By Chris Alonzo and Jason Mallory
This piece was originally performed as part of Song Missing’s H-TO-THE-IZZ-O-V-TO-THE-IZZ-A-TLANTA” event celebrating the music of Jay Z.
I lived in Bed Stuy for six, almost seven years, and if you think I moved to that neighborhood in Brooklyn for any reason other than Jay-Z and Biggie, you are out of your goddamned mind.
Actually, that’s a lie. We moved there because it was the only place we could afford and the landlord didn’t bother with a credit check. But the other stuff was in my head as a special bonus.
New York is filled with lots of little pockets of history like that to supplement your real estate experience. Before Bed Stuy I lived in East Harlem, just off of what Lou Reed called “Lexington, 1-2-5.” But I never saw anybody trying to score heroin there: Lexington 1-2-5 was the location of a pretty nice grocery store when I was a Harlemite.
Bed-Stuy was different. Maybe you’ve seen that YouTube video of 17-year old Biggie freestyling in front of a junked out bodega on Nostrand Ave? I lived a couple of blocks from there, and the bodega was still junked up properly, and everything else in the atmosphere of that video was the same by the time we arrived in 2004. We were the first wave, pretty much the only people in the neighborhood who weren’t black. We realized this when we were riding our bikes around, exploring our new digs, and a group of dudes sitting on their stoop called out: “Oh shit! White people!” They knew what was coming.
Oh hey, Chris—throw your diamonds up cause we in this bitch another ‘gain! And let me be the first to say thanks for letting me freestyle in front of your junky bodega!
I just want you to know that I still yell “Oh shit! White people!” whenever I see you coming. It just feels right, you know? Have you ever seen that TIDAL infomercial where Jay-Z and Kanye and their famous friends all sign that contract pledging allegiance to one TIDAL under god inTIDAble with TIberty and Tustice for all? Even the Daft Punk guys are nodding in their LIGHT-UP helmets like “YESS the Constitution can eat a dick because TIDAL is here.” That’s how right it feels to say “Oh shit! White People!” whenever you come around, Chris.
You know, you and TIDAL have a something in common. You’re both good at streaming. TIDAL streams High Fidelity lossless music to all your devices—and you stream white people into cool neighborhoods.
If Jay-Z ever breaks his leg, at least he knows that he’s going to have an amazing collection of signatures on his cast. He should get everyone to sign his cast and then take off the cast and be like, “haha-my leg’s not broken—but the music system is. TIDAL.” TIDAL Part 2, Chris. I don’t even know what that means.
But it really makes you think. Guess now you’ll think twice before you refuse to sign my cast. Or my yearbook. How else will people know this show has been 2 Good + 2 Be = 4Gotten? Keep in touch! Hope you have a good summer and stay sweet!
Anyway, you were saying? Something about reliving the plot of The Wackness?
Sorry, I don’t know that movie because I was too busy KEEPING IT REAL in Brooklyn when it came out. Man. From context clues I will assume that movie is about gentrification, but I can assure you that we were the opposite of gentrifiers: we had no desire at all to shape the neighborhood in our vision. Instead, we wanted to fit in, like we were from there, and exclusively did all of our shopping in the neighborhood. But the neighborhood wasn’t just black: it was West African, mostly Muslim, with the call to prayer sending us off to work in the morning and welcoming us home at night. We ate Halal and fruit juices and familiarized ourselves with goat meat.
Further down from the mosque, though, closer to the Nostrand Ave subway stop, there were the stores: a mile of mid-level chains competing for the neighborhood dollar. And this is where my neighborhood assimilation went next-level. Because that’s where they put our Jimmy Jazz.
I went to Jimmy Jazz to fulfill all my Rocawear needs. I’m sure it’s a fanboy thing, being the type of dude who owns Jay Z’s first Madison Square Garden concert on DVD, but I actually really dig the design aesthetic of Rocawear over other hip-hop labels. Sean Jean is boring, FuBu is just a bunch of goddamned polo shirts, ENYCE shit has too many belts and zippers and needs an instructional manual, and Coogi looks like a whole thing of crayons melted on your sweater. Rocawear, man: simple lines, dope colors, big-ass R. Let everyone know who you’re wearing.
I hate to interrupt the story of how you were about to Michael Rapaport the shit out of Bed-Stuy, but there’s just one thing that’s been on my mind lately—what if Jay-Z and Kanye had been afraid of an old witch when they made Watch the Throne? I like to think they would have called it Watch the Crone. Or maybe Witch the Throne. I know you don’t like this joke about revamping the classic Jay-Z/Kanye collaborative album Watch the Throne to be about how they’re afraid of a witch who lives in the forest and has a gingerbread house, but it’s going to pay off later and you’ll wish you had gotten in on the ground floor.
Track List: “Witches in Paris,” “That’s My Witch.” Sample lyrics: “Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats/witches are real/building houses out of treats”
To quote the man himself in “Can I Get A…” will you bounce with me, bounce with me? I always like how Jay-Z followed that up with “Bounce, bitch, bounce.” Jesus Christ, Jay-Z—I’M ALREADY BOUNCING. You don’t have to call me a bitch. I get enough of that at home!
Do you think every time Jay-Z throws a birthday party for Blue Ivy, and he rents an inflatable bounce castle, he mutters “Bounce, bitch, bounce” to himself under his breath? Some things never change, Chris.
You can take the bitch out of the bounce, but you can’t take the bounce out of the bitch, as the old saying goes. One man’s bounce is another man’s bitch. Bounce what you love, and you’ll never bitch another day in your life. Dance like nobody’s watching, and bounce like nobody’s bitching. Practice random acts of bounce bitch. Eat Pray Bounce Bitch.
Okay, back to your story. Something about being on a collision course with Steve Harvey in a Jimmy Jazz?
PERHAPS. A moment to note: everything I’m wearing this evening is Rocawear that I purchased at a Jimmy Jazz: either the one on Nostrand Ave or the bigger, two story one in the Fulton Mall area across from what is now the Barclays Center– Jay Z had about a one million dollar stake in that place. You can’t escape Jay Z in Brooklyn if you try, especially on the subway: the lines are all named for either numbers or letters, and I remember the first time I was at a subway stop in our neighborhood that was serviced by the J line and the Z line and I read those two together and finally went, “OHHHHHH!” I am slow sometimes on the uptake.
This was my weapon for fitting in. My wardrobe changed almost overnight. All my grimey friends in Williamsburg and Greenpoint kept up their bullshit of dressing like themselves. I, on the other hand, started rolling up at parties in jerseys, decorative jeans and flatbrimmed fitted Rocawear hats (which my friends would try to bend down, in the Caucasian manner). My shorts got longer. My t-shirts much more complicated. I even got married in a pinstriped suit I bought on Nostrand Ave. When I rolled up at the wedding the minister, my buddy Eric, said, “I see you’re sporting something from the Steve Harvey collection today.” To which I responded, “I WISH I could afford that shit!” Someday.
Holy shit, when I wrote that Steve Harvey joke, I didn’t know you were actually trying to transform into Steve Harvey. Here’s a tip on how to be Steve Harvey, Chris—it’s all in the wrists. The wrists of his mustache. That’s right, Chris—Steve Harvey’s mustache has little tiny hands and wrists. He’s a wizard, Harry! (just a nice smooth Hagrid impression). Remember that witch that Kanye and Jay-Z were afraid of from before in that joke that probably didn’t do so well with the audience? It’s Steve Harvey!
Oh, you don’t think that Steve Harvey can be a witch, Chris?! Steve Harveys is witches too, go and brush your shoulders off! In fact, Steve Harvey is the Headmaster of the Atlanta Hogwarts. The entrance is in the back of Jimmy Jazz.
It makes sense, if you think about it—if you needed to hide the door to your wizard school from white people, where would you put it?
To once again quote the song “Can I Get A….”
“You ain’t gotta be rich but fuck that / How we gonna get around on your bus pass / Before I put this pussy on your mustache, can you afford me?”
This was a coded memo letting all the Atlanta wizards know that boarding the MARTA bus to Hogwarts required you to place a cat on Steve Harvey’s mustache in the back of a Jimmy Jazz. It’s all very straightforward, Chris. Anyway, back to your retelling of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.
True story: to this day Rosie Perez dances outside the Utica subway stop every single morning, just to keep the neighborhood alive.
Anyhoo, the final straw in my Bed-Stuy transformation was when I started riding my bike every day, and I needed a solution for my long hair getting in my face, so I bought my first do-rag. That was when people began to get concerned. The neighborhood was changing me to the point where it was becoming a costume. I didn’t really notice or care, though. A neighborhood has a spirit to it, and you either ignore it or you give in to it. There were many block parties with DJs and dance-offs. Neighbors calling out from their windows as we passed. Hilarious shit-talking in the street. It was all gold.
Then, after a few years of peaceful community living, it happened: one day my wife and I were walking to the store and we saw them, stumbling along in their goofy smiles, knee-high socks, ironic shirts and thick glasses. Oh shit! White people! Within a month my wife’s best friend and her boyfriend moved in around the corner. They are both graphic designers with decorative eyewear and expensive bikes who now live in Portland. Before we knew it, the neighborhood was under siege. Right on cue, our landlord began asking for more rent. White people ruin everything.
Well, Chris—I guess you either die a hero as the only white person in the neighborhood cool enough to wear a do-rag, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain who sits on a stoop and calls out, “Oh shit! White people!”
I think my favorite part of sharing this stage with you tonight has been you taking this show that ostensibly celebrates the discography of Jay-Z, and turning it into a platform to let the world know that you can pull off Rocawear, and that I think Steve Harvey is a witch.
I think if Jay-Z were here tonight, he’d agree that we should both sign up for TIDAL, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs isn’t just a good way to lure Drake away from your Maybach, and that Bed-Stuy has never been the same since Biggie, Hova, and Chris Alonzo left its bodegas and Jimmy Jazzes behind.