‘The Real’s’ Jeannie Mai is raising awareness of human trafficking in new film The talk show host is executive producer of ‘Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking’

According to the Department of Homeland Security, every year millions of men, women and children are trafficked in countries around the world, generating billions of dollars in profit, making it second only to drug trafficking in transactional crime.

These shocking statistics came as a surprise to Jeannie Mai, co-host of daytime TV show The Real, when she began raising awareness around this epidemic, in which only 2 percent of victims make it out alive.

Mai partnered with filmmaker Sadhvi Siddhali Shree as the executive producer for a powerful and raw documentary entitled Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking. With raw images of life on the streets, heart-pounding rescues and gut-wrenching personal stories, the documentary offers hope and empowerment, with hopes to engage others in a movement to end modern-day slavery and abuse on a global scale.

“It’s all about being woke to what’s happening in the world,” Mai said. “The word ‘trafficking’ is weird in itself and was invented just a few years ago to describe the selling and trading of human beings because we didn’t understand exactly what it was. It started off as sex slavery then modern-day slavery, and now it’s trafficking.”

Mai hopes to create awareness that leads to action. She spoke with The Undefeated about the documentary, as well as about working on The Real, the secret behind her positivity and how she defines success.


What’s the nature of Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking?

This film is gritty and, honestly, painful to watch, but it’s real. It will help people understand how human trafficking takes place 360 degrees around us. You’ll feel a calling to contribute to the movement after watching it.

What motivated you to get involved with the film?

It’s been my dream to put together a piece of art that would describe what human trafficking looks like. I joined forces with [Sadhvi] Siddhali [Shree], a beautiful woman, monk, Army veteran and powerful filmmaker. I fell in love with her passion, and we both had the same fervor to educate the world and get people more socially conscious about the brevity of trafficking.

What was your first experience becoming more hands-on with learning about sex trafficking?

I went to Thailand with an organization called NightLight and lived in a brothel for about three weeks. That’s where I really saw the darkness of these women’s lives. They’re trapped and voiceless, and their families are being used as pawns.

[It inspired another documentary I’m working on,] Along the Line, where we shot in Vietnam, Sa Pa, Thailand, to speak with three traffic survivors who shared what it was like to be enslaved, used, abused and manipulated, and how their lives are now as heroines. It’ll come out by early 2019.

What triggered the need to learn more about sex trafficking?

I didn’t know what it was until about eight years ago, when it happened to a family friend in Vietnam. Her uncle had sold her to a brothel as a sex slave to pay off the family debt. I was angry, disgusted and confused. I did research, made phone calls, spoke with government officials and then learned that this situation happens to millions of people every day. She is OK now.

Switching gears, what can we expect for the live airing of season four of The Real?

It’s going to be a fun season with more giveaways, money and amazing, heartfelt stories that’s going to teach you how to love yourself better. Loni [Love], Tamera [Mowry-Housley], Adrienne [Houghton] and I are able to remind women every day that they are valuable and worthy. All of us ladies on the show are a work in progress. We constantly share our hiccups, and we’re transparent about it.

What have you learned from your co-hosts?

First off, I’ve learned to love brown liquor because of Loni. Tam-Tam [Tamera] has taught me the power of poise. She is so poised in every situation of life. Adrienne teaches me about hopeless romantic love, and I’m just like, ‘Let’s get some Netflix and Cheetos.’

What’s the secret behind your positivity?

It’s from turning L’s [losses] into W’s [wins]. Like anyone else, I’ve gone through my own losses, whether that’s relationships, setbacks or insecurities. But when I look back, I really appreciate those experiences because being on the ground taught me how not to only get up, but to stand up and strut.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

There’s always going to be someone who won’t believe in your worth. Don’t let that person be you.

As a TV style expert, what got you into fashion?

I love fashion; it’s my armor. Fashion allows me to tell you my story before I get myself together to tell you. That’s what’s so powerful about it. Style is having that swag from the way you walk, talk, laugh, move your hands, type of vernacular you use. All of that comes together and you are a dope fashion piece, even if you only have a shirt and jeans on.

What’s your advice to women who don’t feel pretty?

Own your pretty, boo! It can be as simple as that you have a great smile or amazing ankles. Whatever it is, find it and highlight what that beautiful part is and dress the rest up. It starts there, and then from the ground up, boom, you bloom.

Bernie Mac, his ‘Mr. 3000,’ and black baseball’s field of dreams On what would have been his 60th birthday, Mac is remembered for his love of all of Chicago’s games

Mitch Rosen walks into an elegantly furnished condo in Chicago’s South Loop. He doesn’t know what to expect. It’s the spring of 2008, and the longtime program director of influential local sports radio station 670 The Score is about to make a pitch.

Just a day earlier, Rosen had asked a friend for a contact for Bernie Mac, the beloved stand-up comedian, television icon (Fox’s The Bernie Mac Show, 2001-06) and big-screen scene-stealer (Friday, The Players Club and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy). In 2004, Mac co-starred with Angela Bassett (as an ESPN reporter) in Mr. 3000, a film about a retired Milwaukee Brewer Stan Ross, who comes back to major league baseball to go for 3,000 hits. Even before Mac’s star-making 1994 national television debut on the first iteration of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, Mac had taken the baton from Robin Harris (who died in 1990 at age 36) as the Windy City’s funniest homegrown talent.

It was well-known around Chicago that Mac, a chest-beating, born-and-raised South Sider, was a hard-core White Sox fan. “I always knew Bernie to be around the Sox’s ballpark,” said Rosen. “He’d rent a suite at [then U.S. Cellular Field] for a number of games. I knew he would be fun to have on the postgame show.”

When Rosen made the call, Mac’s daughter, Je’Niece McCullough, answered. “Hold on, please,” she said. Seconds later, a booming voice jumped on the line. “Mitch, this is Bernie. What are you doing tomorrow afternoon? Here’s my address. Come see me.” During their one-hour meeting, Rosen discovered that not only was Mac an unapologetic homer, he was also an animated listener of sports talk radio. Imagine the multimillionaire calling in to passionately debate why a random utility player on the Sox deserved more at-bats.

“Chicago was a different place in the late ’60s and ’70s. This was before the era of Michael Jordan. There was a Little League team in damn near every neighborhood. Bernie was a product of those times.”

“And he was a huge fan of Ozzie [Guillen],” Rosen said, referring to the outspoken White Sox shortstop and Gold Glover who in 2005 managed the team to World Series glory. “We left it at, ‘Hey, let’s follow up in a few weeks and see where the season goes.’ At the time I remember he had an oxygen tank … so it was obvious something was wrong. He told me he was doing a movie out west in California. But we never got the chance to do his segment because he became really sick.”

Mac’s creative work was often deeply rooted in sports fandom. He portrayed a homeless man in 1994’s Above The Rim. In Pride, the 2007 Jim Ellis biopic, Mac scored a role as assistant coach of the first all-black swimming team. The actor detailed his love of competitive sports during a 2007 ESPN SportsNation chat. “I wish I started playing golf earlier,” said the 6-foot-3 Mac, who possessed the frame of a tight end. “But I played baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, and I boxed. In high school,” he repeated wistfully, “I played baseball.”

On Aug. 9, 2008, Bernard Jeffrey McCullough died at the age of 50. He’d been secretly battling a rare immune disease called sarcoidosis. Today he would have been 60 years old.


Bernie Mac sings “Take me out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch of game six of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins on October 14, 2003 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.

Elsa/Getty Images

Bernie Mac made it out of the notorious Englewood neighborhood of Chicago to become one of the most successful comedians of the post-Eddie Murphy era. The onetime janitor, school bus driver and fast-food manager decided that comedy would be his family’s ticket out of the ’hood. During the day, Mac told jokes on the L train, where he often pulled in as much as $400 daily.

At night, he delivered those same routines in front of notoriously tough audiences — when he was even allowed to get onstage. It was only after winning a top prize of $3,000 at 1990’s Miller Genuine Draft Comedy Search that he decided to pursue stand-up full time. His popular Emmy- and Peabody-winning television series The Bernie Mac Show was a layered revelation that went beyond usual laugh-track-fueled sitcom high jinks.

Mac got to live out his high school dream of becoming a professional ballplayer when he starred in the family-friendly Mr. 3000. His comically arrogant character, Ross, finds out that because of a clerical error, he’d retired three hits shy of one of baseball’s most hallowed benchmarks. Only 31 real players are in the 3,000-hit club. Adrian Beltre is the most recently crowned member; Barry Bonds just missed the cut. Albert Pujols is currently closest, with 2,825 hits. Other players in the 3,000 community include Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ichiro Suzuki, Rickey Henderson, Alex Rodriguez, George Brett and Derek Jeter. Quite the list.

The film is fun, but it’s Mr. 3000’s on-field scenes, shot at New Orleans’ Zephyr Field and the Brewers’ Miller Park, that jump off the screen like a love letter to the emotional highs and lows of baseball and its idiosyncratic rituals. “Bernie and I would always talk about the MLB player that didn’t know when to retire,” said Charles Stone III, director of Mr. 3000, Paid In Full and the upcoming basketball comedy Uncle Drew, which features the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, as well as Lisa Leslie, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber. “We even joked about doing an entire documentary about athletes who didn’t know when to walk away. It was obvious Bernie had a real passion for sports.”

Michael Wilbon, a Chicago native and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, made a cameo appearance in Mr. 3000. He first met Mac in 2001, at a Chicago Bulls game. They bonded. “We both grew up watching the Bears’ Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, the Cubs’ Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, and the White Sox’s [Walt] ‘No Neck’ Williams,” Wilbon said. “Chicago was a different place in the late ’60s and ’70s. This was before the era of Michael Jordan. There was a Little League team in damn near every neighborhood. Bernie was a product of those times.”

Which is one of the reasons that, when Mac was asked by the Chicago Cubs to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field, just months after wrapping Mr. 3000, it was a surreal moment. The prominent Chicago White Sox fan is forever connected to the infamous “Bartman” Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series in which the North Siders suffered a monumental collapse. Some Cubs fans even blamed Mac for purposefully jinxing the team when, instead of singing, “Root, root, root for the Cubbies,” he sang, “Root, root, root for the champions!” Mac admitted to Wilbon that he grew up hating the Sox’s crosstown rivals.

Bernie Mac sings a “black version” of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

“This is how you came up as a South Sider,” Wilbon said. “You hated the Cubs because back in the days they were not very hospitable to people that looked like my father. Bernie and I come from that tradition. But a lot of those great black Cubs players like Ernie Banks lived on the South Side with us, so while he didn’t always root for the Cubs, Bernie was a civic person. He didn’t actively root against them. When it came to the [playoffs], he rooted for all teams that had Chicago on their chest.”

Mac of course understood the historical significance of Mr. 3000’s lead character being African-American. Jackie Robinson’s peerless legacy is rich with immortals such as Roy Campanella, Mays, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr., as well as current stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen and Addison Russell. But African-American participation in professional baseball over the decades has steadily declined.

At its height in 1981, professional baseball boasted a robust 18.7 percentage of black players. Today that figure is 7.7 percent, according to MLB. “Blacks no longer being a huge part of baseball is something we’d always talk about,” said Chicago-based SportsCenter analyst Scoop Jackson. When Mac was cutting his teeth at local nightclubs such as All Jokes Aside in the early ’90s, the two would often discuss their mutual admiration for the underrated 1976 Negro Leagues baseball film The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.

“We both loved that film,” said Jackson. “How important Bingo Long was … you had James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor speaking on the importance of the Negro League. It wasn’t just black history … it was baseball history. I know what a film like Mr. 3000 was rooted in.”

And there’s even more to the legacy of Bernie Mac the sportsman. Mac frequently sent messages to Kenny Williams, then the White Sox’s general manager (now the team’s executive vice president), imploring him to improve the staff’s pitching. Mac also grew up idolizing aforementioned legendary Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente. Mac’s standing as the quintessential sports guy was so high that even before he was starring in films alongside the Oscar-winning likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Billy Bob Thornton, he was given the unofficial title of 13th Man by the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls during their historic six-title ’90s run.

The Bulls adopted Mac’s signature “Who You With?!!!” catchphrase as their championship battle cry. “When Bernie came into the locker room, that’s all Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the others would scream,” Jackson said. “That meant a lot to Bernie personally. He never really left Chicago, or his love of its teams. … Bernie was a true sports fan.”

Drake really wants Vince Carter to come home Day 4 at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — At this point, the most magical words Drake could hear come out of Vince Carter’s mouth might be, “Hold on, we’re going home.”

In July, Carter, 40, signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Sacramento Kings. But at a Q-and-A after the premiere of The Carter Effect at the Toronto International Film Festival, Drake made his feelings plain: He wants the man who launched Vinsanity to come back to this city.

“It would be amazing, hopefully, for Vince to give us one last chance to not just give him a standing ovation for one night or two nights out of the year,” Drake said.

Saturday’s Carter lovefest (with the star basketball player nowhere in sight) was something to behold. The premiere was studded with sports and music notables: LeBron James, Cory Joseph, Akon, Director X (the guy who caused a sensation with the James Turrell-inspired visuals of “Hotline Bling”), sprinter Andre De Grasse, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, and former Raptors Chris Bosh and Patrick Patterson were among those in attendance. And since it was a bright, sunny afternoon, Drake fans were lined up everywhere for a glimpse of their hometown rapper.

Instagram Photo

Drake was an executive producer of The Carter Effect, along with James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter.

“Me being from Ohio, when Vince signed with Nike, he actually made me believe that putting on those damn shoes would make me jump to the rim,” James joked after the screening.

Director X appears in the film and likened himself to John the Baptist and Drake to Jesus when it comes to Toronto and hip-hop. I asked him where Carter fits into that metaphor.

“He’s Moses,” X answered.

I also had a chance to talk to Mona Halem, a party host who had a front-row seat to the transformation Carter brought with him to Toronto, a city so unacquainted with basketball that its fans didn’t know they were supposed to be quiet when Raptors players were shooting free throws.

Halem, who also appears in the film, is a cross between an NBA doyenne, unofficial Toronto ambassador and social scene producer. She puts interesting people together with liquor and good music and has made it her personal art form here.

“Because basketball and entertainment around basketball was more popular in the U.S., [Carter] shone a light on Toronto,” Halem said. “It was like, ‘Oh, what’s this place Toronto?’ Everyone thinks we live in igloos and it’s so cold.”

Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart

Courtesy of TIFF

Director Tracy Heather Strain’s documentary on playwright Lorraine Hansberry, in a way, has been her life’s work.

Strain, who is a professor at Northeastern University (she canceled last week’s class to attend TIFF), has been working on Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart for 14 years. Most of that time has been spent raising more than $1.5 million to make the film. The rights for film clips, music and other properties cost about $300,000.

I spoke to Strain on Sunday morning before she departed for Boston so her students wouldn’t miss a second week of class. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart will air in the future on PBS, and it’s a deep dive into the jam-packed 34 years of Hansberry’s life and the world that created the fictional Younger family of A Raisin in the Sun. Strain said she became taken with Hansberry when she was a 17-year-old in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her grandmother took her to see a community theater production of the autobiographical To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.

“You know how you know something in your gut?” Strain asked. “[That’s] how I felt when I was exposed to Lorraine Hansberry’s words.”

In Sighted Eyes, Strain makes it clear that Hansberry is so much more than the one-paragraph biography schoolchildren get during Black History Month before they watch the film adaptation of her celebrated play. In fact, early in the movie, one of Hansberry’s contemporaries insists on making it clear that Hansberry was not a liberal but a “radical leftist.”

I was astonished to learn Hansberry began her career as a journalist before venturing into playwriting, and even more astonished to learn that she’d basically mapped out her life, and told her would-be husband what it was going to be like, when she was just 23 years old. This woman did not waste time. Strain fell in love with Hansberry’s sense of humor: It’s hard not to crack up upon learning Hansberry bought a house on 2 acres in New York and named the place “Chitterling Heights.” She sounds like someone I’d desperately want to be friends with if she were still alive.

Sighted Eyes also works as a bit of mythbusting. My eyes grew large when Strain informed me that I, like so many others, had been fooled by this photo, supposedly of Hansberry dancing with writer James Baldwin. It’s not her but rather a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) worker from Louisiana. There are no photos, at least none that Strain could find, of Baldwin and Hansberry together despite their close friendship.

How ‘The Carter Effect’ created Canadian basketball and ‘Mudbound’ shines bright Day One at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — A colleague recently asked me to name my favorite athlete.

“Billie Jean King,” I said.

“Let me put this another way,” he said. “Who’s your favorite male athlete?”

It took me some time, but then I answered: “Ed Cota.”

Cota is not a world-famous superstar. But when I was a die-hard Tar Heels basketball fan growing up in small-town North Carolina, he might as well have been God.

Cota came up during the amazing era of Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter, in the final decade of Dean Smith’s lengthy tenure at the University of North Carolina. Cota ran point for the team, and I admired his ability to stay cool under pressure, especially during high-stakes Carolina-Duke games. Cota’s Blue Devils counterpart, Steve Wojciechowski, was pestering, relentless and scrappy, the way you would imagine a gnat would be if it one day woke up and found itself gifted with humanity and the ability to play ball. But Cota’s style was studied and patient, and although he didn’t play with a ton of ego, he was an extraordinarily skilled ball handler. He trusted Smith. He trusted in the abilities of his teammates. I adored him.

Once I’d settled on Cota, there was no shaking him from the top spot in my mind.

Then I saw The Carter Effect.

The documentary, from director Sean Menard, illustrates the enormous impact Carter had playing professional basketball in Toronto. Carter joined the Raptors in 1998, just three years after the team was formed.

Originally he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors and Toronto took Jamison. But they traded. Carter proceeded to make the city, then Ontario, and then the whole of Canada, fall in love with him.

For seasoned college basketball fans, especially ACC fans, Menard’s film evokes the sort of fun that’s hard to come by these days, either watching or covering sports — wide-eyed, oh-my-God-how-did-he-do-that, childlike fun. The business of professional sports is enough to make anyone cynical. But Menard highlights why Carter was such a singular figure in Toronto, how he came here and made it his town, painting it with the youthful, athletic exuberance of his jaw-dropping dunks. Showcasing Carter’s talents, Menard made me remember why I loved watching Carolina basketball as a kid.

And that’s what’s special about Carter and the film. The Carter Effect is a fairly conventional sports documentary, full of talking heads and highlight footage. But it brings forth revelations about the relationship between an athlete and the city he reps. The magic of Carter didn’t just spawn more basketball fans north of the border, it invigorated a nightlife that sprang up to meet his needs. Really. Bottle service was not a thing in Toronto until Carter opened a club and brought it here himself.

Carter’s amaze-balls 360-degree dunks created a generation of Canadian basketball fans where none had previously existed. Some of them, inspired by Carter, grew up to become NBA players themselves.

And where the NBA went, hip-hop followed, and so did sneaker culture. Both became a huge deal in the bustling multicultural melting pot that is Toronto. Menard somehow constructs a reasonable argument that Carter is in part responsible for Drake. Drake! (The 6 God is one of the key figures in the film, along with Tracy McGrady, Muggsy Bogues and Charles Oakley.)

By far the best and most painful discoveries about Carter are those that deal with his relationship with McGrady, his former Raptors teammate, and what might have been had McGrady not left Toronto to play for his hometown Orlando Magic.

In his efforts to find out what happened after McGrady left, Menard taps a storyline as emotional and dramatic as any narrative film screening at this week’s festival. He builds context for understanding the tense, terse Carter who emerged in news conferences post-McGrady. The Carter Effect shows how Carter, who really was a 6-foot-8 kid, turned into an unhappy, grim-faced adult worn down by the business of basketball. But it also showcases how much one person can influence the sports culture of an entire city. “Basketball is now embedded in Canada,” former NBA commissioner David Stern says at one point.

No wonder Carter was booed for years every time he returned to Toronto while playing for the New Jersey Nets, where the Raptors’ misguided management had traded him. It was like a bad breakup between city and player, with broken hearts on both sides.

After watching Menard’s film, I was momentarily forced to rethink my views on Cota. Carter may not have unseated him, but by God, he comes close.

Mudbound

Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan appear in Mudbound by Dee Rees, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute |photo by Steve Dietl.

Courtesy of the Toronto Film Festival

Reader, I implore you. Prepare yourself. Because you’re going to be hearing about Mudbound a lot. Like, through March 4, 2018, a lot.

Mudbound is the sophomore feature film from Dee Rees, who broke out in 2012 with the stunning Pariah. (It’s her third if you count the HBO film Bessie.) The film, produced by Netflix, enters theaters Nov. 17, and frankly, it seems cruel to make cinephiles wait that long. It follows two families, the Jacksons and the McAllans, one black and one white, through their lives on a farm in the Mississippi Delta from just before World War II to just after it.

Rees has a knack for pulling gutting emotional performances from actors, and she gets some stunners from Mary J. Blige and Garrett Hedlund. Veteran Carey Mulligan is reliably lovely. And Jason Mitchell, who most will remember as Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton, is astonishing as Ronsel Jackson. Ronsel is a war hero who goes off to fight the Germans, only to come home to a country that still hates him.

I’ll publish an in-depth review closer to the film’s release date, but know that as a director, Rees has the gifts of confidence and patience. She lets her films unspool, trusting that viewers will remember and understand the choices she’s immersed them in and put the pieces together themselves.

Recently, Rees told Variety, “If I were a white guy who had done Pariah, my next film would have been huge.”

Her work with Mudbound screams that she’s absolutely right.

Lonzo Ball and LaVar Ball: Can their new reality show keep up with the Kardashians? The new Facebook series is produced by the same creative team

Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2 | “Bittersweet Victory” + “Forging a Path” | Aug. 31

A couple of weeks ago, I sat in an Uber with my boy when Gucci Mane and Drake’s hit “Both” came on the radio. See the power of the mind is not a joke, the Canadian kingpin rapped in one of the 2016 song’s more recognizable lyrics. Man, I said that I would do it and I did. “I’m surprised LaVar Ball hasn’t taken that line,” my homey said with a laugh, “and ran with it.” Call the man a lot of things, but make sure “right” is one of them. Love LaVar, hate him or be annoyed by him — Father Ball called his shot.

It’s tough to remember the first time the name “LaVar Ball” made ripples in my corner of the universe. It seems he’s always been in the public lexicon despite the fact that he’s still a relatively new name in pop culture — and one that even has Jay-Z buying into what he’s cooking. Ball, the person, isn’t foreign to anyone familiar with the AAU circuit. He’s an overly involved dad invested in his kids’ professional athletic future. Go to any AAU game in the country and there’s a LaVar Ball — or 12 of them. The only difference is LaVar’s sons are all Division I-bound — and, in his eldest son’s case, the most recent No. 2 overall draft pick by the Los Angeles Lakers. Lonzo Ball is already an insanely hyped lottery pick in the NBA’s most historically glamorous franchise.

Ball’s antics — loving, comical, arrogant and problematic — have all led to the reality series (properly titled) Ball In The Family. The 10-episode trek, airing on Facebook Watch, chronicles the life of basketball’s newest first family. There’s Lonzo and his younger brothers, LiAngelo (who recently played in a pickup game with LeBron James) and LaMelo (who recently played in the most publicized amateur contest of the summer versus phenom Zion Williamson and became the youngest player ever with his own signature shoe).

There is also their mother, Tina; Lonzo’s high school sweetheart, Denise; and, of course, the Dre Johnson of basketball himself, LaVar. Broadcasting the show on Facebook, the world’s most popular social media platform with nearly 2 billion monthly users, may just ensure that the Ball family revolution is digitized.

And if there’s any humanizing moment for LaVar, it’s his “private” moments with his wife.

If the first two episodes seem to resemble another high-profile, polarizing family, you’re not tripping. Bunim/Murray Productions, the minds behind Keeping Up with the Kardashians, have their hands on Ball. The series kicks off by taking a look into life leading up to Lonzo’s big day in June. The Ball brothers are comically familiar in terms of personality types. Lonzo’s the oldest and most chill. LiAngelo is the GQ model of the clique. And Melo’s the goofy younger brother (with Nick Young shot selection) who is treated as such.

There’s a designed system at play, and one that’s so ingrained in not only LaVar but the entire family too — so much so that LiAngelo moves into Lonzo’s UCLA apartment intending to focus on school and basketball, not parties. All of the sons follow the same path that Lonzo broke the barrier for, and which was mapped out, on the show as apparently in real life, by sports’ most outspoken patriarch. There are no new or explosive revelations in the first two episodes. No plot twists. The family is who we thought they were: laser-focused on the success of dad and sons, which is either a huge selling point or a huge deterrent depending on what side of the aisle one sits on.

On an “unscripted” date night with Lonzo and his girlfriend, the future of their relationship is the topic of conversation. This leads the No. 2 pick to joke that he can’t see how their relationship will change now that he’s in the NBA — except for when he travels to Miami on the Los Angeles Lakers’ annual East Coast road swing.

But let’s do the math here, though. Lonzo is a 19-year-old, living in Los Angeles, who gets lit to the Migos and Future. He’s the face of the Lakers and a household name before he’s even scored his first official bucket in the league. And the All-Star Game is in L.A. in 2018, too? If he’s half as good as most expect him to be, then Jesus be a faithful commitment between these two young and in-love souls.

The most revealing part of the 18-minute episodes centers on a part of the Ball family we knew little about: LaVar’s wife, and the boys’ mother, Tina. Mrs. Ball suffered a stroke in late February, and in the first two episodes she is attempting to learn how to walk again. She’s learning how to talk again. And if there’s any humanizing moment for LaVar, it’s his “private” moments with his wife. LaVar successfully rejects the idea of a speech pathologist helping his wife, insisting instead that he be the one to be there with “his girl” each step of the process. The idea seems insane but status quo for a man whose stubbornness is the reason he landed this documentary. In a particularly memorable scene, he teaches his wife how to say “I love you” again. Lonzo, LiAngelo (called “Gelo” in the show) and LaMelo also express love and adoration for their mother. They’re insanely attached to her, and her stroke did scare them. In the Balls’ rise to fame, she has often been kept out of the news cycles, for obvious medical reasons. Now appears to be her time to step into the spotlight.

The characters basically hold a middle finger up to pro basketball norms as it relates to taking control of one’s own destiny.

LaVar is, of course, the series’ main attraction so far. At least through the first two episodes — 10 in total, with the next seven released in weekly installments — he’s more than enough to hold your attention. The characters basically hold a middle finger up to pro basketball norms as they relate to taking control of one’s own destiny. Pass or fail, if the Balls actually do ball out, it’ll be because they built and walked on their own path.

There is one surprise, though. Lonzo orders his steak medium well. I threw up a little bit in my mouth. The best steaks are medium rare or medium. Any other temperature is for the people who confuse “your” and “you’re” in texts and justify it by saying it doesn’t matter because it’s a private conversation. It does matter! And it absolutely matters that Lonzo Ball is purposely cheating himself out of the delicacy that is steak by essentially ordering a piece of leather for his entrée. I’m really starting to second-guess my hot take prediction for the season of him finishing with at least 22 10-assist games. It’s like I don’t even know who this kid is anymore.

Rapper Master P chronicles the defeats and triumphs of his journey in new documentary ‘I Had a Dream,’ inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, will be released on the late civil rights leader’s birthday

2017 has been one of the most productive and creative in years for entertainment mogul and entrepreneur Master P.

From reality television to No Limit reunions, Master P is proving he still has staying power after more than 20 years in the entertainment industry. Lately, Master P’s focus has been centered on his children and business ventures, but the New Orleans native is now ready to give fans an intimate look into his own life through a new documentary, I Had a Dream.

The documentary, set to be released next January, will chronicle the wins and losses, struggles and many successes of Percy Miller — before he became known to the world as Master P — and what lies ahead for the multimillionaire. The documentary’s title, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and release date, King’s birthday, were very personal choices for Master P, who grew up idolizing the late civil rights leader.

“People don’t realize Martin Luther King really inspired me,” Master P said during an interview on the Breakfast Club. “Coming up as a kid, I had to keep reciting the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and stuff like that. It made me feel like, man, you’re talking about dreaming. I’m in the projects, but I got an opportunity to dream and do something big.”

Growing up in the Calliope Projects of New Orleans, Master P knew he had what it took to reach the pinnacle of a successful career. But he realized that first he had to take a chance on himself. In 1990, Master P founded his own label, No Limit Records, which attracted New Orleans artists including Mystikal, Silkk the Shocker, Kane & Abel, Mia X and, later, Snoop Dogg. Although Master P was not short on talent and business sense, he said he was driven primarily by neighbors and a support system that believed he would make it big.

“That’s what life is about,” Master P said. “You find somebody that believes in you. I had this one old lady in my neighborhood, she called me Bright Eyes. She said, ‘Bright Eyes, you’re gonna be a star.’ The power in those words will take you a long way.”

Today, Master P is investing his time in his children and growing his latest business venture as an owner of the New Orleans Gators, a mixed-gender professional basketball team. So far, Master P has gone to work recruiting ex-NBA players Glen Davis, Stromile Swift and Tyrus Thomas. Former WNBA All-Star Lisa Leslie will be the team’s head coach.

The summer of Mo’ne Davis’ magical Little League World Series A play-by-play of the historic 2014 ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover that almost didn’t happen

LeBron James told the world, “I’m coming home.New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter embarked upon a farewell tour in his 20th and final season. The U.S. men’s basketball team won gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain, and Germany’s national soccer team emerged victorious at the World Cup in Brazil. And Serena Williams became the first woman to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles since the 1970s. The summer of 2014 revitalized the typically dreaded period of the sports calendar with memorable performances from the most dominant competitors around the globe. Yet somehow that brief era belonged to only one athlete: Little League phenom pitcher Mo’ne Davis, 13.

Sports Illustrated writer Albert Chen reported on Davis’ unprecedented 2014 Little League World Series run. “She was the biggest sports story,” he said, “in a summer full of sports stories.”

Mo’ne — who is now 16 and still chasing her dream of playing Division I college basketball, though she hasn’t given up pitching just yet — led Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons into Williamsport, Pennsylvania, becoming the first African-American girl to play in the Little League World Series. But the history-making didn’t stop there. She also became the first girl to pitch a shutout and earn a win, after a 4-0 victory over Nashville in her first start of the tournament. With long, swinging braids, piercing hazel eyes and undeniable ability on the mound, Davis threw a 70 mph fastball that she paired beautifully with an array of off-speed pitches. And on Aug. 25, 2014, she appeared on the front of Sports Illustrated — the first Little Leaguer in history on the cover of the magazine.

Leading up to the 2014 Little League World Series, longtime Sports Illustrated cover photographer Al Tielemans, a native of North Philadelphia, pitched a story to the magazine about the star female pitcher of his home state Dragons. The magazine sent two reporters to join him in Williamsport. Yet, as much potential as there was in the story, many things had to fall into place for Mo’ne to actually make the cover.


On Aug. 9, 2014, while on a two-day vacation in Philadelphia with his wife, Tielemans picked up an issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He stumbled across a story about a local Little League team playing the following night in Connecticut for a spot in the Little League World Series. By the end of the next day, Taney was headed to the Little League World Series to represent the Mid-Atlantic Region after a three-hit, six-strikeout, shutout performance in an 8-0 win over a team from Newark, Delaware — from a 13-year-old female pitcher named Mo’ne Davis. Slowly but surely, Mo’ne became the focus of sports chatter around the country, and Tielemans wanted to capitalize on the buzz. He quickly drafted an Excel spreadsheet for Sports Illustrated managing editor Chris Stone that mapped out the entire double-elimination tournament of the Taney Dragons and, more importantly, what it would take to get Mo’ne on the cover of the magazine.

Meanwhile, Chen had just wrapped a cover story on Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen (the story would appear in the magazine’s Sept. 8, 2014, issue), before boarding a plane departing from Pittsburgh. Soon, he’d receive a call from his editor about a Little League pitcher he’d never heard of.


Leading up to the 2014 Little League World Series, how much did you know about Mo’ne Davis?

Tielemans: I heard a team from Philly was playing for a regional championship. I saw that they won and that they were going to the Little League World Series. That Monday morning, they started having Mo’ne Davis on the morning talk shows, just kind of mentioning it as a blip, like, ‘Oh, a girl pitcher pitched the Philadelphia team’s way to the Little League World Series.’ But that was about it.

Chen: I got off the plane having just finished a story. I was kind of in a cave for that story, not really aware of what was going on. The magazine’s baseball editor at the time, Steve Cannella, I remember getting this phone call from him as I’m getting off the plane. He asks me, ‘Does the name Mo’ne sound familiar to you? … Have you been following her story?’ My answer is, ‘No, what are you talking about?’ I think it was that afternoon when she had the breakout game, struck out a lot of hitters and threw a shutout. I think Twitter went nuts and by the time I landed a lot of people had heard about her, and all those people were tweeting about her. I hadn’t checked my phone, or watched ESPN or anything. … It just goes to show you how quickly things snowball in this day and age. You wake up one morning and no one’s heard of Mo’ne Davis. Then you get a phone call and you’re one of the last people who’ve heard of her story. It wasn’t the huge sensation it would become, but within the sports world it was already exploding. I had no plans to go to the Little League World Series. We had no plans to send a writer.

Tielemans: I felt like the media was restrained about her and the team going into the Little League World Series. It wasn’t overboard. It was respectful about the fact that they were kids. Then, when she pitched on Friday, obviously it blew up.

Starting pitcher Mo’ne Davis #3 of Pennsylvania pitches during the 2014 Little League World Series.

Drew Hallowell/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Can you set the scene of Taney’s Friday afternoon game against Nashville, and Mo’ne’s shutout?

Chen: I had a great reporter working with me in Williamsport. Her name is Emily Kaplan (now of ESPN). We kind of tag-teamed. I wrote the story, but she did a huge amount of reporting … I went to Philadelphia and did a lot of reporting on the city and Mo’ne’s school. I watched the game that Friday on TV. Of course, I show up there and everyone in Philadelphia is rooting for her.

“She was just like a rock star, or Brazilian soccer player — she only needed one name to be recognized.” — Albert Chen, Sports Illustrated

Tielemans: It was an overcast day. Kind of threatening rain, but it never did. It was your classic first day at Williamsport. There was a buzz because it was getting started. … It was a great day to shoot. … Williamsport is a great place to shoot. You’re just so close. Just the fact that I had proposed this story … I felt like I was sitting on something that could really explode, and that’s always exciting. Everybody was there talking about Mo’ne.

Chen: If they lose, if she doesn’t do well in her start, it’s still a wonderful story, but is it a story we should be running in the magazine the following week, when there are many other things going on in the sports world? If they had lost that game on Friday, then the conversation is obviously every different.

Tielemans: When she won, and was dominant, it became a great story.

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The first girl to appear at the Little League World Series for a U.S. team in 10 years, Mo’ne dominated. In Taney’s 4-0 win over Nashville in the opening round of the tournament on Friday afternoon, Mo’ne threw 70 pitches, with eight strikeouts and zero walks, while allowing just two hits. Before her performance, no girl had pitched her team to a win or thrown a shutout at the Little League World Series. The victory advanced Taney to a game against Pearland, Texas, on Sunday night. With Sports Illustrated going to press on Monday night, Taney needed to win for Mo’ne to make the cover of the magazines that would hit newsstands on Wednesday. A loss on Sunday would’ve brought Taney to face double-elimination on Monday and potentially be eliminated before the magazine’s release. Down 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth and final inning against Texas, Taney rallied with two runs to win the game, 7-6, which kept the team alive until Thursday and meant Mo’ne was destined to grace a national cover.

At what point did you realize you were writing, or shooting, for a possible cover?

Chen: After her performance Friday, when she threw the shutout and won the game against Nashville, when I woke up Saturday morning and knew she was the talk of the sports world, I knew that this was potentially a cover story.

Tielemans: That’s essentially what I originally proposed. It was like, ‘Hey, this is a story. Here’s the deal — if this and this happens, you can put her on the cover and you’ve got three days before they can even be eliminated.’ But if something else happened that was more important, it could’ve been bumped easily. You go in with the idea and the people at the magazine make the decisions. You give them your material and just deal with whatever happens. It just so happened that it played out.

“It was totally cool that a girl went in and mowed down a team of Little League players.” — Al Tielemans, Sports Illustrated photographer

Chen: I had to start writing the story on Sunday knowing that there was a chance it wouldn’t run. Sunday night is the night that they played the game where they were down 6-5 going into the final inning and they scored two runs in the sixth inning to win that game. If they had lost that game, there wouldn’t have been a story in that issue of the magazine, and she obviously would not have been on the cover.

I didn’t know, for sure, that I was writing a cover story until Sunday evening around 9:30, 9:45, when that winning run was scored. I turned in the story the very next morning, and I don’t know why I remember this, but I was actually a little bit early filing.

What are some of Sports Illustrated covers of note that you’ve written or shot for? And where does the Mo’ne Davis cover rank in the conversation?

Chen: I had the Andrew McCutchen cover. Probably one of my more prominent ones was I did the cover story on the baseball player Josh Hamilton. That got a lot of buzz. I have a bunch of college football covers as well.

Tielemans: Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper on the baseball preview issue. I had the picture of Anthony Rizzo when the Cubs won the World Series for the cover. I did the NBA preview in 2014 with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. I did Nick Foles’ snow game. I did when Bubba Watson won the Masters. Portraits of David Price with the Rays and Joey Votto. I did the cover when the Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Chen: The Mo’ne cover got more attention than any other cover I’ve written. I don’t think there’s any question about it. Spike Lee did a short documentary on Mo’ne. I went to Philadelphia to talk to him about it and was interviewed on camera. Spike Lee definitely has not called me up for any other cover stories I’ve done.

Tielemans: It’s wayyyyy up there. It’s kind of hard to match the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years. But a lot of the Mo’ne cover has to do with the fact that I pitched it, I mapped it out, I explained it, and all of the pieces fell into place. There’s so much luck involved in this business. I don’t get any attention out of getting the cover, but when the cover gets attention, it is cool. It’s pretty fun when your cover gets a lot of play, and it got a lot of play when Mo’ne was on TV. It was a cool feeling.

Chen: What makes me feel good about it is it was really the right 13-year-old. I imagine there are very few 13-year-olds on the planet that can really handle that kind of attention and pressure, everything that goes with being on the cover of a magazine. She was the right 13-year-old in terms of her being able to handle the attention, and the craze, and the history and the frenzy that came along with it. She was able to handle it. … All credit to her for that.

Tielemans: Going into it, I did not know that there had never been a Little Leaguer on the cover.

What do you think Mo’ne’s story meant to the sports world at the time in 2014? And what does it mean now?

Chen: A lot of things happened that summer, but August of 2014 will always be remembered as the summer of Mo’ne. She stole the show. She was front and center. She was just like a rock star or Brazilian soccer player. She only needed one name to be recognized.

Tielemans: What made it cool for me was she was just a kid … a normal 13-year-old kid. She was very friendly, very respectful, and as shy as the 13-year-old you’d expect her to be. She fit in with those guys completely normally.

Chen: I think it’s still a unique story for sure, because you peel away all the layers and it was a story about so many different things. About gender, about race, about so many larger things. But at the end of the day, it was a story about pitchers blowing away hitters in the Little League World Series, so I think her name still resonates with some people.

Tielemans: It was totally cool that a girl went in and mowed down a team of Little League players. She really went out and did it. Just a kid out there throwing baseballs. The normalcy of it all is what made it so absolutely cool.

‘Whitney: Can I Be Me’ is a tale of fame, money and selfish enablers Documentary about Whitney Houston is also a romantic tragedy

Whitney: Can I Be Me, the new documentary about the beloved singer who drowned in her bathtub at the Beverly Hilton after overdosing on drugs, is full of little moments that squeeze at your heart. There’s footage of Whitney Houston ecstatic after giving her all during a performance of “I Will Always Love You” and early interviews in which Houston is still earnest, bashful and innocent.

Then there’s the whammy.

In 1995, David Roberts, who served as Houston’s bodyguard for seven years and was the inspiration for her hit film with Kevin Costner, sent Houston’s family and business partners a report on her health and well-being from her latest tour. It was not good. Houston, Roberts said, was heavily dependent on cocaine and marijuana. Her voice was deteriorating. She was not in good health and needed to enter a rehabilitation facility.

They ignored him.

“If anyone had listened to or acted on my report, she would now be alive,” Roberts says in the film.

Under the direction of Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal, Whitney: Can I Be Me functions as a psychological autopsy for the woman known simply as The Voice. The documentary airs Friday at 9 p.m. EST on Showtime.

An opening voice-over proclaims that Houston didn’t really die from a drug overdose. “She actually died from a broken heart.” Houston had been divorced from Bobby Brown for five years when she died on the eve of the 2012 Grammys at age 48. This wasn’t the broken heart resulting from a soured romance, but one stemming from living most of her life with split identities. The Whitney Houston whom America fell in love with was not the real Whitney Houston, Broomfield and Dolezal argue.

“If anyone had listened to or acted on my report, she would now be alive.” — David Roberts, Houston’s bodyguard

For Houston to rise to pop stardom in the 1980s the way no other black woman before her had done, there were rules:

Don’t be ’hood.

Don’t be too black.

And certainly don’t be queer.

And Houston, who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, before her family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, after the 1967 riots, was all of those things. So it was up to Arista Records superproducer Clive Davis to erase them. Davis had wanted to turn Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick into crossover stars, but they were too established in their careers for such a pivot to work. Then, “along comes Whitney, who was so moldable, and she was the perfect vehicle for his foolproof vision,” former Arista executive Kenneth Reynolds says in the film.

And so Houston’s sound was pop instead of R&B or funk.

“Whitney’s voice broke barriers,” Pattie Howard, a backup singer who sang bass for Houston, explains in the film. “We didn’t have Beyoncés. And any African-American female artist that can now be at the top of a pop chart — that absolutely was not going to happen before Whitney Houston. It had not happened before Whitney Houston. She changed history for us. And she paid a price for it.”

Whitney confirms much that had previously been rumored: that Houston began doing drugs as a teenager and that her brothers would procure them for her — and that she was, in fact, bisexual. When rumors about her longtime relationship with her friend, lover and employee Robyn Crawford began to surface, she breezily blew off Katie Couric in a televised interview. Couric had prodded, in the most polite way possible, about the fact that Crawford presented herself as a butch lesbian. Houston, smiling all the while, responded by saying Crawford was simply a very “tall,” very “broad” woman who played basketball better than a lot of men.

“Whitney’s voice broke barriers. We didn’t have Beyoncés.” — Pattie Howard, one of Houston’s backup singers

For years, Brown was blamed for turning Houston into an addict, but that wasn’t the case. These revelations may not come as a surprise to consummate Whitney Watchers. But for casual fans, the documentary provides credible sourcing on what Houston’s family tried so desperately to conceal. Houston’s estate sued Dolezal to try to stop the release of the film and lost.

Whitney doesn’t exonerate Brown from responsibility. He didn’t introduce her to drugs, but he also wasn’t a fan of her plan to get clean. He was jealous and abusive, and he and Crawford were constantly in competition for Houston’s affections, to the point where they came to blows.

Whitney follows the typical conventions of a music documentary, like those Andy Samberg so expertly parodied in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. The never-before-seen concert footage was shot by Dolezal after Houston commissioned him to do a tour documentary. It’s interspersed with talking heads from various parts of Houston’s life.

The difference, of course, is that this documentary is deathly serious. It’s about how Houston went from being one of the most celebrated voices of a generation to a woman whose backing band had to lower her own songs two registers because her voice had deteriorated so much.

Those who were shaken by the revelations Amy produced about the life, demise and death of Amy Winehouse will feel similar sensations watching Whitney. They both tell stories of clever, charming, talented women surrounded by enablers, not all of whom were invested simply in their well-being. In both cases, those enablers included their parents.

In a way, this film is an argument for minority artists to have more control over their careers. The record company apparatus is still necessary for many artists, but it needs to adapt to fit the needs of talent instead of making the talent adapt to its moneymaking ambitions. In the long run, that’s better for both parties.

Whitney lets us know: The demand for sanitized, postracial soothsaying from black stars as the price for success is more than detrimental. It will slowly, softly kill you.

Kennedy Center is bringing hip-hop center stage and Simone Eccleston is making it happen A full season at the nation’s premier performing arts venue signals the art form is adulting

Four decades after its birth in the Bronx, New York, hip-hop has moved into the era of adulting. Among the many markers of maturity, one of the most significant happens today when the nation’s premier home for the performing arts announces its first full season of hip-hop programming.

The performance season at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., was curated by A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Q-Tip along with the center’s first director of hip-hop programming, Simone Eccleston.

And while this moment says something important about the evolution of a still-young art form, it also marks a necessary evolution in the tradition-bound world of high art. After years of lower-profile partnerships with hip-hop festivals and free performances in its lobby, the Kennedy Center is moving hip-hop out of the programming D-League to join theater, opera, jazz, dance and classical music as featured art forms.

The season will open Oct. 6 with a performance featuring Q-Tip and Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz, and closes in spring 2018 with a multimedia performance of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book-length letter to his son, Between the World and Me.

Besides the big-name acts to open and close the season, the schedule is light on live performances, relying heavily on curated dance parties. The center is also re-upping its longstanding partnerships with hip-hop advocacy organizations Hi-ARTS and the D.C.-based Words Beats & Life. The programming, which isn’t limited to music, includes a staging of Chinaka Hodge’s Chasing Mehserle, a performance piece about Oakland, California, and gentrification.

The Kennedy Center will host a 35th anniversary screening of Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style, a documentary about the early days of hip-hop, followed by a panel discussion including Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Caz and Busy Bee.

The commitment of full-time staff and space to hip-hop sets the Kennedy Center apart from other marquee arts institutions such as Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center while expanding the definition of American culture. Like jazz and the blues — and even the iPod one might play them on — hip-hop is a uniquely American invention, a beacon of coolness that shines brightly around the globe.

“As the nation’s cultural center, that’s a heavy-duty title that we hold,” said Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter. “It’s important that we have all of the nation represented here. And candidly, we still have a long ways to go. … Hip-hop is a 40-plus-year-old art form. It ain’t going away. It isn’t a fad. This is an art form that continues to develop and grow and have impact, and it is broadly seen throughout several generations as the voice of their generation, and how could we not have it fully here at the center? The sophistication of the work that’s being done has to be brought here.”

The hiring of Eccleston, 37, and the announcement of the new season are only the latest in a series of events that suggest hip-hop is thriving even as it starts to get gray around the temples. That maturation isn’t just an accounting of raw years of existence, but also the emotional growth in the genre’s most high-profile acts. Certainly, earlier hip-hop featured adult, introspective voices such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Little Brother, Consequence and Talib Kweli. But witness the confessional nature of Jay-Z’s 4:44 or Dr. Dre confronting his past sins as a woman beater in the HBO documentary The Defiant Ones.

Simone Eccelston

André Chung for The Undefeated

Hip-hop is now old enough to inspire nostalgia and reflection. In the past few years, there have been the retrospective gazes of The Get Down and The Breaks, and Jigga’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame — heralded by consummate Jay-Z fan President Barack Obama. And don’t forget about Snoop Dogg pooh-poohing misogyny, releasing an album one critic called “the audio version of linen pants and fish fries,” and co-hosting an Emmy-nominated reality show with an ex-con 30 years his senior, Martha Stewart. Even Atlanta trap god Gucci Mane seems like a new man after exiting federal prison last year. Rather than touting his time as a signifier of masculinity, Gucci was candid about just how unpleasant the experience was.

It was only roughly 20 years ago that Eccleston was hopping on the D train from the Kingsbridge stop of her childhood home in the Bronx to go to her first rap concert at Madison Square Garden. Now, her task of making hip-hop a fixture at the Kennedy Center seems obvious, if not overdue.

Wait. Wasn’t this already a thing?

When the Kennedy Center announced in 2016 that it had netted Q-Tip as its artistic director of hip-hop culture, the move was part of a trajectory that had been in the works for years. Moran had been lobbying Rutter for more hip-hop programming. So had former White House social secretary Deesha Dyer, who had covered the scene in Philadelphia as a freelance journalist.

“[Dyer] and Jason really pushed me over the edge to say, ‘OK, we should do this more than just one-offs and really make it something,’ ” said Rutter, whose background is in classical music. “We have programs for young artists rising, and then we were doing these big names … but how do we really have that bigger impact? We were going to need somebody to curate it all. And that’s where having an artist and then an administrator [came in], because you can’t really have an artist who’s not supported by an administrator.”

Q-Tip offers name recognition and communicates something about the center’s intentions tastewise. Eccleston, on the other hand, is an experienced arts administrator well versed in the nitty-gritty duties needed to realize an artist’s vision. Before traveling south to Washington, she spent more than 11 years at Harlem Stage, finishing as its program director.

Previously known as Aaron Davis Hall, Harlem Stage is known for promoting artists of color. Eccleston was a natural fit for its hip-hop ambitions: a product of the borough whose Latino and black musical influences melded to birth the genre in the first place, she completed graduate studies in arts administration at Drexel University and studied curatorial practice in performance at Wesleyan University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Eccleston’s first job was at Artistas y Músicos Latino Americanos, a nonprofit in North Philadelphia.

Rutter and Harlem Stage executive director Patricia Cruz say Eccleston possesses a valuable skill set: She’s got a good ear for finding new talent, she’s passionate about nurturing relationships with artists, and she’s got a knack for developing community outreach and education programs.

While at Harlem Stage, Eccleston took responsibility for an initiative to connect New York City students with playwrights, choreographers, musicians and dancers from around the world. Also, Cruz said, “She developed programs that were scholarly, that really communicated to an audience what this artist’s intent was, what their philosophical approach to what they were doing was, so that audiences could understand this was not just performative.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

“We’re not just putting people on the stage and saying, ‘Here. Enjoy them.’ It’s not entertainment, in that regard. It’s about the ideas the artist is representing. … For us, if art is to have a meaning for people in their lives, I think it is critical to have a context and talk about the history.”

Q-Tip may be the initial draw, but if you want to see your favorite act on stage at the Kennedy Center (cough OutKast cough), Eccleston’s the person you want to lobby.

Let’s talk about sex music!

Perhaps surprisingly given her age, Eccleston is not an evangelist for ’90s hip-hop. Sure, she grew up loving De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kwamé, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill. She watched WNYC-TV’s Video Music Box and remembers dancing in the street when someone would start playing their radio in Kingsbridge.

But she’s not stuck in the decade.

“We’re always like, ‘It’s the golden age, it’s the golden age,’ ” Eccleston said. “I think that that doesn’t allow for the music and the artists to evolve. I think it’s about creating space for the next generation of artists. Who knew Kendrick [Lamar] was coming? When you think about the fact that [’90s artists] created space for alternate views of black masculinity, just the joy in music, just the intellect. It’s like being brilliant and comfortable with that. Not having to necessarily play to specific ideals of what masculinity looked like, what it meant to be black at a specific point in time.

“I think that they created space for us to be complex, diverse and really tell our stories. They were able to create these pathways within that generation of artists. I think that it’s interesting to see people that kind of take on the mantle and continue to move it forward.”

When it comes to revealing her musical tastes, Eccleston is a skilled politician. Asked to choose between Biggie or Tupac, the native New Yorker initially named Biggie. But there was an addendum: “You know what? Tupac was also very brilliant,” she said. “Just from an activist standpoint, in terms of being a woke MC.”

Eccleston has the potential to be an inspired choice as an administrator for a genre that has a complicated relationship with black women. While she straddled the East Coast/West Coast divide, for instance, she was fully comfortable sharing her thoughts about Kendrick Lamar’s lyrical endorsement of stretch marks on “Humble.”

“I was like, ‘Go ahead, Kendrick!’ ” Eccleston said, grinning.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

“I think that there are certain images, certain artists, that are celebrated who may have had some augmentation. That is seen as beauty, or as beautiful. Then young women that may look up to the artist, or the ideals that are being portrayed in music videos, they then think that they have to alter who they are in order to be considered beautiful or attractive. We need to interrogate that, which is why it was great that Kendrick celebrated stretch marks.”

While hip-hop isn’t the only genre that features misogynistic themes and lyrics, it is the one that often gets publicly dinged for it. Eccleston, like many of her feminist friends who are also hip-hop fans, has experienced times where she felt that a particular artist or song just wasn’t for her.

“I think it’s important for us to maintain healthy critique,” Eccleston said. “I think that it’s also important for us, as we’re looking at the songs that we may want to challenge, or the artists that we may want to encourage to dig a little deeper, to look at all of the other work that’s being done that either celebrates us or provides a multidimensional portrayal of who we are.

“It’s delicate because you have to provide space for an artist to be an artist, you can’t censor them. … It’s just real complex because we all have our hopes for something that we’ve seen ourselves reflected in, something that provides us with a sense of space. I think we’ve all got to continue to complicate it and disrupt it.”

Eccleston now has the power to further that disruption. With the Kennedy Center’s resources, she can expose audiences to lesser-known female emcees such as Brooklyn, New York, rapper Jean Grae and Snow Hill, North Carolina, artist Rapsody. She wants to bring more female graffiti artists and beat girls into the fold.

“There’s a whole generation of hip-hop … culture producers that are impacting literature and theater and scholarship, and it’s getting pressed into that. I think that one of our roles as an institution is to create space for the celebration of all of those things so people understand the depth, the breadth, the complexity of the culture,” Eccleston said. “I think it’s important for people to know hip-hop culture isn’t just one thing.”

What now?

One of the most significant challenges Eccleston faces will be making the Kennedy Center feel accessible to everyone.

While it’s a national institution, it’s situated in a city that for decades was majority black and is still majority minority. Eccleston is adamant about wanting the community to feel a sense of ownership and investment in the center, rather than seeing it as a stodgy, predominantly white institution finally granting validation to a still relatively young art form.

While existing partnerships, such as those with Hi-ARTS and Words Beats & Life, the D.C. nonprofit dedicated to advancing hip-hop culture, provide a foundation, the Kennedy Center faces hurdles that predate Eccleston in attracting eventgoers who are economically as well as racially diverse. The most obvious hurdle may be geography. The Kennedy Center is situated in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom/West End, a neighborhood that’s home to George Washington University, where tuition and fees run nearly $70,000 per year. Its immediate neighbor is the Watergate complex.

Of course, black people frequent the Kennedy Center. They show up for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s yearly appearance. They line up to see Brandy play Roxie Hart in Chicago, to hear George Benson, to witness the brilliant athleticism of Misty Copeland. And it has no problem selling out concerts like the ones Nas and Lamar did with the National Symphony Orchestra.

But the center is still figuring out how to extend the same sort of welcome to audiences with fewer resources, and that’s where the inclusion of free dance parties, open to the public, appear to come into play.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

These concerns aren’t exclusive to the Kennedy Center. They bubble up every time hip-hop veers into spaces such as Broadway that are traditionally coded as white. Class and accessibility were a big part of conversations surrounding Hamilton, so much so that its practice of making tickets available to those who couldn’t necessarily afford its astronomical market rate prices has become central to the show as it’s expanded into multiple cities. That includes the upcoming production of Hamilton coming to the Kennedy Center. (Hamilton, while heavily influenced by hip-hop, is still under the Kennedy Center’s theater programming slate.)

“Part of the goal in terms of instituting hip-hop as an integral part of our institution’s work is about creating space for the community to engage in the work that we’re doing,” Eccleston said. “To see themselves and their culture reflected. Right? That’s how I got into the arts, understanding the significance of it. As many opportunities as we can create for people to know that this space is theirs and open to them. A place that they can call home. I think that that is important.”

While there’s a moral argument for expanding hip-hop into a dedicated programming season at the Kennedy Center, there’s a financial one as well, especially when you consider the graying fan base for opera and classical music. The Kennedy Center relies on funding from corporate sponsors, philanthropists and paid memberships that unlock access to ticket presales and opportunities to hobnob with talent. If additional hip-hop programming results in more memberships from rap fans with money to drop, that’s all the better for hip-hop and the Kennedy Center. So far, it appears Q-Tip and Eccleston will have to figure out how to find a balance between buzz and revenue. While names such as Fab 5 Freddy and Kurtis Blow may draw older, more financially established attendees, a healthy dose of current voices is necessary too. Yes, hip-hop is famous for its backward-facing references and samples, but it’s always charging forward to new musical territory, thriving on the spirit of reinvention.

Still, if this experiment goes well, who knows? We might one day see the same programming in the ritzy fine arts institutions of New York — you know, the birthplace of hip-hop.

Entertainment mogul Damon Dash’s new Dash Diabetes Network is all about healthy living From music mogul to streaming service, Dash keeps reinventing himself — this time, he’s doing it to save lives

Entertainment and media veteran Damon Dash is now in the business of advocating for others to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle and a better quality of life.

The star was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 15 years old. Shortly afterward, he lost his mother to asthma. That’s his motivation for his new venture: the Dash Diabetes Network.

Diabetes appears in two forms, each of which affects the body’s ability to maintain insulin levels. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to create insulin at all, while Type 2 happens when the body struggles to control glucose levels.

According to the American Diabetes Association (the focus of a sharp Netflix documentary What the Health, named for the group’s failure to provide proper dietary information by diabetes risk factors rather than the general population). African-Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. With 13.2 percent of all African-Americans age 20 or older diagnosed with diabetes, black people are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. The website also notes that African-Americans are significantly more likely to suffer complications common to diabetes, such as blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

That being said, millions of diabetic Americans live healthy and uninhibited lives maintaining their diabetes, and the 40-year-old credits What the Health for prompting him to make some serious dietary changes.

If the multilayered Dash had a traditional resume, it would list a wide variety of accomplishments. Music and entertainment executive — check. Talent discovery agent — check. Record company co-founder — check. Fashion and lifestyle expert — check. Art gallery owner and director — check. Reality TV star — check. Movie director and producer — check. Beverage brand manager — check.

“I might not be a doctor, but I’m in a doctor’s state of mind,” Dash says in the intro of episode one, which aired Aug. 7 on his streaming service at www.damedashstudios.com and on the Dash Diabetes app.

With the Dash Diabetes Network, he uses his influences, his career and his struggle with diabetes as an opportunity to fuse health care and entertainment. The ten 20-minute episodes feature other filmmakers, holistic doctors, musicians and artists to showcase new advances in medicine, recipes, and fitness and wellness tips. Shorter segments are available on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.

The more Dash evolves, the more he makes history. He was co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995 with Jay-Z and Kare “Biggs” Burke during an era when East Coast rap — some say — may have saved hip-hop. During his time with the then-flourishing label, new artists emerged and hits were made. He discovered Kanye West and had his hand in cultivating the careers of Cam’ron, Beanie Sigel, DJ Clue, Memphis Bleek and others.

Dash later went into the fashion industry developing the ’90s urban clothing line Rocawear. He was part of the team that outright purchased Armadale Vodka. He later formed the Dame Dash Collection, an upscale clothing line. He also created the clothing line State Property for Beanie Sigel. He produced the critically acclaimed independent film The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon and David Alan Grier, and worked with Lee Daniels on Shadowboxer, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren. In 2009, Dash added theater producer to his resume. He produced the Hip-Hop Monologues for rapper and VH1’s Love & Hip Hop’s standout Jim Jones. Dash also opened an art gallery and a digital media company (Creative Control) and has had three stints in reality television (Ultimate Hustler, Family Therapy with Dr. Jenn and Growing Up Hip Hop).

Dash says he doesn’t consider any day for him to be normal.

“On average, I’ve worked really hard in architecting my life where I can take care of my children, and make my dreams come true at the same time, without compromise,” he explained. “When I wake up, I go test my blood just so I can recalibrate my Dexcom, which is my glucose monitor, and then I usually take the insulin that I need. Then I go work out. I gotta do a lot of 30- to 45-minute workouts.”

Every morning, Dash takes one shot of a drug that provides a long-lasting dose of insulin called Toujeo, which helps with blood sugar control. He also takes Afrezza, a fast-acting insulin that helps control postmeal blood sugar spikes.

“That’s the one I inhale. And they also sponsor the Dash Diabetes Network.”

Then he hits his pool and hot tub.

“I’m not putting on a shirt before 5 [p.m.]; probably it’s gonna be swim trunks, or until I’ve gotta pick my kids up. And it usually entails me looking at content, talking to the staff.”

The world has recently lost entertainers, including rapper Phife Dog and nationally syndicated radio host Doug Banks, to diabetes. According to ranker.com, the history of stars with diabetes dates back to affluent entertainers such as jazz artist Ella Fitzgerald, Gimme A Break! star Nell Carter, Good Times mom and actress Esther Rolle, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and singers Curtis Mayfield, Mahalia Jackson and B.B. King.

Meanwhile, Dash and other stars are doing the work to maintain healthy lifestyles. Actors Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams and Anthony Anderson, Randy Jackson (American Idol), Sherri Shepherd, Patti LaBelle, actress and singer Della Reese and comedian Jay Anthony Brown have all opened up to the public about their diabetes diagnoses.

Dash spoke with The Undefeated about his journey, his health and how he desires to continue to inspire others.


How have you stayed so relevant in the entertainment business, and how do you continue to keep reinventing Damon Dash?

I think probably because I’m not so concerned about it. You know what I mean? And I just continue to make history, ’cause I’m only doing what makes me feel good. I just try to continuously do cool things. And I like to do innovative things. And I like to do things that are honest and authentic. And I think I tell the truth a lot.

So, if you talk to different people about who they know, and what they know about Dame Dash, you might get one age demographic that will talk about Roc-A-Fella, one age demographic that will talk about Rachel Roy [Dash’s ex-wife and mother of his two daughters, Ava and Tallulah] and the fashion, one demographic that might talk about the movie with Kevin Harder, Lee Daniels, one demographic that’s gonna talk about the information I distribute every time I’m in a public platform, like The Breakfast Club, and how I’ve been very upfront about who to look out for and what to look out for within our culture. And now, people will probably talk about my directing, and also the Dash Diabetes Network.

It’s just, as I evolve, the projects that I do evolve with me. And my mentality changes a lot. I tend not to try to stay … I get bored after I’ve accomplished something, or I get to a certain place … I want to do something different.

How do you balance it all?

I think laughter, and love. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that counts. Laughter, and love, and health. And I think that’s where the balance comes in, because everything I do, I enjoy. It’s like life. It’s not even like work. It’s just all me having fun. I don’t recall ever really getting up and feeling like I’ve ever had to go to work. I always look forward to my day.

How has life been since you first opened up to the public about living with diabetes?

I never really looked at it as an open up. Everyone knows I wear everything on my sleeve, like a tattoo. But I’ve always tried to be public about it. But I was never really famous enough for anyone to care. You know, my platform, me directly, it never held that much weight for me to be talking about what was wrong with me. But I think now, in this chapter of my career, of my life, I do hold enough weight where people will listen. And because of the fact that I’ve learned how to control it, where that was a struggle for me before, a bit. I thought that it was time to talk about it for long. But it was always on my bucket list. I would always include it, but people wouldn’t talk about it for some reason, almost like they don’t talk about the fact that I’m a single dad since my son was 8. And he’s 25 now.

By this being such a medically influenced project and you’re encouraging a healthy lifestyle, what do you want viewers to get out of it?

I want them to get healthy. I want people to understand that, No. 1, as relates to diabetes, don’t be ashamed of it. You should embrace that, and that being imperfect is perfection. Because no one’s perfect, and everyone’s dealt some kind of card, and everyone has to play them. And that if a guy like me can make his story diabetic, so can anybody else. And just to be fearless. That’s all, really. And to deal with whatever issue you have. Don’t push them to the side. You gotta deal with them.

And diabetes is a silent killer. It’s something that doesn’t kill you overnight. It takes a minute. So you always have to be constantly thinking about your future when it comes to taking care of diabetes. And I think people should always think about their future, as opposed to just worrying about their present and their past.

Has it been hard for you to incorporate a new diet? And what’s been some of the obstacles?

Well, I never really made a new diet. I’m indulgent. I was just happy to be living, so I was like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna eat whatever I want to eat. I’ll just take more insulin.’ But again, the innovation came, where I started to control it, was because the Afrezza is inhalable, and it works quicker. But, being that I’m educating about diabetes, I was looking for education about health, and I came to my diet recently, just ’cause I learned how bad mass-made and corporate food is, with the GMO [genetically modified organisms], and the tolerance for things that I find unsanitary in the food.

When you say recently, what was that time frame?

About three weeks ago, I watched What the Health and doing more research because Rocky [longtime girlfriend Raquel Horn] thinks diabetes is a lifestyle, so she was showcasing how she was cooking things that weren’t so carb-heavy. My agent actually told me about [the film] ’cause he saw it, and he knew that it was showcasing and it contributed to diabetes. And I watched it, and Rocky watched it, and everyone else that I know that’s watched it since then has become a vegetarian.

What were your indications when you were first diagnosed?

Well, I’ve been diabetic since I was 15, and I was urinating a lot and I was losing weight and I had no appetite, so I was thinking something way worse was wrong with me.

Were you quick to go to the doctor, or did you take a while?

No, no, no. I wasn’t trying to go at all, because I thought they were gonna give me a death sentence. So I was like, ‘Man, I’m gonna just sit this out and see what happens.’ But I got so sick, I was feeling so bad after a month, that my mom made me go. And I was actually pretty happy to find out that I had diabetes. I thought I had something much worse.

Was it difficult in filming the episodes for Dash Diabetes Network, and are you portraying what you want in the episodes?

It was exactly what I wanted. I was in control. I think the last couple of years, I’ve learned how to make content in the way that’s just as good as any other professional. And again, the subject matter is exactly what I wanted to talk about. Because it’s independent, we probably had to do a little more, a lot more in a lot less time, than most. But that’s the way I like to do things. I’m always taking pride in the fact that I am independent. But it really wasn’t difficult at all. The hardest part has been the editing.

When you say the editing, how so?

It’s the kind of thing where if the editor’s not on set, sometimes they don’t know exactly what your vision is, and your point of view. And it’s subject matter that’s important, but some people don’t have the talent or the attention span to sit through it, so you want to make sure that you’re adding things that keep your mind stimulated so people don’t get bored. Or if someone’s not a diabetic, and just cares about one and wants the information, that they stay engaged.

So editing on any level is always the toughest part. And I’ve learned that in being a filmmaker. I just directed and funded two or three movies, one coming out in November called Honor Up. And again, it took me three years to edit it. I had to learn it. Shooting is easy, but postediting is the hardest part.

What’s the best piece you’ve ever given?

My girl, Raquel, usually says things to me that make me think. I think one of her biggest and strongest things is she made me aware of, regardless to what, never become unconsciously inconsiderate, where you’re not caring about other people but you just don’t know it because you’re so full of what you’re doing. So I think I’ve been able to be conscious, based on that.

And then my OG Daniel [Daniel Dnieko, an actor from Kanye West and Damon Dash films] told me if someone never snitches, don’t mess with them at all. And don’t mess with people that mess with snitches. And I’ve always practiced that as well, because if you agree to a contract and you don’t abide by it, whether it’s business or in the street, then I don’t consider that honorable on any level. So always respect what you agree to, whether it’s considered right or wrong to other people. Whatever someone else and you all have signed to, you have to abide to that, to the letter.

Who do you surround yourself with and who helps inspire you day to day?

Raquel basically spearheads mostly because I don’t like to talk to so many people, because people don’t understand me. And sometimes my message, because it’s so direct, becomes offensive. And my methods to get to the chip — I get to the chip, but I usually ruin the relationship to get there. And in dealing with men, because of so much testosterone and ego s—, they can’t take constructive criticism or guidance.

So I tend to surround myself with women, because, No. 1, I don’t want my girl around a bunch of men, and I work with my girl. I don’t want my kids around a bunch of men, my daughters. And women somewhat tend to know how to take care of other people before themselves … I guess it’s a mothering instinct … where men always want a mommy qand feel entitled to get taken care of. And I have no time for a man with a vagina. So I’d only deal with a real woman if I’m gonna deal with that.

I would say the team that I have now, Rocky cultivated it, put it together. It’s about four or five really smart, forward-thinking and very millennial-thinking.

What are you watching?

Right now I’m watching Game of Thrones. I kind of like Insecure, too. I’m really big on Insecure.

I’m also watching Growing Up Hip Hop, ’cause I’m on it.