Saturday Links: Sing It With RiRi Edition


Rihanna’s video for her single “FourFiveSeconds” features new BFFs Kanye West and Paul McCartney, stark black-and-white photography by legendary fashion photographers Inez and Vinoodh, and one of RiRi’s now-famous eyerolls. Even if her face says, “Who cares?” Rih’s lyrics quickly get raw. IT’S RIHANNA, RIHANNA CARES! On this track, she bares her most vulnerable self, singing, “All of my kindness is taken for weakness.” Kanye’s subdued delivery is accompanied by Paul McCartney’s simple acoustic guitar. Despite the dudes, the focus here remains squarely on Rih’s vintage Sean John jacket—and her total, gut-wrenching emotional vulnerability.

Photo of Missy Elliott performing at the 2015 Super Bowl, via RapUp.
Photo of Missy Elliott performing at the 2015 Super Bowl, via RapUp.

I don’t care much for sports, especially a…what’s it called? A Super Bowl? I mean, I wouldn’t turn down a super bowl filled with DELICIOUS NACHOS. But when I heard that the rap goddess and fire starter of my heart Missy Elliott was a special guest star in Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime performance, I actually screamed. Watching Missy blow up that stage with a medley of her hits “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It,” and “Lose Control,” made my arm hairs stand straight up. She wrote and produced these songs with Timbaland 10 to 15 years ago, and they sound as bomb now as they did back then. After the performance, the songs made it into the iTunes Top 10: Obviously we are ALL hungry for Missy! We’ve been starving all these years!

Sadly, Missy hasn’t made an album in a decade because she’s been dealing with Graves’ disease, a debilitating illness that affects the thyroid. Then, suddenly, she’s back, setting that Super Bowl on FIYAH! Love you, Missy! Let’s hope this is a sign of more to come.


Image via Tin House.
Photo of Shaimaa el Sabbagh, via Tin House.

On January 24, the Egyptian poet, activist, and mother, Shaimaa el-Sabbagh traveled to Tahrir Square, where she was shot dead by police. She was there to lay a wreath as a memorial to those killed during the protests in Cairo. This week, the New York Times released an article that gives us a sense of who Shaimaa el-Sabbagh was as an writer and activist. She had a degree in folklore, and she traveled the country to document the disappearing daily routines of her fellow Egyptians. The link also contains graphic video footage of Shaimaa before and after her death. Shaimaa el-Sabbagh is one of the many Egyptians who have lost their lives to state violence following the Arab Spring uprisings.

Photo by Kent Wang via Wired Magazine.
Photo by Kent Wang, via Wired Magazine.

If you’ve seen videos of Maru, the Scottish Fold cat who will try to get into ANY box no matter the size, you’ll know that many of our feline friends cannot resist the allure of a box. Now, thanks to veterinarians and behavioral biologists, we know why cats are such fiends for boxes. Those cardboard cubes provide a retreat for kitty in times of stress, and help to keep a meow warm.

This week, Angel Haze bestowed two gifts upon the internet. First, “Candlxs,” a new song produced by TROY NoKA, about her devotion to her GF Ireland Baldwin, with a painting of them together as the album cover art. Then—for when you’re done weeping—Angel posted a video announcing that she and TROY will drop an EP on iTunes in the next few weeks, independently of a record label.

In the video, Angel Haze talks about maintaining her artistic integrity and ignoring any advice on her brand or her look, and it is both comforting and MOTIVATING. I will be rewatching this whenever I need to be reminded that people want art that is good and authentic, and that there is no pleasure in making something unless you yourself are really proud of it. LUV U, Angel Haze, and I cannot wait for In the Winter of Wet Years.

Photo of Harper Lee, via Imgkid.
Photo of Harper Lee, via Imgkid.

I’ve often wished that Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, would write another novel. This week, the long-awaited news came that Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, will be published on July 14. Back in the 1950s, Lee actually presented her editor with the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman, but the editor was so taken by the flashbacks to the heroine Scout Finch’s childhood, that she asked Lee to write about Scout as a kid. That’s how To Kill a Mockingbird was born. As a result, Go Set a Watchman, which centers on adult Scout, will read like a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. The circumstances around the publication of Go Set a Watchman are a little murkier, though, and Jezebel has pointed out that the publication of this new book might be less than ethical. Last year, Lee’s sister Alice—the legal guardian of Harper Lee’s estate—passed away. Harper Lee is unwell, and there’s speculation that she would not have agreed to the release of this book were Alice still around to protect her interests. I’m SO eager to read more about Scout, but I just hope this book isn’t being published against Harper Lee’s will.

Photo by Jimmy May/AP, via the Guardian.
Photo by Jimmy May/AP, via the Guardian.

An urgent update from the desk of Animals Behaving Badly: A rogue owl has been swiping runners’ hats directly from their heads in Salem, Oregon. According to park officials quoted in the Guardian, the owl—likely a barred owl—is probably just defending its nest. An alternative theory is that this owl is trying to build the coziest nest in Oregon, replete with stolen knitwear. Either way, I respect this owl’s motives (although if this happened to me while I was running, I’d probably pee myself). Park officials are warning joggers to either run after dawn or to wear hard hats during their morning canter.

Photo of Lindy West with her late father, Paul, via the Guardian.
Photo of Lindy West with her late father, Paul, via the Guardian.

In an article for the Guardian, Lindy West, the feminist writer and internet champion, describes the extent of the abuse that she receives from trolls (people who harass others on the internet, often anonymously). In the piece, she makes this important point: “The volume and intensity of harassment is vastly magnified for women of color, and trans women, and disabled women, and fat women, and sex workers, and other intersecting identities.”

But mainly, this is a story about the time a troll impersonated Lindy West’s recently deceased father, bombarding her with hateful messages over Twitter and email. Shaken by this person’s cruelty, Lindy wrote about it for Jezebel as it happened. The troll read her piece, wrote her an apology, and then made a charitable donation in her father’s memory. Lindy and her harasser even spoke on the phone for This American Life! As a result of her story, Twitter’s CEO has taken responsibility for the company’s weak policies on online abuse.

Cover of Malaise #2, via the Observe Skateboarding Collective.
Cover of Malaise #2, via the Observe Skateboarding Collective.

The Observe Skateboarding Collective dropped a kick ass non-profit zine called Malaise #2. The collective supports independent music, art, and skateboarding, and this issue of Malaise focuses on female and LGTBQ skaters and punks. It features interviews with the bands Trigger Warning and the Flangipanis, photography from the skater babe and Kiri frontwoman Tessa Fox, plus lots of other fun reading—including the interesting story of a skateboarding mom!

Illustration of Kayla Phillips, via Dead End Design.
Illustration of Kayla Phillips, via Dead End Design.

All Grrrl Assault: Women In Punk & Hardcore is an illustrative zine that celebrates women’s presence in the underground music community. Kathleen Hanna, Brody Dalle, Against Me’s Laura Jane Grace, Victoria Ruiz of the Downtown Boys, Albion Gold’s Laura Mardon, are all featured (full disclosure: I’m in this issue, too). Each illustration is accompanied by a powerful sentence or two from each woman. Take Kayla Phillips from the Nashville band Bleed the Pigs: “What is it about a black girl doing the same shit white men do that makes them feel like it’s too much? How am I the only one being labelled too aggressive in a genre that’s about aggression?” SO ON POINT. Proceeds from zine sales will go to Australia’s National Breast Cancer Foundation, and All Grrrl Assault will make you want to kick up a fuss.
Emma D.

Photo via Behance.
Photo via Behance.

Zupagrafika is a Hispano-Polish creative design studio best known for its paper cut-outs models of iconic modernist buildings. Now Zupagrafika has released a new collection of cut-outs called Brutal London, featuring several monuments of ’60s and ’70s British brutalist architecture.

In the past, critics of brutalism have associated the style with totalitarianism. Brutalist buildings have also taken hits because they’re built of concrete, which ages rapidly—and not in particularly pretty ways. But a younger generation of architecture nerds is prompting a renewed appreciation of brutalist architecture, which has created initiatives to preserve brutalist buildings. Thanks to Zupagrafika’s models, I learned to appreciate the ambiguous, raw beauty of brutalist architecture. ♦

Theme Song: Downtown Boys

Collage by Minna.
Collage by Minna.

In a punk scene that can sometimes seem stale and beholden to trends that have been regurgitating themselves for decades, Providence, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys are a beam of radical energy. Their rhythmic guitars, confrontational and urgent vocals, and No-Wave saxophone could be compared to forebears like X-Ray Spex or Essential Logic, but Downtown Boys are more than a postpunk retread. They push themselves to keep growing artistically and politically, and they refuse to be categorized (as evidenced by this interview, which Rookie’s own Suzy X. did with them earlier this month).

I chatted with Downtown Boys’ Victoria Ruiz and Joey DeFrancesco (the band also includes Norlan Olivo, Dan Schleifer, Emmett Fitzgerald, and Will Cioffi) over email about how their politics arise from their lives and needs, the exhaustion that comes with staying vigilant in a screwed-up society, and the band’s recent tour with EMA. Downtown Boys will keep touring the U.S. through the summer, and we are so excited that they paused to contribute this month’s theme song, “Kids Are United,” their cover of the punk classic “If the Kids Are United.” —Jessica Skolnik

JESSICA SKOLNIK: The energy in your music, including “Kids Are United,” is really notable and palpable and infectious. Where do you get that energy from?

VICTORIA RUIZ: The energy comes from the power of the people. To think that even one person is going to listen makes it all necessary and worth it. The energy breaks down the void between us and the audience and get us on that level where we meet each other in space, time, and togetherness.

One of the things that draws people to Downtown Boys is your involvement in labor justice and organizing. How did politics become such an integral part of your music?

VICTORIA: It has never been a choice to wear my politics on my sleeve, but it is so much a part of every experience I can think of. Our only choice is to be political with our songs. I grew up in a Chicana single-parent household. Learning about my Grandma, a farm worker who experienced firsthand the contradiction of picking food but not having enough to eat, always made me think of how weird it was that my mom, a college graduate, and I were able to have such different lives than hers. I remember [my Grandma telling me] how she realized “the importance of education,” and “wanting to have a better life.” It came directly out of the hunger for change. That will always inspire me.

JOEY DEFRANCESCO: I don’t what else we’d write songs about. Our art is necessarily a part of our political work and vice versa. Victoria and I met while we were working at the Renaissance Providence hotel. She was in the call center, and I was in room service. They treated us like garbage there—and other employees to this day, which is why the workers called for a boycott—and why we became deeply involved in a campaign to organize a union. We’re still involved in the campaigns to win justice at other hotels and workplaces in Providence.

How do you take care of yourselves when you’re fighting so hard?

VICTORIA: Sometimes people ask, “Don’t you get sad worrying about this stuff all the time?” and it upsets me because it is negative and absolves the person of the responsibility of realizing that we all have to think about these things. I work through the exhaustion by loving and taking joy in the people who are fighting, too. Sometimes I don’t get much sleep, but I’m not tired because I’m working in a community. We need each other more than we need ourselves, and this is how I push through. I also take care of myself by always being inspired, whether [that means seeking out] a show, a poem, meditation, a good meal, or someone to talk to.

JOEY: I think the community and solidarity we build by talking about and acting on these issues is what empowers us to continue. By taking our lives seriously and fighting and yelling, we create glimpses of a more meaningful world.

What advice would you give to people just entering the workforce?

VICTORIA: I think it is important to remember our power and how much we can and do exist outside of capitalism. Most jobs are part of a structure that is reliant on greed and money, but if we get together, we can push back. I work with a lot of teens of color who are artists and also entering the workforce. [My advice is to] not get down, to keep making stuff, and to make stuff about anger, joy—everything. Also if you are being mistreated in any way, talk to someone! Talk to me! Don’t be silent about it. We all deserve respect.

JOEY: Don’t let anyone mistreat you, don’t settle, and don’t go it alone. We’ve been trained to have this attitude of “At least I have a job” or “It’s not as bad as it could be” or “It’s just a job.” These are the traps employers set for us. Never be satisfied. The second you stop thinking you deserve more is the second they start taking more from you. If you’re being taken advantage of, get a bunch of coworkers together and demand a meeting with your boss to resolve the issue. If they don’t give you a meeting, organize more coworkers and corner [your boss] in their office and make them listen. If they still don’t listen, organize a picket line. Call the Department of Labor together. Call a local workers’ center or union office. Or like Victoria said, email us and we’ll talk about it. Seriously—we’re at [email protected] and we respond to every message. Don’t stay silent.

Any words of wisdom for someone who always wanted to get on stage but was too afraid to try?

VICTORIA: Words of wisdom are tough, but I would say it is not about how good you are at an instrument or at singing, it is about how badly you want to do it. Joey and I often don’t know what we’re doing, but we care about it so much. So go, go, go for it! Anything good did not come from just a skill. Classism tries to make us believe that lots of expensive music lessons or an expensive university education somehow breaks our fear by [giving us] skills. That is a lie. Power can come from the connection between fear and longing. We long for justice and for art, and so badly that it helps us confront our fear around it. The ideas that come out of longing—whether it’s to make music, to tell someone something important, or to take some kind of action—those ideas are our weapons against alienation.

JOEY: I think the most inspiring thing can often be to hear how clueless we all secretly are. Like when we started Malportado Kids [Victoria and Joey’s electronic side project], neither of us had ever made electronic music before. We were just copying and pasting things into GarageBand and eyeballing them to get the beats lined up. It was really time consuming. But we kept doing it and somehow learned more. After our performances in either band, we often say to each other, “Ha, fooled them again!” It’s amazing that it works every time. There’s no secret. You just have to start.

How was the tour you just finished with EMA?

VICTORIA: It was really special. We were given a good amount of economic resources and food, and then our friends and friends of friends really came out of the cut to provide us with shelter, laughs, experiences, knowledge, and fire. It was so awesome. There were often people of color who would come to the front during our song “Monstro,” which has a theme about being brown and being smart. That would just make me want to cry out of love, struggle, and solidarity. I think we grew as a band. I feel a lot stronger as a musician. And Erika [Anderson] from EMA was really supportive! I would do it again in a heartbeat.

What’s next for Downtown Boys?

JOEY: We’re about to record a new, longer record. Details on this soon, I hope! We’re also excited to do our first West Coast and Southern tours in July.

VICTORIA: Whatever the people decide is next! We really wanna get deeper and deeper into that brown, queer, angry-and-ready [spirit], and hopefully change the colonized United States of America and beyond! ♦

Jessica Skolnik is a freelance writer and organizer in Chicago, currently working behind the counter at a record store while they start a nonprofit accessible performance space called Pure Joy. You can follow them on Tumblr and Twitter.