Archive for the ‘Pop Culture Commentary’ Category

Basketball Wifeys

April 15, 2010

Ever since the R&B group Next released the hit single ‘Wifey’ (2000), there’s been some confusion about the true definition of a wife.

Take the new VH1 series Basketball Wives, starring Shaquille O’Neal’s estranged wife, Shaunie O’Neal-“A show about 6 women who are best friends searching for stability in the unstable arena of being the significant other to a basketball superstar,” according to VH1.com.

On the show, Shaunie O’Neal and her gal-pals are all at various points along the wifey spectrum; Shaunie has filed for divorce from Shaq; Suzie is a co-parent of two with Michael Olowokondi; Gloria is engaged to Matt Barnes; Evelyn suffered a broken engagement with Antoine Walker; Royce is a serial b-ball girlfriend and self-described “firecracker”; Jennifer is married to Eric Williams. So, if my math is correct, there’s one actively married woman on the show. I hope more married women will come off the bench over the course of the season so viewers can see what it takes to sustain high profile marriages.

For the record, being a wife is hard work.  It’s about being committed to your partner through the good times and the bad, whether they are famous, rich or neither. Being a wife requires forgiveness, compromise, and support. Being a wife means accepting your man, and his entire family as they are—never as easy as it sounds.

Now wifeys are a different story altogether. Women who haven’t made it past the engagement…wifeys. Women who shacked up…wifeys. Women who’ve been knocked up but haven’t been wifed up…do I even have to say it? Such women are not wives. They’re second string.

My marriage is by no means high profile or perfect. But I am happily married. Save for Jennifer, is there a viable marriage in this bunch?

I’m not one to knock the next woman’s hustle. I’m happy to see Shaunie handling her entertainment business as an executive producer. My point of contention is that the show is mis-titled. It should be called Basketball Wifeys. Calling it Basketball Wives is false advertising. They may have shacked up or co-parented, but they have not been wifed up. And until you have, you don’t know what it takes to be one. That’s why when things go wrong and promises are broken, wifeys get the shaft and the wife gets half.

Being married is serious business. It’s the most exclusive ‘club’ on the planet and a hot-button political issue for those in the club—and seeking entry. Sure, committed relationships can rock without the paperwork, but it’s not the same as being married. Just ask Alexis Phifer, who came thiiis close to marrying Kanye West. Or Katheryn Bigelow, James Cameron’s contribution to the First Wives Club.

Chilli: Real Star, Real Relationship Criteria

On the flipside, there’s VH1’s What Chilli Wants featuring Chilli from pop supergroup TLC. According to VH1.com, Chilli decides to “take the reins of her romantic situation and launch an all out search for the love of her life.” The show is also a nice look for Brooklyn relationship diva and ‘Girl, Get Your Mind Right’ author Tionna Smalls.

It’s refreshing to see a bonafide celebrity looking for love utilizing a set of standards. Chilli isn’t hung up on how men earn money or whether they have kids already; she has a son herself. If this means a God-fearing, smoke, alcohol and pork free man who’s ripped and well endowed, so be it. More of us should be this specific and fearless in our search for a soul mate.

Chilli’s list is important. Without one, She could wind up off course and possibly bring home someone she’ll regret later kinda like grocery shopping while ravenously hungry. What Chilli Wants flexes real girl power because whether she finds a husband in 10 episodes or not, we all know she’ll be fine. “No one’s perfect; I know I’m not perfect, but I think women compromise too much.” Well said, Chilli! You are well on your way to adding happily married wife to all your great accomplishments. No waterfall chasing here.

Hi…My Name Is Taylor Swift

February 3, 2010

So the Grammys happened this past Sunday. In keeping with my theory that 2010 is the Year of the Woman in Entertainment, the ladies represented. It was wonderful to see Roberta Flack duet with Maxwell and to see Stevie Nicks, even if she was relegated to tambourine and backing vocals with Taylor Swift. Lady Gaga served a brilliant performance, holding more than her own solo and with Elton John. Sasha Fierce and her all-woman band delivered a frenetic display of Sasha’s incomparable vocal skill and unmatched movement capability in 5-inch stilettos as she took “If I Were A Boy” to new places.

Sasha even gave Beyonce’ a purely normal, human moment: upon accepting the award for Best Female Vocal Performance (her 6th of the night and a new Grammy® record for any female artist in one year-not that you heard that part after the Taylor win), she thanked her husband with an “I love you”. Pink got the crowd wet (visibly) with an amazing aerial rendition of  “Glitter In The Air” high above the crowd with no net. Pink is fearless.

Speaking of Fearless, Taylor Swift was awarded the Album of the Year Grammy® for her CD of the same name. Now look, I was just as horrified as the rest of the world when Kanye bum-rushed her at the VMAs. But it was on Grammy Night that I realized Beyonce’s attempt to give her a do-over by ceding her VMA acceptance speech time to the ingénue from Nashville was apparently not enough for the Recording Academy.

Every Awards show gives de facto do-over awards for people they’ve wrongfully overlooked or outright snubbed in years past. But this usually happens to right a wrong of their own doing, not of another artist—during another award show! Last Sunday, I witnessed this for the first time. I say this not to take anything away from Taylor Swift. I don’t think she’s the best singer; but she’s a solid songwriter, is actually a musician, and has the total package of country-girl-next door looks. Ordinarily, I’d be elated that a woman—especially one so young, copped 4 Grammys including Album of the Year. But that feeling of elation I had when Lauryn Hill won the same Award was nowhere to be found. I was in complete shock.

My first thought? “Kanye West is responsible for this.” His star power is so potent, he put this girl who was known primarily in country and tween pop circles on the map with his interruption. Taylor really shoulda given dude a shout-out. The media fallout banished him and caused a tsunami of sympathy for Swift; a wave she rode from Saturday Night Live clear up to the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards.

My next thought? How does Taylor Swift win over Lady Gaga, who sold 8 million units in an abysmal market within months, AND had 4 #1 singles on the Billboard Top 200 from one album? Over Beyonce’, who had everyone from babies to drag queens doing the ‘Single Ladies’ video choreography and raked in $36M in tour receipts in a recession? Over The Black Eyed Peas, who topped the charts for 6 months, held the top two slots of the Billboard Top 200 with “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling” this summer–with much of Chicago dancing to the latter smash hit on Oprah? And over The Dave Matthews Band, who are…well, The Dave Matthews Band???

Here’s Taylor by the numbers: at the end of 2008, both her albums amounted to 4 million sold. As of 2010, she IS the world’s top-selling digital artist at 24M downloads. No shots, but this makes her the country version of Souljaboy Tellem; a strong singles artist. Album of the Year I’m not buying. For Taylor Swift to win Album of the Year, the most coveted Grammy of the night—against Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas, Beyonce’ and The Dave Matthews Band was truly a gift; I am not sure Taylor will fully understand how much NARAS has her back.

What appeared to me as I examined this year’s Album of the Year nominees more closely was this: this was the most urban-leaning group of nominees I’ve seen in years. The usual shoo-ins, U2, weren’t even nominated for New Line On the Horizon. Kanye aside, I am not surprised that the Recording Academy went country in an ocean of hip-hop, R&B, dance and pop. It shows me we need more young members of diverse backgrounds, so voting will be balanced and wins will reflect a greater respect for the genres we represent.

I now have enough writing and production credits to become a voting member. This year’s telecast was my wake-up call. I will be signing up in plenty pf time to vote in 2011. I challenge all urban/dance/hip-hop/gospel/soul/black rock artists, writers, producers, packaging artists, and liner note writers to join me on the Voting Academy. For more on becoming a member, visit www.grammy.com

In Honor of Notorious B.I.G

May 21, 2009
Breakfast of champions of rap

Breakfast of champions of rap

Pulling out some of my photos from the ’90s, from a time I am so blessed to have lived and worked in; a decade that gave us hip-hop’s golden era. I found the photos of BIG in this note, and reconnected to a time when hip-hop had purpose; had a sense of humor; had much more respect for its women (and indeed a chorus of female voices to boot); had a hunger for innovation that eclipsed its need for shine. Hip-hop’s commitment to being dope is what turned the spotlight on her in the first place. BIG represents that for me. An inrcedible lyricist and magnetic personality who could not be denied, who brought the shine to him.

He visited me with Cease at GAVIN four days before his last. Our interview didn’t feel like one at all. We all laughed as the two of them played the dozens over salmon croquettes, eggs, and yes-Welch’s grape. I ordered in because of the tension that BIG being in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area, Tupac’s first Cali home, meant back then. He had so much security; traveled in an unmarked van. So many times I think back on that day, wishing security had been as tight in LA as it was in the Bay. He loved the energy of the Bay, too, because the Bay was always more inclined toward hip-hop unity in diversity than its SoCal counterpart. When Ricky Leigh called me at 4am on March 9, 1997, none of the competition, none of the beef, none of the parties, none of the bullshit mattered. Hip-hop’s collective heart was broken for the second time in six months.

including Michelle S., Foxy Brown, Joey Arbagey, Franzen Wong, Latin Prince, Sway

KMEL Dream Team: including Michelle S., Foxy Brown, Joey Arbagey, Franzen Wong, Latin Prince, Sway

He rose from the table, grabbed his cane (he was recovering from a car accident), snapped some pictures with me, bear hugged me and went on to KMEL and WILD, where he gave the infamous final radio interview caught on video. We saw each other again at the album listening event held by BMG distribution. And listening to that album was like hearing greatness pour through speakers.

One thing I have yet to find is the “Life After Death” buyway he autographed for me at the BMG mixer. I remember what it said though: “To Thembisa, thank you for being different.”

Biggie, thank you for being you.

Doin' it BIG

Doin' it BIG

Black Oscar History: Head-to-Head Match-ups and More

February 22, 2009

It’s Oscar Night for the 81st time.

We’ve got a bonafide takeover by people of color; they just happen to be from India. Slumdog Millionaire. Shout out to Loveleen Tandan, the Indian female co-director who could not be nominated due to Oscar rules that mandate one nominee for director (which, after tonight, may need to change). ‘Nuff said.

This year, women of color dominate the Best Supporting Actress category. For the third time in history, we have two African American women up for Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis for 8 minutes of sheer awe-inspiring power with Meryl Streep in that scene where they take a walk in Doubt, and Taraji P. Henson for her absorbing portrayal of Benjamin Button’s momma across the decades in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Hispanic powerhouse Penelope Cruz is vying for Oscar too, for her nuanced performance in the acclaimed Vicky Christina Barcelona. (editor’s note: Cruz won).

This feels REALLY good. I was loving the takeover by women last year as Diablo Cody snagged Best Screenplay for Juno and woman producer Eva Orner won for Best Documentary feature (Taxi To The Dark Side).

I marvel at the velocity with which Black actors are being nominated and winning in the late 20th and throughout the 21st Century thus far. For example: Hattie McDaniel was the first Black actor male or female to win Best Supporting Actress (Gone With The Wind, 1939). It took 51 years for that to happen again with Whoopi Goldberg’s win in the same category (Ghost, 1990). By comparison, it has been full throttle for sistas in the new millennium: eleven years after Whoopi’s victory, Halle wins Best Actress (Monster’s Ball, 2001) and Jennifer Hudson earns Best Supporting a mere five years later (Dreamgirls, 2006).

With all this talk of velocity, domination and match-ups the basketball junkie in me perked up. What OTHER Black head-to-head match-ups have there been in Oscar history? Check these out.

African American Oscar Nominee Match-ups (Asterisk denotes winners):

Best Supporting Actress

1967: Carol Channing [yes-she is biracial] (Thoroughly Modern Millie) vs. Beah Richards (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner)

Carol Channing

Carol Channing

1985: Margaret Avery vs. Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple) Both nominated from the same film for the first and only time ever!

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

2008: Viola Davis (Doubt) vs. Taraji P.Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

Viola Davis

Viola Davis

Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson

Best Actress in A Leading Role

1972: Diana Ross (Lady Sings The Blues) vs. Cicely Tyson (Sounder)

Diana Ross

Diana Ross

Best Supporting Actor

1987: Denzel Washington (Cry Freedom) vs. Morgan Freeman (Street Smart)

2004: *Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) vs. Jamie Foxx (Collateral). A lion bests Foxx in an upset.

2006: Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) vs. Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)

Djimon Hounsou

Best Actor in a Leading Role

2001: *Denzel Washington (Training Day) vs. Will Smith (Ali). Bad KOs pretty!

2004: *Jamie Foxx (Ray) vs. Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) As two real life figures brought to the big screen compete, the Foxx comes back to win in his second nominated category of that year.

2006: *Forest Whitaker (The Last King Of Scotland) vs. Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness). In a battle between two true stories, the dictator beats the stockbroker.

Will Smith

Will Smith

I was wondering about all the Oscar History African Americans have made, and Wikipedia satisfied all my queries!

Did you know:

The first Black person EVER nominated for Best Cinematography is Remi Adefarasin for Elizabeth (1998).

Remi Adefarasin

Remi Adefarasin

Only two Black costume designers have ever been nominated with both nominated twice, Ruth E. Carter (Malcolm X, 1992 and Amistad, 1997) and Sharen Davis (Ray, 2004 and Dreamgirls, 2006).

Hugh A. Robertson is the only Black person ever nominated for Best Editing (Midnight Cowboy, 1969).

We have experienced solid victories in music and sound. We know about wins by Best Score winners Prince (Purple Rain, 1984) and Herbie Hancock (Round Midnight, 1986). We always celebrate Best Original Song winners Isaac Hayes (Shaft, 1968) , Irene Cara (Flashdance, 1983), Lionel Richie (White Nights, 1985), and Stevie Wonder (The Woman In Red, 1984) and most recent winners Three 6 Mafia (Hustle & Flow, 2005).

Three6Mafia

Three6Mafia

But on the technical side for film sound, only TWO brothers have ever been nominated for Best Sound, and EACH have won twice!

Willie D. Burton (seven time nominee) winning for Bird (1988) and Dreamgirls (2006)

Russell Williams II (two-time nominee with a 100% success rate) winning both times, back-to-back wins for Glory (1989) and Dances With Wolves (1990)

Russell Williams II

Russell Williams II

All of these stellar achievers are truly the best in the business, and I am compelled to give them their props!

The Oscars will never be the end-all be all measurement of our achievement, nor should they be. However, our strides over the years are a big deal if you ask me. Posting the link (below) so you can see how far we’ve come. You’ll make some connections of your own; enjoy them all and revel in our progress by any means necessary!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Black_Academy_Award_winners_and_nominees

Twitter: putyrdreams1st
Blog: www.thembisamshaka.com

LISA CORTES AND MO’NIQUE “PUSH” AND SWEEP SUNDANCE!

January 27, 2009
BOTH LISA CORTES AND MO’NIQUE ARE FEATURED IN PUT YOUR DREAMS FIRST!
CONGRATULATIONS, LISA CORTES AND MO’NIQUE! What an inspiration you both are!

These ladies swept the Sundance Film Festival as Executive Producer and outstanding actor respectively in PUSH. The film adaptation of Sapphire’s searing novel captured The Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Prize in addition to the Special Jury Prize for Acting, awarded to Mo’Nique for her nightmarish portrayal of Mary, the lead character Clareece’s abusive mother.

http://festival.sundance.org/2009/film_events/films/
push_based_on_the_novel_by_sapphire

Both Lisa and Mo’Nique were generous enough to share their trials, triumphs and secrets to career fulfillment in my soon-to-be-released career guide for those who want to know what the entertainment biz is REALLY like, entitled Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business.

PUSH Executive Producer and music industry icon Lisa Cortes.
Lisa talks about making a clean break after a strenuous lawsuit against PolyGram Records and changing lanes into film, where she joined forces with anti-establishment producer-director Lee Daniels (the only African American to win an Oscar as a producer for Monster’s Ball).
Mshaka (right) With Mo’Nique and Woody Victor at BET Awards ’07 Host Promo Shoot
Mo’Nique breaks it down as only she can about hiring the right entourage and breaking the silence of racism and sexism in television production as the executive producer and creator of not one but TWO hit reality shows.
Mo’Nique (left) and Gabourey Sibide (right), who plays Clareece

Honorable Mention: Also featured in the book is makeup legend of music, TV and film, Nzingha, who did a masterful job on Push.

See Lee Daniels talk about the film here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5NvQPjyWzU

Pre-order Put Your Dreams First now and save over 30%. Trust me, these wormen’s stories are worth the wait while you get the savings!

http://www.amazon.com/Put-Your-Dreams-First-entertainment/dp/0446409464

Sisters storming Hollywood. That’s what happens when you Put Your Dreams First!

Available now for pre-orders wherever you buy books, in stores April 23

Check out Thembisa’s interview with Sai Browne!

January 27, 2009

Hear their lively exchange about Obama, the Black electorate, fatherhood and Put Your Dreams First on PoliticsRemixed.com here:

 ‘ >PoliticsRemixed.com with Sai Browne

After you listen, feed back. What do you think Obama’s most lasting impact will be on communities of color? Comment and let me know!

Note to DL Hughley: KWANZAA Has Theme Music!

December 15, 2008

I was a bit put off by his sketch about Kwanzaa today. He actually got a Jewish composer to sing some bootleg Broadway cheese because he couldn’t find a decent Kwanzaa song. Like Black folks couldn’t be counted on to sing about their own holiday!

Then I realized: It’s not entirely his fault; these songs are tough to find.

So I’m posting this one: it was on a Polygram promo called Mad Tidings. It was sung by Emage, a talented trio of young ladies form Oakland, Kimbre’ly Evans, Mykah Montgomery (of the jazz family of Montgomerys) and Taura Jackson–all now enjoying careers as writers, vocalists and tour/session singers. It’s from 1993, DL-long before you had the show!

I hope there is some follow-up about this because the song educates about the holiday in a very effective way–to his point that “maybe more people would celebrate Kwanzaa if it had a song”.

Mykah and Taura from Emage are on Facebook; maybe they can get it up on iTunes or some other outlet so the song can spread in time for Kwanzaa ’08. Oh yeah–and Mykah is featured in my book Put Your Dreams First talking about how she learned from the business so she could work in it on her own terms. Not sure if you can get the song from the post so in the event you cannot, I will make sure they get copies of it–and circle back to you.

Happy Kwanzaa everyone!
Thembisa

01 Happy Kwanzaa.m4a

President-Elect Obama and The NeXt Factor

November 5, 2008

 

by Thembisa S. Mshaka

 

Congratulations to our new First Family, the Obamas, and to all of America. YES WE DID!!!

Talk about hope?!

 

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America was not ready to elect John McCain, a member of the Savings and Loan scandal’s Keating Five, a volatile 72 year-old cancer survivor, whose campaign staff was riddled with the lobbyists who represent the interests of and took money from some of the very organizations seeking or receiving historic government bailouts using our tax dollars; who voted against health care for children and with Dubya over 90% of the time; and has repeatedly, proudly stated that he will ask America’s young people to fight more wars (“Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb-Iran”) all because the opponent has an African name and the skin tone to match. Hope has been restored. As McCain intoned in his concession speech, “the people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.” That’s the sound of land sliding.


Along with Dr. King’s dream, hope was fulfilled last night—hope that the illogic of racism would not send America totally over the cliff into Third World status after an eight-year Dukes Of Hazard-on-steriods joyride driven by Bush-Cheney was restored.

 

The 24-hour news cycle beat the superficial to death with its coverage; among other inane newsbytes: Palin’s eyewear maker got flooded with orders after the RNC. Meanwhile, when Alaska held its biggest rally of any kind in history, because it was a Women Against Palin rally, it gets ZERO mainstream coverage. Obama got his share of slanted coverage too; remember the much publicized ‘love affair’ The Media had with him after he spoke so courageously on race and denounced his former pastor? While it is my opinion that he received far fewer passes than McCain, who finagled much mileage with his tattered POW card. The media’s Obama-rama was real, if for no other reason because it was absolutely astounding that he had actually beaten Hillary Clinton in a brutal primary and won the respect of the world while Black.

 

But the news said that in battleground states, the candidates are in a dead heat. The polls said that for worse or worst, Palin gave a lukewarm GOP a B-12 shot in the arm, especially among ‘Wal-Mart moms’, a very real demographic during the summer of $5.00/gallon gas and a time of behind-the-counter pharmacists acting as over-the-counter doctors, in lieu of comprehensive health care. The Clintons, still smarting from Hillary’s primary loss, were slow to come around and ride for the team by stumping for Obama. We get it, Billary. And yes, times were better with Bill in office. But this? Y’all never saw it coming. That white-knuckle, buzzer-beating superdelegate beatdown hurt. Hurt bad.

 

But another 4 years of the GOP in the Oval office would have hurt a LOT more, and the Clintons knew this. So after licking their wounds, they started making the rounds and making their loyalty known.

 

Still and all, there were so many darts aimed at busting the nation’s bubble of hope. I donated repeatedly and wrote post cards to suburban Pennsylvania women. I heard our next preisdent’s nomination acceptance speech in person at Invesco Field.

 

Can you feel it now?

Can you feel it now?

 

 

And I almost drank the Kool-Aid of doubt. Admittedly, with full knowledge of the Change We Need, I found myself faltering, thinking negative thoughts, and entertaining the hype about him being too Black for Middle America to vote for, even though Barack is white too. They love Slash and Lenny Kravitz. They’ve already made the leap of embracing a Black man who broke barriers. I know, they didn’t run for President—but you feel me.

 

As President-elect, it’s time for Barack to flip the ‘divide and conquer’ script like he has flipped all the other scripts written by the Old Boys’ Network designed to not only exclude him, but work against him. Joe Biden is a big gun, and he will complement Barack in ways that Sarah Palin had neither had the intention nor ability to do for Senator McCain.

 

Barack Obama has come this far because he had every intention of going all the way. And his campaign leveraged all the poise, grace, grit and grasp of the issues to catapult the momentum he has created across the finish line to the 2009 Inaguration. And there’s more…

 

In addition to that  email list of three million strong, Barack has another secret weapon that The Media isn’t talking about. It’s not their fault; they only talk about what they can see on paper or on tape. Until this election, this Secret Weapon was off the grid, and unable to be counted. We’ll be hearing all about them in the days to come. This weapon is so powerful, so strong in number we won’t even begin to know how deep they roll until Barack takes offcie. They are what I call The NeXt Factor.

 

In 1993, I coined the phrase Generation NeXt, complete with the capital X. It appeared as the cover headline for a Gavin special issue of the same name that I edited about rap music.

 

My calling card, 1993-98

My calling card, 1993-98

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catchy as hell, the phrase was snapped up by Rap Pages, then Rolling Stone. Then the moniker for a new generation went pop-literally. Pepsi got wind of it and the Spice Girls sang a song about it for their commercial. I was flattered; I couldn’t trademark it anyway because I coined it for the magazine, then a Miller Freeman company.

 

Well, guess what? Generation NeXt is now old enough—and bold enough–to vote. Barack won their votes by 32% vs. the 9% that voted for Bush. They love hip-hop. They hate racism. Need a visual?

 

Gen NeXt Emeritus

Gen NeXt Emeritus

 

Okay. They are Rihanna and Eminem, Shia LeBoeuf and Nick Cannon, John Legend and Scarlett Johanson. They come in every imaginable multi-racial and multicultural swatch of our nation’s patchwork quilt. And they have no problem with accomplished Black men. In fact, they grew up on ‘em: Tupac to Biggie, Jay-Z to John Singleton, Shaquille O’Neal to Jesse Jackson Jr., Everybody Hates Chris to Chapelle’s Show, FUBU to Sean John. Big or tall, be their skin light or dark, thugged out or clean-cut, brothers don’t faze Generation NeXt. On the contrary, they look to brothers for leadership, for examples of greatness against the odds, for swagger to emulate. Obama for America found them online and on the ground, offered them an official DNC CD with donations of $30, and registered over a million of them for that 6 million-plus popular vote victory.

 

Generation NeXt is still pissed that Al Gore lost when the numbers showed that he was elected in 2000, even though most of them were not 18 yet. The GOP election-stealing jig is up. The NeXt factor is real. The Civil Rights generation has been vindicated. And the bigoted racist sector of America’s electorate is officially outnumbered.

 

Bridging History w/Chuck

Bridging History w/Chuck

To the tune of 349-163.

 

This is what community organizing looks like. This is how things can turn when you register, verify, and handle your [policial] business.

 

In addition to being the inventor of the phrase ‘Generation NeXt’, Thembisa S. Mshaka is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, out April 2009 (Grand Central Publishing).

Hey Rap Chicks, Jail Ain’t Sexy.

September 3, 2008

By Thembisa S. Mshaka

You may know my byline as a journalist for the original Honey, essence.com, and as editors for GAVIN, BLAZE, and TheHotness.com. If not, hopefully you will get to know me as the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business–a comprehensive guide to entertainment careers from women’s points of view.

As a journalist-turned-author who was reluctant to blog, I had every intention of doing a nice blog intro. That was until I saw the story that broke the camel’s back on female rappers going to jail. I’m new at the image uploading and all that so bear with the layout…

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Not So Bella Mafia

First Lil Kim is awarded the ‘hood’s Badge Of Honor’ for not “snitching” and doing a year and a day.
Gavin '95

Me & Kim: Gavin

Then, Foxy Brown goes to Rikers over an allegedly bad attitude mixing with
nail polish in the beauty supply store and a cell phone on the block, both resulting in attacks.
Foxy Brown
 
Not to be outdone, Remy Ma either by accident or on purpose, allegedly ends up putting two bullets in the stomach of a friend at (friend’s) birthday party over missing cash from her (Ma’s) handbag. Remy was looking at up to 25 years and after an emotional and far-from gangsta plea in court, winds up facing eight.
Packin' heat at the party

Packin

Just when my head slowed from spinning over all these tragic run-ins with the law resulting in substantial convictions (oh, yeah I forgot Eve’s DUI arrest because she served no hard time) Da Brat,

Lucky by comparison.

Lucky by comparison.

a/k/a Shawntee Harris, the first woman to score a platinum-selling album, catches a case for hitting a cheerleader over the head with a bottle of rum after what amounts to bumping into her at a club, permanently injuring her. With the Brat-ta-tat-tat of the gavel, she’s outta here for three long years.

What are these women DOING?!m

Black & white case?

Black & white case?

When women rappers end up in handcuffs, it strangles the livelihoods of their entourages and play with the bottom line of their record labels. It reinforces the idea that a woman rapper’s success is temporary instead of sustainable. It may even make it harder for the Missy Elliotts, Bahamadias, and Jean Graes of the world to get the resources they need to win in the marketplace. Meanwhile, it becomes easier for their R&B singing counterparts to hi-jack their producers and flavor to great effect. Where Foxy and Kim used to rhyme with Jay-Z, Rihanna and Beyonce’ now fill those slots. They love working with their producers too; and I don’t blame Swizz one bit, probably pays better.

Should all the blame be laid at the feet of these ladies or are the labels and/or management partly responsible? Could it have been the decline of artist development, etiquette and media training at the labels? To what degree were these women left to work it out on their own? Was guidance offered or just not heeded? Are female rap artists really that disposable? How long are we collectively going to let this continue to happen? Are we waiting for the other shoes of drug addiction and surviving multiple bullet wounds to drop as they have for their male counterparts? How very unsexy.

I also wonder, ‘where was the mentorship’? I conducted a Handle Your [music] Business Survey, to which close to 80% of repsondents stated mentorship as a huge missing in their careers. Are female rappers too grown to listen to those older and wiser? Or could the mentors no longer get through to them once they achieved fame and fortune? Would these ladies be where they are now had mentorship been a constant in their careers? I personally have leaned on more than one mentor for counsel on my career moves. And I’ve been better off for leaning on their shoulder, sopping up some game from them, be they female or male.

I feel a connection to these women because hip-hop grew us all up. I’m clear that I would not have a significant part of my career without them. I’d MUCH rather be reviewing their rap albums than their rap sheets. Where and how did things take a turn for the worst? Our footing slides and our industry’s women are all negatively impacted when rap chicks break the law. As a hip-hop journalist and someone with a stake in their futures (unlike most of mainstream media), I would love to offer any one of these women this forum to talk about their childhoods, possible abuses, abandonment, family, challenges, triumphs and why they chose music as their platform for personal expression.

Maybe they thought their actions would make sales jump or give them more street cred. Maybe they thought their lawyers and feminine wiles would get them off. Maybe they wanted even more attention than they were already getting? What, magazine covers, cosmetic campaigns, tours and videos not enough? Perhaps a search for self-esteem and self-respect is critical to this journey. Kim’s friend and fellow artist Mary J. Blige got to the heart of her issues through her music in front of and alongside her fans. In contrasting where these two women stand in their careers today, it occurs to me that unlike female singers like Mary, Lil’ Mo’, and Keyshia Cole, who can be tatted up while they wail their hearts out in song, women rappers might be afraid of–or be steered away from being vulnerable on record, given the cues they receive to be ‘hard’ as emcees. Ironically, as women, they have the market cornered on the ability to be vulnerable because they are female.

I write this with a mix of anger and sadness. I watched these women rise to the top of the charts and to prominence in the rap game. I contributed to the success of Kim and Foxy while at Gavin, and wrote the ad campaign for Brat’s Unrestricted CD in 2000. I was lovin’ Remy Ma for coming as hard as she did on MOP’s “Ante Up (Remix)” and The Terror Squad’s “Lean Back”. But are the lyrics about toting heat, riding Upstate, and being, as Eve once proclaimed–“a pitbull in a skirt” going to the heads of these talented emcees? Maybe they saw how being criminals worked for their male counterparts and decided to step into the dressing room-er-holding cell-and try it on.

Going to jail might make some male emcees credible, but for rap chicks, it just ain’t sexy. And now, trials and prison are an even more delicate dance for the guys. T.I. is arrested and charged with gun possession just before the BET Hip-Hop Awards in ’07, only to lose his Chevy contract and plot a hard road for a return to endoresements. Will the gender gap allow The KING to bounce back? Or will the ill-fated risk Chevy took resonante with other corporations? The fans may forget, but the corporate sponsors can’t afford to.

DMX has seen his promising multi-platinum career, that included a hit BET reality show, screech to a halt after repeated arrests. You can’t tell me Snoop wasn’t sweating while Murder Was The Case for him in real life way back in the ’90s. News flash: the days of beating the case upping one’s stock are numbered–if they haven’t gone out all together with the fresh-out multiplatinum success of 2pac’s All Eyez On Me. Time will tell if the law catches up with Lil Wayne; they are watching Cash Money like a vultures hovering over a fresh kill.

In my view, this string of criminal rap chicks has done more to impede the progress of hip-hop than we realize. It took Girl Power off the streets, screens and airwaves, leaving a void of self-definition and a wide open door for misogyny to pimp-walk through. It sends the message to labels that women emcees are riskier than than dudes with rap sheets. If four out of five of recent memory’s most successful chicks in the game wind up behind bars, the return on investment looks shaky at best–and in this climate of sluggish sales, ROI is top of mind. Fulfilling the vicious cycle of a smaller number of new female voices emerging.

Santogold & M.I.A.

Santogold & M.I.A.

Thanks goodness for M.I.A. Lady Sovereign of the UK, and here at home, Lil’ Mama, Kid Sister and multi-format conqueror Santogold. Mystic has a new album coming, which will be a breath of fresh air to be sure. What’s uncertain is how much support they and others like them who put lyrics before looks and message before materialism will receive.

Career Woman

Latifah: Career Woman

The good news is that everyone can clean up their messes and outlive their mistakes. Perhaps time served, anger management, therapy, community service hours and the sweet taste of freedom will make a difference for our embattled lady convicts.

Lyte Still Rocks.

Lyte Still Rocks.

Perhaps the women emcees waiting in the wings will learn from the ones awaiting probation or parole, and be what Latifah, Monie, Shante, Lyte, and Yo-Yo embody: Ladies First. Props to Missy Elliott for keeping her clothes on and keeping out of trouble. She’s proof you can sustain a career and be credible without winding up in an orange jumpsuit. And she preaches self-respect to young girls, which is in short supply in hip-hop these days. We’re long overdue for good music–and good behavior. Now, where my gurls at?!

17-year industry vet and award-winning journalist/advertising executive Thembisa S. Mshaka is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, (Grand Central Publishing, April 2009).