Writing About SZA and Recovering from Ugly Duckling Syndrome

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SZA | image by Sage c/o RCA Records


 

Hey there. Want to read this thing I wrote about connecting to SZA’s music, being a recovering ugly duckling and happily making it to a confident place? Yeah? Well, here you go.

SZA Wished to be ‘Normal,’ But Like This Writer, She Did Much Better

One of the things I love most about my job is when I get to connect my life experiences to art and this was one of those times. My wife and I went to SZA’s concert in September. Prior to it I had been excited to see her live. Her debut album Ctrl was one of the year’s best. It’s narrative is one of a young woman finding herself in her world and feeling like she wasn’t enough of the things she admired in others. I tend to connect with artists who experienced what I’ll call an inferiority complex, feeling that they lack in blatant and not so obvious ways.

In my formative years, I was a skinny kid with glasses and jacked up teeth who envied the cool kids, but never managed to be one. I wasn’t invited to one birthday party or sleepover, nor did I do anything more than hug a girl that I crushed on back in high school. Nerd City, y’all. Population: me. I’m sure there were people who felt like me around. But just as the teenage experience for those who are quite far from Mr. Popular status is portrayed in the movies, it felt like an immensely lonely one.

Since then I’ve grown a bunch and become a person that I’m super happy with. And if you’ve heard Ctrl, it seems SZA has, too. When I first went to her show, I had no plan of writing the piece that it became. At first I wanted to make my story for Flaunt exclusively about her. But as we watched her perform, hearing the things she’d say between songs, I knew I’d have to write something that included me.

I don’t want to spoil your read by telling you why, so just go for it. Thanks for letting me share.

 

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Nike Air Force 1’s 35th B-Day and an Interview with Five Dope Designers

One of my goals when I joined Flaunt this summer was to work with brands that I’m a fan of. Throughout my career, I’ve mostly been a proper music journalist. But towards the end of 2016, I was blessed with opportunities to do a load of stories that connected music and fashion for Billboard. And now that I’m with Flaunt, I’m either writing or editing pieces that are fully fashion-oriented.

Nike’s Air Force 1: Stomping On Broken Glass, Bad Luck Be Damned

This year Nike celebrated the 35th anniversary of their Air Force 1 and use the birthday to give the white-on-white sneaks a fresh look via the lens of five premiere streetwear designers and influencers: Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, Acronym’s Errolson Hugh, Roc-a-Fella Records co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke, Just Don’s Don “Don C.” Crawley and musician Travis Scott. I’m a huge fan of each of them and spoke to the guys for the piece.

Building a relationship with Nike was also a big 2017 goal as well. I’m super excited to share the fun stuff we at Flaunt are working on in 2018 with them thanks to this story and the foundation it laid.  But in the meantime, check out my chat with the fellas. One of my favorite anecdotes in there comes from Biggs, who had a hilarious way of ensuring that his Airs 1s stayed clear of dirt and being stepped on in NYC streets back int the day. This is another one of my favorite interviews from my 2017.

 

 

Backstage with Charlie Puth

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Charlie Puth at Los Angeles’ Staples Center (July 12) | photo shot by David Romo

Here’s one reason why interviewing celebs and people who are interviewed often sometimes sucks: Their guards are especially heightened and they’re used to enduring awful “journalists” who ask mundane, unenthused, or worse, thirsty questions.

Among my goals as a question-asker is to make interviews feel more like conversations. Comfort is key. But even more than that, understanding that the best way to get a good conversation with essentially anyone is to actually care about the subject’s being and craft—not who they’re penetrating or some click-bait-ey topic of the moment. Fortunately for me, I spend the bulk of my time talking with creatives.

Charlie Puth Has More Heart and Soul Than You Know

So when I sat down with pop singer Charlie Puth after watching him rock at the Staples Center here in Los Angeles, I asked him about what I had just witnessed: Here’s this guy who’s known for super poppy songs and hooks like the one here alongside Wiz Khalifa—the most YouTubed music video ever.

But throughout his set, he sounded super soulful. So I asked him about where that came from. It was a bit of a pleasant surprise. And from there came a great conversation. Give it a read. I wasn’t a sucker journalist, maintained my integrity and you, the reader, get a good read. It’s one of my favorite interviews from this year.

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

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WILL YOU BE MY #WITNESS? 👁

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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.

Janet Jackson’s Birthday and Vid’ Style

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Janet Jackson | Michael Jackson’s “Scream” (1995)

 

Underappreciated legend Janet Jackson turned 51 today. Why isn’t she in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame yet? Why don’t I see more people wearing vintage Miss Jackson tees? How many of today’s alt-R&B singers are direct descendants of Janet’s quiet storm sleepers like Rhythm Nation’s “Lonely” or Janet‘s “Anytime, Anyplace” (Jhene Aiko, Tinashe…)? Ah, let’s talk about that another day.

5 of Janet Jackson’s Best Music Video Looks

Whipped up this fashion bit about Janet’s videos and the ‘fits she got off in them. Plenty of which wouldn’t look out of place on your favorite style blog.

In Jerseys or Versace Suits, Tupac was a ‘Fashion Killer’

 

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Tupac Shakur

 

Any Tupac Shakur fan will tell you that the rapper, actor, and activist was a layered individual—sweet, brash, thoughtful, aggressive, intelligent and witty are just a few attributes that could be accurately lobbed his way. But one that I think has been a bit forgotten is how stylish he was. This week marks the marks the 25-year anniversary of 2Pac’s first album, 2Pacalypse Now, making its Billboard chart debut (April 25, 1992).

The Enduring Legacy of Tupac’s Style 25 Years Later

To mark the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s impact on the fashion game, I connected with several stylists (my guy Memsor Kamarake, Brea Stinson, Wouri Vice, and Ty Hunter) and asked them about ‘Pac’s impact on the style world. Whether it was his iconic shoot with David LaChapelle, his role as Lucky in Poetic Justice, or his street style, Tupac still influences a lot of our favorite artists’ sense of fashion today.

“Tupac was one of the original fashion killers, pioneering the melding of street style—bandanas, gold chains, exposed boxers—with high fashion, which is now commonplace in mags and on runways worldwide.” – Memsor Kamarake, former VIBE Magazine Fashion Editor, current Stylist for Wendy Williams and The Wendy Williams Show.

Give it a read.

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