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.

Lenny Kravitz Does A Lot On The Side

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Lenny Kravitz, wearing his LK 01 Rolex Daytona | shot by Mathieu Bitton

 

Lenny Kravitz has a line of door knobs. Did you know that? What about a tote bag? He’s got that, too. And don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only his name behind them. The musician/actor also designed them. I mention all this because I was quite surprised to find it all out when I spoke to him earlier this week for Billboard about his endeavors outside of his Rock ‘n’ Roll smashes.

Lenny Kravitz on Design, Repurposing Rich People’s Toss-Outs & Not Being The Jerk He Plays on Fox’s Star

After telling him that my mother said hello and talking about the time she rooted for a then broken-legged Kravitz as he co-headlined a Washington D.C. gig with Aerosmith years ago (“I didn’t sit!” he recalled proudly. “I stood the whole time and finished the tour!), we spoke about Kravitz Design. That’s where he and his team work on projects like Kravitz’s collaboration with Fred Segal. Or Leica cameras. Or the cool-ass Rolex Daytona he designed with the acclaimed watch brand and released towards the end of 2016.

It was a fun convo. We talked about how he really doesn’t operate on regular people time, that day he basically wore a blanket as a scarf in NYC winters ago, and being a real designer. Give it a read.

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.

Guilty Pleasures & Confessions of a ’90s Kid: I Loved the Power Rangers

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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers | image c/o Saban Brands

 

As an adult, just about everything I’m into is no secret. What I love, I love out loud—I tweet about Knicks games‘Gram bits of concerts I hit and I recommend things I’ve read to buddies when we hang. But this hasn’t always been the case.

I kind of laugh at the idea of guilty pleasures, because I don’t have a Love & Hip-Hop or some other show synonymous with trash TV secretly holding a place on my DVR or in my heart. The idea of things in pop culture that I used to adore in secret came to mind a few months ago when the teaser for the newest incarnation of Power Rangers came out.

It immediately made me think about the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers live-action Fox series that debuted in the fall of 1993. I loved that show so much. It had martial arts and a Benettons-diverse collection of high school teens dealing with young heartaches, insecurities and such. It was like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Saved By the Bell in one. It may be the first true drama I watched day in, day out. It was straight riveting TV for a child yet to reach 10 years of age, as I was.

Though I hadn’t experienced a double-digit birthday, I did have a firm grasp of cool—at least what I knew my peers would tease me for liking. And as a kid who grew up with classmates that were much more excited about darker cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series or what Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan was doing on the basketball court, I was sure to keep my fandom for Jason, Billy, Trini, Kim, Zack and eventually Tommy close to the vest.

I remember scoring a power morpher and power com via McDonald’s Happy Meals and being geeked to bring them home and play.

My sister and I would detach the cardboard tube on wire hangers from the dry cleaners and pretend they were swords as we fought air monsters after transforming into Rangers. Those were great times, ones I never dared share with anyone who didn’t have the same last name as me. I also recall being incredibly fearful that I’d run into classmates when I saw Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie at City Place Mall down the street from my apartment building in ’95, months before I turned 10. It was my first guilty pleasure.

As I hope you have since your childhood, I’ve grown to be a way more confident person in my adult years, unafraid to say I like a lot of things that typically are either widely considered nerdy or not exactly intended for me to be a participant. For example, I love Project Runway (shout out to Tim Gunn!). Many might be surprised to find a straight 6’5 Black man glued to Lifetime TV as he prays that his favorite designer’s dress wins the weekly competition. But I digress.

Yesterday, Lionsgate released the second trailer for Power Rangers, out this March. They debuted their updated costumes, gave us a look at Bryan Cranston’s Zordon, Bill Hader’s friendly automaton Alpha 5 and even a quick glimpse of their Megazord. For the two minutes I spent watching that great preview, I felt a bit like that child I was, happily letting my imagination roam free of reality’s restraints. It’s even better to watch stuff like this now, because I actually have the balls to be fun-loving big kid out loud, one who doesn’t care if you think I’m a “grown-ass man” who shouldn’t enjoy watching the rainbow crew defend Earth for two hours.

Nah, I say. It’s morphin time, bruh. The Rangers are getting my dollars come March 24.

Thinking Back to When Childish Gambino Wasn’t Black Enough

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Donald Glover | c/o Glassnote Records

 

About five years ago I interviewed Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover. It was a two-parter. For the first, I met him at Brooklyn Bowl. It was Halloween 2011 and the actor/musician was performing in costume, dressed as a park ranger in a fitted tan uniform with very short shorts. Glover is Black. At the time, the bulk of his fans were not. I noticed. The next day, while he was on his tour bus headed to Maryland, we spoke on the phone about that, the fact that he was uncool to most average Black Hip-Hop fans, and how his raps about struggling with his African American identity couldn’t win them over—even with artists like Kanye West making it okay to be emotionally available via song.

Childish Gambino: ‘J. Cole and Drake are Way Cooler Than Me’

“Drake wears gold chains,” he explained in stand-up comic fashion. “I could never pull off wearing chains. J. Cole’s been to jail. I haven’t.” Those were, and to some degree still are, the templates of star rappers (not to dismiss the aforementioned rhymers, because they’re talented as hell). And Glover, someone who’d been called “Oreo” because he was Black on the outside but loved “white things” like above the knee shorts, could not relate.

With the 2016 Glover’s had it’s a great time to look back on that interview, to think back to a time when Childish was a middling rapper, part of an ensemble cast on a big NBC comedy, and most importantly, someone who wasn’t Black enough to be embraced by his own people.

In the last few months, Glover’s written and starred in FX comedy Atlanta, which has put a kaleidoscope on a city that’s essentially been seen through the same pair of trap and dance lenses for the last decade by addressing race, class, our judicial system, love and more from several Black perspectives while tossing in enough jokes to make viewers both laugh with and at slice of life stories. Atlanta opened to rave reviews and is bound to clean up during awards season (Glover won Best Actor in a Comedy at last weekend’s Critics Choice Awards, then the show was nominated for two Golden Globes).

And two weeks ago, Gambino released his third proper album, Awaken, My Love. It’s a funk-soul record absent of any rapping, just woozy falsettos and sobering lyrics reflective of the experience his not-so-famous peers live daily. It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B Albums chart.

Dude I'm so fucked up right now. I can't even form the proper hyperbolic sentence to explain to D'angleo why I woke him up at 4am to listen to this. I'm like—when is the last time someone sucker punched me on this level…..I mean I knew #AroundTheWorldInADay was coming & it was a left turn—I'm about to blow the wigs off music historians… but I thought I was getting some fresh millennial 2016 hip hop shit and I got sucker punched. The last sucker punch in black music I remember in which NOONE had a clue what was coming was Sly's #TheresARiotGoinOn—read my IG about it (the flag)—I'm writing in real time cause —Jesus Christ the co-author of #WearwolfBarmitzvah just SONNED the shit outta me. In the best way possible. I was NOT expecting a trip to Detroit circa 1972 at United Sound Studios. I haven't written or been stunned by an album I wasn't expecting since that time I got an advance of #BackToBlack. The music is so lush man, I can see the kaleidoscope color mesh of the #Westbound logo. Dude I can't curb my enthusiasm. All I know is if #P4k try to play him again with these ratings there WILL be a riot goin on.

A post shared by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on

 

Both Atlanta and My Love are evidence of Glover’s intrinsic Blackness. Nothing on Atlanta feels forced or effort-packed. Nothing about Gambino’s foray to funky town sounds pretentious (Complex didn’t agree. But Questlove, who plays a vital role in D’Angelo’s output loves it. So I’ll side with Quest). It all rings true. If there was a part of him that ever felt it needed validation from the Black community that hated on (or maybe worse, pretended he didn’t exist) Gambino because he was too white or not “down” enough, I hope it’s long been filled with self-assurance. With the success Glover’s had this year, it’s evident that he’s always been down and it’s the folks who labeled him lame that are the corny ones. Just look at him singing “Redbone,” for crying out loud.

In 2017 Donald has a role in Spiderman: Homecoming and in the next installment of Star Wars as a young Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams was the original). He returns with season two of Atlanta and likely will go on tour for My Love. Not bad for an awkward Black boy. So while he’s still apt to do interviews with his feet out, let’s not question which culture he’s most connected with. He’ll always be a top pick in the Black delegation’s racial draft if I have anything to do with it.

Logan, An Old Man Beasting One Last Time

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Still from Logan‘s trailer | c/o 20th Century Fox

 

I’m beyond geeked for this Logan movie. From this trailer, I love that it’ll really zone in on present day Wolverine. I prefer one developed character than umpteen underdeveloped heroes, which is the trap the last X-Men movie fell into by teasing us with appearances from several noteworthy faces without giving them shining moments or backstories.

That SUPER Feeling, X-Men: Apocalypse and Drake

There’s a film noir/ Mad Max feel here. From the looks of it, there won’t be any sunny days in this movie. No gloss or sheen of cheer. Hugh Jackman’s final run at Logan is weathered, old and beaten up (they even have miserable-ass Johnny Cash singing in the trailer. A perfect pairing.).

He’s gotten a haircut and the grays have come in bunches. And it will be R-rated, which means violence will reach savage levels.

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from Logan‘s UK trailer | c/o 20th Century Fox UK

 

I CAN’T WAIT! But first, a few questions:

  • Why are his hands trembling? Is he sick?
  • Whose funeral is Logan attending? “Mutants, they’re gone now,” Logan says to Professor X. Reminds me of this scene from the old animated series.
  • Why is he scarred up? Does his healing power not work? Does it work just enough to heal himself, but not get him back to 100% like it used to?
  • Who’s the little girl?
  • Who’s blank face? And does he know Schoolboy?

All answers will come on March 3, 2017 when this flick comes out.