Kameron McCullough and Nile Ivey were having a rough year.
It was December 2012, and the two friends hatched a plan to simultaneously wash away their troubles and usher in a more buoyant 2013. They settled on hosting a small game night.
Mr. Ivey, a D.J. and music blogger, had been laid off from his job at BET Networks. Mr. McCullough had been fired from his job at Condé Nast just a few months after being evicted from his apartment.
They planned to keep the invite list short, ensure that it included plenty of women and inform attendees that gaining entry required two things: a bottle of Hennessy cognac and a bucket of fried chicken.
“It’s going to be a Henny Palooza,” Mr. McCullough recalls one friend joking.
Seven years later, the event — now known as D’ussé Palooza — has grown from an East Harlem house party attended by barely 50 people to an event that drew 9,000 to Barclays Center in Brooklyn this month, while expanding to more than a dozen United States cities.
The party attracts thousands of fans every year, a group that includes professional athletes like the N.B.A. star Kevin Durant and the New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, music industry luminaries like the New York radio hosts Charlamagne Tha God and Ebro Darden, sports journalists like Bomani Jones of ESPN and Jemele Hill of The Atlantic, and the hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper.
“It’s the best party in America,” Reginald Ossé, a podcaster and onetime Source magazine editor known as Combat Jack, once declared. (Mr. Ossé died in 2017.)
The event’s new name is the product of a multimillion-dollar deal with Jay-Z, the music star and entrepreneur. Mr. McCullough, 34, and his team have entered into a rare partnership with Jay-Z’s music label, Roc Nation. As a result, the cognac brand D’ussé, which the rapper is an investor in, now sponsors the event.
AMERICAN BALLET THEATER’S NEW YORK SUMMER INTENSIVE
at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (July 26, noon and 2:30 p.m.).
Curious about the next generation of dancers? Two afternoon performances
wrap up Ballet Theater’s 24th annual training program, directed by Kate
Lydon, for dancers ages 12 to 20. Students of the five-week intensive,
under the instruction of former company members including Cynthia
Harvey, Leslie Browne,
Lupe Serrano and Cheryl Yeager, will perform selections from
“Coppélia,” “Don Quixote,” “Giselle,” “La Bayadère,” “Swan Lake,” “The
Sleeping Beauty” and August Bournonville’s “Le Conservatoire.” 212-477-3030, ext. 3416; abt.org
at Gerald W. Lynch Theater (Aug. 1-3, 7:30 p.m.). This East London
hip-hop group, last seen at the 2018 White Light Festival, returns to
Lincoln Center for an encore of its acclaimed political and virtuosic “Blak Whyte Gray.”
Presented this time by the Mostly Mozart Festival, the company explores
themes of oppression, identity and transcendence. Michael Asante (also
known as Mikey J) is credited with creative direction and music, while
Kenrick Sandy (who goes by H2O) is the piece’s choreographer. 212-721-6500, lincolncenter.org/mostly-mozart-festival
YOSHIKO CHUMA AND THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS at the Invisible Dog (July 26, 7 p.m.). Chuma, a veteran experimental choreographer and conceptual artist, presents the final presentation of “My Diary: Secret Journey to Tipping Utopia.” In it, musicians, dancers and designers interact, but never directly as fragments of sound, text and action — a metaphor for the cycle of life — fluctuate between states of utopia and war. Chuma has been in residency at the Invisible Dog since July 1. theinvisibledog.org
COMPAGNIE HERVÉ KOUBI at Prospect Park Bandshell (July 27, 8 p.m.). For the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, this company led by Koubi, a French-Algerian choreographer, presents his evening-length “What the Day Owes to the Night.” With a cast of 12 French-Algerian and African dancers, this vibrant production combines capoeira, martial arts, hip-hop and contemporary dance; it’s Koubi’s signature work and his second collaboration with street dancers from Algeria and Burkina Faso. 718-683-5600, bricartsmedia.org
JACOB’S PILLOW DANCE FESTIVAL
in Becket, Mass. (through Aug. 25). This weekend, the festival hosts
the Paul Taylor Dance Company in repertory works and the tap
choreographer Caleb Teicher with the composer and pianist Conrad Tao for
their collaboration “More Forever” (both performances run through
Sunday). In the coming week, “The Day,” an anticipated piece by the
cellist Maya Beiser, the dancer Wendy Whelan and the choreographer
Lucinda Childs, has its premiere; the production, which features music
by David Lang, explores memory and resilience (Wednesday through Aug.
4). Also, A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham offers a mixed repertory program, which
includes his own works as well as one by Andrea Miller (Wednesday
through Aug. 4). 413-243-0745, jacobspillow.org
MADE IN N.Y.C. 2.0: NEXT GENERATION TRADITIONS at Hearst Plaza (July 28, 1 p.m.). As part of its Heritage Sunday series, Lincoln Center Out of Doors presents this free, mixed bill featuring Redobles de Cultura, a collective of three New York City Afro-Puerto Rican bomba practitioners; Sri Lankan Dance Academy of New York,
an intergenerational group based in Staten Island; Michael Winograd
& the Honorable Mentshn, a Brooklyn klezmer group; and Inkarayku, an
Andean band that performs Quechua folk songs and dance music. This
presentation highlights the art and culture of first- and
second-generation New Yorkers. 212-721-6500, lincolncenter.org
92Y MOBILE DANCE FILM FESTIVAL
at the 92nd Street Y (July 27, 4, 5:30 and 7 p.m.). How often have you
lost track of time watching dance videos on your smartphone? Here’s an
opportunity to see three programs’ worth
— 48 films in all — at the 92Y’s second annual festival celebrating
works shot on mobile devices. Its international jury considered more
than 100 submissions from 14 countries, including Argentina, Cuba,
France, Greece and Japan. The selected films include David Fernandez’s
“The Clock,” Rebecca Gillespie’s “The French Girl,” and Roma Flowers and
Nina Martin’s “Secondary Surfaces Redreamed.” 212-415-5500, 92y.org
YOUNG DANCEMAKERS COMPANY at various locations (July 26, 7 p.m.; July 28 and 31 and Aug. 1, 2 p.m.; July 30, 1 p.m.; through Aug. 3). This dance ensemble,
which comprises students from New York City public high schools,
continues its 24th annual touring season, taking place at different
locations across four boroughs, from the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on
Friday to the Kumble Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday. Since the end of
June, the young dance artists have developed original choreography under
the guidance of Alice Teirstein and Jessica Gaynor, as well as the 2019
guest artist John Heginbotham, and now present the end result in these
free public showings. youngdancemakerscompany.org
Around 10 most
nights, Nikeisah Newton hops into her car for a 10-minute drive into
downtown Portland, Ore., so that she can deliver healthy meals that
include ingredients like massaged kale to strippers working the evening
shift. “One of the best forms of activism is feeding people,” Ms. Newton
said. Her company is called Meals 4 Six Inch Heels, and it’s intended to support a community that she feels has been shunned and taken advantage of for too long.
Newton, whose ex-girlfriend is a former stripper, has joined a wave of
dancers and their allies across the nation who are fighting to reform
labor practices; put an end to sexual harassment and discrimination in
their workplaces; and stifle the stigma around what they believe is as
legitimate a profession as any.
of this movement are sharing their experiences with the public through
podcasts, books and visual arts; using technology to spread information
about their industry; and protesting injustices in the streets. They are
also finding ways to care for each other, with meal-delivery services,
yoga classes, book clubs, clothing lines with slogans of solidarity,
financial planning lessons and comedy workshops.
When you use the word “platform” now in the stripping community, it’s as likely to refer to social media as shoes. At V-Live in Los Angeles, guests are encouraged to use their phones to take videos and photos of the dancers. On a recent evening, a photographer circled the dancers, taking images that they could later buy to use on their Instagram accounts.
The water-cooler conversations in the 1980s and ’90s, with the mainstream movies “Flashdance,” “Showgirls” and “Striptease,” may be coming back, as strippers return to the big screen in September with “Hustlers,” about dancers who steal money from their rich customers.
The film features the celebrities Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Constance Wu. Cardi B, a megastar, takes pride in and has spoken positively about her experiences with stripping. Beyoncé’s best-selling album, “Lemonade,” has a song called “6 Inch” about working as a stripper. Magic City and other clubs in Atlanta are well known among hip-hop fans as places where musicians test out new songs.
America, the face of stripping, and its audience, is changing. No longer
the domain solely of finance bros and the like unwinding after hours,
strip clubs these days are also frequented by couples and friends.
audiences in the last 10 years, specific to my home club, have become
more diverse, younger, more gender broad,” said Elle Stanger, 32, who
has worked as a stripper for a decade and lives in Portland. “It’s not
just middle-aged white men anymore.”
majority of us might not know a Développé from an Assemblé, but we all
know two things about ballet: One, it’s difficult. And two, it’s
beautiful. The ballerina’s challenge is to hide how hard she’s working,
which is why behind-the-scenes balletstories are always so appealing — it’s satisfying to see the athleticism inherent to the art.
Olivia Bee’s photos, below, are a new addition to the genre. The photographer spent nine days photographing the dancers at American Ballet Theatre in New York City. Her shots include rehearsals for the ballet Jane Eyre and a performance of Harlequinade on the opening night of the company’s spring season.
To prepare for her plunge into the depths of elite ballet,
Bee took some “beginner beginner beginner ballet classes” — her first
since she was 5 years old. “The classes I took helped me get more in the
dancers’ heads and be more predictive of movements.” In her photos, you
can feel the whoosh of the pirouettes and the barely there tapping sound of a dozen dancers landing after a jump.
Bee’s favorite subject is the way dancers of all levels relate to each
other. She said it reminded her of what she had seen while photographing
a ranch crew: “I think with any lifestyle that’s that intensive, people
become family. You have to lift each other up and support each other.”
a shift when the photographs move beyond the practice studios and go on
stage. Suddenly, the edges go blurry. The ballerinas feel less like
dancers or athletes, and more like figures in a dream sequence. “In my
work I like to explore dreamscapes based in reality and human emotion,”
Bee explained. “Ballet sweeps you away — I hoped to convey this in the
The impressionistic quality is heightened by the colorful, exaggerated costumes used in Harlequinade. The Degas comparisons are unavoidable, but this is like a Degas that’s only accessible in a dream.
Beyoncé is extremely private, and only lets you know what she wants you to know, when she wants you to know it — typically, in a surprise post be it on her website or Instagram. But throughout the years, she’s slightly cracked open her door to reveal parts of her life and personality — apart from what she gives through strong singing and extraordinary dance moves — to help remind us that though she is epic and flawless, she is still mortal. “HOMECOMING: A film by Beyoncé,” which premiered Wednesday on Netflix, captures the human side of the superstar singer with behind-the-scenes, intimate moments of a mother, wife and artist tirelessly working on what’s already become one of most iconic musical performances of all-time: Beyoncé’s headlining show at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The performance marked the first time a black woman headlined the famed festival and made Beyoncé just the third woman to score the gig, behind Bjork and Lady Gaga. Beyoncé took on the role seriously — as she does all live performances — giving the audience a rousing, terrific and new show highlighted by a full marching band, majorette dancers, steppers and more that is the norm at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The film takes it a step further to showcase what was happening to get to the historic moment: you see a mother bouncing back from giving birth to twins via an emergency C-section; an African American woman embracing her family’s history and paying tribute to black college culture and honoring black art; and the world’s No. 1 pop star defying the odds yet again and pushing herself to new heights, creating an even wider space between herself and whoever is No. 2. Simply put, Beyoncé changed Coachella — forever — and performing after her is like trying to out-ace Serena Williams or dunk better than Michael Jordan: You won’t win. Woven into the film are audio soundbites from popular figures to help narrate the story: Nina Simone speaks about blackness, Maya Angelou talks about truth, and Tessa Thompson and Danai Gurira explain the importance of seeing people who look like you on large screens. Beyoncé speaks, too, saying that she dreamed of attending an HBCU, though she explains: “My college was Destiny’s Child.” She also says the importance of her Coachella performance was to bring “our culture to Coachella” and highlight “everyone that had never seen themselves represented.”
So many people were represented during those performances last April — her stage was packed with about 200 performers, from dancers to singers to band and orchestra players. Beyoncé kicked of the performance dressed like an African queen, walking up the stage as the jazzy, soulful big band sound of New Orleans is played. After letting her dancers and backing band shine, she emerges again, this time dressed down — like a studious, eager, hopeful college student. The musical direction and song selection flows effortlessly and was purposely crafted to tell a story: the first song is 2003’s “Crazy In Love,” a massively successful No. 1 hit and her first apart from Destiny’s Child. It also was Beyoncé’s first of many collaborations with Jay-Z. But then comes “Freedom,” representing the Beyoncé of today, unconcerned with having a radio or streaming hit, but more focused on the art, and the message. And her message was loud and clear on “HOMECOMING”: Her performance is a homage to the culturally rich homecoming events held annually at HBCUs, but also showcases Beyoncé’s own homecoming — her return to her roots, and how she’s found a new voice by reinterpreting her music through the lens of black history. Young, gifted and black, indeed.
“HOMECOMING: A film by Beyoncé,” a Netflix release, is rated TV-MA. Running time: 137 minutes. Four stars out of four.
Under no circumstances will Lizzo play “Flight of the Bumblebee” tonight. Don’t get her wrong. She’s a classically trained flautist, in addition to a singer and rapper, and could twerk circles while playing it (that’s a trademark). But as far as songs go, “ ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ is for basic bitches,” declares Lizzo, and tonight she needs a show-off song.
It’s two hours before a live taping of 2 Dope Queens’
HBO special, and hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson have asked
her to perform her signature move, but the stakes — HBO, the
3,000-person-deep audience at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre — call for the
kind of song that will make eyes widen, jaws drop. Normally, the
trill-filled missile in Lizzo’s arsenal is 19th-century French composer
Jean-Baptiste Arban’s “Carnival of Venice,” a song that requires the
lung capacity of a runner trained at high altitude and the ability to
double-, sometimes triple-, tongue. Except a producer just
apologetically entered the dressing room to tell her she’s so so sorry,
but she can’t play that particular song. Something about legal.
What to play? she wonders aloud in a mild panic to the eight or so people milling about. The producer helpfully starts suggesting other legally cleared songs. “How about ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’?”
People are often surprised that Lizzo can actually play the flute.
At 30, she’s been playing for 20 years, since she was a preteen in her
Houston junior high school’s marching band and people would tell her
“that shit is corny!” She went to the University of Houston on a music
scholarship. She practices four hours a day when her schedule permits.
The flute even has its own Instagram account, @sashabefluting (it follows no one). She’s played on most of her albums, starting with 2015’s Big GRRRL Small World, and does so again on her forthcoming major-label release, Cuz I Love You, which drops this spring.
junior-high punks might have called her corny, but like most hobbies
people mock you for in adolescence, it’s now one of her greatest assets.
The flute is earning her Shade Room–blessed viral fame, especially
after one particularly notable moment from a performance at the
University of Iowa’s homecoming. As she tells it, that video was born
out of a direct challenge to her ability to play the flute — or to
perform at all. During sound check, a professor threatened to report her
to campus police unless she showed permits. “The privilege that you
have to have to walk up to young women, brown women, black women, and
yell, ‘Do you have a permit to be here?’ While we’re clearly onstage
with microphones singing and dancing,” says Lizzo, shaking off phantom
pangs of annoyance. She was so fired up that night, she told the
audience the story, then ripped into a flute reworking of “Big Shot,”
from Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack, while she and
her two dancers, dubbed the Big GRRRLS, hit the shoot with more
ferocious joy than BlocBoy JB ever had, even though he invented the
dance. She ended by lobbing her trademark “Bitch!”
was from the bottom of my heart,” Lizzo tells me. “That was for anybody
who tries to stop my shine and tries to challenge my existence. Don’t
challenge my motherfucking right to be here, bitch.” She posted
a video with the caption “have u ever seen a bitch play flute then hit
the shoot?” And since nobody had, it got half a million views. People
started making Lizzo flute YouTube mash-up videos. She released a single
version of it called “Bye Bitch.”
Lizzo plays the flute, it’s a gentle “Fuck you, yes I can,” to everyone
who is surprised to see her take the stage in a spandex bodysuit and
play a song by an old Frenchman. She knows she’s doing something with
the instrument that nobody’s ever done (please see: recent Instagram
videos from her album-listening party in an L.A. strip club — a
singular moment in flute-performance history). Her career has been full
of those kinds of expectation-defying swerves, ones that shock, delight,
and challenge preconceptions. And not just ours, but her own. “I’ve
said it before, but me just existing is revolutionary,” she says again.
People think they know what to expect from a pop star, but then they
She pulls out her beloved Sasha Flute (so named for Beyoncé’s third album, Sasha Fierce) and begins to run scales. “I could play some fake jazz shit, but that’s boring.” She improvises some exaggerated riffs in the key of Anchorman. Finally she decides to play “Bye Bitch,” in tribute to her viral moment. She tests a few bars, making sure she can play and clap cheeks at the same time. She can.
In January, Lizzo
released “Juice,” an energetic funk affirmation that should have Bruno
Mars watching his throne. When she sings, “If I’m shinin’, everybody
gonna shine,” in the song’s bridge, it’s both an earworm and a mission
statement. By her own declaration, Lizzo has been at the forefront of
the positive movement. Which positive movement? All of them. She’s sex
positive, body positive (hers and yours), vocally practices self-love
and self-care. “I am a pioneer in creating modern self-love,
body-positive music,” she explains, which could ring cheesy — or, worse,
totally disingenuous. But it isn’t just the modern twists she puts on
old self-help sentiment (e.g., “I just took a DNA test; turns out I’m
100 percent that bitch”) that keep it from teetering over the line. It’s
the fact that Lizzo has been teaching herself to be 100 percent that
bitch since she was Melissa Jefferson, a self-described dorky,
family moved to Houston from Detroit when she was 9. Her parents worked
long hours building a succession of businesses, and her two older
siblings were often doing their own thing, so music was an early
babysitter. In sixth grade, “the flute chose her,” when her school’s
band director asked Lizzo if she wanted to learn the instrument. At 14,
she formed her first rap group, the Cornrow Clique, with two of her
classmates and got her nickname, Lizzo. (She was originally Lissa, but
Jay-Z’s “Izzo” was a popular song at the time.) She could rap — which
should have made her popular — but she was in marching band, so she
wasn’t. Also she smiled too much and laughed too loud. Sometimes she
wore hippie clothes, like flowing shirts and bell-bottom jeans. She
listened to Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie because her older sister
did. She wore Uggs, the tipping point. Her classmates said she was “too
white.” “But like, Lil Wayne also wore Uggs,” she points out.
started college in 2005, but by her junior year, she felt trapped by
all of the boxes she was trying to fit herself into. Was she an AKA,
making the rounds at all the historically black sorority and fraternity
parties? Was she the rapper performing at late-night shows? Was she
pursuing the flute professionally and committing to 7 a.m. master
classes? She couldn’t make all those identities fit together, so she
dropped out. Her parents had moved to Denver, and without the dorms, she
often slept in her car, a T-boned 1990s Subaru. But the universe always
offers another weird portal — and a floor to sleep on. In 2008, she
joined her first real band, playing the flute in the prog-rock-inflected
Ellypseas. “I dead-ass asked them if they wanted to get on MTV.” They
did not. She didn’t realize it then — or maybe she was afraid to admit
it — but those were her ambitions. The band never made it to TRL, but it was good enough to book shows at South by Southwest.
slept at the band’s rehearsal space, sometimes on the drummer’s floor.
“I would drive around to my friends’ houses, and if they were having
dinner, I’d be like, ‘Hey, come hang out! You got some food? Let’s kick
it!’ And just eat the chicken and rice. Actually, I was a vegetarian. So
I would eat the chicken-juice-soaked rice.” She shrugs. “I was like,
‘I’m too broke to have morals.’ ”
2010, the band retired, and her father passed away. She communicates
with him now, through a psychic medium she frequently visits in L.A.,
but at the time, it sank her into a depression. She finally answered her
mother’s pleas and joined her in Denver. Ten months later, restless,
she moved to Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, at the behest of a friend
who thought she’d like the music scene there. She did. Aaron Mader,
a.k.a. Lazerbeak, a local producer and member of rap collective
Doomtree, describes the Minneapolis scene as a collaborative utopia. One
night Lizzo could open for a punk band; the next, she could collaborate
with an electronic band. She lent backup vocals for a rock-soul group
and performed at the legendary First Ave, the venue made famous by
Prince. To prepare, she watched Purple Rain, took a rowboat into the middle of Lake Minnetonka, and purified herself, just like Prince did in the movie.
all the diversity of genres, though, the scene was still dominated by
white dudes. Younger acts — especially women and women of color — found
it difficult to break through, but it also meant that people noticed
Lizzo a lot faster. “When someone is a force and has an energy about her
that is pretty magnetic, it didn’t take her long for people to pay
attention,” says Mader.
formed two bands. First, the Chalice, which made melodic pop with a
little bit of rap like the Spice Girls. Later, she and the Chalice’s
Sophia Eris started GRRRL PRTY and went full N.W.A, explains Lizzo. “We
were crazy,” recalls Eris. “It was like a riot onstage. Women just like
drinking, cussing, and rapping and singing.” GRRRL PRTY became a local
darling. Even Prince took notice, asking them to record a song,
“Boytrouble,” and inviting them to play a show at Paisley Park. They
couldn’t curse or drink onstage, but they did get to play in front of a
projection of Finding Nemo.
On the side, Lizzo was also working on solo material. She felt a lot of anger and sometimes a crisis of confidence. She needed an outlet. “There’s one line on my first album where I say, ‘I got a lot on my chest, so here’s my breast reduction.’ ” She’s referring to a line from “Hot Dish,” off Lizzobangers, which she worked on with Lazerbeak. They met when she tweeted, “I wish I could afford a Lazerbeak beat,” and he responded, “Just give me a case Mike’s Hard Lemonade.” After Lizzobangers, she entered what she calls her artsy-fartsy phase, which, like any good indie musicians in 2015, included bangs, a visit to Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studio, April Base, and a Pitchfork mention. The album that resulted, Big GRRRL Small World, persuaded Atlantic to sign her, and she moved to L.A., taking as much of her Minneapolis crew as she could. Next thing she knew, she was opening for acts like Sleater-Kinney, Florence + the Machine, and Haim.
Fans of Ariana Grande may have to wait until February 8 for her newest album to drop, but thanks to Nyle DiMarco we’ve officially received an epic — and jewel-studded — take on Ari’s latest single “7 Rings.” Just days after releasing the neon pink–hued video, the America’s Next Top Modelwinner unveiled his own video version of the track, complete with American Sign Language.
Nyle, who has remained outspoken about providing closed-captioning in both movies and music, released his remake (which was directed by Jake Wilson) on Monday. He wrote on Twitter, “@arianagrande dropped 7rings with captions, we dropped in SIGN LANGUAGE.”
The release of Nyle’s video comes after the model had previously asked for VEVO and Ariana to provide captions on the singer’s “thank u, next” video. At the time, he explained the reasoning for his request, writing, “You earn more than 650 mill per year and can’t even add captions to @ArianaGrande’s #ThankUNextVideo. There ARE closed caption services that will cost you ONLY $6 (or less) to INSTANTLY appeal to a wider audience There are 466mill people with hearing loss thank u, next.” The “7 Rings” video was subsequently released with captions available. In addition to making Ariana’s music even more accessible to people who are deaf, Nyle’s signed music video has also earned the seal of approval from Ariana herself. The singer responded to the release on January 28, tweeting, “beyond 🖤 love this so much.” And while Nyle’s version of the video is abbreviated, it does include plenty of references to the original, including one scene that has the model posing on countertops à la Ari.
Along with earning the support of Ariana, fans on social media also shared their appreciation for Nyle’s video. “As a member of the deaf community, I STAN,” one follower tweeted. Another follower then shared their excitement, writing, “Wow Nyleeeeee finally something on trend I can share with my mom!! This made me so happy you’re such a firecracker. You did that!!!!” And with a new Ariana album just around the corner, we’re hoping that maybe these two can collaborate on something in the future.
VALENÇA, Brazil — The white-bearded, dreadlocked master and his bushy-haired student face off in an open-sided compound set amid cacao trees and coffee bushes.
two are in constant motion, swinging back and forth in what is called
the ginga — the fundamental movement of the Brazilian combat game
capoeira. At times, the way they feint and kick, and roll under and over
and around each other, looks like choreographed dance.
then one side does something the other is not expecting, and it becomes
clear that this is a game of strategy, not a planned dance. Mestre
Cobra Mansa’s ginga transforms into the movement of a staggering drunk,
then a marionette whose puppeteer has suddenly let the string go slack.
Then he’s in a handstand. From there, a leg strikes out like a lightning
bolt, stopping just short of hitting his opponent’s face.
The circle of men and women surrounding the combatants are engaged in a hypnotic call-and-response song about an encounter with a dangerous snake. It’s intoned to the beat of Afro-Brazilian drums and the twang of single-stringed gourd instruments called berimbaus.
“Valha-me deus, Senhor São Bento,” the circle intones in Portuguese, beseeching Saint Benedict for protection.
The participants — Brazilians mostly, but also Uruguayans, Russians, Ethiopians and Puerto Ricans — have come to the 80-acre property of Mestre Cobra Mansa (or, Master Tame Snake) on the outskirts of Valença, a small coastal city in Bahia, for a three-day retreat called Permangolinha. Its name (and its purpose) are a mash-up of the sustainable farming system known as permaculture and Capoeira Angola, the capoeira style that Mestre Cobra Mansa, 58, teaches.
The event also attracts masters friendly with Mestre Cobra Mansa, including Mestre Lua Santana, from the interior of the state; and Mestra Gegê, a rare female master who also teaches in Valença.
A mob of people swarm Bad Bunny, the Puerto Rican rapper, yelling his name. “Oh my god, he’s so sexy,” one teenage girl squeals. Another, in complete shock, shouts: “I touched him.” But Bunny isn’t fazed. Dressed in a maroon Alexander Wang anorak jacket with matching shorts, long tan socks, brown Gucci hiker boots, and mirrored sunglasses, with his fingernails painted yellow, he flashes a smile and takes selfies with them.
In certain New York City neighborhoods, Bunny might not be as recognizable. Not here, though. Throughout the shoot for this cover, the predominantly Latino residents of the area surrounding Brooklyn’s Knickerbocker Avenue followed his and Colombian artist J Balvin’s every move. Some even managed to find the nondescript bar where we filmed, waiting outside for hours and screaming every time the door swung open. They wanted to catch a glimpse of Bunny, the 24-year-old Latin trap king, and Balvin, reggaeton’s answer to Drake.
Reggaeton’s long been a fixture in the Spanish-speaking world, but in 2004 it exploded in the U.S. with Daddy Yankee’s hit “Gasolina,” off his album Barrio Fino. The genre’s had its ebbs and flows since then, but it has recently found a massive new market, thanks in part to the global success of Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” remix featuring Justin Bieber and Daddy Yankee—the most streamed song ever—and, of course, Balvin’s steady hit-making and Bunny’s arrival.
Last year, Balvin (real name José Álvaro Osorio Balvin) released his megasmash “Mi Gente” with French DJ and producer Willy William, followed by a remix featuring Beyoncé. Both songs were everywhere; the original currently has over 2 billion views on YouTube, while the remix has over 79 million. But those two songs weren’t just major successes on the charts. More than that, they helped other Latin rap artists, like Bunny, cross into the mainstream.
Born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, Bunny started his career by uploading songs to SoundCloud while still a student at the University of Puerto Rico. But in two short years, he’s become a phenomenon. “Soy Peor,” the track that established the Latin trap sound, caught the ear of the U.S. audience; it’s been streamed 13 million times on SoundCloud. Balvin’s “Si Tú Novio Te Deja Sola”—a song Bunny first composed with the artist in mind—has been nominated for a Latin Grammy. He’s collaborated with big-name American artists like Nicki Minaj (“Krippy Kush”), Cardi B (“I Like It”), Chris Brown (“Dime”), and Drake on an unreleased song.
Together, Balvin and Bunny are leading the charge in bringing reggaeton to the American market once again. The best part about that is they’re doing it on their own terms—a new sound, painted fingernails, eccentric outfits. We haven’t seen anything like them before, but if you ask them, that’s the point.
Bad Bunny and J Balvin, two of reggaeton’s most recognizable faces, are Complex’s latest cover stars. They sit down with Rapetón editor-in-chief Angel “El Guru” Vera to discuss how they first met, the rise of Latin trap, and what they think it takes to be an icon. Bunny also explains why he hasn’t released an album and reveals that he has an upcoming joint album with Balvin.