Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Product of a Broken Home - Sort of

Early on in the season, I caught an episode of Oprah on TV - okay, I didn't catch the episode per se, I actually watch religiously. This particular show was about adult children from divorced homes. I'm talking 40 something year old men and women crying on stage about how their parents getting a divorce - decades ago - continues to plague their life.

My first thought? How pitiful. I wanted to throw my "Oprah Show Snack" at the television and yell, "grow up and get a life!" I simply couldn't believe these grown ass men and women were sobbing about how daddy left mommy for his secretary 25 years ago and how the nightmare of it all still wakes them up at night. Perhaps I'm numb to it all having grown up in a single parent household. There was no daddy to leave mommy, and if mommy left, I was up Shits Creek.

Flash forward to November when my mom announced she was separating from my step-father. I was devastated! I immediately began to worry about the both of them. Who would help mom bring in the groceries or fix a leaky pipe under the sink? Where would my step father get a home cooked meal from and how would he wash his clothes? Better yet, how could I begin to see them as two separate people and not as one?

Eventually, things fell into place. Mom makes me pick her up from the grocery store and help her bring in those heavy bags; which of course I don't mind. When there is a leak under the sink, she calls the plumber. Not too long ago, I had to use my step-father's car when my battery died, and I found an empty carton of popcorn chicken from Popeyes in the trash. Was that his home cooked meal? Hey, at least he was eating something, right? I even heard he was in the laundry room of his building, washing his own clothes. Who knew? The last time I spoke to him, he told me he was playing around on the computer - something I almost never saw him do pre-seperation.

I guess it goes to show that under insinuating circumstances, strong people can step up to do what they need to do, and it feels good to know that I have strong people in my life. Although if it were up to me they'd still be together, maybe the separation needed to happen for them to rediscover who they really are outside the confinements that marriage can impose.

Boy, I sure can relate to those big 'ol cry babies on Oprah now. But will this divorce make me resentful or develop feelings of abandonment 20 years from now? I doubt it. However, I do understand that feeling of wanting things to stay the same, but usually that's to benefit me, and not the people involved.

My parents get a divorce and I grow up and learn something about myself in the process. I guess every cloud does have its hard to find, heavily veiled, silver lining afterall.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Keeping it Real

The Real Thing is confident, feminine and strong. The Real Thing is comical, vulnerable and unpredictable. The Real Thing is talented. The Real Thing is: Jill Scott.

Scott brought her “The Real Thing” tour to the Prudential Hall Theatre at The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ on March 5 and 6.

R&B crooner and Newark native, Raheem DaVaughn, opened for Scott. He got the ladies to their feet with songs about how they should be put first and loved all night long. His frequent falsettos sent shivers up their spines as he took to the aisles of the theatre while singing his Grammy nominated hit, “Woman.” After a five-song set, it was time to make way for the main attraction…and an attraction she was.

Supported by an eight-piece band and three back up singers, Scott took to the stage in a low-cut LBD, silver pumps, a burnt orange pinned up hairdo, and looking sexier than ever. She opened the show singing “The Real Thing,” the title track to her tour and her third studio album, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3.

As if that spectacular opening wasn’t introduction enough, Scott took the time to welcome and thank everyone for coming out to see her and reintroduced herself to the Jill Scott concert virgins - there weren’t many. That’s when the Real show began.

After singing “Cross My Mind,” the hit song from her second studio album, Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2, Scott confessed to the audience, “it’s a scientific fact that good dick can cause problems,” referring to the confessional lyrics in “Mind” which tells the story of her reminiscing about a former lover who rocked her world in the bedroom and the temptation to call him. Of course, by the end of the song she remembers she was never good for him and he was never good for her. “He still lived in his mother’s basement and had bad credit,” she amusingly added.

It’s comedic undertones like that, which give Scott’s show a layered, authentic feel. She doesn’t take herself or every song so serious, but doesn’t hide from the songs or issues that strike an emotional chord. “I never thought I’d be standing in front of yall - a divorced woman,” she admitted after nearly breaking down on stage from singing the track, “Whenever You’re Around.” The song is about a woman who has taken up conversation with another man because she feels lonely whenever her lover is around. A clue as to what ended her marriage perhaps?

But don’t cry for Jilly from Philly. “The divorce is old for me. New to yall, but old for me,” said the three-time Grammy winner. “I’m alright. I picked up another Grammy this year, I sold a few records and I’ve got a show on HBO coming out. And its not a reality show either. Success is the best revenge,” she playfully gloated.

As this show of reality steadily continued on, Scott sung fan favorites from her 2000 debut, Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, and a few of her favorite tracks from both her current album and 2001’s live double-disc set, Experience: Jill Scott 826+. But she hit a nerve with the ladies when she took on her current single, “My Love.”

The song was inspired by a cheating relationship. “I’ve been the woman and I’ve been the other woman, “ admitted Scott to gasps from the audience. “Yep, I know what yall thinking, ‘oh no she didn’t.’ Well, yes I did. Life’s not a straight path - it bends. And you’ve got to take the ups with the downs,” she preached. While performing the ode to her love, she navigated away from the scripted lyrics to a poetic freestyle of how she really felt: “You came to me all messed up/And I gave you all of my love and fixed you up/And then you left me for her/It was almost like you planned it,” a hurt Scott frustratingly spoke. The women went wild.

By the end of the show, Scott brought the audience to its feet with her Grammy nominated smash hits, “Hate on Me” and “Whatever.” Just when the packed house thought they had seen it all; Scott had a trick up her sleeve. She took everyone to the opera by putting a Luciano Pavorotti-esque twist to her hit "He Loves Me (Lyzel In E Flat)” and then sighed as if the vocal brilliance just displayed were a walk in the park. For her, it probably was.

After introducing her band and back up singers to the audience, the lights came up and everyone started to file out. Only then did Scott run back on stage to the microphone asking to share a piece she jotted down on a napkin in her hotel room the night before. Of course, the audience stopped in their tracks and gladly obliged.

For the first time that evening Scott seemed shy - nervous even - to share her new work. By the second verse, the band joined in and the audience was singing the chorus as if it had been a hit on the radio for years. As the audience sang the chorus, Scott, her band mates and back up singers all did a two-step off stage; Scott being last, took a final bow and blew a kiss goodnight to everyone.

In a time when music lovers are inundated with pretty young things gyrating across the stage - lip-syncing - while performing complex choreographed numbers, you want something different. Something refreshing. Something simple. A band, some back up singers, a microphone and a voice. You want, The Real Thing.

Check out Jill Scott’s tour dates at:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Call Heard Round the World...Or Maybe Just My Livingroom...

On February 22, a new film called, Be Kind Rewind, hit theaters. It's a fanciful, comedy about two guys who are forced to reshoot movies requested by their movie rental customers, when every videotape in their shop is erased due to a power plant's electromagnetic field. It stars Jack Black, Mos Def and Danny Glover. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B- and said, "there's nothing not to like about the movie, a teensy, hand-crocheted, trifle, fitted with embroidered pockets of guest stardom."

Do I agree with Entertainment Weekly? Ummm, I don't know. Did I even see the film? Eh, no. But I did have a conversation with Mos Def while he was shooting the movie.

It was a dreary, early fall Saturday afternoon in October of 06. I was chatting away on Yahoo Messenger when suddenly, my cell phone went off. It was my coworker calling me from the set of Be Kind Rewind. She works as a contract revenue administrator, negotiating deals with producers to use certain areas of New Jersey to shoot films. On this day, she was in Passaic, NJ rubbing elbows with Mos Def. She knew how big a fan I was of his (see: the bio section of so she called me and asked if I wanted to speak to him. Before I could succumb to my sudden heart palpitations and sweaty palms, Mos Def was on the phone saying hello.

Me: Mos Def, what's up man?
Mos Def: What's up? Who is this?
Me: This is Shydel James (as if he would know who I am) I'm an actor.
Mos Def: Oh OK, what's up Shydel?
Me: Nothing much, I just wanted to tell you that I'm a big big fan. I really like what you're doing out there. And I think you should have gotten an Oscar nomination for your work in The Woodsman. You killed that part.
Mos Def: Awl man, thanks man. I really appreciate that. Thank you.
Me: No problem man, and make sure you remember my name-Shydel James, 'cause we're going to do a movie together one day.
Mos Def: Oh OK, (laughing-hopefully, not at me) I'll remember that.
Me: Cool man, it was nice speaking with you.
Mos Def: OK, man take care. Thanks again.
Me: No problem.

Sixty seconds of pure bliss. I was on Cloud Nine for about two weeks after that phone call. I quickly changed my away message on Yahoo Messenger from what probably was some comment about my being depressed and confused-a emotional mainstay of mine-to, "thinking about my conversation with Mos Def" along with some emoticon that represented the groupie that I was.

Don't get me wrong, I've been able to hold my own around celebs without creaming on myself. There was the time I met Will Smith and Jada Pinkett at the premiere of Hitch and not a flinch. Or the time I egged on Pras from The Fugees to kick Omarion's ass as an extra in the film, Feel The Noise and I played it coy. But never have I made contact with anyone on my "Who'd I Love to Work With" list. Which if we're using that roll call as any indication of who I'm in store to meet next, let's make room for Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, four time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore and my other favorite rapper turned actor, Queen Latifah.

Sure, Be Kind Rewind is no hit, having grossed a mere $4.05 million its opening weekend, it won't go down in any history books; however, the film will always recall for me: The Day I Spoke to Mos Def on the Telephone.

Will he remember that phone call? Probably not. Will I ever do a movie with him?

Mos Definitely!