Posts filed under music

Black Funk Icon Betty Davis is Finally Getting Her Life Story Told With New Biopic

Unless you're a fan of the deep, hardcore funk, you've likely never heard of a woman named Betty Mabry Davis. Which is a shame because Davis not only was the inspiration behind Miles Davis' 70s jazz-fusion sound, but she was a creative force in her own right and broke ground in music for women to be independent creatives, to be in charge of their sexuality, and to just be in charge of their badassery.

When I first heard of Betty, I was still an undergrad student at Georgia State University and I was rocking out in my parents' kitchen to Joi's "If I'm In Luck I Might Just Get Picked Up" from her amazing Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome album. At the time I thought the hard-rocking, saucy, guitar-fueled sex anthem came directly from the modern funk queen that is Joi herself. But my father, who was cooking up a saucy dish of his own, stopped me mid-song and informed me, to my surprise, that Joi was just the soul daughter of the original queen of funk. "Hey! She copied Betty Davis!" he said. I turned around to him and said "who is that?!" My dad repeated that name that sounded so old and foreign to me and after seeing the look of confusion still on my face, he proceeded to walk me to the hallway closet where he kept his immaculate collection of old records and pulled out Betty's eponymous debut album. 

Listening to her for the first time, I found myself bombarded with a furious feminine roar that I just wasn't used to. Less so of a singer, and more so a creative entity, Betty growled, roared, screeched and seductively sing-talked on the record over 70s funk rhythms and riffs that this late 80s baby just wasn't used to. Betty's voice went against everything I was taught by the media, the radio, and my years of being an R&B fan about what black women should sound like on wax. She seemed like a wild woman whose songs defied the constructs and dams of R&B and Soul and flooded themselves with Rock, Funk and the edgiest of the Blues.  In short, Betty was....different. And I didn't think I was ready for that kind of strange flavor in my ear.

As the days went on though, I found myself seeking out this strange sound from Betty more and more. It got to the point where I was pulling out that old record every day and playing in my parents' living room and my father watched on as he'd converted his youngest son into a fan of one of his musical favs. From that point on, I went on a ferocious search to find out everything I could about Betty and to hear every piece of music of hers that I could get my hands on. I was hooked and I wanted more and I wanted the world around me to know of her too.

What I ended up discovering was that Betty was a small town girl who grew up to become an it-girl and club host in NYC who parlayed her connections into a job as a songwriter in the music world, her first major credit being "Uptown (To Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers. Betty also became a successful model, posing for the likes of Ebony and Cosmopolitan, and walking the runway for the likes of Halston. After giving up her strut on the runway, Betty befriended the likes of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, and she also ended up meeting and marrying Jazz icon Miles Davis. Betty's relationship with Miles was transformative for the icon, whose sound completely changed after meeting. However, the marriage was lasted only a year, thanks to Miles' violent temper, and Betty struck out on her own to follow her musical dreams. 

Betty went on to write and co-produce/produce, something unheard of for women back then, three albums in the early 70s: Betty Davis, They Say I'm Different, and Nasty Gal. Betty quickly became an underground hit and toured the world to packed venues. Her staged shows even gained comparisons to the top male rock stars of the 70s and it seemed like Betty was finally living the life she dreamt of. 

However, things all that glitters isn't gold and Betty's career had its own sufferings. For one, her provocative lyrics and empowered sexual image left her banned from some clubs and radio stations and she even received bomb threats from angry critics. Also, her albums weren't commercial successes and when she sent in a fourth album, Is it Love Or Desire, to her label at the time, they decided to shelve the project (it wouldn't see the light of day till 2009) and pushing for her to soften her image and relinquish control of her writing and production to paid writers and producers. 

After failed studio sessions, Betty quietly walked away from the industry and fans have heard little to nothing from her over the past 30 years. 

But now Betty is finally ready to talk and tell her story. And thanks to filmmakers Phil Cox and Damon Smith, Betty's story can finally be seen by the masses as they're currently working on the first-ever biopic on the reclusive singer-songwriter, Nasty Gal: The Many Lives of Funk Singer Betty Davis. Betty has even decided to share her story rights with the film's production company, Native Voice Films, and will appear on camera for the first time in decades as a part of the project.

“Although I’ve been silent for a long time,” said Davis in a press release for the film, “I feel it’s important to help shape my legacy while I’m alive by returning my story and music to people who will value it and learn from it. I am excited to be a part of this project and hope it finds the support it needs.”

The filmmakers also reveal that the film will use an interesting blend of fiction and nonfiction to tell Betty's story.

"Although substantially based on vital present-day testimonies from Betty's closest confidantes, we will tell this story using never-before-seen archive, interviews, and fact-based, cinematic reconstructions performed by a high-profile actress/music personality and scripted with Betty’s own words. Within the film there will be moments of a large-scale, professionally produced Betty Davis tribute concert in her hometown of Pittsburgh, performed by members of her ’70s bands, legendary contemporary artists, and many of the interviewees in the film. This benefit concert, whose proceeds will go to help Betty herself,  we hope will be the first time that Betty shows herself to the public again," reads the film's indiegogo page.

“We are honoured to be collaborating with Betty on her life story,” said directors Phil Cox and Damon Smith. “She is a larger-than-life global icon whose influence on music and fashion is indelible, from Prince to Erykah Badu, and her celebration onscreen is long overdue. We intend to make this film in the same unapologetically independent spirit in which Betty conducted her professional life, long before it was hip for a woman to be completely in charge.”

However, production on the film and concert aren't done yet and the filmmakers need help from fans to see the project all the way through. Nasty Gal is seeking to raise $65,000 on Indiegogo by November 10 to cover archive and music licensing and support principal photography for the feature-length film when it goes into production later this fall.

Please help this film to see the light of day and contribute to its indiegogo page. Also visit the film's Facebook page, which like the indiegogo page, features several photos, videos and factoids about Betty.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on October 25, 2015 and filed under current events, history, music.

The Instrument of Marley, the Name of Mandela, a Movement in Kenya

The Ethics & the Arts Program and 50 Shades of Black Present:

A Foresee Films Production


When: October 30, 2014  7pm - 10pm
Where: Emory University Center for Ethics

1531 Dickey Drive
Atlanta, GA  30322

Join us for the free public screening of "Maramaso" and conversation with the film director

"Maramaso" is a documentary that follows peace activist/musician Nelson Mandela Akello as he attempts to use his music to dissuade tribal violence during the hotly contested 2013 Kenyan presidential elections.

"Maramaso" was directed and edited by Emory alumna, Laura Asherman, produced by Ashley Beckett and shot by Atlanta-based cinematographer, Michael Morgan. "Maramaso" was an official selection of the Film Aid International Film Festival.

"Maramaso" was narrated by 50 Shades of Black creator Carlton Mackey.

Free visitor parking is available at 29 Eagle Row (on campus).

Posted on October 28, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, music.

Truth Tella - Cakes da Killa #beOUT (Afro Punk Prelude)

Cakes Da Kill at Afro Punk 2013

Cakes Da Kill at Afro Punk 2013

Because Cakes Da Killa will be performing at AfroPunk Fest in Brooklyn this year, I thought I'd add these opinions of mine: Cakes da Killa is the best new rapper of any style. It’s the flow. If the Notorious B.I.G was an effeminate gay man, he would sound like this. There have been a handful of openly queer rappers over the course of the past decade, but none of them quite like this one.

Identity is important on this site, so I’ll identify as one of the oldest people that identify as a Millennial and I’m a Hip Hop kid, all grown up. I’ve been seeking the truth from the beginning, which is not the same as perceived authenticity. For those reasons I’m a 50cent over Ja Rule kind of guy, I’m a Kool Moe Dee over LL Cool J kind of guy, a Ice Cube over Common kind of guy, a Lil Kim over Foxy Brown kind of guy…the same kind of guy who will not comment on Nas vs Jay-Z. To those family feud points, Hip Hop has always been aggressive and brutally honest; as a result, it has always been offensive. Every transition has come with a new truth teller. Ignorant people will always find a reason to be offended; Reference Kevin Hart in 40 Year Old Virgin.  Q-Tip on his perfect J.Period tribute said it best, or at least as well as anyone in the genre could have:

“It was a rebellious music, y’nahmean? It was the ghetto folk that wasn’t supposed to really have a voice. We just had just came out of the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and all this and all that. Then here comes this music and it’s the perfect description; this music describes us perfectly because it’s not taught, we at this point had poor education. We didnt have access to a lot of instruments, it was a voiceless music. We had been theoretically robbed of our whole voice as a people. So here’s this symbolic art form called Hip Hop where the music aspect of Hip Hop – it embodies us taking from only what’s there, we can only take from what’s there – we had the records that’s what we used, that’s what Flash used, that’s what Herc used, thats what Bambatta used. We could only take from what’s there, we didn’t really have a voice ? So we had to use it to talk… that’s kind of it in a nutshell.” 

This relatively ignorant art form is all about being OUT. Rashard Bradshaw better known as Cakes Da Killa is the raw deal of what life is like for an early 20-something gay man today, and he is bring a bottom's perspective. Educate yourself on the langauge, as there have been too many in-depth articles on him to mention here. I only thought to mention him because of a video I stumbled upon from Too $hort showing how being out changes the minds of people. Kudos to Rashard for showing off on these two mix tapes…download: Hunger Pangs  (2014) The Eulogy (2013)

Different than the trivializing of black gay culture, which is not synonymous with that of LGBT culture in general Cakes Da Killa steps outside of the surface level lyrics of someone like Fly Young Red who states the obvious over standard Hip Hop loops with the acclaim of his 2014 track Throw That Boy Pussy. Yes Red,  the world is aware of the anal sex and your music might as well be a straight man's point of view on gay sexual interaction. I don't mean to suggest that he has no business creating the ground breaking music that he does, but there is more depth to Cakes. Similar to NWA, Rakim, Snoop Dog, Biggie, Lil Kim, and yes Drake he has provided a new series of authentic slang specific to his culture along with a new series of instrumental sounds derived from the gay ball scene to produce an entirely new yet rhythmically viable sound. Sometimes it takes a college sophomore who just raps because he can to lead the way....

writer, cultural critic, special contributor to 50 Shades of Black

Posted on August 16, 2014 and filed under LGBT, personal stories, music.

50 Shades of Black unites Brooklyn Artists for CONVO

50 Shades of Black and Pepper present: CONVO

Drinks | Music | Art | Conversation

Thursday August 21st 
@ Elberta Restaurant
5pm - 8pm
335 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11217

CONVO is the first of a series of social gatherings and conversations centered around the contemporary re-imagination of The Black Aesthetics in the formation of identity.

CONVO combines the elements of a social unwind event, mix it with a pop up gallery featuring work of artist emersed in a particular city, and infuse it with stimulating conversation. 

CONVO Brooklyn Theme is - The Transatlantic: Becoming Who You Are 

CONVO will couple the illustrations of Adrian Franks with the photography of Dexter Jones and the beautiful designs of Paola Mathe and place them in dialogue with an exclusive essay written by Yahdon Israel to be released at this event.

featured artist:

Adrian Franks
Yahdon Israel
Dex R. Jones
Paola Mathe

Posted on August 16, 2014 and filed under art, community, Identity, music.

Jazz Is An Art Form that Mirrors the Complexity of Black Identity

Film producer, writer, and cellist Okorie Johnson reflects on the award winning independent film Titus & its themes of black identity, jazz music, the movie's cinematography/photography.  

Johnson was joined by Jazz WCLK personality RivaBlue for a post film conversation led by 50 Shades of Black creator Carlton Mackey on the 2014 Opening Day of the Pan African Film Festival.

Loosely based on the life and death of unsung jazz hero Clarence C Sharpe, ‘Titus’ is the story of an alto saxophonist whose prodigious gifts go largely unnoticed.  The film contains amazing artistic cinematic qualities and an original score by jazz giant Archie Schepp. Directed by Charlie Cattrall.

Posted on August 12, 2014 and filed under art, film, Identity, music.



Available In Theaters: September 26, 2014 OutKast's André Benjamin stars as Jimi Hendrix in this revealing biopic from Academy Award-winning writer-director John Ridley (12 Years A Slave).

See Andre 3000 as Jimi Hendrix in Clip From 'All Is By My Side' Biopic

Exclusive footage from upcoming film shows guitarist grappling with decision to move to London in this exclusive Rolling Stone video clip.

Read more: 

Posted on July 23, 2014 and filed under art, music.

Radmilla Cody: Dine' (Navajo) & Nahilii (African American) Woman

Bridging the Gap with Radmilla Cody of Navajo and African heritage, and her Grandma Dorothy, Navajo (RIP)

Bridging the Gap with Radmilla Cody of Navajo and African heritage, and her Grandma Dorothy, Navajo (RIP)

...To reaffirm the statement on the choosing of my identity, I come from two beautiful cultures which I have embraced, bridged, balanced, and identify with. I am proud to be who I am as a Dine’ (Navajo) and Nahilii (African American) woman.
Hozho’, , & blessings...
— Radmilla Cody

Inspiring Radmilla is the award winner of the Record of the Year for her song "Shi Keyah Songs for the People".

With an angelic voice of bluebirds singing, Radmilla Cody, traditional Navajo recording artist, Indie Award Winner and two-time Native American Award Nominee continues to maintain Navajo culture by recording music that the Diné elders can be proud of and that children sing with pride.

She is of the Tla'a'schi'i' (Red-Orche-on-Cheek) clan and is born for the African-Americans. Radmilla is the 46th Miss Navajo Nation from 1997-98. Born and raised in the beautiful and picturesque plateaus of the Navajo Nation, Radmilla Cody's childhood consisted of herding sheep on foot and horseback, carding and spinning wool, and searching late into the night with her grandmother for lost sheep and their lambs. 

The highlight of her sheep herding days was standing in the sheep corral singing at the top of her lungs with the sheep and goats as her audience. "All that mattered at that time was the moment of living a dream," says Radmilla about her early life, which today has become a reality for the young musician. A survivor of domestic violence, Radmilla uses her personal experiences to advocate strongly against the epidemic of violence. 

It is an issue she has become very passionate about. As a biracial person she attempts to communicate positive messages about her dual identity to biracial or multiracial children who still bear the brunt of prejudice. 

Radmilla Cody is of the Tlaaschii (Red Bottom People) born for Nahillii (African American) and has traveled internationally to Kenya, South America, Japan, Germany, Netherlands, Russia, and Italy. 

She has earned a BS in Public Relations from Northern Arizona University and is pursuing a MA in Sociology. She was the 46th Miss Navajo and is the subject of “Hearing Radmilla”, a documentary produced and directed by Angela Webb. 

Radmilla is a domestic violence advocate and founder of “Strong Spirit…Life is Beautiful not Abusive” campaign which addresses teen dating violence. Her previous recordings for Canyon Records include Seed of Life, Spirit of a Woman and Precious Friends.

BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future 

This is the 15th of a weekly series called BRIDGING THE GAP curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of inspiring people and ancestors who contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world. We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

Each week we will feature a story of a historical figure & one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand and celebrate your OWN identity.

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.



Posted on June 27, 2014 and filed under africa, family, Identity, personal stories, music, race, religion and culture, skin tone.

Solange - 'Cash In' Fan Video (An Ode To Blackness, Femininity and Solange)

Cash In - Cover Photo 1.jpg

They say birds of a feather flock together, and when it comes to creative weirdos, those birds flock together, have a few drinks, and come up with some pretty amazing and artsy ideas.

That's exactly the case when it comes to SoMAF (Some of My Artsy Friends), a new multi-media collective for writers, filmmakers, designers, artisans, musicians and artists. Inspired in name and creative spirit by the lyrics of music icon, Erykah Badu and her song "Apple Tree," the SoMAF collective is unvieling several passion projects this year, ranging from music videos to short films to online shows and any other creative outlet they can get their physical and digital hands on.

The first passion project to come from this young group of artsy friends is a tribute video to Solange's Saint Heron track "Cash In," created by filmmaker and 50 Shades of BLACK friend Chase Simmons.

"This video is a fan/love letter to Solange, Saint Records, & all of the artist of Saint Heron," says Simmons about the video, which features a trio of black women, all of whom are suffering from their own form of the blues, bringing a little sunshine - and homoeroticism - into each other's lives as they throw a party full of guys, sorrel, and impromptu singing in the forest, in spite on all of their worries. 

Check out the video below, including a few cameos from yours truly, a proud SoMAF tribe member. ;-).


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, Storyteller and Blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on February 14, 2014 and filed under music, art.

50 Shades of Black Music & The Anthem: Academic Mixtapes for the Mind and Soul

the anthem and 50shadesofblack-music.jpg

50 Shades of Black Music - The Mixtape

This compilation was researched and compiled by Kwame Phillips, a doctoral candidate in anthropology and films studies at Emory University. Each digital release is accompanied by artwork created by Atlanta based artist C. Flux Sing exclusively for 50 Shades of Black.

This compilation was researched and compiled by Kwame Phillips, a doctoral candidate in anthropology and films studies at Emory University. Each digital release is accompanied by artwork created by Atlanta based artist C. Flux Sing exclusively for 50 Shades of Black.

Six Months ago 50 Shades of Black released our signature Mixtape: 50 Shades of Black Music curated and compiled by Kwame Phillips and our first Exclusive Signature art piece by C. Flux Sing to accompany it.  (10 Limited Edition Giclee Prints Available)

Showcasing the history and rich diversity of 'Black Music' in America and throughout the diaspora this Mixtape highlights the forms and styles that have stemmed from global black experiences. In the tradition of the medium, this volume serves to be a gift, from older generations to new, between friends, from parents to children. We aim to represent an intersection between hip hop tradition and scholarship by offering an Academic Mixtape -one where one could both nod their head and feed their mind.

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Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora 

the anthem download.jpeg

Following the success of the 50 Shades of Black Music Mixtape, Phillips teamed up with Dr. Shana L. Redmond, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California to create another Academic mixtape titled ANTHEM.  The mixtape accompanies Dr. Redmond's book of the same title (2013 NYU Press, 356 Pages).  Also available on Amazon.

Anthem NYU Press-Kwame Phillips-Shana Redmond.png

For people of African descent, music constitutes a unique domain of expression. From traditional West African drumming to South African kwaito, from spirituals to hip-hop, Black life and history has been dynamically displayed and contested through sound. Shana Redmond excavates the sonic histories of these communities through a genre emblematic of Black solidarity and citizenship: anthems. An interdisciplinary cultural history, Anthem reveals how this “sound franchise” contributed to the growth and mobilization of the modern, Black citizen. Providing new political frames and aesthetic articulations for protest organizations and activist-musicians, Redmond reveals the anthem as a crucial musical form following World War I.

Beginning with the premise that an analysis of the composition, performance, and uses of Black anthems allows for a more complex reading of racial and political formations within the twentieth century, Redmond expands our understanding of how and why diaspora was a formative conceptual and political framework of modern Black identity. By tracing key compositions and performances around the world—from James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” that mobilized the NAACP to Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted & Black” which became the Black National Anthem of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)—Anthem develops a robust recording of Black social movements in the twentieth century that will forever alter the way you hear race and nation.

Kwame Phillips rocking 50 Shades of Black Signature BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Shirt and Dr. Shana Redmond in California for the release of The ANTHEM Mixtape

Kwame Phillips rocking 50 Shades of Black Signature BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Shirt and Dr. Shana Redmond in California for the release of The ANTHEM Mixtape

Both Academic Mixtapes Available Above


the anthem and 50shadesofblack-music.jpg

Janelle Monae's Afrofuturism on Black History Month

Is humanoid equality the next civil rights fight?

Cindi Mayweather

And so she sings, we're all virgins to the joys of loving without fear....

Following her EP: metropolis Janelle Monae has used the analogy of synthetic intelligence to argue topics like civil and gender rights along with giving a new meaning to the ideal of LGBTQA ...perhaps the 'T' can stand for Transhuman or the 'A' for anything. In the five suite chronology of her 3 albums Monae has painted a picture of pop, rock, rap, jazz, blues, R&B, funk, and even folk to keep our attention while ranting about her own frustration with the kind of empowerment which is possible in the increasingly techno-connected world.

Modeled after the many interpretations of the storied Metropolis: a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences. Monae's consistent theme is a love between a human man and a robot women, but in this recent album has evolved into  stories about the her self confessed alter-ego cyborg Cindi Mayweather and her own identity as a seemingly lgbtR (R for Robot).

The album Electric Lady and Archandroid before that, bring to mind the issues surrounding love equality, which are socio-politically related to marriage equality. The age old dowry system of marriage is now a catalyst to normalize love across cultures and preferences, aside from its sustained bride price. Human's ability to create laws that better acknowledge independence of things of sentience will be increasingly tested as human-kind itself grows more diverse.

I'd argue that Gay is the new Asian because of all the unpacked diversity in the culture, but black seems to be the analogy that everyone is going with.

Michael Joseph Gross coined it The Last Great Civil Rights Struggle. Pundits are rightfully quick to make something finite in order to capitalize on it. Aside from marketing, it’s not true. There will always be more struggles, as minorities exist and define their niche forte. We are reverse engineering our way to pure individualism. Imagine 7,000,000,000 cultural labels and counting. LGBT issues are just the latest struggle, but the next or perhaps the one after that, will be Humanoid or even Robot issues. There is an ethnography to everything including the technology that compels and propels our daily lives. As we humans try and engineer our ways out of all labor we've started to create sentience. Just as Edgar Rice Burroughs writes in The Master Mind of Mars we have the potential to fall in love with a beautiful mind transferred to a horrible body. How will our ethical code change legally when Cindi Mayweather a humanoid lady falls in love with Anthony Greendown, a gentleman?

Originally posted on 10/3/2013 in H+ an extension of the World Transhumanist Association by author James Felton Keith


writer, cultural critic, special contributor to 50 Shades of Black

Posted on February 1, 2014 and filed under activism, art, blog, education, Homophobia, Identity, LGBT, music, sexuality.

Race, Sex, and MLK: 50 Shades of Black Creator to Moderate Conversation at Emory University

race sex martin luther king.jpg

Join Volunteer Emory for a social justice dialogue on overcoming inequality in the 21st century.

Moderated by Carlton Mackey from the Emory Center for Ethics, creator of 50 Shades of Black

Zai Air - Emory's own Davion Ziere


Fahamu Pecou Mic Checks as Guest Editor of Hip Hop Edition Art Papers Magazine

Mic check, 1-2, 1-2 ...

Welcome to the Art x Hip-Hop issue of ART PAPERS.

As with my own work, this issue is dedicated to investigating hip-hop and contemporary art—not as isolated encounters, but rather where they intersect, how they complement and enhance each other, and, ultimately, how in conversation they act to transgress the status quo.
— Fahamu Pecou

...and with that 50 Shades of Black featured artist Fahamu Pecou blows the dust off his vinyl records as guest editor of Atlanta based Art Papers Magazine.  ART PAPERS, the independent critical voice covering contemporary art and culture in the world today, isn't particularly known for deeply engaging hip hop as an art form or particularly the hip hop community at large.  Pecou, a hip-hop aficionado of sorts known at 50 Shades of Black for his work challenging stereotypes of black masculinity is about to change all of that and add yet another feather (or rather fleur de lis) in his hat to anyone who questioned previously whether he was the shit.  

With contributions like those below ranging from reflections on Banksy to Basquiat...from Marcia Jones to Jay-Z, you know you're in for something real special.  Go get it.  >> ART PAPERS (Jan/Feb 2014): Art x Hip Hop | Edited by Fahamu Pecou

In the Jan/Feb 2014 issue:

The Devil Is a Liar: The Diasporic Trickster Tales of Jean-Michel Basquiat & Kendrick Lamar

Neither Queer nor There: 
Categories, Assemblages, and Transformations

Beyond the Abyss: Neo-Hip-Hop Cultural Expression

Interview with Charlie Ahearn

Picasso Baby: Hip-Hop and the Appropriation of Space

On the Production of Value:
Mohamed Bourouissa's All-In

Artist Projects: DJ Adrian Loving, Marcia Jones, Rob Pruitt and Bayeté Ross Smith

Reviews: Art Beat + Lyrics, Atlanta; Wangechi Mutu, Brooklyn; Loretta Fahrenholz, New York; Banksy, New York; Odd Future + Henry Darger

Posted on January 10, 2014 and filed under art, blog, current events, music, press.

Maramosa: Kenya, Mandela, Music - Premier of new film narrated by creator of 50 Shades of Black

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The Goat Farm Arts Center Presents:
A Foresee Films Production

Join the Movement, be a whistleblower for peace


When: December 10th 7pm - 10pm
Where: Rodriguez Room at the Goat Farm
Door: $5 

Local production company Foresee Films has produced a documentary about Kenyan politics, tribalism, and possibilities for a different future through the story of a young artist named Nelson Mandela. It premieres Tuesday, December 10th at the Rodriguez Room of the Goat Farm Arts Center at 7pm, $5 admission.

Producer: Ashley Beckett 
Director: Laura Asherman 
Director of Photography: Mike Morgan 

Narrated by: Carlton Mackey (Creator of 50 Shades of Black)

Maramaso is a concept developed by a musician / activist born and raised in the slums of Nairobi. The name is derived from the philosophy’s end goal, a “Man Raise Man Society” in which support for fellow man and youth empowerment are more important than personal gain in one's own life. This is how Mandela, the subject of our film, lives his life. The film illustrates his revolutionary philosophy of love through his life story and his daily struggle to survive in an environment that encourages self-promotion while inspiring the youth in his community to change the paradigm. We partner this micro level look at the concept with a macro level exploration of the political climate in Kenya leading up to the highly anticipated elections of March 2013. This film hopes to be witness to the birth of a movement from one young man's philosophy, that each of us has to do what we can to help those around us.
Falling whistles is a coalition dedicated to ending the conflict in Eastern Congo through advocacy and awareness. We at Foresee Films have partnered with Falling Whistles to use the premiere of our film as a platform for the launch of their new publication, The Free World Reader. It is a quarterly print publication that exposes hidden truths about which we as a global community are often misled. It examines the global system we live in, the structure of our societies, markets and hierarchies, and their byproducts of war, poverty, and inequality. It’s an exploration of the fuel that drives these unfortunate realities in an effort to open a dialog into alternative solutions.


Posted on December 5, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, art, blog, education, music, personal stories, travel.

Hip-Hop, Bitches, and the adage "Cock Sucker" Pt 1

Words are important. As an 80s baby, I find myself forever connected to Hip Hop, its culture, its faces, its raps, and it as an identity. I own it. We own it. It’s ours. We made it Pop after it was created by older brothers, sisters, and intersex people (recall Mr. Cee pioneering influence on hip-hop) .

On J. Period’s Abstract Mix tape, Q-Tip (Abstract) called "Hip Hop ignorant; coming from an age of revolution both sexual and civil…an ignorant group looking to express itself used what they had – language over loops". While rapping is something that is done, Hip Hop is a bonafide culture far greater than rhymes over loops. 

Beyonce via ArtInFact Mag

Beyonce via ArtInFact Mag

Fast forward 30 years: the most influential black rapper of all time married the most famous black woman of our time. They flaunt their power by solidifying the word "Bitch" into our everyday language while ironically endorsing the fragrance of an openly gay man. [Jay-Z doesn't pop molly, he "rocks Tom Ford" and Beyonce is a "Bad Bitch" from the "H-Town".] This is nothing new, as their cultural forefathers propelled the use of nigga into our every day vernacular through Blaxploitation, R&B, and so many other cultural strong holds. It all originated from and manifests itself in the most modest of social interaction: our neighborhoods, out friends, and our families.

Transgender Male via Z107.9

Transgender Male via Z107.9

Culture is personal: So, I think about the so-called "niggers and bitches" I encounter in my life. I’m reminded of a group white tranny kid’s -powdered white faces, red lipstick, and black leather kufi to match their black leather jogging pants. I met these high teenagers one night at the Cafeteria Restaurant in New York City as they were calling each other “my-nigga” just before they invited me to sit with them in the 3AM line for an overpriced $25 plate of waffles and chicken. These "sort-of" boys, had horrible conversation, mostly about knife-fights and former lovers. One talked about his girlfriend getting lost in the club which shocked even me. A girlfriend!? The others gave me a one over and asked about sharing my taxi ride. They were aggressive like tiny dudes, because they were tiny dudes. They were also "bitchy", especially the mulatto kid who called himself “Queen B” after Beyonce. Mostly, they were bitchy about standing in line at 3AM after a night of dancing on MDMAs and other drugs. 

As a "Bitch", Beyonce would have to be glamorized like a Diva: a bitch that can get away with it...or plainly Bad in order to validate her inherent wretchedness: an unfortunate state. Unlike the popularized slang "ratchet" which misuses the name of  a mechanical hand-tool to suggest a person as being belligerent or ignorant. In Hip Hop and society our gender reality is such that even the woman who holds that "girls run the world" is deemed unfortunate for her uncontrollable gender status. Everything unrelated to a chauvinistic God-like hetero male figure is wretched. Cocksuckers and those who fantasize about fellatio are forever burdened by the fact that their deemed submissive acts, add them to the category of the inherently weak or wretched. While it’s unlikely that we’ll remove "bitch" from the cultural clichés of the day, it’s necessary to acknowledge it as a heuristic

Today I was invited to a group on LinkedIn called Reaching Out MBA for LGBTQ people with Masters of Business Administration degrees. For the unfamiliar, MBA’s are the most formidable and ambitious people with training on the planet, they hold more offices of power than any other discipline. These are not the punks of their generations and cultures. They may even be sociopathic cannibals. Luckily society has Jurist Doctorates to curb their enthusiasm.

In the United States, the formal tolerance of homosexuals at the Supreme Court after its DOMA and Porp8 decisions is actively changing the perception of women’s inherent weakness. While tolerance is a desirable first step for civil rights wins, acceptance is the end goal. We are different; and actively recognizing our individuality as it's own niche. Further it brings into question all of the ignorant language of machismo that Negro culture’s spawn shoots from the hip. Hopping from man to woman to other is still considered a scandalous act, but it’s an acknowledged and accepted reality of the feminine sexual prowess in 2013, even the black and effeminate. What will happen when we live in a post tolerance world that actually accepts the ideal that feminine and effeminate people who have a preference for fellatio aren’t actually bitchy, but formidable. I suspect, nothing much. 


Jimmy II Sticks
writer, cultural critic, special contributor to 50 Shades of Black
Creator of Moral PromiscuityMemoirs of a Black Polyamorous Bisexual Man

writer, cultural critic, special contributor to 50 Shades of Black

Posted on November 30, 2013 and filed under music, sexuality, feminism, Masculinity.

Sexuality & Skin Tone: 28 Years of LL Cool J's Radio

28 years ago almost to the day (November 18,1985), LL Cool J released his first studio album RADIO
...and has been at the center of conversations about (sex)uality and skin tone every since.

Tomorrow 50 Shades of Black presents a concept photo shoot (with a twist) inspired by the light skinned, lip-licking legend himself. the meantime Download the Free 50 SHADES OF BLACK MUSIC Mixtape
feat music from LL Cool J to Lord Invader!  TELL A FRIEND

Photography by Carlton Mackey   Make up by Chevon Dominique   Styling by Kari Mackey

Photography by Carlton Mackey
Make up by Chevon Dominique
Styling by Kari Mackey

Posted on November 25, 2013 and filed under art, fashion, music, sexuality, skin tone.

Meeting the Legendary Joyce Bryant (Part Two)

"Up to the debut of Joyce Bryant at the Aladdin black entertainer had ever performed at a Miami Beach hotel."-Ben Burns

"Up to the debut of Joyce Bryant at the Aladdin black entertainer had ever performed at a Miami Beach hotel."-Ben Burns


(READ Part 1)

“It is such an honor to meet you”.

A smile preceded her words.  But when she responded I realized that I was not prepared for the person I was about to encounter.

“Why, thank you so much.”  It was a simple phrase in part, but she spoke it with such power in her voice that I was taken aback.  When I admitted this to her toward the end of our visit, she responded, "What did you expect?"  Even in her 80's she refused to be defined by perceived limitations.  She would be understood on her own terms.  I know now that this approach was inevitably behind her rise to the spot light and her enigmatic existence since purposely leaving from in front of it.

Her words were immediately followed by a hot plate of food with a taste and smell so good that they still linger in my memory today (two weeks later).  I was sitting down for a meal with Joyce Bryant.


I raved and raved about the food.  I publically confessed that the only reason there was food still on the plate was because I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

“Eat!  That’s what it’s there for!  You don’t have to sit up here trying to eat pretty on account of us.  Eat son.”  I smiled.  Everyone else laughed.  It was a laughter that suggested they knew very well that she would then and for the rest of our time together speak exactly what was on her mind.

“You cook?”

I paused.

“Obviously, not very well if you have to take that long to think about it”.  The same laughter ensued.  This time I was prepared for it.  I felt like part of the family.

“I know my way around the kitchen; let’s just say that.”  I was curbing my comments knowing that I was in the presence of the person, her niece Robyn, who invited me…an organic chef who had prepared meals for Aunt Joyce and A-listers for years.

“What is one of your best dishes?” she asked.  I told her about my new favorite kale dish and my honey Dijon mustard, pecan encrusted salmon.  She was affirming but not overly impressed.

I gobbled down the rest of my food and played friskily with Jazz, the adorable Rottweiler puppy that had been weaving between our feet.  When Aunt Joyce finished her food we picked up the conversation and followed it wherever it lead.  Like kids running down a trail in the woods for the first time there was both the mystery of the unknown but the confidence that the trail would be safe -the grass beaten down before us signaling that others have been this way before.

We talked about race relations in the American South.  When I told here I was in Atlanta now she asked if they were still lynching folks down there and if I felt safe.  When I said that I did (for the most part), she seemed to have a flash back to her days performing and touring in the south.  She lifted her head and peered off in to the distance commenting that they’d lynch you in a heartbeat back in the day.

joyce bryant beautiful dark skin.JPG

I stared at her beautiful skin.  It was dark and smooth.  There were no wrinkles in sight.  When I asked her what her secret was, she invited me to touch it.  It felt like her voice sounded.   She asked to touch mine.  I leaned in closer and she touched my face –forehead then cheeks.  She told me some ‘beauty secrets’ and warned about keeping it moist.  The advice was followed by a very interesting conversation about dark skin wrinkling less than light skin.

With a sudden turn on the trail, we ended up somewhere that totally caught me by surprise.  What seemed like out of the blue she commented on my voice and asked me if I could sing.  Like earlier when she asked me about my cooking, I paused.

“Oooh, I guess not.  Here you go taking forever to think about your answer,” she responded.  Everyone erupted with laughter…again.  I told her that I could definitely hold a tune and that I was raised in the Baptist church.  She knew exactly what I meant by that.  The moments that followed will forever be etched in my memory.

"I think as a group, entertainers should fight Jim Crow because as individuals we can't break it down."-Joyce Bryant

"I think as a group, entertainers should fight Jim Crow because as individuals we can't break it down."-Joyce Bryant

“It’s all in your breathing,” she said as she sat straight up in her chair.  For the next 15 minutes, Joyce Bryant coached me on how to breathe.  It was a lesson that surpassed any expectations that I had of my visit.  It was a lesson with meaning that stretched far beyond any implications on bettering my vocal ability.  It was a lesson about centering.  It was about being present.  It was about being fully present.  It was a lesson about being whole.  As we sat exhaling and inhaling together, I felt connected to myself and to a woman who I had just met for the first time –a woman who as I was seeking so hard to know more about, so many before me seemed to have forgotten.

There at that dinner table, I was remembering how to breathe by someone who probably doesn’t have as many breaths in front of her as those she has already taken but insisted on teaching someone else while reminding herself to make each one count.

For that I’m forever grateful.  For that, I want to work harder to ensure that who she is, the breaths she has taken, the lives she has touched, and the breaths that she has helped others take more deeply are not forgotten.                                                    

It’s not every day you get to meet a legend.  Yesterday I did.  I’d like to introduce you to her.  Her name is Joyce Bryant.


-carlton mackey
Creator of 50 Shades of Black

**A Special Tribute and Exclusive Reflection by Joyce Bryant's Niece is featured in our Coffee Table Book, 50 Shades of Black Vol. 1! 


Posted on November 21, 2013 and filed under art, history, music, personal stories, sexuality, skin tone, race.

Meeting the Legendary Joyce Bryant (Part One)

Joyce Bryant on the 1955 Cover of Jet Magazine

Joyce Bryant on the 1955 Cover of Jet Magazine

It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to meet a legend.  Yesterday, I did.  It was a Sunday evening. My plane landed at LAX just hours before.  My singular mission for the day was meeting two women who, by no means other than a divinely orchestrated plan, had entered my life.

During the infancy of 50 Shades of Black, I was researching extensively about the lives of famous black men and women and the stories behind their rise to fame.  As much as wanting to know about them, I was interested in knowing how their skin tone played a role in how we perceived them.  I wondered what the relationship was between their historical context and perceptions of beauty that were commonly held.  How did they understand themselves in that context?  How was their talent, the magnetism of their personalities, their sex appeal, their physical appearance all wrapped up into a package that we would come to uphold as iconic.

The first photo that I saw of the woman some deemed as the Black Marilyn Monroe.

The first photo that I saw of the woman some deemed as the Black Marilyn Monroe.

 …and then I saw a photo of a woman whose image captivated me.  She was unlike any other.  Her radiant skin, her perfect teeth, her hour glass figure…and in photo after photo her signature hair all captivated me.  I wanted to know more.  Who was this woman who many had deemed The Black Marilyn Monroe.  I wrote a blog post about this breath-takingly beautiful woman who I previously had never heard of named Joyce Bryant.

Within days of making the post, I received an email from a woman thanking me for the post, for the work I was doing with 50 Shades of Black, and for my interest in her Aunt.  It was a stunning surprise. Could this be?  Did someone related to a woman who had graced to covers of vintage Jet Magazines just contact me?  Is Joyce Bryant still alive?  How is she?  What would be appropriate to ask?  What would I want to know?

50 Shades of Black Page 60 -  ORDER HERE

50 Shades of Black Page 60 - ORDER HERE

It wasn’t long before many of these questions would be answered.  In a series of email exchanges, phone calls, and what I cannot describe as anything other than spiritual dialogues, we built a relationship.  As we made the turn from our exclusively virtual platform to our first printed volume of 50 Shades of Black, Robyn graciously contributed a written reflection later titled The Black Marilyn Monroe to You, Aunt Joyce to Me.

It was an eye opening, heart felt, honest, and deeply personal reflection.  It spoke of success and fame, triumph and struggle, discovery and memory.  It reflected deep gratitude yet longing.  Yet, it was all undergirded by the utmost respect for a woman who, though incrementally being rediscovered, may still not be completely understood.

And then, there I was.  Standing outside of the house about to knock I began to feel the weight of the moment.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect and I felt humbled by that uncertainty.

Robyn’s smile and open arms were as big as I could have ever hoped for.  Her greeting was just the settling gesture I needed to balance my wariness.  When I walked in there was a familiar-ness about the environment:  the smell of freshly cooked food on a Sunday afternoon, the ambient sound of a television in the background, and the wagging of a puppy’s tail wavering between its enthusiasm to meet a new friend and (like me) the uncertainty of new introductions.

I greeted a lovely woman with a huge smile on her face who I later learned was Robyn’s mother and turned to lay eyes on the woman who I too had been affectionately referring to as Aunt Joyce.  When I reached out my hand to say hello, a handshake was not immediately returned.  I paused.  “She can’t see your hand,” someone murmured from the background.

I reached further to touch hers.  This moment was the beginning of our true ‘seeing’ of each other.  Not limited by physical sight, we encountered each other’s presence and it marked the beginning of an exchange that I will not soon forget.

Carlton Mackey
 -Creator of 50 Shades of Black


"She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world. And now, for the first time, a dark black woman had become a certified national sex symbol."-Donald Bogle

"She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world. And now, for the first time, a dark black woman had become a certified national sex symbol."-Donald Bogle

Posted on November 7, 2013 and filed under blog, family, history, music, personal stories.

Pretty for a Dark Skinned Girl: Revisited

hatian_new york_christine_model.jpg

It's been about a year ago now since we first released this 50 Shades of Black original production called Pretty for a Dark Skinned Girl.  

So much has happened since that time.  We've released our free ebook on the iTunes Bookstore, we've published and released our coffee table book, Dark Girls premiered on OWN, and one of our dearest/distinguished supporters ( and the person who penned the opening chapter of our coffee table book) Dr. Yaba Blay announced the launch of her newest effort called Pretty. Period. on her new press BLACKprint.

Today we revisit it. ..and celebrate all of these efforts to build, affirm, grow, critically engage.

Posted on August 7, 2013 and filed under art, film, music, skin tone.

Atlanta Music Video by Fahamu Pecou up for Prize at Black Film Festival

fahamu pecou music video black star film festival.jpg

You may recall our earlier post  ATLANTA HIP-HOP MUSIC VIDEO FEATURING BLACK MEN AND THEIR SONS...WHAT? where 50 Shades of Black creator, Carlton Mackey and son were featured alongside other Atlanta fathers and sons for a video shoot by 50 Shades of Black featured Artist Fahamu Pecou.  

Well that video, "HEIR CONDITIONING", has been nominated for the Juried Prize at the Second Annual BlackStar Film Festival this weekend in Philly.

Congrats to Fahamu, the video director Roni Nicole and DP Maurice Evans.

Check out the Video after the Break and more about the Black Star Film Festival


Posted on July 31, 2013 and filed under art, family, film, music.