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'American Soul' Season Finale Recap: The Last Stop...For Now

It's the Soul Train's final taping of its premiere season, but who'll be on the train next season?

In an appropriate parallel, the American Soul season finale centers around Soul Train’s final taping of its premiere season. Don’s announcement of Soul Train's renewal also mirrors BET’s announcement of American Soul being picked up for a second season. And thank goodness, because as we guessed, there are questions left unanswered.

The episode opens with an Ike and Tina Turner-driven montage that’s just a little too neat and cheerful to be believed. Don pops bottles on the Soul Train set to celebrate the show’s renewal, Tessa and Patrick learn she made the dance troupe and is going on tour, Gerald kicks his feet up on the desk in his new office at Soul Train, Encore opens the first box of their fully packaged and professional demo, and… Delores and the kids moved to L.A.? Oh, nope. Don’s experiencing blackouts accompanied by strange dreams about Delores - and a speeding train. All isn’t well, after all.

Encore is excited for their big moment of opening for Ike and Tina at Club 100 Proof, but Simone is even more excited as she’s decided to take JT up on the offer to leave town with him; In fact, they’re going right after the show. But first, JT has to handle business with Reggie and the Crips. We were looking side-eyed at show writers for leaving all the mentions about Simone’s inevitable stardom without follow-up, and then Simone walks into her home to find Professor Haygood having coffee and cake with her mom. And snitchin’ about Simone’s gigs at the jazz club.

Professor Haygood makes good on his promise to introduce Simone to a theater producer, and the producer offers her a role in a new show, complete with a scholarship to finish school and a salary to cover her expenses. Ok, Professor Haygood! Tessa had us thinking you were outchea selling dreams to young dancers, and you’re looking out. Our bad. Simone assumes Brianne is going to shut the New York opportunity down, but her mom surprises her by saying she’s the only one who can decide what to do with her dream. Brianne's recent revisit of her own dream was probably fortuitous.

JT is a no show at the club, so Encore takes the stage in a new configuration featuring Flo. Simone is skeptical, but they kill it. They even impress Ike (played to scary perfection by McKinley Freeman). After touching base with JT later, Simone starts packing for New York. When Kendall discovers she’s leaving town just as Encore is taking off, he’s salty (as usual). Simone tells her brother she has to do this for herself, and he claps back saying that’s all she’s ever done. In the flash-forward that closes the show, Simone prepares to perform in New York as Kendall and Flo are performing in L.A.

Over at the Lorraine household, now that Patrick’s on board supporting Tessa’s pursuit of her dream, she realizes she doesn’t have to choose between dance and a family. She suggests they consider adoption (a sly nod to Iantha Richardson’s other Tess character on This is Us, perhaps?). Don asks Tessa to come by the set to talk and immediately realizes how much Tessa’s energy is missed when the entire Soul Train Gang runs to her in excitement. He wants her to come back to the show, but Tessa is more confident and self-assured than he’s used to. When she challenges Don about the jab early in their working relationship that he only hired her because she was “cheap,” Don admits he was wrong. Have we heard Don say the words “I was wrong” before? Looks like the threat of losing Delores plus fear of his health has Don reassessing how he handles business with people who ride for him. We’ll come back to that later.

Tessa asks for a raise, creative control, and a production credit — with the responses of yes, maybe and absolutely not — and tells Don she’ll consider his offer when she’s back from her tour. Now it’s time for Tessa and Patrick to celebrate. Tess puts on a private show people would pay for, but the mood is killed abruptly. Patrick thinks he hears an intruder, and he’s right. We’ll come back to that, too. In the end, though, the Lorraines dance out of season one happy and on one accord.

JT is a no show at Club 100 Proof because he’s at the Lorriane house with Reggie. Killing Patrick – a detective – is the only way JT can prove he’s “down.” If he fails, the Crips will kill him, his mom, his sister, and maybe a few other people if they feel like it. It all feels extreme, but this is Patrick’s fault in the first place – he’s the reason Reggie thinks JT is a snitch.

JT’s not a killer, and definitely not a cop killer, but he wants to protect the people he loves. He almost catches Patrick while he’s hypnotized by Tessa’s show, but Patrick’s detective ears kick in. JT leaves the house without being discovered, only to walk right into Reggie – who makes him surrender his gun (but if you have a gun and he has a gun, why are you giving up your gun?).

Reggie takes him to a random alleyway to kill him when shots suddenly hit Reggie and his accomplice. Oh, hey, Private Barker! We saw you spying on JT and Simone earlier but we weren’t sure what that was about. Good lookin’ out!  Nate gives JT a little heart-to-heart, tells him he needs to go ahead and get out of town, but first, he should call Simone. On the phone, Simone tells JT about New York, and he gives his blessing. He tells her one day she’ll look up from the stage and he’ll be there cheering her on. It’s the sweetest, most genuine moment we’ve seen between the two young lovers all season. And then Nate…stabs JT? Son, what is happening?! Nate killed two whole other people just to kill JT himself? He apparently still thinks he’s taking orders from Joseph Clarke’s ghost. We’re left not knowing Nate’s fate, so keep him lifted in your prayers until season two.

Just as Gerald is getting settled in his new digs at Soul Train, Herschel stops by to pay a visit. He puts Gerald on notice that he’s planning to cut into the Soul Train business just as Don walks in. Don finally realizes Gerald works for the mob (you were a little slow on that one, Don), and he asks Gerald if Herschel is going to be a problem. Gerald gives his word that he won’t be, and we know by now that Gerald is a man of his word.

In a very mob-style abandoned warehouse meeting, Gerald tells Herschel he’s using Soul Train to break free of the gangster life. When Herschel tells him there are only two ways out – both of which involve somebody dying – Gerald takes him up on it. Gerald and henchman Jimmy have conspired to take Herschel down, and the boss is caught slippin’ when everyone in the warehouse turns on him. Once Herschel’s taken care of, Gerald tells Jimmy he’s done his time, and he’s out of the game. We don’t want to be cynical, but Jimmy’s “if you say so” sounded a bit ominous to us.

Later, at Club 100 Proof, Don learns Gerald’s been getting a little too comfortable in his new offices; he’s been pitching the concept of a Soul Train club without Don’s knowledge. He has a building model and everything! Don is rightfully outraged. As hard as he’s been fighting to keep his ownership of Soul Train, and Gerald – a minor stakes partner – is expanding the brand without consulting him? Gerald thinks Don’s just mad because it wasn’t his idea (we’re inclined to agree). The two have an all-out brawl in the club's office, but it’s not beef — just friends shooting a fair one to get some frustration out. What drew Gerald to Don in the first place was his willingness to scrap for his. Based on the flash-forward at the show’s closing, plans for the club come to fruition, and Gerald is there to break ground – but where’s Don?

Don’s headaches are amplifying rapidly. He’s blacking out and losing time. The once strict professional is missing his own tapings. His doctor makes a reference to tests that were run, but we wonder what kind of tests. Doc still insists Don is simply fatigued and stressed, and we all know it was much more serious than that. Don shares with the doctor that cocaine is the only thing that makes him feel better, a revelation the physician only mildly blinks at (what a time). We have a feeling that coke use is about to ramp up.

The anniversary trip Don has been promising Delores since he moved to L.A. is on the horizon, but Delores still isn’t responding to his calls. He pushes through the final show with his eyes on getting his marriage back on track. He’s secured his dream, but it feels empty without his “Red” actively having his back.

After Don and Gerald’s dust-up, he runs into Tina (excellently played by Gabrielle Dennis, who had practice with on-screen volatile relationships as Whitney Houston in The Bobby Brown Story) in the parking lot. She looks at his busted lip and remarks, “Looks like you became friends with Ike.” Don has been watching Ike’s abusive behavior silently and takes the opportunity to encourage Tina to get out, but Tina’s question is, get out and go where? “It’s Ike and Tina.” She tells Don that if he loves his wife, he needs to make sure she knows it, and that’s still ringing in Don’s ears when he tells Brooks he can’t go to Atlanta for a last-minute opportunity with his most coveted potential client, Coca Cola. Don hasn’t been physically abusive to Delores, but he’s becoming aware of how hurtful he’s been. Whether Delores is at the Falls or not, he’ll be there. For once.

Delores does show up, and Don immediately lavishes her with a fur coat, telling her he wants the world to see his wife reap the rewards of his work. Delores reminds him she never wanted the material trappings; she just wanted him. After noticing he’s not wearing his wedding ring, Delores slams the big joker on the table – a legal separation agreement. She leaves Don there with the paperwork, the fur, and her wedding ring. She’s not going to play the wife role back in Chicago while he’s being single in L.A. anymore. Perri Camper is fine, too. Don messed up.

Don’s reached the end of both his show’s season and a personal one. He fought for his dream and won, but at what cost? In a flash-forward, Don awakens, groggily, in a bed full of women. When one wishes him Happy New Year, it’s immediately clear that Don is still losing time. Maybe days at this point. Is he on a spiral, or just being single, single? Is he going to jeopardize the business he worked so hard to build?

We’ll be tuning in for season two. As for this season, we have some takeaways…

What we want to see change: We would love the show to lighten up just a bit. The pace is sometimes slow and the storylines get heavy, but when the show turns the energy up it’s incredible.

What we want to stay the same: We hope they keep the outstanding guest performances.

What we could do without: Can we ditch Brooks? Why do we have a token white character (because let’s be real, that’s what he is) on a series about the first all-black-everything entertainment show that airs on Black Entertainment Television?

What we don’t understand: Why they didn’t utilize Kelly Price more this season. Brianne got everybody out of the house and is ready to get it poppin’, so let’s hope she has real storyline in season two.

Until then, we wish you peace, love, and SOUL!

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Ludacris Announces Netflix Animated Series ‘Karma’s World’ Inspired By His Oldest Daughter

Ludacris has an animated series in the works. Karma’s World, which is inspired by his oldest daughter, Karma Bridges, is in development at Netflix, the rapper announced on Tuesday (Oct. 13).

“I’ve had a lot of accomplishments in my life, but everything that I’ve experienced seems to have led up to this point to where I can leave a legacy for all my daughters,” Luda said in a statement. “Karma’s World is one of those legacies. I hope this series will show kids that there are many ways to overcome difficult situations.

“This show is going to move hip hop culture forward, and show young girls that they have the power to change the world,” he added. “This project has been a long time in the making and I can’t wait to bring Karma’s World to the entire world.”

The series follows 10-year-old Karma Grant, a smart, resilient, and “deeply empathetic” aspiring singer and rapper with “big talent and an even bigger heart.” Karma pours out her deepest feelings and channel her emotions into the music that she hopes will one day change the world. The animated show chronicles how Karma begins to recognize the true power of music, and will tackle issues such as self-esteem, body positivity, friendship, family, and celebrating differences.

Karma’s World has been a decade in the making, Luda revealed in an  Instagram post.

 

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10 years in the making. THIS IS HOW LEGACIES ARE BUILT! • I’m pleased to announce that I will be joining the @netflixfamily, and bringing my new animated series #KarmasWorld which is inspired by my oldest daughter in partnership with @9storymediagroup and @BrownBagFilms to @netflix for the world to see! • It was important to me to provide a positive @StrongBlackLead to show our youth that there are many ways to overcome difficult situations, and that their dreams no matter how big are possible! I’m looking forward to finally being able to share what I’ve been working on behind the scenes for so many years! Welcome to Karma’s World! Click the link in bio RIGHT NOW!!! • #Ludacris #Netflix #AnimatedSeries

A post shared by @ ludacris on Oct 13, 2020 at 11:03am PDT

Besides creating the series, Luda is also executive producing alongside Vince Commisso, Cathal Gaffney, Darragh O’Connell, Angela C. Santomero, Wendy Harris and Jennie Stacey from 9 Story Media Group.

Karma’s World is a partnership between 9 Story Media and Luda’s production company Karma’s World Entertainment.

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Lars Niki/Getty Images for WSJ. Magazine Innovators Awards

‘Coming 2 America’ Sequel Reportedly Heading To Amazon Studios

The Coming 2 America sequel may not be hitting theaters as expected. Paramount Pictures is reportedly on the brink of selling the film to Amazon Studios in an apparent $125 deal, Variety reports.

Although the deal is still being finalized, the reported acquisition will include marketing tie-ins with McDonalds and Crown Royal. Murphy, who is also a producer on the film, has to approve the sale.

The film is reportedly slated to begin streaming on Dec. 18.  It’s unclear if it will also be released in theaters.

The star studded cast includes Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Jon Amos, Wesley Snipes, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Garcelle Beauvais, Kiki Layne, and Luenell.

“I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out,” Murphy said of the film during an interview with Ellen DeGeneres last year. “A lot of people have this expectation, like people would say to me when they found out I was doing it, ‘Don’t f*ck that movie up.’ So we’ve gone above and beyond what anybody would think. I’m really, really happy with it.”

Amazon has other big releases in the works including Regina King’s One Night in Miami and a Borat sequel.

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Radha Blank (Writer, Director) as Radha.
Photo by Jeong Park/Netflix

How Radha Blank’s '40-Year-Old Version' Found Its Beat

Radha Blank is a modern classic, fresh yet familiar. A 2014 flyer from her debut stage show features a very Illmatic-esque, sepia-toned image of a young Radha, presumably in kindergarten or first grade, peering into the camera like she can’t wait for recess. That April night at New York City’s Joe’s Pub, the celebrated playwright from Brooklyn was literally and figuratively transforming into one of her many monikers—an MC named RadhaMUSprime—a brash and witty boom-bap barista pouring all of her pain into tall, hot cups of “f**k it.” Her truth spills over in lines like “Why my skin so dry? Why I’m yawnin right now? Why them AARP ni**as sending sh*t to my house?” on “This Is 40,” one of several treats from the live mixtape that manifested into a Youtube series and is the foundation for her feature film of the same name: The 40-Year-Old Version.

“With RadhaMUS Prime, I had gotten fired off a film, my first professional screenwriting gig, and I was really frustrated,” says the forty-something whose writing and producing credits include The Get Down, She’s Gotta Have It, and Empire. “I just needed to create something that was mine and I decided to write a web series about a playwright who was down on her luck who wanted to make a mixtape as a way to get through her problems and it just made sense."

Like a true Gen-Xer, 1986’s Transformers: The Movie served as a muse for her reinvention. “My name is Radha, I grew up in the time of The Transformers so it made sense that I would be RadhaMUSprime. You know that scene in the movie when Optimus Prime goes on to the great Robot Heaven in the sky but still kind of communicates with Hot Rod, who is fighting Galvatron over The Matrix of Leadership? The Matrix is kind of shaking and all of a sudden you hear Optimus say ‘Arise, Rodimus Prime’ and it’s how I open all of my live shows. That’s the one that stuck with me.”

The Forty-Year-Old Version is the culmination of a dream that began that night on the stage at Joe’s Pub. It is RadhaMUSprime’s origin story. Having already achieved critical acclaim for her plays like SEED, Radha fell into a rut of sorts, which was compounded by the passing of her mother, a visual artist and a free spirit who named her after a baby elephant. So she sought to tap into her days of banging on lunchroom tables at Murry Bergtraum High School, spitting bars that would leave her classmates in awe. Shot in black and white, FYOV feels like an A Tribe Called Quest video, so much that it literally opens with “Electric Relaxation,” but set in the present day. There is also a very Hollywood Shuffle feel as she skewers the white theater establishment hellbent on pushing poverty porn as art.

The Netflix-streamed original film boasts the acting debut of New York lyricist Oswin Benjamin playing her producer, D, who says more with his eyes than his mouth. And he’s joined by a guest list of emcees that reads like the ingredients in the best bag of Rap Snacks you’ve ever tasted. Forty-Year-Old Version is overflowing with the kind of tension, humor, and creativity that made songs like her provocative Big Daddy Kane remix, “Hoteps Hoteppin,” so unforgettable.

VIBE spoke with Blank, Benjamin, music director Guy Routte, MC Mickey Factz, and producer Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz about crafting the soundtrack to the best hip-hop movie of 2020.

VIBE: There is so much great music in this film. How did you go about making the musical decisions for this?

Radha Blank: I made this film for New Yorkers who really love the culture and who might be a little nostalgic about it, too. One of the big compliments I’ve gotten about the film is that people think it takes place in the ‘90s. We all famously call it the Golden Era, but a lot of the videos from the ‘90s like Tribe, Latifah, and Digable Planets were part of my digital look book. I was listening to a lot of that music as I came of age, but I was also listening to it as I made the film. And I wanted the new beats, the beats that came from D [the character], to feel like it came from that time. So, I got to work with Guy Routte who is not only my music supervisor, he’s one of my closest friends, and he would go out and find this stuff for me. I said I wanted it to feel like D produces music for Sean Price or Heltah Skeltah and he knew just who to get—Da Beatminerz and Khrysis. I’m not saying a 22-year-old hip-hop producer couldn’t make these sounds, but these sounds have fat on them. They’re thick and they’re grown. We were in the studio for hours just listening to track after track and the sign that it was the right beat is when I started free-styling. If my impulse was to start rhyming, we knew that was the one. Since D is such a non-verbal character, he had to have beats that spoke.

Guy Routte: I met her in 2015 at Black Star Film Festival and we have mutual friends, Shawn Peters, in particular, an incredible cinematographer who worked on a lot of Pharoahe Monch videos, and I was telling Shawn that I wanted to get into the film world. He said he was going to Black Star and I jumped on a bus and met Radha there and we instantly clicked. She’s a big hip-hop head and a fan of the kind of music I’ve been involved with.

She was very, very clear about what she wanted. There were songs already in the script. A lot of jazz stuff. Her father was a jazz musician so she knew she wanted to use one of her father’s pieces. We ended up using two in the film. She knew she wanted this Quincy Jones song “Love and Peace” and this artist Courtney Bryan. A lot of the music was already baked into the pie but we knew that there were some things we needed to create.

It’s a dense film in terms of music but there’s a lot of bits and pieces. The song “Harlem Ave,” Radha wrote that. She already had it, she wrote the rhymes, melody, and hook and worked on it with Luqman Brown who used to be in a group called Funkface. He’s been working on scoring pieces. She’s so musically inclined.

Oswin, this is your first acting role. How did you prepare for it?

Oswin Benjamin: I got the dialogue and I read it over. It was like memorizing a verse but things don’t gotta rhyme so it was easier. I would run the lines with my wife and I’d call my friend Chris Rivers [youngest son of the late Big Pun] and run lines with him. Then I’d memorize the last two lines of what Radha would say so I know where I come in. I didn’t want her to say something and then I miss my cue.

RB: You hear how he just dropped that name on us? Because you know all his best friends are the best MCs in New York. “My friend Chris Rivers…”

OB: Shout out to Chris Rivers, I love him.

RB: Actually, it was Chris Rivers that brought Oswin to my attention because there was another MC I had in mind but he wasn’t available. So I went to Google search and typed in "New York Rappers” and this video pops up with Chris Rivers. I knew I saw it a few years ago but I was like who is this other dude? And it was this guy named Oswin Benjamin and then I went down this rabbit hole of watching all his music videos and I kind of just knew in that moment that this person has all the energy. They look like a New Yorker; they can convey a certain emotion with their facial expressions. He was a gift to the cast.

How much of your MC experience did you bring to playing D?

OB: As far as playing a producer, coming from my hip-hop background, I’m around producers all the time. So just taking up mannerisms from producers I like to work with, [how they act] when they’re around people that aren’t good and people that are. The energy in the room, how that shifts between the talented people and the people who might not be as talented, being able to zone in on those things.

Radha, how did you decide on the great cameos?

RB: I just made a list of all my favorite New York MCs that kind of span a certain era, people who are still out there rhyming. Not only are they ear candy but have a particular presence on screen. One actor stayed in character and insisted that we call him “Mr. Bus Driver.” He would not let us call him by his name because he was taking his role so seriously. It’s a hug. It’s the movie hugging you. It’s saying that the culture is still very relevant and we’re having fun with it.

That vendor on the train, I used to do an imitation of them in my teen years because, for me, hip-hop is not just about the pen, it’s about sonics and that’s one of the most distinctive voices the culture has, between him and Guru [of Gang Starr]. I just wanted to have that moment.

There is a really dope rhyme cipher scene. How did that come together?

GR: She started filming and said she wanted to do a cipher so I got Mickey Factz and Kemba.

Mickey Factz: We shot that at Arlene’s Grocery. It looks like a bodega from the outside but on the inside, it’s an actual club. That’s in the Lower East Side, off Houston. We shot that scene downstairs where the coat check and the bathrooms are. So we’re just on the steps rhyming. Oswin was there and he wanted to rhyme so bad. He was angry that he couldn’t rhyme but between takes, we would rhyme just to make him happy. She was like I want Mickey to set this off. As she’s walking in, I’m already rhyming and I’m just kicking this rhyme and I end it with: “Inverted triangle on the overcoat, I feel like Forest Gump when he lost polio/ That was too straight forward, let me space out/ I’m glad that I had the gumption to break out/ If you ain’t catch that bar, it’s time to OD/ brace yourself, Gump’s shin is what broke free…” When I first said that rhyme everybody broke character and we had to shoot again. Then Kemba rhymed and then Kemba made all of us break character. You know Kemba gives you that soul-spiritual tirade.

RB: I know how hard it was for Oswin to sit back in scenes where Kemba and Mickey Factz are tearing in. He’s sitting back playing the producer. We might have some BTS footage of him getting in there. He was so good at staying focused on his role as producer speaking through music.

There is a hilarious song called “Pound The Poundcake” that plays throughout the movie. Who is responsible?

MF: Radha and Guy reached out to me about doing a song for the movie so I’m thinking I’m gonna put together this “lyrical miracle” record. So he sends me the record produced by Da Dreak and it’s this trappy, tongue-in-cheek parody. There’s a lot of curses in it and it felt like satire. What a lot of people don’t realize is that I enjoy trap music and I have a fanbase that enjoys trap music and a lot of trap artists reach out to me to be featured. So I know how to make mumble rap.

I sent it to them and they loved it. I thought they were trolling until I showed up to the movie set to do my cipher scene. There were kids who came up to me after we wrapped [up] and Radha said, “This is the guy that made ‘Poundcake’ and they were like, “You made ‘Poundcake’? We love ‘Poundcake’!”

I’ve done a lot of stuff like that. When College Humor was around, I did a lot of their rap stuff like "Galactic Empire State Of Mind” so it’s not too far fetched.

D’s studio setup looks pretty legit. This isn't a Juice situation where the turntables aren’t plugged in.

GR: When they were setting up the studio, they asked me to get a rundown of what he should have in the studio so I called up Raydar Ellis, who is a producer and MC and also a professor at Berklee College of Music. He teaches hip-hop production at Berklee and he told me what should be in there. They wanted to make sure the producers of the world would watch it and see he had what he needs. They knew how to get the theater situation in an authentic way so they wanted to make sure they had the hip-hop minutia. There is a scene in Arlene’s Grocery where we had Organized Konfusion posters on the wall. We wanted it to feel like a hip-hop space.

The closing credits feature a flip of Quincy Jones “Love and Peace” and you have some other beats placed throughout the film. Were those tracks what you had in the stash?

Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz: The majority of them were beats I had, but the Quincy Jones flip I made specifically for the movie. Guy hit me and he said, ‘Can you do something with this Quincy Jones thing?’ I already had the record. I said, ‘It’s not in my BPM range,’ but I said, ‘Walt, you’ve been trying to get into movies, take that shot.’ He said he wanted something like what we did and I never really changed my sound. I just made it more 2000 and whatever. Me and my brother [DJ Evil Dee] were never ones to follow trends. We always stay true to the Boom Bap sound.

Radha: I’m really proud of the people who showed up for this film. We were at Sundance and we did very well there, but a lot of the people covering it made no mention of these cameos and it was very obvious to me that they weren’t of the culture. That’s why having this conversation with you means so much because I made it for us.

The Forty-Year-Old Version is in select theaters and streaming now on Netflix.

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