‘The Quad’ recap, Episode 8: Good vs. evil Noni Williams and Cecil Diamond reunite as Eva Fletcher continues down a dark path

Season 2, Episode 8 — The Quad: The Beautiful Struggle

Alas! After two weeks of waiting to see whether coach Eugene Hardwick met his demise, a call to Eva Fletcher confirms that Hardwick is physically OK. After a shooting at his home, which left one burglar dead, Hardwick and his wife are at the police station giving statements. Fletcher is trying her hardest to get herself off her couch to meet her colleague. She appears to be in a haze, most likely from the medicine she’s been taking, and asks daughter Sydney to drive her to the station. Her odd behavior causes Sydney to worry and question whether Fletcher’s going to the police station is a good idea given her current state and history with the officers.

Although Hardwick seems to be grateful for the support, his wife, Venus, on the other hand, seems to have a bit of an attitude with Fletcher. Once the couple makes it home, Hardwick tries to reassure Venus that everything is fine, although it’s not. Hardwick escaped physical harm during the incident, but he was the one who killed the burglar. It’s evident that Hardwick has suffered trauma after he’s seen having flashbacks of the incident. Instead of being honest about these thoughts, Hardwick tries his hardest to suppress them and continues on with his day.

Back on campus, Noni Williams finally confronts Cecil Diamond, who brushes off her comment that he’s a “bad man” to discuss the upcoming symphonic band competition. Diamond couldn’t care less about Williams’ concerns since his focus is on winning and getting back at Clive Taylor. Williams knows she doesn’t want to fall back under Diamond’s spell, but with a little musical challenge from her former mentor, Williams realizes how much she misses the band. She feels needed by Diamond and later shows up to practice for the upcoming event. She quickly realizes things are not how they used to be as she struggles to learn her part for a split between herself and bandmate Kiara. Williams doesn’t have the strength to stand up to Diamond but instead lets all of her frustrations out to her best friend, Ebonie Weaver. Weaver, however, is upset to see her friend going back to Diamond after what he’d put them both through, and even more upset after Williams lies about being back in the band.

In the dorms, Cedric Hobbs and Weaver have been spending more time together working on their music, which seems to be a good move for the emerging best-friends-turned-couple. Hobbs brings some good news to Weaver: His aunt has acquired studio time for them at the same studio where OutKast recorded one of their top albums, Stankonia. All they need is a vocalist for their track and things will be all set.

But, of course, things were going too smoothly in Hobbs’ life. It wouldn’t be normal without drama. So for vocals, Hobbs turns to his ex-girlfriend Bronwyn — the girl to whom he made clear he didn’t want after sleeping with Weaver. She’s still rightfully angry at him and has questions about the nature of his relationship with Weaver, but she goes to the studio anyway to sing the chorus for their track.

Things immediately go sideways when Weaver and Williams show up at the studio and see Bronwyn with Hobbs. Bronwyn, sensing the tension in the room, asks to speak to Hobbs privately. She again asks if their breakup was because of Weaver. Hobbs assures her that he and Ebonie are still just friends, but he wants to know why it matters so much to Bronwyn. After a dramatic buildup, Bronwyn reveals that she’s pregnant. In a later conversation, she tells Hobbs there’s a good chance she may not keep the baby — her body, her choice.

Between Hobbs and Williams, Weaver has been stressed. While on her way to support Williams in the symphonic band competition, Weaver has a nosebleed and begins to vomit. They are the lasting effects from the trauma she experienced after being severely beaten, and Williams volunteers to go to the hospital with her best friend. After Weaver returns home from the hospital, Hobbs attempts to check on her but is met with a cold shoulder. Who can blame Weaver?

At the event, Diamond is not a happy camper (but when is he ever?). What was supposed to be a Kiara and Williams split performance would have to be a solo since Williams is nowhere to be found. As the band begins to play and Kiara prepares for the solo, Williams emerges from the crowd and the two bandmates begin to play together. The performance earns Diamond and the band a first-place finish.

But, of course, it wasn’t over. After gloating about his win, Diamond confronts Taylor with the information Williams found. Diamond threatens to out Taylor as a fraud, which causes him to step down from his position as band director.

It’s been a quiet episode for Fletcher, but definitely not without drama on her end. After meeting up with Hardwick at the police station, Fletcher decides to check on her colleague in his office. At first she appears to be supportive and helpful, even suggesting therapy before getting to the real reason she’s there. Fletcher asks Hardwick why a loan shark attacked him in his home, then boldly asks the coach if he has a gambling problem. Shocked that she knows more than he wanted her to know, Hardwick becomes defensive.

Fletcher continues her day still trying to settle the score with the new merger and manage life without pills. She assures the doctor she’s dating that she’s fine and no longer needs them. She later repeats the same lie to Sydney, who challenges her mother’s words by throwing the pills out. Once Fletcher realizes what’s happening, she desperately tries to stop her daughter from emptying the rest. The two argue, which results in Fletcher asking Sydney to return her house keys. The relationship was just getting back on track, but Fletcher’s pill addiction may cause her to lose it all — family included.

In Big Boi’s new role on ‘The Quad,’ art imitates life He’s also in the remake of ‘Super Fly,’ which hits theaters in June

BET’s The Quad is off to a star-studded start in season two. Besides ’90s black sitcom favorites — including RonReaco Lee, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Terrence “T.C.” Carson — the show has kept it local by getting Georgia’s very own Antwan “Big Boi” Patton.

Big Boi plays the role of Lenny Jenkins, the father of a standout high school football recruit who he hopes will become a star at Georgia A&M University. Accepting the role was a no-brainer: In real life, Patton is the father of Cross Patton, a high school football recruit whose accomplishments Big Boi frequently shares with his followers on Twitter. Getting into the role of Jenkins was an easy transition — except for the obnoxious tendencies of the character.

“I’m not really an obnoxious guy,” Big Boi said. “I’m really kind of laid-back and cool, but I brought him out though. [This role] was kind of like a period-piece version of my life. This right here is current-day and what I do all the time. I’ve been going to my kids’ football games since they were like 5 years old, and been raising them up and things like that. It wasn’t a far stretch.

“I think I add a lot of me into it. I grew up around a lot of different characters,” Big Boi said. “I was the first grandchild, so I had a lot of uncles and aunties and neighbors and older people who babysat me. It was people from the ‘hood who did a little bit of everything, so I kind of saw a lot and been in different rooms that maybe a child shouldn’t have been. I kind of draw from those experiences.”

The Atlanta rapper believes becoming an actor while balancing his music career was a natural progression. As members of OutKast, Big Boi and André 3000 would co-direct their music videos. In 2006, the two starred in the film Idlewild, a period piece set in the South during Prohibition. Since then, Big Boi has continued to make music while adding film credits to his résumé.

“The reason I’ve been doing more movies is because music is my first love, my passion, and what I did was I got enough time to where I can stack enough music in the vault to where I can go off and do films and still keep my groove,” Big Boi said.

In June, Big Boi is hitting the big screen in the remake of the 1972 cult classic Super Fly. “It’s been pretty wild, but it’s going to be a dope movie,” Big Boi said of his time on set. “Director X did his thing, and I can’t wait to see it.”

Although most of his roles have been fun, outspoken characters, Big Boi hopes to explore his dark side in the future.

“[I’d like to play] a serial killer, like in American Psycho — like Christian Bale, but the black version. Something like a dark horror film, but with a comedic edge to it. Not like Jeffrey-Dahmer-eating-people killer, but like accidentally kill somebody and then try to cover it up, then kill somebody again. Something like that. I like the dark stuff. I like the bad guys.”

As an actor, rapper and businessman, Big Boi wants to achieve longevity in multiple fields. The key to his success?

“First and foremost, you’ve got to put God first, and you just have to have the drive and dedication,” Big Boi said. “If you want some, you’ve got to go after it. You have to keep evolving as an artist when it comes to music.

“Our main motto is being an outcast is always being outside of what the norm or what the trend is. You’ve always got to reinvent yourself and re-create new ways to make music. That’s where I get the excitement from. I have fun making music, and as long as people want to hear it, I’m going to keep giving it to them.”

The Quad airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on BET.

Kamara for the culture He grew up with the Migos, wears nose rings and a grill in games and is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year — but who really is Alvin Kamara?

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.


NEW ORLEANS — At the kitchen table of his split-level downtown condo, a hop and skip from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Alvin Kamara scrolls through the video call log in one of his two iPhones. “I can FaceTime him right now,” he says. “He’ll probably pick up.”

It’s Christmas Eve, and four hours have passed since the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons, 23-13, to clinch the franchise’s first playoff appearance in four seasons. For Kamara, the Saints’ 22-year-old running back and the NFL’s runaway favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, the moment calls for some reminiscing about the journey.

Back to when he was juggling Division I offers and chasing league dreams. Back to when he was dominating on high school football fields in and around his hometown of Norcross, Georgia. After games, three of his childhood friends who aspired to be big-time rappers would show up at local clubs. “They’d come in with 100 people, perform and walk out,” Kamara remembers. “Just tryna make it.”

A music executive everyone calls “Coach K” is the man who gave the trio a chance, and to Kamara, Kevin “Coach K” Lee is his uncle. Coach K — who has managed the careers of Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, and who is credited by The New York Times as taking Southern U.S. black culture global — is about keeping family close, and keeping it winning.

Instagram Photo

Kamara is the first and only athlete to be represented by Solid Foundation, a sports management division of Coach K’s Quality Control record label. And with a strong and close-knit support system, Kamara, a Pro Bowler and seven-time league Player of the Week, has revitalized the culture of the Saints, the city of New Orleans — and perhaps, in a tough year, of the NFL itself.

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, aka the No. 1 hit-making, Grammy Award-nominated Migos. “It’s dope to see the growth,” Kamara says. “Seeing them come up from nothing.” In 2017, the Migos emerged as the world’s most influential rap group, perhaps the best since OutKast.

“I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

“I was talking to Qua yesterday,” Kamara says before tapping on Quavo’s contact to initiate another FaceTime. “He was like, ‘Man, I’m proud of you. You just been ballin’. I remember when shit was bad and you stayed true to it.’ ”

Instagram Photo

True indeed. In his first season in the NFL, Kamara has averaged 7.7 yards per offensive touch, more than any player in league history (minimum of 200 touches). Not since Gale Sayers in 1965 has a rookie scored five rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns in a single season — until Kamara. And Kamara’s ballsy, fake-kneel, 106-yard kick return for a touchdown in the regular-season finale is the longest play in Saints franchise history.

No other NFL player in the league is doing quite what he’s doing, and no other player looks quite like him either. In addition to wearing his hair in twists, he rocks two nose rings and a shiny gold grill in his mouth — on the field. And off of it, Kamara has plenty of gold around his neck, Louis Vuitton on his wrists and Alexander Wang on his feet. In a season polarized by protests, and missing star New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Kamara brought swag to the NFL. He might even mean as much to the culture as the Migos right now.

Nine long rings on the call to Quavo, and no answer.

“I don’t know what he doing,” Kamara says. “He might call back.”


The recruitment of Alvin Kamara resulted in offers from just about every powerhouse college football program. On national signing day in 2013, with his mother, Adama, and Coach K beside him, Kamara decided to roll with the Alabama Crimson Tide, the school that once sent him 105 letters in a single day. He made the announcement during a crowded news conference at Norcross High School.

“Of all the kids I’ve ever recruited, I probably got closer to him and his family than any kid,” says Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, the former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator who secured Kamara’s commitment. “I don’t know why. He took a liking to me, I took a liking to him. We respected each other.” The two keep in touch via text and FaceTime. Kamara ends those calls with, “Love you.”

Kamara was poised for playing time despite a loaded depth chart — future NFL backs Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake — at his position. But a knee injury requiring surgery forced him to redshirt. “Alvin got put down with the scout team,” Smart says. “I can remember Nick Saban having to kick him out of practice: Hey, if you’re not gonna run the ball with the scout team, get out of here. Alvin didn’t like the idea of that, and I think he’d be the first to admit he didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. He ended up saying, at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara called Coach K to help him pack up his dorm room, and his uncle dropped everything he was doing — the Migos were just months from releasing their breakthrough hit, “Versace” — to be there. “Don’t even look back,” said Coach K. “We good. Whatever the next move is, we’re gonna execute it. We just gonna be A1.”

But on Feb. 13, 2014, at 19 years old, Kamara was arrested in Norcross for driving with a suspended license. “I’m sitting in the back of a cop car, like, What the f— am I doing?” He had enough pocket money to bail himself out, but police made him wait hours in a cell for his mother to come get him. “That was my sign,” he says. “Things had caught up to me.”

Kamara decided to stop dodging calls from Hutchinson Community College and boarded a plane to Kansas. He says he essentially “disappeared” for a year into his version of Last Chance U. It took one super productive, conference-offensive-player-of-the-year season — 1,469 total yards of offense and 21 touchdowns in only nine games — to make him a five-star junior college prospect. Kamara returned to the SEC, this time to Tennessee. “AK is a good dude,” says Hutchinson recruiting coordinator Thaddeus Brown. “He just had to figure it all out.”

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff.

It may have helped that somewhere along the road from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville, Kamara embraced who he is, especially with regard to his personal style. His middle school classmates had called him, as Kamara puts it, “weird as f—.” But ever since, he’d run from himself. It was time to return.

It started with a stud in his left nostril that he’d always wanted. When Kamara noticed too many others with their noses pierced, he one-upped them with a septum piercing. At Tennessee, he began wearing both, and, instead of the usual plastic mouthguard, he wore a grill during games. Kamara: “I was just like, ‘Bruh, I’m about to be me.’ It’s gonna be real hard for y’all to make me not be me.”


“He’s so unassuming,” says David Raymond, Kamara’s day-to-day manager. “If you just see him on the street, you wouldn’t be like, ‘That’s a running back.’ ”

At the 2016 NFL scouting combine, Kamara, who had declared early, topped higher-profile running backs — Dalvin Cook now of the Minnesota Vikings, Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers — in both the vertical leap (39.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches). He ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash. Yet his history at ’Bama, coupled with his arrest, and even his choice to leave Tennessee early, made some skeptical. “You see the gold teeth,” says Raymond, “and the nose rings, but you don’t see the young man.”

Alvin Kamara runs the 40-yard dash during the 2017 NFL combine.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kamara notched a 24 on the Wonderlic. It was the highest score posted by any Division I running back prospect. And Kamara says that while he was training in Miami with former Hurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey, he “never took one m—–f—— practice Wonderlic. I don’t know if people look at me and think, ‘He just plays football.’ I can chop it up on anything you want to talk about — from football … fashion … current news … history. We can do all that. I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

Kamara’s stylish singularity, he feels, caused him in many cases to be condescended to, and in other cases to be racially pigeonholed. Kamara chooses not to reveal the name of an NFL owner who talked to him through a sneer. “You like fashion,” the man said. “Your friends are rappers. You got the look. You got the nose rings. You look like you could probably do something else … like you don’t need football.”

Kamara pondered: Just because I know some people? I’ve not made one song. If I wanted to be a rapper, I would’ve been doing that a long time ago. After the interview, the team’s running backs coach approached Kamara and confirmed what the prospect already suspected: The owner didn’t believe Kamara “loved football.” And that it was unlikely Kamara would be listed on the team’s big board come draft night. The interaction begged questions: Does a person have to “need” football in order to love it and play at the highest level? And can one love football and possess a full identity outside of it?

“He didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. One thing led to another and he ended up saying at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara says at least three other teams tossed up similar red flags. “If somebody feels a certain way about the way I carry myself, or the way I dress, the way I talk, I don’t know what to tell you … because I don’t hate nobody. But if you don’t like me? I’mma keep it moving.”


Kamara’s flair may have been lost on some owners and front-office executives, but not on JR Duperrier, a sports marketing manager for Adidas. He had gone to the combine to sign former Michigan star Jabrill Peppers. When he got to Indianapolis, he found Kamara.

“My first impression of Alvin,” says Duperrier, “was he’s kinda swaggy.He looked like he could dress a lil’ bit, and I could dig it.” Duperrier is quite fashion-forward himself, having been named by BET as one of the 25 most influential people in sneakers last October. “Given a platform, Alvin can excel. He’s his own person. He doesn’t follow what other people do.”

Adidas announced the signing of Kamara on Twitter, 17 minutes after the New Orleans Saints selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft with the 67th overall pick (63 spots behind Fournette, 59 behind McCaffrey, 26 behind Cook and 19 behind Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon). For Kamara, his pre-draft gathering was a blur. Just a simple chat with head coach Sean Payton and running backs coach Joel Thomas. “They weren’t pressing me,” Kamara says matter-of-factly. Something about the Saints just felt right. When he reported to the team’s training facility for the first time, he noticed it again.

Saints running back Alvin Kamara jumps over Darius Slay of the Detroit Lions.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Maybe it was how defensive end Cam Jordan, a three-time Pro Bowler, greeted him for the first time. “This man got a nose ring! You f—ing millennials!” And the first time he met Drew Brees, the future Hall of Famer knew about Kamara’s skills, and recognized the potential. “ ‘I wanna work with you,’ ” Kamara recalls Brees saying. “ ‘Let’s grow together.’ ” Brees and Kamara have found common ground and channeled it into a rejuvenated winning culture in New Orleans.

“He always seems like he’s having fun,” says Brees, “and he definitely has a swagger to him. He fits in great with our locker room.” Throughout his first months in that locker room, Kamara won the rookie Halloween costume contest. He treated his offensive line to surprise rib meals in their lockers for helping him win FedEx Ground Player of the Week. And he sat on a throne of Airheads, a candy partnership Kamara had in his sights on since the draft. He always carries a pack of the taffy with him, offering some to anyone who crosses his path.

Most notably, Kamara has established a playing and personal relationship with the veteran of the backfield, Mark Ingram. The rookie has become what New Orleans calls the “zoom” to Ingram’s “boom” in games, after which the pair conduct hilariously informative postgame interviews together in front of their adjacent lockers. This season, they became the first running back duo in NFL history to each record 1,500 yards from scrimmage.

“This guy has so much on his plate,” says Ingram, “where he has to line up, how many different ways we wanna get him the ball. It says a lot about him as a professional. He deserves all of the success that’s coming his way.” Ingram calls Kamara not just a special player but also a special human being. “Offensive Rookie of the Year … we got it.”

Alvin Kamara (right) and Mark Ingram talk during a game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

And contrary to popular belief, which Kamara dispels any chance he gets, there’s no animosity between him and Adrian Peterson, whom the Saints traded to the Arizona Cardinals before Week 6, just as Kamara’s stock began rising exponentially. The rookie soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. “Keep playing,” Peterson told Kamara once in practice. “Keep being you.”

He took the advice to heart: 1,554 total yards from scrimmage through 16 regular-season games. He also owns the highest yards-per-carry average (6.1) for any first-year rusher in the Super Bowl era (minimum of 100 carries) and broke a 36-year-old franchise record for most touchdowns by a rookie, with 14. Simply put, Kamara got all he could ever ask for in his first NFL team. Because the Saints let Alvin be Alvin.


It’s a party in Suite 354 at the Superdome — jam-packed with Kamara’s people. “I just got here,” says Coach K, fresh off a private jet to see his nephew play. “All he had to do is play ball when he got here. Be young. Bring the swag. Do his thing.” Quality Control co-founder Pierre “Pee” Thomas is there, along with David Raymond and Duperrier. New Orleans rapper Young Greatness is rocking a custom Alvin Kamara hoodie, created by the designer/stylist Tvenchy, who’s responsible for many of the rookie’s day-to-day outfits and is in the suite vibing as well.

It’s hard to miss the boisterous Tonee, who played high school football with Kamara before becoming Atlanta singer 6lack’s official DJ. Or JAT, a friend from Tennessee who runs her own hair business. Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson even pops in. Along with his mother (who watched from home, although she hates to see her son take hits on-screen, or in person), this is Kamara’s foundation. “I kind of try to block it out when I’m playing because it’s distracting, but at the same time … my friends are here, so you wanna do good,” Kamara says later. “Not only for me, but for them.”

Alvin Kamara celebrates with fans after scoring a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

After the playoff-clinching win that Kamara finishes with a solid 21 touches for 162 yards, he and the crew partake in his season-long tradition. They make the 1.1-mile journey from the stadium exit back to his apartment — on foot. Along the way, he’s stopped every five steps by curious Saints fans, wondering, Is that really Alvin Kamara? Yes, it’s him. And he’ll take a picture with anyone who asks. “If I sign an autograph, somebody will be like, ‘Put Rookie of the Year,’ ” he says. “Do I want to be Rookie of the Year? Of course. … You can only do it once. But I can’t put it until I win it.”

“All he had to do is play ball. Be young. Bring the swag. And do his thing.”

Hours after the walk home, New Orleans is abnormally quiet, save for the few packed restaurants. A Kamara and Quavo FaceTime happens, as the Migos’ genius sits in a glowing Atlanta studio and chops it up about jewelry and such — “Show me the ice!” he says — with the NFL’s most explosive offensive weapon. After the call, not even the star rookie running back of the Saints can secure a last-minute reservation downtown on the night before Christmas.

So it’s into his black Audi S7 V8T and on to a chicken wing joint on the outskirts of the city, where he’s perhaps even more heralded as he places a food order fit for an army. It’s apparent that the stone-faced cashier sort of recognizes him, though she can’t fully put her finger on the exact identity of the nose-ringed, beanie-wearing figure before her.

“We need that Super Bowl!!!” a middle-aged man shouts.

“Off rip. I got you,” Kamara responds with a dap. “A hunnid.”

A moment of clarity overcomes the cashier, who looks at her customer with a warm smile. “Alvin Kamara?” she says. “I thought that was you.”

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

2004

  • 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

1999

  • 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

1984

  • 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)

 

Aux Cord Chronicles XIII: 28 songs that could replace the national anthem What if we switched from ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ to something from Aretha Franklin, Dipset — or Kendrick and Beyoncé?

Congratulations, America. You’ve successfully stiff-armed Colin Kaepernick’s original protest, meant to shed light on police brutality and systemic injustices against people of color, from the national conversation. Now, despite the fact that Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk, suggested that Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid take a knee as a sign of respect, the national discussion is centered on the supposed disrespect of the flag, the men and women of our military and the national anthem.

So let’s be proactive. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was penned in 1814 by Francis Scott Key. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional act officially declaring it the national anthem. Well, 86 years is quite the lifetime, but everything deserves a revamp — or at least an alternate. Below are 28 possibilities. (Aside from the obvious choice, John Rosamond Johnson’s musical adaptation of his brother James’ poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” otherwise known as the black national anthem.)

Aretha Franklin — “Respect” (1967)

Franklin has a legion of iconic records to her name, but this is the zenith. Want to win a free round at the bar? Ask who sang the original. The answer is Otis Redding, who wrote the song and dropped the original in 1965. Franklin’s version put the song into another stratosphere, becoming an anthem for black America in the process.

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly — “Before I Let Go” (1981)

Imagine it’s Friday night. It’s been a long week at work. You and your co-workers are this close to quitting and traveling the country and living off of your savings. Then you realize you absolutely suck at saving money, so there’s that. But you’ve got tickets to the big game this weekend. And when the announcer tells everyone to stand for the national anthem, they play this. For about three minutes, nothing else in the world would matter. Vote Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly 2020.

Kool & The Gang — “Get Down On It” (1981)

If you play this around your parents, aunts and uncles, they will immediately break out into a two-step and reminisce on what they were doing when this killed at the clubs.

The Gap Band — “Outstanding” (1982)

Is there any self-respecting human being who doesn’t love this song? I mean, other than this guy. This technically already is the national anthem, if you’re familiar with black cookouts and family reunions.

Will Smith — “Fresh Prince Theme Song” (1990)

I couldn’t recite the current national anthem without looking at a cheat sheet. But I could absolutely recite this — arguably the most iconic theme song in the history of theme songs. I’m not the only one, either.

Public Enemy — “Fight The Power” (1990)

Pretty self-explanatory, if we’re being honest.

Queen Latifah — “U.N.I.T.Y.” (1993)

“Unity” is a great idea, but in this case it sidesteps the original point of Kaepernick’s protests. But since we’re on the topic of unity, 1993 was a good year for Queen. This song dropped (and eventually won a Grammy), as did the classic ’90s sitcom Living Single.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony feat. Eazy-E — “Foe Tha Love of Money” (1994)

Because C.R.E.A.M:. Cash Rules Everything About America.

DMX — “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” (1998)

Stop. Drop. Shut ’em down, open up shop. Francis Scott Key couldn’t hold a candle to Earl Simmons.

Lauryn Hill — “Ex-Factor” (1998)

Just don’t have L-Boogie sing this Miseducation standout for Sunday Night Football — she might not show up until Thursday night. #AligningMyEnergyWithTheTime

Juvenile — “Back That Azz Up” (1998)

1. See my signature at the bottom of this post. 2. MAKE AMERICA TWERK AGAIN.

C-Murder feat. Magic & Snoop Dogg — “Down 4 My N—” (2000)

One thing for sure. Two things for certain. This beat will always be hard enough to convince a person he or she can run through a brick wall. And while it may sound odd to nominate a guy with a first-degree felony in his name for national anthem consideration, I’d argue this country has had far more head-scratching moments.

Sunshine Anderson — “Heard It All Before” (2001)

Because, being black in America, you actually have heard it all before.

Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz — “Get Low” (2002)

You know how the “land of the free, and the home of the brave” part gets everyone riled up? Hear me out. Imagine if it were To the window!/ To the wall!/ Till the sweat … well, you know the rest. Plus, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle would agree. Just look at how sad this guy got:

Jay-Z — “PSA” (2003)

It’d be fire to be at a New York Knicks game and the announcer says, “Everybody please rise for the singing of our national anthem.” And the next thing you know, over the PA system, Allow me to reintroduce myself/ My name is Hov!/ H to the O-V/ I used to move snowflakes by the O-Z …

The Diplomats — “Dipset Anthem” (2003)

I’m on the west side of Chicago, lookin’ for a bust-down/ To make me put my two arms up, touchdown!/ You stay in touch now, but when I touch down/ I’m like Buckshort shorty, you better duck down/ Yeah I must clown/ I’m from Harlem, uptown/ Where we flash money, take your b—- and ask you what now?

Cam’ron is an American institution and should always be respected as such. Also, my request of the National Museum of African American History and Culture still stands.

UGK feat. Outkast — “International Players Anthem” (2007)

Most songs on this list you can play for a verse and a hook and be fine. But this one? You play all four verses. You rap all four verses with as much conviction as you’ve ever done anything in your life. In particular, like Jay-Z said at Made In America a few weeks ago, you rap Pimp C’s verse loud enough so he can hear it in heaven. This is a perfect song. And no, it’s not up for debate.

Foxx feat. Lil Boosie and Webbie — “Wipe Me Down” (2007)

It’s not even a question I’d pledge allegiance to a song where a man got to the club with gas tank on E, still gets in VIP and proclaims all drinks on him. I’m proud to be a (trill) American.

F.L.Y. — “Swag Surf” (2009)

It’s a song that requires you to put your arms around the shoulders of your fellow man or woman. How much more unity do you need?

Gucci Mane feat. Ester Dean — “I Think I Love Her” (2009)

I’m all about ending gender discrimination. I’m all about ending the pay gap women face every day. And I’m all about gender equality. Hence our inclusion of this Gucci Mane classic. And, yes, while it is his song, everyone knows why we’re here: Well, my name is Susie and Gucci think I love him/ That sucka think I’m loyal but I f— with all the hustlas/ I be wit all the ballas/ I be at all the spots/ I might be in yo’ kitchen n—- cooking with yo’ pots. What a woman … **swoons**

DJ Khaled — “All I Do Is Win” (2010)

America has always operated under the Ricky Bobby gospel: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris — “We Found Love” (2011)

My all-time favorite Rihanna song. It doesn’t have to be on your list, but it’s staying on mine.

Drake — “Started From The Bottom” (2013)

I just think it’s funny how it goes … that Kaepernick’s original protest was gentrified and had a Whole Foods move into its neighborhood.

Travis Scott — “Antidote” (2015)

Have you ever seen him perform this live? In fact, let’s give it a test run. For the Houston Rockets’ home opener, let’s do this song before tipoff.

Future — “March Madness” (2015)

Because Dress it up and make it real for me is now etched into America in much the same way as JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” quote. If we’re being honest, too, this has been the national anthem since the summer of 2015 anyway.

Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar — “Freedom” (2016)

Can’t have a list like this and not include Blue, Rumi and Sir’s mom. And while I’m sure the #BeyHive will tell me I omitted 240 other songs that fit the list, it’s hard to deny this Lemonade standout and its soulful, uncompromising hook. Having Kung Fu Kenny on it doesn’t hurt either.

Cardi B — “Bodak Yellow” (2017)

Since it’s currently No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it technically is the national anthem.

Kendrick Lamar — “DNA” (2017)

When you think about it, Kendrick resurrected the pride of James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and gave it a bounce.

In all seriousness, if none of these selections works and we stick with the current iteration we do have, might I suggest the only version that even matters. Francis Scott Key could never …

Jay Z — an artist truly made in America — makes his case for an authentic rest of his life From Bun B to Styles P to T.I. — the grown men of rap are having a moment

In May, Jay-Z inked a new $200 million deal with Live Nation. Before this weekend, his last major tour was in 2014 with his wife Beyoncé for their ($100 million-grossing) On The Run excursion. Jay-Z’s return to Made In America, a music festival he founded with Budweiser in 2012, was to be the culmination of a chain of events that started with speculation, leading up to June 30 release of 4:44, about just how much Jay-Z did or didn’t have left in the creative tank.

Rap, historically, has been a young man’s game. Could Jay-Z, at 47, still shift the culture as he’s done countless times before? Could he successfully coexist in a world of Futures and Cardi Bs and Lil Yatchys and Migos — all of whom were either gracing the Made In America stage this year or in years past? Would Jay’s first major solo performance in three years be his next Michael Jordan moment?


Music fans in ponchos attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival, day one on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 2 in Philadelphia.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Sunday morning. On Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street. Jay Z’s new “Meet The Parents” blasts from a black Toyota Avalon. People on the sidewalk rap along — the car’s speakers are an impromptu appetizer for what’s to come later. He can’t explain what he saw / Before his picture went blank / The old man didn’t think / He just followed his instincts,” Jay-Z rhymes at the stoplight. Six shots into his kin / Out of the gun / N—a be a father / You’re killing your sons.”

On that day — before the Labor Day holiday and Night 2 of the sixth annual Budweiser Made In America Festival — a group of friends walking down 20th Street playing cuts from 2009’s Blueprint 3 on their mobile phones. Thousands of iterations of Shawn Corey Carter stared back from T-shirts worn by the crowd that swarmed Ben Franklin Parkway.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables.

And then there was the young man working at UBIQ, a chic sneakers store on chic Walnut Street. Looking like a student from Penn, he said he planned on taking in Jay-Z’s headlining Sunday set. At least for one day at the end of summer, the City of Brotherly Love bled blue, Jigga’s favorite hue. “It’s a skate park like right across the street,” Penn Guy said as cuts from Jay-Z’s lauded 4:44 play from the store’s speakers. “I’ve never seen him live. I’m excited.”

Jay-Z’s return to rap — there’s been no new solo album since 2013’s middle of the pack Magna Carta Holy Grail — has been a summer-long process. First came the rumors of a new album watermarked by mysterious “4:44” signage that covered everything from city buses to websites all across the country. Then, at the last of June came the album itself, which was met with immediate and widespread love. A slew of “footnotes” — videos, conversations between people such as Chris Rock, Tiffany Haddish, Will Smith, Jerrod Carmichael, Chris Paul and more — followed, which detailed the album’s creation and inspirations.

From there, in mid-August, the most-talked-about music interview of the year showcased Jay-Z alongside Tidal and Rap Radar’s Elliott Wilson and Epic Records and Rap Radar’s Brian “B.Dot” Miller. The podcast left no stone unturned. In a two-part, 120-minute conversation, they peeled back layers of Jay-Z’s thought processes about music, life, love, motivation, depression and, even LaVar Ball.

On the heels of that talk, and through a Saturday of unseasonal chilly downpours, Jay-Z and Beyoncé watched a new generation of stars command muddy crowds. Family from both sides of the Carter-Knowles union cheered Solange on through her Saturday set. Was may well have been a kind of moment Jay-Z envisioned throughout the recording of 4:44. At 47, he had to wonder about his creative mortality, and if he could shift the culture as he’d done so many times before.


Bun B performs onstage at The Fader Fort presented by Converse during SXSW on March 16, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball said it: “Y’all outdated, man. Don’t nobody listen to Nas anymore […] Real hip-hop is Migos, Future.”

On one hand, it’s difficult to fault a 19-year-old for backing the music of his youth. Younger generations of artists and fans alike have always bucked back at generations who view their contributions as destructive. Tupac Shakur openly dissed De La Soul on 1996’s seething battle record “Against All Odds:” All you old n– tryna advance/ It’s all over now take it like a man/ N– lookin’ like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick/ Tryna playa hate on my s–, eat a fat d–. And only weeks before he was murdered, The Notorious B.I.G. vowed to never rap past 30. On the other hand though? Right now is a particularly good time for a handful of statesmen who dominated hip-hop before Big Baller Brand was just a twinkle in Lavar Ball’s eye.

How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, he’s hip-hop’s them.

Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P (and their soundman, Trackstar the DJ) have consistently been one of the decade’s most impactful groups. They tour the world — and, in particular, amassed a melting pot crowd of various races and ages moshing at the Sunday Made In America set. Nas’ 2012 Life Is Good is, in many ways, rap’s interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, and one of the great late-career albums from any MC. OutKast’s 2014 tour was weird, but Big Boi of OutKast has quietly been responsible for several stellar albums — 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors and 2017’s Boomiverse — in this decade alone.

Jay-Z wasn’t the only artist in the pre-Lonzo Ball era displaying moments of clarity over the last few years either. A handful of hip-hop’s mature and notable names have been creating art and expressing — via conversation and on social media — everything from encounters with their own mortality to the pain and occasional beauty of survivor’s remorse.

Rice University instructor Bernard “Bun B” Freeman (currently working with Beyoncé and Scooter Braun on a telethon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey), one half of the legendary Port Arthur, Texas, rap group UGK, sat down with Queens, New York’s own N.O.R.E. for an installment of the MC’s popular Drink Champs podcast. Per tradition, both parties swap hip-hop war stories and imbibe for the better part of two hours. The most emotional segment centered around memories of Freeman’s partner in rhyme, Pimp C, who died in 2007.

“The illest s— Pimp [C] ever said was ‘I don’t need bodyguards. I just need mighty God.’ Ever since he said that, and I never told him, I move like that,” Freeman said. A single tear streamed down the right side of his face. “If you wasn’t moving with me within God, I’ll just move by myself. That’s the way life should be.” He continued, “If you are who you say you are, and you’re honoring that in a real way, you can move anywhere in this world. Pimp and I are proof of that.”

When it comes to honoring a fallen comrade, T.I. (who was not feeling Lonzo’s comments) understands all too well. In May 2006, T.I’s best friend Philant Johnson was murdered in Cincinnati following a drive-by shooting. Phil, is inspiration behind T.I.’s massive Justin Timberlake-assisted single “Dead & Gone.” Phil had been by T.I.’s side that same evening — holding his mobile while the rapper performed. Hours later, his lifelong friend lay bleeding to death in his arms. “I told him I had him, and it was going to be all right,” T.I. told MTV in 2006. “That was what I said. And he said, ‘All right.’”

The death could be viewed as the trigger that disrupted T.I.’s massive mid-2000s success. His 2007 weapons arrest and subsequent incarceration was seen by many as a response to Johnson’s murder. T.I. contemplated quitting rap. But T.I.’s moved forward. While not at just this minute the Billboard and box office star he split time as a decade ago, the film producer, actor, and two-time Grammy winner born Clifford Harris is still a recognizable figure in rap. Particularly on his very active Instagram account.

Instagram Photo

Last month, Tip (a father to six who is who has experienced his own share of public marital ups and downs with singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris) posted the video of him presenting Phil’s daughter with a new car. She’s now a high school senior. In a heartfelt caption, Tip used the moment as a social media therapy session. “Making straight A’s and maintaining a 3.8 GPA, all the way through school, staying away from all the things we were eyeball deep in when we was her age, & doing any & everything that’s EVER been asked since you left,” he wrote. “How can we not make sure she rides cool & in comfort her senior year? We miss you more than we can express…but we fill in for you everyday until it’s all said and done.”

He promised to send her to college. And that she’d never suffer for anything. It was more than an Instagram caption. It was remaining true to a promise to a man who died in his arms 11 years ago. “Our loyalty lives forever!”

Lastly, it’s Styles P — one-third of ’90s Bad Boy trailblazers The LOX. He and his wife, Adjua Styles, visited Power 105’s The Breakfast Club in August. Among other things, the couple discussed the benefits of healthy eating, and Charlottesville, Virginia. They also talked about their daughter’s suicide.

It’s what performances like these are masked for—regular season games for a championship run.

In June 2015, Styles P’s stepdaughter, Tai Hing, took her own life. She was 20. Styles P addressed the tragedy a month later via Instagram, detailing the difficulty he and his family faced, and would face. Hing’s death, her mother believes, could have been the boiling point of depression, issues with her biological father, and perhaps her sexuality.

Fighting back tears, Styles P was emotional about never having been able to take the place of Hing’s biological father. The dynamic bothered him deeply, but was beginning to understand as he, himself, was a product of a similar situation. “If we knew she was depressed she would’ve been home with us,” he said. “ We all deal with depression on some sort of level … You expect your child to bury you, not to bury your child.”

Honesty has always been a prerequisite for hip-hop in its most soul-piercing form. Beyond the flash, the lights and the flossing, at its core, rap was necessary to explain the fears, dreams, joys and pains of a people so often still struggling. And dealing with police brutality, poverty, misogyny, and more. So Styles P’s pain, T.I.’s memories, Bun B’s instructions from Pimp C, and Jay-Z’s vulnerability aren’t new grounds for rap. But their grief, and willingness to shred the cloak of invincibility rap often mirages is living proof of the power behind the quote a wise man said nearly a decade ago. Ain’t no shame in holding onto grief. As long as you make room for other things, too.


Music fans attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival – Day 2 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 3, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

The weather Sunday proved to be Mr. Hyde to the Saturday’s Dr. Jekyll. The only visible fingerprint from Saturday was the mud that essentially became a graveyard for shoes. Jerseys were popular with the crowd. UNC Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. Cavaliers, Heat and St. Vincent-St. Mary LeBron. Sonics and Warriors Durant. Nuggets Jalen Rose, Sixers Ben Simmons. Lakers Kobe, and Hornets Glen Rice. UCLA Russell Westbrook, and Lonzo Ball. Arizona State James Harden, University of California Marshawn Lynch, Niners Colin Kaepernick, LSU Odell Beckham and Georgetown Allen Iverson. Obscure jerseys such as Aaliyah’s MTV Rock n’ Jock and Ray Finkle’s Dolphins jersey (from the 1994 Jim Carrey-led comedy classic Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) were sprinkled among the sea of thousands.

Afternoon sluggishly careened into evening. 21 Savage, Run The Jewels and The Chainsmokers all commanded large crowds. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from The Wire dapped up fans. Hometown young guns Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers walked through the crowd. Festivalgoers camped near the main stage for hours in hopes of landing an ideal viewing spot for Jay-Z’s performance. To pass time, cyphers were had. Weed smoke reclined in the air. Guts from dutches and cigarillos were dumped. All to pass the time.

Months ago, many, especially on Twitter, wanted to act like Jay-Z wasn’t a headliner. No one even saw an album coming. Now here they were minutes from history. That’s what Jay-Z is in 2017. How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson — Jay-Z is hip-hop’s them. He’s a throwback to the genre’s yesterday lyricism while embracing the newer generation he still attempts to impart game on and learn from.

The oversized Balloon Dog by famed sculptor Jeff Koons took the stage: It was time. “I’ve been waiting for this all summer,” one concertgoer said as he wrapped his arms around his girlfriend. “I know one thing, Jay better do the songs I wanna hear!” demanded another young woman.

So he did. Jay-Z’s set lasted nearly an hour and a half. He blended 4:44 cuts with classics from his catalog — the radio-friendly and the graphic street narratives. Jay-Z commanded of the crowd, but critiques did exist.

In his Rap Radar interview, Jay-Z mentioned that he was still toying around with the set list for his upcoming tour (slated to start in October). While it’s not a question to 4:44’s quality, Jay-Z weaving in old classics such as “Where I’m From,” “H to the Izzo,” “N—as In Paris,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Hard Knock Life,” “Run This Town,” “Empire State of Mind” and “Heart of City” captivated the crowd, cuts from his most recent album seemed to dissipate from the energy those helped muster. 4:44, after all, does not have a big radio single.

4:44 is Jay-Z’s most personal album to date. His thirteenth solo effort revolves around the complexities of his marriage, his mother’s sexuality and societal issues that continue to create systematic disadvantages for people of color. Its intimacy can get lost in an outdoor crowd of tens of thousands. For an album of that nature, it’s tough to ask even Jay-Z to plan for such.

Breath control was expected to be off-center in his first major performance in three years — though coaxing the crowd to sing Beyoncé happy birthday was a great diversion. Are these flaws that will doom his upcoming tour? No. He still has three more festivals on deck before setting sail on his own on Oct. 27. It’s what performances like these are made for — regular-season games for a championship run.

“It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” a concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.”

Jay-Z performs at Budweiser Made in America festival on Sept. 3 in Philadelphia.

Arik McArthur/FilmMagic

Jay-Z’s catalog: a litany of hits he can employ at any time to wrap a crowd around his fingers. People filmed Instagram and Snapchat videos of themselves rapping along. People yelled to him from the back of crowd as if it were a Sunday service. And cyphers between friends sprouted everywhere. Another element Jay-Z kills with is the element of surprise. He concluded the show with a tribute to Coldplay’s Chester Bennington, who committed suicide in July: an inspired performance of his Black Album single “Encore.”

As he left the stage, crowds swarmed to the exit. Some concertgoers voiced their displeasure. Jay-Z did his thing in the 90 minutes he gave Philly. But there was still something missing. “That’s it? He didn’t even do half of the songs I wanted,” said a girl as she walked toward the exit. “It was aight, I guess. It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” another concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.” Made In America was over.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables. Some slipped in the mud trying to get there, ruining their clothes, but those concerns were faint. Hundreds were already on the street heading back to their apartments, AirBnB’s or Ubers when Jay-Z informed Philly that the party wasn’t over yet. This set was only for his “Day Ones.”

Jay pulled his “Pump It Up Freestyle” out his back pocket. This bled into “Best of Me,” “I Know,” “Hola Hovito,” “Money Ain’t A Thing” and more. Hometown kid Meek Mill’s guest appearance gave an already frenetic crowd an HGH-sized boost of adrenaline as the rapper ran through his catalog’s zenith and most intense track, 2012’s “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro).”

As Jay-Z closed the second set with [his favorite track], “Allure,” the mood was ceremoniously serene. Michael Jordan finished with 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting in his first game back in versus Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in 1995. The 21 misses are footnotes in history. It’s a moment everyone remembers for two simple words: “I’m back.” Grown as hell, Jay-Z is too.

‘Insecure’ recap: Life comes at Issa fast; Molly doubles down on forbidden fruit Issa shoots all of her shots. Whether they’re good shots is a totally different discussion.

Season 2, Episode 6 | “Hella BLOWS” | Aug. 27

Whoever came up with the title “Hella Blows” for this episode deserves all the awards. More on that shortly.

Lawrence didn’t have a great last episode. He’s stalking Issa on social media. He knows Daniel’s back in the picture. Derek told him about himself. He sees Issa living her life, and he’s this close to blocking Issa on social media while getting drunk in his house by himself. With his personal life on the ropes, his professional life has to at least provide some sort of balance, right? Wrong. Misery loves company.

We see Lawrence presumably killing his presentation for the app he’s been working on for the better part of two years. Yes, the same app that Lawrence was working on in season one when he was in between gigs, not yet in between Issa and Tasha, and not yet the real-world cult hero he’s become. The presentation, on the surface, seems to go well. His colleagues seem interested, saying how much they loved it. And they didn’t have any questions.

That right there should have been a red flag for Lawrence. Really? They didn’t have one question about this app? That was a dead giveaway: They not only didn’t care about the presentation, they don’t value Lawrence’s work, period. Perhaps so desperate for a win of some sort, Lawrence ignores his co-worker Aparna (Jasmine Kaur) when she lets him know he was getting played. It wasn’t until a second conversation that Lawrence really began to see what Aparna was talking about. He’s black. She’s a woman of color. In the tech industry, that’s already playing behind the eight ball.

Yet, somehow, Lawrence had the most tame storyline in the episode. Because Molly, our favorite Los Angeles lawyer not named Johnnie Cochran, feels she played her hand too much by sleeping with longtime friend (who just happens to be married) Dro. Her intention: to lay all her cards on the table and say it was a moment of passion, and that she was weak. You know, all the stuff you tell yourself before you absolutely lie down with that same person again. That’s exactly what happens with Molly. The only difference is, this time she’s more invested.

Molly doesn’t totally understand the open marriage concept, but she’s here now, and it’s gonna go wherever it’s going to go. Whatever’s blossoming between the two seems to be evolving, and the two end up in a hotel room, with Molly in a bubble bath and Dro sitting on the edge beside her … until Dro has to dip because Candice is back in town now and she’s locked herself out.

It’s that moment right then when Molly realizes, What did I get myself into? I’m not going to lie to you either, America. I still believe this open marriage angle Dro’s been preaching is just game that’s apparently working on Molly to the point she’s willing to go into hotel rooms with this dude as if they didn’t just smash in her place a week ago. Dro’s having his cake and eating it too. The flavor of said cake happens to be Molly.

The commandment Issa failed to understand about having a roster is that you still have to manage the roster.

And now we get to Issa. Oh, Issa, Issa, Issa. Where does one even begin to unload Issa’s drama from last night? On second thought, maybe “unload” wasn’t the greatest word choice ever. Anyway, let’s start from the beginning.

Issa, like Lawrence, absolutely sucks at her hoe phase. The commandment Issa failed to understand about having a roster is that you still have to manage the roster. Eddy (the neighbor) played her to the left when she popped up unannounced. Daniel hit her with the “three dots” text, then disappeared. (Well played, by the way, Daniel. Well played.) And her new dude, Nico, wasn’t with all the heavy advances she threw on him at her apartment. Issa wanted an emergency you-know-what in a glass. Nico actually cares for her beyond the sexual component. So when he turned her down, opting instead to go to the restaurant he had in mind, that bond was over quicker than a Mike Tyson fight in the ’80s. Issa finally sees what we all see — there’s no rotation in her “hoetation.” Life comes at you fast.

Anyway, this leads to the crux of the entire episode, and the scenes that had social media amped on a thousand last night. Issa, Molly, Kelli and Tiffany all attend a sex workshop. The topic of oral sex arises. (There are all type of puns in here that I’m not trying to make, but the opportunities are so fertile right now. See what I mean?) They all laugh at the thought of performing oral sex with a condom after being asked to sign up for a “how-to” class. Keep this in mind. We’re going to come right back to this.

From there, the convo between the quartet of ladies dives into who likes doing it, who doesn’t like doing it, and who isn’t necessarily opposed to doing it but it’s not their favorite activity in the world. Issa, of course, is vehemently opposed to doing it. (Like, what, sis? It’s 2017. We’re all grown here. When we were kids, we did childish things. But we’re adults now … and, well, adults adult. And this is very adult-laden, Issa!) Sorry, I keep getting sidetracked. It’s this convo that begins to spark Issa’s brain, which leads her over to Daniel’s house. One thing leads to another, and the next thing you know they’re going at it.

Issa, the progressive that she is, decides to switch the game up. She tells him to sit back and let her take the reins, and he gladly obliges. What happens next could be the funniest, wildest and most discussed scene yet in Insecure. Even more than Lawrence’s double dip into the milk of magnesia two episodes ago.

Daniel warns Issa: Hey, look. Any moment now this is about to get messy. Make your next move your best move. Issa ignores Daniel’s warning and his body clues, and the next thing we know Issa’s got pink eye. But it’s her reaction that’s most trippy. She acted as if Daniel committed a sin. He didn’t. In fact, she did her job and did it admirably. Her yelling at him leads to Daniel giving the funniest quote of the season — and one I can’t type here for HR reasons. But I’ve got questions that need answers.

  1. What did Issa realistically think would happen in this situation?
  2. Does she not know in the heat of battle you either have to dodge like Neo in The Matrix or fully commit and really get the party cracking? Boss up.
  3. Seriously, did she and Lawrence never do this in their five years together? This can’t be her first rodeo.
  4. Did they not go over this exact scenario in the class?

Next week’s episode should be popping, in particular the dinner scene. I’m having trouble envisioning how it tops this one, though.

Bonus: Shout-out to Issa for the fire OutKast T-shirt. The fashion in this season has been nothing short of flames.

Double Bonus: Miguel’s new song with Travis Scott, “Sky Walker,” makes an appearance in this episode. Cue the hype for a new Miguel album. And I’m leading the charge.

Triple Bonus: It’s going to take $5,500 to fix Issa’s car? Nudes sure are expensive these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Eccelston

André Chung for The Undefeated

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

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

Wait. Wasn’t this already a thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

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

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

Let’s talk about sex music!

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

But she’s not stuck in the decade.

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

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

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

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

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

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

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

What now?

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

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

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

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

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

‘4:44’ is a Shawn Carter album. JAY-Z is dead Love, betrayal, shame, survival: JAY-Z hits the ball out of the park with intensely personal new album

These moments don’t happen. Hip-hop is a young man’s game. But for one night, the music universe revolved around JAY-Z, the sport’s finest elder statesman, with the release of his 13th studio album, 4:44.

The 10-track 4:44 is the most emotionally taxing project of JAY’s (he’s back to all caps) career. Ernest “No I.D.” Wilson, who produced JAY’s 2009 “Run This Town” and “Death of Autotune,” as well as 2007’s “Success,” among others, is the album’s lone producer, and he is irreplaceable. No I.D.’s music is more than just “beats,” or instrumentals. Without No I.D.’s soulful backdrops (inspired by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone, Kool & The Gang and more), 4:44 might lack the emotional connection it not only thrives on but quite literally survives on. But in the end it is JAY’s inward glimpse of himself — the man he was, the man he’s become, the man he grew to partially hate — that separates this album from his previous bodies of work.

Yet, where 4:44 will land in the rankings of JAY-Z’s catalog is a question better left for time. Off the rip, though, this is the greatest rapper of all time stripping himself down to essentials. It’s the project fans and critics have clamored for, for years: the authentic Jay Z. The desire has been for him to curb the flaunting of luxuries and come with the real on what it’s like to be one of the most successful people in the world — and also one of its most haunted.

But the writing had been on the wall. With his wife, Beyoncé, and his sister-in-law, Solange, using their last albums for their most personal work, it’s no surprise 4:44 unmasks itself as JAY at his emotional and creative zenith.


Fourteen months ago, and 10 days before the release of Beyoncé’s Grammy-nominated opus Lemonade, JAY-Z had a decision to make. On April 13, 2016, the final night of the NBA’s regular season, history was going to happen one way or the other. Would he fly to Oakland, California, for the Golden State Warriors’ record-setting 73rd win? Or sit courtside for Kobe Bryant’s final game with the Los Angeles Lakers? It was, to quote Marlo Stanfield, one of them good problems.

JAY chose to watch Bryant punctuate his first-ballot Hall of Fame career in the most Kobe Bryant way possible: 60 points on 50 shots in a five-point victory over the Utah Jazz, scoring or assisting on the final 19 points. The onslaught was the swan song of one of the culture’s most divisive, polarizing and accomplished spirits — a moment only dreams could create and talent, ambition and maniacal competitiveness could materialize. Neither could have envisioned that night 20 years earlier.

Rap was never given the chance to heal from those wounds — Biggie, Tupac — it helped create. But it spared JAY-Z.

Bryant and JAY, despite nine years separating them, came into the public’s eye together. Reasonable Doubt, the corner-boy manifesto and classic hip-hop debut, arrived on June 25, 1996. A day later, the Charlotte Hornets drafted a 17-year-old Bryant, only to send him to Los Angeles in return for Vlade Divac. Both JAY and Bryant escaped the shadows of their larger-than-life predecessors, The Notorious B.I.G. and Michael Jordan, to carve their own places in history. But on that spring 2016 night in downtown Los Angeles, JAY witnessed a peer, one of the few in America who understands what it’s like to be that famous for that long, walk away from the game he changed in that manner. JAY certainly didn’t need a great album to call it a career on — in the same way Bryant didn’t need a historic game to cement his stature among basketball’s all-time greats. But still, the game had to be inspirational.

“Wow,” was the only word a stunned JAY-Z could mutter as he watched Bryant further ascend toward immortality. Little was he aware the same would happen to him a year later.


Before the release of 4:44, a legit critique of JAY himself was, What could he possibly have to talk about that would be beneficial to rap in 2017? He’s one of the wealthiest men on the planet, with a portfolio that shows no signs of slowing. His business ventures have helped redefine the image of what long-term success looks like in America’s most influential and most critiqued music culture. The album itself bookends a monumental June 2017 for Shawn Carter: Kevin Durant, a flagship client of his Roc Nation Sports agency, captured his first NBA championship, and JAY himself was inducted, with a speech from President Barack Obama, into the Songwriters Hall of Fame — the first rapper to be so honored. He also (with respect to the Obamas), makes up half of one of the most high-profile relationships in America, and he’s one of the few people in the world with direct lines to Jordan, Obama and LeBron James. And now he’s the father of three. And since he started from the bottom, so to speak, another valid concern is: Does JAY-Z even still have it anymore?

Sponsored listening parties for the album littered cities around the country. The one I attended, in Silver Spring, Maryland, was shut down by police for capacity reasons before the first song could be played. Speakers were moved outside the Sprint store where the session was to be held, ostensibly so the people stretching to the next block near a Whole Foods grocery store could hear the album. I went home.

It was for the best, too. As Jay’s confessions run deep, the album is perhaps best experienced solo. For years, I wondered how the trauma of shooting his brother, as he detailed on 1997’s “You Must Love Me,” followed him into rare heights of superstardom. I wondered how selling dope to people he loved may have left him with an inescapable sense of trauma. I wondered how often he reflected on having stabbed Lance “Un” Rivera, and how the incident nearly derailed his career. It’s all on 4:44. On the first track, at that. And more.

There’s an extended rebuttal (wildly and fairly speculated) to Kanye West on “Kill Jay-Z.”

You walkin’ round like you invincible / You dropped outta school, you lost your principles / I know people backstab you, I feel bad too / But this ‘f— everybody’ attitude ain’t natural / But you ain’t the same, this ain’t kumbaYe / But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye / You gave him 20 million without blinking / He gave you 20 minutes on stage, f— was he thinking? ‘F— wrong with everybody?’ is what you saying/ But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane.

On the same song, in the second person, come some truths about what spawned the infamous elevator footage featuring him, his wife and his sister-in-law:

You egged Solange on / Knowing all along, all you had to say was you was wrong / You almost went Eric Benet / Let the baddest girl in the world get away / I don’t even know what else to say / N—-, never go Eric Benet/ I don’t even know what you woulda done/ In the Future, other n—- playin’ football with your son.

And on “Smile” comes the touching reveal of his mother Gloria Carter’s sexuality:

Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian / Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian / Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take/ Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her.

Leaving little room for debate, the crux of the album is his marriage, and the image he sets in place for his three children. JAY’s demons are 4:44’s most enriching and difficult gifts. The emotional weight of his 2017 confessions rest on the timeline of his own words. JAY sat down with MTV for an interview in 1998 — in which, at 29, he discussed his views on love. “I loved the women I was with,” JAY said, “I loved things about them, but I’ve never been in love. They say love is forever. I never felt that forever type of thing. … I’ve never been away from anyone and … I can’t wait to get back to them. I guard myself. I won’t allow myself. But I know that. I’m on my way to recovery.”

Similar sentiments showed up two years later on Dynasty’s “Soon You’ll Understand”: It ain’t like I ain’t tell you from day one I ain’t s— / When it comes to relationships, I don’t have the patience / Now it’s too late, we got a little life together / And in my mind, I really want you to be my wife forever / But in the physical it’s like I’ma be trife forever.

The most important song on the album, by far, is the title track, “4:44.”

When Beyoncé dropped Lemonade last year, it was seen as the most empowering moment of her career. Comfortable in her own skin, she was openly uncomfortable in her own marriage. The Carters, who thrive in a carefully constructed privacy, were now a public case study — cracks in the armor were exposed. Conversely, Lemonade placed JAY in a position he’s rarely been in: not in control. The entire world knew of his apparent infidelity and how much of a toll it took on his marriage. He couldn’t jump in front of the narrative because he was the narrative. Big homie better grow up, Beyoncé warned on “Sorry.” He only want me when I’m not there.

Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’: Comfortable in her own skin, she was openly uncomfortable in her own marriage.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade admissions are agony expressed through art. But it’s likely their private conversations stuck with JAY more. Anyone familiar with infidelity can replay the range of emotions and questions. Why would you do this? Do you love him/her? Was it something I did? You promised me trust and then you broke it. You promised me forever, but even forever has a time stamp. How do you explain this to our kids? These are the consequences of selfish decisions. And it’s these consequences that left JAY up at 4:44 a.m., drowning in guilt, writing a record he calls one of the best he’s ever written.

“4:44” is “Song Cry” with the threat of divorce court. Even worse, an illustration of the cycle of flawed fatherhood Jay swore to eradicate in himself. The song is the most personal glimpse into the Carters’ relationship — one he pursued, but admittedly wasn’t ready for — and how his transgressions nearly separated them.

Is JAY-Z’s karma to blame for Beyoncé’s 2013 miscarriage? Probably not, but hearing JAY blame himself for his lack of presence is haunting. It’s JAY fully peeling back layers of vulnerability through tears. And because I fall short of what I say I’m all about / Your eyes leave the soul that your body once housed, he raps. And you stare blankly into space / Thinking of all time you wasted in on all this basic s—. It’s on this song where the truest extent of what JAY has put Beyoncé through boils to the surface.

And of his kids looking at him differently once they inevitably uncover his truth, he raps I’d probably die with all the shame. Courtside seats, chats with Obama and nine-figure business deals mean nothing in the grand scheme to JAY. You did what with who? What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soul mate? What follows next is the question that packs such a punch it nearly stops the album in its tracks: You risked that for Blue?

A marriage is many things. Things happen that leave scars for a lifetime. No matter his bank account or influence, he is the reason that many parts of his life will never be the same. It’s a weight he’s been living with his entire life, since he sold his first brick of dope. Only this time, instead of drugs, it’s broken promises. Even JAY-Z can be his own worst enemy.

This is Shawn Corey Carter’s new life story told through rap.


Both the production and lyrics of 4:44 have a natural partner in his 2001 masterpiece The Blueprint. Only now, he’s accomplished everything he said he would. It sounds foolish to even suggest that JAY-Z, three decades after the release of his first album, could find himself in the running for Album of the Year in 2017, especially when so many, perhaps with merit, questioned if he even still cared about rapping anymore.

But his constancy remains unrivaled. He outlasted DMX and Mase. Looked Eminem in the eye. Thrived during the prolific runs of 50 Cent and Nelly. Raced Diddy to a billion. Came of age with Outkast. Helped introduce Kanye to the world. Broke bread with T.I., Rick Ross and Jeezy. Sized up, but ultimately respected, Lil Wayne. And dubbed Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Drake as leaders of new school — although the war of subliminals with the latter rages on to the present day. And he’s done it all with a responsibility no other artist in rap has had to carry.

My boy died, and all I did was inherit his stress, Jay rapped on 1998’s “It’s Alright,” referring to the late Notorious B.I.G. Hip-hop was never given the chance to see Biggie at 30. Or Tupac Shakur with children. JAY-Z achieved both. Rap has not been given the chance to heal from those wounds it helped create.

But it spared JAY-Z. He grew older while they stay forever young. These are the ghosts with whom Jay-Z has boxed for 20 years. He is the survivor of the cautionary tale.

The only thing left to say is what Jay said while watching Kobe drop 60. Wow.

André 3000 on the 10th anniversary of his ‘Class of 3000’ soundtrack The music icon talks everything from Sonny Rollins to ‘Dead Poets Society’ to Tyler, The Creator to the creative life

Where we were on July 3, 2007, the day the soundtrack to André Benjamin’s animated series Class of 3000 was released: It had been a year since the premiere of Outkast’s movie and soundtrack Idlewild. Three years since the duo won the Album of the Year Grammy for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Yet the musical futures of Three Stacks and Big Boi were up in the air. André 3000, especially, was keeping mum about any future projects but was dropping unannounced guest verses — “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” and “Walk It Out” among them — and stealing the show each time. The world was clamoring for more output from André, even dreaming of a solo album (fans are still begging for that album in 2017). But what many don’t know is that 3000 actually released a full-length album — just not what anyone was expecting.

Class of 3000 is the soundtrack to Andre 3000’s short-lived but brilliant Cartoon Network series. In it, André plays a music teacher who exposes his class to adventures and a new appreciation for their respective instruments. The show is like if you put The Magic School Bus in a deep fryer and put a side of yams next to it. He produced the entire album, provided vocals and, yes, even rapped. A decade later, the album is still as innovative and replayable as it was in 2007.

“It actually happened right after Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” said Benjamin via mobile. “Adult Swim was getting aggressive with television and for new content. [Then-vice president of programming for Cartoon Network] Mike Lazzo heard The Love Below and said, ‘Man, I gotta reach out to that guy and make The Love Below into some kind of animated thing.’ The show was originally supposed to be an Adult Swim show. It was going to be more edgy. But I felt The Love Below was its own entity. I wanted to create something new.”

“You don’t have to rest on what you’ve done in the past. It’s beautiful.”

André and Lazzo were at a loss as to what their new concept should be about until they took a trip around Atlanta. “André started talking about his youth,” said Lazzo, now a senior executive vice president at Cartoon Network. Andre took Lazzo to his neighborhood in southwest Atlanta — and to Sutton Middle School on the other side of town, in the wealthy Buckhead area. “It was two completely different worlds. His mom insisted he get a great education, so she got his transportation arranged. As I’m listening to all this I’m thinking, ‘André, this is the show I want to see.’ ”

Andre “3000” Benjamin during Andre “3000” Benjamin And Cartoon Network Present “Class of 3000” Premiere Event at The Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.

Rick Diamond/WireImage

As the concept for Class of 3000 began to take shape, loosely based on Benjamin’s childhood at a performing arts school, it became apparent that the show would be better off geared toward kids than on the Adult Swim imprint. André 3000 had only one demand: The show had to be about Atlanta. There’s never been a cartoon set in Atlanta, and setting Class of 3000 in the city was a way to expose its culture to a wider audience.

“I know these kids. I grew up with these kids. My childhood was put in those characters. I was [character] Lil D. I grew up in Bankhead, and I went to school in Buckhead. So I know that world. I had to ride the bus through the projects and through these rich a– houses. I was that kid; I knew both sides of it.” André 3000 tells me all of this over the phone while I’m sitting in front of the painting of Outkast in my man cave.

Wait, let me back up.


Any parent can relate to the sheer eye-gouging boredom of driving their young kids around and trying to find music that won’t warp their brains and lead them to a life of crime and sexually transmitted infections. For the most part, the kid-friendly music options available are somewhere between Radio Disney, gospel music, about three Chance the Rapper songs and an endless library of children’s movie soundtracks.

I remember buying the Class of 3000 soundtrack when it came out in 2007. It was out of a fevered desire to hear any amount of new Outkast music, and I figured it’d be great for my kids to listen to as well. Listening for the first time in years reminded me of the funkadelic, eccentric fantasy world André created with the soundtrack by immersing the listener in a jazz- and drum kit-laced fusion of unforgettable melodies and whimsical comedy. The songs are accessible to kids but deeply engaging enough for adults.

“That wasn’t supposed to be my voice on that song. That was supposed to be Lil D’s voice on that song.” — André 3000

The more we listened, the more I looked into the show. After two seasons, it had disappeared. There’s no way to get a physical copy of any season, and the soundtrack is available from only the first season. I sent feelers out, as well as direct messages for answers. Then on a Sunday morning I got an email. From André 3000. One of the artists who defined my childhood and Southern upbringing, who gave voice to my lifestyle and represented me whenever he spoke. Not only was he interested in talking about the soundtrack, he sounded downright excited to talk about a passion project that has been overlooked by so many. For someone who’s revered for his brilliance and past works, the feeling of an unheralded project has to be unfamiliar to him. Especially one so masterfully constructed.


“I watched Peanuts growing up,” said 3000, “and the music was always strong. Vince Guaraldi, a great jazz artist, was doing all the music for Peanuts. And at the time — I know it’s a sensitive subject now — but Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids had music involved. So I was really looking for a vehicle to do music. I thought it’d be dope for kids to hear something different than what they hear every day. I wanted to expose them to different sounds, and instruments they might not be hearing … on the radio.”

He said that, coming off The Love Below, he was already producing. “I decide to produce whole songs for Class of 3000. The premise is every show would feature a song that had something to do with the story.”

The actual recording of the songs for the Class of 3000 soundtrack provided a challenge somewhat foreign to André 3000 at the time: deadlines. “It was … a learning process,” he said. “I had to have those songs ready for each episode because they had to animate around those songs. I’ve always been a leisurely music producer, so it was sort of pressured.” One rushed moment led to a snafu and the most unforgettable song on the album.

“We Want Your Soul” is all frantic drums, a haunting horn and devilish laughter. And most importantly: It’s eight monstrous bars from André 3000. The problem is, those bars weren’t supposed to be there. At least not as rapped by André himself. The recording process for the album was simple. André would lay reference tracks — he’d speak in the voices of the kid characters from the show and send the track over to Cartoon Network, and they’d get the kids to say the lines over the tracks. But that didn’t happen for “We Want Your Soul.”

“There was a mistake made because we were rushing to get that song out,” Benjamin recalled. “That was supposed to be Lil D’s voice on that song.” Instead, it’s a fully rapped André 3000 song hidden in an obscure, decade-old album. A treasure trove of Outkastian excellence.

Overall, the process of trying to record as a group of children was another challenge for 3000, especially as he was fresh off a sexually charged album of lovemaking and songs such as “Spread.”

“I’d have to change my voice to act like a kid,” Benjamin said. “Had to think like a kid, and that was the hardest learning curve musically. I knew I wanted to introduce kids to certain instruments and keep it upbeat. But it was a challenge to bring my inner kid out.”

It’s a fully rapped André 3000 song hidden in an obscure, decade-old album. A treasure trove of Outkastian excellence.

He found his motivation in the form of a movie and a real-life jazz inspiration. “One of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society, and I felt like doing that with kids. I also thought it’d be great to have this teacher teach kids in an unorthodox way, so I stepped in as the teacher, Sunny Bridges. People don’t know that the name is a nod to saxophone player Sonny Rollins. There was a legend that he stopped playing music live at a certain point and he’d just play his horn under a bridge. So that’s how the name Sunny Bridges came together.”

And for a whole generation of kids, André 3000 will be known as Sunny Bridges first and rap Mount Rushmorian music luminary second. At least, that’s how my son will first learn about Andre Benjamin.

“That is the coolest thing about the show. I’ve had a blessed career. I’ve had the Isley Brothers’ career. They came up from the ’50s and survived through the ’90s. Kids know them from different eras. Some kids know early Outkast. Some kids know ‘Hey Ya,’ singing. And some kids know Class of 3000. So when I hear a kid who knows nothing about rapping, who knows nothing about The Source Awards but who knows me from the show, it just shows you that you don’t have to stop. You don’t have to rest on what you’ve done in the past. It’s beautiful.

Andre 3000 performs on stage at Lakewood Amphitheatre on September 10, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Paul R. Giunta/FilmMagic

“When I first talked to Tyler, The Creator, one of the first things he said was, ‘Man, those songs like the crayon song and the peanut song … we were kids!’ I forget these guys that are superstars now were kids listening to the songs. It’s like, ‘Wow, those kids actually paid attention.’ They got it.”

Unfortunately, Class of 3000 now mostly only lives in the memories of people who saw the show when it aired in 2007. The show is only available for purchase on iTunes, and of course there are random clips on YouTube. Class of 3000 simply came at a time when Cartoon Network was transitioning from landmark kid-friendly shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and The Powerpuff Girls to its Adult Swim imprint. Class of 3000 was the last show that Lazzo greenlit before heading over to Adult Swim to be a senior executive vice president.

“It was a victim of that transition,” said Lazzo. “Had I stayed at Cartoon Network, I would have been superfocused on Class of 3000. It was some of the best creativity I had seen.”

There’s clearly a need to revisit the show, though, a fact not lost on Lazzo and Benjamin. You never know which shows will stick with people years later,” Lazzo said. “I think maybe it’s time to bring it back.”

I don’t want to be too idealistic — but maybe this very essay will persuade them to at the very least release the songs from the show’s second season, or get the full episodes from the series a proper Blu-ray release.

“Sometimes you just have to bring attention back to something,” André Benjamin said with excitement. “There’s room to bring the show back. Cartoon Network owns the property. It’d be up to them to bring it back in some kind of way. You know what? I think it’ll happen now.”