NYC hasn’t forgotten about freestyle

Exploring the story of freestyle music from yesterday into today

By Jessica Meditz

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Most popular in the late ’80s into the ’90s, freestyle is a niche genre of music that’s unique to just a few major cities — namely, New York.

There are already a million things that make New York the best, most unique city in the world.

Another thing to tack onto that list is the fact that most of us have either grown up with or been exposed to freestyle music at some point in our lives — while folks from other places may not be able to say the same.

Freestyle, also known as “Latin freestyle,” “Latin hip-hop,” and even “heartthrob” or “club music” in cities like Miami, is a genre of electronic dance music that was born out of major cities like NYC, Miami and Philadelphia.

There’s some debate as to when freestyle music actually began, and people will give different answers.

Some believe freestyle music emerged around 1983, when Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” became a hit. Others feel the true birth of freestyle was in ‘86, when Sa-Fire dropped “Don’t Break My Heart.”

Either way, what is known as post-disco served as the precursor to freestyle, and the genre was widely appreciated by predominantly Italian-American and Latino audiences until the late ‘90s, when Rockell’s “In A Dream” blasted from car speakers and in nightclubs.

Although the genre never really died, that was the golden era of freestyle.

But many artists still make an effort to keep freestyle alive and thriving, including Joe Zangie, an Italian-American freestyle artist born in Camden, N.J.

Zangie’s been a part of the freestyle music scene since 1994 when his first single, “In My Dreams,” was released under Tazmania Records. He was 18 at the time.

Zangie grew from a kid who was peer pressured into doing music, to a guy passionate about all things freestyle — doing performances, creating songs and making friends along the way.

“Freestyle just puts me in a good mood…it’s the type of music you listen to when you want to put your windows down, your music up and drive. It’s such a vibe. I love the beats and the production of freestyle. It could be anything lyrically, but the tracks and the production of the beats is what I love about freestyle the most,” he said.

“I think many people feel nostalgic in a way when they listen to freestyle,” he continued.

“A lot of times, people will relate to freestyle songs, right to their own personal life. All the lyrics in freestyle are like love songs; it’s either somebody getting dumped, or somebody falling in love. There’s no in between, it’s got to be about love.”

Freestyle artist, Joe Zangie.

Staying true to this sentiment, Zangie released his newest single, “Love You Like Wow,” under Fever Records in May of this year.

“Love You Like Wow” is a fun, upbeat track that puts a more modern twist on the traditional freestyle sound, but still features some of the same nostalgic, distinctive beats — especially toward the end.

Shortly after its release, Zangie shot the music video for his single on the Wildwood boardwalk with Robert Barrera of REBolution Media.

“That was crazy because I had to stay up all night. We wanted to get those shots with no one around on an empty boardwalk,” he explained. “We were out filming at like five o’clock in the morning.”

“Love You Like Wow” was well-received by both his peers and fans, reaching No. 1 on all the freestyle charts.

Zangie is proud to be a part of the reason why people still know about freestyle, passing it onto future generations.

“I don’t think that I would have wanted to do a new record this year if I didn’t feel like there was a reason to put it out. I do see these sold out crowds, these big venues that we do these shows in, and you do see the younger kids coming with their parents, and they might even be the grandkids. There’s definitely a new resurgence in it,” he said.

“For the people who don’t know freestyle, I think that if they’re exposed to it, they’ll hear it and say, ‘I like this.’ There’s nothing in freestyle that’s going to make you not want to listen to it,” he continued. “It’s feel-good music. And who doesn’t want to feel good?” 

Zangie recently participated in the Freestyle Beach House concert at the Coney Island Amphitheater on Sept. 3 — performing alongside big names in freestyle including TKA, Judy Torres, Brenda K Starr and Cynthia.

Also at the show were his close friends and fellow freestyle artists: Noel, best known for his 1987 hit, “Silent Morning,” and Rockell, who he’s collaborated with and even refers to as being “like family.”

“When I met her, we just became best friends. I’m still really tight with her; I know her family, she knows my family and I’m actually her son’s godfather,” he said. “It’s just been great.”

After recording nine singles with Tazmania/Metropolitan Records and touring with Denine and Collage as a vocalist for Collage, Zangie went on to tour and record a version of the smash hit, “Can’t We Try,” with Rockell.

They continue to perform together.

Zangie has two upcoming performances in Staten Island: Freestyle for a Cause on Oct. 1 at Nuvo, and Ultimate Freestyle on Nov. 19 at the St. George Theater.

Although freestyle is a niche concept to most or something from the past, many people have been exposed to it in the present day — possibly unknowingly.

In 2021, a TikTok user by the name of @groovy_mal shared a video of her hair routine, where she styles her hair in a ‘70s, Farrah Fawcett-esque feathered look. The background song in the video is Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s 1985 bop, “I Wonder If I Take You Home.”

The video has 6.2 million likes and over 30 million views, and in the nature of TikTok, other users attempted the same hairdo on camera with the same song playing in the background.

Although the creator missed the mark by using an ‘80s freestyle track to accompany her ‘70s-inspired hairstyle, she did expose a brand new audience to the song produced right here in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Locally, freestyle music continues to play on local radio stations, such as 103.5 KTU, where Judy Torres stars as an on-air personality.

Michael Perlman, a resident of Forest Hills and a columnist for this newspaper, grew up during the golden era of freestyle. He said that without KTU, freestyle would probably be forgotten.

“I am a huge freestyle music fan. I was raised to freestyle hits in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and I remember its revival in the late ‘90s and early 2000s,” he said.

“Thanks to KTU 103.5, my mom and I won tickets to a freestyle concert at Brookhaven Amphitheater in 1999. My mom asked me at the end, ‘How did you like seeing all of the singers who you grew up with?,’ he continued. “It’s very sentimental and true to our NYC roots.”

Angelica Pizzonia, a baker from Williamsburg, also feels nostalgic when listening to freestyle, and relates it to her Italian upbringing.

“Freestyle tells a story, which may not be your own story, but you can relate to the words the artist is saying. My sister introduced it to me. It reminds us of summertime in Brooklyn…hanging out on the stoop, having block parties, going to the Italian feasts…Just pure old school living,” she said.

“We weren’t teenagers during the prime era of freestyle but my uncle and his friends kept it going and passed it down to us. We share such a strong love for it and we still listen to it with our friends and family,” she continued. “My mom always says it reminds her of a dance version of her oldies doo-wop music. She loves all the stories the artists tell about young love. Freestyle music will never die.”



Royal Star Theatre brings Peanuts to life onstage

By Stephanie Meditz

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Royal Star Theatre taking their final bows after a performance of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Last weekend, Royal Star Theatre brought audience members back to their childhoods with its production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

The four-show run at The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica was the company’s first full fledged production since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her directorial debut with RST, Alison Kurtzman made the difficult choice of what show to put on after two and a half years away from the stage and ultimately made the perfect decision —  a lighthearted, universally loved production with a small cast.

“We put a lot of thought into what was the right show to do in terms of what cast we would have available, how comfortable people would feel coming down to audition or coming to see a show, all that casting,” she said. “It was just really exciting to be able to kind of help this and be the first show back.”

“I don’t think people realized how much they missed this until they came back to it,” she continued. “It’s just a really exciting time for all of us, and it’s really great to be able to be back in some semblance.”

The musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” consists of a series of vignettes that depict Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts in adorably funny situations that align with their infamous traits.

For instance, Linus van Pelt (played by Danielle Fleming) and his signature blanket led a lively dance number,”My Blanket & Me,” but not before he attempts and fails to walk away from it.

Lucy van Pelt (Aglaia Ho) stomped around and demanded the other Peanuts to participate in a survey to measure her crabbiness level.

Daniel Kuhlman especially shone in the titular role — from start to finish, he emulated an anxious child with every stumbling step and pout when the cute little redhead once again did not notice him.

“Most of Queens’ community theaters are just coming back this summer, so everyone was just so excited to be here that it wasn’t hard to get excitement out of the cast,” Kurtzman said. “It really didn’t take much to get them to have that exuberance.”

It was no small feat for this cast to adopt children’s body language in a convincing way —  the Peanuts are all children (or dogs), but RST’s cast was made up entirely of adults.

“Characterization is super important in this musical because you’re remaking these beloved comic strip characters and all these specials that people watch around the holidays onto the stage,” Caitlin Leahy said, in reference to her role as Snoopy. “You have to be larger than life, especially since it’s a stage production.”

Leahy, who wanted to play Snoopy as soon as she found out about the show, screamed when Kurtzman called to tell her she got the part.

“I feel like Snoopy and I have a lot in common,” she said. “Very effervescent personalities, but Snoopy can be very sassy at times, so I’m trying to bring out that side of me more…There are a lot of times where Snoopy has this switch between being a calm and stoic personality and switching to this very funny, comedic, almost predatory dog who still has animalistic instincts. ”

Leahy, the youngest member of the cast, attended high school at The Mary Louis Academy and returned to its stage as a college student.

“As I’m still in the area for college, I’m always passing by,” she said. “I’m officially an adult now onstage, and it feels different because I’m working with different people and it’s a different production. And while the change was pretty drastic, I’m still at where I started my theater experience in freshman year.”

Although this was Leahy’s first show with RST, she had arguably the most difficult stage directions in the show, between standing atop her doghouse, chasing metaphorical sticks on all fours and finding a balance between human and canine movements.

The performance was held at The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica.

Daniel Kuhlman (Charlie Brown) likewise had a difficult role to play, given that his character was likely everyone in the audience’s favorite.

“I think more than trying to copy any previous idea of what Charlie Brown is, I tried to look at it more from ‘What does a seven-ish year old with anxiety look like?’ and just sort of use that as a base and go from there,” he said. “And then make sure that whenever I’m rehearsing lines at home or when I’m running the songs, I’m always keeping in mind that I am an anxious, very young child.”

Although Kuhlman never studied theater or pursued it as a career, it has been inseparable from his everyday life.

He posts niche theater content on his TikTok account, @dankuhlman, which boasts 12.9k followers.

“Anyone who knows me…knows that, at any given point, it’s not ‘What’s your next show?,’ it’s ‘What are you in rehearsals for right now?’” he said.

Royal Star Theatre dedicated its run of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” to Natalie “Cookie” Knisbaum, one of RST’s founding members who died recently.

To learn about Royal Star Theatre’s upcoming productions, visit their website at www.royalstartheatre.org.

New York Renaissance Faire celebrates 45th anniversary

By Stephanie Meditz

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Fairies and woodland creatures dance around the Maypole to celebrate the change of season.

Over Labor Day weekend, the vendors and actors at the New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo did not take any days off from transporting visitors back to Elizabethan England. 

The Faire, open on weekends in late summer and early fall, celebrated its 45th anniversary with its traditional marketplace, performances, costumes and food, including its infamous turkey legs. 

Upon entering the Faire, guests immediately land on Spende Penny Lane, a street aptly named for the 125+ artisans who set up shop there. 

Some of the many souvenirs to purchase include flower crowns, corsets, armor, swords, candles, incense, leather goods and even psychic readings. 

The marketplace consists almost entirely of independent vendors, meaning that artisans craft their merchandise by hand and rent their booths at the Faire every year. 

The Royal Candle Maker even holds live demonstrations where the artisan shows potential buyers how he designs his candles to retain less heat. 

Not only do these unique candles burn longer, but the wax melts in such a way that turns them into candle holders. 

Tara Vazquez, who sells intricate garlands and flower crowns that rival Titania herself, returned to the Faire for her third year. 

Vendor Tara Vazquez loves to help visitors find garland to match their outfits.

She loves to match her merchandise to visitors’ outfits, whether they come dressed in period costumes or everyday attire. 

“The most fun part is honestly that most people, between workers and patrons, just blend right in,” she said. “You’re just here to have fun. Everyone’s here for the same reason.” 

This past weekend was the Faire’s Marketplace Weekend, where patrons who spend $250 at the marketplace earn two free tickets to return to the Faire through Sept. 25. 

Although costumes are optional, many of the Faire’s patrons go all out with their Renaissance looks, and several travel to Renaissance fairs across the country. 

Suelen Feltrin frequently travels to fairs in the tri-state area and crafts a brand new look every time, with months of planning behind each one.

Suelen Feltrin wears a different look to each of the many Renaissance fairs she attends.

She visited the New York Renaissance Faire for the first time last weekend with her two daughters. 

“The last time I brought them, because of COVID, they were so little, so they don’t really remember it much,” she said. “They think this is their first one, but it’s really not. But they’re loving it so far.” 

Feltrin is happy to share this tradition with her daughters, who also dressed up in princess gowns. 

Although patrons often steal the spotlight, the Faire’s cast members stay in character during every visitor interaction for a truly transformative experience. 

There is a wide range of characters to encounter: fae in the Enchanted Forest, knights in shining armor at jousts and sly pickpockets who skulk across the Faire. 

One such character, Charles Schilling, has been a “secondhand salesman” at the Faire for four years. 

“Sometimes the first hand knows not that the second hand has it, but we tell the first hand not,” he said. 

He also noted the attention people give him, a “strange little man,” at the Faire as opposed to the bustle of urban centers. 

For the past nine years, Moe DeLawns has, appropriately, been the Shire groundskeeper and florist. 

“The Shire, in my opinion, is a very special place with a very special energy about it,” he said. “Because ne’er not you can see many places that are filled with such wonder and merriment as you can with Sterling Faire.” 

Charles Schilling and Moe DeLawns wear their “Faire day best” attire.

The Faire also hosts a Pub Crawl where guests can pay an additional $65 for a drink at four of its pubs. 

Guests who do not participate can laugh as the group quite literally crawls across the Faire to get to each pub. 

The New York Renaissance Faire is a show in itself with its immersive experiences, but it also includes games, rides and shows for the whole family. 

To commemorate the change in season, fairies dance and scatter pixie dust around the Maypole. 

The Chess Board hosts a real-life game of chess — two teams face off in a series of random one-on-one sword fights. 

A game called “Rotten Revenge,” faithful to the public humiliation that was common in Elizabethan England, allows guests to throw tomatoes at a human target. 

With all that it has to offer, the New York Renaissance Faire welcomes all lords and ladies to visit Sterling Shire on weekends through Oct. 9.

Entertainment: Paying tribute to Queens icon

By Daniel Offner

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Prodigy, one-half of the iconic rap group Mobb Deep, died in June 2017 from complications caused by sickle cell anemia, a disease he battled throughout his entire life. Now, five years since his untimely passing, the late emcee’s estate has finally announced the release of his first posthumous single, “You Will See.”

“Five years ago our family suffered an immense loss,” relatives in charge of the late rapper’s estate said in a release. “The music that Prodigy left behind is extremely precious to all of us. We felt the need and responsibility to hold on to it until we had the proper foundation to complete what he was working on and release it to the world. We hope his fans will enjoy and support our efforts as we move forward with this very personal and emotional process. ‘You Will See’ is a treasure of new music from Prodigy, no doubt indeed.”

Artwork for his new single, “You Will See” available now on all streaming platforms and digital music stores.

He and rapper/producer Havoc first became household names in the mid-90s with the release of their sophomore album, “The Infamous,” which is considered one of the most prolific and influential hip-hop albums of all time. Mobb Deep perfectly encapsulated the everyday struggles of life in the Queensbridge Houses through their music. The album achieved instant commercial success, debuting at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 charts in 1995.

“The Infamous” remains an East Coast hip-hop staple thanks to such timeless classics as “Shook Ones (Part II), “Survival of the Fittest,” and “Temperature’s Rising” to name just a few.

Prodigy left behind a great number of recordings, including the next two chapters of his trilogy “The Hegelian Dialectic,” a highly introspective project which began with the first volume, “The Book of Revelation” wherein he revealed his socially conscious and politically driven reflections.

The forthcoming second installment of the project, entitled “The Book of Heroine,” will be released this summer and focuses more on emotional struggles through examples of personal trials and tribulations with drugs, relationships, and the continuous distractions caused by lust.

The new single, “You Will See,” is the first of three upcoming singles to be released in anticipation of the forthcoming full-length album release. It features soulful vocals and production by Berto Rich, in conjunction with The North Star group, and is available now on all streaming platforms and digital music stores.

LISTEN: “YOU WILL SEE” BY PRODIGY (RAPPER)

Forest Hills resident competes on ‘Jeopardy!’

Tom Philipose with Mayim Bialik, guest host of “Jeopardy!”

Tom Philipose of Forest Hills made a national TV appearance last night on America’s favorite quiz show, “Jeopardy!”

The 18-year Forest Hills resident and writing professor at CUNY Guttman Community College is no stranger to TV quiz shows, as he’s also starred on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “Cash Cab” in the past.

Philipose has taken stabs at “Jeopardy!’s” extensive audition process of interviews and tests in the past, and was excited to be invited to the show this time around.

He said that his job as a college professor and knowing a ton of trivial facts throughout his life is what helped him during his “Jeopardy!” experience.

“I always remind students that you want to be intellectually curious, you want to know things, you don’t want to act like you got it all figured out, and that you’ve got nothing left to learn. We should keep our minds open to new things,” Philipose said.

“I’m daily in that practice of practicing what I preach, because it’s good to know what’s up and what’s going on in the world,” he continued. “So I think I’ve been prepared for this experience.”

Since “Jeopardy!” tapes multiple shows in one day, Philipose knew he would be up against reigning champion Ryan Long, who is one of four players from this season alone to make the show’s Hall of Fame list with the most consecutive games won.

Philipose gave Long a run for his money in the first round, buzzing in with multiple correct responses in a row and finding the Daily Double, where he scored an additional $1,000. He finished the first round $200 ahead of Long.

“It was a real whirlwind rewatching the episode. I was watching and thinking, ‘I don’t know this answer,’ and then I saw myself buzzing in and getting it right,” Philipose said.

“I remembered that I didn’t get any questions wrong except for Final Jeopardy, but I just did not remember buzzing in and knowing some of them yesterday. It was really weird.”

In the Double Jeopardy round, Long’s performance picked up along with the help of a Daily Double, and Philipose went into Final Jeopardy just $4,000 behind.

The question in the final category, “UNESCO World Heritage Sites,” stumped all three contestants.

Philipose shockingly wagered all of his earnings, leaving him with nothing.

“I did that because I was down by a few thousand dollars, and I didn’t want to have any regrets. I told myself ‘This guy [Long] knows a lot and I didn’t like the category at all, but let me go all out,’” he said.

“I think for me, it was the right move, because I know that it didn’t matter what I bet because if I got it wrong, he was going to win anyway. All of my family and friends told me that they were glad I went all in.”

Although Philipose did not leave “Jeopardy!” a winner in the traditional sense, he is victorious in other ways.

During the show’s interview portion, Philipose discussed the time where he signed up for the bone marrow registry, and eventually donated bone marrow to a child who was dying.

“I was a copycat. My brother joined the registry first. We were told there were not enough or a lot of people of color on the bone marrow registry,” he said on “Jeopardy!”

“A few years passed, and we both got matched to children that we did not know and we were able to donate and help them out. I would recommend anybody join the registry because it’s a really easy way to save a life.”

The show’s guest host, Mayim Bialik, described his good deed as “unbelievable,” and the moment earned him a round of applause from the studio audience.

Philipose said that the interview portion of the show is the part he was most excited about.

“Regardless of what happened, I was at least able to get the word out about a really easy way to save people’s lives. The champion, Ryan, actually tweeted out some stuff about the bone marrow registry and gave me a shoutout, and that’s getting a lot of attention in a nice way like I was hoping for,” Philipose said.

When he’s not educating college students or starring on quiz shows, Philipose enjoys hanging out at all the staples in the neighborhood such as Nick’s Pizza, Forest Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and Forest Hills Gardens.

“The diversity is what I love most about Queens. Here we have real people. We hear 50 different languages every time we walk on a sidewalk … I feel comfortable and at home in a place like that,” he said. “They call it the ‘World’s Borough’ for a reason, and it’s got everything I’m looking for.”

On The Record: Kayleen Seidl, Actress

During summer 2014, Kayleen Seidl relocated to Astoria, Queens from the Midwest to pursue her musical theater career.

It was during a summer stock in Woodstock, New York when she decided to move to the big city on a whim.

She attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and earned degrees in vocal performance and Spanish. A few months into her move, she booked her first New York show at White Plains Performing Arts Center.

“I really came to give the musical theater industry a shot, and I basically said I’d give myself five years and see how it goes,” Seidl said.

“At about the five-year mark, I was in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in Yiddish, which was enjoying a year-long run off-Broadway on 32nd St,” she continued. “I decided it was going well, so I’m still here.”

As a small town Catholic girl, becoming heavily involved with the National Yiddish Theatre was a pleasant surprise for Seidl, which allowed her to expand her knowledge of different cultures.

“It’s been really great. I’ve learned a lot about the culture and language; I didn’t know that Yiddish even existed growing up,” Seidl said.

“Now I’ll catch myself saying Yiddish words sometimes because they’re just so ingrained in me from this whole experience,” she added. “It’s been a really neat journey.”

Her favorite part about living in Queens is the diversity it has to offer, and of course, the food!

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