Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

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

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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

The United States of 50 Cent

April 4, 2009
So my new favorite Sunday show, The United States of Tara comes to a close this weekend.

united-states-of-tara-promo

In a nutshell (pardon the pun) Toni Collette deftly dances between her central character, named Tara, and that woman’s other personalities, or ‘alters’: T, a petulant, hypersexed teenager; Alice, a prudish but alluring homemaker cut from Donna Reed’s cloth; Buck, her male alter who lives at the intersection of trailer trash biker and delusional Vietnam vet. And then: there’s Gimme, the feral child, an alter that screeches, cowers, destroys and even pees on sleeping relatives in the middle of the night.


The show has led me to draw an unlikely parallel between Tara and of all people, 50 Cent. Now, I am not a shrink, and I don’t think 50 Cent has multiple personality disorder. On the contrary: I think he’s got a firm grasp on who he is. But the Showtime series, executive produced by Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Juno, got me to thinking about all the personalities 50 has revealed to us thus far.

For the show’s central character Tara, there is Curtis Jackson. He listens more than he talks, is a brilliant creative (like Tara, who is a muralist—only his mediums are movies, music, books and apparel). Low-key and perceptive, Curtis is probably the least exciting of all the personalities, but loveable for the same reasons.


tara1

50-cent-2

Then there’s Tara’s polar opposite, T. Less than half Tara’s age with twice the sex drive, and no regard for consequences. T’s attitude is ‘all me all the time’, period. And while the only way to dial T back is to banish her to the shed in the family’s back yard, sometimes it’s cool having T around because she knows how to have a good time. In 50’s amusement park, this character is the irrepressible Pimpin’ Curly. A newly revealed personality, Curly rocks plush furs, a red sistercurl ‘do (okay, it’s a wig cocked to the side, but roll with me here), fresh kicks, and a mouth as foul as his attitude. And it works for him. His bitches love it. And the money they bring him is all that matters; he’s a legend in his own mind.


tee-2

Pimpin' Curly

Even among Tara’s alters, there is a voice of reason. The same holds true for Curtis. In Tara’s world, there is Alice, perfectly coiffed with clipped speech. Alice’s work is in the home, but make no mistake—she’s all business. You better have it together around Alice, and if you don’t she’ll help you with that. Even the show’s subway posters for Alice read ‘She’s One Tough Mother’. Enter Earl, the equivalent personality for Curtis. Straight-laced and accomplished in the corporate world, he’s one tough brother. He’s even shared co-consciousness with Curly and faced him down, telling Curly, “I’m not afraid of you. You’re goin’ to hell. Hell, hell, hell, hell, HELL!”

AliceEarl

Who among the United States of 50 measures up to Buck, Tara’s chain-smoking, crotch adjusting male alter? Well, that’s easy. 50 Cent. He’s as male as male gets. Swagger and shit-talking beyond belief, right down to the monogram pistol holster. To let this guy tell it, he’s invincible. And he has a point: he survived Southside Jamaica, Queens, the drug trade and being served a dishonorable discharge from the rap game after being shot 9 times. Exacting revenge on the same industry that left him for dead says he’s right.


buck

50-cent3

I was 50’s advertising writer for “How To Rob” and Power of The Dollar. Our bond goes back to 1999 B.B. (Before the Bullets). He even generously blessed the back cover of my book with a quote.


“There are only a couple people I still keep in touch with from my days at Columbia, people who totally focused on my project and did their best for me. Thembisa is one of them.”
—50 Cent, Shady/Aftermath recording artist and G-Unit branding phenomenon


I’ve been in the presence of both Curtis and 50 Cent. I have witnessed the warm smile of one soul transition into the sneer of another at close range. More recently, I have been thoroughly entertained from afar by Curly and Earl, who prove that Curtis hasn’t lost his sense of humor, and may have even found some self-deprecation after all the success he’s achieved in music, business, film, and fashion.

When an alter overtakes Tara, she transitions as a result of a word, action or behavior that triggers their appearance. Unlike Curtis, Tara is still wondering what cataclysmic event brought on her mental state. Curtis’ near-death experience answered that question for him. See, I believe he knows why these personalities are manifesting, and more than that, wields them in a way Tara can’t. All this shrink talk from The United States of Tara begs a few questions.


What do you think triggers Curtis? Is there a Gimme in his arsenal of personalities? If so, when will we get to meet him? Or is he holding that one back before he self-destructs?


curtis-21

I for one can’t wait to find out.


Showtime’s The United States of Tara finale premieres Sunday, April 5 at 10pm. My book Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business streets April 23. The new album from 50 Cent, Before I Self Destruct is slated for release later this year.

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!

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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This book is ‘Mentorship In A Bottle’ for the entertainment industry

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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).