Sallie Mar Sallie Mar

Property of Sallie Mae

Her name strikes a chord of regret in the hearts of millions of folks who were, once upon a time, college students. Some finished, some didn’t. But many of us must pay the great white beast known simply as Sallie Mae. I hate that heifer. If I catch her out on the streets, I’m blacking both her eyes and chipping two of her teeth.

Since I’m the first person in my family to have the privilege of going to college, there was no background knowledge on the mystifying world of post-secondary financial aid. Fortunately, a one-two punch of excellent grades and fairly decent SAT scores earned me a full ride to, among others, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the first HBCU in the country and an institution that had turned out some pretty impressive luminaries (excuse me for a moment: LU!!! Lincoln pride!!! Okay, carry on.) For my first two years of school, I didn’t have to worry about paying for too much of anything, save a super expensive English book that put me over the amount that my voucher was worth. Then mysteriously, the scholarship was no longer being offered and I was forced to throw together my own financial aid package, a conglomerate of grants, smaller scholarships and those dreaded, damned, "what-did-I-even-learn-that-was-worth-this-much-money?" student loans.

I don’t even want to tell you how much I owe. Actually, I couldn’t even if I really wanted to because I literally avert my eyes from the grand totals whenever I’m on the website. (It’s the visual equivalent of covering my ears and going “lalalalala” when someone’s saying something I don’t want to hear.) Childish? Maybe. Irresponsible? Perhaps. But I tell you as sure as I’m sitting here on this sofa at 7 AM with unbrushed teeth and a silk scarf on my head that if I knew the depth and extent of my debt to that corporate extortionist (and the federal government, because I owe them a few bucks, too), they’d have to cart me away and spoon-feed me Jell-O in a padded white room.

I shouldn’t single Sallie Mae out, though they have been accused of redlining and overcharging Black and Latino borrowers. I hate all student loans from all originators and lending institutions for all people everywhere trying to make a decent living without the ghost of academic past knocking at their door. I hate the concept that you go to school because society and your family and the working world is forever emphasizing the importance of being educated but when you get that golden sheet of paper and all the knowledge that goes along with it, you have to spend the next 10, 15, heck, maybe even 30 or 40 years of your life paying for it. It doesn’t matter if you never do anything with the major you specialized in or the degree you worked so hard to earn. They ain’t splittin’ hairs if you make $17,000 a year as a parking attendant or $160,000 a year as a litigator. They’re going to come for you. And even if you die, your family is still on the hook for the education you took with you to the grave.

There’s been ongoing and widespread outrage about predatory lending from mortgage companies but based on the horror stories I hear from friends and friends of friends and other folks I run into in my random travels, student loans are just about the worst form of predatory lending anytime, anywhere, anyplace. (The credit cards they send you and your jobless college student tail during your first 90 days on campus are THE worst, but that rant is fodder for another article.) What’s ironic is most of the time, you don’t even have any credit but you’re permitted to dig yourself into debt for the sake of your education. You’re what, 18, 20 years old? You’re living away from home for the first time, and the parents and adult family members you’re so hell bent on asserting your independence from are umpteen miles away. You go to register for classes and—gasp—the financial aid office almost gleefully reports that you have a balance and that in order to stay on campus and attend class, you need X amount of dollars to clear up your bill. Panic sets in like the side effects of a bad Mexican dish. Even if you call home and, through a series of heaving, almost incoherent sobs, relay the bad news to your folks, you know they don’t have anything close to the $3,000 or so dollars that you need to stay in school (because it’s never like an easy, breezy 300 bucks.)

Now, the financial aid folks do offer you an alternative. You could just sign this application here and all your worries will be alleviated and your obligations satisfied—for the time being. They shove a few forms with text as dense and intricate as a Shakespearean sonnet under your desperate little nose and explain, in abbreviated albeit cryptic terms, the conditions of your loan with one glowing, neon sign-bright bottom line that sells you: you won’t have to pay until after you graduate. Phew! What a relief. That’s at least a few years away. You unknowingly sign your deal with the devil and traipse off to the cafeteria to get a piece of fried chicken and tell your girls the good news.

Then you graduate. Congratulations flow. You party. You celebrate. You thankfully move into the “I’m an adult for real for real” phase of your life. You might get your first apartment. You hit the pavement to put those book smarts and that internship experience to work in the real world. Oh—and you get a call from your student loan servicer welcoming you to the repayment phase. Yeah, it’s time to pay up, baby girl. You and two-thirds of other college graduates who leave school with debt, most of it at least $20,000. Graduate and professional students have it even worse. Those loans average anywhere between $27,000 to $114,000, depending of course on the field, school and specialty. And in this market, none of those MAs, BSes, PhDs or MSWes are adding up to j-o-b-s. In fact, defaults are at their highest rate in 11 years. And even if, in the dire straits of drowning in good debt gone bad, you file bankruptcy, guess what? Everything, even your gambling obligations, can be discharged—except your student loans. Those you still have to pay.

I’m not even going to pretend to have the solution to remedy the high cost of education in this country. I’m just a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Arts in English and an almost-finished Master of Arts in African-American Studies that together will cost me, by the time all is said and done, way more than they’re probably worth when interest is compounded by them and reluctantly paid by me. I just know firsthand how terrible it is to second-guess your pursuit of education because the only way you can finance your desire to learn is through borrowing money. It’s messed up. There is $85 billion in student loan debt burdening everybody from anesthesiologists to architects. It’s funny—I paid all that money to learn but one of the greatest lessons I got out of school was to read the freakin’ fine print.

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Aaliyah during TNT Presents - A Gift of Song - New York - January 1, 1997 in New York City, New York, United States.
KMazur/WireImage

Fans Rally For Aaliyah's Discography To Be Released On Streaming Platforms

As another day passes without Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms, fans are looking for answers.

Over the weekend, the hashtag #FreeAaliyahMusic appeared on Twitter in light of song battles between Swizz Beats vs. Timbaland and Ne-Yo vs. Johnta Austin. The latter opponents played their collaborations with the late singer, proving Baby Girl's dynamic relevancy in the age of modern R&B. As songs like "I Don't Wanna" and "Come Over" picked up plays on YouTube, the hashtag pointed out the tragedy of her songs not existing on platforms like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music.

Aaliyah's only album on multiple platforms is her 1994 debut, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Other albums like the platinum-selling One in A Million and Aaliyah are being held in a vault of sorts along with other unmixed vocals by her uncle and founder of Blackground Records, Barry Hankerson.

Hankerson has built up a mysterious yet haunting aura over the years due to his refusal to release Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms. Reasons are unknown but Stephen Witt's 2016 investigation revealed business deals like the shift in distribution from  Jive Records to Atlantic helped Hankerson take ownership of the singer's masters. The deal was made in 1996 when Blackground featured artists like Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, R. Kelly, then-production duo Timbaland and Magoo as well as Missy Elliott.

Sadly, Aaliyah's music isn't the only recordings lost in the shuffle. Recordings from Timbaland and Toni Braxton have been hidden from the world with both taking legal action against the label over the years. There's also JoJo, who had to break from the label after they refused to release her third album. The singer recently re-recorded her first two albums.

With Aaliyah's music getting the attention it deserves, Johnta Austin discussed the singer's impact on R&B today. "It was amazing, she was incredible from top to bottom," he told OkayPlayer of working with the singer on "Come Over" and "I Don't Wanna." "I don't think Aaliyah gets the vocal credit that she deserves. When she was on it, she had the riffs, she had everything."

Earlier this year, an account impersonating Hankerson claimed her music would arrive on streaming platforms January 16, on what would've been her 41st birthday. A docuseries called the Aaliyah Diaries was also promoted for a release on Netflix.

Of course, it was far from the truth. Fans can enjoy selected videos and songs on YouTube, but it's clear they want more.

 

Aaliyah’s music is the landmark for a lot of your favs not only was she ahead of her time with her futuristic sounds she also was a fashion Icon dancer and phenomenal actress . The future generations need be exposed to her artistry and pay homage .#FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/LxZfxcqRgF

— Black Clover (@la_alchemist) March 29, 2020

Her first #1 solely based on AirPlay! She was the first ! #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/BHlANZjCGZ

— (@hodeciii) March 29, 2020

Makes no sense for someone still so influential to be hidden. Many try to emulate her. On Spotifys This is Aaliyah playlist, theres some great tracks not on her main Spotify #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/vLqLTVxqO9

— Blackity Black⁷ (@ClaudBuzzzz) March 29, 2020

Aaliyah is trending once again. She deserves endless flowers. This is true impact y’all. Her voice, her sound, her music...She’s been gone for 2 decades and y’all see the love for her is even stronger! We miss you baby girl! #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/ALDcT0ZQxR

— A A L I Y A H (@forbbygrlaali) March 30, 2020

Aaliyah said she wanted to be remembered for her music and yet most of it is not on streaming services #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/zwk0AWMCoE

— RJR (@MyNewEssence96) March 29, 2020

aaliyah’s gems like more than a woman deserve to be in streaming sites #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/mM2GWEg1pe

— k (@grandexrocky) March 30, 2020

I saw #FreeAaliyahMusic and IMMEDIATELY jumped into action! I can’t express how betrayed I felt when we were supposed to have all her music on Spotify by her birthday. Her discography is deeply underestimated and we need to make it right for our babygirl!pic.twitter.com/GfxBeJxUY1

— jerrica✨ (@jerricaofficial) March 29, 2020

Before Megan The Stallion drove the boat...

Aaliyah rocked the boat...

#FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/iXNwssD3sY

— Al’Bei (@_albei) March 29, 2020

i think we should have that conversation #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/cGl269tuTr

— AALIYAH LEGION (@AaliyahLegion) April 1, 2020

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Singers Adrienne Bailon (L) and Kiely Williams of the 'Cheetah Girls' pose for photos around Mercedes Benz Fashion Week held at Smashbox Studios on October 18, 2007 in Culver City, California.
Katy Winn/Getty Images for IMG

Kiely Williams Explains Fallout With Adrienne Bailon Houghton And Alleged Fight With Raven-Symonè

Our current isolated way of life has given some plenty of time for reflection like Kiely Williams of the former girl group 3LW and The Cheetah Girls (ask your kids). The tales of both successful groups have been told time after time by fans in YouTube documentaries and members of each collective but Williams has decided to share her side of the story.

Williams hopped on Live Monday (March 30) where she discussed her former friendship with The Real co-host Adrienne Bailon Houghton and the infamous chicken throwing fight with actress/singer Naturi Naughton. The mother of one didn't pinpoint exactly why she fell out with Houghton but did point out how she wouldn't be interested in appearing on her talk show.

"I don't think Adrienne wants to have live TV with me," Williams said. "'Cause she's gon' have to say, 'Yes Kiely, I did pretend to be your best friend. Now, I am not.' You were either lying then or you're lying now. You either were my best friend and now you're just not claiming me or you were pretending [to be my best friend."

The two remained friends after Naughton was kicked out of 3LW, the platinum-selling group known for 2000s pop hits like "No More (Baby I'ma Do Right)" and "Playas Gon' Play." Williams and Houghton were eventually picked to be apart of The Cheetah Girls with then-Disney darling Raven-Symonè and dancer Sabrina Bryan.

Williams went on to discuss her fight with Naughton, which she denies had anything to do with her skin color. With her mother near, Williams claimed Naughton called her a b***h, leading to the fight. While she didn't clear up the chicken throwing, she stated how she was "going for her neck" and was holding food and her baby sister in the process.

Apologies aren't on the horizon either. “I don’t feel like I have anything to make amends for, especially as it relates to Adrienne,” Kiely said. “As far as Naturi goes, if there was ever a reason to apologize, all of that has kind of been overshadowed by the literal lies and really ugly stuff that she said about my mom and my sister. So, no. Not interested in that. I’m sorry.”

Moving onto The Cheetah Girls, Williams also denied claims she got into fights with Raven-Symonè on the set of The Cheetah Girls films and never outed her as a teen. The rumor about Symonè and Williams was reportedly started by Symonè's former co-star Orlando Brown.

Symonè has often shared positive memories about The Cheetah Girls and their reign but did imply during an episode of The View how co-star Lynn Whitfield kept her from losing her cool on set.

On a lighter note, Symonè, Houghton and Naughton have kept in contact with Naughton and Houghton putting their differences aside during an appearance on The Real. 

Symonè and Houghton also reunited at the Women's March in Los Angeles in January. During Bailon's performance at the event, the two briefly performed the Cheetah Girls' classic, "Together We Can."

Willaims also shared some stories about the making of the group's hits. Check out her Live below.

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Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Kelis Announces ‘Cooked With Cannabis’ Show Will Premiere On Netflix

Kelis is taking her chef talents to Netflix. The musician will host a food competition show titled Cooked With Cannabis that’ll premiere on the very-fitting April 20 (4/20). According to NME, the show will span six episodes and be co-hosted by chef Leather Storrs.

Describing the opportunity as a “dream come true” since she’s a major supporter of the streaming service, Kelis took to Instagram to share how cannabis and cooking is one of her many creative passions. “As a chef, I was intrigued by the food and as an everyday person, I was interested in how powerful this topic is in today’s society,” the mother-of-two writes. “In this country, many things have been used systemically to oppress groups of people, but this is so culturally important for us to learn and grow together.”

Each episode will place three chefs against each other as they craft three-course meals with cannabis as the central ingredient. Each episode’s winner takes home $10,000. Guests will play an integral role in who takes home the cash prize. Too $hort, and El-P are just a few of this season's guests.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

I'm really excited to announce my new show, Cooked with Cannabis on @Netflix!! Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love my Netflix, so this is a dream come true. Interestingly, this was one of those things that I didn't go looking for, it kind of came to me. As a chef, I was intrigued by the food and as an everyday person, I was interested in how powerful this topic is in today's society. In this country, many things have been used systematically to oppress groups of people, but this is so culturally important for us to learn and grow together. I hope you all will tune in, it's definitely going to be a good time! We launch on 4/20! XO, Kelis

A post shared by Kelis (@kelis) on Mar 18, 2020 at 7:57am PDT

In a previous Lenny Letter profile, Kelis shared she comes from a line of culinary influences beginning with her mother who owned a catering service. In 2008, the “Milkshake” singer sought to refine her cooking skills by enrolling in the Le Cordon Bleu school. Receiving a certificate as a trained saucier, the New York native put her expertise to the test during pop-up restaurants in her native city, created a hot sauce line, and co-owns a sustainable farm in Quindio, Colombia.

“Food is revolutionary because it is the one and only international language. It’s the most human thing you can partake in,” she said in an interview with Bon Appetit. “We are the only species that cooks.”

This isn’t Kelis’ first foray into the reality-cooking television world. In 2014, she partnered with the Cooking Channel for Saucy and Sweet and published the "My Life on a Plate" cookbook a year later.

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