Boy Wonder: Up and Coming Artist Hak!m Discusses Making Music and Making a Difference



Originally published on on 6/22/2017 at:

Hak!m is your average 16 year old. He’s looking forward to a summer off from school, hanging with his friends, and catching up on all the things he didn’t get to do during the school year. He is also my nephew and an aspiring songwriter. Unlike your average 16 year old looking forward to a summer of leisure, Hak!m plans to put in work and that work all focuses on elevating his music and artistry to new heights. While he has been honing his skills songwriting, composing and writing rhymes and lyrics, year round, this summer, Hak!m has his sights on performing.
Hak!m began entering summer showcases a few months ago performing in his first this month. As a young child, Hak!m performed and participated in shows and recitals where he was able to demonstrate his talents and what he learned through lessons and practice, but he never felt ready to enter competitions and perform his original music until recently. Hak!m decided it was time to get into the performance arena when he saw an advertisement on Instagram for a summer showcase in his home state of Connecticut. He took a chance and was accepted as one of the youngest to compete.
“I instantly knew that I wanted to enter. It was a platform where I could finally perform for a big crowd and express myself and showcase my music. I’m performing a song called ‘What Would You Do?’ It’s about my life, asking the listener to be in my shoes. I’m a 16 year old black male; it’s rough sometimes. I’m not homeless, but I go through stuff. For example, I’m big dude for my age. I’m 6’ 4” 1/2, people mistake me for being grown— 19, college age— but I’m a kid. I don’t even have a driver’s permit. But I know what people see. So, I put how I feel about those perceptions in my music.”
It was easy for Hak!m to turn to music as a form of expression because he always knew he wanted to make music. It was something that he came by naturally as his family had been actively involved in the arts, specifically music. “I always wanted to make music, I was always making music. My [paternal] grandmother was an actress and artist, on my maternal side my grandfather was a DJ here in the early 1980’s and my grandmother has directed musicals for public school children since long before I was born, like since when my mom was a kid, so I guess it came naturally.”
Hak!m recorded his first song less than a year ago. “The first song I recorded, I went to a studio called Ivy League Studios. There was basically just myself, I met the engineer and we just got to work. I put in the beat I made, he liked it. He didn’t believe that I wrote it at first; I was 15 at the time, I’m 16 now. The song is called ‘Run,’ it took me a few takes to get it right, he was a nice dude but warned me that engineers can be demanding. So I kept that in mind while recording.” The experience inspired Hak!m to build his own home recording studio so he can record his music, but also to learn the principles of engineering so he can one day produce other artists who will record his compositions.
While this summer marks Ha!km’s performing debut, he has been writing and composing songs for quite some time. “The first song I wrote, I was about 7. I can’t remember the title, but I was living at my [maternal] grandmother’s house and my mom was going back and forth between home in Connecticut and New York for work. I wrote how I felt about that in song. My mom didn’t want me to be concerned about her traveling so much all to take care of me and give me a good life. She didn’t know how much I knew about it, but I expressed it in this song.” Shortly after writing that first song, Hak!m began learning to play instruments. began playing instruments after that. “I started lessons, piano and guitar at first, I played trombone and violin in school, but didn’t stick with violin much. Piano, guitar and drums are what I stuck with and still play.”
When asked about his writing style, Hak!m calls it “versatile, mainly hip-hop, but there are R&B elements and I make a few instrumentals, too. I always loved hip-hop— it’s my first choice in making music— and old school R&B, but I also came to like other styles, alternative music like Nirvana, Imagine Dragons, and Fall Out Boy.” While he is learning to enjoy performing, Hak!m says his overall goals are to “write and produce” for himself and others. It is that goal that pushes him to write as much as he does— almost daily— and it’s that desire to write that makes Hak!m such a wonder.
“Some people make music and write music they like. No shade toward some, but if you grew up listening to Guwap all your life and you are like, ‘I want to be like Gucci Mane,’ you will make music like it, but when you never lived like that it never sounds real. There’s a rapper named Logic who straight up told about his life; it was authentic. He was telling you a story from his past. It’s counterproductive when you are making music and making money and still talking about how you are running the streets when you know you aren’t. There’s no ending in that. When you are sharing a story about your history and trying to come up from that, then it’s a whole different scenario.
“The song ‘Run’ was inspired by me wanting to run away at one point from life. Being a teenager is hard, it is. Some people diminish the trials of being a kid, but there are things we go through and things we grow through. Some have it better than others but the stresses are all the same. Trying to fit in, certain pressures of being a teen. So I write about those things, things I go through. I wrote other songs, like songs about how we, as men, treat women. It wasn’t too deep. I wasn’t trying to be deep, but I wanted to put that out in the open because being in a family of women, I’m the only boy in my immediate family, I respect the women in my family, my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins. I’ve also written some danceable, fun songs, but I really prefer to write about life and what people go through; just every day life.”
Although he is just starting out as a performer, Hak!m has definite thoughts about his longevity as a performer and writer that is steeped in his aforementioned love for the old school: “Being honest with myself, I don’t want to be put in a creative box, where people say, ‘okay, you did that one song’ and expect you to keep doing the same song over and over again. I want to reaction where people say, ‘you’re going to be a legend because of all the songs you write,’ and that’s what I want to be. It’s not for the accolades, I want people to say I’m a legend because I made an impact in my community and that I gave voice to people who don’t have one from my area. The Springfield, Hartford, New Haven, Bloomfield, Connecticut areas. Even people struggling in D.C., where I spent my early years. I want to give back to people. I want to help people. If I make money from this, I will put things in our communities to help us like building affordable health clinics where people pay little to nothing, $2.00 for a visit or medication, a community health clinic, something in our communities that we build and we sustain. That’s what I mean. Build and invest in grocery stores. In these areas, you will see a convenience store on every corner, but not a grocery store and the ones that are close enough by several miles, people can’t get there because lack of transportation. How are people supposed to be healthy, happy and take care of their families if they don’t have access and opportunity? That’s what I want to use my artistic platform to do, to express myself, make good music, expand into different areas as a designer, businessman, educator, etc., but also help my community and those like mine. That’s legendary to me.”
It’s legendary to me, too, Hak!m.
Other quotes from Hak!m about his life and music:
– “In the 90s you had Lil’ Bow Wow, Romeo, and Kris Kross There are some young rappers, now, and they’re popular like Lil’ Pump, I respect him for being 16 and doing his thing.”
– “The transition from teens to adult in entertainment is difficult and not all artists are able to do that successfully like Beyonce. I think this is where my size helps me, people won’t see a 16 year old, they will see an older person. I carry myself like I’m older and I talk to adults who really help me analyze things on that level.”
– “Hak!m is my stage name, but it comes from my last name, Hakim. It wasn’t my original, I came up with a list, but I chose that one because it leaves me feeling like myself; I don’t have to create a persona to go along with it. That’s my name, that’s me. Like Nas, his name is Nasir, and he kept that. The wave of hip-hop artists using their given names like Kendrick [Lamar], came back around and that’s a new way of expressing oneself in hip hop. But you have artists who will use a stage names, Stevie Wonder is a stage name. His name is Steveland Judkins. I always thought it was Wonder, I have a friend whose last name is Wonder so I thought Stevie was using his real name. But that fits him, he is a “wonder.” I think using your name, especially when it was given or chosen for you specifically is bold, it means you aren’t pretending to be anyone else, you are yourself.”
– “I became sociopolitical in my music in trying to strike a balance. I have my political stuff, but I also talk about the things other artists talk about like life and girls, it’s not all about politics, but my politics are there.”
– “My favorite hip hop producers are the established ones like J Dilla, Swizz, Pete Rock, Timbaland, Pharell, Kanye. I like artist-producers. I also like the new ones Frank Duke, Wonder Girl, Vinylz, Boy Wonder, T-Minus (he makes good beats, solid melodies), Eastbound, and Metro Boomin’.”
– “As far as artists I like and want to aspire to be like are Kanye (because he does everything), Drake (he’s versatile; honestly, there’s nothing wrong with widening your horizons as an artist), I love Kendrick, he will go down as a legend in hip-hop, that is a fact. I also love J Cole, Big Sean, I’ve always been a Big Sean fan. G-Eazy. I was a B.O.B fan for a time, but no so much now. Then I study the classics like Pac, Big, Jay, KRS, Nas, Big Daddy Kane.”
– “I like the old school. From the old school, I think the main thing I draw from the artists is putting yourself, your personality in it, like Biggie, he opened up to put his emotions out there, Pac, too, they all did and that’s what I try to do.”
You can hear “Run” by Hak!m on Soundcloud at Follow Hak!m on Twitter @YaBoiHakim.


Soul Cry: Prince

In 2009, I lost a friend I grew up with. I was so devastated, it took one year, 18 days, 3 hours and 12 minutes before I cried for her. I know because I counted every second, every day, every week. When I finally did break down, it was a gut-wrenching cry from somewhere deep in my soul; a place I hoped would never reveal itself again. I don’t remember sleeping, eating or anything else, really, but for four days I cried non-stop.

I have this amazingly innate ability to compartmentalize my feelings; a coping mechanism I am sure was developed as a child, but that September day in 2010 when I finally cried, I knew a pain for which I was unprepared.  I struggled through it and in 2012, I put it away in its own neat little compartment in my heart and in the recesses of my mind. And that was that.

Or so I thought.

I woke up a year ago today and that pain I packed away four years prior was the first thing I saw staring at me from across the room. It said, “Pop Icon Prince Dead At Age 57.” I stared back in utter confusion and disbelief, my head swimming as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing.  The man, whom I never met, but through his gift, his tenacity, and his drive shaped who I was.  I learned about life from him; he helped me to embrace all of who I am, to love every part and to never apologize for being authentically myself.  For that I will always be grateful.

Today, my soul cries. One year and my soul still cries for him. It feels like that September day in 2010 all over again. I don’t like this new reality at all, but this time, I won’t be putting my feelings away in some compartment, I will just deal.

We will all just have to deal.

And the world will understand because Prince didn’t belong to just one of us, he belonged to all of us, he was our gift from God sent here to remind us that there’s no shame or sin in being ourselves. And to love who we are, unconditionally, just as we loved and still love him.

My post, “I Wish U [Soul] Heaven” from April 21, 2016:

I woke up this morning and my heart was broken, shattered into a million pieces, and my tears fell to the ground like (purple) rain. It hurts, it burns and it has left me truly overwhelmed with emotions I cannot clearly define. To me, artists like him, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Teena Marie were immortal. They each occupy a special place in my heart, in my very soul. They were my favorites. They could do no wrong and could never die.  They were here, they gave us all they could possibly give and then one day, without notice, they were gone. He was the last and now, like Michael, Marvin and Teena, he is gone.

Gone. My Prince is gone and I am devastated.

I believe there is a soul heaven, a “place where all the good [soul] children go.” Today, it’s gates opened and welcomed him. The last of my musical idols who transcended the boundaries of musical artistry has now transitioned. My final inspiration is gone and I feel it in every possible way.

Rest eternally in New Power Soul, my sweet Prince. Take your seat beside the King of Pop, the Prince of Motown and the Ivory Queen of Soul. You’ve more than earned it.


BIVISMS: After 30 years in the industry, Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe continues to inspire and influence with his own “brand” of self (2011)

In 2011, I was Editor-In-Chief of an online music magazine, On The Rise.  In addition to my editorial duties, I also wrote two columns.  One of those columns was a “Where Are They Now” type of feature where I found and located some of my favorite artists from my youth to learn about their work today. My first piece was the result of an interview with Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe fame.  In honor of the excellently produced, scripted and acted BET miniseries, The New Edition Story, which is airing this week, I present the article I wrote back then.  I also wrote about Ralph Tresvant and will post that piece, if I can locate it, as well.  This article is printed in its original form, including all photographs.


196b2eb9Michael Bivins in New York City, courtesy of

Over the last 20 years, Michael Bivins has discovered and crafted the images of some of the most infamous groups in R&B.  As a member of both New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe, the former head of his own distributed label, Creative Consultant for Season 4 of Diddy’s “Making the Band,” and as former host of TNT Overtime’s “Running The Point With Michael Bivins,” he stays active behind the scenes, seeking opportunities where he can grow his empire and expand his strength and an entrepreneur.  Today he is the Founder and CEO of Sporty Rich Enterprises, a multifaceted “lifestyle” company that focuses on music, fashion, community, and entertainment.  He has been recognized as a “Man of Influence”, inspiring so many artists in the industry and one writer in particular…1423611528-h

“The girl led me to the music…”

       Most women can remember their first celebrity “crush.”  I do, for sure.  But how many of us think about just how that person has influenced our lives in the now, or about the impact they’ve had over the years as we grow into the women we will ultimately become?  Or better yet, how they inspire our attraction to the type of men we will allow into our dating pool and how they will dress?  They say that the image of a man is often enhanced by the woman he chooses to stand beside him.  This is very true.  But, a man’s words are equally powerful in the lives of women and he can influence how she sees herself, or how she wants others to see her.  

       And most times, he can just not know it.  

       As I began exploring ideas for whom I would like the first person featured in this new column for On The Rise Magazine, I really began to look at those who inspired me and helped create a mosaic of personality that lives in this one body.  

       The more I thought about it, the personality was part of a larger image and when I look in the mirror—the one made of glass in my bedroom and the mirror of my mind, I see my shoes.  

       My Shoes.

       You can tell a lot about someone just by the shoes they wear.  But we often never know why people choose the shoes that they do. I love my shoes. More specifically, I love my stilettos. Why? Because of something I heard that celebrity crush from my teens say once back in 1991 in an interview with Donnie Simpson on Video Soul, a “Bivism,” if you will, and one of many that have inspired me over the years.   These words, from various interviews and appearances, have helped create an image that is as much a part of who I am as the birthmark over my left eye.  And with that in mind, there was no doubt that I would begin this column by interviewing Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe fame.

       Our interview was more like a conversation between old friends, and it became evident that from the onset, his early years—even before his New Edition days—Biv was and would always be an image maker.  He understands that your image is your brand and, in entertainment, your brand is your business.  

       It is this knowledge and the work that he has put into it for so long that has given him a rare type of longevity in the business.

mikebiv1Michael Bivins in New York City, courtesy of

“I just want them to know when they say ‘cool’ they could put my name on the list.”

       What I have always admired about Biv is his sense of cool.  He had “cool” long before Obama came to sport it in politics, and it was all in him: how he’d stand, pose in pictures, and especially in his impeccable fashion sense.  Biv attributes his cool to someone he admired growing up in Roxbury, MA. “When I was younger, Bobby’s [Brown] older sister’s boyfriend, Charlie…was immaculate to be living in the projects.  He gave us vision…he had a vision of how you should carry yourself.”  

       Still quite young, Biv had the drive to ensure he was equally immaculate, despite being the same kind of kid from the projects.  

        Before he joined New Edition, Biv played basketball and noticed that all the older ball players always had fresh haircuts, especially right before the games.  Not having the money to get a haircut, every week for himself, he went to the barber shop owner and asked how he could help out around the shop to be to able to afford one.  The owner hired Biv to sweep up hair in his shop every day during the week after school and in exchange, on Saturday mornings before his games, Biv got a fresh “Caesar” cut.

       When New Edition formed, Biv was always eager to express himself through fashion and would help coordinate the group’s outfits for videos and live performances.  He helped to craft their image as the “Jackson 5 of the ‘hood.”  But Biv had his sights on becoming the ‘hood version of another music legend.


“Quincy Jones in the ‘Hood”

       Even from the early days of New Edition, Biv was as much behind the scenes working to help brand the group as he was performing as one of its founding members.  Inspired by the group’s manager during the early days, Brooke Payne, having at one time called him “Quincy Jones in the hood,” this was the type of businessman Biv patterned himself after.  This was the kind of executive he aspired to be: one who had the most sought after groups and artists in the industry.

       And that is who he would become.

       Riding high on the success of the 1988 New Edition release, “N.E. Heartbreak,” members Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill took a hiatus from the group to pursue solo careers.  “The three were left alone on their own,” and at the suggestion of legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who produced “N.E. Heartbreak,” Biv and fellow New Edition members Ronnie Devoe and Ricky Bell formed Bell Biv Devoe.  Originally, the group called themselves “Bell Bivins Devoe.  It was Biv’s idea to shorten his own name to make it more trendy.  

       Again, Biv found himself in the business of imaging for the group.

       In 1990, their debut album, Poison, named after a song (my theme song) produced by up and coming producers at the time, Spyderman and Dr. Freeze, was a fusion of R&B, Hip-Hop and Pop.  It was a brand they called, “hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel, appeal to it.”  The title track became a number one single on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart.  The title track and it’s follow up, Do Me! , both reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The album went on to sell over 3 million copies and spawn a remix album that was also a success.

       What was so appealing to audiences at the time was not only the music, but also BBD’s style.  It was a style that was a bit more “hardcore” than what New Edition had been sporting, far more representative of the streets where Biv and the rest of the guys grew up.  It was “boots, sneakers, pants inside out with the cuff, leather case for the beepers, baseball cap with the tag, an extra-large shirt to compliment the sag.”  

       It was a new decade.  Biv didn’t just help to pioneer the brand for the group, he also helped to pioneer the “look” for the early ‘90’s, a trend which he continued for the next six years, beginning “one day back in Philly [when] four guys wanted to sing,” and Biv landed his first major discovery.  

bivs-visionMichael Bivins courtesy of

“I had a vision…”

       When it comes to finding talent, Biv says “it’s not always about finding the best singers, dancers, or rappers.”  Sometimes, it may be “that group that didn’t win the talent show.”  He looks specifically for “what’s missing” in music and in the industry, goes searching for it, and develops it into the level of showmen New Edition had been molded into in their early years.  He goes to talent shows and sits quietly observing, often seeing the potential those around him don’t.  However, sometimes, the talent finds him, as was the case with Boyz II Men.

       As the group’s Manager and Creative Director, Biv branded Boys II Men as purveyors of the “Alexvanderpoolera.”  It was one of the first offerings of “geek-chic,” actually, inspired by a soap opera character named Alex Vanderpool. This era was as much about the fashion as it was about the music; maybe even more so when you consider not every teenage boy can sing like “Nate, Mike, Shawn and Wan,” but they sure rocked the hell out of some denim shorts, colorful button down shirts, printed ties and Converse (I must admit, I kind of did like the Converse).  But Biv also knew this brand wasn’t going to appeal to everyone, so he also made sure to brand them as “cool cats,” too, like himself with the full-length Shearling leather coats and boots.

       Boyz II Men’s debut album, Cooliehighharmony, was Executive Produced by Biv.  The album spawned three #1 R&B singles, one of which went platinum (1 million units sold) and another which went gold (500,000 units sold); it was ranked #45 in Billboard’s Top 200 of the decade, 1990-1999; was a Diamond-Certified record before the RIAA even began certifying sales in excess of 10 million as such, leaving it to remain just a “10 times platinum” record.  These are accomplishments many in the industry now take for granted. 

       Contrary to rumor and speculation over the years, it was his success with Boyz II Men that forced Biv to have to take on more responsibilities as the head of Biv 10 Records, his new label that was to be distributed by Motown Records.  Both parties agreed that the group would be better off with a manager who could give their full attention to maintaining the group’s success.  The split was amicable, no drama, no fuss, and probably was the decision that yielded the result they had all hoped for: Boyz II Men became the biggest selling male-vocal group of the 1990’s.

       In talking with him, it becomes apparent that while he and the rest of New Edition have inspired so many artists and entrepreneurs, Biv is still extremely humbled when the conversation explores his individual influence on others, like a young intern who would later become known as Diddy.  

       Boyz II Men being the biggest group of their time, and seeing the success Biv and Motown were having with the group, other labels began to promote and market groups of this caliber and hiring “Bivites,” to develop their image.  However, at that time no other group could be more similarly aligned with Boyz II Men on style than Jodeci.  

       When Uptown Record’s co-founder Andre Harrell handed Jodeci off to a young intern named Sean “Puffy” Combs (whose voice can at times sound strangely enough like Biv’s) to help craft an image for the group, it is not surprising he looked to the biggest group and created an alter image, but in the same fashion of “cool.”  Diddy demonstrated the same ambition, to want to have his group’s success parallel or supersede the success of Biv’s group, that Biv had in wanting to be like New Edition’s manager.  

       It really isn’t surprising how that came to be, either. There were less than six degrees of separation between Biv and Diddy at that time.  Diddy made an appearance in label mate Stacey Lattisaw’s video “What You Need.”  Biv and the rest of New Edition, in 2004, would release an album, One Love, on Diddy’s Bad Boy label.  Diddy even hired Biv to serve as Creative Consultant for his Making The Band Series, to help craft the image of an all male-vocal group that was to become Day 26.

biv-doing-what-i-do-1Michael Bivins courtesy of

“I don’t judge….I just keep doing what I do…”

       Having been in the business of music for nearly three decades, he’s often asked what he thinks about the current state of music and how the industry is handling artists.  Biv admittedly does not judge other artists, he listens to what’s out there, but focuses on the music that he’s working on currently with groups he’s developing, including an all male-group from Boston called the Beano Boyz.  He not only helps to craft their image, but also teaches them how to be entertainers, versus just a singing group.  

       This is something he does find lacking in the industry, the grooming of legends.  In fact, he said exactly what was in my head as we broached the subject, “everyone is trying to focus on make stars, not a legend.”  He acknowledges the usefulness of technology in helping to advance how many options people have in choosing how they will consume the product, but believes taking the time to make a quality product is what leads to the kind of success he’s seen in life stating, “It’s too easy to be in the game now. [We’ve] lost that big wall you used to have to work hard to climb over.”  

bivs-million-dollar-attitudr-3Michael Bivins courtesy of

“Everyone is not going to be rich, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sport a million dollar attitude.”

       With his new company Sporty Rich Enterprises, Biv is revitalizing a part of the business that has long been put to rest, the role of Artist and Repertoire Director as Entrepreneur.  It was a tactic that worked for Berry Gordy in establishing Motown and its 41 imprints, and has undoubtedly worked for Biv in the past.  

       It is also what Biv sees is “missing” in the business right now.  

       He believes that money doesn’t necessarily have to dictate who you are or who you will become, that you can be poor and raised in the projects, as was he, and still carry yourself as if you had the wealth of a Bill Gates.  From his perspective, this does not mean getting involved in illegal activity, but tapping into your entrepreneurial spirit, being creative, and learning the art of negotiation.  It’s about finding your talents and strengths and branding them, becoming that thing, that person, that spirit that other people are missing, will want, and ultimately find that they need. That is what Biv’s influence has been about all these years.

biv-still-hereMichael Bivins courtesy of

“I think lasting this long is my biggest moment…”

       If what Biv has accomplished for himself isn’t demonstrative enough of his long-term influence, perhaps this may be.  Remember how I began this article talking about the words of a man and their impact on a woman?  Consider all the Bivisms I’ve shared with you throughout this writing.  Now consider this:

     Take a young woman out of one of the poorest cities in New England not much different than Biv’s Roxbury, let’s call it “Elm City.”  

       Imagine “she’s the pretty in pink that makes you think,” an attractive woman, whose favorite color is pink, with a level of intelligence that far exceeds her physical beauty and simultaneously enhances it.  

        Throw in a bit of silly (okay, a whole lot of that because laughter is life), a little “gangsta,” that really just makes her more a product of where she’s from than anything else, just enough to give her the persistence and strength of mind to approach life with type of fearlessness one only finds in a hustler, and finally give her a “mental” that is more metaphysical than most and allows her to “feel” people.  

       Put a pair of stilettos on her (the higher the better) and name her, “Iesha,” spell it with an “A” and drop the “E.”  

       I suppose you would say I just described myself, from my name right down to my shoes.  However, what I just described is the very essence of me, which in turn was not crafted by me, just adapted by me.  I am another (bad) Michael Bivins creation, my very own brand, starting— as I did this article— with the shoes.  I have done what others have done throughout the years, lifted a few things from his vision, in this case of women, as expressed in many of those Bivisms on record and added my own flair. And there have been so many of his words throughout the years that have helped shape me into the woman I have become and will continue to be.

       However, of all the Bivisms I could quote and have quoted, the words I think will have the most influence on me moving forward in life and in continuing to create my own brand now on the business side were not what he recorded, but rather, those he spoke directly to me: “You have a good spirit and a good energy about you” and “You’re a great writer.”

       And those words, just like “the pumps,” my shoes, I will never, ever forget.

You can find out more about what Biv’s up to and view the latest webisode in his series at

Follow Biv on Twitter @MikeBiv.

To view Mike’s 2009 solo single “Fresh” featuring The Clipse and Lil’ Kim, visit:

Why 2016 Is The Year I Don’t Want To Remember, But Will Never Forget


In less than three hours, 2016 will be but a harsh memory and 2017 will begin.  What can I say about the year I don’t care to remember but will never forget?  In a nutshell, 2016 has been the year nothing made sense.  Prince is dead and Donald Trump, imp that he is, was elected to serve as the 45th President of the United States. And I don’t understand any of it. Not at all.

It is like I entered into some unparalleled universe on April 21 where the lines of reality, fantasy, and horror were corroded and much of my time since has been spent trying to find my way out of it; or last least find peace and some semblance of sensibility where there appears to be none.  And common sense, such that it is, seems to be on a permanent vacation.

It has left my heart not wanting to leave this year behind even though my head knows better. It was a terrible year, one I wish I could forget. But because of these nonsensical circumstances, I doubt I ever will be able to erase it from my mind.

Everything that happened this year was colored by the loss of my idol, my most favorite musical talent of all time, and a teacher of sorts.  If I had to say one person who taught me as much, if not more than my parents, one person I could look to and say, “he helped raise me,” that person would be Prince.  And he never knew it.  Through his music I learned things about love, sex and that being different isn’t so much the detriment we tend to believe, but a unique gift bestowed on only a select few.  Being different, quirky, is something to be celebrated, out in the open with no regrets.  I also learned from him that it can, at times, be a lonely existence when you are different by societal standards.  He gave us his music and that was often, for me, the gift I needed to make it through many lonely days as a child and teenager.

His influence on my life, through his music, has had a greater impact than can ever be expressed in words and I am hurt beyond belief that he no longer walks this earth and by how he left it behind.  There is a hole here that no other artist or person can fill. I am 42, and I will live the rest of my life in a world he is not a part of.  At midnight, we will enter into the first year of my lifetime where he does not exist, but as a memory, and I am devastated.  The election in November was just insult to injury and solidified my stance that 2016 was the worst year ever.  On some level I am glad it is almost gone. On another, I wish I could go back to March, equipped with all the knowledge April 21st on has provided.

I hope that 2017 will prove to be a lot kinder, more loving and spare us our legends. I hope… but if I learned anything from 2016, there are no promises, no guarantees. And life, as we have learned all too painfully, can be fleeting.

Prince, you were greatly loved and are greatly missed.

***Upon finishing this article, I learned 1977 was a more deadly year for celebrities. I don’t know why The Telegraph, CNN, and others thought this would be some sort of consolation, especially for those of us who can’t remember 1977, but they did. And it was insensitive, to say the least.

Wherever You Are (For Prince)

Six months….half a year….
When I lost a friend some years ago, my sister told me that time passes, seasons change and the only thing that remains the same is the pain that someone who once was is no longer here. So I have come to not only view death as the passage of time, but as days turn into months, I view it as the passage of seasons and eventually, like all things, seasons return.
Wherever You Are (For Prince)
Spring has passed, taking you with her.
And I am jealous that she can now be wherever you are for eternity.
Summer came and away she went, too…to that place you now call home.
That place…
The one that is so very far from me.
With fall comes memories of you I have always held dear.
But soon she, too, will go away to be yours and bask with you in that heavenly place.
Then winter will hit me with her coldness before she goes to find you as well.
I know Spring will return, not the one I wish I could have again, but one who knows you,
And where you are.
And when she does,
In April, I will ask her to tell me the good word.
“How has he been?
What new sounds have you heard?”

Guest Feature: #NoDAPL and the Invisibility of Native Americans in Mainstream Media News


The movement to preserve the ancestral grounds of Native American tribes in the Dakotas is one I can identify with, not only as a matter of humanity, but also because my ancestors who were slaves have had their cemeteries uprooted, destroyed and used as revenue generating properties.  Furthermore, tampering with the water supply is dangerous and could create all sorts of issues should water become scarce or we experience a drought. As an ally to the movement, I wanted to address this issue, but in being a good ally, I recognize those I support must be heard—their own words and experiences and my role as an ally is to just be supportive and silent when they do voice their concerns.  That said, this piece here was written by a dear friend, Barbara MorningStar Paul, who is Native American and who has been on these front lines.  We need to hear this and we need to call mainstream media to task for such an egregious oversight.  Hear what Barbara has to say and then share it with others who also feel the media can do better in its approach to social justice .

               ~A. K. Staggers

My name is Barbara MorningStar Paul and I am a long-time resident of South Carolina. As the Dakota Access Pipeline story moves forward, I have begun reflecting on what is and is not important to national and local news outlets these days. Some people are aware that there is a peaceful camp of over 5,000 people, Native American and non-native, protecting the ancestral lands and sacred waters of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Over 150 tribes are supporting the protest. This is the largest gathering of Native American tribes in one place in over 100 years. People who were enemies for centuries are praying, eating, and protecting the land together in an amazing, peaceful camp of song and prayer. That number was expected to reach 10,000 by Friday, when a federal judge made a decision regarding halting the pipeline – a suit filed by the Standing Rock tribe. This decision was announced in Washington DC on September 9, where many demonstrators gathered in anticipation of the verdict.  

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple and the local county law enforcement have deployed the North Dakota National Guard, supposedly to protect those traveling on the roads near the camp. This is alarmingly similar to other acts of violence towards protesters – Kent State, Wounded Knee, yet local and national media have been slow to cover these incidents of violence, if at all.

The 30-inch pipeline would carry about 450,000 barrels of oil per day.  The pipeline is planned to begin near Stanley, North Dakota, in the Bakken oil fields and end in Patoka, Illinois.  From there, the oil can potentially be sent to the Gulf Coast or shipped to other markets via another pipeline, which is also creating protests and concerns.

The Dakota Pipeline Access, owned by Energy Transfer, Inc. has taken violent action towards the protectors, and has allowed their goons – they call them security – to unleash dogs and mace on innocent men, women and even children. Many people do NOT know, due to a complete blackout by mainstream media, including WISTV, WACH FOX, WLTX and The State Newspaper here in Columbia, South Carolina – our state capital. These “media” also refused to cover a peaceful demonstration on the grounds of our State House in Columbia last month, not even answering repeated press releases and calls to please come.

The situation has now become increasingly dangerous for the people at Standing Rock in the enormous camps set up to protect the water. Native people began this camp last April to protect the reservation from the very probable contamination of the river, from where they obtain all of their drinking water. Make no mistake – not just Native Americans are in danger from this pipeline. There have been 414 pipeline accidents in the US since 2000. That is an average of 26 per year. There have been 18 of these in 2016 thus far. These accidents have caused deaths, injuries and loss of environment and property.

This issue affects every American, everywhere. Seven protectors at the Standing Rock camp were arrested. Thirty people in Ohio– non-native – have been protesting and have been arrested. Al Gore’s daughter was arrested in Boston while attending a demonstration protesting the pipeline. Demonstrations have been, and will continue to be held in numerous cities across the country. Senator Bernie Sanders has been speaking out publicly against the pipeline and has even drafted a bill to reform pipeline procedures for approval. . Green Party Presidential candidate, Jill Stein, stood with the protectors and North Dakota has clearly stated that they plan to charge her with vandalism. But no charges have been filed, nor will they be, against the “security officers’ who allowed their dogs to bite children and maced women and children who had no weapons of any kind, as they were singing and praying to stop the desecration of their ancestors’ burial places. Bulldozers dug up these ancient sites during Labor Day weekend, most likely to instigate violence from the protectors. The only violence came from the pipeline security detail.

WACH FOX News, Columbia, SC:

Stars muse over what they’d do as President 

Rapper accused of moonlighting in violent gang pleads guilty

State appeals decision overturning ‘Making a Murderer’ teen’s conviction

George Clooney hits the road for 2,500-mile bike trip 

On the same day these headlines appeared, a federal judge denied the injunction filed by the tribe’s attorneys to stop construction. Later in the day, President Obama, by delivering a joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior Regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, put on hold further work on the pipeline and stated “furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.  Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions:  (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.”

This is a huge victory for the tribes, and confirms our President’s promise to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 2014 where he said, “I know that throughout history, the United States often didn’t give the nation-to-nation relationship the respect that it deserved.  So I promised when I ran to be a President who’d change that — a President who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve.”

So, did this historic act, by a President make the prime time news? ABC News online? Nope. NBC News online? Nope. CBS News online? Nope. Local news sites listed above? No at all. Lots of information about football, who refuses to stand for the National Anthem, Donald Trump’s latest goofs, and more information about Wells Fargo did, however.

With tomorrow’s 9/11 anniversary, we will pray for national unity, equality, fair reporting and important national coverage. But should we expect it? Probably not.

It is time for the United States to UNITE to support all of our people – not just those with money. Our news doesn’t care. Wake up, America, before it’s too late. Water is life. Our lives depend upon what we allow and what we condone. That’s what this movement has been about. Yet the only national news interest seems to be violence and ugliness. We must stop our tunnel vision and apathy. Now.

***Barbara MorningStar Paul is a native of California who relocated in South Carolina over 40 years ago. She is active in human rights and animal rights issues and owns numerous rescued animals. She is a grandmother and great grandmother who treasure equality and justice for all living things.

“Even Doves Have Pride”: Why The Conspiracy Theories About Prince’s Death Hurt Him and His Legacy

13962829_170471133362657_1149765282014125536_oPhoto by Randee St. Nicholas


When Prince died, I was devastated. It was like losing my best friend. It still hurts and knowing what he struggled with so privately magnifies that hurt tenfold. But my pain has had to take a back seat as frustration and, quite honestly, anger have taken hold of my emotions and my focus. Social media can be as harmful as it is helpful and informative and I have seen on that medium several fan groups and individuals who have circulated unnecessary petitions as of late to uncover “the truth” about Prince’s death and claims of murder under the auspices of conspiracy to steal his master recordings. In particular, they have accused Prince’s former label WB with whom he entered into a mutually beneficial agreement in 2014.

These “advocates” and seekers of “justice” launched their campaigns as early as April 22, 2016, the day after Prince passed away. Some didn’t even wait that long. Many began by by reading more into his last Tweet than he probably meant. Prince could be cryptic at times on purpose and in jest, but most times he actually said what he meant and meant what he said. He advertised most of his Hit N Run (HNR) shows these days via Twitter and they always said the same thing, “just when u thought u were safe”. I followed Prince from the time he opened a Twitter account and I have seen these hints about the HNR shows. His final show in Atlanta was advertised that way. So, then, why was the final Tweet taken down? He likely did it himself before he died. Prince used independent promoter, Lucy Lawler-Freas, to book dates. She has attested to this in interviews and it is on her LinkedIn profile. She’s said she was still trying to secure other venues for the “Piano and a Microphone” tour at the time of his passing. Perhaps he knew he wasn’t well enough to do the next date and needed time for recovery, to include detox and treatment for opiate dependency, and removed the Tweet as opposed to misleading his fan base. Maybe there wasn’t a location booked beyond Atlanta and rather than teasing fans with the promise of a show that fell through, removed the Tweet. As private as Prince was it is highly unlikely anyone else was able to access his Twitter account as I suspect he changed the passwords, daily.

These conspiracy theories and petitions do, however, point to a reality the creators of such fail to acknowledge: they are struggling to accept his death as a horrible accident that resulted in the death of one of the most beloved and most brilliant artists of a generation who, like many, hid a very real problem from the public and from friends. That has me coming to the resolve that many of these “advocates” retreated from Prince in the 1990s and feel guilty for doing so because now he is dead. No petition or Facebook fan group is going to change any of this; and no petition will bring him back.

We have to accept what director/producer Charles Ferguson has observed, “Prince was…human. He was ultimately killed by the collision between his perfectionism and by his shame about having flaws, and by society’s hypocrisies: the pressure to appear effortlessly spectacular in performance (which destroyed his body); to use dangerously powerful drugs to manage his pain…and to never, ever show weakness.” People have endlessly and impetuously quoted one of his signature songs to say that this, his death, “is what it sounds like when doves cry,” but I think people have only listened to that song in part; the part that only concerns them and their emotions about his life and his death.

Prince was a private man because he was a proud man. Even the most insecure among us have pride and pride is a very fragile thing. When I was a kid, people teased me for being a Prince fan, friends, family, everyone. They thought he was weird and by association, so was I. But I have never wavered in my fandom and appreciation of him and his art. Not ever and I am proud of that; it is why I can look at his life and see a man who was imperfectly perfect and perfectly imperfect. I can be proud of that and I can live with it. However, those raising the speculation that his death was part of a conspiracy strip away the very thing that keeps his legacy alive: his pride. It was his pride that made him fight the industry for control of his art. It was pride that kept him going through with the release of Emancipation and subsequent tour even though he just suffered the most immense pain one could imagine. It was his pride that let him perform through agonizing hip pain for years. And it was pride that prevented him from seeking help until the very the end and concealing his inner turmoil from those closest to him.

I can see why he hid things, no matter how detrimental to his well-being, and respect him for it because we all hide things. This is a very human thing to do and Prince was, if nothing else, human. He was just like us and said so in a 1985 MTV interview. I don’t care how he died. We all die, eventually, and the circumstances are all different. What I care about most is how he lived. Did he smile when butterflies touched his skin? The song “Glam Slam” tells me he did. Did he cry on days when he missed his son? “Comeback” tells me he did. Did he randomly quote James Brown lyrics in casual conversation like I randomly quote his lyrics in casual conversation? “Gett Off” affirms this for me. When he was younger, did he “sit out on the stoop” to “just watch all the cars go by” like so many of us do as children and teens, especially in the African-American community? According to “Reflection,” yes, he did. He was just like us. He did all the things we so-called normal people do and that includes hurting, physically and emotionally. For whatever reasons he had, Prince was hurting and it was his pride that prevented him from seeking the help he needed. This is the case with most people. He wasn’t alone. He was human.

So many people who knew him over the years talk about him being “moody,” up some days and then way down on others, genius often works that way. But do we know that when he was alone in a room by himself, that he was okay? Was he lonely? Maybe. It is possible to have friends, close friends, and parties, etc. and still feel incredibly lonely. I know that feeling. I have had it more than I care to admit, but sometimes I revel in it because it stirs creativity. I wonder if he was the same. Basically, Prince, “I wonder u”…I always have, I always will and I will always wonder why you left us so soon, not the how, but the why because I was not prepared for it.

But that is MY issue to resolve and it is not the duty of the State of Minnesota.

No matter how many petitions or letters to governors or historic landmark committees, there will never be an answer about the circumstances of his death that makes sense, it hasn’t been true for Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston. All the more reason the legacy and the art Prince left behind should be respected and not defamed by conspiracy theories that have little to no merit. People who claim to advocate for Prince feel they are doing the right thing and may have good intentions, I get that, but they are unwittingly chipping away at his dignity. And he doesn’t deserve that. The more we learn about his private use of painkillers, the more we engage in the act of usurping his pride, and that is no one’s place. We have to remember the desperation with which he sang that line in “When Doves Cry” and just let our dove have his pride and his wings…even if it hurts us to do so.