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Interview: Columbus native Hanif Abdurraqib on his New York Times best-seller

Kevin J. Elliott

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At the time of my deadline, Hanif Abdurraqib’s third book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest, had just debuted on the New York Times’ best-seller list. For the Columbus author it was unexpected, but for fans of Adburraqib’s poetry and essays, it was necessary. His observations and critiques of popular culture and a generation of youth entrenched in instant gratification is a pulse that is impossible to ignore, or put down. His prose has become a mirror reflecting the zeitgeist with heart-breaking honesty.

Those looking for a firm timeline of events in the career arc of the hip-hop collective A Tribe Called Quest, or salacious tour stories, or extensive interviews, are not going to find them in Go Ahead in the Rain. When finished reading you will certainly feel like you’ve assembled a grand knowledge of a group that Abdurraqib gushes was responsible for a sound that “shifted the direction in hip-hop” by offering “alternative windows into the world of samplings, cadence, and language,” but more so, you begin to understand their greater importance in his life as a guide, a cultural touchstone. 

Abdurraqib is the only talking head, and many times he’s only talking about his past, his adolescent abandonment of the trumpet, the dynamics of his high school crew, a physical altercation with his older brother, or the various ways one can make Kool-Aid. Elsewhere he searches for answers from his favorite group in personalized letters to each member, knowing they won’t likely be answered.

In many ways, these literary devices, and the deftness with which Abdurraqib structures them to tell this story of fandom, are parallel to those windows that Tribe were opening since their debut in 1990. I recently spoke with Abdurraqib to get some insight into the making of the book and why A Tribe Called Quest was the perfect point from which to launch his fascination with obsession. 

BROUGHT TO YOU BY

KJE: Was the book originally going to be a straight biography? When did you realize that it was going to become something more personal, and less traditional? 

HA: Early on I wanted it to be a biography and I didn’t know any other way to write about the group. But I think biographies are written with the artist in mind; they are the vehicles to tell the history. In order to do that well, the writer has to be an expert, and in order to [be an expert] the writer needs to have countless hours with the group, or loads and loads of archival footage. I was confident I could do that, but realized I wasn’t writing the book for the group, I was writing it more for myself, and my own examination of the absurdity of fandom—or what it means to live a life tethered to your affection for a group of people you’re never going to meet or actually know. 

You get very deep in your attempts to interpret what this group was doing musically and thematically, but you temper it with your own history and experiences—so it works. I love how you even apologize for over-analyzing or “loving” the music so much. Is there a word for that? Is that your job as someone who writes about music? 

I wouldn’t say that’s my job per se, but I think most of my obsessions are driven by a curiosity to force me to excavate meaning out of the things I love. Music, film, or art in general; if I truly love something I’m driven to make sense of it in a way that will allow it to have a lasting life beyond my immediate consumption. With so much music now, and with so much popular culture, things are consumed and then forgotten. Part of what the whole project of writing this book was—was to build out a history that could be touched, that could be looked back on, that could be part of a grander conversation. So I’m not just writing about Tribe, I’m writing about how they sit in the world, how their music also populated the world around me, how they responded to the world and how the world responded to the music. I’m building an ecosystem. 

There’s a kind of eulogy in the book for rap’s golden era with the advent of sample clearing. Do you feel like there’s been an era since that’s on par with ‘88 – ‘93, when Tribe were at their pinnacle? As hip-hop is something that is always adapting, what to you sounds innovative in the same way today? What do young people making music have to do to create that same connective tissue that Quest created? 

Kids are doing it in different ways. For a lot of young rappers today, they are at their best when they are playing reporters of their moment. That’s something I think A Tribe Called Quest were essentially doing, or perhaps N.W.A. was doing more explicitly. Vince Staples’ latest album, FM, struck a chord with folks because beyond the fact that the rapping was good and the production was good, underneath that  the narrative was bringing to life a very specific feeling, and a very specific place, where if you have never been to that place physically, you can close your eyes and be transported to it. It was very much like what The Chronic did for me growing up in Columbus with not a lot of relationship to the West Coast. I did not know what a ‘64 Impala looked like, but listening to that album I could visualize it. 

As much as you know about them and reflect on them and adore them in this story, are you at all worried that Q-Tip, or the others are not who you think they are? Something about, meeting your heroes?

No one is who we think they are. I’m barely who I think I am. That’s the thing I kept thinking as I was writing this book is how wild it was that I had built this huge affection for people I don’t know. How fandom is all about projecting whatever you need onto the creations of people who you’ll never speak to. My hope with this book is of course that people will fall in love with Tribe like I did, but also grasp how to articulate their own complications with fandom, and how to work through that. We’re at a very real point, particularly in film and music, where people are asked to work through their allegiance to celebrity, and their allegiance to the celebrities they love. I’ve seen some really exhausting and frustrating missteps on that, particularly around R. Kelly. What I set out to do was write about how fleeting all of this shit is, how fleeting fandom is, and how fleeting fandom can be. It’s about how to know when an attachment to an artist who is building an architecture for your life is vital, but also to know when that artist is no longer yours, and being able to let go.

For more information about Go Ahead in the Rain, and Abdurraqib’s forthcoming work visit abdurraqib.com. 

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Great Apes: Two gorillas coming soon to Columbus Zoo

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The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is no stranger to primo primates. Colo (RIP) who was both the first gorilla born in captivity and the oldest known gorilla in the world, called the zoo home for 60 wonderful years.

Now, two new additions from a zoo in Wisconsin will be joining the storied Columbus troop:

17-year-old Shalia and her 4 ½-year-old offspring Sulaiman will be transferred to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium from the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin sometime in the next few weeks.

When the duo arrive, it will be something of a family reunion. Two-year-old gorilla Zahra is half-sister to Sulaiman, and has been at the Columbus Zoo since 2018.

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Play like a kid at R Adventure Park in the Hocking Hills

Mitch Hooper

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Tucked away from the main road leading into Hocking Hills sits a world that rivals most theme parks you can find. Complete with a multimillion dollar ropes course, 68 miles of riding trails, a speed course, off-road vehicles, zip-lining, a paintballing arena, and a damn roller coaster, this dreamland sounds just like that—a dream. But for Karry Gimmel, owner, curator, imagineer, and engineer—R Adventure Park is every bit of his wildest dreams made into reality.

Upon arriving at the park, we drove up the long drive-way and eventually our playground was unveiled from behind the tall trees. The ropes course towered in the background as Polaris quads, side-by- sides, and three-wheeled Slingshots were scattered about near the front desk area. As gray skies filled the sky, we knew the Ohio weather was going to do its best to give us its worst.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“Don’t worry,” Gimmel assured us. “We have some of our best days when it rains.”

It didn’t take much to convince us. Gimmel has worked and continues to work as an engineer for Disney World—if anyone can be trusted as a reliable source for fun, it’s him. Combine his knowledge of theme parks from Disney World with seemingly unlimited space (thanks, unplotted land!) and a little horsepower, and you have a place where kids, mom, dad, and even grandma can participate.

He took us to the eye-grabbing rope course to begin our day. I’ve never been one to call myself an adrenaline junkie, but heights haven’t really bothered me before. Whether it be the roller coasters at Cedar Point or working summer construction on scaffolding 60+ feet off the ground, I came, I saw, and I conquered. So when I approached the first tier all strapped in my safety harness with my guide on hand, I was befuddled to find how nervous I was.

The first obstacle is an easy one: a balance beam. But to my eyes and brain, it was a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. And when I took that first step, I was sure it was a tightrope across the Grand Canyon and the slightest gust of wind would send me to my doom. Slowly and methodically, I stepped forward making sure to follow OSHA tips like always keep three points planted when at high altitudes. Turns out that summer construction job is paying off.

After making it down and back comfortably, we continued to turn the heat up. Each level higher presented more difficult obstacles—all seemingly insane until you actually complete them. Every obstacle completed might just bump your confidence to the point where you might just try a few backwards, hopping on one foot. But if you’re feeling more comfortable staying on the first tier, there’s no shame in that.

As we finished up the ropes course, the rain seemed to be moving in which made for an appropriate time to switch. We ditched our belays for helmets and safety glasses and made our way to the Polaris side-by-side vehicle. To say this vehicle was covered in dirt, mud, and dust is an understatement. Our driver went to brush some off the seat, but Gimmel quickly stopped him.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that; you’re going to get muddy,” Gimmel said. “Do you want to do the trail, or the ‘trail’ trail?”

Of course, we picked the “trail” trail.

After a crash course in how not to crash, we took off into the woods cruising through the curvy trail surrounded by trees and nature. We continued as tree branches brushed by us and the mud slinging party only grew bigger. Each dry strip of land was a chance for the mud to come free from the tires and these human-seeking dirt bombs were on a mission. Our trek through the trail eventually took us to a speed course where we could finally let loose and see how this machine works. Gimmel knew exactly where to take us: the drag strip.

On the count of three, we screamed off down the quarter-mile dirt strip like a rocket shot out of a cannon. Gimmel, leading us in a one-man side-by-side, gave us a few seconds head start and still managed to smoke us in a cloud of dust. (We’ll get him next time, though.)

All-in-all, the 30-minute adventure on the trails felt like an eternity—in a good way. The twists and turns of the trails remove all your sense of direction, making you feel as though you just traveled miles away from the park. But with a few turns here and there, we wound up right next to the ropes course where our day all started. Of the 68 miles of trails, we covered about three.

The mantra at R Adventure Park is fun for everyone with an added bonus: instant gratification. Gimmel said the park started when he would have business partners visit for various reasons and inevitably, he’d be scrambling for a way to entertain them. He always keeps vehicles nearby and he had a few ATVs on stock which quickly became the favorites for his friends—anyone who’s ever tried to rent quads before knows how much of a headache it can be just finding a rental place, let alone finding trails.

Gimmel recognized the lack of options as well as the high overhead with getting into off-roading. At R Adventure Park, he could offer both without the big investment. But he was going to need some more off-road vehicles to accommodate. After some reluctancy, he was able to work on agreements with Polaris, making R Adventure Park one of the few spots in North America where you can rent, learn, and ride ATVs without having to purchase your own.

There’s another mantra for R Adventure Park and Gimmel says its thanks to his Canadian genes: creating a community. While you’ll find adventure and excitement in nearly every corner here, you will not find lodging. And Gimmel seems like he has no plans for that in the future. Instead, he encourages visitors to look into lodging options near the park as to support his neighbors. For him, it’s not about having the entire pie, it’s about everyone getting a slice. It just helps that his slice comes served in a Polaris Slingshot that can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds.

R Adventure Park is located on 15155 Sauerkraut Road, Logan, Ohio 43138. For hours and operations, visit radventurepark.com.

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Local canine training company won’t heel until human, canine bond is created

614now

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SPONSORED

Everybody knows that dogs are mankind's best friend, but being bffs with someone who speaks a different language can prove difficult. That's where ALL PURPOSE K-9 LLC comes in.

ALL PURPOSE K-9 LLC was founded with one goal in mind: to deepen the human canine bond. It's a one-stop-shop for pet owners seeking professional dog training, behavior modification services for aggressive, reactive, and fearful dogs, on- and off-leash obedience coaching, boarding services, grooming, and so much more.

But what makes ALL PURPOSE K-9 LLC different from all the other doggy daycares?

"ALL PURPOSE K-9 LLC has cracked the code between human and dogs by learning to understand what makes us human, our genetics, how we communicate, how we learn, and knowing about sensory and emotional responses," said owner Jordan Hickle. "Canines vary from their human counterparts, greatly. Having the understanding and knowing what these differences are allows us to go above and beyond in our educational experience."

Hickle attended The Tom Rose School for Professional Dog Trainers in High Ridge, Missouri where he completed both the Professional and Master In-Residence Certification Programs, graduating with honors.

ALL PURPOSE K-9 LLC teaches a fully comprehensive and practical handling course with all their Premier Dog Training Programs. These programs are tailored with your dog at the forefront of the program’s design process, explained Hickle.

And it's not called Columbus’ Premier Dog Training Company for nothing. Hickle leads his pack of experienced, well-informed, passionate professionals on a path towards singularity between you and your canine companion.

"Well behaved dogs who are knowledgeable in how to appropriately interact in our human world are able to accurately do their jobs of being a blood pressure lowering companion," said Hickle. "Not only that, their human companions can sleep peacefully at night knowing their dog is a well-behaved member of society and NOT a nuisance or liability!"

Is your dog a well-behaved member of society, or...not so much? Choosing ALL PURPOSE K-9 LLC is choosing commitment, concentration, and a livelong companionship between you and your dog.

"Above all, we recognize that your dog is family!" said Hickle.

ALL PURPOSE K-9 LLC will be moving from Reynoldsburg to 510 East Main Street, Columbus in September. For more information, call (614) 623-4593, email [email protected], or visit apk-9.com

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