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As a wave of sighs, boos, hisses, and expletives flooded various homes and social media platforms in the wake of Beyoncé losing every major category at this year’s Grammy Awards, a familiar sentiment surfaced just as swiftly: “What did you expect?”

The rhetorical question is rooted in the history of the most celebrated music awards show we have. It is a history that has long highlighted the fact that the Recording Academy has little interest in amplifying black art outside a few designated genre categories.

When Beyoncé’s Lemonade lost out to Adele’s 25 on Sunday night, some suspected vote-splitting was behind the upset. I think it was just white people being white—like they always have been.

Here is a list of the 10 black artists that have won the night’s biggest honor, Album of the Year, since the show’s inception in 1957:

Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (1974), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1975) Songs in the Key of Life (1977)
Michael Jackson: Thriller (1984)
Lionel Richie: Can’t Slow Down (1985)
Quincy Jones: Back on the Block (1991)
Natalie Cole: Unforgettable With Love (1992)
Whitney Houston: The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack (1994)
Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1999)
Outkast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below (2004)
Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company (2005)
Herbie Hancock: River: The Joni Letters (2008)

It is a shockingly paltry sum, especially since many were basically handed the award long past their prime and for works that arguably catered more to the taste of the Grammys’ suspected older white male voting body. In more recent years, innovative works from the likes of Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and, of course, Beyoncé, have lost in this category to artists such as Daft Punk, Taylor Swift, Beck, and Mumford and Sons. It therefore was not surprising to me that in a world in which Taylor Swift has two Album of the Year Grammy Awards and Prince has none, Lemonade lost to 25, a far more palatable album (to white people, anyway).

What’s even more frustrating about the Grammy Awards is that it purports to be more evolved on race than the Oscars. Last year, Neil Portnow, CEO and president of the Recording Academy, was asked about inclusion in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign. In his comments to Variety, Portnow projected a certain moral superiority:

The music community really is much more inclusive because of the nature of the collaborations. Also because of the nature of the proliferation of influences of one genre into another over time. It’s the history of how music has evolved from the very beginning.

Portnow sounds like a member of the Democratic National Committee touting the inclusion of the party while promoting the DNC. Sure, they present splotches of color in primetime, but the reality is that even though black women keep the Grammys alive, they don’t have enough of them in real positions of power. Because the organization don’t value them as much as claim to. Because they celebrate diversity only in superficial terms. That’s just how it’s always been.

That said, something did feel slightly different last night—largely because someone white at least alluded to the blatant biases that consume Grammy voters. Adele, who basically runs the British wing of the BeyHive, used her acceptance speech time (twice!) to profess appreciation for Beyoncé and Lemonade. “I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humble and very grateful, but my artist of my life is Beyoncé,” she explained. “This album for me, the Lemonade album, was so monumental.”

Some took issue with this comment of hers: “The way you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel is empowering. And they stand up for themselves. And I love you. I always have.”

Those folks need to be quiet.

Read the rest at Fusion.

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When I first read that Queen Latifah had signed on for a new music-themed show helmed by Lee Daniels, I was intrigued. But shortly before Star was set to debut, I balked at watching it—and the blame for that falls squarely on the creator. You see, while promoting Star, Daniels claimed that he selected a white woman to be the lead singer of the fictitious girl group because in lieu of the recent presidential election, “the country needed to heal.” Daniels also claimed that he doesn’t “embrace racism.” In his mind, I suppose, others that do acknowledge the realities of racism do so out of sheer will.

Even worse was another goal Daniels expressed: “We are in a very dangerous state right now in our country and I wanted white people to feel good about being white because right now, there’s a lot of hatred going on.” A dumb demagogue won the presidency after several displays of racism and xenophobia, and vows to “Make America Great Again,” and yet Lee Daniels, a Black man, thought white people needed a pick-me-up? I just couldn’t support such lunacy.

But, while trying to avoid real life over inauguration weekend, I gave in to my curiosity, despite these misgivings about Daniels and his intentions. It wasn’t so much about giving him a chance as it was being worn out from too many Law & Order: SVU marathons. That, and I assumed I wouldn’t make it past the first few scenes.

When I first read that Queen Latifah had signed on for a new music-themed show helmed by Lee Daniels, I was intrigued. But shortly before Star was set to debut, I balked at watching it—and the blame for that falls squarely on the creator. You see, while promoting Star, Daniels claimed that he selected a white woman to be the lead singer of the fictitious girl group because in lieu of the recent presidential election, “the country needed to heal.” Daniels also claimed that he doesn’t “embrace racism.” In his mind, I suppose, others that do acknowledge the realities of racism do so out of sheer will.

Even worse was another goal Daniels expressed: “We are in a very dangerous state right now in our country and I wanted white people to feel good about being white because right now, there’s a lot of hatred going on.” A dumb demagogue won the presidency after several displays of racism and xenophobia, and vows to “Make America Great Again,” and yet Lee Daniels, a Black man, thought white people needed a pick-me-up? I just couldn’t support such lunacy.

But, while trying to avoid real life over inauguration weekend, I gave in to my curiosity, despite these misgivings about Daniels and his intentions. It wasn’t so much about giving him a chance as it was being worn out from too many Law & Order: SVU marathons. That, and I assumed I wouldn’t make it past the first few scenes.

The show follows Star (Jude Demorest), a young girl raised in the foster care system who decides to take control of her life. She seeks out her sister Simone (Brittany O’Grady), a half-Black girl also in foster care, and Alexandra (Ryan Destiny), who is described as her “Instagram bestie.” I know what you’re thinking: People converse online, meet in real life, and become friends, but—that’s not really a thing.

On this show it is, though. So much so that Alexandra leaves her rich parents—who, we’ll later see, are played by Lenny Kravitz and Naomi Campbell—hops in a stolen car with Star and Simone, and drives down to Atlanta to link with Carlotta (Queen Latifah), who plays the role of surrogate mother (just moments after meeting them). Why? Well, back in the day, Carlotta was in a girl group with Star and Simone’s mama.

Read the rest at ELLE.

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Even before he won the 2008 presidential election, there was already talk of making a movie chronicling the life of Barack Hussein Obama.

The first to discuss such a film was Tyler Perry, who, in 2008, said that he was inspired to make a film about Obama and his relationship with his wife, Michelle Obama. Perry said that he sought to cast the likes of Angela Bassett and Denzel Washington in the film. Through the grace of God and/or some development executive, the Perry-helmed Obama biopic never happened. Others include Ed Norton and, on a semifrequent basis, Will Smith, who just last year joked that he had the ears to pull off the role and mentioned it to President Obama himself.

Of course, while the more established Hollywood folks have yet to produce films, thanks to indie filmmakers, we now already have two. Unfortunately, neither film has lived up to the stature of our history-making 44th president.

Last August, there was Southside With You, a film about the first date between Barack and Michelle Obama. It’s not bad per se. It’s a cute, mythologizing look at the president and the nation’s first lady. Thankfully, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Such characteristics are the problem with the other Obama movie now out, the Netflix-distributed Barry. There are two things to like about Vikram Gandhi’s film. It may be a low-budget effort, but it certainly doesn’t look like it. Then there is Devon Terrell, the 20-year-old Australian-born actor playing the first black president of the United States, who deserves credit for learning to play basketball with his left hand and nailing Obama’s very distinct accent.

Terrell is undoubtedly a star in the making, and if he doesn’t mind playing Obama again, he should welcome any future opportunity to do so—because he could likely do a whole lot more with better material.

That said, Barry makes for strange viewing.

In an interview about the film, Gandhi explained his intentions: “I never set out to make a film that celebrated Obama’s charisma—instead, I wanted to make a film that shows how universal and human his personal story really is.”

Gandhi is right to assert how universal the human experience can be, but there’s something to be said for knowing the specific experience you aim to help explain. Gandhi, too, attended Columbia University in New York City, and apparently lived in the building next to the one Obama moved to on Manhattan’s 109th Street. OK, but the black experience—notably when you are of mixed race and have as varied a background as Obama does—requires a certain kind of perspective. Gandhi turned to Adam Mansbach, author of the children’s book for adult children, Go the Fuck to Sleep, and novels like Angry Black White Boy and The End of Jews, for that.

Together they made a movie that often feels aimless in some cases and heavy-handed in others. After Obama lands in New York, he meets every cliché about New York City in the 1980s. Fair enough, but then, the very next morning, he’s eating breakfast while listening to Jesse Jackson. Not long after, Obama quotes Jackson in class, only to be confronted by a white student who inquires why Jackson hugged Yasser Arafat. This same person, who becomes a friend, also wonders why we black folks always talk about slavery.

Perhaps this wouldn’t feel like so much if we then didn’t see Obama reading Invisible Man on the basketball court. I’m certain Obama has read the book, but the imagery still feels hokey. The same goes for later in the film when Obama is buying The Souls of Black Folk in Harlem (from Fab Five Freddy).

Maybe Obama did confront a Black Israelite in Harlem for calling a white woman on the street a “cave bitch” by highlighting the irony of folks who can’t stand white people who nonetheless read the King James version of the Bible, but really? The same goes for the minority roommate (a bartender who doesn’t attend Columbia) advising Obama not to attend a university party because they’ll never be welcomed, only to have Obama object, highlighting his long-spoken belief in the goodness of everyone (despite all the white people vocalizing their hatred of him to the contrary).

As for the scene with the Jesse Jackson hater telling Obama that he’s half-white and therefore fits in anywhere, to which Obama hits back with, “I don’t feel anywhere, man”? God. That line feels lifted from Mariah Carey’s “Outside.”

The only scene truly believable in the film is a young Obama dancing off the beat with the black girl. Yeah, a lot of folks say Obama can dance, and the shimmy has gotten better over time, but c’mon; nah.

Ultimately, and what’s really grating about the film, is that the majority of it chronicles Obama’s relationship with his white girlfriend Charlotte. By the end, he doesn’t want her, and honestly, who cares? We know he married Michelle Robinson anyway, but I guess you can cite Charlotte for asking him, “Do you not believe in change?” which—dun-dun-dun—turns into “Change you can believe in.”

The film ambitiously seeks to explore race and identity through Obama’s journey coming to grips with his biracialism, while offering larger observations about America’s racial divide. It doesn’t really net either goal and, for all its good intentions, just comes across as two people who aren’t black trying to explain a black experience they haven’t lived and clearly cannot fathom, research be damned. It comes across as a remixed version of Obama’s life story in order to present their own feelings about racial identity in America. Someone as nuanced and complex as Barack Hussein Obama deserves better.

Read the rest at The Root.

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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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