Features, Music Reviews, Race + Culture

INTERVIEW: Racquel Jones

By JD Brant

“We spend so much time fighting to be who we are, and not evolving.”

– Racquel Jones on being a woman (IG video post)

Racquel Jones has gumption, a required trait for those seeking longevity in a forever-shifting industry. Gumption is not to be confused with grit. Grit is doing what it takes because it is expected of you. Gumption is doing what it takes with no perceived expectation. Despite the odds. Despite no odds. Regardless of the consequences or what people think. Gumption is correcting the uninformed with a megaphone. Whether they are receptive to the message or not, it needs to be said.

Sparks ablaze and guns blazing, Racquel Jones is that girl on fire.

To make the most of experience, you need to meet people where they are. On the album, IgnoRANT, we meet Racquel where she is, a woman evolving. A woman of substance, of reckoning. IgnoRANT is a melodrama you can dance to, and so much more: lust, betrayal, destitution, destruction, and clairvoyance on every up-front track.

In artspeak, I’m describing Racquel Jones in peak condition. The incendiary MC was happy to talk with Eloquent Mag about IgnoRANT and the experiences that guided her during the production and songwriting processes.

Eloquent: First off, I want to say I love the cover art for your album, very Basquiat/Dali-looking. Who’s concept? Also, did these artists inspire it (you mention them on the album also)?

RJ: Thank you. I am very much inspired by Salvador Dali and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Obsessed. They are two of my favorite artists, who’ve inspired all aspects of my creativity. They are constant references for me and I mention them in manic, which is my favorite song on the album. The concept of the cover was mine. My label asked me to do a painted self-portrait cover for the record, so I decided to do a surrealist self-portrait baring my soul, showing much of who I am and how that ties into the album for me in a personal way.

Eloquent: Can you discuss a little bit of your heritage/roots and how they influenced the album’s sound and direction? 

RJ: I’m in every way Jamaican, good or bad. Jamaica has the most churches per square mile in the world yet it’s one of the deadliest places on the planet. That is explored on the album through the album artwork, and me examining how religion plays a negative role in our defect and demise as a people on the song sacrilege. Jamaica is one of the most beautiful places on this planet and has a culture unlike any other. Authentic, infectious, beautiful, warm, creative, and influential. That is knitted in every fiber of my being and creativity. I come from a background with a heritage of strength, tenacity, knowledge of self, divinity, and the ability to break barriers and defy odds. That is the core basis of who I am. I’m also from a background etched with trauma and pain which also aid in the shaping of my perception of the world, how I’m perceived, and also my morals…be it good or bad. Sonically, there’s reggae, dancehall, African drums all over the album. The language and overall aesthetic are very much my Jamaican heritage exploring global relatable issues with a Jamaican vocal lens. 

Eloquent: On “Ugly,” you explore the beauty industrial standard. You are vocal about insecurity, turning it into a power, something that makes us unique. As a model and performer, are you noticing that the “typical beauty standard” is on its way out, or is it still present in the industry? 

RJ: No, the unrealistic damaging beauty standards are still very much alive, with people constantly reconfiguring to fit into them. Who has their real faces and bodies anymore? 

Eloquent: How has the music industry changed to accommodate women, if at all, in your opinion? Secondly, what challenges are still present?

RJ: Women have been more vocal about who they are, brave enough to stand up for themselves, strong enough to be themselves and clear about what their voices are and how they want to be presented; so the industry had no choice but to comply. There are changes but still a long way to go. It’s still thought of as a male-dominated field with disparities to reflect that and we suffer because of this. But given what is currently happening, I’m optimistic that it won’t be that way for long. With that said, big ups to all women beasting in this bitch with full ownership of themselves and their businesses within this industry, women who are ferociously aggressive, revolutionary, rebellious, tough as nails, dominant and sexy. 

Eloquent: What would your advice be to young women, especially young women rappers, who find early on in their careers that they are being pressured to act, sing, rap, or present themselves in a particular way?

RJ: Present yourself ONLY how you want to be presented. NEVER compromise and only do it the way that’s true to who you are. So if you want to be overt and sexual, be that. If you want to be an activist, be that. There is a place for Cardi B, Lana Del Rey, Lauryn Hill, Big Freeda, Adele, Kiarra Sheard, Billie Eillish, Lizzo, Beyoncé, Coi Leray. Just be however you want to be as long as it’s true to who you are. 

Eloquent: How do you handle writer’s block or a creative slump? 

RJ: I either push through the resistance (which always gets me magical results) or I step back from it, breathe and take a break, then have a go at it again. 

Eloquent: “Hurt” is a haunting track. You talk about getting through the hurt to achieve greatness or a better life. It’s almost another way of explaining a creative’s path, and how it’s never about the destination, but the journey to get there. Is this an accurate interpretation of the track?

RJ: I welcome that interpretation too, and that’s the interesting part about art…is that it opens up for many interpretations. There’s a lot that has hurt me immensely on this journey and this song is in a way my cathartic release of such, but more particularly relationship-based hurt. When I wrote “Hurt” it was a way for myself and women alike to address pain and bring closure without being shamed, gaslighted, or made to feel invalid by people who’ve hurt us…who are narcissistic, lack emotional intelligence, and refuse to be held accountable. It’s an outlet for pain, and motivation to move on from it. 

Eloquent: In an Instagram video you posted, you said, “We (women) spend so much time fighting to be who we are, and not evolving.” As art is one of few safe spaces for women to truly express who they are, I want to ask, do you feel like you’ve evolved on this album as both a performer and a woman in general?

RJ: For sure. Art has always been a tool that has aided in the evolution of not just the artist themselves but the world in general through cultural and creative expressions. I certainly evolved more after making this album creatively and mentally, especially from discussions I had through IgnoRANT. There’s more understanding, empathy, growth and my moral compass is more guided. 

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Features, Music Reviews, Race + Culture

How the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ Changed Pop Culture Forever

By Katiee McKinstry

Upon its 25th anniversary, the Spice Girls Wannabe is being re-released for your listening pleasure, begging the question once again, what is a zig-a-zig a?

The Spice Girls have done a phenomenal job at being internationally recognized for the past 25 years, without having to do much or release any new music. The iconic band dropped Wannabe in 1995, and have been topping the pop charts since that.

What exactly is it about the Spice Girls that make them so insatiable that fans are still bopping their heads in 2021?

It’s the idea that every young woman can find themselves in one of the spices. Think of it like Sex in the City or Friends; we look for ourselves in characters and identify with their personalities. The Spice Girls are no exception, and people today still try to figure out which one of the band members they are. That’s why, in 1998, when Halliwell left the band, it was so devastating to fans around the world. While many other girls tried to replace her and her esteemed position as a pop culture fixture, it was never quite the same.

The Spice Girls turned a band of five women into one, each adding their spice to an already special blend of magic. As Wannabe celebrates its anniversary with a new physical picture disc and cassette (dropping August 27th) it makes us wonder, where are the Spice Girls now?

Here’s a breakdown of what the members of the original group are up to now:

  • Emma Bunton, Baby Spice

    Baby Spice is all grown up! 45-years-old with her two children, Beau and Tate, and still with her partner, Jade Jones. Most recently, Bunton served on a reality series from ABC called, Boy Band. Pretty cool stuff!
  • Gerri Halliwell, Ginger Spice

    Ginger Spice is doing well! Halliwell has two children, she’s 48-years-old, and she has still been creating music here and there. Back in 2017, Halliwell released a song in memory of George Michael.
  • Melani Brown, Scary Spice

    If you watch America’s Got Talent, you know that Mel B has been gracing the screen! Alongside Heidi Klum, Scary Spice has been out here thriving and performing, never giving up on her music career. We love to see it!
  • Melani Chisholm, Sporty Spice

    Sporty Spice is now a solo act! While still working on her music career, Chisholm is also mother to Scarlet Starr, and working hard to balance it all. In 2017, Chisholm opened up about her eating disorder for the first time, and her story is truly inspiring.
  • Victoria Beckham, Posh Spice

    You probably know Posh Spice is married to the one and only soccer star, David Beckham. They have 5 children together, and Beckham has currently been focused on the fashion world and prospering there. Love it!

The Spice Girls continue to be icons in our pop culture world, because their music is timeless, and their specific brand of fashion and feminism will always be a stable piece. Everyone knows their songs, and as Wanbee celebrates its 25th year, it’s no secret that the girls will keep on singing their way into our hearts. 

Connect with Katiee: Twitter

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Poetry Talk, Race + Culture

Poetry by Michael Grandsoult

Artwork for a track, “Turtle Island” by indigenous artist David Strickland


           

G.B.C.

By Michael Grandsoult

2 22,

born and raised in Scarborough Ontario.

Dual/duel,

2 nationalities I bear and hold

carried over the border

by my parents through customs

cultural baggage of a Guyanese substance,

bubbling in my body

tropical hot blood

like casareep in pepper pot.

Declared not native to this nation

foreign fruit that doesn’t take root,

“climatic unsuitability.”

Snowbound by cold racism, withholding growth.

Soils used to maple,

palm trees be gone please

rejecting me to go

back home.

But home is unknown.

Only folklore fork loads of food

musical milieu,

cultures much more.

My exotics whitewashed, lost

before I ever got it.

Foreigner here, there

searching for where?

I fit in the hyphen.

Division partitioning

Guyanese                    Canadian.

Imprisoned within limbo

or,

is it a bridge

connecting the 2

creating something new?

not Guyanese

not Canadian only,

GBC.

So I soar Kaiteur on my ladder Niagara

to reach full height.

Making bull’s-eye mark on maple leaf

with golden arrowhead darts.

Synthesis of existences

my identity’s recipe.

Guyanese Blooded Canadian,

GBC. 


Michael (MikeAll) Grandsoult is a Scarborough, Ontario native and hip hop educator. He began writing poems in the primary years of elementary school and started rapping in the junior grades. He has released three solo albums; “Mike Check” (2008), “Mike Support” (2015) and “Mike All” (2018).  MikeAll’s goal is to put the poet back into rhythm and poetry.                

CONNECT WITH MIKEALL: Instagram | Bandcamp

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Features, Music Reviews, Race + Culture

Social Justice in Music: Emerging Indie Artists of the Pandemic

By JD Brant // Contributing Writing By Saliek Ruffin

Hip hop has come a long way since the OG days of “Rapper’s Delight.” The track was the first hip hop song to reach Billboard’s Top 40 at a time when music by young black musicians was easily misunderstood. Now, almost 40 years later, hip hop still dominates Billboard charts. Streaming numbers have nudged the genre, yet again, into familiar hybrid pop/rock territory (Does anyone remember Blondie’s “Rapture”? That’s where it all started). 

At its core, hip hop is a political movement, and contemporary artists’ attempts to smash the status quo offers glimmers of hope for Gen Zers, millennials, and other lost generations. Here we’ve compiled a list of standout artists who’ve emerged victorious during the COVID-19 pandemic and have taken on social justice causes as influencers in the music industry. We will post one new artist a week throughout the summer. 

1. H.E.R.

Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson is her government name. Her stage name, articulated “her,” is an abbreviation for Having Everything Revealed. The Filipino/African-American vocalist and musician rose to prominence at the height of the pandemic, and has been soaring ever since. 

After initially releasing music under her government name, Wilson reappeared in 2016 with the H.E.R. persona, delivering her introduction EP H.E.R. Volume 1. She at that point delivered resulting EPs H.E.R. Volume 2 (2017), The B Sides (2017), I Used to Know Her: The Prelude (2018) and I Used to Know Her: Part 2 (2018). 

2020 was the year of H.E.R. She was designated for five honors at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for her album, I Used to Know Her, and Song of the Year for “Hard Place.” In September, she sang Prince’s tune “Nothing Compares 2 U,” for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, and during the pre-game celebrations for Super Bowl LV, H.E.R. performed “America the Beautiful” while playing guitar. 

What makes H.E.R. a beautiful soul is her passion for activism. Laced throughout her discography are reflections of her beliefs. “I Can’t Breathe” was the singer’s premiere social justice song, an emphatic statement on the current global policing crisis. She also contributed a song to the soundtrack of Judas and the Black Messiah titled, “Fight For You,” last August. 

Listen to “Fight For You” here:

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Race + Culture

Why Justin Bieber Headlining a Roc Nation Tour is a Huge Disappointment

Courtesy of Pixabay

By JD Brant

“It is really surprising to see his name in giant letters above an entire list of Black artists. Very strange approach especially during this time when people are being more mindful about their bullshit?” — Facebook commenter and music journalist Tia Brown expresses an attitude many Twitter commenters share about the Roc Nation MADE IN AMERICA tour announcement.

This week Roc Nation announced that a “new generation of musical greats” would headline the 10th annual MADE IN AMERICA tour. The only problem is this: Justin Bieber, one of the headliners, is from Canada. Not only that, but Bieber joins several artists who, over the course of their careers, have taken on aspects of Black identity (i.e., blackcents, physical appearance changes) to sell music. Considering today’s racially divided culture, this marketing move comes across insensitive.

A fellow music journalist from Buffalo, NY commented on Facebook the following:

“It is really surprising to see his name in giant letters above an entire list of Black artists. Very strange approach especially during this time when people are being more mindful about their bullshit?”

Several music fans on Twitter posted their own interpretations of the marketing move. One fan wrote, “Here we go with male artists being the headliners over more talented female artists again.”

Another fan expressed their disappointment in talent scouting, lamenting, “Man some of the line ups been bad but this is prob the weakest I’ve seen. You’d figure artists would line up to play shows now that covid in rear view mirror.”

The tour announcement was a huge disappointment not only because of its horrible timing but because it follows the predictable fool-proof patterns the music industry is so accustomed to abusing: marketing white people as the leaders of historically black-led movements. We know that placing Justin Bieber at the top of the bill makes sense economically. But also, it doesn’t. What really doesn’t make sense is the flagrant disregard for the changing priorities that have shifted the cultural dynamic of America over the pandemic. It’s almost a slap in the face to the people who stream Roc Nation artists, pay for Roc Nation merch, and attend Roc Nation shows.

Bieber is one of several artists who have become the center of cultural debates focused on borrowed Black identities in music, and whether the creative choices artists make are appreciation or cultural appropriation. Ariana Grande is guilty of taking on “blackcent” in her music, Qveen Herby has visibly changed her appearance over the course of her career and has been on the receiving end of mixed commentary for her aesthetic choices in videos such as “Sade in the 90s.” Even Justin Timberlake began his solo career idolizing the trendy and profitable careers of Black R&B singers (and to this day continues to idolize aspects of Black culture).

The problem with heralding singers that straddle the line between “culture vulture” and art appreciator as poster children for large profitable “black-owned” tours is that it negates the work Black artists with fewer Twitter followers and streaming numbers have done to make it to this point. This type of marketing sends a harmful message to young musicians, too. Putting Justin Bieber at the top of this bill tells these younger fans that to make it big, you need to ride the coattails of White America. You need to be a few shades lighter, a little more ambiguous, a little more people-pleasing. In other words, the formula isn’t broken. The formula is normal.

As much as performers must cater to a persona, digitization has forced music streamers to reassess their purchasing behavior, especially during periods of massive economic stress (i.e., during a pandemic). Music tastes have also changed, reflecting a more formidable and optimistically “woke” public interested in promoting authenticity. “Normal” doesn’t work anymore. Music fans want realness, period, especially when they’re choosing to spend their hard-earned dollars in a competitive entertainment market stealing jobs away from Black and Brown performers. Did we forget that, at one point in America, Black musicians couldn’t find work because of white people in authority?

That’s not to say that white people can’t appreciate hip-hop culture or become influential parts of the movement. What fans care about, however, are the success stories of artists choosing ethical dollars over exposure bucks. Fans want to know that the Justin Timberlakes and Justin Biebers of the world aren’t latching onto Black culture to stay relevant, but because they care about advancing the movement forward (i.e., progress). They want to know their hearts are in the right place. Bieber’s survival in hip hop is symptomatic of a larger shift in music trends: You no longer need a “come up” story to be successful. As someone who has openly admitted to benefiting from Black culture, vowing to do the work to fight racial injustice, this is the one tour Bieber could’ve sat out.

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