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.
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!
LosLauren 718 Premieres ‘ Hold On (Grip) ‘
Rapper LosLauren 718 has had one of hell of a year so it only makes sense that he continues to bring his A Game with the release of his new single ‘Hold On (Grip)‘. The Bronx,NY native has mad major waves over the last decade with critically acclaimed projects which were featured on notable platforms such as ThisIs50 , The Source , VIBE , All Hip Hop , Vlad TV , Hip Hop DX , WorldStar , MusicXclusives , Trueexclusives and more. Now of course it makes sense why he would be featured being that he worked with the likes of some music finest producers including J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League , Just Blaze , Ty Fyffe , QB DaProblem and Mystro & Pizzi. Over the last year he dropped not one but two buzzed about projects ‘Allergic to Failure’ & ‘Blue Roses’ which are still in heavy rotation at this very moment. Now some would think that’s normal but he released both projects within a years time as an indie artist during the Covid-19 pandemic which stopped so many things from happening in support of his project. Now most would of delayed their projects but Los chose to release his music regardless and delivered two solid projects while facing something even more personal. The rising rap star was diagnosed with Cancer in 2020 and when most people would fold he chose to fight it and beat the odd and came out swinging and returned right back to his music as if nothing even happened. That’s in itself is just proof that real artist can never be stopped no matter what their circumstances may be. Now as he continues to work on his next project entitled ‘Addicted To Success’ , he teamed up with producer Skev Beats to drop his latest single just to heat things up real quick. Watch the premiere of his self directed video for ‘ Hold On (Grip)’ which is sure to be in heavy rotation.
Keep up to date with LosLauren 718 on all social media platforms at @LosLauren718 and cop all his past projects out now on all music streaming platforms.
Anisa Fowler ‘ You Reign ‘
Rising star Anisa Fowler is creating a buzz for herself with the release of her current single ‘You Reign’. In less than a year this gospel powerhouse has truly made a name for herself with a growing fanbase who is ready for her long awaited debut EP. The Queens,NY native who earliest memory of singing was in church truly put in work to get to this moment and this is still just the beginning of her journey. She teamed up with songwriter/producer Josh Arnoux on her latest record which is also on his indie label RNU Records. As his premiere artist he’s truly putting his all into his fellow LaGuardia HS classmate. The two who have been friends for over 20 years and even performed in the group ‘Gods Plan‘ for a period of time knew that they were onto something after the release of ‘You Reign’ and it very clear that they had something special on their hands. Releasing material during a pandemic and trying to promote it , isn’t an easy feat for anyone but Anisa has truly found a way to spread her gift of ministry in song as she traveled to perform at different showcases and conferences where she made a huge impact on the different crowds. Anisa is full proof that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and take a step out on faith where God will continuously guide you to share you gift with the masses. Check out her soul stirring performance clip which is sure to be in heavy rotation.
Follow Anisa Fowler on social media at @AnisaWorships
Lady Matt premieres ‘Left’
Houston,TX native Lady Matt is gearing up for the release of her highly anticipated debut EP next year , but she’s ready to kick things off with her latest single ‘Left’. The rising star who sites Tina Turner , TLC , Destiny’s Child , Gucci Mane, Paul Wall, Nicki Minaj, Mulatto & City Girls as some of her inspirations has truly been through a journey within the arts. The trained athlete, dancer who excelled at cheerleading on a national level was ready to take things to a different level as she turned down a full ride scholarship in Cheerleading and decided to study Fashion Merchandising.
This change in direction allowed her to study abroad in Paris, which truly opened her up to a whole new world of opportunities. After graduating and tapping into her creative side as a model , it was then that she realized that being in front of the camera was something that she could pursue as a career. Within no time after a feature spread in Elléments Magazine , she set her sites on NYC. Taking that big leap of faith moving to the city that never sleeps wasn’t as easy as it seems in the movies, but Lady Matt was determined to make things happen. Now while living in NYC and pursuing her dreams she realized that there was more to her artistry then just modeling as her hunger & passion for music was something she had to really take her time and invest in.
Over the last year she debuted freestyles over Mystikal’s ‘ Here I Go’ and Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ which definitely created a buzz online as her growing fan base patiently waited for her debut single. Well now the time has come to give her fans what they been waiting for as she teams up with producer Juice Jones and rapper/songwriter Mino for her debut single ‘Left’. Check out the premiere of her new video for her single which is just a taste of what’s to come from her highly anticipated debut EP set to drop next spring.
Follow Lady Matt on all social media sites @LadyMatt__
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