2018

Standing on the Corner: Praises from the Block

by Shantel Pass | published: Dec 06, 2018

Standing on the Corner: Praises from the Block

By: Shantel Pass

Published: December 6, 2018

Photo & Video: Alex Ashe

Brooklyn-based Standing On The Corner is more a super group than your average band. Led by Shamel Cee Mystery, the collective of friends and musicians compose sonic time capsules that embody the life of Kings County’s streets and the energy of Black and Brown people in cities everywhere.

In this bewitchingly agitated performance piece, effusive percussions – adorned with electronic warpings and feather-light bass swelling – dance with the gently inescapable persistence of brass. Standing On The Corner balms emotional blandness with a plenitude of tones and moods that finger comb the elements of each utterance whether vocal or instrumental. This isn’t just a performance for listening ears, but an expressive consensus of feeling hearts; a tuneful rapture for all of the polka dots navigating a world dominated by stripes.

Full Band:

Shamel Cee Mystery

Caleb Giles

Jack Nolan

Oluwaseun Odubiro

Syl Dubenion

Savannah Harris

Tomin Perea Chamblee

Buz

2018

The Revisit: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (20th Anniversary)

by Shantel Pass | published: Aug 24, 2018

Miesducation

Ms. Lauryn Hill, needs no introduction now just as she didn’t on this same day twenty years ago when her debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was released via Columbia Records. After amassing a multitudinous audience as a star in her own right among her Fugees peers – where she doubled as soulful songstress and emcee – and of course with her mesmerizing performance as sweet but somber and charming Rita Watson in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, few people doubted the Jersey-born multi-hyphenate’s limitless range and truly inimitable talent. Still, Miseducation was far beyond what anyone could have imagined (except Hill herself, that is). On August 25, 1998, I was 10 years old and patiently waiting for my grandmother to drive me to the mall so I could exhaust what was left of my allowance at the F.Y.E. on this CD. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” had been playing on literally every radio station and my kind-of-new No Skip Discman was ready for more from “L Boogie.” In hindsight, I knew very little about the themes explored in this album back then. Somehow though, each song felt like I was being enlightened to a certain degree, or like my big sister (which I did not have) was putting me on game through her own experiences. In 4th grade, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill felt like watching feminine adulthood through a window. Now, at 30 years old – having lived, breathed, cried, run from, run back to, feared, felt and loved the potency of my own feminine fury – I know that, that window was actually a door through which I’d inevitably walk myself; and I think it’s safe to say Ms. Lauryn Hill deserves endless flowers for this all-embracing offering.

Class begins with an in-session bell sounding off at the album’s start. As an attendance roster is read aloud, one student, Hill, is confirmed absent. Was she implying that the innocent and youthful ideas of ardor and romance are so pure with correctness that her miseducation was rooted in her own haste to experience love prior to receiving proper love lessons? Or was her miseducation rooted in the idea that we know love to be many things, subjectively speaking, and that the variety of things we learn to identify as love – literally from childhood – are often what confuses us about it? Part of the beauty of this project is that we’re still coming to understand its different interpretations two decades later. The thoughtful intention of accenting the album’s tracks with artfully candid and earnest conversations about love by Ras Baraka (a Newark eighth grade teacher, poet and Councilman candidate) and a few area students deserves its own essay, if we’re honest. But the everlasting relevance of friendship betrayal, life-altering heartbreak, motherhood, career frustrations and spiritual enlightenment explored throughout this album are all tied to love; and whether it’s twenty years from now or twenty years from then, these interluded enthusiasms remarkably punctuate the music’s contrasting diversions to Ms. Hill’s lived experience.

In what I’ve recently dubbed the “Don’t Hurt Yourself” of the ‘90s, “Lost Ones” is a lyrical guns blazing, humbling introduction to exactly where the “nonviolent” emcee stands on her recently soured relationships (namely, Wyclef of the Fugees). A tight beat introduces the number before completely coming to a reverencing halt for the calm and strong opening bar, “It’s funny how money changes situation.” The beat immediately drops again and we get a “fool me once” declaration that, though just twenty-two years old, Ms. Hill was all but dumb and ultimately not at a loss in any of her industry encounters to date. From “Everything you did has already been done,” to “I was hopeless, now I’m on Hope Road,” to “you might win some, but you just lost one,” she has no mercy on her muse except for in the third verse where she offers an educational warning about the workings of karma. A second interlude introducing the day’s topic (love) follows and flows into “Ex-Factor.” With a universe of emotional weight distressing her vocal expression, Lauryn begins with a desperate, fatigued “It could all be so simple” approach to reasoning with her lover. Like Al Green’s “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” before it and Daniel Caesar’s “Neu Roses (Transgressor’s Song)” after it, “Ex-Factor” encapsulates the essence of boundless humanness with every “it aint working” and “this is crazy” reminder to herself. Juxtaposing the inevitable failure of this relationship with her desperation to make it work, Lauryn adds tremendous, tear-snagging texture to the closing refrain with the amplification of her raw vocal harmonies.

“To Zion” is easily one of the most praised deep cuts of this album. Music critics who weren’t fans of the album as a whole at least appreciated what Lauryn intuited here. Having had her first pregnancy outed by a media personality, Lauryn faced a ton of criticism and unsolicited opinions on what to do and why. With that knowledge – and now considering our somewhat evolved social climate’s cultural ideas on unwed mothers – “To Zion” is truly worth another (more intentional) listen. A hustling surrender that is so uncannily mature for a twenty-two-year-old (in the ‘90s at that) underlies the grace with which she robes herself maternal. This song is more than a mother-to-child love letter. It’s also an ode to self-realization and liberation, in the face of almost everything that begrudges it. Like a cherry on top, Carlos Santana’s guitar adlibs hula-hoop a marching rhythmic pattern that sonically mimics Lauryn’s passage into motherhood.

“Doo Wop (That Thing)” is obviously pretty problematic now in 2018. It’s preachy and judgmental and even condescending in spots, sure. But we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that this narrow-minded way of thinking was most commonly held by a great majority of us back then, and especially by those of us who grew up under the indoctrination of religion’s suffocating moral traditions (which Lauryn had). While ‘90s Hip Hop had been primarily taken over by diamonds, money, sex, drug pushing and crime tales, Lauryn wanted to use it to empower. She encouraged tenderness with “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem,” and challenged listeners to go deeper than the surface (beyond superficial concerns of vanity) with “How you gon win when you aint right within?” So while “Doo Wop (That Thing)” condemned with the same “nasty, put some clothes on” style messages as Destiny’s Child’s “Nasty Girl,” it maintained the same “a lost soul can’t lead the people” intention as H.E.R.’s “Lost Souls.” I motion that we all appreciate this song – with its ‘50s barbershop-inspired “woos” and “oohs,” punchy, mid ‘90s Hip Hop/Soul knocks and Hill’s anti-peer pressure talk – for what it was at the time regardless of how our transmogrified school of thought feels about it now. It’s important to note that the most passionate of the project’s interludes ends this track with ideas surrounding varying levels of love (love vs. in love vs. unconditional love), which comes across like a silent admission that she – herself, having missed the lesson and all – may not have been privy to the fact that her feminine power couldn’t help her attain or maintain a loving relationship. Also notable, (unwed) Lauryn is visibly pregnant in the visual for this cut which, personally, feels like her way of offering a “no judgement here, just speaking from new found, self-preserving experience” disclaimer more than a finger-shaking chastisement.

Miseducation’s middle section is pivotal, though often left out of most discussions about the project. In “Superstar” (with James Poyser playing a real harpsichord flip of a sample from The Doors’ “Light My Fire”), she challenges the music industry’s lack, pinpointing style redundancy (“everything you drop is so tired”) and wasted power (“music is supposed to inspire”). If anyone had listened closely enough, we’d have heard the singer lamenting her divorce from commercial success in these lyrics. Lauryn sees music as mission, not money. It couldn’t have ever worked with the money-minded vultures doing all the gatekeeping then (hence the deeply personal “Mystery of Iniquity” from 2002’s MTV Unplugged No 2.0). After telling us that Hip Hop’s origin records were heart conversations, she moves on to deliver a deeply felt “dissertation” of truth in a whirlwind of words, metaphors and punchlines on “Final Hour.” Here, Lauryn evinces skill and swagger that eclipses her (mostly male) Rap comrades’ range and she still wasn’t hell-bent on approval from anyone but God in the end.

A smoothie of the best elements from Hip Hop, R&B/Soul and Reggae music make up Lauryn’s canvas for “When It Hurts so Bad.” Mourning a toxic love, she uses words and melodies to name the internal tug of war between fighting for love and suffocating it. This is followed by the most tellingly relevant interlude of the album where the students are heard discussing confusion in love and how TV builds upon that confusion with misleading images of love. It feels like Lauryn’s absence from class is especially loud in this moment, a direct nod to a critical love lesson that could have, perhaps, saved her. While there’s no real way to teach love, I think this was her subtle way of disrupting the toxic romantic cycles that generations of mistaken lovers have wrestled with. And Mary J. Blige joins in to cosign that cause on “I Used to Love Him.” A gritty, off-kilter ballad, the women relate by sharing stories of giving too much to men who misused them. Exposing personal struggles and the growth it brought about, Mary and Lauryn find empowering worth in their new lives after letting go. Then switching gears to divine love, “Forgive Them Father” bridges Lauryn’s past to her lucid spirituality. She begs God’s forgiveness on behalf of all the malevolent and manipulative souls that, “say all the right things to gain their position, then use your kindness as their ammunition, to shoot you down in the name of ambition.”

Part public explanation – part personal memoir, the funky “Every Ghetto, Every City” finds Hill thoughtfully leveling with her listener by way of an homage to her hometown. Then, in floats the D’Angelo-assisted classic “Nothing Even Matters” (which requires literally no explanation as it’s unarguably Top 5 Greatest R&B Duets of All Time). Following that is the rugged string and piano intro on “Everything is Everything” where Lauryn drops gem after gem from her vault of regal sapience. (Fun fact: John Legend played keys on this.) Thereafter, we hear that same sagacity turn personal on the title track, a (most) musical diary excerpt on her own becoming that’s draped in seraphic organ and enchanting melodies.

The album ends after a brilliant cover of Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” “Tell Him,” in my humble opinion, is one of very few perfect examples of music’s power. Hill’s hypnotizing harmonies lace humble verses of loving devotion to God that, in certain spots, double as a prayed message of romantic hope, and it’s all so thick with hankering boundlessness that it sticks to your lungs long after it fades out.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sold over 422,600 units during its first week (breaking the record for first week sales by a woman artist), later sold over 8 million copies in the US and over 19 million copies worldwide, won five Grammys (including Album of the Year) and is Ms. Hill’s only studio album; so timeless, she’s still touring it twenty years later. From the chalkboard smell of those interludes to the nimbus of glory and womanhood orbiting each of these fifteen melodic transcripts, this album is an integral part of music history. It’s known that many relationships were harmed during the making of, and as a result of Miseducation. But we can’t ever deny that if there were no Lauryn Hill, there’d be a gaping hole in the fabric of music history. She was the conduit in which these works were conceived; so to say that she “stole” this album from her musicians is a gross exaggeration of uncredited writing and production panaches. As sticky as all that may be, no men in the industry – from label executives to the artists that keep their companies going – have shouldered such an onerous burden of an accusation. No one was ever under the impression that one person went into an empty studio with a blank notebook and a pen, and came out with this completed album. But this amalgam of biography and therapy hinged with the honeyed tone of Ms. Hill’s rhymes and the diasporic soul in her alto timbre shifted Hip Hop’s locus into a realm of tender that once transcended it. You can’t steal that. We don’t accuse mothers of stealing when their previously premature babies are returned from the incubators that nursed them to health (which include the care of doctors and nurses). We don’t accuse bakers of stealing when their pastries are retrieved from the ovens that made them edible (which includes the assistance of Sous Chefs). The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill exists because Lauryn Hill had an undeniable intimacy barometer and a hell of a story to tell. And the claim that she “hasn’t done enough” is not only an undercut to her influence over much of today’s R&B/Soul, but an insult to the life she poured into this album’s manifestation.

Past and current controversy aside, Ms. Lauryn Hill admirably and respectably refuses the artist’s role as machine by choosing only to create when inspiringly moved to, and that’s proven in this album as much as it is in the absence of a sophomore studio effort. When the industry attempted to manufacture an image for her, organic verisimilitude was all that she was willing to give and that’s when we got MTV Unplugged No 2.0. Then, after the poor response and harsh criticism of that – in what we could view as a re-education of sorts – she removed herself. No arguing. No pleading. Just a decision. That’s why, beyond the self-sacrificial exposure in her work, we’re celebrating the music legend for the legacy of Miseducation and her influence as a self-willed, sonic adventurer. Women are entitled to legacies on their terms and I think this album was Hill’s way of owning the joy, pain, disappointment and optimism of hers. We thank and salute Ms. Lauryn Hill for the lessons on embodying that power in music and in choice.

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war, love is a growing up.” -James Baldwin

2018

The Revisit: Stevie Wonder’s ‘Innervisions’ 45 Years Later

by Shantel Pass | published: Aug 02, 2018

Innervisions Cover

At the age of 23 with 16 albums under his belt already, Stevie Wonder boldly created a nine-track album besottedly conscious of Nixon era concerns. The brooding Innversions – a major departure from the singer’s loving, desire-dominated prior albums – is a deep dive into the willful yielding to his overt social and political consciousness. And while toting signature-Stevie synthesized scale tactics that would sweep anyone off their feet, each Innversions track keenly focuses on bettering society with awareness through truth and optimism.

This album, admittedly, is fifteen years older than I am but holds a permanent place in the upper pantheon of my personal music library, and I’m certain I’m not alone. Much of Innversions‘ reach has to do with the intentionally stirring composition of each song (most of which credit Stevie for a majority of the instrumentation including background vocals, percussions and physical hand claps), but also because of its unquestionably timely and timeless cultural relevance.

Opening the album is cautionary drug tale “Too High” which sets the tone for the kind of vivid realism that Stevie so accurately reads. Equally as vivid is the track’s musicality to which Stevie himself is credited with Moog (synth) bass, Fender Rhodes, harmonica, and drum instrumentation. A cartoonishly haunting “doo-doo-doo” refrain along with Wonder’s own vocal whole-tone scale descent melodically mimics the pitfalls of drug abuse as described in each verse. Ever the optimist, however, he follows the sobering number with a tuneful reimagining of the world. “Visions” is rendered in the same vein as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (which was first delivered almost exactly ten years prior to Innervisions’ release). A gentle and ephemeral guitar lead dances around ruminations of “the milk and honey land, where hate’s a dream and love forever stands.” It comes as no coincidence that “Visions,” soaked in all of its soothing idealism, was sandwiched between the album’s premonitory opener (as a balm) and its wildly soulful following cut “Living for the City” (as an examination of its contrast to America’s racists and discriminatory landscape). Now zooming out to address urban issues on a larger scale, the story of a Black man who grew up in poverty with “big city” aspirations of escaping the racist south and securing a job unfolds with the unfortunate reality (of that time and this one) of racial profiling. The track’s muse, upon arrival to the city, is immediately arrested – and after spending time in jail, loses hope and ultimately “spends his life walking the streets of New York City.” Stevie’s voice bloats with husky exacerbation as the song goes on and in the final verse, Stevie indirectly circles back to “Visions” singing, “I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow/ And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow/ This place is cruel nowhere could be much colder/ If we don’t change, the world will soon be over.” Whether intentional or not, the swirling synths punctuating “City” cleverly mock tonal motifs often heard in patriotic songs.

Innervisions’ A side ends with “Golden Lady,” a temporary retreat from bigoted America to prized affection. Even his vocal mood switches to a warm and thick timbre that’s immediately felt as evidence of the loving safety he sees in his subject. Many critics deemed the track a misfit among its politically-tinged counterparts. But with a closer look, the view of love as primary coping mechanism for life’s burdens becomes not only clearer, but especially relatable. Even now in 2018, we still turn off the news, put our phones down and tune the world out for some moments of escape with our lovers.

On to the B side which returns with an activist’s attitude on the funky “Higher Ground.” Stevie instructs listeners to be better by loving, learning and believing (faith based) more until our highest potential is reached. Ironically, the chorus’ prophetic gratefulness for another chance at life made him a walking example of what it looks like to “keep on trying” as he was in a near fatal car accident just three days after this LP’s release. Swelling in and out of a humble synth melody ornamented by tumbling drums and percussions, “Higher Ground” complements the calmed musicianship executed in “Jesus Children Of America” which earnestly (and respectfully) calls out the fake and foul entrails of religion. Wonder speaks with wisdom, grace and a sense of spiritual enlightenment by putting both “sinner” and “saint” under the same microscope; urging them equally to pray for forgiveness.

With the same sudden-but-easy slowing as a plane’s landing-stop, “All is Fair” rushes in with a roaring piano-led prelude that emotes the same sorrow in Wonder’s lyrics. But mourning broken love is very temporary when consolation arrives in the form of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” A supreme, Latin hustle-inspired sonic canvas motivates dancing while Stevie’s attempt to ease a lover-friend’s worries float on his vocal inventiveness and dynamic harmonies. Finally, the (now) tear-tugging tale of a con-artist – “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” – starts out with ballad-like energy until the singer’s raw emotion fires a crescendo of weary frustration and concern. “Check him out now/ He’ll tell it all/ Hey, you talk too much, you worry me to death, hey/ He’s Misstra Know-It-All/ He’s some kind of fella/ Thinking of only himself/ He’s Misstra Know-It-All,” he sings with angered sarcasm. Believed to subliminally be about then-president of the United States, Richard Nixon, Misstra Know-It-All eerily fits the profile of America’s current president.

Innversions undoubtedly marks a turning point in Stevie Wonder’s career for its transcendence of Motown’s commercial aesthetic alone. It peaked to the number four spot on Billboard’s 200 charts, spent two weeks at No. 1 on the R&B/Hip Hop Charts, won the 1974 Album of the Year Grammy Award and was the singer’s first U.K. Top 10 album. But the project’s deepened writing power and intense sonic ferocity comingling to plainly deliver message in song is what should be most appreciated. Sadly, however, the sordid reality faced in this album reminds of the many issues (drug epidemic, poverty, racism, a deceitful president) we’re grappling with now four and a half decades later (opioid death toll, Flint’s now four-years-and-counting water crisis and Puerto Rico’s poorly-aided hurricane devastation, police brutality and flawed justice systems, senseless and discriminatory violence, yet another lying president). So, today we revere Stevie Wonder’s Innvervisions for both its musical beauty, and for being the most timelessly veracious, written snapshot of America. How one manages such precise photography with only the mind’s sight is still as much of a wonder now as it was 45 years ago.

2018

Saint Heron Announces Creative Collaboration with IKEA

by Asia Burris | published: Jun 07, 2018

IMG_3580

Saint Heron is excited to announce an upcoming creative collaboration with IKEA, exploring architectural and design objects with multifunctional use.

Our brand, founded in 2013 is a multidisciplinary cultural hub with a focus on “building the community that we wish to see exist” through music, visual art, and performance art mediums. The hub has been centred on artist and artisan collaborations with previous works with Mickalene Thomas, Jacolby Satterwhite, Kenesha Sneed, and Phlemuns to name a few. Our founder, contemporary artist Solange Knowles and the company’s co-curator artist Armina Mussa have partnered to create original multimedia installations that creatively reflect on intersectional art and culture themes, foster thoughtful fellowship, and push the conversations of our communities to the forefront. With their help, Saint Heron immediately outgrew normalcy’s insular web of creative collaboration by hosting pop-up events in various cities, collaborating with popular festivals like FORM Arcosanti, AfroPunk Fest and Pitchfork Music Festival – and even offering curatorial music contributions to The Met and The Whitney Museum’s annual member’s parties.

We’re excited to continue to push these conversations and boundaries even further with our upcoming collaboration with IKEA. Stay tuned for more information!

2018

Janelle Monae Names Us with ‘Dirty Computer’ LP

by Shantel Pass | published: Apr 27, 2018

Janelle Monae 2

In 2007, the world met Janelle Monae via her Metropolis EP, a seven-song, musically theatrical introduction to the pompadour-adorned android known as Cindi Mayweather. Via this EP and the suites that followed in The ArchAndroid and Electric Lady albums, Mayweather served as Monae’s surrogate for voicing issues related to the policing of identities that defy out-dated norms and conservative comfort. It had always been clear, however, that Monae shared Cindi’s plight in her own oppression as a Black, queer woman. In ways, it felt like Janelle needed a superhero so desperately that she became one. The hunt for Monae’s character in this dystopian, parallel universe represents the systemic erosion of freedoms that historically and currently devalue stock in the human lives of those with marginalized identities.

Removing the veil for her third studio album, Monae steps in as herself with the same fierce conviction to love freely and abolish the ideas and models that promote the ostracizing of those who also love freely whether they identify as gay, straight, queer, trans, nonbinary, etc. The strategic (and timely) replacement of the formerly androgynous and demure robot girl is notable for many reasons (like how the mirage that kept Janelle’s privacy in tact makes her vulnerable, the current dismal state of our political climate), but more so because the album’s explicit glory misfits the patriarchal narrative of what love is “supposed to be” and what is acceptable public behavior for women both artistically and in general.

Dirty Computer is visually-narrated by a near-fifty-minute emotion picture of the same name produced by the Kansas City-born artist herself and directed by Andrew Donoho and Chuck Lightning with collaborative contributions from the amazing Lacey Duke and whimsical Emma Westenberg. In it, a storyline similar to that of Cindi Mayweather unfolds with Janelle Monae and actress Tessa Thompson starring as fugitive lovers being hunted by totalitarian authorities hoping to erase their memories as a means to “clean” them. The film also includes previously released visuals for the politically-charged “Django Jane,” the honestly sensual “Make Me Feel,” wildly sweet and provocative “Pynk” and the metaphorically naked acceptance of peculiar originality “I Like That.

The album itself is fourteen songs trisected, by two short instrumental interludes (similar to the symphonic musical dividers in Electric Lady). Three of the project’s four, previously released singles are couched in the midsection – the fullest section – which seems to be rooted in sensual jamboree. Features from Zoë Kravitz on “young, wild and free,” up-tempo number “Screwed” and Pharrell on the blissfully disorienting, Electronic/Trap jam “I Got The Juice” are right at home here. Personal favorite “Don’t Judge Me” is a refreshingly erotic ballad featuring Jane’s infrequently appearing, raspy and low vocal alter. Preceding this in opening group is fun, Pop number “Take a Byte,” bold and hopeful cut “Crazy, Classic Life,” and the Brian Wilson-assisted “Dirty Computer” – a song about how society perceives the singer. The album’s first interlude (and divider of these two sections) is “Jane’s Dream,” a nineteen-second prophecy of the beautifully intimate “Stevie’s Dream” in which Stevie Wonder himself encourages expressing and demonstrating love in everything. This intro to the album’s final trisection hinges firmly on reclamation. Track “So Afraid” delves into the familiarity of everyday anxieties by all; though, after a listen or two, the dots connect to Monae’s honest sentiments about the newness in approach of this album. In an interview with Zane Lowe she said, “It’s such an honest body of work and I don’t know how people are going to react to it, Zane. I really, I don’t know. Just the thought of it is kind of freaking me out a little bit, but I feel like it’s something that I need to do. It’s something that I always knew I needed to do and it’s going to happen.” The album’s true standout, however, is “Americans” in which Janelle repossesses the image of what that looks like. An undoubtedly easy replacement for America’s national anthem, the song is a tuneful bird flip to this nation’s exclusive paradigms and an Andoridesque psalm for all the “others” everywhere.

The undeniable genius of Janelle Monae’s artistry can all but be overshadowed by her personal relationships, which is something she feared – especially with respect to Dirty Computer. And with all the questions surrounding the intimate nature of her and Tessa’s relationship, the reason the music remains front and center is because of its message; her mission. She has only consistently proved her mission as a doer in taking on roles that further amplify messages that promote the disenfranchisement of racial and social minority groups. This is apparent in everything from the artists signed to her Wondaland record label to her “Fem The Future” project, her selectivity with Hollywood roles, and the host of protests against police brutality and racial injustice she organized and participated in.

Dirty Computer was completed despite the obstacle of losing her mentor, friend and idea filter Prince. Knowing that and recognizing the daring manner in which she abandoned trite aphorisms to confront this personal (and shared) revolution makes this so much more than just her third album. Janelle has been quoted as saying, “I felt that way when I listened to Lauryn Hill, as I was trying to find myself as a young woman, I felt that way when I listened to Stevie Wonder when I was trying to understand God more.” As a woman who is also Black and queer, I think I speak for the large majority of us when I say she’s done just that, if not more. Dirty Computer is a mirror for who we already are and still who want to be; proud, undeniable and fully realized. It’s an acknowledgement of praise for self and a welcoming of continued evolution. By telling her story, we read our own. This marginalized intersection of forgotten (and muted) people are now equipped with the impenetrable hard drives of uncensored soul. Janelle Monae had us all declare “I AM A DIRTY COMPUTER” before the album even arrived so that we could build that identity into our own definition of self. With this, we take permission to boldly and proudly name ourselves. Listen via Spotify or Apple Music below, and be sure to catch the Dirty Computer Tour this summer.

…the future belongs to us and our children because we are fashioning it with a vision rooted in human possibility and growth, a vision that does not shrivel before adversity.” – Audre Lorde (“Turning the Beat Around,” 1986)

2018

Black In The Day: Women’s History Edition

by Alex Hardy | published: Mar 29, 2018

Janelle Monae Many Moons

Welcome to Black In The Day, your monthly-ish serving of yesteryear’s magical, inimitable and unforgettable Blackety Blackness courtesy of Alexander Hardy.

With Women’s History Month coming to a close, on top of preserving our strength for an onslaught of April Foolery and tacky Easter looks, it’s important to gather to Hallelujah and Heel-toe in jubilation as thanks for all that womenfolk have done to make this swampdonkey-electing society less terrible while facing institutional hateration and structural inequality in the dancerie.

Let’s start the party with cousin Lena Waithe, the Chicago-born actress, screenwriter, and producer who happens to be the first female Chocolatey Wonder to win an Emmy award for comedy writing for her work on Master of None. While being honored at this year’s ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood event, she implored other members of the LGBTQIA+ community to live and love out in the open to inspire and be a support system for “lesbians in training” and younger queer folks who’ll benefit from the increased representation. There and in her Vanity Fair cover story, she stressed the importance of not hiding and being our whole-ass selves at all times. Let your soul glow, boo.

 

Remember that time when pre-gentrification Aunt Viv, hair braided like a hex-slinging Miss Celie, rolled up into that dance audition in a carnation pink freakum onesie and showed Miss Millie and Sourpuss Sally how they get down out in Bel-Air? Gym enrollment surged 144% among Black TV moms and teachers. June Cleaver could never.

 

As the first product of Lady Katherine Jackson’s majestic platinum-plated wombpiece, Maureen “Rebbie” Jackson is much more than the default babysitter and La Toya’s chief bodysuit bedazzler. Rebbie made her own contribution to the Jackson family legacy with the help of hits like “Centipede,” her legendary hot and steamy arthropod-themed two-stepper. Written and produced by and featuring background vocals of King Michael, this debut single will live on forever via grown-and-sexy white parties, cookouts, and linen suit-filled Tom Joyner cruises for decades to come.

 

Also, let us not forget that time Oprah demonstrated the meaning of sisterhood by reminding Gayle King to moisturize her elbows before hitting the red carpet at the 2018 Golden Globes. Being able to fill your closet with the flyest Parasuco denim sets and thigh-high jelly sandals means nothing if your homegirls will let you leave the house bound by the spirit of ashiness.

 

Twenty years after she and her bionic braided bob first Bankhead bounced onto the scene, Brandy rolled up to the 2014 BET Hip-Hop Awards with Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah and MC Lyte to remind us of the greatness of their classic remix of her single, “I Wanna Be Down.” Watching Moesha, Khadijah, Keylolo, and the official voice of Black award ceremonies perform this gem from the Skort Set Era always brightens my day. Shoutout to good living, great stylists, and graceful aging.

 

Never forget that Janelle Monáe conceptualized and masterfully executed a robust futuristic love story built around a messiah-like love- and justice-seeking android named Cindi Mayweather, and has brought us into her universe (Metropolis) over the course of three projects (and counting).

 

And because Black excellence is the gift that keeps on giving, shoutout the fourth novel by Tayari Jones, An American Marriage, which explores race, wrongful imprisonment, mass incarceration, and loyalty via a gripping Atlanta-based love story. Since its debut, Tayari’s book has become a New York Times bestseller and is so dope, Oprah both chose the title for book club and secured the film rights. Win upon win.

 

Tiffany Charmaine KaLinda Charlesetta Maude “New York” Pollard is an effortlessly captivating media personality, walking meme, and a gift to our undeserving society. Along her journey to claim the titles of Mrs. Flavor Flav and self-proclaimed “Head Bitch In Charge,” your girl contended with hateration and spit globs born of untreated chronic melanin envy. And though she spent two seasons pitching woo at your favorite becornrowed hippity hop grandpa, all that woo pitching and dagger sharpening wasn’t for naught. A decade after tongue twerking  with Sir Flavington, Tiffany can still be seen Blacking it up pon the tube for a living.

 

And finally, Queen Dominique Dawes being brilliant in the finals at the 1996 Olympics.

2018

Miss Whack: Rap’s Newest and Truest Weirdo

by Judnick Mayard | published: Jan 21, 2018

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Rapper Tierra Whack’s music and aesthetic present a very clear picture of who she is and where she wants to seat herself in this industry. Her ebullient and effervescent style of rapping–energetic and snarky–mirrors her very personality. On the phone her voice bubbles over with mirth and her thoughts, though a mile a minute, stick to one precise directive: whatever she is feeling at the moment. Her video for the track “Mumbo Jumbo” features bright, beautifully colored backgrounds and slightly triggering, maniacal dentists. In the end, Tierra is left with a perfect but all be disproportionate clown of smile. While many claimed it was a nod to the #perfect expensive smiles almost required in today’s society of vanity livestreamed, after talking to the artist herself, it is clear that is Tierra who is the smile too bright and too humorous to fit in and look just quite right. Saint Heron hopped on the phone with Miss Whack to discuss her kaleidoscope of a brain and what’s she bringing to the new year.

Judnick Mayard: When did you start making music?

Tierra Whack: I was [doing] poetry and rap since I was nine [or] ten and then [at] fourteen was when I really really rapped though and then like I got my first little kinda opportunities when I was 16.

You used to go by a different name?

Yeah, T-Dizzle, Dizzle Dizz. I was just poppin’ in the hood, niggas love me and they called me Dizzle so I was hyped to get a name from the hood.

Why the change to Tierra Whack?

That’s my real name; on my birth certificate and social security card too. Most people think it’s some type of name I made up. In school my teachers called me Miss Whack. You would’ve thought I was the teacher. It’s just like I’m 22 now, so [it’s] time for a change. I just wanted to be able to say it’s time for me to get on my grind seriously.

You felt renewed.

Yes exactly!

I read that you are a huge fan of horror. What kind of movies are you into or at least into right now?

Yes I love to see people get killed, not people I know though. My favorite movie that I’ve just seen is called The Eyes of My Mother. It’s actually on Netflix. First of all, it’s in black and white and I hate black and white. I love color so it was crazy for me to actually just sit through it. And then most of it wasn’t in English, so [there were] subtitles [but] I just like to read. And you know when you put the subtitles on and everything and you’re getting into it and it’s like you’re not even reading any more, it’s like you actually know what they’re saying, it’s crazy.

What kind of art are you into right now?

Just like everything. It’s never one thing. I’m happy then I’m kinda like I hate everything then I’m like, “let’s just keep going and see what we get.” I have this motto: I opened the book let’s see what we get and it’s just like I’m in chapter one. It’s a new year. I just dropped a video a few months ago, the project is basically where I want it to be. You know, I’m all over the place but still like let’s move. That’s where we’re going. Let’s push!

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How does that play into your music and presentation? Your videos are not gory but in a way kind of terrifying.

See everybody’s saying that but I don’t really see that. I wanted it to be crazier than that but [it’s] the littlest things. Like I guess there was some blood in there [and] there was a roach. I don’t know, I watch a lot of films and that’s just the shit that really gets me going; the nasty shit. The shit thats like “ugh!”. [With] “Mumbo Jumbo” I wanted to take it to the next level [and] I did a good job but at the same time there’s so much more I could have done. I’m like my worst critic.

Do you do your own production? Because a lot of your songs, the beat always has a sound that is made by your voice whether it be a little melody or boop or hum.

I just sit there and tell them what buttons to press. [laughs] But wow I never thought of that. That’s so crazy that’s like the first time I’m hearing it. Thank you. I promise everything is just random. It’s just whatever I feel and then you feel it.

How do you feel about being a rapper now? Going into 2018 and as a creator, how do you feel about the space and your ability to operate in it?

I know there’s a trend going on, and I’m not following it at all. So like of course everybody’s looking at me like, “What the hell is she doing? Why is she not doing what we’re doing?”, and it’s like ‘uhhh i dont wanna do it!’ Something new [is] what I try to bring to the table. I have the shortest attention span in the fucking world. I get so bored so easily, so why would I jump in and do whatever everyone else is doing? I’m just having fun; that’s the biggest thing: having fun.

Has it been hard exposing yourself and your art to critique?

Yeah it’s like, “What the fuck I wasn’t even thinking that!” I just like to see people debate and argue and I’m like “what?!” Just to hear other people’s thoughts is so crazy. I had this one idea and I didnt think of it any other way. Then everyone else is like, “Well she meant this,” and they’re telling me what I meant and I’m just like okay, thats how you feel. But you know that’s what music and art is for: to create some kind of dialogue.

Do you internalize it at all or ignore it all together?

No I love it! It’s funny because then I’m learning. I can see something one way and then you have somebody come in and say well, it could be taken as this and I’ve never even thought of that. It kind of just expands my mind [for the] next thing I do.

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Some people took “Mumbo Jumbo” as a song targeted at mumble rap. How do you respond to people who politicize your work? I feel like black women are not allowed to make art without it being political.

Exactly and yo, it’s crazy I’m not a deep person at all. Im laughing most of the time; at the pain, at the actual jokes. I’m laughing at everything. So it’s whatever with me. I did what I did and whoever says what they wanna say is fine with me. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

What does the new project sound like and when do you plan on releasing it?

It’s so many sounds, I can’t even tell you. Like I said I’m just so experimental and I’m always trying new shit. There’s gonna be some shit that you really really really don’t expect and some other shit that’s just cool, but I’m touching on everything and I don’t have a date yet. I never ever have a date for anything. I hate dates. Like literally I hate dates. It’s just a feeling. I’m just following what I feel, you feel?

Do you like collaborating or do you prefer working alone? Are there any artists that you want to work with or sit down with, even just to exchange ideas?

[coughs] Solange. Right now I’m really a loner. I’ve been alone for like a while though. How can I say this? I’ve created my own world and I’m staying in it. [There’s] nothing that’s really inspiring me as far as like things and people around me. I’m looking far out and [those] people are hard to get– the people that are inspiring me. So that’s why I’m tryina get on their level and then hopefully we could be able to work one day.

I often like to describe you by saying “she’s a real weirdo” and people often get offended by the word weirdo. I don’t know why…

That’s so great. Yeah I don’t know why either. When I was younger and in school kids would always be like “you’re weird” in a bad way, and it was kinda like uh?? It was actually weird to me that they were calling me weird cuz everything that I was on was normal to me so it was like what the fuck do you mean nigga, you’re weird. But then eventually it was like, ok they’re only saying that to [say] “only you could do that I could never do that,” so you just accept it.

Yea weird is like category people generally put you in when you make them uncomfortable. If your music doesn’t make sense to them or if you look like you’re having too much fun, people are like you’re a weirdo. So when people are like what do you mean she’s a weirdo. I’m like a weirdo: a person who genuinely seeks out oddities that are of interest to them and holds their interests only to that. I think in your music that’s what comes across. You feel like someone who takes energy from things around you so it makes sense that you would be like “oh everybody’s on Tuesday but I’m on Thursday right now.”

Yeah, wow that’s exactly me. That’s totally me.

2017

Interview: Chloe x Halle’s Symphony Gets Sweeter

by Shantel Pass | published: Dec 29, 2017

Having won our hearts over early in their career beginnings on YouTube, sister duo Chloe x Halle are a force among today’s best talent. The Bailey sisters are human vessels of the celestial energy and positivity that comes across in their original music via their individually unique vocal textures, high-vibrational harmonies and colorful musicianship. Chloe (19) and Halle (17) are already culture giants despite their petite statures. At heart, they’re everyday young adults who find joy in the little things. But professionally, the Atlanta-born ladies unapologetically flaunt their disdain for average predictability. Chloe x Halle don’t fit any cookie-cutter ideas of artistry nor will they compromise the integrity of their creativity by conforming to the demands of popularity.

From music to fashion, Chloe x Halle have successfully slayed everything they set their minds to. In addition to writing, producing and performing their own music (and raising the cover bar by flawlessly reworking some of everyone’s favorite jams), they both model, dance and are self-taught musicians; and at the top of 2018, they’ll deliver all that authentically matchless charisma and sass onscreen in the Black-ish spinoff series Grown-ish. Saint Heron had the honor of chatting with the darling sisters about their roles as trackstars Jazlyn and Skyler on the show, sister and friendship bonds in professional settings, hopes for future collaborations and film scoring, new music and more.

Shantel Pass: We’re all aware that you ladies got your start on YouTube and I’m wondering how it was decided that YouTube would be the best place to start showcasing your musical artistry.

Chloe: You know my sister and I, when we lived in Atlanta, would just sing around town and some people would say, “maybe you should start posting YouTube covers” and we were like “uhhh, you know… really? We’re not that sure about that.” And then one day we just didn’t really have anything to do at the house and we loved the song “Best Thing I Never Had” by Beyoncé, so we found an instrumental online and we just recorded it and posted it – with our parents permission. But you know it was like… it was something that we just threw out there, we didn’t expect much because we know it’s like one in a million when there’s so much content already out there. So it was really just for fun and I’m just so amazed and in awe about how all these opportunities came just from posting YouTube covers.

That was actually my next question. It was whether or not you guys expected it to be something that led to superstardom for you from there?

Halle: No. We did not expect anything. We had no expectations. I remember when we posted our first cover and it got to a hundred views. We were like “Whoa! That is amazing!” So we really just feel so blessed that something so big could stem just out of just posting YouTube covers and posting our favorite songs of what we were singing around the house at the time. And we’re so grateful that people resonated with it. Yeah, we weren’t expecting anything. It was just really a nice surprise.

Amazing. So other than guitar and keys, do you play any other instruments? And if so, how did that come about? Did you take lessons? Are you self-taught?

Chloe: Yes, so when I was [in] around 5th and 6th grade I played my violin and that was so much fun. It was a part of our school activities and you know having that part of me – it will always stay with me. I want to get back into my violin because, we’d love to record some string parts in our songs ourselves. And an instrument that I really really want to learn how to play are the drums! I [work with] drums all the time with our production, but I actually want to play the real live drums and that’s going to come really soon. I can’t wait to start experimenting with that.

Halle: Absolutely, I used to play cello when we were in elementary school. I used to play cello and that was really fun. I recently got an electric cello that I’m really trying to get back into starting soon. So that’ll be lots of fun but I always want to expand my horizons. Like Chloe said, definitely drums would be so cool to learn. I feel like I can get so much better at guitar. And yeah, we taught ourselves on YouTube with our instruments. Just looking up simple chords to our favorite songs, that really gave us a great foundation for making our own songs.

So, the music covers have been a big hit. We love those just as much as we love your original music. Y’all have this amazing ability to add fun and color and even, a lot of times, more music to some of our current favorites. How did the idea to start covering random tracks come about? And what has been your favorite cover so far?

Chloe: Well you know, what we do now is just throw something out because we’ll get inspired by a song we love, and most of the time it’s like these really cool trap songs [and] songs with great meanings and messages. My sister [and I], we love to experiment in life. So that translates through our music and harmonies. I think because we’re best friends, our harmonies are kind of like second nature. So it’s always fun coming up with new arrangements. We’ll sit in our room and arrange these in like 5 minutes and then record them, and then we post it! I’m so happy people gravitate towards them and that makes me so happy. But yeah, that’s how it came about.

Nice! When people see you, they see you as a sister duo and I think sometimes it’s very easy to forget that you’re both individuals as well. Can you tell me, has there ever been a case – musically speaking – where your creativity or your ideas collided? And, how does that help shape the musical dynamic you share?

Halle: What I love about our sisterhood is that we do have two completely different perspectives when we’re creating and that’s something that’s so exciting. My sister, she is such an amazing producer and she listens to such great music, eclectic music that is just so eccentric and beautiful and different. For me, I love to listen to jazz. So I’m kind of coming from the jazz perspective of things and when we come together, it’s cool because it makes this mash of our favorite things and that’s really what excites me. That’s why I’m so happy to have my sister [and] to be able to do this together because although we’re very different, when it comes together it seems like it’s all in harmony. So I’m very happy about that.

Chloe: I always feel like two heads are better than one in any situation. I have a different perspective than my sister and she has a different perspective than me and when those two perspectives come together, a lot more people can connect to it more. I just love how we fuse these different sounds together and I feel like that’s the sound of Chloe and Halle. We’ve got the hard beats and also the classic melodies and harmonies. And that’s what I love about us. Two minds are better than one!

In addition to your music, I’m always checking to see what y’all are wearing and you always look lovely. The ComplexCon ’90s-music-video, casual-streetwear combination was so nice and really unexpected too.  I’m curious to know how you choose what to wear for your performances and who your style inspirations are for everyday wear.

Chloe: We have an incredible stylist Zerina Akers. And we love her to death, she’s like our sister! We built this beautiful bond so she knows us so personally, and she knows how to bring certain things out of us, and we just collaborate. My sister and I, we love to take risks and experiment with colors and shapes and have fun; how we’re individuals but we’re the same at the same time. We like that to shine through our clothes as well. Most of the time we’ll be coordinated with the same colors or patterns, but something will be different in it. I love how our sisterhood translates through our clothes!

Well, congratulations on joining the cast of grown-ish. I’m so excited for you both.

Chloe and Halle together: Thank you so much!

It’s not easy to memorize lyrics to a new song but I imagine it doesn’t take as long for you since you write your own music. Did you face any challenges memorizing your lines and cues for your roles in the show?

Halle: Oooo, that’s a great question! Well, I don’t know so much that we faced challenges. Normally, in the morning when we got there, we would go over the lines while in the makeup chair because sometimes you’re so busy and you don’t really have time, but when you’re getting your makeup done and your hair done it’s a moment of silence. So that’s when we would go over our lines. It was so much fun because everybody on set made us feel so comfortable and looking to our friend Yara [Shahidi] – she is so amazing – she showed us some of the ropes and we were just so grateful to be a part of that whole environment.

Speaking of Yara, as sisters living and working together, I imagine there’s a level of comfort you both have with one another to squabble or goof off every now and then because that energy and that connection is just there; like you know each other and are in tune and you feel it.

Chloe: Yea.

So, since you’re both real-life friends with Yara, what has it been like working so closely with another person that you share that bond with?

Chloe: It has been the most incredible thing! Like, I love going to work every single morning no matter how early because I know that we’ll see our family. The whole entire cast, I’m not kidding you, we are truly like a family. We finished wrapping the season about two or three days ago and I cried like a baby. It was so emotional because we all love each other and we’re going to miss seeing each other everyday. You know when you’re around people, you start getting attached and connected and your energies sync up. I love Yara, I love the entire grown-ish cast and I’m just so happy that art imitates life because we’re family and friends in the show but that’s also true in our personal lives.

Do you have any interest in pursuing more acting roles? Whether in film or TV.

Chloe: Absolutely. When my sister and I first got into the entertainment business we started off with acting. Our mom would always take pictures of us and we would go to auditions. My very first audition when I was three, it was for The Fighting Temptations and I got it! I played little Beyonce when I was like 3 and a half.

Oh my gosh! I never realized that’s you!

Chloe: Yeah! It’s so funny how my sister and I, living in Atlanta, we’d do a bunch of stuff with Tyler Perry. It’s just fun getting back to the acting.

What about scoring a film? Would you guys ever score a film?

Chloe and Halle together: YES!

Halle: Yes, that is a dream of ours! Yes. That would be so exciting to do because that’s one of our favorite things, especially as creatives – when we’re given direction with movies and television on what to create based on a scene, that is so fun for us. It’s like putting a puzzle together. So we act like we’re 5 year olds and that’s the best time of our lives.

In an interview, I can’t remember where I read it now but, I do remember reading that you write a song per day and you guys have over 300 songs in a catalog of unreleased music. Has the process of writing, producing, and recording changed in any way since you began filming grown-ish?

Chloe: You know, since our album is 90% done – and around the time we started filming grown-ish – what we do now after we leave set is go in and start mixing and tweaking certain sounds and adding little elements to improve the songs because when our album comes out we want everything to be so perfect. It’s so full of our hearts and our soul. So instead of writing every single day, since our album is almost done, we’ve been just adding on and critiquing and editing – going back and tweaking little notes. I have my computer in my trailer and I’ll start mixing in there on my computer in-between breaks. Since music is our heart and soul we always find ways to make it work.  

Grown-ish is premiering on January 3rd, which is right around the corner. Can you tell us about your characters and what, if anything, about their personalities you identify with or relate to that helped you become “at home” in these roles.

Halle: I am so excited with our characters. Chloe plays Jazlyn and I play Skyler. We’re twin track stars on the show. Basically, we like to think of our characters as the alter egos of who we are in real life because they’re so sassy and it’s really fun to play them. But for me, I’d say my sassy side comes out only when I’m with my closest friends and family. So nobody really knows that that’s underneath me, but the character really helped me get it out. It’s so much fun to play.

Let’s talk about show prep. It’s a little bit different standing in front of a crowd and performing your music than it is to stand in front of cameras and lights and directors on set. How do you get your head in the game for acting and how does that differ from how you prep for your live music performances?

Chloe: You know, they’re both very similar because they’re ways of expressing ourselves, and we’re stepping out of our comfort zone whenever we get on the stage and perform or whenever we get on set and act and perform in that way. So you know, I personally always get nervous no matter what – whether I’m speaking, whether I’m singing, whether I’m dancing. But I feel like my nerves are preparing me to properly execute and giving me the energy that I need. So I love getting nerves. I’d be sad if my nerves went away because then the excitement is gone. Music, I notice I get more nervous before we get on stage and sing than I do with acting because with acting you have more takes and it’s okay if you fumble on a line because you can just redo it again. You always do these different layers and different coverages. So acting takes the pressure off a bit because you know you can do it again if you mess up.

If you could choose to be casted in one TV show from the past what would it be?

Chloe: Oh, that is such a good question! I know mine! I say That’s So Raven and Cheetah Girls. Those were my shows growing up. Also for me Family Matters was a bomb show. That would be amazing, that would be so cool if I got casted in that.

All excellent picks. So you write, you produce, you sing, dance, act, model and you even recently collaborated with Benjamin Shine for the New York Fashion Week edition of 29 Rooms which was amazing. How do you practice self-care with such a tight schedule and so many different mentally and physically demanding projects? What does self-care look like for you ladies?

Chloe: For me, self-care – and what I love to do – is meditate, pray and just center myself internally so that I can properly execute anything that I need to do whether it’s relationships with my friends and my family, and also business relationships. What I like to do is take really, really hot showers and play really great music. And I love to get my nails done because as I’m getting older and growing into the young woman that I am, I’m learning that yes, sometimes I do need to step away and breathe and just have a moment to myself to center my thoughts again.

Halle: For me, I would say one of my top moments for self-care when I need to breathe and just go away from all the noise for a second is, I love to sit in the sun in the morning. It’s the best thing ever. So I just come out on our porch and I sit in the sun and it really centers me and makes me feel so happy and energized for the day. You can never be sad when the sun’s out because it’s like “oh, this is so wonderful!” I just feel really great after I sit in the sun. And then like Chloe said, we love to take hot showers and I also love to read when I feel like my mind is overloading. I just pick up a good book, sit down, and then read to fall asleep. It’s the best thing ever.

So far you’ve already collaborated with Beyoncé and Michelle Obama, these are big names for so early in your career. Congratulations again. Who else are you interested in working with both musically and on screen?

Chloe: Ooooo! That is a really, really good question. Musically, there are so many incredible talents out right now and I love that they are getting the recognition they deserve; like Tyler, the Creator, GoldLinkWillow, Kehlani and Kali Uchis, and we’d love to collaborate with H.E.R. They’re really the voices of our generation right now and just being able to sit down and create with them would be a dream come true. Acting wise, well I have always loved Denzel Washington. I know that, I’m going to believe it and see it. I know it seems far, but that would really make me so happy because I admire him as a human being and also as an actor. He’s incredible.

Halle: As far as singers, I just love collaborating with the new wave. [Working] with a bunch of cool young kids who really know where they’re going, that’s something that’s very inspiring to me. When I find myself amongst beautiful people that know what they want and who make beautiful music for the world, that’s something that’s so exciting to me. As far as acting, I think I’ll have to think about that a little more but Chloe did a good one. 

Denzel is definitely a good one.

Halle: Yea.

At the very beginning of “Simple” there’s audio of you explaining how people have commented on the complexity of your sound and then the song goes into the most graceful clapback I think I’ve ever heard in my life. That level of confidence in creativity doesn’t come naturally to everyone. So what advice would you give to other young girls and creatives to encourage their authenticity and determination to chase their dreams?

Chloe: Well definitely, the people you surround yourself with is so very important because when you have those moments when you’re down and discouraged, you need someone that’ll be like “Girl you can do this! You got this! It’s okay,” and someone who is not afraid to tell you “that ain’t too hot.” You know? I’m happy that I get to be in this life with my sister because I have the best of both worlds with her. We’re creating together and she’s also my voice of reason; and since we’re on this journey of music together, whenever I’m feeling down, she’s feeling the same. Because we’re experiencing it together and we know how the other feels but what we do is, we center ourselves once again and say, God would not put these ideas in our minds and bless us with these gifts if we weren’t supposed to shine them to the fullest and we don’t want it to go to waste. Everyone has a gift and what their purpose is, is to share that gift with the world. So all we ever want to do is inspire others to share their gift and that really keeps us going. When we meet beautiful girls and boys of all colors and ages telling us that our songs have inspired them, we know that we’re doing our job.

Alright, last question. With a new year on the horizon, tell us what’s next for Chloe and Halle?

Halle: Well, we are so excited for this coming year because of the show, grown-ish. And then our album which we are super super duper excited for. We’ve been working on this album for like three to four years now. Even before our EP, before the mixtape. We like to think of our mixtape songs as songs that are still great but won’t make it on the album. So that’s why we put that mixtape together and we’re just gearing up for this coming year with our album because we are so excited for everyone to hear our baby, what we’ve been doing and it’s very cool.

Chloe: Yeah, I saw something online where it said “2016 was the caterpillar, 2017 was the cocoon, and 2018 is the butterfly,” and I truly truly believe that. This year was just building and constructing and doing all of these wonderful things behind the scenes and we can’t wait for it to come to fruition and be out there.

Just in time for the ‘Grown-ish’ premiere on Tuesday, January 3rd (2018) at 8 P.M.EST on Freeform TV, download Chloe x Halle’s newest track “Grown” here, which also serves as the the show’s theme track, and watch the Snapchat-themed accompanying visual below!

Photography: Daria Kobayashi

2017

Solange Releases Limited Edition “Orion’s Rise” & “Cosmic Journey” Merch

by Marley Peters | published: Dec 04, 2017

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Just in time for the reflection of the retrograde, our very own Solange has released limited edition “Orion’s Rise” and “Cosmic Journey” merchandise as we move to close out the year. Originally released during her headlining shows, including Hollywood Bowl, the merch will be made available right on the Saint Heron Shop until December 22nd.

View more of the merch below, and be sure to head over to our shop to pick up your favorite pieces.

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2017

The Revisit: Musiq Soulchild’s “Juslisen”

by Stephanye Watts | published: Nov 22, 2017

Growing up in Philadelphia is a gift for any music nerd. It’s the city that Gamble & Huff built. The home of The Philadelphia Sound. If you’re an artist that can get love from Philly, you can get love anywhere. The neo-soul era started bubbling while I was in high school, for example. Artists like Jill Scott, Floetry, and India Arie would pour into a club in downtown Philly for a weekly jam session called Black Lily. With no fake ID plug, I only had to imagine what those magical nights felt like. Since Musiq’s ‘Juslisen’ turned 15 this year, it was no better person to discuss that musical renaissance happening in our city and the process of building that iconic album than longtime Musiq collaborator and songwriter/producer Carvin Haggins.

Stephanye: Philly was really bubbling musically around the early 2000s. What was the scene like for you at that time?

Carvin: The Black Lily was something that was started by The Roots and Jazzyfatnastees, who had a residency [at The Five Spot]. The Roots were popular from being on South Street and performing for free. So when they got this venue, it was almost like going to your friend’s house and seeing everybody you know. Each and every one of us that was apart of that clique changing the music industry with the soul sound, we were all broke together. And you know Philly is a rough town. Coming into that place, it was magical because you got the opportunity to share your talent and watch all of the talented musicians and artists get onstage and nobody was taking about getting money. It was like ‘I feel good and we’re just gonna make each other feel good by making this music.’ The moral support you got from your peers was like coming back home every time.

Stephanye: Juslisen is Musiq’s second project. People are always nervous about the sophomore jinx, so what was your mindset walking into this album?

Carvin: We never thought about that. When it came to us creating music, it was never pressure. It was all about going in and doing what you feel. We definitely heard around the middle of the album about the sophomore jinx, but we were so removed from the philosophy of making music for the people. We made music for ourselves. It was a collective of six people at A Touch of Jazz and we made music to impress each other. We wanted our peers to come in the room and say ‘this is crazy!’ and then go make something crazier. We wanted to make music that made us excited. The goal was to make our predecessors proud. People like Kenny Gamble or Leon Huff, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, or Berry Gordy to say ‘these youngbols picking up where we left off!’.

Stephanye: When you’re in the studio, do you know off top that you have a hit song?

Carvin: I can’t say yes. There’s something about the record that feels so familiar and so good that it’s special to you. And you’re just hoping that it’s special to everyone else. You never know who is going to love it, but we just want to make sure it hits that special place. Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” feels special to me. Does this song feel as special as that?

Stephanye: The big singles on Juslisen were “halfcrazy”, “ifiwouldaknew”, and “dontchange”. When ya’ll finished those records, what did you walk away thinking?

Carvin: “halfcrazy” we actually created for Jazz from Dru Hill. He came down and recorded the record and when they took it back to Def Jam, they rejected the record. We rewrote the record and once we rewrote it, it was incredible.

dontchange” was created because at the time, I was in a relationship. Me and my girlfriend were laughing and talking and she said that she was getting fat. I said to her, “Girl, I’ll love you if you gain weight. If your hair turns grey.” Then I thought, that’s a song! Whenever you do a new record, people always ask “When are you gonna do another ‘love’?” I called my manager Mike McArthur and told him that I had a concept for a new record. Funny thing is Dre & Vidal were supposed to create the track for the song, but they got delayed working on another project, so Ivan (Haggins’ writing partner) and I went in and did the record. There was no question about that record.

Stephanye: I’m all about deep cuts, so let’s dive into some of my favorites from Juslien. First up, “caughtup”. The knock just hits you as soon as you press play.

Carvin: That was all Ivan Barrias. Ivan is hip-hop til he dies. We were all in a rap group together. Drums is what he lives for. What we did on all of Musiq’s records was one song that had a running theme. So “caughtup” was the continuation of “seventeen”. Because “seventeen” was an orchestrated piano sample I put together, we had to do something that felt like hip-hop. Ivan chopped the sample up, put it together, and that’s how we did that record.

Stephanye: No one ever talks about “onenight”. It’s one of my favorite Musiq songs of all time. Let’s please talk about that song!

Carvin: “onenight” is a song we did with Dre & Vidal. Everything that record embodied was Marvin Gaye. We wanted to make sure we paid tribute to Marvin Gaye through the record. So if you notice, in the bridge, Musiq is singing and talking, which is a direct bite from Marvin Gaye.

Stephanye: It’s so crazy that listened to that song hundreds of times and never put together that the transition into the bridge is a full on Marvin Gaye run! Circling back to our hometown and Philly artists working together, tell me about “bestfriend” with the legendary Carol Riddick.

Carvin: First off, Carol Riddick is a staple in Philadelphia. In her prime, everyone looked at her like the second coming of Anita Baker. Even to this day, she’s a ridiculous artist. Musiq and I were putting the record together and we wanted to do it with Carol. But we couldn’t make it like they were in a relationship because Carol was clearly an oldhead. He was 19! She was a woman. So we sat down thinking about how we wanted the song to go and decided to tell the story from the perspective of a man talking to his best friend about the woman he loves.

Stephanye: Why was George Harrison’s “Something” picked as the song for Musiq to cover on this album?

Carvin: Every time we created a project for Musiq, Kevin Liles would come up with these obscure ideas. That was a Kevin Liles idea. We wanted to do our way though, not redo his record. If it was a live jam session in Philly, we would do it this way. We called in a bunch of Philly artists in for that one.

Stephanye: Enough about my favorites, what are some of yours?

Carvin: This is really a stumper. That’s like saying pick the kid you love the most. I’ll say “newness” and “time”.

“newness is one of my favorites because of the creativity of the record. It’s like we’re having a conversation and the answers are happening at the same time. It’s a man on the phone talking to this woman about the newness of their relationship. The whole song is a phone conversation. Nobody paid attention to this record, but “time”.

Stephanye: I hate to cut you off, but I have this conspiracy theory that songs with the same name carry the same frequency and energy. I was just talking to someone about Musiq’s “time” and Mary J. Blige’s “Time” and how people never bring them up when we talk about revolution or resistance music.

Carvin: The reason why I love it is because people think we’re talking to a woman, but the conversation is to time itself. He’s saying I want to apologize for not taking advantage of all the time that I had. When he sings “in all the years you passed me by”, it’s like I was chillin, letting time go by like it’s nothing.

Those songs are my favorite because people miss it. My goal as a writer is to try to slip things past the listener and they don’t even know that’s what they’re listening to. Certain similies or metaphors that people don’t figure out until later. There is a listener that’s so deep that they’ll catch it immediately. There’s another listener that is so surface that they’ll never catch it. I like to play in between the surface and the depth.

Stephanye: You said earlier that you wanted to make Gamble & Huff proud. How does it feel now, looking back on your career, that you are the direct lineage of them and people now look at you and Ivan in the same way?

Carvin: It’s the greatest experience. It’s exciting to know that we were able honor the legacy of those that came before us. The one thing you don’t want to do is embarrass your parents. What we never wanted to do was embarrass Gamble & Huff. It wasn’t like they were over us, but we just wanted to make sure that we would never taint the legacy that they created and do everything we can to add to it.

Carvin, Ivan, Musiq along with the other artists and musicians during the neo-soul era were the soundtrack to my high school years and transition into college. I was never really homesick while away in college, because I could always just press play on one of their records and feel I was back in Philly. That will always mean so much to me, fifteen years later.

2017

Revisit Saint Heron’s “17 Wards of Wonder” During Prospect 3 Featuring Kelis, SZA, and Katey Red

by Marley Peters | published: Nov 16, 2017

As the citywide visual and cultural art engagement Prospect 4 begins this weekend in New Orleans on November 18th, we’re revisiting our 2014 Saint Heron and Prospect 3 collaboration with Kelis, SZA and Katey Red for our original multidisciplinary art experience, “Amen! Amen! The 17 Wards of Wonder”!

The three part experience celebrated the unique regional culture and history through dining, music, and art experiences. The events occurred across the city, including “Bounce Baby Bounce,” a one-of-a-kind New Orleans style party bus produced by artist and brand collaborator Rashaad Newsome and hosted by legendary bounce artist, Katey Red. Our “Wine & Grind” five course dinner featured a live, intimate performance from SZA along with visual installations from a group of multi-talented artists before we left our woes all over the dance floor for our “Ball Out Beaucoup” dance party with a DJ set from Mannie Fresh and a close out performance from the iconic Kelis!

New Orleans, get ready for P4 by revisiting the full experience of Saint Heron x P3 above!

2017

The List: Bilal

by Shantel Noel | published: Nov 16, 2017

Bilal2

“The List” is our exclusive series that highlights select artists and the various, random things that they’re currently into and inspired by. Ranging from all creative facets, this series shall serve as your go-to for all things visionary and artistic.

It’s nearly impossible to define singer-songwriter, producer and all around creative Bilal. He is literally a living work of art beaming with otherworldly talents, interests and style that is surely his own. Naturally, many of us are curious about what inspires such a prominent influencer. And for someone as elusive as Bilal, you’re probably aware of deeply rooted and untraceable those things would be. Lucky for us, Bilal shared a few items that move him in some shape or form. He dives into the contributions of Dr. John Henrik Clarke, shared how he is able to carve out a relaxed and mediative environment for himself and some essential reads that explore history and honor the legacy of those who came before us.

See Bilal’s list below in his own words:

Dr. John Henrik Clarke – Pan-Africanist.

He pioneered the need for Africana Studies in school. His words, teaching, and what they mean to other Black people are very important to me, especially, his speeches.

 

The Heliocentric Worlds album by Sun Ra

This album is life changing. Especially, as a jazz musician, I always go back to this album for inspiration when I am making music.

Heliocentric Sun Ra

 

An Indica/Sativa blend is always important. I like to work with an open mind, in a relaxed environment.

ISBlend

 

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Ravel: Bolero

This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. You can’t love art or musicianship and not enjoy this piece.

 

Stolen Legacy by George G M James

This book is so important to the education of everyone. Learning about our true history and giving credit to those who actually discovered Arts and Sciences, is imperative to us. This is a great read.

Stolen Legacy

 

Wing Chun (martial arts) Mook Yan Jong (wooden dummy)

The wooden dummy is used in wing chun training. Martial arts has always been something that I am passionate about. The art of learning Wing Chun has rounded me as a person.

Mook Yan Jong