The recently published Bronx Biannual Issue No. 2 (Akashic Books) is the sophomore publication in the ongoing new ten-part black literary series that was founded and is edited by Bronx born and bred hip-hop journalist//author Miles Marshall Lewis. The 230-page collection boasts over a dozen talented hip-hop generation writers, both known and unknown, all carefully selected by Lewis, who began his hip-hop journalism career back in the early nineties working on the first edition of Vibe magazine as an intern. From there, he worked his way up to become that magazine's editor. He has also been editor at XXL and written for numerous publications including LA Weekly, Rolling Stone, Village Voice, and Essence.
A few years ago he published his first book, Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don't Have Bruises, and last year kicked off the Bronx Biannual literary series.
I recently caught up with Miles, who splits his time between New York and Paris these days. I also caught up with one of Bronx Biannual's contributors -- noted hip-hop journalist and author Michael A. Gonzales, who co-wrote the groundbreaking hip-hop book Bring the Noise: A Guide: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture (Crown, 1991) and has written stories and reviews for Spin, High Times, Mode, XXL, The Village Voice and Entertainment Weekly. He penned the piece "Blues For Sister Rose" in Bronx Biannual No. 2.
On Friday, July 13th, Michael A. Gonzales and other Bronx Biannual contributors will be my live studio guests on WFMU on Put The Needle on the Record, 3PM to 6PM (NY time) or Noon - 3PM (Cali time). And on July 14th, Lewis and Gonzales, along with contributors Carol Taylor, Reginald Lewis, Sun Singleton, SékouWrites, Liza Jessie Peterson, and Greg Tate, will host a book party and reading at Bluestockings Bookstore at 172 Allen Street in New York City. So far no West Coast readings are scheduled, but if they are it will be updated on this AMOEBLOG.
AMOEBLOG: Tell me about the Bronx Biannual series.
MICHAEL A. GONZALES: Bronx Biannual is a project I'm quite proud of. It's a great way to show people that the term hip-hop writer doesn't have to be limited to hoochies and jail cells. Bronx Biannual is a way of saying that just because it's hip-hop doesn't make it crude: just because it's literary, doesn't mean that it's cold. It is terribly difficult for writers of color to be taken seriously if their work doesn't conform to so-called urban fiction style.
Also, with the exception of a few young turks (Colson Whitehead, ZZ Packer, Edward P. Jones and a few others), the literary community is slow in that other types of writers exist. I also think it's a shame that none of the urban magazines publish fiction many of the writers (Greg Tate, Kenji Jasper, Sun Singleton and myself) come out of the urban magazine jungle, but for years we really didn't have a place to publish anything that wasn't a profile ...
Miles and the folks at Akashic (shout out to Johnny Temple) helped change that. Like the culture itself, hip-hop fiction in Bronx Biannual is many things. It can be cyberfunk science fiction (like Greg Tate's piece in the first Bronx Biannual issue), crime fiction, comic books come to life ("Marine Tiger" in No. 2), remembrance of cool things past ("Sweet Thing Superhero, #1), post-rap poetics ("Mums"), or post-bop Harlem, like my story "Blues For Sister Rose." While writing the piece, I kept remembering Harry Allen saying "hip-hop is the new jazz," Gang Starr living with Branford Marsalis, Ron Carter on bass with A Tribe Called Quest and those dope ass Pete Rock horns.
AMOEBLOG: You and Miles Marshall Lewis seem to share many of the same outlooks on hip-hop and black writing. True?
MICHAEL A. GONZALES: Miles and I have been friends for years, and share a similar vibe when it comes to pop culture -- digging everything from Woody Allen to Rza, Richard Pryor to Radiohead, Chester Himes and Phillip K. Dick. Bronx Biannual is a combination of Massive Attack, the Roots and Schooly D. produced by Tricky, Marley Marl and the Bomb Squad. Also...you will find a story about the cover artist on my blog which I was inspired to do because of Bronx Biannual. In my humble opinion, hip-hop fiction is a vast kaleidoscope of colors and rhythms. Miles' story, as far as I'm concerned, is a piece of social commentary that holds its ground with the best of Mark Twain or Swift, while Jerry Rodriguez and Carol Taylor represent a more noir sensibility.
MICHAEL A GONZALES' TOP FIVE BOOK LIST:
1. The Collected Short Fiction of Chester Himes
2. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
3. Third Girl From the Left by Martha Southgate
4. Noir novels by David Goodis and James Sallis
5. Divided Soul by David Riitz
AMOEBLOG: How has hip-hop journalism changed or evolved since the early nineties?
MILES MARSHALL LEWIS: Hip hop journalism nowadays is indistinguishable from celebrity journalism. When rap reportage was new in the early nineties, many writers tried a more sociological approach. But that eventually got dumbed down to discussions of an MC's bling and record sales. Magazines' support of that earlier form of the journalism died, and writers began approaching their subjects in the same style pioneered by Rolling Stone for covering its pop artists.
AMOEBLOG: Back in the day (late 80's/early 90's) the Source magazine seemed to be the only channel for real hip hop news. But things have changed radically since then. Specifically what sources do people go to now for hip-hop information? And is it more segregated into different specialty areas?
MILES MARSHALL LEWIS: The lag time for magazines is at least two months, by which time the news is old. The Internet drastically reduced the cultural significance of hip hop magazines, because the information is real-time immediate. Circa 1991 there was a gap between the mainstream's view of hiphop and the intracultural view that The Source provided, and that lag is now gone. MTV.com will give you as much of an informed view of hip hop as Vibe because its writers used to work there. In the age of blogs and text messaging, readers aren't as interested in 3,000-word features. Hiphop blogs and MTV.com news reports are just fine, which antiquates the purpose of the hiphop press a little.
AMOEBLOG: In France, where you split your time, is there a better understanding, perspective, or appreciation of American music/art?
MILES MARSHALL LEWIS: I live full-time in Paris now, since 2004. The knee-jerk answer would be yes, but actually, there's immense understanding and appreciation of American art and music within the United States itself in certain circles. The French certainly love American hiphop and cinema, for instance, but no more than hiphop heads or cinemaphiles in the States.
AMOEBLOG: How do you compare New York City today versus ten years ago in terms of hip-hop journalism and music?
MILES MARSHALL LEWIS: The thesis of my first book, Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don't Have Bruises, was essentially that hiphop is dead. This is two years before Nas said the same thing. That drastic statement came from my perspective as a nostalgist, growing up in the Bronx in the 70's and 80's and seeing the radical difference in the current music and culture of hip hop. In 1997, Wu-Tang Clan still had the bravery to release a sprawling double-album of unmitigated kung-fu esoterica and boom-bap on Wu-Tang Forever. With their next release, they became a lot more conscious of radio airplay and SoundScan concerns, and I think this perspective infected hiphop across the board forevermore around this time period.
Re: journalism, in the wake of the deaths of Biggie Smalls and 2Pac, I think hip hop writers were coming to terms with the power of their own words. The hip hop press was blamed a bit for fanning the flames that led to these deaths; Biggie was actually killed following an after-party hosted by Vibe.
AMOEBLOG: What are your long term goals for Bronx Biannual?
MILES MARSHALL LEWIS: Bronx Biannual will have 10 issues total, before the concept gets too tired. We'll eventually publish The Best of Bronx Biannual in hardcover. By the end, I hope to inspire the new generation of hip hop-influenced fiction writers and create a record of what got written when the producers of African-American literature became hip hoppers.
COVER ART of Bronx Biannual No. 2 by Chesiel Johns.