Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chaka Provides

Within an entertainment world fed sex, hood anthems, and materialism, a legend graces her hometown Chicago and brings a refreshing approach towards true stardom. Ms. Chaka Khan graced the Hilton hotel under the wings of yet another successful Music Experience hosted by Mr. Dedry Jones on May 1st, 2007. She was lively, grateful, and excited about being back home. "I am all about telling my story tonight" she said with a smile. With camera crews and make up assistants within inches she prepared for her moment to shine. She sat patiently as reporters questioned her one at a time "Honey, after all of these years don't worry I'm so used to this. It becomes second nature," she assured me as I looked on in amazement. I asked her what she hoped her audience will gain from such an intimate encounter with her tonight and she gleamed with excitement as she said, "I just want people to know that I'm a real girl. I'm approachable and I will be honest with you. I know all of the things that I have achieved but that doesn't design who I am as a person. I just want people to see me for me, Yvette." She was clear and I could tell that she meant what she said. Throughout all of her other interviews she was asked what keeps her strong and motivated to carry on in this industry and she replied that "it's what I love doing and it fits me. I'm a singer and I am not ashamed of that. I will make music as long as I can and God says I can." I see the passion in her eyes and hear her assistant telling her that she has to get ready for her performance. She thanks everyone individually and talks to another journalist on the side about her passion for youth. I chime in and ask her what actually headed her campaign for exposing Autism and she says painfully that her "nephew was diagnosed with it at a young age and his personality changed and he just wasn't the same lively little boy. It was as if someone took his soul, stole his joy, and left him there aimlessly. It is disheartening to see that happen to the purest people on earth, children. I knew that he wasn't alone. I wanted to find out how we could help him and others." I couldn't help but ask her how she goes about making a difference within the educational field and she said, "it is not easy. People look at you for your records and don't realize that you could be doing this for a reason. They think it is all about doing what you can for press. Sometimes it is not; sometimes you have to do whatever is passionate in your heart. That's how you make life valuable." I questioned why it's important for celebrities to expand beyond the music industry and she said in a sweet informative voice "in all aspects of life it is important for a person to grow and do new and different things. You cannot live your whole life in a box otherwise you wont accomplish anything. You can't get anything done if you just stick to one thing. Life is about change and if you aren't changing you need to be finding ways to make this world change. I try to do different things, those things are what allow you to gain wisdom and with wisdom you just might gain someone's respect. First you have to go through something though." Her eyes shinned as she rubbed me on the back with a motherly touch as I followed her to her chair where her makeup was retouched. I asked why Autism has become so common over the years and her face became solid, almost expressing a halo of fear and resentment. She later on expressed that she feels that "when doctors began giving children vaccines with a hint of Mercury that that affected their mental and physical growing process." She moved to the edge of her seat and gripped the arm rests with all her might as she tried to maintain a low voice but emotion overshadowed her attempt as she yelled, "Why in the hell would you do that?" She then asked for her language to be excused but everyone in the room understood her frustration. Her head hung low for a few seconds and she said "one out of every one hundred and sixty something children will be diagnosed with this disease. If you know anyone with Autism you know that they can be some of the most loving, obsessive, attentive, and affectionate people, but they need help. If parents would pay attention to the signs and stop living in denial then maybe we can save more of them. It has to be hard on the parents but you have to put all that aside, pray for strength and do what is best for the child." The music experience was magical, Mr. Jones asked Ms. Khan about all aspects of her life, and the audience laughed, cried, and sang their hearts out, however, in the end, Chaka wanted to make one thing clear. She looked the audience members in the eye as she said that she "enjoys doing music, I loves helping people, but in the end know that this life is all about how you try and make a difference, that goes beyond the gold and platinum albums, that is what caps your life's legacy."

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Bilals Pressence

Sunday, May 13th, 2007 Bilal blessed the Buddah lounge once again with a soulful performance that inspired the crowd in numerous ways. His presence is so sensitive and thoughtful that his passion and desire to love oozes amongst all that are within his presence. Before he displayed his gift, a local male vocalist by the name of Yaw (http://www.myspace.com/yawsmusic) graced the stage with jazzy, funk collective ballads that reminded me of Luther kissed with a hint of Jimmy Hendricks. I have heard of this young man before but wasn't blessed to see him live until this night. His background vocalists were pure perfection while he mesmerized all with his confidence and religious social justice lyrics. The night was full of enjoyable moments. Once Bilal graced the audience he performed songs from " 1st Born Second" and his unofficial second album, which was leaked a year and a half ago via the Internet. The audience recited every line vigorously as Bilal said playfully "damn, ya'll know this shit too." They cheered with excitement and Bilal gave a sentimental introduction to the song "Sometimes" that bared the melancholy but inspiration line "I Will Win" repeatedly. While performing this ballad, Bilal became overwhelmed with emotion and danced his heart out as if he was at the door of a spiritual breakthrough and landed in the audience. Audience members hugged, kissed, and adorned him with affection and guided him back towards the stage. The night was a pure spiritual journey full of moments reminiscing on past loves, desired love, and current love. The audience was full of poets, performers (the cast for the Chicago rendition of the play The Color Purple), activist, teachers, and more. I was able to sit down with Mr. Bilal Oliver to discuss the current status of his life.

JL: What do you hope the audience gains after they watch you perform?

B: My mom always tells me stories about when she used to go see shows and concerts and how good they were. I know Dreamgirls the movie just came out but mom says all the time that the movie is good but it doesn't compare to the play, the play was amazing. I won't people to walk away from one of my shows and talk about my performance like that. I want to be able to touch someone so deeply that years down the line that moment in time is fresh on his or her mind and they are speaking my name to their great grand kids. That's powerful and a blessing. That's why I give my all. I care about those people out there listening to me.

JL: Why do you feel that you are still able to sell out a concert despite the fact that you haven't released an official album since 2001?

B: I think it is the music. I really put a lot into my first album and I had to make sure that I told a valid story that represents my struggles in life. I guess that is what has allowed my album to defy time thus far. When I perform I see people singing along with their eyes closed and I can tell they fell whatever in the hell I am talking about. That's beyond music, that's a spiritual connection. I think that is why people still support me. I had a second album but it was leaked to the Internet so the label shelved it. I worked hard on that shit too.

JL: How do you feel about your music leaking as an artist knowing that you put so much into it and you don't get anything back?

B: It's a catch 22 you know. I was able to bless my fans with another collection of whatever I was going through so I was able to give them a piece of me. But I'm not getting paid for it. That part hurts my pockets because I have children I need to feed but hey some things are out of your control. To be honest with you the label was going back and forth with whether they wanted to put the album out or not so either way the audience got it. I don't know if the label would've stood behind me with that release or not.

JL: As an artist what are some of the things you go through with a label in terms of defining the theme you want to incorporate within your music?

B: Well I like to be free. I like to change up a lot. I know that when the label signed me I was doing music one way but now over the years I have grown and now I like to do things another way and there is the problem. I guess sometimes as an artist labels don't like change. You have to stay in a fucking box that they put you in or the one you made for yourself when you were presented to them. It's all a game full of a power struggle. I admire Prince and what he did to get out that shit.

JL: Why don't you start your own label?

B: Man just saying that requires money. I'm not ready for that move yet but I have seriously considered that. I want to but I'm stuck in a deal right now and this situation has me locked down so I can't expand right now.

JL: What is bothering you most within your surroundings?

B: Man when I look at Philly I see how everything is changing and I don't know if it is going on in Chicago but everyone is moving around. I see everything getting upgraded and all the black people have to move out to the suburbs. It hurts. You know not everybody can afford a car to do all of that traveling. My old neighborhood has changed. When I go see my mom things are different. I don't know where the city will be in 10 years. It's scary. I just wish I could get all my people out of the ghetto and just do well for them. We've gotta take care of each other.

We stand in the lobby of his hotel as he looks out along a busy Chicago street in deep thought about what he just said. He shakes his head, pulls up his pants, straightens his hat, and sighs. It's a sign of disbelief, disappointment, and sensitivity. I realize this man is just that, a man that is witnessing a world cry for more love and affection but go unheard. Within his music and his presence he resembles a drop of hope. We both look grateful and I walk away slightly more spiritually awake than what I was before.

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Rich Boy

Club D'Vine is packed to capacity as over 200 of Chicago's elite and sexy gather to meet one of hip hops rising starts by the name of Rich Boy. The crowd is excited and looking good. One of Chicago's hottest promoters by the name of DonSki navigates with ease through the crowd. He is the cool, calm, collected as he watches his event manifest. The climax of the night was a performance at none other than local rock star facility club Wet. I was able to watch from the sidelines as Rich Boy and his crew was escorted around the city. While he prepared to make his appearance he sat in the back seat of his van communicating vigorously with someone over his sidekick. He seemed at ease but excited about the occasion. The line of devoted hip-hop heads that graced the sidelines of club Wet amazed him as he looked on with a stare of anticipation. Sweat beads began to manifest on the corners of his brow as his manager insisted that he leave the vehicle now. He got out and stretched, popped his back and walked towards me with a look of curiosity. I asked him how Chicago treats him and he smiles and says, "the people here love me. I feel the love. I'm really liking the vibe here. It just feels right and the people are amped just like I like them to be. I wouldn't trade this moment for the world." With his single "Throw some D's on it" heating up the airwaves he appears to be confident and reserved when I asked him why people gravitated to his song so earnestly? "I think people just feel what I have to say. I aint got no deep shit in mind but I deal with what I know about and that's what I talk about. It's all about how people can relate to the same thangs. I'm sure the hustlers in Chicago want some D's on they rides just like my folks in the south." While concentrating on the fashion side of hip-hop that mirrors materialism, I happen to notice his affection towards his crew. I count help but ask what makes the people with him so special that they get to travel with him and he replied by saying that "real people always keep realness around them and these here folks are my backbone. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for them. I know Im in good hands when they are around." Loyalty has always been a strong resident within the hip-hop culture but I couldn't help but wonder why Rich Boy traveled with such a heavy crew. So its normal for you to travel with 10 or 15 guys? "yeah I want them to see what I'm blessed enough to see while we both can. I made it up out the ghetto and by all means that means that they have too. Its all about loyalty to your family. That's what I am all about." I guess there is nothing else to ask when an artist comes true like that. Now we see why he is more than just a Rich Boy but a Loyal man.

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