55:BMC Book Excerpt
and you'll be one of the first in the know!
OVERSEEN & OVERHEARD
YOU KNOW IT'S TRUE...We know you've been waiting for this one--A Milli Vanilli film. Universal Pictures has purchased the rights to the tale of the disgraced German pop duo, who were found to have lipsynced their way to Grammy fame in the '80s. Word is Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me if You Can) will ink the script and Kathleen Kennedy (Munich) will produce. Here's our two cents: Taye Diggs as Fabrice and Terence Howard as Rob Pilatus. Diggs and Howard have the looks down, let's see if they've got the moves.
DIGITAL UPLOAD...MTV Networks is set to invest more capital into new digital businesses and new networks. But in order to do so the Viacom-owned company will slash some 250 U.S. jobs. How is it that a new medium that should create greater opportunity and creativity bring this kind of behavior on the corporate front? Well, at least there may not be too many urban employees on the bread line from this action as there weren't many to begin with. And this, we are trying to determine as fortunate or unfortunate. Hmm.....
GONE WITH THE WIND... Frustrated by slow web surfing on your cell? Well, DataWind, a leading provider of wireless web access products and services, has just unveiled the new version of PocketSurfer, the world’s fastest handheld Internet device. It downloads web pages at the speedy rate of 7-9 seconds per page--the fastest way to view the web on any cellular network. This wireless cell phone accessory will help industry powerplayers have faster access to Hollywood news, reference sites for pitches, and, of course, The A-List.
LONDON BOUND...HBO has launched a subscription video-on-demand service in Britain to air such programs as "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under." The channel will be available via the new UK company Virgin Media, BT Vision and Tiscali TV. The service will provide at least 50 hours of programming at its full rollout. No word yet if "The Wire," which critics have called "the best series on cable TV," will be among the shows send across the pond. Thereby providing not only greater visibility on Urban drama but also greater revenue.
HIP HOP HOLLYWOOD
POKER FACE...The Wu's Ghostface Killah is the latest celeb face joining the poker craze. The recording artist has just launched GFKPoker.com, a new online poker site aimed directly at hip hop heavyweights. Ghostface's music, of course, is used throughout the site while players get their game on. With poker still peaking, and attracting the Urban in-crowd, Ghostface might just walk away with a royal flush.
NEW POSSIBLE FCC RESTRICTIONS
The FCC is considering regulating TV violence in the same manner it oversees indecency if law. The FCC has may send a report on violence to Congress; a draft is currently being circulated among commissioners. FCC chairman Kevin Martin and senior Democratic commissioner Michael Copps are pushing for approval of the report, according to a Reuters story published Feb. 16. If approved, broadcasters may be restricted from airing "violent" programs during certain hours, much like they are restricted from airing "indecent" material from 6 am-10pm.
JUST A PEEK
A Book Excerpt From Notes On A Revolution: The Autobiography Of Andre Harrell And The Uptown Story
It may have been a minute since New Jack City, but screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper has been busy. In between hyping his directorial debut, Blood on the Wall$, and appearing on BET's "American Gangster"; he's been the writing force that has helped music mogul Andre Harrell pen his autobiography, Notes On A Revolution: The Autobiography Of Andre Harrell And The Uptown Story, due to be published shortly by Crown.
But the only way to see a portion of this book before anyone else is here, at The A-List. What follows is an exclusive excerpt of one of the chapters entitled "Our Lady of Glamorous Sorrows: The Prestige of Mary J. Blige." We know that Mary J. Blige is not only on fire due to her snatch up of three Grammys earlier this week, but only here will you will you be able to read more about this diva as she spreads her wings into other entertainment platforms.
As we chatted about the book with Harrell, who was rushing off to a restaurant no doubt to discuss deals, we knew we were in the middle of something hot.
Sincere appreciate to BMC (left) for sharing his talent with us. Read on....
Our Lady Of Glamorous Sorrows:
The Prestige Of Mary J. Blige
Sunday, the eleventh day of February, in the Year Of Our Lord, 2007.
I'm sitting 13 rows away from the stage of the Staple Center auditorium, 13 rows away from TV-Land. I am surrounded by executive types. And I am watching Mary J. Blige accept her first of three Grammys: nominated for 8 awards, Mary won best R&B Album for The Breakthrough, best Female R&B Vocal Performance and best R&B Song for "Be Without You." MJB looks bioluminescent, as if she was born to give off light and glow in this historic moment. However, Mary's radiance is more than just her outward glamorous appeal. Mary is shinning because she has found something more priceless than anything money could buy or any award could validate: Mary has found the most powerful force in the world and it's written all over her face for the world to see. She has found the strength to love herself. This night is the inauguration of the First Lady Of Hip Hop Soul, Mary Jane Blige.
I met Mary J. Blige in 1989. Her stepfather, a guy known as Little Jimmy, worked on the GM assembly line (in Tarrytown, New York) with Jeff Redd (who became an artist on Uptown) and his manager Reggie--who was from Harlem--and who had a management company with another guy from Harlem named Charlie, and Kurt "Juice" Woodley, who was my A&R director at Uptown. So Jeff Redd--who had the hot club record on my label at the time-- I Found Loving--brought Mary to Kurt, and Kurt brought Mary to my attention. Mary had recorded Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing" in a do-it-yourself recording booth in a mall in Westchester County, N.Y. And as soon as I heard Mary sing, "I'm gonna love you anyway/even if you cannot pay/I think you are the one for me…," I was done. When I heard Mary's interpretation and how she wore her heartache on her sleeve it was by far one of the most painful slices of life I had ever heard from my generation. Mary's version of "Sweet Thing" wasn't sweet at all. Even when she went off-key the flat notes were like teardrops on the verse and hook that made the song that more potent and relevant to her audience. Mary had a different level of a communication of emotion. Her flat notes were painfully melodic and mournful grace notes of the disappointment in Mary's life. I could hear how disappointed Mary was with in the men in her orbit and how that head-set was probably passed down to her by her Mom, Grandmother, and Aunties. It was a disappointment that crossed generations. That same disappointment infected Mary J. Blige to the point that she was emotionally scarred, and that scarring was deep, real deep. And the only way out of the fractured pit of her broken heart was to sing about it and uplift other young women, because in uplifting other young women, Mary was going to be able to soar on the wings of love she dreamed about. When Mary sang it was like she was taking her listeners on an emotional tour to find the greatness and purpose in life. Mary's version of "Sweet Thing"--like all of the music she did after that--haunted me.
I met Mary in the Schlobaum Houses in Yonkers, where she lived. I was driving a BMW 635 back then, and the car kind of stood out in the environment of the projects. They were known as the Slow-Bomb and it made sense to me. I grew up in the Bronxville projects, and living in those conditions can be like a slow, ticking, Weapon of Mental Destruction for the people who live there. Mary greeted me downstairs in front of her building. I was struck by how pretty and shy she was, which made her more attractive. What stood out was the scar under her left eye. That scar was like Marilyn Monroe's mole. Mary's scar was her distinctive beauty mark. Her body language was the body language of most pretty girls who didn't want to stand out in the crowd because of low self-esteem. Her shoulders sloped down as if she was trying to make herself smaller in an attempt not to be judged in a negative way. Mary was quiet and timid, which made her seem very peaceful. We talked a little about music: what she liked, who she listened to, and what I was trying to build at Uptown. I told Mary I wanted to make movies on record, and her life, her struggle, and her voice made her a ghetto movie star. We met again a few weeks later when her mother, Cora, let Mary come down to the Uptown/MCA office on 57th and Broadway in Manhattan. By that time I had listened to her demo a few times and I was convinced Mary could be an icon. I said to her, "One day, you're going to be singing before the kings and queens of Rock & Roll royalty." She laughed when I said that, but even back then I could see her sparkling quality. Mary thought I was charming, eccentric, and funny. She used to refer to me as her musical father, because I was one of the first males she knew that tried to nurture and guide her in the right direction. I really did want to create a comfortable environment around her so she could work and flourish with her God-Given talent because I saw the Queen in her. Mary was the beginning of someone who would totally embody the Nu American Revolution. That person willing to look in the mirror, willing to make a change for the better, and in turn, change the world around them.
Mary's persona was right for the sound that was slowly evolving at Uptown; Puff had this remix with Jodeci, "Come And Talk To Me." It used Erick Sermon's "Just A Customer" beat. With Jodeci's vocals and that loop, that was the beginning of the Hip Hop Soul sound. It was a breakthrough. But they weren't from New York; Jodeci was from North Carolina. It was soulful, but in my mind, the first incarnation of Nu America--the fashionably upwardly mobile desire meets destiny's dreams achieved I called Ghettofabulous at the time--had to come from uptown, from Harlem, from New York. It was James VanDerZee, it was Langston Hughes, it was Zora Neal Hurston, it was a New Harlem Renaissance, and although Mary was from Yonkers, she understood the cutting edge of Harlem's street corner bohemian appeal. Her soulful pain and inner-city bluesy vocals opened up the ears of R&B lovers and hip hop heads alike. She began to make inroads with both audiences when she sang on "I'll Do 4 U," Father MC's hit. Father MC was the Uptown answer to Big Daddy Kane who was on fire around that time, but Father MC was really the first rapper to have the strong R&B hooks in his songs. Mary also got a lot of buzz when she was in the video for "I'll Do 4 U." But the real epiphany for me came when Mary appeared on Soul Train and perform ed "You Remind Me" from the soundtrack of the first movie I produced Strictly Business, which starred Halle Berry and Tommy Davidson. Mary came on the soundstage dressed in the hockey jersey, tennis skirt, big gold shrimp earrings, and the Doc Maarten boots, and when Don Cornelius introduced her as the "Queen Of Hip Hop Soul"…Wow! It was over. I knew this was the moment when Mary became a movement and that movement would become a movie.
There was real excitement in making Mary's solo album, What's The 411? I felt like a cinematic event, with me as producer and Puff as director. Under my tutelage, Puff had absor bed quite a bit: my love for movies, fashion, and just understanding how the cult of personality needs to be used to create an icon.
The single "Real Love" climbed to number 7 on Billboards Hot 100 Chart, and number 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Charts. Both "Real Love" and "You Remind Me" went gold, and What's The 411--which hit the stores on July 18th, 1992--sold an unbelievable 3 million copies. Mary's first joint out of the box goes three-times platinum! As I look back on that time, it feels as if I w as part of a classic movie. I was like Truman Capote, Puff was like Blake Edwards, Mary was Audrey Hepburn, and What's The 411 was Breakfast At Tiffanys. A young girl trying to escape the past and find herself while looking for love in the all the wrong faces. Like I said on my voicemail message on the album's intro Mary was "Outta-outta here!" She had become a star.
Mary's meteoric success was not without its problems. As a matter of fact, the new found fame and money--like with any young performer who goes from starving artist to becoming super-successful in a short period of time--overwhelmed Mary. Selling three million joints on your debut album would have overwhelmed anybody. All of a sudden, the media becomes a part of your life in an attempt to x-ray your soul for public display. People who would not give you the time of day in any other situation become your best friend, and cousins and kin who you never knew become attached to you like an extra arm trying to dig through your pockets in order to find the number to your bank account. Biggie said it best: Mo' Money, Mo' Problems.
My challenge with Mary, Jodeci, Al B. Sure, Heavy D, and all of the young artists on Uptown was trying to protect them from their own self-destructive impulses, without tampering with the unique sense of who they were. Going from the corner store to Cartier's in less than 24 hours--as many of these young artists did after a hit record or tour--can prove somewhat daunting trying to figure out the appropriate response when your life has somersaulted from one reality to another. Although my family loved me, I knew first-hand how growing up in the ghetto can condition you to think that your are not good enough and not worthy of love. The slightest word of advice or constructive criticism can and did bring out adverse reactions from my young charges. During that early time when Mary went on the road, it was hard for the regionals at MCA Records--and even the regionals at Uptown--to gain her trust. It took a while for Mary to know that the emotion and concern that I felt for her would be reciprocated by the other people who worked for me. Mary still had woman things to learn about: getting enough rest and getting her hair done while she was on the road so she could be properly groomed to be the star that people were expecting her to be. Mary's first album was probably a good and bad experience for her, because she was thrown into this brave new world without any preparation. I knew I had to find a way to soften Mary's rough edges but keep her real and down to earth at the same time. I remember Kelly Haley--a smart and classy woman who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, who is my publicist--set Mary up with an interview coach by the name of David Nathan, for the press junket supporting What's The 411. David, who was also the editor of a British soul magazine aptly titled, Blues And Soul said Mary reminded him Aretha Franklin in the early days: not forth-coming with information and an overall tough interview. I also had an other woman who worked for me, Jackie Rhienhardt hire Angelo Ellerby and his company, Double Xxposure to help Mary get comfortable with proper everyday etiquette: how to talk to people, how to respond to questions in a certain way, how to present yourself to the fans and the media even when you weren't in the mood to do it. The classes--which were based on what Berry Gordy did with his charm school training for his Motown artists back in the day--was really helpful to Mary, and if you saw watched her various appearances on Oprah, you know what I am talking about. Mary is classy and confident without being snobbish. She is an around the way girl who beautifu lly morphed into stylish royalty. It was a process. However, in Mary's defense she was still a young woman just a few years out of high school with a smash debut album that some artists who have spent years in the game NEVER see. Mary had a large white fan base, too. Mary's Hip Hop Soul was the first time a lot of young white listeners experienced a R&B music that they could identify with, not unlike their parents who grew up on Motown, James Brown, Issac Hayes and Barry White. These kids black music experience were shaped by hip hop and Run-Dmc. With Mary, they had someone from their generation who made soul music relevant to them. The explosion of all things Mary was responsible for the $135,000 budget for the "Real Love" music video, the first really expensive R&B video (outside of Michael Jackson, but he was a mega-pop artist) ever. Mary's success was beyond the beyond.
All of these events were an incredible prelude to Mary's second album, My Life. Mary recorded this album in a wind-tunnel of swirling personal turmoil--from family conflict to a the heartbreak of a tumultuous relationship with another performer--but Mary still kept her balance. Which brings to mind another movie analogy: if What's The 411 was Breakfast At Tiffanys then My Life was The Way We Were. Love, loss, regret, reflection. I not only consider My Life to be a masterpiece, but it is one of my favorite albums of all time. My Life really showcased Mary as a truly natural and instinctual artist, and if you could get her to appropriate venue--be it the studio, the video set, or the theater where she was to perform--Mary was going to deliver the goods. Her work ethic and drive for perfection was impeccable and impressive to those of us around her. I believe that Mary did this because she felt she was carrying the torch for a whole bunch of women just like her, and she didn't want to let them down.
My Life dropped on November 29th, 1994, and in less than a year, sold 3 million copies. The first single from the album, Be Happy rose to #29 on the Billboard 100 and number #6 on the R&B singles chart. The video for "Be Happy" was memorable because of what I call that Been To The Mountaintop-shot with Mary singing alone on the mountain peak. This was the video that truly displayed Mary's tremendous impact on mainstream fashion and culture. She made blonde hair popular with black women. Her Chanel white shades and aluminum Michelin Man, bubble goose down coat were copied by fans everywhere all over the world. I even feel Paris Hilton listened to Mary J. Blige as a teenage heiress in Bel Air and was influenced by this young black woman's style and attitude. Mary was the set-point for a new jet set that shuttled between Harlem and Hollywood. Mary was the transport to a place called Nu America.
My Life was more than just compelling videos and hot tracks. It was the album that made Mary a legend. When one becomes a legend, it is usually because they have transcended their place from a narrow point-of-view to a wider lens of perception. Mary represented that last generation of affirmative action, and a generation that could either throw up their hands and drown in their own tears of pessimism, or understand that life's struggles are only designed to make you stronger. The selfishness of Reaganozoic Era, that egocentric, Every-man-for-himself-because
Back to the Grammy Awards: In this moment of triumph, my mind reels as I mentally scan the rotation of Mary's personal revolution, and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles she has had to overcome: abusive relationships, the lack of confidence of friends, family, and even the woman staring back at her in the mirror, to the conquest of knowing what the power of love can do. Mary is now married to a guy by the name of Kendu Issacs--who is also her manager--and they seem to have a very deep, powerful, and loving relationship.
The last two years have been a great time for Mary: between singing onstage with Bono and U2, to being one of the honored invitees to Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball in 2005, to being nominated for eight Grammys for her smash album The Breakthrough, to accompanying Oprah--along with Spike Lee, Sidney Poitier, and Tina Turner--to South Africa for the opening of her Leadership Academy For Girls, outside Johannesburg, and now winning three Grammy Awards. It's a long way from the projects in the Yonkers to the stage of the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but Mary's God-fearing, unshakable faith and determination to reach for the best inside herself and others have made her the example of a Nu American Revolution. She is a real exa mple of the restoring power of GOD's Love. What does is say in the book of Romans 8? If God be for us, who can be against us? I feel this is Mary's personal mantra. One she has not only spoken but lived to experience.
Watching Mary accepting her long overdue acclaim, I felt like a prou d father who had raised a strong, loving, and beautiful daughter. In that moment I thought about a picture on the mantle in my home in Manhattan that was taken during 1994 trip to London with Mary and after four sold out nights at the Hammersmith Odeon. I was rocking a Cab Calloway, a stylish apple-jack cap, and Mary had these knee high boots, plaid pants, tweed shirts, and a black leather cap. She had the big door knocker earrings and her hair was in her face and she was playfully poking her lips out. Mary looked very British, very mod. It's the only picture of any artist that I have kept in my house. That picture is near and dear to me because it is a reminder of the era of the My Life album, which was the most important album in my own life. Mary winning on Grammy night solidified the importance of her journey from the inner city to Nu America. I felt that my responsibility to Mary during her early years was to help her find her inner GPS and in doing so, she would understand the responsibility of The Prestige, which is the obligation for all those who are citizens of Nu America. Watching her coronation on Grammy night, I felt I had lived up to that task. Mary's great talent, persona, and awesomely humble spirit had finally been acknowledged, and maybe, in some small way, The Prestige of this great country, had been restored.
At House of Hype pre-Grammy bash honoring current Complex mag cover girl Kim Kardashian: the rising "It" girl's former flame Ray J tryin' to talk his way in quietly via the media entrance at the event, held at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Director John Singleton and date bogartin' their way into the VIP upstairs of Luda's party at The Social even though security kept all the rest of us in the common downstairs area citing the fact that LAFD was in da house.
Randy Jackson, Corinne Bailey Rae and Anita Baker choppin' it up at the EMI Grammy party just next door to Luda's.
To Jennifer Hudson on her upcoming glam Vogue cover--work it!