Explaining Beyoncé’s public performance of pregnancy and motherhood Reclaiming a positive image for black women amid a history of degradation and slander

They’re here!

Finally, really and truly here — according to news reports.

By “they,” of course, we mean Beyoncé and Jay Z’s twins.

For months, we’ve been lapping up whatever dribbles of details we could find about Queen Bey and her pregnancy, dining on a steady diet of Instagram posts and public appearances as her belly kept growing with two more heirs to the Knowles-Carter empire. And true to form, Beyoncé took the opportunity to give us a spectacle laden with meaning.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Beyoncé’s decisions about how her pregnant body would be publicly displayed was her understanding that no one can define themselves by a series of negatives. Black womanhood and black motherhood are always performed in minute-by-minute assertions, and that doesn’t become any less true if you are married, or wealthy, or well-educated. Just ask Michelle Obama.

It’s not enough to say “We’re not welfare queens or breeding wenches or “subfeminine,’ ” to use Eldridge Cleaver’s word. Telling society what you are not is not the same as defining what you are, as evidenced by the efforts of black clubwomen in the early 20th century. Thanks to, as Mary Church Terrell wrote, “false accusations and malicious slanders circulated against them constantly, both by the press and by the direct descendants of those who in years past were responsible for the moral degradation of their female slaves,” black women learned to present themselves as largely asexual to counter prevailing images of themselves as wanton Jezebels. It’s a legacy that’s continued to affect how we see black women, into the 21st century, as we’ve learned that sexual respectability politicking is just as confining as stereotypes that defined black women as irredeemably lustful.

Rather than be pigeonholed, Beyoncé used her second pregnancy to position herself, and by extension black womanhood at large, as the center of life.


Of course it was all connected.

It turned out that the Feb. 1 Instagram announcement of twins and the library of maternity photos released on her website were a harbinger of what was to come at the Grammys less than two weeks later. A club flyer, if you will.

With her last two albums, it’s clear Beyoncé has become wedded to the idea of letting her work communicate in the aggregate. The whole speaks louder, more concretely, and more decisively than any one individual element. That doesn’t apply just to her music, or the music videos (Beyoncé) or cinematic offerings (Lemonade) paired with it. Beyoncé boasts an unparalleled skill in stretching her artistic statements into multipronged events, taking full advantage of the internet, her performances and even step-and-repeat photo ops to present a consistent narrative.

“I think she was giving us a different vision of what black children’s futures could be.”

Her Grammys performance was a continuation of what Beyoncé was already aiming to communicate with her pregnancy announcement, through a series of photographs that had been art-directed and contemplated quite deeply. Looking back, it now seems like the most visible chapter in a highly curated story: how Beyoncé was not only embracing pregnancy and motherhood, but providing new fodder for what it means.

While some rightfully detected traces of Peter Paul Rubens’ many works depicting the Madonna and child in Beyoncé’s explosion of florals, the kitschy, Sears portrait gallery nature of the photographs referenced something else: the provocative, radical appropriating element of a Kehinde Wiley portrait.

Wiley is known for painting black people in a style that references the old masters, elevating ordinary modern black people to the status of nobility by immortalizing them in the same mythmaking environs as lionized white historical figures. With her maternity photos, and at the Grammys, Beyoncé elected to do the same.

At first glance, Beyoncé’s decision to channel Wiley seemed incongruous. She’s not ordinary at all. This is a woman who is known not just as a mononym but as Queen Bey, and for a time King Bey.

Why install yourself like the subjects Wiley recruits off the street when you’re a woman with the power to turn a man into a “black Bill Gates”? Quite simply, Beyoncé was tapping into a pop cultural black populism. She took the subtext of Lemonade and made it plain with the speech she gave upon accepting the Grammy for best urban contemporary album. In it, she aligned herself with and understood herself to be a stand-in for all black women, especially American black women.

“We all experience pain and loss, and often we become inaudible,” she said. “My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable. … This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”

Instagram Photo

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This might have been surprising if you only paid glancing attention to Lemonade, and took it as Beyoncé giving a public middle finger to her husband for cheating on her with Becky with the good hair. But the gossip was a lure for a deeper message.

Remember, the Lemonade film included the Mothers of the Movement: Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr and Lezley McSpadden, better known as the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, respectively. And so, on the night when Beyoncé was recognized for her work, her decision to depict herself as the madonna, as a multitudinous, many-armed deity, and as the orisha Oshun, was a decision to offer herself as a vessel for black women’s self-love. It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—- is a Star.”

Three years ago, Beyoncé opened the Grammys with a steamy performance of “Drunk in Love.” Seated on a French cafe chair, she writhed and vamped in fishnets and a black sheer leotard, exulting in the bliss of hot marital sexytimes, eventually joined by her husband. A British newspaper, Metro UK, responded with a headline spitting fire and judgment: “ ‘Whore’ Beyoncé angers parents with raunchy act.”

For Beyoncé to then align herself, and by proxy, black women as a whole, with the iconography of the madonna was significant. When you consider that she did so after releasing a self-titled visual album that was a frank celebration of sex, it’s explosive. Even on Beyoncé, released in 2013, the singer was toying with imagery of the Pietà, casting herself as Mary and a black man as the fallen Christ in the video for “Mine.”

Beyonce portraying “Mary” in the “Mine” video


As with just about everything she does publicly, Beyoncé takes basic ideas and remixes them to great effect to suit her own needs. So of course she did it with a public pregnancy, too. Beyoncé’s pregnancy was political because black women’s bodies are laden with politics, whether we want them to be or not. Such is the burden of history.

Government has long sought to define and characterize black motherhood for its own ends. There are the “greatest hits” we all know and detest, such as legally defining black women as unrapeable in service of a “capitalized womb,” or determining that babies born to enslaved women inherited the status of free or enslaved from their mothers. There’s the Moynihan report’s prescription that black women’s achievement needed to be impeded in service to black men, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s use of the mythical welfare queen as a scapegoat, and even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s attempt to characterize the Affordable Care Act, with its provisions for free birth control and well woman exams, as a governmental “Uncle Sugar” enabling the actions of wanton, morally bankrupt women.

But attacks on black motherhood have also manifested in the form of attacks on their children, something that was visceral in Beyoncé’s inclusion of the Mothers of the Movement in Lemonade. Beyoncé communicated that there was no space between herself and these women. She is the mother of a black child, subject to the same dangers resulting from white fear and white supremacy. There’s no daylight between Beyoncé and, more recently, Diamond Reynolds, the woman whose partner, Philando Castile, was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop, in front of her young daughter, who was seated in the back of the car.

It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—– is a Star.

But while Lemonade, with its opening salvo of “Formation,” references modern attacks on black children and black motherhood, the fear black mothers harbor runs deeper than the past few years. It spans generations. Perhaps no such attack drives that point home like the gruesome 1918 lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn child in Brooks County, Georgia.

After a black man shot and killed a white plantation owner, a lynch mob murdered Turner’s husband as part of a rampage of terrorism and revenge. Turner, 21 years old and eight months pregnant, had the temerity to protest. Upon learning that Turner intended to seek legal recourse for her husband’s murder, the mob came for her.

According to The Mary Turner Project, a Georgia educational collective dedicated to preserving her memory, “ … at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob. Her body was then riddled with gunfire from the mob. Later that night she and her baby were buried ten feet away from where they were murdered. The makeshift grave was marked with only a ‘whiskey bottle’ with a ‘cigar’ stuffed in its neck.”

Simply terrorizing Turner was not enough. It wasn’t just that her husband was considered a threat — so was she, and the black child she surely would have imbued with a sense of justice and liberty had they lived.

Lemonade is partly about defiance and resilience. And arguably, there’s no greater show of defiance than making the decision to bring a black child into this world and shower it with love and pride and joy, knowing the hostility that awaits her or him.

The legacy of our society’s anxiety toward black female bodies are evident in the work of Beyoncé’s artistic predecessors. After Beyoncé’s Grammy performance, Vanessa Williams tweeted, “They never showed my pregnant belly when I sang my nominated “Save the Best for Last” — Oh how times have changed! Kudos Beyoncé!” The vision of a conservatively clothed, pregnant Williams was apparently too controversial for the Grammys in 1993, two years after Demi Moore appeared nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair.

In her 2003 memoir Chaka! Through the Fire, Khan revealed the angst of male record company executives who worried that her sex appeal would vanish because of a C-section scar cutting its way across her belly.

So what is there to do? How do you find a way to be celebratory instead of huddling in fear? Khan responded by continuing to perform in her trademark itty-bitty stagewear, exposed scar and all. If you’re Beyoncé, you bring the house down at the Grammys. If you’re Erykah Badu, you start ushering in black life.

While there are few public images of Badu pregnant with her children, Seven, Mars or Puma, she appeared in the September 2011 issue of People in a photograph that accompanied a story detailing her work as a doula — a service she provides for free to pregnant mothers, subsidized by her financial success as singer.

Badu appeared with her hair parted in the center. It flows in waves down her shoulders and over her breasts. She’s dressed in a loose-fitting white caftan, accessorized with a long, gold beaded necklace and rings of various sizes on both hands. In her arms, she’s cradling a nude black baby, Marley Jae Taylor, then 2 weeks old, whom she delivered. She’s standing in the middle of a Dallas field, surrounded by tall grass that appears to have parted for her. She called herself the “welcoming committee.”


The Grammys may have been the high point for audience numbers — it was more accessible on network television than Lemonade was on HBO — but Beyoncé’s pregnancy messaging apparatus continued to churn with her public appearances with daughter Blue Ivy and Jay Z at NBA games, when she and Blue Ivy showed up to the premiere of Beauty and the Beast or celebrated Mother’s Day dressed in the high-fashion equivalent of Mommy-and-Me togs.

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All those images of black fertility and black motherhood rippled across the internet to reinforce the ideas first introduced with Lemonade — and then were reintroduced at the Grammys when Beyoncé deliberately lingered on a line from poet Warsan Shire about the “hips” that “crack” from giving birth.

Even the pink tuxedo Blue Ivy wore communicated a vision of black girl power. When her mother wants to convey messages about female power, she tends to revisit variations on menswear. She did it in the stagewear for her performance of “Love on Top” announcing her first pregnancy. It’s an element in the music videos for “Suga Mama,” “Upgrade You,” and “Haunted,” all of which feature Beyoncé playing with the idea of gender roles.

Blue Ivy Carter and Jay Z during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

At the Grammys, Beyoncé, who endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president with a performance in which she and all of her backup dancers wore pantsuits, seemed to echo the most memorable notes of Clinton’s postelection concession speech: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” Clinton told the little girls of America on Nov. 9.

As she delivered an acceptance and concession speech of her own (if you choose to believe, as I do, that Beyoncé knew before the Grammys that she wouldn’t win Album of the Year), the singer had a similar message.

“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror — first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable,” she said, again becoming a megaphone for the desires of all black mothers.

‘Queen Sugar’: What Oprah and Ava DuVernay say to expect from season two OWN is dialing up the intrigue in its show about rural Louisiana

Queen Sugar, OWN’s marquee family drama created by Ava DuVernay, returns Tuesday night with its second-season premiere, with the second episode airing Wednesday.

The network only released the first episode in advance, so this isn’t a review. However, I did speak with executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay at recent press events in Los Angeles about the upcoming season.

Season one closed with Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) deciding to leave her rapey pro basketball player husband and start the Queen Sugar mill, the first black-owned mill in her family’s Louisiana home parish of St. Josephine’s. She rounded up commitments from many of the community’s black farmers to use the Bordelon mill to grind their cane, assuming it’s up and running in time. And Charley’s raising the hackles of competing white male farmers, especially Samuel Landry (David Jensen), who owns the biggest farm in the parish.

Here’s what’s in store:

Dialing up the drama

Winfrey’s been quite vocal in her support of Queen Sugar and announced a second-season pickup last year before a single episode had even aired. She’s been similarly effusive in advance of the second season. Winfrey joked about keeping the Bordelons in a state of some dysfunction because it makes for more entertaining storytelling that can be spooled out for multiple seasons.

“I pray Ralph Angel and his sisters get it together,” Kofi Siriboe said of his character, Ralph Angel, during a roundtable with Winfrey and Gardner.

Winfrey pursed her lips a bit and said, “Not soon.”

Ralph Angel (Kofie Siriboe), Blue (Ethan Hutchison) and Darla (Bianca Lawson) in a scene from Queen Sugar.

Alfonso Bresciani /Courtesy of OWN

While all that soapy, melodramatic goodness is great for fans, it spells trouble ahead for Nova (Rutina Wesley), who’s still fighting for justice in her job as a newspaper journalist, and Ralph Angel as he struggles to get Charley to respect his skill as a farmer. Meanwhile Aunt Vi, played by the utterly vivacious Tina Lifford, is still showing us just how great retirement age can be, opening the season clad in a crop top on a trip to a nightclub with her nieces.

Apparently Winfrey had toyed with the idea of playing Aunt Violet herself but was booked on OWN’s other drama Greenleaf, which led to a long search before she and DuVernay cast Lifford.

A continued spotlight on Louisiana’s criminal justice system

One of the most compelling B-stories of the first season was Too Sweet’s (Isaac White) trials after being swept into Louisiana’s overextended criminal justice system. Unable to afford an attorney, Too Sweet became another juvenile warehoused in jail as he awaited face time with a public defender barely acquainted with the facts of his case. Without Nova highlighting the injustices of his case, he could have simply been lost in the system.

Rutina Wesley and Dawn-Lyen Gardner as sisters Nova and Charley Bordelon.

Alfonso Bresciani / Courtesy of OWN

This season, Queen Sugar takes a sharper look at the influence and limitations of class when it comes to how black people are treated, with Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe) undergoing his own harrowing experience with law enforcement.

A continued look at the lives of rural black people

The Washington Post recently released the results of a survey that shows a broadening divide between the worldviews of rural and urban Americans. It also found completely different outlooks between rural blacks and whites.

According to the Post:

Black rural Americans — most of whom live in the South — are far less likely than their white neighbors to feel positively about their communities, the poll finds. Sixty percent of blacks say their area is an excellent or good place to raise children, compared with 80 percent of whites. Rural blacks are 25 percentage points less likely than rural whites to give their community positive marks on safety and are 29 points less likely to say their area is a place where people look out for one another. Rural Hispanics tend to fall in between whites and blacks in rating their communities.

There are few shows on television that bother grappling with the experiences of rural Americans in a way that steers clear of obvious and insulting stereotypes, and fewer still that focus almost exclusively on black rural Americans. But Queen Sugar does. And it illustrates the racial divide that the Post discusses. While St. Josephine’s parish may be small enough for everyone to know each other, it’s still deeply segregated, and the economic disparities between the parish’s black farmers and its white ones are huge.

“[The Bordelons] know exactly which white people in their community owned their family,” DuVernay said. “We’re trying to be really explicit in our intentions in playing with and unpacking race and culture, but do it in a way that’s wrapped in contemporary romance and beautiful people and personal relationships while we have this cultural/historical context over it.”

Visions from new directors

Regardless of Julie Dash’s talent as a filmmaker, no one was beating down her door to do more work after Daughters of the Dust, which debuted to rapturous reviews in 1991. We can credit the aesthetic references to Dash’s work in Beyoncé’s Lemonade film to the resurgence in interest in the director, who is now a film professor at Howard University. She, along with five other women — DeMane Davis, Cheryl Dunye, Aurora Guerrero, Amanda Marsalis and producing director Kat Candler — were responsible for continuing DuVernay’s vision in season two.

Dash’s experience with being unable to convert obvious skill into steady and challenging work is hardly anomalous among female directors, and DuVernay spoke at length about the difficulty for them to get hired. It’s what influenced her decision to have both seasons of Queen Sugar be directed entirely by women.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=19687535

See what the cast of Queen Sugar has to say about working with Julie Dash.

“I wanted to say, ‘Look over here. Look at how it can be and how wonderful it can be,’ ” DuVernay said. “I’m proud that other shows have followed suit. I’m proud of Melissa [Rosenberg] at Jessica Jones following suit and some other shows starting to really step into the gap and say, ‘We will have balance.’ …

“I’ve tried to, with Oprah’s blessing and Warner Horizon’s blessing, over-index and go the other direction. I always say if Game of Thrones can have three seasons of all male directors, why can’t we have three seasons of all women directors? If they can do it, why can’t we do it? And you only do that because you can and you want to. You only say, ‘We will not have women’s voices, we will only center the man’s perspective,’ in terms of the perspective of the show, because you want to. On the other side of the things, we’re going to center women as much as we can because we want to. And we’re at a network owned by a woman, so it makes it easier.”

DuVernay is a bit busy, shooting and now editing the much-anticipated Wrinkle in Time, juggling duties at Array, her independent film distribution company, and prepping for other projects, such as her upcoming adaptation of the Robin Givhan book The Battle of Versailles for HBO Films. So this season, Nashville alumnus Monica Macer served as showrunner, supervising the writers room in Los Angeles, while Candler ran the set in Louisiana. The show also promoted two writers, Anthony Sparks and Jason Wilborn, to producer. This season she wasn’t on set, but DuVernay maintained final approval of scripts, casting and editing.

“It’s hard to hand your baby off, but it’s easy when it’s family,” she said.

Thanks to DuVernay’s insistence on using only female directors for the first season of Queen Sugar, her contemporaries are busy too. Besides bringing a new set of stories to the small screen, DuVernay’s created a professional pipeline for other female directors.

“I started out looking at women who had at least directed one film, so the great majority of women from the first season have at least one film under their belt. Can you believe that these women had directed a film — a film that played at film festivals around the world, many of them had won at festivals around the world — and couldn’t get hired in Hollywood for one episode of television? On any network, they would not be allowed in the door,” DuVernay said, clearly peeved. “So all of the women in our season one, all of the women have gone on to be heavily, heavily booked.

“I got a call from a really well-known television show just last week asking, We had someone drop out as a director. Can you refer us to one of your season one directors?’ I got on the phone and tried. None of the season one directors are available. Not one of them. They’re completely booked. I called Victoria Mahoney and I was like, ‘This is a pretty good show.’ She’s like, ‘The show’s good. I’m booked till February of 2018.’ I’m like, ‘Word!’ ”

Ice Cube’s BIG3 league is not novelty or nostalgia MVPs, a protester, misfits — these ballers have something to prove and are playing to win

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is 48 years old and he’s in an LA Fitness about 15 miles west of Atlanta. He’s getting frustrated. Abdul-Rauf is not happy with the way his jumper is falling. So he’s pushing, relentlessly, with the same behind-the-back dribble. Then two more dribbles to the baseline. And then a jumper about 15 feet from the basket. Abdul-Rauf drills for an hour and a half, shooting from midrange, from the 3-point line, from the corner. Shooting from the wrong foot, shooting off balance.

He’s made 23 of 25 shots. But Abdul-Rauf does a special kind of math: “Nope! It doesn’t count! Don’t count my shots if they hit rim!”

When he’s done shooting, he battles Deaundrae Ballard, a four-star recruit headed to the University of Florida this season. Abdul-Rauf, who has been training Ballard and prepping him for his college career, squares up with the novice, who’s at least 6 inches taller. Three-pointer. Wet. Repeat. The sounds of other basketballs hitting the gym floor disappear. The other ballers getting in morning workouts have stopped to watch. Another 3. Swish. His gray sweatpants and royal blue shirt are drenched in sweat. It’s also dripping from his salt-and-pepper goatee.

Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who will play in the BIG3 league, works on his handles while training for the start of the league.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

Abdul-Rauf shoots for two more hours. He’s done some variation of this routine every weekday since he was a Louisiana State University standout. But he’s going harder now than he has in a long time. The former Denver Nugget scoring machine, who was Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick was Colin Kaepernick, is gearing up for another chance at the national stage. He’s got a new team, the 3-Headed Monsters, with teammates Jason Williams, Kwame Brown, Rashard Lewis and Eddie Basden. And he’s got a new league to conquer. Abdul-Rauf is getting ready for the BIG3.


The phrase “dog days of summer” originated more than 5,000 years ago as a way to describe the months when the Dog Star, Sirius, would make itself most visible. Some believed The Dog was the cause of July and August heat. For the past century, afternoon baseball games have been a hallmark of those hot and lazy summer days, as fans flock to fields across the country to pass time with the heroes of the diamond. Yet, over the past 20 years or so, baseball has had an ever-decreasing impact on American culture, especially for African-Americans, who as of 2013 make up only 9 percent of Major League Baseball fans, far behind the black fanship of professional basketball and football.

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch. That’s where Ice Cube and his BIG3 come in.

“Summer is boring as s—,” Ice Cube said at a January news conference announcing the BIG3, billed as America’s 3-on-3 Professional Basketball League. The league features former NBA players, most notably Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, in half-court games. It’s set to tour over the summer and to culminate in a championship game at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 26. The league, which launches on June 25, comprises eight teams (with names such as “Power” and “3’s Company”) of five players each: three starters and two reserves. All are coached by legends such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Clyde Drexler.

“I feel great going into opening night,” Ice Cube said recently via mobile phone. “Fan interest is there. We have the teams and the talent to pull this league off. It feels good.”

From a distance, the BIG3 may seem like a novelty gig, a chance for nostalgia ballers to hit a few crossovers for YouTube and Instagram before retreating back into retirement. But a closer look at the league reveals passionate players, a brain trust and an organization that aims to be America’s second major pro basketball association.

Actor/rapper Ice Cube addresses the crowd at the 2017 BIG3 basketball league draft at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on April 30 in Las Vegas.

Sam Wasson/Getty Images

“We want this to be a viable [career] option for players who feel like they still got game and don’t want to go overseas, or who don’t want to do all that damn running up and down the court,” said Cube. “We hope to have an exciting season, and a championship game, with teams who deserve to be there.”

“I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting. Concepts for the BIG3 started on opposite sides of the country. On the East Coast there was Roger Mason Jr., a 2002 second-round draft pick for the Chicago Bulls who played for 10 years as a journeyman with teams such as the Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks. After his final stint with the league in 2014, Mason joined the National Basketball Players Association as deputy executive director. While there, he spearheaded efforts to ensure that retired players had access to adequate health care.

Mason also has a passion for entertainment and for evolving the NBA’s tech thumbprint. Mason was the mastermind behind the inaugural NBA Player Awards show in 2015. It aired on BET, was a huge success and is a precursor to next week’s Drake-hosted NBA Awards on TNT. The BET version was executive-produced by Jeff Kwatinetz (an interesting guy), founder of entertainment company The Firm. Kwatinetz is also COO of Ice Cube’s Cube Vision film production company.

Mason had an idea he wanted to run by Kwatinetz: The NBA was seemingly headed toward a 2017 lockout (that was avoided), and Mason wanted to give players and fans something during the downtime. “My vision was a 3-on-3 tournament with active players,” said Mason. “It would give them something to do and keep games going. Then I learned that Cube and Jeff had been working on a concept for an actual league for about a year.”

The BIG3 teams don’t represent particular cities. Instead, the league will travel from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Los Angeles, eight cities in total before the Nevada championship. Each stop will feature four games so every player gets seen. Think And1 Tour meets NBA basketball meets Harlem Globetrotters.

“Obviously, Cube and Jeff had been in the entertainment world,” Mason said. “And the idea of a touring league, similar to a music tour, was brilliant. I was all in to jump in with them after that.”

It was up to Cube, Mason and Kwatinetz to make the league familiar to fans while embracing rules that would make the game different, and innovative. The first team to 60 points wins. Halftime starts after the first team scores 30 points. There’s a four-point shot spread out over different areas of the court beyond the 3-point line (Ice Cube’s idea). The BIG3 features the return of legalized hand-checking, taking the ball outside of the paint after defensive rebounds. Once the rules were set, the trio set out to find established names. Chief among them was Iverson.


Allen Iverson was BIG3’s golden goose. Secure him and the league had its transcendent star. The 2001 NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer was a human cultural landmark at the turn of the 21st century. His cornrows, baggy shorts, tattoos and hip-hop swag made him an icon. His name still resonates with NBA fans who remember the time he stepped over (now Cleveland Cavaliers head coach) Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals and put Michael Jordan on skates in 1997. Even now, whenever Iverson shows up in public, whether it’s to retire his jersey in Philadelphia, or to conduct an interview, fans become enamored all over again. So grabbing The Answer was a major coup, even if he was reluctant to play at first. BIG3 is using his star power, producing a video series documenting his road back to basketball. Iverson obviously won’t be the same MVP he was in 2001, but any flashes of his previous greatness would make the BIG3 a must-watch spectacle.

“Iverson had some things going on overseas that didn’t go as well as he thought,” Mason said. “So I had to reassure him that this was as professional as it gets. And we let him know we’d work at his pace, so he can do what’s comfortable for him.”

Cube himself has been keeping tabs on Iverson’s preparedness. “I saw him in January and he looked good, but I saw him a few weeks ago and he looks more chiseled, and even more in shape,” he said. “His flavor and his style and what he brings to the league will be huge for us.”

Creating new pro leagues is hard. Vince McMahon’s XFL was set to be an offseason professional football league and flamed out after its first season. Donald Trump’s United States Football League was a disaster. The American Basketball Association, formed in 1967 and possibly the most renowned competitor to a major league, lasted nearly a decade, starred Dr. J, and helped revolutionize the way basketball was played. The ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.

Terry Pluto, columnist at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and author of 1990’s Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association, believes the era of leagues competing with the NBA is over. “The goal of the ABA was always to merge, never to exist on its own,” Pluto said. “And it came along at the right time. There will never be another ABA because of the timing. In 1967, there were only 10 [NBA] teams … 11 men on most rosters … 110 pro basketball players. The international game was nothing back then. Now, there’s basketball all over the world, and the U.S. has 30 teams and the D-League. I don’t see much future in anything new.”

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch.

One reason it’s so difficult to battle established leagues is the fan bases that have followed teams for decades. Starting new franchises and getting fans to buy in is a major hurdle. That’s where the BIG3 has an advantage: It’s using players such as Iverson and former Sacramento Kings guard Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, a fan favorite. These guys are franchises in their own right, with their own followings. It’s more about them than the team, which has been at the heart of the NBA’s recent success and can be a driving force in BIG3’s longevity.

NBA legend Allen Iverson signs autographs before the NBA All-Star Game as part of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend on Feb. 19 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s the secret to BIG3. Former NBA players bring a level of expertise that surpasses leagues looking to use minor league players or former college stars. So while the BIG3 may not revolutionize basketball in the way the ABA did, it’ll remind fans of the NBA they loved in the ’90s and early 2000s, which is just as valuable. “It’s a good product because the basketball IQ is off the hook,” said Ice Cube. “These guys just knowing how to play the game is the draw.”

There’s also another important incentive for players to perform at their best: money. Yes, BIG3 is a real league with real contracts. Each player has signed a $100,000 contract for the year. The Basketball-Related Income is 52 percent of the league’s revenue, to be split at the end of the season. The championship team gets the lion’s share of the money. Each subsequent team gets a smaller cut. So players have the incentive to take the game seriously.

But the biggest reason to expect the games to be competitive and intense is that the BIG3 is full of players who are out to prove doubters wrong. For every Chauncey Billups or Mike Bibby who wants to play versus his peers, there’s a Ricky Davis or Rashad McCants whose off-the-court reputations led to the premature demise of their pro careers. “I’m not in the league now because of executive reasons,” said McCants, who will be playing on Trilogy with Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington.

McCants was drafted 14th in 2005 by the Minnesota Timberwolves after leading North Carolina to an NCAA championship the year before. By the ’07-’08 season, McCants was averaging just shy of 15 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field. He was, however, outspoken and, fairly or not, had earned a reputation for being difficult to coach. And he was also the first athlete to publicly date a Kardashian, appearing as a guest in 2009 on Keeping Up With The Kardashians while dating Khloe.

Rashad McCants of the Minnesota Timberwolves goes up for a shot against Yao Ming (No. 11) and Chuck Hayes of the Houston Rockets during their game on Dec. 20, 2008, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

By 2009, just four years into his career, McCants was out of the NBA despite averaging 10 points a game. “Me being out of the league has nothing to do with my play. To not get calls for four years? Not even a meeting?” McCants also came under fire in 2014 for comments about the athletic program at UNC. He’s spent the last few years bouncing around international leagues and sees the BIG3 as a chance to show owners that they were wrong to pass on him — and to also give them a chance to rectify their mistake. There’s an outside chance that someone like McCants could put on a show good enough to land back in the NBA. It’s an outcome BIG3 leadership fully encourages.

“If players get looked at by an NBA GM,” Cube said, “our league isn’t going to do anything to stop anyone from going back to the NBA, or any other league for that matter. We want this to be for the players. Really, we just want them to have fun.”


“Let’s go! It’s great to be around you guys!”

For McCants and other former players interested in joining the league, the first step to a championship was a combine and draft that took place in Las Vegas in April. McCants took center stage by breaking the ice: “I’m out here killing!”

The combine was an invitational for former NBA players: to run a few scrimmages so that player-coaches for each team — Gary Payton (who is just coaching, unfortunately), the aforementioned Iverson, Billups among them — could get a glimpse of their options and draft accordingly. The combine started tentatively enough, with players engaging in some one-on-one games. But mostly they were just feeling each other out, trying to determine how hard they wanted to go. “[My comment] got everybody’s attention,” McCants recalled. “It stole the show of me being the head of the pack and ready to go.”

On the other side of the court, there was a graying, slim participant quietly nailing jumpers. He was also dominating his one-on-one matchups. As he played, players took notice. It’s really him? But …

People were surprised to see me out there,” said Abdul-Rauf. “More than anything, they were surprised to see how I look. My stamina is still up. I look like I can still go out there and do it.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting.

Abdul-Rauf’s story has become part of sports lore. He was drafted by the Nuggets in 1990 as the third overall pick and soon became known as one of the league’s most feared streak scorers, infamously dropping 51 points on John Stockton’s head on a frigid December Utah night. The Mississippi native’s scoring prowess was so legendary that Phil Jackson tweeted in February 2016 that Stephen Curry reminded him of a young Abdul-Rauf. Then in 1996, it all came crashing down.

Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before the game against the Chicago Bulls on March 15, 1996, in Chicago. Abdul-Rauf, saying that the U.S. flag was a symbol of “oppression and tyranny,” was suspended Tuesday for sitting down during the national anthem. Friday was Abdul-Rauf’s first game back.

AP Photo/Michael S. Green

That’s when the star point guard decided not to stand for the national anthem, citing that the flag and what it represents was in conflict with his Muslim faith. This prompted the NBA to suspend him for a game, costing him $32,000. The league eventually let him bow his head and pray during the anthem. By the end of that season, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings. He was out of the league by 2001, unable to even get meetings with other teams. There’s no question his protest caused his career to end — and that’s even more apparent by the fact he’s closing in on 50 and still giving buckets to players a generation younger than him.

“The [NBA] already knows the truth,” Abdul-Rauf said of his exile. “When I talk to people in the street, it’s common knowledge what was done to me. I can never get those contracts back. But God has blessed me to have my quickness and stamina.”

That quickness and stamina wowed his competition and coaches at the combine. “I was curious to see if I could get my shot off,” he recalled. “I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.” Abdul-Rauf is the oldest player in the BIG3.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains for the start of the BIG3 league at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

While Abdul-Rauf was showcasing his skill and endurance on one side of the court, leading him to be drafted 17th (out of 24 players) by Payton’s 3 Headed Monsters, McCants was engaged in 3-on-3 scrimmages that were beginning to get heated. A referee made a questionable call in a game involving McCants, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson and others. Players got in the ref’s face, players got in each other’s faces, and the scrimmage deteriorated into a full-on scrum. The physicality and competitiveness set a tone for how the games might be played: physical NBA-style basketball that encourages trash-talking and ruggedness.

“A lot of times in [NBA] practices, players would play 3-on-3s,” said Mason Jr. “Some of those battles were the best battles no one ever saw. We’re unlocking these battles. … They’re competitive, high basketball IQ. It’s tough because you’re on an island defensively, so you have to step it up.”

What people may not realize is the fact that even though games are half-court and involve six players instead of 10, the cardiovascular toll can be greater than in a traditional game. For one, there’s a 14-second shot clock, which means attempts are going up rapidly and players are scrambling for rebounds. Also, no one can hide on defense. Defenders have to square up and create stops without much help. And with just six players on the court, everything is more spread out, so players have to cover more ground. Just shooting around? It won’t be enough. Players will have to show up to games in the best shape they’ve been in since they were in the NBA.

There’s definite potential for viral crazes, as Twitter videos are perfect for a league where a legendary point guard might end up face-first on the gym floor after a slick crossover. This works to the BIG3’s advantage, as the threat of embarrassment is going to pressure players to show up on June 25 ready to do business. “I don’t expect anyone to take this lightly, because they’re gonna get clowned if they do,” said Ice Cube. “Nobody wants to leave their legacy on the BIG3 court. Dudes are going to come out there and play with pride because that’s what I want to see.”

It’s impossible to predict the long-term success of a league like the BIG3. For Cube and Mason, if players get a chance to show off their talent and fans are entertained, then the BIG3 will find a winning formula. For Abdul-Rauf, the sustainability of the BIG3 means a chance to do something altruistic for members of the exclusive NBA fraternity — en route to making those summer days less dogged for fans.

Former NBA player and current BIG3 player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

“For some people, pay is important,” he said via phone while on his way to yet another workout — and with a sureness he’s gained as a public speaker over the past decade. “You don’t know who this will help down the road. This could … last four or five years. Taking it seriously could help someone who’s struggling … now they can make a little money and get back on their feet. At the least, people might say, ‘We didn’t know he still had it.’ ”

A state-of-the-art African-American museum is coming to Charleston, South Carolina The $75 million project will include a resource center for African-American genealogy

There are many unique ways to tell the story of the United States’ rich, cultural African-American history. From the first African slaves to step onto American soil to the complex yet resplendent history of African-Americans today, there are still so many stories that have yet to be told.

It’s part of the reason that businessman Michael Boulware Moore, the great-great-grandson of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African-American who escaped to freedom by commandeering a Confederate supply ship, is hoping to help continue to educate the public by spearheading a project that will bring a $75 million African-American museum to Charleston, South Carolina.

“I’ve got a real deep connection to Charleston, to African-American history, to the project, and so I decided to come on and help lead the museum and help raise the money that we need to break ground and to get it built so it can make the greatest impact it can make,” Moore said.

The International African American Museum, slated to open in late 2020, will feature several exhibits that will walk visitors through West Africa in the 17th century and end with the formation of new African-American communities in the 21st century, according to the website. Inside, exhibits will include digital wall backdrops, large-scale film, imagery and life-sized interactive contemporary figures for visitors to engage.

The museum will also focus on the full scope of African-American history, with an emphasis on South Carolina’s role in colonial American history.

Between 1783 and 1808, approximately 100,000 slaves arriving from across West Africa were transported through Gadsden’s Wharf and other South Carolina ports and sold to the 13 colonies, according to an article in The New York Times. Nearly half of enslaved Africans brought to America came through Charleston, and nearly 80 percent of African-Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived in the city.

“Building the museum in Charleston is that one spot where we can all pilgrimage to, to pay homage to our ancestors, pay respects to the sacrifices that they made and contemplate our own lives based on that context,” Moore said. “It was a place where so much economic vibrancy and growth and innovation came from.”

Moore became the chief executive officer of the International African American Museum in February 2016 after being invited to join the museum’s board by former Charleston mayor Joseph Riley. At the time, the board was looking for executive leadership to help move the project along. Having spent more than two decades as an advertising executive leading major marketing campaigns for brands such as Coca-Cola and Kraft, Moore was a perfect fit for the job.

“On one hand, I’ve been this marketer consulting, working and running companies,” Moore said. “On the other, there’s a side of me that’s been focused on social justice, serving others and African-American history. This is the first opportunity in my life where I’ve been able to leverage all of me in service to a project. It’s a very special opportunity. It’s one that I take really, really seriously because of the impact it potentially can have, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the team we have around us and what we’re doing.”

There are several features Moore and developers plan to incorporate to enhance the museum experience, including a free smartphone app and beacons in each exhibit that will allow visitors to receive the exhibit’s content through video, text and audio right to their phones.

Moore and his team are also negotiating with officials in Sierra Leone to bring artifacts from the West African nation’s old slave fort, Bunce Island, to the museum.

“We’ve discussed bringing a couple of stones that were at the end of a jetty at Bunce Island,” Moore said. “They used to aggregate the captives there, march them down this stone jetty and onto slave ships. The last two stones, we’re talking about retrieving those, bringing them here and using them as a centerpiece of a memorial for the African ancestors.”

One of the most important aspects of the museum will be its Center for Family History, which, according to Moore, is set to become the leading resource center for African-American genealogy in the country. Partnering with DNA firms, genealogy readings will be able to tell visitors specifically where their African ancestry originated on the continent.

“Someone will walk in like most African-Americans and not know a whole lot about their long-term family history,” Moore said. “Most African-Americans can go back maybe to a great-grandparent. They’ll be able to walk out with a full account of their family history back to the first African who came here. It’s really going to be a transformative experience.”

Although several African-American museums exist in the United States, Moore hopes visitors will come to Charleston to pay homage to those who came before them and leave the invaluable experience with a deeper sense of their identity.

“Because this museum is on a spot where almost all African-Americans have a relative, there will be a real connection to the space and to the beginning of our American experience,” Moore said. “What we hope to try to create in this museum is a place where all African-Americans, wherever you are in the country or hemisphere, will want to bring your family here. It’s a place where your ancestors came and a place we can finally go to pay homage to their experiences and sacrifices, and reconnect with them.”

Daily Dose: 6/15/17 There will be no slander of ‘The Color Purple’

I’ll be filling in Thursday afternoon on #TheRightTime with Bomani Jones on ESPN Radio from 4-7 p.m. EST. Tune in to that if you want to hear me yelling about random things.

The game will go on Thursday night at Nationals Park. Despite the fact that a gunman tried to kill elected officials while they were practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game. If you don’t know, that’s a game played by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle every year that raises money for charity. And although the world of many members of Congress was turned upside down, I imagine Thursday night will be a very celebratory scene. On the real, however, Rep. Steve Scalise is still in the hospital. By the way, here are the two officers who prevented a massacre.

Elizabeth Banks, we need to have a talk. If you’re going to be calling people out, please get your facts straight. She said to a crowd that Steven Spielberg has never cast a movie with a female lead. Even though she was corrected, at the time, and told that The Color Purple is actually a thing that exists, she basically ignored that. Because it’s real easy to ignore black people when our stories don’t center on white people. Meanwhile, people are trying to say that movie was a flop. Which is, of course, completely insane considering how much of a cultural marker that film is.

It’s been quite the offseason for Richard Sherman. There were rumors that he wanted out of Seattle, and there were stories about how the locker room might be at odds because of an overall lack of respect for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Now, he’s opening up about his relationship with Wilson, which at this point feels like it’s basically the entire fulcrum of this team’s emotional balance. I gotta say, I’m fascinated by what this team is going to be in the upcoming season. They’ve easily got the most interesting locker room in the NFL.

Welp, it looks like things just got worse for Rick Pitino. The NCAA has ruled that the sex scandal that rocked the Louisville men’s basketball program will not only cost Pitino, the team’s head coach, a five-game suspension, but they’ll also have to vacate wins from 2010-14. You might recall that they won a little something called the 2013 national championship. Of course, who knows what vacating wins really means, because it’s not like you can unplay the games and undo the actual moments of victory.

Free Food

Coffee Break: There are certain goals in soccer that, no matter what, I will remember for the rest of my life. There are also certain guys who will be forever remembered for said strikes. Roberto Carlos is precisely that guy, and 20 years ago is when he made that mark. Check out this look back at one of the best goals, ever.

Snack Time: With Twitter getting a redesign and all this other nonsense going on, don’t let any of this distract you from the fact that DuckTales released its new title sequence.

Dessert: If you watch reality TV, this is worth your time.

Why Ice Cube should be a future Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee The film mogul is one of rap’s all-time great wordsmiths — and cultural forecasters

This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriting Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.


For 400 years — I got 400 tears, for 400 peers/ Died last year from gang-related crimes/ That’s why I got gang-related rhymes

— Ice Cube, from 1991’s “Us

Ice Cube pulls up on a group of friends. It’s the summer of 1989 in Los Angeles. All young black men, all from the South Central area, his friends are slanging crack. Cube, by then, is already famous, the most vicious wordsmith of America’s worst nightmare: the rap supergroup N.W.A. He rolls the window down on his Jeep.

“Yo, y’all don’t need to be out here,” he said. “All you’re gonna do is get arrested.”

His boys looked at him, puzzled. In 1980s South Central Los Angeles, the streets were a war zone. Born O’Shea Jackson in 1969, four years after the Watts riots and during the rise of the black liberation movement, Cube’s life was a courtside seat to gang and police violence. He saw black boys’ and girls’ lives cut short by violence that turned neighborhoods into prisons, and to graveyards.

Does a résumé as decorated and diverse as Cube’s obscure who he is as a songwriter?

As in many major U.S. metropolitan areas, crack was the crème de la crème narcotic. For users, crack was an escape. “It is also a drug of desperation, linked to the urban poor’s struggle to be part of the greater society,” said Joyce Hartwell, founder and director of New York’s Recovery Hotline and Addiction Anonymous Education Project. Fast money, cheap product, economically deprived ‘hoods: an elixir for violence.

Ice Cube in 1992

Waring Abbott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In Los Angeles alone, the murder rate had risen every year since 1985. In 1988, the year N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton, there were 452 gang homicides — 29.7 percent of all area murders. In 1989, 554 gang homicides accounted for 32.7 percent of all homicides. The numbers would only increase, rising to 803 gang murders (39.4 percent of all) by the time the Los Angeles riots popped off, for a long list of reasons, in the spring of 1992.

So it makes sense that Cube’s friends were dumbfounded. The songs he wrote, for example, for Eazy-E’s 1988 Eazy Duz It, weren’t soundtracks of their lives. Nor were the songs quite entertainment. Cube’s lyrics, motion picture moments on records like Straight Outta’s “8 Ball (Remix),” were their lives. Cube’s friends were trapped in a hell of crack, guns, gangs, liquor stores and funeral homes. “Everybody can’t rap,” one of his friends said. “You’re living good, so you can say s— like that. If you wasn’t making money, you’d be right out here with us.”

Cube recognized quickly his platform, and the responsibility that came with being one of the most recognizable rappers in the country. For Cube, his art was chemotherapy for a cancer the country had long ignored in neighborhoods portrayed as ground zero on nightly news broadcasts. He thanked his friend and bought him a beer.

“[I said] thanks for setting me straight. Peace,” Cube told Spin in 1989. “No, I didn’t say ‘peace,’ cause peace is a fictional word. Peace is a dream.”


Thirty years after the Straight Outta Compton album, Ice Cube is a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer. He’s sold over 15 million albums through his solo work and compilations and as a leader of N.W.A. and Westside Connection. Cube has long since established himself as a force in Hollywood as a producer, screenwriter and actor, starting with 1991’s timeless ode to life in South Central, Boyz N The Hood. From there, cult classics such as 1998’s The Players Club, acclaimed smashes such as 1999’s Three Kings, as well as his Friday, Barbershop and Ride Along series strengthen his portfolio as he heads into thriller territory. Come later this month, he’ll have successfully placed Allen Iverson back on a basketball court with the creation of his BIG3 basketball league. And just last weekend, Cube gave Bill Maher a lesson in the use of the N-word. But is one of rap’s finest lyrical storytellers the victim of society’s selective amnesia? Does a résumé as decorated and diverse as Cube’s obscure who he is as a songwriter?

“It’s Ice Cube’s lyrics that forced people to take the West Coast seriously.” — Todd Boyd

“Ice Cube is the first guy outside of New York to get recognition and visibility for his lyricism,” said Todd Boyd, professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He’s the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture. “It’s Ice Cube’s lyrics that forced people to take the West Coast seriously.”

Cube’s relentless output during the late ’80s and early ’90s writes its own chapter of American history. He’s one of gangsta rap’s main creators, along with Ice T, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His music shed light on the despair, anger, yet resiliency of life in the ’hood. Cube’s 360-degree view of the black experience in America was a persuasive counterpoint to politicians and critics who painted black individuals and groups with broad strokes.

It was Cube’s call of duty to tell South Central Los Angeles’ story — which, in turn, spoke for the millions nationwide dealing with similar situations. By doing so, he warned America of a simmering resentment. His graphic street scriptures, however bold and outright disrespectful of women, law enforcement and whatever else, function as the Old Testament for what exploded on television screens across the world in the wake of the Rodney King verdict.

The first three songs on the album Straight Outta Compton, which sold 3.5 million copies (and led eventually to the acclaimed and successful 2015 biopic of the same title), became part of a 1988 hip-hop trifecta, along with Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and the launch of Yo! MTV Raps, which changed the culture, and music as whole. Straight Outta Compton represented art by fire. And Cube was its lead arsonist.

“Straight Outta Compton”: Straight outta Compton, crazy m—–f—– named Ice Cube/ From the gang called N—–s With Attitude/ When I’m called off, I got a sawed-off/ Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off/ You, too, boy, if you f— with me/ The police are gonna have to come and get me/ Off you a–, that’s how I’m going out

“F— Tha Police”: F— the police, coming straight from the underground/ A young n—- got it bad ’cause I’m brown/ And not the other color so police think/ They have the authority to kill a minority/ F— that s— cause I ain’t the one/ For a punk m—–f—– with a badge and a gun/ To be beaten on, and thrown in jail/ We can go toe-to-toe in the middle of a cell

“Gangsta, Gangsta”: Here’s a little something about a n—- like me/ Never should’ve been let out the penitentiary/ Ice Cube, would like to say/ That I’m a crazy m—–f—– from around the way/ Since I was youth, I smoked weed out/ Now I’m the m—-f—— that you read about/ Takin’ a life or two, that’s what the hell I do/ You don’t like how I’m living?/ Well, f— you!

“Not all of what we say on records describe us,” MC Ren said in 1989. “We also describe the exploits of people around us. So this is telling it again, like it is and how people really behave.” As N.W.A.’s acclaim and infamy spread, so did its influence. Fishbone’s 1991 The Reality of My Surroundings, the Geto Boys’ 1990 “City Under Siege” and Public Enemy’s 1990 “Fight The Power” further enunciated a desperation. For Cube, it wasn’t about taking — or making — rap music literally, lyric for lyric. It was a reclamation of identity.

“[Black people] lost 400 years of teaching, of schooling of any kind of knowledge of our culture,” Cube said in a 1991 interview. “Right now, we’re in the process of getting that back through rap music.” Cube’s music was the crystal ball. On 1990’s “The N—- Ya Love To Hate,” Cube advises: The day is coming that you all hate / Just think if n—-s decide to retaliate … then Kicking s— called street knowledge / Why more n—-s in the pen than in college.

But it’s his second solo album, 1991’s Death Certificate, where final warnings were spelled out. This was Cube masterfully executing a concept album in the early ’90s, a new task for the still-infant genre, yet Death is comparable to Marvin Gaye’s 1971 What’s Going On, or Stevie Wonder’s 1973 Innervisions. Aside from Cube’s spectacular songwriting was his attention to sequencing detail. While the first half of the project revolves around life in the ghetto (“The Wrong N—- To F— Wit,” “My Summer Vacation” and “A Bird In The Hand”), the second half is Cube offering cultural and societal critiques (“Us,” “True To The Game” and “Color Blind”).

Certificate’s complex commentary provided validation that Cube was far more — if more was required — than a “gangsta rapper.” And importantly, gangsta rap itself was far more than violent imagery. “Cube was of that moment,” Dr. Boyd says. Racial and political tensions were high in the early ’90s. “And if you were tapped into that moment, you understood something was about to pop off. You didn’t know what it was. You didn’t know what form it was going to take. But you felt it. Cube personified that.”

His music shed light on the despair, anger, yet resiliency of life in the ’hood.

On Death’s “I Wanna Kill Sam,” Cube skillfully lacerates the federal government: Tied me up, took me outside/ And I was thrown in a big truck/ And it was packed like sardines/ Full of n—-s who fell for the same scheme/ Took us to a place and made us work/ All day and we couldn’t have s— to say/ Broke up the families forever/ And to this day black folks can’t stick together/ And it’s odd/ Broke us down, made us pray — to his God.”

Cube’s cutthroat examination of the medical discrimination black people receive in South Central also goes under the microscope “Alive on Arrival:” Woke up in the back of a trey / On my way to MLK/ That’s the county hospital, jack, ha/ Where n—-s die over a little scratch/ Sittin’ in the trauma center/ In my back is where the bullet entered/ “Yo, nurse, I’m gettin’ kinda warm!”/ B—–s still made me fill out the f—— form.

For “Black Korea,” Cube experienced backlash for his attack on Korean-Americans: So pay respect to the black fist/ Or we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp/ And then we’ll see ya/ Cause you can’t turn the ghetto into black Korea. “Korea” was largely viewed as a lyrical retaliation for the March 1991 killing of Latasha Harlins by a Korean-American store owner — a death that, along with the Rodney King verdict, is canonized as the two biggest sparks for the riots. Cube apologized for the song in February 1992, saying the record was not an indictment of all Korean-Americans but a rebuke of a select few stores “where my friends and I have had actual problems.”

Two months after the apology, the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who assaulted Rodney King were acquitted. To Ice Cube and residents of South Central, the verdict wasn’t surprising. This was no isolated incident. And soon, the Los Angeles skyline was painted with smoke rising from the flames that enveloped Los Angeles streets. The deplorable conditions that Cube had lamented for years, attempted to explain in interviews and broadcast to an entire country had finally come to fruition.

“That’s the only way you can get white people to hear what black people have to say. If you tear s— up,” Cube said of the riots. “This country uses violence for its justice. But then the country gets mad when we use violence for our justice.”

Ice Cube didn’t necessarily predict the L.A. riots as much as he diagnosed urban illnesses. Communities were ravaged by drugs. Resources provided to other parts of the vast city were omitted from South Central. Desperation led to violence. Although rap music had its faults, and didn’t please a lot of people, Cube’s music wasn’t created with the intention of making people feel good.

It was created with the intention of the listener feeling the pain and hopelessness of so many of the people Cube grew up around. He peeled back American hypocrisies and, in his own way, changed the course of American pop history. Cube did it for his people. He did it for those same friends he pulled up on in his Jeep, some of whom may not even be alive anymore.

“When it comes to records,” he recently told Apple’s Beats 1 radio station, “I just think you gotta be a voice for the voiceless.”

La La Anthony wants everyone to know she’s still standing The truth about the mom, actor, author and fashionista’s professional — and personal — star power

La La Anthony breezes into the atrium of Washington, D.C.’s, Mandarin Oriental hotel in curve-accenting fitness gear, fresh from a studio cycle workout. With her hair pulled back in a smart ponytail, scarf tied around her head, sunglasses covering her eyes and not a stitch of makeup on, she’s easily the most beautiful — and the most composed — woman in the space.

Take a deep breath.

And exhale.

Because La La is back. And she’s standing — perhaps — in the best professional place she’s ever been. In the midst of one of the most challenging personal moments of her life, good things are happening for her creatively. The kinds of things for which La La Anthony has spent years laying down a foundation, and things for which she has been fighting.

“I love acting,” she says between sips of an iced tea. “It’s my passion. I’m aligning myself with some great people … and [I’m] continuing to work on my craft and to audition … showing people that not only is it something I’m doing, it’s something I’m good at. It excites me that it feels like it’s just getting started.”

FYI, from here on, this story contains mild spoilers from Starz’s upcoming season four premiere. But we continue:

Anthony has a number of projects on deck. She just wrapped Furlough with Tessa Thompson and Oscar winners Whoopi Goldberg and Melissa Leo. She shot Double Play with Ernest Dickerson, who, among other things, directed Tupac Shakur in the 1992 classic Juice. And Queen Latifah and Anthony have plans to turn her No. 1 New York Times best-seller, 2014’s The Love Playbook, into a film. Lastly, the season four premiere of Starz’s much-watched Power lands June 25, and LaKeisha Grant, as portrayed by Anthony, went missing last season. As many have smartly guessed, she’s back.

La La Anthony (as LaKeisha Graham), Naturi Naughton (as Tasha St. Patrick)

Courtesy of Starz

That all of this is happening for her as her marriage to star New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is in turmoil is unfortunate, but what Anthony wants everyone to know is, she’s still standing. “It’s a different space for me right now, but a great moment for me, and a powerful one at that. I’m still here. I’m still successful. I’ve been thrown a bad hand at different times in my life, and I’ve never let that stop me from … persevering. And if that’s what I can lend to another woman, then I feel like that’s the success,” she said. “I’ve found the power in that.”

“It’s a different space for me right now, but a great moment for me, and a powerful one, at that. I’m still here. I’m still successful.”

Page Six reports that Anthony recently contacted famed divorce attorney Laura Wasser, who has represented Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. But there’s been no word on when — or if — such action will happen between the two, whose love story and nuptials were documented by VH1 in 2010 for the docuseries La La’s Full Court Wedding. High-profile guests such as LeBron James, Ludacris and Serena Williams were in attendance. A spinoff series, La La’s Full Court Life, premiered in 2011 and concluded in 2014. What is known is that the couple have separated — she moved out of their New York apartment on The High Line and now resides in Tribeca.

She also still resides on Power. In the first five minutes of the new season, which last year was the second-highest-rated series on premium pay television, Anthony’s character is revealed from behind a bedroom curtain. She slides it over, showing the world that Keisha, the Keisha who just about everyone had written off, the best friend of Naturi Naughton’s Tasha, is alive and quite well — for now.

So is the actual La La Anthony.

“I learned from Keisha to be careful what you wish for,” said Anthony, “because you just might get it. She wanted the life so bad, and now she’s getting pieces of [it] and realizing, ‘Oh s—, this isn’t what I thought it was!’ But now you’re in so deep, you can’t really get out. Or if you get out, there’s going to be repercussions.”

Anthony says that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. “We’re always looking at her saying, I want that. Why can’t I have that? But you don’t know the prices [those things] come with. You don’t know the struggles that [people are] going home with every day just because on the ’Gram it looks good. People are going home, feeling depressed, popping pills, doing all kinds of s—. You don’t know! So my thing is being satisfied with what you have, because what you have is meant for you. That’s what I’ve been learning in life, and that’s what I’m learning from my character.”

In May at the celebrity-filled Met Gala, a black-tie extravaganza that raises funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, Anthony shut the entire place down. Wearing a Thai Nguyen Atelier gown with a high neck and Lorraine Schwartz jewels, Anthony stepped out solo and stunted on everyone.

Everyone.

Instagram Photo

She captioned her Instagram photo with one word: Unbreakable. “The Met Gala was a moment for me. I didn’t expect it to be all that big of a moment, but it was such an amazing feeling, just being there,” she said. “I went alone this year … and to have such love, and such great feedback … I loved it.”


Alani Nicole Vazquez was born in Brooklyn, New York, almost 38 years ago. She started out as a popular radio DJ, and in 2001 she became one of MTV’s go-to veejays as co-host of two of their most popular shows: Direct Effect and Total Request Live. That same year she had her first film cameo, in Two Can Play That Game, which starred Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut. She also portrayed herself in a 2003 episode of HBO’s Sex and the City. Eventually, she dove headfirst into an acting career, determined to make Hollywood see her as more than a dope interviewer.

She met Carmelo Anthony through their mutual friend, DJ Clue, and the NBA star proposed on Christmas in 2004. Married in 2010 after being in a relationship for seven years, their son, Kiyan, is 10 years old.

Outside looking in, she has a charmed life. Anthony’s friendship circle is mighty, and filled with powerful women: Ciara, Kelly Rowland, Kim Kardashian West and tennis superstar Williams are all close friends. But the truth is, many people count Anthony as a close and trusted go-to friend.

“The Met Gala was a moment for me. I went alone this year … and to have such love and such great feedback … I loved it.”

“I had a friend yesterday, we kind of had a back-and-forth. I was like, ‘I just want you to know that I really appreciate you doing this for me.’ And they’re like, ‘Of course I’m going to do it for you!’ ”

Anthony says she has a need to make sure people understand that she doesn’t expect anything. “I’m so appreciative of anything that He does for me,” she says of her relationship with God. “My mom grew up in [Brooklyn’s] Marcy Projects — this life? The Mandarin, Oriental? This is not supposed to be my life, and for this to be what it is? I never lose sight of that, no matter how long I’ve been in business, no matter how successful I’ve been, no matter how much money I’ve made. I never lose sight of that, because this wasn’t the plan. And because of that, I’m so grateful for anything in my life that I work really hard for.”

On her birthday this year, June 25, Power premieres. The coincidence isn’t lost on her that on the date she was born her career enters a new phase. She now is a principal character on the series, and this season LaKeisha’s arc is essential to the story. This is the first time Anthony has been a principal member of any cast. She’s an actor, not a vanity thrill-seeker who wants to do side projects when simply being famous isn’t enough. This is who she really is. It’s who she’s aspired to be for so long. And finally, she says, people are getting it.

Anthony is also invested in producing great work. She co-produced 2015’s Eclipsed, an all-black, all-female play that was penned by actress and playwright Danai Gurira and ran off-Broadway at New York City’s Public Theater. It featured Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and was that theater’s fastest-selling new production in recent history. It later moved to Broadway at the John Golden Theatre in 2016.

Anthony also has an overall deal with iTV, one of the largest production companies in the U.S., and she’s gearing up to produce a bunch of nonscripted television, including a show on VH1 she’s doing with music producer Timbaland called Goal Diggers, which centers on women becoming entrepreneurs. “The purpose of a show like that is female empowerment,” she says between nibbles of eggs, avocado and turkey bacon. “You can start somewhere and become something else. You can be an Instagram model who seems [a certain] way, and now you’ve got a business. It goes back to … not putting people in boxes. If I’d continued to be put in a box, I’d still be La La from MTV, or La La who’s on the radio with Ludacris. And that would still be who I am, but I broke out of that. I can do other things.”

And one of those things is to inspire other women — that’s important to her. In spite of everything. Perhaps because of everything.

“We have to learn how to focus on putting us first. In my life, I spent so much time putting everyone else before me that I didn’t realize how much I was lacking in things that I needed for myself. And when you have a child, that is a very hard thing to do, because my son is my world. When you’re in relationships or marriage, it’s hard to do,” she says. “I’m learning to put my needs first. Because if I’m great, then I can be great for everyone else in my life. That’s a hard thing to do. When you’re a nurturer, you’re always worried about taking care of everyone else. ‘I don’t care about how I’m doing. I want to make sure you’re OK. Are you OK? Do you need anything?’ It’s something I want women to continue to work on, to learn.”

And don’t think the tweets and Instagram comments are being missed by her. She sees them, and the supportive ones warm her heart. “I feel the love in a time when I do need it, and that’s appreciated,” says Anthony. “ It doesn’t go unnoticed. It keeps me going, through tough times. It means a lot to me.”

‘Black Panther’ teaser trailer is serving looks Marvel blessed us during the NBA Finals, and it’s visually stunning

We were sitting around a table, casually discussing whatever we had to catch up as a group of friends. We weren’t all facing the television, so one person said, “Shut up, the Black Panther teaser is on.” Another friend continued, not realizing that this wasn’t just the first time he’d seen it, but the first time anyone had. “Look, I’ll address that after this ends,” he was told again. We all stared.

I don’t really remember if it was between the first two quarters of the game or somewhere in the second, because it felt like time stopped. At the point where Chadwick Boseman is executing whatever midair flip in slow motion he was doing, my body naturally stood up from the table and gravitated toward the television that was hanging on a wall in the bar. By the time it was done I turned around to look at the squad, and we all had the same looks on our faces.

“Holy s—, that was incredible.”

Black Panther was real and happening, and it looked amazing. The game instantly became a secondary conversation to what we’d just witnessed from the Marvel Universe. What I enjoyed so much about it was that it appealed to everyone, off the break. Of course, there are serious megafans of the comics who will have various things to deconstruct and dislike, but coming out of the gate, the clear distinctions were great.

For one, Wakanda is clearly not some Third World wasteland. Its technological advancements are clearly on par with most things in that universe, which is dope. This is the capital city, and vibranium, the mineral that the nation has major reserves of, allows it to stay on the cusp of what’s modern. Also, look. At. That. Ship. The last thing we wanted was a bunch of souped-up tribesmen to further create disastrous stereotypes in the superhero world.

Here are some of our favorite still shots.

Wait till y’all see me at the function next spring rocking this joint until Future’s “Mask Off” comes on. Then I’m turning all the way up.

This is a look goal if I’ve ever seen one. Lupita Nyong’o, no stranger to action movies, is not here for your nonsense.

When you’re trying to address the congregation but someone’s phone keeps going off.

Oh, that’s my phone? Do something. That’s what I thought.

When you waited all weekend to get fly for your little friend at school and they were home sick that day.


Meanwhile, the shade being thrown is predictable and, in many cases, very funny. What folks act like when this movie comes out is going to be serious. Nobody in America is ready for the squad cosplay that the film could bring to the theaters and premieres. It’ll be the blackest big-budget superhero movie. Not to mention it’s actually about a fictional African place. Believe that folks will be deep at the box office. And it comes out during Black History Month? Sheeeeeeee … just kidding. That doesn’t matter at all.

In all seriousness, that moment Friday night was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. My phone was blowing up with texts, and my whole TL was taken over by Wakanda jokes and the like. We don’t need that Coming to America remake. Black Panther, from the looks of it, will do just fine. This is dope, though.

This is a full shot-by-shot breakdown of the teaser trailer with story analysis. It’s with director Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.

Wiley College aims to create HBCU Speech and Debate League It would develop and manage teams that will compete in the first HBCU National Tournament next year

Wiley College is continuing its prestigious legacy of great debaters with the help of a grant awarded to the school by the Charles Koch Foundation to create a Historically Black Colleges and Universities Speech and Debate League.

The Charles Koch Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has supported hundreds of colleges and universities since its founding in 1980, and Wiley College announced the partnership earlier this week.

“We are thrilled to support Wiley College’s effort to share its wonderful debate tradition with HBCUs throughout Texas and the country,” said John Hardin, director of university relations at the Charles Koch Foundation. “These debate programs are a model for the civil dialogue that is necessary for our society to grow and flourish.”

The grant will be used to help create competitive forensics teams at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), while the league itself will grow and manage teams that will compete against each other in various tournaments to qualify for an annual HBCU National Championship Tournament. The first tournament is set to be held on Wiley College’s campus in January 2018, according to the school.

Christopher Medina, Wiley College’s director of forensics, will act as head coach of the Great Debaters. Medina believes debate not only is a critical-thinking activity but also provides lifelong skills and educational opportunities to those who participate.

“Debate is probably the most powerful educational activity ever created,” Medina said. “This activity does more than educate — it saves lives. [Debate] is a profound pedagogy that provides students with skills and educational opportunities which can be used throughout a student’s life, regardless of their chosen career path.”

Wiley College, a historically black liberal arts college located in Marshall, Texas, is most known for its famed Great Debaters of the 1930s. Led by poet and Wiley English professor Melvin B. Tolson, the Great Debaters remained undefeated from 1929 to 1939. The team was so impressive that in 1930, its members were invited to compete in the first interracial collegiate debate in the United States against the all-white University of Michigan Law School. Five years later, the team went on to dethrone the University of Southern California as national collegiate debate champions at a time when people of color struggled to fight racial oppression and Jim Crow segregation laws during the Great Depression.

The team’s story and its accomplishments were later adapted into the 2007 film The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington as Tolson.

Current students and alumni who have participated on Wiley’s debate team expressed excitement over the developing league.

Wiley alumnus Sean Allen credits the debate education in college for furthering his education. Allen went on to earn his master’s degree at Hofstra University and is the director of forensics at Tennessee State University, an HBCU.

“Wiley College somewhat catapulted me into who I am today,” Allen said. “Every single opportunity I have had, I credit to my participation in the speech and debate program at Wiley. … I am glad to see this new league, and l look forward to the HBCU Nationals so we can celebrate the accomplishments of speech and debate on the HBCU circuit and in the HBCU community.”

Daily Dose: 6/9/17 NASA selects black woman as part of new astronaut class

I’m in Bristol, Connecticut, on Friday to appear on Outside The Lines, so if you’re around a television at 1 p.m. EST, tune in to give your boy a look-see talking about the best stories of the week. I will not be wearing a hat this time, I promise.

In the classic film White Men Can’t Jump, there is much trash talk. And in one particular scene, a guy decides that “your mama’s an astronaut” is a serious insult. It’s so off the wall and ridiculous that his opponent takes mega offense and loses it. But let’s be clear, being an astronaut is awesome. And for Jessica Watkins, her childhood dream of becoming one just came true. A researcher at the California Institute of Technology, she was one of 12 people picked by NASA for its newest class. This story is so excellent that it makes me want to cry.

If you don’t know who Gwen Bunn is, you will soon. She’s a producer, an artist and a songwriter who came to fame when she linked up with Top Dawg Entertainment’s ScHoolboy Q for the song “Collard Greens.” But she chose to stay independent instead of signing with a big label because she wants to maintain her flexibility as an artist. Here’s a cool story about how she got there. But, while you’re here, make absolutely sure you check out SZA’s new album CTRL, because it’s incredible.

When it comes to being progressive, the NBA is as good as any league in the U.S. And not just in terms of what its players are saying when the cameras are on, but also in regard to what happens behind the scenes to keep their league diverse. Now a few teams are working with Jopwell, which places minority candidates in positions with major firms. And they don’t just work with the NBA. They’ve got agreements with the U.S. Tennis Association, and in general they keep these pipelines open. Half of the startup team is a former Yale guard.

Last night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, something foul happened. At one point, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators decided to renew their little rivalry in a game that was otherwise a blowout. Sid The Kid at one point was grinding Subban’s head into the ice as a way to tweak him. OK, whatever. But then NBC’s Mike Milbury gets on the camera saying that he deserved it, for God knows what reason. Oh, wait. Yeah, Milbury’s the reason that hockey will be forever stuck in the Stone Age.

Free Food

Coffee Break: It’s summertime now, so you’re going to be dealing with something that we all hate: bugs. Whether it’s keeping them off your body, out of your food or out of your house, they’re a problem. Some of us use the old magazine/newspaper method for the latter, but if you’re a humane person, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has something you can work with.

Snack Time: There are people actually paying money to walk around Brooklyn, New York, in tour groups as part of some “ghetto safari” experience, and these people are the worst. I’m so angry at just the concept, never mind execution.

Dessert: Sometimes, it’s rough with the fam. But we’re all gonna make it if we try. Happy weekend, kiddos.

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