I'll never forget the day one of my best friends introduced me to an artist who, unbeknownst to me, would soon become one of my favorite vocalists from that day forward. It was about seven years ago, in the middle of winter and we were on our way to a kickback, comfortably packed in her car with a few of our mutual friends. She suddenly grabbed the aux cord and eagerly asked, "Have y'all heard 'Strawberry Vapors' by Luke James?" The rest of us collectively shook our heads and eagerly awaited for the sound to permeate our ears. "Just wait 'till you hear his voice," she warned. "It's insane." Fast forward to today and the word insane feels like a gross understatement to describe the musical gift that is Luke James.
It's about mid-morning when our call connects and Luke is surprisingly calm, cool and collected. There's some hustle and bustle in the background, which is understandable seeing as how in just a few short moments, he'll be headed to rehearsal and subsequently showcasing his God-given talents in front of thousands of adoring fans for an intimate concert experience at the House of Blues in his hometown of New Orleans. How does it feel?
"Magical," he admits honestly to xoNecole. "I'm feeling very magical."
And why wouldn't he? It's a blessing to be back in the city that not only helped shape his musical appetite, but a city that continues to show immense support and undying love. And as a thank you, James is inviting those same fans to connect with him as he soulfully and skillfully expresses his angst and his admiration over a prize we all are seeking but few of us ever really possess: true love.
Photo Credit: Alexander Black
At its core, James' sound is sonically superb. But at its highest? It's seductively sensual, commanding attention from your spirit, soul and body all at the same damn time. With a discography that boasts songs like "Make Love To Me", "I O U", "Exit Wounds", and "Drip", the "These Arms" singer 's voice carries and produces a feeling unlike any other. And his latest album, to feel love/d, is just another near perfect example. The album is a smooth culmination of easy mornings, lovely days, and late nights. It's the cool breeze that blows when the sun peeks out from under the clouds after a storm. The goofy dance you do with the person you love on a lazy Sunday morning and the soothing sway of a porch swing at dusk in the South. The nine-track love letter covers almost every emotion present when it comes to dealing with love and intimacy and is a solid nod to all things soul, funk, and R&B. It's also a timely treat for long-time fans who have been waiting patiently for the talented multi-hyphenate to bless us with something other than his impressive acting chops (looking at you STARand Little).
We got the chance to chat with the artist about all things love and music, and here's what he had to say.
xoNecole: A lot of your music comes across as very sensual and ethereal. Is that on purpose? How are you able to consistently channel that?
Luke James: Honestly, I try to live in the truth when creating my art. The end result is all God, I guess. I really follow the theory of some of the greats like Quincy Jones, and I just leave room for God. And I think that's what you're hearing.
'To Feel Love/d' is out. What’s your favorite song off the album?
You know, it's really hard to answer that. Each song marked a period in life for me and I feel like if I never had those moments, I wouldn't probably have this album. I wouldn't have this particular perspective on love, being loved, what it means to love someone else and what it means to receive love. So it's really hard for me to pinpoint one song.
I can’t be mad at that. So tell me, what’s your earliest or best memory of what true love was supposed to look like?
I don't quite remember when my mother had me (laughs), but I'm sure that's when it happened. I think that's the truest form I've seen and felt throughout my life. My mom is the truest form of love that I've witnessed thus far from a human being. You know, for mankind, it's quite difficult because we're just 'know-it-alls'. It's really hard to just let the mind go and lead with your heart. But when you find someone who just can't help but love you, you know it. You can feel it, it's undeniable; it's everything.
Photo Credit: Alexander Black
"It's really hard to just let the mind go and lead with your heart. But when you find someone who just can't help but love you, you know it. You can feel it, it's undeniable; it's everything."
Speaking of undeniable, you have an effortless ability to make women feel all the feels when it comes to your voice and your sound. When you hear the word love, what feelings come to mind?
Well, trying to be as honest as I can right now: I'd say sadness and joy. Those are the two words that come to mind. You know, love is hard. But when you get past that place or find that place where love isn't hard--then you can find that joy. Because it's beautiful to surpass sadness with love and through love to find joy. For some people, love is giving up something in some cases. For others, their perspective is that love doesn't mean giving up something. And why should they? Why should they have to give up something for something that should be easy and open and receptive and uncompromisable and forgiving?
What scares you the most and excites you the most about finding true love?
The freedom is what excites [me] the most. When you have freedom, you have support and that's beautiful. What scares me about it, is maybe it not being equal. You know? Maybe I'll love a little less or love a little more than someone else. And that can be scary because how would you know? How do you gauge that?
When it comes to physical intimacy versus emotional intimacy. Which one, if at all is more important to you?
I think I'm more into the emotional part of it…
Why is that?
Because the physical is inevitable, but the emotional is not. If you can have both or work your way to get both, then it's beautiful. But I would start with the emotional aspect of it first and then the physicalities will work itself out. It'll be a lot sweeter, more profound and fulfilling if the emotional cup is full.
Who is Luke James as a lover?
Wow. I like that, that question is cool (laughs). Wouldn't that be a little narcissistic though? Because I could say I'm an amazing lover and someone else who's been around could be like, "Nah." I can tell you who I am to myself, like who I think I am.
(Laughs) That’ll work too.
OK (laughs). Thank you for that. I am--hard on myself. But I am also easy. I don't always see myself, but when I do, it's a breath of fresh air. I would say I am awesome, but someone else might say I am hard to deal with or indecisive. But I am kind. I am love-full, love is who I am; it is me. Maybe my empathy for what I feel in the world sometimes though, makes it hard for someone or for myself to even feel love. It's a lot, I feel everything.
Photo Credit: Alexander Black
"I don't always see myself, but when I do, it's a breath of fresh air. I would say I am awesome, but someone else might say I am hard to deal with or indecisive. But I am kind. I am love-full, love is who I am; it is me. Maybe my empathy for what I feel in the world sometimes though, makes it hard for someone or for myself to even feel love. It's a lot, I feel everything."
Being an empath, what would you say are your love languages?
Communication and time. I'm not as open as I may appear to be. I'm pretty much isolated a lot, so giving my time is pretty valuable to me. And I'm sure it's valuable to my friends and the people who love me.
What do you know now about love that you didn’t know before?
I know nothing (laughs). I know nothing at all but I think that's a part of the beauty of that particular rollercoaster. You know love is up and down, round and round, fast, slow, high and low. Love is also alternating, it can change--and you can make it what you want it to be. But I also think love is honest. It's 100 percent honest, there's no bullshitting in love and when there is, you know it. Love will show it. It's a never-ending story, I'm riding through life.
What’s the biggest difference between the Luke at the start of your career and the Luke now?
I am not green. I am not moved by a lot of things. I'm unimpressed. I am not complacent. It's not about being able to just sing and write songs, or act—it's much more than that. There's much more to me. I think early on I was OK with letting people make decisions and drive the car. I prefer to sit in the driver's seat now.
To Feel Love/d is available to stream everywhere now and for more of Luke, make sure you follow him on IG: @wolfjames.
All images courtesy of Luke James
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith went to social media to share their Thanksgiving holiday with followers. The pair were surrounded by family and friends Thursday, and both posted how grateful they were to be with the ones they loved. Yet this comes on the heels of Pinkett Smith’s whirlwind of negative opinions and critics forecasting her book would be a flop.
Despite the negative feedback she received, Worthy, Pinkett Smith’s memoir, still debuted at #3 on the New York Times’ Best Seller list on October 25. The greatest backlash she received was centered around her relationship with Smith and the fact that the two had been living separate lives since 2016.
The commentary about their marriage overshadowed the reality that this book is ultimately about her journey to self-worth and the path she’s had to take in order to get there.
Social media comments about her book tour ranged from, “Me counting all the times Jada woke up and chose to embarrass Will Smith,” to podcasts like The Joe Budden Podcast saying, “Take me out the group chat,” which was a sentiment shared by many celebrities and fans alike. Yet, a point made by comedian KevOnStage proved that even though people say they don’t want to know about the Smiths, they’re secretly interested and want to know more.
Since the Smiths were wed in 1997, people have been fascinated with their marriage, and rumors about their marital arrangement have always been a topic of conversation. People continue to speculate that the pair is gay and swingers, and even new allegations have come out that Smith and Duane Martin shared an intimate relationship at one point.
However, despite their consistent united front throughout their marriage in recent years, Pinkett Smith has borne the brunt of backlash in the couple’s relationship, from her entanglement with August Alsina to Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards to the recent truths she’s shared about the couple’s marriage in her memoir.
Individuals are consistently running to the internet to support Smith and villainize Pinkett Smith, from podcast guests saying things such as “She doesn’t like Will, she likes the lifestyle” to deeming her “mean” or "manipulative" because of her facial expressions and demeanor.
Likewise, when you have hosts of daytime talk shows such as Ana Navarro saying, “I think she’s having a relationship with her bank account,” insinuating Pinkett Smith only shared stories about Smith to increase her book sales, it begs the question of where was this same energy when Smith released his memoir?
In Will, Smith discusses both of his marriages and how, in relationships, because of his upbringing, he needed constant validation and praise from his partners to feel secure. He also shared the reality that Pinkett Smith never wanted to be married, just as she never wanted the huge estate they share in California, but he wanted to give it to her despite her feelings about it.
Smith admitted to creating this family empire that only further boosted his ego and what he wanted his legacy to be instead of actually asking his family what they wanted or needed. People praised him for his vulnerability and said his book was an inspiration.
So how is it that one book about a person’s family, upbringing, and journey to self is praised, and another is villainized? The glaring thought that comes to me is, does likability often trump accountability?
People love Smith and his “good guy” persona; he’s always been an attractive, charismatic man that people can relate to, so even when he speaks about the way he mismanaged his marriage and family, it’s seen as growth. On the contrary, because Pinkett Smith doesn’t constantly fawn over him and shares how miserable she was in their marriage, she’s the villain.
People still blame her for not stopping Smith from smacking Rock at the Oscars and share their sentiments about how she embarrassed Smith with her entanglement with Alsina. Though this is a celebrity couple we’ve all followed for years, the question must be asked, how much accountability must Black women be subjected to in relationship to their partners' actions?
Why is it that the media is more interested in the marriage between Smith and Pinkett Smith than her childhood, or the fact her memoir consists of writing prompts, meditations, and methods for other women to find their sense of worth?
Could it be that the larger society doesn’t value Black women having the tools to find their own sense of worth? Or is it that Black women are expected to accept whatever is given to them regardless of how they feel or what they want?
The exclusive interview with Eboni K. Williams (@ebonikwilliams) and Dr. Iyanla Vanzant about if she would date a bus driver seems to have a lot of people talking. You can watch her response tonight on #theGrio. Catch the full interview, here: https://t.co/ctxE0zKFWj pic.twitter.com/BhIO52T2fg— theGrio.com (@theGrio) May 2, 2023
When Eboni K. Williams shared that she wasn’t interested in dating a bus driver, the internet blew up with individuals saying that Black women need to be less selective with their dating prospects. The commentary around this conversation shed much light on the reality that this demographic is expected and invited to settle in love if they actually want a life partner.
Black women aren’t often given the space to find their joy, fulfillment, or even self-worth because of the responsibility they’re forced to acquire in order to support their families and communities. Yet, “high value” Black men speak vehemently about Black women’s masculinity and inability to submit. We’re often inundated with podcast guests sharing that they’re not impressed by our success and are uninterested in our aspirations.
Black women, from a young age, are taught to place their community first and cater to the men around them regardless of what they do or how they behave.
We see this when young girls are told to put on pants when male relatives come around, we experience it when domestic violence survivors are encouraged not to press charges against their perpetrators, and we even see it when Black women face backlash for dating outside of their race.
The way Pinkett Smith has been treated since sharing the truth about her life and journey of discovering her self-worth is another example of how the world isn’t receptive to Black women being their most authentic selves.
It’s another example we can hold up to illustrate how Black women are expected to be magical but not human.
Even with this article, I’m sure there will be many who want to argue why Pinkett Smith was wrong in her narrative, but at the end of the day, it was her story to tell, and no one has more authority to share her lived experience than her.
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Featured image by James Devaney/GC Images