John Legend to Produce Jason Reynolds’ Best-Selling Novel ‘Long Way Down’ for Universal Pictures

Author Jason Reynolds (top); Producer John Legend (bottom) [Images via Kia Chennelle/Simon and Schuster; Owen Kolasinski/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock]

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to Variety.com, Universal Pictures has optioned the rights to Jason Reynolds best-selling young adult novel “Long Way Down,” which was also a National Book Award finalist. John Legend‘s Get Lifted Film Co. and Michael De Luca‘s Michael De Luca Productions have signed on to produce the film.

Reynolds’ book has an unusual premise – the whole story takes place in 60 seconds, as a young man struggles to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the person who killed his brother.  Additionally, the book is written in free verse and is set in an elevator.

Although Legend is best known for his work as a singer and songwriter, but he has also racked up some major film credits, appearing in the likes of “La La Land” and “Soul Men,” and has produced the television series “Underground.” Legend also shared an Academy Award with rapper Common for best original song in 2015 for writing “Glory” from the film “Selma.”

Reynolds’ novels include “All American Boy” and “As Brave as You.” De Luca is the former president of New Line Cinema as well as an Oscar-nominated producer whose credits include the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, “The Social Network,” and “Moneyball.”

Common Brings Message of Redemption and Hope to Inmates at Folsom State Prison

Common (photo via bet.com)

by Kai Miller via bet.com

Fresh on the heels of kicking off his Hope & Redemption TourCommon is bringing his social activism to center stage. The “Glory” rapper recently paid a visit to the Folsom State Prison in California, where he treated the inmates to a concert in part with his Imagine Justice initiative.

Imagine Justice took to social media to share the photos of Common’s inspiring trip through its “Faces of Mass Incarceration” photo series. The photos capture the men captivated by the MC, smiling with raised fists as the Chi-Town native performed. Other photos show Common heading down to the crowd of inmates to greet them.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to connect with my brothers inside Folsom State Prison and perform for them to inspire them and spread a message of hope, redemption, justice, love and compassion,” the rapper wrote in an Instagram post.

The multi-hyphenate star recently documented his four-day prison tour visits in a YouTube web series titled The Hope & Redemption Tour, giving viewers the opportunity to hear the heartfelt stories of the women and men facing lengthy prison sentences and what their lives are like behind the prison walls.

To see first in series, click below:

To read more, go to: Common Visits Inmates At Folsom State Prison

LL Cool J to Become Kennedy Center’s First Hip-Hop Honoree

LLCoolJ (photo via npr.org)

by Rodney Carmichael via npr.org

Thirty years after becoming rap’s first sex symbol, LL Cool J will be the first hip-hop artist to receive Kennedy Center Honors in its 40-year history.

The rapper-turned-actor born James Todd Smith will be inducted with a prestigious 2017 class — including pop stars Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan, television icon Norman Lear and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade – on Sunday, Dec. 3 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C.

The honorees will be saluted by performers while seated alongside President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. While Kennedy Center Honors acknowledge the lifetime achievements of contributors to American culture, the list has traditionally been limited in scope. But the inclusion of LL, born James Todd Smith, in this year’s honoree list further expands the center’s growing embrace of hip-hop culture.

Earlier this year the center appointed Simone Eccleston as its first director of Hip-Hop Culture after naming A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip as artistic director of Hip-Hop Culture in 2016. Historic performances by Kendrick Lamar and Common have also underlined the center’s investment, and more programming for the 2017-18 season is expected to be announced in the coming months.

At 49, LL will be the Kennedy Center’s youngest honoree since Stevie Wonder. It’s a long way from home for the St. Albans, Queens native who made his first record, “I Need A Beat,” at 16, after his demo tape made it to the ears of producer and Def Jam founder Rick Rubin. As rap’s first bona fide solo star, LL was larger than life in the 1980s, the first to embody the street-corner swagger and sex appeal that would become a blueprint for future hip-hop icons ranging from Big Daddy Kane to Biggie.

Before an artist like Drake could legitimately mix hip-hop lyricism with R&B vulnerability, LL turned out the first hit rap ballad with 1987’s “I Need Love.” And the ladies loved him for it. Best known today for his starring roles in TV and film, he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year. But after a career spanning 30-plus years and 13 albums, he’s yet to leave rap alone — he’s rumored to be in the studio recording with Dr. Dre.

To read full article, go to: LL Cool J To Become Kennedy Center’s First Hip-Hop Honoree : The Record : NPR

Alex Hibbert and Jacob Piner, Youth Stars of Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” to Receive Keys to City of Miami Gardens

Alex Hibbert and Jaden Piner of “Moonlight” (photo via thegrio.com)

article by Kimberly Wilson via thegrio.com

The boys of “Moonlight” will be getting their moment.

Both 13-year-old Alex Hibbert and 12-year-old Jaden Piner, are slated to receive keys to the city of Miami Gardens, FL at this year’s Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival. The two students from Norland Middle School in Miami Gardens had starring roles in the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight,” with Alex playing young Chiron and Jaden playing Kevin, Chiron’s best friend.

“We think it’s a great opportunity for us to acknowledge what they’ve done at a young age, and tell them how proud we are of them,” shares Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III. “Because so often when you hear about young black kids, people don’t want to tell you the stories of these kids and areas that they excel in,” continues Mayor Gilbert. “We aren’t talking about them most times. Most times we’re talking about young black boys in a negative context, so anytime we get an opportunity to tell them how extraordinary they are, we will do it. And ‘Jazz In The Gardens’ is the biggest stage that we can offer in the city.”

The key ceremony will be just one highlight of the highly-anticipated weekend. As the staple event each year in the city of Miami Gardens, Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival is back for its 12th year, and is quickly growing beyond its borders. Hosted again by veteran comedian Rickey Smiley, the city can expect more than 70,000 music lovers from all over the United States and Caribbean Islands.

The festival will take place this upcoming weekend, March 17-19 at Hard Rock Stadium, featuring performances by Jill Scott, Esperanza Spalding, Common, and LLCoolJ.

To read more, go to: Young stars of Oscar-winning “Moonlight” to receive keys to the city of Miami Gardens | theGrio

Ava DuVernay’s Mass Incarceration Documentary “13th” Opens to Standing Ovation at New York Film Festival

New York Film Festival 2016 opening

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay (GREGORY PACE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK)

article by Gordon Cox via Variety.com

Ava DuVernay’s “13th” opened the 54th New York Film Festival with a jolt of topical urgency, shaking up tradition as the first documentary to kick off the festival and addressing head-on the issue of mass incarceration and its historical roots. The crowd at the premiere screening rose to its feet when the credits rolled — and then did it a couple more times after that: once when the lights came up on the filmmakers, activists and academics involved in the film, and again when DuVernay appeared for a brief talkback after the movie.

Heightened security measures, a reaction to the Sept. 17 bombing in Chelsea, made the opening the first in recent memory to involve bomb-sniffing dogs and security wands. Famous faces including Oprah WinfreyCommon and Don Lemon turned out for the film, which confronts issues at the forefront of the current political conversation: race, inequality, the fallout of slavery, police brutality and Black Lives Matter.

“This moment, this Black Lives Matter moment, it’s not a moment. It’s a movement,” said DuVernay on the red carpet before the film’s world premiere (in words she would later echo when she addressed the crowd in the theater). “People thought, ‘Oh, will it last?’ Well, it has lasted. It’s changed things. It’s forced candidates to talk about things that they did not talk about in previous elections. It’s opened people’s minds. It’s changed art-making. It’s changed music. People are seeing things through a different filter now.”

To read full article, go to: http://variety.com/2016/film/news/new-york-film-festival-2016-opening-13th-ava-duvernay-1201875308/

VH1 Taps Ashanti, Keke Palmer, Amber Rose & More for Salt-N-Pepa Tribute Tonight on “Hip Hop Honors”

Sandra ‘Pepa’ Denton, DJ Spinderella and Cheryl ‘Salt’ James of Salt-N-Pepa attend the 2016 MTV Movie Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 9, 2016 in Burbank, Calif. (CHRISTOPHER POLK/GETTY IMAGES FOR MTV)

article by Adelle Platon via billboard.com

VH1 is pushing out another stellar tribute for Salt-N-Pepa at this year’s Hip Hop Honors. The network announced on Friday (July 8) that Ashanti, Amber RoseKeke Palmer and Dreezy will be paying homage to the first all-female rap crew, comprised of Cheryl “Salt” JamesSandy “Pepa” Denton and DJ Spinderella.

The ladies will be shaking their thang (SNP pun intended) alongside other surprise guests for the evening’s tributes to fellow honorees Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah and Lil’ Kim. As previously announced, Pharrell, Timbaland and Nelly Furtado among others will salute Elliot while Common, Da Brat, Naughty By Nature and more will be on-hand to hail Queen Latifah.

Pharrell, Timbaland, Nelly Furtado & More to Honor Missy Elliott at VH1 Hip Hop Honors

VH1 Hip Hop Honors will land at New York’s David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center tonight, July 11, making its comeback after six years.

Common to Star in ‘Black Samurai’ TV Series Executive Produced by RZA

Common Black Samurai

Common (DAVID FISHER/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK)

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)

According to Variety.com, Academy Award-winning rapper and actor Common is set to star in a television adaptation of “Black Samurai.”  The TV project is based on Marc Olden’s 1974 book series, which inspired the 1977 film of the same name. Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA is attached as an executive producer.  Producers are working on selling the project to a distributor. Once a network, cable or streaming venue is attached, the search for a writer and director will begin.

“Black Samurai” follows the story of Robert Sand (played by Common) who is rescued by a Japanese samurai master and trained for seven years. After suffering from vicious racism in the military, and seeing his teacher and fellow samurai killed before his eyes by terrorists, Robert Sand becomes a killing machine, out to destroy the corrupt powers who had taken the lives of his friends.

Producer Andre Gaines acquired rights to the book, and is executive producing the potential series, making it the first television show developed under his Cinemation banner.

“Robert Sand is like black Jason Bourne. Black Samurai is one of the most unique, timely and fun experiences I’ve ever read, while at the same time tackling some serious subjects around race and diversity,” said Gaines. “With ‘John Wick 2’ and ‘Suicide Squad’ coming up, Common was an obvious choice for the role, and I’m thrilled to have him on board. I believe he’s the next great American actor.”

Along with Gaines and RZA, Wu Films’ Mitchell Diggs and Diane Crafford are also exec producing.  I could not be more pleased that such incredible talent is attached to Marc’s work,” said Crafford. “This series has always been one of my favorites and Robert Sand, the Black Samurai, is a fascinating character who I can’t wait to see brought to life on the screen.”

Speaking of RZA, Gaines commented, “There is a long tradition and storied relationship between hip-hop and martial arts. Having RZA and the WuTang brand on board to executive produce will validate the series even more and mobilize the fans.” 

Aside from “Suicide Squad” and “John Wick 2,” Common’s acting career is on fire. He was recently seen in the latest “Barbershop” film and NBC’s “The Wiz Live” musical.

Click here to read the full Variety.com article.