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Music

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The controversial producer and rapper has a cult of personality so strong that nothing he does — even trivializing slavery — can damage him

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Two years ago, Kanye West was asked if he feared of losing his audience in light of recent controversy surrounding comments made about race and politics.

“I’m only … afraid of my daddy, God,” West told L.A. radio host Big Boy. “I done been 15 years. I’m telling you that God is showing you that you can have your own thoughts, bro. I been canceled before there was cancel culture.”

I don’t think God has anything to do with it, but West never really had anything to worry about. As much as people like to complain about cancel culture, West…


D-Nice’s DJ sets have become an Instagram staple — and the source of some enduring life lessons

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On March 18, 2020, Derrick Jones set up some DJ equipment in his kitchen, went live on Instagram, and immediately began to change the world. That might feel like an exaggeration — just put it in your back pocket and we’ll revisit it later.

Jones grabbed some wine, started playing music, and just like that, the “Homeschool social distance dance party” was born. What followed was nine hours of digital festivities, virtually attended by the likes of Common, John Legend, and LL Cool J, in addition to thousands who prefer using their real names when they go to work.

When…


Revisiting K-Dot’s genius in the midst of unprecedented times

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

As Black lives haven’t mattered and cities that were one-time citadels of Black excellence have been roiled by manic, racist antagonism, I’ve kept an ear open and eye out for one note of salvation: King Kendrick. The Negus. The good kid in a “m.A.A.d city.” The un-pimped butterfly. And I’ve heard nothing.

Maybe the age of pop-aspiring rap was so choked with snap-trappers, marble-mouthed mumblers, and turnt-out turn-ups that we were too devoid of our souls to receive the power of a cultural statement from Kendrick Lamar in the mainstream.


Questlove’s new documentary ‘Summer of Soul’ is an in-depth look into the soundtrack behind Black American life during the fiery summer of 1969

Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The year 1969 was one of those touchstone periods in United States history. As the ’60s came to a close, the worlds of American science, politics, and music, to name just a few, would never be the same. The decade produced a marine coast of watershed moments. For people of color, though, many were unforgettable tragedies. The most powerful advocates and heroes of the disenfranchised — along with their hope — were killed.

The first half of the 1960s saw President John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X plotted against and assassinated. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy announced to the country…


Don’t blame it on the A-a-a-a-a-auto-Tune…

Photo Source: Getty Images

I don’t consciously seek out T-Pain’s music, but I don’t smash a radio when his songs come on either. It’s music that, with a few exceptions, isn’t for me. When I encounter it, I recognize that I’ve probably walked into the wrong room. So my first reaction to listening to T-Pain recount an encounter with Usher in which the R&B icon told him that he “fucked up music for real singers” was indifference. …


By making time for the tradition he loved, my father showed me what Black joy looks like

Photo: Budgeron Bach/Pexels.com

Growing up, Saturday mornings meant hearing voices like Toni Braxton, Phyllis Hyman, Shalamar, Keith Sweat, Barry White, and Regina Belle as I helped my dad clean the garage. As our usual soundtrack played, we’d sweep and organize the space, even though I always thought it looked the same after we finished.

By the early afternoon, my mind swirled with song after song. I never knew many of them before they blasted from my dad’s black JVC boombox. Over time, I’d eventually commit the choruses to memory. …


Photo: Robert Ector

Level Q

Fresh off ‘Verzuz’, the R&B legend discusses everything from prison concerts to his pandemic beard to a disgraced collaborator

Don’t be fooled by the saccharine lyrics and melodies that ooze from Isley Brothers classics. The songs’ authors are gladiator competitive. Their iconic lead, Ronald Isley, is nothing short of loquacious when addressing this fact.

The man formerly known as Mr. Biggs admits that since the 1950s, he and his brothers studied the best with the clear intention of besting them. When Marvin Gaye made “Sexual Healing,” the Isleys birthed “Between the Sheets.” When Teddy Pendergrass released “Close the Door,” they followed with “Don’t Say Goodnight.”

Ronald wouldn’t even oblige Michael Jackson’s request to be produced by him — he…


Just Rankin’ Sh!t

Don’t make things awkward, son

Photo Illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Getty Images

5. “Ain’t Your Mama,” Jennifer Lopez

Just what your Mother’s Day soundtrack needs: an audio skewering of man-babies who refuse to grow the hell up, instead, playing Xbox all damn day and expecting a significant other to handle simple adult responsibilities like cooking and cleaning. We’re not gonna tell you what to do — we ain’t your mama, either — but we doubt this is the vibe you’re going for.

You see, this is exactly why you can’t rely on a keyword search to power your streaming choices. You’ll end up looking as bright as Prancer’s nose, playing a Christmas carol dead in the middle of…


Reckoning with the mortality of music gods

Photo Illustration: Save As/Medium. Source: Getty Images.

In the span of two weeks in April, hip-hop lost DMX, Black Rob, and Shock G. Their ages were 50, 52, and 57, respectively. Fans could barely show proper respect for one fallen rapper before the next one passed. I won’t belabor the specific details of their deaths here, as the circumstances behind them are only now becoming fully documented—but also because the telling of them is painful. Besides, this isn’t a eulogy. It’s a plea.

For a time, the fatal shootings of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. seemed to have a chilling effect on hip-hop, drawing a line…


A brief reflection on an iconic lyric and a reminder that Black men and boys are beautiful too

Photo: Nelson Ndongala on Unsplash

In the 1994 remix of “One More Chance,” The Notorious B.I.G. lists in great detail his effortless finesse with women of all races and ethnicities. The classic cut samples El DeBarge’s “Stay With Me” and features his wife, Faith Evans, and Mary J. Blige on background vocals. It’s partly comical, partly offensive, and all NSFW. Still, apart from a beat that lingers, a few lines really stick with you.

Momentarily putting aside glaring concerns with misogyny in hip-hop, I’ve spent perhaps an inordinate amount of time considering the social influences that led Biggie to rhyme “Heartthrob, never/Black and ugly as…

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