Friday, December 2, 2016

The "Gilmore Girls" Reunion Was Awesome

The latest installment in the Gilmore Girls saga, "A Year in the Life" was outstanding. Brilliant, even. I enjoyed every minute of the four-part series.

What a great trend we've stumbled upon lately, thanks to our friends at Netflix: revisiting old television shows, bringing beloved characters up to the present time, and completing the circle. Unexpectedly. It's a nice treat.

This particular special juuuust came out on November 25, and it definitely didn't disappoint. It was everything a Gilmore Girls fan could want, with all of the eccentric characterizations and Stars Hollowism's that you could dream of.

It made me laugh, it almost made me cry (I was close, though!), and it for sure gave me all the warm and wonderful feelings of joy, and great soundtrack music that I came to expect from this program.

If you didn't like the show originally, chances are you wouldn't appreciate the additional four episodes that we old school fans were blessed with. And if you DID happen to watch the program when it originally aired for seven seasons from 2000 to 2007, then this latest look at the Gilmores was well worth the wait.

It was great to see Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Luke (Scott Patterson) still together, still in love, and really still looking like not much time had passed at all.

Fabulous to see Rory (Alexis Bledel) as an "adult," although unfortunate that her career--or her love life for that matter--didn't work out the way we as viewers would have imagined. I enjoyed watching her journey, and flaws, and totally LOVED the surprise ending that has me hoping and praying that in another few years we'll get another television special to see what becomes of her special situation...

Even the unlikable and snooty Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) became endearing in this episode, figuring out her new life while mourning the loss of her husband Richard (Edward Herrmann, who passed away in 2014) whose death in the program was a major element of each character's transition.

Kind of impressive that the vast majority of the characters in this show (including superstar Melissa McCarthy as Sookie...yay!) were able to make appearances in "A Year in the Life." It was wonderful for the nostalgia, and made everything extra believable. You could almost feel the genuine emotion in some of the scenes, as I'm sure they were all quite happy to work together once again.

An honourable mention goes out to actress Liza Weil who plays the erratic Paris Geller, and also now plays uber-loyal Bonnie Winterbottom on "How to Get Away With Murder." She is a phenomenal actress: extremely believable and excellent as both Paris and Bonnie, without compromising the strength of either. Someone get this lady an Emmy!

Sally Struthers as Babette was still nutty, Matt Czuchy as Logan was still charming...and the town of Stars Hollow suddenly seemed like a comforting place to be, and not as wacky as it was in the early 2000's when I originally watched the show. In my old age, I do believe I have grown to appreciate everything wholesome about those folks, and the stories that surround them.

Not much else to say, but kudos to the show's creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel, for writing entertaining, heartwarming episodes (across the years!), and for staying so incredibly true to the characters. I didn't realize how much this show meant to me until the four-parts ended and I found myself happy that I was able to glimpse back into the streets of Stars Hollow for a moment...and even happier to see that everyone there is doing just fine. Better, even.

Excellent, excellent storytelling. 



Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Monday, November 28, 2016

6 Black Male Journalists That Fascinate Me, Lately

Black male journalists: there are many. Across mediums. Across genres. Across disciplines, and of various generations. But these six in particular have been main sources of news, information, jokes, and entertainment for me for the past year. To say they have fascinated me isn't to say that I agree with all of their perspectives or personas 100%...but this fascination led me to tune in, to YouTube them, Google them, and to stay up-to-date on their musings and declarations.

1) VAN JONES

He is the black man of the hour. The voice of passion, the one tugging at our heart strings, and the winner of the pre- and post-election coverage, as far as I'm concerned. He moved everyone with his tearful "whitelash" statements after Trump was declared the winner of the media war, and he has continued to speak logic, fact, and with a very rare sincerity that is hard to come across on television.

The brother is extremely likable, to say the least. And intelligent. Raw, and trustworthy. He's been around for a while, and was recognized for a great number of things over the past twenty years for his work in environmental and human rights. A Yale-educated attorney, he is an intellect as well as a compassionate soul.

The author of two books, "Rebuild the Dream" (2012), and "The Green Collar Economy" (2008), Van Jones has dedicated his career to advocating for environmental as well as human rights. He is the founder of many non-profit social justice organizations, and has been a leader on clean-energy economics for a good while. He served as a White House policy advisor to President Obama, particularly in the area of "Green Jobs," and has a clean reputation in global leadership and creativity.

And if that wasn't enough, it was also cool to learn that he was the "secret advisor" to Prince, and handled his humanitarian work low-key before his passing. Whatta guy.

A native of Tennessee, many are calling on him to run for President in 2020. My thoughts? I would hate to see this soul damaged by that corrupt political system. I really appreciate his role as a commentator, and expert, and think that his contributions to society have already been great without putting him in the mix of that Washington circus, more than he already is.

I look forward to seeing more great things from this brother, and believe that public expectation for him has increased exponentially, as a result of his outstanding political coverage during this year's election news cycle.

2) VAN LATHAN

As a self-professed TMZ addict, I am naturally drawn to the one black voice of racial balance, knowledge, and intellectual comic relief on the program. I watch TMZ to catch up on my celebrity news...but I stick around for Van's perspectives and insights. I love that show because despite all the celebrity fanfare and interaction...everyone in the office seems like an average employee, annoyed at their boss, rolling their eyes, and just tolerating another day at the job. Van represents that dude at work that makes it worth waking up and sitting in traffic every morning. The one guy that has all the witty commentaries. The one who you look forward to running your theories and ideals by because you know he'll have great feedback, and thoughtful contributions. He's the guy that when everyone is obnoxious and self-righteous, can hit you with one well crafted sentence that just quiets the room. There's a very, very appealing intellect about this brother that is hard to ignore. It makes an otherwise "trivial" television program all the more interesting to tune into once (or twice) a day...don't judge me.

What else do I know about Van? Absolutely nothing. It is near impossible to find any biographical information about him online...but I still attempt to uncover more news and insights into this journalist. And the next time I'm in L.A. I'm for sure getting on that TMZ Tour bus, and hoping for the best.

3) CHARLEMAGNE THA GOD

Aside from an unhealthy TMZ obsession, where else can a girl look to stay up to date on her pop culture news? THE BREAKFAST CLUB, of course. The Power 105.1 interviews by Charlemagne, Angela Yee, and DJ Envy give me life. They are THE source of interesting hip hop news, to say the least. I love what it has become...a go-to source, for many.

Charlemagne used to be the hardest brother on earth to stomach. He was obnoxious, and loud, and a know-it-all. He was offensive, and uncomfortable, and a bully at times. I couldn't look at his face, read his Tweets or anything...

And then one day, the brother became extremely likable. And I actually appreciated his perspectives. He was suddenly refreshing! I'm not sure how or why the change happened, but I actually followed his social media accounts, started watching his interviews regularly, and he became one of my new sources that I enjoyed catching up with.

We don't get MTV2 up here in Toronto with our cable, so I haven't tuned in to Guy Code, or Uncommon Sense, or any of the many other programs that he is responsible for. But I have to commend this guy for his hustle. He's everywhere. As both a radio and television personality, Charlemagne has become one of our generation's go-to guys, and I'm no longer mad at that.

A South Carolina native, he used to work with unbearably-unbearable gossip queen Wendy Williams...but now has nestled comfortably on the New York radio station in a role that I think suits him well.

I appreciate that he doesn't hold back. Sometimes it's awkward as hell, but at least you know what you're getting when it comes to him. He's the kind of guy that if he was your friend, he would keep it all the way real with you. As much as I don't like everything that he says, at least you can trust that he is speaking his mind and definitely not faking the funk. His candor, and his opinionated nature is refreshing.

4) TREVOR NOAH

What a breath of fresh air this guy is, too. So ridiculously witty and charming and interesting to watch. I spent a few hours YouTube-ing some of his stand up specials, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them. And laughed! He has such interesting perspectives. I don't watch his television program every night, but I do catch the highlights when they circulate and always vow to make it a regular part of my schedule.

He's brilliant, and I think he was a great successor to Jon Stewart last year on The Daily Show. In fact, the more I get to know about him, the more brilliant I think he is.

Born in South Africa, he was a soap star and radio personality there, before coming to America a few years back to pursue his career in stand up comedy. A few specials later, he became a great source of racial humour, political commentary, and all around cleverness as far as I'm concerned.

Also a young boy, at 32, I think he has an amazing career ahead of him. I have yet to catch up on all his wonderfulness, but think that he is an intelligent brother (who happens to speak over 6 languages, including Zulu, Afrikaans, and German...) and that the media is a better place because of him.

5) MICHAEL CHE

Can we call him a journalist, based on his Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" alone? Why not! I know he is a comedian by trade, but I have come to know him as a reporter for one of my favourite television shows, and look forward to the interludes he has each week on SNL with Colin Jost. Even if the rest of the episode is wack (and lately the show has been totally on point!), I know that I can always look forward to the Weekend Update for a couple of jokes and insights.

He starter there as a writer for SNL, which automatically gives him credibility in my eyes...because the show just got super "lit" around the time when he and a few others came on board. I also love that he was a correspondent for Jon Stewart (one of the white male journalists that fascinate me) on The Daily Show. He has the perfect mix of political satire, urban humour, and common-sense logic that I love.

He's only 33 years old, but he's definitely someone that I think it's about to get an even bigger come-up on the scene soon. I anticipate watching his career grow, and know that with his wit and hilarity, it will only produce great things.

Next step: I hear that I need to check out his Netflix stand up special...I look forward to seeing him in his natural element, and hearing what goes on in his mind...unfiltered.

6) DON LEMON

I literally started Tweeting CNN to get this guy off the air, a few years back. In the midst of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, extreme racial tensions, and sensitive media coverage, I was livid. His reporting was corny, insensitive, and ridiculous. I called this guy a claffy, and every degrading name on the book...publicly, which is something I normally wouldn't dare do. But Don Lemon irked me, beyond. He was cocky and out of touch with reality. He was guilty of making numerous comments against blacks, and janky reporting advice like "pull up your saggy pants, black guys" in years past. He was an elite jerk, and I couldn't stand him. I hated having to look at his face during my CNN-addiction phase. I resented him.

Buuuuuut somewhere along the line...I warmed up to him. I saw him begin to mature in his blackness, and his perspectives became less aggravating. He suddenly became a voice. He suddenly began to "get it" and he didn't make me want to change the channel on sight. Don Lemon grew into his role as a journalist, and became tolerable to me. Almost endearing.

That's not to say that I agree with his approach, his opinions, or his demeanour all the time. It's also not to say that I think he's the greatest "black male journalist" out there. But, I do rate him for improving, and for really, really trying to be influential and groundbreaking. He has a prime time spot on CNN, and as much as people knock the station and its messages...it is an extremely influential spot to be in.

He's 50 years old, a Louisiana native, with a degree in broadcast journalism from LSU. He's been with CNN for about ten years now, and also worked with NBC early in his career. Will I read his autobiography "Transparent"? Probably not. Will I continue to watch him on CNN...definitely. While he may never be my #1 source for information, I do give him credit for being a constant source of television news, and for trying desperately to wrangle his unruly guests for a couple of hours each evening.

Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I learn. Sometimes I cringe. But I always watch. I have to give him credit for that.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

7) Tavis Smiley
8) Roland S. Martin
9) Terrence Jenkins
10) TJ Holmes



Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.





Sunday, September 18, 2016

Masai Ujiri's "Giants of Africa" Documentary at TIFF

God bless Masai Ujiri.

I knew that I had to see the documentary based on the Toronto Raptors' president's organization "Giants of Africa" as soon as I heard it would be featured at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year. 

As a fan of the Toronto Raptors, one can't help but be proud to see how in just a few years the team has transformed into a powerhouse within the NBA. The fan base has expanded exponentially, media coverage, merchandise, awareness, and overall excitement for the Toronto home team has been electrifying to say the least. Basketball lovers around the world have witnessed the phenomenon that is "Jurassic Park," and viewers outside of our country have taken notice of the Raps in a real way. Masai is a huge part of this change, and this energy, and his influential hand has touched more than just the world of professional sports.

Giants of Africa--the organization--is exactly what people in positions of power and influence are supposed to do. They're supposed to give back. They're supposed to support their homeland. They're supposed to motivate the people around them, and they're supposed to do it with genuine love and intention. What I enjoyed about the Giants of Africa film is that after hearing about the organization over the years, and knowing generally what its mission was...it was very powerful to see the impact that it had on the players, the coaches, and sports in Africa/for Africans overall. Particularly in Nigeria.

The mission of the Giants of Africa organization, which was founded in 2003, is to "use basketball as a means to educate and enrich the lives of African youth." The film takes us on a journey from Masai's office in Toronto as he plans the logistics of his summer, right to the final all-star game at the end of the camp season in Nigeria.

We are familiar with Masai. We see him in interviews, at Raptors' games, and his presence in the city is felt. And while he is uber-successful and legendary as the first African-born general manager of a North American professional sports team...the film also shows his humility, and his dedication to the bigger picture. We know him because of basketball, but his mission as a mentor is so much greater.

Born and raised in northern Nigeria to parents who worked in healthcare (his mother was a doctor, his father an administrator), Ujiri played college basketball in the U.S., and also played professionally in Europe before becoming a basketball scout, which is what led him to the Toronto Raptors in 2008 initially, and again in 2013. Also serving as the director of the Basketball Without Borders program, Ujiri has been committed to the international basketball environment, while still excelling with his home team.

What we see in Giants of Africa is the time and the care that Ujiri puts into organizing his basketball camp and the many young souls he interacts with along the way. While this movie could have easily focused on the successes of the coaches, the mentors, and possibly even some of the stars of the NBA, it instead singles in on the individual young men who have been selected to participate in the camp, and how it directly influences their lives.

From the beginning, we see that while the workshops and sessions are designed to improve and strengthen the players' skills on the court, it is also obvious that basketball is just a tool to a much more important message and lesson. 

The young players travel great distances from their home towns in many cases, to attend one of the camps set up by the Giants of Africa in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Sudan. We watch as the accommodations are selected, as the boys arrive and receive their gear and greetings, and even sadly see the dozens of other young athletes gathered around the gates of the venues just hoping that they too could be "on the list" and receive this opportunity of a lifetime.

We are introduced to many of the characters individually, like Sodiq, and Lino. As the film brings us through their daily drills and training, warm ups, chanting, meals, and socializing, you can't help but be moved by their bright smiles, determined eyes, and sun-kissed skin. It is an image of Africa that is inspiring and hopeful; an image of youth and energy and passion. The audience sees it, the coaches see it, and of course Masai sees this vision and the influence it has had over the past 13 years his organization has been in operation.

Hard work. Living honestly. Loving your mother/sisters/women. Being positive. Staying accountable for your actions. Loving your country. These are the messages that Ujiri drills into the young men, when they aren't being drilled on the court by a number of coaches and mentors from the league, from the continent, and from within the profession. It is particularly special to see Masai's long time mentor, Coach Oliver Johnson (OBJ), an American who had coached basketball in Nigeria for 40 years, including their national team. You can feel that Masai aspires to influence the young men in tribute and in the tradition of how OBJ mentored him. The campers are physically pushed to their limits, yet still hungry to do more and learn more...this is a special opportunity for the 50-60 youth (per country) to attend this elite camp, and it is evident how grateful they are for the experience.

Between drills, and at the beginning and ending of their sessions, they meet and dialogue with their coaches and mentors; they are reminded of why they are there. They are special. They are talented. They are encouraged to dream big, and they are reminded how important they are as individuals--regardless of their challenging circumstances.

What I loved most about this film is that the message wasn't to "get to the NBA" or to become professional athletes as a means of achieving success. Yes, it was mentioned by a few of the campers, but it was never emphasized by the instructors. The camp was more of a motivational tool to remind the young men that they should always dream big and work hard to achieve their goals.

In the most riveting scene of the movie, Ujiri urges the young men to make a difference in Africa. He demands this of them. Frustrated with an unfortunate encounter with one of the facilities (who refused to open the gym doors for the boys to practice one morning), he reminded the campers that they didn't have to be influenced by particular patterns of the culture that they often witnessed. He mentioned that while some Africans in power were driven by ego and money, that they should never value those things. Ujiri told the group of focused campers that they should be leaders at home, positive influences to their siblings, and role models in their communities. He reminded them that education was an essential tool to achieving any and everything in life, and that they could be powerful and influential in many ways. His message wasn't about getting to the NBA...it was about getting through life with integrity and purpose: he insisted that they "change" Africa! I have no doubt that each of them will, in their own way.

To date, the Giants of Africa organization has seen over 80 of their campers attend high school and university in the U.S., and they've had over 100 of their young men attend university in Nigeria. There have been more than 30 athletes from this program who have played for the Nigerian national basketball team as well.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) had great vision when deciding to take the work of Masai Ujiri to the big screen. Along with the work of a strong team including cinematographer Chris Romeike, producers Josiah Rothenberg and Michael Gelfand, and of course Hubert Davis the Academy Award Nominated director of the film. This story represented the heart of basketball...beyond the sport itself. It was a reminder that behind every player--whether on the NBA floor before millions, or on a community court in Kiberia--there is a story of a young man who had a dream, and worked hard to achieve it.

We have the privilege of seeing the beautiful landscapes, and also some of the crowded and impoverished areas of the continent throughout this movie. We are reminded of the brilliance and diversity of the African people, as well as the struggles of humans everywhere. Giants of Africa, and the contributions of Masai Ujiri, are a great testament to what can be done when you have the opportunity to positively influence others. His humility is evident, yet his power and influence is overwhelming. We are lucky to have him lead our home team Toronto Raptors...but luckier to have him as a role model for young men who are dedicated to the game.


Photos via Giants of Africa Instagram page.


Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for the Kya Publishing "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nick Cannon's "King of the Dancehall" Movie at TIFF

It ain't Shottas. It ain't Dancehall Queen, and it ain't The Harder They Come. Slightly closer to Belly, and very far from Cool Runnings. That being said, writer/director/producer Nick Cannon went hard with his movie King of the Dancehall, released on September 11 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). No: he doesn't speak with a Jamaican accent (phew!), and yes: the movie is thoroughly entertaining. This film was definitely electric and definitely gave viewers an inside look at Jamaica and the world of dancehall music and movement.

I will give Nick Cannon credit where credit is due: this is a good movie. And it's funny! In fact, just minutes into the movie I was wide-eyed and excited to hear dancehall music through the speakers of the Scotiabank Theatres in downtown Toronto. I was pleased to see images of Jamaica, beautifully arranged, and I was thankful that the 35-year-old American superstar took the time to visit, study, and communicate the wonderfulness of Jamaican music and culture, and share it with a wide audience. What's better than seeing the people and hearing the sounds that you love on the big screen?

For that reason alone, you should see this movie. If you love Jamaica, if you love Caribbean culture, and if you love dancehall and dancing, then you will definitely appreciate the respect and dedication that was given to telling this story. "Bless up" to Nick Cannon for taking the time to explain dancehall culture through narration from dancehall legend Beenie Man and through the voice of Nick's on-screen character "Tarzan Brixton." Kudos for Nick's commitment to explaining the history and significance of the elements of reggae music and the people that nurture it.

From the start, Tarzan explains how the moves that pop artists like Rihanna and Beyonce perform regularly for millions of adoring fans and emulators, have originated in the Jamaican dancehalls. He explains the significance of the performance, with a brief history of the island. And through the eyes of the American character Tarzan, after doing five years in prison, the viewers are introduced to the dancehall scene and journey to understand it along with him.

We've heard this story before, but it was still interesting to journey through the situation with the characters. A young convict trying to do right by his family. A hot dancer hoping to battle the current champion for respect and bragging rights. A drug dealer making a few smart moves and running the scene as a result. A bad boy falling for the good girl, and being seduced by a sexy temptress. Family drama. Judgmental and protective fathers. Slightly predictable, but still enjoyable, the plot moved nicely for the first half of the film...got a little strange towards the end, and concluded with a musical showcase featuring cameos from Beenie Man himself, T.O.K., Diva Nikki Z, Sean Paul, Richie Stephens, and of course plenty of dancing.

The ending...meh.

The joy of viewing this film didn't particularly come from a gripping plot with unexpected turns and clever epiphanies, but instead from the vibrancy of the music, the party scenes, the authentic look at the Jamaican landscape, and the overall vibes. Women wining. Men strutting. Motorcycles. Waterfalls. Sexy bodies. Romance. A couple jokes. But essentially, the dancing is what makes this film so captivating.

It was cool to see Whoopi Goldberg in the film, as Tarzan's mother in the U.S. (although somehow while her Jamaican sister spoke 110% full patois, Whoopi as "Loretta" was a straight Yankee). Always a treat to see Busta Rhymes on screen with a very convincing Jamaican persona. Collie Buddz was great, as the boss man "Dada," and Ky-Mani Marley had a small role in it as well. Familiar faces added some weight to the movie, even with Louis Gossett Jr. as "The Bishop." Side note: I was slightly confused with The Bishop's attempt at a Ghanian accent, but appreciated his appearance nonetheless.

My favourite character was Kimberly Patterson who played Tarzan's love interest "Maya." A beautiful dark-skinned sister with gorgeous locs and natural talent, it was fantastic to see her as the leading lady--it made for great scenes of nubian skin and sensual dancing, seeing her lead the American Tarzan's body into the movements and swagger of the Jamaicans.

Nick Cannon can move...I'll give him that. He really got into it. I appreciate the man he has become, the intellect expressed in his interviews and commentaries, and his success as a rapper/comedian/filmmaker/television personality/all-around entertainment guru. And while he used to linger in the "Nickelodeon"/corny dude category...this movie has definitely placed him in a grown-and-sexy-brother lane, as he bumped and grinded his way into dancehall stardom. I don't doubt that he'll be frequenting Jamaica often, after this experience.

Despite a few small shortcomings and a few "WTF?" scenes towards the end, it is clear that Nick Cannon has the utmost respect for the Jamaican people and culture. I recognize this contribution he has made to the ever-growing list of Jamaican films. I love that he chose Toronto for King of the Dancehall's debut, that he featured the talented and beautiful Canadian pop-singer-turned-dancehall-queen Kreesha Turner (as Kaydeen the bad gyal dancer), as well as hearing "Finch and Jane" ringing out through Vybz Kartel's "Money on My Brain" on the loud speakers along with other dancehall classics. These personal touches made it a great viewing experience for me...I hope that others outside of the culture and with lesser understanding of the elements of this story can still commend him for this "outsider's look" at the dancehall culture. By nature, it is something to behold.


Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Event Review: I LOVE THE 90's Ol' Skool Concert Series & After Party

If you live in Toronto, grew up in Toronto in the 90's, or are familiar with the Toronto party scene, you know without a doubt that Saturday, March 14th’s “I LOVE THE 90’s” concert was a success. For a city that has its fair share of era-themed parties, be it the 90's, a particular genre of music from a particular moment in time, or a particular style of celebration, promoters and DJs have been coming up with innovative ways to enjoy themselves, to share their love of music, and to entertain the often hard-to-please Toronto audience, each and every weekend. From time.

There was nothing original about I LOVE THE 90’s. It’s been done. We’ve seen old school artists trickle through this city so regularly that we’re probably one of the main cities out there that embraces the artists of the past so warmly. If they had a hit in the 80’s, 90’s or early 2000’s..chances are they’ve passed through Toronto in the past few years. We appreciate classics. We don't forget the talent, or how they made us feel. We cling to it! We respect the art form. Toronto loves music, and this was evident at the response on Saturday. For an idea that is commonplace in the city, the I LOVE THE 90’s concert was still executed and received like a brand new concept.

The success of an event is often measured in VIBE, first and foremost. Whether it's a crowd of 150, or a crowd of 1500. One thing that’s undeniable is that the concert had a full house at the Sound Academy, plenty vibes, and this was consistent from beginning to end. The main indicator of the party's effect was that people were enjoying themselves. Immensely.

Before the 11:30pm concert start, the mood was set, and the tracks were running from DJ DOC…the tone was established. It was an evening of high energy, mixed with nostalgia, and the anticipation was heavy. Walking into the venue to an early crowd was a good indication that it was going to be a busy night.

Kudos to the event hosts comedian Jay Martin and MC Kid Kut, who are both staples of the Toronto entertainment scene, veterans of the stage, and clearly seasoned professionals when it came to keeping the crowd engaged, in good spirits, and most importantly, laughing! Jokes were running all night, and surprisingly turned the concert into a comedy show-slash-concert.

Performing a well-rehearsed dialogue about old school music, memories of growing up in the 90's, and paying due tribute to the artists present and those of their era, coordinated with Toronto’s top-of-the-top DJ Starting from Scratch, the routine orchestrated by the three of them was nothing short of excellent. Many surely would have paid full ticket price for this element of the show alone!

The male R&B group vs. female R&B sound clash between Jay Martin and Kit Kut was not only hilarious, but also had the crowd participating as they played SWV, Jodeci, and other classic songs that drove the audience to attend that night. They told stories, set up scenarios, and really brought everyone back to the era of love, romance, and SINGING. From you hear a full audience singing along at full voice to the songs playing, you know that everyone is feeling nice!

The concert was what it was, because of their wit and timing. And who doesn't want to see Jay Martin Bogle-ing on stage in a Rasta wig? Hilarious. They were the glue that held all of the elements together, made the show uniquely TORONTO, and made it a fabulous trip down memory lane, at the same time. Because of how they joined the 5 performances together seamlessly, and broke up the flow of the show by changing up the pace, and engaging everyone in the experience.

The first to hit the stage was R&B group Intro, coordinated in attire, and performing the dance moves and gestures that we expect and appreciate from a group of their calibre. Right away, they came with a sincere 90’s vibe, appreciation for the audience, and executed their familiar hits just the way they were remembered. The crowd was instantly responsive to the upbeat songs, as well as the slow jams, singing along, and vibing with the gentleman. They were great.

After Intro, Jon B blessed the stage with his band, and kept the momentum up singing his familiar songs, as well as hitting up the keyboards for a few interludes as he performed. A true professional, with the same swag that had the ladies swooning in the 90's, he was engaging, sounded fantastic, and made sure to the let the audience know about his upcoming projects as he thanked them and left the stage expressing his gratitude for the support.

Case, responsible for some of the 90's classic R&B bangers and early hip hop collaborations, was a clear welcome addition to the lineup, and definitely got up close and interactive with the audience as he performed the songs that many of the attendees grew up, in the club, and on stereo in the 90s. Many of his hits are easily on rotation at any given urban event in the city, to this day.

Mya hit the stage in full glam, with dancers, lighting, and an extra touch of electricity when it was her moment. Looking every bit as flawless and dancing every bit as tight as she did at the height of her 90's reign, her set was high-energy from beginning to end, and almost ran like a concert-within-a-concert for her segment. She performed a fabulous remix of her hit songs, while executing full dance routine, and even slowed it down a bit for an “unplugged” version of her own tunes, as well as classics by Aaliyah and SWV. The essence of female performers in the 90's was felt strongly through Mya's performance, and it seems as though she hadn’t left the stage at all. Again, a consummate professional and excellent performer.

The only hip hop artist on the lineup, Mr. Cheeks definitely brought a different vibe to the closing of the concert. The Lost Boyz, as well as Mr. Cheeks as a solo artist, were responsible for so many hip hop anthems, that the crowd rapped and grooved along with him as he went through his segment with the wild vibes and that distinct New York energy that almost exclusively ran the hip hop scene in the 90's. His personality and energy were consistent with what we remember of Mr. Cheeks from that era, and his performance was the perfect way to end the concert portion of the evening.

It was at this point where event MC Puddy (aka the Mayor of Nova Scotia) was able to come out and drop his unique James-Browns-reminiscent dance moves, two-step across the stage, and share his east coast Maritime swag with the Toronto audience. The crowd loved him and let him shine as he bumped those shoulders and hit those splits effortlessly in his three-piece suit. Up and down. He was clearly meant to perform and entertain!

Event promoters Urban and Interactive also had a moment to thank the audience for their support, recognize the 40th birthday celebration of Dougie (aka 6Five Ent), and pay homage to their fallen brother Steve Hanslip (aka Sub) who passed away two years earlier, almost to the day. It was a heartfelt and genuine moment from Dougie. Star B also let everyone know that there was more to come from the company, in entertainment as well as community initiatives.

Events come and go in Toronto on a weekly basis. New concepts, various artists, familiar DJs, and new up-and-coming selectors. We are city of spoiled individuals because our musical IQ is so high, and our expectations are even higher. We’ve seen the best, heard the best, and expect the best. Fortunately for all, the success of the I LOVE THE 90’s concert was one that could be felt throughout the room as the night came to an end, and the music continued.

DJ DOC, joined by MC Brenton B, led the remaining dancers into a nostalgic mix of dancehall oldies, soca classics, house music hits, and 90's hip hop and R&B joints for the after party that concluded the night perfectly.

There is clearly a vibration to the 90's and an energy that is so unique to that era, that it can’t be let go. Events, concerts, and throwback sets will continue to run in Toronto because of the impact it had on those who had the honour of growing up in that era and appreciating and experiencing the music first hand.

Special thanks to all who attended the event, who supported Urban and Interactive’s first major production, and who came with positive spirits, open encouragement and welcoming responses to the artists, and overall appreciation for the movement.

Urban and Interactive successfully brought back the love, the dancing, and the great feelings that are remembered about the 90's, and will continue to expand on this Concert Series & After Party brand in the upcoming months. Stay tuned, and thanks again for the overwhelming support.


Written by Stacey Marie Robinson (Urban and Interactive Admin & Social Media)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fifty Shades of Schupidness (book/movie review)

Nothing to see here.

I was curious about the movie...the soundtrack sounded dope. The visuals look enticing, helicopters, and pretty condos. It seemed like it might be something intriguing. Young girl. Rich dude. Why not? I refused to watch the movie without reading the books. That's how this journey began.

E. L. James hit the jackpot with this story, and what kind of writer would I be if I didn't at least attempt to check it out?! Well, I didn't make it through the entire book, maybe 65% according to my Kobo e-reader. I wanted to see what the literary hype was, and for the first say, 30% or so, I was into it. Typical fluffy love story, a light read, I could get down with it.

It wasn't half as "sexual" or terrible as I thought it would be...but after a while, it was redundant. Christian and his demands. Anastasia biting her lip...ooh, "don't bite the lip or I'll have to punish you"...at about 65% I just gave up on the book entirely, and decided to check out the film.

Womp. Womp.

I wonder if the movie flows better to someone who hasn't read the book (or a portion of it), with a detailed frame of reference. I wonder if there are romantic types out there that thought that Christian's on-screen pursuit of Ana was believable and sensual? I wonder if it's just me, or was this entire set up just terrible. Forced chemistry, with no real substance. 

First of all, as I was reading the book I couldn't help but picture the film characters, after seeing numerous commercials and media coverage. I kinda hate that, because it takes away from the imagination a bit. That being said, I think Dakota Johnson, as Anastasia Steele, was a good match. Innocent. Pretty. Naive. It worked. But Christian (Jamie Dornan)...for ALL the hype they had finding the "right" dude to play him, hiring and firing actors, and searching and trying to capture the perfectly sexy and appealing man to play this character. Like, no. Not attractive. Not sexy. Not anything, really. If anything...I thought Christian's character on-screen was creepy. Unemotional. Then too emotional. Always staring and popping up places. Who would actually tolerate a stranger like that?!

Creepy. There's a good word to sum up this entire Fifty Shades experience! I thought it was supposed to be sensual, and it was just weird. I haven't even finished reading the book, mind you, so it's possible there is some great revelation in the remaining 35% that I didn't get to, that might change my mind about the entire experience. But the fact that I don't have the energy to find out just goes to show how interested I am either way, in seeing if the film ending and the book ending measure up.

As many adapted novels-to-movies, the film seemed to jump around. I didn't see any natural chemistry building, and the couple went from 0 to 100 with no logical explanation. The book had many email exchanges, and at least an internal thought process to work with...but the movie was just cheesy as they exchanged brooding glares and felt these uncontrollable urges, with no other form of communication or understanding. Who does that?

The "Red Room" in the book didn't seem as terrible as that dungeon looked in the movie. As soon as Christian opened the door in the movie and Ana walked in, it took everything in me NOT to yell at the TV for that chick to run for the hills. Who would stick around for that? And he closed the door behind her?? Uh uh. No way. Red flag, girlfriend. Millions, billions, or trillions of dollars later...from I see that organized inventory of whips and shackles, I'm gone. Despite the gifts. The laptop was nice, and the red Audi was a fabulous touch...but otherwise, it was straight out of a horror movie, and the fact that she didn't even flinch just took away the realism of this movie for me.

What young girl...what VIRGIN, at that, is going to walk into that kind of situation and not bat an eye? Even after reading Christian's detailed contract, and witnessing his hot-then-cold attitude, I still found it weird that Ana managed to keep her cool throughout, and not think that this psychopath was out to rape, murder, or torture her.

I'm not going to knock anyone's sexual choices and definition of fun, but this movie wasn't it. The book was barely it. If this was supposed to be a fantasy, it fell really short. The best part for ME was seeing and hearing Christian play that Chopin piece on the piano. Now THAT was a fantasy, a man with some talent, working an instrument! Sweet! Otherwise, his whole woe-is-me I was starving when I was four-years-old and seduced by an older woman at fifteen sob story wasn't moving me. He, in all his power and success, truly just seemed manipulative and mean.

I loved the end of the movie when Ana decided to go home and walk away from this circus. When he whipped her, she cried, and she finally had that WTF moment, put on her clothing, and dipped. That was the most realistic part of this franchise of schupidness, when Ana came to her senses and realized this shit wasn't cool, on any level!!

Waste of time, but at least I saw first hand what the hype was about. The writing was just "meh"...I'm not even going to bother with the follow up books in the trilogy: "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed"...if Anastasia decides to go back to that dude and try to save him, and teach him how to love...I'm so not interested. If you ask me, her friend Jose was the man to be with. Loyal. Talented. Sweet. And HE (in the movie) was HOT.

But boy, that Chopin piano song that sad Christian played in the dark sho' was beautiful, and the Weeknd song "Earned It" at the closing credit kills. Soooo dope. A perfectly wonderful musical soundtrack, for a perfectly waste-of-time story. I knew I should have just read my Canadian Black History Month selections in my down time this week. Shame on me.


Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

10 Reasons Why I Love the FOX TV Show "Empire"

This show is everything.

I've been saying that a lot lately, which is great. Which means that I can finally break out of my reality TV spell, and get back into a handful of great scripted programs. It started with "Being Mary Jane," continued with "Scandal," went on to "How to Get Away with Murder," and now keeps keepin' on, with the hit television show "Empire," that just debuted earlier this year on FOX.

I'm a sucker for a predominantly Black cast, Black writers/directors, and grew up watching and enjoying, and being inherently interested in their career paths and progression. I can't help but support the familiar faces and entertaining antics. Naturally, these shows were made for me.

The best part about these quote-unquote "Black" shows it that everyone is digging them. Not just Black female writers, like myself. Not just "urban" folks in "inner cities" who can relate. But these shows are clearly transcending racial and cultural lines, and appealing to everyone who loves a good story in general. That's the best part...while they speak to me/"us" directly as Blacks...they are also speaking to the television-watching audience as a whole because they are GOOD SHOWS. Period.

This speaks volumes for where our current generation is in terms of acceptance and awareness, on a very basic, basic level. Entertainment is often a microcosm of society at large, in terms of trends and influence, and the emergence of these shows is a great example of how Black representation is hardly an anomaly anymore. It's pretty much the norm.

Yeah, people were still vex about the movie Selma not receiving appropriate recognition from the Academy Awards this year. And yes, I'm sure the roles (and power roles on the executive levels) in Hollywood are still barely diverse, BUT it is a step in the right direction. An evident one. The ratings, the buzz, and the critical acclaim are proving that change is happening. We can feel it...and we can see it. Daily. Regularly.

I dig the thought processes and complexities of Gabrielle Union as Mary Jane Paul on "Being Mary Jane." I love the feisty and strategic Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington on "Scandal." Viola Davis as the wickedly brilliant Annalise Keating is super fun to watch on "How to Get Away with Murder," and now I have another show to add to my roster of weekly entertainment..."Empire."

What is it about this show that speaks to me in particular?

1) TARAJI P. HENSON - What's not to love about Taraji? She is the co-star of one of my favourite movies of all times, Baby Boy (2001), and has also won my admiration from her roles in Hustle & Flow (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009), and Think Like a Man. I think her character Cookie Lyon is hilarious, and although some might argue that she's in a stereotypically negative black female role as an ex-con with a history of drug chargers...but I love that despite this setback, her character is emerging into a powerful business woman, and complicated woman. Most importantly, it's just great to watch her get moment to shine in the spotlight, because she has been acting for years and it's well deserved. Not everyone gets the change to be the "it girl" of the big, or small screen, but this is definitely Taraji's moment, and it's nice to see.

2) TERRENCE HOWARD - Again, another actor I've watched and enjoyed over the years, from his hilarious character in the The Best Man pictures, to various music video appearances, and excellent roles in movies like Crash (2004), Ray (2004), and of course Hustle & Flow (2005). Like Taraji, he's someone who's been around the big and little screen for years, but is finally getting attention on a wider scale, and you can't help but feel proud of the brother. He is awesome as Luscious Lyon, and definitely brings a depth and familiarity to the "hip hop mogul" star character on the show. Will I mention the numerous assault issues he's had in the past...no, I won't. I'll keep it positive and separate the art from his personal fiascos.

3) THE CAST - So great to see newcomers Trai Byers (Andre Lyon), Jussie Smollett (Jamal Lyon), Bryshere Gray (Hakeen Lyon), and of course old favourites Malik Yoba, Derek Luke, and Gabourey Sidibe in supporting roles. These ensemble casts really make the episodes a must-see affair, because you can see how many A-list stars (like Naomi Campbell and Courtney Love) have committed themselves to the project and believe in its impact.

4) THE STORY OF A GENERATION - The premise of Empire is loosely based on Shakespeare's King Lear, and also influenced by the 80s primetime soap opera Dynasty, according to show creator/director Lee Daniels. Empire is the story of a generation, with various themes and characters reminding us of the faces and names we've watched develop over the years. It speaks directly to the "hip hop" generation that came directly from the streets, and through years of hustling, performing, creative excellence, and changing of times, have now emerged to millionaires, power movers, and icons. This is a familiar story as we watch various hip hop artists, and even the very actors themselves transcend their initial circumstances, and become staples in pop culture. This story wouldn't have worked 10-15 years ago, because not everyone had matured to that level of fame and riches. But we see it now with Diddy. With Beyonce and Jay-Z. With Dr. Dre. We see the power increasing exponentially, and the stories of these hip hop and urban cultural pioneers turning into Forbes cover stories, and business models. It's fabulous.

5) THE MUSIC - Produced by the legendary hit-maker Timbaland, the music on this show is current, authentic, and actually sounds GOOD. It makes the entire concept very believable when the hits actually sounds like potential hits. And tell me you don't catch yourself humming "you're so beautifuuuuullll..." as a result, every now and then?

6) IDEALS OF FAMILY LEGACY - This concept is fabulous to me. Because as the "hip hop" generation comes of age, matures, has children and grandchildren, you can't help but wonder what's next? Will the money be preserved? Will future businesses unfold? Will the legacy continue? We see the children of some moguls (like the Simmons) come into their own, and the history of influence and talent continue. You can only hope that this is the case across the board, that millions are wisely invested, and care is taken to ensure that the legacy is intact, and that the following generation only makes it strong. Again, but mirroring the current climate, it is a great look into the question of...what's next?...for those in a similar position. Who will be the next generation of influencers, and will they be able to successfully translate their parents' achievements into something equally (or more)  profitable and enjoyable? I love that this is the main premise to the show, and hope that it encourages viewers of lesser means to also be cognisant of this reality...

7) THE JOKES - Taraji as Cookie is pretty damn funny. Love it.

8) THE FAMILIARITY - The cultural references are fabulous. It is everything I love about writing: familiar experiences, similar culture, understandable language and thought processes. It is a great way to recognize the current state of entertainment, and 20 years down the line will be extremely reflective of today's reality. It is so current that it's practically truth...the Lyons family could easily be Diddy's family, Snoop's family, Kobe or Lebron's family...it's just the place that young "stars" are in right now as they're suddenly not so young, and recognizing that the culture keeps moving, and they need to do everything they can to ensure they remain powerful and influential.

9) THE HYPE - I wouldn't have even tuned in if it wasn't for the buzz. "Everybody" was talking about Empire, so when I finally caught the episodes through a binge watching-spree, I was hooked.

10) WHAT IT REPRESENTS - Empire represents a new era of television, and the "return" of Black shows. The last great surge of Black television was probably in the 90s when shows like Martin, Living Single, the Cosby Show, A Different World, Sister Sister, the Jamie Foxx Show, Roc, and Moesha (to name a few) were a hit on the airwaves. The half hour laugh-a-minute sitcom was huge, and I definitely miss being able to tune in and get consistent jokes from the actors that I still love and admire...but the turn to a one-hour drama is great as well. It represents the change from the Black comedian (and there were dozens of them) to a great variety of interesting and complex characters. The change is nice. The depth is nice. And you don't have to worry about getting hung up on one particular depiction, because there are enough characters to go around. With varying personalities and passions, the accessible Black characters on television are truly just a common thing now. Nothing particularly racial or controversial going on...just another show, another cast, and another look at American life.

I'm all about documenting our cultural experiences, for future accurate representations of our generation. This show is spot on. Well done, Lee Daniels!

And P.S...I don't believe for a minute that Monique was the "original" contender for the role of Cookie. She needs to sit down, and let Taraji have her moment to shine. Unnecessary shade on a wonderful pop cultural moment. Who does that?!

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: TRUE LOVE by Jennifer Lopez

I was expecting a celebrity tell-all book about fleeing nightclubs with P. Diddy, romantic getaways with Ben Affleck, dancing the night away with Casper Smart, or other inside-Hollywood tidbits, but True Love by Jennifer Lopez was surprisingly very different. It was a simple look at a woman, going through life, figuring out love, and learning how to love herself.

In fact, despite the ongoing concert/performance/American Idol references, and knowing who the book's author was, the story was an un-Hollywood as it could be. And even having mentioned her regular lifestyle, which by nature is glamorous, there was little glamour and glitz in this book.

I've always liked J.Lo. She seems personable, she is definitely multi-talented, and for years she has managed to maintain a clean reputation and keep it classy...all while looking fabulous. Consistently. What's not to love?!

So this book was surprising in that it showed readers a dark side to Jennifer, a side filled with sadness, insecurity, and confusion at times. A side of her filled with self-doubt and longingness...a side that the majority of women could probably relate to on some level. We may not all be familiar with having access to fame, millions of dollars, and prime-time television shows and blockbuster movies...but emotionally, the average reader could definitely relate to her journey as a woman, and her growth in character as a result of her life experiences.

This book was an easy read. So easy, that I was shocked with how quickly it took me to get through the pages. Although I read it on my Kobo, it was very nice to have a variety of pictures accompany the story, and it looks as though there's an audio/video element to it (that clearly my Kobo isn't advanced enough to process) which would make the experience slightly more entertaining.

An easy read, but an interesting one. And it read like a Jennifer Lopez story, and not something penned by a ghost-writer or "as told to" literary genius. It read like a girl friend speaking to another girl friend or family member about her experiences, with warm words of encouragement, and kind recommendations for improved living.

Basically, this book chronicles the period of time when Jennifer was going through her divorce from singer Marc Anthony, but also while she was going through a great period in her career, hit songs and a classic time in American Idol history. It takes you through her emotional journey, through the support she received from family and friends, the advice and guidance she sought, and eventually the strength she gained and how she applied the various insights she encountered.

I really enjoyed it. Partially because of shock value at how open and honest Jennifer was about her feelings...and partially because of the outcome, and reading about how she overcame her challenge and was better as a result. Who doesn't love a story of love and victory?! And this time, the love wasn't tied to another "big name" or celebrity scandal. The love was for herself, and as corny and cliche as that seems, it reads REALLY beautifully, and it feels great to learn the lessons over again with Jennifer.

My favourite line of the book: "Integrity is your own gauge of what is right for you."

I admire J.Lo for opening herself up to her fans and readers this way, and think that alone is a result of the journey she went though. You can feel her renewed sense of spirit, and the energy and excitement is both contagious and motivating as a reader.



Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's Urban Toronto Tales blog.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review: Nicki Minaj's "The Pinkprint"

There's so much good music in the world, and it brings on so many good feelings. I love reggae music, I love soca music, I love old school R&B and hip hop, I love trap music, and I can get down to pretty much anything else with a nice composition. Pop. Rock. I love music. Period.

What I love most of all is when you hear brand new music, and it hits you. Either it passes right through you briefly, or maybe you hear it but it doesn't affect you, or you immediately forget it...and sometimes you listen to it, like it and can't explain why. Sometimes the sounds completely translate into a feeling that is directly speaking to you. A vibe that perfectly resonates with you. A composition that you must hear again, and again. A noise that makes you physically feel fabulous. Well, on some level that's how I feel about Nicki Minaj's latest album The Pinkprint, that was just released earlier this month.

I wouldn't call myself a "super fan" of Nicki Minaj, but I must say that I like most of her songs to date...and her craziness really doesn't bother me. I like her, as an artist. I shouldn't...but I do. I agree that the Anaconda antics were kinda over the top, but I think it was fun and harmless. The bootie phase of 2014 will pass, and everyone would have had their moment to shake dat ass. Including Nicki.

And I think that's why I dig this album...because even with Nicki's querkiness, and odd behaviours publically, I feel she's maturing into more of a woman and less of a caricature. She used to feel like a cartoon character to me...catchy beats and a bright, colourful, and ridiculous fashion sense. She couldn't be taken that seriously...but now I think her music speaks for itself. She's growing up.

I like her music of the past because it was feel-good pop music. Trendy beats and memorable catch phases. I liked most of the hits that were hits, and it wasn't anything too serious.

But with this album, I feel a different sense of appreciation for Nicky Minaj as an artist. I can hear her growth as an individual. I can hear the maturity in her style. The increase in vulnerability in her voice. The intimacy of the lyrics. This album is different.

It starts off sounding almost like an R&B album, with Nicki singing, and with the instrumentation sounding more symphonic, and less street. The lyrics alone make it feel more personal, like she's speaking straight from a broken heart. It's a different level of emotional disclosure...and the music mimics that. It starts off more introspective...mellow beats. The album begins in a dark, sad place...and sets the tone for what's to come.

The Pinkprint gets lighter as it progresses, less vulnerable and more club. The lyrics are less painful...Drake and Chris Brown show up. Ariana Grande. Beyonce. Works it way down to Anaconda, and then closes with the Pills and Potions, signature Nicki sounding track...singing her vocals, the regular Nicki flow.

Overall, I like the way this album makes me feel. Even at a glance, there's an arch to the music that follows a nice audio story line. From darkness and heartbreak, that slowly and gradually eases into triumph by the end. There's hope at the end...and the mood of the album supports that.

I look forward to playing this album for the next couple of weeks, listening carefully to the individual songs, taking in the lyrics, and appreciating how this project was put together. Right now I am really feeling "The Crying Game" and "Grand Piano." I hear that she has released a mini-movie to go along with a few of the tracks, and the essence of these songs in particular remind me of soundtrack-type songs. Full of emotion.

I don't "purchase" CDs often, but this is one I actually got up and went into the mall to buy. Like physically made a trip to the store to make sure I had this in my possession for Monday morning, and the subsequent sitting in traffic I was about to embark in for the week. This will be my entertainment, and my inspiration. Music is amazing that way...it never fails to bring out the creative energy in me!

After watching Nicki's Power 105.1 interview with Angie Martinez the other day, I got a different energy off of her and her story, and her behaviour as she discussed the end of her 15-year relationship with Safaree. There was a vibe she gave off in the interview that directly translated into the vibe of the album. It was a vibe of Nicki the woman, telling her story of adult heartbreak. A story of strength, but still with enough spunk to make it unpredictable.

This album sounds great, and it is a fabulous representation of Nicki's career, and even her public growth. It's nice to see an artist getting better with time and with wisdom...I'm pleasantly surprised that Nicki Minaj actually became one of those artists. I have to respect that.



Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's Urban Toronto Tales blog.