I’ve always found rappers an interesting phenomenon. It’s that classic rapper-story mixture of difficult childhood, brashness and bragging, sudden wealth and fame and a complete lack of preparedness to deal with it, plus a risk that the whole thing could be gone in less time than it takes to bust a rhyme. In your face and fragile at the same time. Ego the size of a planet, but it’s a fake planet and that thing you just called ego is hiding something.
But how to get into a rapper’s head? How to write a first-person piece from a rapper’s point of view? A teenage African-American rapper’s point of view …
Then it occurred to me that maybe it’s more interesting if we don’t get there, if we don’t get the access-all-areas pass. So, who could I put up close to the rapper who would give us an interesting look at him?
An Australian journalist. An Australian rock journalist around forty, twice the rapper’s age. He’s interviewed everyone. Not that he’s jaded, but he knows what he’s doing. He knows how to look for a story, and where to look.
So, it’s about the two of them, Na$ti Boi and Jeff Foster. It’s about that big writer question: what’s at stake for the two of them?
Where does it happen? Where am I going to find them? Somewhere a long way from home for Jeff, somewhere Na$ti wants to claim. Somewhere that makes a statement. New York makes part of that statement, and the Bloomingdales flagship store makes the rest. New York is Na$ti’s home, and Jeff has come to him and to the venue and at the time of Na$ti’s choosing. It’s not Jeff’s first trip to the city, so he’s not wide-eyed about it, but it’s still New York, and there’s a feeling every time you go there that you’ve arrived in a place confident in its belief that it’s the centre of everything. And the store is an icon. The young rapper temporarily in command of the Bloomingdales flagship is very different from Jeff meeting him at Bloomingdales in Skokie, Illinois.
The story starts at Bloomingdales, with an after-hours fully concierged shopping spree for the huge store’s only customer. Its working title was Cargoes, since the shopping spree would come unstuck over cargo pants and I decided both Na$ti and Jeff would be carrying some baggage.
So, what’s Jeff’s story? What’s the baggage? There’s more to him, more to this trip to New York. I recalled my last trip there, in 2013. I wrote a travel piece for the News Ltd Sunday papers in Australia, on the topic of New York with an under-five. My son, Patrick, was almost four and hugely into superheroes. And New York, Gotham City, is surely superhero central. He’d look out of the hotel room window or up from the streets at the rooftop water towers, and it was entirely plausible to him that Batman or Spider-Man might be there.
When I took his photo coming down the granite slide in Billy Johnson Park, of course he stuck his arms out, a superhero in flight.
I looked at that photo with my characters in mind and I thought, why does Jeff’s son or daughter need to be a superhero?
And I had it. I had my story.
So, Jeff has a family story, his partner Lindsey and daughter Ariel, across town at the Beacon Hotel, living a very different New York experience. Na$ti has a family story lurking beneath the surface. And, to bring them together, we have Na$ti’s manager and cousin, Smokey. Smokey’s wife has just gone into labour and Na$ti messes him around in a variety of ways that night, the long night of the interview.
Now, that’s a cast of characters – that’s the novella, these two stories circling each other, sparring with each other, coming together in, I hope, unexpected ways.