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When I told a friend that I would be writing about Keri Hilson’s return to music, she immediately responded with the question, “Who’s looking for her to come back?”

Therein lies the issue with the singer-songwriter as she plots a return to music. Like many music writers and bloggers, I received an email announcing Hilson’s return along with a link to two new tracks, “100” and “Scream.” Months prior, the likes of Timbaland teased fans with new works like “Listen.” Around the same time, Hilson herself teased us with audio of “Dinero,” although singer Monica sold the new track far better than she did.

The songs we’ve been teased sound more interesting than what’s come in full, but whatever we do get in terms of a new Hilson album, one wonders whether or not the public cares anymore. “100” and “Scream” were leaked to the Internet in full, but in terms of volume, both generated more of a “hi and bye” than conversation. Whenever Hilson does make an official return to music, she’s got her work cut out for her.

Two years ago, the Atlanta-bred artist took to Twitter to lament about the years of “verbal abuse,” noting, “You have no idea what your hateful words could do to someone’s spirit.” She was mostly referring to the Beyoncé fans that consistently berated her for her not so subtle shots at the Queen Bey. To this day, Hilson acts as if other people misinterpreted her past comments and actions about Beyoncé.

No one did, though, and regardless of whether or not she’ll ever own up to it, the reality is Keri Hilson is responsible for her reputation as the Maleficent of R&B. Like I noted at the time, she’s been equally shady to her other contemporaries, which is why many dislike her. At the very moment, a few people are reading these lines and thinking, “But it shouldn’t matter if you like the artist. What counts most is the music.” That’s cute, but that’s never been the case— likability has always factored into one’s success. In fact, one could say in an age where buying music is a choice an increasingly less amount of people opt to make, it matters more than ever.

And to be blunt, when it came to Keri Hilson openly shading Beyoncé in public spaces, it was just a dumb decision. Not only is Beyoncé one of the biggest pop stars on the planet (and to some, the biggest), she’s also known as one of the nicest. It was like Ciara taking an unnecessary shot at Rihanna on Fashion Police. In that instance, Rihanna simply read Ciara her rights via Twitter, but both Ciara and Hilson looked like the Jan Brady to their Marsha.

Read the rest at VH1.

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I realized I wasn’t that young anymore when my oldest niece innocently asked me, “Is Aaliyah that singer who died in a plane crash?” Immediately after I answered, I went into pop quiz mode. “Do you know who Brandy is, beautiful?” Frighteningly, she had absolutely no clue–until she released a single featuring Chris Brown.

More recently, I’ve gone on dates with men born in 1990 – you can drop your judgment off right here, thanks – and openly cried out to God over their lack of knowledge about one of the greatest women to ever body roll on this Earth, Janet Damita Jo Jackson. Some of these very men have referred to me as “old.”

This can’t be life.

As youthful as I feel, I was born in 1984 and I’m getting frequent reminders that I am entering a new stage of life. Many of the albums I grew up listening to have either hit their 20th anniversary mark or they’re right on the cusp of doing so. This includes janet, CrazySexyCool, My Life, Brown Sugar, and soon, Faith and Hardcore. The same way I looked at my mama about her Chi-Lites and Whispers, referring to the group members as “pop-pops” is what’s happening to me now when I bring up UGK in certain groups. Karma is a hateful heifer.

While many folks my age crack jokes about “aunties,” as one of my friends recently reminded me, we are now the aunties. Do you know who is now doing the Tom Joyner Cruise? Trina! Yes, “da baddest bitch” is out here on the cruise shop that the super grown folks are known for attending performing “Single Again.” One of my friends is so amped about one day joining the cruise. In his mind, he thought 40 would be the perfect age, but auntie life came calling a bit sooner.

I’ll also admit that if not for the youth in my life, I’d have no idea what in the hell so many of the folks on the Twitter talk about. Like, what is a fleek? And one question I’m constantly asking: Who in the hell is this rapper that sounds like English is his fourth language?

I am only 31-years-old and while I can still drop down and get my eagle on, my pop, lock, and drop ain’t what it used to be. There’s also yoga, but that’s not the core issue. I’m just getting older and in the HOV lane to a new stage in life. An era where linen pants will sooner than later overfly my closet. Where all white parties will fill my calendar. A place where, Crown Royal and Wild Turkey will be my drinks of choice – just like so many of my uncles. Hell, I’m already halfway there if you include Crown Apple. In my defense, that is delicious and best served with ice in a mason jar.

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While at a mixer for black writers and editors earlier this week, a friend and colleague of mine was accosted by the sight of bare butt cheeks on my phone. I was not the proud owner of said behind; I was answering a text message and had no idea a flirtatious exchange had escalated to full-out sexting. My colleague and I were already too far into enjoying laughs and tequila for it to matter, but it did remind me of how exposed I am through my phone.

Yes, my financial information and other pertinent information is stored there, but also things I’m equally, if not more, concerned about getting out: my sexual secrets. This includes my visuals, conversations and other items that my friends and I affectionately classify as “ho shit.” A few months ago, I wrote about a reluctance to try out what are commonly known as “hook up apps” and how being recognized by others on the apps resulted in initial embarrassment. Initial because, after a while, I decided to not let anyone else’s stigmas burden me any longer. I am human, after all, and expressions of sexuality – in this instance, by way of a free app I downloaded on my iPhone – come with the territory.

That sort of confidence takes a long time to build up for many, and it can be hard to maintain – ergo the aforementioned “sorry about this ultra-nice butt accosting your eye sockets, girl.” While I now own my antics, I often worry if one day I’ll anger the wrong person who will literally expose every facet of my body and whatever sexual desire I’ve shared in presumed confidence. To “blast me,” which is loosely translated into embarrassing and shaming.

Throughout the year, and every year really, there are people exposed for essentially being human. This is not just limited to famous people, though not surprisingly, a celebrity sex scandal draws greater interest by virtue of name recognition. Still, in 2015, if you are sexually active and sexually free on your cellphone, you run the risk of being exposed in this manner.

But sexts have different levels of stigma attached to them. A lot of us can say we’ve seen someone’s nudes leaked to social media in fits of rage from an angry partner, or a part-time plaything. Meanness is a staple of social media, and in an era where folks just love to “shade” and “pop off,” this trend of outing people for whatever they’re into or have done is just a new facet of it.

What isn’t new is that being “different” is a more shameful thing to expose. Sex itself, particularly between two people of the same gender, can still be regarded as shameful. The same goes for being sexually drawn to someone whose gender identity does not fit into a neat little two-seat box.

If I had my way, I’d wave a magic wand and sing a solution – accept every form of sexuality, don’t be so ashamed about how you get it down – and end it with “Bibbidi-bobbido-boo.”

Unfortunately, I do not have the magic powers of an old lady in Cinderella, so it’s more likely that this  trend will only worsen with time. Perhaps such secret sharing and subsequent stigmatizing won’t happen to you, but there’s surely something about yourself on your phone that you wouldn’t want aired out. The courtesy you would want paid to you in such crisis should be extended to others. But that would be too much like right, wouldn’t it?

Read the rest at The Guardian.

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If you had asked me three years ago if I were interested in watching a reality show starring Evelyn Lozada, I might’ve cursed you out for disrespecting my eye sockets.

Lozada played an integral role in the success of VH1’s Basketball Wives and was arguably the star of the show. But she was as mean as a Disney villain more often than not. Mean as in telling the woman whose husband she bedded once upon a time while they were still married, “You’re a non [motherf–king] factor, bitch.” Lozada was also as violent as a UFC fighter, often leaping over tables to pounce on her detractors or tossing wine bottles at their heads in one of her multiple fits of rage throughout her time on the show.

She was like a Puerto Rican, professional-athlete-dating, version of Ursula, the Sea Witch, minus the singing voice.

It made for interesting television, but there’s only so long one can keep up with a shtick before it grows stale. Unfortunately, we never got the chance to see Lozada’s original spinoff, Ev & Ocho, following reports that her then-new husband, Chad Johnson, had assaulted her. Though I was not exactly a fan of Lozada’s, I did take issue with her Basketball Wives antics being used to justify her reported assault. This would include ESPN anchor and piss-poor commentator on social issues Stephen A. Smith engaging in victim blaming. Whatever Lozada did on Basketball Wives has no bearing on what allegedly happened in the car ride with her now-former husband.

Even so, with that criticism came an opportunity, and she certainly seized upon it. My initial reaction to Lozada doing Iyanla Vanzant’s Fix My Life was cynical: damage control and potentially parlay this “new Evelyn” into another television show.

In hindsight, motivation doesn’t matter.

I finally watched Lozada’s new series on OWN, Livin’ Lozada, and I—surprisingly, perhaps not so surprisingly—love it.

For the longest time, I thought of her as a jackass, too, into sucker punching people. Then again, her former reality vehicle never allowed for a fuller depiction of who she was. And also, maybe she wasn’t ready for one, either.

On Livin’ Lozada, Lozada is tackling her role as mother to a 2-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter, itching to launch her own brand and take control of her own life. On this show, Lozada has to grapple with wanting to have more children, but realizing that at the age of 39, time is not on her side. Enter her revealing on the series premiere that she became pregnant, only to find out later that she suffered a miscarriage.

There is no pretense about the issue of Lozada’s temperament, either. She is working on controlling her anger issues, and in many respects she has done a good job. However, she still has her moments (as many of us do). I actually find her commitment to cursing profusely endearing.

For skeptics—including me—who wondered how Oprah Winfrey would manage to align her initial vision of the network with Evelyn Lozada’s having a show, the answer is clear: easily.

Read the rest at The Root.

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Unless you’re a perfect specimen (spoiler alert: you’re not) chances are your respective bae score fluctuates based on diet, exercise, alcohol levels, or plastic surgeon. We’ve all been there, and there’s no better source to inspire and/or depress us into stepping our cookies up than Instagram. As of late, most of my thirst has been directed in the direction of Drake.

For many of you out there, Drake was already a lusty figure in your life. Yeah, I was never completely there. Sure, he was cute from certain angles – when his face is tilted to the right to be specific – and if you’re into obsessing over Aaliyah, then certainly I can see the appeal. I did enjoy his guest hosting duties on Saturday Night Live last fall because I noticed he has great legs, but I never wanted to toss my draws his way the in the intensity that others desired to.

Now I am a changed man.

I used to say Drake looked like Captain Caveman. Before you ask, I look like Dale from Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers. I’ve also been told that I resemble Buster Bunny from Tiny Toon Adventures because you know, big ass teeth. So there. I’m playing fair.

Like Captain Caveman, Drake looked like there was some morsel of cuteness there, but he wasn’t putting in the extra work to drive it home.

In the last few weeks and months, something is noticeably different about Aubrey Graham. For starters, that stomach of his is so flat and tight. His arms are so big. And his chest: I’d like to give every God the glory for it.

Read the rest at VH1.

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There have been times where I am alone in my home clutching a glass of wine and contemplating when my life will resemble one long loop of Toni’s Braxton’s Find Me A Man or one of the many other celebratory R&B tracks about finding true love that I enjoy. And sure, there are moments where the thought of boo-less life makes me feel as bitter as a post-breakup Rob Kardashian Twitter tirade.

However, I have the good damn sense not to ever reveal these thoughts on social media – and certainly not at length. Yet I increasingly see folks I know whine about their single status online. It is by far one of the most obnoxious traits of social media users, which says a lot, given there are so many varying ways to come across as a terrible person on the internet.

People are free to express themselves as ever they see fit, of course. As a wise pop star once sang: “Express yourself, don’t repress yourself.” If you are guilty of complaining about being single on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapcat, Vine and every other social media app invented, ask yourself this very important question: is my complaining going to make me any less single?

Have you ever seen someone ranting and raving about not having a boyfriend or girlfriend and said: “I’m so turned on by this display of bitterness” Or: “Oh, baby. Your lack of self-awareness touches my soul. Let me take you out to dinner and find out exactly why no one wants you.”

If you answered yes, you just told me a lie. Stop it. Stop it right now.

The answer is no with a hell in front of it because it’s not hot to have a personality that mirrors that taste of grapefruit.

Admittedly, I have trashed men on Twitter before for reasons that include not being able to speak in complete sentences without pausing for a water break, being a sexist jerk, or making you regret not having the power of teleportation. In my defense, I blast awful people all the time. It’s just a fun little hobby of mine.

But you’ll never catch me lamenting at length about how upset I am that Trey Songz, Frank Ocean, Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Williams or Michael B Jordan have failed not only to propose marriage, but even take me on a date. Nor do I talk about how, since moving to New York City, I’ve had so-so experiences with dating in the city.

Read the rest at The Guardian.

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To be lauded as a legend is one thing, but what good are kudos if you can’t even drive freely down the road you paved? As much as we revere Lil’ Kim —and as much success as she’s enjoyed— those who came after her are the ones who truly benefited from the fruits of her labor. If you’re having doubts, just look at Nicki Minaj’s massive crossover appeal. But Lil’ Kim was also ahead of her time musically, and one album stands above all others.
When The Notorious K.I.M. was first released, there were certain songs that I loved. And I still love them, starting with “Suck My Dick,” which still feels like the perfect response to the street harassment many women contend with from idiotic men. There’s also the title track, which snatches Foxy Brown bald within the first minute. There are others, but many of the tracks were not that fierce – exactly why I didn’t completely get the album as a whole. It was not nearly as gritty as her debut, Hardcore, or her work with Junior M.A.F.I.A.
Such was Kim’s intent.

After the success of her first album, it was clear that Kim had a bigger budget to work with and a larger vision for herself. That resulted in bigger wigs, more expensive looking videos, and far more polish. The Notorious K.I.M. fell victim to several leaks –even more surprising given it was the very late 1990s– which resulted in the album’s release date being pushed back several times. This was partially to combat the bootlegged tracks that found their way to mixtapes, fan Web sites, and the radio— but also to deal with the mounting criticism over a more commercial sound.

In April 2000, Entertainment Weekly wrote about the delays facing The Notorious K.I.M. and quoted one “well-known hip-hop publicist” complaining about the dozen tracks that had already leaked, saying, “It’s very pop and doesn’t have a street edge. People are going to think, ‘Who are you trying to be, Lil’ Kim or Mandy Moore?”’ Now, name that female rapper who has had to deal with similar complains in this decade (*cough* Nicki *cough*). Then compare the success of her pop tracks with the pop offerings Kim dropped 15 years ago.

Some of these tracks – including her cover of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” with RuPaul – did not make the final cut. And part of Lil’ Kim’s additional recording did add more of a “street edge” to the final product. Still, Kim’s sophomore effort remained a glossier and far more commercial affair. Some of it was done quite cleverly, a la “How Many Licks” featuring Sisqó, which samples the theme from the TV series Knight Rider. Others, like the Pat Benatar-sampling “Don’t Mess With Me” and the album’s lead single, “No Matter What They Say,” were more overt.

Read the rest at VH1 Music.

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There’s an obnoxious Twitter feed called Shady Music Facts, which does a wonderful job of feeding material to stans of various pop stars who like to slander each other’s favorite artists with the fun facts provided. The practice itself is not new. Before social media, people engaged in this habit by way of Internet message boards. Blame my mama for introducing me to this pastime as a teenager by way of not letting me go party in middle and high school.

In any event, I see these tweets inserted into my timeline damn near every single day, only I will say it reminds me of something I had already known: Though she might be a pop cultural deity, and continues to be wildly successful and influential, Beyoncé has not had a major solo pop hit all decade. Yes, “Drunk in Love” made it No. 2 on the Hot 100, but Jay Z hopped on the coattails of that obvious hit, thus meaning she didn’t go it alone.

Sample tweets from this feed about such reality include, “Despite not reaching #1, ‘FourFiveSeconds’ peaked higher than Beyoncé’s last FIVE singles.”

And: “BEYONCÉ era: 1 Top 3 single. 1989 era…so far: 2 #1 singles + a top 10 single.”

Also: “Thanks to Lady Gaga, ‘Telephone’ is the best selling song thatBeyoncé has featured on this decade.”

Plus: “Rihanna has managed to achieve six #1 singles since Beyoncé last had her #1 single in 2008.”

Although these facts are irrefutable, context is key, and once you’re clued in on that, you realize how much more remarkable Beyoncé’ssuccess this decade is. Taylor Swift is an industry unto herself, but the same can be said of Beyoncé—and really, Beyoncé’s stature overall still arguably overrides hers. Swift may as well be the Team Captain of the celebrity wing of the Beyhive.

As for Lady Gaga, well, you remember ARTPOP, don’t you?

Read the rest at Complex.

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There will never, ever be another Janet Jackson.

Mega stardom of her kind is increasingly hard to reach, especially if you are a black woman. There is Beyoncé, but even she can no longer claim to have the sort of radio dominance Janet once commanded—though that’s more so a testament to the diminished influence of “urban” music than Yoncé’s catalog. She’s also more an amalgamation of several pop stars of yore—Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Michael and Janet Jackson, respectively—than a singular artist. There is also Rihanna, but she’s long noted that she desires to be more of a “Black Madonna.”

Both dance (one way more energetically than the other), but neither offer the sort of choreography that made Janet Jackson the iconic pop star she is today.

I’m sure some people would now like to interject Ciara, who I’ve jokingly said in the past could’ve been some country-fried-steak version of Damita Jo. I wish Ciara the best in all her future endeavors, but she lacks vision, cohesion, and for all intents and purposes, blew whatever chance she had at becoming a behemoth in music. At this stage of her career, she’s more like a Kardashian who can dance.

Nonetheless, there is hope of an artist who can at least encompass some of Janet’s best qualities for a new generation.

If there’s anyone who might be able to muster what Janet Jackson meant to me growing up, it is the 22-year-old singer Tinashe. Whenever I say this to someone, I’m often met with one or two response: “Who?” or “That ‘2 On’​ girl?” These are fair reactions, but not necessarily credible ones.

For starters, Tinashe has made her love of Janet Jackson very clear. In an interview with The Cut, Tinashe was asked about “How Many Times,” a track that features Future and is a sample of the Janet classic “Funny How Time Flies When You’re Having Fun.” Tinasheexplained, “I listened to her all the time growing up, and she was definitely one of the people I idolized from a dance perspective, to performance, to music videos, to the music, just all around.”

If you listen to her very well done debut album, Aquarius, the previous mixtapes she released prior (which she wrote and produced on her own), you can tell The Velvet Rope is likely Tinashe’s favorite Janet album. She confirmed that last summer with theGrio, noting, “I would tell my future kids that if they wanted to know what artist represented R&B, it would be Janet. The Velvet Rope-era Janet was my favorite.”

I’ve seen complaints that perhaps Janet influences Tinashe a wee bit too much in terms of both style and vocal arrangement. Younger acts tend to draw heavily from those who inspire them, but for a woman who has been the dominant force of her own creative direction, one imagines those are more kinks needed to be worked out in her own development. If you listen to Tinashe’s excellent new EP, Amethyst, one thing should be certain: She has a distinct point of view.

Read the rest at Complex.

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For all of Empire’s critics—and admittedly, I’ve been among them—there has been one aspect of the show that fans, skeptics and those residing somewhere in between have all agreed on: Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson, is the best thing about the show.

Cookie is the ex-wife of Lucious Lyon—a drug dealer-turned-rapper-turned-Jay Z-like figure with Motown-era hairstyles—who helped foster Lucious’ dream of running a major record label by providing the seed money she procured through selling drugs. As a new parolee, Cookie is out to get what’s hers: her piece of the company and her charting her own success within the music industry. The Fox hip-hop-centered soap opera, which continues to make gains in the ratings, has been rightfully described as the Oscar-nominated actress’s moment.

For those who have watched Henson through the years, we knew she had a funny bone, by way of films like Baby Boy, along with the capability to tackle dramatic roles, thanks to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; however, this is really the first time that Henson has had the opportunity to be the de facto showpiece of a project. She has made the most of it.

Cookie is so many things—loud, blunt, hood as hell, smart, funny and savvy—and as such, she is the most fleshed-out character on Empire, and increasingly one of the most compelling ones on television. Much of that is testament to the talent of Henson, who has managed to turn what could easily have been described as a caricature into a multifaceted persona.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, Henson told writer Kelley L. Carter: “I understand that mentality. I am from the hood. It wasn’t upper middle class; it was lower middle class. It was a garden apartment in the hood.” She went on to add that though she didn’t live in the system, she was around those who had, plus people who lost their lives to the crack epidemic that swept black communities in the 1980s. “I have compassion for it because I was around it, so I can’t judge it. I can’t say, ‘Ooh, you’re a dirty bird because you did this, you did that!’” the Howard University graduate explained.

Henson’s compassion is what makes Cookie so endearing. She manages to lend a voice not only to women of color who have been incarcerated—a rising population that’s only now really being represented recently in television—but also to lower-class blacks in general. Yes, similar characters have been featured on reality shows like Love & Hip Hop, but so often the show and all its sensationalism makes it difficult for some viewers to look beyond that.

Empire is no less messy, but it’s scripted, so perhaps that allows some to watch it without feelings of “guilt,” given that we know all of them are pretending—though one can never be too sure with whatever VH1 is airing Monday nights. Funny enough, Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta’sJoseline Hernandez thinks she’s a direct influence on Cookie. Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown and Mary J. Blige’s old wigs may argue otherwise, but even that speaks to the broad appeal of Cookie.

I’ve read comparisons between Cookie and Olivia Pope. Frankly, those feel misguided. Olivia Pope is fine red wine in an oversized and likely overpriced glass; Cookie is like Hennessy, only served in a champagne flute or maybe a mason jar, depending on the day. We can get drunk on both, and it’s about time audiences had the option.

Read the rest at The Root.

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