A third of the way through their recent set at the East Village club Brownies, the ladies of Northern State-an all-white, all-female hip-hop group originally from Dix Hills, Long Island-were feeling the inevitable effects of jumping around in a small, crowded space under burning stage lights. Twenty-five-year-old D.J. Sprout (real name: Robyn Goodmark) was damp under the arms; 26-year-old Guinea Love (Correne Spero) sported a sweaty sheen; 24-year-old Hesta Prynn (Julie Potash) looked flushed.
“Yo, it’s hot in here,” Guinea Love said during a break between numbers.
Answered Hesta Prynn: “It’s like Bat Mitzvah night!”
It may not have been the first time the Jewish coming-of-age ritual was mentioned in the middle of a hip-hop show. The Beastie Boys, who once referred to themselves as “3 M.C.’s and we’re on the go / Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego,” certainly knew from Hebrew. But Ms. Goodmark, Ms. Potash and Ms. Spero-two Jews and an Italian who rhyme about Kavalier & Clay, skorts (skirt-shorts) and actor Max von Sydow (twice!)-are breaking their own ground in hip-hop. Though plenty of white women in their 20’s grew up on rap, female white rappers-at least the kind who don’t trade on platinum blond hair and sexy bods-remain rare. So when Northern State-three girls who look more like camp counselors than MTV darlings and perform mostly in loose-fitting jeans and tank tops-drop rhymes like, “It’s just me and the girls making joyful noise / I’m like Dorothy Parker when I run with the boys,” it feels decidedly on the verge. White Girl Hip-Hop Nation finally has its King Adroc, Mike D and MCA. Or, at the very least, its first M.C. named after the heroine in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter .
The group was born a year and a half ago, when Ms. Goodmark-a former hippie turned kindergarten teacher-got drunk at a party with Ms. Spero, a recent graduate from audio-engineering school (she also has a degree in Women’s Studies from Oberlin College), and Ms. Potash, an actor who had a day job on Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senatorial campaign.
“We were kind of like, ‘It would be really fun if we were rappers,'” Ms. Spero said a few days after the Brownies show. She and the rest of Northern State were eating lunch at Veselka. “And we started goofing around together, and then it kind of hit us: It could be something we could do in a more serious and constructive way.”
After six months of writing rhymes together, mostly in Ms. Potash’s 14th Street apartment (the other two States live in Brooklyn), the group scored their first show at Luna Lounge in April of 2001, opening for friends in a band called Melomane. Since then, they’ve played just over 20 shows in New York, and their reputation is beginning to snowball. The group was recently picked as an editor’s choice in The Village Voice, and they’ll be featured in the September issue of Jane . Although they are still not signed to a label, they have a booking agent, and this summer they’ll be opening for De La Soul in Amagansett, Long Island, and the X-ecutioners in Portland, Me.
The attention remains a bit of a surprise for Northern State’s three M.C.’s, who all quit their day jobs about a year ago in order to spend more time on the band.
“Yesterday I was sitting somewhere, and somebody straight-up recognized me,” said Ms. Spero. “They were like, ‘I read about you guys, and you are awesome! I want to come to your show.'”
“When did that happen?” Ms. Goodmark asked, holding a fork full of food in midair.
“Where were you?” said Ms. Potash.
“I was in Williamsburg,” said Ms. Spero.
“Fascinating,” said Ms. Goodmark.
“Were you like, ‘No pictures, please’?” said Ms. Potash.
“No!” said Ms. Spero. “I’m not a diva.”
The women said a lot of strangers showed up at their Brownies show-a sure sign that people were taking notice.
“I felt like I knew no one at that show,” said Ms. Potash. “Did you guys see that random guy in the corner totally getting down?”
“My mom said in the back, people were totally digging it,” said Ms. Goodmark, whose parents have come to every show the group has performed in New York.
“It was one of the only shows my parents had ever missed,” said Ms. Spero. “They had to go to a luau party in our neighborhood.”
Ted Williams, Pride of The Yankees-Almost
The Yankees had several chances to acquire Ted Williams, who died on July 5-scouting him as a San Diego schoolboy in 1936 before passing, and again in the winter of ’48, when Yankee owner Dan Topping got stone drunk with Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and traded Joe DiMaggio for Williams, only to have Yawkey sober up and back out of the deal the next morning.
But perhaps the most intriguing opportunity came days after Williams retired at the end of the 1960 season with 521 home runs. Topping and co-owner Del Webb offered Williams $125,000 to pinch-hit for the 1961 Yankees.
Although intrigued, Williams turned them down. Despite the widely held belief that the lefty-swinging, pull-hitting Ted would have hit even more home runs over Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch than at Fenway, Williams disliked playing in the stadium, where he was bothered by too much cigarette smoke.
Still, the notion that Williams might have played with Mantle and Maris as each chased Ruth in 1961 is absolutely delicious. The 1961 Yankees were power personified. Their 240 home runs, keyed by Maris’ 61 and Mantle’s 54, is still the team record for a season.
But more important than any home runs Williams may have hit in 1961 is the role he could have played running interference for Maris. That September, particularly after Mantle was injured and dropped out of the pursuit of Ruth, Maris was alone. Playing out of position in center field, chasing Ruth and hounded by the press, his hair falling out from the pressure, Maris spent the last days of the season hating the asterisk, hating the questions, hating New York.
Imagine, for a moment, Ted Williams flanking Maris in September of 1961, hitting behind him in the batting order and then sitting alongside Maris at his locker those final weeks. The man who, in 1960-at age 41-had outslugged both Maris and Mantle. The man from whose lips the word “writer” was an epithet. The out-of-scale personality who feared no one , standing guard over Maris.
The lasting story of that season may not have been Maris and the asterisk, but the pure white heat of Teddy Ballgame. Williams chasing Jimmie Foxx and his 534 home runs for what was then second place on the all-time home-run list behind Ruth. And Williams, the second-best hitter of all time, teaching Maris what he knew as Maris went after No. 1, Ruth.
And then, after the histrionics of the pursuit of 61*, came the 1961 World Series, an anticlimactic five-game romp for the Bombers over the Cincinnati Reds. But with Williams in pinstripes, the 1961 World Series could have become the culmination of a remarkable career that lacked only a World Series ring.
He’d have gotten it as a Yankee. And in Game 5, perhaps pinch-hitting in his last at-bat at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, is there any doubt that Ted Williams still would have ended it the same way, with a home run?
Must Possess Uncanny Knowledge of Middle East Crisis, Early-Bird Buffets, Windtalkers
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