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Selena: Her Living Legacy & What It Still Represents Today

Selena gave us visibility and embodied the truth that a Latinx identity is not defined solely by Spanish language acquisition…

This week the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Walk of Fame Selection Committee announced that the late, great Tejano songstress, Selena Quintanilla-Perez, will posthumously receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017. The Quintanilla family announced the news on Selena's Facebook fan page on Tuesday, and thousands of die-hard fans are out-of-their-minds excited.

Quintanilla is not the only Latinx artist that will receive a spot on the Walk of Fame in 2017: actress Eva Longoria, Venezuelan Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and zombie apocalypse horror film director George Romero will also be recognized with their own stars for their accomplishments in arts and entertainment. While congratulations are in order for everyone who will be receiving a star next year, the response to the news about Selena Quintanilla’s award has been overwhelming and brimming with love. Over 20 years after her death, Selena Quintanilla continues to make headlines, with publications like the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times celebrating the news that Selena’s legacy will be immortalized forever in Hollywood.

This year has been especially busy for the Selena legacy and her fans, whose love for the Chicanx superstar has not slowed down in the 21 years since her murder in March of 1995. Many of Selena’s millennial admirers were very young when she was killed (I was three-years old), but our parents, primxs, and communities raised us on her. She was taken from us far too soon; she was only 23 when she passed, and our communities were not ready to let her go.

We grew up watching the biopic about her life, Selena, which gave J. Lo her first major leading role and set the stage for the Boricua’s future superstardom. In fact, it was a young Chicanx Selena fan, Tonantzin Esparza, who encouraged her movie-making father, Moctezuma Esparza, to produce the film about Quintanilla’s life. We were brought up listening to "Como la flor" and perfecting our washing machine. We wanted to dress like her, dance like her, and we were captivated by her smile and adorable sense of humor. Selena has had an incredible impact on hundreds of thousands of people, Latinx or not, and the reasons are numerous.

Selena was a triple threat. She could sing, dance, and design her own costumes. She served LOOKS. Every costume she designed and wore was a memorable signature and her eye for fashion was timeless—just ask Beyoncé. The designs that she created with boots, high waisted form-fitting pants, skirts, and jeweled bustiers combined her Texas roots, Latin cultural markers, and Disco flavor. The silhouettes she rocked on stage continue to influence artists today and you can see major nods to Selena’s steez in the wardrobes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and many more. Her fashion, her music, and her flare also made her an icon in LGBTQ communities of color, a phenomenon that Dr. Deborah R. Vargas wrote about in her 2007 paper, “Selena: Sounding a Queer Transnational Latino/a Queer Imaginary". The girl had the range and she could knock out a pop tune or a love ballad with ease, passion, and intense emotion. Selena’s incredible vocal ability and tenacity made her a stand out. But it was her personality, her smile, and the way she embraced her identity and community that had us fall madly in love with her.

She's so cute with her BOY George hat on. #selenadiditfirst #Selena #queen quintanilla #selenaquintanilla #boygeorge

A video posted by Selena Quintanilla (@queenquintanilla) on

Selena was a pocha, a term that is generally used to describe a Mexican who was born in the United States and speaks Spanglish or very little Spanish. Historically used as a derogatory term, younger Latinxs have taken to reclaiming the word and recognizing it as a term of endearment and symbol of Latinx identity in a U.S. context. Selena's Spanish was far from perfect, but she owned her lexicon and her Mexicanidad with pride. A third generation pocha myself, I saw myself in Selena once I was old enough to appreciate who she was. She wasn’t a disappointment, white washed, or “less Mexican” because of her choppy Spanish. How could she be? She was the Tejano Queen! She sang in Spanish and in English. Selena was one of us, a Mexican-American, a pocha, and her rise to international, Grammy Award-winning fame marked our space in American history.

The Tejana’s experiences reflected the realities of many Chicanxs whose parents and grandparents came to the Southwestern United States prior to the 1970s, during times of intense de jure racial segregation. My father, a second generation Mexican-American and former farm worker from Bakersfield, was not raised speaking Spanish in his home because his mother and grandparents knew that a child who spoke Spanish in school or spoke English with an accent was a target for corporal punishment from teachers, or at risk of being placed in lower level educational tracks by racist school administrators.

My father grew up in California in the 1960s where he frequently saw signs in store windows that read, “No dogs or Mexicans allowed." The racism, xenophobia, and linguistic oppression that many of our parents and grandparents faced gave way to generations of Chicanxs who did not grow up speaking Spanish as a tool for survival in a cutthroat capitalist and white supremacist environment. This history of forced language loss and acculturation in immigrant communities has been generally understood and studied in academic circles, but our communities do not always have access to this information and often place much shame on pochxs without understanding our socio-historical context.

Selena gave us visibility and embodied the truth that a Latinx identity is not defined solely by Spanish language acquisition, but is the totality of one’s history, heart, and being. Although Selena and her family came up in Texas, in a racially oppressive society, she was able to hold on to her identity and her cultura in spite of generations of systemic racism. She wasn’t “less Mexican," fragmented, or broken because of her U.S. context. She was whole in spite of it. The culture lived in her, her music, and notably, her aesthetic. She sang cumbias, Disco, Tejano, and she sang in Spanish. She wore bright red lipstick, extensive acrylic nails, gold hoops, and sported long raven hair. She was an iconic femme Chicanx, and she proved that not only was there a place for women in Tejano music, but that a woman could in fact revolutionize the genre on an international level. She was a woman of color whose brilliance made her a force to be reckoned with in a machista musical genre and white supremacist, patriarchal world.

Decades after her death, Selena’s impact continues to have major reach. Her image, life, music, and brilliant personality have inspired young Latinxs and many other people of color to pursue their dreams in the arts. There are even scholars with PhDs who have studied and written about Selena’s cultural impact in peer reviewed journals. MAC recently announced that they will be releasing a line of Selena inspired makeup, including her signature red lipstick, this October. Venues in L.A. and other major U.S. cities boast regular Selena tribute nights, Selena Techno Cumbia parties, and even Selena pizza parties. Drag Queens nationwide have perfected Selena’s look and can emulate her "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" like no other.

While I love the dedications to Selena and the way that our communities continue to celebrate her music, I am also weary of corporate exploitation of her name in death. We want the chance to remember her, celebrate her, mourn her passing, and honor her music. We want to share her art with our young primxs and future children. Selena’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame will serve as a physical memorial to her in Los Angeles and knowing her fan base, I anticipate that her star will be unique. Latinxs have a way of celebrating our dead that is full of love, color, and joy. I imagine that Selena fans will pay tribute to her by visiting her star, leaving her recuerdos, velas y flores.

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Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

Rap, throughout its history, has always referenced parenthood in some form. Most often, it was to extol single mothers for their goodness while deadbeat fathers were berated and called out for going ghost. In recent years, as the social media landscape has blown open the avenues of communication, famous rap dads, in particular, have become increasingly transparent about their lives as family men. Where years ago there seemed to be endless bars mourning the demise of the father, artists are now using their platform to balance the scales. They’re showing themselves to be present and intentional.

Few albums make me think more about the concept of parenthood, and legacy, than Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, 4:44. It’s a stark and blistering work of memoir, heavy on confession and self-examination. When 4:44 finally dropped, I, like many others, was filled with wonder. How was it that Jay had managed to so fluidly deconstruct everything I’d been wrestling with for the last few years? Though the specifics of our experiences differed greatly, the central ideas dissected on 4:44, especially those concerning fatherhood and family life, had been swimming around my brain for some time.

***

Hip-hop saved my life. And it was fatherhood that set it on fire. This bears explaining.

What hip-hop has done for me, is what it has done for millions of fatherless and heart-wounded kids—it provided, at the very least, the shading of a better life. If it wasn’t for hip-hop, and the value I ascribed to it, it would be impossible to know just how far I’d have settled into the more lamentable aspects of my environment. Forasmuch of a goon as I was growing up, something always kept me from becoming too emotionally invested in harsh crime. I dabbled in mischief like an amateur chef knowing he would only go so far. I saw in hip-hop, in the art of it, something worth pursuing with tenacity; something like a healthy distraction. So I committed to finding my lane.

Though there were brief stints dedicated to developing my modest graffiti skills and footwork, it was the words that flowed and came without struggle. The school cyphers sharpened my wits and compelled me to feed my vocabulary daily. Only my wordplay could save me from getting ripped to shreds in a lunchroom battle. I read books and scoured the dictionary for ammunition, I listened to stand-up comics who fearlessly engaged the crowd and proved quick on the draw. It seemed fruitless to know a billion words if I couldn’t convert them into brutal attacks. I had to break the competition down and render them defenseless, stammering for a rebuttal. There could be no confusion as to my superiority. So instead of joining the stickup kids or depositing all of my energy into intramural sports, I put my soul and mind into the task of taking down all manner of wack MCs. That’s why I say that hip-hop saved me.

But fatherhood was its own saving grace. It showed me that the world did not revolve, nor would it ever revolve, around my passions. Fatherhood put an extra battery behind my back as a creative, sure. But it’s more about being a consistent presence at home than chasing any dream.

***

As an artist and writer, I cannot so much as think about fatherhood without considering some of the material that deals with feelings comparable to those I felt after I became a father. Songs that contextualize very specific emotions over the drums.

In his 2012 track “Glory,” Jay-Z, someone who had long been vocal about his strained relationship with his father, reflects on the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy, his first child with wife Beyoncé. Produced by the Neptunes, “Glory” was released on January 9, just two days after Blue was born. From start to finish, it carries a sort of gleeful melancholy that resonates on multiple levels. While it is, in essence, a comment on the exuberant joy attached with welcoming a child, “Glory” is also a note on death and mourning.

Before Blue came along and flipped the script, Beyoncé had suffered a miscarriage. The pain the couple experienced left them fearful of not being able to conceive. The dual purpose of “Glory” is made clear from the outset, and with blazing transparency. “False alarms and false starts,” offers Jay, laying the groundwork for what immediately follows: “All made better by the sound of your heart.” The second half of the couplet establishes what was, as we come to learn, the most pivotal moment in the rap mogul’s life up until then. The moment where all is made right, where the sting of loss is eclipsed by the possibility of new birth. Jay continues in this mode, shining light on the redeeming gift that is Blue and, also, how the child is a composite of her mother and father, yet more still.

The opening bars of the following verse are equally striking as Jay, addressing Blue, touches on the death of his father from liver failure. Jay is signaling here, leading us somewhere but with the intent to shift gears. Instead of dwelling on his father’s shortcomings like one might expect him to, Jay breaks left, resolving that deep down his father was a good man. What begins as an indictment of a cheat who walked out on his obligations, ends with a declaration of forgiveness and generosity. But Jay soon directs the focus back to his blessing and how hard it is not to spoil her rotten as she is the child of his destiny. It becomes apparent that this is a man at his most self-actualized. A few more welcome digressions and “Glory” closes the same way that it begins, with the final line of the hook: “My greatest creation was you.” This points to something that I, too, came to know as fact. That no matter what I do, and regardless of what I might attain—power, wealth, the esteem of my peers—nothing is quite comparable to the happiness and the terror that comes with siring a child. “Glory” succeeds as it casts aside any traces of bluster and bravado, making room for Jay to unearth lessons that were hard-won yet central to his maturation. And what is the purpose of making art if not to bust open your soul and watch it spill over? Shout out to the rap dads raising babies and doing the work to shift the narrative.

Juan Vidal is a writer, critic, and author of Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation.

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Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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Meet Zhavia, The Musician Who Refuses To Be Boxed In

If you haven’t heard of Zhavia before, that will likely change very, very soon.

The 18-year-old Columbia Records signee is readying her first major EP 17, which is scheduled for June 14. A native of the Golden State, Zhavia catapulted to national consciousness after making it to the top four of the inaugural season of FOX’s singing competition, The Four, which features Diddy and DJ Khaled as judges. Since then, she continues to rise and tantalize audiences with her powerful, chill-inducing vocals.

The singer-songwriter—who tells VIBE she’s hopeful that her forthcoming EP will be “inspiring” to her ever-growing fanbase—dropped the project’s latest single “17” on May 31. Produced by hip-hop hitmaker Hit-Boy and co-written by RØMANS, Zhavia explains that the retrospective song is more personal than her previously-released tracks, such as the trap-tickled “100 Ways” and “Candlelight,” the stand-out single that showcases the vocal prowess of the petite blonde ingenue.

"’17’ is a song that I wrote about my life story, and how I got to where I am right now,” she says. The track details hardships such as a lack of resources to thrive in her childhood home and staying in a motel in order to accomplish her musical goals. “I just wanted it to be something that [fans] can relate to, whatever it is that they're going through.”

“I saw it in my dreams, I knew that life would change for me,” she croons on the new single. “This is reality, look at me now.”

Zhavia’s humble beginnings start in Norwalk, Calif., as a daughter of two musicians who introduced her to numerous genres. In fact, her mother was a member of a metal band called Xenoterra, and Zhavia’s impressively-versatile vocal range could be attributed to this Chex Mix bag of sonic stylings.

“From doo-wop to punk to R&B, metal, rock...” she says, listing of the types of music she was brought up on, which helped her in honing a unique style. Her own tunes feature an R&B and hip-hop flair and sprinkles touches of other genres throughout, in order for her to remain true to her roots.

“I feel like for the most part, [my music will] always have that R&B feel to it, but I'm always gonna have a lot of different vibes for people to pick and choose what they like,” she explains.

Zhavia's urban-tinged musical affinity was palpable during her time on The Four, where she put her spin on hits such as French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” Although she was unanimously selected by the show’s four celebrity judges to advance after a stellar first-round performance of Khalid’s “Location,” she admits she initially wasn’t planning to compete.

“When I was younger, I had wanted to go on a [singing] show, but I had made up my mind. ‘I'm gonna try to do it myself,’” she chuckles. “But, the people that were having auditions, they happened to be at the studio that I was recording at when I was making my own songs. My manager told me, 'Just go sing for them.'”

After showing off her impressive pipes, she was convinced to join the show, and was further influenced to compete after discovering that The Four appeared to focus on R&B and hip-hop-leaning artists.

“I was like, 'Okay, that sounds like me, they'll probably accept the style of music that I do,'” she continues. “I feel like on other singing shows, it's a little more pop, or towards the pop genre. Also, the panel that they had [DJ Khaled, Diddy, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Walk] seemed really relevant, and I could tell it was legit. I figured I'd just try it out, and it led me to where I am now.”

Since placing fourth on the show, Zhavia has proven that her star power was built to last longer than 15 minutes. Other than her forthcoming EP’s release, her gifts have found her among the company of some big names. She can be heard on the soundtrack for Deadpool 2 in the song “Welcome To The Party” with Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump. Recently, moviegoers were treated to her rendition of the Disney classic “A Whole New World” with Zayn Malik, for the live-action version of Aladdin, which plays during the film’s end credits.

“I think it's been amazing, and it's definitely a lot of exposure that comes in a unique way,” she says of working on big projects with even bigger industry names. She continues by stating that she’s had a blast “putting her own twist” on songs she didn’t pen and doing material “totally different from what [she] would normally do.”

The pressures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry could be difficult on anyone, however, young stars under the U.S. legal age in the limelight may find themselves succumbing to various pressures, temptations and burnout. For Zhavia, she makes sure to keep a level head and a positive attitude in order to persevere in the industry as she matures.

“I feel like it's not that hard to stay focused, because I've wanted to do this my whole life,” she says affirmatively. “It's what I live for. For me, one of my number one priorities besides my family is music. I don't really go out, I don't party, I don't do none of that. I just work! [Laughs] I think for me, it's just focusing on myself and what I wanna do, and what I wanna get done.” She’s also hoping to keep surprising people throughout her career by coming up with genre-bending songs that show off her style, personality and abilities. Let her do her, and watch her as she goes.

“I'm not gonna be put in a box to do just one type of music or one style of song,” Zhavia affirms. “I don't want people to get used to one thing, you know? That's kind of a hard thing to express to the world. I feel like it comes with me coming up with more music, and to keep creating music for people to listen to and get to know me.”

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