Kesha’s Rockshow Comeback

As summer officially transitioned into fall, I spent the equinox watching Kesha and the Creepies perform at the Warsaw in Brooklyn. This was my third time seeing the formerly dollar-signed singer, but the first in over three years since her very public legal drama began.

For those who haven’t heard, Kesha has been trapped in legal limbo for the last few years. She sued her producer Dr. Luke, accusing him of sexual and emotional assault. Because artists have to sign their life away to labels, Kesha’s contract with Sony stipulates that she can only work with Luke– essentially forcing her to work with her rapist. The legal proceedings are ongoing, but she has been prohibited from releasing new music for almost four years.

But last night, Kesha was not about to let those problems inhibit an incredible show. She addressed the lawsuit early, telling the crowd how grateful and appreciative she was of our support. The crowd was deafeningly loud in response, with such powerful cheers and chants that Kesha at moments was on the verge of years. She noted- and I felt- the palpable love in the room. It was both a heavy moment but one of reassurance. Love always conquers hate.

Sonically, the show was pretty shocking. Even though Kesha is one of the biggest pop stars of the last decade, known for her processed, layered, electropop sound, this was purely a rock show. Gone were the usual pop stylings, replaced instead with a remarkably live band: two guitar players, a bass player, a keyboard player, and a drummer. It was pretty astounding that the complex programmed beats and sounds of Kesha’s hits were replaced with live instruments. And her vocals? Every note she sang was raw and live. She didn’t use a backing track at all. There were no overdubs. This was the real deal.

She kicked off the surprising rock show with her 2010 Number One hit “We R Who We R,” displaying the first of many new rock arrangements of her catalog. During the self-love anthem, her hype man/boyfriend Brad Ashenfelter ran around the stage vigorously waving a hybrid gay pride/American flag. After the song Kesha told the crowd that she “loves love- all kinds of love,” but also loves drugs, perfectly segueing into “Your Love Is My Drug.”

Up next was a raucous version of “Dinosaur” complete with dino-masks and choreography, followed by the first of many cover songs, the appropriately-titled “You Don’t Own Me,” originally recorded by Lesley Gore. Kesha really demonstrated her strong vocals on this song, and the lyrical parallels to her legal issues did not go unnoticed.

In a starkly personal moment, she told us that “no one can own you, because to truly own you means to own your happiness. No one can own your fucking happiness.” She made the crowd promise to never let anyone take our happiness away.

Regaining herself, she then busted out a lower vocal register to cover “Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop, one of her idols and collaborators, followed by a haunting, slowed-down version of “Till The World Ends,” a song that she wrote for Britney Spears.

Fan favorite “Boots N Boys” was next, followed by a rearranged “Blow” and “Cannibal.” During “Cannibal,” she mimed killing and eating her boyfriend. Covered in (probably) fake blood and guts, I was a little surprised to see more gore at Kesha than Black Sabbath, who I saw in August. (Albeit goreless, Sabbath was of course outstanding.)

A heavy metal version of “Take It Off” came next, which led into her monster hit “Tik Tok.” Again, it was crazy to see such a synth and production heavy pop song reworked for a live band. But it worked! And she coyly changed a lyric to reflect today’s political climate: “Boys tryna touch my junk, junk/ Fuck Donald Trump!”

After a brief faux exit, Kesha returned wearing a white outfit and a cowgirl hat for an encore. First up was a jangly country version of “Timber,” her most recent hit with Pitbull. Next was an absolutely riveting version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Accompanied by just a bassline and a hint of guitar, Kesha belted the emotional lyrics, showing off a vocal prowess that she never gets enough credit for.

The penultimate song of the night was a cover of “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You,” the country standard that Kesha’s mom, Pebe Sebert, wrote many years ago. Kesha introduced the song as having been sung by “Merle Haggard, who recently parted, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash.” Kesha’s version was emotionally and exceptionally sung. When she finished, she remarked, “I hate when people say I can’t sing. So there.”

Kesha closed the night with another very apt song choice, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” originally recorded by The Band. Uplifting and uptempo, the song’s poignant lyrics were a reminder of Kesha’s legal hurdles, but also of her positive attitude and hope for the future.

Covered in glitter and confetti, by the end of the show we in the crowd could feel the shared catharsis of the night’s performance. Kesha and the Creepies were magnificent, and the love in that room really cannot be understated. She left us with a piece of advice that she has used herself during her recent ordeals:

“Always have hope in your heart. I do.”

People are missing this crucial detail that proves TSwift is right and Kimye is wrong

Note: none of this actually matters. 

If you have the Internet, you may have heard that there is a war going on between two camps: one headed by Taylor Swift, the other by Kanye and Kim Kardashian West. Basically, Taylor Swift is pissed about some lyrics in Kanye’s song “Famous,” but Kimye (referring to Kim and Kanye as a team) alleges that Kanye told Swift about the lyrics, she gave her approval, and is therefore a liar and a snake and all these awful things. 

What really escalated things was when Kim released audio recordings of Kanye and Taylor talking about the song. According to Kimye, this proved that Taylor’s outrage was fake and that she knew what the song would be about. But here’s the detail that everyone is missing: Taylor took issue with one specific line: “I made that bitch famous.” BUT– crucially– even on the dubiously released phone conversations, Kanye never told Taylor about that specific line! 

To recap: Taylor was pissed about said line. Kim and Kanye went in on her, saying she knew what the song was going to be about and released taped conversations. But there were no conversations about that line in question that Taylor took issue with! It was a Kimye bluff, and everyone fell for it. 

Now, let’s break down why Taylor Swift was offended by that line: “I made that bitch famous.” The reasons are two-fold. First, he called her a bitch. For some reason, rappers are given a free pass when it comes to sexist and misogynistic lyrics. But if a woman takes issue with being called a sexist and derogatory slur, she is more than entitled to do so. 

How are so many people missing that point? Yes, Kanye has poetic license to use whatever words he chooses, but if you call a woman a bitch, she has the right to be upset by that. 

Secondly, and perhaps even more crucially, was Kanye’s lyrical assertion that he made Taylor Swift famous. This is where the sexism goes into overdrive. Here is a man saying that his shitty actions (specifically when he stormed the VMA stage in 2009 trying to take an award away from Swift) are what made an incredibly successful woman famous. He is trying to take credit for this woman’s success. And calls her a bitch while doing so. 

(It’s important to note that prior to the infamous 2009 VMA’s, Taylor Swift was a global superstar who has toured the world, sold millions of records, and connected with millions of fans. She made herself famous, by the merits of her songwriting abilities. Kanye West did not, in fact, make that bitch famous.)

In summation, Taylor Swift was doubly justified in being pissed off at a monumentally sexist line. Kimye used smoke and mirrors to fake a backstory and make Taylor look like a liar, when in fact, it was the Kardashian-Wests doing the lying. 

Again, none of this really matters, but it was very frustrating that everyone seemed to be missing such a crucial detail in this feud. 

Now back to reality!

An Open Letter to My Fellow White People

handsupTo my white friends: we need to wake up! Racism is real and is directly impacts black people EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Let’s start here: White privilege is real, and we experience it every day. Like when we write a nice white-sounding name on a job application, we know that we’re going to be judged only on the experience listed on the resume, and not a proven prejudice against “black-sounding” names. Racism exists in our every day lives. We need to acknowledge that.

But is *not* a two-way street. Racism only goes one way: white to black. From the descendants of slave-owners to the descendants of slaves.

We need to stop pretending that everything is equal. We need to remember that until only 150 years ago, in modern human times with electricity and cars, white people OWNED black people. (Sorry for the caps, but this needs to be done):


This was NOT that long ago.

Until even more recently, we lived in a segregated country!

YEAH! We need to talk about how even after we “let go” our human being toys, we didn’t let them go anywhere. People could say “no blacks allowed” and that was enforced by the law! We, white people, need to acknowledge that the Civil Rights Act *ONLY* became the law fifty years ago.

From Wikipedia: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88–352, 78 Stat. 241, enacted July 2, 1964) is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation in the United States that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (known as “public accommodations”).

We need to remember that for 64% of the 20th Century, we didn’t let black people go to the same restaurants, schools, bathrooms, bars, anything. Many of the racist former slave owners stayed rich and powerful enough to influence laws. For 100 full years after the Civil War, in modern times. So in that nice, idealized, beautiful, simple world that we so like to dream of in the past, when our white families would gather round the TV and watch “I Love Lucy” and eat apple pie, even having these illusions is white privilege. Because in these picturesque “good old days,” things sure as shit weren’t good for black families! Watching “I Love Lucy” at the end of a day filled with not being able to go to school or work where you want kind of loses its charm. And baking that nice apple pie gets more difficult when a black mother could be prohibited from shopping at a bakery because of the color of her skin.

And it continues today. We are still killing them! Why do so many of us deny that this is a problem? So many young men and women are having their lives taken away from them for having toy guns, or just being too scary looking.

I was about the same size as Mike Brown was when he was executed. I guarantee you that if I did the same exact thing to Officer Darren Wilson, I would have gotten yelled at and maybe fined.


Because of the color of my skin, my life is valued more than someone like Mike Brown. A cop would subdue and apprehend me. But because Mike Brown was big, black and scary, he was put down like an animal.

Every American should have the right to their own life. We need to acknowledge the gross inequities applied to skin color in this country, today, in 2016.


The oppressors oppress the oppressed. It does not go the other way around.

“Reverse racism” is not real, because we don’t get discriminated against. We don’t get shot when we get pulled over for a broken taillight. My dad just drove 300 miles through New England the other day with a busted taillight, and his absolute worst case scenario was *maybe* getting a ticket. At worst.

Phil Castile is dead because of a busted taillight. A nice man, a cafeteria worker who knew all of the students’ food allergies. An American. A human. Executed in a car. That is wrong. This happens

So, please, my fellow white people:

We really need to wake up. We did this. We caused these problems. But we need to acknowledge this truth if we are ever going to fix it. We need to get woke. If you don’t know what that means, just take note of the past tense. Because once you’re up, you’re up. We need to stay woke. We need to pay attention. We need to shift perspectives, realize the truth, and become more aware of our privilege. We need to become more aware of what other people go through. We don’t know half the awful stuff they go through, because we aren’t subjected to it because we are the majority.

Admitting this doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. It’s simply an acknowledgment of the world we live in, an acknowledgment that not everybody is given a fair chance. Some people, by virtue of the color of our skin, are born with a stacked hand. WE HAVE A SYSTEMIC ADVANTAGE. We need to wake up, acknowledge the truth, and try to get more white people to admit that institutional racism is real and wrong and hugely detrimental to the lives of our friends and neighbors. We can do better. We owe it to all of those young men and women whose lives were stolen from them because of the color of their skin. Racism is America’s original sin, and it is still destroying lives in 2016.

Oh and one last thing:

All Lives Matter is a racist statement. It dismisses the perils and disadvantage that black people have to face. It ignores the fact that black lives are under attack. It ignores the fact that in many ways today, black lives do matter less. They are less valued by law enforcement. They are taken away freely and without consequence.

That is why we need to say that Black Lives Matter. It needs to be said, because right now we don’t treat them like they do.


With love and gratitude,



MC Ren On Why N.W.A Belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame


N.W.A (from left: Dr. Dre, MC Ren, Ice Cube, DJ Yella) accepting their Hall of Fame honors.

Earlier this year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted N.W.A as part of their Class of 2016. This was a huge step forward in recognizing one of the most influential and important artists of all time. Formed in Compton, California in 1986, N.W.A were one of the first artists to write about police brutality in black communities, and they were made into pariahs because of it.


It’s jarring to listen to N.W.A’s lyrics today, because even though these songs were written decades ago, they sound as tragically current as ever. N.W.A, whose classic lineup comprised of DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren, wrote songs about racial profiling and police brutality, including the seminal “Fuck tha Police.”

When that song was released in 1988, it was a lightning rod for controversy. The group found their music censored, their concerts boycotted, and even received a threatening letter from the FBI. But the root of all of the uproar was the simple fact that an artist was audacious enough to call out systemic racism in America.

Here’s a fact: About the same number of white people and black people smoke marijuana. But if you are black, you are four times more likely to be arrested for it than if you were white.

Four times.

This, in a nutshell, encapsulates the centuries long struggle between black people and racist law enforcement.

Beginning with the founding of this country, when sheriffs would bring back escaped slaves to their owners, to when cops prevented freed slaves from daring to enjoy the same amenities as their former owners, to the present day, there has always been a different set of laws if you are black.

This self perpetuating system of oppression and injustice has affected the daily lives of black people in this country literally every day since its inception. Somehow though, this dynamic has been willfully ignored by white people since day one.

A combination of hate, ignorance, and obliviousness has led most white people to live their lives either ignoring the reality of black life or outright denying that black lives are more difficult, or even matter.

That is why N.W.A was and is so important. From 1980s Compton to 2010s Ferguson, (and Florida, Staten Island and beyond), a number of police officers, as Ice Cube put it, “think they have the authority to kill a minority.” This stream of police brutality has been divisive, leading to a national conversation about race. (I highly recommend reading this brilliant piece on white privilege, especially if you are reading this thinking that racism isn’t really a problem.)

Shortly after the group was nominated for the Hall of Fame, I spoke with MC Ren. We discussed N.W.A’s impact as well as the resistance to acknowledge their success. This was their fourth nomination– they’d missed the cut three times before.

“I have no clue why we keep getting snubbed by the Hall when they have other hip hop groups in,” Ren said, adding that “our group had as big an impact as all the rest.”

Only four rap acts had been inducted prior to N.W.A: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (2007), Run-D.M.C. (2009), Beastie Boys (2012), and Public Enemy (2013). Depending on your point of view, four is either way too small a number, or four too many. But many listeners of both rap and rock would argue that rock isn’t so much a genre, but rather a style of expression.

“‘Fuck Tha Police’ is hip hop and has a rock & roll attitude by the statement alone,” Ren said.

Ice Cube later elaborated on that thought, saying during his induction speech:

Now, the question is, are we rock & roll? And I say you goddamn right we rock & roll. Rock & roll is not an instrument, rock & roll is not even a style of music. Rock & roll is a spirit.

That rock & roll/hip hop spirit means standing up to adversity. Calling out discrimination. Fighting the power. N.W.A embodies that spirit without a doubt. As they knock down barriers upon their induction, the larger problem of police brutality still looms large. But today, perhaps more than ever, there seems to at least be a raised awareness of the issues.

“It’s not that America is catching up with the brutality,” Ren said. “It’s just now with technology, more events are getting captured on film and [are] bringing light to more of these evil crimes committed by crooked police officers who abuse power because they wear a badge.”

Recently many of the cop-on-unarmed-black-man crimes have blown up nationally because there are cell phone videos of these crimes. There has also been a push for body camera laws to hold police more accountable.

N.W.A went into the Hall of Fame alongside Deep Purple, Chicago, Cheap Trick, and Steve Miller. I asked MC Ren what his thoughts were on a potential all-star jam, and he said “I think all the groups together would make magic.” However, N.W.A wound up not performing at the event, feeling that they “weren’t supported.”

But like it or not, MC Ren and the rest of “the world’s most dangerous group” are now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where they belong. In many ways, the resistance to their induction stems from the simple fact that they make white people uncomfortable. By calling out police brutality and systemic racism, they shatter the pleasant safe space that white people have created for ourselves. They scare us through their art.

But I have a feeling that they don’t really mind the attention, even if it is negative.

I asked MC Ren what his reaction was when N.W.A’s music was practically forbidden in white America, and they were villianized and censored. His response?

“Free publicity.”

Photo courtesy of