Jay Pharoah knows a lot about being ‘White Famous’ The ‘Saturday Night Live’ alum stars in a new series about the perils of making it big

Truth is, Jay Pharoah isn’t sure if he’s “white famous” or not — yet. But he sure gets the head nod — and maybe the occasional side-eye, if he’s keeping it all-the-way honest — from some of the world’s most famous athletes, a surefire sign that the comedy he produces is landing in the inboxes and on the flat-screens of cultural tastemakers. “When LeBron James said, ‘What’s up?’ to me at the [Mayweather] fight this year,” Pharoah says, stopping to laugh, “it was like, ‘Ohh, snap! LeBron knows me! And everybody knows LeBron! So …”

“White famous.” Get it? It’s ostensibly that moment for people of color working in music, television, film or comedy (or whichever culture space) when one’s star power penetrates the mainstream: Masses of white folks know who you are. One is not just ’hood famous. Or solely Latino famous. One is not purely internet famous, or famous in some other, smaller sector. White famous means one is so famous that one has to mind all one’s p’s and q’s because everyone knows of you — which usually also means that the check is fat.

White Famous also happens to be the name of Pharoah’s new show (it premieres on Showtime on Oct. 15), inspired by the early career moves of Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, who executive produces the show in collaboration with Californication creator Tom Kapinos. Californication creator Tom Kapinos) directs the first episode. Pharoah plays a rising comedian trying to maintain his cred with black fans while crossing over to a broader audience.

But as for himself? Pharoah made his mark starring in NBC’s Saturday Night Live — he joined in 2010 — on which he delivered memorable impersonations of President Barack Obama, Jay-Z and even First Take’s Stephen A. Smith. His tenure there ended unceremoniously before this last keystone season, in which Alec Baldwin won rave reviews in 2016 (and an Emmy last month) for his impersonation of President Donald Trump. But for Pharoah, the time was right to step away, he said.

“LeBron knows me! And everybody knows LeBron!”

“I was looking for the next-level type of thing … something that would show every aspect of Jay Pharoah, and not just from one area. I was looking for something that was going to show the spectrum. You start knowing it’s time to go when everything’s like, ‘OK, I’ve seen it all.’ When you start to get antsy.”

This new character, Floyd Mooney, of course feels familiar to Pharoah. “I immediately connected with the material,” he said. “I know how that journey is. I know how it is to being a hot, popping comic and trying to cross over. I know how that feels. I know that story.” But here’s what’s foreign: being the main guy. This is Pharoah stepping out and anchoring a show — for the first time. Pressure.

“There’s definitely less sleep [and] there’s more memorization, but I always feel like I was being groomed to be what I am now,” he said. “It’s a little nerve-wracking! But it’s not as intimidating as maybe it would’ve been when I was 22, you know? I actually had a chance to be a lead of a show. [But] I was … nervous, and nobody really [knew] me. I’d rather build my base, build a name, and then get off of that show and go do something where I’m starring. And that’s exactly what happened.” He said he feels like he’s right where he needs to be.

“I’m ready for everything. I’ve seen this industry; I’ve seen what it entails. I know what to stay away from. I know what type of vibe I don’t click with. I get that now. I’m 29. Before, I was a little more wet behind the ears … but now I feel like I’ve fallen into the position very well.”

Pharoah’s character is very principled, and in some ways it feels like a direct lift from Pharoah’s own life story. Pharoah has talked before about the back-and-forth toward the end of his tenure at SNL. “They put people into boxes,” he said in April, not long after his contract was not renewed. “Whatever they want you to do, they expect you to do. And I’m fiery. I’m not a yes n—–.”

He continues to think about things he refused to do — such as wear a dress.

“The dress conversation is a big topic in the black community,” Pharaoh said. “There’s always a conversation [about] Hollywood trying to emasculate black men.”

The series addresses that very thing, right away, with a savvy assist from Foxx. It’s one of those topics — complex, risqué — that the show wanted to have a conversation about.

“That definitely gets brought to light in this show. A lot of topics that get talked about behind closed doors, that celebrities, especially black celebrities, have to deal with,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of water cooler conversations.”

“I know how it is to being a hot, popping comic and trying to cross over.”

One conversation he likely won’t be part of with this new show, though? Uncomfortable ones with superstar athletes. This new Showtime series is scripted, of course, and doesn’t rely on his spot-on impersonations.

“I do LeBron James, I do Shannon Sharpe, I do Stephen A., of course,” Pharoah said. “I do [Floyd] Mayweather, I do [Mike] Tyson. Draymond [Green]. Charles Barkley. Shaq. I get flak from some people. I do all these folks, but it’s all on love. I never have any malicious intent. I just want everybody to have a good time and laugh at themselves. Just like if somebody impersonates me, I’ll laugh at myself.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neighborhood hopping

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

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

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

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

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

According to recent study, Obamacare worked for many Americans Report shows more people of color have insurance, health disparities decreased for blacks and Latinos

Health care disparities are much higher in black and Latino communities than in any others, according to statistics that have been cited for over a decade. But recently revealed stat-based research featured positive results.

According to a study published by The Commonwealth Fund in August, the number of uninsured blacks and Latinos decreased under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — or, as it’s nationally known, Obamacare.

As NBC recently reported, the study reveals that the numbers declined within the first two years of the Obamacare coverage expansion.

“From 2013 and 2015, the uninsured rate among blacks between ages 19-64 dropped 9 percent, and dropped 12 percent among uninsured Latinos ages 19-64, the study showed. The rate of uninsured whites dropped 5 percent. The disparity among uninsured blacks and whites also narrowed by 4 percent and among Latinos and whites narrowed 7 percent,” according to the article.

“If we are going to reduce these disparities, we must continue to focus on policies like expanding eligibility for Medicaid that will address our health care system’s historic inequities,” Pamela Riley, vice president of The Commonwealth Fund’s Delivery System Reform and a co-author of the report, said in a statement.

The ACA was enacted by the 111th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. When the health care law was passed, states were required to provide Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18 to 65 who hold incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

States also have the option to expand Medicaid beyond the minimum federal guidelines and eligibility requirements. After Obamacare was enacted, many states declined Medicaid expansion, which made health care coverage hard to obtain for many individuals.

But for those states that participated, the results were evident in communities of color.

“Uninsured Latino adults dropped 14 percent in states that expanded Medicaid coverage compared to 11 percent in states that did not. The number of uninsured black adults meanwhile fell 9 percent in states both with and without Medicaid expansion,” NBC reported.

Having insurance coverage also encouraged more people to go to the doctor. The study revealed that blacks who reported that they did not see a doctor because of medical cost decreased from 21 percent to 17 percent once they were insured. For Latino adults, the decrease was from 27 percent to 22 percent.

“By 2015, the disparity between black adults and white adults without a usual source of health care narrowed from 8 percent to 5 percent. It narrowed even more for Latinos compared to whites — 24 percent to 21 percent,” the report found.

Click here to read the entire analysis by The Commonwealth Fund.

Daily Dose: 9/1/17 Serena is in labor … how cool would it be if she gave birth during the US Open?

Hey, all. We made it to the end of the week. If you have big plans for the holiday, please do try to enjoy them safely. It’s the end of summer, so live it up. As for the tweet below, you have to see this tweet first. And the first reply.

If President Donald Trump has his way, he will deport millions and cripple the economy in immeasurable ways. All for the sake of doctrine. He’s set to decide soon on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), better known as dreamers, who were protected under laws instituted by President Barack Obama. Why would you kick out people who had no choice in the matter and are doing everything they can to make this country better? Well, reputation, of course. But good news, I guess: POTUS says he has a big heart, and will use it in this case.

The rescue effort is obviously still on re: Hurricane Harvey. One of the toughest parts about natural disasters is that all sorts of people pop up out of the woodwork claiming that they want to help. Really, all they’re trying to do is take your money in the name of goodwill. Heck, even the Red Cross has issues with this. But, clearly, there are all sorts of groups that need everything from diapers to computers, so every donated piece counts. Here’s a list of places that can point you in the right direction to assist.

We all remember Philando Castile. The young man from Minnesota who worked in a school lunchroom who was shot and killed by a police officer who was scared of him. Mind you, Castile was obeying the law in every way, doing exactly what the cop told him to do, and he was shot anyway. In front of his girlfriend and her daughter. One of the things he was known to do was pay the school lunch debts of kids at his school so they could eat without embarrassment. Now, with the Philando Feeds The Children fund, anyone can contribute.

🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨ALERT🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 SERENA IS IN LABOR. Look, when this was news in Beyoncé’s case, I was excited. But Serena Williams is my favorite athlete of all time, and if she has a baby during the actual US Open, thus crushing all other news coming out of that tournament, it will be one of the biggest owns of the tennis world, ever. Then, imagine if sister Venus Williams wins the tournament, AND DEDICATES THE WINS TO HER NEWEST FAMILY MEMBER. I cannot wait for this to happen. I legitimately can. Not. Wait.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Police do some pretty despicable things, but forcing nurses to act against their own interests or risk the threat of arrest is foul, unethical and should be illegal. This clip of a nurse getting dragged away because she wouldn’t administer a blood test to an unconscious patient is really hard to watch.

Snack Time: You might think that the Amazon-Whole Foods merger is just a big money grab from Jeff Bezos, but it might actually have some real-world effects that make a difference, for the better.

Dessert: Behold, my second favorite video of the week.

Beyoncé, Kevin Hart and others on a growing list of athletes and celebrities supporting hurricane relief efforts Many celebs are raising funds or lending a hand

NBA All-Stars, NFL players, MLB standouts and celebrities continue to publicly show their support for those affected by Tropical Storm Harvey, which continues to pummel the Houston area, displacing residents. While many have escaped the rising floodwaters and pouring rain, others are still seeking refuge.

President Barack Obama, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kelly Rowland, Chris Paul, James Harden, Eva Longoria, Drake, DeMarcus Cousins and other celebrities have tweeted their support, pledges and prayers to the people of Houston and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, many are going beyond social media to donate money and time. Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander donated $10 million to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which was started by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

“Our hearts are heavy seeing the devastation that so many of our friends, family and neighbors are experiencing,” the team said in a statement.

Comedian and actor Kevin Hart took to Instagram with a call to action urging others to pledge funds.

“This is a serious matter,” Hart said in the video. “I’m going to lead the charge and step it up in this way.”

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Hart said he was donating $25,000 and beckoned for other stars such as Beyoncé, The Rock, Justin Timberlake and others to join in and spread the word.

Houston native and music superstar Beyoncé is giving back to her hometown. She released a statement to the Houston Chronicle saying, “My heart goes out to my hometown, Houston, and I remain in constant prayer for those affected and for the rescuers who have been so brave and determined to do so much to help.”

Beyoncé added, “I am working closely with my team at BeyGood as well as my pastor [Rudy Rasmus at St. John’s in downtown Houston] to implement a plan to help as many as we can.”

Established in 2013, the BeyGood organization does philanthropic work worldwide.

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Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt started a fundraiser Sunday to help the people of Houston.

“That’s our city,” he said in a video. “There’s going to be a lot we need to do to help rebuild.”

He originally set a goal of $200,000. After that goal was reached, he raised the stakes to $500,000. Paul’s $50,000 donation pushed the total collected by the fundraiser to $500,000. The total increased to $1 million by Monday night, prompting Watt to raise the fundraiser’s goal to $1.5 million. To date, that goal has been reached and the new goal is $2 million.

“I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like to see people come together for a common cause,” Watt said.

Singer Carl Thomas posted a video on Instagram with a message that says, “This is happening now.” He is seen in the video on a boat assisting in the evacuation process.

“I’m evacuating right now. I’ve got my dogs with me. Y’all pray for Houston. I’m not really worried; ultimately I know that whatever happens, it’s gonna be all right. It’s gonna be all right.”

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Nicki Minaj and DJ Khaled responded with $25,000 pledges. Chris Brown pledged $100,000 and took the time to express skepticism about donating to Red Cross, while rapper T.I. lent his support.

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The Houston Astros ownership group pledged to donate $4 million to the relief efforts. The Texans and owner Bob McNair donated $1 million to the United Way of Greater Houston Flood Relief Fund. The NFL Foundation said it would match the $1 million donation, and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family pledged to match all funds donated to the Red Cross in support of Harvey flood relief up to $1 million.

Major League Baseball also contributed to the cause, joining with the players association to donate $1 million to the Red Cross and relief organizations chosen by the players.

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter, who is from the Houston area, said in a tweet that he will donate $10,000 to relief efforts for each home run he hits for the rest of the season.

Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, a native of the Houston area, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson he will donate $25,000 to relief efforts and an additional $5,000 for each sack he makes this season.

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MusiCares, a four-star charity established by the Recording Academy, started a relief fund to support members of the music community affected by the recent devastation of Harvey. The organization offers confidential preventive, recovery and emergency programs to address musicians’ financial, medical and personal health issues.

Assistance includes basic living expenses such as shelter, food, utilities and transportation; medical expenses, including doctor and hospital bills and medications; clothing; instrument and recording equipment replacement; relocation costs; home repairs; debris removal; and more.

“Now is a time when we must come together and take care of those who need help, as we are only just beginning to understand how life-altering Hurricane Harvey will be for its victims and their communities,” Neil Portnow, president/CEO of the Recording Academy and MusiCares, said in a statement. “It’s important that we step up and support the creative community, and take action to provide immediate assistance to members of our music family.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Eccelston

André Chung for The Undefeated

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

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

Wait. Wasn’t this already a thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

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

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

Let’s talk about sex music!

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

But she’s not stuck in the decade.

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

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

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

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

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

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

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

What now?

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

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

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

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

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

Daily Dose: 8/22/17 BuzzFeed publishes more on R. Kelly

Another day, another R. Kelly story. Longtime journalist and Kelly chronicler Jim DeRogatis, after last month’s bombshell story for BuzzFeed, is back with more explosive reporting on the Grammy Award-winning singer and his sexual exploits with underage girls. In a story published late Monday night, once again on BuzzFeed, DeRogatis spoke with a woman who claims she started a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was 16 and said she suffered mental and physical abuse from him for nearly two years. Despite all that has been reported about the singer since the early 2000s, the most disturbing accusation to date may be that Kelly met the woman, Chicago native Jerhonda Pace, at the Cook County Circuit Court while the former was on trial in 2008 for making child pornography. Pace was 15 at the time.

The first white NFL player took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. After public displays of support — but no outright protests — by white players Chris Long, Justin Britt and Derek Carr, Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve joined 11 of his teammates in taking a “knee in prayer” before Monday’s game against the New York Giants. With that gesture, DeValve became the first white player to join a movement begun last season by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (who retweeted a message of support for the Browns players). There are two interesting wrinkles here, as well. First, Browns coach Hue Jackson said just last week that he hoped his players wouldn’t protest the anthem; also, DeValve is married to an African-American woman, one prominently displayed on his personal social media accounts. He added that he wanted to take part in the kneeling because “I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me.”

America is beefing up its war in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump, in a prime-time address to the nation Monday, said the U.S. military will deploy more troops to that country, extending the 16-year-old conflict in the region, the longest in U.S. history. This is a stark departure from Trump’s previous views on Afghanistan, which included questioning when the U.S. would “stop wasting money on rebuilding Afghanistan” in 2011 as well as multiple pleas between 2012-14 to get out of the conflict altogether. During the Republican primaries two years ago, he flip-flopped on whether the invasion was a “terrible mistake” or not. To be fair, Trump acknowledged his past conflicting statements, but he also refused to announce a number of troops to be deployed and found a way to blame former President Barack Obama, despite offering a strategy similar to his predecessor’s.

Houston Rockets guard James Harden will donate $100,000 to Texas Southern University. The NBA MVP runner-up will designate the funds for students at the historically black university who are in financial need. TSU president Dr. Austin Lane told Fox 26 Houston that the funds will serve students “from what I consider to be one of the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds in the city, if not the state or the country.” Harden follows in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who donated $1 million each to Alabama A&M University and Clark Atlanta University, both HBCUs, last November.


Things that make you think …

  1. Speaking of Trump, the commander in chief once implied that Kaepernick should leave the country instead of protesting the national anthem and took credit for the quarterback not having a job. After Monday’s Afghanistan announcement, what’s more harmful to the troops: not standing for (an arguably racist) song or sending more soldiers into a conflict that has already claimed more than 2,200 lives?
  2. At least 25 Confederate monuments across the country have been removed since Heather Heyer was killed 10 days ago during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like the aftermath of the murders of nine parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, two years ago, it took the death of a U.S. citizen for state and local governments to finally remove relics of the Confederacy.

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

Allen Iverson suspended one game for missing a game and other news of the week The Week That Was July 31-Aug. 4

Monday 07.31.17

New York Jets safety Jamal Adams, drafted to a team that went 5-11 last season, told an audience “if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field.” Teammate Morris Claiborne, not to be outdone, said he too would “die out there on that football field.” Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, on the other hand, “ain’t dying for this s—.” The Baltimore Ravens signed another quarterback who is not Colin Kaepernick. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, trying so hard to encourage star forward LeBron James stay with the team, was approved to build a jail complex in Detroit. President Donald Trump tweeted “No WH chaos.” Six hours later, recently hired White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who is not dead, lost his job. Multiple White House officials, or “the best people,” were tricked into responding to emails from a British prankster. Twelve inmates broke out of an Alabama prison using peanut butter. University of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for making YouTube videos.

Tuesday 08.01.17

Guests at a New York City hotel won’t stop having sex up against their room windows; “Guys are together, girls and girls are together. They don’t even pull the shades down,” one resident said. A congressional staffer instructed a group of interns to not leak a meeting with White House adviser Jared Kushner; it was immediately leaked. Hall of Fame basketball player Michael Jordan said eccentric helicopter dad LaVar Ball couldn’t “beat me if I was one-legged.” Ball, keeping his name in the news, said Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski “can’t hang with me back in my heyday.” “Marijuana moms” is a cute new name for mothers who like to smoke weed; meanwhile, the government still wants to arrest certain people for marijuana use. NASA is hiring a person to protect Earth from aliens. Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said Kaepernick, who hasn’t publicly spoken in months, should not talk openly about his social activism if he wants another job. Recently retired NBA player Kobe Bryant is getting thick. Two planes designated to be the new Air Force 1 were originally scheduled to be sold to a Russian airline. Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, known for hits like “I want to f—ing kill all the leakers,” invested almost half a million into an anti-bullying musical. Trump called the White House “a real dump.”

Wednesday 08.02.17

NBA Hall of Famer and BIG3 player-coach Allen Iverson, who has played in just half of his team’s games, averaging 9.1 minutes and two points per game, has been suspended one game by the league for missing a recent game. The Ravens are interested in another quarterback not named Kaepernick. Former second overall NBA draft pick Darko Milicic punched a horse in the face. The NFL released a video defining acceptable (simulating sleep) and unacceptable (twerking, pelvic thrusts) celebrations for the upcoming season. California Highway Patrol officers responded to reports of a kangaroo on an interstate highway; it was a raccoon. A 10-year-old boy named Frank, who admires Trump’s “business background,” offered to mow the lawn of the White House … for free.

Thursday 08.03.17

Trump told Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den”; Trump lost New Hampshire. Dukes of Hazzard actor Tom Wopat was arrested for allegedly peeling the sunburned skin off the arm of a woman and putting his finger between the butt cheeks of another woman; in response to the allegations, Wopat responded “F— them all.” A third person was arrested in Kentucky for allegedly digging up the grave of one of the suspect’s grandmother in search of valuables; “He should have known better because he was there in the funeral and he knew she didn’t have much to start with,” a relative said.

In “boy, he about to do it” news, special counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury for his investigation into Russian interference in the last year’s presidential election. A New Jersey man, possibly an eggplant emoji kind of guy, was kicked out of a showing of The Emoji Movie for pleasuring himself in the back row of the theater. A London pub, aptly named the Cock Tavern, banned the use of profanity; a patron responded to the restriction: “That’s bulls—.” The Secret Service, charged with protecting Trump and his family, was evicted from Trump Tower in Manhattan. Gov. Jim Justice (D-West Virginia) will switch to the Republican Party; the state party’s Twitter account said Justice “would be the worst thing to happen to WV” before last year’s election and called him “low-energy” and “Sad!” an hour before news broke of the party change.

Friday 08.04.17

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who unearthed the Monica Lewinsky affair while investigating former President Bill Clinton for something else, in response to the Russia investigation, said, “we don’t want investigators or prosecutors to go on a fishing expedition.” Former President Barack Obama was blamed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the “culture of leaking” currently ravaging the Trump administration. Los Angeles Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers, the architect of the Austin Rivers trade, was fired from and kept his job at the same time. Former welterweight champion Amir Khan, playing himself, accused his wife in a series of early morning tweets of cheating on him with heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua; Khan’s wife, Faryal Makhdoom Khan, responded by calling her husband a cheater, a 30-year-old baby, and accused him of sleeping with a prostitute in Dubai. Joshua responded to both set of tweets with a video snippet of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” music video and a message that “I like my women BBW [Big Beautiful Women].”

Esperanza Spalding heads to Harvard a professor and drops new project, ‘Exposure’ The singer will livestream from the studio beginning Sept. 12

The simple words “award-winning” in front of her name don’t do Esperanza Spalding enough justice. The singer, songwriter and bassist is a four-time Grammy Award winner, and she just may be having the coolest, most undefeated week in the world of announcements.

On Monday, Harvard University announced that Spalding joined the faculty of the Department of Music as professor of the practice. According to the press release from Harvard, in her new role she will teach a range of courses in songwriting, arranging, improvisation and performance, bringing her commitment to music and as a voice for social justice. The university defines professors of the practice as individuals “who have a national or international reputation as leaders” and who are “the best in the field.”

The Portland, Oregon, native took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce her new project. For her next album, Exposure, she will spend 77 hours in the studio, beginning on Sept. 12, and will stream the experience live. During the three days, Spalding and her team will fully produce the album in front of web viewers everywhere. None of the songs will be prewritten, and, according to The New York Times, her goal is to finish 10 songs.

Spalding, 32, has five solo albums. She is recognized internationally for her musicality, dazzling live performances and range as a singer and composer. The artist blends jazz, fusion, rock, funk, soul, rhythm and blues, and Brazilian musical traditions and she incorporates her style into theatrical lyrical storytelling.

Spalding gained attention in 2011 when she won Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards. She was the first jazz artist to win the title in the show’s history. But many became familiar with the 2008 Berklee College of Music alumna when she was the laureate-invited singer and bassist at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2009 when President Barack Obama was a recipient.

Her awards include the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist, Boston Music Award for Jazz Artist of the Year, Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, Soul Train Music Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Artist/Group, Frida Kahlo Award for Innovative Creativity, and ASCAP Foundation Jazz Vanguard Award.