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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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Things To Do

Hit Your Peak: 3 worth-the-drive ski slopes near Columbus

Asa Herron

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The cursed Ohio Winter Monster has made its presence known to all with its 5pm sunsets, snow storms, and seasonal depression for all. How are you going to fight back against the gloom this year? It may seem like it’s impossible to do fun things with your friends or to stay active in the winter, but I’m here to tell you that not all hope is lost. Finding a new hobby is a great way to kick your winter woes to the curb and start the new decade on a good foot.

Skiing can be a great way to casually exercise with friends and resuscitate your serotonin levels. Here are three high quality places to ski within driving distance of Columbus for you to check out.

MAD RIVER MOUNTAIN

Located in Zanesfield, Mad River Mountain is about an hour's drive northwest of Columbus. They have the most reasonable prices of all the nearby ski resorts. Plus, their on-property bar, The Loft, has 12 taps of craft beers on rotation to add a little more fun to the night. Mad River is open until 1 a.m. on Fridays, too, so you’re getting a full Friday night of flurries.

Mad River is home to over 20 trails (spanning 3.9 miles) and four terrain parks making it the largest ski resort in Ohio. They also bolster ten ski lifts (the most in Ohio) and are tied with Snowtrails for the largest vertical drop in the state with their 300 foot slope. An added perk of Mad River is that they just built a new $6.2 million facility in 2016 to replace the space they lost to a fire in 2015. Plus, most of their trails are designated “easy” difficulty. Mad River has everything you need to have a relaxing, affordable day of skiing.

Details on hours and pricing can be found at www.skimadriver.com.

SNOWTRAILS

Founded in 1961, Snowtrails is Ohio’s oldest ski resort. It is located in Mansfield, so also about an hour drive north. This resort is only slightly more expensive, with lift rates starting at $31 for midweek evenings and $52 for all-day on the weekends, with skis, boots, and pole rentals are $37. If there’s one day this month that you visit Snowtrails, let it be January 25 for their mid-season party. Get ready for an outdoor DJ, a custom built snowbar, and a fireworks show 30 minutes after the slopes close for the night. Not into skiing? No problem! The party is free and open to the public, so let your expert friends hit the slopes while you hit the spirits at the snow bar.

Snowtrails is the second largest resort in the state with six ski lifts and 3.3 miles of trails. The majority of their trails are designated “intermediate” difficulty, so more experienced skiers will enjoy their time here.

More information can be found at www. snowtrails.com.

BOSTON MILLS & BRANDYWINE

Boston Mills & Brandywine is the farthest ski resort from Columbus on this list, but great for a full weekend away. This quaint resort is in Peninsula, OH is a two hour drive from Central Ohio. Their pricing is $40 after 3:30 p.m. and $45 for an all-day pass. Staying another night? Come back on Saturday for $5 Late Nights admission from 8:00 PM to 1:00 AM.

Boston Mill & Brandywine ski resort is known for being especially conducive to beginning skiers. They offer high quality lessons and will walk you through the process. This is the place to go if you have “stupid” questions about skiing, or just want to tube. However, they also appeal to veteran skiers as the majority of their 18 trails are designated “advanced”. Despite the high quantity of trails, this resort is much smaller than the other two, with only 1.2 miles of skiable trails, and their largest vertical drop being 264 feet. But for these prices? Could definitely be worth the trip.

Learn more about Boston Mills & Brandywine at www.bmbw.com.

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Arts & Culture

Watch: “World’s largest mural” in Short North is more than meets the eye

Regina Fox

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At a glance, "The Journey AR Mural" adorning the Graduate Columbus hotel in Short North is stunning. Look a little harder, and it actually comes to life.

Standing at over 107 feet tall and over 11,000 square feet of augmented reality, "The Journey AR Mural," is the world's largest AR mural, offering technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

The gaily-painted snapdragons, hibiscus, Easter lilies, and hummingbirds bloom and fly when viewed through the Journey AR Mural app (free for iPhone and Android). Watch the murals come to life in the video below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7PRvBxpBkI/

Los Angeles-based artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes (going by “Yanoe” and “Zoueh," respectively) are the creatives behind the project.

In an interview with Short North Arts District, Skotnes revealed he was inspired to take on the project after learning that Columbus is home to the second largest population of Somali immigrants in the country—he hopes the murals symbolize strength and prosperity for its viewers.

To learn more about The Journey AR Mural, visit shortnorth.org.

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Food & Drink

Worth the Drive: Lima’s Kewpee Hamburgers

Regina Fox

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Lima, OH may not be the first destination that comes to mind when planning a road trip, but you may have to reconsider after learning about a little (AKA one of the oldest burger chain in the world) not-so-hidden gem called Kewpee Hamburgers.

It all started in 1923 when Kewpee Hotel Hamburgs opened in Flint, Michigan. This was home to the "Mity nice Hamburger," which could be purchased for just a nickel. Kewpee was also known for its life-sized naked mascot baby, created to the likeness of the classic comic strip Kewpie dolls.

By 1940, the chain rebranded to simply "Kewpee Hamburgers," and was 400-locations strong. From Ohio to New York City, Kewpee's stole the hearts of Americans with its square patties, hot chili, thick shakes, homey diner atmosphere, and not-to-be-beaten prices.

During its rise to popularity, Kewpee also managed to revolutionize the fast food game by becoming one of the first restaurants to offer a drive-thru.

But much to the dismay of its fans far and wide, most restaurants in the franchise met their demise during WWII meat shortages.

Kewpee's time-honored legacy lives on in Lima, OH where the only three remaining restaurants are located. Despite its novelty across the country, Kewpee continues to offer guests their beloved greasy grub at rock-bottom prices ($2.45 for a cheeseburger? Take that, Five Guys).

It's hard to believe that such a famed piece of America's food history is just 90 minutes from Columbus, but it's true and definitely worth the drive. How could you say no to this innocent, yet slightly ominous face?

To learn more about Kewpee Hamburgers, click here.

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