Hopefully Alicia Keys’ New Album Will Make People Leave Her ‘Blended Family’ Alone

This is an amazing picture….

Social media: the magical place where everyone is a judge or critic while lacking context, experience, or expertise. I love the creativity it has spawned…even if a lot of the content lacks substance.
Alicia Keys’ newest album, Here, is available in all media outlets (streaming, stores, and iTunes) today (November 4). Rooted in soul, gospel, and hip hop, AK’s newest album is a love letter to people with a New York state of mind. 

Hopefully this album will be the beginning of the end with regards to the internet dragging Alicia Cook through the mud. Here’s first single, “Blended Family (What You Do For Love), featuring A$AP Rocky, is an ode to complicated familial dynamics. On the midtempo track, Keys sings directly to her stepson, Kassem Jr., letting him and the world know how she feels in a manner that many can understand and relate to.

For those that do not know, here is the brief back story: Alicia Keys and producer Swizz Beatz began seeing each other in 2008. At the time, Swizzy was still legally married to his wife, singer Mashonda, whom he had a son with. Keys and Beatz married in 2010 and had their first child, Egypt, a few months later. Needless to say, this timeline can make the transition into a happy family a little complicated.

“I know it started with a little drama. Hate you had to read it in the paper,” the singer begins her second verse. Since the news of Alicia Keys and her now husband became one, she has received some sort of backlash on the internet. People have called her a home wrecker, a word that you’d get if one takes that “m” out of “home,” and a myriad of judgments from people who have yet to understand how complicated life can get. Any little faux pas she makes, note she cracks, or risk she takes, people can’t wait to throw stones and hide their hands while sitting on their high horse.

Men and women cheat. Marriages-half of them-end before death parts the bride and groom/bride and bride/groom and groom; and irreconcilable differences being the cause of most. What almost anyone who has ever been through a divorce can tell you is that the marriage has ended long before the separation or official signing of legal documentation. There is a long period of loneliness in which one’s heart, mind, and spirit has left the union before the body does. How could the classically trained pianist have wrecked a home that was already in shambles? 

Hindsight is 20/20 for a reason. People often don’t realize that we have made mistakes until they look back for perspective. Many people get married and go through hell; only to realize long after it has ended that they weren’t supposed to have united with that person in the first place. We all know people who have entered or stayed in relationships they knew they should have left after several proverbial red flags have been waved. Just because Mashonda and Swizz Beatz wed and had a child together doesn’t mean that they were supposed to.

Nonetheless, mistakes in life are relative. Everything works out the way that it was supposed to. While things may have been complicated for the Dean family, they all seem to be very happy and supportive of each other. It may sound absurd; but many of us are the products of mass confusion and fairly messed up circumstances; and we are all trying to find happiness in our own journey. More can relate to the song “Blended Family,” the story that created it, and ever after they are living much more than the snide comments they make for retweets and internet fodder.

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A Tribe Called Quest’s New Album Rollout Brings The Feels

A picture of A Tribe Called Quest at the Kanye show I was too late to see them at.

A Tribe Called Quest is releasing their final album, We Got It from Here, Thank You for Your Service, next week. While I am more than certain that the project is one of love, life and celebration, the title itself makes me feel a way.

I read the New York Times article, Loss Haunts A Tribe Called Quest’s First Album in 18 Years yesterday. It was a heavy, yet beautiful. I had this unidentifiable feeling looking at pictures of Jarobi with a graying beard and Q-Tip-who seemed to never age-beginning to look like a man in his mid-forties. The world and myself have been waiting for “A-E-I-O-U…and sometimes Y” to get it together and lace us with new music; but not like this; but I understand.

A Tribe Called Quest means a lot to me. I’m from Queens. I’m from St. Albans. “Back in the days on the Boulevard of Linden” is not some classic rap lyric to me; it’s my reality. I drive past the block that on November 19 will be renamed “Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor Way” all of the time. My grandfather’s wake was held at the funeral home right across the street from the Nu-Clear Cleaners Tribe stood on and filmed the music video for “Check the Rhyme.” 

The Midnight Marauders’ music was the soundtrack to the hardest period of my life. The October 2011 release of Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest prompted me to listen to their whole catalog repeatedly. Timile, Cydney, and I were in the process of relocating from Buffalo to Virginia. Cyd left with her grandparents October 14, I drove Timile down the weekend of the 20th, and I worked in Buffalo for an extra week, completing the move October 31st. 

Virginia was a very tough time because I was by myself. I spent all day applying for jobs at a Starbucks, visited Timile in the hospital during the evenings (only for a half hour at a time because her parents told me I had to sneak around and hide), and spend time with my daughter at the in-laws with vigilant eyes watching me as if Cydney wasn’t my child. 

Q-Tip and Phife’s words, Ali Shaheed’s soundscape, and Jarobi’s spirit were the only friends I had in Virginia during those three weeks. Living in a place that was nothing like my stomping grounds, the music was all I had to cure my homesickness. I needed their playful lyrics to express what was a complicated time and abstract thoughts. My mother was just starting her first round of chemotherapy, so even there I was feeling depleted because I had spent all of my time being there for others. I had my big brother, Barry, and my good friend Donnell that I could call and vent to. To this day, I can barely listen to the album Beats, Rhymes, and Life in its entirety…its darkness and frustration with changing times give me Vietnam Flashbacks to those evenings.

However, I can listen to “God Lives Through” from Midnight Marauders all day and not get tired of it. It was the perfect ending to a perfect album. That was the victory lap of a time that can never be replicated. So when it plays, you just vibe out and remember the struggle and hard times with a melancholy smile. It’s the welcomed kind of moodiness, if that makes sense. If one asks me how I feel about living in Virginia five years ago, it’s a pleasant sadness I think of very fondly. Timile Brown may have still been alive; but that was the beginning of the Single Dadventures.

*Does litmus test to see if I can write with Beats, Rhymes, and Life playing. Turns Midnight Marauders back on…Beats was too distracting.*

Reading the Times article yesterday afternoon was interesting. Jarobi lamented on how traveling and recording this last album was taking a toll on Phife, who had been living with diabetes since 1990 and succumbed to the disease March 22, 2016. The click bait articles are trolling by using headlines like “The Final Tribe Album Killed Phife” or some shit that I’m exaggerating to get my point across. Some people are just not going to understand; but I do.

The phrase “Now I can die in peace” is often a joke; but the sentiment is a real thing. I truly believe that Malik Taylor knew his time on earth was coming to an end. The only thing he had left to do was make right with his friend since four years old, Q-Tip, and lay down some Tribe music. I have witnessed people “transition,” in which they stick around on earth until a few more things are in order and then let go. They see the world very differently. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is why Q-Tip said that he had a very hard time listening to Phife’s vocals on this new album. Other than him no longer being with us, there is probably something very different about the timbre of his voice. Those who are transitioning sound different. 

The heavy feeling that is sitting with me in lieu of this final Tribe album is one of completion. I have been trying to see them live ever since. I missed them a few times in New York (I was late to when they opened up for Kanye West at the Barclay’s Arena in 2013); but things happen the way they are supposed to. 

I think I was unconsciously searching for a closing to an emotional void. For the past five years, there has been a lack of vulnerability on my end. I am used to my emotional processing being an internal process that even in times of wanting to shed tears I literally can’t. It’s time for things to be different. So I guess with the last album dropping November 11, 2016, I can say to friends that helped me through a very tough time-Timile, Donnell, A Tribe Called Quest-I got it from here, thank you for your service.

What I Took From Lil Wayne’s Nightline Interview

 

The way I think we all watched the clip from Nightline.

Brian “Birdman” Williams was just given all of the leverage-and then some-to tell Lil Wayne “You need me more than I need you, playboi.”

In 1998, Cash Money Records’s flagship artist Juvenile released the music video for his breakout smash, “Ha.” While Juve was, is, and will forever be the hottest of the Hot Boyz, one couldn’t help but zero in on the kid with the cornrows who in stuck out amongst all of these grown men in New Orleans’ Magnolia Projects. Months later, that teenager with the Cash Money pendant engendered the greatest onomatopoeia of all time: bling bling. The Neo-Negro Spiritual, “Back That Azz Up” concludes with an exhortation in simile form that the world could relate to: wobbledy wobbledy wop, drop it like it’s hot.

Last night (November 1), ABC’s Nightline broadcasted an interview in which three years of interviews with the rapper born Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. were truncated into a six minute and change segment. Weezy F. Baby candidly pontificated “Yeah, if they callin’ her a b**** or a h**, I’d have a huge problem with that. But I’d never call a certain kind of female outside her name, unless I got a real big problem with a h**, yeah…,” referring how he would feel if his daughter was called words he has used frequently in his music. He expounded on his relationship with Mary, a woman he is often linked to (There’s God, my family, there’s my kids, there’s music, and weed…in that order). Man, does he have a way with words.

However, most of what the emcee formerly known as Shrimp Daddy had to say was eclipsed by none other than Lil Wayne, himself. When asked if he regretted his communiqué that there is no “such thing as racism,” Lil Weezyanna stuck to his caricature of being unapologetic by replying that he didn’t.

Reporter Linsey Davis followed this question up by inquiring how the New Orleans spitter felt about the Black Lives Matter Movement. And that’s where things got interesting:

So here’s the thing….

While I don’t share any of the same sentiments that this man expressed, I am not surprised. The 60 second portion that has gone viral and is currently inspiring as many think pieces as Tha Carter 3 sold in its first week is missing some context.

Lil Wayne is a rapper and mostly a damn good one. While this is a skill in which many think they could do cannot, studies have shown that the average rapper’s verbal dexterity is around a third grade reading level. So if the person that is the subject matter had made a nearly 25 year career communicating on an elementary level, why are so many people up in arms? Poet Laureate Clifford “T.I.” Harris eloquently stated what most of the world something that pretty much sums up the mindset of a plurality of rappers:  Man these n****s is all hype/Not even rappin’ on real mics/They just get high and say whatever the f*** they feel like.

The music industry-especially the business of hip hop-is a façade. The players that we see and hear are caricatures doing nothing more than playing a role as if it were real. While it is rooted in music and a culture, hip hop music is a competitive sport with rivalries and relationships between one another that are being nothing portrayed as real. Each personality must evolve aspects of their persona because a shtick can get stale very quickly, especially in the days of the internet.

Throughout his career, Mr. Carter has evolved from baby gangsta, to wunderkind, the Uptown Hot Boy in Gibraud jeans, heartthrob, the “rapper eater,” Martian, “Best Rapper Alive,” pop culture fixture, phenome, rock star, and skater. Now, he is the drugged-up shell of himself that still doesn’t give a fuck. To renege on his September statements regarding race would require Lil Wayne to break kayfabe.

Anywho…I’ll pretend this isn’t an act. Lil Wayne has been rapping professionally for over 25 years and has been a millionaire for at least 18 of them. If 80% of hip hop sales (music, concerts, merchandise, etc.) come from white audiences, his outlook is going to be skewed. While he has tattoos on his face and blonde locs, his naiveté is probably closer to Carlton Banks’ when he thought that he and Will Smith were arrested for driving too slow over by white policemen on that episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Wanye is rich and as he stated on the Fox show that started this whole cluster-fuck at his shows he sees all races. Even if it is dumb and inaccurate, who are we to judge him on his reality?

I found what Birdman J.R. said about prison to be more compelling and the portion on how prison changed his outlook on the world. In jail, the Best Rapper Alive mentioned that his stint in the bing (that’s not a “bling” typo) as most honest portion of the interview. With his eyebrows raised and eyes dilated to draw in light, the former Riker’s Island inmate says “I learned a lot about people. You’re all on the same level. You’re all going through the same thing. Everybody wants to go home.”

If you-the public-watch this portion again, he looks as if in his mind he is internally flashing back to being incarcerated and reliving moments within a flash. If you ask anyone who has ever done a bid, they will tell you that it changes who you are, how you see the world as well as those around you; and you can’t un-see it. Many leave and are institutionalized that they commit crimes to stay inside because they can’t function on the other side of prison walls. From those that I know who have been in the system will echo a similar sentiment as the Heart of Hollygrove, with regards to the only life that matters is their own.

The rest of the interview is then shot to shit; but the Young Money founder has to stay in character. He seems caught off-guard and gives his answer. He begins to bounce up and down, shifts around in his chair, and then ends the interview back in full Lil Wayne-mode, not giving a fuck, flaunting his gang flag, and storming out, proclaiming “I’m a gangsta.” I could be wrong; however, most of what I learned in my college psychology courses about discourse analysis suggests that the veil was pulled back and he had to regroup himself.

Flawless marketing for the book Lil Wayne is promoting. Clearly in other aspects of his career this guy has used his mouthpiece and platform to talk about the plight of Black America at the hands of law enforcement, federal and local government, and other blacks.

Fuck everything I just said…this is bullshit.

Baseball Season Finally Coming to an End

At the end of an undefeated season, my nephew’s baseball coach of three years, Coach Frank, pulled me aside last June. He expressed his concerns that Courtney hadn’t progressed much over the past year. My boy was making good contact; but he wasn’t shifting his bat when he swung and the ball would drop in the infield. During the summer season, he didn’t pitch often because he was attempting to place the ball as opposed to throwing it over his shoulder and putting his body into it.
Courtney had a decent summer season in 2015 and began to show signs of his potential. Playing with a competitive travel team is much different than little league. I told my boy going into that summer that he would no longer be playing against just the best in his neighborhood; but the best in all of their respective communities.

He participated in winter workouts. I didn’t attend many of them but I would take Courtney in the back yard and practice pitching with him. We wouldn’t go inside until he could throw three outs worth of strikes over home plate. He still placed his pitches a little; nonetheless, he was getting better.

When the spring season started, my guy rose to the occasion. Playing in a new division, he led his team to the championship series. At the top of the sixth inning, the Baldwin Red Sox were down by one run. The opposing team loved to cheer very loudly and one of the mothers would pull out an air horn when they scored. The Rockies spent most of the game losing and as soon as they were in the lead it got obnoxious.

With all of the passion in the world, I told the boys to shut that team up. I wanted the Rockies to hear me. At the top of the last inning, my nephew hit an RBI that put our team in the lead. I looked at one of our other coaches and told them to let Courtney pitch. He had been lights out all season and we don’t want to have to play a second game. My nephew took the mound and struck out the side: three outs in nine pitches for the win.

We celebrated for all of four days and it was time to get ready for summer travel ball. Courtney had a decent summer. Towards the end of the season, I showed him how to throw a second pitch, a split-finger fastball—a fastball that drops as soon as it reaches the plate. His arm got vicious. 

By the end of the summer, I would warm up with him by throwing the ball as hard as I could without injuring my shoulder. He could hang without dropping the ball or being scared of it. As I previously wrote, when he practiced with the 12 year old team, he outplayed everyone. 

Slowly but surely, everyone who watched my nephew play baseball noticed his talent. Anyone who saw him recognized that he was hands-down the most talented player on the team. 

My nephew started the summer season as the number five batter in the lineup. He had a little of a slump and dropped to number six towards the end of the season. For those who do not know, the three, four, and five batters are the heart of your lineup. The third batter has the highest batting average, the fourth is the slugger, and the fifth is the other power hitter. Batters six through nine are the lesser hitters; but six is still a decent hitter.

When the fall season started, Courtney continued to progress. By October, my nephew became the number three batter in the lineup. He ended the season with a .750 batting average, .775 on base percentage, and didn’t strike out all season. He twice was one hit short of completing a cycle, ending the season this Sunday with a two-run homer.

I told my nephew last year that while he loves basketball, baseball should and would be his thing. He didn’t believe me and didn’t want to listen. As of now, all he wants to do is play baseball. He always has a glove on and when he has free time, he’s playing MLB the Show. As of now, he can throw three pitches well enough to utilize them in a game.

…He’s come a very long way from that conversation I had with Coach Frank sixteen months ago and I’m very proud of him.