At this point you may be wondering, “Damn, is she only going to write about Prince now?” My response: “Maybe. Deal. *blankstare*”
In some ways I’m still reeling, in other ways I’m adjusting, in all ways it’s still surreal that Our Purple One is gone, but que sera, sera and all that jazz…
True to form (and my official Kennethology photo) in general I’m ready, willing, and likely to serve up a side eye when I even think someone may be acting out of pocket. For things and people that I truly care about that likelihood intensifies by about 100%. Such is the case with Prince which is why aside from my initial outrage, I have given little thought to that shameful “tribute” that un-named award show had planned. Listen, I’m over-sensitive – I will admit that, but so what? There were so many red flags that it escapes me how anyone other than a white feminist and 3 well-meaning white guys thought this would be a good idea…. But then again… look at the show. Aside from the fact that being a “peer” (in terms of age and career peak only) means nothing, OR the fact that Prince beefed with that performer for over a decade and only recently became “cool” again, OR the fact that the same “called to request” leading the “tribute” (“Hello, publicity thirst trap, party of one please.”), aside from all of that – that person’s vocals are shotty at best and they play zero instruments. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when we don’t stay in our respective lanes, tragedy strikes. Was Lady Gaga David Bowie’s “peer”? No, but she was the person who could get the job done RIGHT and that’s all that matters, Wendy Williams. If you think a ruffled blouse and a glittery staff is all you need to tribute a genius like Prince, you don’t even deserve to be in the audience. You can try to defend it all you want, but this is not about meeting an impossible standard. It is the simple fact that it’s impossible to tribute someone by ignoring everything they stood for. That wack attempt reflects everything Prince disliked about the music industry. But look at me… going off on tangents. That’s not e’em what I’m here for…
June is near and all eyes (and prayers) have shifted to the BET Awards. We are in need of a proper Prince tribute. We don’t just deserve it – it is now owed to us. We all knew the above mentioned “tribute” would be trash (that’s probably why BET had their Prince-level shade cued up and ready to go), but if you cast shade – YOU HAD BEST COME CORRECT. I have a tortured relationship with BET, but in this case, I’m rooting for you and I need you to be great. I’m here to help and I’m sure I’ve left some things out, but as one who’s been borderline obsessed with Prince for a majority of my adult life (I can neither confirm nor deny that if I lived within driving distance of Minneapolis that I wouldn’t have been a regular at Paisley Park), I want to share 3 quick points of encouragement and notes that may help you get on the right path.
1-a. [For once] We’re all rooting for you. – Again, I have been pretty vocal about my issues with BET, but I’ll admit that you’ve also given me juuuust enough to be cautiously optimistic. Lest we forget that bomb reggae medley in 2013 that I’m still adjusting my wig from…. you executed that perfectly… do yall see Nikki getting her entire life in the audience… what other awards show would that happen??? Then that Bad Boy reunion last year and now we’re being blessed with a whole damned tour. You have showed up right on time before and we need you to do it again.
1-b. You’ve pulled this off before with less notice. Listen, I’m still applauding the MJ tribute you all managed to pull off with just 2 DAYS NOTICE in 2010. (It should be noted 2010 was the same year you did your first Prince tribute.) Granted, it may be a little easier because you can pull off an MJ tribute by only featuring choreography, BUT you made a good call in bringing in Chris Brown. And I care not that he spent all of “Man In The Mirror” in tears. It was moving and we all know the words to that song anyway. Plus a light instrumental to one of MJ’s deepest, most meaningful songs, was moving on its own because it gave us room to reflect NOT JUST ON HIS ARTISTRY, but who he was as a humanitarian. It wasn’t just enough, it was great.
This is likely where many tributes will fail. The focus should be on artistry and musicianship. Yes, Prince was an amazing performer. Yes, he had some great outfits, but what he was the most proud of and what he wanted to be remembered for is his music. THAT should be the focus which means that solid vocals, artists, and true musicians shouldn’t be sacrificed for dancers and performers in flashy outfits (I’m looking at you, Beyonce). We’ve seen many of these names before. Don’t be afraid to call in a few ringers and ol’ heads. If folks don’t know their names, they’ll learn ‘em. (in no particular order)
─ Esperanza Spalding
─ Janell Monae
─ Patti Labelle
─ Chaka Khan
─ Sheila E.
─ Larry Graham
─ Morris Day & The Time (don’t forget Jerome and The Bodyguards, please and thanks)
─ The Revolution (not just Lisa and Wendy, we need Brown Mark and Dr. Fink too)
─ 3rd Eye Girl
─ Judith Hill
─ New Power Generation
─ Rosie Gaines (featured in Cream and Diamond and Pearls)
─ Alicia Keys (I have my own feelings about her rendition of Adore the last time, but Prince gave her props, so who am I to judge?? Imma judge tho…)
─ Maxwell (pending song choice – Most Beautiful Girl In The World??)
─ Lenny Kravitz
─ Erykah Badu
─ Bruno Mars (pending song choice – Cream??)
─ Stevie Wonder (I think he should sit this one out, but that’s just me)
I mean I could go on, but you get the point, you have so many options. If in doubt, just stick with artists Prince has worked with, mentored, and/or performed with in the past.
2-a. THERE SHOULD BE NO LESS THAN 2 BLACK WOMEN IN THIS TRIBUTE. PERIOD.
2-b. Don’t rely on “big names”, you won’t need them. (See: reggae medley above) We don’t need fancy names, we need people who CAN DO THIS RIGHT.
2-c. Again, LEAVE BEYONCE OUT OF THIS. I know she will ask and I know there will be temptation, but no. No shade, just tea (see comment above re: staying in lanes). This is not the space for her and she rarely cares enough to show up to your show in person anyway. Let her give yall another YouTube stream of some track off of Lemonade, because THIS ain’t about her and her “I think I can vocals”.
2-d. NO NEW FRIENDS. Ordinarily, I’d be fine with giving a new artist some shine, but don’t set them up. This is too much pressure and if they slip we will destroy them. We’ve taken all of the hits we will accept from that trash “tribute”, we won’t take any more.
To be on the safe side, even if they don’t perform, get Sheila E., Morris, and ‘em to sign off on whatever yall end up with.
3) 3. Don’t be lazy with the Track List. Please don’t rely on the Purple Rain soundtrack – it’s a cop-out and it’s lazy. We will accept I Would Die 4 U, When Doves Cry or maybe Purple Rain can be a musical instrumental with no vocals (see: Chris Brown’s MJ tribute notes above). He had so much more to pull from before and after that album: Controversy, I Wanna Be Your Lover, Kiss, Diamonds and Pearls, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, Musicology, Nothing Compares 2 U, My Name Is Prince, Black Sweat, Emancipation, I Wish You Heaven, Raspberry Beret, Adore, Housequake, etc. Don’t be stingy, we’re open to songs he wrote but maybe didn’t perform; I really don’t think he’d mind – The Vanguard Jam (NAACP Image Awards).
Personally, I’d love to hear Cream and Partyman, but this ain’t about me – what would he want? The man released over 40 albums meaning you have more than the standard 8 songs to choose from. Suggestion: Closing with “The Beautiful Ones” would be ideal, thanks.
3-a. There should be a rock song in this tribute. He was a funk-rock artist, please honor that and don’t only focus on his RnB or Pop hits.
3-b. There should be a guitar spotlight in this tribute. He was a beast on the piano, but his guitar skills were what he was most proud of. He spoke often about how he taught himself to play and it took him years to play the way he wanted to. Whenever he jumped in to surprise and play back-up for folks, it was bass and/or electric guitar. And can we EVER forget this guitar solo that he destroyed??? Don’t be afraid of a Lenny Kravitz and Larry Graham duet. If you pick the right song, you can combine with point 3-a.
3-c. I’d like a strong horn section… because… why not? But optional.
4) Additional Notes / Simple Shade / Me Being Petty
– Mayte and Manuela can be invited, but we will only tolerate one … ONE 5 second audience reaction shot from them. Keep them away from microphones and stages. No shade, but since when do exes get so much air time? We’ve heard enough from them.
[By the way, if you’re still reading this, round of applause – I’m impressed that you hung in there this long.] You may be thinking I’m being extra and you may be correct, but this is important… Dare I say critical? BET we want you to be great. PLEASE BE GREAT. What do you need us to do? Say some extra prayers? Don’t be afraid to take this one to the Altar – The Word says “lean not unto your own understanding”. Come on and let yourself be led by the Spirit BET. DO US PROUD.
Additional Notes for All You Other Award shows:
To end on a high note and as a thank you to all who made it this far… bask in the awesomeness of The Purple One – #sigh this is who we lost L
I was living and minding my own business on Thursday when Janelle Monáe blessed us with a new track out of nowhere. In case you missed it I’m talking about “Hell You Talmbout”. If you haven’t heard it yet, I invite to pause for a moment and go listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/
No really, I’ll wait. Go listen. https://soundcloud.
I’m a fan of Janelle Monáe, but this isn’t just about my fandom (she’s awesome though) – how does she do this? Why does she do this to us? I’m still trying to recover from “Yoga”.
There has been a lot of talk about Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” being the song of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I’m not fighting that, but it’s never really resonated with me in that way. I needed something more – something to evoke fight in me when I got tired and not a ‘feel good’ song. Then my girl Janelle showed up right on time. Oh! let me count the ways…
The name of the track is “Hell You Talmbout”. I actually just stared at it for several moments to process and eventually just nodded my head in agreement. I get it. Off top, she’s letting you know she doesn’t have the time. It’s not even a real question, it’s rhetorical. It’s a question that you ask with a screw face because you’re letting the person know you already don’t believe their answer. Why? Because we already know what you’re going to say won’t make sense. It’s actually in your best interest to acknowledge that the question was asked, but not attempt to answer it. Just stand there in silence and accept judgment. Kind of like when your mom asks you if ‘you’ve lost your mind’, but you don’t actually answer because you know better – an answer will only escalate the situation.
AND the phrase is written and said in the African-American Vernacular (some of you call it Ebonics) as if to say, no one gives a d**n about you and your proper English. She’s not here for your respectability politics, but we knew that when she told us to “get off my areola”, right? LOL! Unashamedly Black. PS: That’s STILL the greatest line I’ve ever heard sung.
Ok, so I get past the title and the track starts (music and melody will be addressed next). The entire track is simply calling the names of those who have been slain at the hands of various levels of law enforcement and there are so many reasons why this is important.
a. No one was expecting this because…. how could we?
2) She has clearly aligned herself with the #BlackLivesMatter movement – on the slight chance there was any question. #SayHerName / #SayHisName has been one of the main campaigns of the movement to acknowledge that people of color are not just statistics or media headlines, but also people. They are full, entire human beings with families, friends, life goals, emotions, failures, ambitions, etc. and their humanity matters even in death – say their names. Those names…. those lives matter. Don’t forget that and ask yourself why there are so many names to be said.
And the *way* the names are said… with unexplainable levels of passion, exhaustion, and desperation. Is it just me or do the background vocals on the hook sound like the chorus of an old negro spiritual?? No? Just me being extra? Ok, fine.
iii. Context – She took me out by saying Emmitt Till. I wasn’t expecting that. By acknowledging that this is not merely current event content for our 24hr news cycles or add-ons to campaign reporting, she is reinforcing the message that these conditions of government-sanctioned abuse on Black bodies are the norm that Black people have been living under for generations. And like the race riots of the late 60s, we’re tired of it. The acknowledgement from Emmett Till to Sandra Bland is powerful. This is no new news, the struggle continues. That awakened something in me.
Life. I got life from this track. I’m not a musician (unless 3 years of piano lessons counts for something), but I can recognize certain elements in how this song was composed and produced. And the first thing I heard was the drum. War drums were used for centuries in battle. It was a part of the communication system for troops and they were also used to let the soldiers know they were marching into battle and to help keep the pace. But the African in me loves a good drum. Drums are very an important symbol in African culture and they are present at practically every important event and/or celebration. We have celebration drums, talking drums, drums used in healing ceremonies, drums for rites of passage, drums to represent royalty, drums used in worship….. Listen… Africans love a dance ceremony and we love drums. I won’t lie; it took me a minute to even get past the drums and hear the rest of the song because there was something in that drumbeat that my body responded to immediately. Like performing a dance that pays homage to departed loved ones or that acknowledge the ancestors at the beginning of a ceremony. A dance that originates from deep in one’s spirit – from a place of reverence and respect. A dance that causes your body to move without you even noticing. This song activated that part within me – my African roots – almost immediately. And the more I listened to it, the more it gave me Fela Kuti type vibes. I like it.
THEN when I finally heard the HBCU marching band feel of the song I was done. I got all the feels. There is no mistaking there is something in this composition that links it back to African and/or African-American culture. I don’t even have words for it, just pure genius.
Well, this is it. This is what I was looking for – a battle song. A song that pulls from, as one person said, “deep in your spirit”. As far as I’m concerned Janelle Monáe has provided us with the protest song of the #BlackLivesMatter movement because it captures the rebelliousness, resilience and unapologetic attitude of our generation. This for me is our “We Shall Overcome” or better our “Strange Fruit”. But don’t worry, just like there are several songs associated with the Civil Rights Movement, there’s a place for “Alright” in our playlists as well. “Hell You Talmbout” just blows it out the water. #SorryNotSorry 🙂
Janelle Monáe’s statement about the song:
So…I get a text from Tina – and all it says is “You’re welcome” – and it has a Youtube link with it. Now most of the time Tina puts me on to stuff that she knows I’m a stan for. She doesn’t listen to me when I try to put her on though…
*coughs while saying “GAME OF THRONES”
I click the link and Rihanna’s video comes on…my final thought on the video was “bruh”
Now I have this ongoing thought about how Bey switched her MO a little bit towards the bad side attempting to resemble the persona of Rihanna. Think about it for a second. Rihanna has been with Jay since she was like 5 years old, you gotta know that Rih has a special place in Jay’s mind (and possibly heart) that Bey hasn’t conquered. How else would you explain Bey’s self-titled album with songs like “partition” and singing about being drunk- some may look at it as her maturation surfacing, her being comfy with her sensuality within the construct of her marriage. I say she’s reaching. Everyone knows who the original and real bad-girl is; Robyn Fenty.
From 2007’s “Good Girl Gone Bad” to “Disturbia“…to “S&M” to cake cake cake cake cake cake…to her showing up to award shows nakey (yes nakey) ……all the way to #BBHMM and the video, where you got a look at slight genius resting in her macabre art. The girls body was swinging from the ceiling, and Rih slightly moved her head while she was on the phone as if she was irritated by said swinging body. And the end, where’s she’s once again nakey in a chest full of money, with money on her chest – to the final shot with Beyonce’s blood on her face.
As of late, I have been compelled to listen to either a lot of 90s RnB, or earlier rap. This is not a “school v. school” piece where I rant about the lack of depth and/or skill set of today’s artists. Truth be told (as I would normally tell) the young cats today actually have a lot of “go” on the mic. The cadences and delivery aren’t so predictable that I can’t tolerate it, unless it’s a MIGOS type flow – but…something is missing, and I can’t put my finger on it. The rappers that do get frequent rotation usually fade into musical obscurity as it pertains to what I see as relevant or moving. Often times they become really annoying and I just can’t deal with them anymore.
This happened with Mr. Folarin a couple of years back when he signed with MMG but hopefully his next “nothing” album is reminiscent of the old DC, heart-wrenching rapper that I grew to love to listen to. Which brings me to the latest person that I can’t seem to WANT to listen to anymore – Mr. Lamar. My thing with him is namely his “respectability politics” stance and how it is falsely portrayed in his rhymes combined with my petty hipster attitude to want to move on because everyone raves about him any time he does anything – but no one is listening to what he’s actually saying. This sheepish waltz to the new school tune usually leaves me standing as a wallflower, shaking my head in the same manner I would after listening to OG MACO……YOU WAS RIGHT!!!!!!
(OG Maco pictured below)
Now….J. Cole has been the one that has consistently poured his soul into his music, and you can hear it. He speaks truth from the heart and you can tell he loves what he does. If it was purely about the fame and money he would’ve made some different choices to get him off of the B-LIST but he has remained true. On his born sinner album, his song “Let Nas Down” literally left my mouth open. And when Nasir responded, I had to pull my car over and take it all in. It touched my emotion as an artist. I could only imagine how Cole felt when he heard Nas respond to him. THAT IS WHAT IT’S ABOUT. These other songs leave me with a feeling…especially drake – but I usually don’t feel like a CIS when I listen to his music. Makes me question my entire existence.
So if you’re wondering who I think is on top with the new kids?