The album is an endangered concept in music, with MP3s and streaming encouraging more and more people to listen to tracks “a la carte.” If people aren’t listening to a collection of songs intentionally put together by an artist in a specific order, why should the artist bother trying? It’s one of the reasons releasing EPs seems to have become more popular than issuing full-lengths.
With some exceptions, the “album as art” concept has long been dwindling amongst Hip Hop artists, many of whom have more fully embraced the hodge-podge “mixtape” format, which is perhaps more in tune with our ADD/social media-plagued culture.
So it’s beyond refreshing to hear the new release from Cincinnati MC Sleep, Branded: The Damon Winton Story, a collection of eight tracks that tells the story of a young man’s troubled upbringing. It’s not just that Sleep has compiled eight songs that kind of fit together; Branded is a fully envisioned tale that requires the listener to hear the entire album in order to get the total impact. And it’s quite an impact.
It helps that Sleep’s “concept album” is based on some excellent storytelling skills, contains some fierce rhymes (with a flow and timbre that recalls Jay-Z at his peak) and is supported by the excellent, often hauntingly atmospheric production of Dope Antelope, which brilliantly reflects the dark, chaotic, heart-breaking nature of the story. The way Sleep — half of local duo 2-Man Cypher — lays the story out is also sharply clever. In lieu of titles, each track is labeled as simply “Question,” followed by the track number. The album opens with a police officer hitting “record” to begin his interview with the main character’s social worker about “what could have led up to what transpired with him this past weekend.” To kick off each track, the social worker is asked about a different aspect of the trouble the young man had experienced and been in.
Working backwards from the incident (which isn’t revealed until “Question 8,” so the listener is left to wonder what transpired), Sleep creates evocative, harrowing slices of life, usually told from the main character’s point of view, but with other voices popping in occasionally to give an even bigger picture. The young man’s horrific surroundings are revealed gradually; the listener learns that he has self-mutilated himself, been molested, lost (or never had) faith or religion and had family involved in drugs. Sleep’s brilliance is turning the smaller stories from the big picture into vivid, cinematic tales in themselves — “If this is grown folks’ business/Then why when you conduct it, there’s a child as a witness,” he raps after it’s revealed that the main character’s mother had substance abuse issues. When the social worker tells the officer that the young man had been bullied over his clothes in school, Sleep echoes that pain with lines like, “The peer pressure to be above the status quo/It’s never ending, it’s never taking sabbaticals.”
By the last track, the listener is primed to hear just what happened to the main character, but when his fate is revealed, it’s not what most would expect, making the album that much more powerful. (In the spirit of not ruining the final act, I’ll refrain from giving away the ending.)
Sleep’s Branded shows just how much power Hip Hop still has to tell a realistic story poetically but without hyperbole. It’s an incredibly moving piece of work that stands as one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out of Greater Cincinnati in recent memory. And Sleep shows that if he ever gets tired of the Rap game (which itself would be tragic becomes the genre needs more voices like his), he’ll be able to find some kind of career as a writer, be it an author, a journalist, a filmmaker or whatever field he decides to lend his talents to.
If you’re a fan of intelligent Hip Hop or just great storytelling in general, you must download (for free or whatever you’d like to kick in) Branded immediately at sleep513.bandcamp.com.
Here is a music video for the track, "Question 2":
Williams, who has lived in Madisonville since 1994, wants to grow food sustainably like his family before him. "When I grew up, my daddy and granddaddy grew all sorts of vegetables," Williams says. "My job was to collect horse manure so I could fertilize the garden."
Williams now has his own food-producing plot — a raised bed filled with manure, compost and topsoil built by the Madisonville 500 Gardens program.
Launched by local nonprofit Sidestreams Foundation, 500 Gardens aims to put a food-producing garden in every Madisonville household that wants one. To date, more than 150 families have signed up.
Food production has long been a part of Madisonville's history, says Steve Rock, volunteer director at the Lighthouse Community School in Madisonville. "At one point, there were big agricultural swaths in this region," he says.
Several years ago, Rock started teaching students to raise vegetables. When he saw how much food neighbors harvested from the school gardens each night, he realized how valuable fresh, ripe vegetables were.
"This is a community that knew what to do with good produce," Rock says. "They knew how to cook and use vegetables."
What also was clear, Rock says, was that they did not have easy access to fresh food.
Rock looked at old gardens in Madisonville covered in weeds. He studied productive patches and failed plots and talked to residents. He concluded they needed simple solutions: a small vegetable garden in their yard, a little education and some guidance to help them succeed.
Each resident who participates in the 500 Gardens program pays $50 and agrees to attend a one-hour course about planting, fertilizing and protecting crops. About a week later, Rock and a crew of volunteers arrive.
"We build a 4-by-8-foot raised bed in each yard and fill it with about 35 cubic feet of good soil, " Rock says. "We then match each resident with a mentor who offers coaching and support during the growing season."
Every Saturday and Sunday, Rock and his crew meet at Ward and Chandler, a corner embedded in Madisonville's history. It's here that the Joseph Ward family, Madisonville's first settlers, built three log cabins in 1797 along a Native American trail. Today, volunteers pile dirt and lumber into pickup trucks and move through the streets of Madisonville, building as many as 20 raised beds in a day.
500 Gardens is about more than building beds, Rock says. It's about building community resilience and giving multiple generations of Madisonville residents the skills to grow food.
"We want people to connect with their neighbors, to talk over the fence about their tomatoes, to share meals and swap vegetables," he says.
It's also about making lasting changes in the local landscape. Madisonville has about 5,000 houses. To Rock, 500 food-producing plots are significant. "If one family in 10 participates," he says, "that's a cultural shift."
On the City Roots calendar:
May 8: Farmland
A new documentary by James Moll features five farmers in their twenties: a rancher, chicken farmer, pig farmer, organic crop grower and a CSA vegetable farmer. Since the average age of farmers is nearing 60, Farmland focuses on the renewed attention in the U.S. on young farmers. The movie will be shown at one time only — Thursday, May 8 at 7:30 pm — at the Esquire Theatre. A panel discussion with young local farmers follows the show. esquiretheatre.com
May 10: Shiitake Madness
This hands-on workshop with mycologist Romaine Picasso demonstrates how to grow and harvest abundant mushroom crops on logs. Students will prepare a log for mushroom cultivation and take it home. Saturday, May 10, 2-4 pm at the Civic Garden Center, 2715 Reading Road, $30. civicgardencenter.org.
May 10-June 27: Growing Value
Everyone can have a food forest in his or her backyard, says local permaculture nonprofit This-Land. For a few weekends each year, This-Land sells more than 100 edible perennials — herbs, fruit trees, berry bushes and nut trees — in its Growing Value Nursery in Northside. The pop-up nursery, located next to the Building Value parking lot on Spring Grove Avenue, is open Saturdays only from May 10 to June 27, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or by appointment. this-land.org
May 22: Fabulous Containers: Edible and Ornamental
If you don't have a
yard, you still can have a garden — on your rooftop, porch, balcony or even in
your driveway. Horticulturalists Bennett Dowling and Ali Burns teach how to
grow fresh food and flowers in containers. Jointly sponsored by Park + Vine and
the Civic Garden Center, the class will be at Park + Vine, 1202 Main St. on Thursday, May 22 from 6-8 p.m. Cost is $10; free to CGC
BB Riverboats — A Mother’s Day brunch (eggs, biscuits, bacon, etc.) or dinner cruise (carved strip loin, three-cheese macaroni, grilled chicken, etc.). 1-3 p.m. or 5:30-7:30 p.m. $40; $20 children. 101 Riverboat Row, Newport, Ky., bbriverboats.com.
Blinkers Tavern — Buffet with breakfast and lunch including top round, BBQ ribs, fried chicken and more. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. $19.95; $8.95 kids. 318 Greenup St., Covington, Ky., 859-360-0840, blinkerstavern.com.
Crave — Grand buffet with hot and cold options, meat carving stations, pastry table, kid-friendly options and more. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. $29.95; $12.95 children. 175 Joe Nuxhall Way, The Banks, Downtown, cravecincinnati.com.
Essencha Tea House — Mother's Day tea featuring scones, soup, sorbet, sandwiches, salad, desert, tea and a swag bag for moms. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. with an additional seating at 4 p.m. $21; $15.95 ages 11 and younger. 3212 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-533-4832, essencha.com.
Jag’s Steak & Seafood — A full menu of choices plus drink specials including white sangria, kir royal and a Tito’s bloody mary. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Assorted prices. 5980 West Chester Road, West Chester, 513-860-5353, jags.com.
Kingsgate Marriott — A roast beef and smoked turkey carving station, made-to-order omelets and lots of pastries. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. $28.95; $20.95 seniors; $13.95 children. Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center, 151 Goodman Drive, Clifton, 513-487-3835.
L Petite France — French cuisine for mom featuring crepe and omelet stations, appetizers, entrees and desserts. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $32.95; $16.95 for ages 5012; free for ages 4 and younger. 3177 Glendale Milford Road, Evendale, 513-733-8383, lapetitefrance.biz.
La Poste — Upscale brunch with banana cheesecake French toast, grilled Verlasso salmon, goetta poutine and more. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $8-$14. 3410 Telford St., Clifton, laposteeatery.com.
Maury's Tiny Cove — A prix fixe brunch menu. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. $13.95; $6.95 children. 3908 Harrison Ave., Cheviot, maurys-steakhouse.com.
The Palace — A traditional brunch buffet with carving and crepe stations, plus desserts ranging from chocolate cake to fruit cobbler. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. $42.95; $32.95 seniors; $22.95 children. The Cincinnatian Hotel, 601 Vine St., Downtown, palacecincinnati.com.
Palomino — Brunch or dinner for mom. Moms who dine Mother’s Day weekend (May 10 or 11) will receive a $15 dining card good for a future visit and be entered to win a Queen for a Day pampering package. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. or 4-9 p.m. Assorted prices. 505 Vine St., Downtown, 513-381-1300, palomino.com.
Sleepy Bee Café — Brunch and lunch featuring Banoffee baked French toast, bee cakes (gluten-free pancakes), vegetable quiche, buzzy grilled cheese and more plus a kids menu. 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Assorted prices. 3098 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-533-2339, sleepybeecafe.com.
Straits of Malacca — Two separate Mother’s Day menus. Family-style features fishball and spinach soup, chicken rendang, shrimp and asparagus and shiitake and bok choy. The four-course menu features sambal shrimp cocktail, sup ayam, Portugese baked fish or chicken and mango crème brulee. 5:30-8:30 p.m. Four-course: $25 per person; family style: $15 per person. 202 W. Main St., Mason, 513-492-7656, straitsofmalacca.com.
The Summit Restaurant — Eggs Benedict, five-herbed ravioli, assorted pastries, Southern-style breakfast, bloody mary bar and more. 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. $25; $12.50 child. Summit Restaurant, Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State, 3520 Central Parkway, Clifton, 513-569-4980.
Trio — Omelets, Scottish salmon, filet mignon, bacon, waffles, ham and more. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $28.95; $14.95 kids (5-12); $7.95 (4 and younger). 7565 Kenwood Road, Kenwood, 513-984-1905, triobistro.com.
Via Vite — An Italian buffet featuring New York strip and pork loin carving stations, pasta and traditional brunch favorites. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. $45; $15 children. 520 Vine St., Downtown, 513-721-8489, viaviterestaurant.com.
Washington Platform — A Jazz buffet brunch featuring live music by the Mike Sharfe Trio. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $24.95; $20.95 seniors; $16.95 children. 1000 Elm St., Downtown, 513-421-0110, washingtonplatform.com.
Local Frisch's restaurants are celebrating the birthday of founder David Frisch with a day of free food on May 3. Frisch opened The Mainliner in 1939, the area's first year-round, drive-in restaurant. Nine years later, he opened Big Boy on Central Parkway. To honor his birthday, dress up like Big Boy — checkered pants/overalls and all — and get a free Big Boy platter; come partially dressed, get a Big Boy sandwich. The offer is only available for dine-in customers. A printable costume is available here.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's artistic director D. Lynn Meyers has assembled another set of intriguing productions for 2014-15, opening with the musical Hands on a Hardbody (September), a Tony-nominated 2013 musical with a book by Doug Wright, the playwright of I Am My Own Wife and bookwriter for Grey Gardens, both hits for past ETC seasons. This one is based on a 1997 documentary about a Texas contest to win a new truck by being the last person to keep at least one hand on the new vehicle.
If you're looking for a show that will get things going romantically, I'll point you to the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Venus in Fur (onstage through May 17). But be careful what you wish for: You might end up like playwright/director Thomas with your hands full of more than you wanted to take on. He's seeking an actress to play the central role in his adaptation of an erotic Victorian novel. Vanda shows up for an audition, none too promising at first, but the tables turn very quickly. This is a funny and provocative script, and Greta Wohlrabe's performance as Vanda is masterful and highly entertaining. I gave it a Critic's Pick. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.
The Brandon C. Gromada Head & Neck Cancer Foundation was founded after lifelong Cincinnatian and former Exemplar employee lost his battle to squamous cell carcinoma in 2010.
“Brandon inspired us all,” Mike Pardo, chief operating officer at The Phoenix Restaurant Group (which runs The National Exemplar), said in a press release. “We're proud to be participating in Great Food for a Great Cause and hope we can make a difference in the fight against head and neck cancer.”
All net proceeds from dine-in and carry out orders from the Exemplar's new dinner menu on Monday, April 28, will go to the foundation.
“Great Food for a Great Cause is timely as April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month. We’re working hard to shine a light on this terrible disease,” Karen Gromada, Brandon’s mother and chair of the board of his foundation, said in the same press release. “We're thrilled The National Exemplar continues to honor Brandon's memory by raising funds to fight head and neck cancer.”
5-9 p.m. Monday, April 28. The National Exemplar, 6880 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, 513-271-2103, nationalexemplar.com.