Nelson George + MML: The Paris Mashup
Author-filmmaker Nelson George is a forefather to what I do for a living on a daily basis, one of the original (if not theoriginal) hiphop culture critics whose work spans back to the late 1970s. As a fellow city kid from the five boroughs of NYC (Brooklyn in his case, The Bronx in mine), I rode the 6 train from Pelham Bay Park 45 minutes to Grand Central Station every late-afternoon Friday for a fresh copy of the week’s new Billboard magazine. At 15, I pored over George’s weekly column (he was a Billboard editor for seven years) for any mentions of hiphop or Prince, unknowingly training myself for a music journalist profession that I wouldn’t consciously choose until college graduation. Nelson kept creeping up on me, as a host of The (short-lived) Rock ‘n’ Roll Evening News; as the author of the liner notes in LL Cool J’s début Radio record; even as the byline behind a lot of the Black Beatmagazine pieces I read to keep up on the likes of Terence Trent D’Arby. Mom’s Essence mentioned Nelson’s The Death of the Rhythm & Blues, and I was all over it as a college junior in the fall of 1990.
Every urban cultural critic around my age has his story of when he first met Nelson and got dissed. (How many budding writers must Nelson have met in those dawning days of The Source and Vibe magazines?) I won’t get too into mine, but it involves recognizing Nelson at a copy store on W. Fourth Street in Greenwich Village and asking for his phone number for a Sly Stone piece I was working on—on speculation, of course—for Vibe. He surely must have already known the late Joe Wood was slaving away on just such a piece for the mag. Like many others, I felt I’d conquered my chosen trade a bit when both Nelson and Village Voice staffer Greg Tate finally remembered who I was eventually without my offering an umpteenth introduction.
All that to say. These days, Nelson George, besides publishing excellent work like his recent memoir City Kid: A Writer’s Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success, and directing the NAACP-winning Life Support for HBO (the film won Queen Latifah a Golden Globe in 2007), is also the editor of BlackAtlas.com. The site, launched by American Airlines last year, aims to be a Facebook of sorts for black travelers, and Nelson has been crisscrossing the globe with video footage of Milan, Montego Bay, Salvador and more.
After a number of warmup cities, Nelson finally hit Paris in December 2009. We met at Le Fumoir, where the esteemed Mr. George interviewed me for 20 minutes or so over thé and Bordeaux about being a 21st century black American expat in the City of Light. Sitting down for an interview with Nelson was something like wanting to write for Vanity Fair for decades and the magazine eventually featuring you on the cover for a celebrity profile. Please enjoy the talk below. Nelson, my pleasure.