Recommended Viewing: Sorry To Bother You

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To call Sorry to Bother You “this year’s Get Out” is somewhat accurate, but also reductive. Similar to Jordan Peele’s cult-turned-critically acclaimed classic, it deals with race and what the Black man experiences in a dynamic way. But there’s more at play here.

This film truly is a sci-fi dark comedy that also functions as a conversation starter about the idea of capitalism. It asks: How far will one man and his job’s CEO go to make a dollar? I loved this movie for director Boots Riley’s perspective, so much so that I wish I hadn’t seen it alone. It would have been better to catch it with a bunch of friends and then talk it through my thoughts over food and drinks.

When I first saw the trailer (which not once hints at all the wild hell that breaks loose around the two-thirds mark of the movie), I thought this was simply going to be a funny flick about code-switching and a Black guy doing what it takes to be successful in a racist world. Having a “Black” voice, and all it suggests is typically not a good thing in the business world. Sorry to Bother You tackles that and much more.

A couple of things I thought about while at the theater watching Sorry to Bother You (NO SPOILERS):

  • Have I worked at a WorryFree of sorts? Yes.
  • How many Steve Lift’s have I worked under? [Redacted] I have too many stories
  • The feeling of being the Chosen Black Guy and then being surrounded by white people daily
  • I can sense the discomfort in the white viewers beside me as they wonder if they have been unconsciously racist before and then realize the answer is Yes. That fireside chat scene where the boss asks Cash to tell him a story about the rough ghetto lifestyle he assumedly lived, followed by demanding that he raps (because all Black people can rap) and be the party’s entertainment is not too far from reality.

Go see it! I want people to be talking about this through awards season.

Beyonce & Jay-Z | Love and the Art of Recovery

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“The Winged Victory of Samothrace,” housed in The Louvre and sculpted to honor Nike, the Greek goddess of victory | The Carters celebrate a win of their own on Everything is Love. | photo by Brad Weté


 

When slow-winding reggae cut “SUMMER” simmers at the top of couple Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Everything is Love with wife cooing of beachside love-making and wanting to “drown in the depths of” her husband’s soul, we already know what type of function they’re inviting us into for the length of the album. The duo’s full-length debut as The Carters has been anticipated for at least a year, because–Duh!–they’re two behemoth acts. But also because many believed this set would serve as the final act of this mostly private pair’s trilogy of albums chronicling the state of their union and its roughest patches.

Beyonce’s 2016 album Lemonade was peppered with songs that teemed with anger and hurt allegedly caused by Jay’s infidelity. For references, look no further than the video for “Hold Up,” where manic frustration and callous indifference fuel Beyonce as she strolls down city blocks slugging car windows with a baseball bat, or “Sorry,” where she tosses whatever dude she’s leaving two middle fingers and struts off with her girlfriends, promising to take their child (at the time, her and Jay-Z only had one) and sends him to go back to his mistress, “Becky with the good hair.”

The presumed cheating was all but confirmed last year when Jay dropped his 4:44 album, an effort highlighted by its apologetic title track. “I don’t deserve you,” he raps there, before acknowledging that he robbed Beyonce of her innocence (“I still mourn its death”), lacks in maturity, and takes responsibly for stressing Beyonce into miscarriages. At one point on “4:44,” Jay thinks of how life would be if they weren’t both suffering through the consequences of his actions. “[We’re] not meant to cry and die alone in these mansions,” he says. “Or sleep with our backs turned/ We’re supposed to vacay ’til our backs burn.”

Leaping back to present day, it’s easy to imagine the pair bronzing under the sun of a Caribbean island together while taking sips of D’USSE cognac between ganja pulls as the steel pans of “SUMMER” clang. After years of chilling revelations that equated to Beyonce giving him the cold shoulder, the heat is on. They seem free and a joyous unit on Everything is Love. It’s a celebration of their renewed vows and strengthened relationship, but also of their accession to pop culture royalty and Forbes list toppers.

EIL bars about being successful business-owners are often followed or prefaced by mentions of their kids or flagrant digs at outsiders. “I be ridin’ around with my seat reclining,” Beyonce rhymes on “Boss.” “Droppin’ my daughter off at school every morning/ We slammin’ car doors/ I be true balling on these bum whores.” Luxury rap, family mentions, and jokes at the expense of the unaccomplished flow from a bottomless goblet here.

When Jay and Beyonce weren’t talking to each other about household dealings on their aforementioned solo albums, they tackled societal issues: keys for Black empowerment, women’s rights, and financial freedom were offered in bunches. On Love, “Black Effect” stands in line with “Formation” or “The Story of O.J.” in its clearcut purpose to uplift the Black community. And in various lines peppered throughout EIL, the Carters scoff at the system and assure listeners that they’ve not only broken their supposed glass ceilings but exist to help African Americans rise above systemic adversity, too.

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“Great Sphinx of Tanis” | a king’s head and a lion’s body | photo by Brad Weté in The Louvre


 

One of my favorite tracks, though, is “FRIENDS,” an ode to their inner circle of so-close-they-might-as-well-be-blood buddies. Once entering a serious relationship, deading all distractions and people who aren’t genuine in their support is a must. Half-assing hangers-on? Gone. Ambiguously-titled associates gotsta go, too. As someone who spent my twenties in New York City’s entertainment business, shedding the dozens of loosies I’d collected was major as I entered married life. It just makes things easier.

“Tight circle, no squares,” Jay says on “FRIENDS.” “I’m geometrically opposed to you/ Y’all like to try angles.” I’m sure Jay’s had to tighten up his circle a bit over the years to sure up his situation, avoiding those trying to weasel into his affairs. And Beyonce likely has an even greater appreciation for her trusted few because she needed them like never before when her marriage was more nightmarish than dreamy.

When Beyonce yelps, “I can’t believe we made it!” over Pharrell Williams’ lux trap beat for “Apeshit,” I take it two ways: Similar to the tone of her feature on Jay and Kanye West’s “Lift Off” from their 2011 album Watch the Throne, she’s surprised her and Jay have become the global icons they are, able to cop a glorious mansion in Bel Air to raise their three children and to rent out world-renowned Paris museum The Louvre for the video for this album’s first single, showing up the likes of Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” painting by being unapologetically Black in a space that doesn’t much acknowledge our existence as creatives throughout history.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” | photo by Brad Weté in The Louvre


 

With that line Beyonce could also be referring to the fact that her and Jay have endured a tumultuous time in their marriage and came out of it thriving. Jay did three interviews following the release of 4:44. Rap Radar, The New York Times, and CNN all got solid sit-downs with him and when they broached to the topic of his once-crumbling union and the hurt he caused, Jay often would mention how easy it would have been for Beyonce to quit and choose divorce.

A lot of couples split when the going gets tough. Facts. Statistics aren’t encouraging when it comes to lasting wedded bliss. Most studies confirm that anywhere from 40-50% of marriages will conclude well before that whole “death do us part” thing comes to pass. Jay admitted that he’s done the work to keep his lady. Therapy, self-evaluation and listening to Beyonce’s pains all attributed to making it to happier days.

“You have to be strong enough to go through that,” he told Van Jones in January. “Because on the other side, it’s beautiful.” Everything is Love is a musical victory lap and parade for them deciding to stick, stay and eventually flourish.

“Love is deeper than your pain,” Beyonce sings on closer “LOVEHAPPY.” For those in need of a definitive statement on their status, the last words uttered as the boom-bap cut’s volume reduces come for the missus: “We came, and we conquered, now we’re happy in love.”

Our ‘Strong’ Friends | A Sad Week for the Quietly Hurting

Anthony Bourdain was found dead at age 61 this morning in his hotel room in France, forever at rest after an apparent a suicide. I told my wife about it as she got dressed for work. The news soured the start of our day. We both enjoyed his positivity and his Parts Unknown CNN show, where he explored lands far and varied via food and conversation with both dignitaries and common folk alike. Bourdain admittedly was a heroin addict in his twenties before cleaning up and becoming a renowned chef. Clearly, he was still dealing with other issues.

It’s the kind of day where people get on social media and share grief, along with numbers for suicide hotlines and one-liners like “Check in on your strong friend.” That saying’s a popular one, because those who seemingly “have it all”—a family, money, a good attitude, flourishing career, and so-on—are typically the ones who do more of the helping and unfortunately receive less actual emotional support.

The last week has been peppered with sad, surprising news and reminders of highly regarded creatives and public figures suffering from or succumbing to depression and hidden demons. Kanye West’s latest album opens with “I Thought About Killing You,” where he admits he’s considered suicide. “They’ll say, ‘He died so young,’” West raps, thinking of what fans would utter if he ended it all. “I done had a bad case of too many bad days,” he continues in a relatable when it rains, it pours string of bars.

On Tuesday (June 5) fashion designer and billion-dollar brand boss Kate Spade was found dead at 55 in her New York City home. She reportedly hanged herself with a scarf. Another suicide. June 7 would have been Prince’s 60th birthday, had he not died of a fentanyl overdose in Spring 2016. The bottle that contained the drugs he used were not prescribed, nor was it labeled properly, suggesting he abused the painkiller and got the pills from an unofficial source. I wonder how many people genuinely asked him—a philanthropist who often gave in secrecy and offered his mentorship to gaggles of next-gen musicians—of his wellbeing.

Really, it’s possible that your “strong” friend may be putting on a front. A smile can be a deadly mask. The idea that a thoughtful conversation opening with an earnest “How are you?” can save someone from themselves is one that should be championed. Like the signs on New York City subway cars say to discourage crime, “If you see something, say something.”

If you catch someone you’re following on Twitter shoot out a thread of gloomy messages or lyrics to grim songs, it’s probably worth reaching out to them. Notice what people are connecting with. If someone sounds a bit off on the phone, try to come over and see them. Some people are screaming for help quietly.

I’d also like to encourage another sentiment: Check in on yourself. Ask yourself how you’re doing. How are you feeling? Not so hot? Talk to your friends. Don’t be scared to put yourself out there. See a therapist. It doesn’t make you weak.

Do something to help your emotions out of that rut. I’ve never been in a mental ditch deep enough to do anything drastic. Though I’ve surely been in the dumps and know that the power of my wife’s hug and kiss, a laugh on my cell with my parents or a solid text exchange with a homeboy can be transformative.

Others sniffing out your ills and coming to the rescue is awesome. But I just wanted to remind everyone to start within, then look beyond. Help yourself. Help others. Let’s all try to be the reason those close to us find peace here on Earth, instead of hoping it meets them in heaven.

My SZA Cover Story for Flaunt

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SZA’s Flaunt New Fantasy Issue Cover | image by Amanda Charchian

 


Can’t really explain why I didn’t post this cover story I did for Flaunt on here months ago. But this is a goodie. The interview happened just before SZA began prepping for her Coachella weekends. I met her on set for the cover shoot and from the start, I knew—at least—that she’d be warm and kind.

SZA | A Secret Garden at Wilshire and Park View

Her publicist guided her over to me. “This is Brad,” I heard her tell the singer as they approached. I extended my hand for a shake and for a split second I thought she was going to leave me hanging. SZA looked right past it. We all know that anxious feeling when you think you’re about to be made to look like a fool. It consumed me. Then, boom. She walked right into my chest for a hug. There was an awkward relief. “Oh!” I thought. “This is going be good and different.”

From there, she was pretty open and just the unique blend of quirky and cool that anyone who’s listened to her debut album Ctrl would expect her to be. We talked about insecurities, depression, and fantasies as she munched on her Shake Shack chicken burger.

 

SZA’s had a roller coaster existence as of late. On the high side, she just dropped her earthy “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” video, where she and Donald Glover get close in the forest. She can also be found making a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video, shooting a coy look our way before Glover gets loose on a car roof.

On the low end, she has reportedly run her voice ragged. When I saw her in May at the Forum performing during her set at TDE’s Championship Tour, she sounded solid. But her pipes, she said recently on Twitter, are busted. “My voice is permanently injured,” SZA wrote. She can be a bit dramatic at times, I notice. Top Dawg  CEO Anthony Tiffith just told fans, “ I will get her with the best doctors and she will be fine.” I believe him.

When SZA and I spoke, she said she’s anxious to get started on her sophomore album. Obviously, it’ll probably be a while before she’s at full strength in the studio. But if you’re looking to learn a bit more about the Jersey hugger, read my cover story here.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Mom put me on to Queen. She spent a good bit of time in London during her formative years in the ’80s. When I was a kid in the ’90s, we’d clean the crib while listening to Queen: Greatest Hits I & II. I can still see her dancing to “Radio Ga Ga” in our Silver Spring Towers apartment’s living room. “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Bicycle Race” used to be my jams!

Rami Malek’s looking good as Freddie. For a while, I was a bit bummed that Sacha Baron Cohen left this role behind. This trailer’s easing my nerves, though.

Maybe I’ll see it with Mom this fall.