Friday, May 1, 2015

Common Intimacy at MIST Harlem; Many Splendid Reasons Janelle Monae Should Be on Cloud Nine and Beyond

No laughing matter: Album cover for Common's "Nobody's Smiling." Photo from Common Facebook page.

HEADS UP: Welcome to the debut of the Musical Notes column. It is a digest of musical goings-on – regardless of genre – around the world. It will appear once or twice a month on Fridays. Musical Notes could be a concert, interview, article, record release, mini-review, benefit, interesting sighting ... Essentially, news from the world of music. Strike up the band!

YOURS TRULY is about to be introduced to one of the stars of Queen Latifah's basketball film, “Just Wright” (2010).

We are on the roof of New York City's Empire Hotel for the film's afterparty. He is lounging on one of the sofas – chilling out. Introductions are imminent. Suddenly, he stands. Looking me in the eye and extending his hand, he reveals his name. I extend mine and my name. We shake and chat briefly.

That was the night that I met Common. That same night he registered on my radar. A common moniker for an uncommon fellow born Lonnie Rashid Lynn.

That was my up close and personal moment.

“Enjoy an intimate evening w/ me in NYC on May 6th,” Common wrote on his Facebook page a couple of weeks ago.

Earlier that night at the “Just Wright” premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre, I'd chatted with Common's parents on the red carpet. Nice folks. Boyfriend was raised. And he was raised right. It should not have been a surprise that he would stand to greet someone, especially a lady.

In a few days – next week Wednesday to be exact – New York can get close to Common, too. That is, the part of New York that can fit into the square footage of My Image Studios (MIST) Harlem for the instrumental, spoken word and musical program, “Up Close & Personal With Common Presented by MIST Harlem.”

The multimedia, multipurpose space in Harlem's west 116th street corridor bills itself as a nexus of African Diaspora art, culture, music and cuisine (Madiba Harlem, Madiba Cafe&Lounge).

MIST Harlem is fast gaining a reputation as a go-to spot, not just in Harlem but in New York City at-large, adding its two cents toward the quarter's transformation into a Harlem Renaissance 2.0. MIST Harlem has recently hosted Danny Glover and Lauryn Hill. Comers include John Quinones (12 May) and Bill T. Jones (17 May).

After that introduction, Common was no longer just another rapper-turned-actor. He wasn't just about making coin, I would learn. He had a conscience, too, supporting any number of good causes. Busy work that inspired him to give up anti-gay lyrics. Well done. Now, if he would leave off with nigger/nigga and all of its irksome iterations.

Alas, that ignoble word finds itself on “Nobody's Smiling,” his critically acclaimed latest album (2014). One may be convinced to give him a pass, since it isn't uttered ad nauseum. And because the record is his outcry against the epidemic black male-on-black male crime that has been dogging the streets of his native Chicago.

The newly-minted Academy Award winner is an encourager, too. Not just to those trying to better themselves, but to those who should better themselves. Part of the credit for Serena Williams 2.0 should go to her ex.

Common admonished her to do her best, not squander her prodigious talent and legacy. From his lips to her ears and massive serve, improved footwork and lightning speed at 30-something. (See video above of Common's Academy Award acceptance speech).

One has to expect a song or two from “Nobody's Smiling” to find its way into his performance at MIST Harlem. Incidentally, on the bill with him are Amit Choudhary, Killeenaraye Rodriguez, Doe Wiz et al.

Commoner and Queen on the red carpet in New York for the premiere of "Just Wright." Archive photo.

At this writing, Common is expected in Henrietta, New York (Gene Polisseni Center) on 8 May, Washington, D.C. (Capitol Riverfront Yards Park) on 13 June and on 2 July in New Orleans (Essence Music Festival). No doubt, other dates will be added to his touring schedule.

Sometime today, he posted a gentle reminder on Facebook: “May 6th. Up Close and Personal. Harlem.”

From his lips to your ears.

Visit to learn more about and buy tickets to “Up Close & Personal With Common Presented by MIST Harlem.”
Visit to learn more about My Image Studios (MIST) Harlem.
Visit to learn more about “Nobody's Smiling,” Common's tour schedule and general information.
Visit to learn more about Madiba Harlem.

Can You Blame Janelle Monae If She Suddenly Breaks Out in 'I Feel Good'?

JANELLE Monae is probably over the moon. Riding high. On top of the world.

And why shouldn't she be?

Reason No. 1: She slays in black.

Her rep as a consummate concert performer has her in demand all over the world, just as it was the other night when she was the headliner at the Spring Fling in New York City. (See video above).

Reason No. 2: JM is beautiful.

It's as if the diminutive singer preordained the fine weather for the Friends of the Hudson River inaugural party/fundraiser (Spring Fling) in the Winter Garden of the upmarket shopping, dining and cultural emporium, Brookfield Place.

The jollification was in the name of a good cause: preserving Hudson River Park. (

Reason No. 3: She runs her own record label, Wondaland Art Society.

The Spring Fling deal was sweetened for guests/donors – including JM BFF at the moment Uzoamaka Nwaneka "Uzo" Aduba (“Orange Is the New Black") and Margot Bingham ("Boardwalk Empire") – with eats from Le District. Think of the feedinghole curated by restaurateur Peter Poulakakos as a more intimate, French version of Eataly.

The Eephus effect: Roman GianArthur, Alex Belle and Isis Valentino of St. Beauty; Jidenna; Janelle Monae; Nate Wonder, Chuck Lightening of Deep Cotton. Photo from Janelle Monae Facebook page.

Reason No. 4: Wondaland Arts Society has a new partner in L.A. Reid's Epic Records and a new name, Wondaland Records.

It is shows like the one the multiple Grammy nominee brought to Spring Fling that has contributed to her steady rise toward the top for the last five years or so.

Reason No. 5: And, and, and, on 6 May (Wednesday) “The Eephus” drops. The EP is the first collaboration between Epic and Wondaland. It is a music co-op, or in JM's words, a "collective."

The six-song record features acts from Wondaland's own stable. Aside from JM: St. Beauty (Alex Belle, Roman GianArthur, Isis Valentino), Deep Cotton (Nate Wonder, Chuck Lightening) and Jidenna

Reason No. 6: JM is talented.

A month or so ago, the Kansas City native released a teaser from “The Eephus” titled “Yoga” (with Jidenna). It's a danceable, catchy R&B/hip hop song. Nothing extraordinary. Not her soulfunkadelica.

And "Yoga" is lyrically suggestive in a way that heretofore was not JM's style, it has been much remarked upon. One must concede that "Yoga" does sound like a title straight outta Rihanna/Brittany/Beyonce's songbook.

Consider: Baby, bend over/ let me see you do that yoga (refrain) and You can't police this / so get off my areola. (See video at left).

Reason No. 7: In white, JM is divine.

As they say in baseball, here's to hoping Janelle Monae is the game-changer (the Eephus).

Visit to learn more about “The Eephus,” Janelle Monae's tour schedule and general information; visit to learn more about "Spring Fling."

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