Drake just joined the game, but these celebrities have held down their beverage brand partnerships for years What You Got On My Drank?: Top 7 most Undefeated rapper/alcohol beverage partnerships

Now, I’m all for a good adult beverage when it comes to chillin’ at a good social outing or just winding the day down. One thing is certain, and that is the fact that my choice has never been influenced by a celebrity endorsement.

That’s why the news of rapper and actor Drake jumping into the whiskey game didn’t really move me. Everything Drizzy touches turns to gold, so I’m sure the venture will be a success, but will his partnership with Virginia Black Whiskey have staying power?

Perhaps.

In October of 2016, the $39.95 bottle of bourbon was the highest-selling liquor in Toronto. According to the Toronto Star, on Sept. 30, Virginia Black topped single-day sales at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario after “moving 1,779 bottles across 220 stores.”

Weeks after its launch in June 2016, 4,650 bottles were sold in the province, raking in $186,000 in retail sales. To put this into perspective, Ciroc sold 1,855 bottles in its first week. Virginia Black was launched with ex-financier Brent Hocking and company Proximo Spirits. According to Business Insider, the brand sold 30,000 cases globally in its first year.

The verdict is still out on the taste for me, but he’s already causing a buzz taking a shot at Dos Equis.

The liquor business and rappers go back as far as Snoop Dogg and Tupac and their St. Ides partnership. But, thanks to Drake, we’ve decided to break out my list of the Top 7 most Undefeated rapper/alcohol beverage partnerships.


#7 Roc-A-fella – Armadale Vodka

Armadale Vodka was Jay-Z’s first venture into the liquor game, but this one was with his Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam partner Damon Dash. It was 2002 when Jay-Z and Dash purchased Armadale Vodka. Dash said in a statement back then that “Roc-A-Fella has always respected quality vodkas, such as Belvedere and Grey Goose. Just like we do with our businesses, we wanted to present a vodka that represented the best. And we feel Armadale is of elite quality.” Although the two have parted ways, this wasn’t the last of either in the liquor business.

Hip-Hop mogul Damon Dash arrives at “A Night of Celebration” in honor of director Rob Minkoff and the completion of “The Haunted Mansion” at Minkoff’s home on Nov. 20, 2003, in Los Feliz, California.

Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

 

#6 Ludacris – Conjure Cognac

Being a big cognac drinker and fan of the rapper, I gave this a fair shot. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Kim Birkedal Hartmann founded Conjure Cognac in 2009. With a decent taste and at $48 a bottle, it’s nice but not good enough to trade in my Hennessy.

#5 Rick Ross – Belaire Rose Champagne

Rozzay made being down with the “Black Bottle Boys” a real thing. I’m not a big champagne drinker, but I bought a couple of bottles once for the wife on our anniversary, not a bad sip. She was impressed. Luc Belaire is a brand of sparkling wine with two varieties: a Rare Rosé and a Rare Brut. The Maybach Music Group founder became the brand ambassador in 2013 and fused Luc Belaire and the rap game. Priced at $30 to $50 per bottle, it’s not a champagne that will break your pockets.

#4 Jay Z – Ace of Spades

This drink is the champagne of champions these days but is a bit overpriced at $300 a pop. Formally named Armand De Brignac, it got its street name from the label of the bottle and was acquired by Jay-Z on Nov. 5, 2014. So far it has three different blends. One contains grape varieties of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. One is a rosé and a chardonnay, and in 2015 under Jay-Z’s reign a demi-sec and pinot noir. It debuted in the video for “Show Me What You Got.”

Jay-Z poses with “Ace of spades” Magnum at his American History Inaugural Gala at Club Love on Jan. 16, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Prince Williams/FilmMagic

#3 50 Cent – Effen

This is a good, affordable vodka with multiple flavors from Curtis Jackson. Kudos to 50 for working his drink into his show Power, but an even bigger salute for recently making $60M by selling his stake in July. In 2016 it was announced that the rapper, producer and actor was partnering with Effen Vodka. According to XXL, 50 Cent is still with the brand in some capacity. Effen issued a statement in July stating, “Contrary to any inaccurate media reports, EFFEN Vodka’s partnership with 50 Cent continues.”

Instagram Photo

#2 Jay Z – D’ussÈ

Jay-Z’s most recent brand venture is the fine French cognac D’ussè, and this will put you back about $45 a bottle. Aimed at a younger audience, Hov has infused the drink into his hip-hop empire and even sipped it from his award at the 2013 Grammys. Even rapper Lil Wayne has a song title “D’ussé” after the drink. Its round shape and gold double cross give it the appeal it needs to attract some buyers. Bacardi launched the VSOP cognac in June of 2012 in New York City, when it announced Jay would be the brand’s frontman.

#1 Diddy – Ciroc

Puff is an expert marketer, so it should come as no surprise that his vodka comes in at No. 1. When it comes to my vodka, I prefer Tito’s or Ketel One, but Ciroc is definitely the go-to when it comes to the club, lounge or house parties. The ladies and men seem to love its sweet taste, and whenever a new flavor drops the fam flocks immediately to the liquor store to cop the latest offering from Sean Combs.

Combs became the face of Ciroc in a joint venture with beverage company Diageo. Its growth has been consistent, and it keeps making noise on the scene. Combs told Fortune in 2014 he’s had challenges in diving into the liquor business but he keeps moving forward.

“With Ciroc, people may have thought that [the vodka] was for African-Americans. People wanted to put it in a box. So the biggest lesson I learned is that I had to work harder to overcome those perceptions and create a wonderful product regardless of my color, regardless of my celebrity. The reality is I have to work harder than other brands to do that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What was your inspiration for Hair Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you miss football?

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

How did you prepare for your career after sports?

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

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

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

What’s up next after Hair Love?

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

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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.”

NBA glamour is all about courtside From Rihanna to Jay Z; Beyoncé to Drake, sitting on the wood is its own red carpet

Rihanna just walked in front of me,” Jeff Van Gundy yelled during the first quarter of Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. He completely skipped over the vicious dunk LeBron James had just unleashed on JaVale McGee. “Are you kidding me?!”

Fellow commentators Mike Breen and Mark Jackson chided their longtime colleague, but Van Gundy’s brief moment of distraction was warranted — she’s one of the biggest pop stars and beautiful people in the world. But it wasn’t just Rihanna sitting courtside in the Oracle Arena in East Oakland, California. Maybe it’s the trilogy effect, but this may just be the most star-laden NBA Finals ever. Aside from Rihanna, Jay Z, Kevin Hart, Marshawn Lynch, Power’s Omari Hardwick and Bay Area legends Too $hort, Raphael Saadiq and E-40 were all in attendance — either courtside or a few rows back.

Yet, it was Rihanna, from her plush digs — on the announcers’ side just a few seats away from Jay Z — who made worldwide headlines by matching wits with Kevin Durant. The Grammy winner and 2014 NBA MVP locked eyes on more than one occasion as Rihanna used her multimillion-dollar voice to chastise Durant. Rihanna came up short, though. KD dropped 38 points in a Game 1 blowout victory.


Celebrities and sporting events, to quote the great Tracy “Hustle Man” Morgan, “go back like spinal cords and car seats.”

As Muhammad Ali’s fights were makeshift Met Galas for actors, actresses, musicians and hustlers, at 2015’s Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao bout, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Antoine Fuqua and more piled in to Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. But what makes the professional basketball courtside experience different is that the attendee is sitting right on top of the game. Courtside is more intimate than ringside: One’s feet are literally on the field of play. Jay Z refers to himself in 2009’s “Empire State of Mind”: Sitting courtside / Knicks and Nets give me high fives / N—-, I be Spiked out, I can trip a referee.

This is far from Shawn Carter’s first courtside homage. On Cam’ron’s 2002 anthem, “Welcome To New York City,” Jay boasts: I ain’t hard to find/ You can catch me front and center / At the Knick game, big chain in all my splendor/ Next to Spike if you pan left to right/ I own Madison Square / Catch me at the fight. It makes sense that both these lyrical moments nod at the world’s most famous Knicks fan — and courtside royalty — director Spike Lee. It’s Lee — Rihanna’s courtside prophyte in a sense — who stars in basketball’s most well-known courtside beef. He and Reggie Miller’s infamous back-and-forth during the 1994 Game 5 of the Knicks vs. Pacers Eastern Conference finals was defined by Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter and capped off with Miller’s choking gesture to Lee. The tense moment is immortal, iconic NBA playoff lore.

For the Los Angeles Lakers, courtside culture can be dated to the legendary actress Doris Day, better known as “the Neil Armstrong of Lakers’ celebrities.” Day, the biggest female box office star of the late ’50s and early ’60s, opened the courtside door at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Fellow A-listers such as Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau followed her in to watch future Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor lead the Lakers to multiple Finals appearances. The move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles made the Lakers the NBA’s first West Coast squad in 1960 — a move directly influenced by Lakers owner Bob Short noticing the financial gold mine the Dodgers found in L.A. following their move from Brooklyn, New York, two years earlier.

The appearance of celebrities courtside exploded in the era of the Magic Johnson-led “Showtime” Lakers. Johnson embodied 1980s Hollywood — the flashy play, the good looks and, of course, that 2,000-watt smile. Comedian Arsenio Hall was a regular at the Forum, as was singer Dionne Warwick, Michael J. Fox, Ted Danson, Jimmy Goldstein and, most famous of them all, Jack Nicholson. These were kings and queens of that era’s show business realm.

“If you’re an A-level person, and we know the fans are going to go bananas when your picture goes up on the scoreboard, then there’s a value having you there,” Barry Watkins has said. He’s the Madison Square Garden Co.’s executive vice president and chief communications officer. He’s the plug when it comes to courtside seats at the Garden. “It’s a big part of the brand. Win or lose, it’s one of the reasons people come to the games.” Entertainers want to be entertained, too. Plus, basketball and Hollywood were meant to be significant others off the rip: talent, egos, competition, drama, controversy, animosities and, all playing out under the bright, bright lights.

According to Shawn “Pecas” Costner, vice president of player relations at Roc Nation Sports, the continued charm of courtside seats has largely to do with the popularity and influence of hip-hop culture. “The flyest thing you can do at a basketball game — besides play in the game — is sit courtside,” he said from his New York City office.

And this is not solely due to the glamour and bravado associated with rap. Pecas believes that these days, the courtside thing is just as much about the hard-knock journeys associated with the music’s biggest stars. Pecas came to Roc Nation Sports in 2014, following 18 years in the music business, most notably as executive vice president at Def Jam Recordings. The Bronx, New York. native, who grew up with Big Pun, Lord Tariq and Jennifer Lopez, earned his stripes in several capacities at V2, Elektra and Arista Records before joining Def Jam in 2005. “When we were kids,” he said, “and used to go see the Knicks play the Bulls on Christmas Day, we were in the 300 section. You had to bring your binoculars to watch. You always wanted to see who was the one or two black guys sitting courtside because at that time, it was only one or two.”

While not quite a regular courtside fixture, Pecas has his share of memories. He and his longtime colleague Mike Kyser, president of black music at Atlantic Records, sat courtside for rookie game and dunk and 3-point contests at the 2012 All-Star Weekend in Orlando, Florida. Pecas would normally give his tickets away to artists in town for the big game on Sunday, but as destiny would have it, not as many came that year, and Pecas and Kyser received floor seat assignments for the actual All-Star contest. “You’re like, ‘Oh s—!’” he said, his voice getting higher as he takes a trip down memory lane. “ ‘Am I courtside for the NBA All-Star Game?’ You gotta make sure the outfit is right just in case. Make sure you wear the right sneakers.”

The game itself was one of the more entertaining All-Star Games in recent memory, the highlight being a LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant scoring barrage. Pecas and friends documented the memories on social media with the hashtags such as #OnTheWood, and #Woody Harrelson. In Pecas’ office hangs framed photo of himself in the New York Daily News. He looks on as Kevin Durant — now a Roc Nation client — flushes home a dunk with James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love looking on.

As for this year’s NBA Finals, Pecas said he can’t even begin to predict the number of celebrities who’ll be sitting courtside for however long the Warriors and Cavaliers do business. The possibilities are limitless because the NBA is more committed to its fans both domestically and abroad than any other American sports entity. While cries of superteams killing the product cause constant debates at social media and on sports talk shows, the NBA celebrated its third consecutive record-breaking year of fan attendance. And the NBA certainly loves the social status of having some of the world’s biggest celebrities taking in the game mere feet away from some of the world’s most popular athletes. The photos below showcase some of those personalities, from yesteryear to the present.

Pecas said it’s difficult to describe the feeling of sitting courtside, but he gives it a try: “Sitting courtside is like flying private for the first time,” he said. “You never wanna go back.”

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Jay Z and Kevin Hart share a laugh at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Time heals all wounds, so one can only hope they’re sharing a laugh about the time the comedian once spilled an entire bottle of pineapple juice on Jay Z and his wife, Beyoncé, in a nightclub.

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That’s Rihanna at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals probably yelling at Kevin Durant. Given her history with the Warriors these past few seasons, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction she gets the next time she has a concert in Oakland, California, or San Francisco. (Spoiler: She’ll still sell out the arena and be welcomed like a queen because her fan base really doesn’t care about her sports preferences.)

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Never, ever doubt Spike Lee’s loyalty to his New York Knicks. Here’s the famed director in January 2013 at London’s O2 Arena for a regular season game between the Knicks and Detroit Pistons. This won’t happen — but if the Knicks win an NBA title within the next 15-20 years, Lee needs to be the first person to hoist the trophy. That’s the least we can do after the powers that be robbed him (and Denzel Washington) of an Oscar for Malcolm X.

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While I did get to attend Dave Chappelle’s famous Juke Joint party this year in New Orleans, I’m greedy. This is the same reaction I have every time I think of the Chris Rock/Chappelle superset they did in The Big Easy in late March. In reality, it’s Rock gesturing at Will Smith at Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

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On the bright side, Mary J. Blige got a chance to see Kobe Bryant drop 50 points on Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the 2006 opening round quarterfinals. On a not-so-bright side, it’s almost as if you can see the inevitable written on her face — the Los Angeles Lakers blowing a 3-1 series lead and Bryant having the most controversial game of his career in Game 7.

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Sean “Diddy” Combs and Snoop Dogg: Pictured at Game 6 of the 2010 Finals between the Celtics and Lakers, neither knew the series would shift that night when center Kendrick Perkins went down with a knee injury. There’s also no confirmation if the two spoke of their appearance on The Steve Harvey Show as they attempted to quell the simmering East Coast-West Coast tensions 13 years earlier.

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At this point, the New York Knicks need whatever residual prayers are left over from Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act series.

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LeBron James and Drake: There’s no rapper currently who enjoys the perks of sitting courtside more than Drake. Perhaps paying respects in The 6, that’s LeBron James taking a drink from Kevin Hart and giving it to the Toronto Raptors ambassador during the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto.

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Everyone wanted hottest ticket in America in the fall of 2010 to see the Miami Heat’s new “big three” of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Including the greatest of all time herself, Serena Jameka Williams.

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Jack Nicholson and Michael Jordan: The Joker and The Cold Blooded Killer post up at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 1999, for a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The night featured six Hall of Famers (Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Rodman and MJ, himself, courtside). Seven including future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.

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Stuart Scott, Samuel L. Jackson and Allen Iverson — In one of the cooler sports pictures out there, we’ve got three legends. One in Samuel L. Jackson who, if he doesn’t by now, should have a trademark on the word “m—–f—–.” Two, we have Allen Ezail Iverson, 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and NBA living legend. And three, Stuart Scott doing what he always did best. R.I.Booyah, Stu. We still miss you.

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Murder Inc.’s two genius creative seen here in 2002 at a Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors game. That year — ironically the one before 50 Cent became global sensation — was a good one for the label. Ja Rule and Ashanti’s “Always On Time” and “Down 4 U” both made Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 Singles.

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Here we have Diana Ross at a Knicks and Charlotte Hornets playoff game with her sons. Fun fact: Ross’ No. 1 smash single “Touch Me In The Morning” was released on the same day the New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the 1973 NBA Finals — a series that would give the storied franchise its last NBA title.

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Barry Obama’s love of hoops is one of the most relatable and endearing parts of his legacy. He even had a court put in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Here’s the 44th president sitting courtside at an October 2015 game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Obama’s hometown Chicago Bulls.

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John Legend, Benny The Bull, and Chrissy Teigen — Life was all good for the Bulls in 2011. Derrick Rose was a superstar en route to an MVP season. They were the top seed in the East. And Benny The Bull had model Chrissy Teigen sit on his lap while future husband John Legend snaps a picture.

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YG and Nipsey Hussle: When they’re not making anti-President Donald Trump anthems, two of L.A.’s finest young guns can be found supporting the hometown squad. This was also the game that birthed one of the funnier basketball memes of the season, too.

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Supporting her husband, Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union takes in the festivities of Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. The Miami Heat would, of course, go on to win that game and repeat as NBA champions. But not without its share of drama.

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Jay Z and Beyoncé Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell down 0-2 to the Warriors last year and won four of the last five. But that was last year before a 7-foot pterodactyl with range out of the gym joined the squad. If you’re Cleveland, it’s time to call in the secret weapon: Beyoncé. She look like she’s ready to give birth at any moment to the twins (if we’re lucky, they’re named Bad and Boujee Carter). But LeBron James always plays superhuman — and he’s going to have to play super, super, superhuman to beat the Seal Team 6 Warriors. That only happens if The Queen is courtside.

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Will Smith and Jada Pinkett — One of America’s longtime premier black power couples is no stranger to the courtside life. Here, the two TV stars turned movie stars share a smooch. The No. 1 all-time Will and Jada courtside story? Three days following the release of what became The Fresh Prince’s most commercially successful album in Big Willie Style and a month before their wedding, the couple attended the Sixers/Lakers game on Nov. 28, 1997. The matchup featured a pair of Hall of Famers dueling it out in Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, who came off the bench. But more importantly, the couple got up close and personal with Jerry Stackhouse and Eddie Jones, who crashed into them.

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Wanda Durant and Marshawn Lynch — In the past year, Oakland, California, has welcomed Kevin Durant — and by proxy his mother, Wanda Durant — and its favorite football son, Marshawn Lynch, back to The Town’s fold. Both pictured here at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. While it wouldn’t be surprising if the Golden State Warriors held on to win two more games, the more fascinating plot twist is if they let Lynch party with them during a potential championship parade. Mic Lynch and Draymond Green up and show it on pay-per-view.

13 documentaries to dive into this summer — on Netflix, PBS, or at the cinema A Baltimore step team. Dr. Dre. A woman wrestler. Freedom of the press. This summer’s docs aim to entertain — and educate.

If you’re looking for deep dives into real-life information to go alongside the usual summer offerings of massive explosions and budget-busting superhero fights, we’ve got just the thing. There’s Stanley Nelson’s latest project focusing on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Step, the film about a group of girls on a Baltimore step team that netted raves at Sundance. Debuting in theaters Aug. 11 is Whose Streets?, the film from artist-activists Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis about the killing of Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown and the aftermath of his death. If the date sounds familiar, it’s because the film is opening on the anniversary of Brown’s death.

There’s a wide range of subjects to peek at this summer, both unfamiliar and not, with edifying works that will leave you a little bit more knowledgeable about the world than you were when you walked into the auditorium to see them.


Unacknowledged | May 9

Director: Michael Mazzola

Remember the warm, fuzzy feeling of hope and intrigue that you felt after walking out of Arrival? Well, Unacknowledged is a film about aliens too, although it will likely leave you feeling uneasy, paranoid and maybe more than a little willing to don a tricornered hat made of Reynolds wrap. Unacknowledged bears a tenor not unlike Alex Gibney’s explosive 2016 documentary Zero Days — they both set about to reveal things the U.S. government purportedly doesn’t want you to know, and in the case of Unacknowledged, it’s the government’s apparently vast secret apparatus directed at all things extraterrestrial. Assuming you believe in that sort of thing, Unacknowledged boasts footage of UFOs and, in an effort to distance itself from the inventions of supermarket tabloids, interviews with government officials. At the center of the film is Steven Greer, founder of the Disclosure Movement, which agitates to get the government to release whatever information it has about aliens and their contact with humans. This movie is now available to stream on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon Video.

Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine | June 3

Director: Patrick O’Dell

In every generation, there’s a group of maniacs who insist upon rule-breaking, not in the name of some sort of principled stand for freedom but simply because they’re a bunch of roustabout, devil-may-care libertines. And that’s basically the characterization of the skateboard fanatics behind Big Brother magazine. The ideological predecessor and inspiration for Jackass, Big Brother was a chronicle of all tricks great and stupid, instructing its readers in the art of hell-raising, interspersed with the usual NSFW sex stuff about Big Brother-certified hotties. In short, it was sought-after contraband for teenage boys before YouTube, or The Man Show, or Tosh.0. The movie will be available to stream on Hulu.

The Defiant Ones | July 9

Director: Allen Hughes

Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) followed Dr. Dre and Interscope records co-founder Jimmy Iovine for three years, resulting in a four-part HBO documentary that shares a name with the 1958 film starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. Iovine was instrumental in the astronomical success of Beats by Dre headphones, and the two men’s professional partnership is one that’s netted many millions for both. Hughes’ look at their empire includes interviews with Dre’s protege Eminem, plus Nas, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Iovine’s business partner David Geffen, and Bono. Promos for the documentary series have promised never-before-seen footage of recording sessions with N.W.A, J.J. Fad and Eazy-E.

City of Ghosts | July 14

Director: Matthew Heineman

One of the challenges of America-centered rhetoric about Syria and the Islamic State group: It’s generally framed as a discussion of how what’s going on there affects the interests of the United States. But City of Ghosts, the latest film from Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman, is a searing look at the people who are most directly victimized and terrorized by ISIS: other Muslims, particularly those who refuse to pledge allegiance to the group’s extremist ideology. Heineman’s film follows those who are risking their own lives to document and stop ISIS’s campaign of terror, and who risk the lives of their families to do so.

Step | Aug. 4

Director: Amanda Lipitz

If you liked The Fits, chances are you’ll enjoy Step, Amanda Lipitz’s look at a real-life step team providing hope, confidence and motivation to a group of impoverished Baltimore teen girls, which netted admirable buzz and even better reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. With a cast of compelling subjects, Step reels you in as the seniors on Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women strive to become the first individuals in their families to attend college.

Whose Streets? | Aug. 11

Directors: Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis

Even the release date of Whose Streets? — which coincides with the anniversary of the death of Mike Brown, the teen slain in 2014 by former Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson — makes a statement. Whose Streets is a story about not just Brown’s killing but also the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the violent reaction to news that Wilson would not be indicted for killing Brown. The story is told from the viewpoint of those who were on the ground in Ferguson — Folayan identifies herself as an activist — and serves as a counterweight to national media struggling to fairly and accurately cover the result of decades of injustice that came to define black life in Ferguson. After Whose Streets? premiered at Sundance this year, film critic Nick Allen declared it the documentary he’ll recommend when people ask about the Black Lives Matter movement in 50 years.

Wrestling With Chyna | release TBA

Director: Erik Angra

Even if you weren’t a consummate wrestling fan, it was nearly impossible during the late ’90s not to have encountered Joanie Laurer — although you likely knew her as Chyna, the muscular, 5-foot-10 star of the WWF, and wrestling’s “Ninth Wonder of the World.” Angra takes a look at the tumultuous life and career of Laurer, from her struggles to reconcile her career and physique with pressure to look and appear traditionally feminine, to the struggles with drugs that led to her 2016 death at age 46. Angra captures Laurer as a smart, self-aware, tortured figure, including footage of an interview with Laurer days before her death. Wrestling With Chyna is a sober look at one of pro wrestling’s most magnetic performers just as hype begins to surge for Glow, Netflix’s forthcoming dramedy series about female wrestlers.

Served Like A Girl | release TBA

Director: Lysa Heslov

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the specific challenges many female soldiers face, whether it’s a military structure not exactly conducive to identifying and punishing perpetrators of sexual assault or the debate over women serving in combat roles. But less attention is given to female veterans returning from war. In her debut feature, which premiered this year at SXSW, Heslov follows the lives of five female vets as they compete for the title of Ms. Veteran America. Yes, it’s a pageant, but it’s also more than Miss Congeniality with combat fatigues: The pageant serves as a fundraising event for homeless female vets.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities | release TBA

Directors: Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams

For so long, education has held a particular significance in the black American community: valued as an engine of freedom, social uplift and economic advancement. While recent studies show education is not a salve for the racial wealth gap, Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams take an in-depth look at the importance of HBCUs, historically and culturally, beginning with the rise of such schools during Reconstruction. Nelson is perhaps best known as the director responsible for Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and here, with Williams, he delivers another chapter of black history on film, in the exact moment that chronically underfunded and undervalued HBCUs are facing new threats and uncertainty about their futures.

500 Years | release TBA

Director: Pamela Yates

Bursting with color and inspiration, 500 Years examines the aftermath of the conviction of former Guatemalan President José Efraín Ríos Montt, who stood trial in 2013 for genocide and crimes against humanity. The title draws its name from the five centuries of violent apartheid to which the indigenous Mayans of Guatemala have been subjected, a subject Yates examined in the 1983 film When Mountains Tremble and again in 2011 with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. Now, the Mayans face new challenges as they assert their voice politically — namely, destruction of their homeland from multinational corporations seeking to mine the land and control their water with hydroelectric dams. Yates, a familiar and regular presence at Sundance, is an accomplished director when it comes to telling the stories of people living under repressive and unjust regimes. Besides her epic trilogy following Guatemala, she’s explored the subject in The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, and in 2015 told the story of political documentary filmmaker Haskell Wexler.

Give Me Future | release TBA

Director: Austin Peters

Granted, a whole concert documentary about the electronic dance music group Major Lazer sounds, well, eye-roll-worthy, but Peters manages to sneak in more than a little bit of a look at Cuban youth culture and politics. Turns out Major Lazer was the biggest American name allowed to perform in Cuba in 2015, not long after President Barack Obama began normalizing relations with the country. Besides following Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire behind the scenes, Give Me Future offers a glimpse into what it’s like to live in a place that for so long has been largely immune to America’s most potent export of all: its pop culture.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic | release TBA

Director: Derek Wayne Johnson

Forty years after the release of the film that came to define Sylvester Stallone’s career, director Derek Wayne Johnson (Broken Blood, John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs) captures the actor and Rocky director John G. Avildsen discussing work on the most recognizable boxing movie of all time. Johnson brings a passion to the story of Rocky and Stallone that practically makes him the Ken Burns of the subject. Besides 40 Years, Johnson is also responsible for a biographical documentary about Avildsen and another yet-to-be completed project about singer-songwriter Frank Stallone, Sylvester’s younger brother.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press | June 23

Director: Brian Knappenberger

The result of Hulk Hogan’s 2013 lawsuit against Gawker Media was a chilling one for journalists. Financially backed by venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Hogan sued the Nick-Denton-founded media company for invasion of privacy. With a $140 million judgment hanging over the company’s head, Gawker was forced to declare bankruptcy, sell itself to Univision and settle with Hogan for $31 million. Knappenberger’s (We Are Legion, The Internet’s Own Boy) film, which will air on Netflix, seeks to put the lawsuit and its fallout in a broader context: Thiel’s involvement in the case set a dangerous precedent. Don’t like what a news organization says about you? Find someone rich enough to help you sue them out of existence.

Martin Lawrence’s ‘Martin,’ 20 years later The sitcom’s legacy is as hilarious as it is complicated

The finale of Martin aired in May 1997 as its five-season run limped to the finish line. Its demise was affected by a set of circumstances — allegations of sexual harassment, an emergency cruise storyline, a restraining order — that included Tisha Campbell walking off the Detroit set in November 1996. Core fans often omit mentioning the final season in discussions of the show, even decades later. The pain and discontent of the fifth season goes hand in hand with why Martin held such a prominent place in African-American culture during the 1990s to begin with.


Martin premiered on Fox in August 1992. Its main premise: the daily exploits of its five main characters, Martin (Martin Lawrence); his girlfriend, Gina (Campbell); her best friend, Pam (Tichina Arnold); and Martin’s two best friends, Thomas Ford (Tommy) and Carl Anthony Payne II (Cole). Its two principals, Lawrence and Campbell, had a long-established rapport.

“Martin, I’ve known him for years,” Campbell said on a December 1993 episode of Regis & Kathie Lee. “He would always say, ‘You gon’ play my girlfriend.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. Right, Martin.’ But he made [good on] his promise.”

Both graduated from the school of Spike Lee classics — Campbell co-starred in 1988’s School Daze, and Lawrence appeared alongside his mentor and legendary comedian Robin Harris a year later in Do The Right Thing. Campbell and Lawrence even shared the same screen in Reggie Hudlin’s 1990 masterpiece House Party: Lawrence as Bilal, the DJ with the bad breath, and Campbell as Sidney, Christopher “Kid” Reid’s love interest. They also both appeared in Hudlin’s Boomerang in 1992. The energy of the late ’80s and early ’90s, in terms of what Hudlin and Lee were producing, directly translated into stars of those movies becoming stars of film and network television. Fox capitalized on the emergence of young black talent.

Before Fox News became the conservative conglomerate it is today, its programming model operated (and still operates) on a different wavelength. The network found success and relevancy in the swelling influence of the hip-hop generation. James Murdoch helped launch the highly respected hip-hop label Rawkus Records before selling it to his father, Rupert Murdoch — an associate of President Donald Trump’s, and the most powerful man at 21st Century Fox and News Corp. — in 1996. Shows such as In Living Color, Living Single, New York Undercover and Martin were instrumental in making Fox the massive fourth network in the ’90s.

Fox saw the allure of Lawrence — the heir apparent to Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. He was an energetic and explicit comedian with big-screen experience whose routine worked just as well in intimate settings, as shown by his stint as host of HBO’s popular and influential Def Comedy Jam. Lawrence, though, questioned the network’s commitment to providing opportunities to entertainers of color. “Fox should reflect the diversity of black life instead of putting out the same show with different titles,” he said. “I’ve never met Rupert Murdoch or Lucie Salhany [Fox’s chairman]. I bet Tom and Roseanne Arnold know the heads of the company they work for.”

“It was a show that came wholly from the African-American experience that was a hit. It proved that unadulterated blackness could be mainstream.”

Martin premiered when African-American life and culture was under the microscope: It was a post-Rodney King and L.A. riots America. The show’s crux was hip, youthful blackness: Martin and Gina, the former a radio DJ at Detroit’s fictional WZUP and the latter an advertising account executive. “Its biggest legacy is the fact that it was a show that came wholly from the African-American experience that was a hit,” said former music and entertainment journalist Cheo Hodari Coker. He’s now the showrunner for Netflix’s Luke Cage. “It proved that unadulterated blackness could be mainstream.”

The show was a success from its start, averaging north of 11 million viewers in its first season. The New York Times praised the show’s quirkiness and its willingness to embrace social issues in episodes such as season one’s Dead Men Don’t Flush, which featured a dead white man — in this case, a plumber — being found dead in a black man’s apartment. After calling 911, the show’s fab five are forced to pass a qualifying quiz to prove they’re white. “Nothing makes my day more right,” Martin jokes, “than waking up white.” The charade nearly worked, too, as the crew correctly guessed white people’s favorite pie (apple) and named two Barry Manilow songs (“Copacabana (At the Copa)” and “Mandy”). The masquerade flatlines, however, when Cole incorrectly (and hilariously) answers “hot sauce” when responding to what white people put on sandwiches. Martin, John J. O’Connor wrote in November 1992, could “still blossom into something considerably more than a conventional sitcom.” And that “whatever happens, Martin Lawrence is obviously going places.”

Martin earned a following of diehard critics and fans alike. Some painted Lawrence’s pop culture dynamo as buffoonish — Bill Cosby slammed his stint as Def Comedy Jam host as a “minstrel show.” In a numbing sense of prophecy, Lawrence shot back at Cosby, saying, “For all his clean, wholesome, Jell-O pudding, I-ain’t-never-done-no-wrong image, they still didn’t let his a– buy NBC, now, did they?” The Los Angeles Times slammed the 1993 season two episode Whoop There It Ain’t for perpetuating stereotypes of black male sexuality. Newsweek deemed Lawrence’s character a “sex-obsessed homeboy shucking his way to nowhere.”

Yet many more saw the brainchild of creators Lawrence, John Bowman and Topper Carew as over-the-top comical. Episodes such as Hollywood Swinging (which featured Tommy Davidson as “Varnell Hill”), or Feast or Famine (a battle-of-the-sexes Thanksgiving episode) were not only hilarious but also made Martin, Gina, Tommy, Pam and Cole representatives of young black companionship and friendship in the ’90s. And Martin and Gina were the cool and relatable couple. “Having a steady relationship, getting with the right woman, is something I’ll always believe in,” he told VIBE in April 1994. “The one thing I’m most proud of with Martin is that it shows a black man loving and respecting his black woman.”

The many scenes and catchphrases considered classic are diverse, though many are from seasons two and three, the series’ apex. Suspicious Minds revolves around the mystery of Martin’s missing CD player, which causes him to channel his inner Nino Brown to interrogate his friends in hilarious, but ultimately unsuccessful, fashion. Season two standout Guard Your Grill finds Martin challenging professional boxer Tommy “Hitman” Hearns to a fight for Gina’s love. Many call out The Romantic Weekend from season three, more popularly known as Chilligan’s Island — the couples retreat episode that Martin finds on the back of a cereal box. The episode birthed the classic phrase “That ain’t no damn puppy!”

On-camera, in-character power struggles define the show’s legacy as well. Martin vs. Pam became a battle of wits. Martin vs. Ms. Geri was a recurring heavyweight clash. And Gina vs. Mama Payne became the in-law relationship from hell. At Martin’s height, cameos — by Snoop Dogg, Christopher “Kid” Reid, Salt-N-Pepa, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, Jodeci (who had no clue Martin would interrupt their performance), Biggie Smalls, Sherman Hemsley, OutKast, Tommy Davidson, David Alan Grier and more — were a regular fixture. Yet, while the show percolated on the strength of guest stars and the chemistry of its main characters, Martin was, in many ways, a one-man band. Lawrence played nine characters: Jerome, Dragonfly Jones, Roscoe, Bob From Marketing, Elroy Preston, Otis the security guard, Sheneneh, King Beef and Mama Payne.

By nearly any metric, whether cultural impact or relevance, Martin’s first four seasons rank as some of the finest television comedy ever produced. Its stature is eye to eye with shows such as The Jeffersons, Fresh Prince, The Cosby Show or A Different World. By the start of its fifth season, however, the empire was crumbling. Allegations of sexual harassment from Campbell made headlines in November 1996. Her lawsuit, in which she named Lawrence, stated that Campbell (herself a sexual assault survivor) had grown increasingly uncomfortable on set.

The lawsuit stated that Lawrence’s advances had increased as the seasons progressed. There were rumors that the tension ramped up especially when Campbell became engaged to fellow actor Duane Martin. It all started coming out: from fits of rage in which he threatened to fire the cast during season two to the charge that Lawrence would grope and simulate sexual acts before crew members when they weren’t rehearsing or filming to Campbell pleading with the show’s writers to cease writing bedroom scenes by season five. Campbell alleged that HBO executives Chris Albrecht and Christopher Schwartz and HBO Independent Productions had long-standing knowledge of the abuse, yet neglected to take action.

Lawrence denied all claims. “Martin has long been Tisha’s champion and protector,” his January 1997 statement read, “and is thus deeply hurt by these allegations.” But the public fracture of his and Campbell’s actual and scripted relationship was part of a string of bizarre situations for Lawrence, one of America’s top comic actors who was flourishing in the wake of Bad Boys and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate.

In August 1996, he was arrested for carrying a loaded handgun in a suitcase at Hollywood Burbank Airport. Months before, he was detained by police for wandering into traffic and screaming curses in a Sherman Oaks, California, neighborhood. While no charges were filed in either case, the energy around Lawrence was overshadowing his talent. Fox Entertainment President Peter Roth attempted to quell the swelling controversy around the network’s star. “The show is called Martin, and he has proved he is capable of handling the show. Whatever is happening off the set is not affecting the show.” But it did, of course, affect the show. How could it not?

Martin thrived on the intimacy of his and Campbell’s on-camera relationship, and even more so the unbreakable bond between its main five characters. Martin could no longer deliver on its promise. Martin was no longer entertaining to watch. Campbell functioned as Lawrence’s rock — no matter the antics of the character of “Martin,” “Gina” was there to reel him in. While Campbell helped fill living rooms with laughter — like when her head was stuck in between the Nefertiti 2000 headboard in season four’s Headin’ For Trouble — stress ate at her so much she reportedly had to be hospitalized. Campbell did eventually return to the close out the series — with very specific stipulations. Most notably, she and Lawrence were to never appear in the same scene together.

Tommy Ford’s death in 2016 was a reminder that while the show is eternal, physical energies are not. Today, Lawrence, Campbell and the rest of the cast speak glowingly of one another and of their creation’s staying power. New and young fans canonize Martin. Even basketball star LeBron James, who was 12 when it went off the air, occasionally features clips of the show on his popular Instagram Stories and dropped $5,000 on a “Jerome”-themed Halloween costume. Big Sean saluted the sitcom via the video for his 2015 hit “Play No Games.” And Chance the Rapper, born eight months after Martin’s series premiere, used his career-defining verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” to feature a brief but direct homage to the show: Treat the demons just like Pam/ I mean I f— with your friends, but damn, Gina.

What Martin did was remain true to itself in an era when black creativity served as a necessary lifeline for black America: its music, its movies, its television programs and its literature. And it did so in Detroit, a city critical to the African-American experience. The unfiltered honesty of its jokes, its dilemmas — and its shortcomings — are its flawed and labyrinthine bookmarks. It’s impossible to discuss the show without its awful ending. It’s impossible to not discuss Martin’s countless memories and laughs.

What Martin accomplished was no different from what In Living Single or The Fresh Prince of Bel Air accomplished — it just pushed the line further. It irked some and won the allegiance of others. “Martin really was one of the first mainstreamings of hip-hop culture and black culture, which really is the rage now because of Atlanta, because of Queen Sugar and because of Power,” said Coker. “It proved there was a place for it, and the place was in the mainstream, not in the margins.”

Daily Dose: 5/22/17 Sasheer Zamata exits ‘SNL’ with zero fanfare

If you missed The Morning Roast on Sunday, Mina Kimes was back from Korea, and we talked about the NBA and where we are in the playoffs at this point. Also, some more French lessons from your boy.

Here’s a new segment we call: This Week in Racist Nonsense and Terror. We’ll start in Maryland, where a white supremacist decided to randomly kill a black man and we’ve still got to act like there’s some sort of question as to whether this was a hate crime. Moving to Louisiana, a state representative said that lawmakers should be lynched for taking down Confederate monuments in New Orleans. There’s also this woman in Virginia. And, oh, yeah, in case you forgot, the Nazis were highly inspired by the U.S. system of racial oppression.

Saturday Night Live‘s season finale was awkward. In it, Dwyane Johnson was the host and Katy Perry decided she was going to really embarrass herself during her performance of “Bon Appetit” with Migos. For whatever reason, she feels the need to try to act black instead of just being herself. It’s extremely hard to watch, in fact. But, also, Sasheer Zamata is leaving the show, although you never would have known that from the sketches Saturday night. These so-called diversity problems at SNL are more like “we just don’t really want outsiders.”

There are zoos and then there are game reserves. There are also animal parks in certain parts of the world where, when you get to see them, you get a completely different perspective on just how cruel big-game hunting is. Most animals, obviously, are just trying to live out their short lives like everyone else, and idiots with superiority complexes and greedy pockets trying to ruin them really are the worst. So, when a hunter gets crushed to death by an elephant, it’s hard to feel bad on any level.

If you didn’t think the Las Vegas Raiders games were going to be nuts, think again. No. 1, it’s the Raiders. They have one of the craziest fan bases in the NFL, the type of people who would probably find a way to make the trip from the Bay Area for eight weeks a year just so they could dress up in all their black-and-silver glory. But now, the Vegas factor comes into play. You will now be allowed to legally place wagers from inside the stadium on your phone during games. Aka, mobile betting on exactly what you’re watching in front of you. What a world.

Free Food

Coffee Break: At the Billboard Music Awards on Sunday night, Diddy took the stage to commemorate what would have been the Notorious B.I.G.’s birthday and also bring his son out to introduce him to the world. He also debuted the trailer for a new documentary he’s got coming out about Bad Boy Records. It looks incredible.

Snack Time: The homey Snoop Dogg is still making music, which makes me extremely happy in general. His new album is chock-full of awesome guests, so you should check it out. You can stream it here.

Dessert: The latest season of The Pengest Munch has closed. Eat lunch first, because you’ll be hungry after.

Rolling Loud. Essence. Lollapalooza: The 13 best rap and R&B festivals of summer 2017 Chance is everywhere, there’s a hip-hop cruise — plus two big weekends in New Orleans

Summer is upon us — why not make a trip to George, Washington (yes, that’s an actual place), or East Rutherford, New Jersey? By June, even the small city of Manchester, Tennessee, will be a go-to destination. As random as these places may seem, they are music meccas: home to iconic summertime festivals.

The official start to summer isn’t until June 21, but while festival season spans nearly six months of the year (bookended by Coachella in mid-April and Made in America in early September), summer is the peak fest time. Jazz, hip-hop, old-school R&B, trap music — there’s a festival lineup of musical artists out there for everyone.

Be careful, though. Lineups and locations can be deceiving. If there’s one thing we’ve learned early on this season, it’s to resist attending a festival organized by Billy McFarland and Ja Rule. The recent debut of the inaugural Fyre Festival was an utter disaster. It began with so much promise: There was a dope lineup of artists, featuring Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, Rae Sremmurd, Migos and Lil Yachty, and the location was the Bahamas’ Great Exuma (which has an interesting historical connection to America). The festival now faces a $100 million lawsuit. Fyre, though, is an exception to the rule. Festivals reign supreme come this time of year, and summer 2017 has much to offer. Below are the festivals that should be on your radar as we wind up basketball season, head deep into Major League Baseball and WNBA, and prep for NFL preseason.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival — New Orleans

Usher, Black Thought and Questlove perform with Usher & The Roots during the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on April 29, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Erika Goldring/Getty Images

April 28-May 7

Notable performers: Stevie Wonder, Usher and The Roots, Snoop Dogg, Alabama Shakes, Patti LaBelle, Nas and the Soul Rebels, Corinne Bailey Rae, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly

Happening right now in the Big Easy, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is blessing people with an all-star lineup that specializes in feel-good sounds. There’s the legend Stevie Wonder and the O.G. Snoop Dogg. There’s the sweet-singing Patti Labelle (hope she brought some of her pies) and the Grammy Award-winning blues rock collective Alabama Shakes. Boomers and Gen X-ers from far and wide get to two-step to Maze and Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go,” while hip-hop preservationists get to witness Nas float through tracks from his 1994 Illmatic. But the one set in particular to circle in red ink? Usher performing with The Roots. Imagine Questlove on the hi-hat cymbals of “You Make Me Wanna.” Lord, give us strength.

Rolling Loud — Bayfront Park, Miami

May 5-7

Notable performers: Everybody and they mama

Do I go see Future at 9 p.m. on one stage, or Travis Scott on the other stage at 9:30? Do I go see Kendrick Lamar at 10, or Young Thug at 10:30? These are the unfathomable questions that festivalgoers will ask themselves at Rolling Loud — which is the best hip-hop festival lineup since the Rock The Bells days of the mid-2000s. Rolling Loud has come a long way since its debut as a one-day show in 2015 with Schoolboy Q as the headliner. In 2016, it was a three-day event with Future leading the pack. This year’s lineup, though? Kendrick Lamar, Future, Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, Young Thug … the fact that Migos is on the fifth line of the bill is mind-boggling.

Broccoli City Festival — Washington, D.C.

Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals perform on the main stage at the 2016 Broccoli City Festival.

Kyle Gustafson / For The Washington Post via Getty Images

May 6

Notable performers: Solange, Rae Sremmurd, 21 Savage, Lil Yachty

In the backyard of the country’s 45th president will be a unique display of unapologetic and green-living blackness: Broccoli City. The festival boasts brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi, who form Tupelo, Mississippi’s, own rock star rap duo known as Rae Sremmurd — the geniuses behind the 2016 megahit “Black Beatles.” The young phenom 21 Savage will be out there “trappin’ so hard,” and headlining the show will be Solange, fresh off winning her first Grammy for “Cranes in the Sky,” the lead track from her No. 1 album A Seat at the Table. Remember, don’t touch Solange’s hair. Don’t touch Lil Yachty’s either. He’ll be taking the stage at Broccoli City, too, swinging his red-beaded braids.

Powerhouse 2017 — Glen Helen Amphitheater, San Bernardino, California

May 6

Notable performers: Big Sean, Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled

Lil Wayne hasn’t released an album in almost two years, but people still love Weezy, and they’ll be there to see him break out his deep catalog of hits at the Powerhouse, hosted by Los Angeles’ Power 106 FM. Wayne will be joined by Detroit’s own Big Sean and the king of the summer anthem himself, DJ Khaled, who recently dropped “I’m The One,” the first single from his highly anticipated album Grateful. And with Khaled set to take the stage, you gotta wonder: Which surprise guests will he bring along? (Insert eyes emoji) Hope his 6-month-old son and executive producer, Asahd, is one of them.

Sasquatch! Festival — Gorge Amphitheatre, George, Washington

Leon Bridges plays an acoustic pop-up show at the Sasquatch Music Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre on May 29, 2016 in George, Washington.

Suzi Pratt/WireImage

May 26-28

Notable performers: Frank Ocean, Chance The Rapper, Kaytranada, Mac Miller

What better way to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend than with Frank Ocean and Chance The Rapper at one of the most beautiful venues in the country? The Sasquatch! Festival, which launched in 2002, is bringing both for the three-day festival. Ocean headlines Day 1, and Chance closes out Day 3. These two artists became musical gods last summer, with Ocean dropping his first album in four years, and then another album days later, and Chance releasing a Grammy Award-winning mixtape. Both deserve to be on that stage as the last act of the night. Spoiler alert: This won’t be the last time you see Chance’s name on this list.

Spoiler alert: This won’t be the last time you see Chance’s name on this list.

The Governor’s Ball — Randall’s Island Park, New York City

Fans react as De La Soul performs at the Governors Ball Music Festival, June 4, 2016 in New York.

BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

June 2-4

Notable performers: Chance The Rapper, Schoolboy Q, Majid Jordan, Kehlani, Childish Gambino, Wu-Tang Clan, Rae Sremmurd, A$AP Ferg, YG, Wiz Khalifa, Logic

Another Chance The Rapper festival appearance? Yup, another Chance The Rapper festival appearance. Can’t knock the hustle, and what’s so crazy is, while he’s hitting all these festivals, he’ll be in the thick of his own nationwide spring tour. In New York City, he’ll tee up an epic weekend of music. To be honest, the roster for Day 2 rivals the depth of the Golden State Warriors: YG, A$AP Ferg, Rae Sremmurd, Wu-Tang Clan and Childish Gambino. Sheesh. If you have to pick just one day to go, Saturday is your day.

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival — Manchester, Tennessee

Recording artist Chance The Rapper performs onstage at Silent Disco during Day 4 of the 2016 Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festival on June 9, 2016 in Manchester, Tennessee.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival

June 8-11

Notable performers: Chance The Rapper, The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Tory Lanez, D.R.A.M., Skepta, Gallant

The city of Manchester, Tennessee’s, population of approximately 10,100 balloons by tens of thousands when the masses flock to the fields and stages of Bonnaroo, where the wide range of performers include U2, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, Travis Scott and D.R.A.M. And, yes, Chance The Rapper will be at Bonnaroo. His festival appearance tally is up to three.

Summer Jam — MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

Travis Scott, Kanye West and Big Sean perform at the 2016 Hot 97 Summer Jam at MetLife Stadium on June 5, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Manny Carabel/FilmMagic

June 11

Notable performers: Too many to count

Summer Jam is an institution. Since 1994, the New York City radio station Hot 97 has preserved the sanctity of the hip-hop genre and black musical culture by hosting artists such as The Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Big Pun, Missy Elliott, 50 Cent, Eminem, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z — let’s just stop there, because we could be here all day listing names. Chris Brown, Fat Joe and Remy Ma, Migos and DJ Khaled “& friends,” as noted on the lineup, are among 2017’s crop. One of the most special sets of the show will certainly be delivered by Faith Evans. It’s been exactly 20 years since her husband, The Notorious B.I.G., was murdered in Los Angeles in 1997. She’ll likely perform songs from her new album, which features the slain rapper. Will there be a hologram? R.I.P., B.I.G.

Summerfest — Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee

June 28-July 2 and July 4-9

Notable performers: Future, Big Sean, Migos

Scrolling through the lineup page of 2017 Summerfest, it’s hard to get past a row without discovering another bomb artist who’s scheduled to perform. Ironically, Summerfest has the most diverse bill of any festival this year. The main amphitheater features Paul Simon, Pink, The Chainsmokers, Future, Big Sean, Migos, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Sheryl Crow. (How much you want to bet Willie Nelson and the Migos blow an L together?) But don’t sleep on the ground-stage performers, who include Alessia Cara, Steve Aoki, Ziggy Marley, T-Pain, BJ The Chicago Kid and more.

Ironically, Milwaukee’s Summerfest has the most diverse bill of any festival this year.

ESSENCE Festival — New Orleans

Singer Andra Day performs onstage at 2016 ESSENCE Festival Presented by Coca Cola at the Louisiana Superdome on July 3, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for 2016 Essence Festival

June 29-July 2

Notable performers: Diana Ross, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Chance The Rapper, Solange, Chaka Khan, Jill Scott, India.Arie, Monica, Jazmine Sullivan

Still looking for a Mother’s Day gift for your mama, aunt or granny that you will enjoy as well? Go ahead and cop those ESSENCE Festival tickets. They’ll love you forever, because this lineup is LOADED. Three generations of #BlackGirlMagic will take the stage in the form of Diana Ross, Mary J. Blige and Solange. If that isn’t enough R&B for you, John Legend, Chaka Khan, Jill Scott, India.Arie and Monica all have you covered. New Orleans hometown hero Master P will also be performing. Oh, and Chance The Rapper will be there (that’s four festivals and counting).

Summer Fest Cruise — Miami to Nassau, Bahamas

June 30-July 3

Notable performers: Future, Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky, Migos

There is nothing in the history of this universe that could be more fun than a five-day cruise from Miami to the Bahamas featuring performances from Future, Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky and Migos, hosted by none other than DJ Khaled. If you haven’t booked yet, congratulations, you played yourself. Don’t worry, though, DJ Khaled’s Snapchat stories will keep you in the loop — and in the process give you the worst fear of missing out you’ve ever had.

Lollapalooza — Grant Park, Chicago

A general view of crowds watching Flume perform on the Samsung stage during Lollapalooza at Grant Park on July 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

Daniel Boczarski/Redferns

Aug. 3-6

Notable performers: Chance The Rapper, Run The Jewels, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, Rae Sremmurd, Migos, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Lil Yachty, Joey Bada$$, 6lack, Sampha

Lil Chano from 79th is coming home. After winning three Grammys and embarking upon a cross-country tour (with multiple festival appearances in between), Chance The Rapper is returning to his hometown of Chicago in August as one of the headliners of the four-day, jam-packed Lollapalooza festival. Chance has to bring out former President Barack Obama during his Saturday set. The two saints of Chicago dancing together onstage would be nothing short of legendary.

Made in America — Philadelphia

Jay-Z performs with Pearl Jam during Budweiser Made In America Festival Benefiting The United Way – Day 2 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 2, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Sept. 2-3

Notable performers: Jay Z, J. Cole, Migos, Solange, Run The Jewels, Sampha, Pusha T, Vic Mensa

The finale of festival season couldn’t feature two better top performers. A mentor and mentee. Mr. Miyagi and Daniel Son. One of the greatest of all time in American music and one of the leaders of its new school. Jay Z and J. Cole are the marquee names of this year’s anticipated weekend, with Hov headlining after the warmup from Cole. With Jay’s sister-in-law Solange also on the bill, Made in America 2017 will be all about keeping the family close and fans screaming.

All Eyez on VIBE magazine’s 1996 Death Row cover The only thing wilder than Death Row Records’ rise was its public and violent fall

Appropriately titled “Live From Death Row,” VIBE ’s February 1996 cover featured the already-notorious label’s faces: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur in a Goodfellas-inspired collage. To understand the significance of the cover image is to understand the chain of events that led to it — and to the label’s downfall shortly thereafter.

Let’s take it back to an era before the internet, blogs and social media reigned, to when hip-hop magazines were the unrivaled scripture for America’s most beloved, bemoaned culture. By the outset of 1996, two publications were responsible for driving the conversation around hip-hop and R&B, its biggest stars and its most provocative news: VIBE (created by Quincy Jones in 1992) and The Source (launched in 1988). The transcendent XXL didn’t launch until the summer of 1997. These magazines satisfied a pre-Wi-Fi audience’s yearning for news and images about rap’s greatest, most dissected and, at its lowest, most heartbreaking era.

Amid financial disputes, Dr. Dre had split from Eazy E personally, N.W.A as a group and Ruthless Records in 1992. With Knight, a former bodyguard, Dre launched Death Row Records. Dre was already seen as a musical savant, a producer who helped make N.W.A a name America had come to love, loathe and fear. The decision to branch out on his own with a business partner known for violence and gang ties was potential career suicide, a possibility both Dre and The Source milked with its startling November 1992 cover. Then came Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic, one of rap’s most influential albums ever.

“We could’ve put Tupac on the cover every single month and it would’ve sold. There was nobody that our readership cared about and reacted to the way that they responded to him.”

A year later, with Doggystyle, Dre’s protégé Snoop Dogg became Death Row’s second bona fide star. Acts like Lady of Rage and The Dogg Pound filled out the roster as Suge Knight assumed a mafia-esque aura: rap’s John Gotti with a cigar. By the fall of 1995, Death Row was worth more than $100 million. This was in part due to urban legends about Suge’s violent style of persuasion and negotiation, as well as a bubbling beef with Sean “Puffy” Combs and Bad Boy Records. Death Row’s rebellious appeal increased as its aura of thuggishness swelled.


Tupac Shakur stewed in New York’s maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility for much of 1995. Less than a year prior, Shakur suffered an attempt on his life that left five bullet wounds in his body, including two to his head. Days after the shooting, he was found guilty of sexual assault. At his sentencing in February 1995, tears streamed down his face as he apologized to the victim, but he remained steadfast about having committed no crime.

Tupac Shakur and Marion Suge Knight

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

“I’m not apologizing for a crime,” he said in court. “I hope in time you’ll come forth and tell the truth.” The thought of being remembered as a sexual deviant had haunted Shakur before his conviction. “I cannot die with people thinking I’m a rapist or a criminal,” he said in a 1994 interview. “I can’t leave until this s— is straight.” Related and unrelated to the conviction, Shakur felt betrayed by some in his circle.

Suge Knight bailed Tupac out of prison on Oct. 19, 1995 — not even the biggest headline of the month, as it arrived roughly two weeks after O.J. Simpson’s divisive not-guilty verdict and only days after the Million Man March on Washington, D.C. Shakur signed a three-page handwritten contract, an agreement worth $3.5 million, for three albums.

The music, profoundly explicit, was the embodiment of neighborhoods and fractured households ripped to shreds by a society that would have forgotten about it had it not been for hip-hop.

Death Row had landed its crown jewel. Tupac was rap’s premier spark plug, perhaps its most eloquent thinker and America’s most controversial and popular artist. His 1995 opus Me Against The World became the first No. 1 album from an incarcerated artist. Death Row had only gotten stronger, thriving despite headlines that would cause most other companies to crumble. Snoop Dogg’s Los Angeles murder trial — he was acquitted of first- and second-degree murder — was still in progress when VIBE’s Death Row cover hit shelves in early 1996.

The February 1996 issue of Vibe Magazine featuring Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Tupac and Suge Knight of Death Row Records.

If N.W.A had planted its flag as the “world’s most dangerous rap crew,” Suge and Death Row not only upped the ante, they drafted an entirely new set of rules. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac were all under contract, becoming at the time the greatest collection of superstar hip-hop talent on one label simultaneously. The cover captured the fleeting moment of Death Row Records at its apex.

The plummet began shortly after the cover’s ink dried.


Remembering how it all came together piece by piece is not necessarily a good time for Alan Light. How the media covered rap’s bloodiest and most territorial years remains a divisive topic. But in late 1995, Light, then editor-in-chief of VIBE, was about staying ahead of the curve. In a short time, the publication had established itself as a definitive hip-hop voice. And the magazine tracked Shakur’s story closer than any other.

“We could’ve put Tupac on the cover every single month and it would’ve sold. There was nobody that our readership cared about and reacted to the way that they responded to him,” said Light. “Every one of the stories we did with him, every cover we did with him was bigger each time. There was nobody who had an impact that was comparable.”

For Light, Shakur’s signing seemed inevitable. Shakur and Suge had been linked as far back as 1993, but Death Row’s interest in ’Pac peaked at the August 1995 Source Awards. Though remembered for Snoop saying, as he accompanied Dr. Dre on stage for his Producer of the Year Award, “The East Coast don’t love Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg?!” — the first major clue to Suge’s courting of Tupac was when he sent the incarcerated rapper a kite from the stage: “We riding for him.” Suge capitalized on Shakur’s vulnerability.

“I don’t know that it felt shocking,” said Light, an author who was also editor-in-chief of SPIN and now hosts Sirius XM’s popular Debatable. “It felt like, Yeah, OK. Once again, [Suge] had an opportunity and he took it.”Discussions regarding Death Row coverage began in the VIBE offices almost immediately thereafter. The magazine and the label had established a straightforward rapport. “[Death Row] respected you if they trusted you,” said Light. “It’s not like our coverage of Death Row was uncritical. [But] at that time in particular, how could you hurt them?”

Everyone seemingly had a rap sheet to go along with platinum plaques. Dre and Suge had their own run-ins with the law stemming from assault allegations, Dre most notably after his violent encounter with journalist Dee Barnes. Dre told Light, then a journalist for Rolling Stone in 1991, that he “just threw [Barnes] through a door.” (Andre Young released a statement in 2015 apologizing; Dee Barnes accepted.) Johnnie Cochran was representing Snoop at his trial. And ’Pac’s relationship with law enforcement and courtrooms nationwide made him seem like a modern-day Jesse James. “Anything you said about them being threatening or violent or dangerous,” Light said, “was more power to them.”


By the time of the VIBE shoot, the storylines surrounding Death Row were intense. Could Tupac’s All Eyez On Me, unequivocally hip-hop’s most anticipated album, live up to the hype (it went on to sell more than 10 million albums)? How would the rising tensions between two coasts influence the label’s direction? Did the reality of Death Row eclipse its increasingly notorious myth?

Kevin Powell — who wrote VIBE’s first cover story, about Snoop — became Shakur’s unofficial biographer in the years since. He was assigned to the story, providing an in-depth glimpse into the life of rap’s “ferocious first family.” But how to portray them on the cover proved a less straightforward mission. Ken Nahoum was Death Row’s in-house photographer, a gig “the white Jewish guy from New York” stumbled into via a prior relationship with George Pryce, Death Row’s former director of communications and media relations. Pryce had created the short-lived Modern Black Man magazine in the ’80s for which Nahoum had done a series of shoots. Once in the Death Row fold, Nahoum essentially followed its artists everywhere. He’d shot portraits and album-related images for Snoop Dogg and Dogg Pound.

There was an unavoidable sense of tension surrounding the label. Nahoum says he purposely chose not to involve himself in the rumors — about musical rights, about financial back-and-forths — surrounding Suge and the label. Each person approached the VIBE shoot differently.

“Snoop didn’t give a s— about anything but eating his Popeye’s,” says Nahoum. “Dre was quiet, very businesslike … very professional … very serious about the photos. … Suge was sweating, intense about everything. [Tupac] was in his own world, like sort of above the fray.”

Party given by Interscope/Death Row Records for Snoop Doggy Dogg record “Murder was the Case”.

Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images

Tupac and Suge, Nahoum remembers, wore ankle bracelets. “They all had issues. It was a wild scene. It wasn’t record company business as usual. These were gangsters on the run. Everywhere I went, I went through metal detectors. When I hung out in the recording studio with them, I had to go through metal detectors.”

“It’s not like our coverage of Death Row was uncritical. At that time in particular, how could you hurt them?”

Nahoum shot them all, although he had no idea how the photos would be used in print. That responsibility fell to Diddo Ramm, VIBE’s lead in art direction for the issue. The shoot was unusual, with VIBE opting not to send its own photo unit to California but rather working with what Death Row sent back, pending an agreement with regard to wardrobe and style semantics.

Ramm pieced together photos; it was not created in Photoshop, as the application was not yet in wide use. “[It was] a composition of four different images in the style of a medieval painting where the kings always used a thinking position and the young princes a more agile position,” said Ramm, now CEO and creative director of RELEVANCE, a media agency based in Hamburg, Germany.

Ramm saw Death Row as a “little bit [of] a house of secrets.” Powell’s piece revealed the inner workings of the label, but Ramm desired a more mysterious ambiance, in the tenor of a secret society. He had the work digitally composed, and darkened so that only part of the light fell on Snoop, Dre, Tupac and Suge’s faces. The trick was to do a lot without doing too much. “The faces are placed like a cross,” said Ramm, “giving a subtle thought of the secret power of the protagonists.”

A Death Row Records medallion.

Ken Lubas/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

They were protagonists — rap superheroes to many. So much of what made Death Row a cultural fixture of the mid-’90s was its willingness to create timeless art through the lens of tragedy. Death Row Records was a byproduct of the post-Reaganomics, crack-cocaine era that transformed South Central Los Angeles into a 1980s war zone. The music, profoundly explicit, was the embodiment of neighborhoods and fractured households ripped to shreds by a society that would have forgotten about it had it not been for hip-hop.

1990s rap wasn’t a perfect art form, but neither were the conditions birthing it. When VIBE’s February 1996 issue hit shelves, spearheaded by its simple yet intoxicating cover, art would soon become life. Death Row’s end wasn’t far behind. “There was just no way,” said Light, “that all of that energy and madness could hold for very long.”


It’s impossible for Light to look at the cover the same way he did when he helped lead the charge. In the moment, Death Row had Tupac’s charisma, Dre’s vision, Snoop’s charm and Suge’s muscle. “That, to me,” Light said, “represents the absolute pinnacle moment, top of mountain for Death Row. At the time they felt unstoppable. You didn’t look at it then as, ‘We better do this right now because all hell’s gonna continue to break loose.’ But I feel like [the cover] was something that even months, if not weeks, later you wouldn’t have been able to pull off.”

He’s right. The cover had to happen then. Two months after the magazine’s release, Death Row experienced the first significant dent in its armor. On March 22, 1996, Dr. Dre officially split, opting to create his own imprint under Interscope. This label would eventually become Aftermath/Interscope, which went on to make Eminem and 50 Cent international superstars.

Music industry watchers expected the label to shake off the loss. Snoop Dogg had been acquitted a month earlier. Tupac’s All Eyez On Me — his defiant, post-prison, double-disc diatribe — introduced a more venomous and expectedly paranoid Shakur. It was his biggest album to date. Death Row’s, too.

“The faces are placed like a cross, giving a subtle thought of the secret power of the protagonists.”

The success came with a price tag. Tupac’s 1996 “Hit ’Em Up” — his now-legendary diss record to The Notorious B.I.G., Puffy, Bad Boy Records, Mobb Deep, Junior Mafia and more — planted the Death Row flag in a bicoastal war that had surfaced months earlier at The Source Awards. Chaos swallowed civility. The media covered what became an “East Coast vs. West Coast” rivalry.

Six months after Dre’s departure, Shakur was murdered in Las Vegas, 331 days after he was released from Clinton Correctional. In less than a year with the label, Tupac recorded two albums and filmed two movies (Gridlock’d and Bullet). By March 1997 — ironically, a week before the murder of The Notorious B.I.G. — Suge, on a probation violation, was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in stomping Orlando Anderson the night Tupac was shot. Only Snoop stood with the label (until his departure in early 1998 when Master P visited Knight in prison, where he agreed to buy out Snoop’s contract, signing him to No Limit Records). Hip-hop’s ferocious first family had caved in on itself.

In the 21 years since the February 1996 VIBE issue, Dr. Dre and Snoop have both seen their celebrity increase tenfold. Despite the stains of yester-decade, Dre has stayed relatively out of the spotlight, allowing business to speak for him. Snoop’s career transformation is unparalleled, having gone from Newsweek cover demon to sportsman to host of a cooking show with Martha Stewart. It’s difficult to think of a rapper who has been as popular for as long as Snoop Dogg. Tupac, in death, is the Hall of Fame patron saint of hip-hop, a martyr. The Benny Boom-directed film about Shakur’s life, called All Eyez on Me, is due in June, on his birthday.

Rappers Dr. Dre (L) and Snoop Dogg perform onstage during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella

In fact, the only diminished legacy is Suge’s. Death Row never rose again. During the week of his 52nd birthday, he is still awaiting trial for murder. He is accused by the state of California of running over a man with his vehicle in 2015 while visiting a Straight Outta Compton filming location.

“That to me,” said Light, “represents the absolute pinnacle moment, top of the mountain for Death Row. At the time they felt unstoppable.”

These days, another Compton-created startup, Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment, dominates discussion, although Snoop deaded those comparisons years back. For Death Row, it was kill or, as the label experienced firsthand, be killed.

“[Death Row] did it with a gangster approach,” Snoop said in 2013. (He would later tell TDE member Ab-Soul the group was a “mini Death Row.”) “We were smashing on n—, we was f— people up. We was determined to be the hardest, meanest, coldest, roughest, toughest in the game. That was our mission.”

Perhaps the brainchild of Suge Knight and Dr. Dre wasn’t supposed to live any longer than it did, roughly the equivalent of one presidential term. A business model based on violence, intimidation and manipulation doesn’t have a long shelf life. Get in. Get out. And hopefully leave with your life and dignity intact. Very few leave with both. The VIBE cover is a reminder. Two did. Two didn’t.

“Tupac was a poet. He was a person with a great vision in life,” Nahoum said. “Snoop is a pot smoker who lives life minute to minute. Dre was the businessman and artist. And Suge was a gangsta.

“They were four different people. But I would have to say Death Row … ”

Nahoum’s voice trails off. His life is a lot different these days. He wasn’t even aware of Suge’s current legal situation, although he wasn’t surprised to find out.

“It’s too bad it didn’t continue,” he said. “It had such an energy for a couple of years … they could have ruled the business. They had the whole world in their hands, and they gave it right up.”

The strange legacy of Tupac’s ‘hologram’ lives on five years after its historic Coachella debut On Dr. Dre’s order, an Academy Award-winning visual effects studio spent weeks designing a virtual Makaveli

Expect me, n—a, like you expect Jesus to come back / Expect me … I’m coming.

— Tupac Shakur on the “Outro” of his fourth posthumous album, Better Dayz (2002)

The mood and scene were one and the same out in that empty Southern California field. Dark and ominous. A wind blew furiously as night fell. Time was running out.

With just four days until the start of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, there was no room for any more mistakes. Hip-hop impresario Andre “Dr. Dre” Young had a specific vision for his headlining performance with Snoop Dogg.

But the miscues were relentless: unanticipated flashes, rendering errors, plain old glitches, you name it. Nothing seemed to go right during rehearsal as Dr. Dre looked on with Eminem, who was a scheduled special guest for the show. The hood of Marshall Mathers’ jacket draped over his head as he watched in silence.

Oh, my God. We’re going to fail.

That’s what Janelle Croshaw, visual effects supervisor of Academy Award-winning studio Digital Domain, said she thought to herself in the moment. For six weeks, Croshaw, along with fellow supervisor Steve Preeg and their team, had worked tirelessly to make what seemed psychologically, and spiritually, unfathomable: They had to recreate Tupac Amaru Shakur.

And they did. Fifteen years, seven weeks and three days after he was pronounced dead as a result of internal bleeding from five gunshot wounds he sustained in a Las Vegas drive-by, Tupac performed again. It was April 15, 2012. During Dr. Dre and Snoop’s set, a shirtless figure emerged, with a “THUG LIFE” tattoo on his stomach, pinky rings on his hands, pants sagging and Timberlands on his feet. It was the perfect surprise for the final act of the night on the main stage — Dr. Dre and Snoop having already floated through nearly 20 tracks, though no moment would compare to what came next.

“What the f— is up, Coachellaaaaa!”

A computer-generated Tupac made this proclamation to the crowd of 80,000. It raised his arms to roars before he began to perform his posthumous 1998 single “Hail Mary” and 1996 hit collaboration with Snoop, “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” On this night, the “Tupac Hologram,” what many still call the virtual being, was born.

A holographic image of Tupac Shakur is seen performing with Snoop Dogg during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

Courtesy of Digital Domain

Technically? It wasn’t a hologram — which is defined as a light-beam-produced, three-dimensional image visible to the naked eye — but rather a two-dimensional projection that employed a theatrical technique first outlined more than 430 years ago.

Tupac made it to that stage because Andre “Dr. Dre” Young made sure of it.

“It really looked 3-D,” said Nick Smith, president of AV Concepts, the San Diego-based company that projected what he refers to as a “holographic effect.”

“It looked like there was really somebody onstage.”

There was something authentic and visceral about the projection of Tupac that Coachella attendees experienced. The Hall of Fame musical artist died at the age of 25, three years before Coachella debuted in 1999. But Tupac made it to that stage, because Dr. Dre made sure of it.


The technique is called “Pepper’s Ghost,” named after 19th-century British scientist John Henry Pepper, who adapted the method in 1862. The theater trick involves the projection of an image onto an angled piece of glass, which is reflected back onto the stage, providing the audience with the illusion of a ghostly presence.

Three hundred years before Pepper, 16th-century Italian scientist Giambattista della Porta was the first to conceptualize the illusion. In his 1558 Magia Naturalis (Natural Magic), Porta described what would ultimately take the form of the Pepper’s Ghost technique in a chapter he titled “How we may see in a Chamber things that are not.”

Tupac would have appreciated Porta’s work, given his affinity for Italian Renaissance literature during his nine-month prison sentence on sexual assault charges in 1995 (he denied the charges ever after). Most notably, he took a deep dive into Niccolo Machiavelli’s 1532 political treatise The Prince, finding solace in the words of the 16th-century Italian philosopher and political theorist, who in his work presented the idea of feigning death to exploit one’s enemies.

After his release from prison, ’Pac changed his stage name to “Makaveli,” and the final studio album he recorded before he was killed, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, was inspired by the legend that Machiavelli faked his death before reappearing seven days later to seek revenge upon his enemies. Tupac’s fascination, or borderline obsession, with Machiavelli in the final few years of his life remains at the heart of the rabbit-hole conspiracy theories surrounding what many still believe to be true: Tupac Shakur faked his death and is still alive.

And so in 2012, when Coachella had two of Tupac’s former Death Row Records labelmates in mind for the festival’s lineup, Dr. Dre toyed with this concept of ’Pac’s legend.

“It was Dre’s idea to bring Tupac back,” said Smith, whose company had been in previous talks with Dr. Dre about the possibility of the late artist performing again digitally. “He and his team had already seen the technology several times and were thinking about how to utilize it. So when Coachella asked them to perform there, that’s the idea he came up with.”

Dr. Dre and his production team were responsible for working with Tupac’s estate and handling the legal ramifications of using his likeness, which required the approval and blessing of his mother, Afeni Shakur (who died in 2016, four years after the Coachella performance). Smith and AV Concepts were responsible for bringing the projection technology to the United States. In place of the technique’s traditional use of glass, AV Concepts would use Mylar foil. And instead of a straightforward projected image, a bespoke computer-generated Tupac was envisioned for the performance.

“Some of the other team members didn’t quite understand. It was like, ‘Who’s Tu-PACK?’ ”

That’s where Digital Domain came in. The studio’s work on films such as X-Men: Days of Future Past, TRON: Legacy and 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which won an Academy Award for best visual effects, all caught Dr. Dre’s attention. While working on a project in New York, Croshaw received a call regarding the assignment and rushed back to Los Angeles to start working. It was mid-February, and Digital Domain had to have virtual Tupac ready for an April 15 curtain call.

“It was a lot of pressure — more than any project I’ve ever done,” said Croshaw. “Some of the other team members didn’t quite understand. It was like, ‘Who’s Tu-PACK?’ There were people who weren’t quite familiar with him, but those of us who were, the pressure to not fail was probably the biggest motivation to get as far as we did in six weeks. We just couldn’t fail.”

Croshaw and Preeg established a team of 20 — small for a project like this, she said. Their skills spanned every digital effects department imaginable. There were rotoscoping and paint teams to warp and pull the design to make it look like Tupac’s body. There was someone in charge of lighting. There was a technician who figured out ways to automate certain tasks in composite work, which Croshaw headed.

Preeg served as an animation director, heavily involved in the rigging of Tupac’s skeleton. Under him were two animators: one handling the animation for “Hail Mary” and the other for “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” And, last but certainly not least, there was a sculptor who worked down to the 11th hour to make sure Tupac’s face and mouth shapes illustrated his likenesses to a T.

A holographic image of Tupac Shakur is seen performing during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

Courtesy of Digital Domain

They all packed in one room, where every single inch of the wall was covered with pictures of ’Pac for inspiration and reference. They blasted his records so much that Croshaw’s mother pointed out how much more her daughter had begun cursing. “When you’re making any character in digital effects, you really have to become that character,” Croshaw said, “and never in my life have I transformed into a character more than Tupac.”

They had to make their version of Tupac essentially from scratch. “Because he passed away in the late ’90s, it’s not like these days where a lot of actors have scans done of them. … With Tupac, we didn’t have anything.” They ended up using footage of Tupac’s final live performance from July 4, 1996, at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, which was released on DVD in 2005. The last song ’Pac performs on the tape is “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” So for one of the songs on virtual Tupac’s Coachella set list, there was a point of reference. For the other? Tupac never performed “Hail Mary,” which was released on The 7 Day Theory nearly two months after his death. Digital Domain possessed no footage to match to but had leeway in crafting his movements.

“We found that he has that smile, you know, that just lights up a room. That was something that we really wanted to embrace, so we spent a lot of time on the smile shape.”

“What makes him, him? What makes him have that spark? We found that he has that smile, you know, that just lights up a room. That was something that we really wanted to embrace, so we spent a lot of time on the smile shape,” Croshaw said. “Another one he has is this, like, kind of crooked sort of eyebrow raise, where one of his eyebrows goes up. These are two signature Tupac looks we really wanted to nail.”

Croshaw, who recalled the creation of Coachella’s digital Tupac via the phone while on maternity leave, didn’t sugarcoat the process. Creating a virtual human being is scary, she said, especially in the initial stages of the design. There was a moment early on when Dr. Dre got a glimpse of Tupac’s face — outside of old photographs and video clips — for the first time in years.

“They were just like, ‘That’s not Tupac. That’s not even close to Tupac,’ ” Croshaw recalled of the reactions of Dr. Dre and his partners for the performance, director Philip Atwell of Geronimo Productions and Dylan Brown of Yard Entertainment. “So there were a lot of moments when we had to reassure them, ‘It’s going to be fine.’ Even though we’re kind of going like, ‘Oh, s—. Is this going to be fine?”


The week of Coachella 2012, Croshaw began making daily 2 1/2-hour drives from Los Angeles to the festival site at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. She was hand-delivering hard drives containing 16,000 or so frames that would come together to form the digital being of one of the greatest rappers of all time. Yet the California desert wasn’t quite welcoming the virtual return of Makaveli.

“The effect itself is difficult to do. People think the hologram can just appear in thin air. It’s a very elaborate staging apparatus that has to be built to do this, and it has to be in the right conditions,” Smith said. “One of the challenges of doing this effect out at Coachella was you had everything working against you. You had heat, you had cold, you had rain, you had wind. It had to be dark. You had to control all of the lighting, including the moon, which is difficult to do. It’s a perfect effect for a theater, but it’s not the perfect effect for uncontrolled environments.”

A holographic image of Tupac Shakur is seen performing during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

Sunday, the point of no return, finally arrived. At the end of the night, Dr. Dre and Snoop took to the stage. When it was time, AV Concepts crew members had about 90 seconds to calibrate their screen in the wind before all systems were a go.

In a matter of moments, Tupac Shakur rose from the floor of the stage and greeted his Death Row brethren.

“What up, Dre!”

“I’m chillin’! What’s up, Pac!”

“What up, Snoop!”

“What’s up my n—a!”

“What the f— is up, Coachellaaaaa! Throw up a m—-f——’ finger, yeah! Makaveli in this —”

The drop of “Hail Mary” cut him off before the eerily real digital figure bounced and swayed to the beat, dancing his way over to Snoop to perform “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” in perfect cadence — like they were at the House of Blues and it was 1996.

The performance, which was livestreamed worldwide on YouTube, ended with the virtual Makaveli returning to center stage, bowing his head and then disappearing in a burst of fragments. Croshaw remembers dead silence from the crowd, before a heartbeat appeared on the LED screens flanking the stage and Eminem came out to the sounds of cheers.

“Relief,” said Croshaw. “That’s what I remember the most. The happiness at the end. Kind of like childbirth, actually … the hardest, most painful thing ever, and then after you have the baby you forget about all the pain.”

“When you’re making any character in digital effects, you have to become that character … and never in my life have I transformed into a character more than Tupac.”

If creating a virtual human being is scary, watching one is, as well. Upon seeing the “Tupac Hologram” (which went on to win Digital Domain the prestigious Cannes Lions Titanium Award in June 2012, for the most groundbreaking work in the creative communications field), many people didn’t know what to make of it.

“That Pac Hologram haunted me in my sleep,” musician and author Questlove tweeted. UPROXX Editor-in-Chief Brett Michael Dykes reached out to his friend, who saw the performance live. “I thought I was seeing things. One of my friends who was really high got really upset that 2Pac was dead and why are we doing this. A few were confused and thought he might be alive now. I knew it was a hologram right off the bat but then it looked so real …, ” she responded.

Billboard music editor Jason Lipshutz even penned a column, titled “The Problem with the Tupac Hologram,” that summed up his thoughts in a question he poses at the end of the piece: “Why do we need to watch an imitation of Tupac when we have an incomparable plethora of his own art at our disposal?And, of course, former Death Row CEO Suge Knight had something to say, citing one fundamental problem with the recreation of Tupac’s being: “At the end of the day, how you gonna take the Death Row chain off Pac?” Tupac’s hologram wore a gold cross chain.

A holographic image of Tupac Shakur is seen performing during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

The debut performance sparked rumblings that Dr. Dre would be taking ’Pac on tour with him after the festival. But rumors were quickly squashed by the man himself. “It was strictly for Coachella — get it right,” Dr. Dre said in a video message to fans before taking the stage during the second weekend of the festival.

On that night, April 22, 2012, Dr. Dre and Snoop shared a stage with their virtual homie one more time. And, per Dr. Dre’s words, don’t expect them to do so again anytime soon. Tupac Shakur is dead. He’s not in Cuba, or working as a cashier at a Cluck-U Chicken on the campus of the University of Maryland. He was killed in 1996, and despite his bold lyrical professions, the closest he ever came to making a return to this earth was five years ago in digital form on the Coachella stage.

And if you’re looking for the hologram, you won’t find it at Digital Domain or AV Concepts. The digital asset that Digital Domain created has been archived. Only Tupac’s estate has access.

“Two weekends, two performances,” Janelle Croshaw says with the finality of accomplishment. “That was it.”