Like many people my age, I grew up laughing at reruns of The Wayans Bros. on MTV. And like many people I grew up with, I was a child of divorce. While casually watching NBC one night, I found a funny intersection of the two.

Marlon is a new sitcom driving Marlon Wayans’ quasi-comeback. In the show, Marlon’s character (bearing the same moniker) and his ex-wife Ashley (played by Essence Atkins) have a friendly divorce. Marlon frequently visits their two children, who both live with Ashley. Ashley and Marlon joke leisurely and co-parent with as much ease as a married couple would. The children seem to be satisfied and even benefiting from the non-traditional arrangement. This reminded me of my childhood.

The fictional family of Marlon: Ashley (ex-wife), Marlon, Zack (son), Marley (daughter) source:IMDb

As a Former Child

My parents were married for a few years before I was born. But their marriage ended when I was two years old. From then on, I lived with my mom and my two sisters (both from my mother’s previous relationships.) My father lived about a 15 minute drive away. He would come over occasionally to bring firewood, cut the grass, or just to eat dinner and make dad jokes. This carried on for most of my childhood. Until his job relocated him to Virginia when I was 14. We held a fairly steady correspondence, until he passed away when I was 18.

My parents were always open about their friendship, their marriage, and their divorce. In fact, the first thing I learned about their divorce was my mom telling they went out to dinner at Red Lobster after it was finalized. Of course there were the not-so-pretty details, like my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s controlling nature.

But, even in my fatherless household, I couldn’t quite relate to the “tragic” narrative TV shows always showed about children of divorce. And still to this day, I just don’t feel like I missed out on anything by not having an in-home father.

Nearly every household in my childhood community was lead by a single mother. That was all I had known as normal. The few lasting marriages I saw between my aunts and uncles were riddled with infidelity and a type of patriarchy that never sat right with me.

Image result for cosby show
The cast of The Cosby Show.

Consequently, as a child, I genuinely thought the happy, traditional two-parent home was just a made-up on TV fantasy. (see: Cosby Show, My Wife and Kids, etc.) Further, I thought the Child of Divorce trope was entirely fabricated as well. I didn’t get why children on TV were so bent out of shape over their parents’ divorce. I say that as a testament to how fulfilling my childhood was, not as a detractor from pain that divorced has caused many people. I would have been grateful to have seen a show like Marlon during my childhood.

As a Future Parent

Just like any other family structure, being raised by divorced parents came with some downsides and struggles too. Marlon doesn’t exactly capture some of those feelings. So, I look to Raven’s Home. In my childhood, Raven Symone was the star of another perfect TV family in her show That’s So Raven. But the actress has returned to Disney Channel in a TV show much more like my own childhood. Raven plays a single mother of two. She and her children live together with Raven’s best friend, Chelsea, and Chelsea’s son.

Image result for raven's home
From Raven’s Home

In episode 4, “The Bearer of Dad News,” Raven’s ex husband has to tell their kids that he’ll be moving to Texas and won’t see them as often anymore. The mood of the episode darkened and the children’s faces got long and sad. While I initially identified with the kid’s angst about the change, my attention shifted to the parents’ reactions.

As I get older and have more frank conversations with my mom, I uncover more of the details in my parents’ divorce. Now I can see how some of my parents’ smiles in front of me had just been tears and disagreements behind closed doors. In the same way, Raven’s Home showed how the adults handled tough times. Raven and the children’s father, Devon, had a heartfelt talk without the children around. They joked about having one last hurrah, then came to a solemn goodbye.

This episode was like peeping behind the veil of “grown folks business.” When I was a kid I didn’t understand how much effort it took for my parents to raise me while living apart and forging new relationships. But now that I’m slipping into adulthood, I recognize how hard my parents worked for my happiness. And I’m thankful that they worked so hard for it, especially my mother. Lastly I hope I have that same strength in raising my children, whether in marriage or divorce.

So…

I never saw my parents kiss before they left for work in the morning.

Or join a couples’ book club.

Or wear matching outfits to church on Sundays.

But I value what I did see. I saw them calmly set aside their differences to buy the wacky toys on my Christmas lists. I saw them both at my rec-league basketball games, even though I played terribly. And I saw them love and respect each other outside of marriage. Seeing that has taught me things that I could use in my future marriage or, albeit, divorce.

Because I was raised in such a pleasant divorce, I can love and wed without the crippling fear of divorce. Because I know I can raise happy children and have a healthy family without being married. And because I’d probably be great divorce.

Every day I fall deeper into corporate cliches. My most recent descent is listening to podcast while I work. It started as just catching up on The Read and Insecuritea. Then I exhausted the new episodes of those shows and found myself listening to a narrative I never thought I’d care about.

I flung my headphones off after listening to the first episode and said to my co-workers, “Y’all, Richard Simmons is missing!!”

Missing Richard Simmons Podcast

While most people had only known Richard Simmons as the loud and fun VHS exercise instructor, he was far more complex. Apparently Richard Simmons had developed deep connections with dozens of fans-turned-friends. But one day, 3 years ago, he stopped speaking to everyone. He stopped teaching his public workout class that he’s been teaching for decades. He stopped greeting tourists outside his house. And he stopped it all suddenly, without a notice or explanation.

The podcast, Missing Richard Simmons, is narrated by Dan Taberski, a filmmaker and long-term acquaintance of Simmons.

The series is only 6 episodes long, but about half way through I had already drawn some conclusions on the mystery. Many of the people Richard had befriended over the past decades were people he was helping through their depression and weight loss journey. After hearing so many stories of him literally saving people’s lives, I had concluded, “Maybe Richard grew tired of taking care of so many people. After all, had he any time to work through his own problems?”

This series was enticing and a bit dissatisfying toward the end, in the way complex mysteries can be. Needless to say, I consumed the entire series in one day.

Listen to Missing Richard Simmons (podcast)

Jay Z has recently released his 13th studio album, 4:44. After giving it many listens, I am thoroughly pleased with the project overall. This trend toward artists releasing albums that show them as more vulnerable and more human is creating some very impressive albums. Most notable of which being Lemonade, the album to which 4:44 is partly a response.

Aside from the angering yet heart-warming narration of the Carters’ marriage, the album was packed with more details of Jay Z’s personal life than all his other albums combined. I especially loved Smile, where Jay Z’s mother comes out as a lesbian. But what left me itching to blog was Jigga’s capitalist advice on The Story of OJ.

Pictured: Jay-Z popping a bottle of something I can neither pronounce nor afford.

Invest Like Jay-Z Invests?

The first thing that needs to be addressed about the advice Jigga drops on the song is his intended audience. He calls out poor money habits like throwing money at strip clubs, and buying expensive cars. This seems to be directed at rappers, who are much richer than us common-folk, but make only chump-change in comparison to Jay-Z.

“I bought some artwork for 1 million
2 years later, that shit worth 2 million
Few years later, that shit worth 8 million
I can’t wait to give this shit to my children”

-Jay-Z, Story of O.J.

Jay-Z has solid financial advice for those who already have a large amount of capital. But this advice is useless to most people…because you have to start out with that $1 million. The more capital someone has, the easier it is to profit from investing it.

Example:

Jay-Z speaks primarily about “flipping”, which buying something at a low price and selling it for a higher price. This can be done to land, art, and most notoriously, illicit drugs.

If I had $10, what could I do to flip it? I can’t afford any land, valuable art, or more than a gram of any drug with just $10. Something I can buy with $10: a t-shirt.

Say I buy a t-shirt at a store for $9, and sell it for $10. My profit is one dollar, I now have $11. That is assuming I can sell a $10 shirt, when clearly customers can get it cheaper ($9) at the store.

$10 ex

But what if I started out with $1,000?

I could buy t-shirts in bulk at a lower wholesale price, let’s say $6. If I buy 100 shirts, costing $600. Then sell them for $10 each, I make $1,000. And my profit would be $400, leaving me with $1,400! And I didn’t have to spend almost every dollar I had, unlike the $10 example.

$1000 exThis is called Economies of Scale, a basic economic principle we all know more commonly as, “It takes money to make money.”

The person starting with $1,000 profits hundreds of dollars more than the person starting with $10, not because they’re a better business owner…but just because they have more money.

Jay-Z gave some solid advice for how to grow and sustain millions of dollars, but no advice for how to get that first million.

What Can Be Learned?

“Y’all on the ‘Gram holdin’ money to your ear
There’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here”

While some of the advice may not apply to folks in every income bracket, the core principles of the lyrics still stand. While we’re not all in the position to purchase land or artwork, but we are all in the position to consume more moderately and save what we can. Jay-Z dedicated Story of O.J. to emphasizing that a small bundle of money posted on Instagram decreases in value over time, while assets like land and art gain value over time.

Conclusion

Jay-Z has been rich for so long, I’m not even sure he has advice on how to budget a bi-weekly, low wage check. But if you happen to be a millionaire rapper, please listen to him. The fault is not on Jay-Z, because the advice is sound. But hopefully, now it’s clear that the rich man’s “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and save your money. Then you can be rich too,” advice is not how money actually works.

***

Addition: I cannot write about this song without addressing the one cringe-worthy line.

“You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America?”

Misconception: Jewish people own all the media and property, and control the economy.

Truth: Jewish people account for the majority of hate crime victims in this country, because of this type of thinking. It’s false, anti-semitic, and dangerous.

This weekend J. Cole took the stage at the sold out Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA. And I was gifted with free tickets through my job. And my ambivalence about Cole’s music did not stop me from flexing in my employer’s corporate suite.

When I was younger Cole’s music was pure art to me. I had no qualms about how it sounded or what he was saying. But that changed as he and I both matured. Now, I am firmly in the growing school of thought that sees Cole’s music as flat and self-righteous.

The Good

The openers were all from Cole’s Dreamville camp: Ari Lennox, Bas, and JID. Ari was particularly exciting to watch, her voice is unique and her songs are solid. Bas evoked a response from one of my co-workers saying, “I don’t know who this guy is, but I’m gonna listen to him now.”

20170715_214508

I loved the string lighting above the stage. It made the arena feel like a more intimate and warm space.

Cole walked slowly to the center stage a while after the openers. He started out with a lot of energy performing For Whom the Bell Tolls from his most recent album, 4 Your Eyez Only. During his set, he told the audience the story behind his song Neighbors, which is about his white neighbors assuming he’s a drug dealer. He even had the footage of the police barging into his home playing on the Jumbotron while he narrated. Cole had a down-to-Earth tone and made the large venue feel more like a kickback at his house.

Best songs performed:

  • She’s Mine (Pt 2)
  • Wet Dreamz
  • Lights Please

The Bad

While I was never very impressed by 4 Your Eyez Only, from my first listen I could tell it’d sound better live. I imagined a crisp bass and loud horns. I especially anticipated this for the song titled Foldin’ Clothes. But the sound from the band did not meet my expectations. And Cole’s mic wasn’t very clear, his voice was drowned out by the band at times. This wasn’t horrible but it could have been better.

20170715_222039.jpg

While I liked the mood and lighting of the stage, I wasn’t a fan of Cole’s theme. He came out dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit…inexplicably. I can vaguely connect how that fits, but there were more fitting themes he could have chosen. Plus dressing like an inmate doesn’t deliver muich shock-value anymore because it’s been done so many times before by Lil Kim, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Boosie (not a costume for him, but nonetheless.)

He had a large center-stage all to himself, while the band was on a separate stage to the side. Having an audience on all four sides is difficult to pull off. And Cole lacked the energy to keep all four sides engaged like Kanye’s center-stage/moshpit shows. But Cole also lacked the focus to hold a lowkey yet stimulating presence like the open mic scenes in Love Jones. The latter is more appropriate for Cole’s music. But he couldn’t execute either because he was trying to do both.

It really felt as if his stage coach was preparing him for that challenge weeks before the tour, but Cole got on his high-horse and said, “Fuck it, I’ma just go out and be real with my fans. I don’t need nothing else.” Sadly, he did.

The Boring

Cole stopped halfway through his set to tell us that he was doing something people advised him not to do on this tour, something not commonly done. He was performing his album straight through, top to bottom. That was a self-righteous and, for lack of better term, lame decision. He continued to make sly comments about artists, “Just coming up on stage and doing the songs everybody knows.” I literally rolled my eyes.

4 Your Eyez Only is not an album written to be performed straight through live, which is true for most albums by most artists. I zoned out on some of the songs, because they clearly were not optimized for live performance; they were flat and boring.

Lackluster songs performed:

  • Love Yourz (from his last album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive)
  • Change
  • Deja Vu

The album itself was already a bit of a bore. The underlying narrative of a man dying and leaving his daughter behind is a one Cole has been telling for years (*snooze*.) Aside from his boring stage presence, the music itself could be more interesting if it were more directly personal. Cole’s songs about his personal life, like Wet Dreamz, Foldin’ Clothes, and Neighbors, are my favorites instead of ones where he’s telling other people’s stories…stories we’ve heard from him before. But alas, he’s stuck in his ways.

Conclusion

The best thing I got from the concert was that Cole is genuine. He loves his art, his family, and his fans genuinely. It oozes out of him. I just wish he’d step down off his high horse to see how much better his music could be.

20170715_200456
A goofy, yet necessary photo of me at the concert.

SZA finally dropped her album, CTRL, which was apparently long-awaited by everyone but me. I had never been much of a SZA fan but after listening to CTRL, I am officially hooked.

Per usual, my review will be half musical assessment and half anecdotal narrative, based on the emotions and memories this music evoked.

CTRL had an encompassing effect on me, as if the emotions it stirred up within me came from all directions. While SZA sang about her damaging relationships with men, I thought about the times I’ve been hurt by men and even women in the same ways. But conversely I thought about the times when I was the one inflicting that same hurt on someone else.

On Being Hurt

The album starts with a clear theme, opening with dialogue from SZA’s mom speaking about losing control. Then SZA begins Supermodel with a faux sense power stating she’s leaving her man and his “shit.” But this quickly unravels as she poses a question in aside, “Why am I so easy to forget like that?” This spirals into a complete surrender of that control and deeply vulnerable proclamations:

“Leave me lonely for prettier women,
You know I need too much attention for shit like that.”

“I could be your super model if you’d let me.”

And a repeated, “I need you.”

-SZA, from “Supermodel” on CTRL

Needless to say, I was neck-deep in my feelings after just the first song. The same vulnerability can be heard on Anything when SZA begs the question, “Do you even know I’m alive?” along with a penetrating stomp-and-clap feel.

The tenderness of these lyrics spun me back to my late teens, when most of my love was unrequited and most of my love interests were the type of dirty men SZA mentions on Broken Clocks.

Ironically, the sorest memory I have on being ignored and emotionally manipulated was done by a woman, not the boys I chased in high school. We hit it off during a school visit over the summer leading up to freshman year. In the Fall, we arrived on campus and we both quickly found out she was out of my league. Then she started to govern her actions accordingly. Occasionally she’d play into my funky little feelings to get what she wanted out of me, which was usually small things like weed, a borrowed jacket, a Big Gulp from 7/11.

Once she randomly asked me to hold her hand while we were out with friends. I thought I was #inthere. But I noticed she kept glancing at another girl in the group, a girl she’d been involved with. She only wanted to hold my hand to make the other girl jealous. If only SZA had dropped CTRL for me back then. A little while later I finally let go of that hopeless crush. Then I started dating women who actually liked me, and whom I inadvertently hurt.

On Hurting Others

Already drowning in my feelings after Track 1, silly of me to think SZA would let up on the next song. While I was busy swaying to the melody, SZA snuck in and hit me with the question of the century on Love Galore.

“Why You bother me when you know you don’t want me? Why you bother me when you know you got a woman? Why you hit me when you know you know better?

-SZA, from “Love Galore” on CTRL

Apparently I wasn’t the only one affected by the lyrics (see video below.)

So after listening to the song, I really sat down and wondered: Why do I bother her when I know I don’t want her? The “her” in the question being the women I’ve led on (both intentionally and not.) And the answer to question being, shallow selfishness.

Fast forward 3 years from that embarrassing, freshman year crush. I’ve recently found myself in the pattern of entertaining women I’m hardly compatible with for the sake of it. My last romance was a brief fling of this nature. I knew after the first date I had no romantic interest in her, yet I kept dating and having sex with the girl. That was wrong and immature of me. And now every time I pick up my phone to text an old flame or message a new Tinder match who I know I have no intentions of actually dating, I hear SZA ask me “Why you bothering her?”

The song that struck even deeper with me was 20 Something. It was SZA who begged,

“Why you ain’t say you was getting bored? Why you ain’t say I was falling short?”

-SZA, from “20 Something” on CTRL

But I heard it in the voice of my first love, who cried the same questions to me at the end of our relationship. We were together for about a year. I became overwhelmed and was not emotionally mature enough to know it, let alone communicate it. So I checked out of our relationship mentally. I heard “Why don’t you take me out any more?” and, “When was the last time you touched me?” many times but didn’t take the chance to come clean.

I continued our relationship after having fallen out of love with him, while he laid next to me every night under the assumption I was being honest. It took nearly an entire year post-breakup just to forgive myself for hurting him that badly. SZA went right on ahead and dug all those feelings up too.

The album has a tidy ending, with SZA’s mom wrapping up her sentiments on control and SZA thanking her. CTRL felt like a conversation between mother and daughter, obviously, but also between SZA and her situationship-chasing younger self. I was moved by her vulnerability; I feel like I grew with her through this music.

Drop_Top_Wop_cover

Droptopwop by Gucci Mane (Prod. Metro Boomin)

 

Highlights

Overall: 7

Biggest Bop: Met Gala ft. Offset

Skips: None

Personal Fave: Finesse the Plug Interlude

On Droptopwop, Gucci Mane links up with Metro Boomin to make one his most polished works yet. Droptopwop is precisely compliant with the flow and formula of Gucci’s classic mixtapes, but still somehow trumps the musicality of those tapes by a long shot.

From track 1, Gucci begins with his usual intro style, sticking to simple rhyme schemes and an almost mantra-like repeated list of what is “in the way.”

“And if you ain’t gettin’ no money then you just in the way
Took my shirt off in the vert cuz the shirt in the way
If these hoes ain’t talkin’ bout fuckin’ then they just in the way
All these diamonds on my fist I’m feelin’ some type of way
If that bitch ain’t gettin’ no money then that bitch in the way”

-5 Million Intro

Guwop picks up the pace and intensity once the obligatory intro is over. Gucci is still one of the most successful rappers at re-packaging the same subject matter in each verse (drugs, street violence, killing Young Jeezy’s homeboy in ~self defense~, etc.) and making it sound brand new without feeling repetitive. Case in point: Guwop cites his $10 million estate on this tape multiple times, and it slaps every time.

gucci-ice-cream

Gucci two pistols, get robbed at the Crystals

-A throwback to the old “Gucci 2 times” days in Finesse the Plug interlude

Since returning from prison and very evidently changing his lifestyle, Guwop has truly been an example of “a different animal, but the same beast.” All of his newest releases have the same authentic Gucci (sans the wheezy slur of his heavier days), but with an added freshness. He addresses this in Tho Freestyle:

“Was damn near 300 pounds, but I lost the weight, though

….

People say they cloned me because I changed my ways, though”

But he quickly reminds us, that he may have 300 pounds of himself but he still has the same tough beginnings and street mentality to f*ck you up if you forget it.

“Gucci super cutthroat, but I was born broke though
Didn’t have a pot to piss, or window to throw it out, though
Niggas talk sideways, I hit him in his mouth though
Who you think you talking to? I had to stomp ’em out, bro”

-Tho Freestyle

Watch: Hurt Feelings Music Video (below)

And, as should have been expected, Metro Boomin added much substance to the production, while still upholding Gucci’s style. One would think this is an easy feat, but it’s a mark that has been missed before (see: DJ Mustard’s uncomfortable attempt to step outside of his tempo with Gucci on ‘Cali ft. Young Scooter’ from Diary of a Trap God.) Throughout the tape Metro drapes his synthesizers and keys over the bass and drums, creating a dark, almost suspenseful sound. The best example of this, to no surprise, is on “Dance with the Devil”. On that track, Gucci raps about the material things that lure people into “dancing with the devil” to obtain them.

“100 grand’ll make a nigga cool, wanna dance with the devil
Get the gloves and the shovel, he’s tryna dance with the devil
A ghetto superstar make a bitch want to dance with the devil
When she glance at the bezel, she wanna dance with the devil”

And Metro paired the dark lyrics perfectly with horror film quality chimes lurking in the background. But, a criticism must be drawn at the nearly indistinguishable similarities of that beat and that of the immediate following track Both Eyes Closed. I would have liked more variation there. In general, the tape could have benefited from less of the chime and high key melodies, about half of all the tracks have only slightly altered versions of those same chimes.

Another production critique I have is the length of build-up in many of the songs. Now, sitting through 30 seconds of ad libs or waiting 25 seconds to even hear Gucci’s voice makes sense for the Intro or for the laid-back tracks like Both Eyes Closed. But the sturdier bars in songs like Dance with the Devil or Tho Freestyle could have sounded harder and more poignant had Gucci started spitting right from the go.

Overall, Droptopwop is lean and concise. Gucci and Metro wasted no songs on the tracklist, every song being a banger in its own right. And most impressively, they wasted no features. Offset, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, and Young Dolph did not take their verses lightly. Particularly Offset, who took advantage of his lengthy feature on Met Gala, spit some rapid-fire bars and threw a jig-worthy hook on the bass heavy beat. Gucci Mane keeps making it clearer and clearer that he is indeed the Trap God.