Grammy-winning artist Mya takes it to the streets in ‘5th Ward’ The singer opens up about acting, a cherished moment with Gregory Hines — and even a one-way ticket to the stars

At just 18, Mya Marie Harrison’s 1998 hit “It’s All About Me” skyrocketed up the Billboard rhythm and blues charts, with several other top-selling tunes soon to follow: “The Best of Me,” “Take Me There” and “My Love is Like … Wo.” Sultry lyrics combined with an infectious sound and dynamic dance moves led to two platinum albums, as well as a Grammy award in 2001 for best pop collaboration with vocals for the No. 1 pop cover of Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” which also featured Lil’ Kim, Pink and Christina Aguilera. In a fickle industry that’s the home of either great acceptance or unkind rejection, 20 years later, Mya is always making strides. She’s appeared in CBS’s NCIS and will soon appear in Lazarus, along with Sean Riggs and Costas Mandylor.

The Washington, D.C., native’s latest project is Urban Movie Channel’s original 5th Ward, in which she stars as Mina. The show is set in the center of a historically black neighborhood in Houston, where Mina is a single mother of two children desperately trying to make something out of nothing. Staying true to the authenticity and raw imagery of H-Town, the show is an in-depth look at city life behind headlines.

Mya connects deeply with her on-screen character, especially when maneuvering through life’s many obstacles and detours — she left a major label in 2007 to become an independent artist and creator of her own label, Planet 9. She says it has been both challenging and rewarding.

The Undefeated chatted with the woman so loved (she has close to 2 million people in her social community, and that’s just Twitter and Instagram) that hip-hop blog impresario John Gotty instituted #MyaMondays.

How were you able to connect to your character, Mina, and the script?

My business partner, J. Prince, was born and raised in the 5th and has done wonderful things for his community. And being the oldest sister of two brothers in my family, I looked after them. I applied that dynamic to my character, Mina.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since becoming an independent artist?

Whatever makes you feel alive is going to carry you, make you go harder, and will give you the drive needed to succeed. When you love something, you will go after it, and no one will have to force you to do anything. Regardless of numbers, titles, sales, support or budget, I love music. This is why I’m still going, and my 13th and 14th projects are coming soon!

If your entire life could be summed up in the title of one of your songs, which would it be?

A song I wrote with Tricky Stewart called ‘Nothin’ At All.’ The song speaks to the journey of life, which is filled with winding roads, and ups and downs. But at the end of the day I wouldn’t change a thing, because in this current moment I am breathing, I am alive and I am happy. The things we consider mistakes or failures are the blessings that propel us to move forward into a better space.

“The things we consider mistakes or failures are the blessings that propel us to move forward into a better space.”

Who was your childhood hero?

My parents, first and foremost, and the women in my family, who I’ve watched sacrifice so much. However, I would also say the man that actually had a conversation with myself and my parents long ago. [He] pulled me aside to offer business advice: Gregory Hines. I performed at the Smithsonian, and he walked onstage during my segment and began going toe to toe with me. … He saw something special enough to dance with me.

What’s one thing about you that’s embarrassing?

I am goofy as heck! I can get really silly and go overboard sometimes. It’s very corny. I don’t allow too many people to see that side of me, but when I go there, I go there (Laughs.)

What’s one habit you wish you could shake?

I wish I could shake carbs. I’m in the process of retraining my brain and body to eliminate unhealthy carbs like pasta and rice and instead substituting them with quinoa and wild rice. It’s so hard to shake those things that instantly fill you up and make you feel satisfied.

The last stamp on your passport — and for business or pleasure?

Nassau, Bahamas. It was all business. I worked the entire time. I completed a photo shoot for both my single and album, as well as filmed a mini video for the single.

What’s a place you’ve never been that you want to visit, and why?

Outer space. I’ve been intrigued by outer space since I was 4 years old. My label is called Planet 9, and I study a lot regarding astronomy and astrological symbolism. Being able to look down at our planet and experience it from a different perspective would be an ultimate life experience, even if it’s just a one-way ticket. I’m fine with it because I think it would be very peaceful to me.

How did growing up in Washington, D.C., shape you into the woman you are today?

Washington, D.C., is known as Chocolate City! We are the land of go-go music, and it’s rich in culture. The diversity there has definitely shaped my outlook on the world and inspired me to want to travel and pursue a career that allows it. Although I attended a multicultural high school in Maryland, my roots are in Chocolate City, which is the black community. In a place where laws are made and bills are passed, you can walk a couple of blocks from the White House and end up in the projects.

“Regardless of numbers, titles, sales, support or budget, I love music at the end of the day. Nothing has destroyed that or come in the way of it.”

What’s one thing you would tell your 15-year-old self?

I’d definitely tell 15-year-old Mya to always define everything for yourself. Look to no other person to do that for you. When I say define everything, I mean beauty, success and validation. What it all means to you and what your happiness consists of. Don’t look to everyone else’s model of how they define those things to shape your decisions or your life because everyone is not meant to have the same life. I constantly have to remind myself of this because we can get lost in the sauce and look to societal standards. Always be programmed to think for yourself, think independently and define everything for Y-O-U.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

James Harden’s fresh new Adidas colorway recalls his beloved junior high school years Rapper Nipsey Hussle takes L.A. pride in the Audubon Middle School alum and leading MVP candidate

At Adidas’ 747 Warehouse St. event during 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson caught up with Los Angeles Sparks two-time MVP Candace Parker and six-time All-Star James Harden of the Houston Rockets. This two-part series will highlight the connection both players have to Adidas.

LOS ANGELES — In the streets of Los Angeles, there’s nothing but love and respect for James Harden. Just ask Nipsey Hussle, one of the city’s most respected rappers.

Fresh off the stage at the Hollywood Palladium, where he’d performed tracks from his recently dropped Victory Lap, Hussle bumped into Harden, the face of the Houston Rockets franchise and front-runner for this year’s Maurice Podoloff Trophy, presented annually to the league’s most valuable player. The random run-in turned into an impromptu family reunion for Hussle, who hails from the Crenshaw area, and Harden, who’s from nearby Compton. The way the two chopped it up, you would’ve thought they were cousins.

“The n—a that broke the NBA record for the highest m—–f—ing contract ever went to Audubon!” said Hussle to a swarm of paparazzi, with his arm draped around the hooper’s shoulder. The MC referenced the richest contract extension in NBA history: a four-year, $228 million deal that Harden signed last summer. But Audubon?

“Y’all don’t know what that is!” Harden joked to the people behind the flashing cameras. For him, though, that word means a lot. Audubon Middle School, in Hussle’s ’hood of Crenshaw, is one of the NBA superstar’s alma maters. So when Harden returned home to L.A. for All-Star Weekend, during which he dropped his new signature Adidas sneaker, it was only right that he paid homage to the school where it all began.

As a starter in the All-Star Game, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard took the hardwood at the Staples Center wearing his Adidas Harden Vol. 2s in the “Vision” colorway, a design inspired by Audubon’s school colors but remixed to incorporate different shades of green and a glitched palm tree pattern. The shoe dropped exclusively at Adidas’ All-Star Weekend pop-up, about 8 miles from his old middle school.

The day after bonding with Hussle over Audubon, Harden made an appearance at the Adidas event, where folks awaited the moment they’d be graced by the presence of what was billed as a “special guest.” As Harden stepped foot on a basketball court primarily populated by kids from the city’s neighboring communities, the crowd went nuts — rushing from the bleachers and circling him, prompting the DJ to drop Playboi Carti’s 2017 smash hit “Magnolia” — and of course the Snapchat videos started rolling.

The track and atmosphere commenced a Milly Rock battle between Harden and a few of his fellow L.A. natives, as he swayed back and forth in a fresh pair of his new kicks, which are engineered with FORGEFIBER and full-length BOOST technology tailored to his one-of-a-kind footwork and ability to change direction on the court.

“As a kid, you always want your own shoe,” Harden told The Undefeated in the scrum. “I’ve got my Vol. 2s now, so it’s an unbelievable feeling, especially when you’ve got the support behind you.”

Instagram Photo

In this moment, Harden donned the burgundy “Ignite” colorway of the Vol. 2s, but the crowd favorite was certainly the vibrant “Vision” look, worn by countless children who surrounded him. The salmon-tinted “California Dreamin’” colorway also debuted during All-Star Weekend.

“Man … Audubon is where I learned to love the game of basketball. On the playgrounds …,” Harden said of the shoe before he was overcome by loud bellows of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” He finally embraced the chants by waving his hand for more and letting out a powerful roar. Back to the middle school-inspired shoe: “It’s where I fell in love with the game, and I just took it from there.”

After leaving Audubon, Harden attended Artesia High School in Lakewood, California, where he emerged as a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American. He starred at Arizona State University for two seasons before the Oklahoma City Thunder selected him with the third overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Since 2012, when a trade sent him from Oklahoma City to Houston, he’s become a six-time NBA All-Star and three-time first-team All-NBA selection, and for the past three seasons he’s been knocking on the door of becoming an NBA MVP. In 2015, Harden’s personal brand became so big that Adidas lured him away from an endorsement deal with Nike by offering a 13-year, $200 million contract.

“Adidas is everything. You see the waves that we’re creating. It’s not just basketball — it’s a lifestyle,” said Harden at 747 Warehouse St. Later that night, 21-time Grammy Award winner Kanye West, the brand’s highest-profile endorser, popped up at the event to perform. (Also of note: Since the All-Star break, it’s been reported that Adidas is “far along in negotiations” with rapper Drake, who currently has a deal with Jordan Brand.) “Adidas is changing the culture,” Harden continued. “Just taking over.”

Less than three years after committing to the brand, Harden is already one of the faces of Adidas Basketball, now in his second signature shoe. As for whether this one, the Harden Vol. 2, will help him capture the elusive MVP award?

“Easy,” Harden said with a smile. “Easy.”

Not too bad for an L.A. kid from Audubon.

Will the 2018 Grammys be the blackest of all time? Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar lead nominations for 60th annual awards ceremony

Jay-Z is back, and Kendrick Lamar is still here. The two titans of hip-hop — a 47-year-old wordsmith from Brooklyn, New York, and a 30-year-old grittily socially conscious MC from Compton, California — are the two artists to beat among the list of nominations, announced Tuesday, for February 2018’s 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

Hov earned eight nominations for the acclaimed introspective album 4:44, his first project in four years, while K. Dot notched seven for DAMN., which tells a lyrically different narrative whether you play it from the first track to the last or the last track to the first. DAMN. and 4:44 are both up for Album of the Year, an award for which both rappers have been previously been nominated but never won. The two projects will also square off for Best Rap Album, while Kendrick’s “HUMBLE.” and Jay’s “The Story of O.J.” are both nominated for Best Rap Song and Record of the Year. Jay-Z rounds out his list of nominations in the Best Music Video (“The Story of O.J.”), Song of the Year (“4:44”), Best Rap Performance (“4:44”) and Best Rap/Sung Performance (“Family Feud” feat. Beyoncé) categories for a total of 67 career Grammy nods (21 wins and counting). Kendrick will also contend for Best Rap/Sung Performance (“LOYALTY.” feat. Rihanna) and Best Music Video (“HUMBLE.”), while he’s competing against himself in the Best Rap Album category, having contributed to Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom, which earned him a nomination.

Cardi B’s smash hit “Bodak Yellow” is nominated for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. In both categories, her record will go against the epic “Bad & Boujee” from the Migos, whose album Culture is also nominated for Best Rap Album. Lil Uzi Vert, who is featured on “Bad & Boujee,” gets the nod in the Best New Artist category, while the versatile Donald Glover, known in the studio as Childish Gambino, received five nominations, including Record of the Year (“Redbone”) and Album of the Year (Awaken, My Love!). Khaled, SZA and Jay-Z’s producer No I.D. also received five nominations apiece.

With all this representation from the worlds of hip-hop and R&B within this year’s nominations, that brings us to this question: Will next February bring us the blackest, and most lit, Grammys of all time? It’d only be right, as 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald and Basie becoming the first African-Americans in history to take home Grammys.

Here are a few fast facts about black artists and the Grammys:

  • This year’s Album of the Year category features three African-Americans, and four out of five nominees of color: Childish Gambino (African-American), Jay Z (African-American), Kendrick Lamar (African-American) and Bruno Mars (from Hawaii, of Puerto Rican/Filipino descent)
  • This year’s Record of the Year category features all nominees of color: Childish Gambino (African-American), Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee (both Puerto Rican) Jay Z (African-American), Kendrick Lamar (African-American) and Bruno Mars (from Hawaii, of Puerto Rican/Filipino descent)
  • A black artist has not won Record of the Year since Ray Charles in 2005 (“Here We Go Again”)
  • Jay Z will seek to become the first black artist since his wife Beyoncé in 2010 (“Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It))” to win Song of the Year


  • OutKast won three Grammys, including Album of the Year
  • Beyoncé won five Grammys (Best R&B Song, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals) as well as opened the show with a performance with Prince


  • Lauryn Hill won five Grammys, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist
  • Her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, became the first hip-hop project in history to win Album of the Year


  • Michael Jackson won a record eight Grammys (tied by Santana in 2000) for Thriller
  • Black artists have won Album of the Year in back-to-back Grammys four times
  • 1974-75: Stevie Wonder (Innervisions) and Stevie Wonder (Fulfillingness’ First Finale)
  • 1984-85: Michael Jackson (Thriller) and Lionel Richie (Can’t Slow Down)
  • 1991-92: Quincy Jones (Back on the Block) and Natalie Cole (Unforgettable with Love)
  • 2004-05: OutKast (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below) and Ray Charles (Genius Loves Company)
  • A black artist hasn’t won album of the year since Herbie Hancock in 2008 (River: The Joni Letters)


Singer Lalah Hathaway supports the players, but will not be watching the NFL this season Her new album, ‘Honestly,’ is about using one’s platform to take a stand

Over the past couple of decades, singer Lalah Hathaway has more than carved her own space in music. Daughter of the incomparable Donny Hathaway, the five-time Grammy Award winner has toured with Prince and with Mary J. Blige, released seven albums and now has a new one on the way. Honestly, with its first single “I Can’t Wait, is due this fall and is a return to something listeners of her early music will find familiar. “The record feels a little more rhythmic, but it’s also much like a record that I’d put out in the ’90s,” she said. “So for some it’s going to be more experimental, but for me, it’s … less of a vibe album and more of an electronic [one].”

The Chicago native stays busy performing, of course, catching up on HBO’s Insecure. But the Chicago Bears (and Walter Payton, and William “Refrigerator” Perry) fan says she is boycotting the NFL this fall — taking a stand is a prevailing theme of Honestly.

Who is your favorite athlete currently playing?

I’m super excited to see Venus [Williams] advancing. To watch Serena [Williams], and then to find out she was pregnant while she was winning, was just tremendous. Football season, though, is actually my favorite time of year. I did grow up in Chicago. I did grow up a Bears fan. I grew up a Walter Payton fan and a [William] ‘Refrigerator’ Perry fan. That time of year is so Chicago to me. Football has a special place in my heart, but I just haven’t been keeping up with it lately.


I’m sad about it. I’m kind of in boycott-the-NFL mode. I’m … disappointed with the show of support for [Colin Kaepernick]. I also understand that people still want to play, and have to play, and feed their families, and pay for their Bentleys, so I get all that s—. But for me, personally, it’s just … my mode of resistance this season.

What do you think about these new studies on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and how it’s related to football. Did that factor into your decision not to watch?

We all know it’s a sport where you can get hurt. We all know it’s rugged. As a woman I’m probably a little more sensitive to it. If I had a son, I’d be supersensitive to it.

Who is your childhood hero?

That’s my mom for sure.

Craziest lie you ever told?

I once told a girl, when I was 11 or 12 years old, that I was dating either Starsky or Hutch, and she believed me. I don’t know how I convinced her of this. I think it was Hutch.

“I have over 160 locs on my head, and I get tired at about 17 if I do it myself.”

What’s your favorite social media app?

I’m compulsively on my socials right now. I go from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram to Twitter to Facebook to Instagram.

Who does your hair?

Natacha Fontin does my hair. She colors my hair and makes it superpurple. And then another lady twists me and her name is Chikodi Washington. I have over 160 locs on my head, and I get tired at about 17 if I do it myself.

What’s your favorite late-night food spot?

You know what’s crazy, I live in L.A. and L.A. is not a food town to me. If it’s really late and I’m hungry, I’m outta luck in L.A. Chicago is such a great food town, and Boston as well. There’s a Kitchen 24 that I like, and there’s 24-hour Popeye’s, but that’s about it.

Have you ever been starstruck?

On a couple of occasions. Prince left me pretty breathless every time I got to sing with him. I was starstruck working with Pharrell. He’s another one that I have so much respect for and have been wanting to work with for so long. I actually met Issa Rae at the Essence Festival and I was super starstruck.

So you’ve been keeping up with Insecure?

I’m on the road right now … but I’m home in a few days and I’m gonna catch up, probably all in one day. I love that show.

“I also understand that people still want to play and have to play and feed their families and pay for their Bentleys.”

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I have many. I don’t even know how guilty I am about that s— anymore. Any number of programs that appear on either Bravo TV or VH1.

When did you realize you were famous?

I still realize it every day. Fame is so relative, so people will walk by and say, ‘Hey, are you famous?’ And my response is, ‘Not if you don’t know me!’

What was your first major purchase?

When I was 21 I bought my first car. I bought a Nissan 240SX because I was in love with that car. I literally just gave it to a friend like three weeks ago. That car meant a lot to me — I don’t even know what I ended up paying for it.

What’s the most thoughtful gift you’ve ever received?

I have a really good boyfriend. We are a gadget/electronic type couple, so he constantly surprises me with s— that I would never get. Those things are really thoughtful to me because it’s stuff I wouldn’t know to buy, but he gets it for me. He’s very thoughtful that way.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

LL Cool J talks hoops, giving back and being a Kennedy Center honoree ‘Wherever I go, hip-hop goes. When I stand there, I’m standing there for the culture.’

LL Cool J is often mentioned as one of hip-hop’s young pioneers who burst onto the scene years ago and remains a relevant staple in culture. His head-bumping beats, charismatic concrete rhymes, and swagger of a Kangol bucket hat and heavy gold chains introduced hip-hop in a way that can never be ignored, only used as a blueprint.

His first single in 1987, “I Need a Beat,” put the music label Def Jam on the map. Thirteen albums later, at 49 years old, rap’s first sex symbol will be the Kennedy Center’s youngest honoree since Stevie Wonder and the only hip-hop honoree in the center’s 40-year history. It’s no coincidence that the Grammy Award winner hosted the Grammy Awards five consecutive years from 2012-16. And then there’s acting. He’s starred in several hit films and shows, which landed him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year.

August 2017 marks the 13th year that the Queens, New York, native is holding his annual Jump & Ball community camp in his hometown. The summer camp is free, and hundreds of kids participate in competitive basketball as well as double Dutch, chess, kickball and handball.

At Daniel O’Connell Playground in Hollis, Queens, LL spoke with The Undefeated about his commitment to giving back to his hometown, how Michael Jordan’s dominance in the game corrupted his New York Knicks fandom, his report card on Magic Johnson’s leadership at the Los Angeles Lakers and, of course, hip-hop and fashion.

Using a line from his ’90s hit “Mama Said Knock You Out”: Don’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years. With more than 30 years in the game, LL Cool J is not slowing down one bit.

What started Jump & Ball, and what keeps it going as it celebrates its 13th year?

I know from growing up in this neighborhood [Southeast Queens] that there’s nothing to do. My grandmother always told me that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, so when you don’t have anything to do, you’re on the corner [selling drugs]. I wanted to give the kids in the community something to look forward to. There were a lot of hustlers out here when I was growing up. They weren’t doing everything right, but they would throw ball tournaments. And for us as kids, we were like, ‘Wow, we’re having fun.’ I wanted to do it the right way and pay it forward, back to the kids.

For 12 years, I was just throwing basketball tournaments and letting the kids play ball. But we have kids looking up to players like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, so I felt this year going forward that I needed to introduce them to a little more structure where they could learn skills and how to play competitively.

How would you describe Queens, New York? What does it mean to you?

For me, it’s home sweet home, but it’s something different to everyone. If you came out here and got your chain snatched, it might not mean the same thing to you that it means to me (laughs). But I love being here; it’s a family. I just want to keep doing the right thing for them and keep it going.

Are you still a recovering New York Knicks fan?

I’m a loyal New Yorker, but I’m going to keep it absolute 100 with you: Michael Jordan ruined everything for [all other players for me]. I was trying to be a Knicks fan, but MJ was killing the game. But, yes, I’m a Knicks fan first. I love my man [Charles] Oakley and Anthony Mason. Antoine Mason, Anthony’s son, is an unbelievable player too. I’m in Los Angeles, but I’ll never be a transplant. That’s never going to happen! The idea that I’ll be in L.A. and become a pure L.A. guy is ridiculous. I’m New York all the way.

How do you feel your friend Magic Johnson is doing as the new Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations?

That’s my great friend, I love him, and I’m just so happy for him. I believe in what Magic is doing with the Lakers. He has the right formula and understands the players and life after basketball. Look at me, it’s like I’m doing recruiting for the Lakers (laughs). Lonzo [Ball] is going to be incredible. His father is hilarious; shoutout to the entire Ball family.

You’ve been a huge supporter of the BIG3 tournament. What drove that fandom?

It was a genius idea by [Ice] Cube. I love to watch Al Harrington, DeShawn Stevenson and all these guys go out there and play. It’s going to keep getting better and better. Players can go from Jump & Ball, then a Division I or II college, maybe the NBA afterwards and then the BIG3 league. The BIG3 is a perfect complement to the NBA for the players that get out but still want to hoop. It’s crazy dope.

LL Cool J spins a basketball during week four of the BIG3 three on three basketball league at Wells Fargo Center on July 16, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Rob Carr/BIG3/Getty Images

Is hip-hop evolving or do you feel it’s losing heart?

[You have to first ask yourself,] ‘Lost heart to who?’ If you’re a 35-year-old and you grew up listening to one thing and now you have a 15-year-old listening to another thing, then maybe it lost heart to you in that sense. But from an artist to fan connection, it hasn’t lost any heart. I feel the connection is as strong as ever. I’m always going to love the culture of hip-hop and be a believer of its original foundation. I’ll forever be LL Cool J The Original, but at the same time, I don’t have a problem with new music. There are a lot of great artists out here … but there’s always going to be someone putting out some garbage [music], whether it’s 1987 or 2077.

How does it feel to be the first hip-hop artist to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors?

I would have never imagined it in my wildest dreams. Wherever I go, hip-hop goes. When I stand there, I’m standing there for the culture. I’m not standing there necessarily with or against the powers that be. I’m standing there for the hip-hop culture.

You recently did a photo shoot with [fashion designer] Marc Jacobs and Salt-N-Pepa for the fashion issue cover of InStyle Magazine. What inspires your style?

My style is inspired by where I’m at right now [Queens]. I just have the resources to maybe get every piece instead of just one now. I can wear what I have on right now for a magazine cover or if I was at Mr. Chow’s [restaurant]; it would look fancy. But here in Queens, it looks regular. I didn’t forget where I came from. I dress, talk and walk the same. I’m just growing and making my dreams come true.

Ten-year-old designer Kheris Rogers on why she’s Flexin’ in My Complexion After being bullied for her dark skin, she started a clothing line to inspire others

The world took notice of 10-year-old Kheris Rogers after 15-time Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys posted a picture of her on Instagram with the caption:I love this beautiful girl @kherispoppin and I love her mission! Keep shining.”

Kheris’ mission is to empower confidence with her clothing line Flexin’ In My Complexion, which she was inspired to create after being teased for her dark complexion in school in Los Angeles.

“Beauty has nothing to do with the outside,” Kheris said. “It has to do with your inside by being nice, smart, creative. Being beautiful means confidently knowing that you’re enough just the way you are. When I look at myself in the mirror, I say nice things like, ‘I am smart. I am kind. I am confident.’ It’s empowering.”

Earlier this year, Kheris’ 22-year-old sister, Taylor Pollard, tweeted a picture of Rogers after a fashion show that has more than 31,000 retweets and 84,000 likes. Comments came in praising her skin, hair, entire look and attitude, which helped boost her self-esteem.

Just a few days shy of her 11th birthday, Kheris spoke with The Undefeated about what it means to flex in your complexion, her definition of beautiful and her favorite thing about living in L.A. (Hint: It has to do with ice cream.)

Why did you create Flexin’ In My Complexion?
I was bullied for my dark skin complexion when I was younger [where I had to transfer to another school], so I felt that I needed to help empower others to feel comfortable in their skin color. I want to help others feel confident in their skin, knowing it is beautiful no matter how dark or light they are.

You’re only 10 and you were bullied for your skin color?
When I was in the first grade, I was one of four black kids in my class. They would call me names and wouldn’t play with me. There was an instance when we had to draw ourselves, and my teacher gave me a black crayon instead of a brown one. I felt really uncomfortable.

Your maturity and confident self-image is something that many 20- and 30-year-olds don’t have. Where did that come from?
It came from my family always telling me that I’m pretty and how being beautiful on the inside is the most important thing. My grandmother would always tell us to flex in our complexion. She put that in my head, and then I kept telling myself that.

Outside of your family, who else is a role model?
Tyra Banks! I love how she walks on and off the runway with so much confidence. But what I really love about her is how she empowers other women, and that’s what I want to do.

Who inspires your style?
I’ve always liked Zendaya’s style from watching her on the Disney Channel. My style is a mix of very girly girl and hip-hop. Some kids in my school would tease me on my style too, but everyone is unique and I love being creative with my style.

What was your reaction when you saw that Alicia Keys gave you a shoutout on Instagram?
I wanted to cry because of how surprised and excited I was. I looked on my phone, screamed and double-checked to make sure it was really her. I called my mom and was like, ‘OMG, Alicia Keys just posted my picture on her page!’

What’s your favorite Alicia Keys song?
‘Fallin’,’ I love that song.

What’s your favorite part about living in Los Angeles?
The drive-thru Baskin-Robbins that they built right by my house.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Chainz: Baller or nah? We checked out whether the ‘Based on a T.R.U. Story’ and ‘Watch Out’ rapper really could ball in high school and college

From singer Brian McKnight to actress Gabrielle Union to rapper Master P, singers, actors and rappers have often bragged about their past athletic accomplishments. #ShowMeTheReceipts, a monthly feature at The Undefeated, will authenticate those declarations. In this month’s installment, we verified rapper 2 Chainz’s receipts.

Darrick McGriff went over to Tauheed Epps’ home to check out something that may have needed repair. As he made his way through the house, McGriff saw a basketball. He knew Epps, more famously known as rapper 2 Chainz, had a basketball court outside. One thing led to another, and McGriff, the leading scorer for Alabama State his junior year when Epps joined the basketball team as a freshman in 1995, found himself shooting around.

“Tauheed said, ‘You know what, Beaumont? You still got it in you: Still can’t walk by a basketball without picking it up,’ ” McGriff, a Beaumont, Texas, native recalled. “I said, ‘Which one of us can?’ ”

It must have been August, as it was sweltering that day in Atlanta. The old Hornets teammates decided to put up a few shots, and then it took a competitive turn, becoming a game of H-O-R-S-E. It started off friendly, but then a wager got placed here and there and it became more than just fun and games. Ultimately, though, the house won.

“I guess I’ll say it on the record,” the 43-year-old McGriff mused, “I kind of let him win. You know, I didn’t want to go to his house and do that to him. I want my brother to invite me back.

“I didn’t want to rough him up, so we just shot some 3s.”

Before Epps was a 19-time BET Award nominee, five-time BET Award winner, six-time Grammy-nominated artist and 2012 winner of the Soul Train Music Awards‘ best hip-hop song of the year, he won a Class AA state championship as the sophomore sixth man on the North Clayton High School basketball team in 1993.

On the court, he was known for his lanky frame, mesmerizing ball-handling skills, ability to play all five positions (if need be) and for his wet jump shot. Off the court, McGriff said, Epps was known for his propensity to call nearly everyone “Shawty” with that oh-so-recognizable Atlanta drawl, and for his casket-sharp wardrobe. If someone walked into Epps’ and Robert Jackson’s college dorm room, they might mistake it for a Polo Ralph Lauren store.

Jackson, who has been friends with Epps since playing alongside him for two years on the North Clayton varsity team and two seasons at Alabama State, took how much Polo they wore a step further.

“The Polo belt, boot, chino khakis, socks, jacket, and then that’s for the winter,” Jackson chuckled. “For the spring, you needed some blue jean shorts, shirt, skippers [no socks], hat, you had to have Polo towels … your sweatsuits had to be Polo, your track pants … you had to be Polo’d down.

“We would go shopping around. We wouldn’t just find something from Lenox Mall in Atlanta. We would go out to Perimeter [Mall], we’d go out of town, we’d go to the outlet occasionally. We would want to find something that nobody else had.”

The 6-foot-5 Epps went to Alabama State after Division I schools such as the University of Memphis showed interest. Alabama State already had Jackson, a guard, on its team, and in recruiting him, the Hornets staff got a chance to see Epps during his junior season.

Epps played in 35 games for Alabama State from 1995-97 and averaged 2.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.5 assists. In McGriff’s final game, it was Epps who stole the show when the team played against Alcorn State. In 10 minutes, the future DJ, rapper and periodic actor scored 14 points and collected seven rebounds.

“I was the leading scorer, so everyone expected me to take the lead, but he was the high scorer in my last game in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament,” said McGriff, who is now a contractor in Beaumont. ” … He was kind of all over the place when it came to defense, ’cause he had long arms, had some good steals, went coast to coast. He hit a few 3s and just had an all-around good game.”

Epps has reinvented himself several times since graduating from college. After four nominations, he finally won his Grammy award (best rap performance) for his feature on Chance the Rapper’s “No Problem,” alongside Lil Wayne.

“Everybody has their trials and tribulations and stories of where they came from, but it’s very, very humbling for me,” 2 Chainz said during his Grammy acceptance speech in February. “I got my first Grammy today. I’ve been doing what I love doing. You know, [I’ve been] working my a– off. There’s been a lot of long nights and short days. There’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of long prayers, but let me tell you, it don’t stop. So, like I say, each and every day I try to get better than I was the previous. Shoutout to my crew, my family in here and the label.”

Almost two weeks later, Epps blessed music fans with his 2.0 version of his 2016 song, “Good Drank,” featuring Gucci Mane and Quavo from Migos. Gucci Mane and Epps appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon accompanied by a “trap choir” to perform the newer rendition of the song, which replaced Quavo’s hooks but maintained his ad-libs.

The appearance on the late night show was succeeded by Epps releasing “Good Drank 2.0 (Trap Choir Version)” on his SoundCloud for the masses. All this is just an appetizer for Epps’ much-anticipated new album Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, which is rumored to include artists such as Justin Bieber and Drake in the mix. In January, a photo of Epps and Drake in the studio was posted on Epps’ Instagram account.

Originally, he was a member of the Playaz Circle duo with Dolla Boy. Known as “Tity Boi,” Epps signed with fellow Atlanta artist Ludacris’ Disturbing tha Peace label, which is under the Def Jam/Universal tree, and in 2007 he gained mainstream recognition after his collaboration with Lil Wayne on “Duffle Bag Boy.”

In 2011, the College Park, Georgia, native changed his name from Tity Boi to 2 Chainz, and the following year he released his debut album, Based on a T.R.U. Story, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 its first week.

“Around 1997-98, he decided he really wanted to become a rapper,” Jackson said. “He was like, ‘This is something I can do.’

“I loved it because it was his own different tune. He and Ludacris have a whole different kind of flow, so when Tauheed was able to start branching out into his own, that was the coming of Tauheed at that point. … He was going to be a down South, Georgia rapper and bring his own twang to it.”

Since that point, 2 Chainz has dusted off his hooping skills a few times at Philips Arena, where the Atlanta Hawks play, to challenge former Hawks and NBA legend Dominique Wilkins. The first time was in 2015, when 2 Chainz beat the Hall of Famer in a game of H-O-R-S-E. Now, you know anyone as competitive as Wilkins is going to ask to run the game back, which is exactly what happened when the two played again in December 2016.

This time, Wilkins was able to pull out the victory and even things up at 1-1. 2 Chainz went to Twitter to suggest that Russia may have rigged the results, a jab at the suspicion surrounding the results of the 2016 presidential election.

Our conclusion? He’s legit. 2 Chainz’s receipts get a passing grade from us.

Have a suggestion for #ShowMeTheReceipts? Know of an entertainer who spent time in his or her past life as an athlete? Let us know here at The Undefeated. Leave a message on our Facebook page.

Two for Tuesday: World Cup champ Briana Scurry is a soccer legend and Tina Turner is the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll Two iconic women who changed the game — one in sports, the other in music

In honor of Women’s History Month, today’s Two for Tuesday recognizes international recording artist Tina Turner, who overcame poverty, racism, sexism and domestic violence to ascend the throne as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” as well as soccer phenom, Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Briana Scurry.

Tina Turner

With big, famously spiky blond hair and always a short skirt or leotard to showcase those legs — gams nearly as famous and beautiful as her contralto voice — singer and actress Tina Turner was Beyoncé before Beyoncé changed the game.

Born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939, in Nutbush, Tennessee, Turner reinvented herself in her 40s as a solo artist and actress after divorcing Ike Turner. She had huge success with hits such as 1984’s “Private Dancer” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

It was 1976 when Turner split from her hit-music-making-machine husband Ike Turner. In wrenching herself free from her violent and destructive marriage, she also fled the chart-topping duo who began in the 1950s as the Ike Turner Kings of Rhythm. Later, the group was restructured and its name was changed to the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, through which they pumped out hits such as “A Fool in Love,” “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City.” Tina Turner’s hardcore raspy voice and her high-impact dance moves captivated crowds and drew a close line between R&B and rock ‘n’ roll.

Tina Turner in concert circa 1984 in New York City.

Sonia Moskowitz/IMAGES/Getty Images

She has openly discussed her suffering at the hands of Ike Turner’s abuse and infidelity in her marriage and what seemed to be the end of her career after her divorce. Where once she’d toured with The Rolling Stones, as a solo artist, she was reduced to performing in small clubs and bars and guest appearances on other artists’ records.

In 1983, she recorded a remake of Al Green‘s “Let’s Stay Together” and her solo career took off. And more hits followed. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” reached No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts and earned the Grammy for record of the year. The “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” was in her proper place.

Briana Scurry

When African-Americans think about influential black women in soccer, Briana Scurry will forever be the one player to remain synonymous with the game. She, along with her teammates, “set the standard for women’s soccer,” according to her website.

Scurry was named the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) in 1994, when the Americans went on a huge run that included two Olympic gold medals. Scurry is remembered for her iconic shootout save that helped the U.S. team to victory in the 1999 FIFA World Cup final. She is a founding player of the Women’s United Soccer Association, becoming the first black paid female professional in 2001.

United States goalkeeper Brianna Scurry celebrates after defeating Norway for third place during the 2007 FIFA Womens World Cup.


Born Sept. 7, 1971, in Minneapolis, Scurry received the National Association of Black Journalists’ Sam Lacy Award, inclusion on the USWNT’s All-Time Best XI, and is featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Scurry retired in 2010 after suffering a debilitating concussion. She now openly advocates for traumatic brain injury awareness.

On this day in black history: Michael Jackson takes home 8 Grammys, ‘Porgy and Bess’ opens on Broadway and more Black History Month: The Undefeated edition Feb. 28

1704 — Elias Neau, a Frenchman, opens school for black students
Elias Neau, a Frenchman who worked as a cabin boy and a sailor in his early life, was always willing to lend a helping hand. But Neau was especially inspired to help enslaved communities after being captured by a French privateer near Jamaica in 1692 while out to sea. After being transferred to Marseille, France, for not renouncing his faith — where he wrote letters to his wife, prayers, poems and hymns to pass time — Neau landed himself in solitary confinement, where he remained for six months. He was released from prison six years later.

Learning from his experiences, Neau returned to New York and immediately noticed that slaves had no real direction or instruction in religion. Neau began dedicating his time to teaching slaves, and by 1704, he successfully began homeschooling students several times a week. Shortly afterward, Neau’s school expanded, becoming the first school for slaves in New York City.

1879 — Blacks flee political and economic exploitation in the South
Kansas became the land of promise for African-Americans, both free and enslaved, who sought educational, political and economic opportunities in the 1860s and 1870s. Although slavery still existed in surrounding areas, Kansas seemed to be a much better option than the tumultuous climate for African-Americans in the South.

Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a runaway slave from Tennessee who sheltered escaped slaves once he was free, noted the conditions African-Americans were subjected to in the South and eyed Kansas. Singleton enlisted the help of Columbus Johnson, who helped Singleton circulate posters across the South that explained their plans. The withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877 — the end of the Reconstruction Era – caused the “Great Exodus” to peak in 1879. By then, at least 50,000 blacks, known as Exodusters, sought freedom in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana and Illinois with the help of Singleton, who became known as the father of the Black Exodus.

1932 — Automatic gear shift, directional signals invented
Richard Spikes, an auto enthusiast and industry innovator, received a patent for the automatic gear shift for cars, as well as directional signals. In 1962, while losing his vision, Spikes continued to work on creating the automatic safety brake for cars. All of Spikes’ creations are still essential parts used in cars today.

1943 — Porgy and Bess opens on Broadway with Anne Brown
Porgy and Bess opened on Broadway with Anne Brown and Todd Duncan in starring roles.

1948 — First martyrs in Ghanaian independence
Sgt. Cornelius Frederick Adjetey, a member of the 81st and 82nd divisions of the West African Frontier Force, became the first martyr for national independence of Ghana while on a peaceful march.

Adjetey, along with unarmed ex-servicemen, began their journey from Accra, Ghana’s capital, to meet with the governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Gerald Creasy, to air their grievances and present a petition in regard to ending service entitlements that had not been received. Creasy dismissed the men, ordering them to leave. After the ex-servicemen refused to leave without a resolution, Creasy ordered police to open fire, instantly killing Adjetey and his cohorts. The killings were investigated, but not before causing general disorder and disturbances in Accra.

1984 — Michael Jackson wins eight Grammys
It was a night to remember for musician and entertainer Michael Jackson after taking home eight Grammy Awards for his best selling-album, Thriller. The album, which produced seven top 10 singles after its 1982 release, swept several categories, including best male R&B vocal performance for Billie Jean, best R&B song for Billie Jean, best male rock vocal performance for Beat It, best male pop vocal performance for Thriller, best video album for Thriller, best recording for children (Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson) for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, record of the year for Beat It and album of the year for Thriller. The album broke all sales records to date, and remains one of the top-grossing albums of all time.

1990 — Philip Emeagwali wins the Nobel Prize of computing
Philip Emeagwali, known as the “Bill Gates of Africa,” was awarded the Gordon Bell Prize, which his considered the Nobel Prize of computing, for solving one of the 20 most difficult problems in the computing field.

If it were not for Emeagwali’s determination, his success may not have been guaranteed. Forced to drop out of school at age 14 because his father could no longer afford tuition, Emeagwali continued his education at home, doing his best to keep up with what his peers were learning. As part of his mental exercise routine, Emeagwali would run through 100 math problems, solving them all within one hour. At 17 years old, Emeagwali received a full scholarship to Oregon State University, where he studied mathematics before earning three other degrees from the University of Michigan and George Washington University.

In 1989, Emeagwali captured the attention of the most renowned professionals after using 65,000 processors to invent a computer that performed computations at 3.1 billion calculations per second, the world’s fastest computer at the time.