Animated short ‘Hair Love’ to show the bond between fathers and daughters Filmmaker Matthew Cherry wants to help ‘normalize’ black fathers

Matthew Cherry’s evolution has taken him from the football field to a stint as a production assistant to music videos. Now, his résumé includes a heartwarming short film in production called Hair Love.

Cherry said the idea for the film came from watching viral videos of fathers interacting with their daughters. In particular, he focused on ones that showed fathers combing their daughters’ hair, which can be both a chore and a bonding experience.

His five-minute animated film is about the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri, and her hair. Although Stephen has long locks, he is used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair. When she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen has to figure it out and concludes that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

Cherry said the “story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.” He took to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund the film. His initial goal was $75,000. To date he has raised almost $252,000, making Hair Love the best-funded short film in the history of Kickstarter.

Cherry, 35, is a former college wide receiver. In his four-year career at the University of Akron, he finished with nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. After college, he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2007, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, landing work as a production assistant.

“I was just Matt the PA, and I was here to work,” Cherry said. “I was here to learn and work the game from the ground up, and that’s how I kind of got my foot in the door.”

He has worked on more than 40 commercials and was a director for more than 20 music videos for singers and entertainers such as Michelle Williams, Tweet, Jazmine Sullivan, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred The Family Soul, Snoop Dogg, The Foreign Exchange, Bilal, N’Dambi, Maysa Leak, Dwele, Najee, K’Jon and Take 6.

Cherry’s film The Last Fall received awards at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Screenplay and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) for the HBO Best Feature Film Award. After a limited theatrical release, it made its television premiere on BET in December 2012 and is currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu. He recently released a short film, Forward, which premiered on Ebony.com. He also writes and directs the award-winning web series Almost 30 and Almost Home.

Cherry has one sister (visual artist Caitlin Cherry) and grew up on the northwest side of Chicago.

“Sports was a big part of both of our lives growing up,” he said. “I played baseball ever since I was 5. Football ever since I was 6. Played three sports in high school. Had a full scholarship for football in college. … My existence was very much kind of tied into sports growing up.”

Cherry spoke with The Undefeated about his transition out of football, positive representation of black fathers in the media and normalizing black families.


What was your inspiration for Hair Love?

The biggest, and I think the most important, is just we’re seeing a big lack of representation in that computer-generated, animated world.

We really haven’t seen a lot black characters in that space. Bebe’s Kids was the first animated feature film directed by a black director. That came out in 1992; 25th anniversary was a couple of days ago. Peter Ramsey was the first African-American director to direct a CGI [computer-generated imagery] animated film. That was like two or three years ago, Rise of the Guardians. I think in between that time, there’s really only been those two black directors that have done like a full-length feature film in the animated space.

So we only really have had in recent years maybe four or five examples of full-length feature films that really tell our story. But a lot of times you don’t really see the whole, full family dynamic, particularly in these computer-generated feature films. The biggest thing for me is just like really seeing that lack of a presentation. … I don’t have kids myself right now, but got a serious girlfriend, and one day we’re going to get married and be having kids, and I really wanted to make sure that when I did have kids that they had a character that they could relate to.

When you look at mainstream media, and you see all the images, black hair isn’t made out to be the norm. It’s not meant to be the standard of beauty. We have a very Eurocentric standard of beauty in America, and if you watch TV, if you pick up a magazine, if you look at different things, you’re not going to see yourself represented. … You don’t see your curly, kinky hair on these different models, on these different actors and actresses, on these different music videos, etc. It can really do damage to your self-confidence and how you perceive yourself.

That’s why my biggest thing with this project, first and foremost, was just to really hopefully have some characters that were human, that showed black families in a complex but also simple manner, and just have characters that people can relate to but then try to help increase that diversity in the animation world, because representation is everything. I think my biggest thing is if a little girl can see Zuri or see Stephen, and see themselves represented, if it makes them feel better about themselves, to me, mission accomplished.

Who did you consult with about dads, daughters and hair?

I’ve actually had this idea for a couple years. I always thought it would be cute to do a story about a dad trying to do his daughter’s hair. I’ve seen a lot of kind of online videos, and my main dad friends who have kids, they’re always posting pictures and videos online of their failed attempts of trying to do their son’s and daughter’s hair, and just always thought that that would be a really cool angle to hit, particularly because the whole black father angle. I think, again, in mainstream media, we’re really nonexistent.

We look at a lot of these movies and TV shows, they always depict black dads as deadbeats, nonexistent, abusive. These fathers, they’re getting girls pregnant, running off, that whole thing, and while obviously in every race, every group, you have that negativity, but it’s always made out in the black community like that’s just all black men are. We just are deadbeat dads. We’re not in our kids’ lives.

So for me it was just really important to normalize black fathers, normalize black families. And really I think in starring a young black father and his daughter, I think that would just do wonders to kind of help normalize those images, because it’s important.

What’s been the most difficult part of moving from football to filmmaking?

The most difficult part of my journey is feeling like you have to constantly create your own opportunities. Like, to this day, nobody’s ever hired me for anything. All my opportunities have been self-generated in some fashion. Outside the music video world, from feature films to short films, it’s all been stuff that I either created with some friends or I created on my own, and sometimes it gets frustrating because you feel like, ‘I made this. This premiered at a major festival. Help me.’

Help me get to the next level. I did the work. I followed the blueprint. I did everything that they say you’re supposed to do in order to have somebody help you get to the next level. …

You make all these sacrifices like putting your mom’s life insurance money into the making of your first movie. It comes out, hey, you get a little bit of press, but nobody hires you. Damn. OK. You go away for a couple years. You do random things to kind of stay alive. Then my second feature film, 9 Rides. We shoot it on iPhones and that’s the thing that gets you noticed and gets you an agent and then you realize that all the work you and your team put in mattered after all.

They’ve seen us doing the short films for no budget. They’ve seen us doing the music videos. They’ve seen us doing these feature films and all this other stuff, so. I think the biggest, most difficult part of the journey has just been having to continuously create your own opportunities to kind of continue to put yourself in the game, and I think that there’s a lesson in that, in that you can’t predict what’s going to be the thing that hits, or is going to be the thing that helps put you on. You’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding, and eventually something’s going to hit, or eventually someone’s going to help.

Do you miss football?

Not at all. Not in the least. No, I don’t, especially with all this news about what’s been going on with players’ heads and CTE. I’m actually glad that I didn’t play too long. People have been playing since they were 5 years old, too. You know what I mean? Between Pop Warner, high school, college, you might have your five or 10 years in the league, but if you’re 25 you might have played for 20 years.

How did you prepare for your career after sports?

I studied radio, TV, broadcast and media production in college. I interned at a lot of radio stations, and I was the music director at my college radio station at the University of Akron. I interned up at the Cleveland radio stations, KISS and then on WENZ. And so I would always be kind of dabbling in production, but more of an audio-radio side, and it was something I was really interested in. I loved cutting promos, loved working with all these other kind of post-production programs, and I kind of knew even in college that whenever I got done playing ball I’d either be working in radio or some level of entertainment on the production side of things.

I signed as an undrafted free agent. My rookie year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I knew after training camp, I was like, “Yeah. I’ve got to get my plan B together,” because it was just so political. When you come in as an undrafted free agent it’s like being a walk-on, so all these things have to happen that are outside of your control in order for you to make it. Guys will generally have to get hurt or traded and all these other things. It’s not really about how you perform, necessarily. It’s about, ‘OK, can you justify putting this guy in over the guy we’re paying millions of dollars?’

And I knew literally in training camp like, ‘Yeah. This is kind of unfair. I’m doing my thing, but I’m still not getting rewarded for it on the field.’ I actually got cut during training camp, and then they re-signed me to the practice squad. That’s how they do it, and I learned when I first got cut by just feeling there was nothing more I could have done. I felt like I balled out. I did everything that I should have done to be able to make the regular team, and it didn’t happen for me.

What’s up next after Hair Love?

This has all been a roller-coaster ride. The biggest thing for me is just really trying to just continue to do projects that are personal to me. Things that I really love. We hope to be able to use the characters from Hair Love and turn it into a feature film

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Rachel is the Bachelorette black women have been waiting to see In the hands of Rachel, the rose has become a rare sign of black female value

Past hurts can make you do strange things — including watching a TV show you know is absurd.

For 15 years, I turned up my nose at The Bachelor and its spin-off, The Bachelorette. When The Bachelor premiered on ABC in 2002, I was too busy raising school-age kids to be distracted by a show in which a bunch of single women cloistered themselves in a secluded mansion to compete for the hand — or other proffered body parts — of a man they’d just met. The show’s setup seemed unlikely to foster true love. I could see why the titular bachelor would enjoy a bevy of attractive females battling for his affection — offering roses to those he wanted to know better and showing the door to those he didn’t. But what sane woman would court such humiliation unless she was A) an aspiring entertainer for whom the exposure could be lucrative, or B) the type who’d do anything to have millions of eyes on her? And in a world in which romantic attraction routinely crosses color lines, the show’s overwhelmingly white cast seemed out of touch. Why bother?

The following year, ABC flipped the script, getting a gaggle of guys to vie for a Bachelorette. Though slightly more amused by the thought of a bunch of men undercutting each other to woo a woman they barely knew, I never considered watching it.

Until Rachel.

ABC’s announcement in February that it had selected its first black Bachelorette intrigued me in spite of myself. The pool of potential mates for Rachel Lindsay, 31 — a Dallas lawyer who’d been a popular contestant on the last Bachelor — would doubtless be diverse. How would Rachel, the sophisticated daughter of a district judge, negotiate the complex racial dynamics that permeate all of American life when they inevitably surfaced on the show? Would her awareness of the program’s black fans — who’d waited 33 seasons for the franchise to anoint an African-American lead and might understandably have expectations — complicate her choice? A member of the African-American Culture Committee while attending the University of Texas, Rachel — who resembles the Boomerang-era Robin Givens — was open-minded enough to have told white Bachelor Nick Viall she was falling in love with him before he sent her packing. This season, Rachel made it clear she wanted a fiance (“not … a boyfriend”) at the conclusion of her Bachelorette “journey,” and now reports that she is happily engaged to the man she chose from among three finalists in next Monday’s finale.

Although I’m a diehard Dancing with the Stars fan who loves watching klutzy celebs sweat their way to ballroom proficiency, I find most reality TV shows too anti-reality. Anyone who has recorded a smartphone video knows that pointing a camera at people compels them to change everything from their posture to their professed points of view. A dear friend who loves reality shows swears that “people’s veneers inevitably come off.” But how “real” can an engagement that results from such a show be? We’re talking about a relationship forged in a few brief dates with a man fending off dozens of competitors while everyone concerned is stumbling over camera crews and cut off from loved ones and social media.

It’s crazy, right? So why has Rachel’s Bachelorette stint so thoroughly pulled me in? Is it the fun of watching presumably smart people make fools of themselves? Memories of my own distant, wanna-meet-somebody days as a single black woman? Sure. But mostly, it’s been the irresistible weekly prospect of watching black, white, Latino and Asian men employ lying, manipulation, innuendo, self-pity — every trick in the reality TV playbook — to woo a black woman.

Why not? Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lupita and Serena may be desired by millions, but in the real dating world, being a black woman has its challenges. Sisters, who historically are more desirous than other females to date men of their own ethnicity, outnumber black men in most cities. Those willing to look beyond the black-man cohort aren’t always made to feel welcome. Despite the widespread debunking of an infamous Psychology Today blog in which an evolutionary biologist falsely suggested he had scientific evidence that black women are less attractive than other women, it’s easy for a black woman to question her worth in a culture that still glorifies European beauty.

Old wounds can go deep. As a little girl, I swooned over the romantic entreaties offered by men who pursued Disney princesses and rom-com heroines in my favorite movies. So what if none of these damsels with whom they found happily ever after resembled me? Yet, the fact that I was invisible in the love stories I adored may explain why the rapturous declarations offered by Rachel’s suitors feel oddly validating. Where else can you see dozens of attractive men rhapsodizing over a brown-skinned sister’s brilliance and beauty? Whenever Rachel has invited a competitor to join her on a coveted one-on-one date, the guys left behind gather to sigh about her sexiness and smarts all while subtly savaging the guy she’s with. It’s totally bogus. Yet part of me loves it.

I should be embarrassed to admit that. Grown women are supposed to at least pretend they’ve completely outgrown their vulnerable inner child — like mine, who felt barred from the culture’s narrow interpretation of who and what was worthy of love. Everyone wants to be seen. And even women who know they have far more to offer than their ever-changing outer packaging may find it hard to shake the old whispers that once diminished them. Like every child, the girl-I-was deserved to be valued for her all her innate beauty, including her hair’s complex texture, her nose’s roundness, her skin’s warm darkness. Part of me agrees with the male friend who calls The Bachelorette “the fakest thing I’ve ever seen.” But if Rachel being swooned over by men of every shade offers even a tiny corrective to black girls’ general feelings of invisibility, I can’t dismiss it. Pop culture is a festival of falseness. But it teaches kids — and more than a few adults — what to love (and hate) about themselves. The Bachelorette is silly and manipulative. But this season, it suggests to black fans of all ages a little-acknowledged truth: Sisters, too, deserve to be desired and cherished by every type of guy.

So I’ve played along. I rolled my eyes when roguish white suitor Lee — who relentlessly bedeviled Kenny, a black rival far too willing to take the bait — was “discovered” to have posted sexist and racist tweets. I was moved when Rachel told Dean — a sweet white Californian who whispered he was falling in love with her after their excruciating visit with his estranged father — she was falling for him, too. Shortly afterward, she gave him the boot. Not knowing what’s real or fabricated on The Bachelorette doesn’t change my last reason for watching: the possibility of witnessing a miracle. What if one of the 31 men who emerged from limousines to greet Rachel on the show’s premiere is actually her match? One who isn’t a self-promoting fraud, but a decent guy who signed on to this nutty show for fun, adventure or the what-the-hell possibility of finding true love?

The trio of remaining bachelors — one black, one Latino and one white (like THAT’S a coincidence!) — actually seem like such guys. Whichever takes a knee on Monday’s finale, I wish him, Rachel, and every sister who’ll sigh when he pops the question the happiest of ever afters …

Are films like ‘Step’ inspiring or are they inner-city uplift porn? Maybe they’re both

After seeing Step, the new documentary about a step team at a girls charter school in Baltimore, two things happened:

  1. When I walked out of the darkened theater and into the light of day with the other people at the screening, everyone’s eyes were wet, including my own.
  2. I immediately wondered if what I’d seen was well-crafted inner-city uplift porn.

Step, the first feature-length documentary from director Amanda Lipitz, a Broadway producer whose credits include Legally Blonde the Musical, follows the journey of the step team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW, pronounced “bliss”). Most of the girls in the film are seniors, and this is their last chance to win a competition in the midst of typical senior-year concerns, in particular, getting into college.

Their lives are set against a backdrop of hardship: poverty, hunger, the threat of police violence, and parents who aren’t or can’t be as involved as would be ideal. But thanks to their determination and hard work, and constant prodding from coach Gari McIntyre (known in the film as Coach G) and college counselor Paula Dofat, the girls not only persist, they all are accepted into college.

It reminded me of a scene from Primary Colors, the 1998 film based on Joe Klein’s roman à clef about the first Clinton presidential campaign.

In the scene, Gov. Jack Stanton (John Travolta) tells his wife, Susan (Emma Thompson), about an adult literacy program that he encountered on the campaign trail. The program’s home is in the library of a rundown, graffiti-covered, underfunded school in New York.

“Honey, this was so great today, this reading program,” the governor says. “You shoulda seen the people. And the teacher — well. She was just inspirational.”

“Give me a break,” Susan responds. “Tell me how good the curriculum was, not the teacher. We can replicate a good curriculum.”

The scene gets at the crux of the issue with films, both narrative and documentary, such as Step, Dope, Dangerous Minds, All the Difference, and Check It. Such stories rely on individuals, in this case, McIntyre, Dofat and the step team members, to get an audience to pay attention to issues that are far bigger in scope. In the scene from Primary Colors, failing public schools and social promotion created the need for such a literacy program in the first place. In Step, there are larger issues that created the problems the BLSYW girls face, among them housing discrimination, the racial wealth gap, the resegregation of public schools, and unjust allocation of public resources.

So what purpose does a film like Step serve? Lipitz, a graduate of the Park School of Baltimore, where yearly tuition can run as high as $29,620, was inspired by the success of a similar girls leadership school in Queens, New York, with a 100 percent graduation rate. Her mother founded BLSYW on Lipitz’s suggestion and chairs its board.

I asked Lipitz if she worried that the success McIntyre and Dofat were able to achieve would lull audiences into a false sense of security. It’s easy to believe that these women have found a way to solve these larger problems so that the rest of us don’t need to focus on them quite so much.

“I didn’t worry about that,” Lipitz said. “ ‘Cause I think they’re so inspiring that you’re like, ‘I want to go do what Coach G does.’ I feel like they inspire you to get up and move and do something about it. Mentor someone, take interest in someone. I think they inspire people to do that.”

She’s not wrong. There’s tremendous value in films that aim to uplift. That’s what made the Stantons such an effective team: Theirs was a marriage of both pragmatism and inspiration. But it’s a challenge to find films that accomplish both, and frankly, films that skew more toward policy usually end up on public television, not the big screen. Because it’s so hard to make compelling films about policy — Ava DuVernay’s 13th is a notable exception — we end up with a glut of films that are high on uplift and short on the nitty-gritty.

Step doesn’t ignore these larger social issues — McIntyre mentions that she lives on the same street where Freddie Gray was killed. But there’s an underlying message that personal responsibility, hard work, and school personnel so dedicated they qualify for beatification are enough to circumvent the consequences of being born poor, black, and female in a country that’s systematically hostile to people who are poor, black, and female.

In Jack Stanton’s story, it’s the inspiring teacher who’s the savior. Susan Stanton gets at something more practical and less sexy: You can’t scale an inspirational teacher. You need a curriculum. Step illustrates just how important women such as Dofat and McIntyre are, but they’re not enough. We have to fix the problems that make them so invaluable.

Working as an educator in public schools is not easy. Dofat, 50, has been working as a college counselor for 17 years. There’s an emotional scene in Step where she tearfully pleads with two college administrators to take one of her students. She’s afraid that if they don’t, the girl’s life will essentially be ruined. I asked Dofat what kept her from burning out.

“Faith,” she answered. But she also told me about the need to separate guidance counseling from college counseling to achieve more effective results. Public schools that serve poor, majority-minority populations need enough resources to hire some counselors who focus solely on social and emotional issues, and others who focus on getting kids into college, Dofat said. Most schools employ counselors who are responsible for all of it, and therefore are often overwhelmed.

Changes like those Dofat recommends could have huge implications in steering students away from the for-profit certificate and diploma mills that disproportionately target students who are poor, female, and ethnic minorities, saddling them with worthless degrees and debt they often cannot repay.

But wonkier points like that get obscured by Step’s feel-good inspiration. The film recently won the audience award at AFI Docs Film Festival and got a loving reception at Sundance earlier this year. Ultimately, public education should be the responsibility of everyone in a community. It is a public good that only works well when affluent white parents are not scared to send their children to school with poor black children and when they recognize that everyone deserves the same chances and the same resources.

McIntyre began working as a step coach and logistics coordinator at BLSYW in 2015. She went to Milford Mill Academy, part of Baltimore County Public Schools, and eventually graduated from Coppin State after initially dropping out. She’s no stranger to the hardships many of the BLSYW girls face.

“I did have a very rough time with completing high school, because I was more focused on social and creative outlets,” McIntyre said. “I graduated with a 1.8 GPA. I barely went to school, because I felt like the teachers were not challenging me, and I didn’t need to go to school. I would go to school and get A’s on tests and quizzes, but I would never prepare for anything. So, I had the ability, I had to think and had to focus, and I really felt that the teachers were not challenging me or catering to me in the way that I felt that I needed to learn.”

But even more teachers who cared wouldn’t have been enough, she said.

“There are problems that are on a way bigger scale, based off of the way our country votes,” McIntyre said. “Decisions that are based in racial and gender bias, housing discrimination, and there being actual laws that are legally segregating communities, and determining who gets resources and who doesn’t, and that’s not by mistake.

“I think that it’s clear what type of people they want to be successful. It shows grit when a little black girl like Cori [Grainger, a BLSYW senior], who never even thought that she would be Johns Hopkins material, not only makes it in Johns Hopkins, but then graduates and does well. … I think that specifically [when others look at] African-American communities, people truly believe that we want to be impoverished and in violence. Poverty is not what you see in Third World countries in the United States. The poverty is sometimes not knowing where your next meal is going to come from, or being on government assistance, or being a victim to the failed mental health system, or health care system in the United States. … So, I do think that these are way bigger issues, that people are seeing on a smaller level.”

Step is the story of young girls who are beating the odds. After seeing it, I hope audiences remember these girls never should have had to face such odds in the first place.

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.

Daily Dose: 8/2/17 NFL may allow marijuana for players’ pain relief

So, my week on Mike & Mike is done, but it was a fun one. I’d like to thank Booger McFarland and Sean Farnham for co-hosting with me, and of course, the crew in Bristol, Connecticut, for making everything work. Now, here’s an unpopular opinion.

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So, while you were too worried about Colin Kaepernick and whether his presence in Baltimore might create an issue for Ravens fans, the actual police there seem to be up to no good. See, aside from the whole matter of people dying in their custody, there’s also this small little concern about, you know, conspiracy to fabricate evidence. What’s that? You didn’t think that was real? It is. And it gets court cases thrown out. So, when you wonder why people don’t trust law enforcement officials, now you have an example.

I like robots, but they scare me. As in, when it comes to sci-fi movies, I’m here to watch them blow each other up and create havoc. But the idea of actual robots populating my life is terrifying. Which is why I get nervous whenever I hear the term artificial intelligence. There’s a small part of me that believes that only humans are dumb enough to invent things that will kill them, because, well, we’ve already done that many times. So, when it turns out that Facebook had to kill bots that created their own languages to communicate with each other, my skin crawls.

When SoundCloud first dropped, I was ecstatic. The easy-to-use interface that allowed both artists and fans to interact directly was a monster step from, say, MySpace, and it provided an incredible, searchable, savable community for people to share in. It was basically not even about the music, it was just a great environment to be a part of that happened to have quite a few songs. Now, with its future in jeopardy, people involved in everything are talking about how it all went down. What a sad tale.

It looks like the NFL is getting interested in weed. Not in the recreational sense, but it appears that when it comes to pain relief, the shield is considering allowing marijuana. Now, many people are concerned that this will just lead to more players blazing and acting like it’s for pain, which is an argument I don’t really understand why anyone cares about. If you want to smoke your way out of the league, you’re going to do it whether the league fines you for it or not. Allowing players to use it, for whatever reason, just makes more sense.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I have a dream to buy an International Harvester Scout and drive to California in it and basically never come back. Who knows if that will ever happen, but some people do this in minivans every single day of the week. As it turns out, that’s not really what minivans were made for at all to begin with.

Snack Time: What would you do if you invited the Obamas to your wedding and you actually got a response? What if it happened months later, though? That’s real life for some people.

Dessert: Want to improve your mood? Watch the videos for Khalid’s “Young, Dumb & Broke.”

The ‘Incredible Jessica James’ and the necessary arrogance of black women In both Jessica Williams’ new movie and ‘Girls Trip,’ black women reaffirm their own value

In The Incredible Jessica James, available on Netflix starting Friday, Jessica Williams plays a 25-year-old playwright who’s just gotten out of a relationship. When we meet her, she’s already grown impatient with the meaningless small talk of the dating scene.

In a line she improvised during a take, Williams-as-James tells a potential suitor, “I’d rather have my period nonstop for a year than continue this portion of the conversation.”

“I think we really just wanted to portray a female character that is unapologetic,” Williams, the former Daily Show correspondent, said in a phone interview. “Like, she’ll apologize for things she does wrong, but we didn’t want her to be like, ‘Sorry I’m alive!’ I feel like oftentimes, women can be written in a way where they’re really apologetic. I wanted to play this character … where she really gets to drive her narrative. There’s a line where she’s like, ‘I know I’m dope. Everybody likes me. I know I’m dope.’

Chris O’Dowd and Jessica Williams in a scene from ‘The Incredible Jessica James.’

Courtesy of Netflix

“We wanted to be like, well, what if a woman had self-confidence and the crux of the movie wasn’t about her figuring out self-confidence? That narrative has been done, and we wanted to try something a little different.”

That quality of self-confidence links Williams in an interesting way with Regina Hall, who stars in the raunchy comedy Girls Trip, which opened last weekend (aside from the fact that they both worked with Jessica James writer-director Jim Strouse in the 2015 romantic comedy People Places Things).

We see both characters, Williams in The Incredible Jessica James and Hall in Girls Trip, talking themselves up. They give themselves little verbal boosts, even though they’re at different points in their lives.

Hall plays a woman for whom confidence should be a sure thing. Her character, Ryan Pierce, is 40-something and firmly established in her career as a writer and lifestyle expert, a sort of Arianna Huffington-Oprah hybrid. But she’s also a woman used to lifting herself up, and her go-to mantra, especially in moments of vulnerability is “I am smart, I am beautiful, I am powerful.”

Girls Trip and The Incredible Jessica James aren’t the only projects that make a point to show this affirmation of self. There are the sticky notes of encouragement that Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union) leaves sprinkled around her house for herself in the BET series Being Mary Jane. There are the confidence-boosting raps that Issa Dee (Issa Rae) spits to herself in bathroom mirrors on HBO’s Insecure. Even my own sister, who is one of the most confident, capable, self-possessed women I know, has a note scribbled to herself on her bathroom mirror. It says simply: “You got this!”

This confidence can seem a bit incongruous for the Jessica James character at times. Although her day job is teaching theater and playwriting to school-age children, she can’t find a theater company or a fellowship that wants to produce her plays. She writes at a desk in front of a wall filled with rejection letters but never lets professional success determine her self-worth. That’s not an easy lesson to learn. And when you consider that Jessica James is 25 (Williams is about to turn 28), it’s pretty inspiring.

There’s a scene in which James is negotiating a hookup with Boone (Chris O’Dowd). Jessica is trying to charm her way into his apartment after their second date. They’ve already slept together on the first one, but Boone, who is several months removed from divorcing his first wife, wants to take things slow.

Jessica has a different idea about what should happen.

“Good night,” says Boone.

“Really?” she responds. “Boone. Boone. Boone. Boone. I’m a unicorn. That’s gotta mean somethin’.”

Sarah Jones (as herself) and Jessica James (Jessica Williams) meet for the first time at a playwriting retreat in ‘The Incredible Jessica James.’

Courtesy of Netflix

Boone relents, because really, who’s going to turn down Jessica? “We can always say good night in the morning!” she says cheerfully.

I asked Williams if there is any additional meaning in the fact that the woman we’re watching live her life without unnecessary apology is black.

“I think sometimes, when you’re trying or not, being black can be political,” Williams said. “And I think in this particular movie, it’s very valid to have movies where race is discussed — and that needs to happen more — but I think it’s progressive as well to have movies where race isn’t discussed and the character just gets to sort of exist. There’s interracial dating happening, and while it’s not discussed, it’s still interesting because she is a black woman. I think it’s important and also not necessarily majorly important to this story in particular.”

James’ blackness doesn’t announce itself in Jessica James, which takes place in New York. She lives in “deep, deep, deeeeeeep Bushwick,” as she says in the film — not, say, Bedford-Stuyvesant or Crown Heights. Her ex-boyfriend Damon (Lakeith Stanfield) designs cellphone cases for a living. There’s an unspoken irony in having the film’s lead be black while her best friend is white, a nifty subversion of the “black best friend” trope. On top of that, the white best friend’s name is Tasha (Noël Wells). Whether it was intentional or not, I found it clever and I totally snickered at it.

A rhythm and a trust develop between actresses and the writer-directors who know how to exploit their comedic sweet spots. There’s Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow (it helps that they’re married to one another), Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig, Madeline Kahn and Mel Brooks, and Hall and director Malcolm D. Lee. We may be witnessing the fruits of a similar creative partnership in Williams and Strouse. Strouse is comfortable with Williams improvising lines, and the result is a character who speaks in a voice that feels completely natural.

“We work well together because Jim is very thoughtful and he thinks about things before he says them. He’s a fan of mine, and he has been for a while, and I’m a fan of his,” Williams said. “But he really likes my podcast Two Dope Queens [with Phoebe Robinson] and my work on the Daily Show, and so he’s always been really respectful. He’s just a great writer. I’m sensitive, and it’s really nice to work with him.”

But I think Strouse sees something in Williams as a black woman, even if he doesn’t scream it in his scripts, the same way he saw something in the talented Hall. There’s a power in seeing a self-aware black woman on screen who simply proceeds through life like she hasn’t been defeated by it, like she still feels she can make a difference, like she still believes that the world is hers.

Maybe that’s why so many black women spend so much time telling ourselves how wonderful we are: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we say, “I’m smart and beautiful and powerful,” the more we insist that we’re “unicorns,” the more we make it so.

Tiffany Haddish steals all her scenes in ‘Girls Trip’ She’s gone from homeless in South Central to movie star — and there’s a comedy special and new TV show on the way

Here’s the thing: Tiffany Haddish has been here. For a while. “In every character I play,” she says, “I try to infuse a little bit of myself. I always try to find the places where I can put Tiffany in it.”

It works. Haddish “made it” a bit ago when she was knighted by Arsenio Hall on the short-lived reboot of his talk show four years ago. It was a huge moment for a woman from South Central Los Angeles to do her stand-up thing for a studio audience — and before a man who co-starred in 1988’s acclaimed blockbuster Coming to America.

Today, she’s the breakout star of the successful Girls Trip — and stands out on a screen filled with marquee names like Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah. The film also stars Regina Hall, who first came of notice in 1999’s The Best Man. In addition to finishing second behind Christopher Nolan’s lauded Dunkirk in the weekend box office numbers, Girls Trip, produced by Will Packer and directed by Malcolm Lee, also arrived with a number of favorable reviews. And, almost unanimously, critics marveled at the introduction of Haddish.

The movie features four 40-something black women as sexual, funny beings enveloped in a sometimes complicated friendship. “This role,” she says, “I’d say it’s 85 percent me and 15 percent some stuff I would never do personally!”

And if you want to toast her now because you’ve just now noticed how hilarious she is, go for it. She’ll take it. During her struggle years, she sometimes lived out of her car, wondering whether she could ever escape a scary childhood that included, at the age of 9, being a mother to her own mother. At 12, Haddish became a foster child and was separated from her siblings. At 15, at the insistence of a social worker, she enrolled in the Laugh Factory’s Comedy Camp for at-risk kids and found a mentor in Richard Pryor, who gave her some advice: People don’t want to hear about the woes of her life. They want to laugh and have fun, so have fun.

“This role … I’d say it’s 85 percent me and 15 percent some stuff I would never do personally!”

She’s having the time of her life and, at 37, is ready for it. “I’m so grateful that I’m at this level of my career now at this age. I can appreciate everything. My maturity level is way better. My comprehension level … is better,” Haddish said. “Had I achieved this at 24, it probably would have been all bad. I might not have been able to handle it all very well emotionally or mentally. I feel like everything is given to you when you can deal with it best.”

There’s a great deal more coming. Later this summer is the premiere of her Showtime comedy special, Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From The Hood to Hollywood! (Aug. 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT). This fall, she co-stars with Tracy Morgan in a new TBS show called The Last O.G. “My slogan is ‘She ready,’ ” says Haddish. “I feel like God and the universe only puts on me what I’m ready for.”

And she’s been putting in the work. Since the beginning of NBC’s The Carmichael Show, she appeared as Nekeisha, the wisecracking ex of LilRel Howery’s Bobby Carmichael. She also voiced a character in Comedy Central’s animated Legends of Chamberlain Heights and played an around-the-way-girl love interest in Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s 2016 Keanu. She’s also appeared in Tyler Perry’s OWN soap opera, If Loving You Is Wrong, and in Kevin Hart and BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood. “I always perform like I have nothing to lose,” Haddish says. “I don’t know if I’m going to make it to tomorrow. I try to enjoy every moment and give 110 percent of me, every single time.”

And in the comedy community, it’s been all love. “I talk to Jada [and her other castmates] all the time,” she says. And she often references the role Kevin Hart has played in her journey. She met him years ago during one of her rougher moments, and he helped her develop goals and inspired her to have the confidence to execute them.

“Comedy saved my life,” she says. “If I wasn’t in a comedy camp as a teenager, I probably would be a baby mama. Doing customer service. Hating life. Cussing out men. An angry person.

“But luckily I got to be in that camp, and there were [people] there that gave me confidence and communication skills. That was all I needed to start making that push in that direction.”

“Comedy saved my life. If I wasn’t in a comedy camp as a teenager, I probably would be a baby mama. Doing customer service. Hating life. Cussing out men. An angry person.”

Here, perhaps, is Haddish’s real gift: a refreshing candor. She openly talks about her life as a homeless woman, her mother’s schizophrenia and how she herself regularly sees a psychiatrist. She’s all about mental wellness.

“I remember being that kid … in a youth mentoring group, and adults would come in and talk about their experiences,” she says. “That … gave me fuel. If I share my story, who knows who can relate to it? If she can do it, I can do it. God gave me this life, and it’s not for me to be greedy or stingy. Maybe it’ll help somebody navigate through their experience.”

‘Being Mary Jane’ star Richard Brooks is taking on more and starring in new show ‘The Rich and the Ruthless’ The ‘Law & Order’ vet is going beyond acting to writing, producing and directing

Actor and singer Richard Brooks can read over a legal document and break it right on down. He’s not a lawyer, but he played one on television as Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette in the first three seasons (1990-93) of NBC’s hit drama Law & Order. And the research that went into preparing for the part gives him some expertise on the matter.

“Sometimes, I think of myself as a jailhouse lawyer now because I help people with their legal issues,” Brooks said as he chuckled. “It makes no sense. I’d read the contract, and people are like, ‘You read my contract?’ ‘Yes, I read the full contract.’ ”

Now, Brooks is in the fourth season of the hit show Being Mary Jane on BET and is a co-star in Victoria Rowell’s new dramedy The Rich and the Ruthless, which premieres July 28 on the Urban Movie Channel.

Alongside Gabrielle Union, Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery and now Michael Ealy, Brooks plays Patrick Patterson, the older brother of Mary Jane (Union). Patrick is a recovering addict trying to get his life back on the right track while raising a young daughter and advising his older children, who now have children of their own. He plays a grandfather on the show who faces adversity of his own, but he is still helping the Patterson family through their separate personal issues.

In the fictional show The Rich and the Ruthless, Brooks plays self-made businessman and showrunner Augustus Barringer. After finding out his show, the first black soap opera on a big Hollywood network, has been booted, he decides to fight for his rightful place in Hollywood. He does what he has to do to keep the show going and moves the company to Jamaica, but his unpredictable wife, Kitty Barringer (Rowell), is not too happy about these changes.

Brooks said he met Rowell on the set of Diagnosis: Murder in 1994.

“I came in for a special guest star on that, and in the show we were paired off together, we had to break the case together,” Brooks said of his character on the nighttime drama. “I was a former heavyweight boxer who, I believe, was being swindled or something by my promoter, and she’s helping me break the case. We really had a great time just being together. There’s a little romantic spark in the police character. We’ve just been friends ever since then, looking for an opportunity to work together again.”

Brooks founded his own production company, Flat Top Entertainment, through which he released his first solo rhythm and blues album, Smooth Love. In 2013, he appeared on the public TV series The Abolitionists as Frederick Douglass. He spoke to The Undefeated about The Rich and the Ruthless, Being Mary Jane and his journey.


How do you feel that you’re entertaining us on one of the hottest TV shows right now, Being Mary Jane?

I love it. I feel like we helped start the whole trend of there being a lot of black dramas and shows like this, like Empire and Power. It’s great to still be pumping out great episodes and great drama, bringing that to BET. The character I play I really love, because he’s a fully dimensional black man. I feel like I get to portray the struggles I think that a lot of black men are going through, and we’re trying to rebound and rebuild our lives, and have a second chance to be the kind of men that we want to be. It’s a great production, great quality writing and acting, so I just love it. It’s really a joy.

Is it weird playing a grandfather?

I guess not really. I feel like I’m a young grandfather. I guess it’s amazing. I think that throughout my career, I’ve managed to sometimes snag these roles, like it’s just laying there or whatever, where I have a full family dynamic. What’s really challenging and satisfying about the part especially is that I’m a grandfather, I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother, you know? I have to play the dynamics of all of those relationships and those roles all at the same time. It’s just great to have a show where my parents are there, too, and I’m still dealing with my parents. My son also. And then try to be a good father, and I have grandkids who I’m trying to be a good grandfather to, and so it is kind of crazy. It’s crazy to get to that part of your life where that is your possibility because that’s who you are. Your kids can have kids, you know? I don’t think we get to see that that much in characters on television or on the movies who actually have that whole world, that whole experience, happening for them. It’s like I’m the emotional center of the show. I get so emotional, so fragile. It’s funny.

What inspires you to keep pouring into our lives through your craft?

It’s funny because I look back and then I realize I’ve been doing this since I was 10 or 11, when I first saw a school play, I think, in sixth grade, and I think they were doing Hansel and Gretel. I found myself going, ‘Why am I not Hansel?’ I was sitting in the audience, and then I started trying to plot my way into the drama department of my junior high school and found a way into a summer job program. They had a student program at the time. The kids were out there picking up garbage and helping do construction stuff and all that.

I was making money being paid actually to act, as a kid. It’s funny now to just look back and realize this was all I’ve done, all I’ve had to do pretty much my whole life, is to be an actor, and I’ve always wanted to be a great actor and really represent men, and black men. My mother always put it upon me to try to teach black men how to be men, or something like that. So that inspires me, and I am just so happy to have roles that may illuminate something about what we go through as men out here.

What’s been the most meaningful role you’ve ever played?

Well, I like to think of my current role, of course, as Patrick, and now Augustus Barringer on The Rich and the Ruthless, and all the roles that are to come. Of course, Law & Order in Paul Robinette had a more transformative role for me because I had to really grow as a man, as an intellect, as a scholar. I had to become more versed in current affairs, and law, and politics and things like that. Before then, I had been pretty much just an artist kind of mentality and just wanting to act, and that role forced me to learn contracts and laws, and my research for it actually influenced me as a person a lot, so that one was probably the biggest stretch at the time. To grow into that role, I think, has helped me with the rest of my career to take on more challenging parts and things like that.

But I have a theater background. I think that had a big effect on me, too, the work of August Wilson.

If you weren’t an actor and an artist, what do you think you’d be doing?

When I started going to a prep school I was acting, and I went right to another grad school, Circle in the Square. But my mom had wanted to get me a full scholarship to medical school actually in Cleveland. She spoke with someone, and he was like, ‘Wow, this is great. We really need black men as doctors. We could give him a full ride, eight years.’ He’d pay for it, you know? But I was committed to acting, and also, I never really liked dissecting. I didn’t like biology. I didn’t really like dissecting frogs and things like that.

I think that law would have probably been one that I were to find myself more practically thinking of. There’s a certain amount of performance to it, and there’s the intellect. I do like legalese and the complexities of law and stuff.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Probably just surviving the process of the ups and downs of the industry, and dealing with the other people’s expectations, whether they are ahead of me or behind me. You start off and no one really believes you could do anything, they think it’s impossible, and so you have a lot of doubt. Then, as soon as you start to do something, then people are ahead of you, and then they might be like, ‘Well, how come you’re not a major superstar already? How come that movie didn’t … ‘ So it’s always good, just sort of gauging it and trying to keep a level head. You’ve got to keep a balance and continue to think positive.

What do you look forward to most in your future?

I’ve really been into directing a little bit. I was shadowing on Being Mary Jane this season. Right now I’m doing an intensive at New York Film Academy out here in L.A. for the summer. Trying to squeeze that in between acting parts and stuff, and so I really want to expand into writing, producing, directing and creating concepts. Sort of what Victoria [Rowell] is doing, which is why I really want to support her in anything she’s doing. Because I think it’s incredible, the way she’s managed to put this project together and carried it to this point where we’re premiering, and somebody thought of her. That’s what artists have to do sometimes. We can’t just sit around and wait for other people to create opportunities for us; we have to create the opportunities.

We’re the ones who have a lot of the experience. We know what works. We’ve read hundreds and hundreds of scripts, and been on hundreds and hundreds of sets, so it is our time to actually step up and create opportunities for the next generations. So, kind of where my mind is right now.

What would you tell an aspiring actor who came to you for advice?

I do believe in studying and emulating a trained actor. I believe in excellence, I believe in using the art form as a way for personal growth. So whether you succeed at it or not, I think it’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself while you’re exploring other characters. I would definitely tell them to persevere and also innovate, because everything is changing and there’s no right or wrong way to make it these days. Who knows what’s coming in the future? With social media and the new way that stars are coming up the internet now. But definitely, I would tell them to try to be the best, and study with the best, and supplement all their education with books and learning.

Are there any roles that you haven’t done that you’d like to do?

I’ve done so many roles. I definitely want to do some more movies. I wouldn’t mind getting into some new superhero comic book. I think that would be fun. And maybe something on the musical side, too, I wouldn’t mind. I haven’t really done a hit Broadway musical, or I haven’t gotten much singing out as much as I would like to. That would be fun. I think just to get my music out, or to be a part of something musical.

What are your hobbies?

My singing, music. Songwriting is one. Sports. I like basketball and swimming, reading, going out and partying. Still like to party.

André 3000 on the 10th anniversary of his ‘Class of 3000’ soundtrack The music icon talks everything from Sonny Rollins to ‘Dead Poets Society’ to Tyler, The Creator to the creative life

Where we were on July 3, 2007, the day the soundtrack to André Benjamin’s animated series Class of 3000 was released: It had been a year since the premiere of Outkast’s movie and soundtrack Idlewild. Three years since the duo won the Album of the Year Grammy for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Yet the musical futures of Three Stacks and Big Boi were up in the air. André 3000, especially, was keeping mum about any future projects but was dropping unannounced guest verses — “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” and “Walk It Out” among them — and stealing the show each time. The world was clamoring for more output from André, even dreaming of a solo album (fans are still begging for that album in 2017). But what many don’t know is that 3000 actually released a full-length album — just not what anyone was expecting.

Class of 3000 is the soundtrack to Andre 3000’s short-lived but brilliant Cartoon Network series. In it, André plays a music teacher who exposes his class to adventures and a new appreciation for their respective instruments. The show is like if you put The Magic School Bus in a deep fryer and put a side of yams next to it. He produced the entire album, provided vocals and, yes, even rapped. A decade later, the album is still as innovative and replayable as it was in 2007.

“It actually happened right after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” said Benjamin via mobile. “Adult Swim was getting aggressive with television and for new content. [Then-vice president of programming for Cartoon Network] Mike Lazzo heard The Love Below and said, ‘Man, I gotta reach out to that guy and make The Love Below into some kind of animated thing.’ The show was originally supposed to be an Adult Swim show. It was going to be more edgy. But I felt The Love Below was its own entity. I wanted to create something new.”

“You don’t have to rest on what you’ve done in the past. It’s beautiful.”

André and Lazzo were at a loss as to what their new concept should be about until they took a trip around Atlanta. “André started talking about his youth,” said Lazzo, now a senior executive vice president at Cartoon Network. Andre took Lazzo to his neighborhood in southwest Atlanta — and to Sutton Middle School on the other side of town, in the wealthy Buckhead area. “It was two completely different worlds. His mom insisted he get a great education, so she got his transportation arranged. As I’m listening to all this I’m thinking, ‘André, this is the show I want to see.’ ”

Andre “3000” Benjamin during Andre “3000” Benjamin And Cartoon Network Present “Class of 3000” Premiere Event at The Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.

Rick Diamond/WireImage

As the concept for Class of 3000 began to take shape, loosely based on Benjamin’s childhood at a performing arts school, it became apparent that the show would be better off geared toward kids than on the Adult Swim imprint. André 3000 had only one demand: The show had to be about Atlanta. There’s never been a cartoon set in Atlanta, and setting Class of 3000 in the city was a way to expose its culture to a wider audience.

“I know these kids. I grew up with these kids. My childhood was put in those characters. I was [character] Lil D. I grew up in Bankhead, and I went to school in Buckhead. So I know that world. I had to ride the bus through the projects and through these rich a– houses. I was that kid; I knew both sides of it.” André 3000 tells me all of this over the phone while I’m sitting in front of the painting of Outkast in my man cave.

Wait, let me back up.


Any parent can relate to the sheer eye-gouging boredom of driving their young kids around and trying to find music that won’t warp their brains and lead them to a life of crime and sexually transmitted infections. For the most part, the kid-friendly music options available are somewhere between Radio Disney, gospel music, about three Chance the Rapper songs and an endless library of children’s movie soundtracks.

I remember buying the Class of 3000 soundtrack when it came out in 2007. It was out of a fevered desire to hear any amount of new Outkast music, and I figured it’d be great for my kids to listen to as well. Listening for the first time in years reminded me of the funkadelic, eccentric fantasy world André created with the soundtrack by immersing the listener in a jazz- and drum kit-laced fusion of unforgettable melodies and whimsical comedy. The songs are accessible to kids but deeply engaging enough for adults.

“That wasn’t supposed to be my voice on that song. That was supposed to be Lil D’s voice on that song.” — André 3000

The more we listened, the more I looked into the show. After two seasons, it had disappeared. There’s no way to get a physical copy of any season, and the soundtrack is available from only the first season. I sent feelers out, as well as direct messages for answers. Then on a Sunday morning I got an email. From André 3000. One of the artists who defined my childhood and Southern upbringing, who gave voice to my lifestyle and represented me whenever he spoke. Not only was he interested in talking about the soundtrack, he sounded downright excited to talk about a passion project that has been overlooked by so many. For someone who’s revered for his brilliance and past works, the feeling of an unheralded project has to be unfamiliar to him. Especially one so masterfully constructed.


“I watched Peanuts growing up,” said 3000, “and the music was always strong. Vince Guaraldi, a great jazz artist, was doing all the music for Peanuts. And at the time — I know it’s a sensitive subject now — but Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids had music involved. So I was really looking for a vehicle to do music. I thought it’d be dope for kids to hear something different than what they hear every day. I wanted to expose them to different sounds, and instruments they might not be hearing … on the radio.”

He said that, coming off The Love Below, he was already producing. “I decide to produce whole songs for Class of 3000. The premise is every show would feature a song that had something to do with the story.”

The actual recording of the songs for the Class of 3000 soundtrack provided a challenge somewhat foreign to André 3000 at the time: deadlines. “It was … a learning process,” he said. “I had to have those songs ready for each episode because they had to animate around those songs. I’ve always been a leisurely music producer, so it was sort of pressured.” One rushed moment led to a snafu and the most unforgettable song on the album.

“We Want Your Soul” is all frantic drums, a haunting horn and devilish laughter. And most importantly: It’s eight monstrous bars from André 3000. The problem is, those bars weren’t supposed to be there. At least not as rapped by André himself. The recording process for the album was simple. André would lay reference tracks — he’d speak in the voices of the kid characters from the show and send the track over to Cartoon Network, and they’d get the kids to say the lines over the tracks. But that didn’t happen for “We Want Your Soul.”

“There was a mistake made because we were rushing to get that song out,” Benjamin recalled. “That was supposed to be Lil D’s voice on that song.” Instead, it’s a fully rapped André 3000 song hidden in an obscure, decade-old album. A treasure trove of Outkastian excellence.

Overall, the process of trying to record as a group of children was another challenge for 3000, especially as he was fresh off a sexually charged album of lovemaking and songs such as “Spread.”

“I’d have to change my voice to act like a kid,” Benjamin said. “Had to think like a kid, and that was the hardest learning curve musically. I knew I wanted to introduce kids to certain instruments and keep it upbeat. But it was a challenge to bring my inner kid out.”

It’s a fully rapped André 3000 song hidden in an obscure, decade-old album. A treasure trove of Outkastian excellence.

He found his motivation in the form of a movie and a real-life jazz inspiration. “One of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society, and I felt like doing that with kids. I also thought it’d be great to have this teacher teach kids in an unorthodox way, so I stepped in as the teacher, Sunny Bridges. People don’t know that the name is a nod to saxophone player Sonny Rollins. There was a legend that he stopped playing music live at a certain point and he’d just play his horn under a bridge. So that’s how the name Sunny Bridges came together.”

And for a whole generation of kids, André 3000 will be known as Sunny Bridges first and rap Mount Rushmorian music luminary second. At least, that’s how my son will first learn about Andre Benjamin.

“That is the coolest thing about the show. I’ve had a blessed career. I’ve had the Isley Brothers’ career. They came up from the ’50s and survived through the ’90s. Kids know them from different eras. Some kids know early Outkast. Some kids know ‘Hey Ya,’ singing. And some kids know Class of 3000. So when I hear a kid who knows nothing about rapping, who knows nothing about The Source Awards but who knows me from the show, it just shows you that you don’t have to stop. You don’t have to rest on what you’ve done in the past. It’s beautiful.

Andre 3000 performs on stage at Lakewood Amphitheatre on September 10, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Paul R. Giunta/FilmMagic

“When I first talked to Tyler, The Creator, one of the first things he said was, ‘Man, those songs like the crayon song and the peanut song … we were kids!’ I forget these guys that are superstars now were kids listening to the songs. It’s like, ‘Wow, those kids actually paid attention.’ They got it.”

Unfortunately, Class of 3000 now mostly only lives in the memories of people who saw the show when it aired in 2007. The show is only available for purchase on iTunes, and of course there are random clips on YouTube. Class of 3000 simply came at a time when Cartoon Network was transitioning from landmark kid-friendly shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and The Powerpuff Girls to its Adult Swim imprint. Class of 3000 was the last show that Lazzo greenlit before heading over to Adult Swim to be a senior executive vice president.

“It was a victim of that transition,” said Lazzo. “Had I stayed at Cartoon Network, I would have been superfocused on Class of 3000. It was some of the best creativity I had seen.”

There’s clearly a need to revisit the show, though, a fact not lost on Lazzo and Benjamin. You never know which shows will stick with people years later,” Lazzo said. “I think maybe it’s time to bring it back.”

I don’t want to be too idealistic — but maybe this very essay will persuade them to at the very least release the songs from the show’s second season, or get the full episodes from the series a proper Blu-ray release.

“Sometimes you just have to bring attention back to something,” André Benjamin said with excitement. “There’s room to bring the show back. Cartoon Network owns the property. It’d be up to them to bring it back in some kind of way. You know what? I think it’ll happen now.”

Jamie Foxx is the supreme entertainer of our era, and it’s time to recognize him as such The ‘Baby Driver’ co-star is amazingly unpredictable — as usual

A staple of NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is a segment called Musical Genre Challenge. Guests perform pop songs, but in the form of unexpected genres. Jamie Foxx appeared on the May 25 episode, and his first act was to perform Baja Men’s 2000 “Who Let The Dogs Out” in the style of a Broadway musical. He followed that up by singing Rihanna’s 2015 “B—- Better Have My Money” — operatically. Foxx absolutely nails both performances, hitting long notes with genius precision while also adding comedic timing. His performance is equal parts entrancing and hilarious.

Foxx — the former Terrell, Texas, high school star quarterback who stars in this week’s already heralded Baby Driver and hosts Fox’s new hit game show Beat Shazam — is 49 years old and has been entertaining for nearly 30 years. He has an unimpeachable catalog of accomplishments. A classic, unendingly quotable 2002 stand-up special, I Might Need Security (HBO). The Jamie Foxx Show (The WB, 1996-2001), which showcased Foxx’s supernatural knack for impersonations, and his brilliant timing. He’s created five studio albums, with millions of copies sold. His 2005 Billboard-topping Unpredictable culminated in a Grammy for the infinitely catchy “Blame it,” featuring T-Pain (and sadly one of the last bastions of auto-tuned R&B radio supremacy).

Finally and most notably, in 2005, Foxx won the Academy Award for best actor for his title role in Ray, bringing Ray Charles to life in one of the most transcendent, pitch-perfect biographical performances in movie history. Along with Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, he is one of only four black male actors to win in the lead category. To be great at one of these things — comedy, drama, singing/songwriting — would make Foxx an entertainment powerhouse. To have mastered them all makes him a once-in-a-generation talent. Foxx — not Will Smith, not Dave Chappelle, not even Beyoncé — is the supreme entertainer of our era, and it’s time to recognize him as such.

And it all started with a character called “Wanda.”

When Jamie Foxx made his television debut, on the third season of Keenan Ivory Wayans’ sketch comedy show In Living Color in 1991, it was after years of working his way through the stand-up comedy circuit, most famously at Hollywood’s The Comedy Store, a mecca for comedians such as Cedric The Entertainer and Jim Carrey, who would perform at open mics.

On Color, Foxx appeared alongside future superstars Carrey, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Kim Coles, Damon Wayans and Larry Wilmore, not to mention Anne-Marie Johnson, David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson.

He stood out from the pack, especially in black households across the country, for playing Wanda, a homely woman with a large fake butt, humongous lips and a wonky eye. Foxx-as-Wanda would try to pick up men (most frequently played by Davidson as a well-put-together businessman) and made the faux seductive “Heyyyyy” a catchphrase. It was combined with a patented cross-eyed gaze. Foxx’s commitment to the character made Wanda a tentpole for In Living Color.

You would be forgiven for thinking the show showed off the breadth of Foxx’s talent. That is, if you hadn’t seen him on Roc.

Foxx stepped in to portray the iconic Willie Beamen, a confident, young black quarterback who replaces a worn veteran QB.

Roc (Fox, 1991-94) was a family sitcom from the people who created Cheers and Taxi; it starred Charles Dutton, Ella Joyce and Rocky Carroll as a middle-class black family in Baltimore. The show has earned cult status for Dutton’s resonant performances and Joyce’s endearing character work, and it was where it became clear that Foxx was more than Wanda. Foxx appeared for nine episodes in the second and third seasons as a neighbor with special needs: “Crazy George.” This was a three-dimensional Foxx. He still used his over-the-top comedy, but Crazy George was so lovable and full of compassion, it became clear there was more to Foxx than impressions.

Foxx continued his growth in 1993 with the HBO stand-up special Straight From The Foxxhole. The special was full of memorable lines and his mirror-image impressions. But that was to be expected. What caught audiences off guard was when, toward the end, he took to his piano (with his grandmother’s encouragement, he studied classical piano from the age of 5) and blended his stand-up act with musical compositions — and even went into straight-up, no-laughs R&B. There was a smattering of uncomfortable laughter as Foxx sang his serious music. The segment became an entry into his musical career.

“My whole plan was do the comedy however you do the comedy,” he said in 1994 on KPIX’s Bay Sunday. “Get your name out there. Get the HBO special and you control what’s going on. So I did 50 minutes of comedy, and then I take it into the music real smooth.”

The Bay Area interview, however, demonstrates the challenges Foxx faced with regard to being taken seriously as a musical artist. The Q&A segment is painfully awkward. Host Barbara Rodgers spends the first minutes pressing him to perform as Wanda, and Foxx, frustrated, refuses to resurrect his character.

The interview was to promote Foxx’s 1994 debut album Peep This (Fox Records), which was mostly written by Foxx in the vein of Jodeci and R. Kelly. It showed Foxx could hang with the greats vocally; however, the music itself was subpar, with lackluster production and clichéd lyrics. As a result, the album performed poorly on the charts. He didn’t release another album for 11 years.

Foxx couldn’t quite shake the idea that he was “just” Wanda, even as he entered his first prime of the mid-’90s. He had to face a derailment that redefined his career. Foxx had auditioned for the role of Jerry Maguire’s Rod Tidwell, the dynamic football star who played opposite Tom Cruise. But Foxx struggled in the audition.

Foxx couldn’t quite shake the idea that he was “just” Wanda, even as he entered his first prime of the mid-’90s.

“I blew it, man,” he told Playboy in 2005. “Maybe I wasn’t ready. Tom was just too famous, and I was too young. I was a stand-up comedian, and I just f—-d it up. I was reading all loud and stuff, and Tom was very quiet. So I read my lines, and then he paused for a long time. … So I said: ‘Tom, it’s your line.’ And he looked at me and said: ‘I know. I got it.’ ”

The role, of course, went to Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for best supporting actor, launching him into the world of A-list Hollywood. Meanwhile, Foxx was making 1997’s Booty Call.

Booty Call wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy,” Foxx said on CBS’s Sunday Morning in 2013. “I was trying to get a check.” The movie, a raucous sex comedy about mishaps that occur as two men try to seal the deal with their dates, featured Foxx doing Martin Luther King impressions while having bubble-wrapped sex with Vivica Fox, a dog licking Tommy Davidson’s rear, and a fight over a condom. While the movie is heralded as a cult classic by some, it was lambasted as crass and vapid (“It’s not that the movie is never funny. It’s just that you don’t feel very good when it is,” is how the Los Angeles Times expertly put it). The film’s biggest critic was Bill Cosby, who at the time still commanded respect as a voice in the black community. He told Newsweek in 1997: “There is no need for a Booty Call, for the stuff that shows our young people only interested in the flesh and no other depth.” Foxx spent the next two years making movies such as 1999’s Held Up (co-starring Nia Long) that mostly failed at the box office but were better than they had any right being — off the strength of Foxx’s charisma and talent.


It’s here that we have to acknowledge The Jamie Foxx Show. If you thought calling Foxx the most talented entertainer of our generation was a “hot take,” then here’s another: if Jamie Foxx had aired on the Fox Network, along with Martin, instead of on the less popular WB, it would be just as revered and beloved. At its funniest, The Jamie Foxx Show is just as hilarious as Martin. There’s the above reimagining of D’Angelo’s “Untitled” video, the O.J. Simpson impersonation, Tupac Shakur, the dance battle. The sitcom, which also starred Garrett Morris, Ella English, Christopher B. Duncan and Garcelle Beauvais as his love interest, Fancy, and aired from 1996 to 2001, is Foxx at his comedic peak.

And he could have simply stuck to being funny. His musical career had yet to take off, and he’d failed to land that life-changing role. But that changed in 1999 when Sean Combs was excused from the set of Any Given Sunday. “Puff Daddy threw like a girl, so they put him on a plane,” said co-star Andrew Bryniarski in 2015. Foxx stepped in to portray the iconic Willie Beamen, a confident, young black quarterback who replaces a worn veteran QB — think the cinematic version of Dak Prescott replacing Tony Romo with a little extra Hollywood flair and an instantly repeatable theme song that Foxx recorded himself.

Foxx had done it: a leading role in a film opposite Al Pacino, with superstar director Oliver Stone at the helm. The movie is sort of a mess, overproduced and melodramatic, but Foxx’s star turn was widely praised. “In a broken-field role,” said movie critic Roger Ebert, “that requires him to be unsure and vulnerable, then cocky and insufferable, then political, then repentant, Foxx doesn’t step wrong.”

Foxx followed Beamen up by portraying trainer Drew Bundini Brown in 2001’s Ali. The role was pivotal. Foxx displayed his ability to transform into an entirely unrecognizable character. And he was beginning to truly combine his talents. In Any Given Sunday, he’d mixed in his musical talents with serious acting, and in Ali he used his uncanny ability as an impersonator to make his roles pop. What allowed him to play Brown is from the skill set that allowed him to “be” Mike Tyson on stage in so many of his stand-up performances. All of this, of course, culminated in Ray.

Foxx’s portrayal of Charles is a three-hour acting masterpiece. Foxx was a one-man Golden State Warriors team putting his multiple talents together for one legendary performance. He used his ability for imitation, which he perfected on the comedy circuit, to bring Charles to life on the screen. He used his dramatic acting to translate that imitation into a serious and emotionally resonant performance. And finally, Foxx performed the music himself, truly channeling Charles’ soul. “It demeans Foxx to say he was born to play this role,” said Ken Tucker in The New Yorker. “Rather, he invented a Ray Charles that anyone, from a nostalgic baby boomer to a skeptical Jay Z fan, can understand and respect.”

In winning his best actor Oscar, becoming just the third African-American to do so, he beat out Don Cheadle’s electric Hotel Rwanda performance, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator and Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby. Foxx had arrived. But he wouldn’t dwell on his successes. He had a musical career to revitalize.


A chance meeting with Kanye West at one of Foxx’s infamous house parties led to Foxx being featured on a 20o4 Twista single featuring Kanye entitled “Slow Jamz.” It became a No. 1 pop single, with Foxx singing the hook. “Young people who hadn’t seen me on In Living Color or the The Jamie Foxx Show thought I had just come on with Kanye West, so that gave me new life,” he said in a 2015 radio interview. He followed that collaboration by singing the hook on West’s 2004 “Gold Digger,” and on Dec. 27, 2005, 10 months after winning his Oscar, Foxx released his own Unpredictable album (J Records). It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album charts and went to No. 1 the very next week. It’s double platinum.

Yet all of the success was affecting his personal life, and not in good ways. An intervention by black celebrity royalty set him on a different path.

“ ‘You’re blowing it, Jamie Foxx,’ ” Oprah Winfrey told Foxx in 2004, as he explained in an interview with Howard Stern earlier this year. “ ‘All of this gallivanting and all this kind of s—, that’s not what you want to do. … I want to take you somewhere. Make you understand the significance of what you’re doing.’ Foxx recounts going into a house filled with black actors from the ’60s and ’70s. “[They] look like they just want to say … Don’t blow it.” Foxx was introduced to Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to win an Oscar, who told him, “ ‘I want to give you responsibility. … When I saw your performance, it made me grow 2 inches.’ To this day, it’s the most significant time in my life where it was, like, a chance to grow up.”

Today, Foxx seems as comfortable in his own skin as ever. When he wants to be serious, he’s the titular character in 2012’s Django Unchained, stone-faced, stoic and out for vengeance. Or he is a villain in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. He’s released three albums since Unpredictable, with a Grammy to boot for 2010’s “Blame It.” And when he wants to make people laugh, Foxx still pops up at places such as The Comedy Store.

Two years ago, this time on Fallon’s “The Wheel Of Musical Impressions,” he did Mick Jagger singing “Hakuna Matata,” Jennifer Hudson singing “On Top Of Spaghetti” and John Legend singing the Toys R Us theme song, complete with a full-on re-enactment of Legend’s on-stage posture. And he somehow managed to mix in a Doc Rivers impersonation. The video for this fantastical and amazing series of performances has amassed 40 million views on YouTube. It’s classic Foxx, mixing his flair for the dramatic with his unparalleled voice and mastery of comedy. His is an unpredictable blend of musicianship, comedy and acting. He’s a powerhouse. A master of all trades. And we may never see anything like him again.