#229: Joe Coscarelli
Joe Coscarelli on Herr's Ketchup Chips, Babytron, Not Finishing Books, and more.
Cool people like cool things, which is why we asked Joe Coscarelli to share a taste of his taste on Perfectly Imperfect.
Joe Coscarelli is a New York City-based Pop Music Reporter at The New York Times who has a brand new book titled Rap Capital: An Atlanta Story. It’s a “masterful, street-level story of art, money, race, class, and salvation” that dives into the history of the consequential Atlanta rap scene, megastars like Lil Baby and Migos, and lesser-known local artists like Lil Reek and Marlo. Coscarelli is also the host of very popular NYT Diary of a Song series on Youtube and a frequent guest on Jon Caramanica’s aptly named pop music podcast, Popcast. Lucky for us, Joe is here to tell us what he’s been into.
Without further ado
Ask anyone: I was into rare and extreme snack variations before the usually-poorly-executed Big Flavor Explosion of the last few years, in which Oreo makes a Swedish Fish cookie just to go viral or whatever. Since the choices now are so hit or miss – Ruffles Spicy Dill Pickle is the latest limited-edition smash, IMO – I've found myself defaulting to simpler options, rather than just thirsty novelty. I snack basically every day – spicy/savory followed by sour/gummy – and nothing tastes like Herr's ketchup ripple chips: tangy, sweet, solid base, well-distributed flavor powder. And while they should be more widely available, I do kinda like that I can only ever get them at one "gourmet deli & bakery" by my house that happens to make the worst sandwiches and has horrible coffee.
🧢 Black Umbros and Polo dad hats
I try to wear almost only all black (or dark gray), no shorts and no logos – mostly for aesthetic simplicity, though shout out to Naomi Klein and reading Adbusters at suburban Barnes & Nobles – but I'm softening. My friend Bryan, in a nod to his British and Mexican heritage, started rocking old school semi-shiny black Umbro shorts a few years ago and pointed out that they're cheap on Amazon (sorry Naomi Klein). I only have one pair but they're extremely durable and I wore them all summer: around the house, at the beach, to play softball, to go out. People love to remember Umbros. My other major go-to exception is keeping a small pile of Polo chino hats in various colors as a nod to Young Dro (Atlanta's Cam'ron) and because the various little bears on the hats are all wearing Polo themselves, on some mise en abyme-ish shit.
📚Not finishing books
In the last few years, maybe around the writing of my own book, I've developed the yips when it comes to finishing things. Even books I love. I just feel the page stack getting thinner in my right hand and then something comes over me and I start something else and another one gets added to this growing pile next to my bed, 60-80 percent creased. But there's something comforting about them all sitting there (and more on my ebook apps), because I really do feel like I'll get to them, and in the meantime, I can sample more widely while still scrolling on my phone for seven hours a day. (The end of Rap Capital is good, though.)
📺 Bootleg video streams
I subscribe to a bunch of shit, share log-ins for others and get sent some screeners, but nothing compares to being asked by a friend to illegally locate the third movie spinoff of a Danish sitcom or a German TV documentary about Michael Jackson for free online. It's hunting and gathering for millennial men. The big streaming platforms suck so bad anyway, they flatten most coolness out of culture and they try to trick you into watching stuff in the basest ways. At least I feel accomplished when I do some "Hackers"-style Googling, hit half a dozen dead links and then have to close a swarm of popups like I'm catching flies out of thin air just to watch four innings of a Yankees game.
💎 Old magazine stories
My friend Jay recently mentioned in passing a 2010 story in The New Yorker, "Sleeping With Weapons" by Tad Friend, about the totally batshit feud between the actor and musician John Lurie and his protege John Perry. It's like 8,000+ words of mayhem and mental illness and I can't believe the magazine ran it or that I'd never read it, especially since there was a whole controversy afterward, including a hunger strike. It reminded me that there's just an endless array of weird old stores from 10 years ago, from 50 years ago, from last year, and you can just mainline them in one subway ride for no money. I always go back to stuff like Nancy Jo Sales on the Pussy Posse or the Golden Suicides, or Chris Heath's Fiona Apple cover story for Rolling Stone from 1998, or Tom Wolfe's "The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!" or Ta-Nehisi Coates on MF DOOM. (Use Pocket to get around paywalls.)
I'm not exactly recommending the music – the sound is very specific: punchline Detroit rap about scamming over sped-up '80s samples – so much as the total package persona. When I first stumbled on Babytron in 2019, I was drawn to his ridiculous references (Jimmy Neutron, Dennis Schröder), unpopular music videos shot in electronics departments and beginner's mustache, but also the YouTube comments saying that he looked like Drake Bell or speculating about his race. In the years since, he's gotten some good press and grown out his hair yet almost everything else is the same: tons of music, low-budget videos, rapid-fire Gen-Z Mitch Hedberg bars. He still doesn't have a Wikipedia page. When I saw him live earlier this year, someone asked me how old I was, because they were pretty sure I was the oldest person there. (I’m 34.) He headlined for like 25 minutes and missed about half of his verses because he was hitting a blunt. Stop saying that I'm offbeat if I match the tempo.
Read his writing in The New York Times
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