Atlanta is perfect. I don't mean perfect in the pristine, clinically symmetrical way. This show is perfect because it holds a mirror up to reality.
"Back at it, craftmatic, all I know is mathematics..."
I instantly recognize the opening salvo to Atlanta. It's "No Hook" by OJ da Juiceman on Juice World 2. I was first introduced to this street anthem during a summer at my cousin's house in Riverdale, Georgia. The song was literally a part of the city's soundtrack. OJ was a cornerstone of the early trap movement, in cahoots with Gucci Mane La Flare himself. It's this kind of nuance that gives the show it's legs. There are things that only a person who truly lived the experience in the city would know, and this song is one of them.
Atlanta is based on a deeply intrinsic understanding of being young and black today – especially in Atlanta, GA and surrounding southern cities. It is a collection, or collage, of very specific, yet universal parts of black life weaving seamlessly in and out of each other. They thread back and forth, weaving a tapestry that feels too familiar to be fake.
I know every main and supporting character in Atlanta upon meeting them instantly – because they're real. They are my friends, parents, relatives and acquaintances; most importantly, they're me. I'm not an Atlanta native, but I am an Atlanta resident, and I'm related to too many Atlanta natives to count. This show is more than just nods to the city in a series of homages. Of course there are moments like that.
Like trips to JR Crickets for lemon pepper wings.
But more importantly, they are moments that truly exist in black Atlanta life for many of us, and even more present are the general experiences that all of us know. Atlanta literally jam-packs these realities back to back at a pace that feels like watching a documentary more than a television series. From relationships with the people we know, to community norms on homophobia and mental health – it's all there. Even the random moments in life that have no explanation, like a man in a suit on the bus asking you to bite a sandwich, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's even time to get an n-word conversation in that doesn't feel like a PSA or after school special.
Finally, as a self proclaimed blerd, there is a recognition that I have watching the character Earn Marks. That's the black nerd experience I know. The generally smart – even went to an ivy league school, but I'm black as black gets experience. There is no mutually exclusive interest or hobby that separates him from blackness. That's how I've always felt about being a black nerd, and this is the first time it's been on my TV screen.
Atlanta's first two episodes are promising in a way that a television experience for the black millennial hasn't been, in my opinion, ever. There's literally so much more to unpack in the series this far (like the detailed depiction of our cultural ties to rap music), that I'm going to be rewatching several times before the next one airs. Where else would you see the cop that locked Gucci take a pic with the neighborhood rap star, other than real life? But after seeing it twice, I'm still able to confidently say, there's never been anything this authentically black, to me, on television.
Atlanta airs every Tuesday at 10 pm on FX.
Let me know what you think in the comments, because I read and reply to all of them. Hit the share button and tag a friend who needs to see this.
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Here’s the thing about textured hair — there is no one-size-fits-all formula that will work for every woman’s tresses. I’m sure many of you can attest (or drop a horror story in the comments one time) about that hair stylist who swore she (or he) would have you laid like ‘Yonce in every video circa 2016, but all you got was a face full of tears and solid use of your hat collection for the next month.
I’m speaking from experience. Can you tell?
With vapid distrust of new hair salons and growing wait times for the one person who does your hair right, the overall response is usually to skip on a new experience or block off an entire day for a press and curl. Want some good news? There's a free new app (F-R-E-E...let that marinate) designed specifically to meet the hair care needs of women of color.
SWIVEL Beauty is essentially Yelp for your hair stylist needs. Created by co-founders and longtime friends Jihan Thompson and Jennifer Lambert (they’ve been friends since fourth grade) SWIVEL is the result of two successful women coming together to create something significant, says co-founder Jihan Thompson.
“I had been batting around the idea of starting a business that focused on alleviating the hair care problems Black women face," she says, "[Jennifer and I] talked about it and got equally excited about building something for women with the same struggles we have. We also bring different skills to the table. Jennifer is a Harvard-trained corporate lawyer and I worked as an editor at top national women's magazines for more than 8 years, so our different skill sets have been an asset to being able to get things done.”
The SWIVEL app allows you to search for salons in your area for a stylist that's right for you, but that’s not the only game changer. SWIVEL is taking on tech to bridge the gap between beauty, tech and women of color.
“It's been exciting to see how tech has transformed the beauty industry, but I often felt like the unique issues that women of color face have been largely overlooked,” Thompson says. And the numbers don’t lie. According to Thompson’s industry data, black women spend nine times more on beauty than any other ethnic group on hair care ($500 Billion alone in 2014 according to Huff Post), yet there are more than a dozen beauty-booking apps available in the Apple store right now with very few of them really considering and catering to the hair needs of black women in a truly authentic way For Jihan and Jennifer, the frustration resulted in a call to action. “We were tired of being overlooked or treated as an afterthought. We couldn't find a solution, so we created one.”
SWIVEL sets itself apart, not only because it’s been created by two women of color, but because its sole goal is to cater to virtually every woman of color with varied textured hair types. “We felt like it was important to be honest and real about the fact that everyone's hair is not the same. Jennifer wears her hair natural. I wear my hair relaxed and often with extensions. We don't see the same stylists—and that's okay.” Taking that identifiable need to heart, SWIVEL’s creators cultivated the app with real women in mind. Its user-friendly interface allows potential patrons to easily choose from an array of desired services corresponding with their exact hair type via a drop-down menu. After making your selection, the app generates a list of the best stylists and salons in your area perfect for creating an epic hair flip. Add the fact that you can easily book online through the app and it’s like Christmas in your deep conditioner.
Though the convenience is great and it’s absolutely epic to have all of that information at your fingertips, this is your hair we’re talking about. For many of us, our hairstylists are trusted damn-near members of our family. We’ve built relationships with these people because we KNOW they’re good. So, if you’re like me and are worried about how credible the SWIVEL stylists are, let this ease your fears: All the salons featured have been tried, tested, expertly rated and approved directly by the app’s founders. The app, launched officially last month, only started with a dozen salons and stylists. Stylists also are prohibited from automatically uploading their own profiles. Checks and balances are very real for SWIVEL. “We're hyper-focused on creating a high-quality experience. That means starting with top-rated salons and stylists, which we found through a combination of vetting ourselves and reviews from trusted peers. Also, all of our reviews include a place for the user to include "wait time" so people know what to expect,” says Thompson.
Although Swivel Beauty is currently only listing NYC-based salons and stylists, expansion is already in the works. Additionally, Android users won’t have to wait for long to experience this hair joy as the iOS-only app will soon be available via Google Play for Android. Until then, if you’re based in the New York area, you can download the SWIVEL app here.
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Disclaimer: This article is not about Gucci Mane’s clone nor will it describe his drastic weight loss. Though, I must admit, I wonder if an 18-month bid will get me right.#GuwopFitness
Gucci Mane recently released his new album, Everybody Looking. A longtime fan, I felt an instant twinge of nostalgia in anticipation. (To be honest, I might’ve squealed a little.) You see, I grew up on Guwop. His prolific catalog (along with the music of Mr. West) was the soundtrack to my semi-wild and irregular youth. For better or worse, parts of my life mirrored his lyrics. Wasted? Check. Thinking I loved her? Check. Doggish Lothario? Check and double check — over a decade of firsts (and, fortunately, some lasts) were chronicled through the lens of Gucci Mane Laflare. So, one could only imagine my excitement for his latest project.
Rapture aside, as I opened my music app to listen to his long-awaited album, I couldn’t help but feel an equally intense feeling of concern. Let’s face it — my life has changed completely since Gucci dropped new material. I am not the same person as I was a decade ago. No longer am I the 18-year-old who hung out in a small, smoke filled room listening to Gucci’s signature nonsensical colloquialisms, drinking cups of brown, and smoking blunts of an undisclosed substance (I can’t say too much. I’m a working professional).
Sobriety, two degrees, and a mountain of experience later — it goes without saying that I've evolved. I couldn’t help but wonder that when the nostalgia faded, could I relate to the content left behind?
To my surprise, I can.
Laced seamlessly within the whimsical wordplay of old, lies an introspective and observant trap Tony Robbins — a welcome soundtrack to my own life transition. In Gucci’s absence, the past few years of my life have been packed with personal reflection, defeat, vulnerability, but nonetheless, steady growth — major themes Gucci undoubtedly applied to his own life. For instance, his first track "No Sleep" is a full-on indictment of his prior lean-drinking proclivities. The song immediately puts a chasm between him and the dope advocates of today — forcefully denouncing his past actions while recognizing his own role in perpetuating the culture of prescription drug abuse.
Another stand out, "Pick Up the Pieces," details his reflection on the devastation he wrought during his ascension as one of the most notorious names in modern rap. His candid reflection signals to listeners that, while flashy and entertaining, his previous actions masked deeper issues — only to wreak havoc on the relationships he held dear. I can relate. My own deceit and arrogance hid insecurities I had yet to resolve, straining my relationships as a result.
Perhaps the most endearing aspect of the album, however, is his insistence on vulnerability.
Long-critiqued for its hyper masculine machismo, rap historically showcases an over-representation of artists boasting hubris and invincibility. Not so with Gucci — he manages to balance one of rap's oldest tropes while relating real life accounts of his personal insecurities. He effortlessly weaves in tales of getting robbed with over-the-top boasts such as his pronouncement of being the slickest, [and] the richest [who] ever rapped on a track. That is motivating for someone who only recently learned how to use words to communicate uncomfortable truths, in addition to building a healthy sense of self-confidence. It’s a winning formula to which I’m most appreciative. Thanks, Gucci!
What I know to be true is that music has a sneaky way of staying with us, often triggering fond memories of our past. My most vivid memories were made in tandem with the music I was listening to at the moment. Furthermore, music is a window into how we interpret our lives. For me, Gucci was the quintessential interpreter to how I lived mine. It wasn’t just about witty lyricism against a melodic bass line. It was about running into formation to join my frat as we strolled to "Wasted" through a sea of intoxicated onlookers. It was about the head-pounding cruise down the streets of my hometown to pick-up my then girlfriend blasting "I’m a Dog." It was about discovering the only underage bar in town as I ordered my fill of Blue Muthaf***as while listening to "Vette Pass By."
Often in our lives, we don’t get to make new experiences with the artists we grew up listening to in our youth. Either the music doesn’t resonate or the artist just stops creating. Few artists manage to grow with their music while continuing to keep listeners intrigued (Sorry, Nelly. I’m done rocking my Air Force Ones). Fortunately though, Gucci Mane is up to the task, managing to transcend his ways of old while still reaching his core audience. That’s great news.
As I continue my own life journey, I’m happy to know trap’s Deepak Chopra will be leading the way.
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If you're even remotely familiar with the entertainment industry, you'll have noticed a call to action by actors, producers and consumers for popular media to be more inclusive in their projects and representation of black men and women. Whatever you might feel about these developments, the bottom line is that black men and women want to see people who look like them in more than solely stereotypical or otherwise limiting roles. We want to see ourselves represented in different types of projects and see these opportunities develop into the brilliant creative works we know they can. This call for change has extended into the world of gaming as well (a growing part of the entertainment industry). With a projected $107 billion in worldwide revenue from global gaming coming in 2017 (up from an estimated $91.5 billion in 2015), there are no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
With that type of money coming in, the sheer scale of these projects has grown to reach audiences who are at times larger than those reached by movie and television alone. This is relevant because if we are shown to the world in only one-dimensional roles, that is what the world will only see us to be. Enter Mirror's Edge, a recent release by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE). In the game you play the role of Faith Connors, a sometimes unwilling participant in the fight against the aggressive control of growing corporations. In the city of Glass in which she lives, faith uses her advanced parkour techniques in her role as a runner — a hired courier delivering secret communications between the members of the city's revolutionary groups and for the corporations who want to avoid using the city's heavily monitored communication systems. During a routine run, Faith stumbles upon information that would tip the scales for either side of the conflict and she is trapped between maintaining her neutral stance and choosing a side as the walls close in from both directions. Faith, however, isn't the main subject of our conversation today.
(I won't continue for fear of excitedly revealing the entire story. You'll have to play the game for the rest.)
Contrasting the 'angry black woman' archetype through character development
Although Faith is a highly capable runner, her mission in its entirety would have been impossible if not for the help of her friend Plastic and (indirectly) by Rebecca Thane, leader of the Black November resistance movement. Although both Plastic and Thane are both black women, they exist at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their goals and motivation. I think the decision by DICE to have both these black women exist in the same space is important to the argument for character diversity among the roles presented to black women especially. Thane had a take charge, commanding personality which she utilized to accomplish her goals of bringing down corporate influence by any means necessary.
With Thane, however, DICE neatly contrasted the “angry black woman” diatribe we've seen all too often by developing a layered backstory to why Thane's position is so staunch. Thane is cold, calculated and intelligent, but DICE allowed the characters emotion to blossom in ways that would have been limited by other projects. You learn through communication with her character as the game moves along that Thane deeply cares for her city but has taken a "sacrifice some for the greater good" approach, often conflicting with Faith, the protagonist of the story.
Plastic is more real than you know
Plastic is one of Faith's close friends who is a supporting character but one without which the story could not progress. Plastic is the city's best coder (hacker) and is hailed by every character in the game as such. Plastic is responsible for decryption of the information that sets Faith on her quest and providing near omniscient support throughout the course of the game — even a hideout at her place on several occasions. Although she didn't directly jump into the field of battle, Plastic moved the story along through her constant updates, communications and finding the safest routes for Faith to move throughout the city. She is responsible for saving Faith's life on more than one occasion, but you might be asking why a supporting role is so important to this particular conversation. Let’s take a look at the reasons why.
Her intelligence and the other character's awareness of it
Plastic is the city's top coder and completes a number of otherwise impossible tasks that allow Faith to succeed in her mission. And she is praised for it, in game, by the other characters. Plastic as a black woman (a teen at that) shows young black women that they can thrive in the growing tech industry and be praised for their knowledge regardless of age or race. I envision her character motivating more black women to enter the field as a direct result of her representation.
Her awkward social interactions
Plastic is often insulated by her technology and prefers the company of machines to people. Although some would think of this as a character flaw or limitation, as a coder myself, I consider it an accurate portrayal of what real coders can be like. Although she is extremely intelligent, she struggles with human interaction, which demonstrates that it's ok if you don't naturally develop into the social butterfly that black women are often pressured to. It's ok to be you.
Plastic makes her own money and supports herself even though she's extremely young. With the argument for black women's independence being met with criticism from all sides, Plastic is an important advocate for the cause, using her intelligence to live the life she wants to lead on her terms.
When I think of all the young black women who will play this game and see themselves in these characters, I can't help but get excited for a future in which this diverse representation exists across all forms of media and for what it will do for our perception of ourselves and in the eyes of others. I applaud the DICE team for releasing such a great project in Mirror's Edge Catalyst and look forward to replaying it time and time again. (If you haven't taken a look at the game I encourage you to do so here). It will be the most fun you've had from a video game in years, and not so difficult that you want to pick it up for the story.
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2009 was the last time fans received an album from Maxwell. His break between releases contributed to a trend of “Neo-Soul” artists such as D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill becoming elusive after the ‘90s. Yet, his supporters have shown little doubt that his return will live up to his reputation as an artist. Maxwell validates their confidence with his new album blackSUMMERS’night. He offers the second installment in a trilogy that has already boasted classic songs such as “Bad Habits” and “Pretty Wings.”
Maxwell opens the album with “All the Ways Love Can Feel,” an up-tempo groove reminiscent of music from the 1970s. The instrumentation powers the song as strong horns mesh with spacey sounds similar to those heard on Embrya. The following track is “The Fall,” a less jovial song on which Maxwell uses seasonal change to describe the shifts endured by couples. He sings, “Everything changes, everything moves/Nothing is as it was when you lose/the thoughts you fear, the way you feel.”
On “III,” Maxwell speaks of approaching a woman he sees in a club and says, “I just want a Michelle Obama lady/to hold me down when the world’s crazy.” His delivery and interaction with the band on the chorus creates the feel of a live performance. Maxwell then slows the pace down again with “Lake By the Ocean,” the smooth first single from the album that focuses on reassurance.
Later on, Maxwell moves to “Lost,” a Blues ballad that features guitars fit for a dramatic film. He matches the mood of the instrumentation by singing with the gloom of a man that’s been broken. Maxwell addresses a lost love of his and says, “In the waking hours, in the middle of the night/When the moon’s not just full, I see you in my eyes/I see you, and you haunt me/And you taunt me.” Maxwell follows the darkest moment of the album with a celebration of the one he loves on “Of All Kind.” Maintaining his signature falsetto throughout, he sings, “I love you like there’s no end in sight/You’re like a god in my mind.”
The last full song on the album is “Listen Hear,” in which Maxwell admits to the flaws that threaten his relationship. He sings, “I’m confusing at times/Sometimes I might lie/I’m scared and I’m shy/To show you just how weak I am.” Yet, he also says that his partner can be “in charge” when their bond is tested and that he’s sure the bond will remain strong. With this introspection, Maxwell finds the middle ground between the two preceding songs. He’s not on the high described in “Of All Kind,” nor is he lamenting the escape of this high the way he does on “Lost.” Maxwell comes across as someone who is grounded in the reality of a relationship and ready to handle it.
As a whole, Maxwell makes an impressive addition to his catalogue with blackSUMMERS’night. He succeeds in offering songs that fit well together without sounding repetitive in sound or message. Maxwell displays his range by alternating between his falsetto and a rougher tone, as well as his modal voice. He also has his vocal efforts matched by the skill of the musicians with whom he works. Ultimately, Maxwell lives up to the standard that he’s set for himself with this one.
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Underground is WGN’s new breakout series about a group of "slaves who plan a daring escape from a Georgia plantation to cross 600 miles to freedom." With only four episodes in, Underground has proven to be unlike any other slave narrative we've seen on screen. The series, which is co-produced by John Legend, also features an ensemble cast with actors like Aldis Hodge (Noah) and Jurnee Smolett-Bell (Rosalee), who may be in their biggest, most influential roles to-date. It also has a bevy of talented breakout stars such as Amirah Vann (Ernestine), Jessica De Gouw (Elizabeth) and Johnny Ray Gill (Sam). Also, let's not forget Law and Order: SVU hero Christopher Meloni (August).
If you haven’t gotten into Underground, here are five reasons why you need to catch up:
In a climate as vile and violent as slavery, it's impossible to think that something as beautiful as love could grow. But on Underground love not only grows, it thrives. Images of husbands loving their wives, mothers loving their children, friends loving one another, and new romances beginning remind us of the humanity inherent in every slave. Watching the sacrifices they willingly make to protect that love will shake your soul. Rosalee (Jurnee Smolett-Bell) and Noah (Aldis Hodge) will emerge as your new favorite OTP as they put a whole new meaning to "on the run."
Although Underground paints a distinct picture of slavery's violent crimes against humanity, its focus remains on showing how these humans fought back. That resistance does not come in a one-size fits all uniform. Every slave isn't for Noah's runaway plan – they are all fighting back in the way that makes sense to them. Through these various forms of resistance, Underground shines a light on the intelligence, ingenuity and creativity which is often erased in the discussion of slaves and their attempts at liberation.
Underground presents a dynamic sort of intelligent, strong, complicated women who do more than pick cotton and manage the big house. These women are forging freedom papers, opening their homes to runaways and protecting their families at all costs. There's beauty and pain in their strength, their courage and their intelligence. The role of women in the fight for freedom is neither downplayed nor erased in Underground, it’s positioned as one so formidable that the idea of liberation without women’s ingenuity is inconceivable.
Underground's use of contemporary music is the bridge that connects the past to the present. It's a reminder that these stories we're watching unfold are more than footnotes in history, they were actual events with warm-blooded humans who experienced the emotions we feel today.
It's no secret the divisive techniques slave masters used against slaves. Underground delves into colorism, house slave vs field slave, favoritism, etc. all of which have instilled enough defenses for each slave to be weary of trusting the other. But they soon realize that their quest for freedom will only be conquered through working together, illustrating the "I am because We are" philosophy. The strength of this commitment cannot be broken, even when a few manage to escape ahead of schedule they are determined to return and bring their fellow men and women to freedom.
Even though we're only a few episodes into the 10-episode season, we're already hoping that Underground can return for a second season or a spin-off series!
Underground airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on WGN.
What do you like most about 'Underground?' Let us know in the comments & share this article on Twitter and Facebook!
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#ConcertSZN is very much in full effect. Although several artists such as Beyoncé, Rihanna and Future have big tours kicking off soon, my season started with industry newcomer, Bryson Tiller. I saw Tiller at his stop in Charlotte, N.C. at The Filmore.
I’ve seen a description of Tiller as “if Drake’s singing voice were a solo artist.” I’d agree, but would say his voice is better. His music perfectly strides the fence between rapper/singer and between R&B/hip-hop — the textbook definition of the 'rapping singer.' His debut album, aptly titled, T R A P S O U L, brings all of this to fruition. It was one of the standout albums of 2015 and is one of the few albums that I can listen to almost completely through with no skips.
It wasn't long after the opening act's exit when Tiller made his way to the stage. The concert’s vibe was very similar to the feeling you get when listening to the album — tons of smoke with red, blue and gray ambient lights.
After beginning the night with album openers “Intro (Difference)” and “Let Em' Know,” the Filmore was already rocking with him. If this spot was anything to go by, Tiller definitely uses the show as a chance to make this an experience of feeling like you are getting to know him, as conventional as his “Charlotte, what’s up?” greeting was. Next, he performed the songs “Set You Free,” and “For However Long,” before stopping for a moment to talk about his journey thus far.
He discussed how his life has changed in the past year, particularly after dropping the track “Don’t.” Tiller said that he would check his SoundCloud views on his phone while on break working at Papa John’s and would be astounded by the number of plays the song was getting. He was used to getting 100 or 200 plays, but this one was acquiring thousands. Shortly after, he was contacted by Timbaland, who wanted him to come to Miami. At the time, Tiller was concerned about his job at Papa John's and working, but Timbaland convinced him to quit his job. He also described his feelings when someone messaged him on Twitter and let him know that Drake had followed him. “I was like 'oh my God,' my heart started beating all fast...I typed 40 different messages to him,” said Tiller. Drake told him that he was a fan of “Don’t” and couldn’t wait to hear his new music.
T R A P S O U L pic.twitter.com/yEQWXywJGk
— Trey Mangum (@treymangum) February 18, 2016
He then performed the song “Ten Nine Fourteen,” which talks about his ascent to fame, followed by the fan-favorite, “Exchange,” tailoring one of his lines to the location, singing, “Charlotte, I had to say what’s up with you? You got my soul.”
Next came “Sorry Not Sorry,” another fan favorite, “Rambo,” which featured a crazy drum solo and “502 Come Up.” Things slowed down with “Open Interlude,” “The Sequence,” “Overtime,” “Just Another Interlude,” and “Been That Way.”
A video posted by Power 98 WPEG (@power98fm) on Feb 17, 2016 at 6:30pm PST
Finally, the moment of the night came when he performed his hit single, “Don’t.” He barely had to sing the lyrics himself, or if he did, I couldn’t hear as the crowd took over the song for him, singing along to every part. He then concluded the night with “Right My Wrongs.”
There were no glaring vocal mishaps at all. A live Tiller sounds spot on to his studio recordings, if not crisper. The crowd interactions and storytelling definitely gave me as feeling that I was getting an “experience” and wasn’t just being sung to by a singer. The whole show further reaffirmed the story of Tiller’s rise to stardom, making you want to see his success continue to push him to the top.
If you would like to catch Tiller for one of the next T R A P S O U L tour stops, there are dates left in numerous cities across the country and it will go on an international trek soon. You won’t be disappointed.
What show are you starting your concert season with? Let us know in the comments below!
READ NEXT: Bryson Tiller is the R&B rapper we've been waiting...
On December 17th, at 10:30 p.m. in Buckhead, there was an awakening in the force.
My girlfriend couldn’t be come with me, for family reasons, but I had my boy @ReverendDrDash with me, so everything was cool. I binge-watched spoiler-free reviews all day and every single Star-Wars-related John Boyega interview recorded to date, because clearly we’re destined to be best friends that fight the First Order together. I also might or might not have recently purchased a Finn bobble-head (that I clearly have not opened because we don’t play around with collectibles that need to remain in mint condition like that.)
On the way to the theatre, we joked about how trash the prequels were and blerded out on some extended universe lore — all around good times. We pulled up to the AMC, parked, and soon as we got inside and to our seats, I reverted back to the same 9-year-old boy, introduced to the single greatest movie franchise of all time 16 years ago in a galaxy far, far away. The theatre was dine-in and I ordered chicken tenders, the black 9-year-old me’s delicatessen of choice.
When the opening crawl went up and the music started, we all clapped. The energy was heavy and emotional. It a was serious thing for most of us there. And as we all watched, intently focused, for the next two hours and change, it delivered. This was the Star Wars we all knew and loved. John Boyega delivered in a big way, with our first introduction to a helmet off, 100 percent human being Storm Trooper in the entire history of the films. He was quick, he was funny, and he brought a sense of reality to the character that the everyman can easily relate to on all levels.
Daisy Ridley does a lot with very little, even from the beginning of the film. Scenes that could fall flat from a lack of dialogue shine as she fully commits to character, her emotions bleeding off screen. The way that she can convey everything you need to know by just being is a sign that she will be a force in Hollywood and especially this Star Wars series. Oscar Isaac is every bit the maverick pilot that we are familiar with in this galaxy as Poe Dameron. He’s full of charisma and heart. And the changing of the guard, as we see original trilogy characters, Han Solo, Chewie, and Leia usher in a new class of personalities into the Star Wars universe is written and directed perfectly by JJ Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan.
The most complex character by far, in my opinion, is this movie’s villain, Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. It’s revealed that he's the son of Han Solo and Leia, making him the grandson of Darth Vader. It’s clear that Kylo, born Ben Solo, wants to follow in Vader’s footsteps after being seduced to the dark side of the force by Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke only appears in hologram form, but it seems that he’s still very much a raw talent, struggling with the force in ways a true master wouldn’t. Especially in a way that makes it easy for Rey, the other force-sensitive character in the film, to make short work of an injured Kylo Ren in an epic lightsaber duel finale. Even though he murders his own father in this film, there seems to be something about Ren’s character that is still so unsure of himself and the shoes that he’s determined to fill.
Story (and new characters) aside, the greatest things about The Force Awakens are atmospheric. The sets are beautiful, the practical effects are jaw dropping, and the CGI that we do see is tastefully done and doesn’t take you out of the mindset that everything you see on screen could be, and possibly is, real. This palpability is what the prequels missed and JJ Abrams, Disney, and LucasFilm has spared no expense to bring it back full force in this movie. Also, the score by John Williams is a blend of the unforgettable themes that we love from the original films and all new music, breathtakingly scored over months during the editing process. Williams added new character themes for our protagonists and baddies, as well as compositions that back up (what will be) some of our favorite battle scenes for years to come.
All in all, I left the theatre a happy black boy. I’m going to watch it at least three or four more times before I can digest everything that has happened to the galaxy in the 30 plus years that it’s been away, but on the first watch, I was completely satisfied. And if you’re a fan of the franchise or a newbie looking to get your feet wet, I can guarantee that you will be, too.
May the force be with...
A few weeks ago, Omarion, formerly of the teen group B2K and the patron-saint of pop-locking whilst making a bandana levitate, released an EP entitled Care Package 3. The first song is called "Netflix and Chill," so that should already tell you what vibe he was going for. Very laid back, while also a departure from classic R&B Omarion, Care Package 3 blends strong vocals with lots of bass and lyrical bravado (“I’m MVP on my all day/Just might sell out the Barclay,” he sing-raps in “Ballin”).
The 8-song EP features verses and hooks from Rich Homie Quan, Kehlani, Problem, and BJ the Chicago Kid. All of the tracks sound like stand-alone singles — a good thing because Omarion deserves another hit other than "Post to Be," which, if we're honest, popped off because of Jhené Aiko's now-infamous "grocery" line.
Some of my favorites are "Game Over," "Ballin," and "Lit," but I’d definitely recommend you listen to the whole project; it’s really good, particularly for an EP.
Check it out...
On November 13th, Ty Dolla $ign released his debut album, Free TC, named in honor of his brother who is behind bars. The record infuses all of the elements that make Ty shine — classic R&B runs, pop medleys, and west coast twerk vibes. I don’t want to sound like a hypebeast, but Free TC is definitely in my top ten for 2015.
It’s hard to define the album as hip-hop or R&B, because elements of both genres are present. Ty goes from featuring Kendrick Lamar black-struggle bars in the first track, “L.A.,” to “Know Ya,” a classic Metro Boomin production, and then transitions into an emotional ballad on “Credit.”
I’d be hard-pressed to find a genre Ty is unable to tap into.
In addition to the wealth of sounds on the album, Ty also keeps the content diverse. Throughout Free TC, he incorporates recorded conversations between him and his incarcerated brother. These interludes serve as a reminder that this album is bigger than a collection of turn-up songs, and is meant to serve as an indirect political and social message, detailing many of the struggles and effects of imprisonment.
On the other hand, the album suffers from classic sexism — though Ty is expertly able to make this theme sound sentimental. For example, the fifth track, “Horses in the Stable,” is high-key very misogynistic, as he describes women through analogies to horses. He sings, “You just another girl and this is just another night” before launching into the chorus, “horses in the stable/horses in the stable/that I can ride, oooh anytime.” But, Ty sings it with such passion that on the first listen, it sounds like an emotional '90s R&B love song. Ty is so smooth and effortless that it almost makes the problematic content comedic.
Ty is remarkable, too, because he can go from “Horses in the Stable” to a song like “Credit,” where he reflects, “Girl, as strong as I am you're my Venus/ And after a long day at work, you're like a weekend.” So, just as you’re ready to throw in the towel, he brings you back in with poetic sweetness.
Clearly, Ty knows what he’s doing.
All things considered, I encourage everyone to give Free TC a listen! Sonically, it doesn’t disappoint, and I think there’s enough of both romance and party-anthem to balance out the patriarchal vibes.
Check it out here.
What's your favorite song off of Free TC? Let us know in the comments...
Wild Heart, Miguel’s latest project, was hailed by critics and fans alike and has been a mainstay on my playlist for the entire summer. The alternative R&B movement is in full swing and Miguel Jontel Pimentel would be a worthy king, although he’s transcendent when it comes to those types of labels. As an R&B enthusiast, I often fail to join in on the new label crazes, which occur whenever an artist builds on their previous work and pushes the boundaries. Because in my mind, R&B has always been a flexible genre and includes a wide range of talented voices. Black artists are usually characterized as R&B or Urban Contemporary acts as the Grammys would suggest, but most of our prolific soulful crooners produce considerable R&B jams even if they do not self-identify as such. Most artists straddle the line between several genres and subgenres of music and are defining their sound based off of albums, moments and even themes rather than being married to traditional labels.
Miguel has been at the forefront of this so-called resurgence since his sleeper hit “All I Want Is You.” His music has been among the most sensuous and luxurious in the five years since and there seems to be no end in sight. With each project the Angelino one ups himself, offering more to listeners and bending the genre further than it's been able to go in quite some time. I suppose this is why he is unable to escape what feels like lazy Prince comparisons. Perhaps it's hard for people to move past the idea that a black man other Jimi Hendrix or Prince are “allowed” to be flamboyantly stylish, seem otherworldly and exude as much sex appeal as Miguel does and still be thought of as an R&B act. Linking Miguel with these two giants is meant to be complimentary. But the problem with comparisons, especially when it comes to an artist as interesting as Miguel, is that they are not necessary. He is on his own wavelength, carving a new age R&B path.
Wild Heart is thematically excellent. It weaves the ethereal, sexual, powerful and passionate into one cohesive project, feeling deeply personal and also celebratory. Seeing Miguel in person placed an entirely different spin on the album. Wild Heart is, in many ways, a love letter to Miguel’s hometown. It is the environment that shaped him, while exposing him to music and stardom at a young age. The city defines Miguel just as much as he defines himself. And like an ever-evolving metropolis, he works continuously to escape boxes and shatter our need to cling to false ideas of normality. He ties his fantasies, struggles to fit, and his desire to live boldly all in one exquisite project.
What came across during his live performance is his ability to capture the fullness of life through his musical projects. He did not clutter the stage with pyrotechnics or incredulous uses of technology. Instead, he assembled a talented band clad in all white and offered celestial visuals while he serenaded the audience for nearly two hours. He covered most of his new album, offered favorites and bared his signature well-defined eight pack underneath a white motorcycle jacket. The fan blew the tassels and feathers of his luxurious garments and he gazed out into the crowd with mischievous glances before breaking into his signature surf-like dance moves. He did several splits, moved his hips and put on a high-quality show. But one of the standouts was his insistence on sharing what can only be described of as the gospel of Miguel.
In between songs, he would offer asides that the cynical among us might find fault in, but many would find them uplifting and also revelatory, expressing the essence of what drives his projects. Miguel does not make music simply to adhere to genre standards or to offer his best attempts at one-upmanship. It is clear he makes music because he has to, because it is his calling. In doing so, he does not shy from taboos, as we hear in songs such as “Valley” and “Pussy Is Mine.” Instead, he dives into the salacious parts of our psyche and adds his angelic voice to the raunchiest of subjects because it is usually there that we find the spice of life. It's clear that Miguel wants his audience to have an experience that transcends music and forces you to think beyond the subject matter in his songs and about the limits we place on ourselves.
He offers an intimate look at what drives his curiosity, demonstrating that he fundamentally believes limits are the thing that prohibit creativity, success and perhaps your chance at Nirvana. It seems that Miguel is on a mission to provide high-quality music, but also a full throttle experience, one in which you change the way you think about yourself after you leave. It's an easy sell when you consider who is delivering this message, someone with the full package: musicianship, good looks, naughty charm, an impressive physique and a captivating singing voice. He wants his audience to engage in the practice of daring to create a personal philosophy so that we avoid wading into self-hate just because we don't meet certain criteria.
His “What's Normal Anyway” is the most obvious example of this and does not necessarily fit the flow of the rest of the album. But after watching him perform live, it's the song that perhaps best defines Miguel as an artist that should, above all, be credited for pushing the boundaries about how we view ourselves. According to Miguel, there is no excitement in normality. And where other artists seem to engage in this idea more for the accolades or the shock and awe of showmanship, Miguel’s insistence on being unique is authentic and has a lot less to do with costumes and outward signifiers and more to do with a deep understanding of self.
His performance in Seattle was electric and felt like a rock show more than an R&B concert. It is this distinction that I believe will separate Miguel from the new school R&B acts he will be competing with for awards, critical acclaim and the like. None of them have the same level of deep charismatic promise or empirical showmanship. And while we live in an age where feelings are frowned upon and the emo drug-ridden woman-loathing anthems tend to be the upper echelon of musical stylings for acts like The Weeknd and others, Miguel is more sensuous than crass and he is not afraid to run the gamut of feelings. He offers an uplifting message where he has the crowd repeat a mantra that could easily be uttered in church, a self-help group or a 12-step program but instead comes from his heart. It seems as though he views his music as a prayer, not one based on the grandeur and unforgiving idea of purity but one that is down to earth with the aim of finding a higher plane of peace. Better still, you can tell he is having a blast being himself.
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There is only one thing a woman wants to hear when she wears a new weave, wig or any type of hair extensions.
‘Is that all your own hair?’
Obviously, this only applies if you’re going for a natural look and not the crazy coloured wigs Nicki used to sport, or the weave nearly to your knees that Ciara has made her trademark hairstyle of late.
So you can imagine my delight when my Kurly Klips clips in extensions were met with reactions such as: ‘Your hair has grown!’ ‘You make me want to go natural.’ ‘You should leave your hair out more often.’ Whether I wore the Kurly Klips in a high bun, a half up – half down style, or a classic afro shape, people thought every single strand of hair on my head belonged to me.
And while the superficial aspect of Kurly Klips deserves a 10 out of 10, the quality of hair also deserves a monumental amount of praise. The 100% human hair extensions are of great quality. They are soft and act like natural afro hair, meaning that you can produce great twist outs, and like afro hair it can become tangled, the knots are easily banished by co-washing.
Kurly Klips founder, Lana Boone modelling the My Fro collection
I was given two packs of the Shoulder Chic Fro to try – each packet contains seven pieces of hair. One long weft, one medium weft and five short wefts. Kurly Klips comes in two hair types – the My Fro collection and the My Spirals collection. I choose the My Fro collection as its better suited to type 4 hair. The hair comes in quite a defined curl pattern, but blended extremely well with my own hair when it was left in a twist out. I also brushed out the clips to help the extensions blend seamlessly with my texture after a wash-n-go. The advice given on the Kurly Klips website is to wear two full sets of hair, but I found using the two long wefts, two medium wefts and three short wefts produced my afro look, while my high bun was achieved with three short wefts.
Priced at $179, which is just under £120 - they are great value for money. For someone like myself, who is among the minority of black women who can’t cornrow, these clips are a God send as they can be inserted into your hair when its left out. Which means I don’t have to pay anyone to do my hair, I’m not spending half a day at a salon and I can wash my hair whenever I want.
Furthermore, with Kurly Klips you’re not just paying for a product, you're paying for a service. The company produces regular YouTube videos for their official channel - which provides styling tips, tips on maintaining your Kurly Klips and highlights common mistakes customers make.
While there are many companies providing more hair extension options for women with natural tresses, Kurly Klips is without a doubt a leader in the field. From the beautiful packaging, quality tresses that allow you to create versatile styles; with the added bonus of a 24hr help service via YouTube videos – the products and the company is every naturalista’s dream.
For more information visit the Kurly Klips website.
This post was originally published on Black Ballad.
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