Eric Haze & Rosie Perez The actress and artist sit down for a live taping of What's Good to talk about the early days of hip-hop, and what it's like teaching singers to dance.
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Eric Haze & Rosie Perez

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Eric Haze & Rosie Perez

Eric Haze & Rosie Perez

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ROBERT GARCIA, HOST:

Please be advised that during this program, there may be some words that are profane and not suitable for children. Also, please note that we talk about Puerto Rico, (speaking Spanish), my homeland, a lot during this program. And we don't mention Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Maria at all because this episode was recorded prior to that devastation. So my prayers, my positive energy are with the people of my island. And I appreciate everyone out there who has been supporting the efforts for relief. Now to our show.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES BROWN'S "THE CHASE")

ADRIAN BARTOS, HOST:

What's up, everybody? This is Stretch Armstrong.

GARCIA: And what's up? My name is Bobbito Garcia aka Kool Bob Love.

BARTOS: Welcome to WHAT'S GOOD WITH STRETCH & BOB, your source for untold stories and uncovered truths from movers and shakers around the world.

GARCIA: We're talking art, music, politics and sports.

BARTOS: And everything in between.

GARCIA: Tonight, we are coming to you from The Bell House in Brooklyn.

(CHEERING)

GARCIA: It's Brooklyn in the house. This is our live show in Brooklyn, at The Bell House, and we couldn't have picked out two better guests to have for you today.

BARTOS: Joining us now are our two esteemed guests, Eric Haze and Rosie Perez. Give it up.

(CHEERING)

BARTOS: He is an iconic artist and graphic designer responsible for some truly, truly, truly massively important designs and logos, especially in hip-hop. If you look around your house, you'll see records on the Cold Chillin' and Tommy Boy label, for example - those are Eric's - And logos for the Beastie Boys and for L.L. Cool J, as well as collaboration with Nike and G-Shock. And the list just goes on and on and on.

GARCIA: We're also joined by Eric Haze's wife, none other than Rosie Perez, an actress...

(APPLAUSE)

GARCIA: ...A producer, an activist, a amazingly supportive wonderful friend of mine for 30 years. And she has been nominated for Emmy Awards, for Academy Awards. She's appeared in some of your favorite films, including "Do The Right Thing." She created this documentary called "Yo Soy Boricua, Pa'Que Tu Lo Sepas"...

(CHEERING)

GARCIA: ...Which literally inspired me to become a filmmaker and make that jump. So please give a nice round of applause for Rosie Perez.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSIE PEREZ: Thank you. Thank you.

GARCIA: Eric and Rosie, you both are pillars for multiple communities, New York and beyond. Now, of course, good people find good people, but I'm intrigued because I've known both of y'all for mad long separately but didn't know that either of you knew each other or maybe you didn't know each other for all those years. So how did the two of you meet?

PEREZ: Well, that's an interesting story.

GARCIA: Who wants to tackle that first?

(LAUGHTER)

ERIC HAZE: We've got a lot of overlapping history. And it's kind of a mystery that we didn't meet before we did.

PEREZ: Yeah. Over the years, every time I saw him, I would say, hi, I'm Rose. He goes, we met. And I said, oh, my God, I'm so sorry. And that happened about eight times.

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: And then one time, we were at Jose Parla's opening...

GARCIA: Get out.

PEREZ: ...And...

GARCIA: He was a guest on our podcast.

PEREZ: Oh, yeah? So I saw him standing in the gallery. And I said to myself - literally - I went, oh, my God, he would make a good husband. And I walked over to him and I said, hi, I'm Rose. He goes, you do this all the time.

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: Cut to a year later, and it was Lee Quinones' 50th birthday party, and he was the host.

HAZE: I was the emcee. I had flown back into town for 48 hours just to emcee Lee's 50th birthday party.

GARCIA: Now hold on. For those that don't know, Lee Quinones is a pillar in the art community, was the number one most wanted graffiti writer in the '70s by the MTA authorities and also has been featured in the Whitney, I believe, and multiple museums and galleries around the world. But back to the story.

PEREZ: Lee's like my play brother, and we had never crossed paths. So he's on the mic.

HAZE: So I'm on the mic. I'm hosting. Rosie comes up. She's a guest speaker. And I just remember saying, thanks, Rosie, you're a hard act to follow. Who's next?

PEREZ: And he says, how you doing, Rose? I said, oh, it's so nice to meet you. And he laughed. He goes, dude, every time. I said, really? And he said, yeah, the last time we met, but I'm single now. And I said, really? Really? So later that day, Lee was driving me home. And I said, that friend of yours, you should give him my email because maybe he could come and, you know, speak to the kids at my charity. He goes, you like him? I go, no, this is - I'm being very professional. And he did. He emailed me. He said, let's go to lunch. And we've been together ever since.

(APPLAUSE)

GARCIA: Proof that there's still hope at 50.

HAZE: Yeah, that's right. That's right.

BARTOS: So you both grew up in late '70s, early '80s New York City and were able to witness and participate in hip-hop at its - pretty much its infancy. More recently, there's been a mainstream fascination with hip-hop. We've seen a lot of documentaries. It seems like they're coming out left and right, a lot of dramas with hip-hop - early hip-hop as the backdrop. I'm curious. What is it in your experiences with hip-hop that you think might be missing from these mainstream narratives?

HAZE: Sense of community. We were recently at the Eric B and Rakim 30th anniversary at the Apollo. And that was kind of a religious experience for me not just because of the music and being 10 feet away from Ra doing his tracks, but the stage was filled with like 60, 80, old-school heads and people who might have been important back then but never really got the shine. And it felt more about the love everybody was feeling towards each other and the love everybody had for hip-hop and how they'd come up more than the music itself.

I think, to some degree, it was the culture first and the music second back then. Now it's kind of the music, the music, the music, and the culture's translated in fashion. But it's not - I don't have that same sense of community we did back then.

PEREZ: Well, for me, it is about community, and I think that that is lost. And I really - what really bothers me about the narrative of hip-hop is that it's just all about African-Americans and that it was an African-American culture - it wasn't. It was urban culture. It was about New York City. We were the leftovers of Vietnam. We were the leftovers of the Nixon era. And it was kids who were creating a movement, you know. And that's what hip-hop to me is about. That's what graffiti is about. It's not black. It's not white. It's not Latin. It's not that. It's about people. It's about community. And it's about the inner-city vibe of New York. That's what it is to me.

(APPLAUSE)

BARTOS: So, Haze, you were amongst a tightknit generation of graffiti artists that came up in the '70s, but we read an interview in Freshness magazine that before you got into graffiti, you actually had a foot in the fine art world. And you shared an anecdote about how your father took you to Elaine de Kooning's studio. What drew you to art at such a young age in the first place?

HAZE: Well, it's interesting because I am sort of connecting those dots now later in life in a much bigger way to what inspired me before graffiti, defined who I was. And my father and parents were pretty progressive, you know, Upper West Side back in the day. And he had a best friend who had collected a crazy pop-art collection in the '60s. And the story goes that my father did a favor for someone who had become a famous poet, who was one of the Columbia Five, if I'm getting my number right there. And as an exchange for that favor, David (ph) the poet got Elaine de Kooning, Willem de Kooning's wife, to paint a portrait of my sister and I when we were 10, 10 and a half, like a year before I turned bad or so.

(LAUGHTER)

HAZE: But, you know, while my sister posed, she would give me oil paints and canvas to work with. And I still have two abstract oil paintings I did after those sessions. She told my parents, you know, take them down to Pearl Paint, where we eventually racked all our paint.

(LAUGHTER)

BARTOS: Did you say rack? Rack.

PEREZ: That means you stole. Yeah.

HAZE: So we went down and I - we bought materials. And I stretched my own canvas and did my first abstract paintings when I was 10. And now, my career and sort of aspirations as a painter later in life are to sort of fuse those two inspirations between the hip-hop world and the '60s fine art world.

PEREZ: His mom still has that painting. And the best thing that I love about it, my husband looks so bored.

(LAUGHTER)

HAZE: My mother likes to tell the story where someone came to the house and said, oh, shit, is that your kid? Boy, are you in for trouble.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: More coming up from Eric Haze - who, by the way, designed our logo - and Rosie Perez coming right up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA: Rosie, some people who are your, you know, super followers may not even be aware that you were a dancer before you were an actress and also a choreographer on "In Living Color," the hit TV show of the '90s.

(APPLAUSE)

GARCIA: You were nominated for three Emmys. And then you wind up choreographing for artists like L.L. Cool J on his tour, Slick Rick, Bobby Brown, Heavy D and even '60s pop icon Diana Ross.

PEREZ: Yeah.

GARCIA: Let's give it up because that's huge, yo.

(APPLAUSE)

GARCIA: Now, of the aforementioned artists, who did you have to work the hardest with to...

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: OK. Oh, he's such a wonderful person. And he does have a sweet soul. I'm so sorry, but it was El DeBarge.

GARCIA: Word?

PEREZ: Oh, my goodness, it was so difficult. He was like locked into this weird early '80s kind of groove. And it was so hard. It was so hard. There was one day in rehearsals I said, just pull up a chair to the mirror. And he goes, what are we doing? I said, just follow me. Just bob your head. That took hours.

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: Hours. Hours. Like, I think I got like whiplash. And - but, you know, if you're worth your salt as a choreographer, you kind of just have to let the person be who they are.

GARCIA: Sure.

PEREZ: And so when the video came out, it was actually very charming that he wasn't great. You know what I mean? It was really - it actually was, you know. And there were people - like L.L. Cool J was really smart enough not to really dance that hard, you know. The most surprising was Diana Ross because that woman did not show up for one rehearsal. I sat in the rehearsal studio every single day for three weeks waiting for her with my assistant. And she showed up the day of the video shoot. And she watched us dance and she did it.

GARCIA: So I'm curious because your transition from being at the park jams, at the clubs and then going to choreography, it just seems so seamless. But at the same time, I don't know that - do you have like a master's degree in dance choreography? No. Like this is all self-taught, right?

PEREZ: Sort of. When I was - I was a nerdy kid. And I loved to watch musicals. And I was in the foster care system and then in the home system for a little bit. And the nuns there in the Catholic home, they taught me how to tap dance.

BARTOS: What?

PEREZ: (Laughter) I swear to God. The nuns would be in their habits like tap, tap, tap - hilarious. Oh, yeah, and they used to - they taught me how to play baseball too - holla (ph). Shoutout to the nuns. I'm dead up. I'm dead up. And what had happened was is that in "Soul Train," Don Cornelius - God rest his soul - hated hip-hop. And he did not want anyone to dance hip-hop when I first came. When we weren't filming and when - during breaks, we would play around. And I would do routines with those guys there. And we would teach each other things. And I taught them hip-hop. Louis Silas Jr. of MCA Records happened to be there that day. And he was head of A&R. And he said, who are you? I said, my name is Rose. And he goes, come here. And I said, why? And he said, I want you to teach what you're doing to my new artists.

GARCIA: Wow.

PEREZ: And he said - he was part of a group. This is big secret. He's going solo. And I want you to choreograph. I said, I'm not a choreographer. And he said, I'll pay you 1,600 a day. I said, I'll be there Monday.

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: And that's how it happened. And that recording artist happened to be Bobby Brown.

(APPLAUSE)

HAZE: And the subtext to that is what you saw Bobby Brown doing on stage back then was straight out of the clubs in New York. And Rosie, you know, Rosie's always quick to say that, you know, what was underground yesterday was mainstream tomorrow with that stuff.

BARTOS: So, Rosie, you're a multi-dimensional woman and actress, but one clear facet of your character is toughness. When you watch those clips of you dancing, sure, you're dancing, but in a sense, you're almost broadcasting that you are not to be played with. At least year's Daring Women summit, you spoke about how when you first got into acting, you were told by people to not rock the boat, to be grateful for any roles that would come your way. But, you know, you're a girl from Bushwick and Williamsburg. That's not going to cut it. So can you share with us any instances where your rocking the boat had led to more opportunities or better opportunities for yourself or for other people?

PEREZ: Well, sadly to say, it was the Latino community in Hollywood who came after me and they took me out to lunch. And they basically told me that I was...

GARCIA: How many, like three people?

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: Yeah, you know?

GARCIA: Geez Louise.

(LAUGHTER)

BARTOS: I'll take a table for two - Latino Hollywood, 1 p.m.

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: I remember they said to me, you know, you could cut off the accent. You could stop that now. And I go, what? What are you talking about? And they said, and you don't have to be so loud. You know, we've been making our mark here in Hollywood for very long. And we've been moving away from negative stereotypes and we need you to do the same. I said, yo, yo, yo, yo, hold...

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Tell them, Rosie.

PEREZ: Are you trying to insinuate that I'm a negative stereotype? Honey, there are more people like me than there are of you. And I said, and so what I'm doing is I'm bringing the realness. And if you can't deal with it, then that's your issue. And I said, and if we keep whitewashing who we are, they're never going to accept us. And I said so - I'm sorry. And the woman said, we've been fighting. I said, I understand you've been fighting. And with all due respect, because of your fight, you have an audacious person in front of you.

My audacity is a result of your fight. And now we could be who we are. I said, we can have loud Latinos. We can have quiet Latinos. We can have pretty, ugly, white, black, brown. We can have it all, you know. And it was really difficult. And it - I don't say that triumphantly because it really hurt my soul. I remember going home and just crying my eyes out. And I had an agent who actually told me if I dyed my hair blonde and got a nose job, I could pass. And she said - I said, pass for what? And she goes, well, you know.

I said, no, I know. Do you have the nerve to actually say it to me? And she goes, oh, come on. I said, you know what? You're fired. And I walked out. And she was telling me this. And it was really, really hard. That's why hip-hop spoke to me so strongly, that hard angst, that fight, that like - yeah, let's do it hard. Let's - let me let all the hurt out. Let me let all the joy out. Let me just let my soul just like explode and breathe on that drum beat, you know. That's what I came from.

(APPLAUSE)

BARTOS: That was beautiful. Really, thank you. So we've established that you're from the Upper West Side, from Bushwick and Williamsburg, two neighborhoods that have transformed drastically. What's it like to see such change in your homes?

HAZE: I moved to Rosie's neighborhood when we got married. And that used to be a real quiet neighborhood. Now, in the last five years, we're completely overrun by gentrification. You know, something back to what Rosie was saying in terms of sort of standing up for yourself, I actually found myself in a large battle with DOT over from transportation issues in our neighborhood because the change is coming so hard and so fast and looks to be designed by college graduates on paper, not people who live in New York.

You know, this is kind of a jump. One thing I wanted to say, regardless of the career - one of the things that's - I've learned so much about that's impressed me so much that's so much part of Rosie, who she is, is still being that activist, fighting for people, fighting for people in that position in the city we grew up in, in the inner city. Whether it's education or politics, you know, I like to think that Rosie especially, and I a little, fight the good fight when the opportunity presents itself to preserve what we love about New York.

(APPLAUSE)

BARTOS: Rosie, for 25 years, you've been on the board of Urban Arts, a nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities for youth to be involved in the arts. You've also been a major voice and advocate in the fight against HIV, AIDS. What draws you to your work as an activist, especially working within these communities?

PEREZ: I don't know. When I see something that's wrong, I just - something inside of me just flares up. And I just want be on the right side of right and fight for that. And I don't know any other way. It's like there's this conviction in my heart that happens. And my husband sees it all the time. You know, where - I just watch the television, if I see something happening. And I was like, what is that orange man doing?

BARTOS: Has her activism rubbed off on you at all?

HAZE: A hundred percent. You know, it blows my mind to find out that this delinquent immigrant kid from the Upper West Side is shaking hands with the president in the White House. It's something special.

PEREZ: Obama, not the current one, just to be clear.

(APPLAUSE)

HAZE: True that. True that.

GARCIA: One of the most compelling things that you have fought for is beyond your advocacy for youth, arts and for improvement of conditions for people with HIV. And with the film that you created, "Yo Soy Boricua, Pa'Que Tu Lo Sepas," which premiered on the IFC channel, in your film, you didn't just go into the layer of your family, but you went into the sterilization of women in Puerto Rico back in the '70s and '80s. You went into the bombing in Vieques. And then you even went to the point in the early 2000s of evangelizing and even getting arrested so that the U.S. Navy could stop the bombing in the island of Vieques. You didn't have to do any of that. What's driving all that?

PEREZ: I don't know. Hearing the stories of the island, being a Nuyorican and my aunt being so proud, God rest her soul, of being a Boricua and my father as well. And it always bothered me that we were disrespected by not being included in the history books - and the sterilization of Puerto Rican women and on and on and on. I think that that's where it was because I wanted everybody else to feel so proud of who we are as a people, as me and my sister Carmen and my brother Tito, you know, and my aunt and my cousin Millie (ph) and all the - and not feel less than or not feel that you have to either act white or act black or act whatever, just be.

Be who you are. You know, find out who your ancestors are and where your roots come from and stand strong in that. Why can't you just celebrate that? Don't try to be anything else. Just be what God made you, you know, and don't feel ashamed of it.

GARCIA: Eric, what issues do you care most about?

PEREZ: Traffic.

(LAUGHTER)

HAZE: Municipal planning. And the fact that, by and large, developers and big business is tearing down Historical New York to put up these shit boxes to sell to out-of-towners and build bike lanes so they can get to their new condo. That's the old New Yorker in me. More towards Rosie's side of the fence, arts education has become a big thing to me. I've started to do a lot of workshops with kids, whether it's just sort of baseball cap and a pen kind of thing. But increasingly in the last couple of years, especially with some of the corporations I collaborate with, there's not a meeting I have about strategy for a project where I'm not pitching community outreach and some educational component.

(APPLAUSE)

GARCIA: All right. So some of our tried and true podcast followers, their favorite portion of the episode, the...

BARTOS: Impression Session.

GARCIA: (Imitating trumpet).

BARTOS: (Imitating trumpet).

PEREZ: Oh, my God.

GARCIA: So, Rosie and Eric, have you been listening to our podcast?

HAZE: Yeah.

PEREZ: Yeah.

BARTOS: It's perfect for sitting in traffic.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Well, what Stretch and I are going to do is we're going to each play you a song. Just listen to how the music makes you feel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK CITY")

GIL SCOTT-HERON: (Singing) I don't know why I love you.

BARTOS: You can do a Barry White voice right now.

HAZE: Hey, Stretch. Hey, baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF GIL SCOTT-HERON AND BRIAN JACKSON'S "NEW YORK CITY")

BARTOS: That is "New York City" by Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson from the "It's Your World" LP.

PEREZ: You know what that song made me think of? When I first went into the city by myself - that "Saturday Night Fever" moment - crossing the bridge and just wondering around, you know, half-scared and half-fascinated and also disappointed because back then, it was - New York City wasn't all that pretty. But the energy was electric.

(APPLAUSE)

HAZE: See, it kind of reminded me of the old bodegas up on Columbus Avenue with the old men playing dominoes with the cheap little speaker above the door. And you went in, bought your RC Cola, see if you won 5 cents in the bottle cap. You know what time it is.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: So, Haze, you lived in Los Angeles for over a decade, and then you came back to New York and sort of rekindled your fine-art career. This song kind of made me think of your time in LA when we got cool. And then transitioning back, can you share a little bit about that?

HAZE: Yeah. I did a 12-year bid in LA. Simple sort of breakdown is that I was turning 30. Hip-hop was coming of age. And I kind of had this sense that, hey, wait a minute. I'm a New Yorker who works in a New York style, from a New York culture, dealing with what was then primarily a New York medium of hip-hop. And I wanted to be part of its expansion around the world.

BARTOS: I picked that song because you two are quintessential New Yorkers.

GARCIA: It's like the perfect song that could have been played at the wedding, right? It's like...

PEREZ: Yeah.

GARCIA: ...This is, like, the two of them.

HAZE: I say I traveled the world, came back to New York and married the original Brooklyn girl.

BARTOS: Amazing.

(APPLAUSE)

BARTOS: Aplausos. Aplausos. Aplausos.

GARCIA: All right. I'm going to play a tune for the two of you, and I hope you enjoy it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELEVATOR (GOING UP)")

MONIQUE BINGHAM: (Singing) Look what you've done. Should come with a disclaimer so that no one ever falls for what you got. She'll never fall again. She won't. He should come with a disclaimer. They met on an elevator, and who could blame her?

GARCIA: That song was Louie Vega featuring an incredible vocalist by the name of Monique Bingham. And the title is "Elevator (Going Up)." Now, the reason why I played that song with the two of you is, well, first of all, people know you, Rosie, for your hip-hop and your choreography, but they may not know that you're like a tried and true house head.

PEREZ: Yes, I am.

GARCIA: Like tried and true.

PEREZ: Yeah.

GARCIA: But what I was curious about was, Haze, as many events we've been at together - I mean, you did artwork for Nike, you've done artwork for swatch, collabs, I mean, we've traveled the world - I've never seen you dance.

(LAUGHTER)

HAZE: I know my lane.

(SOUNDBITE OF , "")

BARTOS: Have you seen me dance?

GARCIA: I've seen you dance.

BARTOS: You've seen me - oh, wow. We got to...

GARCIA: Yeah.

HAZE: I'm good at nodding my head occasionally.

GARCIA: So what happens in the household when one of you is playing music that the other may not be so inspired by?

PEREZ: Oh...

HAZE: We have three floors.

PEREZ: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

HAZE: Real talk.

PEREZ: My favorite is I'll hear a song - we did it last night when you were playing Michael Jackson. And I got up and I started dancing in my pajamas. And I'm dancing. And I'm sweating. And I turn around. And I look at him. And he's laying back in the bed. He went, go ahead. That was it. That was it.

(LAUGHTER)

PEREZ: One day - she had just came out with "7/11," Beyonce, and I'm - I am rocking hard out to it. And all you heard - I had the headphones on so, you know, you're louder than you think. And I'm going, smack it, smack it in the air. Smack it, smack it. Wave your hands to side, to side, in the air. Smack it. I know you care.

(LAUGHTER)

HAZE: With no musical soundtrack, just like you heard it.

PEREZ: (Laughter) And he goes, what the F are you listening to? What are you saying? But yes, I am a house head and people don't know that. That is my heart and soul. I love house music.

BARTOS: I think our audience knows the difference, but can you explain for our wider audience, beyond the aesthetic differences between hip-hop and house, what the different ethos are with those two scenes, if you can generalize?

PEREZ: Hip-hop is hard. Hip-hop could be hard even when it's smooth. "It Ain't Hard To Tell" by Nasty Nas, you know, it's smooth but there's a hardness in it. House music, to me, is about riding the rhythm of love, of pain, of joy and getting lost in the music in a very esoteric way. It's very different because you don't dance on the drummer's beat, you ride it. And so when you're riding something like that, you got to let go.

GARCIA: It's freedom music.

PEREZ: Yes, it is.

GARCIA: It really is.

BARTOS: What about when you're riding it and there's traffic?

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Let's give a round of applause for Rosie Perez and Eric Haze.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: That's the first of a live WHAT'S GOOD. We've got two more coming up - one with the amazing chef Jose Andres and another with the legendary tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon. This episode was produced by Sami Yenigun, Maria Paz Gutierrez and Micaela Rodriguez. Plus edited by N'Jeri Eaton and Steve Nelson. Special thanks to everyone that helped with the live show, especially Jessica Goldstein and Allie Prescott. Executive producer's Abby O'Neill. And our VP of programming is Anya Grundmann. See you.

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