Sam Hillmer of Zs

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On being fly in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

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Sam Hillmer | April 27, 2010

Sam Hillmer is a founding member of Zs and a driving force behind Representing NYC, the organization behind Fly Girlz and Nine 11 Thesaurus.

the fly girlz

The Fly Girlz

As some of you may know, I roll with young people, like, kids. It became sort of a mission of mine to find presentation opportunities for the music and art my students were making, that got them out of the cafeteria and the gymnasium, out of the auditorium and the classroom, and put them and their work in front of bigger, more diverse audiences. The corporate media is always making things for kids like KE$HA, who apparently brushes her teeth with Jack Daniels, but people who actually train to work with young people, and are really thinking in terms of their best interests, are confined to school rooms which might as well be on Mars from the point of view of your average person. If you live in Brooklyn you almost definitely walk by a school on your way to the subway, or a spot you like to eat at, or the park, or something, there are more schools in Brooklyn then anywhere. It’s actually kind of crazy how many schools there are, but with the exception of noticing how intense it is trying to buy a slice of pizza at 3PM, what type of engagement do us Brooklynite transplant types really have with schools??? Exactly… So I took it upon my self to shed some light on the matter, sharing the work these really deep and hard working young artists are doing.

The first group I worked with was the Fly Girlz, who had there record release party at the New Museum with Mr. Lif and Porkchop and Zeebrablood from Excepter, and were chronicled in this mini documentary on Fader TV:

The group I put together to execute these projects is called Representing NYC and we are continuing with a new record by the all male teen rap radicals Nine 11 Thesaurus (record out this fall on Social Registry/Sockets/RNYC). We’ve also been running a concert series out of the community center where Representing NYC is housed called REAL BUSHWICK/BUCHWICK REAL. You can see Nine 11 and check out the series here:

We are also co-presenting a hand silk screened t–shirt line with the Bread and Butter Collective, putting on two teen radio shows for Radio23.org, and pumping up a dance team called Uniquely Intellectual Prestigious Young Ladies (which is the most awesome name for anything ever!)… You can read more about all of that stuff here.

So all of that is good, but I am also interested in bringing something up here that is a bit more strange, and from the point of view of certain folks, maybe from my point of view, maybe not totally cool, but definitely really interesting, and possibly important if we have the right kinds of conversations, and tell the right kinds of stories about it. This past fashion week in New York City the music of six junior high school students (all girlz) from Brownsville Brooklyn, backed up an extremely high-end fashion show, namely that of Proenza Schouler. This actually happened, and you can see the footage (proof!) of it here:

So, how did that go down?!

The Fly Girlz record came out on True Panther Sounds, which was in the middle of becoming an imprint on Matador at the time. Matador is part of Beggars Banquet record label group, which, of course, is one of the bigger of the big indies. Beggars Banquet has people that pitch music to various entities for use in commercials, movies, and stuff like that. Apparently Proenza Schouler dug the Fly Girlz, because they licensed the whole record for their runway show at fashion week, and for a streaming online video.

I am interested in thinking about whether or not this is a good thing. Isn’t making this music available just fanning the flame of fetishization that already burns too brightly in the collective unconscious of pop? Especially when it comes to black adolescents? I mean, it’s not like Proenza Schouler had to go to Brownsville and do a workshop at the school to get the music (a stipulation that is placed on artists who come to perform at our center, by the way!). Why is it good to disembody the cultural product from the environment of the school, just so some high end fashion cats can end up flipping it into an add for their priceless outfits?

There are a few reasons. Firstly, we did get paid, and by we I mean the Fly Girlz, and Representing NYC, although the majority of the money has gone to the Fly Girlz. So that’s cool. It will be really empowering for these young ladies when they get a package in the mail with some extra copies of the record, a spread-sheet explaining how the money broke down, and a check.

More importantly, someone is going to do this. I did not invent recording young people in tough neighborhoods in America. Someone, actually lots of people, will be out there trying to get teenagers to say all types of filth–flarn–flarn–filth, so that they can get a check. We support conscious, political, emotionally together, empowered young people. If the communities who want to see those kinds of outcomes don’t get involved with the process of making youth music, we’re leaving it to people who don’t give much of a fluff about it, which leads to phenomena like the New Boyz. The New Boyz’ hit single “you’re a Jerk” would have been a logical choice for the Proenza Schouler show, I think we’re better off with the Fly Girlz.

Lastly, a positive thing about this occurrence is that your able to see the fashion world in relief against the back drop of the Fly Girlz. Check out a line from the Fly Girlz: “…this is the place where little kids get shot, raped, abused right on the block, anywhere any day time of the night, you wakin’ up, in a cold fright, you always havin’ bad dreams they always turnin’ into screams, everyday you wake up you put on your close, when you walk down the street you look behind you…” This is not some fiction that Fly Girl Pinky put into her rap because she thinks rap has to be about something hard. In fact, Fly Girl Rose’s eight-year old younger sister was shot in the shoulder by a ricochet bullet between the projects that came through her bedroom window. That incident led to this line by Fly Girl Vernice: “People getting’ shot through windows in the breaks, next thing you know people gotta go to wakes.” Rose actually had to dip for a few weeks because strange people were coming to her door who thought her family had information about the shooting. So this is the environment that the Fly Girlz spend all of their time in, and they were basically in a good mood most of the time. BUT! Not the models at the Proenza Schouler show… Every last one of those young ladies woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

When you take into account just a little of the background info, the whole thing is so hilarious. This angry looking entourage wearing million dollar garb from space storming around while people take notes and stare at them, all the while the Fly Girlz spit actual real earthy truth in the background. What do these things have to do with each other? It’s unbelievable that this happened! But I suppose Beggars Banquet, Matador, and True Panther have helped bring us to this point where we can ask that question and start to posit answers. “What do these things have to do with each other?” And that is truly fly.

Apparently they have something to do with each other. I will be thinking about this and everyone is welcome to join me. Get at us through the representing NYC Myspace if your interested in this. In the mean season peep this very fresh documentary the young people in Fly Girlz and Nine 11 made on their community and their surroundings:

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