Rolling Stone Magazine

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Summer 2020 Issue


Summer 2020 Issue #1145

Jason Fine Joseph Hutchins Jan Wenner Ron DeRenzo Afika Nxumalo Jamil Smith Catriona Ni Aolain Mattia Silva, Dewayne Gage, Christian Hoard, Alison Weinflash, Alexa Pipia, Briana Ehrlich, Simon Vozick-Levinson, Jonah Weiner Angie Martoccio, Jordan Runtagh, Charles Thorp, Merle Ginsberg, Brian Tallerico, Samantha Hissong, Tessa Stuart, Hana Giorgis Editor in Chief


Director of Creative Content

Staff Writers

Creative Director



Senior Writer


Editor's Note Film Reviews Protest Self-Care The Top 10 Protest Songs Fight Against The Gentrification of Afropunk Festival American Barbarian: On Mona Haydar & Being a Hijabi Woman in Noname Gypsy On Black Rap Lives Matter FKA Twigs On Her Music & Destigmatizing Black Hair Reviews Top of the Charts Page 12

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Summer 2020 Issue


The New Vanguard Note from the Editor on the significance of this issue of Rolling Stone.

Summer 2020 Issue



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In the words of James Baldwin "The history of America is the history of the American Negro." So much of what we consider to be American Culture has its origins in the culture of the African American community, especially music. From jazz, blues, rock, and country; the sound of America is at once the sound of blackness. We are indebted to the significance that Black Americans have created in this country. Rolling Stone has an especially big debt to the black American community, where we have long covered their music, but given priority of visibility to white musicians. We are now looking to change that. In this issue we look at the power of protest music today, specifically amongst non-white communities and artists. This is issue of Rolling Stone signals a new direction, where we will re-channel our focus on uplifting the small grassroots voices rather than catering to celebrities and stars. We must continue to fight for the recognition of their personhood. This issue of Rolling Stone is dedicated to those who use music to protest injustice, and fight for equality for all. Remember, if you remain neutral in situations of oppression you have chosen the side of the oppressor. All the Best, Jack Moore Editor in Chief

I Am Not Your Negro Peter Travers re-reviews the bold documentary about the legacy of America's best writer, James Baldwin.


Summer 2020 Issue

Written by Peter Travers

RELEASED Feb. 3, 2016 DIRECTOR Raoul Peck PRODUCERS Rémi Grellety Hébert Peck STARRING Samuel L. Jackson MUSIC BY Alexei Aigui Available to stream on Amazon Prime, Netflix, & Kanopy services.

“The history of America is the history of the Negro in America. And it’s not a pretty picture.” These words were written by James Baldwin, the African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and fierce social critic. When the man of letters died in 1987, he had finished only 30 pages of what would have been his magnum opus, Remember This House, consisting of tales torn from the lives and murders of three of Baldwin’s closest friends: the civil-rights pioneers Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. O The book never happened, but the movie I Am Not Your Negro, directed by the Haiti-born filmmaker and activist Raoul Peck using Baldwin’s own words, is alive and kicking ass. Nominated for an Academy Award as the year’s best documentary, this chronicle of a long, hard (and ongoing) struggle will compete with two other probing docs about race in America — Ava DuVernay’s 13th and Ezra Edelman’s mammoth, seven-hour OJ: Made in America. Peck’s film stands tall even in that distinguished company. It’s unmissable and unforgettable. O In archival footage, culled from Baldwin’s university speeches and guest spots on The Dick Cavett Show, we see the man himself, breathing eloquent fire. Samuel L. Jackson narrates in the author’s voice with supreme style and fluency, reducing his booming tones to suggest Baldwin’s hushed fervor. It’s a remarkable piece of voice acting. The clips, expertly edited by Alexandra Strauss, contrast the horrific past with an ever-scarier present and illustrate how Baldwin’s words echo with equal urgency today — especially when the concept of #blacklivesmatter faces fresh peril. It’s not far from the 1960’s scenes of police brutality in the South to clips of Rodney

King and the tragedy of Ferguson. Peck is also astute in using Baldwin’s words about pop culture, especially films, such as The Defiant Ones and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, to show how racism is wired into the most seemingly liberal pieties. The writer was persecuted on suspicions of being “homosexual” by F.B.I. hypocrite J. Edgar Hoover; he later fled to France, where he died. O But his influence, from Notes of a Native Son to The Fire Next Time and The Devil Finds Work, is still being felt. Watching him in his patented uniform of dark suit, white shirt and skinny tie — his hooded eyes flashing as he speaks truth to pissedoff power — Baldwin remains a resonant force three decades after his death. Would he be validated or appalled, you wonder, to know that his words have lost none of their sting. ■

Miss Juneteenth

Writer-director Channing Godfrey Peoples’ debut about a former Miss Juneteenth winner is a mother daughter drama.


Summer 2020 Issue

Written by Peter Travers

RELEASED Feb. 3, 2016 DIRECTOR Channing Peoples STARRING Nicole Beharie Alexis Chikaeze Lori Hayes Jaime Matthis Available to stream on Amazon Prime, Netflix, & Kanopy services.

A Texas mother pushes her reluctant teen daughter to follow in her footsteps as a beauty queen. Yes, we’ve seen so many versions of this story before — but luckily, the Miss Juneteenth competition is no typical beauty pageant. It commemorates the day in 1865, some two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when slaves in Texas were finally freed. And the movie that bears its name, set to be released on VOD on June 19th during one of the greatest racial-justice protests in history, bristles with timeliness as it celebrates young African-American women who are descendants of slaves and determined to stand on their own. Fort Worth native Channing Godfrey Peoples, making a striking feature debut as director and screenwriter, knows this place in her bones. She’s crafted a keenly observant and emotionally resonant debut film that feels authentically lived in. O None of this history means much to Kai (Dallas-born Alexis Chikaeze), the 15-year-old who’d rather be working with her competitive dance squad than contending for the honor of being crowned Miss Juneteenth, with its emphasis on etiquette and retro pageantry. It’s Kai’s striving mother Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie), the winner of the title in 2004, who yearns for her daughter to take this year’s crown. The package includes a full scholarship to a historically black college of her choice, and the challenge to do something with it. Turq, as she’s called, missed her chance, turning to stripping when Kai’s father Ronnie (Insecure‘s Kendrick Sampson) gambled away whatever he earned as a mechanic. Now Turq works as an assistant manager at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge, where Wayman (Marcus M. Mauldin) calls her out on her progressive ideas on how to overhaul his shabby operation and her

“badass man choices.” She’s also a cosmetician at a funeral home where her boss, Bacon (Akron Watson), holds out the promise of making her the First Lady of his expanding burial business. Her personal version of the American dream, however, is being beholden to nobody. O Behari, so good in American Violet, Shame, 42 and TV’s Sleepy Hollow, is clearly a major actress. She invests Turq with a determination untarnished by self pity, even when her evangelical mother (Lori Hayes) shows a disturbing devotion to the bottle. Turq’s goal is finding the $800 to buy Kai a proper dress for the pageant, kicking Kai’s nogood boyfriend (Jaime Matthis) to the curb and getting past a sexist tendency in her community to keep women in their place. And she holds the screen beautifully, which is key in movie that takes its time and requires viewers to settle in. There are no exploding fireworks in the cinematography by Daniel Patterson, the editing by Courtney Ware or the score by Emily Rice. O Behari and Chikaeze work together beautifully to show a mother-daughter bond that still allows each woman her self-determination. The climatic pageant scenes, accompanied by a parade and streamers, come down to who these women are. Turq begs her daughter to recite the same poem that helped her win the Miss Juneteenth title in 2004. But Turq didn’t raise a daughter to copycat anyone. So Kai does her own interpretation of Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” ■

Da 5 Bloods Peter Travers Review of Spike Lee's new film on black veterans returning to Vietnam 50 years later.


Summer 2020 Issue

Written by Peter Travers

RELEASED June 10, 2020 DIRECTOR Spike Lee STARRING Delroy Lindo Jonathan Majors Clarke Peters Norm Lewis Isiah Whitlock Jr. Mélanie Thierry Jasper Pääkkönen Available to stream on Amazon Prime, Netflix, & Kanopy services.

Spike Lee hits a new career peak with this game-changer about four, emotionally damaged African-American veterans who return to Vietnam in the Trump era to recover the body of their fallen brother-in-arms —n and maybe a semblance of their former selves. Debuting on Netflix on June 12th, Da 5 Bloods speaks urgently to our current moment. Lee had no idea that his movie would be released as the killing of George Floyd would inspire people to take to the streets in protest, but he’s known in his bones how it felt for Black Americans to bear the crushing weight of a knee on their necks. Lee’s righteous anger in Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and BlacKkKlansman rises to gale force here. This is a lobbed grenade. But it’s also personal filmmaking at its prodding, profound best. This is a Spike Lee joint and a Spike Lee history lesson. Prepare to be schooled. O The past is prologue as Lee burns the demoralizing legacy of Nam. The filmmaker has a legit gripe against the white face Hollywood puts on war. And in adapting a script about white soldiers by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo that Platoon’s Oliver Stone was originally slated to direct, Lee and frequent co-writer Kevin Willmott make sure to divest the film of whitewashed myths about heroism. The four remaining “bloods,” as black soldiers called themselves, we follow aren’t carved out of the John Wayne playbook when they meet up at a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City to begin their mission. They’re funny, fierce and flawed. Paul, played with lightning intensity by Delroy Lindo, is even a Trump voter; his fellow bloods are disgusted to see their PTSD-afflicted brother wearing a MAGA hat. “I’m tired of not getting mine,” he says, touching on the theme of black disenfranchise-

ment that courses through the film. Paul is too proud to accept charity from Eddie (Norm Lewis), the owner of national car dealership who hides his impending bankruptcy. But the bond these men, including Otis (Clarke Peters) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), have for each other is truly in their blood. They idolized their fallen squad leader, Stormin’ Norman, seen in flashbacks and played by Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman. A word about those flashbacks: The older actors are not digitally de-aged, Irishman-style, to suggest their younger selves. Instead, Lee lets the contrast illustrate how their haunted past and present are one. OWhat are they hiding? Do the bloods have more selfish motives then recovering Norman’s bodily remains for a hero’s burial? “He was our Malcolm and our Martin,” says Otis, underlining the shattering impact when the young bloods first learn about the 1968 assassination of Dr. King. O As the bloods push into the jungle, with Paul’s son ​ David (a stellar J​ onathan Majors)​ along to heal their broken relationship, each of the men wrestles with his conscience. Do they use the gold for black reparations as Norman intended, or line their own pockets with the help of​ Desroche (J​ean Reno, oozing self-interest)​, a shady French contact willing for a price to turn the gold into currency? Nothing about the terrors of the jungle, including snakes, traps, landmines and violent retribution from a rogue band of Vietnamese officers out to reclaim the gold, can compare with the battle raging inside the heads of the bloods. Paul, still out to get his share and tormented by hallucinations brought on by illness and a guilty secret, strikes out on his own, leaving the others struggling to do the right thing. But what is the right thing? ■

Protest Self-Care with Greentea Peng The London singer gives tips for maintaining mental and physical health before and after protests.


“This summer, buzzy Berlin-based YouTube Channel COLORS posted a video of a mostly-unknown singer performing a previously unreleased track. Standing in the centre of a mint-green room with a mic hanging before her, Greentea Peng waits tentatively as the opening riff of a sitar plays. Wearing thick gold bangles, huge hoop earrings, and a ring on almost every finger, she’s also impressively inked: a throat chakra symbol atop her voice box, symbolising authenticity and speaking one’s truth. An Om symbol sits between her eyebrows. Her style is inimitably unique, but then she starts to sing, and her husky, soulful vocals captivate you immediately. You’re convinced by every word she speaks. You sit up, switch on and really listen. O “A lot of people reached out and connected to that song on a deep level.” The song in question, “Downers”, is a cloudy, indefinable expression of feeling lost and isolated, even when surrounded by friends. Here, Aria is laying out her most intimate emotions for us to find solace in, a process that, I suggest, must result in a feeling of intense vulnerability. “I think it’s just important to be honest, man,” she tells me. “I don’t really know how I can lie, you know what I mean? Singing is such a personal thing. You’ve gotta feel it.”O It’s clear that Aria feels the words she’s singing. It’s hard to imagine her doing anything else as the effortless melodies pour out, but the path she’s on now wasn’t planned: a chance meeting with now-manager Kesh, on a beach in Mexico, came after an extended break from singing. “She was like, ‘what do you do?’, and I was like ‘nothing, man!’” She laughs as she explains how she was subsequently encouraged to return to her true vocation of music and turn it into her career. “It was a bit mad actu-

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ally, how it all happened.” In 2018, the 24-year-old released her first EP, “Sensi”, comprising of six songs that wax and wane throughout different genres like compact, unpredictable bubbles of energy. On “Moonchild”, a psychedelic beat fluctuates behind Aria’s layered vocals as she sings: “It’s not money on my mind/ See I’d rather spend my time/ Getting high and staying aligned.” On the hypnotic, lo-fi “Loving Kind”, she asks: “Why can’t I be alone?” through manipulated, warped vocals. O The name “Rising”, then, seems apt – in the year since the release of “Sensi”, Aria’s social media following has catapulted. Her performances, once held in intimate spaces, now include Boiler Room sets and, a few days prior to our chat, her own sold out EP launch party. On “Saturn”, the singer croons “Have you ever really loved somebody/If you don’t love yourself?”, the now-commodified notion of “self-love” being something she tells me she’s always struggled with. “I’ve had mad image issues since I was a kid, and it’s just learning to shake off that conditioning. It doesn’t really matter what I look like, but obviously us girls, we always tend to be a little bit… Don’t we?” Without needing to spell it out for each other, we immediately reach an understanding of the inescapable anxieties attached to being a woman in an image-obsessed society — an unspoken solidarity connects us. Now that she’s been thrust into the spotlight for hordes of internet dwellers to pick apart her appearance, I ask if these insecurities have intensified, and she admits “They’re still present. It’s a learning process.” ■

Greentea Peng's Self Care Essentials 1. Rose Quartz Crystal, which enhances ones exposure to love & positivity. 2. Ethically and sustainably sourced palo santo and sage are good for cleansing the energy of your home. 3. LA-based company Boy Smell's Rosalita Candle has relaxing scents of Turkish rose, saffron, and leather. 4.Terra Cotta essential oil diffusser helps bring uplifting scents into your personal space. 5. Yew Yew's NBD CBD droplets offer a calming sensation. 6. Moonstar Incense holder and Hinoki Japanese incense.







The Top 8 Protest Songs The greatest activist anthems from artists like Billie Holiday, N.W.A., and Kendrick Lamar.


Strange Fruit Billie Holiday "Strange Fruit" protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to the fruit of trees. Such lynchings had reached a peak in the Southern United States at the turn of the 20th century, and the great majority of victims were black. The

Blowin' in the Wind Bob Dylan "Blowin' in the Wind" is a song written by Bob Dylan in 1962 and released as a single and on his album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in 1963. It has been described as a protest song, and poses a series of rhetorical questions about peace, war, and freedom. The

Fuck Tha Police N.W.A. Since its release in 1988, the "Fuck the Police" slogan continues to influence pop culture today in the form of T-shirts, artwork, political expression, and has transitioned into other genres as seen in the cover versions by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Dope,

Burn Your Village A Tribe Called Red Tribal drums give way to an ominous, warping synth, ambient feel and a boom-bap friendly kick and snare on A Tribe Called Red's indigenous and politicized Thanksgiving anthem "Burn Your Village To The Ground." The track's title is a direct homage to the vo-

1937 Columbia Records

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song has been called "a declaration of war" and is dubbed "the beginning of the civil rights movement".

1962 Columbia Records

refrain "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind" has been described as "impenetrably ambiguous: either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind".

1988 Columbia Records

Rage Against the Machine, and Kottonmouth Kings (featuring Insane Clown Posse).

2014 Radicalized Records

cal sample in the track, taken from Christina Ricci's performance as Wednesday Addams in 1993's Addams Family Values.

Summer 2020 Issue



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Summer 2020 Issue

Borders M.I.A. "Borders" is a song by recording artist M.I.A. for her fifth studio album, AIM (2016). The track was written by M.I.A., Levi Lennox and Amish Patel, and has been described as an electronic song incorporating such musical styles as hip hop and world music.

Alright Kendrick Lamar Lyrically a festive song about hope amid personal struggles, it features uncredited vocals from the song's co-producer Pharrell Williams during the chorus. "Alright" was released to radio stations as the album's fourth single on June 30, 2015. The song was

This is America Childish Gambino The song features a gospel choir and background contributions from various American rappers. The lyrics primarily address being black in the United States and gun violence in the country. It also touches on police brutality. Pitchfork's Stephen Kearse described

Song 33 Noname "Strange Fruit" protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to the fruit of trees. Such lynchings had reached a peak in the Southern United States at the turn of the 20th century, and the great majority of victims were black.

2015 Interscope


M.I.A. reportedly wrote "Borders" in two hours, which is the quickest she has ever written a song. Lyrically, the song references current world problems and reflects on popular culture, and themes of the global refugee crisis.

2015 TDE; Aftermath; Interscope

associated with Black Lives Matter after several youth-led protests were heard chanting the chorus, with some publications calling "Alright" the "unifying soundtrack" of the movement.In 2019, it was named the best song of the 2010s by Pitchfork.

2018 RCA

the song as a representation of the "tightrope of being black", with the song "built on the sharp contrast between jolly, syncretic melodies and menacing trap cadences".

2020 Columbia Records

The song has been called "a declaration of war" and "the beginning of the civil rights movement".


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Summer 2020 Issue



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WORDS BY Hanna Giorgis

PHOTOS BY Orishe Nwodim On how a fixture of the black punk scene in New York City faces threats of colonization, and the Coachella effect of festivals.

Gentrifying Afropunk



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Gentrifying Afropunk



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Gentrifying Afropunk

When Ms. Lauryn Hill appeared before the crowd of Afropunk Festival attendees at eight o’clock last Saturday night, visibly tired and forty-five minutes late to her set, excitement still coursed through Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park. Fans sang her lyrics to one another, danced in what little space the crowded lawn afforded them, and wondered aloud whether Hill would bring any of her children onstage. The park was a swaying sea stand for or who they are. It’s just that that ain’t why I’m here. I could go to Essence Fest and see them. I can’t go there to see Bad Brains.” O Some people stiill see the festival as an inclusive, important event. The singer and songwriter Jesse Boykins III, who was asked to perform at Afropunk for the first time this year, cites the festival—and Brooklyn itself—as part of the reason for his continued creative freedom. “You know, a lot of times, growing up as black people in America, they don’t necessarily teach us that it’s okay to like different styles of music and dress how you want and say what you want,” he

of afros, dreadlocks, and flower crowns. O Hill’s voice sounded strained, her stage presence stilted, and her timing off. An hour into her set, the lights went out in the middle of a difficult-to-hear rendition of “Ex-Factor,” a jarring reminder that Grace Jones, the day’s headliner, was still slated to perform later. Hill and her band continued to play, in defiance or obliviousness. Audience members shuffled uncomfortably but clung to Hill’s energy. For many attendees of the two-day musical and cultural showcase, which has been held in Brooklyn every year since 2005, Hill is more than an artist. Asked whose name most excited them this year, many festival-goers, without hesitation, told me “Lauryn.” O The festival takes its name and its roots from a 2003 documentary film, “Afro-Punk,” directed by James Spooner, which traces the lives of black people in glaringly white punk subcultures. The Afropunk Festival was born of necessity, a reprieve from racism in punk spaces and a chance for black punks to build community with one another. Today, the festival is less strictly punk and more soul, with acts like Hill, Lenny Kravitz, and Gary Clark, Jr., receiving top billing over black punk bands. While this move toward attracting wider audiences has worked, it’s also shifted the focus away from the movement’s origins—and pushed out punk fans in the process. O “When you stop putting on punk acts, when you stop highlighting local punk bands, I can’t see the things that I want to see, there’s little reason for me to be engaging the space,” Isaac Holloway, a black punk fan, told me over the phone on the Monday after the festival. Holloway has been following the Afropunk movement for years and attending punk shows, but balked at the idea of supporting the festival itself. “And it’s not because I don’t have any love for Janelle Monáe or D’Angelo or their kind of music or what they

Ericka Hart, a 32-year-old activist and public speaker, and their partner, Ebony Donnley, claimed they were removed from Afropunk’s VIP area by security guards after spotting Donnley wearing an “Afropunk sold out for white consumption” shirt. According to Hart’s viral tweet, when they asked the owner (presumably festival co-founder Matthew Morgan) about the grounds for their removal, he stated, “This is my house.” Hart also told The Fader via email that while pointing to their shirt, Morgan added, “Well why are you here?”

38 tival which was for talent and working staff. We have great respect for Ericka and Ebony and would never kick them out of Afropunk.” Notably, the statement makes no mention of Donnley’s shirt, opting for appeasement. O I fell in love with Afropunk in the same way that someone is utterly transfixed by their first love: blood warmed by idealistic obliviousness and vision blurred by the tender possibility of eternity. Why did I think that the festival could remain inside an impermeable bubble? The Afropunk of 2018 isn’t an exact replica of 2005 or 2013 or 2015. That isn’t surprising. Afropunk was bound to transform after receiving greater exposure. What’s surprising, even disheartening, though, is its loss of exclusivity. Unfortunately, this year’s Afropunk could’ve passed for Coachella based on the amount of white attendees. Not only did I spot more white people than before, but some of them unabashedly wore African tribal-print clothing or African-inspired jewelry. O Afropunk is no longer an enclave for Black punks seeking refuge from whiteness. It’s been broken open, eradicating the idea that there can be an exclusively-Black space. Like Coachella, it’s become a place to be seen, a marker of social clout. Fashionis-

in 2015. Concert attendees could also engage in volunteer work to earn a free ticket. In a press release, the festival’s promoters explained, “Due to the amount of attendees (60,000 last year) the festival has now moved to an affordable paid and earned ticket program to the event to assure entry.” With increased ticket prices comes the topic of accessibility. The festival, which was originally intended for Black youth without an avalanche of disposable income, was shutting out its base. O Kearah Armonie, an Afropunk volunteer and Brooklyn-based poet, decided to voice her dissent at this year’s festival. Sporting a white t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Make Afropunk Free Again,” she vocalized the thoughts of many festival-goers. In an email interview, Armonie explained, “The prices hinder some folks from attending, people who seemed to be the majority of Afropunk’s audience at one point, Black youth. I’ve seen a particular quote all over the internet, (which I can’t quite remember so I’m going to paraphrase) which stated, your movement is not radical if it is not accessible to all. My sister cried because she couldn’t attend. Afropunk was very much for us by us and making that change (charging for tickets) makes us feel excluded by yet another space.” O For some fans and critics alike, implementing entrance fees was symptomatic of a much larger issue: Afropunk was no longer for the people it initially sought to attract. Ericka Hart, a 32-year-old activist and public speaker, as well as their partner, Ebony Donnley, claimed they were removed from Afropunk’s VIP area by security guards after spotting Donnley wearing an “Afropunk sold out for white consumption” shirt. According to Hart’s viral tweet, when they asked the owner (presumably festival co-founder Matthew Morgan) about the grounds for their removal, he stated, “This is my house.” Hart also told The Fader via email that while pointing to their shirt, Morgan added, “Well why are you here?” O It seems counterproductive for Afropunk, a festival that initially provided a safe space for Black punks, to prohibit constructive criticism. What could be more punk than challenging gatekeepers? A few days later, Afropunk released a press statement regarding Hart’s accusation. Representatives apologized for the treatment of Hart, alluding to miscommunication: “There was an unfortunate incident at Afropunk Brooklyn with Ericka Hart and her partner/friend Ebony Donnley, and friend Lorelei Black were asked to leave a backstage area of the fes-

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All of these people came over afterwards and said that it was their story too, even though they didn’t know anything about punk rock that’s when I thought, fuck man, this thing actually has legs. This is bigger than the story I was originally trying to tell or the movie I wanted to make for 14-year-old me.


Gentrifying Afropunk

“ I can’t see the things

that I want to see, there’s little reason for me to be engaging the space.


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Gentrifying Afropunk


The festival extended beyond Brooklyn, establishing outposts in Atlanta and Paris. Spooner recalls one of the acts, a “rap-reggae-rock band,” performing a cover of Buju Banton’s “Boom Boom Bye.” The reggae song uses the patois term “Batty bwoy,” which is a pejorative word that often refers to gay or effeminate men. For a festival that proclaims “no homophobia” as an essential part of its manifesto, it was a jarring example of the disconnect between the festival’s ethos and its output.

42 have their admission waived. On the other hand, they also showed that the criticism had struck a nerve. If disaffected Afropunk fans don’t want to pay, the co-founder Matthew Morgan said, “Then go to Pitchfork. Go to Lollapalooza. Go to Bonnaroo. Go support them with your money. Or, stay home.” None of the festivals Morgan cited focusses on black audiences. O For others, the high entrance fee alone made the online and I.R.L. arguments feel fanciful. J. T. and Xavier, two residents of the Ingersoll Houses, situated across the street from Commodore Barry Park, shared their frustration with the festival’s decision to set ticket prices too high for many of the people who live nearby and had been frequent attendees. “I wasn’t tryin’ to pay eighty-five dollars,” J. T. told me as we talked in the courtyard of their apartment complex. “If it was lower, we would’ve went. It’s too high,” he said. The festival has already expanded to Paris, and will take Atlanta in October. Maybe it’s too late for Afropunk to come back down to the block. O The first time I went to Afropunk in 2013, I felt like I’d been transported to a promised land. After graduating with a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in 2011, my plans for a new life in New York City were abruptly put

Living in New York, a lot of the dif← ferent parts of my brain were opened up as far as knowing that it’s okay to discover and okay to leave and travel and see things. And I learned that all here for the most part.

said as we talked backstage after his performance. Wearing a pink and white printed shirt with tigers emblazoned across it, with natural hair arcing defiantly toward the sky, the thirty-year-old artist is an impossibly seductive performer. “You couldn’t like Nirvana when I was in high school. You couldn’t listen to Mötley Crüe or The Beatles,” Boykins, who grew up in Miami, said. His music is dynamic and hard to categorize — a mix of jazz, soul, and alt-rock influences. “Living in New York, a lot of the different parts of my brain were opened up as far as knowing that it’s okay to discover and okay to leave and travel and see things. And I learned that all here for the most part.” O The tensions of trying to create space for everyone, to honor the multiple ways of expressing blackness, isn’t limited to the festival’s music. Before this year, entrance into the festival had been free of charge. Tickets for last weekend ranged from forty to fifty dollars per day. “I don’t mind it, but I feel like they went too high too quick,” which is what the photographer Kevain Delpesche told me as we walked through the park. “They have a lot of sponsors, so I don’t see why they have to make that big of a jump.” Delpesche was not the only person confused by the sudden move to charge admission. When the decision was announced earlier this summer, the festival drew online accusations that it was “gentrifying” its audience. The organizers’ response was two-pronged. On one hand, they offered an earned-ticket program, by which attendees could volunteer at festival-related events to

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After graduating with a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in 2011, my plans for a new life in New York City were abruptly put on hold for both personal and financial reasons, and I returned to my suburban hometown.


Gentrifying Afropunk

on hold for both personal and financial reasons, and I returned to my suburban Connecticut hometown. Waterford, Connecticut, a seaside town with a nondescript mall, couldn’t claim any extraordinary feats of relevance, and it was rare to encounter, let alone befriend, people who looked like me. They saw me, but they didn’t really see me. Though many of my peers publicly disavowed bigotry, the residents of my lily-white hometown subscribed to an institution of casual racism often reserved for white liberals, their archaic ideas of Blackness trapped in a vacuum-sealed bell jar. O While floating in my whitewashed exile that summer, I learned about Afropunk, a festival that’d been taking place in Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park since 2005, and I became desperate to attend. Afropunk seemed to provide a sense of relief from the overbearing expectations of whiteness. The seeds of the festival can be traced to filmmaker James Spooner’s 2003 documentary Afro-punk. In an interview with Vice, Spooner says, “When I started making the film in 2001, I would Google ‘black punk’ and there was nothing. Zero.” When Spooner went to the American Black Film Festival in Miami to air the documentary, he truly began understanding the necessity of creating a safe space for Black people who routinely found themselves in predominantly white spaces. O Relaying the history of Afropunk to The Fader, Spooner notes, “All of these people came over afterwards and said that it was their story too, even though they didn’t know anything about punk rock. That’s when I thought, fuck man, this thing actually has legs. This is bigger than the story I was originally trying to tell or the movie I wanted to make for 14-year-old me.” Invigorated, Spooner started a website and message board for like-minded fans to connect. He also formed a business partnership with Matthew Morgan, and the singer Santigold’s then-manager, and they began hosting screening parties called the Liberation Sessions. Spooner noticed that many of the Afropunk message-board users were itching to meet up in person, and soon, the community expanded beyond the confines of the web. O The first Afropunk festival consisted of four days of film screenings at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and live musical performances in downtown Brooklyn. On the fourth day, festival attendees decided to throw a picnic in Fort Greene Park, and that’s how Afropunk was officially born. I attended the festival again in 2015 and marveled

“The Afropunk Festival was born of necessity, a reprieve from racism in punk spaces & a chance for black punks to build community with one another there.”

over performances by SZA, Danny Brown, Santigold, and Grace Jones. Surrounded by Black folks in a wide spectrum of hues and hailing from a plethora of varying backgrounds, the low-simmering anxiety I generally felt in all-white spaces was replaced with an overall feeling of acceptance. I didn’t question whether or not I belonged. Though I noticed an occasional cluster of white attendees, including an older white couple decked out in Tevas and outfits that screamed Vineyard Vines, the audience was still predominantly Black. O When Afropunk marked its fourth year in 2009, Spooner began losing his grip on the festival’s original mission. Afropunk no longer belonged exclusively to him. It had transformed from a hybrid film screening and concert to a full-blown music event, complete with corporate sponsors such as Red Bull and Coors Light. Additionally, the festival extended beyond Brooklyn, establishing outposts in Atlanta and Paris. Spooner recalls one of the acts, a “rap-reggae-rock band,” performing a cover of Buju Banton’s “Boom Boom Bye.” The reggae song uses the patois term “Batty bwoy,” which is a pejorative word that often refers to gay or effeminate men. For a festival that proclaims “no homophobia” as an essential part of its manifesto, it was a jarring example of the disconnect between the festival’s ethos and its output. That’s when Spooner decided to bow out for good. O The debate about Afropunk “selling out” has been brewing since the festival began charging an entrance fee ($75 for the entire weekend, $45 for one day)


Rolling Stone

Afropunk “ was very

much for us by us

and making that change

makes us feel excluded by yet another ‘black’ space. ”


Gentrifying Afropunk

I don’t think Afropunk’s evolution from DIY passion project to major summer music festival necessarily signifies the annihilation of its values. For a Black woman who spent her adolescence attempting to find a place of solace beyond the voyeuristic gaze of whiteness,

tas compete to have their outfits immortalized by the New York Times or featured on the Explore page of Instagram. During the first day of the festival, I made a game out of how many times I spotted white people with dreads and flower crowns. While sitting near the main stage and waiting for the next act, I watched a group of three white girls in matching outfits awkwardly sway and lip sync to “This Is America” by Childish Gambino. There was something equally amusing yet unsettling as the girls held up their hands and unabashedly sang: “Look how I’m livin’ now/ Police be trippin’ now/ Yeah, this is America/ Guns in my area/ I got the strap” O I don’t think Afropunk’s evolution from DIY passion project to major summer music festival necessarily signifies the annihilation of its values. For a Black woman who spent her adolescence attempting to find a place of solace beyond the voyeuristic gaze of whiteness, I will always admire and appreciate the awe-inducing magic of Afropunk, the way it aligns Black expression with freedom, creativity with resistance. (In fact, this year’s theme was “the people resist.”) On the other hand, the points of contention vocalized by dissenters aren’t entirely hollow. O If Afropunk wants to continue celebrating Blackness and by extension, Black joy, then it must dodge the trappings of colonization. Within the context of Afropunk, to resist means to combat the erasure and/or silencing of marginalized peoples via bigotry and discrimination. The festival may have been infiltrated by co-opting agents of white

supremacy, but it refuses to fully yield. In a world where Black lives are viewed as expendable, Afropunk isn’t a battlefield, but an escape hatch—a battering ram against the threat of perpetual purgatory. At it’s origin, Afro-Punk was essentially a biopic as it reflected the life experience of a mixed kid who identified as black but was submerged in white culture. Afro-Punk was a documentary directed by James Spooner, in 2003, which dug into and explored the lives of four black people who were basically outsiders in a predominately white punk scene. O As the film was screened (100 times in the first year) at various film festivals and gained more popularity, it progressed into a weekly party in NYC called, “Liberation Sessions” where the film was played and live bands performed. Its following grew bigger still, with a website and message board sparking a movement that landed at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) for a four day film festival. In 2005 the Afro-Punk Festival, co-founded by Spooner and Matthew Morgan, was born. O What started as a way for some “outsiders” to congregate, connect, and form friendships had grown far more than they had ever imagined. It was now a safe place for the “punks”, the “weirdos”, the “queers” and “freaks” to be authentically themselves. They didn’t have to fit into any box. They were free. They were among friends to celebrate. 

Originally formed as a jazz fusion ensemble under the name Mind Power, Bad Brains developed a very fast and intense punk rock sound which came to be labeled “hardcore”, and was often played faster and more emphatically than many of their peers.

If Afropunk wants to 46

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then it must dodge the


Gentrifying Afropunk

celebrate Blackness trappings of colonization.

American Barbarian


For me, my s ongs are prayers. ‫يل ةبسنلاب‬ ‫ييناغأ‬ ‫تاولص‬.


Rolling Stone

American Barbarian


They are ways I am talking to God. ‫اهب ثدحتأ قرط مهنإ‬ ‫هللا ىلإ‬.


Rolling Stone


American Barbarian



They are ways tha talking t t I’m o my pe ers. ‫رطلا اهنإ‬ ‫يتلا ق ب ثدحتأ‬ ‫لمز عم اه‬ ‫يئا‬.

Mona Haydar

American Barbarian ‫هملسم هأرما‬ ‫بارلا ىقيسوم يف‬

On Muslim Women in Rap Music

WORDS BY Lulu Garcia-Navarro PHOTOS BY Mark Rafaat Kammel

Since she first stormed the music scene in 2017, Mona Haydar has become an outspoken role model for young Muslim women. The American-Syrian rapper’s music video for her protest anthem, Hijabi (Wrap my Hijab), went viral for powerfully challenging misconceptions about veiled women around the world. Haydar has since made a name for herself as not only a talented female rapper, but one who isn’t afraid to unapologetically stand up for what she believes in. O And yes, religion does play a prominent role in her tracks. “For me, my songs are prayers. They are ways I’m talking to my God, they are ways that I’m talking to my peers,” Haydar tells The National. “They are ways I hope the world can become a more beautiful and loving place for all of us.” O You may be familiar with Haydar, 31, from her 2018 single Barbarian, in which she boldly addressed the common perception that Muslim women are oppressed. Or perhaps you listened to her criticise the Muslim world’s often hypocritical mentalities in her song, Dog. O Irrespective, if you’ve come into contact with Haydar’s resistance music, it’s likely that she’s made a lasting impression.vHaydar made a splash primarily through YouTube and an online following, without all the bells and whistles that usually come with being a globally recognised singer. After her 2017 debut hit on YouTube, Haydar released her first EP independently, Barbarican, and other singles on Apple Music and Spotify. O With hard-hitting lyrics that are often politically nuanced, powerful vocals and a defiant attitude, Haydar forces listeners to address difficult conversations, from Islamophobia to unrealistic beauty standards. She hopes to “help people heal” from societal pressures and dealing with trauma. O A mother of two boys, Haydar lives a “pretty normal life,” at least, when she’s not on tour or public speaking. Prior to her involvement in music, in 2015, she and her husband, Sebastian, ran a project called “Ask a Muslim,” which invited open conversation about religion and faith. She was also featured on Microsoft’s campaign #SpreadHarmony in 2016. More recently, Haydar performed and spoke at the Spiritual Directors International Conference in the US, and performed a show in Amsterdam. O I curated my voice downtown, in a space that taught me how to be authentically myself without giving


American Barbarian

up part of my identity as an Arab Muslim woman Mona Haydar, rapper O Haydar was born in Saudi Arabia, but moved to the US when she was young, and grew up in Flint, Michigan. She spent a small stint of her university years in Damascus, but it was in Michigan where her interest in rap flourished. O Haydar’s career began when she was 14 years old, in downtown Flint, where she performed traditional Arabic poetry at open mic nights. Mentored by the African-American community there, to whom she is highly grateful, she learnt to use her voice to tell her story in a way that was simultaneously fun and meaningful. O “I curated my voice downtown, in a space that taught me how to be authentically myself without giving up part of my identity as an Arab Muslim woman,” Haydar recalls. Hip-hop also started to became a prominent part of her upbringing, and she always joked that she “would be a rapper someday”. O Haydar evolved from poetry to rap as she sought to reach a bigger audience. O She also began drawing from personal experiences in her lyrics, while balancing political dialogue, as well as addressing contentious issues. O Now, Haydar uses her platform to promote equality and cultural awareness through rap, discussing everything from religion to gender to sexuality. She is inspired by a wide range of artists, and boasts an eclectic taste in music. O Artists such as Umm Kulthum, The Black Keys and James Blake appear on her personal playlist. This diversity is reflected in her own songs, with unique beats intertwined in English and Arabic pop, which you can’t help but play on repeat. O Haydar is also completely hands-on with her creative production; rapping, directing and producing several of her music videos, including her most recent single, Good Body, released last week. Haydar laughs as she recalls the process for that music video, for which she initially had more than 17 different concepts to consider.O And she isn’t only looking to unite her Muslim fan base. She wants to champion minorities worldwide. “You can turn the world upside down trying to get your own freedom, but other people are not free. It all impacts us. All of our liberation is connected,” she says. O “Your religion doesn’t matter when you’re talking about self-actualisation. Your culture, race, gender identity and sexuality don’t matter when talking about healing trauma. None of that matters.” 


Rolling Stone


American Barbarian

“I curate d

my voice d

‫ف ي ت وص‬ ‫ي‬

o w n to w n ‫ ملا ط سو‬, in a space tha ‫ نملع يف‬t taught me how to‫ ةنيد‬، be authentic ‫نوكأ في ك ي‬ ‫يس ن‬ al ‫ صأ ت مظ ن‬ly myself without‫ف‬ giving up par t o ‫ت لا نود ة لي‬ f my iden ‫نع يلخ‬ t i t y ‫وه نم ءزج‬ as an Ar ab ‫ي‬ ‫رماك ي ت‬ M u s li m w ‫ةي برع ةأ‬ o ma n in America. ”

.‫ة م ل س م‬


Rolling Stone

American Barbarian



Rolling Stone

Smile! Noname



Rolling Stone

Smile! Noname



NoName Gypsy On poetry, protest, weed, and Los Angeles.

Rolling Stone

Smile! Noname







Rolling Stone

Smile! Noname






a sweat — 110-degree heat wave be damned. O Business is booming at this particular outpost of MedMen, a chain of dispensaries and one of more than 400 businesses that have been legally selling recreational weed in California since January 1. Inside the store, a senior citizen heads straight for a fridge containing edibles while a couple of fratty bros huddle in a corner counting bills. Later, after a few tokes from the winning vape, Fatimah will joke that she’s a “basic bitch” for going to the ubiquitous MedMen. Really, though, it’s more like she’s practical and completely unpretentious. O Per the new regulatory law, Fatimah checks in at the front desk with her passport, weathered from a stretch of touring. Though she moved from Chicago to L.A. over a year ago, she doesn’t drive, making her passport a go-to form of ID. Under the advice of a salesperson, she selects something simple and appropriate for a beginner — a $70 HoneyVape-brand cartridge loaded with Blackberry Kush — then walks away from the cashier with a shy smile seizing her face. The guy recognized her as the rapper Noname. “That never happens,” she whispers. “Most people barely know what I look like.” O Fatimah is notoriously lowkey. For someone born in 1991, there is alarmingly very little information about her on the internet; much of it fits on the first few pages of a Google search. She declines most press, has never shot a music video, and rarely posts on Instagram; in July, she wiped her account on the social media platform almost entirely. She nearly cancelled the shoot for this story, she says, because she felt so uncomfortable with the idea of being photographed. So when she’s identified in public, it means something. O Fatimah has been making music for the past five years, emerging with a slate of guest verses as part of the poetry-adjacent Chicago rap scene that is perhaps best associated

with Chance the Rapper. First there was an urgent, shattered few bars on Chance’s 2013 mixtape, Acid Rap. Three years later, she dazzled on his album, Coloring Book, with an uncharacteristically Christian contribution and a subsequent self-assured appearance on SNL. She followed that high-stakes introduction with a mixtape of her own, 2016’s Telefone, a beautiful, jazz-y project and a hell of a debut. Two years later — a glacial pace for a rapper working in 2018 — she’s releasing Room 25. It’s something of a second chapter. If Telefone introduced Fatimah as a gifted writer, with complex rhymes, nuanced stories, and hints of humor, Room 25 doubles down on that promise. And she’s doing it independently. Actually independently, without the support of a streaming service or the six-figure checks that come from headlining arena shows. In fact, as she settles in a new city, creeps into adulthood, and builds a life for her-

It’s a hellish armpit of a California afternoon, and Fatimah Warner needs a vape. The 26-year-old has been mooching off her friends for convenient smoke a little too much, and it’s high time she procured a device of her own. Thus begins a mile-long mission through West Hollywood, worming through hilly streets and cracked pavement. Fatimah’s wearing a flouncy floral mini-skirt under a bordeaux denim jacket, buttoned all the way up, but she barely breaks a

Born Fatimah Warner in Chicago, Ill., Noname first gained attention when she appeared on Chance The Rapper's 2013 mixtape, Acid Rap.


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cause I’m not intelligent, but I just didn’t give a fuck.” O In high school, it was a random love of slam poetry that delivered her to rap. A decade later, you can still hear those influences in her music: internal rhyming schemes, dense delivery. “I started watching a lot of old Def Poetry Jam videos on YouTube and got really obsessed with it. I was like, This is the most amazing fucking thing I’ve ever seen. I researched youth poetry in Chicago and the program I used to be in, YOUmedia, that popped up. That’s how I ended up going there and meeting [Chance and] all those people — a Google search! A Google search changed my life, bruh.” O That spark of art coincided with a newfound autonomy. “I got a lot more freedom. It was like, ‘OK, nobody has money to drive and pick you up, so you better learn how to take the train.’” All the while, she was steeping in the Chicago poetry world, whose mid-’10s renaissance produced artists like Mick Jenkins, Jamila Woods, and Saba, as well as Smino, from nearby St. Louis. It’s a rich scene marked in part by earnestness, a quality that can be as cloying as it is refreshing. O “Chicago is a pretty small-knit circle of artists that work together all the time,” Fatimah said in a 2016 interview with The FADER. It

Following that success, she released the 2016 mixtape, Telefone, and used the proceeds from that record to fund her debut studio album, 2018's Room 25. Noted for its sharp commentary on race, identity, sex and politics, Room 25 was one of the most critically-acclaimed records of last year.

self, she’s pretty much your Millenial-next-door. O Fatimah was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, in a neighborhood called Bronzeville. She describes it as being neither “all that safe” nor the extreme catastrophe the region is often depicted as being on the news. “I feel like a lot of my experiences were pretty average,” she says. O The first of her mother’s two children, Fatimah was raised primarily by her grandparents. Around the time she was born, her mom was opening a business — a bookstore, through which she had met Fatimah’s dad, a book distributor. Her grandparents, who ran a landscaping company, were business owners, too. “I guess they had a meeting of the minds,” she says, “and decided to give her that time to really understand herself as an entrepreneur.” O Fatimah’s grandmother had come up to Chicago from Mississippi and brought with her a good dose of big-city skepticism. So she kept her granddaughter pretty sheltered, with a three-block-radius limit for bike rides. “You better stay in here, don’t leave!” Fatimah remembers her grandma saying, her voice edging into a higher pitch. “The only way I coulda gotten out the house was if I had some kind of after-school extracurricular activity — but I wasn’t good at anything.” O When she was in middle school, she returned to live with her mom, who’d had another child by then. Readjusting to life under a new roof while handling all the changes that come with adolescence triggered some angst. “When I first moved in, it was a little resentment, a bit of anger. And I was like 12 so I was like, ‘Fuck you, mom,’” she says, going into a decent impression of a stereotypical teen. “We are fully past that now,” she adds. “That was like hella years ago.” O Though you wouldn’t know it listening to her songs, which come across as studied and almost precocious, Fatimah barely listened to music growing up, aside from the blues and occasional soul that her grandparents played around the house. “I don’t have memories of me being like, Lemme go put on this record. I wish I did,” she says. She spent a lot of time watching TV but didn’t much like to read and hated school, instead fashioning herself as the class clown: a goofy, joke-cracking child who would rather be kicked out of English than expose herself as a slow reader in front of her schoolmates. “Here’s this huge universe and we’re in this box trying to learn this fictitious bullshit that they’re feeding us,” she says. “That’s why I’ve never cared about school. Not be-


86 herself closer to a center of entertainment. After first living with a friend in Inglewood, she settled in Jefferson Park, a predominantly black and Latinx neighborhood in South L.A. In between shows, she made a little circle of friends, consisting primarily of young comics, people you’d recognize from HBO shows and Comedy Central appearances. She gravitated toward them because they’re in line with her personality — more comedian than rapper, lowkey brash Chicago humor to the core — and she ended up as the musical guest on a network pilot one of them shot last year. “With my rapper friends, I always end up at the club, and that’s not me. I’m more ‘getting drunk in the back of a shitty comedy club,’” she says. O Fatimah’s near-absurdist funniness is all over Room 25. Like Telefone, this new album came together in about a month, after two years of fretting she’d never be creatively solvent again. “The first time, with Telefone, I thought it was a fluke. But now I think that just might be the way I make art: I incubate for a longass time.” But unlike Telefone, it was a financial pressure that prompted it. “It came to a point where it was, like, I needed to make an album because I need to pay my rent. I could’ve done another

wasn’t much material, but her emotional verses on projects by Chance and Mick Jenkins connected with listeners and helped her build a small but not-insignificant fanbase, which led to performances at nearby liberal arts colleges and some verses sold to “random white kids from Connecticut” — you can still find a few of them sprinkled across the internet, though Fatimah would prefer that you didn’t look. “A lot of people think I sound like Chance,” she says. “That’s the one thing I get a lot. I don’t think I sound like Chance but when I first started rapping I probably did, ‘cause he was the only rapper who I was around and we would just be together.” O Her signature style, simultaneously honeydew-sweet and glum, is audible on those early efforts, delicately bobbing atop any given beat. At the time, she was going by Noname Gypsy, a reference to what she thought of as her undefined and “nomadic” creative self. She dropped “gypsy” in 2016, after learning that it was a derogatory word. “When I first decided what my stage name would be I was unaware of how racially inappropriate and offensive it was to Romani people,” she wrote on Twitter. That summer, Fatimah released Telefone. Then she embarked on her first headlining tour, moved to L.A., and, at 25, had sex for the first time. O As the sun sets over Hollywood, casting an orange glow over the hills, Fatimah sits in the backroom of a depressingly empty deli on Fairfax. She and a friend, a comedian you may have seen milly-rocking on your timeline, watch on as one of their buddies does a 5-minute set to a smattering of laughs and applause from an audience barely the size of a basketball team. The next stop is The Comedy Store, the legendary Sunset Strip club where Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy got their starts and where Dave Chappelle still works out material. O One of Fatimah’s friends, a gangly 24-year-old gassed off of a recent 15-minute Netflix special, offers a tour of the venue, snaking through the kitchen, an upstairs room serving as a dancefloor for the night, and into a tiny, windowless V.I.P. backroom with a bar. It’s empty, apart from Dana Carvey, who walks in halfway through the tour. According to her friends, this room will forever be remembered as the place Fatimah roasted an acquaintance so hard he wouldn’t have been judged for going home right then. O This Hollywood chapter of Fatimah’s life began a year and a half ago, when she moved to L.A. It was time, she thought, to embark on a new beginning and place


Noname has been outspoken since the death of George Floyd. She has founded a book club to promote authors of colour, called for the abolition of prisons, police and “the colonial state”, and advocated mutual aid. On Twitter she has frequently encouraged people to read the works of radical black activists such as Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

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90 approve where I can get my idea off,” she says. “Like, if I want to make an album and I want an orchestra, I’m gonna figure out how to do that. I don’t want to wait around for people to greenlight my creativity.” O The album was mostly produced by Phoelix, a fellow Chicagoan, who plays bass, keys, drums, and contributes vocals. “I just prefer live music. I think my voice sounds better on live production because a lot of the times I’m talking when I’m recording,” says Fatimah. “[My style] is very monotone and quiet. Live instruments give me more space.” What they came up with was a lush sound Phoelix describes as “moving like water,” an organic-feeling style that sounds hella expensive. “It took a while for her to be ready to make stuff, but once she got into that mode, it really clicked really fast,” says Phoelix. O After two years of what felt like idling, Fatimah finally decided she had a seed of material to draw from. “Telefone was a very PG record because I was very PG,” she says. “I just hadn’t had sex. I could’ve fabricated and made a record that was like, ‘Hell yeah I love dick,’ but I just don’t know how to do that.” The album was a document true to her life, though some of it was from the perspective of others. (“Bye

"It kind of became this very corny way for me to view my identity as this nomadic, weird, avant-garde person who is off the grid, who can be anything and nothing all at once," she says when describing the origin of her stage name.

Telefone tour, but I can’t play those songs anymore. Like, I could, but I physically hate it because I’ve just been playing them for so long,” she says. O “That was the first time I was ever in a position that I started making music out of a financial obligation,” she continues, pointing out that she now has obligations like rent and helping out her family back home. “That shit was fucking me up. I was like, Oh my god, this is how people feel, this is why people have like 10 albums. When you start making money, your responsibilities are just more.” O Though labels have come calling, Fatimah has elected to stay independent, reinvesting income from tours and Chance residuals into the music: Ubers to and from the studio, a string arrangement that was more expensive than she anticipated. “Man, that shit is fucking expensive as hell. Someone has to arrange all the parts and then you have to then hire, like, 12 people, this big-ass orchestral thing,” she says. “[I paid for] the whole album, everything, myself. And I was like, Do I want to spend this much money on something that’s so minimal?” O It’s not uncommon for rappers to come into music independently, but it is rare for them to stay there. The business of being a full-time artist requires endless investment; a well-produced video, for example, can cost tens of thousands of dollars, often fronted by labels or streaming platforms. Fatimah currently has the support of neither. “I’m not even a control freak, I just don’t like having to ask anyone for anything in terms of finances. I don’t like having to wait for someone to

Rolling Stone


Smile! Noname

This simplistic, shallow categorization is one Fatimah suspects is magnified by the fact that she’s a woman who raps. The new themes she introduces on Room 25 may change that. “Maybe this project will show some of those people who think that I am this very, like, conscious female rapper that I’m just as regular and normal as everybody,” she says. O A couple of days earlier, Fatimah performed at Electric Forest, a Michigan festival she describes as a “chill Burning Man.” She typically hates festivals — too crowded, too chaotic — but there was something about this one that felt magical. It could have been the lush greenery; it could have been the molly. Or it could have been the simple fact that Fatimah, a girl from Bronzeville who grew up without dreams of grandeur, found herself among majestic trees draped in technicolor rave lights. Speaking to her, there’s a sense of suspended disbelief, like how you might feel if you’d hit the lotto after buying a ticket on a whim. After her set at the festival, Fatimah sat on the ground, looked at the stars, and turned to her friend: “I wish everyone from Chicago could see this.” 

I just got exposed to other types of art. I didn't really grow up listening to a lot of hip hop. I listened to some things like I listened Kanye just because of Chicago. But I grew up with my grandparents, so I ended up listening to a lot of what they listened to.

Bye Baby,” for example, was a loving song about abortion that she wrote as a token of empathy for women she knew and women she imagined.) O “My only reason for not having sex was purely insecurity, purely like, I’m too afraid to be naked in front of somebody. A lot of people feel like that but the horniness trumps it, the horniness is slightly more than the insecurity,” she says, using her arms to make a precise graph of the point at which horniness trumps insecurity. But the confidence that came with commanding theatre-sized audiences upped her self esteem and begot an ill-advised relationship with someone on her tour. When the relationship ended, after four explosive months, Fatimah was devastated. O Elsewhere, “Don’t Forget About Me,” awash with strings, is like the feeling of watching yourself from above. She contemplates death, brokenness, and gets really real: “Tell ‘em Noname still don’t got no money / Tell em Noname almost passed out drinking / Secret is, she really think it saves lives.” The lyric, and the song, crystallizes both her pragmatism, and her unique ability to turn poignant vignettes into universal-feeling emotion. “I wanted both things to be represented on the album — the like, wide-eyed bushy tailed feeling that I have of like, I’m entering this new world, but I also wanted to showcase the sadness underneath it.” O It’s the sound of someone going through a latent awakening, and there’s something especially appealing about her candor. “Sometimes I’m like, Ugh, I’m being too honest, maybe some things I should hold on to. It’s just, like, very autobiographical, but there’s also a bit of me playing around because I’m finally able to dance around with the idea of being vulgar in that way,” she says. “I feel like a lotta people are gonna be like ‘Ughhh.’ A lot of my fans... I think they like me because they think I’m the anti-Cardi B. I’m not. I’m just Fatimah.” O It’s true that Fatimah’s style exists in a stark contrast from many of her peers, across all genders: she focuses on very specific storytelling, post-traditionalist raps with complex rhyme schemes and nary an 808 in sight — a combination that often lands her under the unfortunate “real hip-hop” umbrella. “I still see people tweeting me sometimes like I’m this generation’s Lauryn Hill or I’m like the conscious version of different female rappers who don’t make the type of music that I make,” she says, laughing. “I don’t really believe in that at all. I’m not trying to be the anti-something or pro-something else.”


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FKA Twigs' Roots


WORDS BY Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff PHOTOS BY Matthew Stone




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FKA Twigs' Roots







Rolling Stone

I’m getting ready to say goodbye to FKA twigs. “Do you want to hear a bit of my new album?” she asks. “Yes!” I squeal, without skipping a beat. Then I look at the expression on her face... of course, that was never going to happen. O FKA Twigs, aka Tahliah Debrett Barnett, is direct, and she’s funny. We’re at a studio in East London where she’s recording (I’m kept waiting downstairs for a few minutes as she’s in the flow of a session), to discuss her latest project, an Instagram magazine called AVANTgarden. O The first ever issue is striking and formatted specifically for the flick-through slide function of the platform. Focusing on braided hairstyles, twigs has developed animalistic, barbershop-inspired imagery, showing beautiful braid patterns curling around the scalps of her friends, with Ghana braids, durags and beads adorning their heads. It’s intimately tied to her sense of blackness, something which she hasn’t spoken about in depth since she was being harassed online back in 2014. O At the time she wrote on Twitter: “I am genuinely shocked and disgusted at the amount of racism that has been infecting my account the past week. Racism is unacceptable in the real world, and it’s unacceptable online.” Now, she says, she wants to start a conversation with other people of colour about another issue that directly affects us and is often tied to racism: the trauma and beauty attached to our hair. O Of course, being a black celebrity doesn’t automatically qualify one as a spokesperson for the community and she herself is adamant that the magazine is set to be a learning process, a jumping off point for her to develop knowledge about particular topics.

FKA Twigs' Roots



Rolling Stone

FKA Twigs' Roots



Rolling Stone


FKA Twigs' Roots

On a practical level, what do you think Instagram brings? I just find it interesting if I wanted to know who was on the cover of Dazed, I would definitely see it on Instagram before I would see it in the shops. As far as I’m aware, no-one’s done a monthly magazine with a beautiful layout and thought of it that way on Instagram. Rather than posting selfies or pictures of your cups of coffee or avocado toast, I thought it would be exciting to see people using it in more of a creative way to express themselves. I would love to make it into a physical thing eventually, or it can be put in a gallery, or it can be on a website as well. How much do you know about the history of braids? One of the girls, Chanel, said the hairstyle that she has in the magazine is actually from her grandma’s tribe – the Ashanti tribe in Ghana. I thought that was quite special. It was really fun looking at the heritage of braids because of course, different braids mean different things. There’s braid patterns which are for fertility, or because you want to get married. You know cornrows started because slaves would draw maps in the braids of how to escape the plantations? I think it’s important that we own our heritage and we know these things. It’s awful, but It makes me feel proud of them. I feel proud that they did that to release themselves from pain. That’s a beautiful thing. Through braids some people found their liberty. That’s why I think the community should be able to feel like they can wear braids with a suit and still look really smart, or their natural texture with suit and still feel really smart. About the aesthetic of the magazine. It feels a bit animalistic with the cat eyes and pan-African themes. Like, I’m an alien (laughs), so that’s kind of the aesthetic I like. It was inspired by growing up and becoming a young lady in south London. You walk past the black barber shops and see the muted colours they have, the styles you could pick. The posters would always be old, faded and peeling off the wall. It was inspired by that. It seems quite romantic to me, the way those photos are taken. There’s always a certain amount of aspiration, romance and hope. Those pictures we’ve all grown up with are so strong and hopeful, inspired by romance and pride.



Rolling Stone




FKA Twigs' Roots



Rolling Stone

When did you decide to focus on braids in a more generally sense? I thought of the idea about eight months ago. As a mixed race person, I have a very complicated relationship with my hair. For people of colour, hair texture is such a big conversation. I’ve heard horrific stories of girls going into school with braids and teachers telling them to take them out, or even cutting girl’s braids out in the classroom. Even the conversation around the latest Dove advert, it was found that they produced a cream for ‘normal to dark skin’. It’s the same thing with hair texture — what people perceive ‘abnormal’ is something that needs to be tamed. So I think for me, braids as a protective hairstyle and something that’s been passed down through our heritage, is amazing to embrace. To be able to embrace your natural hair texture and also embrace things that protect your hair from the weather. And why did you decide to do braids as your first issue? I think when I first started wearing braids and having them in my photoshoots and videos, no-one was really doing it. It wasn’t so much of a thing as it was now. I found it quite strange because after spending five or six years living in Croydon, it seemed like quite natural. Did you take them out? Yes, I did take them out. I think that’s part of the reason why AVANTgarden it is the way it is. It’s not because I think I know the answer, because I don’t. I’m a grown woman and still I have days where I feel weird if my hair’s too frizzy. It’s so much more than some cute pictures to me, like I do want people to talk about it and I want to be able to talk to people through my social media to see how they feel, so that I can learn as well. ■

FKA Twigs' Roots










Rolling Stone

Summer 2020 Issue


Top of the Charts

Music at the top of the streaming charts for the week of July 26 - August 1, 2020.


Summer 2020 Issue



1. Taylor Swift "folklore"

1. DaBaby "Rockstar"

26. Miranda Lambert "Bluebird"

2. Juice WRLD "Legends Never Die"

2. Jack Harlow "Whats Poppin"

27. Dua Lipa "Don't Start Now"

3. DJ Khaled "POPSTAR"

28. Future feat. Drake "Life is Good"

4. The Weeknd "Blinding Lights"

29. Powfu feat. beabadoobee "Death Bed"

5. SAINt JHN "Roses"

30. Trevor Daniel "Falling"

6. Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé "Savage"

31. Maren Morris "The Bones"

7. Harry Styles "Watermelon Sugar"

32. Pop Smoke "The Woo"

7. NoCap "Steel Human"

8. DJ Khaled "Greece"

33. Sam Hunt "Hard to Forget"

8. Polo G "THE GOAT"

9. Juice WRLD "Come & Go"

34. Roddy Ricch "The Box"

10. Chris Brown & Young Thug "Go Crazy"

35. Maddie & Tae "Die from a Broken Heart"

11. Lil Mosey "Blueberry Faygo"

36. Juice WRLD "Hate the Other Side"

12. Jawsh 685 "Savage Love"

37. Lil Baby "The Bigger Picture"

13. Juice WRLD "Wishing Well"

38. Juice WRLD "Conversations"

14. Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande "Rain on Me"

39. Morgan Wallen "Chasin' You"

15. Harry Styles "Adore You"

40. Surfaces "Sunday Best"

16. Gabby Barrett "I Hope"

41. Rod Wave feat. ATR Son Son "Rags2Riches"

3. Taylor Swift "cardigan"

17. Dua Lipa "Break My Heart"

42. Juice WRLD x Halsey "Life's a Mess"

4. The Weeknd "Blinding Lights"

18. Lewis Capaldi "Before You Go"

43. Lil Baby "Emotionally Scarred"

19. Lil Baby & 42 Dugg "We Paid"

44. Moneybagg Yo "Said Sum"

20. Post Malone "Circles"

45. Drake "Toosie Slide"

21. Doja Cat "Say So"

46. Megan Thee Stallion "Girls in the Hood"

22. Justin Bieber feat. Quavo "Intentions"

47. BENEE feat. Gus Dapperton "Supalonely"

23. Pop Smoke "For the Night"

48. NLE Choppa feat Roddy Ricch "Walk Em Down"

9. Juice WRLD & Marshmello "Come & Go"

24. Stay Solid Rocky "Party Girl"

49. Juice WRLD "Blood On My Jeans"

10. Taylor Swift "the last great american dynasty"

25. Luke Bryan "One Margarita"

50. LOCASH "One Big Country Song"

3. Gunna "WUNNA (Deluxe)" 4. Pop Smoke "Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon" 5. The Kid LAROI "F*CK LOVE" 6. Logic "No Pressure"

9. Lin Manuel-Miranda "Hamilton: An American Musical" 10. Jhené Aiko "Chilombo"

SPOTIFY GLOBAL TOP 10 SONGS 1. DaBaby "Rockstar (feat. Roddy Ricch)" 2. Jawsh 685 "Savage Love (Laxed - Siren Beat)"

5. Taylor Swift "exile (feat. Bon Iver)" 6. Harry Styles "Watermelon Sugar" 7. Taylor Swift "the 1" 8. SAINt JHN "Roses - Imanbek Remix"

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