What if the Muhammad Ali we knew had never existed? From his brief kinship with Malcolm X to the ‘Thrilla In Manila,’ five alternative universes for Ali — and the world

From Michelle Obama, Dwyane Wade and Betty White to Steve Harvey, Jan. 17 offers an embarrassment of riches for celebrity birthday followers. One name in particular, however, towers above the others: Muhammad Ali. The self-proclaimed and globally anointed “Greatest” would have been 76 today. To say Muhammad Ali is an inspiration for Team Undefeated is an understatement.

Loved and feared, Ali was captivating and personable. Flawed and fearless. An unparalleled showman and a ruthless instigator. There are few stones left to turn over on Ali, a man whose life has been under the microscope since he burst onto the scene at the 1960 Olympics — the Summer Games that also introduced Oscar Robertson and Wilma Rudolph to the world. How Ali’s life played out is American scripture. But what if there’s an alternative universe in which certain things panned out differently? In some ways, thankfully, we’ll never know. But in others? Follow along …

What if young Cassius Clay’s bike had never been stolen?

If anyone represented the embodiment of the phrase “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” it’s Ali. This story has been told a million times, but it’s always fascinating because of the butterfly effect. A 12-year-old Cassius Clay sat on the steps of the Columbia Auditorium in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He was angry and sobbing. Joe Martin approached young Clay. “If I find the guy who took my bike,” Clay told Martin, “I’m gonna whup him.” Martin ran a boxing gym and told the adolescent if he was going to fight, he’d better learn how to fight. Until that point, Clay had never given a thought to boxing.

The rest, as they say, is history. If his bike is never stolen, who’s to say he doesn’t go through life as a normal kid who doesn’t even care about boxing outside of the occasional fight? And what if that same kid one day gets drafted into the Vietnam War — a battle Cassius Clay from Kentucky would have had to fight because he wasn’t a heavyweight champion of the world with religious beliefs that forbade it? It’s wild how life can change in the blink of an eye. We’ll just leave it with this: Theft is a crime and should be treated as such. But bless the soul of the person who decided to steal this kid’s bike. That’s one time when doing bad actually did a world of good.

What if Malcolm X and Ali never had their falling-out?

In order to survive, as a great man once said, we all have to live with regrets. One regret for Ali was his all-too-brief bond with Malcolm X, a fellow product of the Muslim teachings of Elijah Muhammad. X fell out of favor with the teacher, and Ali chose to follow Muhammad’s lead. At the time of X’s assassination in February 1965, the two were not on speaking terms. Never apologizing to Malcolm haunted Ali for the rest of his life. “Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life,” he wrote in his 2004 autobiography The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey. “I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. … I might never be a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm. If I could go back and do it over again, I would never have turned my back on him.” For a fascinating and detailed breakdown of their life and times, check out Johnny Smith and Randy Roberts’ Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

What if Ali didn’t sacrifice the prime of his career by protesting the Vietnam War?

The better question is, what if the U.S. never involved itself in Vietnam? Whatever the case, Ali’s exile turned him into a larger-than-life figure. At one point in American history, world heavyweight champion was the most coveted title in all of sports. Here was Ali: a young, handsome, outspoken black man who not only dismantled opponents in the ring but also took on America’s ugliest parts in a verbal fashion that has not been seen or heard from an athlete since. And he did all of this while looking the federal government square in the eye, essentially saying, “Come and get me.” Although legions of critics took a carousel-like approach to demeaning him, Ali’s popularity had skyrocketed by the end of 1967. His stated reason for objecting, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” is tattooed in the fabric of American race relations. Ali’s most controversial fight, for his beliefs and for our dignity, reverberated worldwide. It cost him the years of 1967-70, when he would’ve been between the ages of 25 and 28 — a fighter’s peak years. As transcendent as his career was, even four decades after his final fight, we’re left to wonder how great it could have been if Prime Ali hadn’t been entangled with the U.S. government at that same time. Which bleeds into the next alternative universe …

What if Ali called it quits after the third Frazier fight?

Maybe it was a subconscious thing, for Ali to make up for lost time in the ring as he continued to fight in his later years. Maybe it was financial. Maybe it was a combination of both. Whatever the reason, the cold reality is that his last iconic moment in the ring was 1975’s “Thrilla In Manila,” the end of the trilogy with Joe Frazier. The fights — Frazier handed Ali his first career loss shortly after he returned to boxing in 1971, and Ali won the 1974 rematch — define perhaps the greatest rivalry in sports history, with an extremely brutal and even more bitter feud spurred largely by Ali’s vicious and grossly disrespectful racial taunts toward Frazier. Their final clash proved a potluck of haymakers, blood and near-death premonitions. “It was next to death,” Ali said after the fight — a contest he actually won. “When a fight as hard as this one gets to the 14th round, you feel like dying. You feel like quitting. You want to throw up.” Frazier was never the same after that fight.

And it took decades for Ali and Frazier to quash their beef. By the time Ali called it quits in December 1981, Ali was a beaten and battered man and his Parkinson’s disease was imminent. Those closest to Ali’s former cornerman and doctor, Ferdie Pacheco ( who died in November 2017), say he lived with remorse for not having saved Ali from himself. He begged the boxer to quit after the third Frazier fight. Studies from Arizona State scientists discovered Ali’s speech slowed down 26 percent between the ages of 26 and 39 and he was visibly slurring his speech in 1978 — three years after the final battle with Frazier.

Would calling it a career after the Thrilla In Manila have saved Ali future medical concerns? Who knows. A trilogy with Ken Norton — one of the hardest punchers of all time, who broke Ali’s jaw in their first match and whom some feel Ali lost all three fights to — came with its own undeniable punishment. After his 1977 fight with power puncher Earnie Shavers, who landed a massive 266 punches, Ali’s speech reportedly slowed 16 percent from prefight calculations. “Ali did damage to himself, and he knew it and kept boxing too long,” says Jonathan Eig, author of last year’s Ali: Life, “but he didn’t have the information we now have about CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy].”

What if Parkinson’s had never robbed Ali of his most powerful punch — his voice?

America tried to emasculate the greats / Murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes

— Jay-Z, “F.U.T.W.” (2013)

Ali’s decision to boycott the Vietnam War was supported by many black athletes and large pockets of the black community, but Ali was also media-blitzed from all corners. A May 2, 1967, New York Times editorial theorized that the support Ali was hoping to generate would never develop. The late political reporter and columnist Tom Wicker called Ali “… this strange, pathetic Negro boxer superbly gifted in body, painfully warped in spirit.” Less than a week later, the harsh attack on Ali’s character was rebuked by Boston University professor Theodore Brameld who said, “… because, with his warped spirit, he has the courage and integrity to refuse to participate in a war that millions of us with weaker courage and weaker integrity, and certainly far less to lose, continue to tolerate against our own consciences?”

Much like Martin Luther King, Ali’s legacy, in many ways, has been sanitized. Ali only became a truly lovable figure (to some) once he lost his ability to speak. When he no longer could use his actual voice to deliver knockouts, he was no longer a threat (again, to some) to the status quo. Ali’s political beliefs had always come under fire from both sides of the aisle. But the reality is that Americans 35 and under have no recollection of the charismatic ball of energy that earned him global acclaim and domestic scrutiny. Some prefer this image of the legendary boxer. Ali, the heavyweight champion who continued to vibrantly and verbally shake up the world into his latter decades on earth, is a bracing thought. Seeing Muhammad Ali minimized and marginalized by a handful of quotes and yearly tributes that fail to paint the full features of the man — that is beyond scary.

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

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


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

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

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

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Jamaica 2017 Davina Bennett

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Off the record: A$AP Ferg We catch up with Harlem’s newest legend just days before he releases his album

From Sammy Davis Jr. to Dapper Dan, Puff Daddy to Cam’ron — Harlem has long been a hot spot for the country’s tastemakers. And with the recent addition of the A$AP Mob, the tradition continues.

While the Mob represents a collection of uptown’s most talented youth, one stands out as especially remarkable: Darold Ferguson Jr., otherwise known as A$AP Ferg.

We met up with Ferg for lunch on a recent Saturday in the city, and what we found was somebody whose energy levels were much different from what you would expect from the man who has released legendary turn-up anthems like “Shabba” and “Work.” His demeanor was calm, his words thoughtful. Ferg took more time than most celebrities to think through a question and answer it in the most lucid way possible.

Even his drink consumption was deliberate; he may have been drinking some combination of lemonade and cranberry juice. But for the remainder of our time with the rapper, it was strictly water.

His crew — not what you might expect either. It was less of an entourage and more of a mobile family gathering, with Ferg flanked by his uncle/bodyguard and two of his cousins/best friends.

As the day wore on, Darold became the Ferg we have all come to know — and threw a short but undeniably epic show at the MoMa PS1 venue.

Watch the video, get to know the man.

More – Off the record: Joey Bada$$

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

Instagram Photo

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.

Instagram Photo

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.

Daily Dose: 6/23/17 Bill Cosby is taking his show on the road

It’s officially summer. That means you’ll have a lot more people randomly taking Fridays off. And for that reason, I’m filling in on The Dan Le Batard Show today with Ryan Hollins. Should be a fun one.

Johnny Depp needs to chill. Thursday at the Glastonbury Festival in England, he intimated that he might want to assassinate President Donald Trump. Not only is this not cool at all from an obvious human standpoint, but this can also turn out to be a pretty awful career move. Just ask Kathy Griffin. Of course, Depp is rich beyond belief, but he apparently also has issues handling money, so he might want to be able to continue to work for a while. This is not going to end well for Depp.

Bill Cosby has no shame. The man who openly admitted to drugging women to have sex with them, managed to get a hung jury in a sexual assault trial, then had his handlers openly brag about his restored power is really craven. He’s planning public speaking arrangements about how to avoid sexual assault accusations. The plan is to focus on speaking to young athletes and married men. They’re going to have to pay people to show up to these things. Simple lesson: Assault is the problem. Not the accusations.

When I was a teenager, I skated a lot. Not like, let me go to the skate park and learn tricks, but more of a “I need a faster and more fun way to get around town” type. So I never really got good enough to do anything that would impress anyone, but I could ollie well enough to hop a curb from the street if I needed to. Whether I can still actually do that or not, I have no idea. But I will be covering the X Games later this summer, so maybe we’ll see. Anyway, one reporter tried to pick up skating as a grown-up and, well, it wasn’t quite what she expected.

The White House is affecting the New York Jets. If owner Woody Johnson is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the U.K., that means his kid brother Chris is going to have to take over daily operations of the team. I love the idea of the Jets falling apart because of the owner’s excessive political aspirations. Woody Johnson screaming about some butt fumble situation with a cup of tea on the table is an image I won’t get out of my mind anytime soon. I really hope the U.S. Embassy in London is lame enough to fly a Jets flag too.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I admitted to myself the one thing in life I know I’ll regret is not being able to be around when the numbers game simply changes in the U.S. That will be when there are just too many people of color to allow unfair practices to rule our land. Here’s a great story on how interracial love is saving the nation.

Snack Time: Keep telling yourself that everything is fair in America, kiddos. Check out these two photos and you’ll get a real good look at how we are treated versus everyone else.

Dessert: Vince Staples’ new album is out. It’s got many sounds and is perfect for a party to run all the way.

Beyoncé owned April 2016 with her ‘Elle’ cover, the launch of Ivy Park and the release of ‘Lemonade’ The natural look held up a flattering mirror to women of color

Last year’s calendar should have read:

January

February

March

Yoncé

May

…. and then June — because Beyoncé ran the entire month of April. She launched Ivy Park on April 14, premiered the visual album Lemonade on April 23 and kicked off the Formation World Tour on April 27 (it ended up averaging $5.2 million in gross per show).

The orchestration of the month’s activities was no accident, as the number 4 holds special meaning for both Beyoncé and her husband, Jay Z — from birthdays to names, tattoos and anniversaries. This April, in honor of the one-year anniversary of Lemonade, Beyoncé launched the Formation Scholars program, which will “encourage and support” incoming women students at Washington, D.C.’s, Howard University, Atlanta’s Spelman College, Boston’s Berklee College of Music and New York City’s Parsons School of Design. Beyoncé Knowles Carter’s confidence in the impact of Ivy Park and Lemonade was illustrated by her strategic cover story and photo shoot for Elle’s May 2016 issue. (She was also on the cover of Elle UK the same month with a slightly different look.)

For the rest of us, the process went something like this: Your life was snatched by Bey au naturel on the cover of Elle, and you bumped the Lemonade album on her husband’s Tidal (the only place you could find it) while getting dressed in Ivy Park gear to head out to see Queen Bey on her tour. This was life, all of summer ’16.


The Elle shoot started at the crack of dawn in a Los Angeles dance studio. “We were told 5 [a.m.],” said Samira Nasr, Elle fashion director and stylist on the shoot. “It wasn’t even 5:01, and [Beyoncé] was on set. She’s an absolute professional: kind, courteous.” Beyoncé’s team collaborated with Elle to produce a cover that would usher in the revitalization of being an authentically natural girl.

The Elle cover was shot with the visuals for Lemonade in mind. “I do remember it was … all within that same time,” said stylist and hair entrepreneur Kim Kimble. Kimble styled Beyoncé’s hair for both the Elle cover and Lemonade visuals. “Covers, shoots, videos, album packages — all those things are very related. We wanted consistency.”

At the studio, Beyoncé was asked to do a dance that the creatives could shoot. We didn’t know Lemonade was coming,” said Nasr, but “she had her dancers with her. They did this routine that was amazing! But only later, when Lemonade dropped, did we realize they were actually doing one of the dances from the first single.”

Kimble applied leave-in conditioner and a dab of gel to Yoncé’s tresses as she allowed them to air-dry and then styled the soft curls with a curling iron. Makeup artist Sir John dusted Bey’s face with a no-makeup makeup look. Ivy Park was the focus of the shoot, so the styling was straightforwardly athletic. Cue the famous “Beyoncé wind.” The cover ushered in perhaps Beyoncé’s most honest message to fans: one of self-love and self-care.

What made the Elle cover so special is that for the first time, people didn’t see Beyoncé and want to look like her. For once, she looked like the rest of us. It reminded women of a mirror. A well-put-together reflection in a mirror, but a reflection nonetheless. And that was powerful for women of color. Kimble, who has had a working relationship with Beyoncé for 17 years, said, “It was all about … texture … we did a little African-inspired and Victorian sort of installation when it came to hair. … That was the benchmark of what we were doing when we were creating.”

Fresh off the release of her 2008 Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé graced the January 2009 cover of Elle wearing bone straight long hair, also styled by Kimble. Now, no longer in need of a “Fierce” persona, Beyoncé encouraged women to find their own “park,” away from the beauty standards and fashion trends, and simply be their best selves.

We were told 5 [a.m.]. It wasn’t even 5:01, and [Beyonce] was on set. She’s an absolute professional: kind, courteous.”

As talented as Beyoncé is, not everything comes easy. Her first venture into the fashion world, House of Deréon, never took off in the mainstream. Shortly after the launch of Ivy Park, Beyoncé was awarded the Fashion Icon of the Year award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). With a new fashion venture named after her daughter (Deréon was her grandmother’s surname), Beyoncé created her own fashion business redemption.

In a world where there is a fashion trend for pretty much anything — work, the gym, a night out — Beyoncé gave us the anti-trend. It isn’t tied to any one physical activity. Not yoga, the gym, or even dance. Ivy Park’s pieces fall off your shoulders and sway as you move, doing whatever it is that you do. For most of us, Ivy Park came down the lane like a fast break we didn’t see coming.

“Shortly after [Beyoncé’s cover] you see Alicia Keys wearing her natural makeup, natural hair. … You start to see more and more of that, especially from women of color.”

And while Ivy Park continues its success with its spring/summer ’17 collection, which stars Yara Shahidi, the Elle cover, which ranks alongside Tyra Banks’ 1997 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and Naomi Campbell’s 1998 Vogue Italia, will live on as one of the most meaningful covers in fashion history. Elle’s May 2017 cover features Angolan model Maria Borges. Borges, 24, ripped the runway in 2015 with her baby ’fro at Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

“Definitely, Elle is ahead of the trend,” said Kimble. “Shortly after [Beyoncé’s cover] you see Alicia Keys wearing her natural makeup, natural hair. … You start to see more and more of that, especially from women of color.”

“It’s the Bey factor,” Nasr said of Ivy Park. “She kept different body types in mind. She did all the work with her team to get it to a place where she felt was perfect and ready to be put out there, and then she released it — like she does everything. It’s just done in a thoughtful, in-depth way. … My impression of her is that’s how she approaches things. She does the work.”