General

F. Dougie’s Top Ten of 2018

Black Panther

        What can I say about Black Panther that hasn’t already been said? This film was a movement and has changed Hollywood forever. Industry producers and filmmakers have long leaned on the racist notion that black films don’t travel. We were told that “black films don’t make money with foreign audiences”. Not only did the movie go on to make $1.3+ Billion. It has passed every other film in American history to become the highest grossing domestic superhero film EVER. Let that settle in.

While that marinates, let’s also remember that growing up, we were told that we couldn’t be superheroes. “You can’t be Superman, Superman is white. You can’t be Batman, Batman is white.” Pick any action-adventure, fantasy, or superhero movie in the last 50 years and throw a dart at the list of films. I can almost guarantee you that the main characters are white. Black Panther is important to American society not only because it shows us as kings, geniuses, and leaders. It also shows black children of the world that they too can also be heroes. Black Panther isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Ain’t you hear? It ain’t Wakanda 2018. It’s, Wakanda. FOREVER.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Thank you, Donald Glover. “Why?” On the NBC show ‘Community’ (season 2 episode “Anthropology 101)”. Actor/Singer/Rapper/Director/Comedian Donald Glover wore a Spider-Man t-shirt during the episode’s opening. Some of the show’s fans went online and expressed their excitement! “Donald Glover should be the next Spider-Man!” Then came the comments: “Donald Glover can’t be Spider-Man. Spider-Man is white”. You see a pattern here? Spider-Man comic writer Brian Michael Bendis took notice and made a decision that would change comics and entertainment forever. 1 year later, Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli gave birth to new character Miles Morales. An Afro-Latino teen from Brooklyn, NY. Miles would become Spider-Man in his own alternate universe and would go on to join the regular Marvel Comics continuity.

An animated feature film (based on writer Dan Slott’s Spider-Verse comic and Bendis and Pichelli’s Spider-Men) was released in December 2018 to critical acclaim (97% Positive Reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and a 95% Audience score). For the movie, the creators implemented a new style of animation to bring Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends to life. Watching the movie is like walking inside an actual comic book. It implements everything from words bubbles to the ‘Ben-Day’ comic print look of comic pages from the early ’60s and ’70s. The critical consensus is that the film is the best animated movie of the year (and maybe of all time), is beautiful, funny, heart-warming, diverse, progressive, and expertly written.

Wrapping up our theme of black children finally getting representation as heroes on screen, spoiler alert; “Anyone can wear the mask“. Anyone can be a hero. Even a black kid from Brooklyn.

Avengers: Infinity War

In the early 2000s, Marvel comics licensed many of their characters to several movie studios (Fantastic Four, and the X-men to Fox & Spider-Man to Sony) in hopes of generating some revenue in order to keep their comics division going and to put some of their world-renowned characters on the big screen. (We’ll get to Infinity War, I promise) They kept many of their most popular heroes and in 2007 formed Marvel Studios, their own in-house movie studio.

They started with an idea, to create a movie franchise that linked all of their characters and stories together, just like the comics. The goal would be to introduce each character in their own respective movies individually and then bring them all together (The Avengers – 2012).

Not only was this a lofty goal, it had never been done before. In order for this to work, the majority of the movies would have to be accepted by audiences all over the world, perform well financially, and speak to critics and fans alike…The plan worked.

The Marvel films have been a critical and commercial success. Infinity War (told you we’d get to it) knocked fans sideways. Not only was the movie another critical and commercial success, but Marvel also gave fans what so many filmmakers have tried to emulate; the feeling that fans felt back in 1980 when they walked out of The Empire Strikes Back. Being the penultimate chapter in Marvel’s 12-year long, interconnected story arc, fans were expecting big things. What they did not expect was to see the characters and heroes that they’d spent over a decade building relationships with decimated, left dangling over a cliff until the final chapter (Avengers: Endgame) hits theaters in April of 2019. Many fans still have trouble hearing someone ‘snap’ their fingers together without having emotional PTSD of sorts. If nothing else, we’ve learned a valuable lesson. The good guys don’t always win. Sometimes negativity and evil overcome the best of us….but only temporarily. The best of us will pick ourselves up, step forward and fight back. We’ll look to each other for strength and when we utter that rally cry: “Avengers Assemble”.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

I know what most of you are thinking….”Tom Cruise? Really?”. So let’s get into it. I get it. Many people don’t like this dude, and rightfully so. Mormonism is weird….

“What’s that? He’s a Scientologist?” Oh shit, my bad.

Scientology is weird, allegedly abusive, and reportedly dangerous. But since movie critics (I’m not one) judge actors and filmmakers on their abilities, and since the dude hasn’t killed anyone (that we know of) or committed any atrocities (See: Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein) let’s talk about how fucking awesome this movie was.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (or Mission Impossible 6) was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year. Reviewers called it one of the best action movies ever made. I usually don’t deal in superlatives, but I’m inclined to agree. Objectively, Tom Cruise can act. As a 56-year-old man that does his own stunts, rides motorcycles with no double and also flies his own planes and helicopters, you can’t help but be impressed by his dedication to the craft. While Marvel Studios is wow’ing you with CG feats of superheroism, Thomas Cruise Mapother the Fourth is jumping out of a goddamned cargo plane with his film crew for a Halo Jump at 25,000 fucking feet to impress you. He brings a level of authenticity that makes the movie look and feel more legitimate. There are no weird cuts and pauses in the action because the actor doesn’t to be pulled from the scene and replaced with a stunt or digital double.  If you haven’t seen many of these films, the Mission: Impossible series has always relied heavily on misdirection and fakeouts to keep the viewer entertained. While that’s true to an extent with Fallout, even if you can see some of the twists coming, it doesn’t matter as much to you because you don’t have time to process all the changes. The movie moves from action scene to action scene at such a seamless and fast pace that by the time the movie is over you feel like you’ve just run a marathon. The movie feels expertly executed from beginning to end and you’d be hard pressed to find a better action film.


Books

Michelle Obama: Becoming

I’m going to put it out there. For me, talking about the Obamas without becoming an absolute fanboy is an arduous task. Being objective, I still believe that First Lady Michelle Obama’s memoir is a must read. It’s almost like the life story and perspectives of the first African American First Lady of the United States of America is required reading. Who would have thought?

This is a woman who held black people’s hopes and dreams on her shoulders for 8 years going with style, grace, and humility. Michelle and Barack are the closest to actual royalty that black folks have (not counting Hov and B & George and Weezy). Need I remind you that this is a woman who grew up from humble beginnings on the South Side of Chicago, got herself admitted to a Princeton education, and then went on to graduate from a little institution called Harvard Law? Small potatoes, right?

‘Becoming’ is a relaxing read and fleshes out the upbringing, perspectives, temperaments, and philosophies of one of the most important figures of the 21st Century. Michelle Obama does not suffer fools and we could all learn a thing or two from her intellect. The book is written with such grace and witticism that you’ll wonder why Barack ever hired a speechwriter in the first place. For someone who has been in the public eye for so long and has played such an important role in shaping young people’s lives, you can’t help but agree that Ms. Obama deserves some time to rest and recuperate. After all, how much was asked of her? The Obamas didn’t get 2nd chances. They didn’t get to have embarrassing scandal after embarrassing scandal. Had Michelle or Barack committed even one of the current national embarrassments (tax returns, helping a foreign government hack a national election, payment to adult actresses as payment for silence, travel bans for foreigners, family separations at the border, children in internment camps, etc.) that the current bum has, they’d have been dragged out of the white house and shown as the reason that “you can’t give them a chance”. To be perfect? Yeah, we asked that of them. Ms. Obama has inspired an entire generation of children to not only stay active and work hard but not to take shortcuts. She’s inspired them to give back to a world that may not always love you in return. That said, we’re happy to see her back in the public eye. It’s quite clear that we’ll need her intellect and leadership in the near future.

James Clear: Atomic Habits

Many people make excuses for why they can’t achieve the goals that they want in life. We’ve all read self-improvement books. I’m looking at 3 such books on my shelf right now. With James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’, the author spells out some very simple and effective strategies that can be employed in order to attain incremental change. Building good habits and breaking bad ones. That’s all it is.

Without giving away too much, the strategy is to get 1% better every day. The author tells us that bad habits repeat over and over “not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change and that habits are essentially the compound interest of self-improvement.” Change can go either way, in the direction you want, or in the direction you don’t. Change your mechanism and change your approach, otherwise, you’ll be stuck on that hamster wheel forever.

Atlanta: Robbin’ Season

Atlanta is still the best show on TV. Creators Donald and Stephen Glover continue their focus on writing a black show from the black experience with an all-black writing staff; something that until now was unheard-of in Hollywood.

Season 2 of Atlanta is dubbed Robbin’ Season after a period of time (typically before Christmas and after New Years) where lower-income neighborhoods will commit more crime to provide their families for the holidays. Its meant to be a metaphor for the main characters of the show and give the viewers a sense of the changes that each is going through. The title gives you an understanding of how desperate they have become to change their individual situations. Some highlights:

  • Van begins to grow sick of Earn’s fuckboy bullshit.
  • Al comes to terms with either being a good person OR leaning into his rapper persona ‘Paperboy.
  • Earn learns that if he wants to manage a rapper or a family member, he’s going to have to do whatever it takes to succeed.
  • Darius goes through hell to get a rainbow keyed piano.

Atlanta’s episode and narrative variety shines to give us more spontaneity. I’ve heard the show called “Black Seinfeld mixed with Twin Peaks”, and that actually may be fairly accurate. In this season we meet:

  • ‘The Alligator Man’ (Played by comedian Katt Williams, who won an Emmy for his performance),
  • Teddy Perkins (Donald Glover in a haunting Michael Jackson-esque whiteface performance, and my personal favorite episode of TV of the year).
  • Paperboi’s barber, ‘Bibby’.
  • Clark County, (who may be the embodiment of many current rappers in the music industry)

Can’t wait to see where these characters go in season 3. I’d try to figure out where the show is headed next, but with Atlanta, that would just be foolish.

Black Panther: The Album

When was the last time you purchased or listened to a movie soundtrack? I’ll wait… Probably middle school, right? Suicide Squad? You can miss me with that bullshit. When TDE announced in 2017 that Pulitzer and Grammy-winning King Kendrick Lamar was commissioned to curate and EP the sounds for Black Panther, fans collectively lost their minds. Not only was the album amazing, it undoubtedly helped push the film’s financial performance to new heights. Kendrick called on some of the best artists in the game to help give the soundtrack an authentic and multicultural feel. Aside from TDE labelmates Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q, the album includes The Weeknd, James Blake, SZA, Jorja Smith, Future, Khalid, Swae Lee, and Travis Scott to name a few.

Album standouts include:

“ALL THE STARS” (performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA)

“KING’S DEAD” (performed by Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future and James Blake)

REDEMPTION” (performed by Zacari and Babes Wodumo)

No Maroon 5 here. Sorry.

The album not only cemented Lamar’s musical artistry across different styles of Hip-Hop and R&B, but he’s also shown that he can curate and draw quality art from some of the best artists in the game. Up and coming stars SZA, Swae Lee, and Khalid are becoming household names and I for one am excited for their futures as young black artists.

The Carters: Everything is Love

Black royalty, Homecoming King and Queen. Whatever you wanna call them, in the summer of 2018, Beyoncé and Jay Z released the first joint album in their tenured careers. We’ve all heard many of their joint tracks, but this album couldn’t have come at a better time. With all of the gossip and rumors circling their partnership over the last several years, you’d think they’d want to take control of the narrative right? With rumors of infidelity swirling, it’s almost like Beyoncé and Jay Z released solo albums baring their own individual emotions and then finally culminated in a joint album to confess their dedication to one another… It’s almost like it was all coincidence.

Anyway, I’m on board. After listening to Beyoncé bare her soul on Lemonade, and after listening to Jay Z man up on ‘4:44’ and apologize to his family for the embarrassment he’d caused and for the mistakes he’d made, on Everything is Love The Carters haven’t missed a step.

The project was introduced to us with the video for Apeshit. A project that notoriously shut down the entire Louvre in Paris. The juxtaposition and subtle symbolism of Beyoncé next to the Mona Lisa is too beautiful for words.

Everything they do together is intelligently planned out. Hov releases a song, and Beyoncé has writing credits. Money.  B releases a song and Jay is featured. Money. She releases another song and Blue has vocal credits. Money. This family is a billion dollar business and if people want to know every detail of their personal life, they’ve made damn sure that they’ll profit from it.

The Carters don’t hold back and give you all the details you were clamoring for over the last 4 years. Yes, Hov cheated. Yes, Beyoncé almost left him. And Yes, they got back together and made it work not only for their family but for their business. Here are some of my favorite lines from the album:

APESHIT “I said no to the Super Bowl: You need me, I don’t need you/Every night we in the endzone, tell the NFL we in stadiums, too/Last night was a fuckin’ zoo, stagedivin’ in a pool of people/Ran through Liverpool like a fuckin’ Beatle/Smoke gorilla glue like it’s fuckin’ legal/Tell the Grammy’s fuck that 0-for-eight shit/Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit?” —Jay Z

BOSS “100 million crib, 3 million watch, all facts/No cap, false, nigga, you not a boss, you got a boss/Niggas getting jerked, that shit hurts, I take it personally/Niggas rather work for the man than to work with me/Just so they can pretend they on my level, that shit is irkin’ to me/Pride always goeth before the fall, almost certainly” —Jay Z

BOSS “Ain’t nothing to it, I boss so I bought my momma a whip/My great-great-grandchildren already rich/That’s a lot of brown chi’r’en on your Forbes list/Probably looking around my compound on my fortress/I be ridin’ around with my seat reclining/Droppin’ my daughter off at school every morning/We slammin’ car doors/I be true balling on these bum whores” —Beyoncé

NICE “Yeah, fuck your subpoenas/And your misdemeanors/Was too busy touring out all your arenas/My passport is tatted, it look like it’s active/I play on these planes, y’all catch me in traffic/Y’all drag me in court for that shit, y’all backwards/After all these years of drug trafficking, huh/Time to remind me I’m Black again, huh?/All this talking back, I’m too arrogant, huh?” —Jay Z

NICE “Patiently waiting for my demise/’Cause my success can’t be quantified/If I gave two fucks—two fucks about streaming numbers/Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify/Fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, fuck you, I’m out/I ain’t never seen a ceiling in my whole life, that’s word to Blue/Freestyling live, blueprint from my Jigga who never bribes” —Beyoncé

713 “Cash, hit deposit, 24-carat faucets/Louis V and Goyard trunks all in the closet/Ain’t shit change, the streets is still watchin’/And my little baby Blue is like, ‘Who gon’ stop us, huh?'” – Jay Z

BLACK EFFECT “I’m good any way I go, any way I go/I pull up like the Freedom Riders, hop out on Rodeo/Stunt with your curls, your lips, Sarah Baartman hips/Gotta hop into my jeans, like I hop into my whip/Mobbin’ in a hoodie like Melo/Come up out that pretty motherfucker like ‘Hello, hello’/I will never let you shoot the nose off my pharaoh” —Beyoncé

LOVEHAPPY “Y’all know how I met her/We broke up and got back together/To get her back, I had to sweat her/Y’all could make up with a bag, I had to change the weather/Move the whole family West, but it’s whatever/In a glass house still throwing stones/Hova, Beysus, watch the thrones” —Beyoncé and Jay Z

There are levels to this shit, Y’all. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the next Carter Trilogy. The theme of black excellence continues and 2019 couldn’t come and faster. If they can make it through all this bullshit and still find some peace can’t we all?

Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer

Janelle Monae has been taking folks to Wakanda since before many even knew it existed. Black Girl Magic has been the mantra for for little black girls everywhere since they realized they could be Mae Jemison’s or Michelle Obama’s.

In a year that saw the confirmation of Monae’s long-term partnership with actress Tessa Thompson (sorry fellas, y’all never stood a chance), we listen to this amazing woman talk about her life experience and what she calls her womanhood: “remember when they used to say I looked too mannish”?

Aside from also standing out in critically acclaimed films like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, Ms. Monae is finally being recognized by the recording academy via an Album of the Year nomination. She’s at her absolute best here with Dirty Computer. Even though this is primarily an R&B album, I had to throw Django Jane on my best of 2018 Hip-Hop playlist. Her flow would put even some of the dopest male MCs to shame. She lets the listeners know about her experiences in life, as a member of the LGBTQ community, and also about her experiences in the recording industry where (surprise) they don’t celebrate and appreciate Black Girl Magic like we do. Continuing 2018’s theme of honesty, Ms. Monale sets a new precedent for the genre. She’s not going back and hopefully neither are we.

Album standouts include:

I LIKE THAT “Uh, I remember when you laughed when I cut my perm off/And you rated me a six/I was like, “Damn”/But even back then with the tears in my eyes/I always knew I was the shit.

“AMERICANS”

“I GOT THE JUICE”

DJANGO JANE “Yeah this is my palace/champagne in my chalice
I got it all covered like a wedding band/Wondaland, so my alias is Alice
And we gon’ start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot/Or we gon’ have to put ’em on a pussy diet. Look at that, I guarantee I got ’em quiet/Look at that, I guarantee they all inspired.


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General

Idris Gray’s Top Ten of 2018

Pocket – App

So you’ll notice pretty quickly there isn’t really any consistent structure to this list, but don’t worry I’ll try to keep it classy. You won’t see any top Kim Kardashian moments of 2018 here. I promise.

For me, the number one source of entertainment and learning came in the form of an app. For the past 2 years, Pocket has been a mainstay in any list of top 10 things for me. In that time I’ve had I’ve read more than I’ve ever read in my life. Those who know me, know I only read for knowledge. I don’t read fiction and I don’t really read for fun. I do want to read more, and the more I do the more therapeutic it has become. But it’s still hard to get over that 10 book a year mark. There’s just too much Netflix out there. Luckily for people like me, pocket provides an alternative to the traditional book reading format. I can read complete stories in 15 minutes and be done with that story forever. Or I can save it, reread it and share with friends so I we can have further conversations later on. If there’s one thing on the top 10 list that you can immediately implement into your day/life, its pocket. So if you need something to read to hold you over on that 30 – 60 minute ride on the F train here you go.

The Brilliant Idiots – Podcast

The Brilliant Idiots podcast with Andrew Schulz and Charlamagne Tha God is a hilarious podcast worth looking into. If you’re the kind of person who needs to hear your opinions represented to confirm your ideals, then the brilliant idiots podcast is not for you. You should probably stick Fox or CNN depending on where you lean politically.  if you are an objectively minded thinker who actually wants to hear both sides, who appreciates discourse, and who actually appreciates unique ideas or perspectives then you’re in luck.

If I’m being completely honest the brilliant idiots are a big reason why I’ve chosen to do this blog and an even bigger reason why I chose to do it with one of my best friends. Because even though we are lot alike in many ways, there are several more things we do not agree on. I should also mention that these guys may come off as insensitive, harsh, and even inappropriate. This is your official warning. Don’t say I didn’t tell you. Don’t say Idris didn’t tell you!

Listen, the podcast is made up of one half comedian and one half radio personality. Ones a white dude from NY while the others a black dude from the south. They see a lot of things differently and often crack on each other at how absurd their views seem. So while their opinions are often veiled in comedy, their ideas are worth hearing. At the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to decide what we want to think, and what we believe is right vs. what we believe is wrong.

But “you go gotta hear both sides”.

Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury

I’m a fight guy so I had to leave a spot open for the Wilder/Fury fight. Not only was it a brilliant fight, filled with competitive back and forth, completely different styles of fighting, a great show of heart, power, and technical proficiency. But what was really enjoyable about this fight was that each fighter had completely opposite backgrounds.

Tyson Fury, coming into the fight, was a redemption story. He had battled his way out of a drug addiction and depression. Even turning into an advocate of mental health, and promising to donate all of his winnings to the less fortunate. Wilder in his own right had always been an underdog. Although never loosing in the ring he has always been outweighed by his opponents. This time was no different.

There was a level of tension between Wilder and Fury that had been missing from heavyweight fights for sometime. That’s what made this fight so great to me. And then you add in the fact that I watched it inside of a LeFrak City bar filled to the brim with black and Latinos hooting and hollering 4 Wilder to knock the s*** out of Fury! Haha it was a helluva night!

The high point of the match came late in the 12th round. Wilder does exactly what we were all asking for and knocks the s*** out of Fury. But what does Fury do? He gets up like he’s the Undertaker, you know before he was the American bad boy… He survives the round and out lasts Wilders onslaught. He even managed to get in a few good hits before the final bell. Then comes time for the decision. DRAW! What?! Even I have to admit I was shocked at that outcome, but when I really thought about it, It was the perfect ending to a great fight. Both gentlemen showed great respect after the decision and now we get to anticipate the next fight.

Black Panther

WAKANDA FOREVER! Talk about an impactful movie! black Panther first made his on-screen debut in the Avengers Civil War movie. And let me tell you, he showed out! After that movie, the anticipation for the Black Panther film was ever-present in every single comic book comic book, black & African circle I found myself in. Yeah, I separated the two… I’ll get back to that in a moment but, suffice it to say, we was hype. And boy did that movie deliver. But first I want to talk about the reception to the movie. In today’s New York, I notice a separation of identity between blacks and Africans. Africans don’t quite see themselves as the same as someone who isn’t as in touch with their ancestry. I think I know why.

For as long as I know being African in New York was a bad thing. I think things are different now, and much better because of BP. But I used to get “teased/bullied” because of my name all the way up through High School. My parents had me wear a shirt and slacks everyday of middle school. And It wasn’t till high school till I had some freedom to wear jeans to school. My parents, being immigrants, didn’t have the money to afford Nikes let alone Jordans, so I walked around in them Shaqs! I felt different to say the least. It was rough at times but I never truly minded it because I was proud of my heritage and still am. I think as a result of similar and maybe even worse experiences, many Africans see themselves different than African Americans. This is why black panther makes my list. Sure the movie had great action sequences, great fight scenes and an amazing performance by Michael B Jordan. I loved all of it. But for me, seeing all skin colors rally around a film about Africa was a beautiful thing. So many parts of our society and our culture shows evidence of self-hate. This was an example of the love that continues to build for one another in our communities across America and in Africa.

Ready Player One

I don’t know how Steven Spielberg does it. But he always seems to figure out a way to expose the human element inside his movies no matter what the scenario is, or how fictitious a story might be. Of course the original source material, a book of the same name by “Ernest Cline” has a lot to do with this. Spielberg does this masterfully in Ready Player One. Let me start by saying I did not read the book because I don’t read fiction. I just watch it. Don’t try to convince me that the Harry Potter books are better than the movies. I’ll just counter by saying that the movies are more efficient uses of time. Maybe that’s why I don’t read comic books? Anyway, ready Player one takes place in a dystopian future, where reality has become so hard people mainly live inside of a video game. To me, that didn’t seem very different from the world that I and my friends lived in growing up and still live in “Till this day”. Why are video games so powerful and so loved? I think it’s because it gives people a chance to escape their realities to some degree. To live in a fantasy just for a moment of time. The various pop culture references, amazing visual graphics, and a solid storyline ended up being complimentary for me. What was really important and what brought it home was the understanding that life, although it can be hard, can only be lived in reality. After all, “… it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.

Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War

This movie makes the top 10 list of every action movie fan. Although I’ll admit I’m not the biggest comic in fact I’m not a comic book nerd at all I have enjoyed every single Marvel films that came out in the last decade. This one was no different. This is probably one of my favorites up there with Winter Soldier, Thor Ragnarok, and the very first Avengers movie. Somehow the directors of the show manage to incorporate a whole plethora of Heroes, two seemingly separate storylines, 3 main battle sequences, and one scary motherfuker actual movie that was funny, dramatic, insightful, and sad. In case you are among the very few that live underneath a rock and still have not seen this film I won’t provide any spoilers. But I will say, even if you’re not a comic book or action movie fan, you’ll probably still enjoy the layered motives and surprising emotions that the antagonist elicits. Happy wondering why certain other Marvel film being left off my list. Well, this is a list of things. I already have two movies on here, I wanted to keep the list diverse. Sue me.

The War of Art – Book

2018 for me was a year of realization and growth. I was challenged in several ways and I think and I like to believe that I grew because of those challenges. The start of those realizations came in the form of a book recommendation from The Joe Rogan podcast. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a book about overcoming the things in life that hold us back. Pressfield calls it resistance. I found the book to be extremely powerful and inspiring. What resonated with me the most was how much credence Pressfield gave to the individuals power to create change. He called out the internal forces that we allow to control us. And the detrimental behaviors that make it tough for us to break out of our limits. I don’t think the book teaches as much as it reveals things that we’ve already seen, felt and experienced. I only read the book once but I plan to read it several times over. In fact, this book is part of the reason I’m even writing this blog.

Furthermore, it’s important to tell yourself and remind yourself that having high expectations for yourself and challenging yourself to be greater than you currently are is completely okay. It’s okay to want more, it’s okay to demand more but we have to be willing to do the work and we can’t allow fear or resistance as Steven Pressfield calls it, to stand in our way.

One of the many compelling quotes from the book that stuck with me was this one. “Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.” This is basically Steven Pressfield telling us that following our dreams is much like a balled that we need to suit up for everyday. This resonated with me, but I’m sure you’ll find something unique in the book that will resonate with you.

Afro Punk Fest

There are several music/art related festivals that occur every year across the United States. Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Summer Jam & Governors Ball just to name a few. And while Summer Jam is a very popular hip-hop music festival, it only represents a small portion of black music. The black influence spreads so much further than just hip-hop. And while the hip-hop genre is probably the most popular product of the black experience. It does not accurately represent the immense diversity of the culture. Afro-Punk in a way attempts to fill that void, presenting black music in its many forms. From jazz to rock, RnB, Afrobeat, and every unique stop in between, Afro-Punk is a showcase for everything the diaspora has to offer. I went for the first time in 2018, to the Brooklyn show. I have been to several other music festivals and I was shocked, to say the least. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting to see… more white people. Every Festival I had been to up until that point had always been 80% white, at least? Seeing a sea people who look like me singing along to the internet and Miguel was really amazing. I’m mad I waited so long to attend one. And I plan on going again this year.

Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson – UFC 232

Jon Jones the man the myth the legend. He’s back ladies and gentlemen. The one true UFC light heavyweight champion of the world. Leaving absolutely no doubt in the mind of his naysayers. Well, maybe just a picogram of a doubt. Of course everywhere that Jon Jones goes, controversy is not far behind. UFC 232 different. Before either of the two fighters even stepped in the ring, it was revealed that Jon Jones still had banned substances in his blood. It was later revealed that those substances with the remainder of a previous failed drug test gave Jones no competitive advantage. Of course news like that led most believe that the UFC president Dana White and USADA were somehow cheating the system. The result of the drug test Jon Jones wasn’t permitted to fight in Las Vegas and the entire event was moved to Los Angeles. While UFC 232 was a phenomenal night of fights, including Jon Jones’ main event, it was in a way marred by the drug test. In typical John Jones fashion, his fight with Gustafson, what’s a Showcase of his tactical approach to fighting. He allowed his opponent to press forward, it’s simply chopped away at him for 2 1/2 rounds, till in the third, he took him down and beat him unconscious. As you probably guessed by the start of this, I’m a bit partial to Jon Jones. His shortcomings outside the ring aside, he is one of the greatest UFC champions to ever live. Hopefully, he can stay on track and maybe even defend his title against the man who held it in his absence, Daniel Cormier. 2019 looks to be an exciting year in the UFC. I’ll definitely be watching, and paying special attention to my countrymen Israel Adesanya.

Donald Trump

Okay, I’m not much of a politics buff, but here me out. Donald Trump’s presidency has been constant entertainment. It’s like we are living in one of those TNT dramas. You know that saying, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry”? this is basically how I feel every time any update about Donald Trump pops up on my Facebook or YouTube feed. Some of the wildest plot twists and unbelievable moments have come from our very own government this year. And somehow we made it out. Thank the Lord Jesus. From allegations that our president is in bed with the Russians to confirmations that our president has been in bed with porn-stars. This year has been a storytellers/porn parody writers wet dream. And don’t let me get started on the tweets. I never tweet, but I do follow the president on twitter. I need to know what state of mind my world leaders are in. Like when he tweeted that his nuclear button was bigger that Kim Jong Un’s. I made sure to stay inside and work from home that day.

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Further Discussion, Let's get into It

Opportunity Zones. Will They Help or Hurt Black Communities – Objectively Black

During our “Black Safe” review on The Randolph at Broome, we got into a heated argument about the Washington Post’s recent article on Opportunity Zones. These are generally low-income areas that a state can designate to qualifying investors for capital gains tax breaks. As we so eloquently put it in our lively discussion at Randolph’s, the two conflicting viewpoints we have are from a place of optimism and from a place of pessimism:

Idris’ take: Opportunity Zones are one way that lesser served communities can be revitalized. This program could potentially work to give people a means to level their playing field and build wealth in their communities. The programs attached could train, educate, and give financial stability to the neighborhoods in this opportunity zones.

Dougie’s take: Opportunity Zones are too good to be true. Historically, the companies participating in these programs have done so for personal gain and have not helped the communities that the architects of these programs said they’d serve. Major corporations will (and have historically) used the program’s benefits to further gentrify.

Idris Gray: So let’s get into it. Have you read the article? What were your first thoughts on it? I’m thinking that you may not like my view on it, haha!

F. Dougie: Yeah man, I’m super skeptical of this kind of thing. I feel like these guys talk a big game, and it may sound good on paper, but when you really dig down into what these o-zones do and have historically done, they aren’t for us and won’t actually help underserved communities.

Idris Gray: So, I’m on the opposite end here. I’m thinking that this could be a wonderful opportunity for some of these more underprivileged areas and the people in them to elevate their economic standing. Is there cause for skepticism? I think so. Is there also a chance that this can improve communities and help to empower the people that currently live there? I think so too.

F. Dougie: You’re right. I’ll concede that in the right hands, this could be a brilliant idea. This particular iteration of Opportunity Zones was created by a Republican and a handful of billionaires and is also championed by Trump himself. For me, the main reason for my skepticism is because it has been the modus operandi of the Republican party to pretend to serve the poor, claim to support the working class all while giving huge tax breaks to the rich and powerful.

With billions in for-profit capital likely to flow into poor communities, there’s a chance that the very people the program is intended to lift up could instead get pushed out.

Idris Gray: Damn, well when you put it like that! Listen, I never want to champion an idea from the mouth of the “commander-in-thief”, but there seems to be some upside here. Now, it’s important to differentiate a social program from an economic one. This, to me, is an economic program built to incentivize big companies for building in these “O-zones”.

This isn’t welfare, or healthcare right? The byproduct of this is what should positively affect the lives of the common man. But this is a tax break to millionaires for moving your business locations to one of these areas. The value proposition for the common man is the opportunity to also take advantage of these new revitalized communities. From the small business contractor to the person looking for educational training. To the individual investor looking to purchase property in one of these areas. But you are right, this will without a doubt displace some people.

F. Dougie:How could you be sooo heartlessssss”? (Kanye Voice) Are we breaking a few eggs to make an omelet now? Is that kind of loss acceptable?

The tax breaks are the biggest part of this, and for me, that is where the problem starts. Investors will soon be able to shove capital gains into projects/companies based in these zones, slowly erase their tax obligations, and then also turn around and grow the proceeds tax-free. There are almost no limits. That’s scary. Amazon, for example, hasn’t even stepped foot in NYC yet and they’ve already been given a $3B Matrix-dodge on their tax responsibility.

Will tax incentives really encourage investors to help revitalize low-income communities? The people that built this, claim that the program will reduce poverty, and bring jobs. The crux of the argument for the O-Zone program is that tax incentives for participating investors will turn problem areas into areas of economic growth and innovation. I’ve actually had some time to research similar efforts from the past, and now I feel even more hesitant about this program. Many of the results and findings suggest that these programs are not helpful. I think this data will further support my point that historically, programs like this have not been on our side.

Idris Gray: You’re right. One displaced family shouldn’t be acceptable. Perhaps there are ways that we can educate communities on how to best navigate these upcoming changes?

The map in the article greatly concerns me, D. Especially, now that I see how they’ve split up Queens. There are parts of Long Island City and Astoria on this map! As far as I know, these are pretty wealthy areas. But according to EIG, the areas are designated by income and not by property value. So I’m a little torn on this designation based on personal experience. Nevertheless, I think the situation with taxes and companies avoiding taxes is a rampant problem. Whether they take incentives to not pay tax by investing in these zones or find loopholes by moving production sites to India. They gone save that money.

Now in terms of the claim to reduce poverty and revitalize areas. It seems to me like the standard way economies start to flourish is through business. So this would seem beneficial. But I do hear what you are saying. What exactly happens to the people who live in these areas? I think that’s where both our concerns lie, but from different perspectives. How does lil Taquan benefit from this? How does Jalisa maximize her growth potential in this environment? I could say it’s through some type of job training or more career opportunities, but it’s just as likely that Carl from Cincinnati is gonna apply for that position at Amazon and get the nod over Jalissa. And eventually, move into Tay Tay’s apartment.


F. Dougie:
I think that these are very good questions. I also think that it’s going to take time to see if any of these training programs and jobs help to grow the community, to see if this is help things start to change and to turn around. I’m still a skeptic, but I’m a little further to the right than I was before we really dived into this. Working in the private sector, we both know how important investments like this are in underserved communities (which is probably the impetus for this conversation). My thing though is, O-Zones are not a new idea.

Looking into this a bit further, Margaret Thatcher’s super conservative ass tried this shit in the ’80s in London and called them “Enterprise Zones”. The Clinton Administration tried the same shit in the ’90s and called them “Empowerment zones” (cute, right?) “Give the super-predators the power to empower themselves, Hillary. You’ll see. It’ll work! We’ll look like heroes and meanwhile our corporate donors can save a few Billion in taxes! It’s genius!”

I’mma end with this. Many efforts have been made to look at the effectiveness of these zones. Both in the U.S. (Clinton) and the U.K. (Thatcher). Overall, scholars conclude that so far, that these programs haven’t worked as intended. That they result in tax giveaways for major corporations and pass over the much-needed communities.

In their exhaustive study of 75 enterprise zones in 13 states, Drs. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, professors of urban and regional planning, found that the tax incentives had

“little or no positive impact on economic growth”. Which again, was my main fear. – Peters and Fisher

Looking at this on the outside, I will concede that it looks like an opportunity to help underserved communities. That is exactly how it is intended to look. BUT, history has shown us otherwise, I have little reason to believe that Black-Republican Tim Scott and his boss Donald Trump are moving quickly to take advantage of O-zones because they intend to help empower communities.

I want to be an optimist and see how this all turns out. Hell, it’ll probably be a decade or so. There is even bi-partisan support in some states…. but the pessimist in me wants to see anyone other than “Cheeto Satan” and his group of republican f#ckbois shepherd this initiative. Maybe we can stall this shit until 2020 at the very least?

Idris Gray: You are right. There have been zones of all kinds. The fact that the word “zones” continue to be used for all these initiatives is funny when you think about it. Especially considering that none of them have proven wildly successful on their own. In fact, the same can be said for Obama’s, yes Obama’s “promise zones”, which worked much like Clintons. I know, downplaying Obama’s efforts is blasphemy, especially during black history month. But this isn’t a slight at Obama, or Clinton or Trump.

Like you said it all comes down to implementation. Perhaps the Golden One isn’t the right person to push this program. I too will concede that the evidence you’ve given raises questions about the effectiveness. Little economic growth and big breaks for businesses, don’t seem like a good trade-off for displaced peoples. But I will also say that how these programs are implemented is the real secret to success or failure.

“If states select areas that are relatively well off or already gentrifying, most of the benefits will accrue to investors and developers for investments that would have happened anyway.”

The article goes on to elaborate on why the distinction and how these types of programs are implemented is what can really dictate their success.

I still think that the idea of improving areas by incentivizing businesses is at the very least economically sound. But I think if done correctly, it can go much further. People need to be informed of these changes and these tax benefits for corporations so they aren’t blindsided. So that they can make informed decisions about their futures even. Listen. eventually, all neighborhoods will be targeted for expansion, whether through zones or not. I think the question needs to be how can people be empowered to make good decisions for their families and their communities.  

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Further Discussion, Let's get into It

Did the Gillette Ad Hurt Your Feelings? – Objectively Black

      By now, most of us have seen Gillette’s new commercial. Toxic masculinity has always been a subject that we’ve tiptoed around. You understand, right? We’re two dudes and our general perspective on shit comes from a straight male pov. But when we saw the commercial and subsequent ‘backlash’, we wanted to address this shit head on….so let’s get into it.

Idris Gray: Sooooo I guess I’ll start by saying that as a black man whose suffered razor bumps like many black men… We can’t even use these Gillette razors. Those double triple and quadruple blade shit don’t work for us. Stay away, men. Use Bevel if you must. Although beards are in IF you can grow one.

F. Dougie: Yeah, I’m right there with you, fam. Shoutouts to Tristan Walker at Bevel. We all know Gillette. We’ve been bombarded with the cheesy “Best a Man Can Get” commercials since we were old enough to start watching the NFL. It’s no coincidence that the league is Gillette’s biggest client and is currently embroiled in several scandals of its own, but that’s a conversation for another time (Super Bowl Sunday).

If you haven’t seen the commercial yet, there are scenes where bullies pick on smaller kids. Images of cyberbullying, and niggas with no game trying to holla at women doing nothing other than trying to walk down the street. Sure, parts of the commercial were a little cheesy. Sure, a gang of actual bullies chasing the nerdy kid down the street for a beatdown was a little over the top, but again, We’re thinking that Gillette is trying to take a little responsibility in an era where the current message to young men is “You’ve gotta grab ‘em by the pussy” (Y’alls president. Not my President).

Kids hear and see more than we think. They emulate their parents and their role models. Unless I’m completely mistaken and totally missed the point of this commercial, the message was to show the next generation that men have a responsibility to correct some of the issues that we are causing in our society today.

Company history aside, the message of the commercial was pretty straight forward. “Men, we can do better”. Not particularly controversial. Right? Apparently, it was. Currently, the ad has been down-voted twice as many times as its been up-voted on YouTube (another safe-haven for trolls, racists, and misinformation. See also; Facebook and Twitter). The comments are toxic (don’t ever read the comments).

Idris Gray: I too thought that parts of the commercial were extremely cheesy, but it was all to make a clear statement. One that bothered a lot of people. What was the statement? To me, it was simply that we need to OBJECTIVELY look at what we consider normal male behavior and question if it’s acceptable. The next question we have to ask ourselves is why were people so outraged by something as innocuous as a T.V. ad? I think it’s because to them it wasn’t so harmless. People really felt attacked by the T.V. telling them they should be better people.

Let us not be fooled by the “I don’t like shaving blade companies to be political” talk. These people were hella butthurt. They got super defensive protecting their freedom to be assholes. There were some who were offended because they believe the ad in some way paints all men in a negative light. Well, the ad clearly showed examples of men being dicks, and others doing the right thing. But of course, people will feel attacked and threatened by the characters they closely identify with.

F. Dougie: You are right. The same fuckbois saying they don’t want shaving companies being political are probably the same ones saying that athletes being political. Ask Muhammed Ali, Jim Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Lebron James what they think of “shut up and play”. )Not Jordan tho. Because “Republicans buy sneakers too”.)

OF COURSE, muthafuckers took it personally:

“I’m never using Gillette products again!“ (Yeah you will)

“It’s ok to be a white heterosexual man” (You’re off topic dude…Also, it’s so hard for Y’all out there right now, huh?)

“Not all men are monsters!” (See: Entire White House staff)

“Make America Great Again!” (Didn’t see that one coming….)

If this commercial really triggered you, aren’t you part of the problem? If you have a problem with being told to “be a little better”, aren’t you a symptom of the actual disease that we’re trying to eradicate from our society? I’m sayin, I don’t pretend to be a perfect man or even a perfect ally. Lord knows that’s not even for me to decide. But when did asking to improve attitudes on things like catcalling women on the streets, stepping in to stop bullying, mansplaining, and sexual harassment become too much to ask? Does it matter what company is doing the asking?

There is a reason that people are asking to destroy the patriarchy in its entirety. Maybe the reason is that there are cowards are in the comments sections lamenting about being “castrated by a men’s razor company”. Turns out, if Gillette’s sales are hurt in the short-term, it won’t be by much because you actually need testicles to be castrated. In some cases, it looks like no razor is needed.

Idris Gray: Preach fam. Listen, at this moment in time where masculinity is being challenged, (in my opinion) many men have become increasingly afraid of losing a perceived notion of what makes men, men. You need to be a brute. You need to be insensitive, you need to be outspoken and unwilling to compromise. You need to be crude and brash and even rude. In other words, you need to be like Donald Trump.

F. Dougie: Ouch…I don’t see the lie tho.

Idris Gray: I know what you are going to say, “Here we go, OB is going at the Donald again!”. Look, there are lots of men in all our lives who fit this bill. Trump is just the most notorious at the moment. He’s characterized a whole crop of men and people in general who feel empowered to do what whatever they want. To be racist, misogynistic and homophobic. Well in case you haven’t heard, no matter how naturally this behavior comes to you, it isn’t acceptable. Real men understand this. And Gillette, no matter their real intentions here (which I believe to be solely economic in nature) are letting us know that we need to evaluate ourselves.

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Black Safe, Dining, Drinks

NYC Restaurant Review: The Randolph At Broome – Objectively Black

“Black Safe” – A discussion and review of restaurants and bars that we’ve visited. The point of these reviews is to give people of color a sense of how we felt or were treated when we patronize these establishments. We’ve all been there. Your service seemed extra slow. Maybe people are looking at you crazy. Either way, we know that our treatment in public spaces is much different than others. We aren’t going out looking for fights, and hopefully soon, Black Safe won’t even be necessary. But for now, we gotta report back to y’all on what we experience.

How was the food? How were the drinks? We’ll each give our take on what we experienced, then we’ll give a score out of 5.

F. Dougie: To start off, I gotta say that I’ve been to Randolph Beer before. Not this location, but the Randolph’s in Dumbo serves as a hangout spot for me and my crew on weekends. The Broome street location was easy to locate and had plenty of space both at the bar and in the dining room. With over 30 different beers on tap, this is a choice spot for happy hour. The 10oz to 16oz Happy Hour upgrade is catchy, but not stellar enough to be considered a happy hour favorite.

Again, the beer and drink selection is dope so it’s hard to complain, especially when the prices are around an average $8 per pint. The bar itself is dark AS FUCK so set your phone to low brightness unless you want temporary corneal damage. As for the ratio, we definitely held it down on Broome street. A few other brothas and sistas rolled in and I personally want to thank Randolph’s for not asking me and my partna to leave (as they could have) when we got extra, extra black and had a loud “discussion” about gentrification and opportunity zones (more to come on that later). I have a feeling we’ll definitely be back. The fried chicken sammich was bomb bar food and definitely hit the spot after a long ass stressful day. I also appreciate the bartender asking if I wanted hot sauce on the side. We really appreciate you for that, fam.

It’s the little things, right Y’all?

Black Safeness: 4.4/5

Idris Gray: Listen Y’all, we started this segment off the only way we know how. LOUD! As we do… we got into a heated conversation about politics on a random Wednesday night.  But that’s ok, the Randolph at Broome, was still happy to accommodate all our blackness. First off, the location is super easy to get to, both the green and orange are nearby. They have a wide assortment of beers and plenty of space to accommodate big groups.

While there isn’t anything special about the bar upon entry, it fit the bill as a comfortable location for drinks and or a meal after work. I am currently abstaining from drinks after a very eventful New Years, but the food was good and priced about right for Manhattan. I had a grilled chicken sandwich which hit the spot. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, how was the ambiance? Well, it was fucking dark. Like I almost lost Dougie, dark. So take some advice from uncle Idris, and make sure you take that first date outside under a streetlamp before you make that final decision. Furthermore, it seems like Dougie and I have been going to the wrong spots for years. Cause this was one of the few times we weren’t the only two brothas in the spot. That was a pleasant surprise for sure. The Randolph was good all around and I will for sure be hitting this spot if I’m ever in the area again.

Black Safeness: 4.4/5

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Further Discussion, Let's get into It, Really N****?

Best President Ever? …Really? – Objectively Black

Trump keeps telling us that he’s the best president ever. That he’s got the best administration of all time. Last fall, he delivered remarks at the annual United Nation General Assembly in New York City. He bragged about administration’s accomplishments, saying “it has done more than any other administration in U.S. history”…..the room erupted in laughter.

Now that we’ve had time to really reflect on this shit, and since muthafuckers wanna keep score, let’s get into it:

F. Dougie: There are bad people on both sides? Really Nigga?! Worse than a group of Nazi’s and KKK?! I know your father was in the Klan (allegedly), but you’d think you would have just taken an L on this one.

Idris Gray: No collusion? Really Nigga?! You’ve been in office 2 years? And have been investigated by the FBI whole time!

F. Dougie: Really Nigga?! No collusion? 34 indictments and guilty pleas by the special council. Your ‘fixer’ rolled on you and your homies are finding out slowly that loyalty to you ain’t worth 10-20 in federal prison.

F. Dougie: Best administration? Really Nigga?! 35 officials have resigned or have been let go through January 2019. That’s more first year departures in the last 40 years. Congrats. Look at the bright side. At least that 65% turnover is almost twice as high as your current approval rating.

Idris Gray: You paid off a porn star after it leaked that you had an affair with her and lied about the shit? Then threw your own lawyer under the bus while he went on to snitch on you?! I wish I could say I felt bad for the homie. Really Nigga?!

Idris Gray: You’re an honest guy. Really Nigga?! The Washington Post has tallied and debunked over 5,000 lies in the last year alone. That’s 13 lies a day! Do you just wake up in the middle of the night, walk over to the mirror and just lie to restore some sort of sociopathic balance?

F. Dougie: You’re a brilliant negotiator? Really Nigga?! After tricking you into saying you’d take full blame for the longest government shutdown in America’s history, Nancy Pelosi dogged walked you through the streets and cancelled your State of the Union speech. I’m sure your base appreciates not getting their paychecks, though. That should play really nice for you on the campaign trail.

Idris Gray: Perhaps your biggest success comes from the 2 Supreme Court justices that were confirmed during your term. Congratulations! Good thing one of them probably never sexually assaulted anyone. I know you look down upon that kind of thing 😉 Really Nigga?!

F. Dougie: “Hamberders”? Really Nigga?!

Idris Gray: 35 long ass days. That’s how long government employees across the country went without pay. The longest government shutdown EVER. And for what? To basically come to a previously agreed upon decision? All that posturing while people went hungry. FLAWLESS VICTORY. Really Nigga?!

F. Dougie: And then you bragged that you came up with a solution? Really Nigga? That’s like giving up 2 own-goals in the World Cup, losing the game, then going to celebrate with the opposing team.

We’re only 2 years into this 5th level of purgatory thats called a presidency and already you’ve set the record for the number of scandals by an administration.

Not only are you surrounding yourself with inept family members who are accused of conflicts of interest, your crew is accused of misuse of public funds, selling influence for favors, paying off women to keep quiet about extra-marital sexual encounters, working for a foreign government (let that sink in), violating ethics laws, dozens of lawsuits, and a number of other national embarrassments that we are too tired to list here.

So getting back to our main question…. Really Nigga?! Your administration is the best ever? I guess if you actually find a way to get away with all this shit, maybe it really is.

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Black Safe, Dining, Drinks

NYC Restaurant Review: The Henry at Life Hotel – Objectively Black

“Black Safe” – A discussion and review of restaurants and bars that we’ve visited. The point of these reviews is to give people of color a sense of how we felt or were treated when we patronize these establishments. We’ve all been there. Your service seemed extra slow. Maybe people are looking at you crazy. Either way, we know that our treatment in public spaces is much different than others. We aren’t going out looking for fights, and hopefully soon, Black Safe won’t even be necessary. But for now, we gotta report back to y’all on what we experience.

How was the food? How were the drinks? We’ll each give our take on what we experienced, then we’ll give a score out of 5.

F. Dougie: Henry at Life Hotel is an African, Caribbean, and African-American inspired concept by head chef J.J. Johnson. He took over the restaurant in the fall of 2018 and it quickly jumped to the top of many New York restaurant critics must-eat lists.

From the moment we walked in, we could tell this was going to be a different dining experience. The staff was diverse and the music was expertly curated. I can’t remember the last time that I stopped in the middle of a dinner conversation to sing “Hypnotize” (Biggie) “I Get Around” (Pac), and “Electric Relaxation” (Tribe). My man Idris almost started freestyling to “Get By” (Talib) during a conversation about the government shutdown. This expertly chosen playlist helped inject some much-needed blackness into lower-midtown. After a long ass day of dealing with entitled-ass clients, sometimes “Gon’ blast, squeeze first ask questions last” is just the shit you need to hear to keep you motivated.

The food was on point, but you didn’t really expect a brotha to get African and Carribean food wrong, did you? The drinks were pricey, but much to be expected from a hotel restaurant. I had a Captain Lawrence ‘Golden Delicious’ and couldn’t have been happier with my decision. I know what y’all are thinking. “Why would he drink a Belgian ale with Afro-Carribean food?” Sure, I’m certain there are many different cocktails that would have paired better with my meal, and I’m sure the head chef and mixologist worked hard to create some great cocktails that complement their menu better….but I got a baby that needs to go to college one day and you know damn well how much a cocktail costs in New York City so Y’all can go to hell.

The Lamb Suya Kebabs with Za’atar Yogurt and Roti were an excellent starter and you already know I had to go with the Roasted Jerk Chicken for my entree. Yeah, I got chicken for dinner. I did this for Y’all! We gotta make sure if someone is putting Jerk Chicken on the menu, they representing. It was tender, succulent, and had a crispy, almost fried skin. If you like spicy (white people beware), this should give you juuuust enough of that Caribbean kick without overpowering. We’ll definitely be back.

Black Safeness: 4.6/5

Idris Gray: “Mazel tav, it’s a celebration bitches!” – Jay -Z (Roc Boys). This was the mood as soon as we entered Henry at Life Hotel, right on 31st between 5th and 6th avenue. It’s the one with the big neon pink sign in the window. You can’t miss it.

As you walk in the restaurant you are immediately greeted with great service. You’ll want to make a reservation before coming, but walk-ins are definitely welcome. There’s a good sized bar as well, which is ideal for those after work drinks. We made a reservation for 7:30 but they were able to seat us a bit earlier. Now let me warn you, as you walk to your table you may be stopped in your tracks by the sound of 50 Cent, Talib or HOV over the speakers. Do not adjust your TV set fam, this real life, you’re at home. At several times during the dining experience, you may find yourself breaking out in song just to remind everyone that you know all the words to Let’s Ride by Q-Tip.

We can’t say enough about the diversity of the restaurant. It’s not that hard to find good service at a hotel restaurant but it is hard to find a staff as diverse as the one here in midtown Manhattan. That diversity doesn’t quite resonate in the seats of the restaurants from our sample size, but this was one night. And this is why we are here! To let Y’all know about these gems!

For drinks, I did the Captain Lawrence ‘Golden Delicious’. Cocktails looked good but I’m never sure what type of glass a mixed drink will come in, so I just get beer. Weird, I know. Don’t @ me. Either way, the beer was good. Now for the food and the menu. Being of West African descent, I could definitely appreciate the menu choices. I think the chef does a great job of incorporating different parts of the diaspora. That being said you don’t have to be African to enjoy every part of the experience here. In fact, if you’d like to enjoy every part of the menu there’s an option for that. It’s called the “It Was All a Dream”. I imagine that the food coma you are put in post meal is the main reason why, but it incorporates the main dishes in the menu into one and feeds the whole squad.

After the Lamb Suya Kebabs with Za’atar Yogurt and Roti appetizer which was amazing. I chose to go with the Salmon Noodles with  African Nectar Broth, Bok Choy, Edamame, and Rice Noodles. I had no idea what “African Nectar Broth” was. But now I’m mad at moms for never making it. The broth was delicious and the Salmon perfectly cooked. I really can’t say much more than you need to try it, and try this restaurant. We’ll definitely be going back.

Black Safeness: 4.8/5


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