Sunday, 28 July 2013 19:59

Made Movies | Fruitvale Station

Entertainment // July 29, 2013

Epic. This is the one word that encompasses the experience of Fruitvale Station.  This film grips its audience from the beginning and is so well developed and directed that it is almost unfathomable that it is a directorial debut and shot on a relatively low budget. As you are pulled into the story by the incredible realism, it almost haunts you to realize that Fruitvale station is based on a true story: A true story that grabbed national headlines and showed America the ugly realities and dangers of racism.

Fruitvale Station chronicles the last 24 hours of Oscar Grant’s life which came to a tragic end on January 1, 2009. Grant, who was 23 years old at the time of his death, is portrayed by actor Michael B. Jordan and Jordan does not fall short in his memorable portrayal.  Ryan Coogler wrote and directed the film and at the age of 23, crafting a beautiful screenplay that focuses on Oscar Grant for the person he was, including his flaws. Coogler does not shy away from Oscar’s difficulties with the law and his struggles to achieve more for not only his only life, but the life of his 5 year old daughter Tatiana. Coogler also reminds the audience from the beginning that everything we watch leads up to that inevitable moment on the BART platform. A moment  which has been viewed on Youtube millions of times around the world: when Oscar Grant is fatally shot by BART police officer Johannes Meserle. You can’t hide from what is going to happen and as you start to root for Oscar’s flawed but determined character you can’t help but be reminded of the futility of it all.

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The film focuses on Oscar’s relationships with his family members, in particular his mother (played by actress Octavia Spencer), his girlfriend Sophina, (played by actress Melodie Diaz) and his young daughter Tatiana, whom he affectionately calls “T.” Viewers of Fruitvale Station are able to see not just the humanity in Oscar Grant, but are also treated to what feels like an authentic tour of life in Oakland, CA. Coogler captures everything from the bay area music and dances, to the characters’ distinct bay area accents and lingo. He cuts no corners: everything is as real as it feels. Long shots and slow pacing help to create tension and a moody vibe as you travel along with Oscar. With a minimal but powerful musical score, the audience sees a young black man trying to right his wrongs and fighting his own demons. Coogler does what is almost impossible: he paints a portrait of a person that we can all identify with in some way, and we want to see succeed in life. Fruitvale Station takes us on an emotional journey that not only gets you to ponder your own ideas about racism and stereotypes, but paints a special portrait of a young man that lost his life too soon, and in its own way gives Oscar Grant the chance to tell his story.

Published in Entertainment

Entertainment // July 15, 2013

Soul artist Raquel Rodriguez is a Los Angeles native with a penchant for emotional vocal runs, a bright, driving style that will get your blood pumping, and for just being one of the ‘guys’. Rodriguez’s influences are a collection of both old and new school soul - from Sarah Vaughan to Adele -- and you can hear elements spanning the decades in all of her music. She blends the best of decades past with a modern surge. And with a seldom-seen-these-days six-piece ensemble, The Big Guys, backing her, Raquel has moved swiftly from self-titled EP in 2012 to debut LP release. An entrepreneur in her own right taking command of her career, Raquel is spirited woman with a mission to get her music out to the world. After recently releasing her first LP, Miss Me, on June 21, Raquel can take a moment to relish in her accomplishment. But just a moment, because there is no doubt that Raquel has plans to check a lot more off her to do list.

1. What made you gravitate towards Soul? Did you always see yourself in the genre, or was it more of a discovery while in music school?

Soul music has always been a huge part of my life. My mom would only play good music while my brothers and I were growing up. In my teen years I definitely gravitated to the pop/hip-hop stuff, but as I got older I found myself going back to my roots. I started to mimic the sounds I used to love and wrote about things that were important to me.

2. How did you and The Big Guys come together?

Destiny. [Laughs] Seriously though, I met all of the (Big) guys pretty much through school. Whether it was because we had a class together or just a mutual friend, I met all of them through USC. It took me awhile to find "my band," but now that I have, I'm so grateful. These guys are what make the music what it is and they're all like family to me.

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3. Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan?

Tough question, but if I have to choose one, definitely Sarah Vaughan. I love Billie Holiday’s vibe and soul, but Sarah Vaughan has got the voice! Man, I remember when my voice teacher at USC had me transcribe one of Sarah's solos for homework, and after that I just went on a SV craze. She's dope! I definitely learned a lot from her just listening to different albums.

4. There has obviously been a recent resurgence of Soul in the last half decade in pop music - Amy Winehouse, Adele. I mean good music is good music and it should be lauded, but, sadly, good music doesn’t often find commercial success because it isn’t part of the traditional mainstream.  What do you think has spurred this change and the return of Soul?

Change is inevitable, and whether it's good or bad, it's going to happen. I think a lot of things contributed to what mainstream music is now. Technology, politics, location, life, whatever it may be, it's all taken part in what music is today. I love that Soul music is coming back because I honestly believe that it's healthy for people. It's called Soul music for a reason.

5. What’s it like being the token woman around this big group of   guys?

It's awesome! Most of the time it's so easy because I grew up with two older brothers, so I'm used to having boys around. I'm definitely a little bit of a tomboy sometimes. The only thing that's tough about it is that I find myself starting to act like them a little too much. I'm pretty sure I burp louder than any of them.

6. Can you tell us about the new album and what the production process was like?

The album is called "Miss Me," and it has that old school vibe. A lot of music today is so produced, which can also be cool, but we didn't want that for this album. Sam, who plays drums on the album, produced the whole thing and wrote a lot of the music, so he wanted to make sure that we recorded it right. We spent A LOT of time making sure things sounded exactly the way we wanted them to, all while keeping in mind that this record is being pressed to vinyl.

7. “Miss Me” (your most recent single) is a markedly different aesthetic than your first Raquel Rodriguez EP. It’s bigger, brighter, and, in my opinion, is a more modern take on the genre. How did that come about?

The [Raquel Rodriguez] EP was a lot more "calm" in a way, and the recording/production process was MUCH different than what I expected. The EP was made up of songs that I had written when I was younger and I wanted evidence of that. I've grown as a singer, songwriter, musician, performer, basically just as an artist all around, and I think "Miss Me" is definitely a good example of that.

8. You previously recorded with Andrew Scheps, who has engineered for some of music's biggest names: Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Audioslave, Linkin Park, Green Day and U2. What was that experience like for you?

Andrew Scheps was AWESOME! We learned so much from him in the one day we spent recording with him. He gave us so much advice and he was so knowledgeable and passionate about what he was doing. Definitely a huge inspiration. If you don't know what he looks like, just imagine a tall, powerful wizard with a long beard and that's him.

9. Over the last year or so you’ve played a lot of historic venues around LA, including The Roxy and House of Blues. Is there one venue in particular (LA or outside) that you dream of playing?

I dream more about playing in places that I've never been before. I want to travel all over the world in whatever venue that'll have me.

10. If you weren’t playing music where else could you see yourself?

Ummmmmm...


Listen to Raquel’s latest album and check out her site here.



Published in Entertainment

Entertainment // July 1, 2013

It’s officially “Yeezy Season,” and two weeks after the album dropped, the internet is still buzzing about Yeezus, Kanye’s sixth studio album.  It debuted at number 1 on the Billboard charts, selling 327,000 in the first week -- without any marketing.

With so much buzz around the record, I was eager to give it a listen.  In a June interview with the New York Times, while discussing his legacy, Kanye said, "I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it’s like when Biggie passed and Jay-Z was allowed to become Jay-Z."

As a product designer who dabbles in music production, I’ve always respected Ye’s work as a producer and an artist.  And with Kanye putting himself on the same level of cultural significance as Steve Jobs and Jay-Z, I was excited to see what he’s been working on this year in his Paris loft.

Upon first listen, I was immediately drawn in by the album’s sonic quality.  As a combination of hip-hop, punk, rock, new wave, and soul, the production is minimal and deconstructed, yet driving and powerful.  Filled with heavy industrial-sounding drums, the entire album sounds like you’re watching Kanye work in a dark European steel factory.  It’s as if Kanye is trying to position himself as the Dieter Rams of Hip-Hop.  Sonically, as always, Kanye excels behind the boards.

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But almost just as immediately, the listener gets assaulted by Kanye’s aggressive delivery and boorish lyrics.  Kanye has always carried a chip on his shoulder, and now that chip feels like a boulder that he’s looking to throw at anyone who’s ever gotten in his way.  Knowing his history, one might expect this type of bravado from such a highly-anticipated Kanye album.  But on Yeezus, Kanye doesn’t just lyrically push the envelope.  He unapologetically tears it in half.

The album is raw and indecorous, and there are many uncomfortable moments throughout.  Songs like “I Am A God” reminds us of Kanye’s overarching confidence that dances on the borders of extreme arrogance and narcissism.  And I’ll spare you many of the details, but on songs like “I’m In It,” lyrics like “I put my fist in her like a civil rights sign,” are sure to make many think twice about playing this record at their next dinner party.

There are a few highlights on Yeezus.  As mentioned earlier, the musical backdrop is so vivid, the album sounds like you’re watching a piece directed by Ridley Scott. “New Slaves” offers an interesting perspective on how materialism and consumerism is the new form of slavery that has afflicted our current culture.  And through Kanye’s masterful sampling work, “Blood on the Leaves” references the historically important work of Nina Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit - a chilling song about lynchings and racial tension in Jim Crow America.

But in the same song, Kanye successfully sabotages the significance of Strange Fruit by comparing the civil rights struggle of 20th century America to the challenge of attending a NBA basketball game with both your wife and your mistress: “Now you sittin' courtside, wifey on the other side. Gotta keep 'em separated, I call that apartheid.”  One could argue that such a juxtaposition is artistic.  But considering the context of all of the historical references, the comparison feels brash and distastefully insensitive.

In the June New York Times article, Kanye said that from hanging out with conscious hip-hop artists like Dead Prez earlier in his career and learning how to make “raps with a message” that he has “a responsibility at all times.”  He then said, “I am in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron, great activist-type artists.”

If Kanye thinks he’s in step with the lineage of Heron, and if he is really working to fill the shoes of Steve Jobs, he has some serious soul searching to do. Before his death, in reflecting on the success of Apple, Jobs gave us some of the keys to Apple’s success. He said, “The reason Apple resonates with people is that there is a deep current of humanity in our innovation,” and how you “really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before...(is by building) a company that will stand for something a generation or two from now.”

However, there’s not much humanity in Yeezus.  Yes, Kanye continues to make artistic strides as a producer, and his skills to make great musical compositions are obvious.  But because he tries to differentiate himself so starkly, he seems to be becoming dangerously out of touch with his audience and the legacy that he so greatly desires to be a part of.  The misogynistic lyrics don’t sound like they come from a man who loves women like his late mother, Donda.  And they don’t sound like they come from a man who protects women, or one who vowed just days before the birth of his daughter that he “would do anything to protect (his) child or (his) child’s mother.”

Some might say that his frustration is directed at the corporate executives that he seems to be battling with behind closed office doors, and that the tone of Yeezus is him expressing his anger towards the system.  What Kanye may not realize is that the real casualties of this war are his fans, his album sales, and his brand.

In the same New York Times interview, in typical Kanye fashion, he compared himself to Michael Jordan.  Kanye has never shied away from comparing himself to the greats.  But he’s getting in his own way.  I’m afraid that he’s not becoming the Michael Jordan of Hip-Hop; he looks to be turning into the Dennis Rodman.  And at this point, Yeezus appears to more resemble a grotesque painting from Goya than a Jean-Léon Gérôme masterpiece.

Published in Entertainment
Monday, 17 June 2013 01:25

Entertainment | Best Breakup Songs

Entertainment // June 17, 2013

Sharon and Ozzy. Chris Brown and Rihanna. Katy Perry and John Mayer. Something is in the air but it certainly isn’t love. The music world is uncoupling at a staggering rate. With these couples heading for the door, we couldn’t help but put together a comforting list of the Top 5 Best Breakup Songs. Whether breakups make you want to seek isolation in a dark room for a good cry over a carton of Ben & Jerry’s, or they make you so angry you could throw some sh*%, we have the best of both worlds right here.


5. MoneyGrabber - Fitz and The Tantrums

Money. Success. Both are notorious relationship-killers. You can kiss your sponge of an ex goodbye with this Fitz and the Tantrums tune playing as your own personal soundtrack. With a sound that masterfully marries Motown and new wave, lead singer, Michael Fitzpatrick, warns, “Don’t come back anytime / I’ve already had your kind / this is your pay back, moneygrabber. Don’t come back anytime / you’ve already run me dry / this is your pay back, moneygrabber.” Oozing with soul and an unforgettable melody, the heat from this track is palpable. Let Fitz and the Tantrums show your ex the door the way you had always wanted.


4. Go Your Own Way- Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumors is a veritable vinyl pu pu platter of break-up songs. The 1977 album was the soundtrack for the divorce of members John and Christine McVie, for the breakups of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, and for one succession from the band. All of this added up to a lot of broken hearts and one of the most critically lauded records of the latter half of the century. From “Dreams” to “Songbird,” the album is rife with breakup songs to choose from. Buckingham penned the track “Go Your Own Way” about the dissolution of his relationship with Nicks. While thoughtful and honest, the song comes up just short of sentimental, and is his final emotional and driving release of Nicks. Quality time with this seventies classic rock anthem will get you through some tough times.


3. F**K You - Cee Lo Green

When you’re really angry, you may as well just come out and say it. Radio edits aside, there is no way to hide from the title of this Cee Lo summer groove. “F**K You” might just be the most uplifting song about a breakup you will ever find. If any song can help you dance your way out of your post-breakup funk, it’s this one. If your ex is too caught up in the superficial to see what a catch you really are, then maybe it’s time to make like Cee Lo and say...uh, “goodbye.”


2. You Oughta Know - Alanis Morissette

Before Kelly Clarkson, P!nk, and Fiona Apple, came Alanis Morissette, serving as the creator of the “woman with a bone to pick” genre. Jagged Little Pill was 1995’s open letter to double-crossing men from Morissette. Power, anger, and biting language was - in the music scene - foreign coming from a woman at that time. The brash Morissette burst onto the scene with more than just irony. I still remember the day I found out Jagged Little Pill’s most potent track, “You Oughta Know”, was about Morissette’s soured romance with everyone’s favorite Uncle Joey - Dave Collier. I never watched Full House the same way again.


1. Love Is A Losing Game - Amy Winehouse

Regardless of mood, music is the soundtrack to our lives. Few singers or songwriters have the emotional vulnerability or resonance of Amy Winehouse. In her songs, much like in her life, she was not afraid to paint an honest, and sometimes unpleasant, portrait. “Love is a Losing Game” is a beautiful, heart-wrenching love song drenched in melancholia. Its arching string arrangements are breathtaking. At only 2:49 in length, this brutally honest look at love and loss is epic. This track comes off her Black to Black album, which chronicles her turbulent relationship with not-quite-then-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, and is thus stacked with breakup songs.  If you’re looking for a good cry, however, look no further than this timeless song from a timeless voice. No one understands your pain quite like Amy Winehouse did.



Published in Entertainment

Relationships // June 17, 2013

This article was originally published on Water Cooler Convos.

You may or may not watch Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta. You may or may not have any idea who Porsha Williams is. And, you may or may not care who her soon-to-be ex-husband Kordell Stewart, former Pittburgh Steelers football star, is. But, the gist of the story here is Kordell Stewart has filed for divorce from his wife of less than two years citing that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” But this post isn’t about the two of them. It is about marriage. It is about black marriage, white marriage, purple marriage and everything in between. But, most accurately, it is about having a successful marriage ahead of everything else.

Why should you care about this? I know, stars break-up all the time. You are thinking this is not news. But, the only reason I am writing this is because black women had embraced Porsha as the princess she portrayed herself to be on RHOA. Many women had publicly taken to her seemingly idiotic commentary, simple-ness, need to play dress up, and overall lack of depth as an ideal. In essence, they were saying, “black women don’t need to be strong, smart, witty, and bright. Look how well Porsha has done for herself.” Well, I am sure some of those same folks are eating their words right now.

On the “Subservient Wife” Trope

Now, don’t get me wrong, black women do not have to be geniuses or cure cancer to be legitimate mothers and wives. That is certainly not a requirement. Porsha actually seems like a great person. She seemed like she really wanted to be a good wife. And after dealing with a devastating miscarriage, which we recently learned of on the show, she had been rocked to her core. So, she deserves credit for keeping her household together for as long as she did. But, was it genuine or veneer?

This is not an “I told you so” post. Why? Well, because when all the ladies in the blog-o-sphere came out in support of Porsha’s attempted “homeliness” and propensity toward subservience in her marriage, I didn’t say a word. Did I agree that black women (and women in general) should strive to be the “Proverbs 31” good wife type? Certainly. Did I agree that Porsha’s efforts to have it all while catering to her man were admirable? Of course. But, where I found the Stewart marriage a bit disturbing was on the lack of accord within the partnership. They never seemed to be on the same page.

Porsha wanted to work. Kordell wanted her to cook and clean. Porsha wanted to reach the stars. Kordell wanted to reach up, grab them for her, and put them in a nice little Tiffany’s box for her birthday. From my vantage point, it was a union doomed to fail.

Women do not have to be strong all the time. Similarly, women do not have to be Beyoncé and “run the world.” But, the opposite is also true. A subservient woman doesn’t have to pretend to be simple-minded to make her man feel more masculine. Neither should any woman cower or lower herself for a man’s comfort. It only leads to demise.

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What Real Marriage Requires

What is the key? Women have to be equally yoked with their husbands. Any partnership requires give and take. And both partners have to be willing to traverse the delicate tug of war that is married life. Now, I am no marriage expert. I have only been doing it successfully for seven years now with a relationship that has lasted almost a decade. And, while I am extremely proud to say that I was blessed enough to find my match at 18 years old, that won’t be the case for everyone else. While we have weathered the storms of parental and familial acceptance, open heart surgery, miscarriage and difficult pregnancies -- and a host of other life issues -- we have always stood in lock-step on our desire to be married and stay married. Divorce is not an option in the Jackson household.

Before we said our vows, we talked about every minute detail of the rest of our lives (at least as much as we could being college kids with limited insight). We talked about kids and agreed that we both wanted three. We talked about where we wanted to live and what kind of home we wanted. We discussed working arrangements, who would or wouldn’t stay home and how we would save up for retirement. We talked about grad school. We talked about our parents and if they would ever live with us. We. Talked. And talked. And talked. We talked till we were blue in the face. And every word was worth it.

Instead of wearing our marriage like a badge of honor to boast about, we have always presented it as a blessing we had and have to work our butts off to maintain. Porsha often came off as if she was better than someone single because she had a man to take care of her. She never seemed to realize that that isn’t the real point of a marriage in the first place. Partnership is the proposition. But, all the fun stuff is just gravy.

A Bunch of “Real” Housewives Indeed

Watching Porsha cry on national television when asking Kordell for help with their future children was heart-breaking. She mentioned a nanny and Kordell grimaced. And, it was just a preview. His expectation of her as a mother was different from her expectation for herself. And no woman should compromise on her dreams or wants for herself without willing consent. If a decision about kids -- who don’t even exist yet -- drives her to tears, something deeper needs to be addressed. A man should love, cherish and respect his wife. He should allow her to shine and thrive regardless of his own personal preferences. If the two of them are equally yoked, he should be able to trust that she will make the best decisions for their family, household, and children. And, honestly, I never saw that between the Stewarts.

So, in the end, I pray that the both of them are able to find happiness whether it be with one another, alone or with other people. But for all the Porsha cheerleaders who said that black women should model themselves and their relationships after her, be careful of the advice you dole out to those seeking a lifelong partnership. There is a whole lot more to marriage than pretty dresses, big houses, and expensive catering. And if they don’t get that deeper message first, they are setting themselves up to feel the same pain poor Porsha is experiencing today.

Published in Love + Dating

Entertainment // June 3, 2013

We’re all used to the never ending buffet of cable TV and in-your-face visuals of the movie theater, but there is something timeless and impactful about storytelling on the stage. When my cousin invited me to see The Scottsboro Boys, at the Ahmanson Theater in downtown LA, I didn’t know much about their story. But I was quickly drawn into the lives of the nine boys trying to make their way west via train in 1931.

The story opens like a minstrel show, with the Scottsboro Boys lead by a Colonel Sanders looking master of ceremonies; the Interlocutor, played by Hal Linden. They shuck and jive on command and The Interlocutor tells them to act out their story once again. One of the nine, Hayward Patterson (played by Joshua Henry, who received a Tony Award nomination for his performance), responds by saying, “This time can we tell the truth?” And then the play really begins. At first, witty lines, dance sequences and the old razzle-dazzle fool you into thinking that you are watching a lighthearted musical, but woven into the upbeat tempo of the show are stark realities of 1930’s segregated south. With music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, creators of Chicago, the play consists of an all (but one) black cast.

The truth Hayward wants recounted is that of nine young black men (ages ranging from 13 to 19) riding a train to Memphis who end up accused of something they didn’t do. A group of white boys get off the train and report to the local authorities that they were attacked by several black men, so the train gets searched. The sheriff finds two white women also “hoboing” it on the train. Instead of going to jail for not paying, the women accuse the group of black men (all nine of them) of rape. Falsely accused and completely out of their depth (most of them couldn’t read or write), the boys are given a hasty and poorly executed trial. JC Montgomery is a standout during this scene as the drunken “lawyer Tambo.”

The boys lose their first case… and the three after that. You watch blatant racism render the US legal system completely ineffective. The Scottsboro nine have no chance against an all white jury, white judge and two lying white women—white women played by black men. The playwrights use the hilarity of men playing women to get you through the injustice. They are sentenced to death and angry lynch mobs come demanding that they hang.

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In the midst of all this hate and ignorance, the group of young boys could easily have fallen apart. As time passes you do see clashes between the distinct personalities, with Hayward leading the charge. But still they grow up together in prison, waiting for absolution and trying to make do as best they can. They all line up, rank file in court each time they get a new trial, waiting for due justice and never receiving it. Hayward mournfully sings “Go back home,” yearning for freedom, and you can feel the emotion permeate the room.

As the years pass between trials, the Scottsboro boys forfeit their youth for a crime they didn’t commit. The case had become national news and the Communist party eventually stepped in to help them out, sending defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz to handle their trial. We watched enthralled as Sam, the good ol’Yankee, goes from thinking he can’t lose (he had never lost a murder trial) to begging the defendants to plead for parole, completely defeated in the face of such systematic racism. “You are going to lose because of the way you look!” he tells Hayward in a moment of sheer frustration.

The high tempo musical numbers and the somewhat buffoonish dance routines belie the seriousness of the subject matter. Nine lives were ruined by the false accusations and the country was changed forever. History tends to forget the details, but The Scottsboro Boys highlights the historic events with its irreverence. You laugh at Sherriff Bones, who is reminiscent of Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks, but see how his brutal ways shape these young boys’ lives. “You belong to me,” he tells them. You chuckle watching Hayward scrawl out “‘B’ for breast,” as he learns to read, but know that his hopes for a normal life and education are unrealistic. The audience was amused to find that the young boy outside the courthouse selling lynching dolls is actually George Wallace, Alabama’s 45th Governor and avid segregationist. As he skips away you realize that in the 1930’s these deadly racial tensions were just getting started. In fact, these victims of false accusations were only just posthumously pardoned by the state of Alabama this year.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show and appreciated getting a history lesson wrapped up in song and dance. It’s amazing how the show walks the tightrope between being brutally honest about Depression era racism and being entertaining. While most of the boys lives were ruined, (Hayward died in prison in 1952.), we left the theater not sad for the Scottsboro Boys, but empowered by their story. It takes true talent to turn such misery into a work of art and give an accurate portrayal. The Scottsboro Boys received 12 Tony Award nominations and is playing now to a packed house. You should see it before it leaves town.

Published in Entertainment

Entertainment // May 20, 2013

Powerhouse vocalist Cheesa first came into our homes on last season’s The Voice. The Honolulu native swept Cee Lo off his feet at her blind audition with her rich and soulful voice.  He gushed, “You could go on from here to be everything you were meant to be.” Now at 22, Cheesa has released her debut album Naked via her own independent label. It’s reminiscent of 90’s R&B/Pop vocalists like Mariah Carey and Brandy, and features catchy hooks and sweeping melodies bolstered by vibrant, unflappable beats. Her journey to entrepreneurship and the music industry was by no means an easy one.  Her family was plagued by financial hardships, converting their home into an elder care facility and moving themselves into the garage to pay their mortgage.  Despite her parent’s initial hesitancy and the strong Filipino traditions which pointed to a more traditional career, Cheesa’s family moved from Hawaii to Los Angeles for her to pursue a career in music. We recently caught up with her to chat about the new album and her newfound exposure.

1. You’re just back from a stint doing shows and press in Hawaii, where you’re originally from. What’s your favorite activity or food spot to hit up when you go back home?

There’s so many things that you can do and so many things that you should eat. But my favorite, and I think a lot of locals can agree, is Kahuku shrimp. You can either go to Romy’s or Giavonni’s shrimp truck. And you also have to hit up THE BEST - Masumoto’s Shaved Ice. What I like to do is go to the beach. It’s quite as simple as that.

2. How old were you when your family moved to LA? What was that transition like for you?

I just turned 16 about 2 weeks before we moved to LA. It was such a culture shock. I went to an all girls Catholic school in Hawaii, so to go to a coed public school [in LA]...I think I had way too much freedom. I kind of wilded out. It’s definitely difficult to adapt.

3. What is The Assembly?

The Assembly is the production company that I’m in. One day we just decided let’s do it; let’s produce songs, make albums, and just go full force with it. We never thought that it would become this serious, so for us to produce a full-length album is really surreal.  [It’s] gratifying that we have everything on iTunes and people from around the world are appreciating the music that we put out there.

4. What is your creative experience like?  Where do you find the balance within The Assembly, as far as who writes, who mixes, produces, etc?

It’s a very collaborative effort and everybody has their certain niche. I think we mesh well together because everybody has a specific role.

5. You mentioned your brother, Troy  who is also a musician and music director, and has toured with the likes of Demi Lovato , David Archuleta, and Cherice (aka Sunshine Corazon from Glee). Is music something that your parents impressed upon you two growing up?

It was something we were introduced to by my dad who also sang when he was young, but it was never really an option to be a career choice. Because my dad sacrificed a lot for us, he was more expecting us to be in the medical field or in law, something more stable, and, from his standpoint, more realistic. He never really wanted to see us struggle because he knew how hard it was to struggle in his own life, living in the Philippines. But after a lot of convincing he agreed to move to LA so we could pursue music.

6. Being from a close-knit Filipino family, did your parents have a reaction to your rather provocative album cover?

[Laughs] I remember the day after we got it, I remember thinking this is really controversial and I was really scared to show my mom. But surprisingly the one that we thought was going to be more mad about it was the one who was more accepting. My dad was like, she’s not really showing anything.

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7. Was there a moment or battle for you on The Voice that was particularly challenging?

It was my first time ever doing things on my own. My brother and I have been performing for quite some time as a duo. And as I was in a competition show, social media is such a big outlet for people to express themselves. It’s an open forum for people to talk negatively and positively, and it was my first time seeing all these comments. I don’t think anyone can mentally prepare themselves for that, so that was a big challenge for me. It was like a flashback to times in my childhood where I was bullied, so it was definitely challenging. It actually led to one of the songs on the album “I’m Not Perfect.” I want to inspire people to accept themselves and love themselves despite all the flaws and insecurities.  You’re still beautiful.

8. Your single “Crash Boom” (my personal favorite) features Jamar Rogers from your season on The Voice. Are you still in contact with a lot of your teammates/ Cee Lo?

I just recently watched Cee Lo’s show in Vegas, Loberace. Great show! And I do keep in contact with a lot of people, Anthony Evans, Jamar obviously...we become so close being on the show. I’ve gained a lot of good friends from being on that show.

9. Where does the album title, Naked come from?

Naked was not meant to be that controversial. For me Naked meant stripping out the outside layers and the perception that people had of me. It was being able to use this album as a therapeutic journey to reveal my soft side. It was to inspire women, most importantly young girls, because society shows that women should look thin when really all sizes, all shapes, all colors should be accepted. Thats what I wanted the album to be about - for people to accept who they are and not be afraid to show it.

10. How has the post The Voice experience been for you?

I love the show. It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people, Cee Lo and all the other great coaches and it opened doors for me. I would have never gotten the opportunities that I get now to travel around the world and sing, to be interviewed by people like you. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity and now I get to live out my dream.

For more of Cheesa be sure to catch her upcoming summer promo tour on both on the west coast and in Asia. More details to follow on her websites.

Published in Entertainment
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 18:55

Movie Review | The Great Gatsby

Movie Review // May 15, 2013

To say I have been waiting for this movie to come out is an understatement. When I heard it was delayed from December to May the stakes became even higher.  I was one of the first to buy tickets to see The Great Gatsby in 3D when it finally premiered, and it was a lot like attending one of Jay Gatsby’s famous parties: loud, glittering and in your face.

Director Baz Luhrmann’s earlier work, such as Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, is known for being over the top.  The Great Gatsby is no different.  Luhrmann paints for us the image of a whirlwind era where great men are striking against a sky lit up by fireworks, and women are coated in crystal dresses and Tiffany & Co. jewelry. But beneath all the pomp and the Jay-Z soundtrack, there is a haunting story. It is one many of us know from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, but probably haven’t heard in a while. Luhrmann’s films all seem to be about tragic romances that are doomed from the start, and Gatsby is no exception. Despite this being a familiar tale, Luhrmann is able to reintroduce this story to us and even catch us off guard a time or two.

Luhrmann got a lot of things right with this film, which he and his wife spent two years researching. His casting choices are spot-on.  It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, or Carey Mulligan as “golden girl,” Daisy.  Both light up the screen. Everything about them is rich, from their clothing (which I am sure costume designer Catherine Martin will be getting an Oscar for) to their passion for each other in this forbidden love story. Tobey Maguire is the perfect Nick Carraway, and he successfully carries the narration throughout the film, a task that many other Fitzgerald adaptations struggled with.

The authenticity of the era is greatly appreciated. Everything from the Art Deco design and architecture to the clothing, cars, and social mannerisms have been reconstructed to a tee.  It’s obvious that Luhrmann is meticulous and that several scholars were consulted for the film. But I delight in the fact that he mixes in slight anachronisms to make the film relevant to modern day audiences. Luhrmann weaves Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey, Jack White and Beyonce into the background music, reminding you that this tale is not the Jazz Age’s alone, but a timeless one; one that could even take place today.

As someone who has studied literature, Fitzgerald, and this period, I feel that Luhrmann’s Gatsby accurately sums up the 1920’s: a big party that is ruined by a great crash. Leaving the theater was like leaving Gatsby’s house after a long weekend. While Luhrmann dazzles us with effects he is also telling us a deep story, a sad story, one that if told differently would perhaps eat at our core. It is my hope that audiences are able to recognize the depth of Carraway’s words and the portrayal of this period among the champagne soaked parties. I recommend seeing the movie in 3-D (how Luhrmann intended it), buying the soundtrack, and re-reading the book. The memories of Gatsby linger long after it ends, and any story that stays with you is a story worth examining.

Published in Current

Entertainment // May 6, 2013

Thanks to YouTube, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can upload a video of anything, anytime they want.  While this means the world has been inundated with cat videos, it has also revolutionized entertainment and launched some careers - I mean, Justin Bieber was discovered there. There is a lot of crap, but there are also some people who have perfected entertaining through their videos and have amassed a following.  While a lot of the YouTube heavyweights are males, there are a collection of female stars who have mastered the art of creating videos that people want to see. The next time you have some time to kill, check out these YouTube sensations:


Michelle Phan

Michelle is a beauty vlogger who is an amazing makeup artist. Seriously. She can make herself look like Angelina Jolie or Taylor Swift using makeup alone.  Michelle started her channel after she was rejected for a job at a makeup counter. But now, she is so popular that she is a spokesperson for Lancome and has developed her own skincare line, IQQU.  Next time you want to switch up your look, look no further than Michelle’s YouTube series.


Hannah Hart

Hannah maintains a series called “My Drunk Kitchen,” where she cooks while she gets hammered on various alcoholic beverages.  Yep, it’s that simple.  While her recipes are a drunken mess, people love her because of her humor. Her ability to make puns is unmatched. Hannah also has her own channel where she talks about her daily life. She recently held a fundraiser online to raise money so that she could tour the country and cook in people’s kitchens.  She exceeded her goal quickly, and expanded her tour to the international level. Hannah is no joke.


Grace Helbig

Better known as Daily Grace (named after her YouTube show), Grace maintains a channel where she uploads a new video every damn WEEKDAY.  Every day has a theme (Sexy Friday, Review Wednesdays), and she basically just sits there and lets things fly out of her mouth. For example, on “Sexy Fridays,” she will ask her fans what kind of love, sex and dating topics they want her to give advice on. She then answers a bunch of questions in that day’s video. I use the term advice loosely. Her response to someone asking how to get a guy out of the apartment the next morning was to lock the bathroom door so they’d be forced to leave to take their morning s*&t. She acts a little awkward and does this funny sing-song thing with her voice, and that sh*t works for her.  She manages to make the most inane-seeming things sound interesting. In my opinion, this is definitely a talent. Just watch a video -- you’ll see what I’m talking about.


Jenna Marbles

This list wouldn’t even be valid without including Jenna. Chances are, you already know this chick. She’s got 8.5 million subscribers on YouTube, and her collection of videos have over 1 BILLION views. Jenna is popular because she’s hilarious, she swears a lot, and she’s hot.  My personal favorites are her videos about gender differences. She is great at pointing out  -- and making fun of -- how different men and women are. Confession: I lowkey want to stalk her and be her best friend. She’s just that awesome. How she hasn’t been given her own TV show yet, I don’t know. But I’m going to put it out there now that eventually, it’s going to happen.


Justine Ezarik

Better known as iJustine, this girl makes videos about everything. Her everyday life, her thoughts - essentially whatever she wants. Case in point: one of her biggest videos was her ranting about wanting a cheeseburger at a restaurant that was out of them. She’s known as a “lifecaster” - which I never heard before putting this article together - which apparently means that she broadcasts her life. Duh. Justine also occasionally acts and hosts TV shows. If you take a look at her, you can see why. Her appearance is pretty much flawless. Justine is smart and fun to watch, and she’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.


What may seem like frivolous videos to some, has created big fame and big profits for these ladies. They make ridiculous amounts of revenue from the ads on their videos. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Ugh, why don’t I have a video series again? These YouTubers are some of my personal favorites, but this is far from a complete list of all the great people on the site. Let me know who your favorite YouTubers are, and what videos I should watch in the comments below!



Published in Entertainment

Entertainment // April 22, 2013 

If the widespread use of techno beats and cheesy lyrics weren’t enough of an indication, R&B music today simply isn’t what it used to be. The R&B acts of the 80’s and 90’s set the bar high (Jodeci anyone?), and the timeless vocals, iconic fashion and -- of course -- the dance moves, simply can’t be forgotten.  While you can find amazing R&B groups in recent history, most of us are 80s-90s babies, so we decided to put together a list of some of the best acts of that time period.  Join us for a trip down musical memory lane, won’t you?


Boyz II Men -- I’ll Make Love To You


It was borderline impossible to choose one video to feature from Boyz II Men’s crazy catalogue of hits back in the 90s. Simply put, Boyz II Men was one of the biggest R&B acts of the 90s. From Motown Philly to End of the Road to One Sweet Day to On Bended Knee....these dudes were everywhere.  At the height of the group’s popularity, they could literally do no wrong. Ooooh baby, the I’ll Make Love To You video had it all!  Signature crazy vocals, super soft mood lighting, carefully coordinated outfits in the hallway, then look!  They’re in a driveway!  Ahhh, the simple setups of music videos back then. We miss it. Today, three out of the four original members (minus Michael McCary, aka Mr. Deep Voice with the Cane) can be found opening for New Kids on the Block on the Package Tour (ouch), and soon they’ll be taking up a residency at The Mirage in Vegas.  

Dru Hill -- In My Bed

   

OK, let’s pretend that 2:28 where Nokio pours hot candle wax down his chest while holding his neckpiece in his mouth never happened, shall we?  Good, glad we’re on the same page.  Questionable videos and blonde hair aside, Dru Hill was once a force to be reckoned with.  Sisqo’s signature wail was hard for anyone to compete with, and he stole the shine from the rest of the group most of the time, which ultimately led to his short-lived solo career (thong-th-thong-thong-th—no).  The group tried to pull it back together, but member switch outs and failed albums that no one paid attention to left the group dead in the water.  Luckily, they left us with enough great material to keep the memories of their glory days alive.

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En Vogue -- Don’t Let Go 


  

Let’s have a moment of silence for the demise of one of the greatest female R&B acts of all time.  Listening to their music today will make you pine for the girl group action of yesteryear.  En Vogue was the perfect mix of strong vocals, attitude, style and beauty.  Unfortunately, internal differences between the group (including lawsuits against one another…yikes) lead us to believe a reunion isn’t in the cards. That being said, we can all try to keep the En Vogue love alive at karaoke.

SWV -- Weak




Cuz my heart starts beating triple time… Was there a female alive in the 90s that didn’t know this song backwards and forwards?  SWV was one of the top female R&B groups of their time, and have since made attempts to put out new music.  As recently as last year, they released a single and appeared on Wendy Williams.  But is anyone checking for them?  Not really.  Still, there aren’t many acts on the radio these days who can belt out a song or have it resonate the same way these ladies can.

Jodeci -- Cry For You



If you were looking for babymaking music back in the day, these were your guys.  Jodeci was so crucial to the game that they influenced R&B performers, whether it be groups or solo acts, for years to come.  They tried to reunite on stage last month at a show in the UK, and apparently sucked so bad they were booed off the stage. But we still love them for all their shirtless videos and for being sensitive thugs.

Total Trippin



Total was more known for their guest stars and cameos than their own music, but you could find their vocals on tracks from Biggie to Missy to LL Cool J to Mase and beyond. They added a soulful vibe to every track and made short hair sexy. We probably won’t see Total back together again, but they are a quintessential component of Bad Boy's heyday.

112 -- Cupid



112 is one of my favorite things Diddy ever did.  Slim’s unique voice (let’s be real – it was pretty nasally, wasn’t it?) was a bit of an acquired taste for most people, but once you got used to it, 112 was absolutely one of the smoothest sounding groups of the 90s.  They have since disbanded, and have made a couple attempts to reunite in recent years, but apparently a couple of them keep holding out to focus on their “solo careers.”  Let us know how that turns out.

TLCWhat About Your Friends




We all know what happened to TLC, and there’s just no way for that group to ever get back together without Left Eye.  Even though you can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness over Left Eye’s untimely death when you listen to their music, classics like Waterfalls, Creep, No Scrubs, Lets Talk About Sex and this song mean they will always stay in our hearts and our rotation.

Published in Entertainment
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