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In theory, Mariah Carey, reality star, sounds nothing short of must-see television.

Long before Real Housewives came along, Carey offered the world various strains of grandiosity, eccentricity, and lots o’ theatrics. Surely someone who admittedly acknowledges living in her own bubble would be the perfect vehicle for a new reality series. However, Carey has been particular about making sure this show was not a reality series, but a “docuseries.”

Granted, some shows actually do fit the bill of “docuseries,” given they’re more documentary than soap opera. There’s a certain level of openness and authenticity required to make those work, though. Anything else would fall into what we know as reality TV, where, if nothing else, the manufactured drama we bear witness to is satisfying in its entertainment value.

As far as the premiere episode of Mariah’s World goes, it meets neither standard.

The show begins with Carey dressing up as Bianca Storm, the alter ego she played in the “Heartbreaker” video. Some lambs, her most dedicated fan base, might have seen the sight of Bianca and found the nod heartwarming. Other fans may have likely looked at Bianca and asked themselves, “Why are we back in 1999?”

Of course, the show proceeded to run down Carey’s stats as the biggest-selling female artist of all time with more No. 1s than any recording act other than the Beatles. We all knew that, but Carey will always make time to let you know who the hell she is. Not long after, Carey tells us the story of how she came to be a professional singer. As if we haven’t heard this story numerous times over the course of 20 years. And you guessed it; she also let us know that she writes on every song she’s ever recorded.

Mariah, I adore thee, but I think we’ve got it by now. That said; it is your world. Perhaps she’s not the problem so much as my expectations are? Or not.

There are some things to appreciate about the show—namely Carey’s confessional looks. Leave it to her to practically lounge in a nightgown while holding a glass of red wine. The other Carey constant is magnificent lightning. Carey probably has a better lighting crew than God, so she’d be damned if she were made to look anything less than spectacular on her show.

As for what one can learn from Mariah’s World, let’s start with the new understanding that the Kardashian sisters have stricter hiring practices for Dash than Mariah Carey does for anything. Her new manager, Stella Bulochnikov, was hired thanks to Carey’s friend, film director Brett Ratner. And based on reports, Bulochnikov cleaned house once she got that position—something Carey’s makeup artist notes on the series premiere.

On the show, Bulochnikov hires a young woman who doesn’t seem to know anything about assisting people, let alone assisting one of the biggest music artists in history. The end result is that part of the episode centered on this new assistant crying that she could not set up Carey’s Apple TV in her hotel suite, which Carey requires having on to sleep. As nice as it was to see one of the hotel staffers more or less tell that young woman to buck up, why was this on television? Who in the hell cares?

This show is supposed to be about Carey launching a tour and planning a wedding. Well, we already know now that the wedding plans end with a breakup, but production sure didn’t waste time planting the seeds for a backup story. Carey is reportedly dating dancer Bryan Tanaka and their on-screen flirtation is made apparent in the premiere. Who knows if that backup storyline was planned in advance or not, but it’s easier than ever to see Carey’s engagement was much ado about nothing, and it’s hard to believe she cares that much about what looks like nothing more than a cute homeboy.

If you’re wondering where Carey’s manager came from, as fate and opportunity would have it, she has a background mostly in reality TV, credited on the following shows: T.I. & Tiny: The Family HustleMaster P’s Family ValuesParis Hilton’s My New BFF, and Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School.

Read the rest at The Root.

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There are many things to love about the Ava DuVernay-helmed OWN drama, Queen Sugar.

If you are a fan of shows like Six Feet Under, seeing Black faces guide this nuanced family drama in similar fashion feels refreshing. Much like Donald Glover’s AtlantaQueen Sugar takes characters we are familiar with seeing on television, but adds the sort of complexity that for so long evaded them. Those layers have proven pivotal and what largely separates Queen Sugar from its predecessors in how it tells the tale of a Black family in this medium.

When it comes to past images of Black families on television, most have straddled the line between aspirational and accessible. For many, The Huxtables were more than just a family, but a symbol of what could be, or in the cases of some, what a family should be. Others like me may have found The Cosby Show entertaining, but not necessarily anything reflective of my worldview. So other working class shows like Roc and Thea helped fill that void, as did sitcoms such as Living SingleSister Sister, and Martin, each of which highlighted a truth many of us have come to learn over time: families are not necessarily assigned, but of our own invention.

Each of these shows spoke to a specific kind of family reflective of the time. All of them have value. Queen Sugar doesn’t deal in aspiration or accessibility, but something no less vital and urgent: authenticity.

The Cosby Show was an indirect rejection of the caricatures Ronald Reagan made of Black people, and the 1990s sitcoms more or less comic relief in the wake of President Clinton taking those caricatures and using them to further break up the Black family through mass incarceration, a show like Queen Sugar is an honest look at where many of us stand now.

Charley Bordelon has managed to achieve social mobility, but then you have her brother, Ralph Angel, who is on parole and serves as an ongoing look at recidivism as he struggles to find steady employment as a single father. So many people want to do right, but can only deal with the hand they have been dealt. Their sister, Nova Bordelon, understands this, and through her work as a journalist, highlights that for many Black people who work in media, one often has to take on the role of activist in the midst of a for-profit media world that could care less about Black people.

Together, they try to run their late father’s farm while they grapple with new forms of the institutional racism their ancestors faced. It’s no longer chains, but wealthy, greedy, corporatist White folks who love nothing more than putting racial minorities back in their perceived place.

There are less serious themes at work on the show, but they still play into the overarching theme of taking characters and making them equal parts real and palpable for viewers. When I look at Aunt Violet and her younger boyfriend Hollywood, I’m delighted to see an older Black woman get to be sexual and vibrant given how the real Hollywood is so quick to take Black women of a certain age and stick them solely within the constraints of the one-note matriarch.

Read the rest at Essence.

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Image result for lady gaga joanne coverLady Gaga can make anything sound amazing, but should she sing everything? The pop star’s latest album, Joanne, reminds me of the phrase “boot, scootin boogie,” Bruce Springsteen, and in select parts, the best 1970s rock tribute band you can book in the Midwest. None of these things speak to what made Lady Gaga such a compelling figure in contemporary pop music. None of these things connect back to her best release, 2009’s The Fame Monster.

Granted, Gaga has been known to employ her classical musical training to shapeshift sonically and drag her fans to new terrain whenever she sees fit. In 2014, Gaga released an album of jazz standards with Tony Bennett. It was a successful project, but some of us assumed this departure was an anomalous act, a bit of cover for the commercial and critical disappointment of ARTPOP before getting back on track.

However, Joanne’s first single, “Perfect Illusion,” indicated that the album wouldn’t be a return to form. Gaga’s love of Springsteen has been widely known for several years, so she was bound to release another tribute track. The same goes for incorporating rock influences into her pop art. When discussing Born This Way, Gaga told Rolling Stone, “I would call it avant-garde techno rock. There’s a lot of rock influences on the album, but not in a ‘This is a rock music record’ kind of way.”

On Joanne, she’s a bit more heavy-handed with the influences and she’s assisted by Mark Ronson, Bloodpop, Florence Welch, Father John Misty,  Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme.

Gaga is theatrical, so even when she thinks she’s stripping everything bare, she still largely sounds over the top and a total ham. That’s why, while you can tap your foot to “Sinner’s Prayer,” it sounds like Gaga’s answers to those soulless sitcom covers, like you’d hear on Glee. “John Wayne,” “A-YO,” and “Come To Mama” bring about similar feelings. I believe this more from Miley Cyrus or even Beyoncé on “Daddy Lessons.” Those two sound more familiar with country whereas for Gaga, it sounds like a hasty field trip.

Gaga’s much more convincing covering “Lush Life” than she is singing this material. (“Million Reasons” is another exception.) Gaga shines on Joanne’s title track, though, which is moving for no other reason than her beautiful vocals. And surely on “Hey, Girl,” a duet with Florence Welch. Not surprisingly, that is more danceable track recalls what I enjoy best about Gaga. The Gaga I wish I heard more of on Joanne.

In an interview with T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Gaga discussed the wide array of collaborators and sound they helped her cultivate for Joanne. “It’s an endless proving of myself, that I really am a musician, that I have something to offer in the room,” she said. “That women can be musicians, women can be rock stars, women can be more than an objectified idea of a pop star.”

That’s always been her problem: trying unnecessarily way too hard to prove herself.

We didn’t need Gaga to prove women can be musicians, rock stars, and whatever “objectified idea of a pop star” means to her. Haven’t so many women who’ve come before her proven that already? Even the country meets electronic thing was done by Madonna on Music.

Speaking of, Gaga said this of Madonna to Zane Low:

“Madonna and I are very different. Just saying. I wouldn’t make that comparison at all. I don’t mean to disrespect Madonna. She’s a, you know, nice lady. And she’s had a fantastic, huge career. She’s the biggest pop star of all time. But I play a lot of instruments. I write all my own music. I spend hours and hours a day in the studio. I’m a producer. I’m a writer. What I do is different. I’m not just rehearsing over and over again to put on a show. There’s a spontaneity in my work. I allow myself to fail. I allow myself to break. I’m not afraid of my flaws. There are my major differences between me and her. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. I just will not be compared to anyone anymore. I am who the fuck I am. This is me. My life story is my life story, just like yours is.”

You do all of that, and yet, through the ears, there have been blatant instances of you drawing inspiration from Madonna. That’s actually always been too gracious a compliment. Lady Gaga is more like white Alicia Keys: there is some technical training there, but there is a lack of vision. With that lack of vision, usually assisted with the aid of a Svengali, they peak early and then coast on the accomplishments of year’s past.

As far as Gaga the pop star goes, she’s been majorly judged by the kind she sold herself as. No one asked for those elaborate costumes — that’s what she gave us.

That’s what’s so off-putting about her attitude going into Joanne.

While Gaga certainly has every right to explore, this comes across as such an abrupt shift. Her most ardent fans may not mind, but if Gaga’s goal was to further distance herself from the days where she was the attention-snatching pop star, she’s outdone herself. I miss Gaga of yore with RedOne singles and collaborations with Laurieann Gibson. The pop music maker who, yes dabbled in different sounds, but also churned out perfectly crafted, idiosyncratic dance tracks. That is to say, what made her popular to begin with.

Gaga’s taken off the costumes, but Joanne doesn’t sound any less contrived than previous efforts. That’s not an insult either. She’s a pop star; it’s what they do. Some pop stars are just better at exploring but executing in ways that don’t sound alienating.

It’s easy to find Lady Gaga as Garth Brooks not as enjoyable. The voice will captivate you while listening, but most of the songs aren’t strong enough to push you towards future listens. No, not bad, but largely forgettable. For all of Gaga’s talent, the results should be yielding a more favorable conclusion.

For those that have supported Gaga, it was already understood that she had musicianship and something to offer in whatever room she stepped into as an artist. Joanne doesn’t reinforce what we have known to be true. If anything, it suggests that for all that raw talent, Lady Gaga remains blind to winning vision.

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Atlanta opens its season finale with Joe delivering a word to Earn. The party’s over, it’s the morning after, and he’s ready for this last straggler to get going. “I mean, it’s like I know y’all, but I don’t know y’all, you know?” he says. I know, Joe, which is exactly why I would have told Earn to get out of my apartment, too.

Joe knows Earn and Paper Boi enough to let them have a party at his spot, but not well enough to allow Earn to sleep over until noon. Not after someone set a trash can of his on fire. (Put out your blunts before tossing them, beloveds.) And especially not after someone poured a beer in his Brita pitcher. Have you had that delicious filtered water? Brita deserves respect!

In this way, the unseen party in Atlanta‘s finale is like a one-night stand. Yeah, we had sex, but although I may be more familiar with your cheeks now, I don’t know your ass like that. Leave (get out) right now.

Of course, Alfred left long before a hung-over Earn woke up. And once he rolls off that bean-bag chair, Earn needs to find his missing jacket. It isn’t at Joe’s place, so we spend a chunk of the finale watching Earn retrace his steps as he goes on a hunt for it. His drunken self doesn’t exactly remember what all happened the night before, but thankfully, that’s what Alfred’s Snapchat is for.

First, Earn heads for the strip club. Along the way, we see some randoms in cow costumes giving Chick-fil-A witness. Then a kind soul shouts at Earn, “Free-chicken-sandwich day, nigga.” God, I love southern hospitality and free chicken sandwiches.

Once Earn makes it to the strip club, he is asked to pay a cover. “I was just here last night.” Oh Atlanta, where people just casually have lunch in strip clubs like it’s a Chili’s. You know that excuse won’t work, Earn. It is a brand-new day and a new entrance fee.

Earn gets the security guard to check inside for his jacket, except it’s not there. Ever distrustful, Earn pays the cover anyway, looks for himself, and proceeds to waste $10 and a couple minutes of his time. While inside, Earn meets a stripper who campaigns for herself to get a spot in a future Paper Boi video. In 2016, she’d make more money just stripping or even selling trinkets on Etsy, but perhaps she thinks the fame procured from doing a video will get her a lucrative detox-tea endorsement. Maybe even a weave commercial. Dream big, girl!

Jokes aside, what I liked most about this scene was the woman and Earn trying to locate a particular dancer. In the process, that have a pretty fascinating discussion about complexion: “She was kinda light-skinned, but not super light-skinned.” This may not make sense to those living in northern states, but in the South, there are levels to this issue. This is why I tell people in New York that I am light-skinned adjacent. Insert your shade here.

Anyhow, after leaving the club with no jacket, Earn finds his cousin and Darius outside, chilling on that couch we saw in the pilot. Reflecting on the previous night, Alfred makes claims like: “We need to start stunting on niggas more.” I appreciate him taking his rap career more seriously.

Earn disagrees, seeing as they actually need to make money to, you know, truly stunt on niggas. Darius pegs him as a killjoy, declaring, “Black people’s No. 1 problem is we don’t know how to have fun.”

Here’s a good tip: Whenever someone says, “Black’s people’s No. 1 problem is …” a lie will quickly follow. Folks like Darius have been saying this nonsense for years. Poor racial generalizations aside, Earn finally solves the puzzle of his drunken night and realizes he left the jacket in an Uber. During his flashback, we catch Earn doing a slow Milly Rock to old Nelly and Alfred sings along to J.Lo and Ja Rule’s “I’m Real.” These things are all considered old now, which in turn makes me feel a lil’ old — a feeling I’m not at all pleased with.

Earn calls the Uber driver, Fidel, who demands $50 to drop it off, which prompts Alfred to drive his cousin over there after hearing his pleas. While waiting for Fidel, Earn gets a call and finds out that Senator K wants to take Paper Boi on tour. Everyone, take a swig of something strong yet smooth in jubilee. Paper Boi is finally on the rise! It will be hilarious to watch these fools go on tour together, if that’s where season two is headed.

But first, “The Jacket” suddenly jolts into more serious terrain. The silence feels too eerie to Alfred, and after noting as much, he drives off only for the cops to roll on them, guns drawn. It’s easy to assume this is about that whole “the cops are looking for y’all” thing from earlier in the season, but as it turns out, Fidel is the one they want. He’s got the weight and the weaponry.

Earn spots Fidel wearing his jacket as he flees the scene, and moments later, the cops kill him. Earn had been stressing the importance of the jacket throughout this episode, so despite the fact that a dead man is now wearing it, he asks the cops to check the pockets. For a second there, I questioned how desensitized he must be for Earn to make such a request. Then I thought, Hell, I probably wouldn’t flinch either. As the orange politician would say, “SAD!”

Read the rest at Vulture.

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On the latest season of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood, which airs its third-season finale tonight, one of its stars, Nikki Mudarris, is in a love triangle involving a man, Safaree (a.k.a. Nicki Minaj’s ex), and a woman, Rosa Acosta. While much of the conversation around this story line focused on whether Nikki was faking a lesbian relationship as a stunt for attention, it distracted from a more notable undercurrent on the show: This was just one of many instances of the Love & Hip Hop franchise exploring relationships that include LGBTQ people. For every supposedly fake bisexual woman, there are plenty of real members of the black LGBTQ community who have had their experiences chronicled on the Love & Hip Hop franchise.

While the docu-soap franchise — which follows the lives of young hip-hop musicians in New York, Hollywood, and Atlanta — isn’t an after-school special by any stretch of the imagination, it stages real and substantive conversations around gender and sexuality in ways the rest of TV hasn’t yet, particularly when it comes to racial minorities. Recently, reality television has begun to pick up the slack with shows like The Prancing Elites, and the Oxygen series featuring trans models, Strut. The Love & Hip Hop franchise is perhaps the most outwardly tacky, as it falls into the brand of reality TV that thrives on conflict, often in its most vicious forms. Take the relationship between rapper Miles Brock and producer Milan Christopher on the last season of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood, which focused on Miles’s reluctance to come out to his ex-girlfriend and family. While the story line brought up controversial tropes like the widely debunked “down low” phenomenon — which posits that some black men who are trapped in the closet date both men and women, therefore spreading HIV/AIDS — it also left a lasting impression: There are still black men out there like Miles who struggle with their sexuality, particularly in hip-hop. The attention Miles and Milan’s relationship gained in the press eventually led to the VH1 special Out in Hip Hop, a forum in which cast members, religious leaders, artists, and journalists (including myself) had a dialogue about homophobia in the industry.

The most recent season of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta explored gender identity in two narratives that were most fascinating because of how honestly they exposed prejudices. Mimi Faust introduces her new beau Chris Gould to her best friend, Ariane Davis, who wrongly assumes that the new couple is in a lesbian relationship. Mimi explains that Chris is a transgender man: “I identify myself as a female. Chris identifies herself [sic] as male. So we are not in a lesbian relationship.” Ariane, who is a lesbian herself, doesn’t understand, and asks Chris, “So you have an identity crisis?” Chris goes on to explain in the confessional, “Mentally and spiritually, I identify as male, just in a female vessel.” The conversation highlights the biases within the LGBTQ community itself, where being gay or lesbian doesn’t automatically mean you know everything about sex and gender.

Whereas Chris’s conversations about gender are largely cordial, D. Smith, a Grammy-award winning producer and trans woman, often found herself in contentious settings on Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta with co-stars Waka Flocka Flame and Scrappy. In an interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, Waka declared Caitlyn Jenner was “rebuking God” by being trans and alleged that “the devil” was playing tricks on her mind. (Following intense backlash, Waka “clarified” his comments on Twitter.) Scrappy, too, attacked trans women, writing on Instagram, “You a man with a penis with a wig on. I gotta check these motherf*****s’ baby pictures nowadays.” D. Smith confronted Scrappy, explaining that his social-media posts were transphobic; they ended their conversation in an uneasy detente. D. Smith has said that her participation on the show was an attempt to bring about awareness. “This is the demographic that people need to see the most,” she told the New York Post. “Fifteen years from now, some trans girl is going to have it so much easier than I did because I helped out.” (Smith has since said that she “barely made it through” the season and she wouldn’t be returning.)

Things didn’t go D. Smith’s way, but even these confrontations — which are often contrived by producers to bring about the conflict necessary to keep the melodrama going and fans tuned in — feel purposeful, and don’t let ignorant comments stand alone. While D. Smith may not have fully enlightened Scrappy or Waka, she likely impacted at least some of the minds of those watching at home. And more than anything, they feel like candid dialogues. It’s a stark contrast to Jenner’s E! docuseries, I Am Cait, where the artifice of staged conversations is more apparent.

Read the rest at Vulture.

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For black professionals who do reality television, there often needs to be a middle ground in terms of entertainment value—as in, some kind of balance between Olivia Pope at a Jack and Jill banquet and Joseline Hernandez, inebriated and full of rage.

Anything besides shows like The Real Housewives of Potomac, which spent far too much time discussing degrees, pedigrees and musings on race largely shaped by a brown paper bag.

Bravo’s Married to Medicine perfected this last year. So when it comes to the question of whether or not we needed a legal equivalent of that show, the answer is yes. Oh, hell yes, if you’ve refused to stop quoting Maya Wilkes when the spirit moves you.

WE tv’s legal-centered docuseries Money. Power. Respect. is definitely that companion show. Instead of doctors and doctors’ wives, here, each of the women is an entertainment attorney with greater ambitions with respect to her career, clientele and bottom line.

The cast includes Dana Whitfield, who aims to transition more into artist management. Whitfield is married to Lord Jamar, who behaves exactly as I expected he would. There is Kelly Shapiro, who looks like “What if KeKe Wyatt went to law school?” She’s one of those “I didn’t come here to make friends” types and put her Los Angeles boyfriend on ice in the coldest of ways upon her move to New York City.

Another cast member is Kendell Kelly, who has already given us a storyline molded after Changing Faces songs like “That Other Woman” and “G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T.”

By episode 2, she has confronted her man, Glenn, after another woman he’s been cheating on her with confronts her. What I like about Kendell is that she made an addendum to their lease that if Glenn cheated on her, he had to get out of her house within 48 hours.

After being confronted by the two women, Glenn doesn’t show any signs that he really gives a damn, but Kendell, knowing that the cameras are rolling, continues to follow him. She probably could have kept the line “J.D. beats Ph.D., boo. Run that” to herself, but she wanted to sell this scene, so I appreciate the vigor.

The same goes for Kendell taking an HIV test on air in light of the debacle she’s been placed in.

There’s also Nakia Thomas, who is friends with Glenn and thus isn’t exactly fond of Kendell out of loyalty to her cheating homeboy. And Wendy Crendle, who used to be married to Andre Harrell, and as an OG of the group, is quite forthright about restructuring her career and finances, since the abundant days of the 1990s are over. There’s one scene between the couple in the premiere when Andre quips that if she wants their son to stay in college in Paris (as opposed to at Howard), she ought to pay for it.

Last, but certainly not least, is Tiffany Ballard, who seriously looks like “Remy Ma, Esq.” Some of the women look down on her by claiming she’s too hood, but she’s the one who quickly calls some of the women out on their bougie and reminds them that she has an active clientele (unlike others on the struggle).

Read the rest at The Root.

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I grew up knowing of female rappers from all over. Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Yo-Yo, Mia X, and Queen Latifah were huge names who could boast of platinum and gold albums. But by the late 2000s, women’s visibility in hip hop had steeply declined.

Then, a Queens-bred rapper by the name of Nicki Minaj released her second mixtape, Sucka Free. Minaj would go on to single-handedly revive women’s presence in hip hop and be the only woman in several years to break out as a star who could boast of mainstream success. Given Minaj’s success with her debut album, the double platinum smash Pink Friday, conventional wisdom suggests that should have opened the door to other female rappers.

We did get Iggy Azalea and “Fancy,” though the Australian white woman laying claim to the same cadence as, say, the southern Black rapper Diamond of Crime Mob fame has roundly been dismissed as gimmicky at best. Maybe she’ll score another hit—or maybe she’s the female Vanilla Ice. As for Azealia Banks, well, self-destructive behavior has made her the new Foxy Brown, but without the hits.

When it comes to veterans, Remy Ma has enjoyed a resurgence recently thanks to her time on Love & Hip Hop: New York and, more importantly, the success of her single with Fat Joe, “All The Way Up.” A joint album with Fat Joe is due by year’s end and plans of a solo album are also afoot; Remy is enjoying the kind of stardom we expected before she served an eight-year prison sentence. There’s also Lil’ Kim, who will be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her debut album, Hardcore, next month, and released a mixtape this year that was her best in quite some time.

Minaj remains the only woman with star power like that of her 1990s and early 2000s predecessors. But as far as women in rap go, it hasn’t been this great in years. And the shift comes courtesy of the many new female rappers who have entered the space.

Admittedly, it may be hard for many to notice that. The music industry is still in transition: in the past year, streaming has become the U.S. recording industry’s biggest revenue source; artists are less ambivalent about bypassing major record labels and working as independent acts; and the Internet is a better barometer of who’s hot than terrestrial radio. Even so, there are so many women releasing great rap music right now; it’s a noticeable pattern that deserves greater recognition and, for the artists who make it up, larger support.

One obvious success is Young M.A., whose single “OOOUUU” has amassed more than 45 million views on YouTube, and earned nods from Beyoncé and remixes from Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma. Young M.A. also appears in a newly released Beats By Dre ad, alongside Minaj, Pharrell, and other luminaries. That on its own is impressive, and her short spot—in which M.A. checks out another woman—is also groundbreaking. In the past, an out queer female rapper was a rare thing, yet in 2016, a Black lesbian who does not cater to male sexual fantasies is enjoying a breakout year.

She is not the only queer rapper, thankfully.

Read the rest at ELLE.

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I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Van is better than me. When it comes to the practice of patience, she operates at a level that I find befuddling. If I could gather Van’s homegirls for red wine and Drake, I’d love to know what they make of her dealings with Earn. There has to be a gaggle of them gagging over how much she bends for this dude.

Like, would you pick up your ex at his girl’s house? If so, you also operate at a level of maturity I’m two Star Wars prequels away from accessing. Yes, we begin the latest episode of Atlanta with the sight of Earn in bed, next to what’s-her-name. As Earn realizes he’s late for something, he rushes to get dressed and she asks, “Coming back tonight?” After a moment of hesitation, Earn answers, “Uh, no … thanks.” How nice of him to thank her for sex. Then he heads outside and into Van’s car, smelling like a one-night stand.

Van asks Earn if he’s high and his response is “… not really.” Technically, that’s a Vanid answer. The two are en route to the home of Monique, another one of the bougie people in Van’s life, for a pretentious Juneteenth celebration. If you’re wondering what Juneteenth is, let the Google guide you and may the white guilt flow freely thereafter.

As a Texan, I’m quite familiar with Juneteenth celebrations — but they don’t include black men leaning on a staircase, singing songs. I mean, Zapp & Roger might be playing, but it’s a much less formal affair than what’s going down at Monique’s place.

Consider their fixed cocktail menu, y’all: Juneteenth Juice, Frozen Freedom Margarita, Emancipation Eggnog, Plantation Master Poison, Abolition & Absinthe, Underground Railroad, and Forty Acres and a Moscow Mule. This is the kind of menu Phaedra Parks would create for a very special episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Monique strikes me as the type that would be on The Real Housewives of Potomac, though: I kind of hate her, but I do like that she likes Van. As she explains to Van, “You are a smart, beautiful, and determined lady like me.”

As far as Monique believes, Van and Earn are married, Earn actually finished Princeton, and they are the kind of adorable black couple her stuck-up ass can appreciate. Monique refers to Earn as Van’s “fancy Ivy League husband.” Why are they lying? Well, Van needs Monique to help out her career — you know, since she admitted to smoking weed after botching a drug test and all. We also meet Monique’s husband, a white dude named Craig who strolls down the staircase and shouts, “Happy Freedom Day!” Yes, he’s as annoying as he seems.

Earn isn’t eager to be at this party. You certainly can’t blame him after his interaction with Craig, who takes a liking to him. How awesome for Craig that he’s tolerant, but in a separate scene, he tries to scold Earn for having not gone to Africa yet: “You gotta go! Man, it’s your motherland. What are you thinking?” This guy is way too comfortable in how he talks to black people; just look at how often he reaches out to physically touch Earn, or wrap his arm around him. I guess I should be mad that he poured Earn a glass of Hennessy, but stereotypes like that and the splendor of Popeye’s Chicken are fine on my watch.

Read the rest at Vulture.

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In a recent interview, Barry Jenkins was asked if he felt pressured to “make something representative, to tell the big story?” The director and screenwriter behind the beautiful Moonlight responded, “I think there was an element of that. The movie is about very specific characters, in a very specific neighborhood, going through very specific ordeals. In that specificity there’s something universal, but also there’s a statement on the black experience.”

There is a burden typically placed on black creatives. Rarely, if ever, are we allowed to share works that speak to specific experiences. Our art often has to forgo the individualistic in favor of the collective for the sake of selling a point to the masses. In Moonlight, which is loosely based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the movie does indeed address universal themes like love, friendship, identity, and manhood. But there is much specificity in how they are explored. When it comes to the black experience, Moonlight tackles subjects like hypermasculinity and addiction in the aftermath of the War on Drugs. Those are issues that have uniquely impacted the black community at large, though I wonder if those who see the film and (rightfully) praise it will know that is not the only black experience.

A.O. Scott, chief film critic of the New York Times, recently said, “In the prestige movies that court critical and academy approval, Black people are often symbols and symptoms, their stories parables of pathology, striving and redemption.” For directors like Nate Parker, his intent with The Birth of A Nation was to offer imagery speaking to black strength, but as his past comments on why he would never play a gay character suggest, he, too, falls victim to the idea that only certain types of black characters warrant celebration.

As much as I enjoyed Moonlight, it does fit neatly into the kind of black movies Scott notes, that net critical and Academy approval. I’m troubled that some of our stories only make it to the mainstream when they feature pathologized imagery like the crack addicted black woman or the sad gay black man. Still, one hopes that those who see Moonlight and find it moving come to realize the black experience and the gay Black experience can be more than this. In the meantime, this movie at least offers nuance and complexity to characters and stories like these.

It’s best to view Moonlight as it presents itself: as a coming of age story of its protagonist, Chiron. The film is divided into three chapters chronicling Chiron’s journey to manhood. Chiron, who is played by three different actors, is the child of a crack-addicted mother, being raised in a poor neighborhood in Miami.

In the first third of the film, we’re introduced to Chiron, or Little as he’s called then, who’s much smaller than the other boys surrounding him. As a result, he is perceived as soft and subsequently picked on. While running away from antagonizers, he escapes into an abandoned home (serving as a crack house) where he soon meets Juan, played by House of Cards alum Mahershala Ali. Juan, along with his girlfriend Teresa, played by Janelle Monae, take care of Chiron in ways his mother Paula doesn’t. There is a poignant scene in this segment in which Chiron asks Juan what a “faggot” is—a term he learned from his mom. Juan points to it as a term used to dehumanize gay people. When Chiron asks if he’s gay, Juan, after looking at Teresa, let’s him know that is something he’ll have to figure out on his own.

Read the rest at Complex.

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Normally, I do not tolerate rosé slander, but in Alfred’s case, I can understand the frustration. If you’re a rapper booked for an appearance at the club, you should get more than free wine. That man deserved brown liquor, damn it.

Righteous indignation aside, Alfred’s got to work on that attitude. Does he want to be in the club? Based on his variety of grimaces, nah, but he’s getting paid to be there, so he should treat it like the job it is. He does declare, “I don’t trust niggas in the club.” I mean, duh, but my point stands.

Not that many people appear to be familiar with Paper Boi, and of the few who do know him, the response is equal parts salty and stank. Alfred has got to get that game face together or else the “for bookings” portion of his social-media-account bios will go largely ignored. He is new to all this, so maybe there’s something to be said of a learning curve. I’m southern, though, so it ain’t too high ’round my way.

Alfred needs to be more like Darius. People just buy him free drinks. Of course they do! He is what the kids would describe as “good energy.” When he got up to bop, I was like, “HE THINK HE ME!” If you didn’t read that in a hoodrat tone, go back and reread the sentence.

Now, Alfred not getting any free Crown Royal Apple aside, his other problems include a shifty promoter who planned to screw him over. Earn is the manager, so handling that is technically his responsibility. Perhaps it’s a familial trait, but Earn hates the club, too. He calls it a “money suck.”

Earn’s other keen observation include “Somebody smells like Wendy’s double stack.” Whoever wrote this line, I appreciate your specificity. That’s like me saying someone smells like a half-eaten No. 2 combo from Whataburger and two puffs of Newports. Anyhow, Earn is chasing this promoter around the club, asking for the $5,000 owed to them. The man literally escapes into a secret room to avoid coming off the appearance fee.

In the meantime, Earn greets a bartender who very quickly gets him together. As he complains about the club, she asks if she can offer him a bit of advice. “Leave,” she advised. “No one is keeping you here, but if you’re at the club, then deep down you want to be at the club. You’re not special.”

This woman deserves a round of applause. I hate dealing with people who go on and on about the club while they’re at the club. Take your ass home then! That’s why I hate that song “Here” by Alessia Cara. The door works well when you open it, girl.

And while bottle service tends to be an overpriced hustle, the bartender is correct in excusing that, too. As she says, “Everyone needs to feel special sometimes.”

Like the G that she is, the bartender slips Earn a note (after pouring several shots that he didn’t need since he can’t hold his liquor), letting him know that you need to pull the fire alarm to get into the sleazy promoter’s back room. Once Earn slips inside, though, he is promptly shut down. You see, the promoter claims that Paper Boi exceeded his alcohol order limit, required extra security because he is a “thug,” and didn’t perform as promised. So what does Earn end up getting? Only $750.

Earn ain’t exactly threatening, so he takes that money and goes back outside with the face of a sad-dog meme. By the time he finds his cousin, though, he’s riled the hell up. Alfred is in a mood, too: He was already bothered that another rapper with real money and popularity overshadowed him, then got vexed by the fact that his section was besieged with a bunch of folks he didn’t know. Alfred kicked them all out, but did offer to let the women stay. Of course, those women left anyway.

Alfred likes one woman in particular, but when he asks for her number, she shut him down, telling him to follow her on Instagram. She has a boyfriend, it turns out, but promises to check out Paper Boi’s music on SoundCloud. When Alfred felt a way, she kept it funky. She knew he wanted to party with a cute girl like her, so her services are done.

Pissed about everything, Alfred storms into the back room, punks the hell out on the promoter, and gets the money he was promised. “Wow,” the promoter says moments after he leaves. “That boy’s gonna be a star.” He then tells a woman he works with to call the police.

By the time Earn and Alfred and friends make it to another spot to eat, they learn via the television that Paper Boi is wanted for armed robbery in connection to a shooting outside the club. Also, one of Darius’s friends recorded Alfred manhandling that promoter with his phone, further confirming why you can’t trust niggas in the club.

This episode is great all around, but I do have one lingering complaint: WHY WERE PEOPLE NOT JUMPING AROUND WHEN “KNUCK IF YOU BUCK” WAS PLAYING? What kind of blacks in the club don’t lose their mind to that Crime Mob classic? Hell, I stood up and started jumping while watching the episode. Those extras ain’t real.

Read the rest at Vulture.

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