October 17, 2013
By Kam Williams
Born in Hollis, Queens on February 29, 1976, Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins began rapping professionally while still in his teens, although he really made a big splash in 1999 with the release of “Venni Vetti Vecci.” That solo album went platinum on the strength of the single “Holla Holla,” thereby kick starting an enviable musical career which has produced a half-dozen more studio lps while netting the popular hip-hop artist four Grammy nominations and counting.
He also collaborated on hit songs with everybody from J-Lo (“I’m Real”) to Christina Milian (“Between Me and You”) to Ashanti (“Always on Time”) to R. Kelly (“Wonderful”). Meanwhile, he expanded his repertoire to include acting, appearing in such films as The Fast and the Furious, Scary Movie 3, Assault on Precinct 13 and Shall we Dance, to name a few.
No stranger to controversy, Ja also became embroiled in some famous feuds, most notably, with rival rapper 50 Cent. He was recently been released from prison after spending a couple of years behind bars for tax evasion and gun possession.
Here, Ja talks about his new film, I’m in Love with a Church Girl, a faith-based tale of redemption chronicling the real-life reformation of drug dealer-turned-pastor Galley Molina.
Kam Williams: Hey Ja, thanks for the interview.
Ja Rule: What’s happening, killer?
KW: I appreciate the opportunity.
JR: Me too, Kam. Thanks for having me.
KW: I’m originally from your neck of the woods, St. Albans.
JR: [Laughs] No doubt, no doubt! Queens in the building!
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, and they sent in a lot of questions. Reverend Florine Thompson, who is also from Queens, asks: What interested you in I’m in Love with a Church Girl?
JR: First of all, I just enjoyed reading the script. Second, I also liked a lot of the parallels between me and the character Miles Montego. Those similarities convinced me that I would like to be a part of the project.
KW: Florine would also like to know whether making this film has influenced your spiritual relationship with your Higher Power?
JR: Absolutely! I’ve always been a spiritual person who believed in a Higher Power. So, I’ve always had my 1-on-1 with God, even if I wasn’t much of a religious person. But I would definitely have to say that this movie brought me even a little closer to God.
KW: Lester Chisholm asks: Has the experience of working with Pastor Molina on this production enhanced your life?
JR: Definitely! The movie is Galley’s life story. Galley Molina’s a great inspiration and role model for a lot of young kids out there.
KW: Documentary director Kevin Williams asks: How did you prepare for the role?
JR: One of the things I did was I went to church with Galley to study him, because I thought I’d be doing more preaching in the film.
KW: Was it weird playing him with him right there on the set?
JR: No, that’s part of the beauty of doing a true story, having the person that the picture’s about there. I felt fortunate to be able to get his advice about how to approach the character and his input about how this or that scene should play out. So, it was great to have Galley there.
KW: What was it like working with this cast, Adrienne Bailon, Stephen Baldwin, Vincent Pastore, etcetera?
JR: Adrienne and I have known each other for a long time. Me and Stephen, too! And Vincent and I worked on two films together prior to this one. So, it was great just being around everybody again and spending time together on the set!
KW: What message do you think people will take away from the film?
JR: This is really an inspirational film which is all about connecting with people who aren’t that much into church, although it’s for church people, too. That’s the beauty of the film.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: Do you think if gangsta rappers really fell in love with ‘Church Girls’ they might stop saying horrible and abusive things about females in their songs?
JR: [LOL] Maybe… maybe… She may be onto something. [Laughs some more]
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Do you thing that reggae is at the root of what is happening today in EDM [Electronic Dance Music] and trip-hop?
JR: Trip-hop? I don’t know if I ever heard of trip-hop. [Asks his friends if they know what it is.] I’m in a room of hip-hop heads, and nobody ever heard of it. But EDM, absolutely!
KW: Marsha Evans says she’s a resident of Kew Gardens, and a friend of Reverend Run. She says congrats on your daughter’s starting at Hampton.
JR: Aw, thank you!
KW: She says she’s run into Alan Hevesi [former NYS Comptroller] a few times at the local foreign film theater and that he smiled when she mentioned your name. She’d like to know whether you’ve applied any of the financial advice you received from him while in prison?
JR: [Chuckles] Heavy D, that’s my boy. Alan Hevesi and I forged a great relationship while in prison. I’m glad he’s home now. He’s an older man, so he belongs home, not behind bars. But I definitely benefitted from his knowledge. I used to pick his brain a lot while we watched the New York Knicks on TV.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
JR: No, I think I’ve been asked everything under the sun.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
JR: My reflection. [LOL] No, that’s a tough question. I see a man that’s in the process of growth, going from one end to another.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
JR: A minute ago. I have one everyday, Kam.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
JR: Chocolate lava cake.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
JR: I’m a breakfast type of guy. Don’t get me wrong. I can cook, I’m kinda nice on the burner, but I enjoy making breakfast. I do it all… Scrambled eggs… French toast… Pancakes… Breakfast is my thing.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
JR: Hellbound on His Trail by Hampton Sides.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
JR: Oh man, we were just playing something in there, but I can’t recall what it was.
KW: What’s up for you next, musically?
JR: Actually, I just dropped two new records called “Fresh Out da Pen” and “Everything.” They’re available on iTunes.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
JR: That’s a difficult question. It’s tough to say, because I like a lot of them.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
JR: I’m an adrenaline guy. I like to do stuff that gets my blood pumping, like roller coasters or jumping out of planes. I’m into all that crazy stuff.
KW: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?
JR: The best decision I ever made, period, was to get into the music business.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
JR: It’d be a toss-up between world peace and ending poverty.
KW: The Jamie Foxx question: If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend the time?
JR: With my family.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
JR: A lion.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
JR: Hmm… Playing with this very noisy popper toy when I was about 4. It looked like a lawnmower, was round at the bottom, and had little balls in it that would go “Pow! Pow! Pow!” We lived in a tiny apartment, so as you can imagine, there was no escaping the popper. [LOL] My mother had to hide it from me.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
JR: Selfishness. To be the best at what you do in any field, and to accomplish the goals you set for yourself, you have to be somewhat selfish.
KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
JR: I’d probably be an athlete, either basketball, football or boxing. I was good at those sports.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
JR: My own, the L.I.F.E. Foundation.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JR: Walk carefully! Tread light!
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
JR: As an artist who was really passionate about his work. And as an inspiration. I do what I do to inspire people.
KW: Can you give me a Ja Rule question, I can ask other people I interview?
JR: Yeah, here’s a good one: If you had to spend all of your money in a month, how would you do it? [Chuckles]
KW: That’s a great one. Thanks, Ja, and best of luck with the film.
JR: Sure, Kam, thanks a lot.
To see a trailer for I’m in Love with a Church Girl, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEmqu0zNkT8
October 10, 2013
By Shonassee Shaver
LAWT Contributing Writer
Droves of contestants came out to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (Macy’s Bridge) to show what they had to offer for this year’s Taste of Soul.
The audition showcased a two day part competition that brought out adults on Friday and kids and young adults on Saturday.
The audition was filled with many talents but these performers stood out.
Audrey Chanel got the audition started performing to a 2 Chainz sample. The female group is named after Old Hollywood Movie Star Audrey Hepburn and Classic Fashion Designer Coco Chanel.
On why they choose the name, “both of them went through a lot of struggles in their life but they never let that get them down; they continued to strive and do what they were meant to do, that’s what we want to do, influence others, showcase our talent.
We got a taste of church with gospel performances.
Little man Jaden Neal blew the audience away when he sang. Out came a powerful voice from the youngster who stole the crowd as he earned a standing ovation. His brother Jacory Neal brought us to church as well with his paralleling voice. The brother duo stood out, “their talent is a gift from God,” said their proud grandmother.
Pint size beauty Miracle performed Mary Mary “Sunday Morning,” while another contestant followed with Mary Mary’s latest “Go Get It.”
Jasmine Sky who waited with her mother to perform stated she was ready to sing for the judges. When her turn came, she showed how equipped she was singing “Father Can You Hear Me.”
Prior to performing, contestant Kayla Curtis waited in line anticipating her audition. She performed the song, “I Love to Be in Your Presence.” She felt great about performing stating, “I feel God is doing this for a reason.” After her performance, she was joined with applause and a greeting by one of the judges.
Great performances continued as contestants covered classic songs.
Tiffany Harring gave her all to Etta James “At Last”; she did not disappoint delivering an impressive performance. On where she got her hearty voice from, “my dad’s family sings.”
A contestant did a rendition of Michael Jackson “Man in the Mirror.”
Classics such as Whitney Houston “Greatest Love of All” and Mariah Carey “Vision of Love” were performed by Majesty, who worked the judges.
“I’ve been singing since I was a baby,” she said. The 16-year old has not only perfected her voice but her style, she has a stylist.
Contestants performed “Rolling on a River” and “It’s A Man’s World.”
Remix ended the show with an eclectic and edgy sound with an acapella of Boyz II Men.
StarQuest had an impressive celebrity judge panel, including Jalila Larsuel, a celebrity publicist for the stars who had her top 10 picks from the show. Happy about the community supporting its talent, she states “there were a couple of them that felt comfortable in their skin and it’s not all about the dancing routine, its showing how well you can carry a tune. One has to have an innate energy, make us feel what you’re saying.”
Larusel has a list of up-and-coming projects, which include “The Black Nativity” soundtrack and the film, which will be out November with Jennifer Hudson. Roland Martin’s talk show will debut next month and T.D. Jake’s talk show “Mind, Body and Soul” premiers this month. To contact Jalila Larsuel go to www.thefrontpagefirm.com or email her at
Actress Tisha French had some favorites of her own. She feels stage presence and confidence are key factors that make a great performer. “The difference between the have and have-nots is the ones who came to bring it versus the ones who are still in the development stages,” said French. Catch her on the Young and the Restless, films “The Purge and Bad Milo!” Look for her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Actor, choreographer and director Darrin Henson welcomed the crowd and encouraged the crowd to show love to all the contestants. Henson is the executive producer of new film “Frat Brothers.” Go to www.darrinhenson.com for more on the triple threat.
Other celebrity judges included finalist from the Voice, Jessie Campbell, who was impressed by the performers stated, “the fact, children are children, brings about its own originality.” For more on Campbell, go to JessieCampbell.com.
Fox11 Christine News anchor, Christine Devine, who was excited about the show gave notice to the polished performers and contestants with potential. Devine who has worked with young artists is familiar on how hard it is to be seen, “It takes a lot work, time and a little bit of God to make it.” She has a project called Team WC based on the concept of Wednesday’s Child consisting of foster children who have been adopted and are successful. One of her protégé is a hip hop artists who did a song, “Faith and Truth,” for National Adoption Month, which is on iTunes. For more information on Devine email her at
2012 Grand Prize winner, Adrian Battle came out to give a few words of encouragement. “It was an amazing experience performing in front of thousands of people.”
Solomon Gilstrap spoke about his own experience as a StarQuest Finalist.
The community of Los Angeles is in for a real treat October 19.
By Maleena Lawrence
Bakewell Media has created an opportunity for local people in the community as well as viral supporters to showcase their vocal range at the largest street festival in Los Angeles, the Taste Of Soul on October 19, 2013. This year the Baldwin Hills Mall was the place to be for rising stars who desired a shot to showcase their talent in the second annual StarQuest Singing Competition. Where crowds stand shoulder-to-shoulder hovering the stage with amplified cheers too support their loved ones during the final competition. However, what people do not fully witness are the days and weeks leading up to the actual competition. Starting at the front of the line with artist to behind-the-scenes with the judges and production crew on Day 1 of the auditions, every one possessed a level of motivation to accomplish whatever they were set out to deliver.
Gliding up the escalators of the Mall, the first thing I saw was a growing line of contestants outside of Macy’s. Then the animated voice of DJ Paradise shouts, “Yall know the rules and in case you missed something, I’ll say it again, you have one minute and 30 seconds to perform and impress the celebrity judges right away.” Shortly after the rules, my attention was strictly diverted to the talent. I wanted to know their intentions, feel their nerves and the expectations that they had for themselves on and off the stage. The opening performance was a gospel artist named Always Carey who wanted to bring the energy, be an Ambassador to set it off and get people off their nerves and bring only their talent. He was followed by the female gospel group, D.B. Milton and Company singing, It’s Not All In Vain. This year’s competition started off with a praising Sunday’s Best vibe until performances from artist like Evrywhr accompanied with Robert Amerson on guitar sang “40 Nights.” Angie a soulful soloist connected with “Positivity,” the crooning vocals of On Poynte and even the return of the inaugural StarQuest winner, Beau Williams taking a bow after receiving a standing ovation for his performance, A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke all of which helped to bring more of a mixed musical genre to engage the judges.
Judging a competition like StarQuest takes a diverse accumulation of the very best in the entertainment industry. On Day 1, the panel of celebrity judges included: Celebrity Vocal Coach, Willie Norwood; Actress, Tanjareen; Entertainment Executive, Dexter Story; StarQuest Producer, Yvette Bailey; Sentinel Managing Editor, Brandon Brooks; Producer, Rayva Harrell; Comedian and 2013 Taste of Soul Host, Jonathan Slocumb; Industry Executive and Manager, Marcus Grant; SoulTrain Producer, Tony Cornelius; Singer and Finalist on Season 2 of the Voice, Jesse Campbell; Music Executive, Bobby Wilkerson and Music Giant, Ken Wilson. Collectively, you have a mogul league of judges with over 200 years of professional experience in the entertainment industry meaning—bring your A-Game. They all were looking for originality. Tony Cornelius and Ken Wilson both agreed that everybody can’t make it and it takes courage, originality, a good performance, stage presence and the need for real talent is what they are looking for during the auditions. Rayva expressed Day 1 as being her second time around with this year’s talent taking it to the next level. She and Tanjareen are looking for a connection that gives you chills and demonstrates a love for what you are doing. Either way it goes, Jonathan Slocumb said it best, “Great talent and no talent, we hope to pick the greatest.”
In the meantime, there was a well organized team of individuals checking in talent and keeping track of the performance schedules. Nick, the Production Manager smiled graciously saying, “My job is to make sure each and every element is working smoothly as possible and we cover everything from crew, volunteers, food, talent, everything.” In the flow of the day, I bumped into the production coordinator, Damon Oliver who provides Nick with what he needs to keep the show rolling for the producers. Kayl supports Talent and IT as Bishop Moore, the central camera man captured the day of make it or break it performances. Towards intermission, the man who makes it all possible, Mr. Danny Bakewell spoke to the hearts and minds of the entire room as he reinforced his love and our responsibility to the Black community, “This is our Family and we got to come together.” And this is what Taste of Soul and StarQuest Singing Competition is all about, selecting amazing talent to share their gift of song with the world.
By Kenneth Miller
Assistant Managing Editor
Two weeks before the pumpkins are cut and carved for Halloween, the 8th annual Taste of Soul Family Festival, October 19 on Crenshaw Blvd., will unveil its own version of tricks and treats. Event organizers this week announced a musical line-up of heavy hitters that includes jazz giant Poncho Sanchez and R&B sensation Mario. The two will perform on the Taste of Soul KTWV ‘Wave’ and Taste of Soul Radio Free KJLH stages, respectively.
For more than three decades as both a leader and a sideman, conguero Poncho Sanchez has stirred up a fiery stew of straightahead jazz, gritty soul music, and infectious melodies and rhythms from a variety of Latin American and South American sources. He will be among the highlights of the Taste of Soul ‘Wave’ stage.
Meanwhile, Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, actor Mario who realized that his talents came to him naturally early on and has scored multiple hits, will grace the Taste of Soul Radio Free KJLH stage at Taste of Soul, which has drawn nearly one million in crowd attendance during its eight year history.
Sanchez’ influences are numerous, but among the more prominent figures that form his music are two of the primary architects of Latin jazz – conga drummer and composer Chano Pozo and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Sanchez pays tribute to these two titans on his new album, ‘Chano y Dizzy.’
At age 15, when his 2002 debut album Mario garnered 700,000 copies in sales, sparked by the lead single “Just A Friend (2002),” young Mario set the stage for his 2005 sophomore set aptly titled Turning Point. Worldwide, the album reaped 2 million units in sales as “Let Me Love You” propelled him to the number one spot for nine consecutive weeks. The single holds the honor of being one of the highest selling ringtones to date with 1.6 million downloads and Mario himself was bestowed with accolades including 2005’s Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Award for Top R&B/Hip-Hop Single, a Billboard Music Award for Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Single of the Year.
While, Sanchez and Mario will surely delight their legion of followers and Taste of Soul attendees, there will be many more.
Also scheduled to perform on the ‘Wave’ stage are Avant, Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancler, DW3, On-Tour, Six-Degrees and Chosen Gospel of Recovery.
The Taste of Soul Radio Free KJLH stage, which last year featured a surprise appearance from its owner and mega star, Stevie Wonder, will also showcase performances by Mindless Behavior, RaVaughn and Glenn Lewis.
Ndugu Chancler and Patrice Rushen are two of South Central Los Angeles’ most amazing poster artists for rising out of the L.A. Unified School District to achieve blinding heights of glory in multiple facets of the music industry then coming to give back with generosity, passion and a master plan based on all they learned academically and in the field.
Today, Chancler and Rushen are both educators at the University of Southern California. Mr. Chancler holds the position of Adjunct Professor of popular Music and Jazz Studies. He has been teaching on the campus for 19 years. Ms. Rushen is the Chair of the Popular Music Department and just saw her first full graduating class this month at the close of her fourth year in the position, which is the current life of the program – 4 years old.
Nicknamed by Ne-Yo as the “New Voice of Women,” RaVaughn is a natural songstress whose frank, yet sophisticated swag—paired with inventive melodies and sassy riffs—brings a barrier-breaking vitality to R&B/pop. That’s because her versatile style was honed doing demos and background work for such marquee names as Celine Dion, Natasha Bedingfield, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Nicki Minaj, Brandy and Keri Hilson.
Taste of Soul Creator Danny J. Bakewell Sr. applauded both of the event’s media partners for again delivering on music excellence with performers who bring name/ brand recognition.
“I am not at all surprised by these line-ups, because both our two radio partners consistently deliver big to the Taste of Soul Nation what they have been providing their audiences for years,” said Bakewell.
“What’s remarkable is that our community will get an opportunity to see them while enjoying the foods they love with the families and friends they cherish and will not have to pay to watch them perform,” concluded Bakewell.
Taste of Soul family festival will be held from 10a.m. to 6p.m. on Crenshaw Blvd. Saturday October 19.
LAWT News Service
Songstress Martha Taylor LaCroix will perform at The Gardenia on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. She will be accompanied in her classy vocal style by legendary pianist Karen Hernandez and highly respected multi-talented Dave Hopkins on percussions. Entitled, “A Joyful Noise in Song,” the performance will include a tribute to breast cancer survivors, family and friends. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. October 11 has significant meaning to survivor Ms. LaCroix, as well. It is the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990. Dinner will be served from 7 to 9 p.m. and the show will begin promptly at 9 p.m. The performance will be presented by social networking jazz diva, Dolores Peterson.
“Consistently interesting” is how Ms. LaCroix was described by one reviewer. Her vocal stylings encompass a range of musical influences from spiritual classics to traditional jazz compositions. Ms. LaCroix earned her professional chops as a singer with the chorus of the New Orleans Opera Company several years ago. She later joined the Dick Stabile (musical director for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis) Orchestra in New Orleans as a vocalist. Like so many spirited musicians, Ms. LaCroix began singing as a child in the church of her legendary father, the Rev. Gardner C. Taylor at Concord Baptist Church in New York City. Her father inspired her first CD “Seasoned for Fathers and Sons.” Her sophomoric recording "The Reason - Seasoned for Christmas" is a collection of spiritual Christmas selections most notably her popular rendition of “I Give You Jesus.”
Ms. LaCroix has released three recordings that reflect her varied musical interest. The most recent is collection of jazz classics recorded and produced with legendary pianist and arranger Howlett Smith. This recording features some popular originals by Mr. Smith including, “Let’s Go Where the Grass is Greener” originally recorded by vocalist extraordinaire Nancy Wilson. Titled “Jazzily Seasoned with Martha Taylor LaCroix,” this latest recording echoes the words of another reviewer who said; “Marti comes across with a cool, elegant, diamond-and-pearl restraint.”
The Gardenia is located at 7066 Santa Monica Blvd. (one block east of LaBrea Blvd.) in West Hollywood. Tickets are $10 plus dinner or a two drink minimum. Reservations are encouraged and are available by calling: (323) 467-7444.
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