Category Archives: Journalism

Jennifer Lopez’s Best Hip-Hop Songs & Moments, Ranked

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Photo credit: YouTube

Before Jennifer Lopez landed the “role of a lifetime” in 1997 as the late Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in the biopic Selena, we were introduced to the aspiring singer-actress as Janet Jackson’s backup dancer in the video for “That’s The Way Love Goes” and as a Fly Girl on In Living Color, which was rooted in hip-hop culture.

Naturally, when Lopez ventured off into music, those influences followed her as an artist. “I love the hip-hop, I love the R&B; it’s gonna manifest itself in my music,” she told MTV News in 2013. Nearly 20 years after the release of On the 6, Lopez’s hip-hop collaborations have made her a familiar face within the community.

In celebration of the multi-faceted star’s 49th birthday this week, VIBE Viva ranked her greatest hip-hop tracks and moments throughout the decades.

Check it out below.

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13. “I’m Glad” (2002)

Don’t let the elegant harp strings on “I’m Glad” fool you. The mid-tempo track samples Schoolly D’s “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” Schoolly D has been recognized as the OG gangsta rapper; therefore, sampling anything from his discography proves that the World of Dance judge is a real G.

Co-written by Lopez herself, “I’m Glad” still goes hard to this day, and the accompanying Flashdance-inspired video ranks among her best.

12. “I’m Into You” feat. Lil Wayne (2011)

The island-flavored “I’m Into You” is hands down one of the most underrated songs of Lopez’s discography. And Lil Wayne’s clever wordplay is impressive, e.g., “You’re way too fly, I could be your jet fuel.” The second single released off Love? failed to crack the Top 40 in the U.S., which is absurd since “I’m Into You” is the perfect soundtrack for sipping piña coladas with the crew all summer. Reaching No. 9 on the U.K. Singles Chart, the Stargate-produced track further solidified Ms. Lopez’s international appeal.

11. “Get Right” (Remix) feat. Fabolous (2005)

Without a doubt, the lead single off Rebirth brought the funk, but Fabolous’ verse took it to the next level. “I ain’t Mr. Right, I’m Mr. Right Now,” he raps over those infectious horn riffs. Co-produced by On the 6 collaborator Corey Rooney, “Get Right” was a bit unorthodox at the time, but it translated into a classic J.Lo sound. Bonus points for the multiple characters (from a DJ to busy bartender to an exotic dancer) Lopez portrayed in the original video.

Read my latest piece for VIBE VIVA [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]. 

Twisted Sisters – EBONY June 2017 Issue

For the June issue of EBONY magazine, I interviewed lifestyle blogger Ashlei C. Turner about why naturalistas love twists as an alternative to box braids and locs as summer gets underway. We broke down the differences between Marley, Senegalese, Havana and Mali twists. Oh, and I see you Solange!

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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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Jurnee Smollettt-Bell

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.

5 Questions with Cosmopolitan’s Special Projects Director Laura Brounstein

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Cosmo’s Special Projects Director Laura Brounstein

With headlines like “5 Sex Positions to Maximize His Size” and “4 Women Get Real About How They Orgasm,” it’s not surprising that people have come to associate Cosmopolitan with mind-blowing sex tips and tricks.

Cosmo‘s Special Projects Director Laura Brounstein was well aware of that when she accepted the position nearly three years ago. Long before her days at Cosmo, Laura spent the first five years of her 21-year-long career (Seventeen, Ladies’ Home Journal, Self, etc.) producing segments for some of America’s favorite television shows. Think The View and Extra. And because everything in life comes full circle, Laura’s television background proved to be helpful when it came time for Cosmo‘s first-ever Fun Fearless Life weekend, a new live event series jam-packed with distinguished panelists aimed to inspire women to live fearlessly.

In case you’re wondering, part of Cosmo‘s revitalization a couple years ago – a significant increase in the amount of substantial, in-depth, well-reported stories – was made possible largely through Laura’s efforts. So yes, while Cosmo may always be associated with its sexier content, Laura and her colleagues are working nonstop to make sure their readers don’t sleep on everything else the 50-year-old publication has to offer.

While Laura has what many consider to be a dream job in an industry that can be incredibly tough to crack, she sees her latest gig as a way to help women everywhere (Cosmo prints in 35 languages and is available in more than 100 countries) realize and accomplish their dreams and take control of their lives while having a blast, which is Cosmo‘s mission in a nutshell.

Here, we pick the brain of the woman who Folio magazine named as one of its “Thirty under 30” back in 2000. Nearly 16 years later, Laura’s still making waves in the media world. In a nearly 40-minute conversation with Laura, the self-proclaimed pop culture and political junkie dishes on why she traded in television for magazines and what it’s like reporting to Cosmo‘s Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles.

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Carrie Underwood gracing the cover of Cosmo’s current issue.

A Royal Point of View: You worked as a producer for many well-known television shows, such as Good Morning America, Extra and The View. What made you switch from producing segments for television to writing and editing stories for magazines?

Laura Brounstein: My last job in television was for a magazine show that had gotten really tabloidy. I spent two years there and learned how to produce and track down any stories and get comfortable with interviewing anybody. It was amazing, but again, it had gotten really tabloidly. More and more, I found myself spending my days standing outside places that somebody might walk out of because we had to grab them for an interview. I was just like, “I don’t want to be doing this. These are not the kind of stories I want to tell and this is not how I want to be engaging with people. This is the not the kind of journalism I want to be doing.” It didn’t feel like a good thing. For people who do that kind of journalism successfully and find a way to tell good stories and find it satisfying, that is great and I respect that, but it wasn’t what felt comfortable for me at that time.

So, I kind of stepped back and asked myself, “What kind of change do I want to make?” and I thought there was something attractive in that moment about going from a nightly show to a monthly publication, where you had a little more time to tell a story. I started looking at media that I thought had a positive voice. Right at that time, I heard that Seventeen Magazine was looking for a new entertainment editor and I thought, “I can’t think of anything that feels more positive and that I have more memories and connections to than Seventeen Magazine.”

A Royal Point of View: You’ve been at Cosmo for nearly three years now. How do most people react when you tell them you work at Cosmo?

Laura Brounstein: I think it depends on who it is. Those who haven’t picked up the magazine in a while associate Cosmo with its sexier content, so I get some fun responses regarding that. A lot of people do know about the legacy and how Helen Gurley Brown changed the media world and the possibilities for modern women’s magazines. It was one of the first magazines to talk about all the avenues of possibilities for women in an unapologetic way and in a way that nobody else was really doing it.

Today, I think people, especially in the media world, know that in addition to our sexy content, Cosmo has some really strong work in terms of women empowerment, career, money and health and we are unapologetically feminist. It’s the first magazine I’ve ever worked at that takes a strong stance on things and I love that. Most magazines are very set on, “Well, let’s look at both sides of the argument,” whereas Cosmo is like, “Of course, we’re pro-choice. Of course, we need access to affordable birth control and medicine and of course, women need to be paid the same as men.” That’s exciting and I think people in the media world know that.

A Royal Point of View: You are Cosmo’s special project director – how is that different than being an editor?

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Laura Brounstein at Cosmo’s 2014 Fun Fearless Life Conference at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Laura Brounstein: One of the great things about working at Cosmo and working with Joanna Coles is that you can be really entrepreneurial in your job and find lots of different places to contribute. One of the central parts of my job as special projects director is creating the programming and concepts for our editorial events. The biggest one is, of course, Cosmo‘s Fun Fearless Life and that is a live-reader event. We just announced that this year’s Fun Fearless Life event will be on Nov. 20 and it will be at the Hearst Tower. So, I get to come up with the programming and that means finding speakers that I think will be most interesting, inspiring and helpful to women in their 20s, who want to spend their weekend with us and walk away feeling better equipped and inspired to achieve what they are dreaming of. I love that I get to draw on my past as a producer and think about what’s going to make a great show and what’s going to have the most impact. That’s a big part of what I do. Additionally, I edit and write stories for the magazine that are like projects in and of themselves.

A Royal Point of View: Is there a memorable experience that stands out during your time at Cosmo so far?

Laura Brounstein: Definitely. Last year, after all the work of creating Fun Fearless Life out of nothing, there was a moment when Joanna Coles first came out on the stage at Lincoln Center and I looked out and the audience was filled with about 2,000 people cheering and just so happy to be there. That was a huge thrill because it took months of work trying to figure out what this was supposed to be and how to make it valuable and how to make it something people wanted to attend. Seeing everyone enjoying it and getting out of it what we all hoped they would was an incredible moment.

Another one is being able to meet Hillary Clinton and work with her team at the No Ceilings initiative for a story last year. That was amazing.

A Royal Point of View: What advice do you have for up-and-coming journalists who still have the desire to write and work for print when the industry is constantly moving toward the digital side?

Laura Brounstein: People still love magazines. There is a moment in your day where sitting down with a magazine or a newspaper is fantastic and then there are times when you just want to look at Twitter and click through stories. I think a lot of people enjoy getting information and engaging with media both ways. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

There are lot of ways to get to the job or career you’re dreaming of and for me, it was television and PR. More now than ever, especially because we’re so multi-platform, the more different experiences in different areas you have, the richer you’re experience will be and the more you’ll bring to the table. I think worrying too much about taking a straight path to your goals distracts from you great opportunities and moments.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Follow Laura Brounstein on Twitter and be sure to pick up Cosmo’s current issue on newsstands now! Subscribe here.