Category Archives: Journalism

A Ranking Of Beyonce’s ‘I Am…Sasha Fierce’ Deluxe Tracklist

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Credit: Tidal

With two wildly successful solo albums and 10 Grammy wins already behind her, Beyoncé’s desire to grow as an artist led her to experiment with new concepts and genres on 2008’s I Am… Sasha Fierce, including folk (“If I Were a Boy”), alternative rock (“Smash Into You”) and electropop (“Sweet Dreams”).

Beyoncé, a true renaissance woman, is notoriously private in interviews, leaving the Beyhive to wonder what the superstar is like off stage. Luckily for us, the hardest-working woman in show business made a conscious effort to give fans a glimpse into her world on her third studio LP, I Am… Sasha Fierce– a double-disc album intended to show off the two facets of Beyoncé’s personality. The I Am… disc consists of all stripped-down ballads, whilst the edgy material on Sasha Fierce boasts Bey’s sexy alter ego and reinforces female empowerment.

“I know that people see celebrities, and they seem like they’re so perfect—they seem like their life is so great, and they have money and fame,” Beyoncé told MTV News at the time of the album’s release. “But I’m a human being. I cry. I’m very passionate and sensitive. My feelings get hurt. I get scared and nervous like everyone else. And I wanted to show that about myself.”

The entertainer’s transparency was rewarded in the coming weeks, months and years. Debuting atop the Billboard 200, I Am… Sasha Fierce sold 482,000 units in its first week and went on to sell over eight million copies worldwide. In addition, the album was certified double platinum by the RIAA and racked up a record-breaking six Grammy awards in one night, including Song of the Year for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”

To celebrate I Am… Sasha Fierce’s 10th anniversary, VIBE ranked every song on the album’s deluxe edition.

Read my latest story for Vibe [here].

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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].

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.