Ray Charles’ ‘America the Beautiful’ is our best hope for bringing us together If a patriotic song can divide us, this song can heal that divide

It would take a genius to ease the antagonisms surrounding the national anthem controversy. I know just the man for the job. His name is Ray Charles.

Often called “the Genius” during a long career, Ray Charles performed unique combinations of rock, country, rhythm and blues, soul, blues, jazz and gospel with such energy and style that he invited fans of one culture to cross over and taste the flavor of another. The fact that he was blind from childhood only added to the mystery of his mastery. He attracted appreciation from white folks and black folks, listeners from the country and the city, rich people and poor people, the up-and-coming and the down-and-out.

“This may sound like sacrilege,” said another piano man, Billy Joel, “but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley.”

I remember well the day he died: June 10, 2004. I was in New Orleans, scheduled to deliver a professional workshop on writing and music. A day earlier, a young woman slammed a car door on my left hand. When it was time for the workshop and I sat down at the piano, I learned the meaning of playing with pain. Using just one finger to play the bass notes, I offered my best tribute to Charles, brief versions of “What I Say” and “Georgia on My Mind.”

This tribute wasn’t planned, but I was inspired by what I had seen that morning on the news. It turns out that former President Ronald Reagan had died just five days before Charles. The two had a fine moment together during the final minutes of the 1984 Republican National Convention. Ray delivered his gospel version of “America the Beautiful.”

The effect was mesmerizing. While the crowd was overwhelmingly white, you could not help but notice a change in its demeanor. Some cried. Some swayed. Some nodded and looked up as if it were their first visit to a black church. The Reagans and the Bushes looked on with a curiosity that turned to warmth and then delight. When it was over, Reagan and Vice President George Bush climbed down to where Charles had been at the piano and lifted him up to the top of the stage, where the love of the crowd could wash over him.

Move forward now to Oct. 28, 2001. It is the second game of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, a series delayed by the attacks of 9/11. The debris of the Twin Towers had fallen on a cross-section of Americans, and for a brief interval we were together in our misery, and resolved toward our recovery. Who better to express this emotion than the Genius. At a piano on home plate he once again performed “America the Beautiful.” As he sang and played with an easy soulful pace, people on the field, soldiers and first-responders unrolled a flag that covered the entire outfield. Cheers went up. When they created the illusion of the flag waving, cheers reached a crescendo. Charles rose from the piano bench. I am not sure I have ever seen a performer so moved by the response of an audience. It was almost a dance of delight, holding his face, hugging his body in recognition.

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” have all made a claim to be America’s song. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Our national anthem (like the Pledge of Allegiance) too often carries with it a formalized test of patriotism: “Please rise and remove your caps …” (Hey, this is America. Don’t tell me what to do.)

Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” is easier to sing, but it can be rendered and received in a way that seems cloyingly sentimental. Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in response to Berlin’s anthem, with choruses that focus on the poor and dispossessed who do not feel so blessed. To my ear, “America the Beautiful — at least the version rendered by Charles — exceeds all of them in its ability to raise our collective spirits.

It was not just this song that allowed Charles to use his powers for healing and reconciliation. In 1966, the Georgia State Assembly refused to seat an elected African-American, Julian Bond, because of his supposedly unpatriotic opposition to the Vietnam War. It took a unanimous Supreme Court decision to seat him.

Turn the calendar forward 13 years to March 7, 1979, to that same body. In what was considered a symbol of reconciliation and racial progress, Charles performed his version of the Hoagy Carmichael ballad “Georgia on My Mind.” At the end the assembly rose as one in tribute. The speaker honored him with having performed a miracle, bringing political antagonists in the legislature together. One month later, they voted to adopt Charles’ version as Georgia’s official state song.

The song “America the Beautiful has its own rich and complex history, giving Charles the artistic freedom to make it his own. That history begins in 1893 when a young English professor from Wellesley College, Katharine Lee Bates, makes a trip across the country to Colorado. From the top of Pikes Peak, she is inspired by natural beauty she has seen. To honor that vision, she composes a poem, America, published in a church magazine for the Fourth of July. After some reworking, the stanzas of the poem become the lyrics of a song. A New Jersey composer, Samuel A. Ward, wrote the music. Over the first half of the 20th century, the popularity of “America the Beautiful” grew and grew, sung in churches, classrooms and patriotic festivals.

Charles recorded the song in 1972. In live performances he followed a consistent pattern, flavored by the improvisations we associate with gospel and soul music. He adds “I’m talkin’ about America” and “I love America, and you should too,” and “Sweet America,” fervent ornaments that offended the few but inspired the many — including my dad.

He begins his version, curiously, with the third of four verses, perhaps the least well-known.

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved

And mercy more than life!

America!

America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness,

And every gain divine!

Written just three decades after the end of the Civil War, those lines evoke the most traditional tropes of America’s civic religion. They include the heroes who give their lives to protect the country and keep it free. They remind us that we are an exceptional country, blessed by God but imperfect in his eyes. Its gold must be refined. The second stanza prays that “God mend” America’s “every flaw.”

What happens next in the Ray Charles version is especially interesting. He speaks directly to the audience over the music, “When I was in school we used to say it something like this. …” Only then does he sing the original first verse, familiar to generations.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America!

America!

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

It invites the audience to sing along, and we often do, a call-and-response pattern familiar in many churches and a powerful expression of unity, community, love of country — with all its flaws. Sisterhood and brotherhood — from the man who liked to be called not a genius, but “Brother Ray.”

It should be obvious by now that I love Ray’s version. When I sit down at my 100-year-old upright piano and try to play it the way he did, I always wind up crying. But I love “The Star-Spangled Banner” too, even with all those bombs bursting and its two challenging high notes.

There are hundreds of interesting versions, many available on YouTube, including ones in which African-Americans have offered their special take. We know what Jimi Hendrix did with his magical guitar in 1969 at Woodstock. In 1983, Marvin Gaye shocked the world with his slow-jam version before the NBA All-Star Game, the only version of the anthem I have ever seen in which the audience was moved to rhythmically clap along. Whitney Houston gave us the most elegant version before the 1991 Super Bowl. Maybe my favorite anthem moment was provided in 2003 by NBA coach Maurice Cheeks, who rushed to the rescue of a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics. Mike Lupica once referred to this move, by the former point guard, as Cheeks’ “greatest assist.”

I am not advocating replacing the national anthem. I am proposing, instead, that some group (the NFL, MLB, Congress, the Georgia state legislature, ESPN) offer the Ray Charles version of “America the Beautiful” as our hymn of national unity and racial reconciliation. My dream is to one day attend an NFL football game when, at halftime, an image appears on the screen. It is Ray Charles at the piano. As he sings and swings, and hums and prays, we see a montage of images: Americans, including professional athletes, working to help each other through storm and strife. Working across difference to find unity and build community. From sea to shining sea.

Aux Cord Chronicles XIII: 28 songs that could replace the national anthem What if we switched from ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ to something from Aretha Franklin, Dipset — or Kendrick and Beyoncé?

Congratulations, America. You’ve successfully stiff-armed Colin Kaepernick’s original protest, meant to shed light on police brutality and systemic injustices against people of color, from the national conversation. Now, despite the fact that Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk, suggested that Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid take a knee as a sign of respect, the national discussion is centered on the supposed disrespect of the flag, the men and women of our military and the national anthem.

So let’s be proactive. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was penned in 1814 by Francis Scott Key. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional act officially declaring it the national anthem. Well, 86 years is quite the lifetime, but everything deserves a revamp — or at least an alternate. Below are 28 possibilities. (Aside from the obvious choice, John Rosamond Johnson’s musical adaptation of his brother James’ poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” otherwise known as the black national anthem.)

Aretha Franklin — “Respect” (1967)

Franklin has a legion of iconic records to her name, but this is the zenith. Want to win a free round at the bar? Ask who sang the original. The answer is Otis Redding, who wrote the song and dropped the original in 1965. Franklin’s version put the song into another stratosphere, becoming an anthem for black America in the process.

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly — “Before I Let Go” (1981)

Imagine it’s Friday night. It’s been a long week at work. You and your co-workers are this close to quitting and traveling the country and living off of your savings. Then you realize you absolutely suck at saving money, so there’s that. But you’ve got tickets to the big game this weekend. And when the announcer tells everyone to stand for the national anthem, they play this. For about three minutes, nothing else in the world would matter. Vote Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly 2020.

Kool & The Gang — “Get Down On It” (1981)

If you play this around your parents, aunts and uncles, they will immediately break out into a two-step and reminisce on what they were doing when this killed at the clubs.

The Gap Band — “Outstanding” (1982)

Is there any self-respecting human being who doesn’t love this song? I mean, other than this guy. This technically already is the national anthem, if you’re familiar with black cookouts and family reunions.

Will Smith — “Fresh Prince Theme Song” (1990)

I couldn’t recite the current national anthem without looking at a cheat sheet. But I could absolutely recite this — arguably the most iconic theme song in the history of theme songs. I’m not the only one, either.

Public Enemy — “Fight The Power” (1990)

Pretty self-explanatory, if we’re being honest.

Queen Latifah — “U.N.I.T.Y.” (1993)

“Unity” is a great idea, but in this case it sidesteps the original point of Kaepernick’s protests. But since we’re on the topic of unity, 1993 was a good year for Queen. This song dropped (and eventually won a Grammy), as did the classic ’90s sitcom Living Single.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony feat. Eazy-E — “Foe Tha Love of Money” (1994)

Because C.R.E.A.M:. Cash Rules Everything About America.

DMX — “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” (1998)

Stop. Drop. Shut ’em down, open up shop. Francis Scott Key couldn’t hold a candle to Earl Simmons.

Lauryn Hill — “Ex-Factor” (1998)

Just don’t have L-Boogie sing this Miseducation standout for Sunday Night Football — she might not show up until Thursday night. #AligningMyEnergyWithTheTime

Juvenile — “Back That Azz Up” (1998)

1. See my signature at the bottom of this post. 2. MAKE AMERICA TWERK AGAIN.

C-Murder feat. Magic & Snoop Dogg — “Down 4 My N—” (2000)

One thing for sure. Two things for certain. This beat will always be hard enough to convince a person he or she can run through a brick wall. And while it may sound odd to nominate a guy with a first-degree felony in his name for national anthem consideration, I’d argue this country has had far more head-scratching moments.

Sunshine Anderson — “Heard It All Before” (2001)

Because, being black in America, you actually have heard it all before.

Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz — “Get Low” (2002)

You know how the “land of the free, and the home of the brave” part gets everyone riled up? Hear me out. Imagine if it were To the window!/ To the wall!/ Till the sweat … well, you know the rest. Plus, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle would agree. Just look at how sad this guy got:

Jay-Z — “PSA” (2003)

It’d be fire to be at a New York Knicks game and the announcer says, “Everybody please rise for the singing of our national anthem.” And the next thing you know, over the PA system, Allow me to reintroduce myself/ My name is Hov!/ H to the O-V/ I used to move snowflakes by the O-Z …

The Diplomats — “Dipset Anthem” (2003)

I’m on the west side of Chicago, lookin’ for a bust-down/ To make me put my two arms up, touchdown!/ You stay in touch now, but when I touch down/ I’m like Buckshort shorty, you better duck down/ Yeah I must clown/ I’m from Harlem, uptown/ Where we flash money, take your b—- and ask you what now?

Cam’ron is an American institution and should always be respected as such. Also, my request of the National Museum of African American History and Culture still stands.

UGK feat. Outkast — “International Players Anthem” (2007)

Most songs on this list you can play for a verse and a hook and be fine. But this one? You play all four verses. You rap all four verses with as much conviction as you’ve ever done anything in your life. In particular, like Jay-Z said at Made In America a few weeks ago, you rap Pimp C’s verse loud enough so he can hear it in heaven. This is a perfect song. And no, it’s not up for debate.

Foxx feat. Lil Boosie and Webbie — “Wipe Me Down” (2007)

It’s not even a question I’d pledge allegiance to a song where a man got to the club with gas tank on E, still gets in VIP and proclaims all drinks on him. I’m proud to be a (trill) American.

F.L.Y. — “Swag Surf” (2009)

It’s a song that requires you to put your arms around the shoulders of your fellow man or woman. How much more unity do you need?

Gucci Mane feat. Ester Dean — “I Think I Love Her” (2009)

I’m all about ending gender discrimination. I’m all about ending the pay gap women face every day. And I’m all about gender equality. Hence our inclusion of this Gucci Mane classic. And, yes, while it is his song, everyone knows why we’re here: Well, my name is Susie and Gucci think I love him/ That sucka think I’m loyal but I f— with all the hustlas/ I be wit all the ballas/ I be at all the spots/ I might be in yo’ kitchen n—- cooking with yo’ pots. What a woman … **swoons**

DJ Khaled — “All I Do Is Win” (2010)

America has always operated under the Ricky Bobby gospel: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris — “We Found Love” (2011)

My all-time favorite Rihanna song. It doesn’t have to be on your list, but it’s staying on mine.

Drake — “Started From The Bottom” (2013)

I just think it’s funny how it goes … that Kaepernick’s original protest was gentrified and had a Whole Foods move into its neighborhood.

Travis Scott — “Antidote” (2015)

Have you ever seen him perform this live? In fact, let’s give it a test run. For the Houston Rockets’ home opener, let’s do this song before tipoff.

Future — “March Madness” (2015)

Because Dress it up and make it real for me is now etched into America in much the same way as JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” quote. If we’re being honest, too, this has been the national anthem since the summer of 2015 anyway.

Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar — “Freedom” (2016)

Can’t have a list like this and not include Blue, Rumi and Sir’s mom. And while I’m sure the #BeyHive will tell me I omitted 240 other songs that fit the list, it’s hard to deny this Lemonade standout and its soulful, uncompromising hook. Having Kung Fu Kenny on it doesn’t hurt either.

Cardi B — “Bodak Yellow” (2017)

Since it’s currently No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it technically is the national anthem.

Kendrick Lamar — “DNA” (2017)

When you think about it, Kendrick resurrected the pride of James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and gave it a bounce.

In all seriousness, if none of these selections works and we stick with the current iteration we do have, might I suggest the only version that even matters. Francis Scott Key could never …

Obama’s foreign policy comes alive — really! — in ‘The Final Year’ and a venture outside the festival zone Day 3 at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — So far, my schedule at the Toronto International Film Festival has been heavy on documentaries, including ones on Grace Jones, André Leon Talley and Vince Carter.

I spent Saturday morning enmeshed in the brains of a bunch of foreign policy wonks while watching The Final Year from director Greg Barker. The film follows former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes and former Secretary of State John Kerry as they try to implement President Barack Obama’s foreign policy goals in his final year as president.

The premise sounds about as dry as it gets. But The Final Year turned out to be an interesting film, and not just because of what was happening on the screen. TIFF really is an international festival: I’ve had conversations with journalists from Russia and a Ugandan-born Brit, and it’s not unusual to hear people speaking multiple languages. So it’s also an opportunity to hear what other people are thinking of Americans right now. And that definitely came through in the screening for The Final Year. Barker introduces the Obama administration’s foreign policy team with a stylized presentation that makes them seem like the world’s nerdiest Justice League. When President Obama appeared on the screen the audience here clapped, and at the end they did it again. This never happens at press and industry screenings, as they’re called, where journalists typically refrain from any visible reaction to the films they’re watching. Politics and the 2016 election are clearly still on people’s minds. Even The Gospel According to André opened and closed with scenes from the 2016 campaign and election aftermath.

Barker ends on a hopeful note, echoing the tone that Obama always tried to take. Rhodes, who was speechless after the 2016 presidential election, has had time to collect himself. And he falls back on all the soft power diplomacy that Obama conducted, recalling all the bright, young people Obama met who will, decades later, likely become leaders of their respective countries. Rhodes seems to be trying to reassure us, and himself.

“I think the pendulum will swing back, and I think we have the template for when that happens,” he says.

Barker cuts to Power. “We’re in this for the long haul,” she says.

At the end of the film, there was quite a bit of sniffling. Tony Gittens, the director of Filmfest DC, reached across a chair in the dark and took my hand. The Final Year had triggered a state of mournfulness, and the two of us walked down the stairs and out of the theater, hand in hand.

Neighborhood hopping

Film festival life can be harried. You’re hopping from event to event for roughly 12 hours a day, which means you’re mostly confined to the neighborhood where the festival is taking place. The pace has its benefits — the single pair of pants I brought are now too big. Mostly, you’re running on coffee and grabbing a bite when you can remember to do it.

TIFF is based in Toronto’s entertainment district, which is filled with restaurants, theaters and sports arenas. It’s home to Ripley’s Aquarium and the CN Tower, the most recognizable building in the Toronto skyline. There’s a distinct mix of people, including Blue Jays fans; locals who are annoyed because their daily routine has been upended by street closures; and festival attendees, who are easy to pick out because most of us are wearing branded lanyards or bags. There are artsy types with blue or pink hair, lots of oxford shoes and tons of motorcycle jackets.

Celebrities such as Grace Jones, Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie show up to promote their films, but they stay hidden away until it’s time to go to work. But I did run into Morgan Spurlock, the director of Super Size Me, on the sidewalk today. He’s here to present his sequel, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!

On Friday evening, I decided to venture away from the entertainment district to the neighborhood of Harbord Village. Anyhow, I moseyed — OK, taxied — there on a feminist pilgrimage of sorts to Good For Her, a toy shop that has sponsored Tristan Taormino’s Feminist Porn Conference, which also takes place in Toronto. Harbord Village is an eclectic, charming ’hood that reminds me of Little Five Points in Atlanta, filled with little shops, restaurants and yoga studios.

On my way back, I walked through Chinatown, which was comparatively younger and browner. I was surprised to spot a Popeyes chicken place, along with marijuana dispensaries (cash only) and an array of tattoo and piercing salons, which, rather strangely, closed at 8 p.m. Fine. No septum ring for me this trip.

Grace Jones, Andre Leon Talley and a chance to see people of color in all your movies Day 2 at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — For a person of color, looking for yourself in major box office releases can feel like a frustrating series of one-offs, each with impossibly high stakes. Film festivals can offer a different experience, especially since there’s no box office pressure at them.

One of my favorite things about film festivals is the way they create a temporary, friendly, idealistic, artistic bubble. The audiences, Blackstar and other minority-centered fests notwithstanding, can be overwhelmingly white, and their reactions can offer a skewed perception of films. (See Dope and The Birth of a Nation, both of which were Sundance darlings that didn’t live up to box office expectations. Crown Heights found itself in a similar position.)

But festivals also offer a great opportunity for people to see film after film starring or about people of color. The first time I went to Sundance, I was astonished to see multiple feature films by or about Native Americans. This year, Columbus and Gook, both from Asian directors, made big splashes at Sundance.

So on Friday morning, a day after seeing Mudbound and The Carter Effect, I found myself immersed in the world of fashionable, brilliant black people with screenings of two documentaries: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami and The Gospel According to André.

The similarities in these two people seem obvious at first glance. Jones is 69 and Andre Leon Talley is 67, and they’ve both established careers in fashion by being intriguing, unique individuals who are impossible to ignore.

But something deeper and more soul-stirring connects these two individuals to many black people of their generation. Jones and Talley both soared to tremendous heights, Jones as a model and singer and Talley as a Vogue editor and arbiter of taste in the fashion world. As they’ve reached the top, they’ve taken the pain of their earlier lives with them. Sometimes it’s creative fuel, but in one way or another, everyone has to wrestle with the demons of their younger selves.

For Jones, it was the cruelty of the man who raised her, simply referred to as Mas P, who terrorized Jones and her siblings with beatings and offered scant gestures of love. Jones became notorious for her temper after she slapped television host Russell Harty live on the air in November 1980.

Jones is up front about her penchant for striking people. “I always warn them first,” she says.

In Bloodlight, directed by Sophie Fiennes, Jones says that she struggled to channel her anger as an adult. Rather than talk to a therapist, Jones worked through her anger in one-on-one acting classes and revealed that her acting coach would have to hypnotize her to draw her out of her uncontrolled fury.

Fiennes captures footage of Jones visiting family and friends in her native Jamaica, and it feels like the audience discovered a decoder ring for the woman behind images such as the Jean-Paul Goude photograph that graced the cover of Island Life.

Jones tells her origin story through her song lyrics. She bounces all over the globe, code-switching from Jamaican patois to accented English to perfect French. But everything comes back to Jamaica. Frankly, Bloodlight and Bami is an unstructured mess, but it does a fair job of contextualizing Jones’ art through her Jamaican roots. The things and the place that are a source of so much of her anger still fill her with joy, love and artistic inspiration. She’s not just a curiosity — everything she does, everything she wears, including her extravagant performance headdresses, has a purpose and an origin. We see Jones bring her mother a hat that’s a variation on one she wears onstage. On Jones, coupled with a black velvet leotard, makeup and 6-inch heels, the hat is an avant-garde statement. On her mother, offset with flowers and a church dress, it’s a crown fit for sharing a rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

Bloodlight and Bami does not yet have a distributor, though I suspect it will find one, if the masses lined up for a glimpse of Jones at the Thursday night premiere of the film are any indication.

The Gospel According to André

As black people, Jones and Talley came of age at a time that allowed them to take advantage of the tremendous changes taking place in the world. The documentaries about them aren’t just about the costs of being trailblazers. They’re more personal than that. Instead, they’re about the traumas people carry with them, and the way they infect and influence those around them.

André Leon Talley

Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

With Talley especially, it became apparent just how much his blackness was a part of that trauma, and how much he’s held it in service to a bigger vision. As a Vogue staffer responsible for assembling and conceiving fashion editorials, Talley had the rare power to make something like Scarlett in the Hood happen. Scarlett in the Hood was a magazine spread that offered Talley’s commentary on Gone with the Wind. Talley selected Naomi Campbell to play Scarlett O’Hara, and he placed white designers around her dressed and cast as slaves. The price for being in a position to do that, however, was that Talley had to keep mum about the microaggressions directed at him by the industry he loved.

The hurt Talley carries from having stones thrown at him by white boys when he would visit Duke University’s east campus as a teen, simply to buy the latest issue of Vogue, is the same hurt he carries from colleagues in the fashion industry accusing him of sleeping with every designer in Paris and playing the role of black buck for curious whites. Talley tears up at one point, recalling a colleague he was too much of a class act to name, who cruelly referred to him as “Queen Kong.”

Over and over, fashion industry figures such as Marc Jacobs, Valentino and Tom Ford remarked to director Kate Novack about Talley’s “childlike” qualities. The takeaway from all of them was that the intangible that makes Talley such a talented curator stems directly from the same wonderment he felt as a teen flipping through the pages of Vogue. Somehow, even as an adult, he kept it. For Talley, who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and attended the segregated Hillside High School, Vogue offered an escape from that reality. His talent and his hurt are inextricably linked.

Aux Cord Chronicles XII: Back to school survival soundtrack Face it, summer’s over: 22 songs to get your mind right for the new academic year

S

omeone please start a petition to get rid of the month of August. The month is useless. It’s just training camp, then injuries at training camp, then crappy NFL preseason football because of training camp and finally, worst of all, back to campus. We get that it’s a joyous time for parents, but please don’t make it too obvious? We can clearly see you pumping your fist in the bathroom and doing little happy dances everywhere. But for anybody who’s going to be sitting in a classroom anytime soon, this playlist is for you. Featuring songs from A Tribe Called Quest to 2 Chainz to Buju Banton to MF DOOM, this playlist will hopefully be enough to get you through to Christmas break.

N.W.A. “Express Yourself” (1986)

West Coast hip-hop was never the same after a hip-hop group from Los Angeles popped up on the scene in 1986. “Express Yourself’” is self-explanatory and still resonates today.

A Tribe Called Quest — “Push It Along” (1990)

First things first: RIP Phife. A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is home to some of the group’s most well-known songs, namely “Bonita Applebum,” “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and “Can I Kick It?” While you can’t go wrong with any of those songs, “Push It Along” stands out because of its succinct yet metaphoric chorus, which can be interpreted two ways. No one likes sitting in a classroom for what can seem like hours on end — but just keep pushing. Like Jarobi says on the outro, In my way there’s boulder, but you know what I had to do? I had to push it along. Life’s all about being proactive rather than reactive. Don’t be surprised by your grades at the end of the semester. Ask your professor how you’re doing and you’ll be surprised by how open he or she is.

Nas — “The World Is Yours” (1994)

You’re going back to school and trying to figure out what it is that you want to do or be in life. This was the mindset of 18-year-old hip-hop artist Nasir Jones in Queens, New York, while recording his debut album, Illmatic. Considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, there’s no secret about the message of this track — if you put your heart and mind to it, the world can truly be yours.

Montell Jordan — “This Is How We Do It” (1995)

As one of the all-time house party staples, Friday nights have not been the same since Montell Jordan dropped this track in 1995. Who else could have enhanced a sample of Slick Rick’s 1989 “Children’s Story” and turned it into a club banger? Keep this in your playlist for when you’re ready to jam to a golden era tune.

Buju Banton — “Champion” (1995)

The standout track from Buju Banton’s 1995 dancehall classic Til Shiloh serves as a reminder to always be confident in your abilities. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. So tread carefully, but don’t let the subtle intricacies of patois keep you from claiming Me all ah walk like a champion/ Talk like a champion. When college gets extremely difficult, just remember who you are.

C-Murder feat. Magic & Snoop Dogg — “Down For My N’s” (1999)

Nine times out of 10, your favorite black Greek-letter organizations on campus will have this track blaring from speakers as they do their favorite strolls on your campus’s yard, or at a house party. This track is truly a “ride or die” anthem of brotherhood/sisterhood … and what better way to be down for the culture? Save this track for when you’re ready to up the fellowship ante with your peoples.

Juvenile — Back That A– Up (1999)

Juvenile single-handedly made an era’s anthem with one simple battle cry: Cash Money Records takin’ over for the ’99 and the 2000. Never will this song get old. And once you hear the beat drop by producer Mannie Fresh at any function, you better grab a hold of something or get ready to get hype — Cash Money Records is taking over the spot for the next four minutes and 25 seconds.

Jay-Z — Dirt Off Your Shoulder (2003)

Need a motivational track to get your semester going? Why not bump to one of HOV’s greatest hits? It influenced President Barack Obama to dust off his shoulder during a Democratic primary speech. After all, you gotta dust your past off and start the academic year fresh.

Crime Mob feat. Lil Scrappy – Knuck If You Buck (2004)

There are usually two things that happen when Crime Mob pops off at either a house party or a club: The crowd goes crazy and bops to the ATL classic or a dance riot breaks out on the floor. Either way, this Dirty South gospel was made for getting crunk. And, for the record, no, “Juju On That Beat” could NEVER compare to the original.

MF DOOM — “Deep Fried Frenz” (2004)

When will MF DOOM get the credit he deserves? He makes an entire song about how we should carefully select friends while sampling two songs (“Friends and Strangers” by Ronnie Laws and “Friends” by Whodini) about friendship! That level of depth is borderline nonexistent in today’s hip-hop. Don’t let his use of skits prevent you from missing out on DOOM’s exceptional lyricism. Still, what DOOM is saying cannot be overstated: Choose your friends wisely. As DOOM eloquently put it, Jealousy the number one killer among black folk. Not everybody deserves to be your friend, and when somebody shows you who they are, believe them.

DJ Khaled — “We Takin’ Over” (2007)

It’s mind-boggling to think that DJ Khaled is known by many as that guy from Snapchat with philosophical advice. Well, congratulations, you played yourself. Six years before the release of the photo-sharing app, Khaled curated arguably the greatest song of his career in “We Takin’ Over.” As a senior, this song will forever hold a special place in my heart (and not because Wayne’s verse was the first I ever committed to memory). This epitomizes the difficult journey so many seniors have taken — from the eagerness of freshman year to the doldrums of sophomore year to the nostalgic anxiety of senior year. The world better watch out for us ’cause we takin’ over (one city at a time).

Little Brother — “Dreams” (2007)

In case you didn’t know the great trio of Phonte, Big Pooh and DJ/producer 9th Wonder out of Durham, North Carolina, once known as “Little Brother,” the group was one of the most highly acclaimed underground hip-hop groups of their time. The title of the song about says it all: Have dreams, while keeping in mind that dreams alone don’t keep the lights on.

F.L.Y. (Fast Life Yungstaz) — “Swag Surfin’” (2009)

No matter what school you attend, but especially at a historically black college, this track is almost mandatory to know line by line. Whether you hear it in the club, in the gymnasium or your school’s stadium, you better grab your nearest friends and be ready to surf with swag.

Big K.R.I.T. — “4EvaNaDay (Theme)” (2012)

Want a subwoofing, bass booming, Dirty South track to start the first day of school? Well, this track, made by Mississippi rapper and producer Justin Scott, aka Big K.R.I.T., is for you. As said by K.R.I.T., If it don’t touch my soul then I can’t listen to it. … Listen and enjoy.

Lupe Fiasco — “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” (2012)

Let’s face it: Being black in America is an everyday struggle, especially with the political climate of the United States today. In 2012, Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known as Lupe Fiasco, created this track to paint the problems in the American social, economic and political systems. Five years later, the words still resonate. If you need a track to raise your consciousness as the semester begins, Lupe’s got you covered.

Meek Mill “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)” (2012)

We’re more than two years removed from the Meek Mill-Drake beef, yet Drizzy fans still refuse to acknowledge the greatness of this song. Even Toronto’s favorite son had to recognize it at one point. Regardless, it’s one of the best rap intros of all time. This song tells the tale of Meek’s dreamlike ascension in the rap game before launching into a full-blown assault on all his haters, with the Philadelphia native dropping knowledge throughout. From I had to grind like that to shine like this to I’m the type to count a million cash, then grind like I’m broke, the entire song is an ode to anybody who has endured the struggle. If you take that mindset into school, the sky’s the limit. Play this at any college party and everybody should be screaming this track verbatim. Key word: should.

Travis Scott — “Apple Pie” (2015)

On the final track of Rodeo, “Apple Pie” is Scott’s way of telling his mother that it’s time for him to go out into the world and make his own way. For many of us, college is that time. Don’t be afraid to follow in Scott’s footsteps and jump off mom and/or dad’s porch. Separation anxiety will hit you like a ton of bricks, but it eventually subsides. Anybody who went away to school empathizes with the line I hate to break your heart, I bet I’ll make the mark/ That y’all see a legacy go up.

Kamaiyah — “How Does It Feel” (2015)

Oakland, California’s own Kamaiyah initially burst on the scene after receiving Pitchfork’s “Best New Track” honors for “How Does it Feel” in late 2015. Her inspiration? She was trying to make “it cool to be broke again.” Being broke and college broke are two entirely different things. College broke is really humbling because you see how terrible things can be if you don’t find your side hustle. Sell mixtapes, work at the bookstore, become a party promoter — do something that’ll put a little extra change in your pocket. Making a way where there’s no way is what college is all about. And when you finally find your hustle, don’t be afraid do your little two-step while proudly singing I’ve been broke all my life/ Now wonder/ How does it feel to be rich?

2 Chainz — “Get Out The Bed” (2016)

If you are one of the unfortunate few who scheduled an 8 a.m. class, may God be with you. Luckily, the Drench God made a hook with you in mind: Get out the bed and grind and hustle/ Did it before and I’ll do it again. Make this your anthem and you’ll be able to take anything this cruel campus life throws at you — except maybe a pop quiz. At the very least, please try to keep your eyes open.

Big Sean feat. Migos — “Sacrifices” (2017)

I definitely could’ve gone with the Drake version. Or even Elton John’s. But the Kid Studio-provided visuals place Big Sean’s version in a league of its own. Picture this: It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday. That party starts at 10 p.m. That girl or guy you like wants to come over at 9 p.m. — and you have a test at 8 a.m. Friday. Big Sean said it best: To get ahead, man, you have to make sacrifices. Not every single event requires your presence. Stay in, tell that girl or guy to come over and study to get that A in the morning.

Future feat. The Weeknd — “Coming Out Strong” (2017)

This one’s for the freshmen. The title says it all. Don’t get lost in the sauce. Start your college career on the right foot. Freshman year is by far the easiest, as long as you don’t succumb to distractions. Side note: Pluto don’t dance, but I make moves is one of the best bars off of HNDRXX, even if Future just flipped around The Weeknd’s opening line.

Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid — “1-800-273-8255” (2017)

School can be extremely stressful. Trying to balance academics, extracurricular activities and a social life can often seem overwhelming. If you need help, please do not hesitate to ask. It is not a coincidence that the song title is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Find your school’s Counseling & Disability Services Center. There are always resources available. Remember these lyrics — It can be so hard/ But you gotta live right now/ You got everything to give right now.

Also, do not be afraid to take a mental health day. If your mental health isn’t intact, life won’t make sense.

Music might be a healant just like it was 50 years ago, in the summer of ’67 What we need now is love and a song like ‘All Around the World’

“People hand in hand

Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?

Where hate’s a dream and love forever stands

Or is this a vision in my mind?”

— Stevie Wonder, “Visions”


Some people remember 1967 as a very good year for pop music, from Aretha Franklin singing “Respect” to Frank and Nancy Sinatra singing “Something Stupid.” They remember a summer of love that gave way to a fall where the Beatles sang “All You Need is Love,” a simple declaration of interdependence and an enduring international anthem for complex and ever-changing times.

In 1967, in some important ways, things were getting better all the time. The Loving v. Virginia decision struck down bans against interracial marriage in the United States. Thurgood Marshall was named the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice, and Carl Stokes was elected the first black mayor from a major American city, Cleveland.

But 1967 was a year inflamed by strife, too; war raged in the Middle East and in Vietnam. Cities such as Detroit, Newark, New Jersey, and other places burned across America. Richard Nixon marshaled white resentment in his march toward the Republican nomination for president.

Which is to say, 1967 was a year of turmoil and triumph, just as every year is, including this one, a time when new walls of exclusion are championed and old monuments commemorating Confederate soldiers and officers come down.

From the mid-’60s through the mid-’70s, we were blessed with music that tended to heal and enlighten, inspire and challenge.

Today, when political lies threaten to trump moral truths and profits trump creativity, the music doesn’t salve society’s wounds as it once did or seemed to.

But earlier this month, I heard two veteran bluesmen perform a song the nation badly needs: “All Around the World.” The song, co-written by blues master and Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’, is an upbeat call-and-response tune. Backed by a tight band, Mo’ and his touring partner, Grammy winner Taj Mahal, ripped through the song in New York’s Central Park.

Like Stevie Wonder’s “Visions” in the 1970s, “All Around the World” imagines a world spinning on an axis of love:

There’ll be love all around the world (All around the world)/ There’ll be peace and understanding (All around the world) …

Neither I nor the song advocates a fey and feckless love that merely prompts us to forgive our tormentors, again and again. The love we need and the love the song talks about gives society a powerful emotion, strong enough to stare down evil and douse the torches lit by bigotry, ignorance and injustice in Charlottesville, Virginia, and all around the world.

Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal, who have a new CD out and are touring under the banner TajMo, performed their rousing song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to a rapturous response. It’s the kind of song I can imagine John Legend recording with a gospel choir and a rap break by somebody like Chance the Rapper. It’s the kind of song I could see everyone from Ariana Grande to Garth Brooks to Kirk Franklin adding to their live shows. It’s the kind of song I can imagine becoming a thumping recessional tune in various houses of worship or at rallies for an America that lives up to its majestic promise for all its people.

It’s the kind of song I can imagine being recorded by a cross-section of artists, a kind of “We Are the World” for the 21st century, in the name of social equality or world peace.

Like other masters of the form, Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal play a blues that’s animated by joy. They sing and play the way Ella Fitzgerald sang her songs, the way Louis Armstrong blew his trumpet, the way Stephen Curry dribbles his basketball, with joy and love. And that’s what we’ll need to come together and make a better tomorrow.

All around the world.

‘Whose Streets?’ pushes back on what we think we know about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri New documentary is a potent combination of social and media criticism

Deep into Whose Streets?, the new documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, there’s footage of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, giving an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you,” Wilson tells him. At the screening I attended, there was an audible mix of gasps and laughter from the audience.

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis spent much of the film’s run time up to that point establishing just how much racism lurked within the Ferguson Police Department and the city government. A 2015 report from the Justice Department established that Ferguson provided about as clear an illustration of institutionalized racism as could possibly exist: The city not only targeted black residents for tickets and arrests they couldn’t afford, it was also using the revenue from such stops to fund the nearly all-white police force. The court clerk, police captain and police sergeant were all implicated in sending and receiving racist emails, including one that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.

Protester Brittany Ferrell hoists a bullhorn as her daughter hugs her in a scene from ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And yet here was Wilson telling a national television audience that racism was anathema to policing.

Whose Streets? arrives in theaters Aug. 11, marking the third anniversary of Brown’s death (Aug. 9, 2014) and the uprisings that followed it. It’s a deeply moving work, and the passion of both the filmmakers and their subjects is palpable. “FYI I was literally homeless throughout the first year of production. Worked as a canvasser and put money back into the film,” Folayan, an activist, theater geek and former advocate for prisoners at Rikers Island, tweeted recently. Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is currently featured in the permanent collection at the Blacksonian (aka, the National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The focus of Whose Streets? is the residents of Ferguson and St. Louis who keep marching and screaming for justice till they’re hoarse, who keep agitating long after the national media has turned its attention elsewhere. It establishes the movement for black lives in Ferguson as one driven by young people such as rapper Tef Poe, who are fed up with being targeted by police, and others like organizer Brittany Ferrell and her partner, Alexis Templeton, as well as Copwatch recruiter David Whitt, who want better for their children.

Whose Streets? is likely to serve as a counterweight to Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the 1967 Detroit riots and the police murder of three unarmed black people at the Algiers Hotel. It’s not necessarily fair to compare narrative films like Detroit to documentaries, but there’s a similarity in the dynamic between the two that existed with Nina and What Happened, Miss Simone? Both Whose Streets? and What Happened, Miss Simone? end up correcting, or at least augmenting, the record of ahistorical narrative films that struggle with details in which race is central.

Nina made the mistake of casting Zoe Saldana as Simone, then putting her in makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to make her facial features more closely resemble Simone’s. Detroit fails to imbue its characters with any depth or humanity and devolves into a slog of racist white police officers terrorizing a group of people in the Algiers.

Bigelow’s herky-jerky camerawork and editing in Detroit deliberately create a sense of chaos. Whose Streets?, by contrast, presents real footage of Ferguson buildings in flames after Brown’s death, but the overall effect is far more nuanced. It’s much easier to get a sense of what happened in Ferguson as pockets of violence and property damage pockmarked peaceful, if emotional, protests. Whose Streets? refuses to equate property damage with the loss of human life.

Folayan and Davis offer a potent work of media criticism too. Folayan and Davis communicate just how much cable news, by repeatedly and selectively broadcasting the most violent, hectic footage, was responsible for making Ferguson seem like a war zone whose residents were animalistic and out of control. That narrative was furthered by a distant, largely white media corps accepting police reports as gospel. Whose Streets? challenges that by juxtaposing footage of Ferrell and her cohorts protesting to shut down a highway in Missouri with the official police account of what happened, in which the arresting officer accused Ferrell of yelling out “tribal chants.”

For a moment, we also see what it means to send black journalists into a situation like Ferguson, where police in tanks and armored vehicles are shooting rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas (a chemical agent that the Geneva Convention prohibits in warfare) at the city’s black residents. There’s a clip of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs walking through Ferguson at night with his hands above his head as police bark orders at black protesters. The police draw no distinction. He’s black, so he might as well be one of them.

Brittany Ferrell leads a line of protesters as they face off with police in ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film gives voice to a community that’s reeling, mournful and frustrated. It has little faith in a government that’s failed it repeatedly. Spliced with footage of white public officials delivering statements that are often canned and worded to avoid legal liability, Whose Streets? brings the idea of two Americas, and two wholly different realities, to life. “Question normal,” it demands of its audience.

Despite the gravity of its subject matter, Whose Streets? has moments of dark levity. One interview follows a clip of President Obama giving a statement about Brown in his trademark style of measured reason.

“I’m waiting on me to have a black president. I still ain’t had me one,” a Ferguson resident named Tory says. “Wasn’t he a constitutional professor? Ain’t no constitution in Ferguson. Tell that n—- he need to teach a new class or bring his a– to Ferguson … and figure out why we ain’t got no constitution.”

Whose Streets? is understandably close in spirit to The Hate U Give, the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas published earlier this year. The Hate U Give is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who is the sole witness as her unarmed best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book, which is heavily influenced by Ferguson, is slated for a film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Lamar Johnson. It’s early days yet, but I suspect that the film version of The Hate U Give and Whose Streets? will serve as cinematic bookends to understanding what black people went through in Ferguson before and after Brown’s death.

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, but no one in Whose Streets? is a Pollyanna, least of all Ferrell. She’s open about the fact that she’s taking prescription medication to treat anxiety and says she’s not sure the justice she and her partner are seeking will come in their lifetimes. They’re counting on another generation of troublemakers and revolutionaries to carry on. They’re raising one in their elementary-school-aged daughter McKenzie, seen in the film with her mothers leading a crowd and screaming as loud as she can, “WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!”

Idris Elba talks ‘The Dark Tower,’ Mayweather vs. McGregor, Usain Bolt — and Pelé Even with a resume that includes ‘The Wire’ and playing Beyoncé‘s husband, an underdog mentality keeps him motivated

It’s media day for Idris Elba: 48 hours before the release of his newest film, an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Elba takes on the role of Roland Deschain (The Gunslinger) as he battles Matthew McConaughey as Walter O’Dim (The Man In Black) for the safety of the universe. Elba is genuinely excited, but admitted he knew very little about King’s eight-part, 4,250-page magnum opus when he first read the script. In fact, he hadn’t read a single page.

“It hadn’t piqued my interest,” he said. “But as soon as I got invited to the script, I was intrigued. I looked at all the iconography, thinking, ‘That ain’t me!’ ” He lets out a laugh from the pit of his stomach. “I’m reading the script like I’m the Man In Black, right? No, no, no. You’re The Gunslinger.”

Besides his title role in the BBC’s acclaimed series, Luther, for which he won a Golden Globe after being nominated five times for a variety of roles, Elba’s appeared in Prometheus, Finding Dory (2016), Beasts of No Nation (2015), Pacific Rim (2013), Thor (2011), and Takers (2010). He had a recurring role on the landmark series The Office, and starred with Beyoncé in 2009’s Obsessed. There were also many rumors about him becoming the next James Bond — Elba’s no stranger to diversity in his character portfolio.

But for many, the 45-year-old London-born superstar’s most lauded role will forever remain the shrewd, vindictive drug capo Stringer Bell in HBO’s Baltimore gospel The Wire.

He says that he works best when he feels a bit of an underdog.

“I grew up in a time where the complexion I have was not favored,” said Elba. “Lighter-skinned actors were favored in these roles. I’m used to being the underdog.” Could King’s character look like Elba? A black guy? The doubt was motivation for Elba. “I don’t really listen to it,” he said. “I’ll always go for the guy who has to work harder to get there. That’s pretty much been my journey.” (King has sung the praises of Elba’s work as The Gunslinger. He sees it as nothing short of incredible.)

In an ideal world for Elba, The Dark Tower is the beginning of what becomes a series — like The Lord of the Rings. There’s so much of King’s opus to be told that can’t be whittled down to a two-hour movie. But he’s also excited to talk about Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor’s upcoming fight, his fave athletes, and how certain streaming apps please the music nerd in him.

Favorite athlete of all time.

My favorite athlete was/is Pelé.

Exceptional choice. But why Pelé?

Phenomenal footballer. One of the greatest that’s ever did it.

“I’m a competitive person. I love to fight. I have a pain threshold.”

Favorite current athlete?

Usain Bolt, at this point.

I know you’re a big music fan. Are you #TeamTidal, #TeamSpotify or #TeamAppleMusic?

I use Tidal and Apple Music. I think they’re both great. I find Tidal interesting in terms of the accessibility to the footnotes and album credits. That’s something I like. I’m bit of a nerd. I like to see who wrote stuff and produced it. I find Tidal a lot more accessible in that sense. I think Apple Music is a great service all around. It works almost everywhere in the world. I like that.

To train for The Dark Tower, you trained in both boxing and mixed martial arts.

The best I’ve been in physical and mental health, the time my body works the best, is when I train. I’m a competitive person. I love to fight. I have a pain threshold. I consider myself alive as long as I’m able to go somewhere and hit a bag.

“I grew up in a time where the complexion I have was not favored.”

How do you think Mayweather-McGregor will play out later this month?

Floyd Mayweather has a challenge on his hands. He’s fighting someone at the peak of his career who’s a very agile mixed martial artist. I believe that there is a real chance of McGregor not penetrating the impenetrable Floyd Mayweather as a boxer. But penetrating his composure as a fighter.

So you’re giving McGregor a legit shot?

Listen, Floyd Mayweather’s camp is like, ‘Yo, man. How you gon’ say that?’ (Laughs.) But I never said he was gonna get beat. But there’s a chance that McGregor can lay one on him. And if he does that, he’s such a fast striker that he will continue to do it. Conor McGregor has nothing to lose. Floyd Mayweather has an impeccable 49-0 career to lose. So Conor McGregor’s coming in to fight and Floyd is gonna have to box because that’s what he knows. When you’re a mixed martial artist, you have certain agility that does a couple of things. One, boxers move slightly different when you’re being struck. And two, it gets annoying. Your composure goes in a different way because of the way kickboxers move. Now he’s not allowed to kick. He’s gonna have to box, but it’s about the agility. It’s about the striking, about how quickly they strike and the tempos. There are all sorts of things that I think Floyd needs to be very, very careful of. That’s just my opinion.

Nicki Minaj collaboration with Tasha Cobb draws mixed reactions on social media The hip-hop gospel crossover is due to be released in August

An unorthodox musical collaboration just shook the gospel music scene.

No Frauds rapper Nicki Minaj joined forces with gospel superstar Tasha Cobbs on a new song, I’m Getting Ready, which will be featured on Cobbs’ new album, Heart. Passion. Pursuit. Twitter was baffled, with mixed feelings and shock.

Mixed reactions are conventional when these two particular genres collaborate. Kirk Franklin took major shots and social backlash after he was featured on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” song on his The Life of Pablo album that was released early last year. However, Cobbs, a Grammy Award-winning singer, doesn’t seem to be fazed by the backlash as she continues to promote the album.

Fans are eager to hear this track to see if gospel will be a new endeavor in Minaj’s career. The album’s release is set for Aug. 25.