In DanceHall, Kingston leads, New York follows.
Ele, Ele, Ele!” someone shouts across the West Side photo studio. But Elephant Man, Jamaica’s next dancehall superstar, who’s offering dance lessons to some journalists and hangers-on, barely notices. The dances are surprisingly sweet and old-fashioned: One looks like it could have been borrowed from the Temptations. “There are new dances invented in Jamaica every week,” explains one of his entourage. “We count on Ele to teach us all of them.” This good-natured sensibility is at the heart of Elephant Man’s appeal, but it’s his delivery that sets him apart. The songs on his upcoming album Good 2 Go are full of oddball, Tourette’s-like ticks—coughs, hiccups, and heavy doses of nonsense words like (memo to Snoop: He didn’t cop this from you) “shizzle!”
“I’m always looking to extend my style, my vocal patterns,” Elephant Man (as a child in Kingston, he was teased about the size of his ears) says, finally sitting down. “I want to have the craziest style in the universe.”
And he knows where he’ll find his audience. “New York has always had the greatest vibe,” Elephant Man says. “Even on my first trip here, in 1994, when I played out at a tiny place in Queens called Q-Club, the crowds were ready for me. After the show, the Wu even invited me to their mansion!” He brushes a yellow-colored braid from his face. “Now I think the world is ready for me, too.” —Ethan Brown
The Bitter End
Legend, yes; “Empire State Building,” no.
Scraggly, chain-smoking, infinitely influential experimental composer Glenn Branca, 54, was a founding member of the seventies No Wave movement, the source of “the idea that New York musicians can’t play their instruments,” Branca says with some pride. The symphonies he writes these days (and conducts with an intoxicatingly spastic dance) are complex, exciting, and as innovative as ever.
YOU MUST MAKE IT HERE: “I said I was sick of New York in 1985. Now I’m more sick of it than ever. How can I put it? I can’t afford to get the hell out of here, frankly. You pretty much have no choice, no matter how much of a shithole this may be. The kind of stuff that I wanted to do in Boston was out of the question. The audiences would have walked out. But in New York, they loved it! They wanted more! The more fucked-up, the better.”
NOW AND THEN: “I really think there is a kind of poverty of creativity at the moment. The city is a playground for the rich. I mean, maybe it always was, maybe I just didn’t notice.”
PATRONAGE SAINTS: “It seems as though the rich have created their own art world, which is entirely separate from the rest of the world, and now they even create their own artists. I mean, an artist like Matthew Barney. Matthew Barney is of and about the world of the rich. In his last film, he was destroying Rolls-Royces, right? I mean, Jesus God, where is this money coming from?”
LOW-PROFILE LIFE: “I’m expected, because I have a certain reputation or notoriety, to become a New York institution, to make myself available to the tourists. I think John Zorn has done an amazing job at that. You come to New York, you see John Zorn. I can’t do that. I’m not the Empire State Building! If I was dead, no one would be bugging me.”
Royalty in the capital of excess.
Princess Superstar, née Concetta Kirschner, was born on 172nd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. After a few years in suburban- Pennsylvanian exile, she fought her way back to New York to reinvent herself as the self-crowned head of dirty-mouthed hip-hop.
FEAR FACTOR: “My first gig as Princess Superstar was at the Pyramid. I was so scared, I stood completely still in the middle of the stage and did the whole show like that.”
UPTOWN VS. DOWNTOWN: “Uptown, someone will come up to me and say, ‘You look like a movie star!’ Downtown, they say, ‘I’m a movie star.’ Or, ‘Oh, wait, maybe you’re a star—can you help me?’ ”
IS NEW YORK STILL SEXY? “Hell, yeah. I’m living here.”