Raven Symone
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Dear Raven Symone, Enough With The Trolling And Constant Urban Culture Shaming

Contrary to Raven Symone's comments about "ghetto names," they are by no means indicative of one's work ethic or performance. 

Charmaine was 16 when she had me. Barely ready for motherhood, her first major decision would be naming her chubby 8-pound, 6-ounce baby girl. The name Tyler was a contender for a while, and Adrienne almost made the cut, but her last minute decision to name me Shenequa has brought many blessings, as well as judgment, all of which I willingly take on.

I'm nobody's fool. I'm aware of the preconceived notions my name brings, coupled with the fact my mama was a single teenage mother and my daddy was out to lunch most of my childhood, I get it. I completely fit into the "ghetto" name stereotype. But contrary to Raven Symone's statement, my name—a decision I had no control over back in June of '85—is not indicative of my work ethic or work performance.

Raven Symone proves the caramel macchiato skin she's drenched in does not reflect the ideals and isms of black people, and that's okay. African-Americans are not monolithic. However, Symone's  questionable comments indicate her success on The View comes from her superhuman troll-like abilities.

To say you're not hiring someone named "Watermelon-Andrea" means you have bought into the white supremacist belief of professionalism and acceptance; that only Katie's, Kimberly's and Kylie's are worth an interview and Keishas, Kia and La Keia's have killed a tree for naught printing their resume, which will make its way to the trash bin.

Even using the name "Watermelon-Andrea" as an example is problematic in itself, and the obvious racial undertone of her fictitious name speaks more to the depth of her coonery than it does the argument she tried to make, but you know, that's so Raven.

Symone won't hire a "Watermelon-Andrea" but what about Kate Winslet's son Bear Blaze? Funnyman Jason Lee, who's starred in 2015's Alvin and The Chipmunks named his oldest boy Pilot Inspektor (yep, Pilot is the first name and Inspektor is his middle name). Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin's believed Apple was suitable to give their daughter and actor Penn Jillette's oldest is named Moxie Crimefighter. Are these names also unacceptable for Symone or do they get a pass?

And while these asinine comments about employment and names come from the same woman who's allegedly from every continent—not country, but continent—in Africa, and should be taken with a grain of salt, it's the ignorant audacity, coupled with the unjustified platform Symone has been given that irks my nerves.

To begin, her name is borderline in itself, being as though she's named after a bird, and her hair, whether it be fire engine red one week, or an indescribable shade of lavender the next, falls right in line with the ghetto names of many of those she alleges she wouldn't employ. So yeah, about that Raven?

I will not push the responsibility of representing the entire black community on Symone, or any brotha or sista who's been given that large a platform. That task is too large a load to carry, but Symone doesn't understand how her incendiary comments give the powers that be fuel to continue with their divisive tactics. Her racial tone deafness on that daytime talk show only does more harm than good and quite frankly, who the hell is Raven Symone to talk? She by no means represents me and my blackness, but when she sits on that stage spewing her f**kery, she unfortunately acts as a representative for the community, and homegirl, you ain't it!

There aren't enough SMHs or "Bye Felicias" to give Ms. Symone. I'm sure this comment, like all the rest, will be added to her list of f**k s**t and foolery, but for the rest of the millions who tune into watch The View just know Ms. Symone and I are not of the same ilk.

Not by a long shot.

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Rapsody, Little Brother And The Reminder That Rap Can Be Beautiful

One of hip-hop’s most damning albatrosses is the fact that it’s so male-driven. The gaze is male. The perspective is male. The music is overwhelmingly male. The decision-making is almost unanimously male. As a result, the way we talk about rap music can often be couched in male sentiment and posturing. That leaves little room for true reflective reckoning and vulnerability in discussing the music we consume.

So when we talk about rap music we say things like “that track was hard” or “they were really snapping” or some other adjective that reaffirms our hyper-masculine reactions to what we hear. I say all of that to say this: rap music is rarely described as beautiful. There’s something about the word “beautiful” that betrays the masculinity we often ascribe to rap music. (This isn’t a rap only phenomenon for men, I might add. When was the last time you heard a man describe something as “beautiful” as opposed to “bad as hell,” “sexy,” “fine” or some other vapid word that betrays how we actually feel about a person or thing?)

The shame of our reluctance to describe rap music as “beautiful” is that sometimes it is the perfect word for what we hear. I’ve been writing about rap music for about a decade and don’t remember many times that I’ve described albums as beautiful. But after listening to Little Brother’s reunion album May The Lord Watch and Rapsody’s Eve, I’m reminded just how beautiful rap can be and how we all benefit from recognizing projects as such.

I could pepper this article with all of the buzzwords to let you know that Little Brother and Rapsody - both from North Carolina, coincidentally - put together two of the most complete projects you’ll hear this year. They’re all rapping their a**es off. They’ve all managed to show musical dexterity needed to hopscotch across a vast array of soulful and boom-bap production featured across both albums. They sound motivated to put out classics as each entity had something to prove. That’s all fine and well. But the true majesty of Eve and May The Lord Watch is the beauty that lies in between the strands of each high-thread count piece of fabric.

Phonte and Big Pooh became underground rap darlings in the early 2000s, offering an everyman approach to rap that was cribbed by your favorite rappers looking for a countercultural entree into mainstream hip-hop. Then, after a couple of classic albums, a legendary mixtape run and an impeccable approval rating, Tigallo and Pooh went their separate ways. Little Brother had been split up for nine years, a span of time that lasted longer than their time making albums together; leaving no sign of a rejoining in sight until a happenstance reunion concert last October. On May The Lord Watch, LB comes back together sounding more connected than ever.

And it feels like home.

Not the cleaned up facade of home, where problems are hidden and scars are covered by the need to pretend everything has always been okay. No, May The Lord Watch feels like the reality of home. The place that we love but have felt the way it damages us. The place we take a deep breath to prepare our hearts to enter as we wipe our feet on the welcome mat.

It’d be a lie to say it sounds like Phonte and Big Pooh never split because saying so would undermine the beauty of their reconciliation. The album feels like home because it feels like when you see family you’ve fallen out with but decide to look past it because love is more important than forcing yourselves to miss more time. The missed years and hard times are still there (producer and former third member 9th Wonder is still absent, after all)—“Doin' Uber pickups, they don't recognize the face, And that's bittersweet,” Pooh raps about the struggles he faced in the last decade on “Right On Time”—but that only highlights the love it takes to come back and make May The Lord Watch.


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Listen, man. It took us a long time to get it right but we did. I love the fact we accomplished the goal but it’s the journey that I’ll always cherish the most. We wrote and recorded every song on this album together. We carried each other. We give y’all the album of our careers, “May The Lord Watch” . . Thank you to everyone that contributed to this album. It wouldn’t have turned out the same way without y’all. (I’ll drop the credits later. I got some champagne to drink) #LBbizness #MTLW #availablenow

A post shared by Rapper Pooh (@rapperbigpooh) on Aug 19, 2019 at 9:15pm PDT

So much of Little Brother 1.0’s catalog was about turning their gaze outward—to an industry that devalued their gifts, to record execs who passed them over, to a network that said their music was “too intelligent” (“Dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do y'all want?!” Phonte seemed to plead on 2005’s “Never Enough”). But now they are less concerned with proving themselves to the masses as they are feeling secure in their own skin and holding each other down. On “All In A Day” they rap about their jobs well done and being unconcerned with who gives them praise: “I brought my lunch pail to work every day,” Pooh raps and Phonte follows later with, “Finally accepting what I see and it's a different swag/My definition of freedom is real tight.”

And it’s that freedom that feels so beautiful. Phonte and Big Pooh aren’t concerned with trying to break through rap’s glass ceilings or earn anyone’s respect. Their greatness is self-evident. All they care about is being the best men they can be and loving one another as brothers. In the end, Phonte and Pooh only have each other and they spend 15 tracks reminding us and each other that that’s all they need.

Rapsody’s Eve feels like that same freedom. Her career was full of as many doubters as Little Brother, but amplified by the fact she’s a woman in an industry that sees no value in her success. And often when her music is celebrated, it’s to shame women like Megan Thee Stallion or Cardi B who are more musically and visually sexually explicit. Instead of leaning into a holier than thou approach, Rapsody opted to create a work of love—an album that loves herself, love black women, loves black men and loves hip-hop.

The beauty in Eve is that Rapsody, like Little Brother, is unconcerned with ever-moving goalposts and approval ratings from critics who she feels will never appreciate her anyway. “I don't take time to address opinions that ain't 9th, Dre, or Jay-Z/ Only rap radars I need are them and the streets/ Be careful, the validations y'all seek,” she raps on the defiant-yet-confident “Cleo.” The song is a four-minute venting session about doubters that doubles as a lyrical flex, reasserting Rapsody as one of rap’s elite MCs. The song also allows Rapsody to move on from talk about doubters and really enjoy herself. See, like May The Lord Watch, Rapsody was able to shed the need to prove herself and in return allows her to be her most comfortable and reach a musical nirvana that produced her best album to date and one that is on the way to classic status.

That’s part of the beauty—seeing artists reach that point of comfort with their crafts that they can be their best selves. On Eve, Rapsody is clicking on all cylinders, and hearing her enthusiasm for her work emitting from each track is infectious. She’s bouncy on “Oprah,” playful on “Whoopi” and body-confident on “Iman.”

But it’s “Hatshepsut” and “Afeni” that feel transcendentally beautiful. On the former, she trades bars with a Queen Latifah whose voice is as welcoming and thunderous as it’s ever been. Queen Latifah has always been there, holding rap accountable and demanding we love ourselves when we don’t want to, and hearing her return in a metaphorical torch-passing to Rapsody feels like generational healing. Beautiful.

“Afeni” is a challenge to black men that dares us to love women better than we have been. It demands more from us while showing us the endless things we can achieve with that love we are too scared to embrace: “I know this life ain't easy, every one of us is flawed/ At least love your woman, we the closest thing to God.”

Beauty. Eve is an unapologetic love letter to black women. Every song is named after and themed around a different black woman. Every song is an affirmation of Rapsody’s greatness and a reminder that she is a descendant of a legacy of black women who defined our entire culture. She centers black women in black excellence and frames black death around its impact on the women left to carry on (“Esau, she saw, Eric die/ We saw people cry, think about all of our people's wives”). Eve is a rap album devoid of the male gaze and it’s beautiful to watch how nearly-perfect it was executed.

There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing albums made with love and Little Brother and Rapsody gave us just that. They made projects that show genuine love between men and the depths of love black women possess. Sure we can appreciate these projects at face value for their greatness, but when we allow ourselves to see rap as beautiful, then we can appreciate the true power that lies between the bars and beats of each project.

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Director John Singleton poses for a portrait in Los Angeles, California.
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For John Singleton

The last time I saw my friend and brother John Singleton was last year, the year 2018, what month exactly I cannot recall. But the meet-up was for me to spend several hours with him to interview John for the book I am still writing on the life and times of Tupac Shakur. John asked me to visit his production office in Los Angeles, where I got to sit in with his team of writers, including famed novelist Walter Mosley (one of John’s mentors and heroes). John was very proud of his FX network television show Snowfall, and how it was like a prequel to his most famous movie, his first, Boyz N The Hood. During my interview with John, he mentioned several times he rarely did interviews, but that he trusted me. Little did I know it would be the final time I would ever see him in person.

I first met John Singleton in 1992, when we were both 20-something upstarts, him as the creator of a critically-acclaimed and Oscar-nominated film (when John was only 23, 24), and me a staff writer for Quincy Jones’ VIBE magazine. I do not think John even remembered our first encounter in New York City, where he simply asked myself and some other heads if we dug Boyz N The Hood, being East Coast folks. Dug it? Heck, it was and is a classic of American and world cinema. What also connected John Singleton and I through all these years was our relationships with Tupac Shakur. In one of my early VIBE cover stories on ‘Pac, John said he wanted Tupac to be Robert DeNiro to his Martin Scorsese. Sadly they only did one film together, Poetic Justice. I’ve long imagined what they could have manifested, two racially proud black sons of two strong black mothers.

In an interview last year for my Tupac book, John cried on several occasions: about the lost potential of Tupac’s life and art, of the many lost black male lives. I also noticed that John sweated quite a bit. Little did I know he was suffering from the high blood pressure that would lead to the stroke that just took his life. John gave me a lot of information he has never shared with anyone and asked me to do the right thing, over and over, with this Tupac book, especially given his great disappointment that he did not get to direct the biopic on ‘Pac.

Like me, John was a fighter, to the very end, and what they called back in the day, a race man: his life and work were for black people, largely, to correct all the racist wrongs we have seen across American pop culture from the beginning to now. John was not afraid to speak his mind, to challenge, even if it cost him many career opportunities, which I feel it did. He understood he had to speak for all of us, not just himself; that he had to sacrifice himself, his art, for the greater good of real diversity and real inclusion; that Hollywood, or America, would never change without being pushed, nonstop. John was our cinematic resister, our cinematic revolutionary. He was a USC-trained filmmaker with the independent spirit of a Melvin Van Peebles and our beloved hip-hop culture. John was high art and he was also games of spades at a fish fry in the ghetto on a Friday night.

And John was not afraid of looking himself in the mirror. In that same interview I did with him for the Tupac book, he and I spoke at length about the pitfalls of fame, especially when it comes mad young, mad early. John spoke to me about how he carried guns then, how he became something he was not, and how it could have ended his life before 30, the recklessness of it all. But because we had outlived famous and not-famous black males around us, both John and I also shared this thing called survivor’s guilt. Like why me God, why am I still here? This is the question virtually every black male in America will ask himself as he sees those around him, including those more gifted, smarter, fall, one by one. John was determined not to fall. That is what I felt in my bones when I left his office that day from what turned out to be one of the best interviews I’ve gotten for the Tupac book. John and I always stayed in touch, usually by text, but John also liked to pick up the phone and just kick it voice to voice. He was accessible in a way many in the entertainment industry are not. John did not, to me, believe his own hype. He was always about the next TV show, the next film, the next thing he had to do, and he always thought of helping others.

When I first heard John Singleton had had a stroke, all the conflicting information made me think he would pull through. But today, ironically, as I flew from my city of New York to John’s city of Los Angeles, I learned it was over, that he was being taken off life support. I cried on that plane ride, I cry in my heart as I write this now. Another black man gone too soon, from something that was preventable. But given the many challenges we face in America, the ugliness of racism, the constant need to prove ourselves, over and over, it is little wonder that so many of us are sick, are walking wounded, are working ourselves, quite literally at times, to death. I am sad because I never got on that boat of John’s for a ride he was always offering. Sailing was one of the great joys of John’s life, and I spoke with him many a day when he was on his boat. I am extremely sad because just this past Saturday, I directed and produced and wrote my very first short film, about black men and black boys, and I thought about John Singleton the entire time, how I wanted to create something with him. And how I was going to ask him to support my short film entitled “Brotha Man.”

Indeed, we had kicked around some ideas the past year or so, he had quietly supported financially my wife Jinah Parker’s theater production, SHE, a Choreoplay, and John stood by me when I filed a lawsuit against the producers of the Tupac biopic, even as I was being ridiculed by some due to false media information. John, in a word, was a friend, to me, to many, a supporter, to me, to many; and because he is of my generation, of my race, of my gender identity, he also spoke for me and to me, through his films. So a part of me has died, too, with him, and you wonder every single time you see one of your peers gone how much time you have yourself before God, the ancestors, the universe, some spirit force calls on you next. I have no idea, I am not afraid, I am stunned, yes, but I have done everything I can to prepare myself for how long or how short the rest of my life will be. And it is my humble hope that like John Singleton, when I am gone, I will have left something behind for all time. Because he did, he truly did.

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Why Would Sada Baby Not Rank Eminem In His Top Five From Detroit?

Eminem is the most prolific and successful rapper of all time. His stats can’t be faded. When it’s all said and done, we’ll be retiring his number in every stadium he’s ever sold out.

With over 100 million records sold worldwide, an Oscar for Best Original Song, 10 No. 1 albums, more than 1 billion streams on Spotify, two top 100, all-time best selling albums, Marshall Bruce Mathers III is the highest selling rapper of all time. His top five status should be firmly cemented.

The respect for Em also extends to the greatest names in hip-hop. In 2012, VIBE compiled a list of the top 40 compliments Eminem has been given from his peers with names stretching from Scarface to Redman to Jay-Z. In a 2008 interview with BBC, Nas says of Em, “He contributes so much lyrically and musically. He’s amazing.” In a 2010 conversation with Hot 97, Kanye West is on record as saying, “Nobody’s gonna be bigger than Eminem.”

So why does it seem like he isn’t getting the respect he deserves in his own city?

In a recent interview with Say Cheese TV, Detroit rapper Sada Baby – when asked if Eminem was a top five rapper – said, “Out of Detroit? Hell naw. You talking about my Detroit?” While the internet took that quote and decided their varying levels of agreement or anger, there was one thing Sada said that stood out.

“My Detroit.”

While that phrase may not mean anything to outsiders, that distinction means the world to Detroiters.

Detroit is a tale of two cities when it comes to rap. Many know iconic producer J Dilla and wordsmiths like eLZhi and Royce Da 5’9”, but the D has a long, legendary history of street rappers who have helped pave the way. That’s a legacy that younger artists such as Icewear Vezzo, Payroll Giovanni of Doughboyz Cashout, Tee Grizzley, and Sada Baby are pushing forward to this day. As a native Metro Detroiter, artist manager, and digital label manager for Soulspazm Records, Eric “Soko” Reynaert sees both sides as equally important. “The different circles carry a lot of importance in encompassing the variety we have to offer. It's all important equally because it's what makes Detroit hip-hop what it is. Detroit's been running the overseas market touring wise for years, Detroit street rap is making noise in the major label market, Danny Brown's a fucking star: it's all good for Detroit hip-hop as a whole.”

The blunt, straightforward approach of Detroit’s street rappers just doesn’t mesh well with Eminem’s style of storytelling and wordplay. Slim Shady’s knack for entendres, stuffing multisyllabic rhyme schemes inside of each bar and floating between different pockets is a dense, complex style that, in Sada Baby’s own admission, most people just don’t get. “Eminem will get to saying some shit [that’s] going over everybody’s head,” Sada shrugged. “I might be able to decipher some of that shit but that nigga’s shit going over everybody head”.

That’s Sada’s Detroit. Among his musical influences are the late, great Detroit street rappers Blade Icewood and Wipeout - both murdered over the beef between their respective crews, Street Lord'z and the Eastside Chedda Boyz. If you truly want to know what a Detroit native lives by, take a listen to the Eastside Chedda Boyz’s “Oh Boy” and Blade Icewood’s “Boy Would You.” The true anthems of the city, both songs deified by their infectious hooks, blunt and deliberate lyrics, and a simplistic yet highly effective message draped in the energy that Detroiters carry with them. They’re not trying to win you over with metaphors and similes, but rather connect to their audience with honesty and directness in their rhyming. Similar styles can be heard in other 313 legends like Big Herk, K Deezy, and even Trick Trick and his Goon Sqwad click that has been active on the city’s music scene since the mid-‘90s. These are the artists that dominated the streets and Detroit radio. Not J Dilla. Not Slum Village. Not Black Milk. Detroit’s lyrical rappers tout immense worldwide respect but have always been relegated to the background in Detroit’s hierarchy, only sniffing radio play by doing jingles for local disc jockeys.

“There’s a street side and a hip-hop side to the music scene in Detroit,” says battle rap pioneer and Detroit MC Marvwon, while explaining the differences amongst the city’s musical landscape. “The funny thing is [that] there’s no difference in level of talent. The only difference is the backdrops.”

Those backdrops are also socioeconomic in nature as Detroit is a city whose residents have been denied basic human necessities. And for the Motor City? There’s no better representation of the city than the music at the most fundamental, street level. As Marv continued to explain, “The division comes from perception. The street cats believe that there hasn’t been an accurate representation of Detroit in the music world.”

Those feelings are echoed throughout the scene. Detroit MC Seven The General traverses through both worlds in a manner that the city hasn’t seen since the late Big Proof (known as Eminem’s close friend, as a member of his group D12). As Seven explains, “When I was incarcerated, we felt that the street aspect of Detroit wasn’t being heard with Eminem. But when I came home in ‘03 and heard Rock Bottom, I realized it was there but it just wasn’t receiving the same attention nationally. It had been held back and secluded to the streets for so long that people felt Eminem didn’t like it or care. It caused a resentment and caused rappers to feel like he doesn’t listen to us so why should we listen to him. It made us ask, ‘Where on the list of Eminem‘s top five Detroit artists would any of us fit?’”

When taking in these factors, it’s easy to see why Eminem doesn’t translate well for Sada Baby. However, Eminem’s impact has transcended not only Detroit but the world. Artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Hopsin, Tyler The Creator, and Juice WRLD are amongst today’s generation of rappers that all list him as a major influence. For better or worse, Em is also a catalyst for today’s druggie rap scene. Street rappers have gone from rapping about selling drugs to today’s scene glorifying the use of Xanax and Percocet - something that Marshall pioneered on his early albums with songs like “Drug Ballad” and “Purple Pills.” And with the blockbuster film 8 Mile and its hit song “Lose Yourself,” Eminem helped take battle rap culture mainstream to unfamiliar audiences.

Thanks to Eminem, Detroit’s street rap and lyrical scenes have crossed over. Somewhere at the intersection of manager/A&R Hex Murda and Big Sean, the worlds collided. As Marv states, “Big Sean, Danny Brown, and anyone else from the city mostly talk about the same things: money, bitches, and bossing up.” For every J Dilla, we now have a Black Milk who can equally rap and produce between both worlds. Where there’s a Dex Osama, there’s a Guilty Simpson and Seven The General whose blunt and brash flows hit you in the chest as hard as their lyrical ability and wordplay.

And don’t get it twisted; Em definitely sees the work that Detroit’s street rappers are putting in. “I have a personal relationship with all of the rappers around him,” Seven says. “I feel he rocks with me and has love for me. If he could see a way for us to make bread together, I feel like he’d pull me in; but D12 is actively in the streets assisting artists. I’ve personally seen what Em does for Detroit like his partnerships with (Metro Detroit sneaker boutique) Burn Rubber and (locally-founded clothing company) Detroit vs Everybody.”

He may not be your flavor but there’s no denying the skill and impact that Em has had on the city of Detroit and the genre as a whole. If Eminem isn’t top five in Detroit, you’re doing it wrong.

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