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Mary J. Blige Covers W Magazine

For W*’s Art Issue, Mary J. Blige and Carrie Mae Weems teamed up to talk, and to make pictures that pay homage to Blige’s continuing reign and Weems’s The Kitchen Table Series and 2010 Slow Fade to Black series. They met recently in a ­landmark 1920s-era bank building in Brooklyn and enjoyed a conversation that covered the gamut, from the portrayal of African-Americans in the media, their upbringing, being strong women in male-dominated worlds, and their new projects, including Blige’s excellent album Strength of a Woman, and her upcoming role in Dee Rees’s critically acclaimed Mudbound. The pictures and their conversation make clear that Weems and Blige both command the spaces they occupy: Weems with her camera and incantatory style of speech, Blige with her presence and voice.

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Photographs by Carrie Mae Weems; Styled by Styled by Paul Cavaco. Hair by Kim Kimble for Kimble Hair Care Systems at SixK.LA; makeup by D’Andre Michael for U.G.L.Y. Girl Cosmetics. Set design by Kadu Lennox at Frank Reps. Produced by Carly Day at Rosco Production; Production Coordinator: Marie Robinson at Rosco Production; retouching by silhouette studio; Lighting Director: Rob Kassabian at Honey Artists; Photography Assistants: James Wang, Pamela Vander Zwan, Adger Cowans; Lighting Assistant: David Schinman; Gaffer: Armando Reyes; Fashion Assistants: EJ Briones, nicholas eftaxias; Tailor: Christy Rilling; Set Design Coordinator: Joanna Seitz; Production Assistants: Will Foster, Alejandro Armas, Carl Miller; Special thanks to Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter, Skylight Studios, Pier59 Locations.

Mary J. Blige and Carrie Mae Weems in Conversation: On Race, Women, Music and the Future

Long before female empowerment became a nationwide rallying cry, the artist Carrie Mae Weems and the singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige had their work cut out for them. Weems, who is now 64, first picked up a camera at the age of 18 and over the decades has recast the ways in which black women have been ­portrayed in images. Early on she realized that she couldn’t count on others to make the pictures she wanted to see. In her seminal work The Kitchen Table Series (1990), she ruminates on race, class, and gender in an unfolding domestic story in which she appears as the protagonist. Shot in black and white, with alternating images and panels of text, the series shows the artist at her kitchen table, alone and with others, seated under a hanging lamp, playing cards, chatting with female friends, and hugging a male partner.

Since that career-defining project, Weems, who lives in Syracuse, New York, has been honored with a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” a medal of arts from the U.S. State Department, and numerous museum solo shows, including a retrospective in 2014 at New York’s Guggenheim—the museum’s first-ever survey of an African-American female artist. More recently, in her 2016 series Scenes & Take, she photographed herself standing on the empty stage sets of such TV shows as Empire and Scandal, contemplating the cultural climate that gives rise to commanding black heroines onscreen.

In Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip-hop soul, best known for her raw, openly autobiographical songs of empowerment, Weems found a towering ally. Like Weems, the Bronx-born Blige, 46, is a storyteller, and also began her career at 18, when she became the youngest female recording artist to sign with Uptown Records. Her Puff Daddy–produced 1992 debut, What’s the 411?, went multiplatinum, as did many of the hits that followed; so far she’s won nine Grammys. Now she is generating Oscar buzz for her breakout performance in director Dee Rees’s critically acclaimed Mudbound, about two families in the Mississippi Delta during and after World War II, divided by the racism of their Klan-addled community.

Blige is quietly devastating as the wife of a sharecropper and matriarch of a struggling brood; while shooting the film, which will debut on November 17 on Netflix, Blige was dealing with the dissolution of her own marriage. In 2016 she filed for divorce from her husband of 12 years and manager, and emerged with her 13th studio album, Strength of a Woman, which serves as something of an anthem for her life. the New York Times called it “her most affecting and wounded album in several years.”

Both Weems and Blige command the spaces they occupy: Weems with her camera and incantatory style of speech, Blige with her presence and voice. For this project for W’s Art Issue, the two teamed up in a ­landmark 1920s-era bank building in Brooklyn, ­making pictures that reference Weems’s The Kitchen Table Series and 2010 Slow Fade to Black series, and Blige’s continuing reign.

Carrie Mae Weems:
Long before I picked up a camera I was deeply concerned with the ways in which ­African-Americans were depicted, and, for the most part, I didn’t like what I saw. So one way of dealing with it was to step in and rethink how black women, more specifically, need to be represented. That’s been the guidepost; I’m always on that track. And today I was just looking at another woman, somebody I’ve admired, whose music has been a backdrop to my life. Mary, I see you as an extraordinarily beautiful woman who needs to be defined, described, articulated in an authentic way that celebrates the complexity and depths of your beauty and your internal self. From the moment you walked in, I wanted to greet you personally and invite you into a space of welcome with the understanding that I see me and you.

Mary J. Blige: Thank you. Same here. A lot of women don’t do that. I don’t see women getting along a lot. In my own circle, I see it because that’s what we do. We want to love on each other, and we want to build each other up, and we want to let each other know what you said just now: We see each other, and we see each other in each other. So I felt protected today, and I felt you cared, which is not always the case in most photo shoots—they just want the pictures. I thought, Okay, I’m going to have to do exactly what she did in order to make this hot. [Both laugh.]

Weems: Those last photographs! Child! I mean, that puppy was smokin’. It felt like the whole day we were ascending. I’m not in the commercial world—I spend 99 percent of my time in my studio by myself—so we were building each thing like interlocking circles so we could go to the next plane. I could feel it coming into a certain kind of flow, and then it became easy. And I thought, Let’s just have fun. There’s a ­wonderful saying: “Within seriousness there’s very little room for play, but within play there’s tremendous room for seriousness.”

Blige: I didn’t realize how vain I was until I started working on Mudbound. Once I saw how my character, Florence, lived [in a shack on a farm in Mississippi], I thought, Wow, I’m really a vain person. When I went to the movie set to do the first day of fittings, I was Mary J. Blige: I had just done a tour and a show, so I was all, you know, I had wigs and weaves and all sorts of things going on, and Dee Rees was like, “No! We want to see you. You can’t have a perm, you’re going to have minimal, minimal makeup.” And I was like, “What about lashes?” And she said no, and I was like, “Really? Florence doesn’t have lashes?” That part was a lot! A lot! But once I tore away and sunk into the character, Florence actually gave Mary—me, the so-vain person—a little more confidence so that Mary didn’t feel like she needed to depend on all of that. I cut my hair really short. Florence really liberated me. Just committing to and trusting that character kind of helped to save my life. I could also relate to her because she reminded me of my aunts and my grandmother who lived in the South. My mom used to send us to Savannah every summer. My grandmother had her own garden, chickens, cows; so I’ve seen chickens slaughtered, I’ve been on a farm.

Weems: You have this film, this history in music. Where do you see yourself going, and what do you want now?

Blige: I want, at some point, to not have to work so hard. I want peace of mind and acceptance of self, totally. I know that’s an ongoing process, so every single day I’m working on that, and it’s been hard ever since this challenge I’m having with this divorce. It was such a terrible thing. It made me see myself as “I have to be better than this”: I was never good enough; I was never pretty enough, smart enough. And there was someone chosen over me. It was like, I can’t stay, but it really let me see, Mary, you are better than that. You have to continue to grow.

Weems: We’ve all been through stuff. And the pain is so deep, but the place it takes you—right? The level of self-reflection—it’s all in the process. Working through that process brings you to a deeper and more profound understanding of who you are and your meaning to yourself.

Blige: Exactly.

Weems: I’m older than you. I work hard every day, and I’m always trying to figure out how not to. But there’s something that’s a part of my DNA that’s about this constant, persistent level of examination. I’m always thinking about the craft, the art, about how to step in, not for the world, but for myself; these are the issues that concern me, and I can’t expect anybody else to deliver on my promise. Right? We were talking about this earlier. No matter what, you’re going to come home by yourself.

Blige: That’s done right now. I’m by myself.

Weems: Mary, I was telling you earlier about this beautiful image I have of [singer] Dinah Washington, who, too, is crowned. The act of crowning is about giving it up, it’s the act of recognition. For this project, I knew that I had to participate in crowning you as a gift and an homage. You are in it, and leading the way. Checkmate.

Blige: Checkmate, yeah!

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Celebs

Album Review: Megan Thee Stallion – Suga

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Suga (Megan Thee Stallion)

After making headlines this week with legal drama from her label, Megan did prevail in the court system and was able to release her musical content this week. Today she offered up, yet another EP, “Suga”.

In prior interviews he has said that her album would include this new persona, “Suga“. She has stated that her debut album would show a more vulnerable side of her. Which in all honesty that’s what many of us was waiting to see. After her issues with her label, she did some rush promotion this week and stated this is an EP, and the tracks that she liked that she has done for the album. With that being said, I do look at this as an album-ish quality, because these songs, including the albums “lead single” (B.I.T.C.H.) were actually meant to be on her album.

Let’s just say this, if this is the sound that she was going for on the album, she can just keep that whole album. The EP started out strong with Aint Equal. Solid flow, as usual, she touches on the loss of her mom and granny in the first sentence, then bam we slide back into the same old Megan. We are back at the club, talking about her pussy, this and that and well it’s pretty much repetitive. That’s pretty much the whole EP’s vibe. More of Megan’s talk about her sex, liquor and school. Some of the tracks are quite catchy and could be radio friendly, but because we’ve heard 2-3 EPs/Features before, nothing about this EP is giving us the “WOW Factor” or a memorable moment. It’s lackluster at best. I’ve always been one to say her lead single B.I.T.C.H. was a horrible choice as a lead single, although it’s not a bad song. But after hearing the rest of what she has been working on, I’m inclined to think it may have been the best she had to offer. The features were a waste, and I don’t know who told her to play around with auto tune but they should be fired.

To help the moment, she finally released the video for B.I.T.C.H., which if you ask me is a case of too little too late. The song has already done what it’s going to do, and has fallen off the Billboard Hot 100. That moment is gone, and soon I think Megan’s moment will be gone as well.

Standout tracks
Captain Hook
B.I.T.C.H.

Stream the album and watch the video below

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Celebs

Carl Crawford Speaks Out About The Megan Thee Stallion Situation

Things are heating up as Carl Crawford speaks out about his deal with Megan Thee Stallion, and how she may not be as much as a victim as she claims.

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CATCH UP: Megan Thee Stallion has went public about the unfair deal that she signed when she was 20 and just getting started. She states that when entering the deal she didn’t comprehend everything in the contract, BUT she signed it anyways. After signing with Roc Nation back in September, they pointed out some things in her contract that she didn’t understand and she simply requested that the label renegotiates her contract. Megan also stated that she wasn’t allowed to drop music because of the label. First, she alleges that she’s only been paid $15,000 from the label after earning more than a billion streams and selling over 300,000 individual track downloads, which equates to an estimated $7 million.

Megan has sine went to court and had a temporary restraining order placed on the label. The judge ordered 1501 Entertainment “to do nothing to prevent the release, distribution, and sale of Pete’s new records,” along with forbidding any interference with her or her career over social media or through her collaborators or associates

The Facts: Both side have said that in Megan’s contract, she is in a 60/40 deal. They’ve both also said that she did receive 15k from the label.

Carl’s Claims: Carl claims that Megan is flat out lying, and he has the receipts to prove it. Carl states that Megan signed with ROC Nation behind his back, and he found out about it in the media like the rest of the world did.

When it comes to Megan’s Contract:

“Let’s talk about your contract. It’s a great contract for a first-timer,” he offers. “What contract gives parts of their masters and 40% royalties and all that kind of stuff? Ask Jay-Z to pull one of his artists’ first contracts, and let’s compare it to what Megan got… I guarantee they won’t ever show you that.” via Billboard

Carl states that he had nothing to do with Megan’s contract. He says Megan’s mother (who passed last year) and T. Farris actually negotiated her contract with his lawyers and they came up with the numbers. Megan is in a 360 deal where there was a 70/30 split, with the label getting the 70%. The only reason that makes sense is because they also gave her a 60/40 split on her masters.

Now to put that in perspective, that is quite a solid deal, being that most artists don’t own any of their masters, especially not on their first album/works. It took Rihanna like 7-8 albums before she owned all of her masters. Chris Brown as well.

Carl also addresses the fact that she states she’s only been paid 15k.

How she been paid $15,000? As soon as we signed to 300, I wrote her a check for $50,000, and it’s signed with her name on the check. We can show you the proof. That’s another thing — I got all my receipts. They know it. I got all the receipts. We gave her a $10,000 advance when we first signed her and gave it to her mother. I don’t know what happened [with that]. 300 gave us a $200,000 check when we first signed. I gave her $50,000 of it. I didn’t have to give her that. That was mine at the time.

Now let’s be honest, when you look at Megan Thee Stallion, in comparison to other female rappers on the come up, she did have some kind of money behind her. Everything from the features with Wale, the EP buzz around Tina Snow, and the “payola” deal that had Hot Girl Summer being played on iHeartRadio every hour on the hour the day of it’s release…. and securing the biggest debut and chart position of her career. Lets just say she didn’t get all that because of her talent. Not saying she isn’t talented, BUT talent only gets you so far.

Lets just sit back and see where this goes…

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Celebs

Pre-GRAMMY Gala and GRAMMY Salute to Industry Icons Honoring Sean “Diddy” Combs

“I’m being honored by the industry that I love, the family that I love, but there’s an elephant in the room and it’s not just about the Grammys,” Combs said well into a lengthy speech at the end of the party. “There’s discrimination and injustice everywhere.”

“Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys,” he continued. “Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be.” He said the current situation isn’t a revelation, nor is it an issue just in music.

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Sean “Diddy” Combs, winner of the Industry Icon award at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy Gala, challenged the industry to get its act together in the next year when it comes to diversity.

“I’m being honored by the industry that I love, the family that I love, but there’s an elephant in the room and it’s not just about the Grammys,” Combs said well into a lengthy speech at the end of the party. “There’s discrimination and injustice everywhere.”

“Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys,” he continued. “Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be.” He said the current situation isn’t a revelation, nor is it an issue just in music.

“For years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us and that stops right now,” he said to thunderous applause.

He continued: “We need the artists to take back the control. We need transparency. We need diversity. This is the room that has the power to make the change that needs to be made. They have to make the changes for us.”

Combs clarified he’s not intending to simply bash the Recording Academy – but that he’s here to help make a difference and a positive outcome.

He dedicated his award to Michael Jackson for “Off the Wall,” Prince for “1999,” Beyoncé for “Lemonade,” Missy Elliott for “Da Real World,” Snoop Dogg for “Doggystyle,” Kanye West for “Gradation” and Nas for “Illmatic.”

During his speech, Diddy also thanked a swath of people, including Jay-Z and Beyoncé (he calls her “King Beyoncé”), Swiss Beatz, Nas and Quincy Jones.

Combs’ remarks about the Grammys come on the heels of other drama facing the Academy: Ousted Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan recently said she has “evidence” that the Grammy Awards process is “ripe with corruption.”

With only days until the award show, Dugan filed an explosive discrimination complaint against the academy Tuesday alleging unlawful gender discrimination, sexual harassment, unlawful retaliation and unequal pay.

The Recording Academy stated Dugan’s allegations about the voting processes are “utterly untrue,” adding the academy has “rigorous and well-publicized” protocols for ensuring fair voting.

Diddy also took time to acknowledge his family and his former girlfriend, actress and model Kim Porter, who died in November 2018 of pneumonia. “I met Kim Porter ’cause Kim was the receptionist at Uptown. So that’s how far back we go,” Diddy said.

Diddy has regularly opened up about her sudden death.

Just this week, he posted a picture of Porter on Instagram with a powerful caption. “If you got a good woman please let her know,” the caption reads. “Tell her as soon as you can. Make sure she knows.”

While Combs’ speech took a (necessarily) serious turn, the night wasn’t without its stunning musical moments. For example: Cyndi Lauper, barefoot, dueted with Brandi Carlisle on “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,”; Broadway star Adrienne Warren’s “Simply the Best,” was just that, as was Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo’s homage to (in the audience!) Janet Jackson; and Faith Evans, Li’l Kim and Combs’ son Christian “King” Combs helped pay tribute to Diddy himself.

Davis – a man with a penchant for giving shout-outs to those who attend his annual event – called out returning guest Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Cardi B and Offset and Lana Del Ray, among (many, many) others.

As for other celebrity sightings: Among the crowd, Avril Lavigne and Paula Abdul chatted and embraced, Trevor Noah and Billy Porter posed for a photo and Broadway’s Darren Criss and Warren hugged. On the red carpet before the show, Jessie J and Channing Tatum held hands.

Buzzy Grammy nominees not in attendance included Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X (though his “Old Town Road” duet partner Billy Ray Cyrus was there).

Contributing: Maria Puente, Andrea Mandell and Sara Moniuszko, USA TODAY; Associated Press

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