Sunday, March 28, 2010

Window Seat

Here's the music video to Erykah Badu's new single, Window Seat from New Amerykah Part II: Return of the Ankh ... let's see you figure this one out!

I'm a huge fan yet somehow I didn't keep my ear to the ground and found out only a mere day ago that she has a new album coming out this Tuesday! Either way, I'm not mad at her but dang girl, what happened? I went to her concert back in May 2008 and she was talking about putting this album out sooner ... I'm just happy it's here!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Moving On

Closing the chapter on one part of my life ...

To The Voice:

Slowly, surely
I walk away from that old desperate and dazed love,
caught up in the maze of love,
the crazy craze of love

Thought it was good,
thought it was real,
thought it was
but it wasn't love

I just don't know
where I should go

Slowly, surely
I walk away from self-serving,
undeserving, constantly hurting me love
deserting me love
You said, I said, we said

But ...

Slowly, surely
I walk away from confusing love,
misusing love, abusing love
this can't be ...

Slowly, surely
I walk away from self-serving,
undeserving, constantly hurting me love

Slowly, surely
one step at a time
But surely I will pass the old love aside,
and love me ...

(Excerpts from Slowly, Surely - Who Is Jill Scott? Words & Sounds, Vol. 1)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Guilty Pleasure: Model City

So I don’t like blogging much about television (especially since I work nights and can't keep up with the latest stuff) but a new show has seized my attention.

I’ve been watching this show on Centric (BLASPHEMY!) called Model City. Now, before I go any further, let me just say that I completely abhor anything BET related and while they changed the name of the network, “a rose by any other name is still a rose” …

And secondly, I highly detest reality shows so this is a confession from deep within my soul!

That said, I must admit the show piqued my interest solely because of Zeric, the extremely bold and inspirational SGL model who brazenly kissed his boyfriend during the opening episode at a social mixer. However, as I continued to watch the subsequent episodes, I realized that this show was a bit more interesting than I realized. I’ve always poked fun at Java-Mama for watching America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway but in retrospect, those were educational shows for “normies” like me who know nothing about the modeling industry. Nevertheless, something has been missing …

Model City takes a fresh look at the modeling business via the perspective of several male models from Red Model Management, a modeling agency that promotes models of an “urban facade.” Translation: black and Latino models. While I don’t care much for good looking guys, parading around showing off their chiseled bodies and “look-how-hot-I-am” faces, it is a nice escape from the reality of full-time school and full-time work! Surprisingly, these models each have fascinating back stories and some are a bit more multifaceted and profound than I initially suspected.

Ibrahim, the veteran model and Mekhi Phifer's love child, is highly experienced and the most stable of the group. He is in a committed relationship with his girlfriend and has aspirations of being an artist following his career. What I like the most is his honesty when it comes to the issue of race in the modeling industry (we see this during a photo shoot with mostly white models and the photographer continually calls him ‘Abraham’). He’s incredibly straightforward and never holds back. Unfortunately, he loses points because of his sometimes subtle rivalry with Wendell.

When I saw the promo shots for the show, I was amazed at how attractive Wendell was but now after a few episodes, I think his arrogant attitude is (like Keri Hilson says) “turnin’ me off.” Wendell is just as experienced as Ibrahim and has risen up the ranks fast. Nevertheless, he admits to working best independently and displays his “holier-than-thou” manner every chance he gets. He is moving in with his model girlfriend but neglects to tell his mom. Is it me or does the mother/son relationship seemed severely strained?

The last two models featured on the opening credits are Zeric and Nelson. Zeric shows up toward the end of the first episode in response to an opening casting call at Red. Zeric oozes confidence, sexuality and masculinity and audaciously brings his boy to a mixer. While I’m pleased to see an SGL man represented on a BET network no less, I think after his scene-grabbing comment regarding Nelson’s private member, I’m about done with him.

Nelson, another semi-experienced model who has worked with K-Swiss and Sean John, represents the Latino portion of the show and though he’s in a solid relationship with his girl, he looks to Ibrahim for inspiration and guidance in the business as well as his relationship. However, I lumped Zeric and Nelson’s descriptions together because they ended up getting into a ridiculous argument at a promo party featuring top photographers, clients and models on 5th Ave which began over Zeric’s offhand comment regarding Nelson’s member. Seriously, people, how old are we?

There are other models such as Salieu, a West African model who doesn’t seem to get much screen time (so far), and Henry, a new recruit who has a fresh boy-next-door look. Unfortunately, Henry's desire to drop out of college to pursue modeling doesn’t sit well with me but makes for good television drama. On a side note, many promo photos for the show I found around the net feature additional models who have yet to make an appearance (not sure what's going on there).

I don't care much for shows about models and even less for the reality show concept (no thanks to the Flavor Flav series). I know that reality shows are just as staged as anything else on TV but this one has me captivated for a while and I think the topic (black male urban models) is exceptionally refreshing.

Nevertheless, I’ve a habit for ditching shows when they get too outrageous or don’t go the way I want (Crossing Jordan, Smallville, Rescue Me, Nip/Tuck, The Real World). However, I also have been known to jump on the bandwagon after a few seasons (Desperate Housewives, True Blood, DS9, Law & Order SVU, Angel).

The verdict? I’m as fickle as the next TV viewer so I’m going to take this one episode at a time …

I think it’s on Thursdays at 8 PM but since I watch everything via my DVR, I’m not sure exactly when anything actually airs so check out for showtimes and tell me what you think of the show!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"To Thine Own Self Be True"

This be the realest thing I ever wrote for sure
After this a lot of folks wont like me no mo’
But after this I gotta go answer to you Lord
So I’ve made up my mind

I’m a go to church on Sunday
And sing a song that may hurt somebody’s feelings so that maybe
Thy will, will be done on earth as it is in heaven
And hopefully they will see how much they really be discouraging a little old sinner like me

- Lyfe Jennings (Made Up My Mind: Lyfe 268-192)

So can you help me right quick with a situation?

You see, I’m a music major (yeah, I know, heard it all before) and I’m pretty close to graduating (see my fantastic counter above). I’m hustling and grinding like never before, taking an overload (7 courses and an independent study) just so that I can graduate by June 4th and not have to return for any additional semesters.

The problem or situation I’m foreshadowing is a clash between my career and my sexuality. It’s no secret that I am SGL (gay, queer, whatever) and I’ve reached the point in my life where I am extremely comfortable with telling anyone who asks. I’ve been out for about 11 years now and while I don’t see my orientation as a huge deal, someone else may. Not that it defines me. I want those who enter into my life to see me for me and not some label. I want to be judged by the content of my personality and character, not my skin color and certainly not by who I sleep with.

Okay, enough idealism. Welcome back to the real world!

This past summer, I befriended an up-and-coming gospel musician who has released two albums and this connection was exceptionally beneficial in getting me to think about the direction of my own music career. Fortunately, everyone I’ve come out to has reacted positively. If anyone was upset or offended, I have yet to receive notice. Needless to say, I decided to come out to this young man as the topic of conversation had shifted to relationships and I was incredibly proud of The Voice at the time. This young musician reacted somewhat cool about it but gradually our friendship diminished upon his return to his home state. Subsequently, this has left me wondering if one’s sexuality and music career can go hand in hand.

Obviously, it’s not impossible to combine them, especially when one looks at artists such as Elton John, Meshell Ndegeocello, Boy George, Adam Lambert, and Tracy Chapman. However, not really knowing what path my life will take and not having many African-American SGL role models, I’m left wondering if I’ll have to be a pioneer or step back in the closet. Rumors have abounded about many black singers and artists throughout the years and subsequently, they remained trapped in the closet, even though certain signs existed.

Moreover, I’m considering a position at my church in the music ministry. Many congregants have watched me grow up there and while I have my issues, it’s the only spiritual home I’ve known. And despite it’s “dysfunctionality” at times, I continue to see the potential. However, I’ve never really had to face any opposition regarding my sexuality because I’ve never made it a significant issue. I’ve brought several of the X-Men to church (Kingston, Heart2Soul, The Voice) and even let BJ help direct my choir in the early years. I’m sure there was speculation but I’ve never been approached.

Taking this position would be a golden opportunity for my career and on a personal level, I’ve always enjoyed playing gospel and really want to see our music ministry grow. However, I cannot remain untrue to myself and live my life back in the closet. Sadly, this situation isn’t just confined to the church and will pop up time and time again as I move throughout my career.

Furthermore, I’ve composed and arranged several songs for my choir yet I have non-religious material that speaks about the trials and tribulations in my personal life. Is it hypocritical to be a secular artist as well as remain active in gospel?

So many questions running through my mind and I’m just not sure where to begin. I’ve delayed talking to my minister about the church position because of all these thoughts …

… what do you all think?

1. Take the position and play straight?
2. Become a trailblazer and be out?
3. Or just find my own path away from the church?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reading Corner: Mama Dearest

I bought it, placed it on the shelf and looked at it.

I packed it in my suitcase and dragged it with me from St. Thomas to Barbados intending to spend time with it out on the lido deck. I re-packed it in my suitcase and brought it home. Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went and still I couldn’t bring myself to take the final step.

Yet finally, nearly a year after the death of E. Lynn Harris and several months since the release of his final novel, “Mama Dearest”, I took the plunge and decided to read it.

For those that are new to my blog, I have posted several book reviews on novels (click here for all posts on books) but none were as hard-hitting as those by E. Lynn. His series figures prominently into my life as a SGL man because he was the first black SGL author I had been introduced to. The Divo had given me a copy of “Invisible Life” for my birthday about a year after we met and from then on, I was hooked!

Fast forward several years and I have read his entire collection, including his memoir, “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.” And I’ve been taken on an emotional rollercoaster every time. From the first scene involving Raymond Tyler in his college dorm room to the epilogue in his final novel involving Yancey H. Braxton, I have been on a poignant journey, defining my life and learning what it truly meant to be a SGL man in a world I was only beginning to (and still struggling to) understand. Simply put, no SGL man can say they have truly “come out” unless they have read the master of African-American SGL literature.

While only a select few authors have since captured my mind and heart, E. Lynn always kept me hooked and interested. I couldn’t bring myself to blog about his death last year and in many ways, I’m still in shock at his passing. It feels like a bizarre dream. While Harris claimed to be just an average guy simply following his dreams and passion, he touched thousands of lives along the way both directly and indirectly and I can say that I was one of those fortunate few.

Now I don’t like to give endings away (although it’s been several months since the release) as I’m sure that SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE, SOMEHOW has NOT read this book. That said, I’ll rate it with 4 stars out of 5. I know that seems heartless and possibly disrespectful but I’m not going to be soft – and I don’t think E. Lynn would want any critics out there to go easy. Authors crave feedback and E. Lynn Harris was a true author to the very end. So …

I was extremely happy to see the return of Yancey but secretly yearned for more Basil or Raymond. A note to fans seeking our two favorite SGL hotties: they do make extensive cameos, but the story remains firmly centered on the true divas. The plot revolves around Yancey Braxton, last seen sabotaging Nicole Springer’s career, trashing John Basil Henderson at the altar and dealing with her very crazy and delusional “mother” Ava Middlebrooks who has finally been released from prison. Of course, no Harris book is complete without revenge, drama, schemes, plots and good old backstabbing and he definitely returned to what he knew best.

Unfortunately, it’s a song and dance all too familiar to his readers, especially throughout his past several novels (Basketball Jones, Too Good To Be True, I Say A Little Prayer) and I could already spot the snakes in the grass from the first few chapters. Additionally, I was not crazy about the lengthy sex scene between Yancey and her newest suitor, S. Marcus which has left me wondering why Harris chose the straight path (writing from a woman’s perspective) in “Too Good To Be True” and “Mama Dearest.”

Harris also reintroduced several characters, one of which is Madison B., Yancey’s daughter she gave up for adoption to pursue her own dreams of stardom. I wasn’t too pleased with her portrayal which was defined by a struggling combination of Nicole, Yancey and Ava’s personalities. For a teenage celebrity, she wasn’t youthful-acting enough for me and appeared as an old soul trapped in a young body.

The buildup towards the climax was executed perfectly however, as a reader I was left with many questions and felt some of the characters were out of character. While Ava returned to her conniving ways, characters such as Lyrical and Dalton seemed placed to serve as a moral foundation for the novel; I understood their purpose but felt it would have been a better read without them. Nevertheless, Harris’ attempt to melt the heart of Yancey succeeded and I must commend him on a job well done.

Still, that last star must be withheld due to a rushed ending and many unanswered questions. Overall, it was great to see closure for many of his beloved characters (Raymond, Basil, Nicole, Yancey, Ava) and while it has been a lengthy and complicated adventure from the first page of “Invisible Life”, it has never been dull. I know I’ve listed most of my criticisms in this post but I believe his best novels were behind him (“Invisible Life”, “Just As I Am”, “And This Too Shall Pass”) and most of his final novels were rushed and reflected more of an experimental phase in his writing.

Personally, I would have preferred at least one more novel to complete the series featuring Raymond and/or Basil (the primary characters from the start) and a positive depiction of a middle-class black SGL couple.

But one can still dream, right?

We will miss you dearly Mr. E. Lynn Harris and thank you for all the joy, laughter, tears and thrills you have brought into our lives. May you rest in peace.

E. Lynn Harris (1954-2009)

Invisible Life
Just As I Am
And This Too Shall Pass
If This World Were Mine
Abide With Me
Any Way The Wind Blows
Not A Day Goes By
A Love Of My Own
I Say A Little Prayer
Just Too Good To Be True
Basketball Jones
Mama Dearest
What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted (memoir)