Arts Desk

Akil Nadir, Who Influenced the Course of D.C. Hip-Hop, Dies

Akil Nadir was the Philosopher King, the straight-ahead MC known for his battle rhymes and sophisticated bravado. To his friends, he was Claude Lumpkin, an educator and father who let his heart speak through the music (and on his funny blog).

The veteran D.C. rapper died this weekend. He was 34.

As word spread of Nadir's death, his peers flooded social media with solemn words of remembrance for the MC, who once taught English at Washington Metropolitan High School in Pleasant Plains, in addition to releasing a steady stream of music over the past few years.

"He was plainspoken, witty and clever," recalls Rhome "DJ Stylus" Anderson, a veteran of the D.C. hip-hop scene. "I used to liken him to Ludacris, as the guy with great punchlines and clear enunciation. He was the clever asshole that wasn't an asshole. He was one of the younger kids who you'd see just rhyming."

Read more Akil Nadir, Who Influenced the Course of D.C. Hip-Hop, Dies

How Critics Keep Shortchanging D.C. Bands

deleted scenesAs far as most indie-rock rock critics know, D.C. has two Ians, a Henry, a Travis, and some dude named H.R., and they all got discovered at the 9:30 Club or in the DMV—but how bands get noticed by tired folks waiting in line to get their drivers licenses renewed, well, who knows.

If you live here, you know most of that is dead wrong. D.C. may only export a handful of acts these days, but there's plenty of smart, forward-thinking stuff being made here. Of course it's not surprising that to the outside world, D.C. may as well be a soundproof apartment with a broken landline. But it's a shame that when taste-making publications do write about D.C. acts, they so often lean on those well-trod reference points and clichés, even when they have almost nothing to do with the subject. Writing about D.C. Band X? Better throw in a "MacKaye," "Morrison," and "9:30," just to cover your bases!

In a recent review of Deleted Scenes' new album Lithium Burn, Pitchfork critic Ian Cohen does just this. “Deleted Scenes have put out two solid, well-received records and hit a couple of benchmarks their fellow D.C. bands surely envy—their 2009 debut Birdseed Shirt was produced by J. Robbins and they toured with Dismemberment Plan,” he writes. At one point, he calls Lithium Burn a record that could “pass for a follow-up to Dismemberment Plan’s ruminative, then-swan song Change that would engender less ill will than last year's Uncanney Valley”—never mind that Deleted Scenes and the Dismemberment Plan have little musically or thematically in common, except perhaps an occasional taste for sonic doodads.

Read more How Critics Keep Shortchanging D.C. Bands

ToDo ToDay: Black Lips, Dinosaurs, and Tax Day Deals

black lipsThe Black Lips are weird. Like, really, really weird. But they like it that way. Born in Atlanta, the band cranks out humid, twangy guitar rhythms best described as a cross between psychedelic and garage rock. One part punk-rock concert, one part exhibitionist free-for-fall, an average Black Lips show drips with angst and bodily fluids. Prepare for this show like you’d prepare to wade through the bayou—wear protective clothing and don’t be afraid to get a little dirty. Read more >>> Black Lips perform with Natural Child at 8 p.m. at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $15–$18. (202) 667-4490. (Tim Regan)


Tax Day is here, which means plenty of food and drink deals. Find out where you can get half off your check, free whiskey tastings, and free chips and queso on Young & Hungry(Jessica Sidman)


The Rex Room, home to one of the most complete T. Rex skeletons in the world, opens today at the National Museum of Natural History. 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 1000 Constitution Ave. NW. Free.

Read more ToDo ToDay: Black Lips, Dinosaurs, and Tax Day Deals

The Burning Alto Sax of Steven Garrison

Steven GarrisonThis weekend I had my first encounter with a remarkably lyrical, bottomlessly soulful alto saxophonist right here in D.C., and his name is Steven Garrison.

He is a born-and-bred local, having gone to high school in Upper Marlboro and college at Bowie State, a current member of the Howard University Jazz Ensemble, and apparently quite well known among local musicians. And he is a monster, with a sound somehow both clear and abrasive, brittle and sticky, that actively repels vibrato while scraping every trace of blues out of the innards of the horn. This past Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery, he was used in a commissioned arrangement in which he channeled the great Hank Crawford by playing at the head of the 18-piece band (under the direction of Fred Irby III). He devoured the written melody whole, let off sparks during his solo, then sat leaning forward, with a serious, thoughtful visage, just listening (when not playing backgrounds).

Mike Crotty's arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "I Can't Help It" found him doubling down on his sound, balancing smooth soulful lyricism with breakneck bebop runs and funky R&B swagger across two separate solos. It was an approach to alto sax that made it inevitable that he would appear in the set's Ornette Coleman piece, "Ramblin'." He and alto mate Ashton Vines chased each other like tigers around a tree, spiraling ever further into free territory until they were subsumed by the entire ensemble. It was splendid.

There are some qualifications to this rave. Despite the blues aesthetic that soaks his playing, I have yet to hear Garrison attack an actual 12-bar blues form. Nor have I heard him approach a ballad or a Latin piece. He went (or was sent) straight to the barnburners with the HUJE and his attack was magnificent enough that I went right for the notebook.

His name, again, is Steven Garrison. You're going to hear it again before too long.

Photo by Michael J. West

Arts Roundup: Draper Edition


Wanna be in DJ Flexx's "Polo & Chuck" music video? [WPGC]

Meet the Shakespeare Theatre Company's resident draper, whose job could be the basis of Project Runway. [Express]

Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser will be the new co-chairman of IMG Artists. [Times]

How the Keegan Theatre gave new life to Hair without making the protest play preachy. [DC Theatre Scene]

Browse the Portrait Gallery or the Phillips Collection from your cubicle. [Curbed]

Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Paris Hilton—A Real DJ! We Swear!—Set to Play Echostage

paris dj instagram

If you’re into the D.C. club scene, we’ve got some exciting news for you: One of EDM’s hottest young stars, it seems, is set to play Echostage next month, and tickets went on sale today at noon. Is it Tiesto, you ask? Nope. Deadmau5? Not quite.

If you guessed Paris Hilton, ten points and a $500 bottle of vodka for you.

I wanted so badly to take this announcement seriously—I have a thing for underdogs (despite her vast riches and fame, Hilton could probably be considered an underdog in the world of music journalism) and I like to root for women in male-dominated fields. But the press copy on the promoter’s website, so desperate to prove that Hilton is a real talent worth watching, is impossible to read with a straight face:

She hit the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, she’s got a full on legit residency in Atlantic City,

Not just any residency! A full-on, legit one. She’s not a fake DJ, see?

she’s one of the self proclaimed ‘Top 5 DJ’s in the World’...

Because that’s how rankings are set: either by independently verified door-sales stats, or by self-proclamation.

Read more Paris Hilton—A Real DJ! We Swear!—Set to Play Echostage

Photos: The Sounds @ 9:30 Club

The Sounds

Though the crowd was unsurprisingly sparse when doors opened at 5 p.m. for the Sounds' early show at the 9:30 Club last Saturday, by the time the Swedish pop-rockers hit the stage, the venue appeared to be filled to capacity. Over the course of its 16-year, five-album history, the band has built quite a following in the U.S. (much of it surely built up during the Sounds' tour with No Doubt a few years ago). On the basis of the band's live show, that following is well-deserved: Maja Ivarsson is a high-kicking, crowd-pleasing frontwoman brimming with attitude and a charisma that makes her hard to look away from, and she and her band have an irrepressible energy that lend their simple, catchy pop tunes an appeal that's just not replicable on a record.

Check out the full slideshow (33 photos) for more photos, including pics of openers Blondfire and Ghost Beach.

ToDo ToDay: Bun B, Odonis Odonis, and Passover at BLT Steak

bunbFor rap star Bun B, “trill” (that is, to be true and real) is a way of life. As UGK, he and fellow Port Arthur, Texas, native Pimp C have treated it as a tao since the release of their 1992 debut, Too Hard to Swallow. Now one of hip-hop’s wise elder statesmen (he’s teaching a class at Houston’s Rice University on the subject), Bun B remains a supremely respected relic among the genre’s new generation. His rolling success has culminated in the Trillest Tour, which will bring the bass-heavy, trunk-rattling brutal honesty of his music to the Howard Theatre stage. Read more >>> Bun B performs with Kirko Bangz at 8:30 p.m. at Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW. $15–$50. (202) 803-2899. (Julian Kimble)


BLT Steak is serving a Passover menu all week long. The special menu features creative takes on traditional Jewish dishes, like a matzoh ball soup with black truffles and gefilte fish with English pea veloute and pickled chanterelles. The menu is available through April 19 both á la carte and as part of the $60 prix fixe Blackboard menu. BLT Steak. 1625 I St. NW. (202) 689-8999. (Raphaella Baek)


The Kid Congo Powers Hour plays Comet Ping Pong with Florida groups New Coke and Sandratz. More information available on Facebook. 9 p.m. at 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW. $1o.

Read more ToDo ToDay: Bun B, Odonis Odonis, and Passover at BLT Steak

Student Photographers Play With Presentation at the Corcoran’s NEXT

Corc 1With all the uncertainty around the future of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design, the name of the annual student show—NEXT—seems hopelessly ironic this year. But what about the art?

The most notable sculptural works include Mayte Waldivia Veslasco’s eerie, spiritual series of five mounted antique, oval wood frames, each transformed by the addition of a different surface coating—bark, stones, dried flowers, or wax.

A few design works stand out, including Carissa L. Sudjono’s display of plain white boxes holding cigarette packs, emblazoned with the pack’s intended branding vibe, summarized with uncannily accurate brevity. Annie Harrod, leveraging another vice, deconstructs craft-brew label iconography in a piece called “99 Bottles.” Read more Student Photographers Play With Presentation at the Corcoran’s NEXT

Camp David at Arena Stage, Reviewed

Camp David

The Camp David Accords might never have been signed were it not for President Jimmy Carter’s golf cart. In Camp David, the world premiere play at Arena Stage, there’s no way for characters to negotiate the stage without it.

As Carter, Richard Thomas never seems more confident that he’s steering Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Ron Rifkin) and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (Khaled Nabawy) toward peace than when he’s behind the wheel of his onstage vehicle. It’s an ingenious device, providing both a convenient segue between scenes and a sense that the small stage is actually a 6,000-acre retreat in Frederick County where the world leaders have secretly squirreled themselves away for 13 days.

Longtime New Yorker scribe Lawrence Wright wrote the script, which is a thoroughly researched recreation of the 1978 talks that lead to a truce between Israel and Egypt and the eventual return of the Sinai Peninsula to the Arab nation. As with so many other history plays and classic dramas, the audience enters knowing how the show will end. It’s a challenge for theaters whether putting on Romeo and Juliet or Inherit the Wind.

But here’s the additional complication facing Camp David: The audience not only anticipates the final outcome, but as the show progresses, realizes that whatever motivations these characters have for brokering a deal will be rendered largely void with the passage of time. We pity these people like the victims of a cosmic joke, because what they think is at stake is not actually at stake.

Read more Camp David at Arena Stage, Reviewed