Pharrell's big decision, Kanye's 'Donda Academy' and an artist you should listen to
This week the boys share their thoughts on Pharrell pulling his festival, an underrated artist you should check out and whether they would attend the Donda Academy.
This week’s podcast was heavy: We, to the best of our ability, talked about the cultural significance of R. Kelly and Britney Spears’ high-profile court decisions. Complicity in the music industry led to the abuse of both Kelly’s victims and Spears herself. Acknowledging that is important, so we did.
Find clips below.
In this week’s newsletter, we highlight a big decision by Pharrell to pull his “Something in the Water” festival out of his hometown, Virginia Beach. The decision will cost the city, and likely Williams himself, millions of dollars in revenue — but when you find out the turmoil that led to the festival’s cancellation, things make a lot more sense. Nnamdi wrote about that below.
Also on tap:
Kanye West announced he’s following in the footsteps of Dr. Dre, Lebron James and Jay Z, and opening the “Donda Academy.” Avery’s imagined what a day at a school created by Kanye West could look like — it’s worth the read.
And as we do every week, Noah is profiling an artist you should know: the incredibly talented skater-turned-producer-turned-model-turned-rapper Navy Blue.
Enjoy the read.
The Verdict: Discussing the R. Kelly and Britney Spears trials
Hey Hollywood, this is how you use your platform to enact change
Let’s take a trip to Virginia Beach.
It’s a beautiful, predominantly white coastal city in southeast Virginia, that’s home to about 450,000 people, miles of scenic beaches… and the Virginia Beach Police Department.
Like many precincts nationwide, Virginia Beach police have been accused of misconduct, ranging from excessive force to blatant disregard.
The most recent example occurred on Sept. 7, when a Black family alerted police that a neighbor set up a motion sensor that blasted animal noises and racial epithets at them anytime they walked through their driveway. The family was being terrorized by a neighbor who initially refused to subside, despite several visits from the police.
“Whenever we would step out of our house, the monkey noises would start,” Martinez told TV station WAVY. “It’s so racist, and it’s disgusting. … I don’t even know how else to explain it.”
Despite video evidence of the harassment, Virginia Beach police says they were hamstrung: As offensive as the noise was, it didn’t rise to the level of a crime, so beyond a polite request to turn it down, there was nothing they could do.
The Martinez family says the harassment stopped after a neighborhood rally, but the point remains that in the face of blatant racism, police couldn’t protect the Black family involved. And that theme isn’t new for Virginia Beach Police.
25-year-old Donovan Lynch was killed by Virginia Beach Police on March 26. It happened during a chaotic night of violence that resulted in 10 people getting shot and two, including Lynch, dying. Details of the shooting are murky: police say Lynch was brandishing a weapon, an eye-witness says that’s not true. The officer who fired the fatal shot had his body camera turned off, and personally knew Lynch.
Lynch’s family says the officer's refusal to render aid at the moment of the shooting led to his death. Yet, as of now, no one has been suspended, fired or prosecuted for Lynch’s death. His family is now suing the department.
But it doesn’t end there.
Donovan Lynch’s cousin is none other than Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Beach native himself. At Lynch’s celebration of life, the Grammy-winning producer/rapper called for a federal investigation into the shooting, called out city leaders for their tepid response to the shooting and proposed a forum for the city to discuss “who we were, who we are, and who we’d like to be.”
None of those things happened. So, Pharrell responded with action.
Back in 2019, he premiered his “Something in the Water” festival in Virginia Beach. The lineup included Pharrell, Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott, Migos, Janelle Monae, J Balvin and SZA to name a few. To call it a massive success would be an understatement: the festival generated at least $24 million dollars in tax revenue and $41 million in media coverage for Virginia Beach. The pandemic sidelined the festival in 2020 and 2021, but 2022 was set to be a grand return of sorts. But then Donovan Lynch was shot and killed by police. The officer involved, has so far, been let off the hook, and calls for a federal investigation and city-wide forum have been rebuffed. So, earlier this week, Pharrell pulled the festival — and the millions of dollars in tax revenue — from Virginia Beach.
In a letter to Virginia Beach leadership, Williams wrote:
“I wish the same energy I've felt from Virginia Beach leadership upon losing the festival would have been similarly channeled following the loss of my relative's life.”
Their inaction cost them a lot. And though Virginia Beach’s mayor and city manager are scrambling to keep the festival for future years — they know that Pharrell’s decision has been made.
Right now, our entertainers often double as social justice advocates — speaking out against racism, xenophobia, homophobia and police brutality. But it’s one thing to retweet an article, post a black square or even donate money to an organization. It’s an entirely different ballpark to use economic leverage to spur action. The leaders of Virginia Beach will long remember what their lackadaisical response to Donovan Lynch’s death cost them. That’s the point. But the larger point is that what Pharrell did, doesn't have to be unique. Any mainstream artist, from Drake to Kanye, Taylor Swift to Rihanna, can use their platform as the basis for action if they choose to. So let Pharrell be the blueprint — the new bar for using your voice for more than art. Who knows what we could accomplish.
Y’all hear about this?
James Blake Wants You to Feel Something (by Grant Sharples!!!)
Would I attend Kanye’s ‘Donda Academy’?
Kanye West is opening a K-12 school in California called the Donda Academy.
The school will be, as the website describes, “Finding the intersection between faith and the innovation of the future.” As someone from Texas, specifically Frisco, Texas, the idea of intersecting faith and innovation sounds a little concerning!
The school will apparently be focusing on basketball, as it has already secured elite basketball prospects, who have Division 1 aspirations. According to Yahoo Sports, the school is in talks to play a game in the Staples Center against Sierra Canyon HS, which famously has Bronny James, son of LeBron, playing for them. There is, as of right now, no head coach for the team.
All this being said, would I attend the Donda Academy? Let’s think about what a day would be like.
Perhaps, for the first period, I have “Hurricanes,” a class about the worsening effects of climate change on our planet and why those effects will include more catastrophic natural disasters.
After that I have second period “Feel The Love,” an updated curriculum on sex education to teach the young students about proper contraception. Hopefully teaching comprehensive sex education rather than abstinence. Although this may conflict with the faith-based curriculum as Kanye interprets it.
For the third period, I have to go across campus for a class on “POWER,” which examines global political structures and how wealth and privilege affect pursuits for power. We tend to look at world leaders and how they got where they are and who they are influenced by. I have a paper about Donald Trump due on Monday morning.
At this point, I am getting kind of hungry, and lucky for me it’s lunchtime. I head over to the “Closed on Sunday” cafe for the school-paid for Chick-fil-a! Luckily we don’t have school on Sundays. Other menu items include fish filet (but not fish sticks), churros and croissants, which admittedly can take a while so you have to kind of ask aggressively for those.
The day is getting close to being over as the fourth period rolls around, which is our class “Made in America,” in which we actually have a guest teacher for the semester. We have Candace Owens teaching us American history! Really exciting stuff happening here.
For our last period of actual class, we have “Primetime.” It’s just a math class.
To end the day we have prayer, which usually means we just recite all of “Jesus Is King” while Kanye conducts us like an orchestra.
Of course, we get free tickets to the night’s basketball game at the Staples Center.
After thinking about this possibility, I think I would have to attend for at least a year just to see what it is like.
All jokes aside, whatever it ends up being, I am sure it will be a success for Kanye — as most things that he does end up being. I also think he has a really interesting opportunity with recruiting young basketball talent, especially given his celebrity and resources. I’m excited to see what becomes of this!
Now on the 97 Demo Mix:
Songs from: Kali Uchis, Jojo, Yves Tumor
The best skater turned model turned rapper
Have you ever seen someone do one thing and then years later you see them again and you’re like, “oh, I didn’t know they did that.” That’s what happened to me with Skater/Model/Rapper/Producer Sage Elsesser aka Navy Blue.
The first time I saw Elsesser was on Supreme’s Instagram. He mostly modeled in their season look or was seen skating on their skate films. To me, he was just another skater who got to wear the hottest and most sought-after street brand in human history. I did not give him much thought after that.
Not until November 2018, when the skater who I thought just modeled for Supreme, was featured on Earl Sweatshirt’s single, “The Mint.” I knew it was him based on the cover art for the single. I thought to myself, “Oh, I didn’t know he rapped.” Initially, I was not blown away by his rapping skills. So again, I did not give him much thought.
But, at the end of 2020, while on YouTube watching Shawn Cee’s “Top 50 ALBUMS of 2020” video I saw that he listed Navy Blue’s album, Àdá Irin. Again, I was intrigued. But this time, he caught my attention.
The first thing that caught my ear was the production. The best way to describe it is as minimalistic, soul-sampling on a loop. There are oftentimes no drums or 808s in the beats and that paves the way for him to be clear and introspective with his lyrics — speaking on everything from his family to personal struggles he goes through.
Since then, he has released two more albums, Song of Sage: Post Panic! and Navy’s Reprise, both are thorough and enjoyable listens that give the listener a deeper peek into the person and rapper Navy Blue is. He has also been featured on projects by Evidence, Mach-Hommy, and The Alchemist.
But, Navy Blue’s greatest musical achievement in his young career may be on the album where he only has one verse. On Wiki’s latest album, Half God, Navy Blue is the sole producer. While his performance on “Can’t Do This Alone” is extremely impressive, his production is the star of the show on this project.
It does not differ much from the production used on his own work. But, it is so precise and indicative of the emotion that Wiki is trying to portray through his lyrics and delivery that it is beautiful in some cases.
For example, in the song, “Roof,” Navy Blue uses a simple guitar and piano loop that gives Wiki the space to essentially give an ode to his roof and how it is a place he can use to escape the chaos of the big city, reflect, and write raps. It sounds simple and boring, but when you listen to the track it makes you want to go on top of a roof and reflect.
GQ described Elsesser as the Most Stylish Skater Turned Supreme Model You Don’t Know—Yet in 2017. But in 2021, he’s the dopest skater turned Supreme Model turned rapper and producer you don’t know. But you will.
Edited by Hope Davis :)
Ep. 63: The Verdict: Discussing the R. Kelly and Britney Spears trials
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Coming up on the 97 Demo Podcast: Review culture in music