The players’ anthem: when Marvin Gaye sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the 1983 All-Star game Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, Magic, Dr. J and more on the pride and heartbreak of witnessing Gaye’s rendition of the national anthem

Being the head coach of the Lakers, and coaching the All-Star Game at the Great Western Forum that day … it just made it a special, almost spiritual-type moment for me.

— Pat Riley


Marvin Gaye could not have looked more quintessentially Marvin Gaye if he’d tried. It was Feb. 13, 1983: the afternoon of the 33rd annual NBA All-Star Game at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Everyone was packed in, a stone’s throw from Hollywood. Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Maurice Cheeks, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Theus, Moses Malone, Pat Riley, Bill Laimbeer, Andrew Toney, Alex English, Robert Parish, Jamaal Wilkes and more. Even then the synergy of basketball icons and a musical icon made all the sense in the world. And now as the NBA All-Star Game returns to Los Angeles this weekend — the fourth time since the game’s 1951 inception that it’s been held in the L.A. area — the synergy is a given.

Thirty-five years ago, things were of course different. Nowadays, fans have a huge say with regard to who starts in the game. The top two vote-getters draft their own teams. And music is a quintessential part of the NBA All-Star Weekend experience. The NBA named Migos’ “Stir Fry” the weekend’s official anthem, and a slew of the hottest musical artists in the game are expected to host countless parties. The omnipresence of celebrities courtside has made the NBA America’s most culturally significant sport — and it will be turnt up even higher for the All-Star Game.

The Eastern Conference All-Stars of the 1983 All Star Game: the front row (L to R): Maurice Lucas, Isiah Thomas, Middle Row: Bill Laimbeer, Buck Williams, Robert Parish, Moses Malone & Larry Bird. Back Row: Assistant Coach Bill Bertke, Trainer Ray Melchiorre, Sidney Moncrief, Reggie Theus, Marques Johnson, Head Coach Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Assistant Coach Jack McMahon, Assistant Coach Matt Guokes

NBAE via Getty Images

The 1983 Western Conference All-Stars of the 1983 the front row: Gus Williams, Jim Paxson, Middle Row – Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jack Sikma, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore & Maurice Lukas. Back Row – Assistant Coach Bill Bertke, Assistant Coach Dave Wohl, Jamaal Wilkes, Alex English, Head Coach Pat Riley, George Gervin, Kiki Vandeweghe, David Thompson & Trainer Jack Curran

NBAE via Getty Images

But back then, Gaye was a feel-good comeback story. Following a stint in Europe where the singer temporarily escaped demons that had nearly devoured him, he was riding high off the success of the smash album Midnight Love, which was, in turn, fueled by the Goliathan influence of its landmark single “Sexual Healing.” Gaye would use the NBA’s center stage to propel him to the Grammys just 10 days later.

Gaye, a linchpin of swagger, walked to center court at The Forum in a deep blue suit — jacket buttoned — wearing dark shades courtesy of an NBA gift package that had been distributed to all media and VIP guests. But there was something wrong with the shades. “[The sunglasses] had ‘L.A. All-Star’ imprinted on the lenses,” said Brian McIntyre, the NBA’s public relations director in 1983. “Trouble was, whoever printed them, printed it backwards.” Gaye either didn’t know, didn’t show, or didn’t care. He also didn’t know he was the second choice — Lionel Richie, sitting on the huge success of his solo debut, had turned the NBA down for the anthem honors.

Players and coaches lined up on opposite free-throw lines. The honor guard of nearby Edwards Air Force Base was behind Gaye with the American and California flags raised. Seventeen thousand people in the arena were on their feet for the national anthem — there was little reason to expect a diversion from the way “The Star-Spangled Banner” had been performed their entire lives.

“We’d only heard the national anthem done one way,” said then-Chicago Bulls guard Theus. Having coached the Sacramento Kings and at New Mexico State, the two-time All-Star is now head coach at Cal State University, Northridge. “We weren’t anticipating anything. We knew he was Marvin Gaye.”

Gaye had intertwined his way into the sports world before. He’d sung the anthem on many occasions — each time in the traditional format. Four years earlier, in 1979, Gaye sang at the second Larry Holmes/Earnie Shavers fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In 1974, he sang the anthem at Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California, before the Raiders’ regular season finale vs. the Dallas Cowboys. And Motown’s crown prince belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 4 of the 1968 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals — the Tigers ended up winning in seven games. Ironically, for Game 5 of that series, young singer José Feliciano performed the anthem with a slower, brooding twist that caused some Tiger Stadium attendees to pepper the blind Puerto Rican musician with boos. The backlash derailed his Grammy-laden career for decades.

“In my mind, ‘What’s Going On’ … had the most impact on me than any record, ever.” — Pat Riley

Gaye was an avid sports fan— he even once tried out for the Detroit Lions. And he floored Motown founder (and his former brother-in-law) Berry Gordy when he told him, at the apex of his prolific singing, songwriting and producing career, that he wanted to pursue boxing. Whether he knew it or not though, as much as Gaye found inspiration in the athletes who stood behind him on The Forum’s court, they found as much if not more in him.


“I’ve gone on the record many times saying that Marvin Gaye was my favorite artist. His music touched me in a deep, special and personal way. Reading Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, it’s kind of gut-wrenching. It’s heartfelt in terms of the struggle he had … Just to do what he wanted to do. He really just wanted to be a crooner. He just wanted to sing and share his gift with the world. But pressure came from a lot of different places to be more, do more, and that eventually cost him his life.”

Julius “Dr. J” Erving


Gaye was a tortured spirit whose life oftentimes played out publicly — despite the singer’s natural shyness. “Marvin’s problems can easily be understood by listening to his music,” Gordy said in the 1987 documentary series, Motown on Showtime. I come up hard, come on, get down / There’s only three things that’s for sure / Taxes, death and trouble. ‘Trouble Man’ was a song he did for a soundtrack that was, of course, probably reminiscent of his life.”

Gaye attempted suicide by cocaine overdose in Hawaii in 1980. The years leading up to the All-Star performance were taxing — physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. “About 1975 through about 1983 hasn’t been very good,” he said in a 1983 interview. “The last seven years of my life haven’t been exactly ecstatic … I’ve been happy, and most of the time pretty depressed.”

By the time of the 1983 All-Star Game, Gaye had long since returned from his self-imposed European exile. He spent two years in Ostend, Belgium, ostensibly away from failed relationships, financial woes and drugs. While there, Gaye co-wrote (with Odell Brown and David Ritz) 1982’s sultry “Sexual Healing.” But long before the Europe and “Healing,” Marvin wrote the score to the lives of many NBA All-Stars who surrounded him that February afternoon.

Marvin Gaye performs in the Netherlands.

Rob Verhorst/Redferns

“[Marvin’s music] resonated with me just growing up as a kid in the ’60s and ’70s in Chicago,” said Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star Isiah Thomas. The two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP point guard laughs at the memory of first meeting Gaye in Hollywood — alongside Johnson — at the famous and infamous The Palladium. Thomas was surprised Gaye knew his name. “His music was our music. He really hit how we were feeling … in poverty, and our desperate cry for just recognition, and understanding.”

Abdul-Jabbar, on a break from the book tour for his Becoming Kareem: On and Off the Court, recalls running into Gaye at studio sessions for his friend Stevie Wonder’s 1976 Songs In The Key of Life. These, said the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, were among the best times ever. “Marvin Gaye was absolutely on the forefront of [artists tackling societal issues]. He was an important guy, artistically, at that time. He talked about issues that resonated in the black community in a very meaningful way.”

“You knew it was history,” Erving said, “but it was also ‘hood.”

Quite possibly the most excited for Gaye’s performance wasn’t a player, but a coach. During The Beatles phenomenon of the ’60s, Riley — much like Quincy Jones, apparently — never truly caught the wave. “I was raised on doo-wop, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, Jimmy Smith. Then when Motown really had it course in the early ’60s, that was it for me,” he said, the enthusiasm in his voice rising with each memory. “I was all about The Four Tops and The Temptations. The Supremes.” But as for Gaye himself, “What happened in the late ’60s was a lot of what’s going on in our society today. People just not agreeing what’s happening with our government,” Riley said. “In my mind, ‘What’s Going On’ — for my lifetime — had the most impact on me than any record ever.”


“[After the game,] it was just common knowledge that whenever you talked about the anthem, everybody just pointed to it like, ‘Yeah, that was the best one that was ever done.’ Not because his techniques were good — they were — but because spiritually, in that moment, he really captured the feelings of everyone in The Forum. I’ve never been part of an anthem where everybody’s just in unison and lost control and just started moving. It was a beautiful moment.” — Isiah Thomas


Before Marvin took the floor at the Forum, there was mild panic. Then-NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien was an old school, by-the-book type of guy. O’Brien had told McIntyre during the previous day’s rehearsals, “Make sure we don’t have anything that’s going to cause a scene.”

All during the day, and right before the early afternoon tipoff, Gaye was nowhere to be found. “[Lon Rosen, Lakers’ director of promotions] hadn’t heard from Marvin or his people. They weren’t sure where he was,” McIntyre said. There’s a chuckle in his voice now. But 35 years ago it was anything but a laughing matter. “So they started looking for a backup, I think.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ9WdCunvy8

Arriving only moments before showtime, Gaye made his way to the floor. A longstanding myth says the notoriously recluse singer was intentionally late to avoid tension with Lakers personnel who believed his rendition was too long the day before at rehearsal. While he adjusted the microphone stand, a simple, yet infectious instrumental began playing. Lawrence Tanter, the Lakers’ public address announcer panicked. “Ah s—,” he reflected. “They’ve got the wrong tape. This is ‘Sexual Healing.’ ”

But it wasn’t. It was a simple beat dubbing a drum track done by Gaye’s guitarist and musical director Gordon Banks and a keyboard track Gaye laid down himself. And what happened next would be the only time in history the national anthem closely resembled a rhythm and blues song. There isn’t a blueprint for Gaye’s charisma. Or his showmanship. It was innate. “You could feel the vibe as soon as he walked out there,” Theus said. “He was the epitome of cool, and smooth at the same time.” Gaye’s anthem was patriotic in its own soulful way, but it was simultaneously debonair, too. Each note left his vocal chord with the pizzazz of a street crooner.

Something special was happening. Riley was standing next to Abdul-Jabbar. On the surface, Riley was calm. But his mind raced a mile a minute. “I was thinking to myself, ‘We’re about to see something very unique here,’ ” the three-time Coach of the Year said. “Then the first words came out of his mouth, and he went on. Then he went in a different pitch. It was mesmerizing to me.”

Gaye, the archbishop of swagger. “You knew it was history,” Erving said, “but it was also ‘hood.” For a two-minute stretch, the basketball world revolved around Marvin Gaye and within his gravitational pull were MVPs, world champions, former rookies of the year, future Hall of Famers and 17,505 in the stands. “We were two-stepping, listening to the national anthem,” said Johnson with a laugh. “We were just bouncing left to right. It blew us away. We just got caught into the moment of this man. People just forgot it was the national anthem.”

“We were two-stepping, listening to the national anthem,” said Johnson with a laugh.

Off the rip, the crowd swooned. They shouted and clapped as if the NBA All-Star Game had momentarily swapped places with a gospel choir. “Before you knew it, you were swaying, clapping and were like doing something to the anthem that you’d never done before in your life. Or since,” said Thomas. “It just wasn’t the players. It was the whole arena. Everyone in unison almost caught the Holy Ghost.”

“You kinda paused for a second, listening,” said Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, who was making his first, as a Philadelphia 76er, of four All-Star Game appearances in 1983. Cheeks has also been head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sixers and Detroit Pistons. “You looked around to see if anybody else was appreciating this the way you are … everybody was — especially the crowd.”

A roar had risen by the time And the home of the brave capped off Gaye’s rendition. He’d given the national anthem a makeover. Gaye, later in 1983, offered a self-diagnosis. His depression stemmed from a deep empathy for humanity. All he wanted was for people to listen to him. In less than three minutes on The Forum’s hardwood, he’d done just that. If only for a sliver of time, the anthem wasn’t about the stars, the stripes or whatever its original intentions were. Gaye made it a song about love, inclusion and triumph.

The crowd showered him with a standing ovation. How do we follow THAT? many of the players wondered. The walk back to the bench following the anthem was one of excitement and befuddlement. Players slapped high fives, laughed and recapped. “Everybody was like, ‘Man, he tore the house down!’ ” Johnson said, essentially yelling into the phone. “Going to the bench like, ‘Man! That was unbelievable!’ ”

As Gaye exited the floor, he pulled Erving aside. It was a brief meeting of the sex appeals. The two had met before at shows in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Virginia. “I got something coming out. You gon’ love it,” Gaye told Erving. The “it” he referred to was a then-unreleased song called “Sanctified Lady.” Unfortunately, though, only Erving would be alive to hear the record following its 1985 release.

East All-Star Julius Erving dunks one past the imposing figure of West All-Star Artis Gilmore.

Getty Images

The Eastern Conference, led by Erving’s MVP effort of 25 points, defeated the West, 132-123. But all the talk after the game centered on Gaye. The buzz was still electric. This was of course the pre-internet era. The race was to obtain any sort of recording of the performance. “I remember the conversation being, the game was great,” said Theus. “But that it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Marvin Gaye.”

“It wasn’t even about the game,” said Johnson. “The whole attention was on, ‘Is it on TV? Make sure we get a copy! Find Brian [McIntyre]!’ ”

McIntyre for his part was a bit queasy. He knew the younger generation was enamored with the performance. Lakers owner Jerry Buss, called it, even in the moment, “the greatest anthem of all time.” Yet, in the back of his mind McIntyre was dreading the older generation’s response. Of those possible complaints, O’Brien simply told McIntyre, “You have to answer them all.”

The official CBS after-party was packed. Finger foods and cocktails. David Stern, O’Brien’s eventual successor, and his wife Shelly were in attendance, as was Rick Welts (current Golden State Warriors president), Russ Granik and Gary Bettman. All anyone wanted to hear was Gaye’s anthem. “They were replaying the game [at the party], but every so often someone would say, ‘Let’s hear it again!’ ” said McIntyre. “So they’d switch it back to the anthem and play it all over again. The crowd was just into it.”


“[Marvin] died young and it’s like there was an unfulfilled promise. I’m looking at these rock bands, they’re doing all this crazy stuff, and they’re still touring. They’re still making music! Guys going into their ’60s, ’70s and hitting 80 and they’re still out there. Bill Withers is still out there making a little noise every now and then. So Marvin, what would he have been able to accomplish had he survived the demons?” — Julius “Dr. J” Erving


Much has changed. The NBA looks completely different. Players carry far more leverage than they did in 1983. The style of play has shifted to a more perimeter-based attack. And even the national anthem sounds different — in rankings and context. The biggest story of the year is NFL players kneeling during it in protest of police brutality and the state of the criminal justice system. For those who stood on the floor that day in 1983, they remain connected to Gaye’s rendition. The version sung by Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl is the only other anthem close to a comparison to Gaye’s rendition, in their eyes.

“This is what made it so special,” said Johnson. “Everybody said, ‘Wow.’ Everybody went absolutely crazy. It was blacks, whites, everybody — saying, what a moment.”

The moment was one so memorable the NBA had Marvin’s daughter, Nona, perform the same anthem “in a special duet” with her father at the 2004 All-Star Game, when it returned to Los Angeles. In a sport littered with previous anthem singers such as The Temptations, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Brian McKnight and more — Marvin Gaye remains on the NBA’s musical Mount Rushmore.

But how does Gaye’s anthem fit into the current conversation around it? “We have to take everything in context,” said Abdul-Jabbar. Many of the issues Gaye addressed in his music run parallels to Colin Kaepernick’s original message. “I think that people were trying to make an issue of the anthem because they didn’t want to deal with the issue Colin Kaepernick raised, which is the fact that black Americans — unarmed black Americans — should not be getting killed by police officers at the rate that they are. That’s what the issue is.”

For Theus, it’s a simple matter. “Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the national anthem superseded and surpassed any negativity that was in anyone’s mind,” he said. “When you hear something like that, you don’t hear the national anthem that everyone is talking about today. It was another national anthem that we were listening to. You can’t relate the two.”

“So Marvin, what would he have been able to accomplish had he survived the demons?” — Julius “Dr. J” Erving

Ten days after the All-Star Game, for “Sexual Healing,” Gaye was awarded the only two Grammys of his career. “I’ve waited … 20-something years to win an award like this,” he said in his acceptance speech. He thanked God, his children, his mother, and his fans. He did not, however, thank his father. Almost prophetically, he closed the speech saying, “Stay with us, we’re gonna try and give you more.” Gaye embarked on what would be his final tour in the summer of 1983. He traveled with, and kept a preacher in one room. His drugs in another. In a figurative sense, Gaye stood between heaven and hell throughout his Midnight Love tour.

Marvin Gaye holds ones of his Grammys.

Ron Galella/WireImage

“I expose myself because the fans demand it,” he told his ex-wife Jan Gaye. “I offer myself up for slaughter. I am the sacrificial lamb. If their pleasure requires my destruction, so be it.”

By the Detroit stop, Gaye was a zombie. “After the performance, we got back to the dressing room,” Mel Farr recalled of his final meeting with Gaye. (Farr died in 2015.) “He had all those hangers-on giving him this drug and this drug. I said, ‘Wow, man. I don’t think he’s going to make it.’ It was that bad.”

Four-hundred fourteen days following his anthem, on April 1, 1984, Gaye was murdered by his father, Marvin Gay Sr., a day shy of what would have been his Marvin Jr.’s 45th birthday. The house where the killing took place was but seven miles from The Forum. Toward the end of his life, as he battled voices in his head, Gaye still understood the importance of Feb. 13, 1983. “I asked God,” he said, “that when I sang [that anthem] that it would move men’s souls.”

He most certainly moved Riley, who keeps hours upon hours upon hours of Gaye’s and Motown’s greatest hits near him at all times. The Miami Heat president still keeps a framed picture of himself, Abdul-Jabbar and the Western Conference All-Stars lined up watching Gaye. Call it his way of paying homage to an artist he says changed his life and enhanced his perspectives long before the NBA came calling. Thirty-five years later, after the 1983 All-Star Game, from his South Florida office, there’s pride and sorrow in his voice.

“I’m privileged to have been there at that moment when this icon sang that song. The people that were in that arena that day saw something unique, probably changed people to some extent,” Riley said. “The tragic way that Marvin died was something that was very depressing for a lot of people. I know it was for me. But,” he said, “[Marvin will] always be in my heart because I hear his voice all the time. You never forget people like this.”

Can ‘grown-ish’ avoid the chaste, safe reality of ‘A Different World’? ‘black-ish’ spinoff a fresh start for actress Yara Shahidi, and a world of uncertainty for her character, Zoey

For better or worse, A Different World, the Cosby Show spinoff that began airing in 1987, following Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) to Hillman College, has provided the blueprint for sitcom depictions of black middle-class college existence.

That blueprint now extends to grown-ish, the offshoot of black-ish starring Yara Shahidi as college freshman Zoey Johnson, which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Freeform. It’s one in which an attractive, personable, well-behaved girl learns the basics of adulthood, such as the perils of taking classes that start at midnight and the importance of sticking by your friends, even when the cost may be broader social suicide.

Girls modeled on Denise are smart, but their intellect isn’t necessarily reflected in their grades. They’re sheltered, and they move through college under ideal, manageable circumstances. And they’re presented as typical, pleasant girls who should be completely relatable for white America.

There are some key differences between Zoey and Denise. Zoey is a student at the fictional, predominantly white Southern California University. Setting A Different World at a historically black college or university (HBCU) allowed the show to elide a backdrop of subterranean racism that comes as part of the package of being a person of color attending a predominantly white institution (PWI). And grown-ish exists in an America 30 years older (though arguably not much wiser) than the idyllic cocoon of Hillman, one squarely in the age of the internet and social media. What does it mean to be transitioning into adulthood in a country that’s using these new tools to reveal all its identity-based hostilities?

It’s worth asking how grown-ish, created by Kenya Barris and Larry Wilmore, the two men behind black-ish, will address that question, given that black-ish has made a place for itself by addressing race and identity head-on. The show’s hallmark is Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) narrating his life as an upper-middle-class family man in Southern California. Andre navigates the audience through conversations about race as he and his wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), grapple with what it means to be black, well-off and existing in a world where they’re largely surrounded by white people. One answer? Their high-school-age son Junior (Marcus Scribner) quotes Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Zoey’s interactions with sticky topics such as systemic racism have been less overt. In one episode of black-ish that addressed police shootings of unarmed black people and the civil unrest that followed, Zoey had to assure Rainbow that just because she wasn’t saying much didn’t mean she wasn’t taking it all in. She just processes things differently.

With grown-ish, Zoey joins a cross-network sorority of sitcom upper-middle-class black co-eds: Whitley Gilbert (A Different World), Denise Huxtable (A Different World), Samantha White (Dear White People), Moesha (Moesha), and even Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell (Sister, Sister). All these shows gave us a safe environment for black people dwelling in the world of higher education — perhaps so safe that they ignored the harsher realities, especially for those who are the first in their families to attend college. No one had to worry that Denise, Moesha, Tia or Tamera might drop out because their parents couldn’t afford tuition, or that their optimism might be tainted by sexual assault.

Which prompts another question facing this new show: Is it possible for grown-ish to exist without becoming too Denise-ish?

Freeform

A Different World began as a show primarily about the sweet-natured, poofy-haired bohemian of the Huxtable clan, but she quickly was upstaged by the tart-mouthed Whitley (Jasmine Guy). Once Debbie Allen, a Howard alumnus, stepped in after a lackluster first season to make Hillman actually feel like an HBCU, A Different World became far more interesting. That difference was reflected in just about every aspect of A Different World, including the second season title sequence, which featured vignettes of the multiple facets of HBCU life, from ROTC to black sororities and fraternities to marching band to sports. Season two introduced the naive Freddie (Cree Summer) and the pragmatic, focused Kim (Charnele Brown) and dispatched Denise and Marisa Tomei’s character, Maggie. Whitley, who was always the most magnetic character, became more of a centerpiece.

No one had to worry that Denise, Moesha, Tia or Tamera might drop out because their parents couldn’t afford tuition, or that their optimism might be tainted by sexual assault.

But one thing remained the same: the largely chaste atmosphere. A Different World avoided sex and gender politics in a way that’s not especially realistic now. And it made a conscious decision to do so, which is part of the reason that Bonet didn’t return after its first season. She was basically banished to A Different World from The Cosby Show because of rifts with creator Bill Cosby. Bonet and Cosby disagreed about her decision to do the film Angel Heart, in which Bonet appeared nude and covered in blood. She appeared topless in an April 1987 issue of Interview magazine. Bonet married Lenny Kravitz in 1987 and gave birth to their daughter, Zoë, in 1988. In her real life, Bonet was pushing back against Cosby’s prescribed vision of respectable, good-girl wholesomeness.

I hope grown-ish will offer a corrective to this and delve headlong into all the things that come with being a female college student in 2018. It should include not just the usual coming-of-age topics, such as learning to do laundry, but also an awareness of campus sexual assault, racism and the Trump administration. Such awareness means dealing with mental illness, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, discovering and questioning your sexuality, having fair-to-middling to just plain bad sex as you awkwardly figure what you’re into, grappling with internet porn and the way it warps boys’ expectations surrounding sex, and finding out exactly what it means to chart your independence before you finally cut the tether to the mothership and get your own cellphone plan.

Both Barris and Wilmore have established themselves as skilled writers in crafting black male characters who break the fourth wall to tell us about their lives, from Andre Johnson to Bernie Mac. I don’t doubt that this is possible with grown-ish — one of my favorite episodes of The Nightly Show included a boisterous discussion of menstruation. And Wilmore was instrumental in the creation of Insecure, which is about as genuine a depiction of young, black, middle-class adulthood as one could ask for. Barris’ writing has only gotten more ambitious on black-ish. Its fourth season saw Rainbow suffer through postpartum depression before seeking professional help, without any stigma for doing so. Still, the audience experienced Rainbow’s depression through Andre’s perspective. He narrated her trauma, because he narrates every episode of the show.

Grown-ish is built on the same model of storytelling via voiceover narration, but the voice we hear is Zoey’s, not her father’s. For the show to succeed, especially with Freeform’s young, female audience, Zoey has to sound and feel like an 18-year-old girl. It needs to be timely like black-ish, but with less of black-ish’s didacticism and ornery middle-aged-black-man speechifying.

Freeform/Eric Liebowitz

Thanks to the bounty of Peak TV, there are now multiple shows centered on black college life: The Quad on BET answers the question “What if Scandal took place at an HBCU?”; Netflix’s Dear White People captures the slow-boiling rage (and absurdity) of becoming woke at a PWI; and now grown-ish.

All of these shows are serving two audiences. If you’re an adult, the appeal is in watching stories about people who are unformed, who are making decisions about which way their lives are going to go, and then reflecting on the same period in your own life. If you’re in high school or younger, they provide a way to imagine how your future life might play out, similar to the way tweens of an earlier era used to leaf through YM or Seventeen or even the dELiA’s catalog. These were the media that gave you an idea of what it was like to be, well, grown-ish. Nowadays, it’s Teen Vogue.

Shahidi is basically the Teen Vogue It Girl as conceived by its editor-in-chief, Elaine Welteroth. She’s energetic, engaged with the world around her and unabashedly woke. She wears her natural curls and embraces her multiethnic background. She feels like a real person, not a celebrity cipher. Capitalizing on the relationship, black-ish featured Welteroth in a storyline in which Zoey did an internship at the magazine.

grown-ish needs to be timely like black-ish, but with less of black-ish’s didacticism and ornery middle-aged-black-man speechifying.

Shahidi is a charming, sparkly joy to watch, and grown-ish feels like a reset button for Zoey. As the senior sibling of black-ish, Zoey radiated confidence, coolness and, when necessary, withering retorts. She inherited her father’s up-to-the-minute fashion sense, which she set off with poppin’ lip gloss and an array of funky-fresh hairstyles. College Zoey is just as stylish, but she’s unsure of herself and her surroundings. She gets into scrapes such as beginning (and then quickly ending) an Adderall habit. She parties too much and falls behind on her class assignments. She falls into a humiliating texting shame spiral with an oh-so-dreamy rattail-sporting crush played by Trevor Jackson.

Zoey represents the new reality for younger millennials and Generation Z. It’s one where adolescence ends somewhere around 26, when you finally have to get your own health insurance.

Freeform/Eric Liebowitz

Grown-ish isn’t dependent upon black-ish, which airs on ABC, as a lead-in. Freeform, the channel formerly known as ABC Family, has fashioned itself into a purveyor of shows tailor-made for Teen Vogue’s readership. Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters and The Bold Type are notable for their refusal to condescend to the young women who make up large portions of their viewership. Grown-ish isn’t gunning so much for black-ish viewers as it is other Freeform ones, and it’s worth considering how that will affect its focus.

Shahidi has everything she needs to carry a show that could see Zoey inheriting her father’s penchant for addressing challenging social issues with aplomb. What ultimately doomed the first season of A Different World was that it was too polite. On television, there’s still an instinct to be protective of the image of black middle-class girls, one that stems from Denise and the worries of her creator. The result is a string of mostly perfect young women who rarely get the chance to screw up in the way that all girls screw up, to be just as irreverent, mistake-prone and horny as, say, the teens of Gossip Girl.

Here’s hoping that with grown-ish, Zoey gets to be a little bit of everything, a trait that would make her blessedly real, and completely appropriate for our modern age.

 

Miss Jamaica, Davina Bennett, makes lemonade out of lemons The beauty queen made getting second runner-up to Miss Universe a win — Afro and all

Miss Jamaica emerged from a field of 92 contestants, rocking a #BlackGirlMagic ’fro, to be second runner-up in the 2017 Miss Universe pageant. Davina Bennett talks to The Undefeated’s Mark W. Wright about her ascension.


When I stood there next to Miss South Africa and Miss Colombia — as one of the last three of 92 contestants in the Miss Universe pageant, with the very real possibility of being crowned Miss Universe 2017 — of course I was nervous, but it was hardly as traumatic an experience as I’ve had. (Miss South Africa 2017, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, was crowned Miss Universe.)

It was the scariest moment of my life. Two gunmen came out of nowhere. I was thrown to the ground — we were all faced down, execution style, while they took all our belongings … holding the gun by our heads and cursing at us. And, you know, in that moment in time, I can tell you that I didn’t believe I was going to live to see another day. I was really just praying that my family would be all right and cope with what seemed inevitable.

After the robbers had taken our belongings — money, equipment — they told us to just get up and run. They were just standing there, and we got even more scared. The thought that came into my mind was, ‘OK, they’re probably going to shoot us from behind.’ We did as we were told and just ran. They had taken all that we had, but you know what, we had life. It really was a traumatizing situation, but I can say today, nine months later, that it was really another steppingstone for me to realize that I have a purpose and I am here to do greater things.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

That night of the Miss Universe pageant, I was really just hoping for the best. I knew I’d done my best, and I’d said everything from my heart. I didn’t have doubt — nerves, yes. But not doubt. When Steve Harvey called my name first, I was a little bit disappointed at first, but seeing the reaction from the crowd — and hearing chants of, ‘Jamaica! Jamaica!’ — I felt like a winner. My fellow contestants came to me with hugs and good wishes. Coming back home to Jamaica, of course, was the icing on the cake.

Davina “Miss Jamaica” Bennett: ‘I must do something bigger with my life’

Even though I’m 21, I’ve had quite a number of challenges in my life to get to this point, but I believe it’s all prepared me for the now. In 2015, I had gone to London twice and to New York once, going from agency to agency, looking to get signed. At one point, I’d gone to probably between 15 to 20 agencies. And every agency would say I’m not quite what they’re looking for, or I’m not tall enough. It was always something. After the third time going to London … I just said, ‘You know what, maybe this is not for me.’ And, shortly after the London trip, I lost my grandma as well. So I gave up completely. And that’s how I partnered with Caribbean Sway Modeling Agency here in Jamaica as a director and modeling coach to train the girls and share my experiences with them, to help them maximize their true potential.

In that process of helping those models, I was blessed to work with Britney Barnes, a deaf model, which then became my inspiration to start the Davina Bennett Foundation for the Deaf.

I think back to that robbery and how I almost lost my life. I had my moment of depression after that time, but … I lived, and I must do something bigger with my life.

Growing up, I was loved. I was always teacher’s pet, yes, but I was never the girl who stood out, or was outspoken. I would be in the back of the room because I was very shy and reserved. … I was really that girl on the back bench [in the classroom] looking at the girls on front benches and saying, ‘I wish I could be them.’

So public speaking wasn’t my strong point, and speaking is a big part of the Miss Universe pageant. Having gone through that experience, it’s now something I’m not so afraid to take on. I don’t think I would say I’ve conquered it because there’s so much more to learn, but I’ve gotten a little bit more comfortable.

Miss Jamaica 2017 Davina Bennett

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

To be very honest, this is more than I expected, the impact this Miss Universe experience has had on me, and on people. I was surprised and shocked, even the day after, with social media and the reaction to me. I’m still in awe. I’m getting so many messages, so many people telling me how I’m a great representation of Jamaica and girls everywhere. I’m really just grateful that everyone has accepted how I carried myself on the international stage.

It does get overwhelming sometimes, but nothing in life is easy, and you really have to fight for what you want. I have always been a fighter; there’s always challenges, but I try to overcome and have a strong mindset about how you deal with the problem and find solutions.

I’m a winner. Yes, I heard the rumblings on social that I could never be crowned Miss Universe because of my hair, or because I’m Jamaican. I heard all of that — and saw the #MissJamaicaShouldHaveWon hashtag on social media. But I wasn’t really listening to all of that; my message is simple: ‘Despite race or ethnicity or whatever your background, anybody can win.’

I returned home to Jamaica, getting off the plane to shouts of ‘Jamaica! Jamaica!’ It was a beautiful celebration. There was a huge adrenaline rush to just conquer anything that came my way. I was always the bridesmaid — always finishing second, and third, or not even being picked — until the Miss Universe competition. Now I can finally say, ‘Oh, my goodness — I’ve finally won.’

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

This NFLPA exec’s passion is helping players prepare for life after the NFL Dior Ginyard is back in sports and motivated to pay it forward after surviving a brain injury

At the NFL Players Association office in Washington, D.C., Dior Ginyard spends his time helping players reach their full potential after they leave the game. Because the transition isn’t always smooth, the 29-year-old player development manager believes it’s his mission to help others develop the readiness skills for their second act.

Ginyard finds passion in this role because the young executive believes it is his fate. He’d had aspirations to play professional football, but that dream was stalled after a life-threatening brain injury.

It was on Dec. 3, 2006, that his life changed completely. The 18-year-old freshman at Frostburg State University in Maryland participated in a flag football game with some teammates the day the season was over. He hadn’t played all year. He was rehabbing from a thorny shoulder.

Then the unthinkable happened. Ginyard, admittedly playing too aggressively, viciously collided head-on with another player. The next thing he can remember was waking up in a helicopter not even knowing what day it was.

“I fractured my skull, and it’s like breaking glass. It breaks into pieces,” Ginyard said. “My skull pierced my brain and was causing my brain to swell up. That’s how you’re supposed to go brain-dead. I was flown to a hospital in Pennsylvania, where I had brain surgery.”

He suffered some memory loss, and it was hard to concentrate on things he was used to doing daily without a moment’s thought. During his rehabilitation process, which included physical therapy and counseling, he decided to transfer to Bowie State University, where he majored in communications.

“I was still dealing with the ramifications of my head injury, so I dealt with the depression, the anger, all the things that come with losing something that I thought was going to happen, big dreams,” he said. “So I spent a couple years figuring out what else I wanted to do.”

Ginyard said writing helped him cope with his transition and he figured out his passion. Eight filled journals later he knew he wanted to become a communicator and use his innate, previously undiscovered ability to help others in sports.

He graduated from Bowie State on Dec. 16, 2011, and landed an internship at Lockheed Martin in the communications department. After one year, Ginyard was hired full time and also pursued a master’s degree in marketing management from the University of Maryland University College.

He then decided it was time to make his presence known in professional sports. The Prince George’s County, Maryland, native researched jobs in the D.C. area and noted the NFLPA as an option. Scouring the organization’s website for opportunities, he saw a lone position for a player development manager.

“The first sentence said, ‘This role helps players transition to life after football,’ ” Ginyard recalled.

He believed he’d found the perfect match.

“I’m like, Wow. Now I have a position that helps players transition, and I had to deal with a transition of hitting rock bottom, and then dealing with the aftereffects of depression and anger, the trials and tribulations in trying to get back on my feet. I thought, ‘I can help from an experience perspective.’ ”

Ginyard has been with the players association for three years, overseeing its externship program that provides players with internship opportunities.

“I’m helping guys go back to school to finish their degrees and pursue secondary education,” he said. “It’s helping guys develop off the field, professionally. I love it, just the relationships. I’ve been able to build with these guys. I’m not working with the Tom Bradys and the Odell Beckhams; I’m working with the guy that’s going to need a second career. I’m one person in their ecosystem of friends and managers and agents. I want to give them something.”

Ginyard said the hardest part of his journey has been overcoming some challenges he’s faced.

“I had to learn how to deal with those emotions, not growing up with having a father there, not really knowing what to do with my anger and depression. I’m still managing that, and finding out what was going to replace the passion I had of playing football,” Ginyard said.

After his father left, he grew up with his mother and two siblings. Football was his outlet.

“I would say the biggest challenge for me is like, [understanding] what is this stereotype about a black man that had a brain injury, that his father’s not in his life, that was raised by a single mom, that went to HBCU [historically black college or university]? What does the world say about a person like that?

“Instead of harping on it, I use it as a chip on my shoulder. I want to prove everybody wrong because I know what society says about somebody like me. I want to be that person that stands up for other young black kids in my community and says, ‘Hey, you can make it without playing in the NFL.’ ”

Ginyard was recently featured as part of this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30.

“I’m honored to be on that list for a role that’s nonrevenue-generating. I’m not in sales, I’m not in business development, I’m not an agent, I’m not an athlete. I work in professional development. I think I’m glad I can be a representation for what we’re doing for our players and our members.”

He’s also raising his 3-year-old son, Carter.

We can’t let depression and anxiety silently take our joy and the lives of those we love My daughter’s undefeated attitude saved her life and may save others

Over the past six years, the journey for my 21-year-old daughter Kennedy has taught me that life isn’t necessarily about what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens.

My wife, Cheryl, and I did everything we could to prepare our four children for success. We exposed them to as much culture, particularly black culture, as we could to give them a positive self-image. We introduced them to sports to help them understand the importance of teamwork and cooperation. Like all parents, we wanted their road to success to be as smooth as possible. We also wanted to protect them from the trials and tribulations that may come their way on that journey.

Eventually we were disabused of this notion and learned that life doesn’t work that way. Try as you might, you simply can’t protect your children from difficulties and dangers they will encounter, both seen and unseen. All you can do is help them deal with those difficulties, dangers and defeats and, as Maya Angelou says, “not be defeated” by them.

A few days ago, despite her circumstances, Kennedy decided to heed Angelou’s words and go undefeated.

Six years ago, clinical depression came roaring into our lives as an uninvited — and, at the time, unknown — guest. It all started one morning when Kennedy was in the 10th grade. She absolutely refused to get out of bed to go to school. What we thought was obstinacy and defiance was a teenager’s best way of dealing with the alternate reality that had taken up residence in her brain.

Kennedy describes what she was going through at the time in a letter she recently wrote to her 15-year-old self: “Six years ago you were ready to give up. You thought that the only option you had was to escape. The battle your body was fighting against your mind had hit its peak, and you couldn’t take it anymore. 106 pounds, no sunlight, no school and isolation. The whole concept of interacting with people reduced you to tears. You spent weeks in the bed and couldn’t experience high school as other students had. You didn’t eat and the thought of food disgusted you. You had no purpose to live.”

“I want the world to know what I’ve been through and what I struggle with every day.”

It took us a couple of months to figure out what was going on. I struggled at first not to make Kennedy’s situation about me and how I may have failed her as a father. Was there something that I could have done or not done to prevent this from happening? It was hard for me to come out of my initial denial and resist the urge to find a narrative that somehow absolved me of any blame for or, even worse, made me the victim of her illness. But in the end, I realized that it wasn’t about me and none of that mattered.

We were at the intersection of depression and anxiety. Kennedy was standing there in the pouring rain, at the peak of rush hour, with horns blaring all around her with tears streaming down her face.

Cheryl and I couldn’t prevent it, but we had to deal with it, and we are not alone. One in five adults has a mental health condition. More than 11 percent of youths suffered from depression in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2011. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, and although these disorders are highly treatable, only 36.9 percent of those suffering receive treatment.

As with most statistics, these are exacerbated in the black community. The stigma and a lack of knowledge of mental illness, along with the dearth of black mental health professionals, conspire to keep many in our communities suffering and shrouded in darkness alone.

Cheryl and I did as much research as we could and talked to as many professionals as possible to educate ourselves about what was going on with Kennedy. We were very open with our family and friends. Once we understood better, we took corrective measures through health care and counseling to help adjust her emotional rudder to guide her to some semblance of stability. We were fortunate to eventually find a black female therapist whom Kennedy could relate to.

Care and counseling aren’t a magical solution. Kennedy had to participate and buy into the process enough to be able to see beyond the horizon of her current condition and not give in to her FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real). At 16, she wasn’t quite there yet. She just wanted it all to stop. Thankfully, through the process, she was able to build up the strength to deal with this as an ongoing concern.

She continues on in her letter to herself: “Your depressed mind thought it had won the battle but it was wrong. It gets better. The small things you never appreciated are the things that bring you joy now. Your parents stood by your side through everything.”

Over the past few years, things have gotten much better, but at the same time there are still serious struggles and there will continue to be. The difference is now she is up to the fight. She’s a dean’s list student in college, and from the outside looking in everything looks great.

Just as she finally had a game plan in place to help her deal with her ongoing battle with depression and anxiety, something else devastating happened to her — she was raped.

Words cannot describe how heart-wrenching it is to hear your daughter utter the words, “Daddy, I was raped.” Had I not had the experience of dealing with her depression, I am certain that I would have either completely shut down and gone into denial or, worse, I could have become some brute macho stereotype looking to exact some kind of extrajudicial revenge.

But again, this wasn’t about me. It was about her. I quickly had to come to grips with the fact that the how and the what of the situation were much less important than helping my daughter. More than ever, I needed to be her father and be there for her. As with the depression, Cheryl and I encouraged her to go to counseling. She resisted at first, but once she looked back on the mountains that she had conquered and realized that counseling was a major part of her ascent, she acquiesced.

Life is a perpetually moving series of nows. The past is behind us, and we don’t know what the future holds. All we can really do is deal with the nows that we find ourselves in. Kennedy didn’t ask for any of this, but she is doing her best — with the help of family, friends and health care and mental health professionals — to maximize her series of nows.

I was talking to her while I was writing the piece about Colin Kaepernick as The Accidental Activist. She told me that she thought the protests had gotten off message and through watching the whole thing unfold over the past year she actually decided, and is now actively standing up “on purpose,” to be an advocate for those living in the shadows of mental illness and sexual assault.

I am so very proud of Kennedy for her courage and conviction and how she is putting herself on the line to help others. Part of the reason that she came to this decision is because of her love for sports and her witnessing all the activity and attention that athletes like Kap have brought to the national conversation. That led me to share with her Maya Angelou’s quote that was the basis for the name of The Undefeated.

“You see, we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose. I didn’t run away — I rose right where I’d been knocked down. And then that’s how you get to know yourself. You say, hmm, I can get up! I have enough of life in me to make somebody jealous enough to want to knock me down. I have so much courage in me that I have the effrontery, the incredible gall to stand up. That’s it. That’s how you get to know who you are.”

I told her that she was the epitome of that quote. I then got a wild idea. I asked her, “What do you think about me writing about your story?”

9/11 attack still haunts and defines us But eventually, like Pearl Harbor and the 1929 crash, it will retreat into history

Today is the second Monday in September. It’s the 254th day of the year. It’s also the day on which Christopher Brian Bridges, the rapper and actor better known as Ludacris, celebrates his 40th birthday.

But in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world, this is 9/11, the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks in 2001 that wrenched our nation from its moorings and sent it tumbling into space. And it would be ludicrous to view today in any other context: The horrors of the event still haunt us, its heroes still ennoble us.

For most adult Americans, 9/11 is a date that will live in infamy, just as Franklin D. Roosevelt said Dec. 7, 1941, would.

And for decades, Dec. 7 did live in the memories and fears and worldviews of the men and women who came of age when the world was at war.

Even during the 1990s, old men would call or write The Hartford Courant, my employer at the time, to complain that the newspaper hadn’t done enough to commemorate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, one of the defining events of their lives and one of the defining events in American history.

To those making the complaints, it was as if the younger generation, my generation, didn’t understand the evil that Japan, Germany and Italy had unleashed upon the world during World War II, the evil the elders fought with such courage and determination.

When society no longer appears to be defined by the events of your past, your generation is well on the way to getting old and being forgotten and discarded. During the 1990s, the World War II generation wasn’t ready to be tossed aside. No generation is.

Still, by the 1990s, the World War II generation’s triumph over the Axis powers had faded and yellowed in the national memory album. Dec. 7, 1941, just like Oct. 29, 1929 — the date the U.S. stock market crashed, signaling the Great Depression — had become an entry in the history books for baby boomers and their children.

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It seems unlikely now, but something similar will happen with 9/11. If we are diligent and lucky, future generations will think of 9/11, if it is thought of at all, as the violence that came before peace. Or, perhaps more chilling, a new date, with its own scarlet letters and haunting numbers, will displace 9/11 and define how a future generation will look at the world.

Next year, the nation’s baby boomers in their 60s and early 70s, in one of their last hurrahs, will mark the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year of trauma and turmoil, a year unlike any other to those who lived through it. Fifty years from now, some millennials will look at 2017 the same way.

Each generation yields to the conceit and the deception that it has lived through the best and worst of times. It imagines a past, its tragedies and triumphs, that can be packed in a box and stored in society’s attic.

But William Faulkner knew that the past lay at the foundation of the present: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Then-Sen. Barack Obama made reference to those words in his 2008 “A More Perfect Union” speech: “We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist between the African-American community and the larger American community today can be traced directly to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”

Faulkner and Obama’s words echoed anew when a car plowed into Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, making her a 21st-century victim of the 19th-century Civil War.

As Faulkner knew and Obama understood, current events are deeply rooted in the past: a past of cries and whispers, a past of punishing silences, a past that haunts and shapes us on 9/11 from beyond the grave, if we let it.

Jay Z — an artist truly made in America — makes his case for an authentic rest of his life From Bun B to Styles P to T.I. — the grown men of rap are having a moment

In May, Jay-Z inked a new $200 million deal with Live Nation. Before this weekend, his last major tour was in 2014 with his wife Beyoncé for their ($100 million-grossing) On The Run excursion. Jay-Z’s return to Made In America, a music festival he founded with Budweiser in 2012, was to be the culmination of a chain of events that started with speculation, leading up to June 30 release of 4:44, about just how much Jay-Z did or didn’t have left in the creative tank.

Rap, historically, has been a young man’s game. Could Jay-Z, at 47, still shift the culture as he’s done countless times before? Could he successfully coexist in a world of Futures and Cardi Bs and Lil Yatchys and Migos — all of whom were either gracing the Made In America stage this year or in years past? Would Jay’s first major solo performance in three years be his next Michael Jordan moment?


Music fans in ponchos attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival, day one on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 2 in Philadelphia.

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Sunday morning. On Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street. Jay Z’s new “Meet The Parents” blasts from a black Toyota Avalon. People on the sidewalk rap along — the car’s speakers are an impromptu appetizer for what’s to come later. He can’t explain what he saw / Before his picture went blank / The old man didn’t think / He just followed his instincts,” Jay-Z rhymes at the stoplight. Six shots into his kin / Out of the gun / N—a be a father / You’re killing your sons.”

On that day — before the Labor Day holiday and Night 2 of the sixth annual Budweiser Made In America Festival — a group of friends walking down 20th Street playing cuts from 2009’s Blueprint 3 on their mobile phones. Thousands of iterations of Shawn Corey Carter stared back from T-shirts worn by the crowd that swarmed Ben Franklin Parkway.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables.

And then there was the young man working at UBIQ, a chic sneakers store on chic Walnut Street. Looking like a student from Penn, he said he planned on taking in Jay-Z’s headlining Sunday set. At least for one day at the end of summer, the City of Brotherly Love bled blue, Jigga’s favorite hue. “It’s a skate park like right across the street,” Penn Guy said as cuts from Jay-Z’s lauded 4:44 play from the store’s speakers. “I’ve never seen him live. I’m excited.”

Jay-Z’s return to rap — there’s been no new solo album since 2013’s middle of the pack Magna Carta Holy Grail — has been a summer-long process. First came the rumors of a new album watermarked by mysterious “4:44” signage that covered everything from city buses to websites all across the country. Then, at the last of June came the album itself, which was met with immediate and widespread love. A slew of “footnotes” — videos, conversations between people such as Chris Rock, Tiffany Haddish, Will Smith, Jerrod Carmichael, Chris Paul and more — followed, which detailed the album’s creation and inspirations.

From there, in mid-August, the most-talked-about music interview of the year showcased Jay-Z alongside Tidal and Rap Radar’s Elliott Wilson and Epic Records and Rap Radar’s Brian “B.Dot” Miller. The podcast left no stone unturned. In a two-part, 120-minute conversation, they peeled back layers of Jay-Z’s thought processes about music, life, love, motivation, depression and, even LaVar Ball.

On the heels of that talk, and through a Saturday of unseasonal chilly downpours, Jay-Z and Beyoncé watched a new generation of stars command muddy crowds. Family from both sides of the Carter-Knowles union cheered Solange on through her Saturday set. Was may well have been a kind of moment Jay-Z envisioned throughout the recording of 4:44. At 47, he had to wonder about his creative mortality, and if he could shift the culture as he’d done so many times before.


Bun B performs onstage at The Fader Fort presented by Converse during SXSW on March 16, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

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The Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball said it: “Y’all outdated, man. Don’t nobody listen to Nas anymore […] Real hip-hop is Migos, Future.”

On one hand, it’s difficult to fault a 19-year-old for backing the music of his youth. Younger generations of artists and fans alike have always bucked back at generations who view their contributions as destructive. Tupac Shakur openly dissed De La Soul on 1996’s seething battle record “Against All Odds:” All you old n– tryna advance/ It’s all over now take it like a man/ N– lookin’ like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick/ Tryna playa hate on my s–, eat a fat d–. And only weeks before he was murdered, The Notorious B.I.G. vowed to never rap past 30. On the other hand though? Right now is a particularly good time for a handful of statesmen who dominated hip-hop before Big Baller Brand was just a twinkle in Lavar Ball’s eye.

How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, he’s hip-hop’s them.

Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P (and their soundman, Trackstar the DJ) have consistently been one of the decade’s most impactful groups. They tour the world — and, in particular, amassed a melting pot crowd of various races and ages moshing at the Sunday Made In America set. Nas’ 2012 Life Is Good is, in many ways, rap’s interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, and one of the great late-career albums from any MC. OutKast’s 2014 tour was weird, but Big Boi of OutKast has quietly been responsible for several stellar albums — 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors and 2017’s Boomiverse — in this decade alone.

Jay-Z wasn’t the only artist in the pre-Lonzo Ball era displaying moments of clarity over the last few years either. A handful of hip-hop’s mature and notable names have been creating art and expressing — via conversation and on social media — everything from encounters with their own mortality to the pain and occasional beauty of survivor’s remorse.

Rice University instructor Bernard “Bun B” Freeman (currently working with Beyoncé and Scooter Braun on a telethon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey), one half of the legendary Port Arthur, Texas, rap group UGK, sat down with Queens, New York’s own N.O.R.E. for an installment of the MC’s popular Drink Champs podcast. Per tradition, both parties swap hip-hop war stories and imbibe for the better part of two hours. The most emotional segment centered around memories of Freeman’s partner in rhyme, Pimp C, who died in 2007.

“The illest s— Pimp [C] ever said was ‘I don’t need bodyguards. I just need mighty God.’ Ever since he said that, and I never told him, I move like that,” Freeman said. A single tear streamed down the right side of his face. “If you wasn’t moving with me within God, I’ll just move by myself. That’s the way life should be.” He continued, “If you are who you say you are, and you’re honoring that in a real way, you can move anywhere in this world. Pimp and I are proof of that.”

When it comes to honoring a fallen comrade, T.I. (who was not feeling Lonzo’s comments) understands all too well. In May 2006, T.I’s best friend Philant Johnson was murdered in Cincinnati following a drive-by shooting. Phil, is inspiration behind T.I.’s massive Justin Timberlake-assisted single “Dead & Gone.” Phil had been by T.I.’s side that same evening — holding his mobile while the rapper performed. Hours later, his lifelong friend lay bleeding to death in his arms. “I told him I had him, and it was going to be all right,” T.I. told MTV in 2006. “That was what I said. And he said, ‘All right.’”

The death could be viewed as the trigger that disrupted T.I.’s massive mid-2000s success. His 2007 weapons arrest and subsequent incarceration was seen by many as a response to Johnson’s murder. T.I. contemplated quitting rap. But T.I.’s moved forward. While not at just this minute the Billboard and box office star he split time as a decade ago, the film producer, actor, and two-time Grammy winner born Clifford Harris is still a recognizable figure in rap. Particularly on his very active Instagram account.

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Last month, Tip (a father to six who is who has experienced his own share of public marital ups and downs with singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris) posted the video of him presenting Phil’s daughter with a new car. She’s now a high school senior. In a heartfelt caption, Tip used the moment as a social media therapy session. “Making straight A’s and maintaining a 3.8 GPA, all the way through school, staying away from all the things we were eyeball deep in when we was her age, & doing any & everything that’s EVER been asked since you left,” he wrote. “How can we not make sure she rides cool & in comfort her senior year? We miss you more than we can express…but we fill in for you everyday until it’s all said and done.”

He promised to send her to college. And that she’d never suffer for anything. It was more than an Instagram caption. It was remaining true to a promise to a man who died in his arms 11 years ago. “Our loyalty lives forever!”

Lastly, it’s Styles P — one-third of ’90s Bad Boy trailblazers The LOX. He and his wife, Adjua Styles, visited Power 105’s The Breakfast Club in August. Among other things, the couple discussed the benefits of healthy eating, and Charlottesville, Virginia. They also talked about their daughter’s suicide.

It’s what performances like these are masked for—regular season games for a championship run.

In June 2015, Styles P’s stepdaughter, Tai Hing, took her own life. She was 20. Styles P addressed the tragedy a month later via Instagram, detailing the difficulty he and his family faced, and would face. Hing’s death, her mother believes, could have been the boiling point of depression, issues with her biological father, and perhaps her sexuality.

Fighting back tears, Styles P was emotional about never having been able to take the place of Hing’s biological father. The dynamic bothered him deeply, but was beginning to understand as he, himself, was a product of a similar situation. “If we knew she was depressed she would’ve been home with us,” he said. “ We all deal with depression on some sort of level … You expect your child to bury you, not to bury your child.”

Honesty has always been a prerequisite for hip-hop in its most soul-piercing form. Beyond the flash, the lights and the flossing, at its core, rap was necessary to explain the fears, dreams, joys and pains of a people so often still struggling. And dealing with police brutality, poverty, misogyny, and more. So Styles P’s pain, T.I.’s memories, Bun B’s instructions from Pimp C, and Jay-Z’s vulnerability aren’t new grounds for rap. But their grief, and willingness to shred the cloak of invincibility rap often mirages is living proof of the power behind the quote a wise man said nearly a decade ago. Ain’t no shame in holding onto grief. As long as you make room for other things, too.


Music fans attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival – Day 2 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 3, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

The weather Sunday proved to be Mr. Hyde to the Saturday’s Dr. Jekyll. The only visible fingerprint from Saturday was the mud that essentially became a graveyard for shoes. Jerseys were popular with the crowd. UNC Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. Cavaliers, Heat and St. Vincent-St. Mary LeBron. Sonics and Warriors Durant. Nuggets Jalen Rose, Sixers Ben Simmons. Lakers Kobe, and Hornets Glen Rice. UCLA Russell Westbrook, and Lonzo Ball. Arizona State James Harden, University of California Marshawn Lynch, Niners Colin Kaepernick, LSU Odell Beckham and Georgetown Allen Iverson. Obscure jerseys such as Aaliyah’s MTV Rock n’ Jock and Ray Finkle’s Dolphins jersey (from the 1994 Jim Carrey-led comedy classic Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) were sprinkled among the sea of thousands.

Afternoon sluggishly careened into evening. 21 Savage, Run The Jewels and The Chainsmokers all commanded large crowds. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from The Wire dapped up fans. Hometown young guns Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers walked through the crowd. Festivalgoers camped near the main stage for hours in hopes of landing an ideal viewing spot for Jay-Z’s performance. To pass time, cyphers were had. Weed smoke reclined in the air. Guts from dutches and cigarillos were dumped. All to pass the time.

Months ago, many, especially on Twitter, wanted to act like Jay-Z wasn’t a headliner. No one even saw an album coming. Now here they were minutes from history. That’s what Jay-Z is in 2017. How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson — Jay-Z is hip-hop’s them. He’s a throwback to the genre’s yesterday lyricism while embracing the newer generation he still attempts to impart game on and learn from.

The oversized Balloon Dog by famed sculptor Jeff Koons took the stage: It was time. “I’ve been waiting for this all summer,” one concertgoer said as he wrapped his arms around his girlfriend. “I know one thing, Jay better do the songs I wanna hear!” demanded another young woman.

So he did. Jay-Z’s set lasted nearly an hour and a half. He blended 4:44 cuts with classics from his catalog — the radio-friendly and the graphic street narratives. Jay-Z commanded of the crowd, but critiques did exist.

In his Rap Radar interview, Jay-Z mentioned that he was still toying around with the set list for his upcoming tour (slated to start in October). While it’s not a question to 4:44’s quality, Jay-Z weaving in old classics such as “Where I’m From,” “H to the Izzo,” “N—as In Paris,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Hard Knock Life,” “Run This Town,” “Empire State of Mind” and “Heart of City” captivated the crowd, cuts from his most recent album seemed to dissipate from the energy those helped muster. 4:44, after all, does not have a big radio single.

4:44 is Jay-Z’s most personal album to date. His thirteenth solo effort revolves around the complexities of his marriage, his mother’s sexuality and societal issues that continue to create systematic disadvantages for people of color. Its intimacy can get lost in an outdoor crowd of tens of thousands. For an album of that nature, it’s tough to ask even Jay-Z to plan for such.

Breath control was expected to be off-center in his first major performance in three years — though coaxing the crowd to sing Beyoncé happy birthday was a great diversion. Are these flaws that will doom his upcoming tour? No. He still has three more festivals on deck before setting sail on his own on Oct. 27. It’s what performances like these are made for — regular-season games for a championship run.

“It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” a concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.”

Jay-Z performs at Budweiser Made in America festival on Sept. 3 in Philadelphia.

Arik McArthur/FilmMagic

Jay-Z’s catalog: a litany of hits he can employ at any time to wrap a crowd around his fingers. People filmed Instagram and Snapchat videos of themselves rapping along. People yelled to him from the back of crowd as if it were a Sunday service. And cyphers between friends sprouted everywhere. Another element Jay-Z kills with is the element of surprise. He concluded the show with a tribute to Coldplay’s Chester Bennington, who committed suicide in July: an inspired performance of his Black Album single “Encore.”

As he left the stage, crowds swarmed to the exit. Some concertgoers voiced their displeasure. Jay-Z did his thing in the 90 minutes he gave Philly. But there was still something missing. “That’s it? He didn’t even do half of the songs I wanted,” said a girl as she walked toward the exit. “It was aight, I guess. It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” another concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.” Made In America was over.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables. Some slipped in the mud trying to get there, ruining their clothes, but those concerns were faint. Hundreds were already on the street heading back to their apartments, AirBnB’s or Ubers when Jay-Z informed Philly that the party wasn’t over yet. This set was only for his “Day Ones.”

Jay pulled his “Pump It Up Freestyle” out his back pocket. This bled into “Best of Me,” “I Know,” “Hola Hovito,” “Money Ain’t A Thing” and more. Hometown kid Meek Mill’s guest appearance gave an already frenetic crowd an HGH-sized boost of adrenaline as the rapper ran through his catalog’s zenith and most intense track, 2012’s “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro).”

As Jay-Z closed the second set with [his favorite track], “Allure,” the mood was ceremoniously serene. Michael Jordan finished with 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting in his first game back in versus Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in 1995. The 21 misses are footnotes in history. It’s a moment everyone remembers for two simple words: “I’m back.” Grown as hell, Jay-Z is too.

From Charlottesville to Kaepernick, white anger is all too familiar to my grandmother A little black girl who dared drink from the wrong water fountain has seen this all before

The cries of white men with the burning torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, were familiar to her. Their anger was, too.

The continuous news coverage over the weekend prompted her own highlight reel of memories that included racial taunts, attacks and fears she’s lived with since she was born in the thick of the Great Depression. She couldn’t erase them if she wanted. “You never forget that feeling of being preyed upon,” said my grandmother, Clemmie. “It’s something I’ve been experiencing my entire life. I’m far from alone.”

Clemmie, 86, isn’t surprised by the white nationalist march that made the hometown of the University of Virginia (UVA) a murder scene this past weekend. Her pain is ever-present. Charlottesville; Ferguson, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Selma, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; Detroit; Watts in Los Angeles — the scenes of prejudice, revolt and massacre stick with her. Racism has followed her since she was a little girl growing up in the Deep South, at the apex of Jim Crow segregation.

My great-grandmother, Juanita McCrowey.

There was 1956 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, when a white convenience store owner wouldn’t allow the woman who would become my grandmother to heat up a bottle for her infant daughter — my mom. Clemmie, born in 1931, experienced run-ins with the Klan so frequently it’s impossible to remember life without them. Their presence was a fear tactic. Anyone who stepped them was met with violence. At best, bruises and cuts. At worst, death. At her segregated grade school, young Clemmie and her friends received “new” textbooks with “n—–” written on nearly every page: They were hand-me-downs from all-white schools. During family trips from Rock Hill, South Carolina, to Philadelphia, bathroom breaks meant pulling over and crouching in the woods, because they couldn’t use restroom facilities at gas stations along the route.

Clemmie once drank from a whites-only water fountain.

“I wanted to see if their water tasted different than the colored ones,” she said recently. “It didn’t.” But she harbors a particular memory more than others.

“You know how traumatizing that is? To be cleaning their house and find those sheets? But you needed that $2 a week job.”

My grandmother watched the hatred on the faces of the white nationalist and neo-Nazi Charlottesville protesters. She watched the graphic video of the car plowing into the crowd of counterprotesters (Heather Heyer, 32, was killed). Clemmie had, of course, seen that kind of venom up close before.

She, her older brother, Sonny, and her mother, Juanita, were walking into town in Rock Hill to go grocery shopping. The trip took an abrupt change when the three of them began being taunted by a group of white kids from a nearby house.

My grandmother, circa 1934.

“They just kept saying, ‘Look at the n—–s!’ ” she recalls. Clemmie’s mom, my great-grandmother, who died in 1972, told them to ignore the calls. But Clemmie had had enough. On previous grocery trips, she’d dodged rocks from these same kids. In a fit of rage, she broke away and sprinted after the girl in the group, chasing her into the house. Clemmie beat her up. “I definitely hit her,” my grandmother said of the moment, over 70 years later. “It was worth the beating my mama gave me that night, too.”

But the delivery of a first-round knockout came with an emotional toll. “I put my mother in a bad position,” she said. South Carolina was home to intense Ku Klux Klan terrorism.

“Thankfully, the girl’s parents weren’t home. They could have pressed charges against my mother. The Klan could’ve come to our house and burned it down with us in there. The system could’ve broken my family apart and made me an orphan. My mother, I guess, was just trying to protect me from what later happened to Emmett Till,” she said solemnly. “That’s the thing about racism. The side that’s pushed to the edge is always the one who suffers the most.”


This past weekend, while Charlottesville commandeered the country’s attention, Clemmie, who lives in Virginia, was busy being a part-time dog sitter. Jordan is her dog, as hyper a Yorkie as there is in America — with a penchant for running counterclockwise when excited. Riley is my Aunt Cynt’s dog, named after Cynt’s all-time favorite basketball coach, Pat Riley.

Walking up and down the steps to feed Jordan and Riley and put them outside is a reprieve from the endless onslaught of Charlottesville media coverage. Clemmie made an effort to sidestep the news at times because, as she says, it’s so hard to find good. She’s had Young & The Restless since 1982, and you’d never guess how much of a Pinterest expert she is on her iPad.

Some of the most enlightening conversations I’ve ever had with my grandmother happened when I used to drive her back to South Carolina shortly after receiving my driver’s license. This was years ago, when she was going to see her younger brother, Gilbert, at the nursing home where he lived before his death in 2014. On the road, my grandmother and I never listened to music. Instead, we talked about how she found love, lost it and came to find peace again afterward. We talked about how the death of her son (my uncle) when he was just 42 forever changed her outlook on life.

I mentioned these chats to her on Sunday, when Charlottesville is the talk of the town. She brings up Colin Kaepernick. As the widow of a Division II college football coach, mother of three football-crazed kids and grandmother of an annually depressed and maniacal Dallas Cowboys fan (guilty as charged), she’s familiar with the game and the polarizing characters it creates. “It’s sad what they’re doing to [Kaepernick],” she said. “He’s lost his job forever because he stood up for what he believed in. Him not standing for the anthem didn’t make him unpatriotic.” For context: The Baltimore Ravens signed quarterback Thad Lewis on Monday. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2013.

She sees connections between the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller and the carnage near UVA.

Clemmie doesn’t watch football as much as she used to. She gets updates from me on Monday mornings. But Clemmie knows the storyline. And she sees the connections between the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller and the carnage near UVA. My grandmother is concerned for Marshawn Lynch, who sat for the national anthem this past weekend (although he’s been doing that for years). And she’s worried about players who will follow their leads, including the Seattle Seahawks’ outspoken defensive end Michael Bennett, who recently confirmed he’ll be seated for the national anthem the entire season. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman said Monday on Twitter that more players will certainly follow suit — stemming from “league-wide outrage” over Charlottesville and President Donald Trump’s comments.

This isn’t Clemmie’s first rodeo. She remembers Muhammad Ali refusing induction into the Army in 1967, and how he lost the prime years of his career going toe-to-toe with the United States government. “I felt what he was saying,” she said. “All he was asking, ‘Why fight for a place that’s just gonna beat me up when I come back?’ ”

My grandmother is amazed but not shocked that this narrative is still playing out 50 years later. “If you love someone, or something, you tell them their flaws because you want to see them be the best person they can be. That’s all [Kaepernick] was doing for America. At least that’s how I saw it. And this country basically told him, ‘Shut up and stay in your place.’ They tried to do the same thing to Ali. Them speaking on America’s flaws doesn’t make them unpatriotic. America not living up to its promise — that’s unpatriotic. ”


Given all she’s seen, experienced and endured, Clemmie has never succumbed to hatred. Her heart goes out to the family of Heather Heyer, the legal assistant killed in Charlottesville whose last Facebook message read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” And her heart still bleeds for James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, the three civil rights activists whose deaths made national news in 1964 when their bodies were found — murdered by the Klan — under an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. My grandmother appreciates anyone with a heart because, as she says, she’s seen so many without one.

But she’s incensed about the president’s recent statement about “many sides” (which he awkwardly walked back). There’s just no debate, says my grandmother. For her, those tiki-torch-carrying protesters were a gut punch from the past. “The KKK would march on you in a minute,” she said. “You didn’t know who was under those sheets. It could be the mayor, or governor of South Carolina. Or it could be the people your parents work for. You know how traumatizing that is? To be cleaning their house and find those sheets? But you needed that $2 a week job. Everyone called you a n—–. We didn’t have any protection. We had to ignore it because if we fought back …” Her voice trails off.

It’s hard for Clemmie to hear “both sides” when hers has lost so much. The 1960s are difficult for her to speak about, even a half-century later. The thought of President John F. Kennedy’s murder still moves her to tears. His brother Robert’s, as well. Medgar Evers’ assassination was “proof we weren’t even safe in our own homes.” She recalls the fear that followed the death of Malcolm X, a man whose voice reflected the rage she and so many others were tormented with daily. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination ripped the soul of black America from its chest. And the countless other men and women who fought and ultimately lost their lives during the civil rights era who will never find their legacies in textbooks — this haunts my grandmother, a woman born just 66 years after Emancipation.

“You gotta understand. Every time we had someone, they took them from us. By the end of the ’60s, you were just mad. It seemed like we would be stuck behind the eight ball forever,” she said.

That fear and frustration, in part, didn’t allow her to enjoy the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. She campaigned locally for him in 2008 and 2012. She cried both times he won. “I’ve never been prouder of a president than I was of him. He’s a black man. Michelle’s a black woman. But I was scared from the day he was walking down that street [during his 2009 inauguration]. I just knew somebody was gonna get him, because that’s all I knew. When he and Michelle left on the helicopter this year, I just said, ‘Thank you, God.’ ”

These thoughts and more race through her brain when she thinks of Charlottesville. It’s impossible for her to isolate Charlottesville because the pain, and the forces that cause it, span generations. Her parents and grandparents were terrorized. She was terrorized. Her children were terrorized. And now, she’s scared because what happened near UVA’s campus, what’s happening to Colin Kaepernick, and what could happen to me, are merely new shades of paint on the same car she’s dodged for 86 years.

Charlottesville, in context, is another painful affirmation of a reality she’ll never truly escape. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” she said. “For some people, it’s nothing scarier than that.”

Daily Dose: 7/18/17 Michael Vick has some advice for Colin Kaepernick

I’m finally back home for more than a day, and I’m very happy about that. On Monday I was on The Ryen Russillo Show, and it was an excellent experience. If you want to hear the show, here you go. Hour 1, Hour 2, Hour 3.

Well, it looks like the latest health care plan has fallen apart, again. The goal of trying to keep America healthy has turned into a political battle that’s genuinely embarrassing on a global level. The GOP’s effort to repeal Obamacare fell short, again, because they didn’t have the votes. This fact apparently caught the White House off guard, which is bizarre, as everyone paying attention knew this wasn’t going to work. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for a repeal of the whole thing, with absolutely zero plan to replace it. What a mess.

Michael Vick, we didn’t think it’d be you. The former NFL quarterback, who knows a thing or two about image rehabilitation, went on television and gave some advice to Colin Kaepernick on how he might be able to get back in the league’s good graces. He told him to cut his hair. Without getting into a whole rant about how black hair is unfairly weaponized in America, I’ll just say this: Kaepernick’s hair is too important to cut at this point. Should it matter? No. But yes, alas, it does. Damien Woody was not a fan of Vick’s suggestion.

Summer is weird. While the weather is warm, and there’s a sense of elongated laziness and carefree mentality that people enjoy, there can also be a huge downside: depression. Why? Mainly because if you don’t have your life together and are forced to watch everybody else having fun in their seasonal happiness, it can wear on you. But there’s also a physical reason. As it turns out, too much light can negatively affect your body, never mind the actual temperature of the air. The dog days are for real.

Ezekiel Elliott is living his life. The star Dallas Cowboys running back seems to be in the headlines for one thing or another all the time, and it might end up costing him some cash. During the week he was supposed to meet with the NFL about how his offseason has gone, but he ended up getting into an altercation at a nightclub, which just isn’t a good look. Now he’s trying to appeal a speeding ticket. At this point it’s pretty clear the NFL is going to sit him down, even if it’s just for his own good.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I know you all love Game of Thrones. I don’t watch that show, but it’s not personal, it’s just not for me. I’m a robots-and-lasers guy, not a wizards-and-woods guy, but with the season premiere having just dropped, people are back at it. One question though: Where are all the black folks in this HBO series?

Snack Time: The Magic School Bus was a series of books that as a kid I didn’t admit that I liked, but I genuinely loved. Now it appears that Tracee Ellis Ross will play Mrs. Frizzle in a live-action version adaptation. Amazing.

Dessert: Some things you just can’t make up, kiddos.

Timbaland on Missy Elliott’s ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ and how hip-hop got its groove back The Grammy-winning producer reflects on the songs that made Missy’s debut a classic

“I made hits with Total, Madonna and so many more,” says Tim “Timbaland” Mosley. “But far as chemistry? That just don’t come. Me and Jay[-Z] got it. Justin [Timberlake] too. Of course, Missy. When you think about it, it’s not a lot of people.”

The Grammy-winning Timbo is busy being an “architect” on the ABC competition show, Boy Band, but there’s always, always time to talk about the music. Especially when it involves his longtime friend and musical soulmate Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. Collaboration creates hits. But chemistry? That’s the ingredient from which classics are built.

Mention Missy’s genre-bending debut Supa Dupa Fly turning 20 this week — Rolling Stone named it one of the 100 best albums of the ’90s — and you can just about feel the twinkle in Timbo’s eyes over the phone. “We did our job. We impacted the world,” he says proudly. He goes silent for a second. It’s long enough, though, to get that he realizes the magnitude of the achievement. “We made history.” He won’t go as far to say they shifted the culture. “But we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.”

“We made history … we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.” — Timbaland

Missy and Tim are but one in a line of Siamese twin-like creative musical partnerships: Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Nas and DJ Premier, Big Boi and Andre 3000 of OutKast and Organized Noise, and, in more recent years, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib. Missy and Tim are bound by creativity and trains of thought best described as “outside the box.” And by ZIP codes as well. Missy, a Portsmouth native, and Tim, from Norfolk, hail from the Seven Cities region of Virginia — an area Teddy Riley helped put on the map, and one Missy and Timbaland (along with The Neptunes) stamped as a songful hotbed between the musical metropolises of New York City and Atlanta.

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy, the visionary who wrote just about everything save a song or two from Timbaland mainstay Magoo, weren’t looking to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997. The officially unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. in 1996 and 1997, respectively, hovered over the scene. Shakur and Biggie’s music still dominated airwaves, and their videos were on constant circulation on MTV and the now-defunct The Box. Missy attended the Vibe after-party after which Biggie was murdered. “We were young,” says Timbaland. But Missy remained steadfastly focused on her songwriting even in the midst of an industrywide depression. “Her whole thing,” said Timbaland, “was, ‘I gotta do this and make it fun.’ ”


Supa Dupa Fly almost never got off the ground. Famously shy, Missy Elliott was content behind the scenes. She’d already crafted a name for herself with composer credits on works from artists like Jodeci, Gina Thompson, New Edition, 702, Ginuwine and more. She and Timbaland were the chief architects of Aaliyah’s 1996 double-platinum masterpiece, One In A Million.

A frame from Missy Elliot’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” video

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

But the occasional times Elliott stepped in front of a mic or camera, the entire music industry took notice. Sean Combs had positioned himself as the hip-hop King Midas, but Missy’s scene-stealing appearances on Thompson’s “The Things You Do (Remix)” (see below) and 702’s “Steelo” proved she was of the same crossover caliber. Her sound and wardrobe were unique, appealing and new. Her hip-hop Michelin Woman look shocked the world.

“Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends” as we called ourselves when we did a record together.

Missy’s dream was to own an imprint and build her own crew of artists. The idea was a brilliant one as far as then-head of Elektra Records, Sylvia Rhone, was concerned. But under one condition: that Missy release a solo album of her own. “People think I did this for the money, but I was comfortable just writing for people,” Missy told SPIN in 1997. “And I mean really comfortable.”

Missy’s debut peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. She immediately became a bona fide star. And 20 years later, it still sounds ahead of its time: a gumbo of hip-hop, R&B, soul and dance. She and Timbaland’s musical, lyrical and stylistic vision was free and futuristic and helped make Missy a clubhouse leader in evolving discussions around feminism.

Missy’s body-positive and sex-positive lyrics thrived alongside the overt sensual raunchiness of Lil Kim. I’m the stewardess of the plane / Feel the turbulence and maintain, she coos on “Friendly Skies.” Please refrain and stay in your seats / Until we reach the gate. She didn’t need a plane to join the “mile-high club.” She was the club.

“It was a girl power thing … She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed.” — Timbaland

In 1997, Entertainment Weekly dubbed Missy and the album “a wickedly innovative singer-rapper who favors expansive song structures and trip-hoppy textures. In the process, she creates an evocative space-age soul all her own.” SPIN said Supa could become “the most influential album since Dr. Dre’s The Chronic” and “everything here has ‘hit’ stamped all over it.” And a year before Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation declared her independence and became a blueprint for the matriarchal fusion of rap and singing, All Music Guide called Missy’s premiere project “the most influential album ever released by a female hip-hop artist” and spoke of its “tremendous impact on hip-hop, and an even bigger one on R&B, as its futuristic, nearly experimental style became the de facto sound of urban radio at the close of the millennium.”

Ahead of the album’s anniversary on Saturday, and Friday’s vinyl re-release, The Undefeated caught up with Timbaland. The legendary producer breaks down Supa Dupa Fly’s standout cuts as well his own memories of how the album Missy originally didn’t want to record changed their lives.


If Missy was going to be “forced” to do her own solo project, best believe she’d bring her friends along with her for the ride.

“Sock It 2 Me” feat. Da Brat

Timbaland: Da Brat is one of her good friends. They’re still best friends to this day. She wanted it to be like an all-girls thing. Like, ‘These are the top girls.’ It was about hooking up with women that were creative like her. She always looked at it that way. She always made friends with other women who were doing it like her. It was a girl power thing. Even when Eve came out, Missy was like, ‘That girl Eve is hot!’ She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed. And she championed hard.


For “Not Tonight,” Missy links up with one of her closest friends in the industry: Lil Kim.

“Hit ’Em Wit Da Hee” feat. Lil Kim & Mocha

Timbaland: Oh, now that was dope! When we did that we [were] in New York. Missy was always cool with Kim. She always wanted to do songs with her friends. Mary J. Blige was her friend. Lil Kim was like the closest. When Missy heard [the beat for] “Hit ’Em With The Hee,” she was like, “I’ma get Lil Kim on this.” It was more like just getting her girls together. Watching her do that and watching her have so much fun, I don’t think the record had any intentions. Missy just wanted to make Missy music and make the world be like, ‘Whoa!’


The record not only changed the sound of hip-hop and R&B in 1997, it changed Missy’s life altogether.

“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”

Timbaland: That one I was going through my keyboard and I had this little loop. Missy was like, ‘What’s that?! That’s dope!!’ And I just kept doing it. Then I just put the bass line in it and she just started going off! ‘This about to be crazy!’ Next thing you know, ‘All right, all right, y’all gotta get out.’ I’m like, ‘Gahhh, damn!’ But we kinda created that one kinda together. Missy knew it was gonna be a hit the moment she heard the beat. We were both hype. After that, she took it to the radio station. I remember it was DJ Al B. Sylk, back in the day. She took it up there to 103 JAMZ [Norfolk’s WOWI-FM 102.9]. She was hype about that record. That was like one of the first records. And then after that, she tapped into a zone.


Timbaland dubs this duet one of the more underrated cuts on Supa Dupa Fly. It’s tough to argue its staying power either, with artists such as Bryson Tiller sampling it for last year’s “Let Me Explain,” and Drake sampled it for 2009’s “Bria’s Interlude” from his landmark mixtape, So Far Gone.

“Friendly Skies” feat. Ginuwine

Timbaland: If you’re from Virginia, man, it was about being in the studio. That may be how kids do it now, but they also do it a little differently. We just had fun. I think when I do the track it made them feel a certain way. Both of them [Missy and Ginuwine] start, they’re laughing, and once again I’m getting kicked out the room (laughs). I come back in and the song is done (laughs). And I’m like, ‘Oh this is dope,’ but I’m like, ‘Change this, change that.’

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy didn’t seek to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997.

That’s how it usually is, and it’s cool for me that way. It gave me time to go play my PlayStation. And if I’m in the studio [when they’re recording], I’ma critique it. … I put so much time into the music part, making sure that their emotions are there. I gotta walk away. I can’t really pay attention to how they write the song. It’s hard, but it’s kinda good she kicked me out. But also, I’d probably walk out. I want to hear what emotions they came up with versus what I was feeling.


Missy and Aaliyah — so much potential. While not their most famous collaboration, “Best Friend” is Missy and Aaliyah’s most personal duet.

“Best Friend” feat. Aaliyah

Timbaland: How we vibed in the studio, we was family! Missy and Aaliyah had a very close bond. Missy is a person who is fun and jokes around. Aaliyah was the same way. She could make you laugh all the time. So “Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends,” as we called ourselves when we did a record together. Missy just made the title “Best Friend.” When I created music, she’d go in her own space and create lyrics. She don’t talk about it. She kicked me out the room! (laughs)


Music is defined by its eras, but more truly by those who dominated them. It’s why Def Jam, Death Row, Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella, Cash Money, No Limit and now October’s Very Own and Top Dawg Entertainment have such a fascinating hold on cultural history. The conglomerate of Missy, Timbaland, Magoo, Aaliyah and the late Static Major never had an official name. But their output is on par with the best of the best.

“We did stuff with feeling,” said Timbaland. “We know how we felt from a small place called Virginia. We knew if it felt overjoyous to us … it would flow to other people … We didn’t know how big it was gonna be, but we knew we had a sound.”