Category: Game Changer

Review: New doc shows how Beyoncé changed Coachella, forever

Beyoncé is extremely private, and only lets you know what she wants you to know, when she wants you to know it — typically, in a surprise post be it on her website or Instagram.
But throughout the years, she’s slightly cracked open her door to reveal parts of her life and personality — apart from what she gives through strong singing and extraordinary dance moves — to help remind us that though she is epic and flawless, she is still mortal.
“HOMECOMING: A film by Beyoncé,” which premiered Wednesday on Netflix, captures the human side of the superstar singer with behind-the-scenes, intimate moments of a mother, wife and artist tirelessly working on what’s already become one of most iconic musical performances of all-time: Beyoncé’s headlining show at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
The performance marked the first time a black woman headlined the famed festival and made Beyoncé just the third woman to score the gig, behind Bjork and Lady Gaga. Beyoncé took on the role seriously — as she does all live performances — giving the audience a rousing, terrific and new show highlighted by a full marching band, majorette dancers, steppers and more that is the norm at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The film takes it a step further to showcase what was happening to get to the historic moment: you see a mother bouncing back from giving birth to twins via an emergency C-section; an African American woman embracing her family’s history and paying tribute to black college culture and honoring black art; and the world’s No. 1 pop star defying the odds yet again and pushing herself to new heights, creating an even wider space between herself and whoever is No. 2.
Simply put, Beyoncé changed Coachella — forever — and performing after her is like trying to out-ace Serena Williams or dunk better than Michael Jordan: You won’t win.
Woven into the film are audio soundbites from popular figures to help narrate the story: Nina Simone speaks about blackness, Maya Angelou talks about truth, and Tessa Thompson and Danai Gurira explain the importance of seeing people who look like you on large screens.
Beyoncé speaks, too, saying that she dreamed of attending an HBCU, though she explains: “My college was Destiny’s Child.”
She also says the importance of her Coachella performance was to bring “our culture to Coachella” and highlight “everyone that had never seen themselves represented.”


So many people were represented during those performances last April — her stage was packed with about 200 performers, from dancers to singers to band and orchestra players. Beyoncé kicked of the performance dressed like an African queen, walking up the stage as the jazzy, soulful big band sound of New Orleans is played. After letting her dancers and backing band shine, she emerges again, this time dressed down — like a studious, eager, hopeful college student.
The musical direction and song selection flows effortlessly and was purposely crafted to tell a story: the first song is 2003’s “Crazy In Love,” a massively successful No. 1 hit and her first apart from Destiny’s Child. It also was Beyoncé’s first of many collaborations with Jay-Z. But then comes “Freedom,” representing the Beyoncé of today, unconcerned with having a radio or streaming hit, but more focused on the art, and the message.
And her message was loud and clear on “HOMECOMING”: Her performance is a homage to the culturally rich homecoming events held annually at HBCUs, but also showcases Beyoncé’s own homecoming — her return to her roots, and how she’s found a new voice by reinterpreting her music through the lens of black history.
Young, gifted and black, indeed.

“HOMECOMING: A film by Beyoncé,” a Netflix release, is rated TV-MA. Running time: 137 minutes. Four stars out of four.

At Nipsey Hussle’s Memorial, Los Angeles Comes Together to Mourn

LOS ANGELES — Thousands of mourners are expected to gather in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday to honor the life of Nipsey Hussle, the Grammy-nominated rapper who was fatally shot last month and whose success and commitment to redeveloping South Los Angeles made him a local hero.

The funeral, billed as a “celebration of life,” will be held at the Staples Center. All tickets for the event, which were free, were claimed online within minutes of being made available earlier this week. The arena’s capacity is 21,000.

Tens of thousands of fans are expected to gather around the venue, where a public memorial for Michael Jackson was hosted in 2009. The two-hour service will begin at 10 a.m. local time and will be followed by a procession from the Staples Center through South Los Angeles.

Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, channeled his upbringing and adolescence as a gang member into music that spoke powerfully to many who live in Los Angeles’ most vulnerable neighborhoods. As his star rose in recent years, Hussle brought investments and attention back to the area, earning the adoration of his neighbors and fans.

Though he developed a following far beyond Southern California, his death last week struck a particularly painful chord among residents of the Crenshaw District, where he grew up. His clothing store on Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles, The Marathon Clothing, had become a potent symbol of local success and black entrepreneurship, a theme he addressed regularly in his music. His fans clung to lyrics that melded familiar rap bombast with exaltations about self-discipline and long-term financial planning, a break from a music culture that often emphasizes flashy spending.

The store transformed into a makeshift memorial on March 31 after Hussle was gunned down there over a “personal dispute,” according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The suspect, Eric Holder, was apprehended by authorities two days after the shooting.

For days outside the store, fans prayed, lit candles and left hand-written letters addressed to Hussle. One of the mourners was Candace Cosey, 32, who remembers him as Ermias from their time attending Hamilton High School together in the early 2000s, a magnet school on the West Side of Los Angeles. She recalled how Hussle would sell mix CDs to her and others at school, and how he later started selling music in the neighborhood out of his trunk.

She came close to tears as she pulled out a picture of him from the high school yearbook. “If you grew up here, you either knew him directly or you knew someone who knew him,” she said.

Even as his career took off, Hussle remained approachable and “big hearted,” she said. As he amassed fame and wealth, he continued living modestly while making investments in businesses in the neighborhood. And he could be very generous. When a colleague passed away several years ago, Ms. Cosey approached Hussle’s team to see if he could help with the funeral expenses. He contributed several thousand dollars, she said.

“He was about uplifting us. He hired people from the neighborhood who wouldn’t have had a job otherwise. He took care of so many people, and he invested in what he believed in, here, because he grew up here,” she said. “We have to keep that work going. It’s what he was about.”

[Read more about the community’s reaction to Hussle’s death.]

Hussle’s death has drawn attention far beyond the Crenshaw District. Celebrities and political leaders across the country have offered their condolences to Hussle’s family and friends. In an interview last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles praised Hussle’s contributions to South Los Angeles, a community that he acknowledged has been historically overlooked by the city’s political establishment.

Mr. Garcetti said Hussle embodied the very idea of black entrepreneurship, a critical component of lifting the community and its residents.

“He represented redemption and hope. He had come from the world of gangs and gotten out,” he said. “This is a devastating shock to the stomach. He was really ambitious — he wanted to get African Americans into tech, on top of his music game, on top of his businesses.”

“Then to be killed in such a clichéd way, by guns, for a beef in South L.A., it feeds into too many stereotypes,” he said.

Velma Sanders, 60, said she did not listen to Hussle’s music but, as a lifelong resident of South Los Angeles, she felt pride watching his career grow in recent years. His presence, she said, was felt by everyone.

“He would be out here. He showed you that he didn’t fear where he grew up. He was proud of it,” she said. “He was building up this community, giving back to this community. He took that money and instead of buying something luxurious, a big home or whatever, he put it back in his community so these would not be vacant buildings. It’s just beautiful.”

[Read an assessment of Hussle’s music and its place in hip-hop.]

Manuel Pastor, a professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California who has researched the demographics and culture of South Los Angeles, said Hussle’s killing “felt like a kick in the stomach.” He described Hussle as “a hometown guy lifting up his hometown.” Nothing illustrated this more, he said, than when Hussle and his girlfriend, the actress Lauren London, posed for a photo shoot in GQ in February at locations around South Los Angeles — not Hollywood, not downtown Los Angeles, not New York.

“This really hit hard. This was a hometown guy who stayed home,” said Mr. Pastor.

Mr. Pastor said Hussle had left the gang life but never rejected the culture of the community. Alienation and the search for identity amid violence and poverty often feed into gang culture, something Hussle spoke about openly.

“He did what many people ask of black celebrities, to come back to their community,” said Najee Ali, an activist in South Los Angeles who knew Hussle. He said the community is accustomed to feeling left behind when one of its own makes it big and finds fame.

“They all leave,” he said. “Hussle was the only one to stay in the community. He believed in the slogan, ‘Don’t move, improve.’ That’s what made him special.”

Hasani Leffall, 35, who knew Hussle, once worked for the rapper’s stepfather at a South Los Angeles restaurant called Bayou Grille. To emphasize the depth of feeling over Hussle’s murder within the black community of Los Angeles, he mentioned the murders of Tupac, Biggie Smalls, even Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Even with his fame, money and the support of the community, Hussle couldn’t escape the violence of the streets he rapped about.

Mr. Holder, the suspect in the killing, is an aspiring rapper who knew Hussle when he was younger. Mr. Holder, Mr. Leffall said, “represents a dark side about L.A., and a dark side about just men in L.A., in Crip life. There’s always somebody that just doesn’t like you, doesn’t like the fact that people love you.”

Game of Thrones Writer Reveals List of Must-Watch (or Re-Watch) Episodes Before Season 8

With the season eight premiere of Game of Thrones looming, you’re probably trying to determine your best approach for briefing yourself before winter officially comes. Well, you can stop spinning in circles over your too-little-time conundrum — Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman just revealed the must-watch episodes from seasons one through seven. You can forget about any other rewatch guides you may have seen floating around the internet because Cogman clearly knows his stuff. In fact, he’s the only GoT writer (along with showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss) who’s been with the hit HBO show from the beginning.

If you haven’t watched a single episode of GoT yet, suffice it to say there are spoilers ahead. See also: Better clear your calendar for the next two weeks. You’ve got some catching up to do.

Not surprisingly, the first two episodes of the very first season top Cogman’s list. Citing “Winter Is Coming” and “The Kingsroad,” Cogman told Entertainment Weekly, “Let’s start the rewatch with a double feature, shall we? Taken together, these two episodes serve as a mega-pilot as so much of Episode 1 is devoted to simply meeting with various characters and understanding the world of the show.” It’s the second episode, explains Cogman, that gets you invested in those characters. “Episode 2 really makes you care. I remember watching a rough cut of the opening sequence (in which Jon bids farewell to his family and heads for the Wall) on my laptop in Belfast and thinking: This works! We have a show!” Cogman said, pointing out another episode-two perk, “Oh, and Episode 2 is the one where Tyrion slaps Joffrey (not for the last time).

That’ll get you started, sure. But your homework is far from finished. Cogman recommends chasing the first two episodes of the fantasy drama with the following:

Season One

Episode nine: “Baelor”
Episode ten: “Fire and Blood”

Season Two

Episode three: “What Is Dead May Never Die”
Episode six: “The Old Gods and the New”
Episode nine: “Blackwater”

Season Three

Episode three: “Walk of Punishment”
Episode four: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”
Episode five: “Kissed By Fire”
Episode nine: “The Rains of Castamere”

Season Four

Episode six: “The Laws of Gods and Men”
Episode eight: “The Mountain and the Viper”
Episode ten: “The Children”

Season Five

Episode eight: “Hardhome”

Season Six

Episode five: “The Door”
Episode nine: “Battle of the Bastards”
Episode ten: “The Winds of Winter”

Season Seven

Episode three: “The Queen’s Justice”
Episode four: “The Spoils of War”
Episode seven: “The Dragon and the Wolf”

Dying to know why Cogman considers these episodes required watching? You can read his full thoughts here. And, hopefully, you’ll have your bearings about you by the time Game of Thrones returns for its final season on Sunday, April 14.

Best 50 Plays of the 2018 NBA Regular Season

Getting ready for the 2018-2019 Season the hardwood is about to squeak again, enjoy some highlights from last season.
Enjoy the best 50 plays from the 2018 NBA regular season, featuring LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and more! Subscribe to the NBA: http://bit.ly/2rCglzY For news, stories, highlights and more, go to our official website at http://www.nba.com Get NBA LEAGUE PASS: http://www.nba.com/leaguepass

How Aretha Franklin Took Care of Business (And Where Her Estate Stands Now)

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 9.07.24 PMIn 2015, Aretha Franklin delivered one of her most indelible performances, singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in tribute to the song’s co-writer, Carole King, at the Kennedy Center Honors. Before starting — and bringing a jubilant King and a teary President Obama to their feet — the singer did something she had done on countless stages before: nonchalantly tossed her purse (here, a sparkly clutch) on the piano. The move spoke volumes about how the singer took care of business.

It’s well known that Franklin, who died Aug. 16 of pancreatic cancer, demanded to be paid in cash, partly because she came up in an era when African-American artists were routinely ripped off by white promoters. “Aretha would put her reading glasses on her nose and she would be there while you counted out” the money, recalls Empire Entertainment’s JB Miller, who hired Franklin for numerous private and corporate gigs starting in the 1990s. “The purse would always make it onstage.”

And after the show, “you had your audience with her backstage as she paid everyone” — the band, backing singers and so on — in cash, recalls Narada Michael Walden, who in addition to producing Franklin’s 1985 Grammy-winning smash, “Freeway of Love,” occasionally played drums in her band.

Franklin was as exacting with her performance contracts as she was with her music. They had to accommodate two major challenges: her fear of flying and her 20- to 30-person entourage. Her willingness to only travel by bus and her health issues later in life limited her earning power. Franklin never landed on Forbes’ highest-paid celebrities list, with the magazine estimating her annual income in the low seven figures.

Since 2015, Franklin reported only six concerts to Billboard Boxscore, with an average per-show gross of $304,689. Among bus rental, gas, hotel rooms and per diems, moving Franklin and her entourage accounted for $50,000 to $100,000 in expenses alone, according to producer Michael Levitt, who worked with her on several events. “If you wanted Aretha on your show, her terms were nonnegotiable. It was her way, or no way,” says Levitt. But “Aretha was worth it. She always delivered, and it always seemed effortless on her part.”

Franklin didn’t suffer fools lightly, Levitt says, but she held herself to high standards as well. “Aretha was late for rehearsal [for Bill Clinton’s 50th birthday party] and when she arrived, she blamed me for not getting her the [rehearsal] information. I tried to explain that we sent a packet with all the call times to her and her team.  She wasn’t having it and put me in my place. To get the wrath of Aretha Franklin was pretty devastating,” Levitt says. “The next day she arrived for the show run-through. Her bodyguard came up to me and said ‘Ms. Franklin would like to speak to you.’ I was anticipating part two of the wrath. [Instead], she said “Young man, I am so sorry.  When I returned to my hotel last night, I discovered that you did indeed send over the proper information and for that, I owe you an apology.’  I truly appreciated that she cared enough to right that wrong. I mean, how many people can say they received an apology from the Queen of Soul?”

To avoid such misunderstandings, Franklin would often phone ahead herself to work out details. “There would be this fog: You wouldn’t know when she was coming in, how she was coming in, where she was staying,” says Miller. “Then, usually within 24 to 48 hours [before the event], you’d get a call from Aretha, and it would always be about something like making sure there’s no air-conditioning on. That was a big thing of hers…People that don’t know how to work with artists like that might get really intimidated and go, ‘Oh, she was a diva and threatened not to perform,’ but she cared a lot about the performance and she wanted it to be great. It was always an interesting road to get there.”

READ MORE: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8471888/aretha-franklin-business-estate

Aretha Franklin Had Power. Did We Truly Respect It?

The Queen of Soul sang the most empowering popular song ever. But even though she was brimming with it, we don’t think of her as an artist with swagger.

Officially, “Respect” is a relationship song. That’s how Otis Redding wrote it. But love wasn’t what Aretha Franklin was interested in. The opening line is “What you want, baby, I got it.” But her “what” is a punch in the face. So Ms. Franklin’s rearrangement was about power. She had the right to be respected — by some dude, perhaps by her country. Just a little bit. What did love have to do with that?

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 9.07.10 PM

Depending on the house you grew up in and how old you are, “Respect” is probably a song you learned early. The spelling lesson toward the end helps. So do the turret blasts of “sock it to me” that show up here and there. But, really, the reason you learn “Respect” is the way “Respect” is sung. Redding made it a burning plea. Ms. Franklin turned the plea into the most empowering popular recording ever made.

Ms. Franklin died on Thursday, at 76, which means “Respect” is going to be an even more prominent part of your life than usual. The next time you hear it, notice what you do with your hands. They’re going to point — at a person, a car or a carrot. They’ll rest on your hips. Your neck might roll. Your waist will do a thing. You’ll snarl. Odds are high that you’ll feel better than great. You’re guaranteed to feel indestructible.

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 9.07.24 PM

Ms. Franklin’s respect lasts for two minutes and 28 seconds. That’s all — basically a round of boxing. Nothing that’s over so soon should give you that much strength. But that was Aretha Franklin: a quick trip to the emotional gym. Obviously, she was far more than that. We’re never going to have an artist with a career as long, absurdly bountiful, nourishing and constantly surprising as hers. We’re unlikely to see another superstar as abundantly steeped in real self-confidence — at so many different stages of life, in as many musical genres.

That self-confidence wasn’t evident only in the purses and perms and headdresses and floor-length furs; the buckets and buckets of great recordings; the famous demand that she always be paid before a show, in cash; or the Queen of Soul business — the stuff that keeps her monotonously synonymous with “diva.” It was there in whatever kept her from stopping and continuing to knock us dead. To paraphrase one of Ms. Franklin’s many (many) musical progeny: She slayed. “Respect” became an anthem for us, because it seemed like an anthem for her.

The song owned the summer of 1967. It arrived amid what must have seemed like never-ending turmoil — race riots, political assassinations, the Vietnam draft. Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his championship title for refusing to serve in the war. So amid all this upheaval comes a singer from Detroit who’d been around most of the decade doing solid gospel R&B work. But there was something about this black woman’s asserting herself that seemed like a call to national arms. It wasn’t a polite song. It was hard. It was deliberate. It was sure. And that all came from Ms. Franklin — her rumbling, twanging, compartmentalized arrangement. It came, of course, from her singing.

Because lots of major pop stars now have great, big voices, maybe it’s easy to forget that most Americans had never heard anything quite as dependably great and shockingly big as Ms. Franklin’s. The reason we have watched “Showtime at the Apollo” or “American Idol” or “The Voice” is out of some desperate hope that somebody walks out there and sounds like Aretha. She established a standard for artistic vocal excellence, and it will outlast us all.