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NeNe Leakes returned to The Real Housewives of Atlanta exactly how I expected her to. With audaciousness: “Yes, bitches. I am back.” With bravado: “The Queen is back.” With contempt for the cast mates that she never truly meshed with: “I can see Kandi face now: face stuck.”

With additional disdain for whoever might else not fancy her: “Pick your faces off the floor. She’s back.” Still, one wonders why did she choose to return?

Last June, when she announced that she would not return for the show’s eighth season, she told People: “This was definitely a hard decision for me. Me and my husband have been going back and forth on it for weeks now. But my contract is up and I just think this is the right time. This is my opportunity to spread my wings and do different things.”

A month after that announcement, she was already rumored to remain on the show in some capacity. Four months after it, she was confirmed to be shooting with the ladies who round out the cast. All that thinking and eight weeks later, it’s, “Oh, well, never mind. I’m back.”

One assumes Leakes was offered a lot of money to go back, but it’s not like she didn’t have other things going on. She recently she ended her four-week run in the Broadway production of Chicago as Matron “Mama” Morton. This marked the second time she’s starred in a musical following her role in Cinderella. Leakes has also signed on to join the E! Network show Fashion Police.

Immediately after announcing that she would be leaving the reality franchise that made her a breakout star, it was reported that she would join Betty White andBlack-ish actor Anderson Anderson on a reboot of the 1960s game show To Tell The Truth.

She’s not Bethenny Frankel, who went back to The Real Housewives of New York after her talk show tanked. Leakes made it all too clear that she didn’t necessarily need The Real Housewives of Atlanta anymore. Everything she’s done since leaving the show proved that point. For someone who made a big deal about leaving the show, and for quite some time, expressed exasperation with the show that made her popular, it’s interesting to see her back already. She didn’t give much time for us to miss her.

That said, while I’m not so sure Leakes needed to be back on the show this soon, the show definitely needs her. When NeNe Leakes decided she was ready to leave, my immediate reaction was, “Bye, girl.” Now I’m finding myself saying “Thank God.”

I’ve always felt with these kind of shows, most folks are replaceable. However, while this season of RHOA hasn’t been a complete dud, there are some obvious problems here. One, the addition of Kim Fields has not done wonders. Yes, she offers balance to the ridiculousness of the other women, but she only talks about her children and her husband to the point that she bursts into tears at the sight of her cast mates having fun at a day party. Social anxiety is not that entertaining.

Then there is the matter of Kenya Moore, who I used to think was doing performance art and paying tribute to Valerie Cherish from HBO’s The Comeback. Unfortunately, Kenya is just being a pity week after week as she recycles past women’s storylines. Don’t believe me? Let’s run it down: a song, a fitness video, and now, a new home. I’m surprised she didn’t go out and buy new TV just to compete with NeNe.

Read the rest at VH1.

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I am a Black man in the beginning of my 30s who cannot shake the constant desire to consume chicken wings and copious amounts of fried catfish. I need to be stingy with my stress levels. With that in mind, I will not allow the Oscar nominations and the sea of whiteness in which it sailed on to give me high blood pressure.

Once again, there are no people of color nominated in any of the major acting categories. Once again, Black film directors like Ryan Coogler and F. Gary Gray find themselves shut out of nominations in the Best Director category. You know, like Ava DuVernay last year, Spike Lee many years, or [insert Black director’s name here] in your year of choosing.

Once again, there is no film with a majority Black cast nominated for Best Picture.

Once again, some Black people find themselves enraged; some White people are tapping into said rage; some Black people are denoting we should not give that great a damn about White people; some White people are trying to play down the role racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia—be it subconscious or otherwise—all plays into this lily White set of nominees.

I am so bored with this cyclical debate that I had to slap myself with caffeine to stay awake long enough to finish this sentence. However, it’s a debate that should be had and will be had until it no longer has to. That’s not so much a wink to wanting White approval as it is making clear that those who claim to be the judge of all of us actually live up to such a standard as opposed to continuing to make whiteness serve as the American default.

To be fair, it is the general consensus that the Best Picture category (minus the film “Carol” being snubbed) is a pretty strong group of films. For those of you who want to insert Straight Outta Compton securing a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, don’t bother. That film was written by White people, and the screenplay—including some glaring omissions about the women who played vital roles in N.W.A’s ascension and suffered from violent acts at the hands of its members—is probably the worst part of the movie.

I am not shocked by any of this happening, but no less disappointed. Though I will not personally give up too much of my energy to the Academy, I do understand those who choose to. What I will argue, however, is that when it comes to this ongoing debate, the focus should be clear.

Read the rest at EBONY.

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The State of the Union is theater, first and foremost. It is a chance for the commander-in-chief to stand before all of Congress, and more importantly, the entire nation, and effectively talk yo’ sh–. Enter former President George W. Bush and phrases like “Axis of Evil.” President Obama, one of the most gifted orators of my lifetime, understands the importance of these moments more than the majority of his predecessors. So, on the final State of the Union address, when I read that Obama may reportedly set aside convention, I was curious as to what kind of speech this might be.

Obama himself teased the address on Twitter, sounding like he was promoting his final rap album where he claimed: “I’m treating this last State of the Union just like my first – because I’m still just as hungry. I hope you tune in, because it’s for you.”

I, and Black people like me hurting in this country, are apart of that “you,” and yet, there was no mention of race and the racism still ravaging this country — notably with respect to policing. As the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery notes, Obama did make some reference to race and policing in last year’s State of the Union, saying, “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York, but surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.”

However, many Black Americans rightfully still fear that we our sisters, mothers, nieces, uncles, sons, fathers, brothers may die unjustly at the hands of a police officer and there will be no consequence. These officers can kill Black children holding toy guns and nothing will happen to them. So, I’m not especially hopeful for the state of our union if the first Black president can’t explicitly detail the racism hurting Blacks in this country.

When I shared this sentiment on social media, I was met with criticism that Obama is not the “Messiah of Black people.” This is a dim viewpoint prepared by and served to people who ought to know the problem. Black people played in an integral role in Obama’s political ascension. Had Black people not switched allegiance to him during the 2008 presidential primary, we would have been watching Hillary Clinton’s last State of the Union. Had Black people – namely Black women – not voted at the levels we did in 2008 and 2012, he would not have won. Google can guide you to the data.

Another sentiment expressed was this idea that it does not matter if President Obama did not say the words “Black Lives Matter” last night. This, despite Alicia Garza, who helped found Black LIves Matter, being in attendance. Again, the SOTU is about theater and talking points, so yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder why some things are ignored over others. No other constituency is told that the president is not their savior or that what’s important to them is deservingly played down. Even if some people choose to diminish us, I will never elect to do so.

Funny enough, Obama expressed disappointment over not being able to solve the rise of partisanship in Washington. What’s interesting about that is he is so bothered by his inability to fix the partisanship in DC, though a lot of that is rooted in the racism he doesn’t address directly.

What Obama did make references to with respect to bigotry, though, is the current Islamophobia spearheaded by Republican presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump. “When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer,” Obama said.

Obama went on to add, “That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”

In the Republican response to Obama’s remarks, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also took shots at Trump, “There’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results. Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume.”

However, when you look at her comparing the reaction to the Charleston massacre to the civil unrest in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore, it’s clear Haley is advocating that people put their megaphones down in favor of dog whistles.

Read the rest at VH1.

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During the first commercial break of the new NBC drama, Shades of Blue, I received the following text message: “When the f**k did J.Lo get to be a good actress?”

There are two types of critiques about Jennifer Lopez the actress that I often feel are unfair. The first being that she is not a solid actress. I’ve never held that belief, only I do believe for every Selena or Out of Sight, there are the majority of other film roles. Most of them lack complexity, which makes it not totally surprising to notice some see Lopez display depth and range and wonder if she’s been possessed by the spirit of a more gifted talent.

I’m not sure whether that’s a symptom of Lopez’s choice in roles or the roles Hollywood has offered her over the years. I assume it’s the latter so it makes sense that Lopez, like many other minority actresses, have turned to television for better opportunities to show what she can do. Though it remains to be seen if
Shades of Blue will prove to be that, based on the pilot, Lopez appears to be in good hands.

Lopez plays Detective Harlee Santos,a single-mother and right hand to Lt. Bill Wozniak, played by Ray Liotta. They are crooked cops full of righteous indignation. In their minds, their bribe-taking and other law-evading activities are just because they’re doing what’s necessary to keep their precinct safe. Similarly, their paltry pay rate makes their supplemental income a necessity. Unfortunately, Lopez finds herself caught and subsequently forced to work in the FBI’s anti-corruption task force for no other reason than she can’t bear to go jail and leave her teenage daughter behind.

When I saw Det. Santos get placed in handcuffs and hauled away, all I could think was yet another white man is ruining Jennifer Lopez’s career. I immediately flashbacked to Jenny’s time with Ben Affleck. Forgive me for being very Flashback Friday right now, but that was a very dark period in my life.

That said, while I do think the plot twist makes for an interesting show premise, I do wonder exactly how long Shades of Blue can work as a show. There are so many shows on television now with strong premises that seemingly have short shelf lives. When they become hits, the networks stretch them out far longer than they should — typically ruining what should’ve been a short and sweet yet enjoyable run.

I’m curious to see how the writers make this show work beyond a single season, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the good acting from each cast member that spares Shades of Blue from being yet another cop show that we don’t need.

Admittedly, though, my immediate reaction to the show within its first few minutes was that Jennifer Lopez is the most glamorous police officer that I’ve ever seen. That leads me to the other critique about Lopez that wears me: the focus on how pretty she is and how it’s purportedly distracting when she’s playing roles like a maid or police officer. I may be caught up in Lopez’s beauty, but not to the point where I ever feel it makes her roles implausible.

To be fair to the Bronx’s greatest creation (sorry, everyone else) I don’t think it’s possible for Jennifer Lopez to look bad. She literally cannot help it. Some people need to suck that truth up and let that boring line of criticism go already.

Read the rest at VH1.

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There are certain conversations between straight people online that make me want to throw my computer and phone into a sea of hot sauce. Of those topics, by far the most grating to the nerve is one centered on child support and all related custodial matters. Here’s how it goes: Some famous man – typically Black – expresses some grievance about the amount of child support he has to pay and/or purportedly not being able to see his child as much as he feels he should. In turn, men on social media – many of whom who will never, ever have a rich man’s problems – suffocates many folks’ timelines with complaints, most of which only exist within the confines of their imagination.

On the first Monday of 2016, Future took to the Twitter to be the latest famous man to engage in this practice, and like all of the other men before him, I wish the Negro would’ve turned to a diary instead.

Rap’s Karen Walker began his online complaining with “This bitch got control problems…”

Problem number one: Future is calling Ciara, the mother of his son a “bitch.” Trust me when I tell you that more often than not, when a son sees his dad refer to his mama this way, the only “bitch” to that child is the one with the penis. That’s not how you refer to the woman who gave one of your kids life, no matter how feisty you’re feeling in that moment.

Future then followed with: “I gotta go through lawyers to see babyfuture…the fuckery for 15k a month.”

Problem number two: This is none of the public’s business. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about Future and Ciara’s relationship, but I do know he cheated on her, thus ending their engagement. To that end, you reap what your wayward sexual appetite has sown, beloved. Meanwhile, as far as the 15k goes, you’re Future. You can afford it. Hell, I’ve chipped in by way of plenty of sales. You’re welcome, Black man.

After that $15,000 a month in child support reference came the complaints of mere commoners (and that’s no shade as I’m not famous either). For some reason, they, too, want to complain about child support. However, child support is based on income, so if you can afford it, that’s on you. Don’t want to pay child support? Buy condoms, it’s cheaper. Even so, a lot of these men fancy themselves as being rich, hence, their irritation with the child support figure Ciara and other women who have had babies by wealthy men get. Here’s how to solve that: realize your ass isn’t rich.

See that? I just saved you so much stress. I can give you my PayPal if you want to throw something in my tip car.

Next came Future’s declaration: “I jus want babyfuture that’s all.”

Tell the judge, not the world, my dude.

Followed by the claim: “I been silent for a year & a half..I ran outta patience.”

This, this right here, this is a damn lie.

Read the rest at VH1.

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I say this with a sober mind and honest heart: I do not think Beyoncé is a bad actress.

Yes, I will allow you a moment to sit in awe of my bravery. No, you cannot claim that I am only saying this because I worship at the altar of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. I don’t like everything she does. For instance, half of I Am … Sasha Fierce has not been played in any speaker I own since 2008. Also, I hope to never, ever see Carmen: A Hip Hopera on purpose again. Now, don’t be a snitch and tell Beyoncé I said any of this, but I just want to let it be known that I can play detractor when pushed enough.

So, again, I do not think Beyoncé is a bad actress, and I am delighted to know that she is reportedly taking her future career as an actress more seriously. According to an “insider”—who, I assume, was allowed to break his or her blood-oath allegiance to Beyoncé and Parkwood Entertainment for this cause—Beyoncé has been hard at work trying to get her acting chops together.

“She wants to land leading roles in movies and has been taking classes in New York and L.A. for the past year,” the insider told Us Weekly. This person went on to add, “Bey’s looking for an iconic dramatic role. She wants to make a film that’s socially relevant to African American rights.”

In other words, she’s both “woke” and ready for something substantial. I, for one, am ecstatic to read this, because again, I do not think Beyoncé is a bad actress. I know what some of you are thinking: “Have you seen a Beyoncé movie?” Shut up. I’ve seen them all.

My thing about Beyoncé, actress, is that we’ve yet to see Beyoncé in anything remotely challenging. I’ve already conceded that Carmen: A Hip Hopera was terrible, so let’s move on and pretend that never happened. That said, Austin Powers in Goldmember wasn’t exactly a stretch for anyone involved to play. The Fighting Temptations was good in that everyone, from an Oscar winner to Faith Evans, was terrible in a terrible and forgettable film. To be fair, Beyoncé was no less terrible than those two.

Beyoncé was adequate in Dreamgirls, but many might rightly point out that she was playing herself: the favorite. Many laughed when Beyoncé did not win an Oscar but Jennifer Hudson did. Cute for you, but I have five words for you on J. Hud’s perceived acting prowess: “My vury own Louis Vuitton!!

I know you hear me, Sex and the City first-movie fans.

I rest my case.

When it comes to the thriller Obsessed, I’ve always felt that people were unfair to Beyoncé. She did a fine job in that fake-ass Fatal Attraction. If there’s anyone who was stinking up that already musty movie, it was Idris Elba and that god-awful, piss-poor impersonation of an American accent he used. Yeah, I said it. Run up, get done up.

So, here, the subject of Yoncé’s performance in Cadillac Records is where it gets divisive. I think Beyoncé was good, but the movie tried to cram too much into a really small amount of time. That said, it was something different for Beyoncé, and she was not terrible in it.

Read the rest at The Root.

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It is the most wonderful time of the year. That is, if you are a Jesus enthusiast, or at the very least, down to turn up for him and capitalism. Whatever the case, I am feeling quite festive – please hear that in Mariah Carey’s voice – and in honor of big day looming, here is my grown up Christmas list for you some of your favorite stars. They’re welcome. As our you.

Happy holidays!

R. Kelly: a reality check.

Since I can’t channel Judge Whoever on TV and present to the Pied Piper, a pair of silver handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit, I will be kind enough to hand this man a clue. If you watched his interview with Huffington Post Live, you are well aware of him being in desperate need of one. Pissy as I not so affectionately call him, seems to still operate from the space that it’s the 1990s or even 2003 in that he cannot be challenged for past allegations of the sexual abuse of underaged girls. Today is a new day, though, beloved, and unless you want to defend yourself properly, you best crawl under a rock. No one is going to remain silent now.

Ariana Grande: enunciation.

Ariana Grande knew there was an underserved consumer base who wanted Christmas sex songs you can also bop to. For this reason alone we must protect Ponytail at all costs. That aside, I still can’t always make out what in the hell she is saying. I say this as a fan: you can channel Mariah Carey’s high notes or Toni Braxton’s penchant for mumbling, but you can’t have both. To quote my girl Charlotte, “Pick a side and stay there.” Personally, I lean towards Mimi (but I love you, Toni).

Frank Ocean: a calendar.

Black man, you told the world that your sophomore album would come out in July. It’s December, thus this isn’t even CP time; it’s oh, I couldn’t give even a smidgen of a damn about your feelings. Even Adele is calling you out, sir. Stop making us suffer.

Rihanna: an album release date.

I’m quite sick of this s**t, tbh.

Read the rest at VH1.

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On “Stay in Your Lane,” Lynntesha Roberts-Henley leads the Word of Faith Cathedral Mass Choir with a powerful message: “Stay in your lane, stop swerving.” Even a heathen Negro like me can see the value of that sentiment for one’s personal life, but as an R&B fan, it applies here just as well. After years of enduring R&B artists pick up the glow sticks to fit in—or more recently, push R&B to its limits to the point where sometimes it seems unrecognizable from the tradition—it’s nice to have certain artists unwilling to deviate from their trademark style.

That’s why there’s something wonderfully admirable about Monica’s consistency. She doesn’t try to recapture the peak success she enjoyed at the start of her career, opting instead to cater exactly to those who love her (which is a fairly sizable audience). As noted in the Atlanta singer’s recent interview on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, Monica will always have singles that perform well, only that tidbit may not immediately dawn on the masses.

Monica knows what works for her, which is what makes her latest album, Code Red, such an enjoyable listen. That is, if you’re a fan expecting Monica to provide what you’re used to her offering. Code Red’s lead single, “Just Right For Me” featuring Lil Wayne, is a standard Monica single: a soul sample and strong vocals conveying a feeling drenched in lovey dovey. In that respect, it follows previous singles like “So Gone” and “Everything to Me.”

On other songs, like “Call My Name” and her two Timbaland collaborations (“Love Just Ain’t Enough” and “All Men Lie”), I’m reminded of Monica’s The Makings of Me. It’s an acquired taste, but I absolutely love Monica when she’s cursing and crooning the word “ni**a” while talking about ain’t-sh*t men. She is basically every conversation I’ve had with an attitudinal, fed up Southern woman about a no-good man in song form.

Trust me, this is a compliment of the highest order.

There are some habits I would encourage her to let go of, however. As good as Monica sounds on “Hustler’s Ambition,” I wish she’d found someone besides Akon to duet with. Like her duet with DMX, “Gotta Go Home,” I’d rather hear Monica perform with someone as strong a vocalist as she is.

That said, though Monica stays consistent with respect to sticking to certain themes, Code Red isn’t completely revisionist. Much like Tamia on Love Life, Monica is undoubtedly aware of current trends, and in select cases on the album, offers a nod to them without going too far left. Enter the sensual, ’80s-leaning “Suga.” It’s the perfect song to shimmy and body roll to while pretending to be a member of Vanity 6 or The Mary Jane Girls (or so I’ve heard).

Read more at EBONY.

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If I had only one word to use to describe Chris Brown’s latest studio album, Royalty, it would be mistake.

The most compelling thing about Chris Brown the artist is that he has all the components to be excellent—as in the sort of megastar his most ardent supporters often say he should be—but rarely is that reflected on his albums. He’s a decent singer with a nice tone, a proven songwriter, and an excellent performer, so in theory, he should be to the 2010s what Usher was to the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, Chris, like many of his contemporaries, lacks a cohesive vision, and that is, more often than not, reflected in his work.

There was some progress in a more singular sound on last year’s X, but he has since fallen back to old habits. Royalty is many things all at once though much of it is not particularly good. One minute Brown is a singer, the next a rapper, and not long after, the quintessential pop act. It’s fine to have many facets of yourself, but without vision, and in Brown’s case, understanding the virtues of editing, the end result is a mess.

What’s even more frustrating is that in trying to do so many different things, Brown steers away from what he’s actually quite good at doing. Take “Wrist,” in which Brown basically goes back to rapper ’n b with lines like, “I’m a champagne-pouring nigga. I like big asses and tits.” Normally, the Houstonian in me would appreciate references to still tippin’ on four-fours, but it comes across as rather banal and beneath Brown’s talent.

The same goes for “Liquor,” in which Brown lazily croons about wanting to drink and fuck. I mean, who doesn’t like that, but again, how many times can one echo this sentiment in his career? On top of that, you hear songs like that only to be placed alongside his pop leanings like “Zero,” “Anyway,” and “Fine by Me.”

On Royalty, you’re essentially taking a trip to the trap, and you make a pit stop at your mama’s house, who is clearly still a fan of pure R&B, only to later end up in West Hollywood; by the end of the trip, you just want to take your ass home and nurse your neck that’s been sent in so many directions sonically.

I can already hear someone arguing that the album is a relic and Brown is no different in releasing a string of singles as opposed to a cohesive effort. Sure, but don’t you want more for someone capable of producing such? Actually, there is one constant found throughout the album: misogyny.

Read the rest at Complex.

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