There's not much in this world that I love more than queen muva, Helen Folasade Adu. My mother used to tell me that she would have her sing to me when I was in the womb, which may be why her music has followed me from adolescence into adulthood (where she absolutely blasts regularly). Additionally, I grew up often hearing that sultry voice blaring throughout the house, as it was common for Sade Lover's Live DVD to be playing on infamous, clean-up Sundays. Sure, most of Sade's songs were created and released before I could even walk, but of course, that never mattered, her music always managed to translate regardless. And her lowkey aesthetic and dark, sexy, timeless, indie style-of-music, always seemed to hit the spot. Each classic: unmatched. Her voice: subtle, but powerful. And the melodies: carefully crafted just enough to get lost in.
In an era of hair bands, adult contemporary power players, a hip-hop uprising, and androgynous stars such as Bowie, Prince and Elton John, Sade showed that they could compete; compete as a black woman fronting white musicians, something never really seen before in it's time. Not many in this world make the caliber of classics that she has sung, yet her intentional and notorious out-of-the-spotlight persona, directly cheated our ideas of fame, and with it all, she is still one of the most beloved, brilliant, and important crooners of all time.
Recently, the queen and her band, Sade (because remember, Sade is the actual band's name), released an anniversary box set which is a collection of the band's six studio albums. That's right ladies, Diamond Life (1984), Promise (1985), Stronger Than Pride (1988), Love Deluxe (1992), Lovers Rock (2000), and Soldier Of Love (2010) have all been remastered and compiled into a career-spanning vinyl box set complete with a very detailed, intricate remastering process (girl, stop all that screaming!)
This Farwas released on October 9 through Sony music, and arrives on the heels of the 10th anniversary of Solider of Love's initial release. And as its title hints, the collection marks a milestone, but also suggests there's more to come. #crossesfingers
We wanted to take a moment to list out each album included in This Far to discuss the impact, history, and our favorite Sade songs on that album. So, if you haven't already, grab that wine and throw on Sade, sis, because we're vibing in here today!
Diamond Life (1984)
When Diamond Life hit stores in July of 1984, it changed the landscape. The record blew open an already vibrant rhythm and blues scene in the UK, where the band is from, and helped to dominate it as capable of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with its American counterparts. Further, Sade's rise to prominence cemented that a woman of color fronting a band of white male musicians, could be a persuasive platinum seller as much as any British music such as The Beatles, Sting, etc.
A 1985, New York Times article, and a sure reflection of the times, said about the album:
''Diamond Life'' has already sold just under a million copies in England (the equivalent of three million in the United States) and has spawned three international hits. The star of the group is a self-possessed 24-year-old singer-songwriter of Nigerian and British descent, named Sade Adu, who was born in Nigeria and brought up in the English coastal resort town of Clacton. Stunningly photogenic, Miss Adu possesses a dusky, haunting pop-jazz alto whose blase sensuality perfectly matches her sleek appearance. As an icon of a ''new pop elegance,'' Miss Adu already has the American fashion press stampeding after her."
With classics such as "Smooth Operator", "Cherry Pie", and "Your Love Is King", Diamond Life, has sold over 10+ million copies worldwide, becoming one of the top-selling debut recordings of the era and the best-selling debut album by a British female vocalist ever, a record that has stood for over 24 years.
To date, Promise is probably the album that resonates with me most. The band's second studio album boasts Sade songs such as "Is it a Crime", "Sweetest Taboo", and "Jezebel", as its lead tracks, catapulting Sade into superstardom with one million copies sold in the US, and a certified quadruple platinum production by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Paired with Diamond Life, the two act as a real life soundtrack for melodic euphoria.
The album turns 35 in November of 2020 and still rages as one of the band's most impressive bodies of work.
Stronger Than Pride (1988)
Perhaps one of Sade's most recognizable albums, and my personal favorite—if there is a such thing when it comes to Sade—is their third studio album, Stronger Than Pride. Released in 1988, three years prior to a back-to-back reign, Stronger Than Pride houses cult favorites: "Keep Looking", "Paradise", and title track, "Love Is Stronger Than Pride". She sings, "I can't hate you, Although I have tried..."
A mooddddd. Listen, throw this one on, and you're bound to get lost, sis. Lost in a type of music that not many can promise to you these days.
To-date, Stronger Than Pride has sold over four million albums, and Pitchfork listed it as one of the top 200 albums of the 80's. Also, fun fact, Sade made her acting debut as Athene Duncannon in the 1986 British film, Absolute Beginners, as well as sung on the movie's accompanying soundtrack. Of the album, Sade said:
"One of the reasons the album is how it is because allowed to be and it was quite free it was allowed to be that way. And I was away from the media, I was away from any suppression from the record company. We were all sort of in our own little environment and I think, if anything, that comes through on the album."
Received with open arms, and during what was one of the more competitive years in music, it peaked at Number 7 on the Billboard 200.
"I still really really love you, Love is stronger than pride." Whew.
Love Deluxe (1992)
Sade welcomed us into the 90's with Love Deluxe, the fourth studio album that housed Sade jams such as "No Ordinary Love", "Kiss of Life", and "Cherish the Day". Love Deluxe was released a full four years following Stronger than Pride, yetretained the band's classy and distinctive style. It was (and still is) seen by many as the band's best, a high-point in a career with many high-points. Although, Love Deluxe was less received and critically acclaimed of the prior three albums, it positioned the band in a more mainstream realm of music.
"No Ordinary Love" is the best known song, due to winning the 1994 Grammy for Best R&B performance, and was featured on the soundtrack of the 1993 movie, Indecent Proposal.
Love Deluxe was the only album the band release in the 90's. Following this album, Sade took a hiatus, where she had her first child, and the band's guitarist and saxophone player went on to develop the career of another R&B artist that you may know as...Maxwell.
Lover's Rock (2000)
It's been 20 years since this album was released but it's as sleek, refined, elegant and sultry as ever. Lovers Rock was released in November 2000, and it was titled after a style of reggae known as 'lovers rock'. All of Sade's music will have you grabbing bae, but the opening track, "By Your Side", will have you falling in love with him all over again.
Lovers Rock was met with mostly positive reviews, who praised the band's new sound. The album also earned Sade the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album in 2002. Commercially, the album reached number three on the US Billboard 200, and has since been certified triple platinum, having sold 3.9 million copies in the US.
This album proved that Sade can wait as long as she damn pleases between albums and there will always be an audience waiting.
Soldier of Love (2010)
In the band's most recent body of work—and by "recent", I mean a decade ago—enters Soldier of Love. This album was their last, complete with a full 60-stop international tour. Soldier of Love has sold over three million copies and went to #1 in multiple countries. Entertainment Weekly featured Soldier of Love in their "Must List" and gave the album an "A", and Rolling Stone wrote "it's unimpeachably excellent."
The album went on to be nominated for multiple awards and gained various accolades. A high-performance work of art, in a world where we simply don't, and won't, know her next move. And I'm OK with that, ten years later.
But in the meantime, as we wait for what they have up their sleeves..."I'm a soldier of love. Every day and night."
Feature image courtesy of Sony Music/Sade
Charmin Michelle is a southern native and creative spirit who works as a content marketer and events manager in Chicago. She enjoys traveling, #SummertimeChi, and the journey of mastering womanhood. Connect with her on Instagram @charminmichelle.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Introducing Chief Mom Officer: Where Working Moms Come First
xoNecole's Chief Mom Officer explores the 18-month post-pregnancy journey through the lens of our very own Chief Mom Officer, Shakyna Bolden. The series will serve as an inspirational and resourceful guide to help get through the early days of new motherhood as working moms knowing they are not alone in the hardships.
“I want to build my work around my life, and not my life around my work.”
I typed these words in my iPhone Notes as I fed my newborn daughter one morning during the first few weeks of having her earthside. I didn’t have much time for page-filled journal entries as my days were filled with nonstop feedings, soothing, and recovery…but I knew I needed to give those words space and life.
Prior to my maternity leave, I, like most working moms, was burning fumes juggling work and life. Since 2019, I’ve been running revenue operations here at this really cool company you may have heard of called xoNecole (hehe). I’ve been behind the scenes building our brand partnerships and negotiating deals with companies such as Ulta Beauty, Toyota, Target, Spotify, SheaMoisture, etc.
Courtesy of Shakyna Bolden
I’ve co-produced our signature events like ElevateHER and Pajamas & Lipstick while conceptualizing, selling, building, and distributing our original video and podcast content and podcast. The list goes on and on. I’ve helped build this small but brilliant company into what it is today, all while running my own small family. And that is not an easy feat.
In all truth, trying to be the best mom and partner I can be while also leading in my job has felt at times like a whirlwind where the rest of my life is passing me by. I don’t quite know where or when it happened, but I swear somebody pushed the fast-forward button in life, and I’m losing my edges trying to keep up.
My mind and body get so preoccupied with the management of life that my soul sits on the sidelines, waiting to take the reins and intentionally live it.
So many facets of my life, from my health and well-being to my hobbies and passions, have been placed on the back burner while tending to my young family and growing in my career has taken center stage. And for the longest time, I’ve wanted to flip the switch, but the pace of life just hasn’t let me restack my priorities.
That is, until now.
Courtesy of Shakyna Bolden
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter last year, I couldn’t imagine adding more to my already full plate. Simultaneously, I was also relieved to know that my upcoming maternity leave would force me to press pause and catch my breath. Her birth in January 2023 was a much-needed reset, to say the least.
My maternity leave was the first time since 2019 that I had a second for dreams that were buried in the back of my heart to bubble up to the surface of my reality. I got a taste of what it was like to solely focus on my well-being and my home life. And I liked it a lot. My healing. My recovery. Sitting and really taking quiet time with God to search the unattended areas in the garden of my life.
I was cooking homemade meals on the regular and actually sitting down with my family at the table to eat. As grueling as those first newborn weeks can be, I was enjoying the long-awaited shift in my priorities; and I wanted that shift to stick. I didn’t want it to fade away after my maternity leave.
I want to build my work around my life and not my life around my work.
As a leader of an organization that speaks to millions of women every day about their well-being (and also in leading a team of majority women), I feel it’s my responsibility to carry this shift forward boldly. This is why I’m launching a new column here at xoNecole: Chief Mom Officer!
As I return to work full-time this month from my maternity leave, I want to regularly share my experience of trying to harmonize work and life. As an audience, you all share your raw, unfiltered journeys with us. For years, they’ve undoubtedly inspired me. I want to show up and do the same because I know this shift in my life will be quite the journey.
So for all my Chief Mom Officers—those of us who are constantly merging the imperfect and chaotic worlds of leadership in the office and wearing our crowns at home—I invite you to come on this journey with me and celebrate the ebbs and flows in how we show up for each.
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Featured image courtesy of Shakyna Bolden