I had the pleasure of being a guest author for Wear Your Voice Magazine where I wrote a short piece about how to manage our friendships during COVID-19, pulling from some of my research on friendships. I hope you check it out!
Due to the website shutting down I have transposed a copy of the article below:
There are four key ingredients to building and maintaining successful friendships: investment, emotional closeness, trust, and support.
By Dr. Marcus C. Shepard
After a year-and-a-half of battling Zoom fatigue, isolation, and a host of mental strains, it should come as no surprise that some of our friendships have taken a backseat as we try to prioritize our own well-being. Researchers at the University College London (2021) found that roughly 22% of those surveyed in a recent ongoing study felt that their friendship quality has suffered due to the pandemic. Friendships are good for both our mental and physical health (Chopik, 2017), and the desire to reconnect with friends we haven’t seen in a while, reset or readjust friendships, and/or end long-term friendships strained are possibilities many of us have been juggling over the past year. In order to talk about friendships and how they have been impacted by the pandemic, I think it’s helpful to first overview what I call the “friendship formula” in my textbook Midnight Musings: Interpersonal Communication & Social Media (Shepard, 2018) and understand how these ingredients are the bedrock to any friendship.
There are four key ingredients to building and maintaining successful friendships: investment, emotional closeness, trust, and support. Investment is what you put into the relationship and this investment includes your time, feelings, energy, and thoughts. Close friendships are formed through initial encounters (Twitter mutuals, fellow bar patrons, classmates, coworkers, etc.) which, through mutual investment, are extended into something more intimate. You and your friend both put in the time, energy, thoughts, feelings, and maybe even money into building your friendship.
My third post for the National National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) is live on their site. Go check it out! I've also reprinted it below.
When Erykah Badu first appeared on BET’s Planet Groove in 1997 to promote her then forthcoming debut album Baduizm, it was clear that a shift in the musical landscape had arrived. Through her interview with Planet Groove’s host Rachel Stuartfarrell, it became more apparent with their brief interview where Badu stated, “I feel like this is where I need to be right now because music is kind of sick… it’s going through a rebirthing process and I find myself being one of the midwives aiding in that rebirthing process.” This rebirthing process would soon be labeled by Kedar Massenburg as neo-soul and the moniker Queen of neo-soul would forever be connected to Erykah Badu.
While the genre term was retroactively applied to D’Angelo’s debut album, 1995’s Brown Sugar as well as Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (1996) and artists such as Omar, The Fugees, Dionne Farris, Jamiroquai, and Me'Shell NdegéOcello laid the groundwork sonically and lyrically for the musical movement of neo-soul to exist, Erykah Badu’s breakthrough debut album solidified the neo-soul movement’s commercial visibility in the mid to late 1990s. The set’s accompanying singles “On & On,” “Next Lifetime,” and “Otherside of the Game” shaped and defined what a neo-soul aesthetic was and with the subsequent releases of Lauryn Hill’s debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998), Jill Scott’s debut Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1 (2000), Badu’s Mama’s Gun (2000), as well as India.Arie’s Acoustic Soul (2001), it became apparent that mainstream neo-soul was a predominantly Black female led music genre with Erykah Badu at the forefront.
Inspired in part by Brandy’s self-titled 1994 debut album, Badu also noted in a 2011 interview with Fuse that African roots inspired a large portion of her debut.
My second post for the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) is live on their site. Go check it out!
I've reposted it below for your convenience
Last night, I had the pleasure of witnessing the “second coming” of D’Angelo during The Second Coming Tour when it touched down in Los Angeles at Club Nokia. Fresh off of this leg’s first show in Oakland, D’Angelo and his band The Vanguard are clearly a well oiled machine and the 14 year gap between D’Angelo’s landmarked sophomore album Voodoo (2000) and his critically acclaimed third Black Messiah (2014) feels like a distant afterthought after his over two hour set filled with new songs (“Ain’t That Easy,” “Betray My Heart,” “The Charade,” “Sugah Daddy,” “Another Life”) and some fan favorite classics (“Brown Sugar,” “Left & Right,” “Chicken Grease,”).
While D’Angelo has been making the touring rounds the past few years including a co-headlining The Liberation Tour (2012) with Mary J. Blige, as well as his European Occupy Music Tour (2012), The Second Coming Tour marks D’Angelo’s more official return to the stage here in the States after releasing Black Messiah and was filled with several master classes taught by the legendary musician. Not only were D’Angelo’s vocals as crisp as they were at the height of Voodoo, but his musicianship on both the guitar and piano were in fine form as he fronted The Vangaurd (a 10-piece band that included three background singers, two guitarists, a bassist, a saxophonist, a trumpeter, a percussionist, as well as a pianist).
What makes The Second Coming Tour one of the must see tours this spring/summer, in my humble opinion, is the sheer musicianship and talent you will witness firsthand. Every musician and vocalist involved in The Vangaurd, including D’Angelo is at the top of his/her “game” and the improvisational moments that spill across D’Angelo’s meaty set will not only have you mesmerized but on your feet grooving as “Sugah Daddy” proved to be one of the most energetic moments of the night.
Having witnessed D’Angelo’s set at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles back in 2012, he and his band have clearly found the perfect groove coming from both an increased frequency of playing together as well as a more established repertoire that now officially utilizes Black Messiah. During his 2012 set from The Liberation Tour, it was clear that D’Angelo was still tinkering with the lush and brilliant instrumentation of the new songs he played (“The Charade,” “Sugah Daddy,” and “Another Life”) and was still adjusting to the spotlight post Voodoo.
While 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar (1995), his classic jam “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” capped off the night after two encores from the crowd and the nearly 17-minute rendition caused quite a stir at Club Nokia to say the least. There aren’t enough words to truly describe that transcendent moment, but luckily I captured it below. I promise you witnessing this musical genius and The Vanguard in action first hand is a sight to behold and even this sublime video doesn’t do them a lick justice.
I highly encourage you to see The Second Coming Tour when it reaches a town near you and while the tour is almost, if not entirely sold out, if you can find a decent scalper ticket (like I did) I suggest you jump at the opportunity.
I recently joined the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) as a Content Contributor and my first post on the NMAAM's website is live.
I've reposted it below for your convenience.
After what felt like an eternity since his critically acclaimed sophomore album Voodoo (2000), D’Angelo returned with his highly anticipated third album Black Messiah (2014). This year’s growing popularity of Black Messiah not only marks the fifteenth anniversary of D’Angelo’s landmark sophomore album, but also the twentieth anniversary of his debut album Brown Sugar (1995). Brown Sugar (1995) along with Me'Shell NdegéOcello’s Plantation Lullabies (1993), Joi’s The Pendulum Vibe (1994), and Dionne Farris’s Wild Seed – Wild Flower (1994) took popular Black music to the next level during the early to mid 1990s by mixing innovative musical scores with eclectic musical stylings and lyrical content that stretched beyond the seemingly endless R&B love song.
Released on July 3rd, 1995, D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar would soon usher in the new genre neo-soul. And while D’Angelo has an ambivalent relationship with the generic term (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD1oaBCmZWA), Brown Sugar’s artistic impact cannot be underestimated. While Kedar Massenburg, former Motown president and executive producer of both D’Angelo and Erykah Badu’s first forays into the music industry, is often credited with coining and creating the genre neo-soul through his discovery of D’Angelo and Badu, it truly is D’Angelo’s debut that aids in the shifting of music and the creation of a neo-soul culture. In a 2002 Billboard article on neo-soul, Massenburg commented on the genesis of the genre mentioning that, “I own the trademark to neo-soul . . . The term ‘new soul’ or ‘neo-soul’ originated when I came out with D’Angelo [before Massenburg joined Motown], who was reminiscent of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway” (Mitchell, p. 30).
Coining a key term for a genre of new music as a sound business strategy is not something unique to neo-soul (Mitchell, 2002). In fact, “turn[ing] music into a commodity, is solved in generic terms. Genre is a way of defining music in its market or, alternatively, the market in its music” (Firth, 1998, p. 76). While neo-soul began as a marketing term, other genres that are now taken for granted, such as rock and roll, salsa, and R&B all have similar generic stories. These genres, like neo-soul, grew past their marketing tendencies and formed cultures around the definition of what it meant to be a part of the genre at a particular time.
Neo-soul has transformed from representing “new soul” to be sold to a mass market into holding deeper sonic and social meanings. David McPherson, former executive VP and A&R of Epic Records explains that at the heart of neo-soul, is music that is “conscious-driven…not just about shaking your booty or just talking about sex but about events going on around you or about relationships” (Mitchell, 2002, p. 36). Neo-soul, McPherson continues, “was created for artists whose music takes one back to ‘70s music” and while D’Angelo with Brown Sugar took listeners back to the 70s, he also updated the musical score with his own influences from the Native Tongues movement [within hip-hop culture] (whose principal members included A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Gang Starr and Main Source) (Mitchell, 2002, p. 36).
One can turn to the album’s first single and title track “Brown Sugar,” which D’Angelo co-wrote and co-produced with Tribe’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad as evidence of the innovative sonic fusion that D’Angelo’s album Brown Sugar offered overall.
I was featured on Annenberg Radio New's Segment where Jillian Baker interviewed me about how neo-soul music is far from dead.
Click here to listen.
Wrote a piece for Henry Jenkins' blog entitled Revisiting Neo-Soul about the importance of reorienting ourselves as listeners to the genre neo-soul.
I concluded that neo-soul is a genre that is still alive and well though the glare of mainstream press and platinum selling singles and album sales has wavered. Before one engages with the theorizing of “alternative R&B,” it is important to revisit and reengage with the visual and musical discourse that is the genre neo-soul.
Click Here to read it.