Tri-State Defender Entertainment Stories


New Prince album coming out on Friday . . . or is it?

By Lee Eric Smith

Prince fan that I am, I was delighted to see news late Tuesday night that a new collection of music would be coming out on Friday, April 21 — exactly one year after the music icon died of an accidental drug overdose. But before I could get really excited about the six-song EP "Deliverance," I learned it might not come out. Prince's estate has filed court papers to stop the release of the album, saying that Prince engineer Ian Boxill, who is behind the posthumous release, is in violation of a confidentiality agreement he signed with Prince. Tracks from "Deliverance" were recorded from 2006-2008, and Boxill is apparently credited with co-writing the music. If the courts do not act, "Deliverance" is expected to be available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Found a full length version of the title track on Youtube . . . don't know how long it'll be here so enjoy it while U can . . .

The very real life of Pastor John Gray

By Jill Hudson, The Undefeated

One of the newest members of Oprah’s God squad has gotten his own reality show. The Book of John Gray, a new series starring the aforementioned Gray, who is associate pastor of Joel Osteen’s megawatt Lakewood Church in Houston, premiered April 15 on OWN. The show follows the former stand-up comedian as he counsels members of the Lakewood church community as they struggle to overcome life challenges with a combination of prayer, laughter and cool-uncle guidance. Gray’s wife, Aventer, is his gracious co-star and foil, and the couple puts their appealing style of “there but for the grace of God …” advice-giving on full display. The Book of John Gray comes with a fair share of drama, but it’s not of the Real Housewives or Love & Hip-Hop variety, said Gray, who began preaching at 21 and toured as a singer with Grammy Award-winning gospel recording artist Kirk Franklin. Season 1 follows Gray as he guides a number of people, including a woman whose home was destroyed after a flood, a father concerned about his daughter’s addiction to alcohol, a couple trying to overcome infidelity on their path to the altar, and a military veteran who is trying to work through the trauma of sexual abuse, which brings up demons from Gray’s own painful past. Rob Cornick, the show’s executive producer, is hopeful that the series’ 10 p.m. time slot on Saturday nights will find its viewers. “Our lead-in is Iyanla [Iyanla: Fix My Life], which is the network’s highest-rated unscripted show,” Cornick said. “She’s helping people in that show, so hopefully that same audience will really transfer easily to ours and watch. This is really a hybrid of a formatted show and a family doc, so it’s very different and uplifting at the same time.” Said Gray: “I hope authentic people who have areas of brokenness in their lives and questions of faith connect with the show. I also hope that people who are regular attendees of church will watch, because it gives an honest portrayal of the humanity of people of faith. It doesn’t disrespect or sensationalize faith, and my wife and I aren’t trying to proselytize.” Gray said that when people come to the show, they’ll see something that’s funny, joyous and hopeful. “So, hopefully, people from all backgrounds — faith or no faith — take a look at the show and give us a chance,” Gray said. “Skeptics, or people with biases or who aren’t interested in church at all — they’ll see a show that’s relatable to all people.” The Book of Gray already has a likely homegrown audience because of Gray’s affiliation with Osteen, the handsome and charismatic media titan who has amassed millions of followers worldwide via best-selling books, arena tours, a SiriusXM Christian radio channel and a hugely popular weekly Lakewood Church telecast. The OWN series isn’t Gray’s first foray into nonscripted television. He hosts the daily John Gray World television program on the Hillsong Channel and Trinity Broadcasting Network and has also starred in The Preachers, a talk show on Fox. And, of course, Gray is best known for his affiliation with Lakewood Church, where he preaches on Wednesdays to a 9,000-strong congregation. Gray’s book, I Am Number 8: Overlooked and Undervalued, but Not Forgotten by God, will be published by Osteen’s publishing house, FaithWords. Osteen “didn’t give me advice as much as encouragement,” Gray noted. “He said, ‘John, I’m proud of you. I support and celebrate you.’ Pastor Joel knows my heart well enough to know that Aventer and I will honor Lakewood as a local church and won’t allow a show [to keep us] from doing what we have to do on a weekly basis. “You can’t let a TV show keep you from connecting with people and preaching and meeting the needs of the flock,” said Gray, who hopes to reach viewers as diverse as the congregants who show up in droves “at every Lakewood service. Lakewood is a very nonreligious church — we have every walk of life at each service.” “We didn’t sit down and say, ‘How can we not scare people with our Jesus?’ You’ll see a black man trying to be a better husband and father whose lens is faith. That doesn’t anesthetize me to pain, issues, trials or failures, but it does give me a perspective to those places.” One point of personal pain involves the Grays’ own health issues, which the show tackles head-on in upcoming episodes. “We both are very open to discussing our health challenges,” Aventer Gray said. “And we’re making incremental changes with our health, but the cold turkey thing of X-ing out all of our favorite things to eat doesn’t work. We’ll do good for seven days, and then after that we’re back to celebrating something with ice cream and cake and soda and steak. “My mom will make biscuits and cook bacon every day, but that doesn’t work for us anymore,” she added. Her challenges with an ongoing thyroid problem are tackled in an upcoming episode. John Gray’s ongoing struggle with diabetes is also discussed, dissected and prayed over, and he admitted that he still hasn’t gotten the condition under control, though he isn’t too upset by that fact. “When I feel like I have it under control, I let it go,” he said. “I don’t take my medicine like I should; I don’t eat the things I should or exercise. My father died in a diabetic coma. I know that diabetes is a threshold kind of thing and it can all go downhill at the same time. “But I see that having diabetes is an invitation to discipline. I can be the miracle by not eating certain things and taking care of myself. It’s called growing up. I need another 80 pounds off of me. And when that’s off, I’m sure this Type 2 diabetes will go the way of the dodo. “Nothing was off-limits on the show. We faced it all head-on, and we faced their challenges with love and respect. This is who we are,” Gray said. “No matter who you are or how you define yourself, you are loved equally. That’s the basis and foundation of who we are as people. “This is not religious programming — it’s hope programming. If you want to hear me preach, come to church. If you want to have a conversation, watch the show.”

I can’t handle Kendrick Lamar

By Clinton Yates, The Undefeated

6:30 PMIt doesn’t matter whether you think Kendrick Lamar is the so-called best rapper on earth. It doesn’t particularly matter if you like his music. It also doesn’t really matter if you even claim to care about hip-hop. From a creative output standpoint, KDot is doing something that this game has never seen. At the height of his powers, he is a solo artist who is outputting at his most effective level, with the world watching and eagerly waiting. We do not usually get this in the rap game. For whatever reason, things get shortchanged. Sometimes it’s death. Sometimes it’s petty crew battles that screw up careers or whatever music industry nonsense du jour that just plain prevents rappers from doing the most. Lamar is doing it, and doing it better than everyone. There’s no need to take a superlong-lens look at the history of rap to understand this. Kung Fu Kenny is not just in a zone. He’s making the type of art that forces you to re-evaluate what you’re doing with yourself. The tracks make people eagerly want to hear them in public spaces. The videos have you grabbing your phone to contact people you care deeply about to talk to them about it. His latest, “DNA,” is a complete masterpiece. Let’s just start with the fact that Don Cheadle is in it. Let’s then think about the fact that Cheadle then TRADES BARS with Kendrick, showing off his 52-year-old rap hands with flawless execution. “Two first names, the f— is up with that?” might be the best line I’ve heard in all of 2017. After all that, we can get to what actually goes on in the rest of this gem, which ends with a blunt-smoking Schoolboy Q punching a camera. I’ve been a hip-hop fan all my life. There’s never been a world I’ve lived in where it wasn’t the main life force of my creative mind. Same goes for most of my friends. The rubric that Kenny has created is sophisticated, elegant, rugged, whimsical, scary, fun, dark and joyous all at once. I can’t process anything he puts out fully until digesting it at least three times. The closest person I can even think of at that level of psychological immersion is Andre 3000, and even still, he will always have the probably unfair distinction of being part of a group. In short, I can’t handle it. I’m a grown man. I love it. His entire oeuvre has moved from “Things I make sure I am a part of” to “Canon that I will force my future kids to listen to and recite back to me” levels. As my friend put it to me, his work affects you “in the best [way], makes me want to be better at my creativity every day” kind of way. If you’re an artist who’s anywhere near his lane, or even not, you’ve got to be afraid of looking like a complete basic in a world that Lamar is living, recording and shifting paradigms in. The specific topics of his lyrics are obviously worth mentioning, too. There are quite a few people who believe that he’s a dressed-up hotep with a zany mind and some rap skills. Part of that is true. The discussion around his video for Humble is an example. By dropping the super problematic line of “I’m so f—king sick and tired of the Photoshop, show me something natural like Afros on Richard Pryor,” he quickly became the target of perfectly legitimate criticism of himself as a misogynist. I don’t have the time or the inclination to break down rap’s relationship with that right now, but that must be said to point out that Kendrick is still an artist of his time. In this generational iteration of hip-hop, the foremost star in the game is not some fully formed feminist. But Lamar is an example of exactly where the genre is at its apex when blackness is not relegated to being a secondary element of presentation. His latest Coachella is already the stuff of legend, and his upcoming interview with Zane Lowe is one of the most anticipated music sitdowns in recent history. There are pockets of the internet that believed he was going to drop a second album to complement DAMN on Easter Sunday, meaning people are mentioning his name in the same sentence as Jesus Christ, not even said in vain. It’s not even really about his popularity. Once I saw him live. It was in Los Angeles at a private show, and even a short set was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Before that point, I’d very publicly praised Lamar for “good kid, m.A.A.d city” but didn’t honestly feel the full fervor of his energy. That night, I did. After today’s drop though, I’m changed. More on story here

Paramount hires original ‘Coming to America’ writers for sequel

By theGrio

It looks like Paramount is finally moving forward on that long-anticipated sequel to Coming to America. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, the writers behind the original 1988 classic, will be returning to write the sequel, which is still in its early stages. Additionally, Kevin Misher is reportedly set to produce the sequel. There is very little news about the project thus far, though as production continues, we’re expecting to see casting news, such as whether or not Eddie Murphy will be returning to reprise his role as Prince Akeem. What do you think? Are you excited about a sequel in the works? Watch video here

Essence salutes ‘100 Woke Women’ in special issue

By theGrio

Essence’s May 2017 issue includes its first-ever “Woke 100” list. The cover will spotlight 12 activist women in particular, with the full 100 list inside. On the cover are Shonda Rhimes, Joy-Ann Reid, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, Janaye Ingram, Angela Rye, Sybrina Fulton, Luvvie Ajayi, April Reign, Opel Tometi, and Brittany Packnett. In addition to the Essence story and cover, the Woke 100 will also be presented at the 2017 Essence Festival, which will have the theme of “Woke Wonderland,” and which will take place from June 30 to July 2 in New Orleans. It will also feature the Festival’s Empowerment Experience Stage, which features voices such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters as well as others from the Woke 100 list. “We are beyond proud to announce our first ever Woke 100 list and to summon a circle of women who are shaping the narrative of today’s social and political climate,” said Essence editor-in-chief Vanessa De Luca. “As we kick off the conversation of modern activism in our May issue, the 2017 Essence Festival’s ‘Woke Wonderland’ theme will act as the intersection of passion and purpose—bridging the gap between this generation’s most prominent voices in leadership and those who’ve laid the groundwork before them.” Check out the May issue of Essence on sale Friday, April 21. Watch video here

Janet Jackson’s husband breaks silence amid divorce

By theGrio

Janet Jackson’s husband, Wissam Al Mana, has updated his website with a spiritual message from the Quran amid news that he and Jackson are splitting just months after their son was born. Al Mana posted the following on his official website: You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside Allah. But if you remain patient in adversity and conscious of Him – this, behold, is something to set one’s heart upon. – 3:186 Jackson and Al Mana had been married for five years before the news of their split was announced. The pair recently welcomed their son, Eissa Al Mana in January. While neither have publicly commented on their divorce, reports suggest their parting was rooted in cultural differences.

The strange legacy of Tupac’s ‘hologram’ lives on five years after its historic Coachella debut

By Aaron Dobson, The Undefeated

Expect me, n—a, like you expect Jesus to come back / Expect me … I’m coming. — Tupac Shakur on the “Outro” of his fourth posthumous album, Better Dayz (2002) The mood and scene were one and the same out in that empty Southern California field. Dark and ominous. A wind blew furiously as night fell. Time was running out. With just four days until the start of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, there was no room for any more mistakes. Hip-hop impresario Andre “Dr. Dre” Young had a specific vision for his headlining performance with Snoop Dogg. But the miscues were relentless: unanticipated flashes, rendering errors, plain old glitches, you name it. Nothing seemed to go right during rehearsal as Dr. Dre looked on with Eminem, who was a scheduled special guest for the show. The hood of Marshall Mathers’ jacket draped over his head as he watched in silence. Oh, my God. We’re going to fail. That’s what Janelle Croshaw, visual effects supervisor of Academy Award-winning studio Digital Domain, said she thought to herself in the moment. For six weeks, Croshaw, along with fellow supervisor Steve Preeg and their team, had worked tirelessly to make what seemed psychologically, and spiritually, unfathomable: They had to recreate Tupac Amaru Shakur. And they did. Fifteen years, seven weeks and three days after he was pronounced dead as a result of internal bleeding from five gunshot wounds he sustained in a Las Vegas drive-by, Tupac performed again. It was April 15, 2012. During Dr. Dre and Snoop’s set, a shirtless figure emerged, with a “THUG LIFE” tattoo on his stomach, pinky rings on his hands, pants sagging and Timberlands on his feet. It was the perfect surprise for the final act of the night on the main stage — Dr. Dre and Snoop having already floated through nearly 20 tracks, though no moment would compare to what came next. “What the f— is up, Coachellaaaaa!” A computer-generated Tupac made this proclamation to the crowd of 80,000. It raised his arms to roars before he began to perform his posthumous 1998 single “Hail Mary” and 1996 hit collaboration with Snoop, “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” On this night, the “Tupac Hologram,” what many still call the virtual being, was born. Technically? It wasn’t a hologram — which is defined as a light-beam-produced, three-dimensional image visible to the naked eye — but rather a two-dimensional projection that employed a theatrical technique first outlined more than 430 years ago. “It really looked 3-D,” said Nick Smith, president of AV Concepts, the San Diego-based company that projected what he refers to as a “holographic effect.” “It looked like there was really somebody onstage.” There was something authentic and visceral about the projection of Tupac that Coachella attendees experienced. The Hall of Fame musical artist died at the age of 25, three years before Coachella debuted in 1999. But Tupac made it to that stage, because Dr. Dre made sure of it. The technique is called “Pepper’s Ghost,” named after 19th-century British scientist John Henry Pepper, who adapted the method in 1862. The theater trick involves the projection of an image onto an angled piece of glass, which is reflected back onto the stage, providing the audience with the illusion of a ghostly presence. Three hundred years before Pepper, 16th-century Italian scientist Giambattista della Porta was the first to conceptualize the illusion. In his 1558 Magia Naturalis (Natural Magic), Porta described what would ultimately take the form of the Pepper’s Ghost technique in a chapter he titled “How we may see in a Chamber things that are not.” Tupac would have appreciated Porta’s work, given his affinity for Italian Renaissance literature during his nine-month prison sentence on sexual assault charges in 1995 (he denied the charges ever after). Most notably, he took a deep dive into Niccolo Machiavelli’s 1532 political treatise The Prince, finding solace in the words of the 16th-century Italian philosopher and political theorist, who in his work presented the idea of feigning death to exploit one’s enemies. After his release from prison, ’Pac changed his stage name to “Makaveli,” and the final studio album he recorded before he was killed, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, was inspired by the legend that Machiavelli faked his death before reappearing seven days later to seek revenge upon his enemies. Tupac’s fascination, or borderline obsession, with Machiavelli in the final few years of his life remains at the heart of the rabbit-hole conspiracy theories surrounding what many still believe to be true: Tupac Shakur faked his death and is still alive. And so in 2012, when Coachella had two of Tupac’s former Death Row Records labelmates in mind for the festival’s lineup, Dr. Dre toyed with this concept of ’Pac’s legend. “It was Dre’s idea to bring Tupac back,” said Smith, whose company had been in previous talks with Dr. Dre about the possibility of the late artist performing again digitally. “He and his team had already seen the technology several times and were thinking about how to utilize it. So when Coachella asked them to perform there, that’s the idea he came up with.” Dr. Dre and his production team were responsible for working with Tupac’s estate and handling the legal ramifications of using his likeness, which required the approval and blessing of his mother, Afeni Shakur (who died in 2016, four years after the Coachella performance). Smith and AV Concepts were responsible for bringing the projection technology to the United States. In place of the technique’s traditional use of glass, AV Concepts would use Mylar foil. And instead of a straightforward projected image, a bespoke computer-generated Tupac was envisioned for the performance. That’s where Digital Domain came in. The studio’s work on films such as X-Men: Days of Future Past, TRON: Legacy and 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which won an Academy Award for best visual effects, all caught Dr. Dre’s attention. While working on a project in New York, Croshaw received a call regarding the assignment and rushed back to Los Angeles to start working. It was mid-February, and Digital Domain had to have virtual Tupac ready for an April 15 curtain call. “It was a lot of pressure — more than any project I’ve ever done,” said Croshaw. “Some of the other team members didn’t quite understand. It was like, ‘Who’s Tu-PACK?’ There were people who weren’t quite familiar with him, but those of us who were, the pressure to not fail was probably the biggest motivation to get as far as we did in six weeks. We just couldn’t fail.” Croshaw and Preeg established a team of 20 — small for a project like this, she said. Their skills spanned every digital effects department imaginable. There were rotoscoping and paint teams to warp and pull the design to make it look like Tupac’s body. There was someone in charge of lighting. There was a technician who figured out ways to automate certain tasks in composite work, which Croshaw headed. Preeg served as an animation director, heavily involved in the rigging of Tupac’s skeleton. Under him were two animators: one handling the animation for “Hail Mary” and the other for “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” And, last but certainly not least, there was a sculptor who worked down to the 11th hour to make sure Tupac’s face and mouth shapes illustrated his likenesses to a T. They all packed in one room, where every single inch of the wall was covered with pictures of ’Pac for inspiration and reference. They blasted his records so much that Croshaw’s mother pointed out how much more her daughter had begun cursing. “When you’re making any character in digital effects, you really have to become that character,” Croshaw said, “and never in my life have I transformed into a character more than Tupac.” They had to make their version of Tupac essentially from scratch. “Because he passed away in the late ’90s, it’s not like these days where a lot of actors have scans done of them. … With Tupac, we didn’t have anything.” They ended up using footage of Tupac’s final live performance from July 4, 1996, at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, which was released on DVD in 2005. The last song ’Pac performs on the tape is “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” So for one of the songs on virtual Tupac’s Coachella set list, there was a point of reference. For the other? Tupac never performed “Hail Mary,” which was released on The 7 Day Theory nearly two months after his death. Digital Domain possessed no footage to match to but had leeway in crafting his movements. “What makes him, him? What makes him have that spark? We found that he has that smile, you know, that just lights up a room. That was something that we really wanted to embrace, so we spent a lot of time on the smile shape,” Croshaw said. “Another one he has is this, like, kind of crooked sort of eyebrow raise, where one of his eyebrows goes up. These are two signature Tupac looks we really wanted to nail.” Croshaw, who recalled the creation of Coachella’s digital Tupac via the phone while on maternity leave, didn’t sugarcoat the process. Creating a virtual human being is scary, she said, especially in the initial stages of the design. There was a moment early on when Dr. Dre got a glimpse of Tupac’s face — outside of old photographs and video clips — for the first time in years. “They were just like, ‘That’s not Tupac. That’s not even close to Tupac,’ ” Croshaw recalled of the reactions of Dr. Dre and his partners for the performance, director Philip Atwell of Geronimo Productions and Dylan Brown of Yard Entertainment. “So there were a lot of moments when we had to reassure them, ‘It’s going to be fine.’ Even though we’re kind of going like, ‘Oh, s—. Is this going to be fine?” The week of Coachella 2012, Croshaw began making daily 2 1/2-hour drives from Los Angeles to the festival site at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. She was hand-delivering hard drives containing 16,000 or so frames that would come together to form the digital being of one of the greatest rappers of all time. Yet the California desert wasn’t quite welcoming the virtual return of Makaveli. “The effect itself is difficult to do. People think the hologram can just appear in thin air. It’s a very elaborate staging apparatus that has to be built to do this, and it has to be in the right conditions,” Smith said. “One of the challenges of doing this effect out at Coachella was you had everything working against you. You had heat, you had cold, you had rain, you had wind. It had to be dark. You had to control all of the lighting, including the moon, which is difficult to do. It’s a perfect effect for a theater, but it’s not the perfect effect for uncontrolled environments.” Sunday, the point of no return, finally arrived. At the end of the night, Dr. Dre and Snoop took to the stage. When it was time, AV Concepts crew members had about 90 seconds to calibrate their screen in the wind before all systems were a go. In a matter of moments, Tupac Shakur rose from the floor of the stage and greeted his Death Row brethren. “What up, Dre!” “I’m chillin’! What’s up, Pac!” “What up, Snoop!” “What’s up my n—a!” “What the f— is up, Coachellaaaaa! Throw up a m—-f——’ finger, yeah! Makaveli in this —” The drop of “Hail Mary” cut him off before the eerily real digital figure bounced and swayed to the beat, dancing his way over to Snoop to perform “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” in perfect cadence — like they were at the House of Blues and it was 1996. The performance, which was livestreamed worldwide on YouTube, ended with the virtual Makaveli returning to center stage, bowing his head and then disappearing in a burst of fragments. Croshaw remembers dead silence from the crowd, before a heartbeat appeared on the LED screens flanking the stage and Eminem came out to the sounds of cheers. “Relief,” said Croshaw. “That’s what I remember the most. The happiness at the end. Kind of like childbirth, actually … the hardest, most painful thing ever, and then after you have the baby you forget about all the pain.” If creating a virtual human being is scary, watching one is, as well. Upon seeing the “Tupac Hologram” (which went on to win Digital Domain the prestigious Cannes Lions Titanium Award in June 2012, for the most groundbreaking work in the creative communications field), many people didn’t know what to make of it. “That Pac Hologram haunted me in my sleep,” musician and author Questlove tweeted. UPROXX Editor-in-Chief Brett Michael Dykes reached out to his friend, who saw the performance live. “I thought I was seeing things. One of my friends who was really high got really upset that 2Pac was dead and why are we doing this. A few were confused and thought he might be alive now. I knew it was a hologram right off the bat but then it looked so real …, ” she responded. Billboard music editor Jason Lipshutz even penned a column, titled “The Problem with the Tupac Hologram,” that summed up his thoughts in a question he poses at the end of the piece: “Why do we need to watch an imitation of Tupac when we have an incomparable plethora of his own art at our disposal?” And, of course, former Death Row CEO Suge Knight had something to say, citing one fundamental problem with the recreation of Tupac’s being: “At the end of the day, how you gonna take the Death Row chain off Pac?” Tupac’s hologram wore a gold cross chain. The debut performance sparked rumblings that Dr. Dre would be taking ’Pac on tour with him after the festival. But rumors were quickly squashed by the man himself. “It was strictly for Coachella — get it right,” Dr. Dre said in a video message to fans before taking the stage during the second weekend of the festival. On that night, April 22, 2012, Dr. Dre and Snoop shared a stage with their virtual homie one more time. And, per Dr. Dre’s words, don’t expect them to do so again anytime soon. Tupac Shakur is dead. He’s not in Cuba, or working as a cashier at a Cluck-U Chicken on the campus of the University of Maryland. He was killed in 1996, and despite his bold lyrical professions, the closest he ever came to making a return to this earth was five years ago in digital form on the Coachella stage. And if you’re looking for the hologram, you won’t find it at Digital Domain or AV Concepts. The digital asset that Digital Domain created has been archived. Only Tupac’s estate has access. “Two weekends, two performances,” Janelle Croshaw says with the finality of accomplishment. “That was it.” Aaron Dodson is an assistant editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson of the New England Patriots, he is one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.

Reader’s Corner:

By Phyllis R. Dixon, Special to

Patricia Spears Jones’ impressive body of work boasts four poetry collections and reflects her inclusion in numerous anthologies. April being National Poetry Month, I deemed it an appropriate time to catch up with the Mid-South native. Named one of Essence Magazine’s “40 Poets We Love,” Jones writes about race, class, sex, love and history. And she muses about Mary J. Blige just as easily as she contemplates the Femme du monde. Firmly planted in Brooklyn and now teaching at City University of New York, Jones remains a Southern girl at her core, with siblings and other relatives in Memphis and Arkansas. After making time for this interview, she noted that her late mother would have been thrilled to see her daughter profiled in The New Tri-State Defender. Phyllis R. Dixon: So how does a little girl from Forrest City become a renowned poet/writer/playwright in New York City? Patricia Spears Jones: As a child, I loved to read. I had wonderful teachers, who reinforced my love of reading and learning. Rhodes College was called Southwestern back then, and they offered me a scholarship. Memphis was close enough that I could go home if needed, but fulfilled my desire to go away to school. I enjoyed the arts and became active with the theater group. When I graduated, I went to New York and never left. PRD: Tell me about your latest book – “A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems.” PSJ: This book includes four decades of work, some previously published and some new. Topics include love and lost, the struggle for justice and power, travel and beauty. The title is a phrase from another poem, which captured the elements of light and heat that I was looking for. I would also mention the book, “Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmitt Till to Trayvon Martin.” My work was included in this collection of essays and poems that speaks to race and social justice. PRD: After decades of work, you are receiving well-deserved accolades, such as Rhodes College Distinguished Alumnus in 2013 and the 2017 Pushcart Prize. How does that feel? PSJ: I am very pleased to know that my work is being recognized and published. The award from Rhodes College was very special. My mother had just passed away and I know she would have been so happy to share that moment. I had been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for several years – and did not win. This time, I didn’t even know the publisher had nominated my poem. To win is a big deal in the world of poetry. The poem, titled “Etta James At the Audubon Ballroom,” tells of an imagined Etta James performance, with Malcolm X in the audience. I saw Etta James in concert and am a huge fan. I have no idea if Malcolm X ever attended her performance, but the poem is my way to animate these two incredible, dynamic and fierce voices. PRD: You mentioned Etta James. Your work has elements of the blues and reviewers have described you as a “blues goddess,” and writing with the “intensity of a blues singer.” Was this by design? PSJ: I grew up in Arkansas in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70’s. Blues was all around. We listened to WDIA every morning. But there was also gospel, and the local station played everything from pop to country. So I heard it all. Music influenced me, but I think it was just the culture of the Delta. The only thing that cannot be controlled is how the heart and soul responds to your world. That’s the source of all art. PRD: How have your Mid-south origins influenced your work? PSJ: Arkansas is beautiful with strong people, but there is also violence and brutality in our history. We are a people who make a way where there is no way and my mother was determined to provide opportunities for us. There is racism now, but it was worse then. When I was young, the public schools recessed in the spring and fall so people could plant and pick cotton. The white schools did not take this “break.” Things were even harder for my grandparents. But that also fostered a sense of independence for which I am grateful. It gives me a core and I know who I am.

Film Review: The Fate of The Furious

By Kam Williams There are a number of action films whose opening scenes alone are well worth the price of admission. Taken (2008), District B-13 (2004) Super 8 (2011) and Dawn of ...


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

In advance of the upcoming Society Memphis concert on April 22, I jumped at the chance to do a Q&A with “Love and Hip Hop” co-star DJ Self, who – in case you didn’t know –rocks the airwaves in New York City as a radio personality on Power 105.1 Billed as “The Elite Party Experience,” Society Memphis will unfold at the New Daisy Theatre at 330 Beale St. The headliner is “Love and Hip Hop (LHHNY)” star Remy Ma. Admittedly, I am not an avid watcher of reality TV, but I AM a fan of Remy since the MOP and early Terror Squad days. And all respect her for DJ Self as he is a Ft. Greene, Brooklyn native (my old hood) and was the long-time tour DJ for the Mighty Mos (Def), who now is Yasiin Bey and still repping BK hard. Folks from BK and folks from Memphis are similar in that way. We rep our areas to the absolute fullest! Trust me, when I was in Brooklyn, and even when I’m there now, I repped the M loudly and proudly. And I still keep a piece of Brooklyn with me always. All of that to say, it was an honor to chat with DJ Self and to host him in our city! Really looking forward to that show. This is the apex of hip-hop, with two of the hottest in the game right now. Moreover, Society events are more of an experience. You’ll see what I mean and you’ll see first-hand, if you come. The VIP lounge has hors d’oeuvres, open bar by Effen Vodka and I hear-tell some other surprise amenities. I will be in the building for sure! This girl loves a fly and fab event experience. And the tickets aren’t bananas. In the meantime, here’s a little bit about our guy Self. Joy Doss: You know we call Chicago “Up South” because most people have roots in Memphis and/or Mississippi somewhere. Do you have people here in Memphis? Have you been to Memphis before? DJ Self: I don’t have any family in Memphis. This is my first time to the city. And I am excited to see what the great people of Memphis bring! JD: You just had a sold-out show in Chicago; the crowd was massive. What was that like for you given that some of your people are in the city and I assume in the building? Self: The House of Blues in Chicago was a great experience for me. To see a sold-out club for which mostly everyone there came to see me DJ was a humbling experience. My aunt and cousins came through to support me while I was in Chicago and that also made the experience a more memorable one. JD: What has been your favorite gig? Or favorite spot (in terms of DJ’ing)? Self: I’ve had so many favorite and memorable gigs it’s really hard to name just one. My favorite spot is anywhere the people are rocking with me. DJs naturally vibe off of the energy of the people and the atmosphere. JD: What’s the party anthem right now? What do you have in regular rotation on your own playlist? Self: “Mask Off” by Future. My rotation changes daily. Sometimes I’m into slow jams; sometimes I’m into trap music; sometimes I’m into rock and roll. I love music. My catalog is endless and depending on the day and my mood, I can listen to anything. (Layers! Nice!) JD: What’s the best part about being featured on LHHNY? Self: “Love & Hip Hop New York” is a gift and a curse. What I mean by that is more people become aware of who you are as an entertainer or DJ, but then again more people are able to criticize you and think they know everything about you based on what they see on TV. I’m appreciative for the opportunity to be on the show and I take it in stride. (Totally see that dual perspective. Living in a fishbowl can’t be easy.) JD: What should we expect from a Remy Ma-Self show? Self: Remy Ma will bring Remy. Pure heat!!! DJ Self will bring a memorable event. (Aw yeah! This is a can’t-miss event! Catch this fiyah!) NOTES: For Tickets, visit SocietyMemphis.Eventbritecom.