By on July 1, 2003

It’s raining lightly in Harlem, but the day’s business is taking place indoors, in a funky, Afrocentric boutique known simply as “The Brownstone.” Tony Haywood, the founder of HiPNOTIC records, is up fromWashington D.C. to supervise a photo shoot for guitarist Jeff Ray‘s The Walkup, the next CD slated for release on the label. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for The Walkup.)

The Brownstone’s lightswitch covers are delicately hand-painted; its fully functional hair salon looks and feels more like a living room. A tall, slender African-American woman carefully irons the shirts that Ray will soon pose in. Meanwhile, Ray relaxes in a T-shirt and sweats, listening to his own record on a boombox cranked to high volume. The drummer on the album, Victor Wise, sips a Heineken as he browses the nearest available magazine, Manhattan Bride. Haywood is positioned, smiling and stock-still, on the impressive wooden staircase, standing in as a model while the crew adjusts its lights and equipment. The photographer is Haywood’s cousin. It doesn’t get much more “indie” than this.

HiPNOTIC is the ultimate labor of love and still in its formative stages, with only five releases as of this writing (including The Walkup). There’s a good reason for Haywood’s relatively slow pace: “day gig” doesn’t begin to describe his work as minority counsel for the House Committee on Government Reform.


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