A Ranking Of Beyoncé’s ‘Dangerously In Love’ Tracklist

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Credit: Genius

Going it alone takes guts, especially when you’ve spent over half of your life as the frontwoman of a wildly successful group, selling millions of records and establishing a mountain of platinum hits. Riding solo means that the public’s criticism grows harsher and the expectations become preposterously higher, but Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter pulled off the transition seamlessly.

At the time, R&B trio Destiny’s Child, who started their musical career in 1990 as Girl’s Tyme, were on a hiatus. Michelle Williams’ Heart to Yours and Kelly Rowland’s Simply Deep were both released within six months of each other respectively. Beyoncé was riding high off the success of Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Fighting Temptations, as well as the smash hit “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde” with future hubby JAY-Z.

Meanwhile, the young starlet’s first solo project was quietly bubbling beneath the surface.

Behind the scenes, Beyoncé was patiently waiting for her turn to dazzle critics. The long-awaited Dangerously In Love had been postponed, which allowed the then 21-year-old more time to record additional tracks, including “Crazy In Love.” Determined to carve out her own destiny (pun intended), Beyoncé enlisted several well-known hitmakers, including Rich Harrison, Scott Storch, Missy Elliot and Bryce Wilson, to create the most anticipated album of 2003.

Read my latest piece for VIBE [here].

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How Zelda Wynn Valdes reinvented fashion

This designer you’ve never heard of was the go-to designer of the midcentury freakum dress, and made sure every Playboy Bunny’s seam was pressed to perfection.

 

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Love it or hate it, the infamous Playboy bunny suit — iconic strapless corset, bunny ears, pantyhose, bow tie, collar, cuffs, and fluffy cottontail — will forever be immortalized in popular culture as a symbol of female seduction and allure.

But what you probably didn’t know was that Zelda Wynn Valdes, a black woman, sewed the original costumes — and that the late Hugh Hefner personally commissioned her to do it.

“Fitting curvaceous women was what Zelda did, so it was a perfect fit,” says Nancy Deihl, author of “The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovery 20th-Century Women Designers” and director of New York University’s costume studies program. “Even though she’s [often] erroneously credited with the costume’s [original] design, it’s been the key thing that’s led to the rediscovery of her.”

But of course, there’s so much more to this incredible woman’s legacy than Hefner’s vision and Playboy lifestyle. The eldest of seven children, Valdes (born as Zelda Christian Barbour) was raised in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where she learned to sew from watching her grandmother’s seamstress. Her first attempt at design came when she offered to create a dress for her grandmother. “She said, ‘Daughter, you can’t sew for me. I’m too tall and too big,'” Valdes recalled in a 1994 interview with The New York Times, but the dress she created was a perfect fit. After graduating from Chambersburg High School in 1923, her immediate family moved to White Plains, New York, where Valdes worked at her uncle’s tailoring shop. In the 1930s, she worked as a stock girl at an upscale boutique, where she eventually became the first black sales clerk and tailor. In 1948, Valdes opened her own boutique, called Chez Zelda, making her the first black person to own a store on Broadway in Manhattan.

In her store, Valdes sold her signature low-cut, body hugging gowns, which unapologetically extenuated a woman’s curves. Valdes’ sexy-but-sophisticated dresses were worn and adored by Josephine Baker, Diahann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge, Ruby Dee, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West, to name a few. She even designed Maria Ellington’s “Blue Ice” wedding dress when she walked down the aisle and tied the knot with jazz singer Nat King Cole in 1948.

Read more of my latest piece for Shondaland [here]. 

10 Years Later: Mariah Carey’s ‘E=MC²’ Tracklist, Ranked

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Credit: Apple Music

Following a massively successful album would be a daunting task for most artists. But in 2008, musical icon Mariah Carey eagerly accepted the challenge when she released the long-awaited E=MC².

The 14-track LP felt like a continuation of The Emancipation of Mimi, which was dubbed as Carey’s comeback album. Earning a whopping 10 Grammy Award nominations, TEOMwas a pivotal career moment, and it went on to produce the smash hits, “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us.” Selling an upwards of 10 million copies worldwide, MC silenced naysayers and proved that she was capable of achieving commercial success after experiencing a mini career slump in the early 2000s.

As acts like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift started to hit their prime respectively, critics foolishly pondered Carey’s lasting power when E=MC² arrived on this day in 2008, claiming that it offered no new feels from its predecessor. During that time, R&B became stagnant and was experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis, but Carey working with people like The-Dream helped keep the genre fresh. The album was also another step in her journey to creative freedom.

“Basically, I’m freer on this album than I’ve ever been. Some of the songs on the last album were cool but maybe not quite as neat as this album,” Carey told The Sun’s “Something for the Weekend,” explaining the album’s physics-inspired title, which can also be seen as a not-so-subtle nod to the singer-songwriter’s musical genius. In a separate interview, she said, “This album is so much about fun and freedom and just the continuation of me feeling emancipated … people ask me all the time, ‘How do you stay relevant? How do you stay current? How do you make music that people continue to respond to?’ You just keep being real, keep being you, stay true to who you were from the beginning.”

Read my latest piece for VIBE [here].

Adorned Beauty – Ebony April/May 2017 Issue

For the April/June issue of EBONY magazine, I dove into the history of hair ornaments and how the look came back strong, from what beaded braids signify in South Africa to the role celebrities such as Miriam Makeba and Solange played in modernizing beaded braids in popular culture. In this particular piece, I spoke with Tanisha C. Ford, author of Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.

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Dreams really do come true!

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After years of grinding (and plenty of daydreaming), I finally landed my very first byline in EBONY magazine, and I have to say there’s nothing like seeing your name and words in a publication as legendary as EBONY.

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On page 43, I dive into the rich yet unknown history of headwraps and why Black women continue to wear them today. Going back to the summer of 2012, I can recall those afternoons when all I did was study the magazine from front to back, dreaming of the day when I would see my words grace its pages. Major shout out to Marielle Bobo, the magazine’s fashion and beauty director, for asking me to take on this piece after noticing some of my online work with EBONY.com’s “Detangling Our Roots” series.

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The March issue with the gorgeous Jurnee Smollett-Bell slaying the cover is on newsstands now. And yep, that’s my face there on the Contributors page.

5 ways to get those coins as a freelancer

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Last summer, I landed my first job out of college. The pay is good, but I continue to freelance. Why? Because I believe in hustling hard. However, in the past few months, I faced some difficult decisions. I let go a client because 1) I wasn’t getting paid enough and 2) The work was no longer fulfilling or challenging. I felt stifled. My decision to leave paid off because I can now focus my attention on stories I’m most passionate about.

When 2016 rolled around, I set some clear guidelines for myself: 1) Pitch better-paying publications, 2) Do not write for anything less than three digits, and 3) Do not write for free—period. I’m at a place in my career where I want to write smarter. Why write 20 stories a month for $30 each when you can write a fraction of stories for more money?

Since I started writing professionally, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve provided my services for free. Luckily, most of those writing gigs turned into paid ones, but it’s not a chance I’d take today. My time and words are too valuable.

Today I’m spilling all the secrets (and some tea) when it comes to getting that fetti as a freelancer. Get comfy and grab a notepad because like Bey said, “Best revenge is yo paper.”

  1. Don’t beat around the bush.

An editor with good intentions will tell you the moment after accepting your pitch whether you will be paid, but don’t count on it. Don’t make the mistake of letting too many emails go by without asking. After reaching an agreement about the story’s details, you can say something along the lines of, “I look forward to writing a great story that you and your readers will enjoy. What is your budget for this story?” Tasteful, but you still get your point across. A legitimate publication will throw out an exact amount. Can’t get a straight answer? Take that as a sign and move on to the next.

  1. Do your research. 

One of my favorite websites is Who Pays Writers? because freelance writers can anonymously post what publications pay writers and if so, how much. Type in the publication you want to write for and watch the results pour in. Not only can you see how much that publication pays its writers, but you can also find out how long it took to receive payment, the length of the piece, platform (online, print, etc.), the extent of reporting involved, etc.

The publication you pitch pays $250 per article, but you’re offered $125? Instead of accepting the first number thrown your way, you can bargain. Who Pays Writers is great because it levels out the playing field between editors and the writers who pitch them.

  1. Always renegotiate. 

Whenever the New Year rolls around, I renegotiate my rates. Lots of folks shy away from asking for a raise. Just do it! The worst your editor can say is no. Not sure how to ask for one? Here’s an example that worked for me:

Dear XXX,

As a contributor for XXX, I’ve taken on the in-depth features that tackle the tough topics, including A, B, C, D, and my most-recent story that focused on E. There is more reporting and investigative work required to complete these types of pieces from researching the topic to conducting and transcribing multiple interviews. As you know, I am currently being paid XXX per article, but I’m asking for an increase that XXX’s budget will allow. I’d like to earn XXX per story. Is this possible? Thank you so much for your consideration. I’ve enjoyed writing for XXX and working with you these past few years and look forward to contributing to XXX in the coming years.

  1. Establish a contract.

Many publications prefer to make verbal agreements rather than writing up an actual contract. Why are contracts important? They protect you and the publication you’re writing for. If months go by and you haven’t been paid, you can feel secure knowing you’ve got a contract. Emails are nice, but how well do they hold up in court? I don’t know.

If your editor doesn’t mention a contract, ask for one. It doesn’t have to be long. Most of the contracts I’ve signed tend to be around two pages. Or, draw up your own for a publication you don’t already have a formal contract with using Contractually.

  1. Look at the bigger picture.

Getting checks in the mail doesn’t mean you’re getting ahead. Hear me out: I once wrote for a publication that provided a monthly $50 stipend. I produced around eight pieces per month and each post was anywhere from 800 to 1,500 words. When you break it down, I was being taken advantage of, but you live and learn, right? Always ask yourself: “Is the amount of time I spent writing and researching this story reflective in my paycheck?” If the answer is no, rethink your situation.