Release Sept 7 2021 | Vol28 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Fire! This volume’s cover features features the #SlayBells of @Queen__Reinvented. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James is a Music Love Story” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, Lady M Mannequins; our highlighted Hair Feature with Debra Hare Bey; “Solo Travel: Audacious Adventure” with Ty Vaughn by dCarrie; “The Value of Values” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “The Childhood Challenge” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 28 contributed photo story, “Fire;” Fitness Highlight, Dorian DuBois of EFitBrand; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Savory Veggie Flatbread; “What Banks Don’t Want You to Know” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Featured Art Piece by @TheOneWillFocus; Comic Appreciation with INFINITUM by Tim Fields; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
No way as a 30-something-year-old man did I think I would be fanboying over a Lin Manuel project but there I was – almost as excited as my niece, Lin Manuel’s #1 fan (in her opinion), to watch his latest film, In the Heights. Not to mention, the film was also helmed by Crazy Rich Asians award-winning director, John M. Chu, and had a cast full of colorful characters. Yes, literally the cast was full of diversity that was organic and not uncomfortable like it is in some other films. Trust me, you will become a fan if you are not already.
Plots, Subplots, and Sub-subplots
Like the play, the film has multiple subplots that tie together perfectly. Kudos is due to Miranda and screenwriter, Quiara Alegría Hudes, for In the Heights’s last act takes a surprising twist. The way the film opens, the way it is shot, the character introductions, and the plot all had me fooled!
Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina’s (Leslie Grace) relationship was endearing. I enjoyed how Nina focused on her being back home as Benny tries to talk about Nina’s college life. She missed home so much she changed her hair from straight to natural – code-switching on deck! The love Benny has for Nina runs so deep. You can tell he wants to spend all of his time with her and support her future goals. Nina’s subplot definitely pays off as the film progresses and, to me, was one of the most important since her character’s choices could affect the most lives.
Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa’s (Melissa Barrera) relationship was also interesting. Both were charismatic, admired each other, and desired a different life that would lead their lives in opposite directions. Their chemistry was strong though and their moments at the club were hilarious.
One of the stand out scenes was when the power outage occurred while the main cast was in the club. When “Powerless” was performed and transitioned to “Look at the Lights”, I really felt the emotion. This community feels powerless in their situations, mostly controlled by the government, but they all look toward a bright hope for the future. Poverty, social economics, cultural identity, and immigration were all heavily explored but not force-fed.
I loved pretty much all the performances in the film but my top three were the flash mob-style “96,000”, “No Me Diga” and “Paciencia y Fe” by Olga Merediz as “Abuela” Claudia. Olga gave one of the best performances as her character chronicles her life as a New York immigrant through song. Applause to the creative minds of Chu and Miranda for making Merediz’s solo so visually stunning. The transition of time on the subway was memorable and kind of made me feel like I was watching the play. Also, I’m proud to see Corey Hawkins perform his dance scenes well because I’ve only seen him fight zombies (Walking Dead) and shoot bad guys.
FYI: Lin-Manuel Miranda completed his first draft of the stage musical “In The Heights” during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University, where it was performed as part of the school’s Second Stage. There, the 80-minute one-act played for a mere three days, but the potential for a grander production was evident from the start. Even now, after a wildly successful Broadway run and film adaptation, Miranda is amazed that it all started when he was still that young. Having recently seen a stage production of the work, he muses, “I went to see something a child wrote—a child version of me.”
Miranda’s Music for In The Heights
If you are familiar with Miranda’s work you know his soundtrack is always on point and will most likely keep you singing in the shower for weeks. Seriously, songs like “In the Heights”, “We Gotta Go” and “Piragua” performed by Miranda himself, stayed in my head for a while… partly due to my niece singing the songs for hours. Since the movie soundtrack was not out when I screened the film I had to utilize good ole YouTube.
I’m still amazed how one man can develop an awesome combination of storytelling and music composition. Plus, his adaptability is impeccable because to go develop powerhouse soundtracks from “In the Heights” to “ Hamilton” is just uncanny. I have to be honest, the music in this film made me want to take up salsa again.
I think Lin Manuel Miranda fans will enjoy it and people new to Manuel’s work will become fans like I am. In the Heights is a movie many of you will eventually end up watching multiple times. The product of good acting, catchy songs, music that will make you dance, diversity, and cool cinematography, In the Heights, gets two thumbs up and a “ You better not watch it on bootleg!” Watch In the Heights opening June 10th in theaters and HBO Max.
“In the Heights” stars Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born,” Broadway’s “Hamilton”), Corey
Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Kong: Skull Island”), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, Melissa
Barrera (TV’s “Vida”), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s “In the Heights”), Daphne Rubin-Vega
(Broadway’s “Rent”), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s “Matilda the Musical”), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Dascha Polanco (TV’s “Orange Is the New Black”) and Jimmy Smits (the
“Star Wars” films).
Release Jun 7 2021 | Vol27 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Utopia! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @UniquelyWiredM and @JaymisonBeverly by @iamNayMarie. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Concrete Cowboy: Becoming a Man and Father” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight; our highlighted Hair Feature with Tajah Olson; “Solo Travel: Building Confidence Through Travel” by dCarrie; “Just My Imagination?” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “The Childhood Challenge” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 27 contributed photo story, “Utopia;” Fitness Highlight; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Spicy Sushi Rolls; “How to Fight Racism…Financially” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Featured Art Piece; Comic Appreciation; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
The 93rd Oscars was one of the most entertaining Oscars I’ve seen in a while. I kind of assumed it would be given the number of Black creatives listed in the programming and the nominees. Never mind that I had media credentials this year, even my friends were texting me saying the same thing. The night was filled with surprises and laughs… to be enjoyed in the comfort of my home and not in the hot sun trying to waive down people for interviews.
The Winners Are…
Daniel Kaluuya started the night with his win in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role category for Judas and the Black Messiah. He made sure to include his castmates and follow feature creatives in his speech stating, “I share this honor with the gift that is Lakeith Stanfield. The light that is [applause], yeah yeah, the light that is Dominique Fishback. [applause] The incredible cast, the incredible crew –you know what I mean– Lucas Brothers for starting the journey. Will Berson.”
Kaluuya thanked Chairman Fred Junior and Mama Akua. “Thank you so much for allowing us into your life and into your story. Thank you, thank you for trusting us, you know, with your truth.” He added, “He (Fred Hampton) was on this earth for 21 years, 21 years, and he found a way to feed kids breakfast, educate kids, give free medical care, against all the odds. He showed, he showed me, he taught me him. Him, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party. They showed me how to love myself. And with that love, they overflowed into the black community and into other communities.”
Daniel surprised the crowd and his mother when he said “Like, it’s incredible, my mum, my dad. They had sex. It’s amazing. Like do you know what I’m saying, I’m here. You know what I mean?” I am pretty sure his mom was shocked and surely sent Daniel a text message or two about his speech.
Shortly after, in the interview room, he explained, “I’m going to wait on my phone for a bit, man. Trust me. I’m going to wait on my phone for a little bit. I think my mom is going to be very happy. But she’s going to be cool. She’s going to be cool, man. She’s going to be cool. She knows ‑‑ she’s got a sense of humor. So she’s glad ‑‑ we give it to each other. So it’s cool.”
The most hilarious part of the night for me in the press area was when a reporter asked Kaluuya “what it meant to be directed by Regina King?” My reaction was like “Huh?” and I am sure it threw off Daniel because he had to ask them to repeat the question. Judas and the Black Messiah was NOT directed by Regina King. * facepalm *
Tyler Perry was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He told a story about a homeless woman asking him for shoes. Perry explained how he took her into his studio and helped her find shoes. He said she stayed looking down after he waited for her to look up and all this time she’s looking down. She finally looks up. She’s got tears in her eyes. She says “Thank you, Jesus, my feet are off the ground.” He explains at that moment he can recall her saying to him, “I thought you would hate me for asking.” “I’m like how can I hate you when I used to be you?”
When asked what made him tell the story he said, “Where we are a country and world, where everybody is grabbing a corner and a color, and they are all ‑‑ nobody wants to come to the middle to have a conversation. Everybody is polarized, and it’s in the middle where things change. So I’m hoping that that inspires people to meet us in the middle so that we can get back to some semblance of normal. As this pandemic is over, we can get to a place where we are showing love and kindness to each other again.”
Fresh off her Grammy win for “I Can’t Breathe,” H.E.R picked up an Oscar for Original Song for “Fight for You” for the film “Judas and the Black Messiah.” She collaborated with Dernst Emille and Tiara Thomas for the uprising song. H.E.R started by saying “Thank you to the Academy. I’ve always wanted to say that. And of course, my collaborators, D’Mile and Tiara Thomas, the song wouldn’t be what it was without them.” She then continued to thank her family and musical inspirations stating, “Of course I have to thank God for giving us these gifts and my parents, my beautiful mother who’s here with me today and my father at home. All those days of listening to Sly and the Family Stone, and Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, they really paid off.”
With H.E.R winning an Oscar and a Granny, placing her at the halfway mark of receiving EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winner) status, the question is what is next? She replied “Oh, there’s absolutely going to be an EGOT in my future hopefully. But, yeah, you know, I’m also super compassionate about acting as well. So you may see me up here as an actress also. And I love musicals. Me and Brandy have been talking a lot, and she inspired me since she did a musical. But, yeah, honestly, I cannot believe that we are here. I’m so thankful to be standing next to these two. I’m still speechless. I feel like the Oscars are happening tomorrow, and I’m dreaming right now. I’m still pinching myself. So I have no words.”
What does the song “ Fight for You” mean? H.E.R describes, “We are literally saying, you know, as long as I’m standing, I’m going to fight for you. And I have been given this platform and now an Oscars stage to share a message, you know, and to really speak my own truth and to continue to spread the word of our history, what is happening today.”
Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, along with Sergio Lopez‑Rivera, become of the few Black women to win in Hair and Makeup Styling for the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Mia Neal accepted the award with her family background. “I was raised by my grandfather, James Holland. He was an original Tuskegee Airman. He represented the U.S. in the first Pan Am Games. He went to Argentina. He met Evita. He graduated from Northwestern University at the time that they did not allow Blacks to stay on campus, so he stayed at the YMCA. And after all of his accomplishments, he went back to his hometown in hopes of becoming a teacher. But they did not hire Blacks in the school system. So I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, were denied but never gave up.” She then continued to praise her colleagues and stated her hopes for future winners. “I stand here as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling with so much excitement for the future. Because I can picture Black trans women standing up here and Asian sisters and our Latino sisters and indigenous women. And I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking; it will just be normal.”
Notable jazz musician Jon Baptiste was amongst the trio (with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) to win Best Original Score. After winning the award he had this to say about his work. “I think I re‑affirm the fact that your collaborators, the people around you, the people who you have the pleasure of trading information as we all accumulate information on the journey of life and music is life. So I look at them as one and the same. And just kind of seeing how that transpires in the next project you take on and transpires in the next moments in your life. And this will definitely be something that will resonate until the day I die, this collaboration.”
Travon Free won Best Live Action Short for “Two Different Strangers” with Martin Desmond Roe. Travon relayed to the audience his reasoning for making the film stating “Today the police will kill three people. And tomorrow the police will kill three people and the day after that, the police will kill three people because on average, the police in America every day kill three people. Which amounts to about 1,000 people a year. And those people happen to disproportionately be Black people. And, you know, James Baldwin once said the most despicable thing a person can be is indifferent to other people’s pain. And so I just ask that you please not be indifferent. Please, don’t be indifferent to our pain.” Earlier that day another Black life, Isaiah Brown, was taken by a police officer who gave him a ride earlier that day. Similar to the storyline of the award-winning short film.
Lil Rel is Hilarious
Lil Rel had the Oscars program feeling like a block party on Sunday. He had Daniel Kallayk talking to him like he was his spades partner and had Angela Basset grooving like her favorite jam just dropped. The most shocking and most hilarious part of the night was when Lil Rel quizzed Glenn Close on EU’s “Da Butt” song. She answered correctly and gave a little history about the Backyard Band, a popular go-go band in the ’80s, and proceeded to do ‘the butt.’ With Lil Rel engaging the crowd and Quest Love providing the evening’s tunes, the Oscars was a thing even Black people could enjoy. No matter if you only know two of the many nominees.
Black Behind the Scenes of the Oscars
Why did the Oscars have a little more flavor this year? The Academy Awards had some more Black influence behind the scenes. Starting with Dionne Harmon, she is the Executive Vice President of Content & Strategy at Jesse Collins Entertainment, where she oversees the development and production of unscripted and scripted content. She has done some work on BET’s “Bobby Brown Series” and “American Soul.”
Amberia Allen returned as a writer for the second year in a row. Her notable credits include “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and “The Last O.G.,” and she has written for numerous live awards shows and variety specials, including the “Golden Globe Awards,” “Primetime Emmy Awards” and “The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.”
One of the writers of the Boondocks, Rodney Barnes, returned to the Oscars production team as a writer. He serves as showrunner, writer, and creator of “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable” for HBO Max. Barnes also penned Marvel Comics’ “The Falcon,” Marvel/Lucasfilm’s “Lando: Double or Nothing” and “Quincredible” for the Lion Forge imprint.
Mitchell Marchand returned to the Oscars show as a writer. His credits as a comedy writer include such awards shows as the “BET Awards,” “Hip Hop Awards,” “UNCF Evening of Stars,” MTV Video Music Awards,” “NAACP Image Awards” and “Primetime Emmy Awards.”
The founding member of the Roots, Questlove, joined the production team as the musical director of the Oscars. The five-time Grammy award-winning creative is fresh off the directorial debut of his award-winning “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
some most of us are bummed that Chadwick Boseman did not win Best Actor for his amazing performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the Academy Awards was thoroughly entertaining and worth the watch this year. With Lil’ Rel hosting the event like that funny uncle at a family gathering and the music masterfully selected by DJ Quest Love, I’m sure you will not be bored. I know I wasn’t…
Release Mar 7 2021 | Vol26 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Diasporic! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @TheOnlyWayIsMarbz by @_OKOBE_. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Jingle Jangle: The Film Every Child Needs While Growing Up ” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight on Greeting Cards by Adeyemi Artistry; our highlighted Hair Feature; “Solo Travel: How Travel Made Me A Better Person” by dCarrie; “The Texture of Education” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “The Chaos Theory of Education” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 26 contributed photo story, “Diasporic;” Fitness Highlight: @eliteperformancenyc; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Jalapeño Honey Po’ Boy; “Are You Financially Prepared For This “New Normal”?” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Featured Art Piece by Janelle Naomi; Comic Appreciation with Ezerea, Tales of the Zauberer by William C. Davis; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
Release Dec 7 2020 | Vol25 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of AfroFuture! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @NoriRaneMUA (by @BymshaBrownePhotography with @NYCNory). Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Jurnee Smollett Talks Lovecraft Country, Activism, and Breonna Taylor” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight on Nichelle Consulting; our highlighted Hair Feature by Angela Plummer; “Solo Travel: Are You A Performative Global Ally?” by dCarrie; “Micro Betrayals?” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “Building the Image Nation” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 25 contributed photo story, “AfroFuture;” Fitness Highlight: @itsdreamsworld; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Wontons; Think Tank, “Lack of Love” by Brianna Burnley; Earth’s Cabinet LLC, Aligning Your Body Holisticly; “The Garden Metaphor Of Finance” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; Lovely Leo Skincare Awakens All of Your Body’s Senses; Featured Art Piece; Comic Appreciation; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
Release Sep 7 2020 | Vol24 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Curves & Serves! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @ruby_glam (Hair by @hairdoctor_locs, Photo by @PascalChikezie, Wardrobe and Accessories by @udiahgebi and @householdofjewellery1). Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, organic holistic health detoxes, teas, and supplements from Earth’s Cabinet LLC; our Community Spotlight on Budda by Yvee body butters; our highlighted Hair Feature by Angela Plummer; “Solo Travel: The Adult Gap Year with Stephanie Perry of Vaycarious.com” by dCarrie; “Resolution: Does the Earth Need Surgery?” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “#BlackLoveConvo: Alexis Chikaeze Chats about her Character in Miss Juneteenth” by Dapper Dr. Feel; “Education in the New World Order” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 24 contributed photo story, “Curves & Serves;” Fitness Highlight; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Mac & Cheese; “Black Honey Toys for All of Your Erotic Needs”; “Forq You Up is Adding Some Flavor to the Spice Game;” Featured Art Piece; Comic Appreciation with “Okemus” by T.J. Sterling; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
Release Jun 7 2020 | Vol23 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Golden Wisdom! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of Adele Dejak’s Kenyan Photo Series entitled “Benson”. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, designer and tailor, T-MICHAEL; our Community Spotlight on Lovely Leo Skincare; our highlighted Hair Feature by Angela Plummer; “Solo Travel: Dance As A Passport with @Jasmine.Noir_” by dCarrie; “Earthiopia” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “#BlackLoveConvo: New Comedy, Twenties, Aims To Stand Strong on the Shoulders of Living Single” by Dapper Dr. Feel; “Help the Children Move in a Time of Stillness” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 23 theme “Golden Wisdom;” Fitness Highlight, “Ernestine Shepherd is Still Bodybuilding at the Age of 83”; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Jerk Portabella Toast; “I Am Maathmatics” Book Series; “Nicholas Brooklyn is a Necessary Community Staple;” Featured Art Piece by Craig Carter; Comic Appreciation with “Monarchs” by Joshua Bullock; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
Release Mar 7 2020 | Vol22 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of #SoGothIWasBornBlack! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of Bymsha Browne’s Photography team highlighting Herbalist, Toni Bernard. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, Take Each Moment Podcast; our Community Spotlight on JuJu The Web Series; our highlighted Hair Feature by Angela Plummer; “Solo Travel: A Simple Exercise in Broadening Your Views on Travel” by dCarrie; “Heart and Mind are a Power Couple” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “#BlackLoveConvo: Rhonda Mitchell M.D. Series Creator & Cast Member talk Love, Work, and Exes” by Dapper Dr. Feel; Earth’s Cabinet is Realigning the Boy with Holistic Teas, Steams, and Oils; Our Vol 22 theme “#SoGothIWasBornBlack;” Comic Appreciation with Sankofa Guard; Vegan Fun with Delliz the Chef; Musician, Gregory Wilson, is Your New Favorite Black Nerd with Glasses; Featured Art Piece by Craig Carter; Must-Have Graphic Novel: “Divine Mother” by Komikka Patton (Martian); Black Business Highlights; and more!!
Release Dec 7 2019 | Vol21 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Black Love! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of M’Shari Whaley of Uniquelywiredm and artist/music producer Jaymison Beverly. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, Paine Artistry is Powering Up Black Artists; our Community Spotlight; our highlighted Hair Feature; “Solo Travel: Holiday Travel & Mindful Spending” by dCarrie; “Separation > Domestication” by Jashua Sa’Ra; Wealth feature “Credit vs Cash”; “For the Love of Children” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 21 theme “Black Love;” our Fitness Feature, Michael Jai White, Receives “The Mantle of the Black Dragon” at Urban Action Showcase & Expo 2019; Vegan Fun with Delliz the Chef – Falafel with Israeli Rice Salad; Rufus & Jenny Triplett Give Us a Look at 30 Years of Marriage; “#BlackLoveConvo: “Waves Explores the Dynamics and Effects of Black Love” by Dapper Dr. Feel; A Look into The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion; Featured Art Piece by Will Focus; Must-Have Comic Series: “The Outlaws” from Concept Moon Magazine; Black Business Highlights; and more!!