13 Books You Absolutely Must Read Before Seeing Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Detroit’

This work appeared on BookTrib on August 4, 2017

The Summer of ’67 was a unique time in America’s history that some fondly remember as a season full of love, music and flower power. Still, for others in major American cities, that summer was awash in civil unrest, where waves of injustice led to rebellion and social change. A new film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter and Algee Smith re-enacts the 1967 incident at Algiers Motel in Detroit that left three young men dead. This event marked a turning point in the civil rights movement when lost innocence gave way to a revolution now undeterred by fear. The youth of the day had seen the worst and they were ready to fight so in the future these things would be only recalled in history books. Unfortunately, we are reminded, daily, that little has changed since then and while there has been progress over the last 50 years, the incidents at Algiers Motel and in the City of Detroit can occur at any time, in any city and people are still rebelling and fighting for justice when it does. For many seeing Detroit in theaters this weekend, this will be their first time hearing of these events. For others, it will be like reliving that time all over again. Whether you are new to this history or can remember where you were when the Detroit crisis began in the summer of 1967, these 13 must-read summer books will give you a better understanding of what really happened there and set up a clear context for viewing the film afterward.

Read the full article athttps://booktrib.com/2017/08/detroit-film-books-2017/

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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.

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196b2eb9Michael Bivins in New York City, courtesy of sportyrich.com

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 sportyrich.com

“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.

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“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 sportyrich.com

“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 sportyrich.com

“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 sportyrich.com

“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 sportyrich.com

“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 www.sportyrich.com.

Follow Biv on Twitter @MikeBiv.

To view Mike’s 2009 solo single “Fresh” featuring The Clipse and Lil’ Kim, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaJ473GBLiw.

Shared from WordPress: Fan-produced Documentary Shows Michael Jackson’s Continued Impact on the World

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A newly released fan-produced documentary about Michael Jackson’s fans, known collectively as “Moonwalkers,” captures his influence on their lives across time starting from their earliest exposure, to the height of his career, and since his passing.  Over the course of nearly 40 minutes, Moonwalkers from various countries and backgrounds share their fondest memories and explain their dedication to sharing his phenomenal talent.

View the documentary on YouTube: http://wp.me/p6u3DN-aY

 

Shared from WordPress: “‘Ease On Down’ The Wards Island Bridge– NY”

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All Things Michael details the history of the Wards Island Bridge in New York City.  The bridge, which opened to the public in 1951 was considered aesthetically unpleasant.  Still, it was used throughout the 1978 Motown/Universal Pictures film, The Wiz, starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russel, Ted Ross (no relation to Diana), Richard Pryor, Mabel King, and Lena Horne.  Covered with yellow brick-like linoleum, it was the scene for the film’s musical performance of “Ease On Down The Road.”

 

Read the All Thing Michael‘s full story here: “EASE ON DOWN” THE WARDS ISLAND BRIDGE – NY – http://wp.me/p1a674-ivN

Shared from WordPress: “Steve Barron: How I Made The Billie Jean Video With Michael Jackson”

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All Things Michael relays the story behind the making of Michael Jackson’s music video for the song “Billie Jean” from 1982’s Thriller album.  Directed by Steve Barron, “the video sees Jackson portray an enigmatic figure with seemingly magical powers, trailed by a shadowy ‘private eye’ type character, and is very in keeping with Barron’s other work from this time, where fantasy, familiar iconography and technical innovations fused with pop culture. His brief time working with the King of Pop left an indelible impression.”

Billie Jean, filmed with a budget of only $50,000 (compared to Jackson’s Scream which cost $6.9 million and is the most expensive music video ever produced), was one of the first videos featuring a black artist to get regular airplay on MTV.  The song was later performed by Jackson for the televised Motown anniversary special, Motown 25, where he debuted his infamous Moonwalk.

Read the full story at All Things Michael: Steve Barron: How I Made The Billie Jean Video With Michael Jackson – http://wp.me/p1a674-iwH

10 Must-See Documentaries That Celebrate the African-American Experience

Published with Atlanta Blackstar, February 17, 2016

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The stories of Black life in America are most popular this time of year as we celebrate the accomplishments of Black people in February.

The following list builds upon the 8 Black Documentary Films Everyone Should Watch, published in 2013 and features must-see documentaries for African-Americans that are useful year-round — not just in February. While not exhaustive, this list features many award-winning films and cover subjects and people Hollywood often ignore when telling our stories on the big screen.

10 Must-See Documentaries That Celebrate the African-American Experience

Dear Hollywood: Michael Jackson Was Black (and Proud)

Published on Huffington Post Blog

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The casting of a white man as Michael Jackson in a TV series set in 2001 is more than unnerving. It is actually a complete contradiction of who MJ was in 2001 and throughout his life. The year 2001 was a year, that if you look and listen to Jackson himself, he was nothing but a black man ringing the alarm about racism in the music industry. The industry was shaken by his outing of racist practices pertaining to black artists and, in a way, retaliated with MJ once again being portrayed as a druggie whose accusations were the rantings indicative of an addict and by 2003, an accused child molester. The latter, if you research the charges, the district attorney’s office, the witnesses and the testimony of others, was nothing more than an aberration of his character and a clear attempt to permanently tarnish his legacy. It was, if you will, the beginning of a very tragic ending. Still, it wasn’t the whole picture.

In July of 2001, Jackson spoke to an audience at a conference sponsored by Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. He was blatant in telling his truth about the racism that he and other black artists face. He told how he was viewed as a threat for having broken the records of Elvis and The Beatles. These records he not only broke, but he also bought and retained ownership of in the late 1980’s. To be honest, Michael Jackson has always been viewed as the least threatening black man in entertainment. On the surface, he was, but it was all imagery. He knew how to generate mass appeal. He was tactful in how he created his image because having the best selling record of all time was something he avowed to himself when Off The Wall did not generate the type of acknowledgment he thought it deserved. Jackson was a phenomenal talent, but he also was a very skillful businessman who, in his black skin, maneuvered the best deal ever in the history of American music when he bought into the Sony/ATV catalogs. He knew this was the reason they came after him. He knew it and he said it.

In a moment of total unfettered blackness, Michael Jackson said before the National Action Network audience, “I know my race. I just look in the mirror. I know I’m black.” It was pride, personified. It was also one of many statements Jackson had made affirming and reaffirming his position in this world as a black man.

It isn’t hard to find evidence of this. Google “MJ and racism” and you will find at every speech, interview, and opportunity he had, Michael Jackson said, “I am black.” He said it and he meant it. You cannot ignore that, still Hollywood is choosing to do so. They are “whitesplaining” who he was and Columbusing his legacy. Essentially, they are deliberately choosing to ignore who he was and distort the truth based solely upon the depigmentation of his skin due to the skin disorder vitiligo. Jackson had been plagued with it the majority of his life. If you want evidence, look at some photos in the Motown archives, one can see its beginnings on his fingers and hands at the age of 11. Still, Hollywood has decided that they, alone, will define and explain MJ’s blackness in a way that is comfortable for them and concealing the truth about who he really was.

So, who was Michael Jackson?

Michael Jackson was a black man who was born in one of the most black populated cities in the midwest, Gary, Indiana. He was a black man who has helped hundreds of black students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through a United Negro College Fund scholarship bearing his name. He was a black man who reportedly made the single biggest financial contribution to the 1995 Million Man March. He was a black man who has an honorary doctorate from my alma mater, Fisk University, an HBCU. He was a black man who wrote a song to raise money for famine relief in Africa in 1985 and 20 years later, he did the same to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina who were disproportionately black.

Michael Jackson was a black man who dated black women, like Stephanie Mills, but respected their privacy enough to not place their business in the press and make them vulnerable to the ridicule he often suffered. He was a black man who supported the movement to end apartheid in South Africa and was friends with Nelson Mandela. He was a black man who hired the Fruit of Islam to provide security for his family and advise him on certain issues. He was a black man who has had black children visit Neverland regularly, and was never accused of anything inappropriate or sexual.

Remember how his friend Elizabeth Taylor, who will also be portrayed in this series, played Cleopatra, a black woman? MJ was a black man who “fixed” that with his video for “Remember The Time,” which was set in ancient Egypt where Nefertiti and Ramses were black, as were the rest of those who were cast, including the director, John Singleton. He was a black man who shot a “short film” in Brazil with Spike Lee that highlighted the existence of black Brazilians. MJ was a black man who paid for the funeral of David Ruffin of the Temptations, one of his idols. He was a black man who, upon purchasing his massive catalog of music, gave back to Rock & Roll pioneer Little Richard the ownership of the music that had been stolen from him. Like many of us, Michael Jackson was a black man who cried when president Obama was elected and is said to have explained to his children why it was so important and something he was told would never come to be in his lifetime. In the words of another of his idol’s, James Brown, Michael Jackson was a black man who was unafraid in his actions and in his speech to say out loud “I’m black and I’m proud.”

Who he was cannot be erased by the many attempts to rob him of his character and dignity. They tried to do it while he was alive and now, in death, they are trying to rob him of his identity with this show and that cannot be overlooked

There is no “playing black.” Even Jackson, himself thought it was “stupid” to cast a white actor to play him and admitted as much in an interview with Oprah in 1993. If Joseph Fiennes is an actor of merit, he will do his research on the “character” he has been chosen to play. If he does, he will see MJ as he really was and, hopefully, realize that he cannot play this role. It’s not an actor’s biggest challenge, it is a fabrication of the truth and quite possibly one final attempt to paint Michael Jackson not as the “King of Pop,” but as someone who was a lesser than human freak of nature. I am inclined to agree with Reverend Al, who at MJ’s memorial service, said unto his children, “Wasn’t nothing strange about your Daddy. It was strange what your Daddy had to deal with. But he dealt with it –He dealt with it anyway.” And it seems that even seven years after his passing, he still is dealing with it when he really shouldn’t have to.

 

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