Category Archives: Culture

14Jul/21

Spike Lee’s New Book SPIKE Is a Visual Celebration of His Career

SPIKE

As Spike Lee serves as the director for the Cannes Film Festival, he also has something else major his fans can look forward to…his new book, SPIKE. The hardcover book covers Lee’s 30-year film career and includes never seen before photos from the set of his films. Some photos will come from the archives of Lee’s brother, David Lee, and will also feature photos from onset photographers from his films over the years.  

The book is also designed by creative and founder of Vocal Type, Tré Seals. Seals created the custom typography for the book based on Radio Raheem’s iconic LOVE/HATE brass knuckles from Do the Right Thing. The same brass knuckles Lee wore during his win at the Academy Awards for BlacKkKlansman. 

What I Look Forward To? 

I look forward to seeing extra photos from some of the sets of my favorite films like Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and School Daze. These are the films I grew up appreciating because the characters look like me and some of the soundtracks were dope! Seriously, Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack was my gateway into my love for jazz and the He Got Game soundtrack re-introduced me to legendary hip hop group Public Enemy. 

I hope to see more information about films like She Hate Me and Bamboozled because these films were released during a time when I started to pay more attention to social commentary in art and understanding how art imitates life. Lee’s films always prompt audiences to think but never forces the message intended for the viewers. 

The book will also feature some stills and quotes from Spike Lee’s “Is it the shoes?” Nike campaign with Michael Jordan. I really want to see his commentary on that experience, especially when Jordan used to put on a show against his beloved Knicks. I mean Jordan used to embarrass everybody, but he used to obliterate the Knicks! 

“As I Head Full Steam Ahead Into My 5th Decade As A Filmmaker I Was Elated When Steve Crist And Chronicle Chroma Approached Me About Doing A Visual Book Of All My Joints. We Would Revisit All Da Werk I’ve Put In To Build My Body Of Work. Film Is A Visual Art Form And That Sense Of My Storytelling Has Been Somewhat Overlooked. Why Now, After All These Years? FOLKS BE FORGETTING.” – Spike Lee

For the last few years, Spike Lee has received his long-awaited and deserved roses. Of course, many of us have supported and shown appreciation for the quality entertainment he has created but I feel now he is getting worldwide acknowledgment. So if you are a Spike Lee fan like I am, you will enjoy this book published by Chronicle Chroma and can embrace the nostalgia. The book will be released on November 10th and can pre-ordered here.

SPIKE

Spike Lee has been a celebrated filmmaker, a cultural icon, and one of America’s most prominent voices on race and racism for more than three decades. His dynamic storytelling and unique visual style have made an indelible mark on filmmaking and television. This comprehensive monograph will be a sumptuous visual showcase of Spike Lee’s life and work, a must‐have for cinephiles and fans of one of the most influential filmmakers in history.  His career spans over 30 years and includes: She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled 25th Hour, Inside Man, and more. Lee’s outstanding feature documentary work includes the double Emmy® Award-winning If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, a follow-up to his HBO documentary film When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, and the Peabody Award-winning A Huey P. Newton Story. In the television arena, he launched his Netflix original series She’s Gotta Have It, which ran two seasons on the platform. The series is a contemporary update of his classic film.

SPIKE

28Jun/21

Renaissance Woman, Nana Mensah, Impresses with Directorial Debut: “Queen of Glory”

Synopsis: Queen of Glory is the story of Sarah Obeng, a brilliant child of Ghanaian immigrants, who’s quitting her Ivy League PhD program to follow her married lover to Ohio. However, when her mother dies suddenly, Sarah is bequeathed a Christian bookstore in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx where she was raised. A follow-up on the classic immigrant’s tale, Queen of Glory provokes laughter and empathy as its heroine is reborn through her inheritance. 

Queen of Glory is a humorous film about identity, family, and culture; a story that shares the perspective of a Ghana-American preparing to bury her mother while following her deep-rooted cultural practices in the process. Like the lead character, Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah), many of us leave our parents’ nest to explore the world, become educated, and gain exposure to other ways of life. Sometimes we find ourselves embracing other cultures while abandoning our own along the way. This Nana Mensah project proves that growth and self-discovery can be full of humor, even when things are not so much. It comes as no surprise that the film took home the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Best New Narrative Director and Special Jury Prize for Artistic Expression. Mensah was able to take time from her busy Tribeca schedule to update Taji Mag about the film. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): How was the process of making this film?

Nana Mensah (NM): Incredibly long. I had a very, very expensive script that still has not been made but takes place in Ghana and it was a historical biopic. I showed it to my good friend who is an indie filmmaker, Emily Abt, and she was like “Girl, nobody knows who you are. Nobody is going to give you $100 million dollars to make this movie in Ghana. Why don’t you start again and put this script on the back burner? Work on something intimate and small but you can put it in the festival circuit, make a name for yourself as a storyteller. Then that will be the launchpad to the $100 million projects”. That’s how I came to develop my labor of love, my passion project, Queen of Glory. I wrote this story around something film veterans advise young filmmakers to do which is cheap and [sometimes] free. My family owns a Christian bookstore in the Bronx, so I wrote the story around the idea of that bookstore and fictionalized everything else.

DDF: What was the most difficult part of the process?

NM: The hardest part was fundraising and getting resources. As a first-time filmmaker, nobody knows who you are and when you go to them to ask for money they are kind of like “Who, why, what are you using the money for?”. When you are a child of immigrants in the United States, it’s so cliche [that] you become a lawyer, doctor…and those are your options. My network was not a network that was very familiar with investing in film or things like that. Usually, it’s investing in an app or someone’s business, but when it comes to film it’s like, “What does that mean?”. It took a while to really convince people of my vision and to get resources.

I thought the world needed this story because I simply hadn’t seen it anywhere. West African stories don’t quite fit in the boxes Western audiences want to fit them into. In Asante culture— my parents’ culture and that of Sarah’s parents depicted in ‘Queen of Glory’— great joy and celebration can exist right alongside pain and loss. Asante stories show life as a symbiosis of drama and comedy, each stepping in when the other swells too wildly, needing to be checked. – Nana Mensah

DDF: Pit (Meeko Gattuso) was one of my favorite characters in the film. What made you cast Meeko Gattuso? 

NM: There’s a friend and family kind of vibe when it came to casting Meeko. Meeko was directed by my friend, Adam Leon, who also directed Gimme the Loot. Leon also plays Lyle, my boyfriend, in the film. Adam found Meeko. How? I have no idea. I always wanted to work with that guy…he’s so compelling and he’s so, you know, great to watch. We were looking at casting that role in the bookstore and one of our producers was like “Meeko!” and I was like “Really, oh my God, that’s so weird, wait that’s perfect”. It was one of those ideas where you’re like “no, no, no!” when the producers first say it, but then you are like “wait, wait, wait!” Now I can’t imagine anyone else playing that part.

Pit t(Meeko Gattuso) and Sarah (Nana Mensah)

DDF: Sarah’s next door neighbors always have chaos going on. How and why did you create those scenes?

NM: My background is in theater so when you’re watching a play, you get to kind of move your eyes around. You’re not being told where to look. A lot of times you just kind of pick out what you are absorbing. I wanted to play with the idea of being able to do that in film and so I figured with that family there’s so many people and so much chaos it would be great just to have this tableau. Then you get to choose your own adventure. Three of those characters are related, so there was a lot of familial beef they could draw from which worked in my favor.

DDF: What was going through Sarah’s mind when she was preparing for the funeral?

NM: What I was trying to convey was that sometimes you don’t have to do it anymore, and just be who you are. Sarah cutting off the weave and letting her natural hair out and then, like, really grieving her mother…something that she’s been keeping at bay this entire time, you know, keeping a bit of distance between herself and the grief. Letting the loss of her mother wash over her is how I wanted it to end at that point of the act.

DDF: Do you think we will see more stories like Queen of Glory?

NM: I’m just excited to add another contribution to the different ways that Black people live, are being raised, and what they’re being exposed to in the United States; and just adding another Drop in the Ocean of Blackness reflected in cinema. 

Queen of Glory is a uniquely funny film that audiences are bound to enjoy. I found myself connected to the film and especially relating to the lead character. This film is another great project released by Magnolia Pictures and definitely worth watching. Hopefully it will open the door for Nana Mensah’s $100 million dollar film of her dreams. In the meantime, you can also catch Nana in the upcoming Netflix series, The Chair.

24Jun/21

No Running: Alien Abductions and A Young Black Man’s Innocence

No Running Film

Synopsis: When high school student Jaylen Brown (Skylan Brooks) finds himself under suspicion after his classmate’s mysterious disappearance, prejudice quickly begins to bubble up to the surface of his small town. Working quickly to clear his own name, he begins to unravel a massive web of secrets that all point to otherworldly forces at play.

No Running made its premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. It is a sci-fi flick that reminds me of teen-based films like The Faculty or Attack the Block, but with the same racial themes of Get Out. Firstly, the film definitely had me wondering why the lead character’s life sucked so much, there could’ve been more clarity about his past. Secondly, I thought it was crazy how there were alien abductions going on and the town was still focusing on Jaylen and his family. Also, I found myself wondering what could’ve made this film better. Something was definitely missing and I feel this could be better as a series.

The Characters

The protagonist, Jaylen Brown, was an intriguing character: one of the only Black men in the neighborhood with a troubled past in a town rumored to have experienced alien abductions. His character made me reflect on how young Black men can be perceived so negatively. Jaylen just wants to be a teenager, be with his crush, have fun with his family, and graduate! But it seems his aunt, his Bully, and his town just won’t let him be. Only the women in his life keep him grounded which is mainly because his life is absent of male figures, especially Black male figures. 

Jaylen’s love interest, Amira (Clark Backo), was a great plot device and serves as the only bright spot outside of his family. Clark does a decent job of making Amira Jaylen’s charismatic love interest. It is unfortunate that Amira is abducted, but even moreso that she disappears while with Jaylen after a party in a predominantly white neighborhood. 

Jaylen’s mother Ramila (Rutina Wesley) and sister Simone (Diamond White) were the foundation needed for him to stay optimistic, even during his time on the run. (Side note: I’m sorry, I will always see Diamond White as Tiffany from Boo: A Madea Halloween, but her portrayal as Simone was just as entertaining). 

The Story

As I mentioned before, the premise sets up a promising story, but I am not sure if the film accomplished its goal? The correlation between a space alien and Jaylen in this neighborhood makes the film compelling, but I really had to look deep to make the connection. I also thought about how crazy it would be to walk in Jaylen’s shoes? Imagine being a young Black man who witnessed his high school crush get abducted by aliens in a town severely lacking diversity. I would run, too, and I’d be on the first Southwest Flight back to my aunt’s house. 

The small side story of Jaylen’s relationship with his father towards the end of the movie kind of lost me. Honestly, I would’ve liked to see at least a flashback of the event(s) that caused the demise of Jaylen’s relationship with his father. Aso, I understood the reason for the conflict with his aunt, but I did not understand its timing.

When Jaylen was on the run and playing detective, the pacing was on point. The mini-missions were fun and felt reminiscint of the side missions from Grand Theft Auto. The scene where he tries to make it out of the sheriff’s house was both intense and comical. The sheriff’s and his father’s racist comments and discriminatory attitudes made me want to jump through the screen. I did enjoy, though, that the sheriff’s father’s story connected to the aliens plot.  

No Running was an interesting film that questions the social commentary of believing in aliens or believing a young Black man. The idea is brilliant and I commend the screenwriter for using his experiences to bring life to this film, but I do feel the film could’ve been executed better.

No Running 

Starring: Skylan Brooks

Directed by: Delmar Washington

Written by: Tucker Morgan

19Jun/21

Deon Taylor Channels Phil Jackson While Directing The House Next Door

Synopsis: Carl Black (Mike Epps) is about to face off with the neighbor from hell (Katt Williams) in The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2. Carl has only ever wanted the best for his family, but after surviving the events that led to his (not-so-)bestselling book, he’s moving everyone to his childhood home, where he must contend with not only dealing with his wife Lorene (Zulay Henao) and kids Allie (Bresha Webb) and Carl Jr. (Alex Henderson) but everyone under the sun who drives him crazy: Cronut (Lil Duval), Freezee (Andrew Bachelor), Rico (Tyrin Turner), along with an entire neighborhood of characters who seem to attract strange activity after dark. And nothing could be freakier than their new neighbor, Dr. Mamuwalde (Williams), who may or may not be a vampire. From Co-Writer/Director Deon Taylor (Fatale, Black and Blue), as the Meet the Blacks universe expands, it will be up to Carl to figure out what his neighbor is up to in the middle of the night before it’s too late for him and his family.

Mike Epps, Katt Williams, Lil’ Duval, and Snoop Dogg are a few names in the star-studded The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 horror-comedy: the sequel to Meet The Blacks (once again helmed by Director Deon Taylor). Taylor is known for his recent works such as Fatale, Black and Blue, and Intruder. The Director took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his latest project.  

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): Does your creative approach differ from genre to genre? 

Deon Tayor (DT): I think the approach is always the same. In order for me to do a project, I have to be excited about it for some reason. That reason changes at different times of my life. I do understand the film is art. The idea is for you to keep painting. I see directors doing a movie every eight years. I don’t know how to do that. It took me so long as a Black director to get a movie made. Once the door was ajar, I put it into my mindset that I’m not going to stop. 

DDF: What inspired you to make the first Meet the Blacks?

DT: I made Meet the Blacks at a time when I was over making films, then Mike Epps made me laugh and told me he wanted to do a horror film. I was like that’s an interesting idea.

DDF: So, that’s why you’ve been putting out movies frequently? 

DT: Yes, you don’t want to stop. Especially when you are conscious of the time you are living in. If you have an opportunity to run you should run. Don’t let anything cool off, because we can’t afford that. If we lived in a different environment where I could point to 5 or 6 Black filmmakers and say they can afford to make one film and [take] three years off, then I would do it.

DDF: What was your approach to this film? 

DT: I had finished the first Meet the Blacks and I was doing the press tour for The Intruder with Dennis Quaid. Everywhere I went with Dennis during the press tour, someone would always ask “When are you doing Meet the Blacks 2?” White people, Black people, Asian people were all asking about a Meet the Blacks sequel. So Finally Dennis Quaid was like “Hey, are you going to do another Meet the Blacks?” That experience stayed with me for a year and a half then finally my friend from New York, Omar, was like “Son, we gotta make another Meet the Blacks son.”

DDF: What was it like on set with all the talents? 

DT: Not only are you a Director, but you are also an usher for energy. It’s like everyone has energy. I credit that to basketball a lot, how I pulled this movie off…and the first one. The first one was Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, and Mike Tyson. They are all on set. Everybody’s got an agenda. Everybody had something they wanted to do. For me, it’s about becoming invisible with your ego. 

If you ever played on a successful basketball team, everyone plays a role. When you have Mike Epps, Lil Duvall, Micahel Blackson, Gary Owen and you add Katt, it’s like the Brooklyn Nets. Katt said it best, he was James Harden on set. Sure he could drop 50 but we didn’t need for him to give 50, we needed him to facilitate. That’s what he did in this film. He stood back and played a vampire in the heavy and let the comedy happen around him. 

DDF: So you are Doc Rivers coaching the Celtics huh? 

DT: Lol. I don’t want to be Doc, I wanna be Phil (Jackson). Lol

DDF: Any stories from Epps and Williams about their experience on Friday After Next?

DT: Every day there was something. That’s the beauty of these movies, the memories you get to keep. You don’t realize Mike and Katt had so much history outside of what we know as public. Like, how they remember starting and doing shows together. You don’t know how long Micheal Blackson has been in entertainment or how long he and Gary Owens have known each other. You realize this is a community of talent that has been evolving around each other for the past 20years. 

DDF: Are there some special moments that stick out in your mind from Meet the Blacks and A House Next Door

DT: I remember being in the room with Mike Tyson, Charlie Murphy, Mike Epps, and Paul Mooney. They were talking about Eddie Murphy and their careers in the ’80s. You hear stuff and you are just like “Damn this [is] historically crazy. Now you see Charlie is gone, Paul Mooney is gone, and it makes you feel blessed to do a movie like A House Next Door. Every now and again you have a Harlem Knights or a Wayans film, but I am happy to get this calibur [of] film together because these are all the people we love.  

DDF: What does the audience have to look forward to?

DT: Fun, entertainment, a couple of jumps. I think we live in a world where we remake things and that’s cool, but I think Meet the Blacks and A House Next Door are their own thing.

If your mom gives you $20 to watch a film or you spend your last $50 to go on a date, I want to make sure you enjoy it. I’m trying to give you some message like to be an artist. I can give you that in the context of it, but my biggest job as an artist is to entertain you and make sure you have a good time.

DDF: How do you make movies that deliver a message without boring the audience? 

DT: I think about how I can give my daughter something in a film. Like Traffik, you get the thrills like A Quiet Place but you ask yourself does this stuff happen in real life? Yeah, it happens in real life. Critics don’t understand because most people don’t present the films this way. 

Take The Intruder, for instance, it is about a Black couple and there’s an evil that’s trying to separate them. They have to overcome that evil and they become closer through adversity. We have to be free thinkers to tell these stories and not [be] programmable. 

If I’m going to tell the John Lewis Story next, which I am, my job is to make that story real, authentic, and entertaining so you can go see it. I have to make films that people will go see, talk about, and remember. 

You think Glory starring Denzel, when it comes on TV, I will watch it right now? Why? Because it was just a dope movie. The message and truthfulness educated you on the battalion, but you were entertained.

DDF: How do you develop a good ending for a film? 

DT: That’s just being a fan of movies. Anybody can lie to you, Felipe, and be like “I try to process how the characters think”. Part of this is [because] I don’t have any film school, no one has ever taught me film or tv writing. Everything I have is because I love movies, because I watch them like you. Like, I just watched Wrath of Man and I was like “Yo, that’s crazy!” 

I treat my films like rollercoasters: here goes the twist, here goes the turns, and people exit the theater excited. Our little production company makes these little films but gets A and B+ cinema scores.

DDF: I saw your post about the film All Falls Down and thought to myself “It would be dope to see Deon make a version of All Falls Down.

DT: That would be dope!

DDF: What are your top three horror films? 

DT: I want to say The Exorcist, but it’s in its own category. You can’t beat that horror film. It’s in everyone’s top 3. It’s the GOAT of horror movies.

Event Horizon, the first Strangers, and Nightmare on Elm St. The girls in white jumping rope and singing the Freddie Krueger song were scary when I was young.

But for now, check out The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 availabe in theaters everywhere. I, personally, really hope Deon does make his version of Falling Down with a cool ass one shot. If he does, you best believe I will ask to be a part of that project. 

The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 stars comedy superstars Mike Epps (Next Friday, Netflix’s The Upshaws) and Katt Williams (Friday After Next, Scary Movie V) with Bresha Webb (Ride Along 2), Lil Duval (Scary Movie V), Zulay Henao (The Oath), Tyrin Turner (Menace II Society), Alex Henderson (Creed), Michael Blackson (Dutch), Andrew Bachelor (Holidate), Gary Owen (Ride Along), and Snoop Dogg returning from the first film.  Danny Trejo (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn) and Rick Ross (Hip Hop artist) join the supporting cast for the sequel.

ABOUT HIDDEN EMPIRE FILM GROUP

Hidden Empire Film Group (“HEFG”), founded by Black filmmaking team Deon Taylor and Roxanne Avent Taylor in partnership with investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith, is a next-generation film production, distribution, and marketing company.  HEFG has partnered with major distributors including LIONSGATE on the steamy thriller FATALE starring Michael Ealy and two-time Academy Award® winner Hilary Swank and TRAFFIK, starring Paula Patton and Omar Epps as well as SONY SCREEN GEMS on the timely and insightful crime thriller BLACK & BLUE starring Academy Award® nominee Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Mike Colter, and Frank Grillo and the psychological thriller THE INTRUDER starring Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, and Dennis Quaid. Upcoming projects include the John Lewis biopic FREEDOM RIDE; the psychological thriller DON’T FEAR, which completed principal photography during the pandemic; the psychological thriller SILENT JOHN to be directed by Aisha Tyler; the next installment in the Meet the Blacks franchise, THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR;  and  CJ Entertainment’s horror title GRAVE HILL. Learn more at https://hiddenempirefilmgroup.com/

18Jun/21

No Ordinary Love Explores Corrosive Control, Spiritual and Domestic Abuse

No Ordinary Love

Synopsis: In No Ordinary Love, vulnerability and strength prove vital to a resilient woman who finds herself in a dangerous situation with her Police Officer husband. When she exposes his secret to her pastor’s wife, the two women’s lives intersect with shocking results.

No Ordinary Love provides a new perspective on abusive relationships. With characters like these, this film lets me know I had no clue as to what an abusive relationship looks like without violence. Up and coming award-winning director, Chyna Black, brings to light the domestic abusive relationships that are not so subtle and characters that are not so easily defined. 

The two antagonists, Derrick and Michael, had me wanting to jump into the screen and give each of them a two-piece combo with a biscuit. I really had to catch myself from getting emotionally upset and not yell at the screen. Yet that is what good character development will do! Robinson explained, “We had people looking for actors portraying Micheal and Derrick after the screenings but they are really nice guys.”

Michael Jeffries (Eric Hanson) is a church pastor with an alcohol addiction that heightens his manipulation of his wife, Elizabeth, and the misuse of his spiritual practices. It is easy to see how his abuse and belief are influenced by his father. Chauvinistic and controlling, Michael’s father encourages Micheal’s mistreatment of his wife, making his whole family terribly dysfunctional. The facade of a celebrated worship leader makes it harder for Elizabeth to leave the relationship. It was interesting to see how Elizabeth wanted Tanya (DeAna Davis) to leave her relationship when Elizabeth needed to escape her own. Robinson stated, “I wanted him to come off as charming to everyone, and especially to the people in his congregation. I wanted to write him in a way that would make it difficult to define how abusive he was. I know it was corrosive control, but most people don’t use that term or know what it means.”

Derrick Anderson (Lynn Andrews) is a respected Policeman who struggles with alcoholism and the pressures of work. The once-loving husband now resorts to abusing his wife Tanya. When asked how Robinson developed the Derrick character she said “The Derrick character was my research. Police officers are 40% more likely to be involved with domestic violence and violent situations in their home.”  What I find intriguing about the film is how the men don’t address their issues or ask for help, but instead proceed to cause harm and chaos in their households. 

I find Tanya to be very endearing and a loving woman for her family. DeAna’s portrayal is on point. I could really feel the character’s innocence, especially when Elizabeth reports Tanya’s husband for domestic abuse. 

The character of Elizabeth is intelligent, caring, and good at her job as a therapist. She is able to give advice to her clients (like Tanya) about escaping abusive relationships, but struggles in her own marriage. Her abusive husband is not easily definable. Robinson explained, “It’s a little harder to leave someone when they are not cursing you out, not stepping outside the home, or hitting you…it’s difficult to call it abuse, which was my goal for Elizabeth’s situation.” 

No Ordinary Love opened my eyes to what abusive relationships can look like when there is no violence or obvious verbal abuse. The film also sheds light on how publicly well-respected partners can be the most dangerous, thus hindering the victim from getting help. Chyna Robinson does a great job of creating compelling characters and had me truly hating the antagonists in the film. After viewing this thought-provoking and emotional film, I look forward to seeing Robinson’s next project. As for now, check out No Ordinary Love on Amazon Prime or Itunes

No Ordinary Love, Chyna Robinson, Director, Writer, Producer

Chyna Robinson, Director, Writer, Producer Winner of several Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Film awards on the national and international film circuit, is a Writer, Director, and Producer. Her directorial work most recently includes No Ordinary Love, which received multiple accolades from Best Film to numerous Best Edit and Best Actor awards. No Ordinary Love will be released to Video on Demand platforms in June 2021. Her other narrative work includes the historical drama, Greenwood: 13 Hours, and the thriller Lola Lisa.

13May/21
Chris Blue Taji Mag

Chris Blue Discusses How He Rose After the Calls Stopped

Chris Blue Taji Mag

Oftentimes, viewers of shows like The Voice and American Idol wonder what happened to the contestants after the show. The Voice has a solid Country following so a few of their artists are able to chart, but what about everyone else? I had a wonderfully candid conversation with The Voice season 12 winner, Chris Blue, where we discussed what he did after the phone calls stopped and the excitement for his current projects. If you haven’t yet, check out his recent release, Moon, on all major platforms. See the full Video interview below.

Taji Mag (TM): What do you feel is the difference between this project and your previous projects?
Chris Blue (CB): I think for this one, it’s something people have been asking for. People have been asking for Moon, essentially, since I finished my time with NBC. It was a journey getting them here but now they’re like ‘thank you, finally, this what we’ve been wanting and we gon blow this thing up’… and that’s what they’ve been doing! So I think that’s what’s different. Back2TheFuture was a great song because I felt like I needed to say something, I needed to have my imprint on society, but as far as my musicality and my art and my VISION… Moon, to me, is it. It’s that cross between what’s new and the respect of what I have to what’s old. It’s old school/new school. You’ll hear influences of the Weeknd, Michael Jackson, and you get to the end of it and it’s like where’d this Afrobeat vibe come from? The reason I did that was because I’m still learning about my heritage, I’m a descendant of the Jamaican-Caribbean-African heritage. I’m really digging into my ancestry now. I was like maybe THAT’S why I love curry chicken…

(TM): Did you feel like you couldn’t produce the same type of artistry during your time at NBC?
(CB): Yea… I mean… Yea. I feel like I was somewhat restricted on what I could do. My first anything as a solo career happened on NBC. I wasn’t out here grinding grinding grinding before that show. So when I won and got the accolades, the money, and the deal, it was great, I get to do what I want to do. I’m telling people now, I won but at the same time I lost because for about 2 years, I think, I realized like I’m losing myself. I’m losing who I am. I’m losing Chris Blue…

(TM): Was there a lot of outside influence on who they wanted you to be as an artist.
(CB): There was. There was a lot of influence on what they wanted because, again, it’s a business. A lot of people have to remember it’s the music business. So that word business sometimes outshines the music in most cases, especially when you’re dealing with other people and other people’s money and they have to figure out how am I going to make my money back? So when you start to see this is trending and this is what most people will like and this is selling, let’s reshape and redefine you and make you fit this. The issue with that with me is and was I’m not that. I’m me. I can only do me well. I can’t do that well. So I lost. I lost a lot of confidence in myself. I lost a lot of belief. Because I’m not becoming that, the telephone stopped ringing as much, my emails weren’t blowing up, I wasn’t getting as many messages on Instagram, and everything just started to collapse. I was just like well maybe I wasn’t that good… It messed me up in a lot of ways, so much that my family started to feel the effects of it. My mom just sat me down one day and was like you’re changing. I was like dang, what you mean by that mama. That was one of the defining moments for me that brought me back. If I’m gonna do music, I gotta do it my way, I gotta do what I love and I can’t do it to spare feelings or to pacify anyone else.

You can’t sustain living a certain way that’s not conducive to what you want to live like. You can’t do it. It don’t work. You’ll wake up every day hating yourself. You’ll become the perfect example of the person who wakes up to the 9-to-5 job that you hate.

Chris Blue Taji Mag

(TM): Makes note of how I’ve watched contestants change from the beginning to the end of the show to fit cookie-cutter molds and that, by the end of it, I’m just skipping through each episode to see who they chose as the winner.
(CB): It’s funny you say that. I had to learn this as well. The American public ain’t stupid. Y’all are not dumb. You watch artists on them shows and you be like ok dope, they this, they that, but ya’ll know, nah, this is show. Some people have to be reminded it’s a show, right, so the expectation that as soon as you come off of a show like that you’re supposed to just blow up… I didn’t realize that going in. That’s a TV show. They have to do what’s best for them. It’s on me to get out here and actually work and grind and build. I tell people, I wish… If could do it all over again, with the same result (big smile), I would. I would go in thinking like an artist. I wasn’t thinking like an artist. I was some green, wet behind the ears, new-to-this-thing singer. I wasn’t an artist. I just want to sing. Put me on the stage, give me a microphone, let me SANG, let me do what I do. If I could go back and do it again, I’d have my team in place, I’d have everything ready to go so that by the time they said and the winner is I’m ready to use that launching pad to actually launch off.

(TM): What else are you working on now? I hear you’re doing a docuseries?
(CB): Yea so ya boy just got a leading role in a docuseries that we’re getting ready to shoot next month at a studio in Atlanta. So I’m excited about that. The role I’m playing is a guy who I feel like is me right now. Everything this bruh is going through, that’s ME. Everyone feels good about this docuseries, It’s real. It’s raw. It’s uncut. You’ll see a lot of truth a lot of reality. I believe highly in putting things into the atmosphere, when you put things into the atmosphere, God’s ear, he hears.

So happy that Chris Blue is stepping into his true artistry and exploring multiple avenues of his creative genius. Click here to stream Moon. Follow Chris Blue on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. Stay tuned for more updates and real conversations.

Click below to watch the full video interview.

Taji Vol27: Utopia

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!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Taji Mag Vol 27 Utopia

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 27

Taji Mag is the epitome of ‘Cultural Drip’ – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery to new levels of Black Excellence. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of Pan-African people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.

28Apr/21

Black Luxury Brands to Frequent: Adele Dejak

Attention all accessorizing and glamorizing sistas!! The sistas who love a beautiful statement piece. The sistas who love good, quality accessories. Adele Dejak is the brand for you. Eponymously named after its Nigerian creator Adele Dejak in 2008, the brand creates the most beautiful afro-futuristic jewelry ranging from rings to chokers and they also carry an array of rustic calfskin clutches. 

Although I am not an avid accessorizer, the ÁMI I & II collections of chokers are truly a masterclass of metalwork and craftsmanship. The pendants are either hammered brass or aluminum and are paired with a smooth black leather cord or are attached to a large brass ring. I would not be a reliable fashion contributor if I did not tell you how wonderfully brass and gold hues compliment melanated skin. 

Adele Dejak Accessories Nigerian Afro-futurism
Models wearing the ÁMI II collection of neckpieces; Photo Credit | @adeledejak on Instagram

Aside from being wonderfully and carefully crafted by African artisans, Adele Dejak has been endorsed by the Queen Bee herself!! Flaunting the Afrika Comb in the Black Is King film and, on another occasion, wearing the Margret Aluminum Statement Bracelet in tandem with the Dhamani Kanini bracelet in the music video for My Power from the soundtrack of the 2019 remake of the Lion King. 

Adele Dejak Accessories Nigerian Afro-futurism Beyonce
Beyonce wearing the Afrika Comb necklace from Adele Dejak; Photo Credit | @beyonce on Instagram

AD is also big on sustainability, according to their website, only using recycled and upcycled brass and aluminum for their jewelry. They also have a partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Australia to train people in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps to produce goods using upcycled materials to sell to provide for their families.

The pieces may be a little pricey for some (150$+), but the cost of supporting a black business is priceless. Besides, who doesn’t want to step into their next board meeting looking like they stepped off the first flight back from Wakanda? Go check out Adele Dejak and tell them I sent you ♥!

This is the second piece in a 5 part series about my favorite Black Luxury Brands, check out the first part here!

19Apr/21

“Them” Is a Nod to Classic Horror With Lots of Gore

THEM

SPOILER ALERT

“Another series requiring me to sleep with my Black Panther nightlight on.” That is all I could think to myself. I’m kidding, I don’t have a nightlight, BUT Them definitely is a series with some really scary moments and shocking – almost unbearable – scenes. I am happy to see a horror series helmed by Black creatives that is receiving a major push on Amazon Prime. Not exactly satisfied with the finished product after watching the whole season, though. 

The acting in the series was great. Shahadi Wright Joseph as Ruby Emory, Deborah Ayorinde as Lucky Emory, Ashley Thomas as Henry Emory, and Melody Hurd as Gracie Henry all play their characters well as the Emory family. I just wish the series could’ve continued to be more compelling instead of shocking. Deborah and Ashley’s chemistry as the lead Black couple was substantial. I could really feel the love they had for each other throughout the series and how they were supportive of each other during each of their mental breakdowns. I’m not going to lie, whenever Lucky got pissed, slapped, or chased someone I was cheering for her because she brought that energy. 

Shahadi in “Us” was scary as hell as she played the doppelganger, this time around she is a teenager haunted by a teenage white ghost and the acceptance of her skin color. I found this to be interesting and made me see her as a household name in the industry. The acting she does with her eyes is a thing of pure talent. The scene where cutting her face out of possession/self-hate had me cringing the whole time.

THEM

Melody as Gracie Emory had some of the scariest scenes. The possession scene had me saying, “Oh hell no!,” mainly because evil-possessed children in horror films are horrifying. Her acting was impressive and helped the fright continue throughout the series. 

Them has great usage of music to enhance the horror. For instance, “Come on Get Happy” by Judy Garland playing as they ride into Compton California is all so peaceful until, on the other side on the loop, it starts to slow down chopped and screwed style as the white neighbors look at the Black family entering their new neighborhood. Their expressions are priceless like someone bringing potato salad with raisins in it to a Black barbeque.

There is a great scene where Betty Wendell’s character is fidgeting with a torn small piece of wallpaper of her perfectly placed and patterned wall. The camera angles were well-timed as the scene reflects Betty’s discomfort of having a Black family in her ideal, perfect, all-white neighborhood. Betty is for sure an annoying character and deserves to be called “dumb ass b*tch!” Trust me you’ll hate her too. Then the series shows her disturbing family upbringing, her jealousy of other women who can have children (because of her sterility), and reveals the truth behind her unhappy marriage.

The storyline in Them is compelling and shows promise within the first few episodes but then becomes a little more disturbing and confusing. There is the rape of the lead character and the murder of her infant son that has made its way onto Twitter but there is also the flashback origin of the man in The Man in the Black Hat that is also gruesome. 

THEM

I was a bit thrown off by the milk man’s character, I understand people can have some creepy characters but I would’ve rather seen more of Wendell’s (Betty’s husband) story. I understand most of his story is implied but there could’ve been a moment where you show the reason for resistance to harm the Black neighbors was because he was also an outsider for being gay.

Da Tap Dance Man was creepy as hell and had to rub all that paint off his face. His character was a good addition and served his role in Henry Emory’s story but I think I’ve grown tired of seeing these minstrel show-style demons/ghosts in Black entertainment. 

The camera work and editing for Them was also impressive. The usage of colors, cuts, and angles really helped to create the feeling for each scene. For example, Henry Emory struggles to eat pie because the sweet smell and taste remind him of the mustard gas tested on him in the military. 

Them is definitely a series you should watch if you like Jordan Peele and the classic horror creatives before. You’ll definitely be reminded of the Topsy and Bopsy episode of Lovecraft Country. You may become disinterested if you like a series with a solid storyline. You can watch now Them on Amazon Prime.

13Apr/21

Newcomer Kyra Jones is Ready to Evolve Like Issa Rae

Unapologetic, blunt, and intersectional are the words to describe the rising filmmaker, Kyra Jones. She has recently won multiple screenwriting competitions (Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition 2020, ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch 2020), is working on a feature (Got to the Body), writing other projects, modeling, and participating in activist work all while working a full-time job… during a pandemic. I could tell after meeting her at the 2020 DC Black Film Festival that she would be someone to keep an eye on and was I right. The day before our scheduled interview she was staffed on season two of the hit Hulu series, Woke. Luckily for me Kyra still had time to tell Taji Mag what life is like as an up-and-coming artist. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): When did you fall in love with filmmaking? 

Kyra Jones (KJ): I always really loved film and television. I started off as an actor in high school. The only reason I got into acting was because my mom wanted me to have an extracurricular activity. My friend told me she was trying out for the school play and told me I should try out too. So she dragged me to the audition and I ended up getting the lead. 

I didn’t become a screenwriter/filmmaker until I was about to graduate from college. I was studying theater at Northwestern with the intention of acting. I was one of four Black students in my class of 100 theater majors. The theater department isn’t diverse at all. Needless to say, I did not have a great time with my experience. Within the material we were reading, there were no real roles for Black women. The roles were the usual stereotypical roles like maids, nurses, etc. I was like, “ We (Black people) do more than this.” 

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou

I know I want to tell stories and I know I want to be involved in art and media. I always liked writing and I was the type of person that could type a good 8-page paper in a few hours. So I was a strong writer in that regard but I never tried to do anything like creative writing or screenwriting. 

In my senior year I realized I should have been a filmmaker, it was too late at that point but I tried to take as many classes as I could. So, you can say I fell in love with screenwriting/ filmmaking my senior year in college. 

*After Kyra graduated her career was sort of in limbo. Her fellow classmates were doing internships, working for production companies, and making the connections needed to succeed after college. She struggled to get an internship because she had made the decision to become a filmmaker her senior year. Since she wasn’t having much success, she went back to acting. 

It wasn’t until the Right Swipe came along. My writing partner and I did not intend on writing a web series we just serendipitously came up with an idea. From there we decided you know what, this is a web-series. This would be the first time I stepped on set for something that I wrote and it was the first time I said to myself ‘this is for me.’

DDF: What do you think you bring to the writer’s room of Woke? 

KJ: I was definitely not expecting to make the writers room for Woke. I was so excited but, when I officially become staffed, I had so much shit to do in order to get ready. I had a full-time job and had to take leave, I had to try and get my ducks in a row in such a short amount of time. I’m just grateful and still shocked. I may have to turn off my camera to cry once the first meeting is over. 

The Woke team is really excited to have me and thinks I will be a great addition to the team. I think my social justice background will be useful, especially for a show called Woke. I think bringing a more nuanced, intersectional perspective to the show, the Woke team will be interested to see what I will bring to one of the queer characters, Ayana (Sasher Zamata).  Plus I’m funny. The Woke team had to read one of my pilots before they approved me and they thought it was funny. I can throw in a few jokes here and there, I think I am funny.

“Progressive art can assist people to learn what’s at work in the society in which they live.”- Angela Davis

DDF: Issa Rae had “Awkward Black Girl” and then later had Insecure, is there a possibility we could see a version of “The Right Swipe” in the future? 

KJ: There will not be another version of the Right Swipe. I do intend on having my own TV show one day. There is already interest in a pilot that I wrote and I am really excited about it. It has some similarities to the Right Swipe. 

DDF: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers? 

KJ: Barry Jenkins, Ava Duverna, Donald Glover, and Beyonce. Lemonade and Black is King are both so good. I know she had a huge team on those projects but the fact there were so many directors and they were one cohesive vision, means Beyonce had to have communicated the vision to the creatives. 

Kyra stated Go to the Body is in the process of getting named talent, developing the budget, and looking to shoot next year with an expected release date to be 2023.

DDF: What women inspire you? 

KJ: Inspired by my grandmother, she is not a filmmaker but she really inspired me. She is very unapologetic and unafraid. I love Issa Rae, she is pretty much inspiration to everyone. And Michaela Coel. Black women everywhere inspire me.

“The discussion of representation is one that has been repeated over and over again, and the solution has always been that it’s up to us to support, promote, and create the images that we want to see.” – Issa Rae

Make sure to check out the current work of Kyra. Also, be sure to be on the lookout for her work on season two of Woke and her feature film, Got to the Body. I look forward to seeing more Black artists like Kyra provide the perspectives and voices needed for everyone to enjoy entertainment.