Tuesday, March 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fifty Shades of Schupidness (book/movie review)

Nothing to see here.

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

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

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

Womp. Womp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 5, 2015

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

This show is everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: TRUE LOVE by Jennifer Lopez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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