheatpasting, street art, graffiti—I really like the physical aspect of the art. Now I don’t really do anything on the street. I show more in the gallery or institutions.

So Matzu-MTP was more your street art name?
It was, and now I only go with my full name. I’ve grown up a little more. I started to feel like I was trying to hide myself a little bit, and what I’m trying to do now is the opposite—really revealing who I am and where I’m from.

That’s art, isn’t it? Just saying, here’s my beating heart for your criticism, enjoy!
Exactly! I can say when I was young and came to New York I wanted to be the cool kid on the street who’d do art but now I’ve done my little struggle long enough to really be who I am. I just want to be open with what I do.•

Tomokazu‘s Summer Favorites:

SUMMER JAM: DJ Alex from Tokyo. “He’s a really good friend of mine… We’re working on his new album that’s going to be released in half a year. I’m listening to it and doing a little drawing every day, which will then become a little booklet that will come with the album.”

SUMMER SPOT: Eat Records, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

SUMMER CRUSH: “My girlfriend Maho who is in Tokyo. I’m here for the whole summer so that’s my summer crush.”

-Angela

Angela is to summer what popsicles are to little girls (or Steely D)….yummy! Read more of her at angelacravens.com.

images via Gion and Yojiro Imasaka

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JACOB VARGAS / 37 / LOS ANGELES / PLAYER

What do Mi Vida Loca, Next Friday, and Traffic all have in common? No less than the talents of one Jacob Vargas, who ignited our teenage fantasies in Gas Food Lodging as the dreamy bad boy Javier, who solely by the skill of his lovemaking, teaches the quirky, misunderstood heroine that “the desert is alive!” (we could go on about our love for this film, but we’d only continue to embarrass ourselves). You’re sure to spot Jacob in a decidedly less sensitive role next week, when he appears in Death Race, playing a badass member of a pit crew opposite Jason Statham and Tyrese. We caught the Mexican-born former B-boy by phone as he was driving to the gym. Such an LA actor, that one!


So, Jacob, we have to tell you that you were in one of our favorite movies of all time, Gas Food Lodging.

Oh wow! You’re going way back! That was such a good film. I really enjoyed that one… that was true independent filmmaking.

So it had a real DIY sensibility?
Totally. We were in a small town in New Mexico. We were staying at a cheap little motel there, just getting this thing done out of love.


How was working with director Allison Anders?

She was such a loving, nurturing person. Every morning she would greet our cast with a hug. I really like that way of filmmaking. It was such a great environment to work in.


It must be such a different environment from Death Race!

Well you know, it’s such a Hollywood action movie. There’s a lot of money being thrown [into production]. It was a great cast and crew, but it wasn’t that nurturing environment where I was greeted with a hug every morning.


Yeah, instead you’re blowing things up every morning.
Although the one great thing about Death Race for me was Ian McShane [Al Swearengen in Deadwood!]. He was the best actor to work with on the set… He was like a father figure to us. He would throw lines that he didn’t want to say at us—very much a team player. He created a great environment for everyone. He’s been around forever and he was just the funniest guy. He’d always order us poutine, it’s a Canadian staple—french fries with gravy and cheese curd. It’s amazingly good, but horrible for you.


At the movies recently, we saw the audience just go nuts when the trailer for Death Race came on.
It’s a 16-year-old’s wet dream. It’s got action, tough guys, fast cars, great car crashes and hot chicks. What more can you ask for?


You’ve been in a lot of films, but you’ve always managed to maintain this great balance between indies and blockbusters.

I think for an actor, the blockbusters are great. You get great exposure, and it’s a nice payday. But the indies are where an actor’s real heart is. You can really be creative and take risks. Also, you can work with new, on the verge, undiscovered talent.


When did you first become aware that you were good at acting?
Not until recently! I never really took acting classes. I always had this natural instinct and just kind of went with it. It wasn’t until I did Traffic that it all kind of changed for me. I saw a whole different level of acting, and of commitment. Working with Benicio [Del Toro], Don Cheadle, and [Steven] Soderberg, I realized that I really have to commit a bit more to the art.


You just finished Bitter Grapes, a Mexican-American family drama. Did that have a special connection for you?
My family migrated to the US when I was one year old, so I’m pretty much American. I grew up eating pizza and watching The Brady Bunch.

I’m very proud of my heritage and I do love telling the stories of the immigrant experience. My family—we’re all immigrants. But what’s interesting is that we shot in Tijuana and Mexico City, and I thought it would be a great homecoming. I’m going back to Mexico, the place of my birth. I thought they were gonna throw a parade for me, but quite the contrary! I felt a bit of resistance from Mexicans. They treated me as if I was an American, so it was a little shocking.


You grew up in LA—what about the city inspires you?
I love LA. It’s just a great blending of cultures here… The one downside to LA in my mind is that everything closes at two in the morning. I think they should keep everything open until four like in New York and Chicago.


So do you still breakdance, then?

I do in my mind but my body doesn’t let me anymore!… I did a bit in Jarhead—there was a scene where it sort of took over me and I started breakdancing. I think once it’s in you it’ll never leave. Once a B-boy, always a B-boy.•

Jacobs’s Summer Favorites:

SUMMER JAM: Lil’ Wayne—“Lollipop”

SUMMER READ: Victor E. Frankl—A Man’s Search for Meaning. “I don’t know if it’s a fun summer read, but it’s what I’m reading.”

SUMMER SPOT: Griffith Park. “I’ve been taking the family hiking. We’ve got to be more spontaneous and healthy. I let my daughter watch way too many cartoons.”

-Angela

Like “C Angie C’s” work? She IS the Girl of the Summer! Read more of her at angelacravens.com

Jacob Vargas, shot by one of our favorite Los Angeles artists, Estevan Oriol.

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REY VALENTIN / 29 / LOS ANGELES / ACTOR

It’s tempting to write actor Rey Valentin off as just another Hollywood hottie. Those looks. That name. But judging by the challenging roles he’s been choosing lately, Rey is one up-and-comer who’s got more on his mind than the average player. You may have spotted the Puerto Rican (by way of Bridgeport, Conn) in HBO’s current miniseries Generation Kill, about marines in the early days of the Iraq war and created by The Wire‘s team. Keep your eyes peeled for Rey this fall, when he appears in the explosive ensemble drama Crossing Over, an exploration of immigration issues in America, with Sean Penn, Harrison Ford, and Ashley Judd.


Tell me a little about Generation Kill. As someone who doesn’t shy away from the political, this must have been an incredible experience.

First of all, when I found out I was working with David Simon and Ed Burns and that I was going to be doing a show about Iraq in Africa, I lost my mind. It was like the biggest call I’ve ever had, as far as my career, as far as my life. I always wanted to go to Africa and I never imagined it would be on this grand scale. It was really mind-blowing just to think about traveling to the motherland and then do a show that has such relevance to what’s happening right now.


You worked closely with real Marines who even put the cast through boot camp.

Those guys were there firsthand and they were an immense tool for any actor, because all we had to do was check our ego at the door, listen to these stories of what happened, and just embody the feeling that we would get just listening to these guys, being out there in the field. It was amazing.

We did a screening in Camp Pendleton and we were all pretty nervous. We did this show for these real soldiers watching. They laughed at every single joke, and they got quiet at all the times that there was casualties, and then we had a Q&A afterwards. One guy came up to me—he thought I was [my character Cpl. Gabriel] Garza! He grabbed me by my shoulders and said “Garza!” I said, “No, no, I play Garza.” He goes, “Oh, fuck brother, fuck man, damn. You had him down like a T!”

Here is a story that is not about some dead soldier, or some battalion that lived in the ’70s. These are real guys walking around planet earth right now. As actors, we were concerned that we needed to get these guys right, because we’re going to have a bunch of angry marines looking for us!


You all lived in Africa for seven months during filming.

I ended up staying an extra month. We wrapped in December and a lot of the guys were desperate to go home and see their families. I said hey, I’m in Africa, it’s summer here, it’s peak time and I don’t know when I’ll ever come back. I ended up going back to Mozambique to continue my scuba diving. I went to Cape Town and tried to have more of a cultural experience as well.


Crossing Over
is already generating a lot of buzz and controversy for the way it deals with immigration issues. Did this project affect you on a personal level?

Last year before I went to Africa, I was really a part of the movement that they had in downtown Los Angeles of immigration reform… I go and drive around the richest areas of Los Angeles and I think, look who really takes care of this land. The so-called immigrants. They do so much for this state alone. And they do so much for the country. That’s what was so interesting about Generation Kill as well, because there were so many Latino soldiers on the front lines. I think Crossing Over is really going to expose what is the nightmare of so-called immigration reform. I think they’re being strategic in releasing it before the election because it’s another hot topic out here. Wayne Kramer isn’t looking to entertain, he’s looking to expose, which is really great.


I hear you’re in a pretty intense sex scene in the movie.

There’s no way I could be nervous or vulnerable or anything because I just kept thinking about what [my co-star] Melody [Khazae] had to do in the movie! I can’t invite my mom to this. In fact, I’m gonna wait until I get a copy of the DVD to kind of edit it myself and then maybe give my mom and grandmother that copy. I don’t know if my aunts are ready for this.


So do you have to kind of distance yourself to do a scene like that?

To me it was very exciting in the sense that this is the closest that I’ve come to being an exhibitionist. I’m not that way by nature… It’s insane because here’s [Wayne Kramer] who is directing Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, and now he’s working with us. There’s a whole film crew, it’s a closed set, Melody is fully naked, I’ve just got a little sock on—it’s just insane.


You totally have the perfect heartthrob name.

And it’s really my name! Actually, my original name was supposed to be Ruben Valentin, but my father, whose name is Ruben Valentin, did not show up when I was born, so my mother named me Rey instead. She said, this is when my king was born.•

Rey’s Summer Favorites:

SUMMER JAM: “Nas’ new album.”

SUMMER READ: Noam Chomsky—Interventions

SUMMER CRUSH: Alice Braga (the hottie from City of God – Parlour approves. She’s dope!)

-Angela

Like “C Angie C’s” work? She IS the Girl of the Summer! Read more of her at angelacravens.com

More fire! Or rather, more Latino actors who make us go mmm… Next week, we’re up close and personal with Jacob Vargas of Death Race.

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RYAN LESLIE / 29 / HARLEM / MUSIC MAN

OK, so the guys’s a prodigy. He talked his way into Harvard at the tender age of 15, and mastered the art of MySpace promotion when most of us were still using AOL. Though he’s readying to release his debut, Ryan Leslie has been on the scene for a minute, having leveraged hits for Cassie, Beyoncé and Britney into a signature sound and business. His spacey-synthy, pro-monogamy single “Diamond Girl” proves there’ll be more to come when his self-titled album drops on September 16. But is there more to Ryan Leslie than what’s on the well-groomed (and well-documented) surface? We caught up with him as he was frantically prepping to shoot the video for his new single “Addiction” to find out.

I heard you’re just back from Milan Fashion week. Anything catch your eye?
There was quite a lot that caught my eye. I’m a custom guy so I usually go to the shows to get inspired for my own individual style… Being a guest of DSquared and getting to see the Armani show, hanging out with Donatella Versace—I had a great time.

People know you as a producer, but you’re also an artist, filmmaker, businessman…
I really just enjoy being able to be creative in all the different media I have access to. Nowadays it’s so cool to be able to jump online and IM the best team of young talented folks from wherever.

You’re like the consummate MySpace generation artist.
Thanks a lot. I definitely had to in the beginning because clearly my first major success [Cassie’s “Me & U”] was a result of the phenomenon of social networking and online video. I couldn’t get on television or the radio because Cassie was a new artist, but we controlled her Myspace profile and we controlled her distribution channels. People basically chose her and made her into the star that she actually became. I went on to share those trade secrets and techniques with Puffy and he went on to have the fastest scoring MySpace profile in the history of the site.

So what’s the deal with the self-documentation? Do you still employ a videographer full-time?
Yeah, he’s actually filming this interview now. When we first started working with Cassie, Tommy [Mottola] suggested that maybe this was the stuff that a reality show was made of, and we had a camera crew following us for a bit. We didn’t end up doing a reality show but we were able to capture some really incredible memories on tour. I thought since I can afford it, I’ll have somebody with me all the time. We now probably have over 1500 hours of footage from my life since 2005. It’s really incredible when you sit down and look at the archives, to see how far I’ve come and the pivotal moments in my life and my career. To have them documented is really priceless.

Can you share any details with us about the “Addiction” video that you are currently shooting?
It’s a nod to George Michael’s 1990 “Freedom” video. The “Addiction” chorus features Cassie and her schedule doesn’t allow her to be in this video. So I thought creatively, with a nod to George Michael’s historic video, we would cast some of the emerging models that were featured in the latest Italian Vogue Black Issue. I was able to retain the services of Bethann Hardison, a very influential agent, to do the casting for the girls and she’s picked a cast that’s just amazing.

We’re really excited about the potential of this video. It’s making a statement—providing alternative examples of how women are portrayed, and of how black women are portrayed. I’ve been sort of pigeonholed in this R&B singer category but having the academic pedigree, traveling the world in the way that I have, speaking the languages that I do, and being raised in the manner that I was raised—I want this video to be an expression of that. I want to celebrate beauty.

The new album tells the story of this doomed relationship. Was it inspired by real life at all?
Kind of. Any relationship right now, with my career, is doomed from the beginning. Because there’s sort of the initial allure of this is interesting, he’s kind of got this singer-songwriter rock star thing going on. Then through time they’ll get to understand that I’m pretty obsessive about the creative product that I’m putting together, and I can be pretty self-absorbed and selfish about my craft. That usually leads to feelings of neglect, a lot of canceled dates, and usually that’s the pathway to a breakup.

So you’re looking for one good girl who’s gonna break the cycle?
Who isn’t looking for that one good girl who’ll make you feel like it’s time for you to slow down for a second? Maybe I’m sort of self-destructive because I also understand that failed relationships make for great records. •

Ryan’s Summer Favorites:

SUMMER JAM: Stevie Wonder—All I Do

SUMMER SPOT: “There’s still so much to conquer here in New York City.”

SUMMER CRUSH: “I’m so self-absorbed… Filmmaking is really the crush.”

-Angela

Like “C Angie C’s” work? Read more of her at angelacravens.com

Hollywood’s got a new Valentino in town. Next week we’re getting to know all about actor Rey Valentin of HBO’s Generation Kill.

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BLU / 25 / LOS ANGELES / MC

Remember when crushes on rappers were still kind of cool? We think it must’ve been around the time that the summer soundtrack shifted from Q-Tip, Tupac, Butterfly, and Nas to 50 Cent, Lil’ Wayne and, um, ‘Ye that crushes on rappers became kind of… eh.

Enter West Coast MC Blu, who has the power to make us believe again. Since releasing Below the Heavens with DJ/producer Exile last year and C.R.A.C. Knuckles collabo The Piece Talks in ‘05, Blu has been renewing an emphasis on lyricism and solid beats, all with a healthy dose of charm. We caught up with Blu, aka Johnson Barnes, the day after he shared the SOB’s stage in NYC with Wale and Talib Kweli. It was a night when he—seemingly effortlessly—shook up a crowd of genuine hip hop heads and rendered us, yep, putty in his hands.

So Blu, a lot of people have been comparing you to the great ’90s lyricists. Does that bother you?
I love that! That’s my era right there! That’s what I listen to, even to this day, because I missed that whole era growing up. I wasn’t allowed to listen to hip hop growing up.

Why weren’t you allowed to listen to hip hop?
My stepfather was a reverend and hip hop wasn’t his forte—or anything on the radio, for that matter.

So what was playing around the house when you were growing up?
They’d play Al Green, gospel tapes, cassette tapes of preachers preaching… When I was in 9th grade I moved in with my real dad and from there I was allowed to listen. I caught up on a lot of hip hop history in a quick time span. By the time I got out of high school I was a huge fan of Native Tongues. I was rocking my Wu sweater every day. I started the hip hop club at San Pedro high and organized battles between other schools with MCing, DJing, graffiti and breaking—the four elements. I used to jack a lot of CDs then, so I would give the winners CDs that I would jack at Wherehouse or Tower. (Laughing) And it would be the new hot album, like Redman and Method Man.

What does your family think of your career now?
I was over at my mom’s one weekend—I’ve got a grip of siblings over there. I woke up in the morning and they had my CD playing ultra loud! They still can’t really listen to hip hop over there, but I just gave my mom the album so she had it all turned up in the morning. My mom doesn’t really trip on me. She loves everything I’m doing. She just wants me to keep God close. I try to tell her my main thing in life is God, but it’s hard for her to understand that when I’m cussin’ all the time and shit.

So much of rap music has always been about putting on this mask, boasting about money, cars and girls. But your music rather blatantly talks about the failures and the daily grind.
I’m really just talking about my everyday struggle. And that’s why it’s relative to everyone else, because everyone does struggle. Even if it’s not the same struggle, people relate to it.

What do you think drives you to bare it all out there?
I just really don’t care anymore. At first it was because I didn’t think people would hear me the way they are hearing me now, and I was just making music for myself. Now that it’s come to fruition, I do have a responsibility to uphold as an MC, but it’s still for myself at the end of the day.
When I was 19, I used to record a lot but I hadn’t found myself lyrically yet. Labels like Interscope were interested in some of the songs that I was cutting. It’s funny because if I would have gotten put on then, I probably would have ended up like Chingy. •

Blu’s Summer Favorites:

SUMMER JAM: “Dance Dance Dance” by Lykke Li
SUMMER READ: “Native Son” by Richard Wright
SUMMER CRUSH: “I got a lady, so I can’t really have a summer crush [Laughs, then considers]… I got a crush on all the girls that are doing it in hip hop right now. They got me going crazy. It’s very inspirational to see them.”

-Angela

Like Angie’s work, read more of her at angelacravens.com

Above Image: Jati Lindsay

NEXT WEEK… could you be his Diamond Girl? Ryan Leslie revs up for summer.

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GABRIEL URIST / 29 / NEW YORK / METALSMITH

To spend an afternoon at Gabriel Urist’s downtown studio is to get a glimpse at contemporary pop culture—sports, music, and art—melted down and re-presented as a few precious, yet heavy, pieces of gold. There are ideas scattered about detailing new works for the NBA, press clippings from his New Era pendants, and in a prized position behind a glass case sits his recent commission from the New Museum, a collaboration with Mexican artist Daniel Guzman. Flip through Gabriel’s photo album, and you’ll glimpse familiar faces like Nas, Kanye West, and Baron Davis, all well-accessorized. Even accomplished author (wink) Jenna Jameson smiles flirtatiously for the camera, wearing one of Gabriel’s new women’s chains, bearing a delicate stiletto heel dangling at her famous cleavage. But despite our excitement, it’s just another day at the office for the don of downtown bling.

So how does a sports fanatic from Ann Arbor, Michigan get into the jewelry trade?
I was a painter in high school and took a metalsmithing class my last year out of high school. I started making jewelry for my friends. I got a job at a jewelry store and kept learning techniques and the jewelry trade, but I didn’t really have any idea of what fashion was all about. I just made t-shirts and hung out with a lot of skaters and musicians.

So the jewelry trade found you?
Yeah. When I first started, I wanted to make jewelry for rappers.

You seem to bring an artist’s sensibility to the craft.
I didn’t really get into it for precious materials, or high fashion, or high price point items. I just like working with my hands.

You work on so many different collaborations and personal commissions. How do you choose your projects?
I have a lot of different things that I take into account when I try to prioritize all the different projects that I work on. I’m working on tons of stuff at the same time. Video games, basketball, making jewelry for video director Chris Robinson, Claw Money, Adidas. I’m doing a collabo with Rob Walker [from The New York Times’ Consumed column]. It’s gonna be a big bird, an albatross.

That’s kinda heavy. Is he gonna wear it?
I dunno. I’d wear it.

You’re creating an Obama chain. Is that a different sensibility, using politics as your point of inspiration?
There’s politics in sports, and there’s sports in politics. This is the most exciting election I’ve ever seen. I figured it would be a good opportunity to apply metalsmithing to a political campaign. I want Obama to win. I know other people would want an Obama medallion, just to represent that they want him to win, too. It’s exciting. People like to display their excitement for things on their body.

You make everything by hand here in New York. So few American goods are made here now.
I think if Obama wins, we’re gonna start to see a lot more local businesses become successful. I think there’s a direct relationship between the arts and retail and the economy.

Do you design differently when creating a dude’s piece as opposed to a woman’s?
No. Women can wear anything. The pieces just have to be smaller… I’ll wear a small piece. I think subtle jewelry is nice.

I notice you’re not wearing any jewelry today.
I do sometimes. Just not when I’m working. I throw around everything that I wear. I’ll ride my bike and go play basketball—I break everything!

Gabriel’s Summer Favorites:

SUMMER JAM: “Comfortable” Babyface and Lil’ Wayne
SUMMER READ: “Buying In” by Rob Walker
SUMMER SPOT: The Park

-Angela

Like Angie’s work, read more of her at angelacravens.com

All Photos Courtesy of Gabriel Urist

Ladies, get ready for next Friday’s post. Your new favorite west coast MC tells us why he’s so BLU...
(Steely D & Angie C and JBakes will be attacking him @ SOB’s over the weekend).

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GBENGA AKINNAGBE / BROOKLYN, NY / THESPIAN

Though he’ll no doubt be hounded by calls of “Chris!” forever more, regardless of the accolades future roles might bring, what’s striking about actor Gbenga Akinnagbe (Ben-gah Ah-kee-nah-bay) is a certain ease and lightness in conversation. He reveals himself as a direct opposite to his breakthrough role on The Wire as an assassin, where he was just a little too good at scaring the bejeezus out of us.

Since bringing life to TV’s shadowy psychopath with a taste for Dem Franchize Boyz, Gbenga has made interesting choices. He took a thoughtful turn in The Savages with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s also just wrapped next summer’s popcorn hit, playing opposite John Travolta and Denzel Washington in a remake of 1970s cult favorite, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Oh yeah, and in his downtime? Campaigning for Obama and organizing for All For Africa, a charity that “helps establish systems in Africa where small economies can be built and self-sustained.” We always appreciate a man with a plan.

So Gbenga, we have to tell you—we sat across from you on the train one day during a time when we were watching The Wire obsessively, and for a split second we were honestly scared!
(Laughing) Yeah, I get that a lot.

It must be pretty incredible to be dealing with people on that level all the time. Just the reactions you must get as you’re going about your day.

There’s a wide variation of reactions from people. With some, initially there’s fear, some people envy this character, some are turned on sexually by this character. It’s given me a glimpse of the human psyche.

You went from The Wire, which has a very sort-of male sensibility, to working with these incredible women Laura Linney and director Tamara Jenkins on The Savages. Was it a different energy?
Absolutely, and male and female is a good way of putting it. The Savages was such a well-written script and from this woman’s perspective, she wrote these really good roles for men. Oftentimes when you’re writing from a certain perspective, it’s easy to make one group or gender the bad guy or good guy. Tamara was very specific in not creating stock characters, and making people live.

It’s also not too many young actors who can say they’ve made out with Laura Linney.
(Laughing) Rehearsals were wonderful!

What was it like on the set of Pelham One Two Three?
Most of my scenes were with John Travolta and he was very kind to all of us. Just seeing him work was great. He’s such a good bad guy.

Did he give you advice?
He was carrying such a great deal of the work, so I didn’t want to interfere with his process. Whenever he wanted to joke around or hang out, we were open, but otherwise we let him prepare and do his thing. Working with [director] Tony Scott was one of the pinnacles of my career. He’s so meticulous about what he wants from everyone, and he’s warm when he carries it out. He’s not what you think a big-time powerful director would be like.

One thing that people might not know about you is that you’re quite active, politically.
These things have always interested me, especially with my background. I know it sounds cliché but it’s true, I appreciate being able to give back and realize that my life and everything I’ve been able to do is a gift.

I’m also very excited about this election year. It’s an amazing time. Everything that’s been happening in this country the last eight years, the complete omission of the Constitution and our judicial branch… Nothing is going to be fixed in one administration, probably not two administrations, but there’s a chance for real change, and that’s unprecedented.

Gbenga’s Summer Favorites:
SUMMER JAM: Wale
SUMMER SPOT: Bread Stuy (BROOKLYNNNNNN!)
SUMMER CRUSH: “I would’ve loved to have met Cleopatra. She held it down, from what I understand.”

-Angela

Like Angie’s work, read more of her at angelacravens.com

[Photos: Kevin Amato]
Kevin Amato shot Gbenga at his summer spot, Bread Stuy cafe. As far as Boys of Summer go, Kevin is no slouch himself. Check out more of his work at www.kevinamato.com


Next week—does your chain hang low? NYC Jeweler Gabriel Urist on the art of downtown bling.

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LLOYD / AGE 22 / ATLANTA / CROONER

We love a guy who can surprise us. Take Lloyd, who inspired some serious hair envy with his latest “Girls Around the World” clip. When we caught up with the singer over the phone from ATL, it turned out that there’s more than a little depth to his latest tale of girl-watching. As he preps for the release of his third album Lessons in Love, dropping August 5, and upcoming tour dates with The Dream, Lloyd reveals himself as a young dude who has more than just intergalactic infatuation on his mind. School’s in session!

Hi Lloyd, where are you? You’re not on tour yet, are you?
No, but I’m about to. I’m getting ready to take over the world, or this solar system. We’re going to other planets—first stop was the video with Hype Williams and Lil Wayne.

Yeah, you had all the Parlour girls jealous. We even had a post called “Lloyd’s Hair is Better Than Yours.”
(Laughs) I wouldn’t say it’s better than anyone’s! I guess it’s just the Creole in my blood.

So what kind of lessons in love do you have to share with the Parlour girls?
Growing up I’ve always been kind of blown away by the female psyche, always wanting to get in the minds of girls. Wanting to know what they think about, what they like in guys, if they like me…

Your songs manage to balance fun, party music with a message that’s still empowering. You’re enjoying sexuality and women, but at the same time you’re able to big them up.
A big thing that I’m trying to do is clarify—whereas love is emotional, lust is physical. You just have to know the difference. A lot of guys would rather make music that’s rather selfish, that’s about having money, cars, and girls. I try to make music that gives people a good time. At the end of the day it’s summer time, it’s hot out here, we just want to hear something that cools us down.

What inspires you in daily life?
My family. When I look into my brothers’ faces, and I see that admiration for what I’m doing, but I also see that drive inside of them. [Not having our dad around when we were growing up] gave me a chance to be an example to them. I really care about them, and those guys are a handful! They’re hell’s angels!

That must be inspiring too, just being around that energy.
The energy is what it all transpires from! How you feel inside, how you carry yourself, being healthy probably transpires from being surrounded by good energy. That’s why I’m always so big on my family… Especially lacking a father growing up, it takes a lot of good people in your life to make sure you come out with a strong head. That’s why I’m so proud to be able to make music about love and life. I think I have a good idea of what love is all about.

I have an unconditional amount of love from my mother who is a very strong black woman, also a woman who believes in dreams and has really helped me accomplish a lot of my childhood dreams. When I say my music is not as selfish as most, I say that because she really encourages me to make a different message to our youth that really listen to our music.

And it’s on radio hits that the message really gets across.
Growing up, LL Cool J was more relevant to me than my teacher at school! Realizing the influence that I have over the community has really encouraged me to make something about the true meaning of what love is. That’s what Lessons in Love is all about—teaching the young ladies to spoil yourself because you deserve it. Even the single, “Girls Around the World”, when you hear the title you think, ‘Oh man, this guy is trying to be such a suave player’ but when you listen to the lyrics it’s about traveling the world and meeting a lot of people, knowing that one girl for you is really special. In this case, it’s the one girl that’s been there for me since before the glory. Before I knew that dreams were a reality, the girl that was a big dreamer with me.

Is this a girlfriend that you’re talking about?
I bet you would want to know if there’s a girlfriend!

The girls wanna know! (yes, we do…cuz we need hair tips—JBaker)
It’s more about my fans… I’m still on that journey as far as the one girl for me.

Llyod’s Summer Favorites:

SUMMER JAM
Summertime, Will Smith

SUMMER READ
Things I’ve Learned From Women Who’ve Dumped Me, by Ben Karlin, “it’s hilarious!”

SUMMER CRUSH
Alicia Keys

Don’t be skurred—next week we’re chatting up Gbenga Akinnagbe, aka Chris Partlow from The Wire, on supporting Obama, starring with Denzel, and making out with Laura Linney.

-Angela

[Don’t you love Angela like we do? In addition to being the hottest Swede we know, she manages to consistently write some of the best pieces ever. Find out more at angelacravens.com]

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