Bill’s House

Not sure when it happened, but this guy is one of my favorite journalists and, not coincidentilly, works on my favorite news magazine: 60 Minutes. His crib in Harlem is straight life goals status. I don’t know which I appreciate more–that he’s an OG Black man living well in America or… Nah, that’s it. His view is dope and all, but I really love seeing us enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Keep rocking, Bill.

A Cynic Stands Corrected: Witnessing Fan Love at Katy Perry’s YouTube Crib

 

I went to the spot where Katy Perry recently hosted her four-day live-streamed existence to promote her latest album, Witness. Now an empty makeshift “home” and temporary pop-up shop, super fans were allowed to visit and poke around. You could lay in the bed Katy jumped on, sit on the couches that several comforted several of her celeb friends and things of the sort.

Why Katy Perry’s ‘Witness’ Pop-Up Embodies What Being a Fan Is All About

WILL YOU BE MY #WITNESS? 👁

A post shared by KATY PERRY (@katyperry) on

Covering it for Billboard, I have to admit that I essentially came into it with a “Who would want to go to this?” attitude. But after hanging around a bit, seeing how dedicated some of Katy’s fans are and reading bits of the notes they wrote her, I left with a lot more respect for not only Katy (who I’ve always appreciated as an artist), but her followers—many who have used her music to power themselves through breakups and sickness. Give it a read.

Vindication? Kevin Durant Wasn’t Trying to Prove Anything to You

On Monday night Kevin Durant’s 2017 NBA Champion t-shirt was damp with champagne. The goggles that protected his eyes from bottle corks and alcohol drops dangled from his neck. A smile as true as his jumpshot sparkled from ear to ear. He had just won his first title and was the series’ MVP.

Sitting in for a post-game SportsCenter interview with ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt, he was asked what he now sees in himself after accomplishing such a feat. “Nothing,” he responded. “This doesn’t complete me. I already knew who I was before this even happened. I’m going to continue to be the person I was yesterday.”

On the surface, this answer could seem like complete bullshit. Like, dude, YOU’RE AN NBA CHAMPION, THE BEST PLAYER ON THE BEST TEAM IN THE BEST BASKETBALL LEAGUE ON EARTH!

But on second thought, I understand why he’d say that. Today and, I presume, throughout the rest of the summer, many will write their think-pieces and essays about how—at last!—Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder last year as a free agent to join the Golden State Warriors (the team that kicked him out of the playoffs that year) has been vindicated.

The idea is that his decision to go to a better team, one likely to go on several future championship runs with or without him, wouldn’t have been valid or accepted by the the peanut gallery unless he performed spectacularly (he did) and won this year. And like I briefly noted last summer, that’s dumb. Mostly because the man made a decision for himself. As the author of his life story, no one but him has the right to put their pen on his pages.

Kevin Durant, The Warriors and Dialogue With a Hater

Sure, Kevin could have done things the “hero” way and continued to toil and chip away year after year in a small town as half of the one-two punch Russell Westbrook completed. Maybe they would have gotten to the finals again (OKC had been before in 2012, and lost to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat). Maybe. But KD decided the next chapter of his life would go in another direction.

Then came the ridicule. People called him weak, soft, pathetic even. All because he didn’t do things how XYZ legendary veteran who may or may not have won a champion by staying “loyal” to the team that drafted them or was on a team where they were one of a maximum two star players (ie: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller…).

 

Hell, even Nike released an ad right after his Finals-sealing Game 5 victory that addressed the naysayers—a minute’s worth of pundits arguing about Durant’s supposed mental and physical flaws and ending with him a champ in a confetti storm. “DEBATE THIS,” it closes. A classic, well-articulated “Fuck you, hater!” without being too crass for network TV.

So I totally get why Kevin would say he’s the same guy he was before the locker room bubbly bath. It’s a mix self-assured confidence and not wanting to let us know he gave a shit about anyone else’s opinions. Though he might admit later that he heard the chatter and that it motivated him a tad bit, I doubt Durant will ever say that he ever felt that he needed to be vindicated for his controversial choice.

If anything KD probably felt that he made the right decision after training camp and a few games with the Warriors during Fall/Winter 2016, when he was enjoying the music that booms out of practice facility speakers while Coach Kerr is running through Xs and Os. Or when he realized that playing for Golden State really is as fun as it looks on TV, with Steph Curry joyously splashing threes launched just inside half court and eagerly throwing him no-look passes on the next possession. Or when he got emphatic encouragement from forward Draymond Green.

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Kevin Durant wasn’t waiting for anybody’s approval. He gave himself the okay, And now he’s the champion he always wanted to be. Critics can say they don’t like how his story played out. But there’s no debating that.

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Album, Religion, and Finding Himself

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Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. album cover | c/o Interscope Records

 

Kendrick Lamar may be the best rapper out right now at hiding the proverbial medicine in the candy. His latest album, DAMN. has songs that are focused on totally unattractive topics when it comes to their assumed commercial potential: Humility. Loyalty. Integrity. And they’re all touched on as part of his exploration of religion, another touchy subject. Making club-ready, popular Hip-Hop that bangs as hard as DAMN. does while quoting Bible verses in the lyrics is no easy feat. Still, as Kendrick says on “ELEMENT.,” he makes it all sound sexy.

As I marveled at DAMN. over several listens, I wrote about how Kendrick is learning more about himself and the world he lives in with the guidance of Bible scripture for Billboard.

Kendrick Lamar: Making Sense of His World, One Bible Verse at a Time 

Here’s a taste: “The Bible’s influence is immense. For many it functions as their life’s compass, by which going in the right direction means to walk in God’s footsteps and all other paths — at best — lead nowhere. That perspective is what Kendrick Lamar cautiously navigates on his third proper studio LP, DAMN.

Check it out, y’all.

also: Kendrick Lamar, Exposing The Fakes

Kendrick Lamar, Exposing The Fakes

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Kendrick Lamar dropped his new track, “Humble” yesterday. Fans and pundits alike went gaga over it. The verdicts vary but are overall joyous. They’re cheerful hearing Kung Fu Kenny kick bars over simpler Hip-Hop production (it’s an ominous Mike WiLL Made It doing, less intricate than To Pimp a Butterfly’s jazzy musicianship) and, frankly, delighted that the rapper is still talking his shit—clowning junky stars and also those who aren’t honest in their representations of themselves. The messaging in its Dave Meyers-directed video is noteworthy, too. So much so that I wrote about it for Billboard.

Kendrick Lamar Exposes the Fake to Encourage the Real in ‘Humble’ Video

I’m not going to ruin it for you, but I will tease it with the opening paragraph:

As the opportunity to exaggerate our best features and highlight only portions of our lives grows thanks to the magic of Instagram filters and Twitter posts, Kendrick Lamar has noticed what apparently many have yet to: The world — his generation, at least — is shifting away from practicing humility and authenticity. Blowhard fakes are flourishing faster than a showoff can say “Clarendon” or “Send tweet.”

Give it a read. April 7, the release date for Kendrick’s third LP, can’t come soon enough.

Thundercat and I in the Windy City Talking Music and Style

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Thundercat’s DRUNK album art | shot by Eddie Alcazar

 

Last week when Thundercat dropped his incredible third album, Drunk, I was out in Chicago for a quickie fun trip with my fiancee. That Saturday, coincidentally, the bass-playing singer-songwriter was in town for his concert at the Concord Music Hall. I locked in a pair of tickets and also pitched Billboard about it. TC is not only a great musician but also an interesting guy when it comes to fashion.

Thundercat’s Style Is As Funky and Out There As His Music

I sent the style editor a few images of him. A shot of him wearing a wolf hat. Another of him dressed like some sort of dystopian Power Ranger headed to a nice dinner. She was into it. So I met up with him ahead of the show backstage and we had about as cohesive of a convo as possible for one with many random topics.
A sampler below:

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Thundercat | shot by B+

 

  • I assumed Thundercat loves Hall & Oates. I was right – “Hall & Oates is everything. Fuck everything else. [Laughs] If it’s not Hall & Oates, it’s nothing.”
  • “I never tell people, ‘I’m part Comanche!’” I guess that’s why I didn’t know, huh?
  • “There have been times where I’ll freak my friends out because we’ll go to the store and I’ll go for the weird thing on display and they’ll be like, ‘You’re not going to do it, are you?’” Ah, so the homies think he’s wild with the style, too.

I also learned about how even some of his buddies didn’t believe Thundercat was any good at singing, suggesting that he use Auto-Tune. There’s also some great cartoon talk. Give it a read.

He’s a super thoughtful, intelligent guy that’s not scared to live his best life and dress like choice superheroes. I enjoyed my time with him, as I expect you will, too.

When Life’s B.S. Makes Neal Brennan Sick, Jokes Are The Best Medicine

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Neal Brennan: 3 Mics cover art

 

Life is hard. We’ve heard that line before and likely had the sentiment proven true time and time again throughout our days. But how we cope when bummers and rainy days storm on us is either what propels us towards victories or plummets us into incurable depths.

For director, writer, and comedian Neal Brennan, it’s the ability to find humor in a life full of problems ranging from daddy issues to depression (requiring the aid of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist) to dealing with a professional career in show business as being the guy next to the guy; he’s best known for co-writing Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show with its star Dave Chappelle. The pop phenomenon flamed out after two seasons, when Chappelle wasn’t sure if his audience—increasingly becoming white—was laughing with or at him as he performed his, at times, racially controversial sketches.

When the show wrapped, Brennan’s gut urged him to step into the spotlight himself, which meant starting from ground zero as an open mic comedian after directing and writing one of the best sketch comedy shows of all time. He jokes in his new Netflix stand-up special Neal Brennan: 3 Mics that a friend said hIs career trajectory was Benjamin Button-like, because it’s going in reverse order. But 3 Mics is proof positive that his career is, in fact, moving forward.

Mics features a skillfully managed stage set. Brennan sidesteps to three different microphones, each with its own purpose. Stage right is for quick, no-context one-liners: “The little league world series. Or as pedophiles call it: The world series.”). Stage left is dedicated to standard stand-up (bits about college loans, being in the grocery store with a concealed weapon). But the most impactful content comes from the center mic’, where he earnestly talks to the audience about his bouts with depression and a father that didn’t love him.

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Poster used for Brennan’s 2016 3 Mics tour

 

Often these monologues are so intimate that I felt uncomfortable being privied to such vivid details of his life, like finding out what it was like to see his dying father for the last time in the hospital and learning about their final discussion.

Finding a way for us to laugh at his depression, Neal explains that Black people enjoyed his beaten down spirit. “Always,” he recalls matter of factly of their reverence. “They’d be like, ‘Neal, man, you don’t give a fuck!’ And I always want to say, ‘Well, that’s because I’m sad.” I love his dry, witty humor. Just as it seems we’re all about to be swallowed up by his misery, in comes Breenan with a light quip to rope us out of the quicksand.

Towards the conclusion of 3 Mics, Breenan, again at center microphone, speaks about that drowning feeling.  A joke, to him, is like being blessed with an air bubble as he’s flailing in a sea of despair. “For a second, things slow down and I can win,” he says, as he pretends to inhale a small bit of oxygen on stage. “It’s something I’m so grateful for… Jokes.”

We all have our own struggles, though not everyone finds the tools to deal with them. God only knows if Neal would still be with us if he didn’t have comedy. And that was a mighty big gut punch that hit me as the credits rolled with Electric Guest’s “See the Light” (what a beautiful song that is, by the way) playing. I sat on my couch at midnight, dead serious after steadily letting belly laughs loose for an hour.

How many people aren’t as fortunate as he was to find humor or whatever it is that could help them endure life when shit’s not going their way and looking bleak? A lot, right? Suicide is essentially what people do when joy, faith, and optimism have left the building for good. Here’s hoping that we all can find the gift that helps brighten things up. Or help someone find theirs. Or actually be someone’s light. As Neal shows with 3 Mics, every little bit helps.