Tri-State Defender Entertainment Stories


#ACCESS901: Memphis music on the big stage

By Joy Doss, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

I love my city. I do. Warts and all. I am proud of our history and excited about our future. We talk on and on about our rich musical legacy and how it translates to the now. Well, last week I was at Lafayette’s Music Room in Overton Square, where some of Memphis’ music royalty gathered as The Recording Academy Memphis Chapter celebrated regional Grammy winners and nominees. It was a glimpse of the now. Folks doing big things presently. We are bigger than our past and, for that matter, our present. From last month’s launch of David Porter’s new label (Made in Memphis Entertainment) to Marco Pave’s upcoming release of “Welcome to Grc Land” to icons such as Bobby Rush and William Bell, who are still doing their thing AND winning, Memphis is very much so on the map. Unbeknownst to most, including me, several Memphians were nominated for Grammys or were a part of the process. Vasti Jackson, Boo Mitchell, Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) and Kirk Whalum were some of the familiar faces I spotted at the event. I spoke briefly with Whalum, which is worth noting. He introduced himself (“ummm, I know who YOU are!”), which was kind and humble. I’d seen him a couple of years ago when he was featured at Collage dance Collective’s summer social. His music was outstanding but what made me weak was him speaking French so beautifully and with such ease. So during this brief exchange, I had to pop the question, especially after finding out he was from the Mound and went to Melrose. “So how does a boy from the Mound learn to speak French fluently?” He answered me en francais. Again, weak, I went to my PR game face; no fanning out under any circumstances. I could make out about 70 percent of what he said and was glad for the translation. Paraphrasing, the sax maestro linked his French mastery to having lived with a French family while studying abroad. Just wanted to share that fun fact! Earlier in the evening, I’d encountered 4-time Grammy nominee Bobby Rush, who won his first Grammy in February, capturing the Best Traditional Blues Album for “Porcupine Meat.” Almost 84, Rush, who has been recording since 1951, was as sharp as a tack. “If you don’t get old, you die young,” he said. “I am thankful to God to be around…. I accept this award…for the guys who were here before me…who did more than I did but didn’t get it. This is for them.” Bell, the Grammy’s Best Americana Album winner this year, is a Grammy winner after 60 years in the game. “It was a long journey but well worth the trip,” he said. “I accept it, like Bobby, because of all of the guys that came along with me but are no longer here. (They) left a legacy behind of soul and blues and jazz.” Bell is the first blues artist to snare the Grammy’s Best Americana Album prize. “Music is really a universal language,” he said. “Musicians have integrated together…even when it was not en vogue. We have made a difference through music. If we can give back through our music and change the world, that’s the best job you can have.” Bell and Rush benefitted from greats such as Rufus Thomas, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, who chose to pay it forward. Now they are following suit, mentoring young musicians via Berkley College of Music and the Stax Music Academy. Legends breeding legends. All the snaps to these gentlemen for walking in greatness and bringing Memphis along for the ride!

Beyoncé is selling $300 ‘Lemonade’ special release

By theGrio

While Beyoncé isn’t going to be doing any performances or tours anytime soon with twins on the way, she did just release a “How to Make Lemonade” box set. This collector’s edition item is made-to-order and features not only the Lemonade album on vinyl but also a 600-page coffee table book with “hundreds of never-before-seen photos” from behind the scenes of the making of Lemonade. The book also features a forward by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and poetry by Warsan Shire. Of course, if you don’t have $300 plus shipping to shell out, you can order the vinyl release on its own separately.

‘Sleight’ is an imperfect magic trick well worth the ride

By Lawrence Ware, The Root

Sleight could, and maybe should, have been a disaster. It is not a “superhero film” in the vein of comic book legends Marvel and DC; yet it is also not a “magic film” like The Prestige or Now You See Me. It could have failed because subverting genre expectations is dangerous. Do it right, and brilliance, like Get Out, can be the result. Do it wrong, and you’re on the path to Iron Fist. First-time feature-length director J.D. Dillard does it right, and while it’s not a perfect film, Sleight shows a young black director with promise, while allowing star Jacob Latimore to shine in every scene. Bo (Latimore) is a street magician working in Los Angeles who moonlights as a drug dealer selling Molly to white partygoers. His mother died a year earlier and left him responsible for his little sister, Tina, played with sweet charisma by Storm Reid. We learn early that Bo is not an ordinary magician. He is a brilliant engineer and product of Los Angeles’ failing school system who was unable to attend a university because of familial responsibilities. Therefore, using his engineering skill set, he has built, and implanted within his arm, an electromagnet to help him make money by creating convincing illusions. When he runs afoul of his drug kingpin, Angelo (played with comic menace by Dulé Hill), he is forced to use his powers as a magician to fight for those he loves. As I said, the film has its problems. The plot is clunky and the genre elements are familiar. Yet the film succeeds because Dillard cultivates a feeling of menace born organically out of the conditions in which the characters on-screen must live. And the real strength of the film is Jacob Latimore. He is a rare talent who embodies Bo as a quiet, if not naive, young man on the path to becoming a superhero—something I’ve longed to see. The way comic book lore works, white superheroes are allowed to be normal; Peter Parker was just a normal kid from Queens, N.Y., before he became Spider-Man. Captain America was a weak kid from New York City’s Lower East Side who joined the military. By contrast, black superheroes are oftentimes royalty, like Storm and Black Panther, or carry the weight of cultural expectations, like Luke Cage and John Stewart. To be a superhero, white folks can just be white. For black folks, we must be special. I’ve often wondered what would happen if a black kid living in the shadow of urban decay were given superhuman abilities. Sleight takes seriously this question, but, again, it is far from a perfect film. There are a few things I would have liked to see done differently, starting with Bo’s love interest, Holly. She’s a student at a community college from an abusive home—oh, and she’s not black. As a rule, I don’t have a problem with interracial romance on-screen; however, I would have liked to see this role go to a black woman. The script did not call for her to be any particular race, so seeing black love on the screen would have been preferable. That’s also the case with Bo’s former teacher, Mr. Granger, who helps him further develop his powers at a crucial time in the film. Having a white man play that role felt a little too much like that of a white savior. Further, while I enjoyed the muted interiority of the film, having more time spent with Bo as he learned to use his powers would have added a deeper feeling of satisfaction with the explosive confrontation at the end of the film. This is not a perfect film, but I don’t expect that from a superhero film. I want solid characters, convincing acting and solid action. The fact that this film gives all of that while being centered in the black experience makes it a must-see.

Janet Jackson breaks silence on divorce, unveils new tour

By theGrio

Janet Jackson is breaking her silence after canceling her world tour and leaving the public eye to have a baby. In a heartfelt video, Jackson addressed her fans who have been patiently waiting to hear from her after taking a music hiatus and amid reports that she is divorcing husband Wassam Al Mana. The singer even poked fun at the so-called bags under her eyes and weight gain due to pregnancy. “Hey guys, it’s me Jan. Just in case you don’t recognize me ‘cuz I have put on quite a few since I had the baby, but I thank God for him you guys, he’s so healthy,” Jackson said. “I’m going to keep it real with you guys for a second: yes, I separated from my husband, we are in court and the rest is in God’s hands.” Moving on to big elephant in the room (her tour), the singer announced that she will be hitting the road again soon. “I’m continuing my tour as I promised. I decided to change the name of the tour – State of the World Tour,” she revealed. The State of the World tour is set for a 56-city run beginning Sept. 7, in Lafayette, Louisiana at the Cajundome. Jackson will also visit cities including Seattle, Portland, Philly, St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Toronto and others. The tour set to end in Atlanta on Dec. 17. Watch Janet’s video message, click here.


By Joy Doss, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Remy Ma and DJ Self promised “FIYAH” when they came to Memphis — and they delivered. K-97 DJs Devin Steel and Mic Tee got partygoers warmed up in anticipation of “Love and Hip Hop” (New York) stars DJ Self and Remy Ma – with a little help from promoter and impromptu hype man Thomas Brownlee. Even TSD publisher Bernal E. Smith II got to turn up a little bit when Self pulled him onstage! That was fun to see. Everyone in the building was waiting on Remy with baited breath. Every. One. A few weeks ago, Remy broke the Internet with “Shether,” her diss track aimed at Nicki Minaj. That track catapulted her into the hip-hop stratosphere — it’s the stuff legends are made of. I promise. Beyond that, she’s riding high off chart blazers with Fat Joe like “Money Showers” and “All The Way Up.” I am absolutely loving her resurgence. She has always been one of the baddest in the rap game, no exaggeration. It’s great that she has so many new fans but please understand that Remy has had bars for YEARS. I would encourage the younguns or the unfamiliar, to check out “Ante Up.” To provide a localized frame of reference, it’s like Triggerman for Brooklyn peeps. Seriously, same reaction. Just know that the whole place is about to go completely bananas! DJ Self stepped on the stage for the turn up. He gave us about an hour of perfectly calibrated party time, a fine balance of NYC swag and down south grit, grind and bounce. It was hot! When Remy came on it went from the turn up to “all the way up!” Everybody was jumping and cheering, singing along, sweating and hard dancing into the wee hours of the morning. My crew and I had a good ole time too. We loved the VIP treatment. The food from Melissa’s Fine Catering was on point (that bang bang shrimp though!) and we definitely appreciated the open bar courtesy of Effen Vodka. Very nice touch. The Society Memphis team promised an experience, versus just a concert or a party, and we got just that. This was their first time in Memphis and our city showed them love. So here’s to the next one! Hopefully sooner than later.

Kendrick Lamar makes history: charts all 14 tracks from ‘DAMN’

By theGrio

Kendrick Lamar’s chart-topping DAMN is making history, as all 14 tracks have made it on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (dated May 6). Topping out the chart at the number 1 spot is the song “Humble,” which jumped up from number 3 to number 1. This is Lamar’s second No. 1 spot, and his first as a lead act, since his other No. 1 was with Taylor Swift on “Bad Blood.” Here are all 14 songs and their positions: No. 1 “Humble.” No. 4 (debut), “DNA.” No. 14 (debut), “Loyalty,” featuring Rihanna No. 16 (debut), “Element.” No. 18 (debut), “Love,” featuring Zacari No. 32 (debut), “Yah.” No. 33 (debut), “XXX.” No. 35 (debut), “Feel.” No. 37 (debut),” Pride.” No. 42 (debut), “Lust.” No. 50 (debut), “Fear.” No. 54 (debut), “Blood.” No. 58 (debut), “God.” No. 63 (debut), “Duckworth.”

Beyoncé creates scholarship for young women studying the arts, black studies

By theGrio

It’s been a year already since Beyoncé launched Lemonade, and to mark the anniversary, Beyoncé is announcing a new scholarship program called “Formation Scholars” which will help young women studying creative arts, music, literature, or African-American studies. The scholarship will start to become available for the 2017-2018 school year, with aims to “encourage and support young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious and confident.” The colleges participating in the program are Berklee College of Music, Howard University, Parsons School of Design and Spelman College. What an amazing way to celebrate one year of Lemonade.

Ron Clark Academy welcomes Its 5th-grade class in the most turnt up way

By Yesha Callahan, The Root

If you don’t know about the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, you should know that not only does the school look like something out of a Harry Potter movie, but its principal and founder, Ron Clark, has some slick dance moves. Last week, the academy welcomed its newest fifth graders in the most lit way. Not only were the students dancing, but the teachers also showed everyone what they were working with. Seriously, can I go back to fifth grade for the day? CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO

Jay Z to produce docuseries about race in America

By NewsOne

Jay Z is expanding his repertoire as a film producer. After seeing success with TIME: The Kalief Browder Story and announcing that he has a docuseries about Trayvon Martin in the works, he’s on to his third production project. According to the Huffington Post, National Geographic has picked up a six-part documentary series from Jay Z and The Weinstein Company that will delve into the heightened racial tensions following the 2016 presidential election. From the Huffington Post: The rap mogul is currently working on his third docuseries, “Race With Jay Z,” with National Geographic. The project, produced by Hov and The Weinstein Company, will explore systematic injustices such as incarceration and the wealth gap, social media, activism and family, Variety reported. It will look at how race became “the most pressing issue in the nation” following the election, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The six-part docuseries, hosted by Jay Z, will include documentary, animation and archival footage. It will also feature diverse voices from immigrants, first-generation Americans and others. “National Geographic and Jay Z are the world’s foremost storytellers in their own right, and we’re thrilled to be working with them on such an evocative and meaningful project,” Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Company, told Variety. “By using highly cinematic storytelling techniques along with Jay Z’s singular point of view, the series will tell a dramatic, thought-provoking story on race in America.” The docuseries is one of the projects under a two-year film and television deal that Jay Z inked with The Weinstein Company in 2016, reports the FADER. There is no word on when the series will air.

Marco Pave – In advance of ‘Welcome to Grc Land’

By Joy Doss, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

I want you to know that there is hope for hip-hop. A sliver of that hope resides in Memphis. I checked out Marco Pave and Alfred Banks at the Memphis stop of their 18-city River Kings tour, which was part of the Opera Memphis festival. Full disclosure: I left a little after midnight before Marco came on. I did, however, sit with him for an interview. Marco is a very bright young man. It is evident in his lyrics. And in speaking with him, it became more evident that he is very informed, aware and connected to the spirit and soul – and ultimately the survival – of Memphis. I love any chance I can get to talk about the young people who are not apathetic. It makes me feel encouraged because we will have to leave this world to them at some point. And they will in turn leave it to my kid and her peers. As I trawled for music, I also found some very pleasant surprises. Did you know that Marco did a Ted Talk on Art Entrepreneurship? It was subtitled “From Hobbyist to Lobbyist.” Color me impressed. Ted Talks are the real deal. (Online readers check it out here: Trawling on, I found that his debut album, “Welcome to Grc Land,” has some faces familiar to me, that are not the usual suspects. I spy with my little eye, my fab friend, soror and “big sister” Jamey Hatley, who happens to be an amazing writer and storyteller herself. (I saw her there and she nada. I will deal with you later Jamey!) I also noted a collaboration with the uber talented duo Artistik Approach and that sangin’ soul sista Big Baby. If you are reading this and haven’t heard of any of these folks, I would suggest you stop what you’re doing to get familiar. “Welcome to Grc Land” will be officially released on May 12. Though he started developing the album before the I-40 bridge protest (last June), Marco was clear that this moment in time played no small part in codifying the sound, tone and content of the album. He describes the album as “very Memphis” and “sonically pleasing,” which I enthusiastically co-sign. The press release will describe him as Project Pat meets KRS-One. I would go a step further to say that he is equal parts KRS, Ball (8 Ball and MJG) and Ice Cube. He has the storytelling quality and delivery of Ball, the fire and wokeness of KRS and the intensity of pre-Hollywood Ice Cube. I know people like comparisons. And although he may inspire warm reminiscences of our faves, Marco’s style is all his own. “Welcome to Grc Land” is, without a doubt, intended to be the sound of the (BLM) movement. Much like Isaac Hayes and others before him in the ’60s and ’70s and west coast 90s rap, he is inspired by real-life events. But make no mistake, this is not a flat, one-dimensional collection of rants and raves by any stretch. In Marco’s own words: “A protest record is assumed to be about being angry, fighting and thinking about the ‘white man.’ (This is about) being a full human being. When you wake up in the day, you don’t have the same emotions all day. You go through different emotions. You experience a wide range of emotions. A lot of times, hip-hop artists aren’t allowed the full range of emotions. “If you get classified as a trap rapper, the only thing you can rap about is drugs. If you are backpack rapper, you can only rap about conscious stuff. I’m a storyteller. I’m an observer. I watch what people do. I want to tell the full story. My album is in sections – there’s a sad section, the build-up, party section and the glory.” We sat amongst a random assortment of friends, fans and onlookers. I mean every kind of box was checked, including a fair amount of representation from the BLM set. Then I saw some folks I didn’t expect to see at all, which included MTV News folks that came to find him in Memphis! It was wonderfully diverse. As was the talent that opened. If you like hip hop with a razor edge, check out Roben X too! Hailing from the norf-norf (that is, North Memphis), Marco has nothing but love for his city. To the good people of Memphis, Marco says this: “Love this city. Love is multi-faceted. Don’t love it because it has good food… and Stax. You can’t hate the city because we have a higher poverty rate or because we had a couple episodes of ‘First 48.’ Love is very tough. You gotta love everything about it. Appreciate it for what it does it have…fix the things that need fixing.” Vivre Memphis! Vivre hip hop!