Damian Lillard’s second album ‘CONFIRMED’ makes its debut Trail Blazers guard says Dame D.O.L.L.A. has grown as an artist

There is a crown sitting on Damian Lillard’s head as he prays. The Portland Trail Blazers guard is shirtless and wearing a gold rope chain. He has a Rolex on his arm.

This scene on the cover of his album, CONFIRMED, under Lillard’s rapper name Dame D.O.L.L.A., is an ode to three of the greatest rappers of all time: the late Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., and the living legend Nas.

“The crown is a shoutout to Biggie as one of my inspirations in music,” the two-time All-Star said. “The prayers hands is a nod to ‘Pac, my favorite rapper of all time. And the gold rope and Rolex is a nod to Nas, another all-time great who I’m a big fan of and have great respect for.”

Dame D.O.L.L.A’s sophomore album dropped Friday on his independent label, Front Page Music. Scott Storch, Verse Simmons and Huss, among others, are the producers. Lillard’s new single, “Run It Up,” also featured rapper Lil Wayne and debuted last month.

“Working with Lil Wayne is always great. Anything he’s a part of in music will automatically be elevated, so I appreciate his involvement,” Lillard said.

CONFIRMED follows the Oakland, California, native’s successful debut album, The Letter O. Lillard said he has grown as an artist since his first album finished its opening week seventh on the Hip-Hop & R&B charts. Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith offered respect to Lillard, saying he “never thought I would see someone as equally talented [in] hoop and rap.”

“I’ve grown as an artist just by having a better understanding of the sound I’m looking for, more general topics and not so much my personal story, tempo is increased, different flows and just a more comfortable position putting this project together. The process wasn’t new to me,” Lillard said.

MAC Cosmetics to honor Aaliyah with new collection 16 years after death This is the third posthumous release the cosmetic giant has announced in five years

Two years after a petition from fans calling on MAC Cosmetics to honor late singer Aaliyah, the company is making dreams come true and giving the rhythm and blues songstress a collection of her own.

Although few details were released about the collection line in the initial announcement, the popular cosmetic manufacturer was sure to credit the fans for making the line possible and said that the MAC Aaliyah collection will be available for purchase next summer.

“Aaliyah is truly one in a million — an unstoppable icon whose groundbreaking work in R&B music and film inspires us all,” the company posted to social media. “Today we join her countless fans in celebrating her with the announcement of the MAC Aaliyah collection. You made it happen!”

Instagram Photo

Aaliyah became a household name as a teenager with the release of her debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number in 1994. The singer continued to work her way up the ranks and progress with the help of hip-hop greats such as Missy Elliott and Jay-Z, legendary music producer Timbaland and entertainment mogul Damon Dash, whom she dated until her death. On Aug. 25, 2001, the 22-year-old-singer’s reign as the princess of R&B came to a tragic end after the small twin-engine Cessna carrying her and her film crew crashed shortly after takeoff in the Bahamas. There were no survivors.

Aaliyah’s final self-titled studio album, released July 2001, shot to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart a month after her death.

The petition, created by fan Jennifer Risinger of California, urged MAC to “reintroduce Aaliyah’s legacy to the world” through a limited-edition collection. Risinger also stated that writer and film director Rashad Haughton, the singer’s brother, gave the idea his seal of approval.

“Aaliyah stands for MAC’s mission of ‘All ages, All races, All sexes,’ ” Risinger wrote. “She was a risk taker, innovator, edgy, street but sweet, and R&B’s princess. She continues to influence today’s mainstream artists. People around the world still love and celebrate her life and music every year.” By the end of its run, the petition was signed by 26,218 supporters.

This is the third posthumous collection from the company within the past five years.

Last fall, the cosmetics giant released its MAC Selena collection in honor of Tejano music singer Selena Quintanilla, who was shot and killed by the president of her fan club in 1995. The collection, complete with three lipsticks, a lip gloss, five eye shadows, a blush and bronzer compact, a makeup brush, liquid liner and mascara, sold out online just hours after its release. In 2012, late model and beauty icon Marilyn Monroe’s collection of signature red lipsticks, liquid liners and eye shadows was released just in time for the holidays.

Posthumous releases aren’t the only ones MAC has in store for fans seeking a variety of palettes.

Just days before the Aaliyah announcement, rapper Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to announce her second MAC collection, which features two new nude lipsticks that will sell for $18 each next month.

Actress Taraji P. Henson has also teamed with MAC for her Viva Glam Taraji P. Henson collection, which offers a matte fuchsia lipstick ($17.50) and shimmery fuchsia lip gloss ($17).

Jon Jones tested positive for drugs (again) and other news of the week The Week That Was Aug. 21-25

Monday 08.21.17

The Secret Service has already run out of money to protect President Donald Trump and his family. While the University of Texas removed four Confederate statues from its Austin campus, a dissenting protester claimed that “white supremacy is over because of Obama, pro athletes and Jay-Z.” Comedian Bill Cosby, like a job announcement, tweeted that he is “pleased to announce his new legal team for his criminal retrial.” @daM00N_ blocked the @sun. R&B singer Chris Brown solved racism through the gift of dance. Trump stared directly at the sun. Wile E. Coyote A Texas man was charged with attempting to blow up a Confederate statue. Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, called an Instagram user “adorably out of touch” after the user criticized Linton for posting a photo of her expensive wardrobe while disembarking a U.S. military jet. A Florida man involved in the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weeks ago and who once killed a goat and drank its blood is running for U.S. Senate. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who once referred to nonwhite people as “sub-groups,” posted a photo of a solar eclipse with a superimposed photo of Harambe, who was born in Texas, because King was in Tanzania at the time. Former Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, surprisingly not a member of the current administration, said slavery is “good history.” Boxing legend George Foreman, who voiced support for Hulk Hogan the same day a tape in which the wrestler called a black man a “n—–” was leaked, called LeBron James and Kevin Durant “sore losers” for refusing to visit the White House.

Tuesday 08.22.17

Country musician Kid Rock, while singing a song with the lyrics And I will vow to the shining seas/And celebrate God’s Grace on me, yelled, “F— Colin Kaepernick” to an Iowa State Fair crowd. A former Ku Klux Klan member once indicted by a federal grand jury for threatening to kill Coretta Scott King is taking a temporary leave of absence as a Roman Catholic priest. Ben Carson, the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, doesn’t understand how lead-paint reduction works. UFC champion Jon Jones was popped for reportedly using an anabolic steroid one month after tweeting, “Daniel [Cormier] says the only reason I defeated him the first time is because I must have been on steroids, wonder what his excuse will be this time.” Proving definitively that you can’t fix stupid, physicians across the country treated “sprains, strains, lacerations,” fractures and eye damage after Monday’s solar eclipse. The Girl Scouts of the USA and Boy Scouts of America are beefing. The organizer of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville is back from self-exile, telling all the “Commies, conspiracy wackos & nazi optics cucks” to “pucker up.” Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-North Carolina) said the Black Lives Matter movement is “just as engaged in hate” as white supremacist groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis. Despite military drafts being banned in 1973, an Ohio Supreme Court Justice called members of the Cleveland Browns who kneeled for the national anthem “draft dodging millionaire athletes.”

Wednesday 08.23.17

An anonymous NFL executive said quarterbacks “Tom Brady or Philip Rivers would never consider making a stand … while they’re at work” like Kaepernick; Brady once prominently displayed a Make America Great Again hat in his locker. After 18 piglets were saved from a barn fire in England earlier this year, the farmer who owned the litter served them up as sausage to the rescuing firefighters. Less than 12 hours after agreeing to not publicly feud with Arizona’s two senators, Trump tweeted, “I love the Great State of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!” Jon Jones, a white New York game developer and not the black MMA fighter, was inundated with Twitter messages after the announcement of the other Jones’ failed drug test, with one user writing, “Oh s— u just a white dude my bad nig lmao.” A 77-year-old Pennsylvania woman with a hearing impairment was severely beaten by her daughter and granddaughter because the volume of the Pittsburgh Steelers game she was listening to was too high. Disproving the theory that teenagers don’t follow the news, six students at a private Atlanta school were suspended or expelled for playing a drinking game called “Jews vs. Nazis.” Joanie Loves Chachi actor Scott Baio, stretching the definition of “successful,” responded to criticism of Trump by stating, “I don’t give a s— if I ever work again. … I guess I’m just an old, angry, successful white guy who stole everything he has from someone else.” Even the United Nations, which famously played the “my name is Bennett” routine during the Rwandan genocide, is “alarmed by the racist demonstrations” in the U.S.

Thursday 08.24.17

Floyd Mayweather plans to visit the Las Vegas strip club he owns every night before his fight on Saturday. A Twitter user whom Trump retweeted in the morning once posted, “We have enough Jews where I live.” A South Carolina man, seconds after pleading that Confederate statues are not a “symbol of racism,” called a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. “Martin Luther Coon.” The Baltimore Ravens played themselves. A year after Trump tweeted, “Mexico will pay for the wall!” the White House can’t confirm whether Mexico will indeed pay for the wall. Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, who got into a fight at a nightclub in 2016, said teams don’t want to sign Kaepernick because of the “chaos that comes along with it.” More baseball players don’t know how to properly scrap. A 21-year-old New York man was arrested after having his driver’s license suspended 81 times. San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, still old, has decided to continue playing basketball. In the ongoing war against Skynet, Apple’s latest phones will use facial recognition to unlock the device. Famed director James “Draw Me Like One of Your French Girls” Cameron said blockbuster film Wonder Woman was “a step backwards” for lead female characters. Durant, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, said he would still drink actress Scarlett Johansson’s bathwater. The St. Louis Cardinals are feuding with a nonprofit over a stray cat.

Friday 08.25.17

A Washington, D.C.-based agriculture lawyer says Department of Agriculture chief scientist nominee Sam Clovis has “iron testicles.” Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, who once said paying college players would make him “do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is,” will now make $7.5 million this season. Another team that will not sign Kaepernick said it would “absolutely” sign Kaepernick. UPS’s stock suddenly dropped 500 percent. San Francisco residents, including one named Tuffy Tuffington, plan to leave dog poop in a local park ahead of a planned right-wing rally in the same park. For dangerous investigative work that will surely win it a Pulitzer Prize, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ate at Arby’s. Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown, accused multiple times of domestic abuse, said, “I’m not gonna do anything against the flag and national anthem.” Metta World Peace is back playing basketball … for Master P.

‘Whitney: Can I Be Me’ is a tale of fame, money and selfish enablers Documentary about Whitney Houston is also a romantic tragedy

Whitney: Can I Be Me, the new documentary about the beloved singer who drowned in her bathtub at the Beverly Hilton after overdosing on drugs, is full of little moments that squeeze at your heart. There’s footage of Whitney Houston ecstatic after giving her all during a performance of “I Will Always Love You” and early interviews in which Houston is still earnest, bashful and innocent.

Then there’s the whammy.

In 1995, David Roberts, who served as Houston’s bodyguard for seven years and was the inspiration for her hit film with Kevin Costner, sent Houston’s family and business partners a report on her health and well-being from her latest tour. It was not good. Houston, Roberts said, was heavily dependent on cocaine and marijuana. Her voice was deteriorating. She was not in good health and needed to enter a rehabilitation facility.

They ignored him.

“If anyone had listened to or acted on my report, she would now be alive,” Roberts says in the film.

Under the direction of Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal, Whitney: Can I Be Me functions as a psychological autopsy for the woman known simply as The Voice. The documentary airs Friday at 9 p.m. EST on Showtime.

An opening voice-over proclaims that Houston didn’t really die from a drug overdose. “She actually died from a broken heart.” Houston had been divorced from Bobby Brown for five years when she died on the eve of the 2012 Grammys at age 48. This wasn’t the broken heart resulting from a soured romance, but one stemming from living most of her life with split identities. The Whitney Houston whom America fell in love with was not the real Whitney Houston, Broomfield and Dolezal argue.

“If anyone had listened to or acted on my report, she would now be alive.” — David Roberts, Houston’s bodyguard

For Houston to rise to pop stardom in the 1980s the way no other black woman before her had done, there were rules:

Don’t be ’hood.

Don’t be too black.

And certainly don’t be queer.

And Houston, who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, before her family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, after the 1967 riots, was all of those things. So it was up to Arista Records superproducer Clive Davis to erase them. Davis had wanted to turn Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick into crossover stars, but they were too established in their careers for such a pivot to work. Then, “along comes Whitney, who was so moldable, and she was the perfect vehicle for his foolproof vision,” former Arista executive Kenneth Reynolds says in the film.

And so Houston’s sound was pop instead of R&B or funk.

“Whitney’s voice broke barriers,” Pattie Howard, a backup singer who sang bass for Houston, explains in the film. “We didn’t have Beyoncés. And any African-American female artist that can now be at the top of a pop chart — that absolutely was not going to happen before Whitney Houston. It had not happened before Whitney Houston. She changed history for us. And she paid a price for it.”

Whitney confirms much that had previously been rumored: that Houston began doing drugs as a teenager and that her brothers would procure them for her — and that she was, in fact, bisexual. When rumors about her longtime relationship with her friend, lover and employee Robyn Crawford began to surface, she breezily blew off Katie Couric in a televised interview. Couric had prodded, in the most polite way possible, about the fact that Crawford presented herself as a butch lesbian. Houston, smiling all the while, responded by saying Crawford was simply a very “tall,” very “broad” woman who played basketball better than a lot of men.

“Whitney’s voice broke barriers. We didn’t have Beyoncés.” — Pattie Howard, one of Houston’s backup singers

For years, Brown was blamed for turning Houston into an addict, but that wasn’t the case. These revelations may not come as a surprise to consummate Whitney Watchers. But for casual fans, the documentary provides credible sourcing on what Houston’s family tried so desperately to conceal. Houston’s estate sued Dolezal to try to stop the release of the film and lost.

Whitney doesn’t exonerate Brown from responsibility. He didn’t introduce her to drugs, but he also wasn’t a fan of her plan to get clean. He was jealous and abusive, and he and Crawford were constantly in competition for Houston’s affections, to the point where they came to blows.

Whitney follows the typical conventions of a music documentary, like those Andy Samberg so expertly parodied in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. The never-before-seen concert footage was shot by Dolezal after Houston commissioned him to do a tour documentary. It’s interspersed with talking heads from various parts of Houston’s life.

The difference, of course, is that this documentary is deathly serious. It’s about how Houston went from being one of the most celebrated voices of a generation to a woman whose backing band had to lower her own songs two registers because her voice had deteriorated so much.

Those who were shaken by the revelations Amy produced about the life, demise and death of Amy Winehouse will feel similar sensations watching Whitney. They both tell stories of clever, charming, talented women surrounded by enablers, not all of whom were invested simply in their well-being. In both cases, those enablers included their parents.

In a way, this film is an argument for minority artists to have more control over their careers. The record company apparatus is still necessary for many artists, but it needs to adapt to fit the needs of talent instead of making the talent adapt to its moneymaking ambitions. In the long run, that’s better for both parties.

Whitney lets us know: The demand for sanitized, postracial soothsaying from black stars as the price for success is more than detrimental. It will slowly, softly kill you.

O.J. Simpson gets parole and other news of the week The Week That Was July 17-21

Monday 07.17.17

Country rock artist Kid Rock is still pretending to run for U.S. Senate. Professional model Jeremy Meeks, better known as viral star “Prison Bae,” offered this advice to former football star O.J. Simpson: “Stay out of trouble.” The Carolina Panthers fired general manager Dave Gettleman, and instead of receiving heartfelt messages from his former players, Gettleman was laughed at, given the side-eye emoji, and called a “snake.” An American Airlines spokesperson clarified that it was mechanical issues and not a passenger’s passing gas that forced the evacuation of a plane the day before. Walmart apologized for a third-party vendor describing the color of a wig cap on the company’s website as “n—– brown.” A D.C. crime robot drowned itself. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who is hated by many despite rocking a fade haircut, said the first thing embattled quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs to do to repair his image is to “cut his hair” and “try to be presentable.”

Tuesday 07.18.17

Kaepernick posted the definition of “Stockholm syndrome” to his personal Twitter account. According to a new poll, 22 percent of Americans say they would still support President Donald Trump if he “shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whiteside was reunited with his dog by Texas rapper Boogotti Kasino; in a profanity-laden video posted to his Twitter account, Kasino, who’d previously made a video demanding $20,000 for the dog’s safe return asked, “F— I look like stealing a god damn dog, bro?” In gentrification news, a new “Instagrammable” New York City restaurant sells $12 cocktails alongside a “bullet hole-ridden wall,” a supposed remnant of the “rumored backroom illegal gun shop” of the previous ownership (the bullet holes are not real). A Republican mayoral candidate in Florida told an opponent, who is white, and “your people” that if they want reparations they should “go back to Africa.” Chipotle is getting people sick again.

Wednesday 07.19.17

Wu-Tang Clan member RZA was tapped as Chipotle’s newest spokesman in the face of the company’s latest food safety crisis. Rats fell from the ceiling at one of the company’s Dallas restaurants. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has the top-selling jersey in 14 states, including South Dakota and Alaska. In one of WWE’s most daring stunts since “blowing up” CEO Vince McMahon’s limousine in 2007, the wrestling executive’s son, Shane, was in a helicopter that made an emergency landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Inmates at a Florida correctional facility are being denied toilet paper. In the name of science, FiveThirtyEight, who forgot to send an invite, got drunk off of margaritas. The showrunners of Game of Thrones, a show that has more computer-generated dragons than black people, have been tapped to create a Civil War-era series that “takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal.” Trump said French President Emmanuel Macron “loves holding my hand.”

Thursday 07.20.17

Former O.J. Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey is now broke, lives with a 62-year-old hairstylist and works as a consultant upstairs from his girlfriend’s salon. O.J. was paroled. A Texas woman, who is about to snitch, was caught with $2 million worth of liquid crystal methamphetamine after she thought it would be a good idea to drive over the speed limit. New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown, who has a career 18-42 record, said the “future is bright” for the team, which went 5-11 last season. “Despacito,” the most streamed song in music history, was banned in Malaysia because of raunchy lyrics like “you’re the magnet and I’m the metal.” Rapper Meek Mill said he was “off the s—s” when he ignited his beef with Drake back in 2015. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze abruptly resigned from the school after it was revealed he used a university-provided cellphone to dial a number associated with a female escort service; four days earlier, Freeze tweeted, “Dear God, I worship You today for the forgiveness of my sins, a love like no other, grace and acceptance, and the blessing of life!!”

Friday 07.21.17

Freeze was offered “lifetime access” to adult-themed webcasting website CamSoda (Warning: NSFW); the site said “camming is a healthy alternative to escorts and the next best thing.” Leonardo DiCaprio, a courageous, humble and common man, will take a commercial flight instead of a private jet to his environmental foundation’s gala. A tweet by R&B singer SZA that simply read “Lol nah” received 20,000 retweets and nearly 27,000 likes. In a move that will prove most damaging to Saturday Night Live, White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned. Thirty years after Spanish artist Salvador Dalí’s death, his famous mustache was still intact after his body was exhumed to perform a paternity test. Professional golfer Sergio Garcia, competing at the British Open, sent his tee shot near some bushes and hurt his shoulder after swinging his club at the offending shrubbery. A Chicago Cubs writer tweeted that Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana “took LSD into work today and said he wasn’t even sure where the players’ entrance was to Wrigley.” LSD is also a Chicago street.

Daily Dose: 7/17/17 R. Kelly’s latest disgusting scheme is exposed

All right, all, I’ll be on The Ryen Russillo Show on Monday from 1-4 p.m. EST, which is also on ESPNews if you want to see me while I talk. But, if you want to hear The Morning Roast from Sunday, without pictures, there’s that too.

R. Kelly is a monster. At this point, that’s a pretty irrefutable fact. Long after the urination incident that instantly sunk the R&B singer’s reputation in many circles, he’s still apparently making music, and people are still falling for his grotesque bit. In his latest piece, Jim DeRogatis, a music journalist who’s made a life’s work out of exposing the artist’s acts, explains how Kelly is now basically running a cult for young women. It should suprise no one, but that doesn’t mean it’s not newsworthy. The scariest part is that none of it is really illegal.

If you don’t watch gaming on television, I wouldn’t blame you. But Sunday night I found myself bored while in a hotel room, so I decided to watch the Street Fighter V tournament at EVO 2017. There was a guy who went by the name of Punk, a relatively soft-spoken kid from Philly who was banging people out. But the best part was that they kept showing his mom, who was AMPED in the crowd. If this is how all gamers’ parents celebrate, I’d watch it every single night. Her pride in her son made the whole thing worth it.

50 years ago, Detroit burned. Now, depending on who you ask, the descriptors of the event are different. Some will call them riots. Others will call it a rebellion. And some will call it an uprising because of everything that was surrounding the economic condition of the city at the time. Now, a movie simply titled Detroit about the 1967 incident is coming out, lending new interest to the history of the city. A friend of mine saw it and said it made him physically uncomfortable. Here’s a look back on that time in the Motor City.

The BIG3 is trying, but things are hard. When games aren’t on live, and teams are making trades of players no one’s ever heard of, it can be tough to gain traction. As a gimmick it’s been fun, and everyone’s got an uncle who’s really into it, but right now it’s a sideshow. A good one, though. But when Allen Iverson comes back to Philadelphia and can’t play because of undisclosed reasons, that’s a problem. The 76ers legend was in the building but did not actually participate over the weekend. Bummer. I hope Bubba Chuck is OK.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Bringing a dog on a plane is such a scary venture. It’s why people go well out of their way to make sure that they can sit right next to them if they are forced to bring their animals to travel. But don’t tell that to ScHoolboy Q, the TDE rapper, who had his canine shipped to the wrong city by an airline. Nightmare scenario.

Snack Time: Guess what? Racism and consistent discrimination actually have real effects on your life beyond just living and dying. A new study reveals that psychological trauma and poverty may lead more black folks to dementia.

Dessert: I’ve been banging this new French Montana album all weekend. Don’t at me.

Mayweather and McGregor are touring the world and other news of the week The Week That Was July 10-14

Monday 07.10.17

Bertha, the oldest hippopotamus living in captivity in the world, died from multiple organ failures; a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesperson said the hippo lived a life of “boredom, misery and deprivation” while in captivity. Rob Kardashian is being represented in his legal battle with ex-fiancée Blac Chyna by attorney Robert Shapiro, who infamously teamed up with Kardashian’s father, Robert, during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Possibly the result of its franchise being valued at $900 million while subsequently asking for a government handout, the company that owns the Detroit Pistons has been added to a federal lawsuit seeking a referendum vote on $34.5 million in public funds being used to move the team to downtown Detroit. Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd is expecting another … kid. Fox broadcaster Joe Buck once ate a “pot brownie” while in Cabo, Mexico, and after some time, the letters on his phone started “flying off my phone into my face” and he could not feel his legs. An abandoned tourist resort once created by Adolf Hitler to house German factory workers is being transformed into a luxury real estate complex. In what feels like the 10th Ice Age sequel, the fossilized skull of a mammoth was found at the future site of a New York City subway station. Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), filling in for WFAN radio host Mike Francesa, was called a bully and “fat ass” by a caller; Christie shot back that the caller was a “communist” and a “bum.” Donald Trump Jr., like his father, his brother-in-law, the vice president and the attorney general, has hired a lawyer. A Nevada man shot himself in the groin while driving down a highway. Hip-hop artist Tyler, The Creator may or may not have come out in one of the songs on his latest album, and Odd Future group mate Mike G. attempted to clear up the confusion by tweeting, “The homie not gay, he just likes dudes.” Notorious Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, whose new stadium will cost Miami-Dade County over $1 billion while the team currently holds a 41-46 record, is suing a season-ticket holder for refusing to subject himself to future Marlins games.

Tuesday 07.11.17

In a tag team match that could have only been dreamed up by the WWE, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter are bidding against “Mr. Worldwide” Pitbull and former presidential candidate Jeb Bush to purchase the Marlins. Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist allegedly responsible for Trump Jr.’s legal woes, wears clothing labeled “C–TY,” “SEX” and, not too on the nose, “RUSSIA”; Goldstone also allegedly checked in at Trump Tower on Facebook the day he met with the president’s son regarding potentially incriminating information about Clinton. Trump Jr., still conceivably ignoring his counsel’s advice by “tweeting through it,” effectively snitched on himself by (ironically) releasing emails that prove the information he sought from a Russian lawyer was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), defending Trump Jr., told reporters that one of the things that endears him to the president is how much his kids love him: “He divorced their mothers and they loved him.” Vice President Mike Pence, whose name is Bennett, thus not in it, released a statement through his press secretary denying he was “aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories from the campaign — especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign.” President Trump, who has tweeted passionate defenses of his former national security adviser and daughter in the past, released a statement about Trump Jr., calling him a “a high quality person.” Speaking of Trump, former American Idol runner-up and Celebrity Apprentice contestant Clay Aiken claims that the former host didn’t choose who he would famously “fire” on the show: “He didn’t make those decisions, he didn’t fire those people. It was very much, ‘I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.’ ” Ronald G. Wayne, the third co-founder of Apple, said he has never owned an Apple product and does not regret cashing in his 10 percent stake in the company for $800 back in 1976. A New York woman is suing former first daughter Chelsea Clinton for copyright infringement after Clinton published children’s book “She Persisted”; the woman said the book “looks like a ninth-grade homework assignment.” The first promotional tour stop for August’s Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor fight included McGregor wearing a pinstripe suit that read “F— You,” Mayweather saying McGregor had a chance because “a teacher beat Manny Pacquiao,” and McGregor calling Mayweather a “boy” and telling him to “dance for me.” Florida football coach Jim McElwain is still upset that he was confused for a man who was pictured naked humping a dead shark. A Chicago man seen distributing drugs from his car may have given out free samples of tainted heroin that has hospitalized at least eight people. For those who like to get high in the morning, marijuana-infused coffee, cocoa and tea, for use in Keurig machines, are now available for sale in Nevada dispensaries.

Wednesday 07.12.17

University of Utah doctors found that breast implants can slow down bullets. As readers of this article throw up their hands when they notice a fire hydrant in the way, a transportation analytics company found that motorists spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for parking. As lawmakers give up their summer vacation to push through a new health care bill, some Americans are turning to exorcisms instead of doctor’s offices. A Fox & Friends ticker referred to White House adviser Jared Kushner as “Jared Kosher”; Kushner is Jewish. The View host Whoopi Goldberg, in mixed company, told activist Deray Mckesson to “get over yourself” in response to Mckesson accusing producers of War for the Planet of the Apes of making one of the movie’s apes look like him. A New Hampshire McDonald’s is in a messy situation after a woman said her 5-year-old son was covered in poop after coming down a slide at the restaurant. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) introduced articles of impeachment against President Trump, claiming that he “acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States”; the resolution was co-sponsored by a whopping one other member of the House, the aptly named Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). The White House, while attacking the Congressional Budget Office, inaccurately spelled “inaccurately” twice in a video it released. Miko Grimes, the wife of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes, once beat up the girlfriend of one of Brent’s teammates who was living with them, smokes weed to mellow herself out from fighting, hates Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s wife and was asked by former Dolphins coach Joe Philbin to not post photos of birthday cakes depicting herself performing fellatio on her husband. Supposed musical artist Kid Rock, best known for a riveting speech where he said, “Bawitdaba, da bang, da dang diggy diggy diggy, said the boogie, said up jump the boogie,” is considering running for U.S. Senate in his home state of Michigan. Tennis star Serena “New Money” Williams tried to deposit her first $1 million check at her bank’s drive-thru ATM. A (white male) movie critic started his review of the black-female-helmed Girls Trip by telling Tyler Perry, who is not affiliated in any way with the movie, to “move over” and let “director Malcolm D. Lee show you how it’s done.”

Thursday 07.13.17

Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, once accused of sexually harassing female co-workers and paying out millions of dollars in settlements for the women’s silence, demands that the “press practice the Missouri model: show me. Or shut up.” Former Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa can no longer be used as someone’s “black friend.” A day late, the Department of Justice finally released Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ security clearance forms, showing that Sessions misstated that he never had “any contact with a foreign government.” Conor McGregor’s “F— you” pinstripe suit took months to create and will be available for commercial sale. Trump, speaking for himself, told the audience at a joint news conference in Paris that “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that.” In related news, actor Alec Baldwin was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Trump during the latest season of Saturday Night Live. The personal attorney for Trump, in response to a man telling him to resign from his job, called the anonymous man a “b—-” and a “piece of s—” and promised that “you will see me.” For a story about undergarments at Wimbledon, The Wall Street Journal posted a tweet that read “Something’s not white” over a photo of Venus Williams; the tweet was deleted. A Texas contractor working at a local bank was trapped in the building’s ATM and had to slip messages through the machine’s receipt slot to be released. Cubs fans, possibly still drunk from last season’s drought-ending World Series title, have not cashed in over 30 percent of bets made in Las Vegas on the 2016 championship game. In more Chicago news, the news of White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana being traded to the Cubs was broken by Reddit users KatyPerrysBootyHole and Wetbutt23. Former UFC champion Jon “Bones” Jones, in response to admitting that he once snorted cocaine before a championship fight, said: “If you can afford to smoke a little weed, and do a little coke, and still win world titles, who’s to tell you you can’t?” Recently unemployed right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos calls his benefactors, billionaire couple Robert and Rebekah Mercer, “mom and dad.”

Friday 07.14.17

50 Cent responded to McGregor calling him a “b—-” on Thursday by posting a photo of the UFC champion being choked out by fellow mixed martial artist Nate Diaz; in other news, the Mayweather-McGregor fight is still somehow over a month away. Kermit the Frog, more than likely not sipping some tea, was fired on his day off. Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), auditioning for his next presidential run, called the GOP health care bill “still unacceptable” while also finding time to support repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Another person was at the meeting between Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, still recovering from the Fourth of July, debuted “Mac & Cheese”-inspired children’s shoes, which also resemble the primary colors of the Golden State Warriors. New York City morning radio show The Breakfast Club, which once claimed R&B singer Miguel was gay, ran a Twitter poll that asked, “Who had the gayest hip hop lines?” The Washington D.C. Police Department reminded residents of the district’s marijuana laws by tweeting a gif of late actor Rodney Dangerfield and the movie Super Troopers, and using the words “reggie” and “loud.” O’Reilly, a powerful man accused of hurting folks, tweeted that “there is a growing anger in America that powerful people are hurting the folks.” An Olympic gold medalist was cleared of a drug test violation after an arbitrator concluded that the American man ingested a prohibited substance by kissing his girlfriend. Trump tweeted that he will attend the U.S. Women’s Open, an event he once threatened to sue, which is coincidentally taking place at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who once criticized a local company for outsourcing jobs to Mexico, will sell his stock in a family business after a report came out that the company uses Mexican labor. Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant, who enjoys using a substance that is legal in nine states and D.C., feels like he needs to have a “man-to-man” talk with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was twice accused of sexual assault (both cases were dismissed).

Timbaland on Missy Elliott’s ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ and how hip-hop got its groove back The Grammy-winning producer reflects on the songs that made Missy’s debut a classic

“I made hits with Total, Madonna and so many more,” says Tim “Timbaland” Mosley. “But far as chemistry? That just don’t come. Me and Jay[-Z] got it. Justin [Timberlake] too. Of course, Missy. When you think about it, it’s not a lot of people.”

The Grammy-winning Timbo is busy being an “architect” on the ABC competition show, Boy Band, but there’s always, always time to talk about the music. Especially when it involves his longtime friend and musical soulmate Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. Collaboration creates hits. But chemistry? That’s the ingredient from which classics are built.

Mention Missy’s genre-bending debut Supa Dupa Fly turning 20 this week — Rolling Stone named it one of the 100 best albums of the ’90s — and you can just about feel the twinkle in Timbo’s eyes over the phone. “We did our job. We impacted the world,” he says proudly. He goes silent for a second. It’s long enough, though, to get that he realizes the magnitude of the achievement. “We made history.” He won’t go as far to say they shifted the culture. “But we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.”

“We made history … we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.” — Timbaland

Missy and Tim are but one in a line of Siamese twin-like creative musical partnerships: Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Nas and DJ Premier, Big Boi and Andre 3000 of OutKast and Organized Noise, and, in more recent years, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib. Missy and Tim are bound by creativity and trains of thought best described as “outside the box.” And by ZIP codes as well. Missy, a Portsmouth native, and Tim, from Norfolk, hail from the Seven Cities region of Virginia — an area Teddy Riley helped put on the map, and one Missy and Timbaland (along with The Neptunes) stamped as a songful hotbed between the musical metropolises of New York City and Atlanta.

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy, the visionary who wrote just about everything save a song or two from Timbaland mainstay Magoo, weren’t looking to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997. The officially unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. in 1996 and 1997, respectively, hovered over the scene. Shakur and Biggie’s music still dominated airwaves, and their videos were on constant circulation on MTV and the now-defunct The Box. Missy attended the Vibe after-party after which Biggie was murdered. “We were young,” says Timbaland. But Missy remained steadfastly focused on her songwriting even in the midst of an industrywide depression. “Her whole thing,” said Timbaland, “was, ‘I gotta do this and make it fun.’ ”


Supa Dupa Fly almost never got off the ground. Famously shy, Missy Elliott was content behind the scenes. She’d already crafted a name for herself with composer credits on works from artists like Jodeci, Gina Thompson, New Edition, 702, Ginuwine and more. She and Timbaland were the chief architects of Aaliyah’s 1996 double-platinum masterpiece, One In A Million.

A frame from Missy Elliot’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” video

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

But the occasional times Elliott stepped in front of a mic or camera, the entire music industry took notice. Sean Combs had positioned himself as the hip-hop King Midas, but Missy’s scene-stealing appearances on Thompson’s “The Things You Do (Remix)” (see below) and 702’s “Steelo” proved she was of the same crossover caliber. Her sound and wardrobe were unique, appealing and new. Her hip-hop Michelin Woman look shocked the world.

“Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends” as we called ourselves when we did a record together.

Missy’s dream was to own an imprint and build her own crew of artists. The idea was a brilliant one as far as then-head of Elektra Records, Sylvia Rhone, was concerned. But under one condition: that Missy release a solo album of her own. “People think I did this for the money, but I was comfortable just writing for people,” Missy told SPIN in 1997. “And I mean really comfortable.”

Missy’s debut peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. She immediately became a bona fide star. And 20 years later, it still sounds ahead of its time: a gumbo of hip-hop, R&B, soul and dance. She and Timbaland’s musical, lyrical and stylistic vision was free and futuristic and helped make Missy a clubhouse leader in evolving discussions around feminism.

Missy’s body-positive and sex-positive lyrics thrived alongside the overt sensual raunchiness of Lil Kim. I’m the stewardess of the plane / Feel the turbulence and maintain, she coos on “Friendly Skies.” Please refrain and stay in your seats / Until we reach the gate. She didn’t need a plane to join the “mile-high club.” She was the club.

“It was a girl power thing … She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed.” — Timbaland

In 1997, Entertainment Weekly dubbed Missy and the album “a wickedly innovative singer-rapper who favors expansive song structures and trip-hoppy textures. In the process, she creates an evocative space-age soul all her own.” SPIN said Supa could become “the most influential album since Dr. Dre’s The Chronic” and “everything here has ‘hit’ stamped all over it.” And a year before Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation declared her independence and became a blueprint for the matriarchal fusion of rap and singing, All Music Guide called Missy’s premiere project “the most influential album ever released by a female hip-hop artist” and spoke of its “tremendous impact on hip-hop, and an even bigger one on R&B, as its futuristic, nearly experimental style became the de facto sound of urban radio at the close of the millennium.”

Ahead of the album’s anniversary on Saturday, and Friday’s vinyl re-release, The Undefeated caught up with Timbaland. The legendary producer breaks down Supa Dupa Fly’s standout cuts as well his own memories of how the album Missy originally didn’t want to record changed their lives.


If Missy was going to be “forced” to do her own solo project, best believe she’d bring her friends along with her for the ride.

“Sock It 2 Me” feat. Da Brat

Timbaland: Da Brat is one of her good friends. They’re still best friends to this day. She wanted it to be like an all-girls thing. Like, ‘These are the top girls.’ It was about hooking up with women that were creative like her. She always looked at it that way. She always made friends with other women who were doing it like her. It was a girl power thing. Even when Eve came out, Missy was like, ‘That girl Eve is hot!’ She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed. And she championed hard.


For “Not Tonight,” Missy links up with one of her closest friends in the industry: Lil Kim.

“Hit ’Em Wit Da Hee” feat. Lil Kim & Mocha

Timbaland: Oh, now that was dope! When we did that we [were] in New York. Missy was always cool with Kim. She always wanted to do songs with her friends. Mary J. Blige was her friend. Lil Kim was like the closest. When Missy heard [the beat for] “Hit ’Em With The Hee,” she was like, “I’ma get Lil Kim on this.” It was more like just getting her girls together. Watching her do that and watching her have so much fun, I don’t think the record had any intentions. Missy just wanted to make Missy music and make the world be like, ‘Whoa!’


The record not only changed the sound of hip-hop and R&B in 1997, it changed Missy’s life altogether.

“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”

Timbaland: That one I was going through my keyboard and I had this little loop. Missy was like, ‘What’s that?! That’s dope!!’ And I just kept doing it. Then I just put the bass line in it and she just started going off! ‘This about to be crazy!’ Next thing you know, ‘All right, all right, y’all gotta get out.’ I’m like, ‘Gahhh, damn!’ But we kinda created that one kinda together. Missy knew it was gonna be a hit the moment she heard the beat. We were both hype. After that, she took it to the radio station. I remember it was DJ Al B. Sylk, back in the day. She took it up there to 103 JAMZ [Norfolk’s WOWI-FM 102.9]. She was hype about that record. That was like one of the first records. And then after that, she tapped into a zone.


Timbaland dubs this duet one of the more underrated cuts on Supa Dupa Fly. It’s tough to argue its staying power either, with artists such as Bryson Tiller sampling it for last year’s “Let Me Explain,” and Drake sampled it for 2009’s “Bria’s Interlude” from his landmark mixtape, So Far Gone.

“Friendly Skies” feat. Ginuwine

Timbaland: If you’re from Virginia, man, it was about being in the studio. That may be how kids do it now, but they also do it a little differently. We just had fun. I think when I do the track it made them feel a certain way. Both of them [Missy and Ginuwine] start, they’re laughing, and once again I’m getting kicked out the room (laughs). I come back in and the song is done (laughs). And I’m like, ‘Oh this is dope,’ but I’m like, ‘Change this, change that.’

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy didn’t seek to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997.

That’s how it usually is, and it’s cool for me that way. It gave me time to go play my PlayStation. And if I’m in the studio [when they’re recording], I’ma critique it. … I put so much time into the music part, making sure that their emotions are there. I gotta walk away. I can’t really pay attention to how they write the song. It’s hard, but it’s kinda good she kicked me out. But also, I’d probably walk out. I want to hear what emotions they came up with versus what I was feeling.


Missy and Aaliyah — so much potential. While not their most famous collaboration, “Best Friend” is Missy and Aaliyah’s most personal duet.

“Best Friend” feat. Aaliyah

Timbaland: How we vibed in the studio, we was family! Missy and Aaliyah had a very close bond. Missy is a person who is fun and jokes around. Aaliyah was the same way. She could make you laugh all the time. So “Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends,” as we called ourselves when we did a record together. Missy just made the title “Best Friend.” When I created music, she’d go in her own space and create lyrics. She don’t talk about it. She kicked me out the room! (laughs)


Music is defined by its eras, but more truly by those who dominated them. It’s why Def Jam, Death Row, Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella, Cash Money, No Limit and now October’s Very Own and Top Dawg Entertainment have such a fascinating hold on cultural history. The conglomerate of Missy, Timbaland, Magoo, Aaliyah and the late Static Major never had an official name. But their output is on par with the best of the best.

“We did stuff with feeling,” said Timbaland. “We know how we felt from a small place called Virginia. We knew if it felt overjoyous to us … it would flow to other people … We didn’t know how big it was gonna be, but we knew we had a sound.”

Even after 40 years, Maze and Frankie Beverly play on A loving history of the band that always spreads happy feelings before they let go

In 1976, a demo tape came across the desk of Capitol Records vice president Larkin Arnold. The clunky reel-to-reel featured songs written and performed by Raw Soul, an unsigned San Francisco combo that had created a buzz opening shows for Marvin Gaye. Arnold cued up the tape and was immediately struck by the band’s deft reconciliation of groove-intensive rhythm and blues and California-style singer/songwriter balladry. “It reminded me,” Arnold recalled, “of a black, Eagles-type sound.”

His curiosity piqued, Arnold arranged to attend a Raw Soul concert at San Francisco’s now-defunct Fillmore West. Just minutes into the band’s performance, it was clear that Raw Soul’s feel-good vibes translated well to the stage, fueled by the soulful voice and teddy bear charm of frontman Frankie Beverly. “It wasn’t a hard-driving, rhythm and blues band,” said the now-retired Arnold from his Los Angeles home. “They were more melodic … a seductive sound. Before you realized it, they had you moving.”

Arnold was sold. As a means of getting Raw Soul to join the Capitol family of artists, he said he made singer-songwriter Beverly an offer he couldn’t refuse — sign on the dotted line, and you get to retain the publishing rights to all your songs. So Raw Soul signed with Capitol, home to some of pop’s most influential acts, from Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole to the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Pink Floyd. When the septet finally issued its 1977 debut, it was released under its new moniker: Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly.

This year, Maze and Frankie Beverly celebrate the 40th anniversary of that now-iconic debut. Showcasing the R&B hits “While I’m Alone,” “Happy Feelin’s” and “Lady of Magic,” the self-titled album has long been certified gold. Maze generated 10 recordings for Capitol, including six studio albums, two live albums and two greatest hits collections. Seven of those recordings are gold, including 1978’s Golden Time of Day, 1979’s Inspiration, 1980’s Joy and Pain and Live in New Orleans, 1983’s We Are One, and 1985’s Can’t Stop The Love. The band racked up impressive sales when it defected to Warner Bros. Records in the late ’80s, scoring two more gold certifications for 1989’s Silky Soul and 1993’s Back to Basics.

For a band whose success has gone wholly undetected by mainstream media, Maze’s influence and positive regard within the black community is nothing short of incredible.

But though Maze never enjoyed gargantuan crossover success or earned a Grammy, the band is still something like a phenomenon. Classic Maze tracks such as “Happy Feelin’s,” “Joy and Pain” and “Back In Stride” are essential listening for black baby boomers and many of their kids. Attend a wedding, picnic, backyard barbecue or any similar black American family outing and you’re bound to hear Maze tracks on the playlist, the band’s full-bodied funk blending seamlessly with edgier fare by the rap and R&B idols of the current day.

Indeed, over the course of its four-decade career, Maze has endeared itself to the black community in a special way. Some fans cite moments when the band’s upbeat lyrics helped get them through personal struggles, prompting them to prescribe Maze tracks like a doctor might prescribe antidepressants (“Listen to ‘Inspiration’ and get some rest, girl!”). Other fans report being so spellbound at first hearing Beverly’s billowy voice that they remember the experience as vividly as their first encounter with their spouses. For a band whose success has gone wholly undetected by mainstream media, Maze’s influence and positive regard within the black community is nothing short of incredible.

And as with just about everything in America, race plays a role in the saga of Maze and Frankie Beverly. The band evolved into a decidedly black R&B phenomenon, but Arnold believes Maze’s rootsy sound could easily have played across a range of traditionally “white” radio formats, including Top 40, adult contemporary and even the rock stations where white, soul-influenced acts such as Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers held court. In Arnold’s mind, Maze had crossover potential on par with Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire, yet Maze never breached the multiplatinum stratosphere. The question is, why?


We’ve been judging people by colors/ maybe we should all be color blind …”

— “Color Blind,” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, 1977

Philadelphia. 1970. Philly Soul was making inroads, with manicured, Motown-influenced acts such as The Delfonics and The Stylistics and writers and producers such as future Hall of Famers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff climbing Billboard’s R&B charts. Unfortunately, for a young singer named Howard “Frankie” Beverly, the City of Brotherly Love wasn’t showing much affection to his band, the very raw Raw Soul. Having recorded some independently produced singles that went nowhere, Beverly boldly decided to pack up the band and head to the then-freewheeling San Francisco. Raw Soul thrived in the multicultural Bay Area.

Music lover Michael Burton first encountered the band in the East Bay, at a 1973 Contra Costa College performance. At the time, the band’s lineup was Beverly, drummer Joe Provost, bassist Robin Duhe, guitarist Wuane Thomas, and percussionists McKinley “Bug” Williams and Roame Lowry. “It was a mixed crowd: black, white, and some Spanish,” Burton recalled of the audience. “Frankie played all his own music. He could either sing Top 40 or stay Raw Soul, and he chose to sing Frankie Beverly. He didn’t veer from his commitment.”

That Contra Costa performance blew Burton’s mind — it gave the 20something a purpose in life. Like a commoner abandoning his old ways to become an apostle, Burton threw his lot in with Raw Soul, becoming the band’s self-styled stage manager. He purchased a van to haul equipment, then booked Raw Soul into venues along the California coast, from Stockton and San Pablo to Santa Rosa and Tomales Bay. “At the time, a lot of Grateful Dead-kind of music was going on, and people would all support a particular bar or club,” said Burton. “You had these venues that already had a built-in following, and they loved the kind of music Frankie played.”

Rumor spread about the no-nonsense Bay Area funk band with the dynamic singer, and before long Raw Soul had gained an influential fan in the form of Jan Gaye, wife of Marvin Gaye. “Come to find out, one day Marvin was in the audience,” Burton said. “Blew us away! That was when Marvin opened the door for Frankie.”

“New York was one of my hardest markets to break Frankie. It was a disco city … and Frankie really didn’t fit into that category.”

Marvin Gaye was so enamored of Raw Soul that he took the band on the road with him as an opening act in 1976. Gaye even afforded Beverly the opportunity, at the infamous Marvin’s Room recording studio, to perform on one of his recordings. That distinctive clinking sound heard on Gaye’s chart-topping 1977 “Got to Give It Up” is Beverly playing an improvised cowbell. “That’s Frankie on the milk bottle! Marvin was [recording], and Frankie goes down there, but he didn’t bring his ax,” said Burton. “So Marvin’s like, ‘Here’s a milk bottle. Get in the groove!’ ”

But while Gaye loved Beverly’s group, he took a dim view of the name Raw Soul. He felt it did a disservice to the band’s honey-drip R&B sound. “For the next [few] months, we kicked names in the butt,” Burton said. “We go back to Marvin and say, ‘How about Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly’? We did a name check and found out there was a band already called Maze. Marvin said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll take care of that.’ From my understanding, we bought the name. It’s been Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly ever since.”

As Capitol Records geared up to release the band’s debut album, Arnold instructed the label’s art department to create an album cover incorporating a maze. They came up with a seven-digit hand in the form of a maze, each finger representing a band member. The puzzlelike design instantly became Maze’s official logo, as identifiable as the Rolling Stones’ splayed tongue or Led Zeppelin’s cryptic runes.

Maze’s debut album was released in 1977, the same year as historic albums by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Peabo Bryson, Bootsy Collins and more. It was also the year of classic singles such as Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire,” the Commodores’ “Brick House,” Parliament’s “Flashlight,” and the Isley Brothers’ often-sampledFootsteps in the Dark.” Amid this funk explosion, artists such as Chic and Donna Summer were starting to get traction with their opulent disco sounds. The year concluded with the release of Saturday Night Fever, the album that would ultimately lift disco from the underground gay clubs of New York into the annals of record sales history.

Caught in the crossfire of all this was Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly, an album recorded in Tacoma, Washington, by a band from Philadelphia, that migrated to San Francisco, yet sounded like they came from Long Beach, California. British music writer David Nathan described it as “California Soul,” citing the album’s laid-back grooves. “Obviously, the sound is rooted in traditional R&B,” said Nathan. “It’s got a smoothness to it, and of course, sometimes they’re very funky … Frankie’s voice has got a kind of yearning to it … smooth yet soulful.”

Across the country, many were having the same reaction to Maze’s music, and Arnold saw an opportunity to shore up his reputation as the man who put Capitol Records on the R&B map. A Howard University law grad, he’d been given the task of starting Capitol’s black music department from scratch. At the time, the label’s black catalog featured iconic but out-of-vogue jazz artists such as Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderly. But with the signing of talented up-and-comers such as Natalie Cole, Bryson and Tavares, Arnold gave Capitol much-needed R&B clout. But they were still struggling. “We went from being not any way in contention,” he said, “to like the seventh or eighth [in] black music … in the business.”

Armed with the premiere single “While I’m Alone,” Arnold stormed radio stations. “I knew I could bust the [song] out of Los Angeles, D.C. and Houston; those were my three biggest markets,” Arnold said. “I went over to Howard University and WHUR, which is the No. 1 station in D.C. Back then, if you broke a song in D.C., you could go from Philly down to Baltimore and Richmond, Virginia. New York was one of my hardest markets to break Frankie. It was a disco city … and Frankie really didn’t fit into that category.”

Even without the Big Apple’s support, Arnold’s cross-country hustle made Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly a steady seller. The band took to the road in a couple of station wagons and a U-Haul, stretching the little cash support they received from Capitol. That first national tour saw Maze opening for some of the biggest acts of the day, including Teddy Pendergrass, the Isley Brothers and the Brothers Johnson.

In concert, the band applied all the lessons learned from roughly a decade of performing. “I’ll tell you this for a fact: Some of the headliners didn’t want to come on after Frankie Beverly,” Burton said. “A lot of them said, ‘Oh, hell naw! I’m not going on after this guy no more!’ Sometimes, they wouldn’t let Frankie close the show. … We used to call it, ‘Let’s go out and Put The Hand on these m—-af—as!’ ”

Betty Shaw experienced Maze’s engrossing stagecraft firsthand. She was 25 when she first saw the band in 1978. At the time, Shaw was a recently separated mother of three with dim employment prospects and a deeply troubled mind. One day, she took her sister up on an invitation to attend the Kool Jazz Festival in Milwaukee. There, during Maze’s performance of “Happy Feelin’s,” Shaw had an epiphany. “It was such an experience,” she recalled. “I had never even heard ‘Happy Feelin’s’ … but the way Frankie presented the song, it was giving you the feeling like everything is going to be all right. The song says, ‘I’ve got myself to remind me of love,’ and since I have this love in me, I’m not going to give up on life. It was like a turning point in my mind.”

With Maze winning converts on the road and Arnold converting the nation’s programming directors, the stage was set for Maze to become a crossover breakthrough. Yet, despite all the hard work, debut album sales stalled at around 600,000 copies. It was an impressive showing by ’70s industry standards but far from the million-plus units that Arnold had envisioned. He believes Capitol didn’t try hard enough to help the album realize its tremendous sales potential.

“I had a lot of fights with my pop promotion department because they would never expose the album to white FM,” Arnold said. “That first time I saw Maze at the Fillmore West, the whole audience was white. I know if white people were exposed to Maze, they’d like it, but the belief at the time was, ‘Well, white people really don’t want to listen to black music.’ And I’m saying, ‘Look — it’s not just ‘black’ music!’ ”

Beverly may not have been on what was then the all-powerful FM rock radio, but he must have been making serious bank. He had initially signed with Capitol on the condition that he retain his own music publishing, and in the record biz, that’s where the big bucks are. Publishing is intellectual property, and most record companies negotiate to split copyrights with composers. The annals of pop music teem with horrifying stories of naïve artists who signed away their publishing rights to calculating record moguls. That wasn’t Frankie Beverly. Every time a radio station played Maze jams such as “When I’m Alone” or “Happy Feelin’s,” the royalties went straight to Beverly’s publishing company. Not even rock luminaries such as Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger enjoyed such a perk.

Hoping to capitalize on their momentum, Maze repaired to a Colorado recording studio to create the band’s 1978 sophomore album, Golden Time of Day. Recording was an easygoing affair, with Maze refining the organic sound that made its debut a gold-certified smash. “The way Frankie made records, he didn’t use a lot of frills, so it sounded more for-real,” said former Maze drummer Ahaguna Sun. “There’s a lot of toys in the studio, and if you don’t really know how to produce a good record, you can get swallowed up … you might go out on tour and not be able to play that way. That’s one of the things I admired about Frankie. He kept [the arrangements] close to the way we played them in the studio, so on a good night, we sounded better than the record.”

Maze returned to the road, this time doing popular shows like Soul Train. Still, the band just couldn’t clear the half-million sales hurdle. That was it. Exhausted from his experiences, a frustrated Arnold departed Capitol in 1979. He would eventually become senior vice president at CBS Records, where he found a kindred spirit in the form of CEO Walter Yetnikoff. Together, they transformed Michael Jackson’s Thriller into a crossover sales juggernaut. In a raspberry rebuke to the old radio dictum that whites won’t listen to black music, Thriller today ranks as the biggest-selling LP of all time.

Burton left the Maze crew on friendly terms in 1979. He still resides in California, working in music management. He believes the recording industry never gave Beverly a fair shake because the singer refused to sign over his prized publishing rights. “He still hasn’t won an award,” an indignant Burton said. “That’s all motivated because he didn’t open up to these [recording industry] people. You got George Clinton still fighting for royalties. You got Sly Stone just now winning a multimillion-dollar claim against the industry. And then you’ve got Frankie Beverly, who kept all his s—. He didn’t go to the crossroads and sign his soul over to the devil. And because he did that, the industry turned their backs.”

Beverly, now 70, still dresses in low-key white outfits that give him the appearance of a sporting R&B archangel.

But while Maze never enjoyed gargantuan crossover success or even earned a Grammy, the band is still something like a phenomenon. The seven-piece group tours annually, having earned an ironclad reputation for delivering hypnotic performances that all but transform 10,000-seat auditoriums into intimate clubs. This year is no different, with the band embarking on a nationwide jaunt called The People’s Tour. Fans are flocking to shows, grateful for the opportunity to party again with Beverly, now 70, who still dresses in low-key white outfits that give him the appearance of a sporting R&B archangel.

The singer is notoriously media-shy, having consented to precious few interviews in recent years. True to form, Beverly did not respond to The Undefeated’s repeated requests for an interview, but the people who know the singer insist his diffidence toward the media isn’t peevishness. “He’s very intelligent, very easy to talk to … not a harsh personality,” said Nathan, co-founder of SoulMusic.com and a longtime acquaintance of Beverly’s. “I’ve always thought of him as someone who wasn’t affected by being a fixture in the music world. Frankie didn’t go to Hollywood.”

Maze’s touring success bucks convention. The band hasn’t had a studio album to promote since 1993, a lengthy abstention that today seems symbolic. Around the time that Maze stopped recording, pop culture took a sharp turn into fashionable edginess — the funereal gloom of grunge rock, the Lolita coyness of teen pop, the boastful criminality of gangsta rap. Maze and Frankie Beverly made their bones back in the ’70s and ’80s crooning about happy feelings, sweet Southern girls, and how joy and pain are two sides of the same coin. It’s conceivable that Beverly mulled the possibility of competing in an increasingly coarse pop world and decided ain’t nobody got time for that.

“Maze is like the urban version of the Grateful Dead.”

The Maze lineup has changed consistently over the years, with Beverly and percussionist Lowry being the only remaining founding members. The band was dealt a devastating blow in 2011 when original member Williams died suddenly of a heart attack. By all accounts, that death in the family is by far the saddest wrinkle in what has otherwise been a funk fairy tale. Maze could easily borrow the often-quoted refrain from a popular Grateful Dead song: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Or, as Beverly himself sang back in the day, Ain’t it strange / How things do change.

The similarities between those two lyrics underscore what some fans have noted for years — that Maze and the Grateful Dead are kindred spirits. The theory is summed up by ELWarren Weatherspoon, drummer for We Are One, a Maryland-based Maze tribute band. “Maze is like the urban version of the Grateful Dead,” said Weatherspoon. “Anytime you can have an artist who hasn’t had a new record for 30-something years, and the fans still will come out, that’s like [the Dead].”

The notion of Maze being the Grateful Dead’s sepia-toned twin isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. Both bands came up through San Francisco’s Bay Area, home to liberal University of California-Berkeley and West Coast hippie culture. The region incubated the psychedelic rock movement, spawning pioneering counterculture pop acts such as Sly & the Family Stone, Santana, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. Maze arrived in San Francisco from its native Philadelphia in the early ’70s, and its simmering R&B sound fit the northern California music scene hand-in-glove.

Yet, while both bands were raised in the shadow of San Francisco’s anti-war movement, neither Maze nor the Dead has ever been stridently political, at least not overtly. As evidenced by Maze favorites such as “Love is the Key” in 1983 and “Working Together” in 1978, the band’s politics have always taken the form of nonconfrontational pleas for peace: We are one, no matter what we do/We are one, love will see us through. Moreover, although Maze and the Dead were both signed to major record labels, neither band succumbed to industry pressure to dilute their respective sounds for broader appeal. If either band was ever going to score a multiplatinum hit, it would have to be on their own terms. In the case of Maze, that meant radio listeners would have to accept the band’s mellow musicianship and just-folks image.

As a result of their stand-pat stubbornness, both Maze and the Dead loom today as symbols of integrity in a sellout world. Most fans insist Maze is incapable of delivering a subpar performance. To the band’s devotees, a Maze show is more than just a concert. Rather, it’s a gathering of America’s urban tribes, a come-as-you-are block party with seven of your best friends providing the butt-bumping soundtrack. Until recently, Maze routinely closed the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, an annual residency that implicitly tagged Maze as the official house band for black America.

But the Maze concert experience has changed in recent years. After 50 years of constant performing, Beverly’s velvety baritone is today a crackling shadow of its former self. The singer often has difficulty getting through shows without his voice sputtering or giving out entirely at times. Yet this isn’t a problem for his devoted followers. Beverly enjoys such a strong bond with fans that his compromised voice has become a curiously integral part of Maze performances. When his voice founders, the fans gleefully step in, completing Beverly’s verses en masse. It’s a beautiful thing to experience, a heart-melting demonstration of love between performer and audience, like witnessing lovers affectionately finishing each other’s sentences.

No Grammy. No American Music Award. No Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. No worries.

Those who believe in God might even view Beverly’s faltering voice as divine intervention, a heavenly plan designed to strengthen the ties that bind the singer to his followers. Many Maze aficionados describe the band’s performances as spiritual experiences, during which time Beverly presides over his personal congregation with self-styled hallelujah fervor. One such fan is author and PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley. Raised in a strict Indiana home where secular music was prohibited, the multimedia star spent much of his formative years attending Pentecostal church services. If anyone can attest to the ministerial qualities of a Maze show, it’s Smiley.

Smiley recalls the first time he witnessed Maze at an Essence Festival performance in New Orleans back in the ’90s. “The Superdome is filled to capacity with black people,” Smiley remembered. “Everyone is there for a Maze and Frankie Beverly concert, and everyone is joyful. People are on their feet, swaying and singing. It was the kind of spiritual experience I’d never had outside of a church. You could feel the spirit. I’ve never done drugs in my life, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to be high. But on that night, I felt one of the highest highs I have ever felt.”

Like many fans, Smiley is amazed by Beverly’s ability to break down people’s defenses and turn 10,000 perfect strangers into a community. “We live in a world where everybody wants to be cute, where everyone wants to make a fashion statement and be seen,” Smiley said. “When you go to a Maze concert, nobody is holding a mirror up to themselves to see how they look. Nobody cares if they’re sweating, or standing up for the entire show. It’s a spiritual connectivity that you feel with the person to your left and to your right, to the person in front of you and behind you.”

Beverly’s messianic magnetism has made him a role model to some, with his peace-loving songs motivating certain fans to do more than just purchase concert tickets and replace their worn-out CDs. Inspired by Beverly, a retired Savannah, Georgia, teacher named Cynthia Harris Casteel formed a social group called Frankie’s Angels in 2000. Initially intended as an online prayer group for their hero, over time the group has articulated a mission to make the world a little bit better on behalf of their hero. To date, Frankie’s Angels has sent Mazecentric care packages including food, mood-lifting knickknacks and, of course, Maze souvenirs to victims of Hurricane Katrina, U.S. soldiers and even crime victims. “That is our mission, to spread happy feelings, just like Frankie spreads them,” said Harris Casteel.

In 2009, Casteel self-published a fictional book aptly titled Frankie’s Angels, about five female Maze fans who tap Beverly’s lyrics for comfort and guidance. “I always say there is a Maze song for every occasion that you’re going through,” said Harris Casteel. “If I’m feeling down, I can pull up a Maze song and it lifts me. If I’m already happy, I can go to a higher level and be happier. That’s the spiritual part of Frankie’s music. I don’t say ‘religious’ … but it touches your soul … makes you want to do better.”

And Burton and Arnold are disappointed by Beverly’s lack of peer recognition; friends say the singer is philosophical about his career. OK, so he never scaled the high-wire heights of pop icons like Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston or Tupac Shakur, but neither has Beverly been assessed the catastrophic tax those idols ultimately paid for flying close to the sun. Moreover, Beverly is still filling coliseums and amphitheaters. No Grammy. No American Music Award. No Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. No worries.

“I think Frankie stopped caring long ago about accolades and honors,” said Smiley. “I think the most important thing [to him] is that it comes from the people. Being honored by an institution is wonderful … but being loved by individuals is a far greater thing. And that’s what Frankie Beverly has.”

ASL interpreter Matt Maxey went from viral video sensation to working with Chance the Rapper Founder of DEAFinitely Dope is working to unite hearing and deaf communities through music

DEAFinitely Dope founder Matt Maxey never expected his everyday communication skills to be viewed as extraordinary. And he definitely never expected to catch the eye of Grammy-winning artist Chance the Rapper, who hired Maxey’s team of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for the remainder of his Be Encouraged Tour, which runs through October.

Yet, the 29-year-old Atlanta native and social media sensation has given the deaf and hard-of-hearing community an opportunity to share a full music experience at concerts around the country.

“The deaf community has dealt with so much ignorance and all they’ve ever wanted was inclusion and to be accepted and treated equally while being able to enjoy life on an equal level as their hearing peers,” Maxey said via email.

Maxey, who is hard of hearing, gravitated toward interpreting hip-hop and R&B because of its rhythmic beats and the often powerful stories in the songs’ lyrics.

“Hip-hop has long been a favorite for the deaf community because of the beats, bass, and being hip, but they’ve never seen anybody truly emulate how the hearing world acts, talks, and expresses themselves and it’s understandable in sign language,” he wrote. “[Chance the Rapper] bringing on DEAFinitely Dope and being the first rapper to have his own personal interpreters, just makes me extremely happy because I personally feel like our mission has been to break barriers in the community, in society, in perspectives and stereotypes. To have an artist with the same beliefs, working with a deaf and hearing-impaired reflective of what he strives for, it’s truly a beautiful movement and social change to be a part of.”

Although the lines can be complex, there is a method Maxey uses to make interpreting fun and easier for the deaf community to follow along to their favorite tunes. For starters, Maxey studies the lyrics to ensure he understands the messages being relayed by artists. The lyrics, he said, are then portrayed in a way that people who know sign language will see how the stories are interpreted and connect it to their own life experiences.

“Hip-hop is purely visual with all the metaphors, wordplay and different moods that tracks may depict, so I must learn the words first, then I understand the song,” Maxey said. “I start signing the English words to the song to get my hands used to the song speed and mood, and lastly I picture it from the perspective of the artists and add the ASL twist to it by showing what the artist is talking about so that the message becomes clearer.”

That is exactly what Maxey did last month at the 2017 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee — the first big-stage festival he’s interpreted for. Maxey signed two songs he knew by heart while using the crowd’s positive vibes and energy to get him through the set. Unbeknownst to Maxey, Chance the Rapper had been watching him work the entire time.

“The next day, my friend Freddie casually walked up to me and said, ‘Chance the Rapper wants to meet you. He called and asked specifically for you, so we are setting up the meeting before his set tonight,’ ” Maxey explained. “I just couldn’t believe it. We didn’t get to meet until after his set, but while backstage, I was talking with my fellow interpreters that I had brought with me and all of a sudden, he just popped up. All I could think was wow, we’ve really come this far to get to this point. Nothing is impossible.”

Life hasn’t always been filled with success for Maxey, who founded DEAFinitely Dope in 2014 to “unite the hearing and deaf community through music and sign language.” Early on, his struggle to fit in with both the hearing and deaf communities made him question his place in society.

“I always felt like I was too deaf for the hearing world, yet too hearing for the deaf world,” Maxey said. “I think my situation is especially different with growing up in a hearing world, yet always working 10 times harder to hear with hearing aids and trying to lip-read what everyone is saying, knowing I can’t hear everything yet pretending that I could. If it was a group environment, forget about it.”

Maxey, who grew up in Atlanta before relocating to Houston, used hearing aids and was always surrounded by friends and family members to help him when necessary.

“My mother and my family never let me feel like I was a lesser person because of my disability and never lowered the standard for me,” Maxey said. “I was always slapped with the label of being gifted in the classroom, a pleasure to be around, and so many positive labels despite my disability that I never felt like I couldn’t do anything. The real question was, would I be accepted by everybody?”

After enrolling at Gallaudet University, a private institution for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C., then Florida State College at Jacksonville, Maxey’s journey to fit in became arduous. Maxey had no formal ASL training until taking classes at Gallaudet, and he struggled to find his footing among his deaf peers. Unable to fully conform, he took on odd, unfulfilling jobs to make ends meet. In the process, he relied heavily on drinking and partying as coping mechanisms for his “destroyed feeling of self-worth.”

Maxey soon realized the lifestyle he was leading was neither productive nor conducive to a viable career. Instead, he distracted himself by beginning a YouTube channel where he uploaded videos signing rap lyrics. Immediately, Maxey noticed the skyrocketing number of views his videos began receiving and how invested the audience was in the rare sight of a black man using sign language to rap lyrics.

From there, Maxey began sharing his videos on other social media platforms before getting involved in #4BarFriday, an Instagram freestyle competition created by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard to allow users to share their rap battles. Maxey’s first entry was completely in sign language, with written lyrics posted in the description.

“I’ve been taking speech therapy for 18 years, [people] made fun of for my speech my whole life, and [I’m] extremely self-conscious of how I talked, which was why I found so much comfort in taking on the voice of an artist through sign language,” Maxey said. “The positive feedback was overwhelming from the community with the majority of the people commenting that they’ve never seen a deaf person rap before. I posted another one seven weeks later using my voice, and Damian Lillard posted it on his Instagram. The support, praise and inspiration was tremendous.”

His viral videos and accounts, which have amassed more than 45,000 combined followers, prompted Maxey to want to do more for the deaf and hard of hearing. In 2014, DEAFinitely Dope was born. As it gains steam, Maxey often reflects on the beginning of his journey while encouraging others to find what makes them happy in life.

Instagram Photo

“Find your passion, find your purpose, and fulfill it by any means necessary,” Maxey said. “I’ve truly lived life in a way to where nothing and nobody could come between my music and I, and with so many people witnessing the journey from 100 likes to 25K likes on Facebook, I just hope they feel inspired to the point that no, your deafness does not prevent you from being an inspiration to do more and do better. With spreading nothing but positivity, I hope people leave feeling better about themselves, encouraged, hopeful, ambitious. We need more of that instead of tearing each other down, negativity, and being content with being stagnant in life. Life is what you make it, so make it where the generation after you will enjoy and learn from the life you have lived.”