Cover Stories

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Money, Power and Respect: Taraji P. Henson

ESSENCE

Every photo shoot has a boob moment. When it happens, some lose composure. Others lean in. Taraji P. Henson, apparently, is a leaner. When Chicago’s signature breeze swoops down on her while she poses before a Dauphin helicopter at a swanky helipad, the star welcomes the wind. She chastely pulls the fabric of the Valentino tulle dress close, and as an L train rumbles by, she runs to the photographer. Taraji wants to see the “moment.” The untouched image will likely never appear in a magazine but it’s pure art paired with amazingly beautiful cleavage illuminated by the setting sun. She quickly contemplates the photo as her team huddles. Then, the moment is gone. It’s time to finish the shoot. Taraji hustles back to her mark, hollers “We ’bout to lose the sun. Let’s finish the shots. Oh, by the way, titty bop is hot!”

That’s how it is with Taraji. She’s Hollywood yet gully. She’s petite yet makes up for it with a big voice and an even bigger personality. With her ’hood-to-riches backstory, she’s proof that the American Dream can become reality. Plus, only Taraji can put on a Mugler body-conscious dress, strut out to the black-and-white Maserati sitting on set, take a handful of smoky-sexy pictures and have nearly everyone forget that she’s still rocking the white slippers she took from the “Chump,” er Trump, Hotel. (Her words, obviously.)

That’s why we like her. She’s not only a classically trained actor with Oscar and Emmy nominations under her belt, but she’s also like the rest of us (or at least like one of our cousins): a single mother of a college-age son, graduate of a historically Black university, a kick-ass spades player and a blue crab devotee. We identify with her—and all her characters. Yvette. Shug. Queenie. That’s why we’re excited the world is having a Taraji moment.

Now they—and we—know her as Cookie Lyon, the beastmode mama bear of Empire. And, due in part to the global success of Cookie and her show, Black TV is popular again. Taraji has covered W and Glamour, and been featured on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. We’re not mad, but bless their hearts, our sweet homegirl has officially been Columbused. As Taraji said last April as host of Saturday Night Live: “White people finally know who I am!”

About damn time.

“Let’s keep it real,” says Jussie Smollett, who portrays Cookie’s son Jamal on Empire. “Honestly you’re just discovering her? Taraji has been a leading lady since the beginning. She’s never turned out a performance that was less than captivating. It’s just all cultures and all races and everybody…

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The Fresh Faces of Hip-Hop

A Generation of Artists is Putting Chicago on Top of the Music Map, Again

1A, Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago’s latest social media craze comes courtesy of a song called “Pop Out” by an artist named Katie Got Bandz.

It’s not a new song; the video has been on YouTube for months. Officially it has about 940,000 plays online, but if you add in all the people who ripped the video to their own sites, that viewership rises to over a million. If you frequent clubs such as Lumen on the North Side or Adrianna’s out in Harvey, you’ve heard it in heavy rotation. If you listen to Power 92.3, you know the song was added to the weekly lineup in August and gets played somewhere around 50 times a week there.

Already signed to a local record label, Katie also just inked a deal with New York’s eOne Music. As a result, some songs in her iTunes store jumped to $1.29 from 99 cents. Her endgame?

“I want a gold record,” said Katie, whose legal name is Kiara Johnson, 20. She hails from the Low End, near 35th Street, and calls herself a “Drillery Queen.” “I want to be successful. I want to be as big as Jay Z and Kanye West.

I want to set a trend for the females. I want to sell out arenas. I want to go on tour. I want to go overseas. I want to do it all.”

And she’s not alone, nor is she the first. Katie’s growing popularity was paved by the work of the city’s other massive hip-hop stars, including Da Brat, Common, Twista, Lupe Fiasco and, of course, Kanye West, who performs Tuesday and Wednesday at the United Center. She’s part of a new generation of rappers offering a diversity to hip-hop and creating a sound that is fresh, new and that could quite possibly take over the nation. Granted, she’s not as far along as Chief Keef, Chance the Rapper or Rockie Fresh — all of whom have national recognition — but she’s getting there.

It seems that with all this new attention, Chicago artists could have a very good 2014.

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Grace Under Pressure: Gospel’s Superduo, Mary Mary, is decidedly human.

Each sister is dealing what marriage and family issues, a demanding career and God’s plan for her life

EBONY magazine

It’s difficult to imagine the women behind the Grammy-winning sound of Mary Mary opening up about their own need for prayer. Then again, maybe it’s not so difficult. After all, they are gospel stars. And who stands more in need of prayer than those commissioned to spread the word of God?

It’s a tough calling for the believer. Mess up and go to hell. Get too prideful and get your feelings hurt. Live your life as a public Christian celebrity and be susceptible to all kinds of attacks.

Erica and Tina Campbell shouldered many burdens—and to be clear, many, many Grammy-anointed blessings—for more than a decade without taking time out to recharge. But finally, after 12 years of singing and giving, it seems that a higher power might be forcing them to slow down. The signs were overwhelmingly obvious. They got tired. They quarreled. Their bodies, already taxed by grueling tour dates and pregnancies, were exhausted. Their marriages were unraveling—and so were they.

One day, they’re singing their award-winning “Go Get It,” about grabbing your God-given blessings. The next? They’re pissed at each other and giving the side eye to their husbands because something about both marriages just ain’t … right.

Yep. Time for a break from the group, if only to fix the sisterhood and the sacred marriage bed. “My theory is, when your spiritual tank is low, when you’re running on empty, you’re more susceptible to just doing what your flesh wants to do,” says Erica. “It’s easier to cuss. It’s easier to get mad. It’s easier to give up. It’s a little harder to forgive. It’s a little harder to sacrifice.”

She goes on, haltingly, fleshing out the details that led to Mary Mary’s current hiatus, which includes no studio work
for at least a year, limited touring, more time at home for Tina and a solo project for Erica. “Honestly, this break has a lot to do with me and Tina just kind of being empty,” says Erica, smoothing out the fabric of her body-conscious black-and-white striped maxi-dress. As she talks, her wedding ring glints under the lobby lights inside the swanky Andaz West Hollywood hotel on Sunset Boulevard. “We just give and give and give: an album and a baby and an album and another baby … It’s easy for things to fall apart. How did we get here, where we’re mad at each other, and we don’t like singing the music and we hate everybody around us?”

Great questions. Do tell.

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