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Whole Foods Harlem: Beginning of the End?

By Miles Marshall Lewis

This Friday, Whole Foods Harlem turns two weeks old. Rather than rush to a snap judgment over the upscale supermarket’s arrival uptown, I chose to let its presence sink in for a bit before deciding how I really felt. Unpacking my thoughts like a recyclable grocery bag isn’t so easy, because the reality of a 125th Street Whole Foods is complicated. Some feel it’s a doomsday harbinger of things to come, re: rising property rates and further gentrification. Others predict the shuttering of other local supermarkets, leaving the expensive chain as an only choice outside the price range of many Harlemites.

All year, my reaction to “How do you feel about Whole Foods coming to Harlem?” was incredulousness at the question being posed in the first place. Since the megastore opened at Columbus Circle in February 2004, Harlem neighbors have been schlepping grocery bags uptown; we’re not new to Whole Foods, or to natural and organic eating. We’ve ridden the 1-2-3, A-B-C-D subway lines with booty from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for over a decade, not to mention Fairway over by the West Side Highway. Those who can afford it have been importing their groceries for quite a while, at least for choice items unavailable at the Foodtowns and Key Foods of Harlem.

So the heart of the question comes to light: will Whole Foods lead to the further forcing out of African Americans in Harlem? We’ve all heard the organic grocer derisively referred to as Whole Paycheck. The supermarket most of all serves those who can buy their overpriced groceries, which could lead to more well-to-do non-blacks migrating to the neighborhood to shop and live. Harlem gets more attractive to those outside its longstanding community with every new coffee shop, wine bar and upscale eatery that opens. Rising rents (justified by amenities like a nearby Whole Foods) demonstrably lead to less people of color in the neighborhood over time.

I believe in black resilience. Personally, a supermarket causing the erasure or displacement of African Americans in Harlem is something hard for me to take too seriously. Hundreds of open Whole Foods jobs were filled by native Uptown residents, something to be thankful for. As a one-time vegetarian, I’ve got the general health of the community in mind too when I think of all the organic food void of artificial preservatives and such now readily available as close as 125th Street. Don’t we deserve to eat as healthy as other Manhattan residents?

And yet in the final evaluation, whether Whole Foods is a danger or not turns on the question of money. The greater doomsday scenario of Harlem transforming into a majority white community boils down to who can afford to live here. Middle-class and affluent African Americans do (quite obviously) exist, and will continue to populate the brownstones and condos of Harlem as the area slowly continues to gentrify over the next decade. Call me optimistic, but we ain’t going nowhere. It’s Harlem’s poorer residents who, priced out of Harlem, will suffer displacement to further uptown in Washington Heights, Inwood, the Bronx and outside of the city completely, reverse-migrating down south to the Carolinas and elsewhere. Plenty of evidence exists for revamping New York City exclusively for the rich, and Harlem, unfortunately, falls within that grand scheme. But I’m still not pessimistic enough to believe that Whole Foods represents a tipping point.

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Jazzmobile presents Summerfest

13th – Annual Soul Train Tribute * August 12th, Marcus Garvey Park

This 2017 Academy Award nominated documentary takes an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.​

The Soul Train Tribute — arguably the hottest Jam in the park for six consecutive years — celebrates the soundtrack of American social movements with a tribute to Freedom Songs from the Soul Train Era! With Music spun by DJ Stormin’ Norman of Sundae Sermon, this tribute will feature music from Soul Train artists: James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and others interpreted by an all-star cast of independent artists including: Aiyana Smash, Abiah, Asa Lovechild, Bruce “Big Daddy” Wayne, Keith Anthony Fluitt, Petawayne, Lorinda Robinson, Shelly Nicole and others!

MUSIC: House Music by DJ Stormin Norman of Sundae Sermon and live Soul Train tribute curated by InJoy Enterprises

Kevin Young Speaks Truth to Black Power at the Schomburg Center

By Miles Marshall Lewis

Poet Kevin Young, latest director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, titled Pulitzer-winning author Colson Whitehead’s first book, 1999’s The Intuitionist. The association with Whitehead (stemming from college-buddy days at Harvard) was the first I’d ever heard of Kevin Young, but certainly wouldn’t be the last. With 11 books of his own spanning the past 19 years— including Most Way Home, the Jean-Michel Basquiat-influenced To Repel Ghosts and The Book of Hours—he’s made his mark as the most impactful black male poet of his generation this side of Saul Williams.

As the newly appointed Schomburg director, as well as (starting November) poetry editor of The New Yorker magazine, Young’s career continues its upward mobility. The 46-year-young (no pun intended) poet recently spoke with Experience Harlem about his new artistic duties, favorite Harlem haunts and more.

What interested you in taking over the Schomburg?
The Schomburg has always held a central place in all of our cultural vision I would say. It’s so central to African-American culture and the African diaspora culture the world over. So I was always aware of it. I’ve read here before, and I’d worked in the library for many years. And when there was a chance to be able to helm it and think about its future and its illustrious past, I really was excited to do so.

Tell me about your new role at The New Yorker.
I haven’t started yet, I’ll start in November. But I’ll be poetry editor and selecting the poems for the issue. But I’ll still be here at Schomburg. I really see those two missions as similar. One is thinking about the culture and making decisions that I hope help the culture along, and thinking about connections between writing and our broader moment. I’m normally interested in the way that there seems to be a black renaissance again happening. The Schomburg is at the center of that, and certainly some of those folks already are in The New Yorker. And it’s a pleasure to be there doing that.

Explain the center’s current Black Power! exhibit, running through December 2017.
Our curator Sylviane Diouf has done a wonderful job of pulling together the many strands of what she rightly called the Youth Movement. One that she sees as tied to the Civil Rights Movement, one that of course is in dialogue with it in many ways. And I’m always struck by the way that Black Power—both the phrase and the images of the black power, which sort of becomes central to the Black Panther Party—arise from the South, or at least they come out of SNCC. I’m really interested in that myself.

And just in terms of why folks should come, it’s just a beautiful, well-organized show with the international aspects of Black Power, the cultural black arts movement part. I wasn’t aware there were Australian aboriginal Black Panthers, that there were Israeli Black Panther Party members. All of this kind of broad movement is captured there, both visually and in terms of the material. You’re gonna see a volume 1, number 1 very first issue of The Black Panther newspaper, which is incredibly rare. And I think it’s a great sign that it’s a copy from one of our volunteers who was a Panther, so it’s sort of in the family. And it’s a lovely show.

What are some of your favorite Harlem spots we should all try?
Well, if I tell you the spots, then other people might go there. [laughter] I really love the Harlem Bar- B-Q joint. It’s good, I had some chicken and waffles from there 10 minutes ago. And there’s always Harlem Tavern, which is a good spot for the game or to get a beer. There’s many, so I hate to leave people out.

Top 5 Harlem Rappers of All Time!

By Darryl Robertson

Manhattan is one of the most affluent, densely populated hotspots in the world, known more for its financial-world prestige and its cultural cachet than its homegrown hip-hop culture. The most significant New York City-native rappers arguably originate from Brooklyn or Queens. But while there are way less MCs hailing from the neighborhood of Harlem than other NYC boroughs, Uptown has birthed its fair share of gifted wordsmiths over the years. With that, we put together a list of top five rappers from the Black mecca. (Shoutout to Harlem’s own Kurtis Blow, without whom the vast majority on this list would never have been known at all.)

1. Kool Moe Dee
Kool Moe Dee, né Mohandas Dewese, made his name as a standout performer in The Get Down-era 1970s with the legendary Treacherous Three. Moe Dee’s clever, rapid-fire wordplay (see “The New Rap Language”) paved the way for his solo career after the group split in 1984.

The West Harlem MC started releasing solo singles in 1985, which led to his self-titled debut album in ’86. KMD would later drop his most well-known single, “How Ya Like Me Now,” still a catchphrase meme to this day. The album of the same name sold over a million copies and solidified his status as one of the most popular rap pioneers to achieve success during hip-hop’s first golden age, alongside upstart legends like Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J.

Old school hip-hop heads witnessed an infamous battle between Kool Moe Dee and LL back in the late 1980s. Allegedly, the beef began after Moe Dee accused Uncle L of stealing his style and not paying enough homage to the MCs before him.

2. Big L
Despite releasing only one album in his lifetime (1995’s Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous), the late Big L is generally regarded as one of hip-hop’s most adept lyricists of all time. The Harlemite was killed in a drive-by shooing back in 1999 at 24 years old.

On the microphone, Big L (born Lamont Coleman) was intricate, intriguing and clever. His rap career begin in the early ’90s, when he teamed with fellow Harlem natives Cam’ron, Mase, McGruff and the late Bloodshed—collectively known as Children of the Corn. The rapper, who once emceed alongside Jay Z on The Stretch and Bobbito Show, made his first solo appearance on Showbiz & A.G.’s “Represent,” a song off their 1992 debut, Runaway Slave.

L’s most noteworthy songs include “Ebonics (Criminal Slang),” “ ’98 Freestyle” and “Deadly Combination” featuring 2Pac, all from the 2000 posthumous album, The Big Picture. Even today, Big L remains a celebrated hip-hop artist, not just in Harlem, but worldwide.

3. Cam’ron
Cameron Giles, a.k.a. Cam’ron, is probably the most colorfully exciting MC from Uptown. If you’re old enough, you may remember Killa Cam as a member of Children of the Corn—alongside Mase, the late Big L, McGruff and his late cousin, Bloodshed.

At the height of the physical mixtape/CD/DVD era, Cam’ron and his Diplomats crew rose to become some of the most popular rappers in hip-hop thanks to Cam’s witty wordplay. In fact, it can be argued that for a brief period (2007-2008), Cam’ron was one of the better MCs in New York City. But not only was the former basketball player a fierce rhymer, he transcended rap to fashion and film. Cam was so popular that renowned political commentators Bill O’Reilly and Anderson Cooper tapped the Harlem kid to appear as a talking head on their programs.

4. A$AP Rocky
Harlem’s Rakim Mayers—a.k.a. A$AP Rocky—is a rapper who valued style over substance on his breakthrough mixtape, Live. Love. ASAP., as well as his debut studio album, Long. Live. ASAP. But Rocky’s style isn’t typical New York.

The 28-year-old rapper has a thoughtful kaleidoscope of styles that he borrows from Southern screw music and California haze trends, which is ironic, because his parents named him after the NYC boom-bap legend, Rakim. While Rocky might not be saying anything new, he always sounds (and looks) pretty damn cool saying it. He also has feet firmly planted in the world of fashion, as a flip through any GQ magazine of the past few years will tell you.

5. Mase
His weird latter-day U-turn—an international ministry, a largely ignored comeback attempt, and an even-more-ignored second comeback attempt—has obscured just how much of an impact Mason Betha made in the wake of the Notorious BIG’s passing. Harlem World (1997), a Billboard chart-topping, quadruple-platinum record, made Sean “Diddy” Combs’ second fiddle the Bad Boy Entertainment label’s golden boy, thanks to across-the-board hits like “Feel So Good.” Though nowhere near close to the lyricist Biggie was, the kid could always style on a track.

Save the Date – Autumn in New York

Get Out * July 10th, Marcus Garvey Park

In Get Out, a speculative thriller from the mind of Jordan Peele, a young African-American man visits his white girlfriend’s family estate, and becomes ensnared in the more sinister real reason for the invitation. Music: Hip-hop, House and Soul by DJ Brittofied. Live Band: V Ferg presents Creative Public Offering.

Give the Gift of Summer Fund Challenge

A very generous anonymous donor has committed to match every contribution made this week to the BGCHarlem Summer Camp Fund $2 to $1  A gift of $50 buys not just one day of summer fun, but three! Help Harlem’s kids have a safe and enriching summer. Make your gift TODAY!

Father’s Day Guide

Razor Bar
2254 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10037
Facebook: @RazorBarHarlem
Every great day for a guy begins with a fresh haircut! Let him feel invincible after a trip to Harlem’s newest barbershop; Razor Bar.


Frederick Benjamin
Keep the confidence going with Frederick Benjamin grooming products; specifically designed tolet him keep the closest shave, free of razor bumps.


NiLu Gift Shop
191 Lenox Avenue New York, NY 10026
Embedded into the fabric of Harlem, is its unique style. Keep him on top of the newest trends with The Sneaker Heads’ Reference Guide or the Empire State Novelty Set found at NiLu Gift Shop!


Flamekeepers Hat Club
273 W 121st Street, New York, NY 10027
Top the night off with one of Flamekeepers Hat Club’s sophisticated hats for men. Offering an array of different styles, any Dad can end his Father’s Day in his own bit of flare!

Apollo Spring Gala Enters 12th Year in Style

—By Miles Marshall Lewis. Follow MML on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter at @furthermucker.

A staple of the season since 2005, the Apollo Spring Gala stands as one of Harlem’s hottest tickets. A fundraising benefit for the Apollo Theater, the night always begins with a scintillating set of live performances on its legendary stage and ends with a tented spectacle of dance, high fashion and high spirits stretching ’til midnight. (Tonight’s 12th annual gala features superstars Sheila E and Charlie Wilson alongside newcomers Wé McDonald and Trombone Shorty.) Apollo CEO/president Jonelle Procope spoke with Experience Harlem to discuss the gala and take us through the theater’s 2017-18 programming season.

Everyone’s excited over Sheila E taking the stage at the Apollo Spring Gala. Did Prince ever perform at the Apollo?

Oh God. Prince played the Apollo in 1993 for a special VH1 concert, and then he made several appearances at the theater throughout the years. Most recently he made a surprise visit for the Apollo’s 75th anniversary spring gala in 2009. And he came because he wanted to help induct Patti LaBelle into the Walk of Fame. He held a press conference at the theater in 2012 for his Welcome 2 America tour, and then he would come to see performances from time to time. I have to say, my only regret is that we didn’t get him for one of his late night jam sessions at the Apollo. He’s such a genius. Really really really miss him. But he did leave behind such incredible music, so he’ll never be forgotten.

Tell us about the programs funded by the annual gala.

The funds from the gala fund a number of things. Basically, it funds everything that we do on our stage. First of all, it benefits the Apollo’s education and community programs, which extend the theater’s commitment to serving as a resource and a gathering place for our community. Our education programs include events for schoolchildren and families, career development for teens and adults. The Apollo has always been a gathering place. So in current times, we focus on that through something that we call our Uptown Hall series. These are sessions on culturally specific issues integral to the Harlem community and history.

Funds raised from the gala also support our signature programs. Iconic events such as our amateur night at the Apollo, which has been going since we opened our doors in 1934 every Wednesday night; our Apollo Music Café; our Apollo Comedy Club. These are things that take place on our side soundstage.

You know, I want the people to think, “Wow, it’s a Thursday night. I wanna go out. I think I’m gonna go to the Apollo Comedy Club.” Or, “It’s Friday night or Saturday night. What’s going on? I’m going up to the Apollo and I’m gonna catch the music.” The Apollo Music Café focuses on artists who are sort of under the radar. These are artists who have their own following, and they can be from the New York vicinity or places like New Orleans or Atlanta. But we’re giving them an opportunity to showcase their talent, and that’s very much connected to the Apollo’s legacy of creating opportunities for emerging artists.

Last year, the Apollo brought aboard Kamilah Forbes as executive producer. What’s she been cooking up?

The funds we raise from the gala also support our rich programming. This will be our sixth full season of programming at the Apollo, the first year from our new executive producer Kamilah Forbes. There’s a multimedia production of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s award-winning Between the World and Me. It’s actually directed by Kamilah and features music commissioned by Jason Moran, who’s a MacArthur Genius. We’ve worked with him before; he did the soundtrack for Selma and 13th, the documentary.

We’re gonna feature the New York premiere of a genre-defying opera, We Shall Not Be Moved, which looks back at the 1985 bombing of the MOVE organization headquarters in Philadelphia. Then we have the multimedia live music performance Soundtrack of ’63, which really takes us back in time to a cultural, artistic retrospective from 1963 to present-day Black Lives Matter movement.

Could you break down this year’s Apollo gala musical performances?

This year we have CeeLo Green. Just a few weeks before, we had a reading on the stage of Ladykiller’s Love Story, a play based on the CeeLo album The Lady Killer. It’s something we think is an exciting project and may have a future. It’ll be workshopped, it may come back, and hopefully go on to regional theater or off-Broadway.

We have Sheila E. She’s just an amazing talent, and certainly she brings notoriety with her association with Prince. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform last year and just thought she was really amazing. The thing that’s so interesting about the Apollo is the Apollo audience. They participate in it, so when they come to a concert, they’re up on their feet really having a great time and embracing the artist’s performance. So we hope Sheila E. will do that. The thing about Prince was, there were also really cool women in his band. There was Wendy [Melvoin] and there was Sheila E. So I’m excited to have her.

And then there’s Charlie Wilson. That’ll hopefully whip us into a frenzy with a lot of the hits from the Gap Band and things that we still dance to, like “Outstanding.” And we have Trombone Shorty, who is a really great performer, another one who’s gonna get people hyped up. He’s actually gonna lead the crowd out at the end into a second line, for folks who understand the traditions of New Orleans, that’ll lead us to where our party is following the gala.

We always focus on an emerging talent, that’s very much a part of the Apollo DNA. Wé McDonald is a young performer who’s performed on amateur night. She was also a contestant on The Voice, and she is an alumna from the Harlem School of the Arts—another renowned institution in the Harlem community. We’re all cultural organizations who are supportive of one another, and we love having very talented students from Harlem School of the Arts. She’s amazing, a real talent. She’s a force and you’re gonna be hearing from her. And Cedric the Entertainer’s our MC, so what can I say? It’s gonna be a fabulous night.