10 May 2024

KDP Store (Online Black-Owned Business)

KDP Store is an online shop hosted by Etsy, a reliable internet-based shopping platform.  Ken Divine, the proprietor of KDP Store, is someone I've literally known my entire life.  So once I saw that his new business was going strong and getting rave reviews, I offered to advertise some of his goods on Black Arts Review

BLACK-ORIENTED CLOTHING

Ken Divine is a longtime resident of New York City, and the majority of items in his shop are of a Black, Latino or American theme.  For example, here's the RGB (Red, Black & Green) Africa Reversible Bucket Hat.  It comes with matching socks, belt and necklace, the latter of which is available in two varieties.


Then we have the Puerto Rican version...

... as well as its Dominican...

...and American counterparts.

My personal favorite, which Ken just got into stock earlier this week, is the Ghana Flag Designed Bucket Hat.

In fact, I've been noticing that bucket hats are becoming increasingly popular here in GH.  It now appears that they may even be as ubiquitous as baseball caps.  So I'm hoping to get my hands on a few of these bad boys myself.

KDP Store has socks and different types of hats fashioned after the flags of a variety of countries.  At the moment, most of those countries are found in the Caribbean, as there are many people from the islands living in NYC.

RELIGIOUS THEME SHIRTS

I also wanted to highlight a couple of the clothing items big bro is selling, starting with the Religious Theme Shirts, which are inscribed with biblical passages, references or inspirations:


Currently, there are only different four types in stock, but I'm hoping that he gets more soon.

ANIMAL PRINT HOODIES

Another item I singled out to display are the Animal Print Pullover Hoodies with Ears,,,

...which are really cute, especially for females or children.

Presently, they come with a free downloadable photonovel which, besides clothing, is the second classification of items KDP Store specializes in.  I'm not going to delve into the photonovels at the moment, but Black Arts Review will be taking an in depth look at one of them in the near future.

DISCOUNT CODE

When I told Ken I intended to feature some of his products on this blog, he created a special discount code visitors could use to get 15% off.  That's extra cool, considering that the items are already moderately priced.  For instance, none of those highlighted above are over $20 (excluding shipping).

The coupon code made available to readers of Black Arts Review is MALSALE150.  That will get you 15% off most of the items in KDP Store.  However, it does not work on products that are already on sale, clearance or thrift at over 15% of their original price.

INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING

Ken has enlightened me to the fact that besides the US, he already has customers from "all over Europe, Canada and Australia".  To my knowledge, buttressed by Etsy, he's able to ship products to just about any part of the world.  For instance, I told him that lately Black Arts Review has been getting quite a few views from Singapore, China and Hong Kong, so maybe someone from those localities will be interested in making a purchase.  And he was like, 'no problem'.

I also informed him I wanted a few items sent to Ghana.  He told me doing so would be 'riskier' and obviously costlier but not impossible.

CONCLUSION

I advise interested readers to visit KDP Store, as the items featured on this post are just a scant preview of all that's available.  For instance, there's also women's wear and posters with original NYC-based photography in stock.  And if you do decide to make a purchase, don't forget to use the coupon code "MALSALE150" where applicable.

19 March 2024

"Carvinal" by ¥$ ft. Rich the Kid & Playboi Carti (2024)

Even if you aren't fond of Kanye West as a person, you have to give him props for being a prolific musician, as he's now been hard in the game for over two decades.  Yeezy is currently approaching 47 years of age, which is considered to be pretty old as far as rappers are concerned.  But you don't notice it with him as much as other aged emcees, because Ye makes more headlines for what he does outside of music.  Also, in recent times he has come to regularly work with younger artists, as he did throughout Donda (2021).

The cover art to Carnival (2024), the first song Kanye West
has dropped 
since 2011 to reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 .

That said, I was a bit shocked upon first hearing that Kanye intended to drop an entire album with Ty Dolla Sign (with the pair being collectively monikered ¥$).  One reason was because, even though Ty isn't that much younger than Ye, they do come from two different generations of rap.  Besides that, heading into this decade, it was as if West had more or less transitioned into a gospel hip-hop, with isn't Dolla Sign's forte.

I studied most of the songs on Donda pretty extensively and, all things considered, was never convinced that Ye had truly dedicated his life to Jesus.  But what I did respect him for was actually having enough clout to get a bunch of gangsta rappers to participate on what was, to a large degree, a gospel album.  I doubt if there's anyone else in the music industry who could've pulled that feat off.

In all honesty, I wasn't really expecting Vultures 1 (2024) to do well.  For a spell there, I didn't even think that Kanye would get around to finishing it.  But not only did he complete and release the project.  It instantly proved to be a major streaming success, "despite [being] independently produced and... initially unavailable on Spotify and YouTube" and with limited support from Apple. It also proceeded to secure first place upon debuting on the Billboard 200.  So by the time all is said and done, Vultures 1 may even end up outperforming Donda commercially.

KANYE GOIN' GANGSTA

Another reason you may forget Kanye's age, that he's nearly 50 years old, is because some of his raps of late, such as those apparently found throughout Vultures 1, sport the same type motifs and terminology that younger industry rappers rely on.  On Donda, due to the nature of the album and the fact that Yeezus was hosting it, it was as if the rappers he featured were challenged with dropping lyrics that were more meaningful than their braggadocious norm.  But more recently, it appears that West has rather opted to stoop down to their level, so to speak.

I believe that Kanye's divorce from Kim Kardashian forced him over the edge.  I know how emotionally devastating, world-shattering and embarrassing it is to be dumped by someone you actually love.  So imagine how Yeezy must've felt when that happened to him in front of the entire world.  Circa the Donda era, when it appeared that the marriage may still be salvageable, he was dropping songs about family and being a good husband and things of the sort.  But now, post-divorce and with tracks like Carnival, it's as if Ye has totally flipped the switch.

THE LYRICS

The nature of this song is what I like to refer to as lyrical pornography, even though the wording of Carnival is not as graphic as some of other raps which fall into that category.   Perhaps the fact that the rappers aren't, relatively speaking, going crazy with the sexual references is due to the Yeezus factor.  For instance in his verse, Kanye does make a profound observation in noting that "they served us the porn since the day we was born".  But he doesn't proceed to expound on the effects of that type of socialization, such as how it has led to a proliferation of songs such as Carnival which are replete with NSFW sexual references.

The title of the track is derived from a line found in the chorus which reads "she'll ride my d*ck like carnival".  That's a blatant sexual metaphor, albeit one which requires a bit of imagination to decipher.

My initial theory, since Playboi Carti and co. use the term "like carnival" instead of 'like a carnival', was that they're referring to the carnival celebrations held in places like the West Indies and Latin America.  To us horny dudes, those events are known for featuring scantily-clad women who basically twerk in public.  There's also this prevailing stereotype that the likes of West Indian women are better at 'whining' than their American counterparts.

That understanding of the title has been buttressed by Genius scholars, though they more so speculate that the rappers are be referring to 'a carnival', in the sense of the rides that are found in amusement parks.  And that may well be the case, since at the beginning of the second verse Dolla Sign notes that "she ride it like Six Flags", with Six Flags being a chain of amusement parks found in the United States.

From the intro, which is held down by a choir composed of European soccer fans backed by Playboi Carti, it is firmly established that this is an adult-oriented song, highlighted by metaphors pointing to gratifying sexual experiences.  There are other topics that are also explored along the way.  For instance, in the first verse, Rich the Kid drops a reference to cocaine, as well as the rapper alluding to himself being a gunslinger.  The second verse, as rendered by Ty Dolla Sign, focuses largely on the vocalist's wealth and fame.  But the permeating theme throughout the track centers on the sexual exploitation of women, not in a rapey sort of way, but rather how the emcees takes advantage of their groupies, if you will.  And it's Playboi Carti who manages to best stick to that topic during the fourth verse.

Even though Yeezy has more or less decided to take the gangsta route, his verse is still quite different - let's say more intellectual - than the rest.  Yes, he does make a couple of references to being the recipient of fellatio, while also alluding to his wherewithal to practice anal sex.  But the bulk of West's verse revolves around the troubled A-lister comparing himself to R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, Diddy and Chris Brown.

The interesting thing about Yeezy likening himself to Kells, the Cos and Puff is that all three of them have experienced or are currently facing a downfall due to, most simply put, being sexual deviants.  Meanwhile, Kanye himself has engaged in many questionable acts, but I can't say that I ever heard of any woman accusing him of sexual assault, as with those individuals.  So he sorta references the "Me Too" movement out of the context.

But in also namedropping Breezy, who's rather faced cancel culture more along the lines of being an impenitent gangsta, it becomes more obvious that what West is doing is likewise presenting himself as a famous Blackman, a once well-received celebrity whom the system has decided to persecute, i.e. blackball or what have you.  For example, according to MediaTakeOut, Kanye was recently banned from performing a free concert in Brazil due to "controversial statements he made about Adolf Hitler and Jesus".  Also to note, an earlier version of Carnival featured a sample of a Black Sabbath track.  But the band's frontman, Ozzy Osbourne, shut that down due to Yeezy having developed the reputation of being an antisemite (though he still got away with using the sample indirectly).

But again, unlike the celebrities he mentions in the verse, West isn't catching hell due to the way he treats women or as a result of criminal behavior.  To the contrary, when Kanye was married, he appeared to be a pretty faithful husband, especially for someone of his standing.  And he has never been arrested for anything really serious or sexual.  West has developed the tendency to rather face criticism for things he intentionally says or does in full view of the public.  But judging by the success of Vultures 1 and Carnival, he may well be "uncancellable", as some have argued.

THE VISUALS

One compelling observation concerning this track is that its cover art "depicts a closeup of a screaming and bloodied skinhead".  And the reason that's intriguing is because the song itself doesn't appear to have anything whatsoever to do with skinheads nor fighting per se.

The cover art is actually an image derived from the music video to Carnival, as assembled by a Jon Rafman, a Canadian artist and generated using artificial intelligence.  For the most part, the clip depicts what appears to be skinheads and rabid soccer fans, the overwhelming majority of whom are Caucasian, engaged in rioting.  Contrastingly, the rappers themselves are all Black, and the lyrics center primarily on the concept of sexual gratification.  So it's difficult, if not impossible to make a connection between what's being said on the track and what's being displayed in the video. 

THE AUDIO

Carnival has been singled out as one of the standout tracks on Vultures 1.  The instrumental, with the chanting in the background, is pretty unique.  Also, I would say the lyrical flow of the first two verses, as respectively held down by Rich the Kid and Ty Dolla Sign, is damn near perfect.  But as for Kanye's vocal contribution, even though his verse is the most-compelling lyrically, it sounds almost as if he's trying to imitate the rappers who preceded him.  In fact, if I didn't know beforehand that it was West rapping, I never would have figured that out based on the way he actually sounds.

Meanwhile, Playboi Carti's verse is more along the lines of what some people refer to as mumble rap.  That means for individuals such as myself, I wouldn't be able to make out all that he's saying without reading the lyrics. 

CONCLUSION

Some rappers evolve over time.  This is often necessary in the name of prolonging their relevancy in a musical genre where trends change perhaps more regularly than any other.  Relatedly, on this track Kanye doesn't sound like his usual self.  And whereas Carnival does have its moments, it isn't nearly as impressive or memorable as the hit songs from West's heyday.

01 February 2024

Black Models Are Breaking Barriers

Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me in the fashion magazines my friends and I read.  Even the so-called "diverse" models were often just light-skinned women with straight hair, not dark skin and natural hair.  I never felt like I could be part of the fashion world, because it didn't seem to have space for someone like me, and I know I wasn't the only one who felt that way.  Many women spoke about the lack of representation in the fashion industry.  And when it finally attempted to include models of color, those efforts often fell short, with only one or two in a campaign or show.  But when I look at the industry today, I see huge progress being made.

Popular Instagram model Nyakim Gatwech, aka the "Queen of the Dark",
has dealt with negativity and offensive suggestions due to the color of his skin.

One of the biggest barriers that Black models faced was lack of representation in major fashion magazines, which revolved around a very narrow definition of beauty.  But now, we are seeing more of them on the covers of these publications, not as token representations but centerpieces of large photoshoots.  And as time progresses, more brands and designers are including Black models.

Winnie Harlow @ 2023 Milan Fashion Week

These models are breaking barriers and redefining what it means to be beautiful in the world of fashion . For example, take Winnie Harlow, who was born with a skin disease called vitiligo.  She has become an inspiration to many people with that disorder.

Winnie Harlow modeling for Desigual in 2015.

Winnie rose to fame on America's Top Model and has since been featured in major campaigns for brands like Diesel (2015), Nike (2017) and FENDI (2023). She's also been a brand ambassador for prominent fashion companies, like Desigual.  Harlow is not only redefining beauty standards but also showing that people with skin conditions can be brave and successful in the fashion industry.

Halima Aden, the first hijab wearer to earn the distinction
of becoming an IMG Model.

And what about Somali-American Halima Aden?  She made history as the first model who wears a hijab to become a signee of IMG Models, one of the top agencies of its type in the world.  In 2017, Aden also became the first veiled model to be featured on the cover of Vogue Arabia, and she headlined the publication again in 2019 and 2023.  Halima is demonstrating that fashion is for everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs.

Naomi Campbell recounted how when she began her career, 
"there would be stylists who didn't have any experience working with Black models".

And it doesn't end there. There's Naomi Campbell (the queen of Black models), Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman, Adut Akech and many others who are doing incredibly well and changing the narrative.                                             

CONCLUSION

Black models are breaking barriers and redefining what it means to be beautiful in the fashion industry.  They are not just changing the way we see beauty, but also using their platforms to speak out about important issues.  Their influence is having a positive impact on the world of fashion, and their success is inspiring the next generation of models.  I hope the industry will continue to embrace diversity and that more Black models will be given the opportunities they deserve.