Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ Emmy snub is historic disrespect Let’s take a look into what made her Netflix concert film excellent

On Sunday, Fox will air the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards show at 8 p.m. EDT. But the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ credibility as an arbiter of excellence will face justified skepticism because Beyoncé went 0-for-6 at the Creative Arts Emmys last week.

She was nominated for her work on Homecoming, a documentary that captured her performance as the first black woman to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. And just as it was with 2016’s Lemonade, her previous visual album, America’s greatest living pop performer was royally snubbed.

For insight on how that snub might have been received, we can look to the self-titled album released at the end of 2013, which was accompanied not just with music videos but also documentary snippets that explained her mindset. One was about losing, and why she chose footage from her first professional loss — her childhood group, Girls Tyme, losing Star Search — to precede the grimiest, most boastful song on the album, “***Flawless.”

“I was only 9 years old, so at that time, you don’t actually realize that you could work superhard, and give everything you have, and lose. It was the best message for me,” Beyoncé explained. “When I put Ed McMahon introducing us as the ‘hip-hop-rapping Girls Tyme,’ it clicked something in my mind. I feel like something about the aggression of ‘Bow Down’ and the attitude of ‘***Flawless,’ — the reality is, sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose and you’re never too big to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. It happens. And it happens when it needs to happen.”

The pop star’s shutout at the 2019 Creative Arts Emmys didn’t need to happen, but it did. And it’s completely reasonable that her team is having trouble embracing the outcome.

Beyoncé’s Netflix concert film Homecoming was nominated for six Emmys: outstanding directing for a variety special; outstanding variety special (prerecorded); outstanding costumes for variety, nonfiction or reality programming; outstanding music direction; outstanding production design for a variety special; and outstanding writing for a variety special.

Here’s what won:

  • Directing — Springsteen on Broadway
  • Variety special (prerecorded) — Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney Live From Liverpool
  • Costumes — RuPaul’s Drag Race
  • Music direction — Fosse/Verdon
  • Production design — Rent
  • Writing — Hannah Gadsby: Nanette

The television academy’s decisions for music direction and variety special strike me as, at best, misinformed and, at worst, insulting. To understand why, let’s take a deeper look into what made Homecoming excellent, first with musical direction and then the show.

In crafting the musical arrangements for Homecoming, Beyoncé and music director Derek Dixie did something incredibly ambitious, something that requires an encyclopedic knowledge of black music and a broad imagination and acuity for music theory.

Beyoncé Knowles performs onstage during the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 21, 2018, in Indio, California.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella

What dominates Homecoming is a sustained nod to New Orleans. It extends past the tracks that originated on Lemonade, an exploration of Beyoncé’s Creole heritage. Dixie and Beyoncé didn’t just adapt her music for a marching band; they conducted a sonic archaeological dig and placed her within a continuum of black music. The orchestrations are reminiscent of the approach to pop music at Motown. Queen Bey’s hits benefit from the use of modern technology, which allows artists to take advantage of infinite possibilities. But they’re also written in a way that comes alive with a live band, an indication of top-notch songwriting and inspired orchestration.

See: the Homecoming arrangement of “Deja Vu,” which, after the first few measures of its bassline, drives into the song with horns that take a little from the funk of B.T. Express’ “Do It (T’il You’re Satisfied),” which is sampled on “Deja Vu,” and mixes it with strings more associated with Philadelphia soul.

When Beyoncé offers an assessment of the students’ abilities during an interlude, she’s not being hyperbolic. “The amount of swag is just limitless,” she says.

Ambitious ideas are one thing. Execution is another. And there is evidence that Beyoncé’s famously high standards were present in the show. The horn runs on “Say My Name,” for example, are exquisite — a blizzard of notes, played not by one person but a group. The greater the number of musicians attempting to play the same run in unison, the greater the likelihood that the sound will become muddied, which is why a classic choice for trumpet section battles at football games is “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

On “Say My Name,” those runs are clean, tight and distinguishable. But they are part of a bigger sonic and visual machine. Besides the horn runs, there are the vocal harmonies from Beyoncé and her Destiny’s Child mates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. Then add the percussive beats, separate from the drum line, that come from the steppers.

Everything has to happen in unison and is being performed in large part by college students. To attempt to do the whole thing not once but twice, and then stitch both performances together in postproduction, is, in a word, crazy.

When Beyoncé offers an assessment of the students’ abilities during an interlude, she’s not being hyperbolic. “The amount of swag is just limitless,” she says. “The things that these young people can do with their bodies and the music they can play and the drum rolls and haircuts and the bodies — it’s just not right. It’s just so much damn swag.”

Then there are the screaming trumpets that are integral to the sound of a historically black college or university (HBCU) band. If you’re listening to the Homecoming album, you can hear them in full force at about 1:37 into the first track, “Welcome,” and again in the last 40 or so seconds. Hitting those notes requires a skilled level of musicianship. Being able to hit them again and again over the course of a two-hour set, as Homecoming calls for, is harder because horn players have to retain their chops, or their embouchure, so that their facial muscles aren’t giving out before the performance is over.

These challenges are different from those faced by the music department of Fosse/Verdon, led by Alex Lacamoire, which won the Emmy for the first episode of the seven-part miniseries. Fosse/Verdon is about the personal and professional lives of dancer and actor Gwen Verdon and her creative and romantic partner director and choreographer Bob Fosse.

Lacamoire was charged with an assignment that was almost the reverse of what Dixie and Beyoncé were doing. He had to take highly recognizable songs across several different musicals, written by different composers, and aurally unify them, creating a soundtrack that feels like it’s a collection of songs from one musical called Fosse/Verdon.

Even though “Big Spender” is from Sweet Charity, and written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, and “Mein Herr” is a number from Cabaret, written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Lacamoire’s arrangements make them sound like they belong in the same television show. In Lacamoire’s case, the artists unifying the collection are a dancer and a director, not a leading vocalist. The Music of Fosse/Verdon is from a variety of artists, from The Fandango Girls to Alysha Umphress to Bianca Marroquín. Creating and shaping that thematic continuity is not an easy feat.

Still, the recording sessions for Fosse/Verdon didn’t have to take place during a live concert in which the musicians are also performing choreography for two hours — without sheet music. The songs of Fosse/Verdon, which included “Cabaret,” “All That Jazz” and “We Both Reached for the Gun,” were originally written for musical theater. That doesn’t mean they aren’t difficult to play, but they were composed with the intention that a live orchestra would do so for eight shows a week on Broadway.

Listen to the Fosse/Verdon version of “All That Jazz,” the opening number of Chicago and one of the most iconic songs in musical theater history:

Sometimes songwriters will torture Broadway musicians with arrangements that test the limits of human endurance, but it’s usually vocalists who suffer. That’s what happened to Audra McDonald when she did Porgy and Bess on Broadway. Her teacher’s assistant at Juilliard described the role as “difficult” and a “voice-killer” because of the range it demanded and the frequency of the performances. In a 2012 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, McDonald spoke about the arduous task of singing “What You Want With Bess” eight times a week.

When Beyoncé took the stage in April 2018 at Coachella, the festival livestreamed the performance. In real time, the singer’s contemporaries marveled at what she’d accomplished.

Ambitious ideas are one thing. Execution is another. And, there is evidence that Beyoncé’s famously high standards were present in the show.

“How. in. The. Fuh. Did. She. Pull. That. Shiii. OFF!!!!??? It’s like 170 musicians onstage,” tweeted Questlove. “I mean the stage plotting. The patch chords. How many monitor boards were used??! Bandleading that s— woulda gave me anxiety. Hats off man. Jesus H Christ.”

If Questlove, who is about as experienced and virtuosic a bandleader as a person can be, declares that the job would have given him anxiety, that’s a good indication that what’s taking place onstage is extraordinary.

So why didn’t the television academy see it that way?

“It’s got everything to do with the voting membership, which skews much older, whiter, and more male than the industry or audience,” tweeted actor Rebecca Metz, who plays Tressa on the FX show Better Things. “The awards reflect their taste and viewing habits. I’m on a mission to recruit young, diverse members for this very reason.”

Let’s turn to the broader picture: What makes Homecoming uniquely great television? What Beyoncé accomplished in two performances at Coachella and with the Homecoming documentary is like a Broadway show. There’s singing, there’s dancing and there’s a story. Remember, the Emmy is not for the live performance itself but for the documentary. We’re asking specific questions here: How do Homecoming and Carpool Karaoke, which won the Emmy, function as pieces of television? What do they offer visually? What role does the music play in the delivery of a larger narrative?

Again, Beyoncé is operating in a space that’s not dissimilar from her competition. Corden, before becoming a late-night host, was an actor. He sings and dances, as evidenced by his stints hosting the Tony Awards. Both Corden and Beyoncé are invested in a type of musical theatricality. Corden is just more self-effacing about it.

“Carpool Karaoke,” Corden’s running gag on The Late Late Show, is reliably great. Corden has a magical capacity for disarming his guests. He offers a fun, anodyne form of celebrity schmoozing that isn’t weighted with self-serious pretension. It’s viral internet gold: Corden drives around with popular musical artists, sings their songs with them, and the whole thing is recorded. Past participants include rappers Migos, singer Adele and even then-first lady Michelle Obama, who rode with artist Missy Elliott.

Look at the episode of Carpool Karaoke that won the Emmy for best variety special (prerecorded) over Homecoming, in which Corden sings with Paul McCartney while driving around the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, England.

There’s some editing that takes place when Corden and McCartney are singing the “beep beep beep beeps” of “Drive My Car.” Clearly the show was able to get McCartney to do the bit at least twice, once in the passenger seat and then once as the driver, with both edited together.

Beyoncé does something similar in Homecoming, but she takes it to the extremes we have come to expect but perhaps do not appreciate. Homecoming editors Alexander Hammer and Andrew Morrow are responsible for a great cut that takes place about 6 minutes and 15 seconds into Homecoming, when the band, dancers and steppers are transitioning from “Crazy in Love” to Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.” First, the band is facing the cameras dressed in yellow. When Juvenile says, “Drop it,” the band members turn. Their backs are to the crowd, and everyone is in candy pink — which was the color of the uniforms for the second Coachella performance. The two were cut together, and the effect is almost supernatural. For that tiny bit of visual trickery to work, all 151 performers had to hit their marks at the same time, in the exact spots, for both performances, doing JaQuel Knight’s choreography.

That’s not for the Coachella audience — that’s just for television.

By the way, that choreography is informed by the history of New Orleans. While it’s identified in modern parlance as twerking, the moves go back to the days of segregated New Orleans, when black dancers performed in the city’s nightclubs that lined Rampart Street, such as the Dew Drop Inn and the Tick Tock Tavern. They performed something called “shake dancing,” one of the many descendants of the mixed-race social dance that took place at events known as quadrilles, held in 19th-century New Orleans ballrooms.

Shake dancing, as LaKisha Simmons explains in Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans, was not just an illicit thrill. It was a rejection of respectability politics and of arbitrary definitions of propriety. It represented creativity and sexual freedom, two of the themes that pervade Beyoncé’s oeuvre. But it wasn’t seen in such generous terms by white writers documenting the culture of Rampart Street, or well-to-do blacks who avoided it. So putting the dance moves of these women onstage at Coachella and setting them off with sequins, discipline and precision becomes a way of honoring them and their labor.

In executing her Coachella set, Beyoncé elevated to an enormous stage an aspect of American culture that tends to be overlooked and misunderstood: the role of HBCUs in shaping pop culture. She used the marching band in Homecoming as both a bridge and a framing device to show how her own sound fits into the broader narrative of the African diaspora. She repeatedly demonstrated how the mélange of cultures in Louisiana, from the French whites to Afro-Caribbean residents to enslaved and free African Americans, influenced American culture.

“At least two centuries had passed since those unnamed slaves Thomas Nicholls observed had helped their mistresses in and out of their shoes, so that the white ladies could learn routines increasingly redolent of Africa, perhaps while their servants snuck away to try out some French steps of their own,” NPR music critic Ann Powers wrote in her 2017 book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black & White, Body and Soul in American Music, making the connection between New Orleans quadrille balls and Beyoncé’s decision to appear in the music video for “Formation” as both a quadroon and a bounce dancer. “In that long span, countless dances had been danced, many identities blended and forced apart. The taboo baby had grown up and become a matriarch.”

She used the marching band in Homecoming as both a bridge and a framing device to show how her own sound fits into the broader narrative of the African diaspora.

Beyoncé was able to seamlessly and coherently weave together the words and cultural contributions of Nina Simone, James Weldon Johnson, Toni Morrison and others with contemporary figures such as Lil Yachty, Fast Life Yungstaz, Sister Nancy and O.T. Genasis. She pulled from the go-go sounds of Washington, D.C., the horn-heavy jazz of New Orleans, J Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and the music of her own husband, just to name a few, within an epic recounting of her 25-year repertoire. It was all valid, all valuable, all part of a vast quilt of what it means to be black, to be a woman, what it means to be American, to be human. And she was the vessel embodying all of it, from the militant self-love of Malcolm X to the regality of Nefertiti.

In that way, the work is euphoric, forward-looking and optimistic, even as it’s held together by the glue of the past.

The shows in which Verdon danced and Fosse directed and choreographed are in no danger of being overlooked. Chicago is the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Certainly the legacy of the Beatles has been well-appreciated. These artists have been beatified with awards and decades of recognition.

But the musical and dance tradition that informs so much of American pop music, beyond Beyoncé’s, isn’t regarded with the same reverence for its innovation, its influence, its history. Instead, it remains marginalized as part of the African American story rather than the American story.

What a shame that American institutions such as the television academy still bypass recognition of the epic historical record and scholarship embedded within Beyoncé’s music because it is easier to see it in work that’s long been regarded as classic. This time it is they who have lost, not she.

Will Smith, a pioneering black nerd, helped raise and change rap music Smith’s music career reveals an artist who believed in an Afrocentric American dream based on ambition, hustle and black pride

It was 2017, and Will Smith’s career seemed to have come full circle.

That’s when a sneak peek video surfaced featuring the world-famous entertainer performing a hip-hop version of the theme from Aladdin, a Disney musical, which opens in movie theaters Friday, featuring Smith in the role of the genie. For fans, the tune conjured memories of Smith’s career-launching hit “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble,” which sampled the theme from I Dream of Jeannie, a 1960s sitcom about a genie.

The coincidence was eerily appropriate. With four Grammys, six American Music Awards, four NAACP Image Awards and two Oscar nominations, Smith’s career has seemed like a magic carpet ride, almost as if a wizard granted his wish of becoming one of history’s most successful entertainers. But while his big-screen achievements have been exhaustively examined, Smith’s musical accomplishments have received shorter critical shrift. From PTA-approved hits such as “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “A Nightmare on My Street” to party-starting jams such as “Summertime” and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” Smith’s songs are so cursedly simple that some might argue they’re undeserving of serious critical scrutiny. We’re here to argue otherwise.

Smith’s career has seemed like a magic carpet ride, almost as if a wizard granted his wish of becoming one of history’s most successful entertainers.

Take, for example, the aforementioned Aladdin rap. Like most songs from Smith’s canon, the tune is a bouncy urban jam with lyrics of nursery rhyme simplicity.

“One fine day the bazaar was at peace, when the guards started running through the Agrabah streets

They were lookin’ for a lad and a beast, ’cause they was nabbin’ some yeast

The thickest of thieves in the Wild, Wild East …”

Notice how Smith sets up a story, stoking your desire to learn more. From his very first 1980s hits, he has repeatedly woven fablelike narratives into his songs, a creative device that makes listeners hang onto his every word. In this regard, he has just as much in common with legendary country and western songwriters such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton as with his rapping peers.

Next, note how the line “a lad and” is a subliminal reference to the title Aladdin, while the phrase “Wild, Wild East” alludes to Smith’s 1999 hit “Wild Wild West.” Rap music is a narcissistic genre in which artists’ skills are largely judged by the ingenuity of their boasts. In the Aladdin song, Smith triumphantly toots his own horn while never once name-checking himself, which makes him appear both humble and confident. That’s the kind of skill that helped the Philadelphia native nab the first best rap song Grammy Award in 1989.

The Aladdin promo music video harks back to Smith’s 1990s heyday, when he triumphantly sampled old rhythm and blues and TV theme song tunes packed with sentimental value (Aladdin samples Alan Menken’s theme from the 1992 animated version of the Middle Eastern folk tale). Smith’s rap also marks a return to the days when his songs were movie promotions, and it’s tempting to view his lucrative music career as a byproduct of his movie fame: safe-as-milk family entertainment concealed beneath a fashionable urban disguise. Indeed, Smith’s gentlemanly, glad-handing public image contrasts sharply with prevailing rap iconography, which has become so hard-nosed that most rappers wouldn’t be caught dead smiling in their promotional photos.

But a closer inspection of Smith’s music career reveals an artist who gambled on a personal belief in an Afrocentric American dream, one based on ambition, hustle, black pride and monogamy. His decidedly nerdy worldview has drawn its share of hilarious ridicule and attacks from peers, but in hindsight his ’90s hits now seem almost heroic in their contrarian niceness. What follows is an examination of Smith’s music career, an exploration that reveals how he remained true to his principles at the risk of being labeled a corporate sellout … and in the process became one of the best-selling hip-hop artists of all time.

The Plain Brown Rapper

It was 1988, and Smith was bombing.

Better known by his alias “The Fresh Prince,” Smith and musical partner DJ Jazzy Jeff were onstage at the Greek Theatre in Hollywood, California, opening for the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. At the time, Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff (real name Jeff Townes) were savoring the success of “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” the breakthrough single from their multimillion-selling album He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. They were 19-year-old millionaires, the darlings of radio and MTV. So why were they being jeered on a Los Angeles stage?

Despite their critics, DJ Jazzy Jeff (left) and The Fresh Prince (right) were the darlings of radio and MTV in 1988, savoring the success of their hit song “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The reason was simple — Smith and Townes’ set was a disaster. This writer attended that night, and I recall being agog at Smith’s attempts to transform his performance into an interactive experience, appealing for audience participation as he emulated childhood games. Had smartphone cameras and YouTube existed back then, Smith and Townes might have become instant laughingstocks. Compared with the Beastie Boys’ beer-swilling rowdyism and Public Enemy’s fist-thrusting black militancy, Smith and Townes’ slapstick performance was embarrassingly naive and out of touch.

Other rappers might have taken the hostile crowd response as a cue to change course toward an edgier sound. But not Smith and Townes. They seemed creatively beholden to the early days of hip-hop, when the scene was dominated by boogie-down jams such as “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Big Mouth.” As hip-hop legend William “Flavor Flav” Drayton told MTV in 1999: “I remember rap music. We used to party and dance off of it.”

But the dancing came to an abrupt halt in 1988. It was the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, an eight-year term that saw black communities devastated by a federal escalation of the war on drugs. Nationwide, African American neighborhoods had watched in dismay as a blighting influx of crack cocaine gripped the areas where they lived. In mostly black South Central Los Angeles, police were using military-grade weaponry to confront young black suspects, while East Coast neighborhoods such as Roosevelt, New York, went from middle-class prosperity to abject desolation. “Mostly every household had somebody that was strung out,” said Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee. “Even my brother had a brief moment being addicted, so it resonated very close to me.”

As if in response to Reagan’s hard-line conservatism, hip-hop got deadly serious. Hard-core rap subgenres that had been gestating underground suddenly began garnering widespread radio and consumer attention. Whether it was the political hip-hop of Public Enemy, the desperado “gangsta rap” of N.W.A. and Ice-T or the Afrocentric “conscious rap” of Gang Starr and the Jungle Brothers, 1988 marked a paradigm shift. Just as the Beatles proved rock music could make broader sociopolitical statements, rap’s Class of ’88 seized on hip-hop’s thematic potential, sowing the seeds of a musical revolution.

Into this chaotic musical fray entered Smith. His initial recordings helped transform rap into a lucrative crossover genre, yet he was already at risk of becoming a has-been. In 1989, he and Townes issued yet another collection of teen-targeted novelty tunes entitled And in This Corner …. The album and its spinoff singles flopped. “It was a tragedy,” Smith recalled in 2018. “[The album] went, like, double-plastic.”

The LP’s failure sent Smith into a downward spiral. Like many nouveau riche overnight successes, he had blown through his fortune while neglecting to pay his taxes, and now the IRS was knocking. “Being famous and broke is a s—– combination,” he would later say, “because you’re still famous and people recognize you, but they recognize you while you’re sitting next to them on the bus.”

Then, fate intervened. Hoping to keep his career afloat, Smith began appearing on The Arsenio Hall Show, a new late-night talk show that was an instant hit with the MTV generation. Backstage during one of his appearances, Smith was introduced to Benny Medina, who along with entertainment legend Quincy Jones was developing a sitcom about his childhood experience growing up with a wealthy Hollywood family. Smith aced his audition, and within months of its 1990 premiere, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the top-rated sitcom of the year.

In one fell swoop, Smith was rescued from near irrelevance, and he would make the best of his second chance. Cautiously embarking on a movie career, he earned all-important Hollywood cred by starring in acclaimed, low-budget art house films such as Six Degrees of Separation and Where the Day Takes You. He was craftily starting with modest projects, methodically inching his way up the Hollywood ladder, demonstrating the shrewdness that would make him a megastar.

Triumph of the Will

It had been years since the sales disappointment of And in This Corner…, but now it was 1991 and Smith was appearing on a talk show touting the imminent release of his first single of the new decade. “May 20, we’ll be premiering our video,” he earnestly told Byron Allen. “We’ve been away for a while, and we’re coming at you spankin’ new.”

Will Smith (left) and Benny Medina (right) attend the premiere of Disney’s Aladdin at El Capitan Theatre on May 21 in Los Angeles. A chance meeting with Medina helped launch The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which changed the trajectory of Smith’s career.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The music video Smith alluded to was “Summertime,” a mellow head-bobber that deviated from the madcap mold of previous Fresh Prince/Jazzy Jeff tunes. Featuring a “slightly transformed” sample of Kool & The Gang’s seductive ’70s jam “Summer Madness,” Smith’s retooled version perfectly captured the soulful essence of a midsummer day in the ’hood.

“The temperature’s about 88
Hop in the water plug just for old time’s sake
Break to ya’ crib, change your clothes once more
Cause you’re invited to a barbecue that’s starting at 4
Sitting with your friends cause y’all reminisce
About the days growing up and the first person you kiss
And as I think back makes me wonder how
The smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia …”

Call it a comeback. “Summertime” dramatically reversed Smith’s flagging musical fortunes, selling more than 1 million copies and nabbing the Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or group. But for Smith, the single’s importance went beyond accolades and peer honors. “Summertime” seemed to establish a template for the rapper’s subsequent singles. He would eventually part ways with Townes, embarking on a solo career in which he would apply his rhymes to samples of R&B radio favorites from the post-Motown era, including tracks by Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Sister Sledge, Roy Ayers Ubiquity and others.

His music evinced a sense of elegance and upward social mobility. While he wasn’t above sampling the occasional gutbucket stomp, his biggest singles were assembled mostly from R&B songs produced north of the Mason-Dixon Line, lavish funk hits that lent his music the upscale appeal of a Versace collection. Perhaps the best example of this was “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” the gold-certified hit from Smith’s high-stakes 1997 solo debut album, Big Willie Style. The tune sampled “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” the disco classic that name-checks elite clothing brands such as Halston, Gucci and Fiorucci.

Smith’s musical choices couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. He was launching his solo career in the late ’90s, a period of tremendous economic growth and conspicuous consumption. To underscore the notion that he was a musical status symbol, he crammed Big Willie Style with broadly appealing, expensive-sounding samples. “Men in Black” appropriated Patrice Rushen’s luxurious ’80s shuffle “Forget Me Nots,” while subsequent singles “Miami” and “Just the Two of Us” borrowed from The Whispers’ “And The Beat Goes On” and Bill Withers’ satiny 1981 ballad “Just the Two of Us.” Yet, while his tony, aspirational music matched your Cartier ensemble, Smith’s songs were still down-home enough to be played at the neighborhood block party.

His music may have conveyed sophistication, but his lyrics were pure, old-fashioned hip-hop egomania. Big Willie Style found Smith boasting constantly about his boffo film career while flipping off his detractors (“Player haters been hatin’ all my playin’ for years / Now they seein’ they worst fears as I bathe in cheers”). Yet despite all his Tarzanlike chest-thumping, Smith was careful to promote himself as hip-hop’s resident straight arrow. Where his gangsta rap rivals were dismissing women as “b—-es” and worse, the females in Smith’s songs were “ladies” and “hot mamis.” He trumpeted the joys of fatherhood and celebrated his romance with soon-to-be wife Jada Pinkett (“Finally found a person, worthy of all / Instead of pushin’ me down, you want to cushion my fall / Your eyes could make the sun rise, all the birds sing / Seal it with a kiss, bind it with a ring”).

While his tony, aspirational music matched your Cartier ensemble, Smith’s songs were still down-home enough to be played at the neighborhood block party.

This reconciliation of bravado and gee-whiz humility is classic Smith, and he would be rewarded handsomely for his bluster. Boosted by its status as the theme song from the Smith movie of the same name, “Men in Black” topped singles charts throughout Europe and Australia, capturing the 1998 Grammy Award for best rap solo performance. By the time its initial sales run was through, Big Willie Style had moved 9 million copies, making it one of the best-selling hip-hop albums of all time. In the midst of gangsta rap’s blood-splattered heyday, Smith was topping the charts with obscenity-free songs about clubbing, chivalry … and himself.

Seizing on the momentum of his blockbuster performances in movies such as Independence Day and Bad Boys, Smith released his second solo album in 1999. Willennium spawned the debut single “Wild Wild West,” another movie tie-in featuring a sample of Stevie Wonder’s percolating single “I Wish.” The follow-up single “Will 2K” was built from The Clash’s 1983 funky post-punk classic “Rock the Casbah,” while “Freakin’ It” bummed its beat from Diana Ross’ ritzy disco classic “Love Hangover.” Though not quite the sales bulldozer its predecessor was, Willennium nonetheless penetrated Billboard‘s Top 5 and sold more than 5 million copies.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to see that Smith was trading on musical nostalgia to make his songs broadly appealing, but was that so bad? He had already proved with his movie career that he was a shameless, crowd-pleasing capitalist, so why would his music goals be any different? Black songwriters such as Rushen, Nile Rodgers and Kool & The Gang certainly weren’t complaining about Smith’s sentimental hip-hop — his samples were plumping their bank accounts. He was so good at tapping prime funk hits that an associate of mine described him as an “archivist,” a man who heedfully selects stylish baby boomer jams, then gently contemporizes them for posterity (and lucrative Gen X consumption). Asked about Smith and others sampling his songs, Kool & The Gang’s Robert Bell said, “We feel honored! People are listening to our music.”

Will Smith (left) and Tommy Lee Jones (right) in a scene from the film Men in Black in 1997. Smith’s single “Men in Black” captured the 1998 Grammy Award for best rap solo performance.

Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

But while millions were buying into Smith’s retrograde rap, others were calling him out. It was rumored that he didn’t write his own songs, although Smith’s collaborators attested to his lyric writing/composing skills. Others attributed his musical fame to his soaring movie career, while others criticized him for trafficking in “nonstop pop-rap clichés.” Worst of all, hip-hop purists viewed him as the grievous poster child for corporate rap, exhuming crossover R&B classics to stroke MTV and Top 40 radio programmers. “Just because a song was fun when I was a kid doesn’t mean the guy who made it isn’t a bit of a crossover clown and has made some of the most embarrassing singles of all time,” wrote one contributor on an online forum.

Comments like these would dog Smith throughout his heyday, making him one of rap’s most controversial artists, and you’d still be hard-pressed to find a hip-hop artist who drives purists crazier. Rap music had always prided itself on salting wounds, whether through its automated, minimalist sound, its uncompromising political stances or its embrace of outlaw stereotypes. But then along came Smith with his “nice, clean rap,” and some folks became unglued.

He was resented for not buying into the myth that black hooliganism is somehow authentic (or “real,” to use the parlance of the ’hood). Smith had chosen to become a symbol of the black middle class, a millions-strong group of gainfully employed, law-abiding African Americans who paid their taxes, maybe attended church on given Sundays, and preferred Calvin Klein and FUBU to gangbanger bandannas. His sampling of opulent funk was a subtle shout-out to a black bourgeoisie the media largely ignored. “It’s real important to have balance of the imagery,” Smith told Billboard magazine in 2005. “Yes, there are people who fire guns in the street, but there’s also doctors who go to work in those areas to feed their children.”

But Smith’s critics were raising even broader questions about crossover and hip-hop’s plagiaristic roots. Why was it a crime for Smith to tap the sentimental value of old funk and pop tunes? After all, The Sugarhill Gang established the cannibalistic rules for hip-hop in 1979 when they executed a verbatim lift of Chic’s “Good Times” for their tune “Rapper’s Delight,” the first rap tune of any consequence. Moreover, amid current debates about cultural appropriation, were rap acts such as Smith, Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy conducting artistic larceny when they sampled white rock bands such as The Clash, Aerosmith and Slayer? Or were these and other rappers simply flipping the bird at segregationist radio programmers who persisted in compartmentalizing white and black music? Whatever the case, it seemed Smith was being held to a harder standard than many of his peers.

His detractors didn’t seem to take into account that sampling is a statement. During hip-hop’s hypercompetitive golden age, the best rap acts used samples partly as a way to align themselves with certain musicians, philosophies and movements. When Dr. Dre heavily sampled Parliament-Funkadelic on his 1991 magnum opus The Chronic, he was establishing an attitudinal connection between his own laid-back jams and George Clinton’s weed-scented stoner funk. Similarly, Smith’s appropriation of post-Motown R&B seemed like a rational choice, an honest reflection of his middle-class upbringing.

The son of a refrigeration engineer and a school administrator, Willard Carroll Smith II was a Baptist who attended a West Philly Catholic middle school. By all accounts, his was a grassroots upbringing that had little, if anything, to do with hoodlums and black militancy. He was 12 years old when his devoutly Christian grandmother discovered a book of his rhymes, many of them peppered with vulgarities. “Dear Will,” she wrote inside the notebook, “truly intelligent people don’t have to use words like this to express themselves. Please show the world that you’re as smart as we think you are.”

That scribbled rebuke changed Smith. “She made me realize that I wasn’t creating only for me,” he said in 2016. “The things I created were going to have an effect on her and were going to have an effect on everyone who came into contact with my artistry.”

Smith took his grandmom’s advice, and if one examines his music, one will discover a positivist philosophy encapsulated by the title track of his 2002 album Born to Reign:

“I believe in God, I believe in destiny

Not destiny in the sense of all of our actions being predetermined

But destiny in the sense of … our ability to choose who we are, and who we are supposed to be …”

He had molded himself into a massively popular polymath entertainer, a man so sure of his rapping dominance that he flamboyantly christened the 2000s the “Willennium.” His hip-hop future seemed bright and unstoppable.

Then he faded from the music scene.

The smartest dude

In 2005, after a three-year absence, Smith returned to the recording fold with an album entitled Lost and Found. Its cover featured Smith at the make-believe intersection of “West Philly” and “Hollywood” streets, an image that suggested he was at a musical crossroads. That notion was underscored by new songs in which he ditched his vintage funk samples for original beats. Although it spawned the Top 10 single “Switch,” the album ultimately sold 500,000 units, not even close to the performance of his multimillion-selling 1990s CDs.

Though he hasn’t released an album in nearly 15 years, Smith hasn’t vanished into obscurity. To the contrary, he’s leveraging his fame to become a digital influencer. He recently used his Instagram account (30 million followers and counting) to hawk branded merchandise, including a sold-out limited run of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air accessories. More than 5 million subscribers visit his YouTube channel to keep up with him and his family. Smith’s songs are still played across the broad spectrum of African American life: at the club, at parties, at backyard barbecues and family get-togethers. Get a real gangsta liquored up enough and he might confess that Smith jams like “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and “Miami” are on his personal mixtape.

Smith is 50 now, and as he enters the elder statesman period of his career, his legacy seems more wide-ranging than many would imagine. He exists as a genre unto himself, a rapper whose austere lyrics and uncomplicated samples are unique in hip-hop. Although he’s never confessed to such, he was a pioneering black nerd well before the empowering phrase “blerd” was even coined. He played a role in unseating rock ’n’ roll as the favored music of youth worldwide, then helped raise rap music’s international stature by becoming a multimedia megastar.

He recently made a surprise guest appearance at Coachella, arguably the world’s most popular and lucrative music and arts festival. Popping onstage during his son Jaden’s performance, the old man reportedly stole the show, lending credence to his lifelong theory that nice guys finish first. “I’m trying to present … a more sound approach to survival,” he said in 2005. “It’s a more long-term approach based on intellect and skills that can’t be taken away from you.

“The smartest dude survives the best.”

For Beyoncé’s Homecoming scholars, their scholarships were lifesavers Her commitment and love for HBCUs comes from growing up around top bands

Her honey blond hair was like a halo of gold under the stage lights.

An Egyptian cape wrapped around her body. She mesmerized the audience.

Once the whistle blew, Coachella’s music festival and the lives of eight students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) changed forever.

Beyoncé’s groundbreaking performance at the 2018 desert concert paid homage to HBCUs by showcasing black culture and talent. “When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,” Beyoncé said in her Netflix film Homecoming.

Beyoncé made history for being the first black woman to headline Coachella. During that performance, she announced the Homecoming Scholarship Awards Program under her BeyGood initiative. She offered $25,000 each to students at Xavier University in Louisiana, Grambling State University, Tuskegee University, Morehouse College, Wilberforce University, Texas Southern University, Fisk University and Bethune-Cookman University.

I attend Xavier and I was one of the recipients. And I’m graduating on May 11!

It felt like just yesterday I was dancing in the living room with my father as Beyoncé performed “Love On Top” at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. We both smiled at each other, in awe of Beyoncé’s talent as a visionary and entertainer. Every time we heard her voice over the radio or when we blasted her music in our house, it gave us goose bumps. My dad and I always connected through music. When he died my junior year in high school from cancer, I was in disbelief. But it was Beyoncé’s music and presence that taught me to stay strong and that no dream of mine was too big.

I decided to leave my hometown of Boston and attend Xavier University of Louisiana to reconnect with my dad’s roots and carry on his legacy in New Orleans, where he grew up. My dad taught me how to write and reminded me that everyone has a story to be told. When I stepped foot on my HBCU campus, I hit the ground running by getting involved in journalism.

Two years ago, I had the chance to meet Beyoncé at a party that her sister Solange was hosting for NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. I thanked Beyoncé for her music and for getting me through losing my dad. She responded, “I’m so sorry for your loss, and thank you for being such a supportive fan.”

With each passing year, it became increasingly difficult for my newly single mom to cover the cost of my out-of-state tuition. But last summer, my worries faded away. I was interning in the sports department at the Tampa Bay Times and saw the news on Twitter. I saw a “Congratulations” tweet and realized I was one of the winners. I was speechless, and couldn’t believe the announcement was real.

The outpouring from the public was something I had never seen before on my social media. Other recipients said they felt that same love. The Tuskegee winner, Caleb Washington, screamed when she saw the news on Twitter. She was interning at Goldman Sachs.

Washington transferred from the University of West Alabama during her junior year. She played basketball and was on an athletic scholarship. But she gave it up, the sport and the scholarship, to focus on getting into law school.

“The Beyoncé scholarship was like a safe haven because it replaced the athletic scholarship,” she said. “Tuskegee has prepared me through the trials and triumphs of operating and managing your day-to-day. At an HBCU, it prepares you for corporate life.”

When Washington watched Beyoncé’s performance, she felt that it was an honor to be black. “I felt so proud. In a sense, I felt validated to be a soon-an-HBCU grad and be part of this culture,” Washington said.

If it wasn’t for Beyoncé’s scholarship, recipient Cletus Emokpae said, he would have not received his master’s degree in mass communication and would have been homeless. The Grambling State alumnus got into a car accident the day before he heard the scholarship news.

“I called my mom and broke down and cried because she understood, after a while you get tired of always having to struggle,” he said. “At what point does the grind start to really showcase the fruits of your labor?”

For Emokpae, this scholarship finally showed him that his hard work was paying off. When he first got to Grambling, he could not afford housing.

“One of my professors took me in just so I had a place to stay to get my work done,” he said.

“People can say a lot about Gram Fam, but when it comes down to it, when you need somebody, they will be there for you. No questions asked.”

By attending an HBCU, “it’s like a homecoming every day,” he said. Emokpae was proud to see how Beyoncé incorporated a band into her performance.

“People don’t even go to the football games for the football games anymore. They really go to see the bands,” he said. “And the bands at HBCUs are really like the pulse for a lot of these campuses. It runs deep.”

Beyoncé explains in her documentary that she handpicked her band members and dancers to make sure it felt like a homecoming, her HBCU.

“I wanted all of these different characters, and I wanted it to feel the way I felt when I went to Battle of the Bands, because I grew up seeing those shows, and that being the highlight of my year,” Beyoncé said. Her father attended Fisk University, and as a young artist she mentioned that she grew up rehearsing at Texas Southern and Prairie View.

Beyoncé has touched so many lives through her music, projects and philanthropy and as a businesswoman altogether. From this scholarship alone, one woman impacted eight different lives. As a result, we will always be connected and grateful for her support.

Homecoming has only increased my respect for Beyoncé. I continue to sing her songs that I used to belt out with my dad as a little girl. The only difference is, he’s looking over me as my guardian angel.

Royce Da 5’9” on sobriety, boxing and why he stopped watching NBA games The Detroit rapper is at his best yet with a new album, ‘Book of Ryan’

In 2002, Ryan Montgomery — who you know better as Royce da 5’9” — unapologetically rapped, If you hate me, you hate the D on track two of his debut. He meant that. “Rock City,” which also featured his best friend and frequent collaborator Eminem, was a Detroit battle cry. It was an anthem for the gritty can’t-stop-won’t-stop hustle of Detroiters everywhere — or, as Royce so eloquently states, his hometown was “a city full of Tommy Hearns thumpers / Grant Hill hoopers / Barry Sanders runners, stunners.” All still true.

His new offering, Book Of Ryan, is a collection of honest and thought-provoking rhymes fresh off of Royce’s viral freestyle moment, during which he rapped for 10 minutes straight on Funk Flex’s show. This new project is his seventh studio album and features guest work from Eminem, J. Cole, Pusha T, Jadakiss, T-Pain, Logic, Robert Glasper, Marsha Ambrosius and others. And in case you’re wondering: 16 years and countless albums later, he’s still unapologetic as he delivers perhaps his best and most reflective album ever.


Who was your childhood hero growing up?

My dad. I watched him do great things. One of the greatest things I watched him do was overcome addiction. I watched that at a young age. I watched him be at that crossroads where he had to pick his family over drugs. And my Uncle Tony [Montgomery, or Dr. Detroit, as he was also known] was a pro boxer. Those two guys were my heroes.

How did watching your dad go through that struggle — and watching your uncle Tony, who quite literally was fighting for a living — inspire you as an artist?

My dad’s was a more mental thing, where my uncle’s was more of a physical thing. … You can do all the training you want. The pads don’t hit back. The bag don’t hit back. But when you get in the ring, whatever you’re naturally made of is gonna show. It’s the same thing as fighting a drug. I watched my dad exercise mind over matter.

“If anything, it’s easier to open up and let it flow like I’m in therapy than it is to try to come up with punchlines.”

Where does your courage come from?

My dad! It’s scary, sometimes I talk to my kids and I’m like, Jesus Christ, I just sounded exactly like my dad! You know, even if I’m just like yelling down the stairs.

What’s your favorite sport — and why do you love sports so much?

I grew up in a very athletic family. My dad was a quarterback in high school. He also played basketball, shooting guard. Basketball was my first passion. I like boxing. Obviously, my uncle taught me how to fight — early. And I follow boxing now more than any other sport. Boxing and basketball are very creative sports. You’ve gotta be visually talented, you’ve gotta be able to see it before you can do it. … It’s cerebral, especially when you’re playing point guard. Which probably explains why I traded in my basketball dreams for music dreams, because once I started writing raps, I let go of basketball … like, I don’t watch NBA games to this day.

What’s one album you think is a classic that not a lot of people think of as one?

Shyne — Shyne’s first album. He just dropped it at the right time. … I had just gotten my first car, my Lexus … that I bought when I got into the music business … a Lexus GS300. I got sounds put in the back of it, and the Shyne album is all I used to bump. This is before I started getting into a lot of trouble, and I just associate it with good times.

How do you find out about new music?

When I built my studio in Detroit, there’s a TV that’s in my room … I never turn it off. I keep it on [BET] Jams because they play videos all day. Nobody talking, it’s just videos — only videos. I just keep it on without the sound. … That’s how I found out about Budgie. Like I looked up, video was playing, I see two kids standing there holding a baby, rapping, with a bullet wound in his shirt. … I’m like, ‘What the heck is this?’ I hit the button on the speaker so I can hear the sound, and I’m like, ‘Yo, this is crazy.’ And that’s what made you reach out to him. So that’s how Budgie ended up on the album. And this was before he signed with Shady [Records].

“Boxing and basketball are creative sports. You’ve gotta be visually talented, you’ve gotta be able to see it before you can do it. It’s cerebral.”

What’s the first concert you ever went to?

One that I did, probably when I was opening up for Usher. I’d never been to a concert. … Kids from my generation, we didn’t go to concerts.

What’s the last concert you went to?

Probably one of Em’s shows. I didn’t go to Coachella. The last one that I went to that I didn’t perform at, was … Em and Rihanna. In Detroit. And the New York show.

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

Don’t be afraid to listen to generic advice. At that age, the stuff that we hear all the time — ‘Don’t do drugs, kids’ — it sounds so generic that you almost pay it no attention at all, and it’s like you feel like those [people] are just talking to hear themselves talk. Like, ‘Don’t drink.’ That probably could have been one of the most important things I could’ve beat. If I hadn’t done that, it would have been a completely different path, and that’s not even coming from a place of regret. You always wonder, ‘Damn, man, like everything is so great right now, I wonder what would it be [like] if I had been this sharp all through my 20s.’ All of my problems that I had … all roads led back to liquor somehow. I made my job so much harder. Don’t drink … don’t hesitate to listen to the generic advice.

“All of my problems that I had … all roads led back to liquor somehow. I made my job so much harder.”

How challenging was it for you to arrive at this place where you’re very comfortable talking about the demons?

I’ve arrived at a place where … whatever I’m writing down, if it comes from the heart, it really shouldn’t take me a lot of time to think about it. It shouldn’t take so much thought. If anything, it’s easier to just open up and let it flow like I’m in therapy than it is to sit and try to come up with punch lines. I’m at a point now where I’m comfortable in my skin. … I’m not afraid to anymore.

Sounds like this is your most personal album ever.

It’s real personal, but I think it was time. Every artist should have at least one album where you feel like you know the individual you’re listening to after listening to the music. Every artist should just have that, at least one time.

Comedian W. Kamau Bell says we’re all just waiting for ‘the straw that breaks the racist camel’s back’ The ‘United Shades of America’ host has thoughts on Starbucks, Rage Against the Machine and comedic journalism

Comedian W. Kamau Bell’s Emmy-winning series, United Shades of America, recently returned to CNN. The show, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET, follows Bell around the country as he has conversations with all sorts of people, from doomsday preppers to residents on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Usually he’s in the role of curious everyperson, asking questions to get us better acquainted with all the folks who make up the country.

But recently, Bell found himself in the position of expert when it came to the matter of two men who were arrested and removed from a Philadelphia Starbucks for being black and not purchasing a drink. Bell was the target of a similar slight in 2015. He was at an outside table at the Elmwood Cafe in Berkeley, California, with his wife, who is white, and her friends. According to Bell, an employee saw him as an unwelcome interloper and told him to “scram.”

I spoke with Bell about the renewed relevance of that incident, along with the latest season of his show, which includes episodes about historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Gullah Geechee culture and the border.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Do you think there is a heightened understanding of racism since the election? The Starbucks incident not only turned into a multiday news story, they’re shutting down 8,000 shops for racial sensitivity training.

You think about all the racist things that have happened to black people — and I’m just focusing on black people for the sake of this conversation — in the history of this country, we don’t know about, like what percentage do you think we know about? You have all of the racism from like, even this morning, I was walking out of my kids’ school and this white woman I don’t know goes, ‘Mr. Michael!’ Mr. Michael is a black man that plays guitar for kids at the library who is shorter than me, has a full beard, doesn’t wear glasses, there’s like all sorts of different ways I’m not Mr. Michael. And I go, ‘Nope.’ And she goes, ‘Oh, I thought …’ and I just kept walking.

I was like, ‘Should I tweet this?’ No, because I’m going to have Twitter all day going, ‘Everything that happens to black people is racism.’ We don’t tell our friends and family about it because then somebody will talk about it all day long. The thing that happens when someone looks at you weird on the subway instead of sitting down next to you. You don’t tell those stories to everybody.

Black people in this country have been waiting forever for the straw to break the racist camel’s back so that America can finally confront its legacy and present, future of racism. So every time that something like this happens, we get excited. Maybe this is it. Maybe it’s not Stephon Clark being shot in his backyard. Maybe it’s these two black men at Starbucks being kicked out.

You’ve said that you think comedy can fix creative issues but it can’t fix real-world issues. But your show spends quite bit of time in the real world.

Yeah, we do, but I think that what I’m doing in the real world is highlighting those issues, but I’m not fixing them. I’m just sort of going, ‘Hey, look at this thing.’ That is either something you should know more about or something that’s really bad that we’ve gotta fix. But I’m not, I can’t think of myself as, the actual fix of the issue. At the best, I’m like the doctor that diagnoses you and then walks out of the room and says, ‘I hope another doctor comes.’ I think that comedy is great with lubricating the conversation or getting people to pay attention. I think the arts are great for that in general.

One of my favorite bands is Rage Against The Machine. Now, you know, Rage Against The Machine has some great songs that are about political activism and about responding to oppression but they’re not actually political activism. They’re just songs.

I try to do things to help people out and highlight black voices and support causes, either through my privilege or through money. But I know that’s different than making a TV show. When people say the show’s either a tool of activism or education, then I feel like I’m doing a good job.

Do you feel like that’s enough?

No, it’s not.

Over the course of several years, I had to sort of convince people, producers on the show, that it’s not enough to just talk to somebody who’s an activist. We actually have to say what organization they work with and actually say in a way that people can hear it so they can Google it later. You know what I mean? Or be clear about where the agenda lies. And go, ‘Oh, and I went here where people are allowed to volunteer.’ You make sure that that is part and parcel of the thing, encouraging people to get involved.

I can’t waste time convincing people of how I want the show to be done at this point. It’s got to be done the way that I want it to be done, which is certainly pointed and clear. I want it to be relatively easy for teachers to use it as a tool for education and/or activists use it as a tool for activism. If it’s not entertaining and doing that, then it’s not the show I want.

Now that you’re in your third season, do you feel that you’ve worked out exactly the way you want it to be?

I’m never satisfied, so I still look at every episode like, ‘Why did we do this?’ ‘I should have done that better.’ ‘Who let me wear that shirt?’ The show is still a work in progress. I still watch [Anthony] Bourdain’s episodes and think, ‘Jesus, how did they do that?’ There’s still a goal, and I’m not trying to do Bourdain’s show, but it feels like that is a pure expression of him. And I feel like with my show I’m still working on getting it to be the pure expression of me.

That’s hard with television no matter what you’re doing.

That’s why I still do stand-up comedy, ’cause I can step up on stage, just sort of think of a thing, say the thing, see what people react and then say good night.

A bunch of comedians are doing some marriage of comedy and news, such as Wyatt Cenac and John Oliver and Samantha Bee. There’s this overlap with journalism because they’re both in the business of seeking truth. Or truth-telling.

I think they’re both in the business of trying to explain the world. And I think we certainly know journalists who explain the world in a way that is not truthful. And we know that there are comedians who explain the world in a way that is not truthful. So that’s the one thing I would say, we’re both trying to explain the world. But then it’s about what our agenda is in trying to explain the world.

Do you think comedians are more effective at delivering truth?

I think comedy is always the most effective way to deliver truth, not just through comedians but comedy in general. Every public speaker in the world is trying to open on a joke. It’s the first thing they tell you in public speaking. Everybody who is a good public speaker is using humor. Martin Luther King Jr. used humor. Malcolm X used humor. Maya Angelou could be funny. It doesn’t mean they’re cracking jokes, but they’re using humor to sort of get the message across. I think comedy is the most effective way to communicate anything because if somebody laughs at what you say, you know they were paying attention. It doesn’t mean they agree with you. It just means you know they were paying attention.

It makes sense that the comedians that America always elevates to be the best examples of the art form are the so-called ‘truth-tellers,’ people who are politically minded, whether it’s Richard Pryor or George Carlin or Lenny Bruce, Chris Rock. Those are the people we put as the best versions of the art form. Margaret Cho, Joan Rivers. There’s a lot of comedians who are funny, that make a lot of money, but we don’t at the end of the day put them on that Mount Rushmore of America’s stand-up comedy heroes.

‘Why didn’t you punch him in the face?’ First of all, I wouldn’t have, because that’s not how I do it.

I see you’ve got an episode on Gullah Geechee culture, and you’ve got an HBCU episode. Are you planning to sue Beyoncé for stealing all your ideas?

[Laughs.] We do mention Beyoncé in the Gullah Geechee episode. Lemonade certainly came out before we did that, but she did the Coachella thing, and we can’t re-edit that episode. Beyoncé, give me a heads-up next time! You’re making me look bad, Beyoncé! I thought we had something. No, I didn’t. She doesn’t know who I am.

The thing that’s possibly good is that it helps people come to those episodes with a little more knowledge. Maybe they’ll be more excited about our episode. I can’t promise that our HBCU episode is going to be as good as Beyoncé’s Coachella performance. I’m not prepared to say that as much as CNN might want me to say that for headlines: ‘Kamau Bell says his HBCU episode is better than Beyoncé’s Coachella performance! But I do think it’s a good companion piece.

Is there anything you regret about sitting down with white supremacist Richard Spencer?

That it didn’t happen closer to the time it aired. That’s the only thing I regret. People were asking me questions about things that hadn’t happened yet. ‘Why didn’t you punch him in the face? First of all, I wouldn’t have, because that’s not how I do it. Second of all, he hadn’t been punched in the face at the time I sat down with him. I would have asked him about it. I regret that we didn’t tape the episode and air it a week later. But that’s not how our show works.

The thing we didn’t do this season is we didn’t interview any sort of quote-unquote obvious TV villains like Richard Spencer or the Ku Klux Klan because I was tired of it and I didn’t want people to think it was my go-to move. I don’t want people to predict what I’m gonna do based on, ‘Oh, he’s gonna find some white supremacist somewhere and sit down across from him.’ I feel like I got the white supremacists’ voice in the show and also America runs on white supremacy, so we don’t have to go find a person. It’s there; it’s always running on America’s computer. That did maybe hurt CNN’s ability to put out a clip of me sitting across from someone who wants to kill me and certainly that gets us good headlines and things. But I feel like I’m tired of it and I think America’s probably tired of it, too, because we are always sort of talking about the divide. We’re going to talk about the divide but we’re just going to focus on the part of the divide that I think needs to be focused on.

I don’t need to do an episode about HBCUs and go across from somebody who’s like, ‘I don’t think there should be HBCUs.’ We hear that every day.

You have an episode in Alabama this season. How did spending time in Alabama when you were a kid influence your adult life?

Every year of my life I would spend nine months with my mom in, like, Boston, and then I would go to Alabama for three months for every summer. And the worlds couldn’t have been more different. And then eventually I traveled back and forth so much that people in the North would go, ‘You sound like you’re from the South’ and people from the South would say, ‘You sound like you’re from the North.’ And so I was always like an outsider wherever I went. It taught me how to travel. It taught me how to go anywhere and be portable, how to talk to people wherever you go, and that’s what I do now. I travel all over the place. I’m portable and pretty good at talking to people no matter where I go. It also proved to me at a very early age that there wasn’t one version of America. I knew there was two: The North’s version of America and the South’s version of America, and then when I got older I found that there was even more than that.

It taught me from a very young age that a lot of people thought they knew what America was. But no, there’s a lot of different Americas out here.

HBCU performers at Coachella with Beyoncé say it’s a life-changing moment ‘Beychella’ showcases the beauty and fire of the black college experience with help of DRUMLine Live crew

In January 2017, fans were ecstatic to learn Beyoncé would be headlining the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Outside of the anticipation of a creative and energetic performance, Queen Bey would make history as the first black woman to headline the festival in its 19-year existence. Less than a month later, excitement turned to disappointment. Pregnant with twins, Beyoncé followed her doctors’ advice of adhering to a less-rigorous schedule and decided to cancel her performances.

Needless to say, the decision was a crusher to fans who’d already purchased tickets specifically for this one performance. For Beyoncé, it wasn’t so much a loss as it was an opportunity to expand on her ideas of a perfect show. The fans come first, and she’d have a year to make it up to eager festivalgoers who’d await the day she returned to the stage. Her wheels began to turn, and what Beyoncé landed on was a historically black college and university-themed production that could dethrone North Carolina A&T State University as the greatest homecoming on earth.

But to pull it all off, Beyoncé would need help from those familiar with the traditional HBCU environment. There would need to be band members and skilled dancers, drumlines and representatives of black Greek-letter organizations to transform the Coachella stage into a black campus quad. Beyoncé and her team enlisted the help of several groups to make up her 100-member-plus crew with whom she’d share the spotlight, including executive band consultant Don P. Roberts.

“[Beyoncé’s team] and I connected and talked in the beginning, but hadn’t agreed to anything,” Roberts said. “I think they were still doing their research. They asked me for background information about myself, my company and once they decided it was a go, it was my job to put together the best of the best — an all-star team that represented the best of historically black colleges and universities from around the country.”

DRUMLine Live CEO Don Roberts immediately recruited the best HBCU musicians upon learning that his team would be performing with Beyoncé at Coachella.

Roberts was up for the challenge. Besides, scouting talent was something he was used to doing through his company, DRUMLine Live.

Roberts began as a band director at Southwest DeKalb High School in Decatur, Georgia. While leading one of the most popular high school bands in the country, Roberts caught the attention of producer and songwriter Dallas Austin, who was a fan of the high school band. After Austin attended one of Roberts’ band practices, Austin asked the band director if he’d be interested in becoming a consultant for a band-focused movie that he’d be working on.

“That movie was Drumline,” Roberts said. “I was the band director that you didn’t see.”

The movie was a hit. Those who weren’t familiar with black band culture wanted to learn more, and HBCUs featured in the film attracted a larger following due to exposure. With all of this in mind, Roberts had an idea to take the show on the road.

“How cool would it be if we could do something like this on stage?” Roberts asked himself. Austin and others supported the idea, later named DRUMLine Live, but funds were initially limited. Roberts was later picked up by Columbia Artists Management Inc., which helped with marketing and theatrics for upcoming shows. After years of growing pains and working out the kinks, Roberts began scouting talent of former HBCU band members from across the country to perform in the live production.

“DRUMLine Live is the only company in the world to allow [HBCU] band members to continue their careers after college,” Roberts said.

The troupe has traveled to Japan, Korea and performed for large crowds in more than 300 cities around the country. Today, the production is represented by Creative Booking Agency and is in the process of getting the rest of its 2018 schedule underway.

The first stop: Coachella.


Once Roberts received word that he’d officially been recruited by Beyoncé’s team to assist with her Coachella performance, he began assembling the best of the best from HBCUs across the country. Many of those chosen by Roberts were already members of DRUMLine Live, but a few others auditioned specifically for the event.

“Once we selected the guys, I could not tell them where they were going,” Roberts said. “I had to convince them to leave their homes, drop everything. Originally, I told them we’d be in New York. Then I told them we’d be in California, but still didn’t tell them who they were performing for. To see their faces by the time they found out who they were performing for, that was priceless.”

“Once we selected the guys, I could not tell them where they were going,” Roberts said. “I had to convince them to leave their homes, drop everything. Originally, I told them we’d be in New York. Then I told them we’d be in California, but still didn’t tell them who they were performing for. To see their faces by the time they found out who they were performing for, that was priceless.”

Most of the marching band, the entire drumline and some of the band’s trumpeters were all members of Roberts’ DRUMLine Live. This group, combined with Beyoncé’s core band and others selected by her team, worked seamlessly to form one gigantic HBCU band. Three of the crew members were Larry Allen, 30; Dasmyn Grigsby, 29; and Naderah Munajj, 27, all who were part of DRUMLine Live for years.

For Allen, a Houston native and graduate of Prairie View A&M University, coming from the same city as Beyoncé and sharing the stage with the star was enough to keep him focused.

Prairie View A&M University alum Larry Allen, survivor of Hurricane Harvey, believes being chosen for the performance was a blessing in disguise.

“I wanted to lock in and give the best performance that I could just to help her brand out,” Allen said. “It was mainly about her for me, but I enjoyed the experience.”

The performance itself was one of Allen’s many blessings in disguise — an event he claimed shortly after Hurricane Harvey ravaged his home in Houston. Although the devastation was overwhelming, Allen chose to find a rainbow in the midst of the storm.

“I was stranded for two days in my house, but I looked at it as [God] washed all the negativity away and grew a beautiful flower,” Allen said. “I felt this was my year and good things were happening. Not long after that, I got the call with this wonderful opportunity.”

Fellow performer Grigsby also grappled with finding his footing before being called for this opportunity.

Though Grigsby had been involved in music all his life, even making up his mind in fifth grade that he wanted to become a college drum major, Grigsby enrolled at Bethune-Cookman University, where he majored in business. Music was his first love, but nearly every job out of college called for him to stray further away from his heart’s desire. At his last job, anger overcame him. It wasn’t that he hated his job, but the anger came from the realization that he hadn’t been fulfilling his true purpose in life. Determining what was best for him, Grigsby quit his job.

Dasmyn Grigsby prepared for the performance by leaning on past experiences as a member of The Marching Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman University.

“Shortly after, this opportunity [to perform with Beyoncé] came,” Grigsby said. “I just have to give thanks to God and Don Roberts.”

The band members, both members of DRUMLine Live, were thrilled to be part of this production. But Munajj, a Florida A&M University graduate who is continually building her career as a singer, model, dancer and actress, took a different route for a part in Beyoncé’s performance. Munajj auditioned through a separate process, and was chosen as one of the finalists for a position. Although hopeful, Munajj received the crushing news that she did not get the part.

Luckily for Munajj, there was an unexpected second chance. One of the DRUMLine Live drummers would be out for a day, and she’d been asked to fill in. During that time, Munajj used her background as a dancer and limited knowledge of cymbals to wow those around her. When Beyoncé’s team was asked if they would like to bring the original drummer back to fill in the spot, they kept Munajj.

“I have a strong dance background, and my first time ever dealing with a pair of cymbals or playing with them was really on DRUMLine Live, so getting to this stage and being featured as a dancer, I had to be able to play the cymbals and still be able to execute my part,” Munajj said. “It was something very innovative and very new. These guys are dynamic performers who have been doing this for years. It was just a learning experience for me.”

Though the crew would only describe their practice days as long yet fun, it took Grigsby back to his Bethune-Cookman days.

Florida A&M University alum Nadera Munajj’s background as a dancer and ability to improvise landed her a role amongst the best during Beyonce’s Coachella performance.

“At Bethune-Cookman with Donovan Wells, who’s the band director there, one thing he’s really prideful on is repetition, and making sure that everything is on point and there’s no mistakes. He makes sure that every loose screw is tightened, and we really have a tight schedule. For two hours, we were just performing and practicing and if he saw something he didn’t like, he’d fix it or we’d do it again. The repetition at Bethune-Cookman translated to the Coachella performance. There were times that we did things over and over again just to make sure everything was tight. That kind of helped me in this realm of entertainment and performance.

“It’s very hot in Texas,” Allen added about his experience. “We have two seasons: hot and hot as hell. Just preparing all those years putting blood, sweat and tears on the field and leading the 350-plus band … it’s helped me so much. Being a drum major, I had to keep the ship rolling.”

Although the two-hour Coachella performance was a blur, there were moments that stuck out to each of them.

“I think [my favorite moment] was when Beyoncé looked and smiled at me,” Allen said.

“The best moment on stage for me was the moment the secret was out of the bag. When the lights went up and the audience started going crazy, they knew what the show was going to be about,” Munajj added.

For Roberts, it was the attention the performance attracted that blew him away.

“I’ve done movies. I’ve worked with pretty big-name people and it’s hard to overwhelm me with something spectacular, but I knew this was a different level after the event,” Roberts said. “The internet went crazy, everybody’s phones were blowing up. I had every major outlet from CNN to local radio stations blowing my phone up. I said, ‘Wow, we just made history.’ When the event was over, all the universities were calling to see who their students were. Everybody was claiming their people because they were so proud of who performed.”

Going into the second weekend of Coachella feels more like the main event to most of the members.

“The energy is so high right now because it’s like when you’re in a marching band and you have the pep rally and then the actual classic,” Grigsby said. “That was like the pep rally. This one is the actual classic. [The second performance] will be bigger than any classic we’ll ever do.”

“The energy is so high right now because it’s like when you’re in a marching band and you have the pep rally and then the actual classic,” Grigsby said. “That was like the pep rally. This one is the actual classic. [The second performance] will be bigger than any classic we’ll ever do.”

Although there are other artists the team would love to work with in the future, it may take some time to recover from one of the biggest performances of their lives.

“I don’t know what in my career would top this,” Munajj said. “This has been an ultimate goal of mine, and now that I’ve done this, I know that I can take my artistry to the next level and explore the platform we’ve been given. To be on the stage with this woman certifies you anywhere that you go.”

Why Beyoncé should stop playing around with this On The Run and tour with a Destiny’s Child reunion instead For a legion of millennials, the women of Destiny’s Child are their Supremes

When Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter hits the stage for her second Coachella appearance this weekend, the seemingly unstoppable force will face off against a familiar foe: Queen Bey. The 36-year-old’s legendary two-hour headlining performance at America’s signature music festival has already garnered landmark deification.

Indeed, how in the name of Sasha Fierce does one attempt to match a universally hailed event that’s already being compared to such storied gigs as James Brown’s 1962 Apollo Theater show; Jimi Hendrix’s guitar-igniting triumph at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival; Michael Jackson’s glorious 1983 Motown 25 King of Pop statement; and Prince’s bar-shattering 2007 Super Bowl XLI halftime show spectacle? And when Beyoncé thanked Coachella’s organizers for the opportunity to become the first black woman to headline the festival, she quipped, “Ain’t that ’bout a b—-.” A side-eye to the inherent bias of such an achievement.

In between a barrage of brass versions of “Crazy In Love,” “Formation,” “Sorry,” “Hold Up” and “Run The World (Girls),” the multiplatinum Lemonade visionary’s much-rumored reunion with Destiny’s Child had social media on full tilt.

“I’m not watching the Destiny’s Child reunion at Coachella and crying … YOU’RE watching the Destiny’s Child reunion at Coachella and crying,” rejoiced a superfan on Twitter just minutes after the recognizable silhouettes of Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams suddenly appeared onstage. The trio ran through an all-too brief medley of favorites that included “Lose My Breath,” “Soldier” and the obscure Timbaland-remixed take on “Say My Name.”

“WHERE IS THE DESTINY’S CHILD TOUR? STOP TEASING US SIS,” exclaimed another member of the Beyhive collective. The freakout over the last great girl group was massive. For a legion of millennials who came of age in the ’90s and early 2000s, the women of Destiny’s Child are their Supremes.

“I was a huge Destiny’s Child fan growing up,” said Jezebel culture editor Clover Hope, who can still recite by heart lyrics from their 1998 Wyclef Jean-produced “No, No, No, No, No Part 2.” The foursome — which back then consisted of Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson — would go through a series of controversial lineup changes after their six times platinum 1999 sophomore album The Writing’s on the Wall. “Bills Bills Bills,” “Bug a Boo” and the aforementioned “Say My Name” were instant pop soul anthems.

“They became the leading girl group at a time when girl groups still mattered,” added Hope of the highly competitive decade dominated by such female acts as En Vogue, TLC, SWV, Brownstone, Xscape and the Spice Girls. “But Destiny’s Child was the last breath of that era. That’s why seeing them together at Coachella was a great moment.”


The return of Destiny’s Child takes on an even greater meaning with the emergence of Beyoncé as the most vital and zeitgeist-dominating performer in the world. Her ascent was solidified during her 2013 Super Bowl XLVII showcase (button-pushing Bey was laughably charged with leading another Black Panther Party revolution in high heels), which drew in an estimated 108.41 million viewers.

And now there’s Beyoncé’s upcoming On The Run II tour with her husband, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, easily the hottest ticket of the summer, slated to kick off in Cardiff, Wales, on June 6, playing to mammoth stadiums across the globe. According to Pollstar, the couple’s last On The Run trek pulled in $109 million with an average ticket draw of 57,634 on just 19 dates. Beyoncé’s 2016 Formation World Tour did even better, taking in $256 million. Her albums are cultural and political events. The name Beyoncé has become a verb.

It’s never been a matter of whether Beyoncé needs Destiny’s Child. The truth is, fans need — the world needs — Destiny’s Child.

“On The Run II is already projected to hit the $200 million mark,” said David Brooks, a senior correspondent at Billboard who covers touring and live entertainment. “There’s no limit to Beyoncé’s fan base. If I’m doing a country, rock, rap or R&B show, I don’t want to be anywhere close to whatever city she’s playing. Right now, Beyoncé is a planet barreling through the concert solar system and sucking up all the gravity.”

And so the question remains: Does Mrs. Carter, whose Coachella set tallied a record-breaking 41 million livestream views on YouTube, really need a Destiny’s Child reunion? It’s been nearly 20 years since the classic lineup of Beyoncé, Williams and Rowland reached the girl group mountaintop, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide of their 2001 Survivor. By the time they dropped their fifth and final album, 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled, the trio was a Grammy-winning triumvirate whose black girl magic message resonated with empowering singles such as “Independent Woman Part 1,” “Survivor,” “Bootylicious” and “Girl.” The U.S. leg of Destiny’s Child’s 67-date 2005 farewell tour grossed $70.8 million. Rowland went on to drop her 2011 double-platinum solo single “Motivation” and became a U.K. reality television star. The recently engaged Williams, once the target of the “Poor Michelle” memes, blossomed into a successful gospel artist.

It’s never been a matter of whether Beyoncé needs Destiny’s Child. The truth is, fans need — the world needs — Destiny’s Child. Because since the unofficial disbandment of Fifth Harmony, and beyond the intense K-pop fanaticism, “girl groups” have nearly become extinct in the U.S. “[Girl groups] have all but disappeared,” said One artist Meelah Williams, who recently reunited with the Las Vegas-based female vocal act 702, the group that recorded a string of hits, highlighted by “Where My Girls At” and the brilliant 1996 “Steelo” (produced by Missy Elliott). “It’s very bizarre.”

But while the days of the ubiquitous girl group are in the rearview mirror for now, throwback female vocal acts are now taking their classic catalogs out on the road. “Xscape and SWV are back together again touring, which let us know that if they can do it, we can do it,” said Meelah of 702’s return to the spotlight. “En Vogue is still doing it, and Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child came back together to perform after all these years, which is amazing. They are definitely an inspiration for all of us.”

With the concert industry booming, a Destiny’s Child reunion tour would be a no-brainer. Last year, Pollstar reported global ticket sales jumping to a record $5.65 billion, a 15.8 percent increase over the previous year. Aging megastar acts such as U2, Metallica, The Eagles and Bruce Springsteen are routinely among the top earners alongside relative newbies such as Taylor Swift, Drake, Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar and Katy Perry.

But post-Generation X ticket buyers are flexing their economic muscles. Millennial stars such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga have all become major players in the concert market. And the “I Love The ’90s” concert series — which features a rotating stable of acts from the era of flip phones and Yo! MTV Raps, including Salt-N-Pepa, Coolio, Color Me Badd, Vanilla Ice, Kid ‘n Play and Sugar Ray — was a surprise hit in 2016, pulling in more than $21 million.

“There is definitely a huge nostalgia factor happening right now, especially if you’re in your 30s or early 40s,” said Brooks. “For many, ’90s music takes people back to that feeling of when they were young and all they had to worry about was being home on time so their parents wouldn’t yell at them.”

OK, then: It’s settled. A full-blown Destiny’s Child tour would pretty much be a big deal. Beyoncé’s Coachella takeover was an overwhelming statement of black female empowerment, celebrating a world where swag surfing, Nina Simone, Big Freedia, trap music and New Orleans second line music can all coexist within the genius complexities of black culture. The around-the-way black woman power of Destiny’s Child would not only fit right on in, it would lead the way.

Beyoncé, Colin Kaepernick and the power of enigmatic resistance The singer and the quarterback have mastered the art of speaking volumes — while saying very little

As Beyoncé plans to “switch things up a bit” for her second Coachella set, the festival’s first weekend was a stark example of Beyoncé Knowles Carter’s and Colin Kaepernick’s very effective form of public yet enigmatic resistance. Both of them tend to eschew or push the boundaries of traditional media, and from the stage and from Instagram they each addressed societal issues.

Instagram Photo

Kaepernick has yet to grant a full-length interview; it is, without question, the most coveted interview in sports media. The former San Francisco 49er posted a picture of baseball icon Jackie Robinson with a quote that is rarely celebrated when discussing the baseball legend’s legacy. He’s not standing for the anthem. He’s not singing the anthem. Nor is he saluting the flag. Kaepernick’s upload put an entire league on notice and answered the question for any prospective team even remotely interested in Kaepernick’s talents under center.

The truth is, in lifelong NFL exile, Colin Kaepernick will be far more impactful than he was on the field. This includes the 49ers team he nearly led to its first non-Joe Montana or Steve Young Super Bowl. Had it not been for the concert quite literally heard around the world, it would have been the weekend’s biggest line in the sand.

Beyoncé at Coachella is already cultural curriculum: The two-hour moving montage of black history marked her return to the stage. With guest appearances from her sister, Solange, and husband, Jay-Z, and a Destiny’s Child reunion with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, the moment only further cemented her place among music’s all-time great performers.

The performance was a testament to the machine that is Beyoncé. She is a mother of three and is one-half of one of the highest-profile couples in the world. She put in 11-hour days and altered her diet. She then harnessed the leading role in a performance that celebrated some of the most authentic elements of black life, including historically black college and university (HBCU) culture, fraternity and sorority life, African royal garb, quotes from Nina Simone and Malcolm X and, for good measure, swag surfing. The only element missing was a random uncle in open-toe sandals grilling on the side of the stage with a red cup in hand. She also stepped up with a $100,000 donation to HBCUs, doubling down on her 2016 investment into women attending HBCUs via her Formation Scholars initiative. In 2018, it’s perplexing for Beyoncé or any black person to still be “the first” anything. And the distinction of being the first black woman to headline the famed festival seemed to both honor and perturb her.

Notoriously guarded, the Lemonade singer has never been the most media-available artist, especially in recent years. She’s never seemed totally comfortable with that job requirement — unlike, say, her husband, who is naturally personable and engaging in interviews. Even her Instagram pictures are largely without captions. She says very little outside of a recording booth or off the stage. Yet — through her music, increasingly more personal on 2014’s self-titled album and 2016’s Lemonade, and actions — she has carved out an image of a shadowy, even hooded figure very much in tune with the conversations and temperature of society. Her performance — coming on the heels of Stephon Clark’s killing by police in Sacramento, California, the Philadelphia Starbucks racial profiling incident and Brennan Walker, a 14-year-old shot at after asking for directions — was more coincidence than intention. But it felt fitting.

“I have worked very hard to get to the point where I have a true voice,” Beyoncé “said,” actually being paraphrased by her mom, Tina Knowles, on Instagram. “At this point in my life and my career, I have a responsibility to do what’s best for the world and not what is most popular.”

The performance resonated far more than a press release or exclusive interview ever could. She proved that at 36 she, like LeBron James in his craft, is only getting better with the wisdom that age brings and a work ethic that can only be defined as obsessive but unparalleled. She’s as comfortable musically as she has ever been. Her creativity is only getting sharper and more poignant as the stakes elevate — a telling sign as she prepares for a world tour this summer with her husband. Her performance April 14 became its own living, breathing and gyrating exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It not only moved the culture. It became part of the decade’s DNA.

When Beyoncé and Colin Kaepernick speak, the world listens. When they move, the world watches. When the weapons of societal perspective and human empathy are placed in an introverted person’s hands, the results are telling. They don’t feel the need to have to explain themselves.

More Beyoncé gold for HBCUs with new BeyGOOD scholarship initiative The announcement comes days after her Coachella performance

After Beyoncé’s thrilling Coachella performance, which highlighted the rich culture of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the superstar is going a step further to invest in students of select HBCUs around the country.

Through her BeyGOOD initiative, Beyoncé will award a $25,000 grant to one student at Xavier University of Louisiana, Wilberforce University, Tuskegee University and Bethune-Cookman University. The grants are part of the initiative’s 2018-19 Homecoming Scholars Award Program, which will be awarded to all qualifying students studying literature, creative arts, African-American studies, science, education, business, communications, social sciences, computer science or engineering. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

This is the second installment of scholarships Beyoncé has awarded to students attending HBCUs. Last April, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her latest album, Lemonade, Beyoncé launched the Formation Scholars award geared toward helping young women at participating HBCUs who studied creative arts, music, literature or African-American studies during the 2017-18 academic year. The idea of that scholarship was to “encourage and support young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious, and confident.”

“We salute the rich legacy of historically black colleges and universities,” said Ivy McGregor, director of philanthropy and corporate relations at Parkwood Entertainment, which houses BeyGOOD. “We honor all institutions of higher learning for maintaining culture and creating environments for optimal learning which expands dreams and the seas of possibilities for students.”

Winners are set to be selected by the universities and will be announced this summer.

All hail King Bey, queen of the desert and mistress of the internet #Beychella served up a panoply of blackness, from HBCUs to Wakanda and Fela Kuti to Nina Simone

The internet has been taking a hammering lately, especially from people who don’t quite understand it.

Earlier this week, a good portion of the chattering classes tuned their televisions to cable news to watch congressmen grill a tech billionaire using a booster seat about his creation, and how it and Vladimir Putin together might be responsible for the downfall of Western democracy. Or something. Earlier this month, the federal government seized the online classified site Backpage.com, shutting it down and putting sex workers at risk by moving their work further into the shadows, many argued. And the Cannes film festival banned Netflix from entering films in its competition, in part because French film purists argue that Netflix is destroying the communal aspect of consuming film.

If you pay attention to the news, the overwhelming conclusion is that the internet is a dangerous place full of lies, conspiracy theories, hate speech, free porn, and Russian trolls and it’s making us worse as human beings. And there’s some truth to that.

But it’s not the whole story of the internet. Leave it to Beyoncé to remind us.

The first lady of Tidal, Houston, fish fries, and — let’s just say the modern African diaspora — made history (again) late Saturday night as the first black woman to headline Coachella, the oovy-groovy, hippie-dippie, psychedelic-infused annual music festival in the California desert. Naturally, she used it to serve up a panoply of blackness, from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Zamunda to Wakanda to Egypt to Fela Kuti to Nefertiti to Malcolm X to James Weldon Johnson to Nina Simone. But her decision to livestream her entire two-hour performance is what makes Beyoncé as astute as any tech billionaire about the power and possibility of the internet.

It’s not the first time she’s used the internet to vault herself into international conversation. She did it with the surprise release of BEYONCÉ, with the HBO debut of Lemonade, with the launch of her expertly curated website and Instagram account. Beyoncé knows how to create a moment.

But choosing to livestream her Coachella performance signals something more. Rather than limiting her audience to the tens of thousands of ticket-buying festival attendees in Indio, California, Beyoncé created an internet community around #Beychella, harnessing a Southern-fried When and Where I Enter moment to be exported, dissected, and re-created.

This was something everyone with an internet connection got to witness, too. For free.

It’s exactly the sort of democratizing act that used to give us hope in the internet. Because what is the simultaneous clattering of keyboards about #Beychella if not a moment of community, a mechanism for sharing our amens together as we all visit the sanctuary of Beysus?

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots. Instead, she brought an HBCU-style halftime show and a probate exhibition, complete with a marching band and dancing dolls. She aggregates elements of black culture, high and low, American, African, Creole, and everything in between, and spits them back out into something new, craveable, and instantly consumable.

Honestly, how many people knew who the orisha Oshun was before Lemonade dropped? Don’t lie, either.

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots.

Ever since she released “Formation,” Beyoncé has been exploring ways to carry black people on her back via a series of high-profile, unapologetic salvos in the culture wars. There was the Super Bowl. There was the Grammys. And now there’s Beychella. Forget about Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. We got Beyoncé in go-go boots.

Thanks to the internet, we bear witness to the way police are weaponized against innocent black people waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks. And thanks to the internet, we can rightfully raise hell about it, too. And then, because the nonstop reminders of how black people aren’t fully recognized as people is exhausting and depressing, we can have a much-deserved moment to celebrate ourselves, even if that moment happens to be at 2 o’clock in the morning on the East Coast.

Some will skip over the art and jump straight to arguing that Beyoncé has commodified black liberation.

But I’d say Beyoncé has assessed her power in the world, the possibilities of the internet, and combined the two to march on as an evangelist of black feminism.