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Mai Perkins

18 mins read

Critically Acclaimed Black Composer Contemplates Touring Post-Pandemic

New York City, seen as the financial capital of the world, came to a screeching halt in mid-March. The announcement of school closures was followed by a 100% economic shutdown of nonessential businesses. This happened as an official State of Emergency was declared in the U.S., and many borders around the world began closing for the foreseeable future. My thoughts turned toward the many artist friends who depend on travel, both domestic and international, in order to make a sustainable living as professional creatives.

The same day that the White House declared a travel ban on Europe, I watched several musicians post across social media that they were still touring on the other side of the world. Immediate logistics were sorted for those returning stateside to quarantine post-tour, or face being stuck (perhaps preferably) in other countries. Every one of those artists faced last-minute changes that included cancellations of all current and future gigs. Lives were unforeseeably impacted, if not forever changed. 

Two months have passed since the ability to earn income as a touring artist has completely fizzled out as an option. In the aftermath, I spoke with critically acclaimed jazz musician and composer George Burton to discuss the implications of what the Coronavirus pandemic has meant for his career.

black composer
George Burton

On February 21, 2020, Burton independently released his sophomore studio album “Reciprocity.” According to the press release: “Reciprocity” is a kaleidoscopic work that flows forward and back in time, a meta dialogue between generations of jazz artists. Opening with a fragment of a conversation with legendary Sun Ra Arkestra bandleader Marshall Allen, whose commentary…is interspersed throughout the album, Burton compresses and collapses history in a series of compact configurations to create a narrative that is a meditation on the very nature of jazz.

As we caught up via FaceTime, Burton was in the backyard of his garden level brownstone apartment in Bed-Stuy, grilling jerk chicken for his family. It was a beautiful late spring afternoon, and his daughters were boisterous while building their imaginary fort without a care in the world. This was in stark contrast to the weight of the world on George’s shoulders as he shared his worries and concerns about the inability to work in his chosen field. 

black composer
George Burton

Mai Perkins for Shoppe Black: Since touring has come to a complete halt, how do you earn a living?

George Burton: Right now, I still have teaching. As a musician, you always have teaching, tours, and other things going on that contribute to earning income. I teach online lessons. That’s all I’ve got. I used to book other cats that play, but no one can go out on tour now.

You used to go to Europe, make a chunk, and live off of that money for the next few months. The ability to just bounce whenever you need to work is no longer an option. The borders are closed, so how do we start planning for that. No one knows when they will reopen, or how to plan ahead. 

What are your thoughts, overall, on the economic shutdown?

The economic downturn is serious. As time goes on, though… We as working artists sometimes plan 6 to 8 months in advance, so it can become brutal. Economically, I’m okay right now. But 6, 7, 8 months down the line… I can’t see saying the same thing. I am an entrepreneur to a certain extent. Every musician is an entrepreneur. I am my own business person because I run my own career in terms of bookings, hiring support, and everything towards putting out an album then selling it.

Tell me about the new album, “Reciprocity,” that came out in February. 

The new album got trampled by Coronavirus. It was like, “I’m in The New York Times!” and then it was like, “Nope, Corona is here…” It’s my second album. It did very well for a lot of publications. It has dialogue by Marshall Allen who is the last member of the original Sun Ra Arkestra. He’s been running the band for the last 25 years. It’s an album about reciprocity, exchanging ideas. A lot of people say, “Do you want it to be about the music or about You (the artist)?” I’ve never looked at music as an individual thing.

I’m used to playing behind people. But this album is about people working together. There are always two voices talking to one another. “Reciprocity” has done well in the press. NYT picked up the video, which was done by stop motion artist Sigmund Washington. He’s a brilliant Black artist out of Bed-Stuy who uses paper, watercolor, and markers to create each image. 12 to 24 frames per second.

It takes months to do. NPR Music liked it. JazzIz did a spotlight. But as far as the larger music publications, Jazz Times or Downbeat did not cover it. I think it’s a little different conceptually than any album that’s out today. So, you would think it would’ve done better in the jazz publications. 

Tell me about your life touring. How often would you go out?

Most of my tours are in Europe. I’ve been to London, Paris and France more times than I can remember. Western Europe, Central Europe, Serbia, and Croatia. Also, in South Africa, Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Morocco. Asia. All up and down the East and West coast, Chicago and Detroit. I’ve been everywhere except South America and Central America. Every year, I’m on the road. Every month between March and November are busy seasons for touring musicians. Basically, right now, I would be gone with Sun Ra or Odean Pope, whoever calls.

So what does it feel like to be grounded?

It feels terrible. Absolutely terrible. Like, “What do you mean I can’t go anywhere??? What do you mean there’s no touring?” Everything is set 8 to 10 months in advance. It’s a lot because so much depends on conditions that are undetermined until we have this situation under control. Fall 2021 is the earliest we’re hearing that touring could resume, once there’s a vaccine or treatment. And that’s not even for everyone.

Prior to this have you considered leaving NYC? Talk to me about this idea of envisioning life outside of New York, permanently.

I’ve been living in Brooklyn for 17 years, and own my piano studio. I’ve worked and put in the time and dedication to become critically acclaimed. I’m just trying to be a real musician in New York. I have absolutely no idea where to go. Corona is everywhere. Plus, I’ve been here so long that I just have no idea. There are different spaces I can consider moving to.

But the reason why I actually moved here is because the jazz scene in the city where I’m from had become small. Growing up in Philly when Black Lily at the Five Spot was going on, there was a jazz scene and a lot more clubs. When I left after 9/11, a lot of the scene in Philly had died.

So I came here to get more out of my career as a jazz artist. But, I get that same feeling about New York right now. I think opportunity has dried up here, to a certain degree. You kind of needed to be in New York in order to be seen and heard back then, but this was pre-YouTube.

So you had thoughts of leaving NYC before all of this?

When the pandemic first started and it seemed like a week or month thing, I tried to think past it like, “What will happen, and how does that affect what I do?” Before the pandemic hit, I had been thinking about relocating for a long time because NYC is no longer affordable for a person who does what I do for a living. The pandemic exposes a lot of things that I was already considering but did not think it would come this fast.

New York hasn’t been the same affordable, creative town for a long time, and that has contributed to my thinking about leaving. The lack of clubs and venues to play. The music business has changed, but not for the better. I don’t really need to be in NY to do what I do, honestly, even though I’ve made a name for myself. So, it’s not just the pandemic that makes my feeling about the decision what it is.

Does this make you feel like you need to go back to the drawing board?

Yes, I do. It’s weird to say, but this doesn’t happen. To hear that an entire industry on all levels has been turned off makes you think that when this does get turned back on, you’re going to lose whoever went by the wayside. Even in teaching… I have to go back to the drawing board about how I approach seeing students in person.

What are the necessary steps to take when it does happen? Nobody knows anything because six months, or a year and a half from now, everything will have changed. I need to start from scratch but I don’t know how to get to scratch because the whole playing field has been altered for everyone. 

What else do you find relevant to this issue for Black artists and musicians?

It’s crazy because you’re literally on pause. There are other industries where jobs will either be there, or not be there. What type of situation will I go back to playing in? There are a lot of layers involved for independent Black artists. We’re always fighting to get anything in the first place! So now that you don’t even know what you’re fighting for…? The short term is causing anxiety from generally not knowing anything.

A year from now, under normal circumstances, I’ll have a potential gig. But now, a year from now in this climate, we don’t know what a year from now will even present. It’s so many layers. You can’t sell a music program at a university if you can’t sell students on the idea that they will have a career moving forward. How do you sell a college program about music when there’s no music? What are you paying for?

How do you convince them that they can make a career in music after spending $100,000 on tuition? You risk losing faculty because you can’t afford to pay them once the program is downsized. New York is about to become a whole other thing, and figuring out that thing is what I need to determine.

That’s an interesting theory you have about university students in music programs, but it makes sense. Any final thoughts?

Also, the schools determine who lives in the city and goes to the jazz clubs, like Smalls and Fat Cat. If NYU students potentially aren’t there in the fall, with the lifestyle habits that support many musicians (i.e. regularly coming to jazz sets), if they’re not here, then what?

Plus, jazz clubs need to be full to operate. You have to pack the joint to pay rent. So, the idea of social distancing in the clubs with 25-50% capacity to remain safe means that you may not be able to see some of the iconic venues reopen and survive. All of this literally can kill off the small number of black full-time artists that are here living in Brooklyn or in the city if things don’t pan out favorably.

But it’s tricky. I mean, how many Black artists do you know in jazz that live in New York City? The numbers are interesting. What comes after the coronavirus is over? Does gentrification continue full steam ahead with more money and less access? Does it finish us off? We hope not. I’m praying not. 

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

black composer
Mai Perkins (Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Mai Perkins is a Cali girl in a Bed-Stuy world who has created several online platforms including African Highaspora, Uberlicious NYC, and She’s also a contributing writer for Black-Owned Brooklyn, as well as the music publication, Relevant and Bust Magazine.

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA in International Affairs from The New School, she reps her beloved alma mater, Howard University, every chance she gets. As a poet and a non-fiction writer, she has just published her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending, available now on Amazon & Kindle.


Also by Mai Perkins: Black Women Directs First Ever Romantic Comedy About Black Muslim Life


14 mins read

Cannabis Conference at Emmanuel Baptist Calls for #EquityDayOne

It was late spring 2018 in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, not far from Biggie’s old stomping ground, when Emmanuel Baptist church hosted a free financial empowerment workshop called Exodus: Exiting Egypt. The all day seminar was well attended by members of the congregation and featured panels on general topics like debt relief and estate planning.

What would set this event apart from others likely to be held at churches around the country with a vested interest in their community base were two unexpected workshops: Understanding Bitcoin, and The Business of Cannabis.

Being a member of EBC, I was amazed to discover that I could explore both topics of interest at my home church in a completely judgment-free zone, and decided to attend. I understood that these just were not your average subjects among Black churchgoers, and particularly not discussed at the house of the Lord. Or so I thought!

Source: Brewers Association, Wine Institute, Fortune,, Statista and Euromonitor Note: Unless otherwise noted, comparable industry figures are for 2014

I’ll be honest. Part of my motivation was to attend just to see who else would be in the room. And considering the handful of people who sat around the table listening to Gia Morón, Executive Vice President of Women Grow, it didn’t really dawn on me that eight months later her organization would collaborate with Emmanuel to create the first ever church-hosted Business of Cannabis Conference.

So how did all of this come about, anyway? Ten minutes into that first low-key workshop, Reverend Anthony L. Trufant, better known as Rev., sauntered into the room to all of our amazement, and sat down to join the discussion. With great joy, he and Gia recounted a chance meeting, one that both believed was orchestrated by the hand of God.

Months earlier, they both had arrived at Penn Station on the same train and decided to share an Uber back to Brooklyn. During that divine appointment, Rev. asked Ms. Morón what she’d been up to, completely unaware that her answer would lead to a destined partnership between his church and Women Grow.

“$105 million: The estimated annual sales tax revenue generated by medical marijuana dispensaries in California, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports legalization.”

Her countenance lit up as Gia explained her current role with the nationwide advocacy organization that supports women with connections to help them own and lead cannabis related businesses. Admittedly, she was a little apprehensive, sharing the details of a perceived controversial, if not taboo, choice of profession.

But Gia’s conviction for and commitment to dismantling what she felt were distorted, negative imaging and factually inaccurate beliefs related to cannabis, across the board, led her to share her testimony with Reverend Trufant.

It was the passion in her words, her keen fact-based knowledge, and her personal experience that convinced Rev. that Emmanuel would not only benefit from, but welcome her message as a cannabis evangelist. Taking a risk, to Gia’s surprise, he invited her to speak at the financial empowerment workshop months later.

From that chance meeting, and two small breakout sessions up on the second floor of the church, the vision for The Business of Cannabis Conference was established. And what has come to fruition nearly a year later is a cannabis event of great proportion, never before seen within the confines of a religious institution.

Certainly not the Black Baptist church. But unlike the meeting in June, this event emerged as a hot ticket item, selling out weeks in advance to attendees with varying levels of interest in cannabis from across the country.

“$134.6 million: The amount of estimated tax revenue Maryland would earn every year if it legalized and regulated marijuana, according to a 2014 estimate from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.”

Very little was announced beforehand of what to expect beyond the workshop titles to register for during the week leading into the conference. The panels included: Acquiring Cultivation or Dispensary Licenses; Ancillary Businesses/Careers in Cannabis; Integrative Cannabinoid Medicine by the Knox Family; Medical Benefits of Cannabis and Hemp; The Need for Equity Programs; Cannabis 101; Social Justice and Policy Reform; Destigmatizing Cannabis; Parenting and Cannabis: Learning Together; Healing with Hemp, CBD and Cannabis: topicals, vapes, edibles, and more; Types of Businesses in Cannabis; and, Networks and Industry Conferences in Cannabis.

In addition to these twelve breakouts, there were five Q&A rooms where attendees could pop in and speak with professionals from the industry, which included: What is Unaccredited Investing?, How to Enter the Cannabis Industry, Questions About Legalization of Cannabis, Ask the Medical and Science Professionals, and, Opportunities for Women in Cannabis.

Each panel included POC and women entrepreneurs, attorneys and advocates, dispensary owners and growers, medical doctors and researchers, business analysts, public relations professionals, and content creators. Several cannabis advocacy and media groups from coast to coast contributed to panels including Estrohaze, Cannaclusive, MJM Strategies, Cannagather, and the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

A common thread among the speakers was that each one managed to take their prior work experiences and parlay that expertise into the cannabis industry. Moving throughout the day you could truly feel the essence of the mantra: Whatever YOU do, do it in cannabis!

As if the outpouring and overwhelming amount of information were not enough, the conference also welcomed a riveting keynote address from the CEO of Women Grow, Dr. Chanda Macias  on dispelling the myths of cannabis. Dr. Macias, who earned her Ph.D. from Howard University with a concentration in Cell Biology, evoked the passion of civil rights leaders as she beseeched the packed audience with her searing words. She implored us to take our rightful ownership in this fight for equity for people of color within the cannabis industry as legalization, from the state to the federal level, continues to take shape.

An overarching theme of the conference was the Social Justice component that points to why it has become an imperative to demand Equity Day One in cannabis legislation as the end of marijuana prohibition nears. Social Equity simply means reinvesting a portion of the newly generated capital from the legalized cannabis industry directly into Black and Latino communities.

These are the neighborhoods that were impacted by unprecedented marijuana arrests and convictions due to Nixon’s damaging War on Drugs campaign. Research studies and anecdotal knowledge have starkly proven how the War on Drugs targeted communities of color, grossly contributing to the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Because of this, advocates in the multibillion dollar industry are demanding that these very people are poised to stake their claim now that the same marijuana plant that locked up scores of men and women is being sold in their neighborhoods primarily by white-owned cannabis companies. “Do not miss this boat…,” Dr. Macias charged the audience, who responded in agreement.

Adding to the progressive conversation were remarks by New York State Attorney General, Letitia James; Congressman Hakeem Jeffries; Assistant Counsel to Governor Cuomo, Jason Starr; Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo; Senator Velmanette Montgomery; and, Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez.

Each representative acknowledged the need for deliberate goals and strategic policy planning on the part of advocates, lobbyists, constituents and elected officials to be on the right side of history by creating legislation with day one social equity as New York State approaches legalized recreational cannabis in 2019.

Lobbyists also distributed form letters urging attendees to be a part of the political process by contacting their Senators and Representatives in Albany so that they are fully aware of the demand for Equity Day One.

As the reverend, Anthony Trufant, thanked Gia Morón’s and his own staff for working so tirelessly around the clock to pull off this crowning achievement, particularly during Black History Month, you couldn’t help but feel how monumental and historic this day was.

Revolutionary in his own right, Trufant is a Morehouse College educated faith-based visionary with a commitment to moral and social justice, which is why he was entrusted with this mission to help bridge the gap between the cannabis community and the church, despite initial pushback from some of EBC’s established members.

When both he and Dr. Chanda prayed from the pulpit, there was a sincere and humbled thanksgiving each expressed to God for the many health and wellness benefits of the cannabis plant. “We thank you for reminding us that You have already placed on the planet resources that can help us to ease pain, resources that will enable us to move forward as a community, and to provide economic opportunities.

We pray, oh God, that you will enable us in the justice work, to join our Brooklyn DA and our Attorney General for the State of New York, as well as our legislature and governor as they deal with legislation that is pending. May we, the citizens, give them the support and the backing that they need to take this courageous step. And finally, God, we pray for men and women, boys and girls who are in great pain today.

We pray that they will experience some degree of relief, that they will have an opportunity to be able to partake of that which you’ve planted so that the pain will be eased for them. Oh God, as we go our respective ways, be with us. We ask this in the name of our God. Amen.”

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world, with several blogs under her belt including and She is a contributing writer for the music publication, and has written for Relevant and Bust Magazine.

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA in International Affairs from The New School, she reps her beloved alma mater, Howard University, every chance she gets. As a poet and a non-fiction writer, she has just published her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending, available now on Amazon & Kindle.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter

15 mins read

The Lyrical Hoofer: Joseph Webb on Life As A Rhyming Tap Dancer

The New York Times hit the nail on the head when dance and cultural critic Roslyn Sulcas deemed tap dancer Joseph Webb “no doubt, a natural star,” albeit “too hard to categorize.” This is because he, like other prolific triple threats, has managed to trip the light fantastic as a seasoned professional dancer, Broadway actor, and emcee. And that’s when he’s not pouring into younger artists as an educator, or choreographing staged productions for his company, Dancing Buddhas.

There’s something quite electric about coming into the presence of the eclectic Mr. Webb, who not only found critical acclaim in the award-winning musical “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk”, but has become an international sensation in his own right. A working artist and entrepreneur, Joseph Webb has honed his strategies and sensibilities as an independent artist navigating the world of entertainment for over twenty years.

In this interview, Shoppe Black delves into Webb’s wisdom and experiences over the last decade, particularly with the release of his debut and sophomore recording projects, Beautiful Fire in 2008, and For Starters in 2018.

Joseph Webb

SB: Like so many artists, there are many iterations of yourself. Tell me about the entrepreneurial intersectionality of Joseph Webb.

JW: I’ve been blessed with a variety of gifts and talents, and I do my best to cultivate these gifts. The most common themes that have always been present in my work are music and dance. In particular, hip-hop/jazz and tap dance. I started studying movement at the age of six years old and while I took classes in varied styles, I gravitated towards tap dance.

As I began researching this rich artform while studying the physical discipline, I immediately began to notice the correlation between movement and live music. For instance, take a look at the legendary Nicholas Brothers’ scene in the 1943 musical classic Stormy Weather (and many other films of this era). In that famous footage you see the synergy of tap dancers and musicians interacting with each other, rhythmically and melodically.

I began writing poems, short stories and rhymes in my teens, around the age of 15 or 16. It was an organic process that seemed to just spout over time and, of course, I was inspired by hip hop culture, but also by jazz vocalists like Eddie Jefferson, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. After joining the Broadway show “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk”, I hooked up with the assistant conductor of the show, Lafayette Harris Jr., and created my first musical recording. It incorporated live music, poetry, emceeing and tap dance in 1996 and 1997.

There are things I can say vocally that I prefer to say with my feet, and vice versa. This combination of tapping while delivering original lyrics would eventually become a part of my signature style… I wasn’t thinking of it in that way as I was coming into my own as a developing artist. I was just doing what was on my heart and it ended up happening this way. Folks would say “Oh, that’s the lyrical hoofer!”

SB: It’s been ten years since your last studio recording, Beautiful Fire, but you’ve been really busy working an an artist entrepreneur. What are some of the business ventures you’ve cultivated outside of recording? What fulfillment is found in working on these ventures, regardless of how long they last?

JW: We don’t have that much time here on earth. Inshallah, I’ll live to see another 60 years. With this being said, if there is an idea on my heart that needs to be explored and cultivated then I usually do so. Over the years I’ve been a manager of a raw vegan juice bar in Harlem, an artistic director of a dance studio in Washington D.C., a tap dance instructor, and a choreographer. The latter two I’m still very much involved in.

Life is based on experiences along with our relationships (emotionally, mentally and physically) within these experiences. I don’t know if it’s about fulfillment as much as opening the proverbial door, walking in and seeing what’s on the other side of our ideas. It’s really important to go and explore what’s on our hearts. Sometimes we’re fulfilled, and other times it’s more of a learning lesson.

SB: Tell me about working with your Grammy-nominated collaborator, Nate Jones On Bass, the new EP, For Starters, and particularly how it came about so long after your last studio album?

JW: I would be remiss if I didn’t say that… while I feel my first digital platform release, 2008’s Beautiful Fire, was a brilliant album I had big hopes for that project and what it could do for my musical career. So, while things didn’t pan out as I had hoped (which is another story altogether), I wasn’t that eager to put out another musical project so quickly. I have an arsenal of unreleased music that was recorded during this hiatus… I may release a few from this batch in the new year. When our schedules align, Nate Jones, my producer for Beautiful Fire and For Starters, and I are always working together in the studio and coming up with inspired work that I feel is unique in its own right. Over the last two years I’ve had many fans send me emails and messages asking for more material. This, coupled with some challenges that I’ve had over the last two and a half years, motivated me to release For Starters, and I’m grateful for the feedback thus far.

Nate Jones On Bass is a busy man, though, as you can imagine. Between his touring with artists like Trey Songz or in the studio with J. Cole, we have to jump on opportunities to sit in the same room and vibe on a track. So, whenever I can get him in the studio I take the chance. This can be a series of consistent  back-to-back sessions or spread out over 2-6 months, depending on our schedules.

At this point, we have created an arsenal of material. I would call them different batches with varying vibes. The two singles on For Starters are part of one of those batches. Fans can expect a live band vibe like the Beautiful Fire album, but I feel lyrically I’m sitting more in the groove and spirit of the music. This was made for the fans, but equally as much for both of us. I don’t listen to my music that often, but I’ve been listening to this project.

joseph webb
SB: How has your solo career influenced you to start Long Arms with your love and life partner, Baredu Ahmed?

JW: I’m an individual. I like to be alone. I can do a retreat for two weeks to a month and not see another human being, yet be totally okay. I also like to work alone. However, I’ve always known the power of working in a group and/or a partnership. I’ve explored other partnerships in the past, and this one with my significant other Baredu Ahmed, who is a brilliant composer and flutist, feels balanced and right.

We’ve collaborated musically before on a show with my company, Dancing Buddhas, where she was the composer, and the work was well received. We naturally decided to form a group, Long Arms (LA), that allows both of us to create in a way that’s uplifting for our individual selves while challenging each other in a positive and constructive light.

SB: What comparisons can you make to other duos, particularly romantic duos, who are creating music and art together? What is the brand, style, message of Long Arms (LA)?

JW: I don’t know if we could or should compare to other romantic duos. Because the ones that come to mind are just so different and have their own flavor (Sonny and Cher, Prince and Sheila E, Kindred the Family Soul). And I’m hesitant to brand LA because what we are giving is a feeling. Both of us go with the flow and go where the music that we’re making takes us. And we can really flow in and out of a genre without leaning too much in one direction. But we are most definitely dedicated to, and were born out of, the love for jazz, hip hop, soul, and funk. That is probably the clearest influences in our style and music.

SB: Can you talk about the roles of discipline and motivation as a working artist/entrepreneur, and the drive or hunger for success?

JW: Discipline and motivation are major keys (in my Khaled voice). These two elements have shifted for me over the years, as well as my drive for success. Success for me at an earlier age was rooted in folks across the globe knowing my name and the art that I produce, and my discipline and motivation was geared towards this end. So, while I still dig this notion, my concept of success has changed with age.

My personal well-being is very much connected with my art and the notion of success now. For me success is making sure you’re creative artistry is being nurtured and groomed while simultaneously nurturing and grooming your personal and family relationships. These two may not always be balanced but they do complement each other for me. I can’t be a successful entrepreneur if my concept of home isn’t being groomed, as well.

What has twenty plus years in the game as a working entertainer taught you that is relevant to the next artist who is grinding toward their big break?

JW: Being true to your vision is vital. Support and collaborate with other artist but don’t compare yourself to anyone. This is a sure way to be frustrated, and even set oneself up for failure. Being uncomfortable often leads to growth. And at the end of the day make sure you can sleep at night. No sense in obtaining your big break if you’re not pleased with how you got there. Oh, and love on yourself so you can love on others.

SB: What’s next?
JW: I will be releasing a project produced by my good friend Ra-Re Valverde that I’m very excited about in the upcoming year. Long Arms will also be presenting a project at Harlem Stage in May entitled Messages From Umi, and we’ll also look forward to releasing our debut EP in 2019.


– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world, with several blogs under her belt including and She is a contributing writer for the music publication, and has written for Relevant and Bust Magazine.

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA in International Affairs from The New School, she reps her beloved alma mater, Howard University, every chance she gets. As a poet and a non-fiction writer, she has just published her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending, available now on Amazon & Kindle.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter

39 mins read

SY Smith is THE Hardest Working Indie Artist in Show Business

I’m going to go on and say it: Sy Smith is the hardest working indie artist in show business. Full stop.

Okay, to clarify of course there are a tremendous amount of uber talented grinders, movers and shakers out here on the independent music scene. You’ve got to be if you’re going to have a career in entertainment. So I use this distinction to make a point about this multi-hyphenated global trendsetting diva-singer-songwriter-producer extraordinaire.

We met over fifteen years ago in Los Angeles when she was gaining momentum as an unsigned a singer. In significant ways, she is one of the pioneers of the Indie Soul Movement that came about during the early 2000s, before there was even a movement.

That’s probably why she’s been dubbed “the Queen of Underground Soul.” About a year after the release of her first EP, a mutual friend introduced me to Sy Smith during her monthly showcase at a coffee shop called Lucy Florence in Leimert Park, near where I grew up. I’ve since marveled at how far Sy has come as the master of her fate truly realizing that the world is her oyster.

Long gone are the nights of slinging CDs from the back of her Ford Explorer after gigs at Temple Bar. These days she is the definition of “jetsetter” while on a never-ending world tour as a world-class entertainer in demand. A featured vocalist with Grammy Award-winning pop instrumentalist Chris Botti, with whom you can see her in the August 18th episode of PBS’ Great Performances, Sy exemplifies Diana Ross pomp-and-circumstance.

Botti’s sensational band sells out a residency at The Blue Note every Christmas season in New York City, which is how I know for sure that I can put Sy Smith and Diana Ross in the same sentence. You’ll also find her on stage with Sheila E. or her father, the legendary Pete Escovedo. She’s been featured in tributes to Ella Fitzgerald at Carnegie Hall (which I also saw and was blown away by) and the Kennedy Center.


She’s often in the studio with some of the illest cats to pick up instruments. Her tour credits read like a Who’s Who of notable musical artists across genre. She’s on local radio stations while her music plays on the Music Choice R&B Soul cable channel. Nevermind trying to keep up with Carmen Sandiego or figure out where Waldo is, Sy Smith is the one to follow!

As if her plate wasn’t already jam-packed with delicious opportunity, Sy is currently underway with her own national tour to promote her fifth studio album Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete. Released in February under her own label, Psyko! Records, SRWGC is receiving critical acclaim as Sy’s finest work.

It also marks the first album of her catalogue that was completely written and produced by the multi-talented artist, who is also an actress having appeared on stage, television and in film. Thoughtful and compelling as a musical storyteller, Sy is seen as a “21st century Roberta Flack” with the range of Minnie Riperton because of her whimsical mastery of singing, songwriting and hypnotizing her Syberspace audience.


Shoppe Black:  So, the first quote that I’ll use to shape the interview is from the song “Moonlight” on Jay-Z’s 4:44 album:

“Y’all niggas still signin’ deals? Still? After all they done stole, for real? After what they done to our Lauryn Hill? And y’all niggas is ‘posed to be trill? That’s real talk when you behind on your taxes, and you pawned all your chains, and they run off with your masters, and took it to Beverly Hills while we in Calabasas, and my head is scratchin’ ’cause that shit is backwards.”

Can you talk about your very first (and only if I’m not mistaken) recording deal, and how it shaped your emergence as an independent artist starting your own label?

Sy Smith:  My first record deal came about by accident, really. I was shopping around my writer’s catalog in pursuit of a publishing deal but everyone who heard it thought it was a demo. After months and months of telling people, “No! I’m a writer, not a recording artist…” I finally just decided to embrace it when Hollywood Records offered me the [record] deal. My experience there was eye-opening to say the least.

I learned a lot about how Black artists are treated (or mistreated) when the machine involved has completely segregated the “urban” acts. I learned how even the slightest bit of political speech from Black people is considered threatening and inappropriate by the white folks who run things.

I really learned a lot. But, most importantly, I learned to stay true to my vision of who I am, even if it means the rug will be pulled out from under me. I learned how to fly alone. My independent spirit probably wouldn’t be what it is without my experience as a signed artist.


SB:  Speaking of Lauryn Hill, she gets a lot of shade these days from every direction (and justifiably so, to be clear)! But if there’s one thing that Ms. Hill has always had a knack for since the ‘90s, it’s dropping science and pearls of wisdom. She once said: “I had to confront my fears and master my every demonic thought about inferiority, insecurity, or the fear of being Black, young, and gifted in this Western culture.”

In your personal thought process, do you acknowledge your own limitations as a barrier to what you are further able to accomplish? Or use them as motivation to move past/around the perceived limitation?

Sy:  What limitations?? LOL. Just kidding. I think I am pretty pragmatic about how I pursue my goals, even if the goals themselves seem lofty. I’ve never met a challenge that I didn’t see through to completion. At least none that I can think of. Sometimes though, I might say to myself, “This is something you can do. You’ll just need to put it away and learn more about it before you come back to it.” And then I’ll do just that.

I think I’m so used to people looking at me and making assumptions about what I can or can’t do… seems like I’ve made it my life’s work to prove people wrong [professionally, as an indie artist]. That’s kinda what Black Girl Magic is though, right?


SB:  Diana Ross, one of your iconic heroes, said about chasing dreams: “You can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream. You’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.”

What are the most challenging (as well as gratifying) business decisions you’ve had to make as an entrepreneur?

Sy:  Well, the most challenging was probably after my record deal was a wrap and I needed to decide whether or not I was going to continuing pursuing a career as a recording artist. I was jaded AF. I was depressed, chronically so. I was fed up. But I also had a story to tell. I had things I wanted to say, and I felt like I had a unique point of view. So I decided to release an EP back in 2001 [ entitled One Like Me].

That decision sparked the indie artist in me, long before there was an independent soul movement or anything. And that was one of the most gratifying business decisions I’ve ever made – the decision to take my music into my own hands, and release it on my own terms…

For every one of us [entrepreneurs] who do what we do, there are so many people who go to work everyday at jobs that they hate. It sounds strange when there’s an entire world for us. They’re afraid, and won’t leave their cities. The fear is taught, and we’re taught to be complacent [instead of following that entrepreneurial spirit].

SB:  Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, we go high!” But she also encourages: “We as women, we have to understand that we know more, just even instinctively, than we think we do.”

How do you know where and when to draw the line? (In several contexts: draw the line with people demanding things of you; draw the line in knowing that it’s time to rest and having to turn down opportunity; draw the line with executing decisiveness as a businesswoman, or in any other instance.)

Sy:  It’s really simple for me. Whenever something doesn’t FEEL good to me anymore, I stop doing it. Whenever something doesn’t feel “right,” I don’t do it. Being grown has taught me the beauty of “No” and I relish in that shit. Like, my default answer used to be “Yes” to everything. I thought that made me someone who’s easy to work with. Someone who works well with others.

Someone who people will call back for more all the time… But really, “Yes” to everything just burns you out faster. So, yeah, I take my time processing these days and say “No” without packing my bags for a guilt trip. And that came with experience. Growing up and maturing. My body was falling apart until I learned how to say “No,” and relish what “No” means for me in the long run.

SB:  Another fabulous badass bawse and global trendsetter is Bozoma Saint John (Chief Marketing Officer at Endeavor Global Marketing) who has said, “I love sleep so much. That’s the one thing I won’t sacrifice. I really cannot.” She’s also commented on how great of a nap-taker she is, and how she’ll take a nap just about anywhere.

How do you manage and negotiate constantly being on the road with self-care. Does your ongoing travel affect your health and wellness? What impact does it have on your relationship with your husband (actor/director Shawn Carter Peterson), loved ones, or Djinji (her just-as-famous Red Standard Poodle)?

Sy:  I wish I could take naps. My husband takes a nap everyday like a kindergartner and I can’t stand him for it! LOL! I’ve suffered from bouts of insomnia for as long as I can remember remembering, and it can border on debilitating if not checked. I’ve just been trying to consciously live a healthier life–mentally and physically.

For the last two years, I’ve been using an app called “Headspace” for a 10-minute daily meditation. I do this meditation every single day, usually at night right before I go to bed. Meditating like this is working wonders for my mind. I’m almost mad at myself for not having done this sooner!

As far as navigating my career and my family, you know… it’s just a matter of us both consciously checking in with each other. We do this especially when I’m home, in the mornings over morning coffee. We just sit and talk about stuff going on in our lives. And then it’s like, BOOM!  We do a mental fist bump and we get back to work.

Sometimes we do impromptu things like meet for lunch or we take Djinji for walks together around the neighborhood or at the park… It’s all a matter of making that conscious effort to check in. And that meditation is also a mode of checking in. Only, it’s with myself.

Exercise and biking a lot helps me sleep late at night, as well. Until I had a big health scare, I was just allowing myself to suffer, and I learned from that experience. You HAVE to take care of your body, whatever that means. Balance is very important. You can’t do that [neglect yourself] for long periods of time and expect your body to hold up. [But that] means something different to every person.


SB:  You are regarded as the Queen of Underground Soul, and the Queen of Media, Oprah Winfrey, states: “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a different way to stand.”

How do you deal with disappointments and challenges (either professional or, sometimes even more devastating, personal), and still be able to keep going (showing up on stage/in public as your full self each day)?

Sy:  Man, I still don’t know the answer to this. Sometimes I look back on my performances and think, “That show was two days after Aunt Rita passed away.” Or “This video was shot the same day I found out that I needed emergency surgery.” Or something like that. And I wonder how I even made it through. But there’s something about the stage for me… When I’m on it, everything else around me in the world disappears, and it’s just that room and the people in it that exist. For that moment, we are the entire world.

I think that’s how it’s always been for me when it comes to performing. After performances though, when I return to life… I love hard, I grieve hard, I feel HARD. Which makes showing up in public a whole ‘nother show. That’s the part that can become thoroughly exhausting… being “on” even when you kinda don’t want to be. I think that’s why I am happy with how my career has turned out thus far.

I’m not a household name, and that’s okay with me. Means I can be anonymous to an extent and still enjoy the world. It’s no fun when TMZ shows up with cameras after shit like a dentist appointment to ask you a bunch of questions about a TV show you have nothing to do with (true story).


SB:  Now for some fun questions! Your life in 5 movie titles! Choose a film that reflects each time period of your life: Your formative years (coming of age); Your HU days (You know!); Your early career/moving to LA; Your current chapter as a professional entertainer; and, your retirement.

Sy: First, this is a HARD question! Second, I really did have fun with it.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: My coming of age was really about taking the reins and determining what my life was going to be. Whether I was going to live for me or live for my parents …which this movie speaks to in a way. It’s also about taking chances and being able to deal with the consequences. Definitely my coming of age title… Am I gonna sit around and suffer and live up to my dad’s expectations???

I really identified with that moment. [The characters] did have some pressure [from their parents]. It took some time [as an undergraduate] to figure out what I was going to do, and I had some coming of age moments with my family, especially with my dad. When I said I wasn’t going to grad school… Mom was a clinical social worker (among other things), with her own private practice. My dad’s Masters is in sociology… Behavioral Science was an easy choice because that was what my parents did. I excelled at it, but it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue.


The Wiz:  I didn’t want to say School Daze because that wasn’t my HU experience. My life at Howard University was like being ejected from the world I know (though not unexpectedly) and coming into this completely new world that seemed a little foreign, at first, but quickly became familiar to me. I gained this motley crew of friends from all walks of (Black) life. And we followed our own yellow brick roads to graduation where that big voice boomed from the loudspeakers conferring upon us our diplomas, confirming that we’d completed our goals. Plus, song and dance numbers were regular occurrences at HU. LOL!


Go! : This movie reminds me of my early days in L.A. in a couple of ways. I first watched it during that time in my life, of course. But also, I kind of hit the ground running when I moved here, and in this movie, the main character is living kind of a mundane life when all of a sudden she’s forced to get moving, quickly. She improvises a lot to make things work out in the end, hilariously sometimes and dangerously sometimes. Which I think I did too. We make dangerous decisions when we’re young because we’re too naïve to be afraid. When I got to California, bam! I was on my own… I refused to call home and ask for money, so I hit the ground running.


(Sy also explains that she’s never had a full-time nine-to-five, except for a few months on Capitol Hill right after finishing her degree at Howard. Other than temping with an agency during her first few weeks in L.A., she’s been on the winding, upward hill as an indie artist.)


PeeWee’s Big Adventure: Sometimes my life seems pretty surreal, just like this movie. And the things I experience, not many people would believe ever really happened. Like in this movie. LOL! But it’s still the best ride I could ever have. Plus, the score of this Big Adventure is awesome. I think it would be the perfect score to my life. …Like one time with [trumpeter Chris] Botti, we had a show in Italy, a wedding reception at a castle in Tuscany. When we landed he was like, “We should go to [rock legend] Sting’s house…” In PWBA, he does really ridiculous stuff, but in a good way!


Big: I think when I retire, I’ll turn into a kid in a grown person’s body. I’ll try to do all the things I wanted to do, which will likely look childish to most grown people. But there’s a part of me that will never really grow up. I want to do leisurely things. I just want to go to the amusement park, because I can’t go today. Six Flags… Universal Studios… on a rainy Wednesday when all the children are at school, and get on rides with Shawn.

SB:  Favorite Podcasts: I know you’re into them big time, particularly during flights or on the tour bus.

I live for true crime podcasts these days. This happened after that first season of Serial. I love these other podcasts: Undisclosed, Criminal, Sword And Scale, In The Dark, Suspect Convictions. There was a limited series called Dirty John, which was amazing. I also love This American Life, and Snap Judgment – both of which are storytelling type podcasts. And the science geek in me lives for RadioLab! For lighter moods, I just started listening to a podcast called Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor Of All Time Period with W. Kamau Bell. It’s pretty funny too.

SB:  Apps you can’t live without (either that you love to indulge in, or that need to keep your demanding life efficient and moving forward)

Sy: “Words With Friends” cause I’m a beast. LOL! All the airline apps that I use – because, boarding passes. “Mobile Pass” for getting back into the U.S. without waiting in those long lines at immigration/customs. It will get you the same entry as Global Entry, but it’s free.

You have to be on WiFi [by purchasing it on the airplane] two hours before you land, and fill out the mobile pass while you’re online. “Headspace” for daily meditation. [It helps with] consciously making an effort to live in a healthy way. This is a circumstance where technology helps me get grounded. It’s like doing pushups, and you have to practice on focusing. But it helps me be mindful of what my mind is doing. All of the processes that go on in our mind, we really can take control of them.

SB:  Whitney (who you’ve toured with), Michael and Prince. What has each taught you about being true to yourself in this industry, as an entertainer, as a creator, AND in terms of ownership?

Sy:  Whitney, Michael and Prince all had a certain strength about them. They carried enormous loads, single-handedly, for many years and we never heard them publicly complain. They were fighters. They fought for ALL of us, but especially for Black entertainers. And they represented a spirit of freedom and liberation, especially as Prince and Michael got older, that I can really appreciate now.

These are the things I learned from them: How to maintain my freedom in an industry that literally wants us to work for free. And not only maintain ownership of things like masters, but ownership of my being – being self-defined in a world that feels like it can define me by my gender and ethnicity alone. I am a Black woman, yes. And that in itself is a damn GRAND being to be. But I’m so much more than even that. I fully and gladly embrace that truth.

(The conversation takes a sidebar with Sy recalling the moment she met Prince backstage at the Great Western Forum in 2011, where he was performing his “Twenty-One Night Stand/Welcome To America” tour. She was a part of Sheila E’s band, which was opening that night, and had stepped out of the green room for a moment. Sy would return to the room with Prince encircled by the family entourage as Sheila intimately made introductions. Stunned, she introduced herself to Prince, who replied, “I know who you are. I love your work.”

This led the discussion to how Prince was quietly and consistently stanning for Black singers, like Shelby J, Liv Warfield, Judith Hill and several others, for years. We then shifted to Michael Jackson and how, though his physical appearance was always in question throughout his life, he always celebrated Blackness, most notably with the “Remember The Time” video choreographed by veteran dancer Fatima Robinson. Sy reflects, “They [Whitney, Prince and Michael] owned their Blackness. You could really see it on display as they got older. But us, their audience getting older, we also had to recognize it.”)


SB:  You’re touring all over the world, very much living a glamorous life–by all accounts. But there’s also something very charming and relatable about the love you share for your home in South Los Angeles with Shawn and Djinji. You’ve posted moments of dressing up for Halloween and passing out candy to the neighborhood children. Your wedding was in your backyard where you also host legendary cookouts for friends and family. You relish serene hikes in Kenneth Hahn Park not far from where you live. I also remember reading about your ancestral home in Tennessee called “Promise Land.” If I may quote you: “And now, thanks to my mother Serina Gilbert, who gave me 5 acres of property here in this Promise Land, this legacy will continue through me and my other relatives who still remain there.”

Something about this made me think of Master P’s interludes on Solange’s A Seat At The Table. He reminisces:

“…To being able to make Forbes and come from the projects. You know, ‘Top 40 Under 40,’ which they said couldn’t be done… Had twenty records on the top Billboard at one time. For an independent company. Black-owned company…! …You know, going to the white lady’s house where my grandmother lived at, and saying, ‘Look, you don’t have to work here no more Big Mama! We got more money than the people on St. Charles Street.’”

Contextualize what it means to have established the home that you share in L.A. and the home that you’re building in Promise Land? Especially as a Black woman who happens to be a professional independent artist.

Every time I walk into our modest backyard here in L.A., I think to myself, “Man! We have LAND in Los Angeles!” As modest as our 108-year old home is, there is something big about that. And I know it because everybody and their mama wants some of this ground. If they didn’t, real estate prices wouldn’t be soaring as they are.

But bigger than real estate, there is this: The idea of owning a little piece of the world for a little piece of time, and going down in the archives as one of the owners of this little house. I love the idea of being archived in this way, of being a small part of this history. For as long as this nation will exist and the history of it, Shawn and I will have a tiny little piece of history in those archives and that’s important.

A similar feeling is evoked when I think of the land my mother has given me in Tennessee. This is part of the same land my ancestors worked on, bled on, birthed on, learned on, built on–for more than 150 years! And now, by the grace of God and the fierce intelligence/foresight of my mom, I have a piece of it. I can’t explain the feeling of taking my shoes off and running around barefoot on my plot, which is just a huge field of grass and wildflowers next door to the historic one-room schoolhouse that my ancestors built in the early 1900s to educate themselves (even my mother attended Promise Land School).

But it’s the epitome of being GROUNDED. Barefoot on your own ground. That your ancestors passed on to you! A connection to something so much bigger. This is what ownership is. It’s a connection to something way bigger than money. It’s a connection to history. People are always telling Black folk to leave the history in the past. “Why don’t you just move on?” they say. We’re always scolded, “Can’t you just forget about it and move on?” We’re [literally] taught to leave it in the past; it’s all about now.

But it’s also telling us that we shouldn’t own our history. While at the same time, they build MONUMENTS and parks to their heroes and their history. Highways and entire circles with statues that we have to drive around. They don’t care if we move on or not, but they do care if we OWN our history. They don’t want that. Ownership means we can build monuments too. I’m proud to be an owner in Promise Land. That piece of Tennessee is a monument to my entire family. As small as it is, it’s huge to me. It’s huge to my family.

Keep up with Sy online!

Twitter: @syberspace
IG: @syberspace

Mai Perkins is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world, with several blogs under her belt including and She is a contributing writer for the music publication, and has written for Relevant and Bust Magazine. With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA in International Affairs from The New School, she reps her beloved alma mater, Howard University, every chance she gets. As a poet and a non-fiction writer, she has just published her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending, available now on Amazon & Kindle.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter

9 mins read

Kanye West is Bipolar: An Examination of How an Artist Processes a Mental Health Condition

Ye is a very strange little album. Half acknowledgment of the broken, manic depressive, narcissism that is Kanye West’s psyche and half dedication to the love he seems to feel for his wife, Kim Kardashian West, and their children, particularly their daughters.

In an untidy package, this collection of songs is wrapped up in the strangling bow of bipolarism, a mental disorder West was diagnosed with at age 39.

Here’s the thing. Somebody, who is not Kanye West, yet who is bipolar, or living within the mental confines of some other un/diagnosed manic-depressive illness, will listen to Ye.

That person will fully identify with the admission of abusive behavior to -self and to others, the type of behavior that has deadly consequences. Without speculating too much about the pain that led to the recent tragic suicides of Kate Space and Anthony Bourdain, there is a real mental health component at play here that is pushing people to the max.

We urge people to be transparent about their pain in hopes that it will prevent a suicide or murder. And as tragic or perplexing as it is, someone will understand how relatable Kanye’s level of transparency is and, perhaps, think, “I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

That person will see that it’s a struggle to remain in this destructive way of existing, but what conclusions they draw after that epiphany are the real question. Will they actually seek out psychological therapy? Will they actually call a suicide prevention hotline? We can only surmise. And that is the reason why you might find value in this eighth studio album by Kanye West.

There’s a certain logic that a person struggling on the edge of the unthinkable may actually hear how Kanye is processing his own violent and hurtful emotions (the kind that can likely lead to violent and hurtful actions against loved ones or -self).

kanye west

Then, after vibing with how deeply dark his drama and dilemmas are, may themselves decide to seek out help or support in their own struggle. The likelihood of that happening is entirely debatable. However, this is the only value I find in the album Ye. Because, Kanye himself, is too far gone for my personal sensibilities, and a whole lot of others, for that matter.

He’s gone so far off the deep end that I’m not even sure who his core audience is anymore. He’s pissed off Black folks, many of whom feel he represents the worst parts of misogynoir and arrogant ignorance. He’s disappointed hip hop fans across the board.

His comments about slavery being a choice for the enslaved Blacks, and the decisions he made to exploit the now infamous photo of Whitney Houston’s drug-strewn bathroom for Pusha T’s most recent album cover are cross-the-line crazy to most who once supported him.

And despite the red hat, I can’t imagine that any MAGA supporters are really checking for Yeezy in actuality. Like, really, he’s become the headline news troll that raises your blood pressure before you even know what he’s done next, and would rather ignore altogether.

But I decided to give Ye a listen, regardless of what I feel personally about Kanye. And what I heard out the gate completely alarmed me for two reasons. For the person who truly internalizes the lyrics of an artist, and identifies with the message of a particular song, you wonder how certain lyrics influence behaviors of listeners.

Take, for instance, the opening lyrics of the album: “Today, I seriously thought about killing you. I contemplated premeditated murder. And I’ve thought about killing myself, and I love myself way more than I love you, so… Today, I thought about killing you… You’d only care enough to kill somebody you love.”

This is a far cry from “Jesus walk with me…” Kanye is very clear and deliberate with his word choice in this song. You understand what his intentions are in writing it, and you understand his intentions for recording it for public consumption.

Is he talking about Dr. Jan Adams, the doctor who was responsible for his mother’s death in 2007, or is he talking about his wife or some other family member with whom familial matters are complicated? Whoever it is, even in the vein of self-expression and free speech, those are some pretty heavy and revealing lyrics. The type that cause red flags if a loved one were to say them to you outright, for any reason.

The type of lyrics that indicate that you’d be a fool to not separate yourself from someone who felt this way about you. Period. Surprisingly enough, ‘Ye reveals later in the album that Kim Kardashian has made a conscious choice to remain loyal and stick with him despite this toxic, bipolar illness coupled with the embarrassments that have taken over his persona. Even though he willfully acknowledges that the gravest consequences of collateral damage are on the table, as far as he is concerned, she won’t leave him.

And that’s the alarming part. The poet Maya Angelou is noted for saying, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Over these last few years, Kanye West continues to show us, for better or for worse, who he is, and we’re finally starting to believe it. And he’s taking that “for worse” clause to the max.

Yet, he’s managed to put out a twenty-three minute album with themes of questionable accountability, enabling toxic relationships, embracing fatherhood and wanting to protect daughters post toxic-masculinity-disorder, thoughts of homicide/suicide, and medicating it all away.

After listening, if I wasn’t convinced before now, I truly believe that Kanye should be recognized as an individual struggling with a clinical mental disorder that I hope is being treated regularly by a team of mental health professionals. Otherwise, he becomes an actual threat to the people in his life, and to himself.

What happens after we all come to grips with that, I don’t know. But my prayer is that the person listening to Ye on the wrong day, when the wrong set of circumstances trigger the same type of emotions that are on this album, gets help instead of pulling the trigger.



– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins, aka FlyMai, is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world with global bon vivant flair and the passport stamps to prove it. She currently works in Edtech, and is the author of several blogs including and and is a columnist for the music publication

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in International Affairs from The New School Milano, she reps her beloved alma mater Howard University every chance she gets. As a poet and a creative non-fiction writer, she looks forward to soon publishing her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter

36 mins read

Folami Opens Up About Her Path from Entertainer To Artist Entrepreneur

If you haven’t been following Folami, one of the dazzling lead vocalists of disco’s greatest band, CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers, then you’re absolutely missing out! In this in-depth interview, Folami opens up about her path as a working entertainer and artist entrepreneur.

We cover everything from how essential her family and Afrocentric upbringing were in leading to her theater arts education at Howard University, to her legacy in establishing Folluminati LLC along with the music duo Lester & Folami and their nonprofit, Empower The Creator.  

Take me back to 10 years ago, just before getting the call to join CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers in 2008. What was life like for you then?

There were times when I wasn’t sure that I was still following my greatness… because coming out of Howard was a whole lot, you know what I mean? Graduating and studying at an institution like that was really a lot for me, a really big accomplishment. And then coming to Atlanta, and refinding, restarting and recharging, setting my life up for whatever I was setting out to do, I had a lot of failures.

I had a lot of different moments when I wasn’t sure if I was still doing the right thing, and if I was doing my purpose work. But one thing I did do, and was very consistent with, was making sure that I did not have a 9-to-5. Because I knew in my mind that if I had a 9-to-5 then that would cancel me out for opportunities to come. So I worked effortlessly on all types of side jobs. At one point I had five different jobs, but they were all part-time jobs. And I was in the studios, you know, studio hopping, meeting people.

I was around the Janelle Monae camp, Wondaland Society, early on before the big boom, and I was just trying to absorb and fill the void of what I’d felt at Howard. I felt so much love and camaraderie, and so many people of like-minded energy, and I was just in Atlanta trying to feel my way through. One day I went through the newspaper and wrote down every single open mic they had, and I went to every single one. I would sing and just try to meet as many people as I could and just feel it out.

But like I said, there were moments when I was not sure what I wanted to do. And every single time I felt like, “Let me do something else,” or thought, “Let me just stop,” I would get a phone call the very next day. I would get an email… I would get a confirmation that “You’re going in the right direction, just stay the course. Stay the course.” And I’m telling you, there was blood, sweat and tears… So, I knew that Howard had given me a foundation that I trusted and had to build upon.

I understand that a former music teacher at Howard was responsible for you being asked to join CHIC?

Yes, when I got the phone call for CHIC, they hit me up and were like, “Can you be here tomorrow?” And I absolutely said, “Yes.” That was the lightbulb like, “Yes!” There are things I slacked off on, but what I did stay firm in was making sure I was available. So got myself a ticket and I went to the audition.

The audition was in D.C. because Daryl Hunt was a student teacher at Howard, and I’d taken one of his courses, so he reached out to me. His future wife, Sylver Logan Sharp was the lead singer of CHIC and was in the process of trying to find a sub. All the singers they came across were not cutting it. They had requirements. Height requirement, vocal requirements, and they needed to fit at least a few checks, not just one check. Everybody else they auditioned just fit one check-off box.

So, Daryl was like, “Folami!” …Folami was the first name they thought of that checked all of the boxes. So, Sylver called me and said, “Can you get here?” and I said, “Yes.” She said, “Make sure that you look just like the person you’re subbing for, I want you to study… I want you to nail these Diana Ross songs because that’s mostly what you’re going to be singing. So I need you to come with that embodiment.” And as I had studied acting and theater, that was a no-brainer for me. Let’s get it!

So, I went to the audition and I actually never left DC to go back to Atlanta. I went straight up to New York from D.C. because I got hired on the spot since they actually had an upcoming performance. I didn’t even have enough clothes! I only had one day’s worth of clothes because I was supposed to go right back. They changed my ticket. I studied the entire show with Sylver for about two weeks. And my first show was April 28, 2008. And I was on stage with the We Are Family Foundation Gala.

CHIC and Nile Rodgers, Eric Benet, Micky Dolenz from the Monkees, Slash from Guns N’ Roses, and Patti LaBelle were the special guests and honorees for the Foundation. And that was my first performance with CHIC, with all of those great people. And such an array of people. It wasn’t just R&B. You’re talking about pop music, rock music, R&B greats, gospel greats, all on stage. This was my first experience. So, you know, from there, it was just a kaboom! It just took off.  

Another thing about studying at Howard University was just… You know, as I look back at the people… just to sit there and watch Chadwick Boseman do the commencement speech at Howard, and me being able to say, “I had the SAME experiences that he had!” The same teachers, the same fight.

The same everything. I studied in that same department. That, right there, is definitely one of those moments, newly, for me. I watched that commencement speech balling my eyes out with happiness and it being such a proud moment for everyone that came out of that department. Because it definitely was a struggle.

Tell me about your mother laying the groundwork in your decision to become a working artist through her Afrocentric primary school in East Palo Alto, CA?

My mother comes from the Black Nationalist Movement. So let’s just start there. She was a part of the Black Panthers/Black Nationalist Movement, and she was dedicated to making sure that the children had what they needed to succeed. African American children need to know where they come from, first. If you don’t know where you come from, for anybody, then you can’t know where you are going: Sankofa.

You know what I mean. So, the school that I studied in basically gave us everything we needed to know, all the keys of life. And we were very consistent. We studied history. We studied culture. We traveled. We understood that performing arts was more than just trying to be a star. It was building things that you need to have just as a human being. I was discussing this with my mom just the other day, like, what she did for me helps me in performing arts and helps other people across the board.

Just being able to speak in front of people, because everyone has to do a presentation at some point if you’re going to excel. Everyone has to speak. Everybody has to be eloquent. Everybody has to project. Everyone has to appease to the audiences. You have to understand personality types, and all of these things.  And that’s what performing arts does for you. It gives you confidence.


It gives you the ability to ebb and flow, and be able to mood swing with people because that’s what life is. It’s a bunch of people trying to cohabitate, and get things done. So, this school gave us so many different things. I studied Tai-Chi. I studied gardening. French, Swahili. Tumbling and gymnastics. We traveled all up and down the peninsula of the Bay area performing. We did many, many things that were Afrocentric and very much outside the box.

So much so that outside schools in the area were kind of like, “Wow.” And there are schools to this day that are trying to model the institution, Shule Mandela Academy, School of Wisdom and Knowledge, that my mother established. We had meditation classes, literally. We were doing all types of work for the mind, body, and soul. At the time, there were no more than fifty students.

Very, very small and close knit. We had a bit of everything. Nutritional classes. My mother helped us understand why we shouldn’t eat the certain things that make us ill. She taught, was the principal and ran the school. She was a cofounder along with a few of the other parents. They started the school because at the time she wanted to make sure that her five children were educated properly in the best way.

What was your father’s influence in your decision to become an artist?

My father was also a part of the same movement. My mother and him met in the seventies and he was in the school district as a teacher. He also studied musical theater at UC Irvine, which I found out later after he passed away. He basically was a true entertainer at heart.

He was a percussionist, played the drums, he sang, he danced. He played all types of instruments, and made his own instruments. I’m also an artist so he taught me how to carve out of wood and make drums, balafons and shekeres, and different types of things to help him with his own percussion and things that he did. He had all types of classes in our school as well, and would perform around the peninsula with his own drum and dance group. He was very much dedicated in the same type of practices.

So that community and lifestyle in the Nationalist Movement just channeled right on down into him and my mother, and they kept it going through the school and in their own children. I definitely embody him so much because I learned how to be dedicated to my craft and not have anything stop me or get in my way. My dad was the type of person that would just never let anything get in his way. And if it did, he would just shut it off. So I learned how to do that, and stay the course because of what he taught me.

You must have the illest bucket list? I’ve read about your experiences in meeting the Obamas and Nelson Mandela, jamming with Prince, and performing in front of 250,000 concert goers at Glastonbury in the UK. What could possibly be left on your bucket list?

Motherhood, believe it or not. Because of how I’ve grown up, there were so many people who influenced me and I just see these children who need to be more influenced. What a gift it would be to have my own kids and continue my own legacy because those are the people who will be talking about me when I’m gone. So that’s really important to me as a bucket-list item.

But there are so many things that I’ve experienced in working with the great Nile Rodgers and the things that can happen that I wasn’t even thinking about. Like, oh my God! Just doing Coachella recently… bucket list! Performing in Morocco, of all places!

Like, finally, the first time I get back to Africa to perform, because I went to Africa when I was three… my mother took all five of us, and I had my birthday in Ghana when I turned three… the next time I went back, it was in Morocco performing on stage in front of a massive amount of people. Those things that you just can’t replace, nor did I ever think about doing in the first place. Like, things that should be on my bucket list, to be performing in Africa.

Yeah, I wanted to. But to actually be there was so amazing  to me. Meeting Barack Obama! What…?! Who knew I was gonna be performing for his farewell party in the White House? The most epic party on the planet. I could do a whole movie about just that night. Like epic, epic, epic moments!

Things that would have your mouth drop open! Juicy, juicy, juicy (laughing)! But just, the legacy, to be right there at that moment. I feel like the people that I look up to, they say, “I was there when Basquiat was this… I knew Andy Warhol…” and I’m like, “What!?” You know what I mean. So I can say, “I was THERE!” That, right there, is massive to me.  

What is different about FOLAMI the solo artist that we don’t see with Folami, lead vocalist with CHIC?

I bring Folami to CHIC. I don’t change who I am because of CHIC. I bring who I am. So everything that I am as a solo artist, I already embody on that stage because it’s the personality that you bring. I just learned, or rather, relearned this from Lionel Richie.

CHIC just toured with him and I was fortunate enough to sit down with him before the tour started. We had dinner with a bunch of the members in the band and he said that as he’s now working on American Idol and trying to do this whole thing, “The one thing I can say is that if you’re super talented and you sing really well, none of that matters. Your personality and what you bring to the stage, and who you are is what matters.”

So that’s actually what I do in CHIC. And that’s what I get praised for. People love the fact that they can feel or think that they know my personality. They think that I’m the sweetest and most amazing person, which I really am. So, I’m very raw and open, and I bring to the stage everything from what I studied at my mom’s school to Howard University, and it’s just… it IS my stage show when I’m performing. I think that keeps it most true and authentic. So it’s very much one and the same.

Give me some insight into ownership as an artist musician and why it was important for you to establish Folluminati LLC?

Folluminati, is my brand, and eventually after I kept bumping my head in the industry of not owning what I have, it just kept me back in many, many ways. It was so important to me to get a handle on my taxes and understand where the money goes, and how I pay myself. That became a real priority after a certain point. You get to a certain age and you’re trying to make investments and buy a home or start to have more stability.

You have to treat your business in entertainment and (please touch on this as advice I’d give to anyone as a startup entertainer or already in the business) you have to own everything. And you have to make your business and your brand very important, just as much as Google and all of these other massive companies.

You have to put that at the forefront. So finally incorporating my business and starting my brand and utilizing it is empowering me to do so many other things that you think you’d be able to do. But it’s just not as easy because you have to have some type of umbrella over being a subcontractor, which is what I am. I’m a subcontractor to CHIC and Nile Rodgers.

They hire me but I can also go and do something else. It’s very important to understand the business side. And that’s what Howard University taught me: Business Show, not Show Business. So, owning everything and having your own is definitely going to have much more longevity than just slaving for somebody else and giving it all away for years and years at a time. You get residual checks. You get so many other benefits from making sure that you make something more of it and not just working for other people. You utilize the platforms that you have to build and make it better for yourself.

One thing that people wouldn’t know is that I’ve always been sort of a geek. I’m not all the way full on, but I definitely dive myself into social media. I take pride in getting before any other “Folami” out there. I had @Folami before any of the others. I knew that it was important to own my name before anybody else. It’s always been important to me. 

I come from the beginnings of having an understanding of how important having a website is. There was a startup company where you could go get a website for free in California at a certain time in East Palo Alto. I didn’t even understand it, and wish I’d gone and did it then and knew what it meant. So now I definitely take pride in that. I’m also in the process of researching STEM based programs that deal with education and music, and things like that so that I can be alongside all of that.

Because STEM is the future. There’s nothing else that’s more important right now. All jobs are centered around that, and schools are switching their curriculum to that as well. So when we think about social media, I think technology, I think about the future. And I’m always trying to stay ahead of that curve. Also, I just saw some of the talk show interviews that Jada Pinkett Smith is doing through Facebook, and I thought it was amazing to use such a simple platform that doesn’t have to be so complex.

I even studied Kim Kardashian’s family because they are rulers of utilizing social media. And in that right, they get so much respect from me. I do follow, and I do watch some of their shows even though people wouldn’t expect it. Because they know how to do this thing.

Growing up in Silicon Valley in a neighborhood that was on the brink of the future was really pivotal to my success. I recently traveled back home, and Facebook, Google, Amazon are all in my town, like literally walking distance from where I grew up. We had the foundations of what Silicon Valley was at the time, and now it’s ruling the world. So being in that space and time, it really gave me a big foundation on what I’m doing now with social media and what we all have to deal with. Every single business, no matter what genre or whatever you’re studying or doing, it emcompasses social media and technology.


Your boyfriend Lester is the producer and songwriter for Lester & Folami. Clearly inspiration for the duo is from the 1973 Motown record, Diana & Marvin. Is it your plan to release a duo album in addition to your own solo project?

I met Lester and as soon I saw him I said to myself, “Oh my gosh, he looks like Marvin Gaye! Like, whoa!” Seriously… and, I saw some older pictures from his modeling days, he’s a model-actor-Grammy nominated singer/songwriter. He’s done bits of everything in entertainment as well. And I just knew that our union was more than us just falling in love with each other.

But a real boon into the possibilities that you have to be creative and to be with somebody, have a partner. So, the Ashford & Simpsons, and the Ossie Davis & Ruby Dees, the Diana & Marvins, just all of these duos and also lovers, even though Diana (Ross) and Marvin (Gaye) were not lovers… but the concept of how powerful a duo is. Even Angela Bassett and her husband, Courtney B. Vance, being so powerful and so steady. So consistent. I see Lester and I being consistent in our music, being a duo that can have a revue.

We can be in Vegas doing a Diana & Marvin show that people can see for years and years. I can retire doing something like that. So, yes, there is definitely more music to come. We are working to put together songs and have already recorded a few. We’re taking it in baby steps as I have a really serious schedule and he has a schedule, and we’re just trying to keep it going. But things are definitely brewing.

Do you think it was necessary to get a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts, considering the cost and time it takes to earn a degree, in order to find success in entertainment?

It definitely played a major role in solidifying my foundation and who I became. I will say this, not everybody is equipped to study higher learning but if you are trying to pursue something that is so specific as entertainment, because this is very specific and there are so many aspects to it, it does help to have a foundation like a college education, a bachelor’s degree, or masters.

Because the people that I was connected to from Howard University, the people who taught Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, were my teachers. I gained so much from that, and my ideas and what I do, my tunnel vision comes from those very things that my university professors taught me. It kept me going along with everything else. Just studying performing arts in elementary and high school was important, so for me to keep going was definitely the way to go. But, I just met somebody last night who is a self-taught engineer.

He didn’t study in school and he is the bomb. And I’m like, “You are amazing!” So you just have to know what type of person you are. I think for me, it was better to be under direction, under legacy, under some great people than to just make my way by myself. But there are many people that I look up to who made their way themselves, who are extremely talented, and have all kinds of accolades.


Tell me about Blackness in America as it relates to your legacy.

The great thing about, again, studying in my mother’s institution is that’s when I found out very early on how powerful my Blackness was and how precious it is to me. And so I go now, travelling all over to these places, understanding that all people come from Africa, and that many inventions and ideas came from African people, Black people, and the enslaved.

And when you really understand that then travel the world, you get to see it all first hand. You get to see those people of color still on the walls and in the museums. It’s just sprinkled all over. And there are some places that try to hide it, but it’s definitely real, and we people of color are exactly that. We bring color. We bring life. We bring moods, and we bring things that other cultures don’t necessarily bring all of the time.

We are definitely much more special than recognized. So with that I will say it’s very important to me that we remain strong in who we are, and confident. Because there are wayyy too many people who are bringing us down. I just watched the Grace Jones documentary Bloodlight & Bami, and the greatness that SHE is, she still has to deal with racism, still fighting as a woman in older age. “I’m not hitting the stage until you pay me, what do you think this is??”  Those type of things she’s dealing with… You wouldn’t say that to Celine Dion.

She’s not sitting back waiting for her checks. So, it’s very important that I make sure I have a presence. And people always subtly see it come through with my aesthetic. My Blackness. My Africanity has always been powerful. And it’s always kept me true and grounded. I also want to touch on the fact that I have a nonprofit organization that I’m building with Lester Shaw called Empower The Creator.

And it’s just that, making sure that these children are empowered in knowing who they are and what they can become. So, everything that I’ve learned from my mom, my dad, from Howard, and everybody around me, I want to put into these children and make sure that they are empowered so that they can continue to create and be great.

Visit Folami’s website to learn more.

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins, aka FlyMai, is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world with global bon vivant flair and the passport stamps to prove it. She currently works in Edtech, and is the author of several blogs including and and is a columnist for the music publication

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in International Affairs from The New School Milano, she reps her beloved alma mater Howard University every chance she gets. As a poet and a creative non-fiction writer, she looks forward to soon publishing her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter

9 mins read

ABIAH Pays Tribute to Nina Simone on Upcoming Album

The week after Nina Simone, our fierce activist artist born as Eunice Wyman, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I arrived at the charming residence of renowned vocalist Jeremiah Abiah.

It was a dismally rainy Sunday afternoon in the cold of April. Located on a Central Harlem brownstone block, in the same neighborhood as the World Famous Apollo Theater, where he recently performed a sold-out show, the scent of just-prepared jollof rice, and a simmering pot of cinnamon sticks greeted me at the door.


As I removed my shoes to enter, the classically-trained crooner informed me that he’d prepared the Ghanaian staple dish in my honor, and later we would break bread while listening to his forthcoming tribute album, ABIAH Sings Nina. We chuckled about the never-ending debate: Ghanaian jollof versus Nigerian jollof, on which he is Team Ghanaian given his own heritage.

And while putting the finishing touches on his family recipe, reflecting on how much of the consummate chef he truly is, we jumped into our conversation about the new album and what led him to record this tribute to the High Priestess of Soul.

To give a bit of background, ABIAH is a bi-coastal independent singer-songwriter who, like so many talented performers, has devoted his life to the mastery of music and vocal performance. He matured as a vocalist singing opera in Northern Italy after seriously studying classical music, and making his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 21.

In his early days as a performer ABIAH sang background for legends like George Michael and Yolanda Adams, and even signed a major recording deal that turned out to be the worst mistake of his career, artistically and business wise. But, you live and you learn. And you count your blessings when a kismet phone call from a family member tips the dominoes over in a masterful plan transforming your identity as a performer.

In ABIAH’s case, that phone call came from multi-Grammy Award winning Blue Note artist Robert Glasper who collaborated with him in recording his internationally chart-topping debut album, Life As A Ballad. In the process of working with Glasper, ABIAH also found the confidence to form his own record label and gain distribution for the project, which is no small feat for any indie content creator.

Over the last decade, he’s gone on to release two more albums, Chasing Forever and Bottles, creating his first trilogy. Of the three part series, ABIAH has always stood on his ability to re-imagine songs, or rather re-image a composition that has already been owned by an artist. More than just covering the tune, he relishes in his ability to conceptually flip a previously recorded song on its ear, and approach it from a new perspective.

That’s exactly what we can expect of his latest studio project, ABIAH Sings Nina, which will be released worldwide on May 6th. Wanting to cover Nina Simone for quite some time, he began his journey with her music while studying voice in grad school.

A discussion at the conservatory introduced Jeremiah to Simone’s “Strange Fruit.” In the recording he was able to hear and feel all of the things that he’d been studying in his classes. “I could see visually from the way she sang it. I was very intrigued by her, infatuated with how she was even re-imaging the music from a vocal and harmonic perspective, piano wise.

In graduate school at that point, 21 years old, I really became enraptured by her.” Nina Simone would become one of the biggest influences on his life as a vocalist, in addition to the highly revered alto of Anita Baker. Starting with her first record, he began to listen and study everything Nina. When he performed, he made sure to play in ways that evoked the lyrics of a particular song that exuded something unique while creating a world within the music.

When asked if any of the project encompasses Nina’s fire and passion for political and social justice, ABIAH gives a poignant and thoughtful response:

“I try to think of Nina’s wholeness. I’m focusing on the early part of her career, all of her love songs. I wanted to focus on the ‘love’ part of Nina. People have exhausted her political life. I wanted a more pure look in focusing on the beauty of her love songs.” Pausing to really emphasize his next point, he continued, “We are in a very dark time, period. My job as an artist is to bring some light and love into the world. Where are the love songs?”

The muse did endow him with the album’s sole political ballad. In the vein of Nina Simone, ABIAH penned the lyrics to “I’m Just Like You” in homage to the legacy of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and the countless other young Black men who have been shot down in racially motivated violence. “Nina touched and healed a lot of people with her music,” he’s mindful to point out.

On the album, ABIAH says his best intentions were to stay close to her arrangements so that the songs were identifiable. But, as a visionary artist himself, he took liberties to create the music in ways that are distinct to who he is as an arranger and vocalist. Not to mention that another phone call from Robert Glasper resulted in ABIAH working as one of the vocal producers on the soundtrack to the Oscar-nominated documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?

And how does his Ghanaian/Cuban heritage intersect with this latest creative venture? While ABIAH didn’t grow up with his Cuban connection, his Ghanaian blood, from his father, is very much a part of his identity as a man moving through the world.

He celebrates Ghanaian style by wearing swagalicious Kente on the album’s cover, and chose to add West African rhythmic time signatures to his rendition of Nina’s “See-Line Woman.”

He had a memorable time in Accra two years ago while shooting a video for his last album, Bottles, and later this year is planning to release an AfroSoul House remix of ABIAH Sings Nina.

Click here to Pre-order ‘ABIAH sings NINA’.

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins, aka FlyMai, is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world with global bon vivant flair and the passport stamps to prove it. She currently works in Edtech, and is the author of several blogs including and and is a columnist for the music publication

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in International Affairs from The New School Milano, she reps her beloved alma mater Howard University every chance she gets. As a poet and a creative non-fiction writer, she looks forward to soon publishing her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter

9 mins read

Black Woman Directs First Ever Romantic Comedy about Black Muslim Life

We all love a good romantic comedy, right? You know those hilariously relatable ones with the universal storyline: Gorgeous girl-loves-undeserving guy, they marry, he cheats, then, naturally, it all falls apart… Can the girl save her marriage with her beloved-albeit-trifling husband??

Or will she emerge after heartbreak more empowered with a new lease on life and a new Prince Charming?? We love to kick back with our favorite bottle of wine or comfort food watching our RomCom faves over and over, rooting for the girl who often reminds us of our own selves when love goes south (if even temporarily)!

She always wins though, and no matter how many times you watch these classic movies, they never get old.

Google “Romantic Comedies” and the top ten results reveal some of the classics: When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days, The Proposal, Love Actually, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Bridget Jones Diary, 50 First Dates, and Ten Things I Hate About You.

And of course we have our beloved Black RomComs: Boomerang, Love Jones, Brown Sugar, Poetic Justice, The Best Man, Love & Basketball, Think Like A Man,  How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and the 1974 classic, Claudine.

But when was the last time a beautiful heroine that got her life together, ditching her zero for a hero, was an orthodox Muslim Black American? I’ll answer that, NEVER.

Let Hollywood tell it, there is no natural intersection between the romantic comedy genre and Islam. And even if there is, they’d have you believe that there’s no audience for such films. But director Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar is here to shatter that misconception with her hilariously witty new indie movie Muslimah’s Guide To Marriage.

Filmed in Los Angeles over a two week period in 2016, the story follows Muslimah Muhammad played by Ebony Perry, a twenty-something African-American orthodox Muslim woman from Inglewood, CA who works as a counselor at South Central High.

Ebony Perry

As the tagline sums up, “She has seven days and fourteen hours left in her Iddah (Muslim separation) before she will officially be divorced from her cheating husband. Knowing that the divorce would upset her religious father and the local Muslim community, Muslimah works diligently to try to fix her broken marriage before it is too late.”

Premiering at the Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), where it won the distinction of “Audience Award – Narrative Feature”, Muslimah’s Guide To Marriage was recently featured in Brooklyn, NY at BAM Rose Cinemas’ New Voices in Black Cinema film series.

Director-Aminah-Bakeer-Abdul-Jabbaar-accepts-the-Audience-Award-Narrative-Feature with Donald-Bakeer-and-Ayuko-Babu (Trendy Africa)

Not to mention that it sold out three days of screening during PAFF, including Valentine’s Day (how’s that for reaching an audience)!  

Masterful in the conventions of romantic comedies and well-versed in relatable Black humor, the film emerges as a unicorn in the fantastical realm of #blackgirlmagic, and that’s not just because Tiffany Haddish makes an appearance in the film.

It’s because this movie is so unapologetically Black, and so unapologetically Muslim, but at the same time, so hysterically funny. It’s also authentic in its representation of beautiful and intelligent, savvy and independent Black Muslim women.

The type of Muslim women who call into question the things that just don’t make sense to them despite the well-intentioned advice from family and friends.

In this case, Muslimah’s father played by Glenn Plummer. The type of Muslim women who do not give up faith, and, better yet, are reliant on the religious faith that has nurtured their solid sensibilities as women in a secular world.

Glenn Plummer

The type of Muslim women who are quirky and outrageous, who have men of all ethnicities and backgrounds finding them desirable, and actually have untold options in life that include more than whether to remain married or get divorced. Just ask Ummi, Muslimah’s unmarried, wise and well-traveled mother played by Kimberly Bailey.

Mai Perkins (left) Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar (center) and, Kenyatta Bakeer (right)

Muslimah’s Guide To Marriage is the brainchild of director Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar, Assistant Professor of Pan African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. It’s no surprise that she first picked up a camera to make a film with her siblings at the age of 10.

romantic comedy
Director, Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar

Fast forward to present day, and you still see the tight-knit Bakeer family as a part of the cast and production of the film, with her sister Kenyatta producing while her father, Donald Bakeer, who wrote the book that inspired the movie South Central, executive produced Muslimah’s Guide To Marriage.

Scene from South Central (2002)

Aminah’s upbringing in the Nation of Islam, and her experiences in navigating a first marriage and subsequent divorce, helped shape the satirical storyline and the range of characters that could only be characterized through Abdul-Jabbaar’s personal lens.

While earning a BA from USC in Cinema Television with an emphasis in Critical Studies and an M.F.A. from UCLA in Film & TV Production with an emphasis in Directing, she’s cultivated the expertise and connections to forge a solid career as one of Hollywood’s few Muslim women filmmakers in demand.

Her first feature length documentary, Bilalian, won the Visionary Award at the 2002 Pan African Film Festival, which garnered a glowing review from Variety praising the film’s focus on Black American Muslims in America.

In the same way that Black Panther synthesizes the best and most entertaining aspects of Black excellence, Muslimah’s Guide To Marriage leaves an unforgettable impression on every viewer, whether Muslim or not.

Impressively, it’s captured the type of movie magic that’s found in the greatest romantic comedies you wish to watch over and over again. Mashallah!


– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world, with several blogs under her belt including and She is a contributing writer for the music publication, and has written for Relevant and Bust Magazine.

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA in International Affairs from The New School, she reps her beloved alma mater, Howard University, every chance she gets. As a poet and a non-fiction writer, she has just published her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending, available now on Amazon & Kindle.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter