Over at The Brooklyn Rail:
Hip-hop artist Mike Ladd has spent the past eleven years of his life calling Paris home. From James Baldwin to Langston Hughes, the lineage of African-American artists fleeing their American birthplace for Parisian equality is wide and illustrious—a notion that Ladd challenges on his 2005 album Negrophilia. Notably, he left New York for romantic purposes, not the expected artistic or political exile reasons of many African-American creatives. Ladd’s career has been a constant study in fusing his politics of race with music—either on his own releases, which include Easy Listening 4 Armageddon (1997), Welcome to the Afterfuture (2000), Nostalgialator (2004), and Father Divine (2005), or with the jazz pianist and MacArthur “genius” recipient Vijay Iyer. Their collaboration has spawned three recorded works, in addition to accompanying performances, since 2004: In What Language?, 2007’s Still Life with Commentator, and 2013’s Holding It Down. The unintentional trilogy has explored people of color in airports, twenty-four-hour news culture, and the dreams of military veterans, respectively. The latter release continued its life last month as a performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Ladd joined Iyer (who is a current Metropolitan Museum artist-in-residence) in addition to other featured album performers. In a lively, hour-plus conversation, speaking from a Paris Target, Ladd discussed the history of his and Iyer’s collaboration, his creative process, and his mission to connect politics and music.
boice-Terrel Allen (Rail): How did you two meet?
Mike Ladd: Vijay reached out to me. Vijay and I had met because he was playing with a band called Midnight Voices. I was touring my first record, which was called Easy Listening 4 Armageddon. We just met on tour. He was playing with his band and my band was playing the same night in Boston actually and we just got along. And when we got back to New York, we were in the same circles or similar circles, overlapping circles. He reached out to me ’cause the Asia Society reached out to him about doing a project. Initially it was going to be about spatial theory—spatial theory was the backdrop, the theoretical background. It was going to be about people of color in airports and we started the research in the spring of 2001 and of course, the context of the airport and people of color in [it] completely changed after September 11th. And that’s what then sent us on the trajectory we’ve been on since.