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Earn is the kind of person who stresses everyone the hell out. Yet for all his faults, you still hope this fool figures himself out. That clearly won’t happen in “Streets on Lock,” given how the episode begins: Earn and his rapping cousin are in jail, mere hours after he got Paper Boi’s single on the radio.

While they’re sitting there, Earn turns to Alfred and says, “I’ve never been arrested before.” And he wasn’t even arrested for fighting the struggle, so it’s a big ol’ L all around. I’m not sure what I’d do if I got locked up in similar fashion. I’d probably sing Ja Rule’s “I Cry” — in my head, for safety reasons, obviously.

In another #poordat situation for Earn, Alfred is let out of jail faster than his kinfolk because someone handled his paperwork for him. When Alfred tries to see about bailing Earn out and inquires about why exactly he’s been arrested, a very matter-of-fact black women quips, “What’s the charge? Nigga, this ain’t a movie. You better wait until he’s in the system.”

His ass sure waits, too.

I love Atlanta‘s unabashed use of nigga. Maybe Paul Mooney no longer believes saying it makes his teeth white, but many of us haven’t stopped using it colloquially. Some will understand it’s the culture, others will feign confusion and whine about double standards. I’ll just be over here saying na-na-na-na-na-na, white people still can’t say it.

You hear it again when Alfred makes his way out of jail, after a thirsty cop approaches him — well, Paper Boi — and asks for a picture. At one point, he asks, “You listen to Gucci Mane? Man, I locked that nigga up.” How many Atlanta-area police officers can make similar boasts? To get a good estimate, multiply the number of lies Donald Trump has told this month by half the number of headlines featuring “Hillary Clinton” and “email.” The answer is too many damn people.

That lust for fame follows Alfred for the rest of his day. Fresh out of jail, he and his hilarious friend Darius go to grab food, and he is approached by a very enthusiastic waiter who informs him that he is “the nigga.” Why? Well, “I heard about that shoot-out you had on Twitter. You’re one of the last real rappers, man.” The waiter then goes to speak about being an old-school cat who listens to Mobb Deep and dead rappers like the Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac. Not surprisingly, he also slams “singing-ass rappers” like Fetty Wap before noting it’s “good to see a rapper blow a nigga.”

The end result is that Alfred and Darius don’t just get lemon-pepper wings, but WET lemon-pepper wings with the sauce. Now, lemon-pepper wings are already a cherished meal in certain sects of the community, but with the sauce, too? Oh, you poppin’.

Before leaving, the waiter warns Alfred, “Don’t let me down. If you let me down, I don’t know what I’d do.” You’ll grow up and get over it is what you’ll do. What a picturesque visual encapsulation of the old heads: They cling to bygone days of hip-hop while bitching about how much they hate Drake, Kanye West, and artists like Childish Gambino all day long.

Of course, the scene is not exactly subtle commentary. I’m typically not a fan of shows being so overt, though in this instance, it’s not a weakness. Thank God this one doesn’t practice Tyler Perry–style moralism, in which you are beaten over the head about the way you ought to be thinking. And I suppose I’m a bit biased because I absolutely agree with the point being made. Atlanta wants to be sure that everyone knows how violence and a specific strain of masculinity can benefit rappers like Paper Boi when they’re bursting onto the scene. The same goes for another scene where Alfred sees a little boy with a toy gun, emulating the parking-lot shooting so he can be just like him.

Read the rest at Vulture.

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When I first heard Donald Glover was making a show called Atlanta, my initial response lingered on, “Uh, I don’t know about all that.” I know Glover was raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, but as much as I’ve respected his career path, I’ve never been quite sure what to make of him. I don’t believe in measuring anyone’s blackness; it’s stupid, sophomoric, and, forever and always, incredibly boring.

Still, I’ve taken issue with previous comments he’s made about black culture, most notably how he’s referred to it as a “fight.” It’s fine to talk about hypermasculinity and homophobia within our community, but it’s just as important to properly contextualize those issues — that is, considering their roots and the outside forces at play in keeping them alive. Also, whenever I hear black people opine about liking both rap acts and emo bands, my eyes roll into the back of my head. You’re not the only one, beloveds, and plenty of us can relate to mixed tastes. Being well-spoken, being educated, and not being thuggish or “hard” does not automatically make you disconnected from the black community at large. But for whatever disconnect that’s been mentioned in the past, Glover didn’t help his case with comedy sketches like “bro rape” or the fetishizing of Asian women under his rap moniker Childish Gambino.

That is to say, past skepticism of Glover is not unwarranted. I have a few friends from Atlanta that feel a way about Glover being the person afforded the chance to make a show about their city. Such is their right, but to Glover’s credit, he certainly seized the opportunity. Atlanta is fantastic work, no matter the weariness I felt prior to viewing. Although this may be the first time I’ve seen Glover in a majorly black story, I’m happy to call a very good thing exactly what it is.

It’s impossible for me to not enjoy a show that includes the shouting of “Worldstar!” in its first 30 seconds. I became even more excited 90 seconds later, after hearing the voice of rapper OJ Da Juiceman. It’s those sort of specific references — black, and in other cases, southern and black — that make Atlanta‘s first episode function so well.

“The Big Bang” opens with a confrontation in a convenience-store parking lot — a setting for many a black man’s incarceration tale — where Earnest “Earn” Marks (Glover) tries to calm down Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), his drug-dealer-slash-aspiring-rapper cousin, as he confronts a man who tore off his rearview mirror. But once we hear the sound of a gunshot, we’re quickly taken back to the previous morning, when Earn wakes up next to Van (Zazie Beetz), the mother of his daughter, Lottie.

Theirs is a peculiar relationship. Earn and Van are intimate enough that he can joke about her curry-flavored morning breath, but she soon tells him to kick in rent money and watch their daughter that night because she has a date. When Earn hears this, he looks at his adorable daughter and says, “No, this is a great environment for you.” Fair assessment, though, once you learn more about Earn, you can see why Van is exploring her options.

As “The Big Bang” reveals, Earn is a young dad and Princeton dropout presently making $5.15 an hour at an airport kiosk, where he tries to sign up people for credit cards they likely do not need. When he cuts out of work to stop by his parents’ house, he’s not allowed inside because (1) they’re tired of giving him money, and (2) he can’t even be bothered to flush the toilet. And according to his mom, who examined what should have been flushed, he needs to start consuming actual food as opposed to candy. That’s disgusting, but also, very motherly.

Back at the airport, Earn is alerted to Paper Boi by his co-worker Swiff — who some may recognize as that guy from VH1’s Single Ladies who was convicted of molestation charges — and after realizing that the rapper is his cousin, Earn quickly tries to latch onto his rising success by offering to become his manager. Paper Boi ultimately listens to Earn’s proposal, though he doesn’t waste time reminding him, “Nigga, I ain’t seen or heard from you since my mom’s funeral, and the first thing I hear out your mouth is ‘Let’s get rich.'” By the way, upon reading select reviews of Atlanta elsewhere, here’s a quick PSA: White people, he’s not calling Earn “nigger.” There is a subtle yet substantial difference. You’re welcome.

Read the rest at Vulture.

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As iconic as she’s become, Britney Spears still carries with her an air of unfulfilled potential. Not as far as professional achievement goes; the Louisiana native has been a money-making industry unto herself for much of her life. In terms of her music, though, it’s a different story. She was on the verge of something great with 2003’s In the Zone, which was better received by fans than by critics, and 2007’s Blackout was a fantastic album that was overshadowed by personal troubles.

Those personal troubles were enough to infamously cause the Associated Press to prepare an obituary for Spears. Fortunately, she survived, but since then we’ve been grading her on a curve. The album born from that difficult period—2008’s Circus—had its moments (“If You Seek Amy” is good), but was ultimately just OK. The same goes for 2011’s Femme Fatale. Then there was Britney Jean, in 2013, an album most of us pretend never happened out of politeness.

And while the music wavered in quality from 2008 to 2013, Spears consistently seemed dejected as both a performer and personality. Even her highly profitable Las Vegas show relies on her old hits and nostalgia. Is there any reason to  expect much from Britney Spears, recording artist, in 2016?

Her latest release, Glory, answers that with a soft yes.

I was more than ready to give my firm no after hearing the album’s first single, “Make Me,” a track that, like Spears circa Circus, is just there, glassy eyed and floating. Likewise, “Private Show,” which works great as a jingle to sell her perfume, but isn’t good for much else. The promo single “Clumsy” does feature a very present Spears on vocals, but it’s not especially great as a song.

The shift from disappointment to surprisingly pleased begins with “Do You Wanna Come Over?” It’s a fun, cheeky, flirtatious pop song about sex. Some have employed Spears’ use of sexuality in her music to paint her as “one dimensional.” This is not a new critique of Spears. Many have wondered why her music is impersonal. Spears did herself no favors when she billed her last album as her “most personal album to date” despite it not saying much of anything about the realities of her life.

I wish Spears hadn’t bothered; she doesn’t owe us anything, especially not after her darker period in the late 2000s, which an invasive media likely only worsened, if not directly fueled.

As an artist, Spears is what she is. In terms of albums, I could go for more In the Zone and Blackout, but in terms of subject matter, I’m not expecting The Velvet Rope from her. Spears sells us dance music, and yes, lots of sex.

To that end, “Do You Wanna Come Over?” serves its purpose quite well. As does “Slumber Party,” another danceable song about sex where she coos—less robotically, mind you—“we ain’t gonna sleep tonight.” Or “Coupure Électrique,” a song Spears sings entirely in French.

For many of these songs, she sings like she’s truly into it. You get that sense on “Liar,” “What You Need,” and “Man on the Moon.” Her voice sounds processed, as it normally does, but much less than usual. Which is to say, she doesn’t sound like a robot with a sex addiction on Glory.

Read the rest at Complex.

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For some years now, MTV has largely relied on nostalgia and the promise of returning to what used to make its Video Music Awards show vital viewing to lure people into watching. You watch—majorly because the performers list is so stacked that you can’t help giving in to temptation—and then you’re let down. This year is no different, but thankfully, there was Beyoncé.

Beyoncé is that rare contemporary act who not only can stand confidently alongside her predecessors who helped create the VMA mystique but also performs at a level that has her soaring above many of them. I have laughed at some of the tweets that have imagined how MTV and Beyoncé decided her performance—set list, time allotted, etc.—but I imagine that MTV didn’t flinch at Beyoncé’s request for 16 minutes all her own. They probably would have given her an entire hour if she wanted. They know who sets the standard; they know who will captivate; they know who will deliver.

Beyoncé, who won eight awards last night, including Video of the Year, performed five tracks from her critical and commercial juggernaut Lemonade. In the first few minutes, as we heard percussion shots, we saw women fall to the stage, their bodies magnified in red. It’s unclear whether the allusions to violence pertained to the violence in this country, the themes of her album or some combination of the two, but that imagery, coupled with the one that closed her performance—her dancers forming the female symbol—signified that Beyoncé continues to use her art and her celebrity to say something. And before she took the stage, Beyoncé had “the Mothers of the Movement” on the red carpet with her, continuing to amplify their message and reminding this country of what it steals from black people.

The performance itself, though, was yet another example of her commitment to precision. So much thought went into that performance—down to the camera angles, specifically those that followed her as she stormed through “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” She stared into that camera knowing she was commanding our attention. Her choreography, tweaked for songs like Lemonade’s first single, “Formation,” was delivered in delightfully frenetic fashion.

She didn’t have to work that hard, but it made for better television that she did. One of the most alluring things about Beyoncé in 2016 is that she continues to strive to outdo herself. It is in stark contrast with many of her peers who excel despite having very little interest in improving or even giving the best that they’ve got at the moment.

Immediately, some will read that as a diss of Rihanna, the only other performer who mattered last night. It is not. Rihanna was enjoyable throughout her multiple performances on the show.

As one of the premier visual artists of her generation, she absolutely deserved the Video Vanguard Award. Still, she is an anomaly in that she can get away with things most artists in a previous time likely would have been condemned and subsequently cast out for doing. Things like singing every third word while sort of doing the choreography. That typically bothers me, ’cause when Rihanna tries, she’s good. Effort matters. That said, there was some effort made last night, so when Rihanna did keep moving the mic away, at least it was to dance.

Rihanna is the only person who, as an entertainer, can force you to find redeeming qualities, if not a slight beauty, in being blasé. But she wasn’t that blasé yesterday. She always kept her cool, but she clearly cared about honoring her legacy properly. When she did offer live vocals during “Stay,” “Love on the Brain” and “Diamonds,” she reminded you that she sings well when she so desires. The same goes for her dancing, especially during her dancehall set.

It was not Beyoncé, but that was not her intention, and both delivered what fans of each performer appreciate. Everyone else is largely forgettable. That would include Alicia Keys and her impromptu spoken-word poem, in which Keys continues to embody an inspirational Instagram word meme. It would also include Kanye West’s speech, in which he said many words—none of which amounted to much. That said, Teyana Taylor stood out for being the star of West’s “Faded” video.

Taylor is quite the dancer, and her body makes me regret every fried piece of chicken I’ve ever inhaled (until the next bite, anyway). Taylor has now had two big moments on television this year, but I hope that in the future, they have more to do with her, given that her own music is worthy of wider attention.

Read the rest at The Root.

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In Soul Food, Big Mama had to come to the realization that all those Sunday dinners had led her to develop what many of us refer to as “the sugar,” and ultimately she had to submit to doctor’s orders to have her leg amputated. In Old Yeller, Travis realizes that after his beloved pet contracts rabies, he has to shoot his dog. In other words, choices have consequences, and life happens and you must react accordingly.

To that end, when it comes to the issue of Donald Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson and her numerous gaffes in recent months, one wonders: “How in the hell does she continue to have that job?”

Now, Pierson has always had a contentious relationship with the truth, long treated history like a frenemy and has shown herself repeatedly to be enamored with sounding as if she’s one side short of a proper fish dinner. Pierson, much like her boss, GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, is consistent in her inconsistency. She will forgo ideology when it suits her professional interest and, as a former ardent supporter of Ted Cruz, shift allegiances when opportunity knocks.

“When Donald says, ‘I think you’re great, I really want you to work for me,’ I don’t think any sane person would say no to that,” Pierson explained to Politico last November.

If only she had phoned a friend.

Even if I think Pierson has no idea what she’s talking about most of the time and holds viewpoints sour enough to cause stomach cramping, I do salute someone who was born to a teen mom, lived on welfare and ended up having her own child at a young age, yet still has managed to rise to the level that she has. Nonetheless, Pierson probably needs to be taken off television and sent to a public library. Preferably the sooner, the better.

Recently Pierson claimed that President Barack Obama started the war in Afghanistan—a fascinating claim given that at the time, Obama was just a state senator in Illinois. When responding to the death of Capt. Humayun Khan, which occurred in 2004 in Iraq, Pierson said, “It was under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that changed the rules of engagement that probably cost his life.” When alerted to reality, Pierson then claimed that “tens of thousands of soldiers” had been lost and “1 million” soldiers were wounded. No.

Oh, and one can’t ignore that she also plays the role of doctor sometimes, diagnosing Hillary Clinton with dysphasia, a rare disorder related to brain disease. This is all during the month of August. Never mind Pierson’s past instances of foolishness. Like, say, questioning Marco Rubio’s citizenship earlier this year. Or late last year, when she asked, “What is the point in having a good nuclear triad if you are afraid to use it?”

Then there is her Twitter history, an orgy of vapidity and intolerance.

I’m not sure what Pierson’s goals are beyond this campaign. Will she run for office again? Does she want a radio talk show? Is she hoping for a cable news contract? Might she want to angle for future spokesperson jobs for politicians in the future?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, she ought to consider resigning and taking up the hobby of being informed while speaking.

And if you are the Trump campaign, why would you continue having this painfully unqualified person unnecessarily create additional problems for Donald Trump? When it comes to sabotaging the Trump campaign with utter stupidity, that’s Donald Trump’s job. Everyone else’s job is to play the role of cleanup crew.

Trump surrogate Steve Cortes is particularly good at it. As is Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, who is exceptional at making her walking-Klan-rally of a candidate sound more like a business-casual white nationalist. Unfortunately, Pierson has yet to reach that level of sociopathy.

Read the rest at The Root.

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In 2016, the year of our Lemonade, is it really that big a deal to have had sex with a celebrity? It doesn’t happen to the average person, but to disclose that information as if you are a special snowflake isn’t remarkable—especially after books like Karrine Steffans’ Confessions of a Video Vixen, reality shows like Basketball Wives and Love & Hip Hop, Internet message boards like Lipstick Alley, and gossip outlets like The Shade Room.

There is an insatiable need for all things celebrity, but declaring you smashed someone famous and are therefore worthy of special recognition feels as old as the days you needed a college email account to join Facebook. Still, to 20-year-old Brazilian college student Jady Duarte and the tabloids that enable her, it was a worthy tale. Duarte gave an interview—excuse me, an EXCLUSIVE interview—to The Daily Mail about how she had sex with Olympian Usain Bolt.

According to her, he “pestered her” for sex using the Google Translate app. Breaking news: A man who wants to have sex in a foreign country uses technology to do so. Moreover, Bolt apparently snuck Duarte into the Olympic Village “under the noses of security.” And this just in: Duarte claims that Bolt insisted on listening to Rihanna’s “Work” during sex. So he likes to have sex to music. Ohmigod, next think you’ll tell me he ejaculated during sexual intercourse, too!

Duarte went on to express disappointment that Bolt did not keep his alleged promise to take her on another “date.” “I really thought we had something going,” she said. “But now I can see that he picks up women as quickly as he picks up gold medals.”

Girl. Girl. Girl. Did you really think this? If so, email me and let me create a Spotify and/or Apple Music playlist for you. I want you to never be that gullible in this life again.

I say this because she admittedly knew who the Bolt was before they had sex. And based on this story, she knew she could cash in on having sex with him. If that is the case, she could’ve easily Googled more intel along the way to find out he had a girlfriend, too, thus confirming their tryst was a one night stand. Consensual sex between two adults is just that, but knowing a situation for what it is might save you a lot of time, or in Duarte’s case, fake heartbreak for a story.

I do not begrudge Duarte for having sex with Bolt. Bolt having a girlfriend and cheating on her with Duarte is his problem and their issue. People have the right to lead lives that mirror SWV songs. But I am curious as to whether or not this moment of attention is worth an eternity of her Google searches being largely centered on the night she smashed a famous athlete.

Read the rest at Complex.

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For an MTV News roundtable, I spoke with MTV News writers Doreen St. Félix and David Turner about Young Thug’s album cover for his newly released mixtape, No, My Name is JEFFERY.

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In March, Hillary Clinton mistakenly rewrote American history when she thanked the Reagans (particularly Nancy) for helping to start “a national conversation” about HIV and AIDS. It took mere seconds for fury to ignite and just a couple of hours for Clinton to apologize for telling what many knew to be a lie. History matters and must always be told accurately.

In “Art AIDS America,” a traveling exhibition originally co-curated by Rock Hushka and Jonathan David Katz for the Tacoma Art Museum and currently at the Bronx Museum, we are reminded of not only the silence of the Reagans, but the bigotry of others in elected office as well as many members of the clergy — and the deaths that came as a direct result of both. The exhibit description, printed high on a white wall in the lobby, specifies its intentions: “For too long, we have considered art about AIDS as a tragic, closed chapter in the history of American art.” The message: The worst of the disease may have passed for most, but the story hasn’t ended, and it’s vital we continue to engage — honestly, thoughtfully.

The exhibit includes some 125 works — paintings, photographs, sculptures, mixed-media pieces, videos, and prints — loosely divided into four categories: Body, Spirit, Activism, and Camouflage. That last focuses on the challenges many artists faced in creating personally relevant work after legislation passed in 1989 that restricted federal funding for art dealing with homosexuality and AIDS.

So it’s unsurprising that many of the works approach their themes subtly. Brett Reichman’s And the Spell Was Broken Somewhere Over the Rainbow, for instance, is adorned in the colors of the rainbow and features three large clocks: The oil painting makes references to Oz while alluding to the new reality that San Francisco, ravaged by the AIDS crisis, could no longer be viewed solely as a land of enchantment.

Still, the most striking works are the bluntest. Luis Cruz Azaceta’s Babies With AIDS, an acrylic painting, was inspired by news stories about infants who were born with HIV and abandoned. The images of those babies, superimposed on an American flag, are an instant, infuriating reminder of how hatred and fear are so easily transferred.

Read the rest at The Village Voice.

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