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Josh Balboa

Interview: Millennial Spoken Word Artist Nina Donovan On Her Viral Poem “Nasty Woman”

"It wasn't just an anti-Trump piece, it was a pro-equality, 'let's unite and fight together' piece.

Although actress Ashley Judd went viral for reciting the poem “Nasty Woman” at the recent Women’s March in Washington D.C., she didn’t steal the show on her own. Enter Tennessee native, Nina Donovan, who penned the poem “Nasty Woman” for the Nashville-based non-profit performing arts and poetry organization, Southern Word. The 19-year-old sociology major has been interested in poetry since her high school days, and has also competed in international spoken word competitions.

Her work, which she performs under the name Nina Mariah, primarily tackles being a female in a society. Examples include her poem titled “Smack That,” a creative dissection of popular club anthems coupled with her views regarding misogyny. The poem boasts lines such as “Where would I be without misogyny in my headphones?…What’s left of my security as I walk past construction workers wanting to drill more than cement?”

Her lauded “Nasty Woman” poem celebrates the “phunky, crusty, b***hy, loud” females who the media (and our leaders) try to silence through harassment and body-shaming, while continually making it difficult for women to succeed in a man’s world. She also comments on the history of America in regards to racial and social inequality, while asserting the notion that this country is not out of the woods yet.

VIBE spoke with the bubbly Donovan, who was actually on her break at her job, Dunkin’ Donuts, to get the low-down on her aggressive-yet-necessary piece, how she got in touch with Ashley Judd and what it’s like to be a millennial in Trump’s America.

VIBE: Tell me a little about the atmosphere of Franklin, Tennessee. What’s the demographic? How was it like growing up for you?
Nina Donovan: I mean, the high school that I went to is very, very white. I think they said it was 92 percent white, and I'm half Puerto Rican, so I was a super minority there. It's very Republican out here. [Franklin's] neighboring city Nashville is more liberal, but Franklin is super-conservative, very religious. Especially my county, Williamson County, it's like a bubble. People don't escape it and they're kind of trapped here in a way. I feel that's why there tends to be a lot of ignorance here; people don't really reach outside of this Williamson County bubble. They're not tuned into what's actually going on outside of our city.

It doesn't seem like the most artsy place, so where did you go that helped spark an interest in poetry?
It's definitely not a place for the arts. Franklin is more of a singer-songwriter city, but Nashville is very artsy, so that's how I got deep into poetry. The first time I ever did a poetry slam and started gaining an interest in poetry was my freshman year of high school. We had this poetry unit in English and then the poetry slam, but I didn't get deep into poetry or spoken word until junior year of high school. I kept winning slams, and I eventually made it to the international poetry competition called Brave New Voices. It was incredible. It was not just a competition, it became a family of spoken word artists. I'm so impressed with a lot of the people that I met there. That's really how I got my interest.

Were you ever shy about reciting your poems at first, and if you were, how did you find that confidence inside of you?
Oh yeah, there's times even now when I'm doing shows and I still get terrified. I'm like, what if no one likes it? What if no one snaps for me? Even when I did this "Nasty Woman" piece, I was so scared, because obviously, it's pretty controversial, so I was afraid to perform it at one time. What if no one gets it? What if no one understands the references? But I have so much support behind me. I have family and friends who always back me up and encourage me to keep going with it.

How has your poetry evolved? Meaning, what did you find yourself writing at first, and now what are you writing about?
I kind of just wrote about myself, what's wrong with the world, but not really targeting specific issues. More like, "oh society sucks, blah blah blah," [laughs]. But now, it's less punchlines, more narratives. I've started putting the political aspect in it as well. At first I thought that I can't be funny in spoken word, but then I started adding those juicy punchlines and it works! It gets the crowd going.

Obviously, the final Presidential Debate inspired you to write “Nasty Woman.” What were some of the thoughts going through your head when you heard Trump call Clinton a "nasty woman"?
It was sort of like a "...did he just say that?" kind of moment. That was also the speech where he said "bad hombres."

Oh yeah, it was.
It was like, this is potentially going to be the President. Is this a joke? He was acting like a child throughout the whole thing. But you know, I had been waiting for some inspiration to write a new piece to perform, and the minute he said that, I was like, "that's it. That's the new piece! It has to be." At first, I was thinking that I was going to reclaim this [the phrase "nasty woman"] and it's gonna be so funny, but then it got really serious really quickly. I was hitting on serious issues, and the more I researched them, the more heated I got about this. I wanted to know why no one major was doing anything to fix these problems. Why isn't the government fixing these issues? I couldn't stop writing. It took me, honestly, about a good month to finish. Even up until the last minute, about an hour before the performance, I was tweaking things, rewording things.

How did Ashley Judd get in contact with you, to see if she could recite your poem?
It was crazy! She just happened to be at the show that I first performed it at. So, she pulled a few of us poets aside afterwards, and she congratulated us, thanked us for using our voices. And out of nowhere, she turns to me and she says, "So, I'm thinking that your piece is gonna go up at the D.C. March for Women." And I'm like "...uh, what? Me?!” [laughs]. So we started texting back and forth about it. I gave her full permission to tweak anything, change anything and recite it on my behalf. She's been incredible. She still texts me, even about other stuff. She FaceTimed me after the march, thanking me for letting her use it. She's definitely a very amazing woman.

That's crazy. I could even imagine.
She's the sweetest!

For me, knowing that this poem came from a younger woman who voted for the first time, it gave me hope for the future. It's a call-to-action for women, young and old, to come together and figure out how to get through this thing together. For you, what was the most incredible aspect of being able to hear your words being recited in front of all of those people?
This whole piece is to remind not only women, but ethnic minorities, the queer community, to remind them all that we still have a voice. I know it may seem like we're being set back with who was elected into office, but we do still have a voice. It's crazy that people are coming to me, people from all around the world wildly enough, said that my poem gave them hope for the next four years, that it brought them to tears. That truly was the whole message of the poem. It wasn't just an anti-Trump piece, it was a pro-equality, "let's unite and fight together" piece. That's been the greatest part. Even some Trump supporters have contacted me and said that even though they voted for Trump, they still think it's great that I'm using my voice and speaking for what I believe in. That's what makes America this great country that people talk about, the fact that we do have free speech and that I can use my passion and my art to make these statements.

Who are some of the millennial women in the media who you look up to for their voices and their activism?
Definitely Zendaya! She's my number one! First of all, she's a beautiful, beautiful girl, and the fact that she's not just another young face in the media. She started off as a Disney star, but she's proven that she's so much more than that. She's an activist, she's not afraid to speak her mind, and she has the most incredible clapbacks on Twitter, it's kind of ridiculous [laughs].

You talk about a lot of different issues throughout the poem: wage inequality, period shaming, sexual harassment. Why do you think that these specific examples were important to tackle in the poem?
Just stuff like period shaming and being harassed by people on the street—they're things that every woman has gone through, even if it was just once. Especially the cat-calling, that's honestly really hard for me to talk about sometimes. Knowing that I'm going to have to perform this piece, and look someone in the eyes and see that they've been through the same thing that I have. Some have it even worse. We've elected this man into office who literally said, "grab 'em by the p***y." He's been accused of rape, he's been quoted saying all of these vulgar, disgusting things about women, and it goes to show that society really isn't changing as much as we think it is. People think that rape doesn't exist, slavery doesn't exist, racism doesn't exist, but that's obviously not the case. They try to ignore the issue, or if they have the privilege, they act like it doesn't exist because they haven't had to experience it. Just because it doesn't happen to you, doesn't mean it doesn't happen to other people. That's what I feel like people need to understand: the world is bigger than your own.

What do you think is the most troubling aspect of a Donald Trump presidency as a young woman?
There's been a lot of people who have said that my poem is vulgar or that the movement is vulgar, but the fact that they voted this vulgarness and this disgusting language into office. Do they see that from him or do they choose to ignore it? I was quoting him when I said "grab 'em by the p***y." It's not like I just pulled it out of nowhere. So that's really scary to me, that people are ignoring this misogyny and this hateful speech, but the scarier part is that people are encouraging it. I've been seeing tweets that say that people hope they bring slavery back, and that's terrifying to me. The fact that people still think like that after all these generations scares me.

What other causes have you been vocal about since the election?
I've always been here for the Black Lives Matter movement, obviously for women's rights, too. My friend and I actually went to a rally in Nashville for BLM. Immigration also hits home for me. My mother is Puerto Rican, so she was born a citizen. However, when I say "I'm Hispanic," I get asked, "oh, so you're Mexican?" There's more than one type! We're not all the same. My grandparents immigrated here. Many people come here for a better life. There's problems in their own countries, they're looking for better opportunities for their families, and it's sad that people can't look at it that way. They're not here to bring drugs and rape and crime, they're here to make a home.

What is some of the advice you can give women that may help for the next few years?
I'd say to keep hope alive. Remember the millennial vote. A lot of us had voted for Bernie or Hillary. I think we're a generation that can bring third-party voting into mainstream media. I think we have so much power because we're woke [laughs]. We have so much strength and so much hope. I promise you, there is so much hope left in the world, and we just have to fight together. I think we need to sit down and have mature, open-minded conversations with others as well.

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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.
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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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