You probably remember Awkwafina best from “NYC Bitche$” in which the pint-sized Queens-native (no, she’s not from Flushing) raps, “Bitches be in Bushwick, they all live in Bushwick, they all love Bushwick, but I say fuck that shit,” and wreaks havoc on iPad-wielding bros by the Bedford stop. Her video wasn’t exactly a reaction to Catey Shaw’s notoriously tone-deaf North Brooklyn bubble video, “Brooklyn Girls” (“NYC Bitche$” was actually released before Shaw’s much-maligned video bombed) but it certainly stands as the opposition. But Awkwafina is seeking to further solidify her New York City street cred with a new project.
Despite Awkwafina’s apparent distaste for all things North Brooklyn she lives in Greenpoint, though she assured us “I’d live anywhere if it was cheap,” and that her main motivation is “a rent control situation.” Now Awkwafina has put her contempt for transplants, New Jersey bros, and scantily clad girls tumbling out of the PATH trains aside to pen a new book out now, Awkwafina’s NYC, a collection of walking tours around the five boroughs that includes her recommendations for “50+ places to get your eat and drink on” and “10 places to pee.”
Awkwafina will be at Baby’s All Right tonight to celebrate her book launch and, you know, party. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door. We spoke with the rapper over the phone about her new book and what people can expect tonight.
How did the book come about?
I guess it was because of my song “NYC Bitche$” and a chance meeting with my literary agent who took my idea to Clarks & Potter and I was still kind of new when the deal was made. So I was like I dunno if I’m ready. The team at Clarks & Potter really believed this would be something cool and I wanted to take the opportunity because I’ve read a lot of tour books and a lot of them you have your ironic, alt tour books but not ones that are updated, that I’ve found.
I don’t think tourists should go to Staten Island immediately when they get off the plane, but I definitely wanted to offer glimpses of other parts of the city.
There’s the historic town of Tottenville and there’s a haunted conference house that had been on all those weird sci-fi shows about haunted tourist places. It’s like in the middle of Staten Island in a swamp and it was where Ben Franklin once went to quell the British troops, the occupation of that area. We went there and there was like a really weird tour guide and there was this swamp. It was pretty fun. That sounded terrible. That sounded so bad.
But the book is a lot more historical than even I anticipated because you can’t really go to neighborhoods like Washington Heights or Arthur Avenue in the Bronx without understanding the history because it’s still very prevalent. And I think in Staten Island that’s how they make money. But the book is very historical and I learned a lot of things.
No. I think at first I just wanted it to be like well, I know these cool places and I’m going to bring them to Xi’an Noodles or whatever. But it got to the point where I did have fixers and they are all from New York and either very familiar with those neighborhoods or from those neighborhoods.
And I talked for hours with these people who worked at historical centers, I went to libraries. It wasn’t just Wikipedia-ing these spots. I actually had to sit there with these Asbergery library people and kind of learn about the city, which was interesting because you know the internet is a good resource but you find out a lot of really weird, fucked up shit from these 85-year-old librarians.
I live in Brooklyn so I really try and stay away from that Girls thing where it’s like go to Bedford Avenue and check out these shops. I wanted to go weirder than that. Obviously I’m not going to guide people to the Statue of Liberty, but at the same time I think it’s important for people new to the city to go, like why not go to the Statue of Liberty. Like if I’m in Chicago, why not go to… whatever’s in Chicago. I dunno what’s there.
At the same time it’s for people who live here too. Another girl at The Cut called it a “bored on a Saturday book” which I think is pretty accurate. I went to the Empire State Building and that’s in the book. It was a miserable experience, getting felt up by security guards and it’s a whole miserable slog up to the roof and when you’re up there you can’t really see anything because there are so many people. I detail that but I try to stay away from Midtown, Downtown, Central Park.
The only neighborhood I went in Manhattan I think is Washington Heights, which was actually one of the coolest tours in the book.
That wasn’t my fear so much as my favorite places closing down and having them not exist when the book came out. It actually happened. One of them I was sad to see go was this historic theater in Flushing called the RKO-Keith Theater in Flushing. It was a vaudeville theater and Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman. All these huge acts performed in Queens back in the day and it still stood and you could kind of peer into it. But they completely demolished it. It was pretty sad.
That was my main worry that these gems of old New York would close and be replaced by a two-girls-one-shirt shop.
Well, the worst thing that could ever happen to you is if you’re holding on to the pole this disgusting hand touches your hand and you have to keep moving down or up to get away from the hand. But gravity will just keep the hand going and it turns into this game of get it away. Another one is inanimate objects taking up space. If you have a shopping bag or a duffle bag. Bikes on the train. It’s like, why would you bring a bike on the train? Why don’t you just bike?
Also like eating. I’m not personally offended by eating, I’m more offended by eating a whole thing. Loud talkers. People who are having the grossest conversations.
I’m from Queens originally and I didn’t do much Queens as I wanted to do. I really wanted to go to Little India which is on Roosevelt Avenue and 74th Street. We weren’t able to get that tour in there. I think I tried to get more of a variety rather than focus on one borough. But I mean it ended up becoming pretty even. It’s funny because Staten Island and the Bronx are two of the best tours in the book. They’re the most informative, the most substantial tours. So that surprised me at the end of the day.
It’s going to be super ratchet. I’m putting it together at the last minute. But there will be a live band and we’ll have DJ Toy, she’s awesome. She’s a girl DJ. And Sight for Sounds, one of the shows on Hot 97 is going to do a stand up set. And then maybe a book signing and a quick reading of it. It’s going to be fun.