Is the American Dream Dead or Alive?

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James Marshall photographed by Jaesung Lee for BlackBook Magazine

If you listened strictly to the news pouring out of televisions and newspapers across the country, you’d think America was in the pits. Political tensions run high, incomes are low, and that’s to say nothing of the inequalities rampant in minority communities. It’s bad news all around. James Marshall, whose other projects include West Village restaurant Whitehall, wanted to know if the bad news rang true: Was the American dream dead? Marshall called up Cole Haan and recruited friend and photographer Todd Williams to accompany him on a monthlong motorcycle ride to visit eight American towns and cities and staying along the way with people met entirely through social media. The resulting series, The American Dream Project, shows a more hopeful, persevering side of the United States not often seen in the news. Marshall, by the way, learned to ride a motorcycle only three weeks before embarking on his journey. 

What gave you the idea for The American Dream Project?

I had one too many of those days spent barraged by bad news in the media. This is such a great country. I’m from Windsor, about 25 miles west of London, but moved here seven years ago. I thought, No, I’m not going to just listen to this. Let’s find out if this news is true. Is the American dream dead? That seed grew into The American Dream Project.

What were your views of America before you moved here, what did the American dream mean to you then?

Actually, when I came to New York with a little bit of cash, I was so convinced I would be robbed that I split my money–it wasn’t so much, a few hundred dollars–into socks and distributed it around my apartment. I was living in the West Village. I just had an address and a key, and I moved here with that worry. JaesungLee_JamesMarshall_ColeHaan_BB
James Marshall photographed by Jaesung Lee for BlackBook Magazine

I’m surprised you had those worries about moving to a safe neighborhood like the West Village.

But within a few months you realize it’s the safest city in the world. You realize that Americans like people who work hard; they want you to succeed. And if you work hard, you can go somewhere, you can be successful.

Were you ever afraid this project wasn’t going to happen?

This was the biggest project I’ve done so far. I didn’t fully understand how expensive it was to pull a crew together and go across the country for a month. I approached Cole Haan because their philosophy and mine were almost identical. Like me, they believe that substance and quality mean something in today’s world. Cole Haan is also an iconic American brand, founded by immigrants just like me. This project would not have happened without them.

In filming The American Dream Project you met your hosts through social media.

I wanted this to be as genuine as possible. I wanted to meet real people, and the best way to do that was via social media. We sent out blasts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, hashtagging like crazy in the hope that people would reach out.

Were you surprised at how warm and inviting these total strangers were to the request of hospitality for two guys on motorcycles riding across America?

I was blown away. Complete strangers invited Todd and I into their homes, and in some cases, they put up the entire crew.

We’re all human; we want to connect. Yet it’s always a surprise when you connect with people outside of your normal day to day.

The media fills your mind with whatever they are putting out. We are bombarded with sensational or salacious news that doesn’t really feed us anything positive. If you’re not careful about what to listen to, we do tend to, or I tend to, think we are very different. But actually, we’re not. Most people want the same things: security, safety, validation, and to dream. My experience was that we really do have much more in common than we are told we have. It is kind of liberating. ColeHaan_JamesMarshall_JaesungLee_BlackBook_3
James Marshall photographed by Jaesung Lee for BlackBook Magazine

Was allowing social media and chance to dictate your project a different kind of creative process than what you are used to?

I’m used to having an idea and being able to direct something well produced. Here, I didn’t know what the end was going to be. It was refreshing because it was, “Who am I going to meet today?” It was very exciting and nerve-racking because this thing could have been a bust. It could have been one sad story after another.

How do you view creativity?

The new creativity is freedom–people are making movies on iPhones. Social media allows you to collaborate globally. You could have musicians in one country provide music for a Web series that is being made in another country. Everyone can be a creative talent. That could be good and bad because there is a lot of content out there. We need a creative revolution, which we’re in the midst of. With so many online outlets and cameras on every phone, people can make what they want, when they want, and get it out there.

How has this new wave of creativity altered the American dream?

The new wave of creativity has actually enabled people to dream and be inspired by other people’s work because they can see it within minutes of being made. It’s doesn’t have to be an executive in Hollywood but a kid in bumblefuck nowhere making things happen. There are no walls anymore; the walls have come down. 

Did your idea of the American dream change throughout filming?

It definitely evolved as I went along. But I think before I left, I had a view of the American dream that I think most people have, which is this postwar idea of a big house, white picket fence, 2.4 kids, and a dog. That is a prescribed American dream that is put in the minds of many of us, and that’s gone. But what I’ve seen replace that is staggering because it’s evolved into something better. Rather than people aiming for a preprescribed dream, it’s become an individual pursuit. People have now taken up the mantle to think of their own dream. Now the American dream is absolutely individual to each person, which I think is great. For people to be enabled to really dream is exciting. Discover more about the series here.

This story appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook Magazine on stands now.

Aussie Electro Pop Sensation White Prism Does Ace Hotel Residency

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White Prism, née Johanna Cranitch, is an Aussie by birth, but her angular electro pop stylings and angular look seem to owe something to the post-Millennial Euro scenes that produced the likes of Ladytron and Miss Kittin. She started her journey with the support of her jazz pianist grandfather back in the homeland, but she now calls BKNY her home—having already done time as an engineer for Nola Recording Studios, as well as having toured with The Cranberries.

Now crystalized as White Prism, her recently released and cleverly titled debut album Open Heart Job lures with exceedingly infectious synth confections like “Shake You Off”, “Hungry Heart” and “Patience” (with its distinct echoes of Madonna’s “Into The Groove”).

This month, she’s bringing her delicious dreamscapes and celestial cadences to NYC’s Ace Hotel, with a regular Sunday residency throughout April.

Orange Is The New Black Is Back…and so Is Alex Vause

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Screenshot: Netflix

Orange Is The New Black’s third Season is coming soon, and it’s going to be a good one.

Crazy Eyes wrote something erotic, involving love between 2 people…and four other people…and aliens. Alex, or, “the Bettie Page of Litchfield,” is back and Big Boo gets a bob. Cancel any plans for June 12th–it will be a day best spent with our precious Netflix accounts.

Refresh the Season Two memories here.

A Chat With The Roots’ Tariq About Roots Picnic 2015

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With the Lollapaloozas, Electric Daisy Carnivals and the like having become overrun with musical tourists, alternative festivals have taken on an even greater exigency. And now in its eighth year, the Roots Picnic is perhaps one of the most ideologically driven music gatherings on the annual calendar. Far from being some corporately composed cheese-fest, it is instead meant to be a celebration of the distinctly eclectic ethos The Roots have always cultivated around them. Perhaps even more so, it is a celebratory tribute to the unwaveringly vibrant music scene in their hometown of Philadelphia—where the Picnic will once again take place this May 30.

2015 brings together such divergent acts as The Weeknd, Phantogram, A$AP Rocky, DJ Windows 98 (actually Win Butler of Arcade Fire), Hudson Mohawke, Afrika Bambaataa, and Erykah Badu (who will be backed by The Roots)…and, naturally, The Roots. 

Following the announcement of the 2015 lineup, we caught up for a chat with The Roots’ Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter about the whys and whats of next month’s big Picnic.

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What makes it particularly special about doing the Roots Picnic in Philly?

This is our foundation, all of our early artistic influences started in this city. We wanted to make sure we gave back to the city that gave us so much.

Philly music fans in general seem to be as fanatical as they come. What do the hometown fans mean to The Roots?

Philly fans are known for being hyper-critical. It’s widely known that if you can rock a Philly crowd, you have done something special. It’s always great to play at home.

What is the “mission” of the event? Is there a musical philosophy that drives the creation of the lineup?

The philosophy was really to build a multi-genre bill of acts that The Roots as a collective enjoy and are fans of. There is a brain trust that determines the talent list; and we feel we do a pretty good job of curating a list of great acts that normally wouldn’t be playing at the same event.

What first time acts are you especially looking forward to this year?

All of them….really. When we build this list, most of the acts I already know. But some of the names that my manager might come up with I am just discovering; and that is what really excites me about the Picnic. Each year, I personally see or hear an act perform that I was never aware of in the past.

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Martha Stewart Is EVERYTHING While Roasting Justin Bieber on Comedy Central

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If you missed Comedy Central‘s roast of Justin Bieber last night, all you really need to see are five minutes of absolute gold — offensive, embarrassingly hilarious gold — perpetrated by former inmate Martha Stewart. This five minutes has it all: Attacks on Shaq (and his mom), racist jokes, prison jokes, and, like any good appearance by Martha, mating calls.

Enjoy. Probably with headphones.

Photo: Justin Bieber photographed by Joe Bielawa via

9 Craziest Death Threats Natalia Kills Has Received Since X-Factor

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Since the X-Factor implosion surrounding Natalia Kills and Willy Moon’s publicity stunt, the singer has received countless bullying words pointed right back at her — the rape and death threats Natalia Kills has received are insane and utterly terrifying. Some people even got ISIS involved.. Here are the nine worst:

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Exclusive: Inside Source from Natalia Kills X-Factor Bullying Drama Talks to BlackBook

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Photo: Natalia Kills photographed by Angela Pham/BFAnyc.com

In the small chance you’ve been ears-shut to social media and the world of entertainment this past week, you might have missed the Natalia Kills X-Factor drama unfolding, as the singer and her husband Willy Moon berated a contestant on television from their judging seats on New Zealand’s X-Factor.

As Taylor Ghrist wrote when the news first broke:

In what felt like a surging storm of social-media reactions, up-and-coming pop star (or blacklisted?) Natalia Kills and unknown-husband Willy Moon were just exiled and banned from being judges on New Zealand’s X-Factor after an incident of bullying a candidate. When I first watched the video, part of me laughed. Then the other part of me croaked. Then, I asked myself, “Was that really necessary?” But, naturally, I wanted to just shake these two young people and talk some sense into them. (If they’re capable of listening…) Multiple New Yorkers affiliated with her took to Facebook asking why she’d do such a thing. “I’ve met her before on a fashion shoot we worked on and she was so sweet. But, what is this?”

Really, what is this?

What it is: a publicity stunt. According to an inside source at the production company in New Zealand (who chose to be anonymous for obvious reasons), the bullying debacle was all for show – but not thought up by Natalia Kills as many imagined. No, this one was the production company’s idea. According to our source,

“It was the TV producer’s plan, drama for ratings, and it totally backfired! So many crew people’s jobs at risk!”

Turns out the contestant was in on it, too. Here’s an image comparing his look before and after the producers got to him:

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“The poor guy (Joe) was actually excited like I’m just like Willy Moon, I’m gonna be Willy Moon tonight…”

Of course it backfired when the show’s sponsors pulled out.

Natalia and Willy’s “drama for ratings” thought up by the production company backfired on the show, and it backfired on the singers, too. We have a major bullying problem; Natalia and Willy have received countless death and rape threats for her comments:

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You’d think those who have a problem with bullying would know better than to retaliate with the same methods.