For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? –Matthew 16:26
BLACK STAR NETWORK AWARD for
BEST NEW ARTIST
JULY 15th, 2006
My Black Star Network (BSN) New Artist trophy shined besides two other awards for Best New R&B Song and Pepsi-Cola Viewers’ Choice on a table covered with a gold cloth. The crystal, shooting-star shaped trophies surrounded a platinum-record shaped cake with purple icing on top spelling out the words “Congratulations Alimah! Lux Records Loves You”. My debut album had hit platinum since its March release in 2005. Illegal downloads had become an apocalyptic threat to the music industry and Black artists were getting hit the hardest. It had become almost impossible for most Black artists to sell physical or digital copies of a debut past the 100k mark. I proved to the industry and my supporters that even at the start of my career, I could succeed through a rocky period in the business. Elliot Hunter, the founder/CEO of Lux Records, showed his appreciation for me being such a “rare bird”--his words, not mine. So, he bought me a designer cake and made me the guest of honor at the private BSN Awards after-party held at a rooftop lounge in Manhattan.
I was taking pictures of my cake and trophies on my phone, bobbing my head to the R&B/soul dance music on the D.J.’s playlist.
“This some bullshit,” a deep male voice grumbled behind me.
The slightly slurred voice was loud enough to hear over the music. I turned to see who it was. It was Ikonik. Hakim, which was his real name, was a Chicago-born conscious yet cool rapper that signed to Lux back around 1996 or 1997. But he was being anything but cool, sneering at the little altar made in my honor and walking away to the bar to drink away more of his bitterness. My dad was beside me, so he also overheard Ikonik. But he ignored him and kept it as classy as the tailored navy blue suit he had on, that looked great against his dark brown skin. I tried to follow after Ikonik, but Dad grabbed me by the arm and held his finger in my face.
“Alimah, don’t! Remember your temper.” Dad fussed. “Ignore him!”
“Oh my God, what is wrong with him?” I hissed.
“He’s a problem and he’s drunk!”
Dad was immune to snide remarks thrown at me by critics, especially since he suffered the same as he was famous himself. He was once a world-renowned Ethiopian-born jazz guitarist named Amir Kebede. Jazz critics considered him to be one of the pioneers who brought African jazz to the West in the 1970s. Luckily, I inherited his genius on the guitar (and the piano!). Still, he wanted me to raise the bar higher than he had set for himself. Now he has put his career on hold to manage mine.
“Just focus on how great you did,” Dad held both of my hands against his chest and kissed me on the forehead. “We made this success happen together. You deserve all of this.”
Dad lived fifty-two years on Earth and survived xenophobia and racism as a public figure in America and Europe. So Ikonik’s words were like marshmallows to him. I couldn’t brush it off like Dad. I went searching for Ikonik and spotted him sitting at the elaborate, gold-clad bar ordering more alcohol. He saw me coming and angrily cut his eyes away.
“Whatchu want, little girl?” he asked without looking at me. He unraveled a wad of cash in his hands and tossed a tip of $10 on the bartender’s bill. My eyes widened at that crumpled bill as she stuffed the 50- and 100-bills back in his wallet.
“I’m 18. I’m not a little girl,” I sighed. “And you used to be so nice to me. What’s your deal?”
Honestly, I wanted to throw it in his face that he had become a dusty shell of an artist who needed to stop lashing out at younger acts just because his popularity faded.
“What’s your deal?” He repeated mockingly in a nasal tone. “You always soundin’ like a white girl wit’ ya’ bougie ass. Yet, you sound like a sistah when you sing.” He took a sip of his second glass of vodka. “Can’t make that shit up.”
“I’m from L.A.,” I joked. I shouldn’t have fed into his nasty comment. But humor kept me from telling him to ‘give the bartender a more deserving tip and fuck-off’. My birthplace had nothing to do with my accent. I owed that to my educated but snobby African-American mother and her disgust towards Ebonics.
“Wherever you from, I know one thing; no Lux artists ever won shit,” he spatted, “We all got nominated for a bunch of awards and shit but Markus and Elliot are the only motherfuckas who won anything. And some of us went platinum, too. I would think Elliot would fight for us to win somethin’ like he always be preachin’.” He took a deep breath and shrugged the irritation off. “This industry always on some weird bullshit. Folks keep saying ya’ daddy got somethin’ to do wit’ you winnin’ since he connected.”
“My dad’s connected in the jazz industry,” I laughed, “not pop and hip-hop!”
“Ain’t he worked with some R&B legends back in the 70s?” Ikonik gave me a leery smirk. “But whatever—congrats to you.”
I slowly slid off the stool, sighing as I rolled my eyes so hard that they crossed. Ikonik’s rant nearly drained me to the point of losing appetite. Then, Dad rushed over to me, pissed at the sight of me standing near the bar next to a drunk rapper.
“Didn’t I tell you not to speak to that man?” Dad scolded quietly in my ear with his hand squeezing my arm. “And stay away from bars! It’s bad for your image.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” I muttered, “I made a mistake talking to him anyway.”
Needing a break from the bad energy, I started searching for Elliot. He was often easy to find at parties. He always sat in blocked-off VIP sections with his partner Markus “Marcus Brown” Blak, a hip-hop artist and producer who co-founded Lux Records. However, Elliot barely stayed in a seat that night. He was on an adrenaline rush, ecstatic that two of his artists won major categories—me and Markus (for Best Male Hip-Hop Artist).
Markus and Elliot both started their careers as rappers and producers in a nineties’ hip-hop duo before forming the music label. Markus saw way more success as a solo artist and performer. But, Elliot was still phenomenal in everything he had contributed to modern popular music, whether he was behind the soundboard, in his office, or even on the stage being a D.J./hypeman for Markus. Markus only performed at the awards, and he added me and this Grammy-winning rapper on stage to perform his song “Whitewall Tires.” The gaudy song celebrated white tires on a white luxury car, so the three of us, including the backup dancers, had to perform in white streetwear. The performance was like being on the top of a rollercoaster before the drop! I danced so hard on that stage that Markus had to nearly drag me off after it ended. And my calves and feet throbbed that whole night from that performance.
My quest to find Elliot in that party was a struggle against the whirlwind of hugging, camera flashes, and Dad popping up out of nowhere to introduce me to people he was networking with. Daddy introduced me to a stylish white man, who looked about fortyish with his spritz-sculpted gray hair and European designer clothes. He was Randie, a creative director for Adidas footwear. Knowing my love for sneakers, Daddy saw a potential brand ambassador opportunity.
“She’s a doll!” he gushed as he shook my hand. “What a lovely girl!”
I thanked him so much because I was feeling out-of-place in the outfit that my stylist chose for me. I looked like the Harlem scene kids and hype-beasts who were trying to bring back 90s hip-hop fashion. My stylist, Chryselle, dressed me in a black knee-length tutu skirt and a hot pink varsity jacket. Then she added a pair of hot pink Vans and one of those gold, old-school hip-hop dookie chains to complete the whole look. The outfit was cute, but it looked better on 16-year-old me. Not 18-year-old me. The only thing grown-up about the outfit was the denim corset I wore under the jacket. And Dad wasn’t too happy at first with how form-fitting it was around my boobs. Chryselle eased his nerves when she gave me the jacket to cover up. I couldn’t help that I shot up to a 36D cup after being a C-cup my whole high school career. Meanwhile, everyone looked like real adults in their sequin cocktail dresses and tailored suits, blending in perfectly with the luxurious gold interior design of the upscale lounge.
“How many pairs of Adidas do you own?” Randie asked with an inquisitive smile.
“About twenty? Thirty?” My eyes searched the ceiling as I tried to mentally count. It was hard for me to give an exact number, especially with Elliot blocking that area of my mind.
“Ahhh…so you’re a collector,” Randie answered with increasing interest.
Randie’s voice became an incoherent distortion when I caught Elliot making his way through the crowd.
“Daddy, Randie, can you wait a second?” I asked excitedly as I backed away. “I have to talk to Elliot for a few minutes.”
As Dad continued on with his sales pitch, I leaped towards Elliot and tightly embraced him.
“Thank you so much for the cake, I love it!” I cried.
Elliot rubbed the side of my right arm, fixating a gaze on me. “You welcome, sweetie.”
Goosebumps would tickle the back of my neck whenever Elliot touched me. The tickles were similar to the sensations I got when I was 13, watching him on MTV and BSN, not knowing that I was going to meet him years later. In-person, everything looked a thousand-times better: his smooth almond brown skin and deep-set brown eyes, his healthy semi-athletic build and slightly-rugged handsome face fit for a high-end menswear ad. Looking that good made him rare because most men in hip-hop are extraordinarily ugly (I know...that was mean.) but they use their fame and money to get women. I didn’t really gush over Elliot’s $150 million net worth that the entertainment media always gushed about. It wasn’t my money and he couldn’t take it with him if he died the next day. But to his female fan base, his looks combined with his wealth made him like a real-life hero from a trashy romance novel. It was obvious that Elliot was hot. But after having personal conversations with him, he became more than a nice face and a toned body. Had Elliot been a regular, working-class dude blending in with the average crowd, we still would have been friends.
Elliot smiled gently and hugged me again. While in his embrace, he grabbed a handful of my springy curls and playfully yanked my head.
“Do you have to do that?” I cried out, scrunching my face in slight pain.
“You know you like it,” he uttered mischievously.
I gave him another hug. He held me tighter and whispered words of congratulations in my ear. The clean musk cologne soothed my nostrils. And the scent was embedded in the fibers of his tailored Hugo Boss suit. I felt guilty wanting to press my face harder against his chest for several reasons: him being my boss, our age difference, my dad/manager, and his fiancée. His fiancée! I had just broken up with my boyfriend Jason, just weeks prior to the awards. He was my first everything; so emotionally, I was really raw. And my career demands were making it difficult to find a rebound. Elliot knew of my break-up and, coincidently, he started showing me even more affection that left me both confused and excited each time.
“Come take a picture,” said Elliot as he let go of me.
“With you?” I asked as he placed his arm around my shoulder.
“Yeah. And some other artists from the label.” We started walking through a throng of party guests who were bouncing their heads to the music while gulping down cocktails.
“Shit…” I grumbled.
“C’mon,” he ordered, “don’t worry about it. It won’t take long, I promise.”
“I don’t feel like faking smiles with people that don’t like me,” I moaned.
“Markus likes you. And I like you, too. And that matters more than anything because we run this label,” Elliot affirmed. “And ain’t you the one who wanna be a rock star? The bad-ass who doesn’t care if people hate you or not? You don’t sound like that teenage rebel who sent me that demo of rock songs.”
“I don’t have to be a rebel since I’m being forced to perform R&B,” I responded sassily with an obnoxious sneer.
Elliot gave me a stern side glance.
“I’m just joking,” I nervously laughed.
“As R&B as that album is, you still got a rock star energy,” Elliot expressed.
Elliot slipped his arm around my waist. I was almost unaware of my arm slithering around his, pulling our bodies closer. But when a statuesque, dark chocolate-skinned woman in a gold halter dress appeared beside him, I immediately snatched my arm from around him. It was his fiancée, Adaku. She was a Nigerian supermodel who he met backstage after a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. She was sexy, like all the models he picked up from Victoria’s Secret runways. There was a running joke in circles that the Victoria Secret website was Elliot’s answer to online dating. For some strange reason, his women never matched what he described to be his ideal woman in interviews: Petite or average height? Curvy with big eyes and full lips? Feminine with a tomboy edge? A rebel? Low-maintenance? Adaku was none of those things, besides the big eyes and full lips. The only curves she possessed were her round, perky breasts that were probably considered too big for most high fashion designers. I assumed these things about her based on her interviews, where she always boasted a need for a princess-like lifestyle. Still, she was a nice lady and not as conceited as most top models I have encountered.
It seemed like Elliot barely acknowledged Adaku at the party except for when it was time for a photo-op of them together. When I was taking the group photo with Elliot and the other Lux artists, Adaku was staring me from over the photographer’s shoulder. She twisted her slender fingers around her diamond engagement ring as she studied me through narrowed eyes. I made the moment less awkward by giving her a smile. She returned a beautiful grin as if she was being caught off guard. At least she returned the warmth because I wasn’t getting it from the other broads who were in the group photo with me. They were the two biggest female acts signed to Lux before I came along: rapper Bambina Lamba (real name Octavia Jackson) and Remi Jones, the first non-hip hop artist signed in 2001.
Remi performed dance-pop/R&B. Her mixed heritage along with her freckles and blonde pixie cut made her marketable enough to get some support from pop audiences. Despite being Black, Mexican, and Irish, she prided herself on being an African-American girl from Detroit who was “more carefree and edgier” than other female R&B singers. Then I got signed. And from there, shit hit the fan and she wanted to throw more shit in my face. After the group shot, Elliot asked Remi and me to take a picture together.
“I don’t feel like doing this,” I sighed.
“But her publicist and your publicist wanted this, remember?” He stressed.
“I was hoping Latrice forgot.” Latrice was my publicist.
“Listen, when Remi ain’t drowning six feet in liquor, she actually admires you.”
I flinched with surprise. “What makes you say that?”
Elliot didn’t answer that question. He just ordered, “Pretend that y’all like each other. Show some Black girl unity. You gotta do this since her fans and your fans are trying to pit you two against each other.”
Strange. I probably admired Remi more than she did me. Not only was she talented, but her golden beige skin, sultry brown eyes, and svelte body harmonized beautifully to form a lovely girl. And when she was sober, she had a spunky aura about her that made me believe that she would be the coolest friend to have. Similar to me, she seemed like that Black girl who was an outcast among her peers for not fitting into a stereotype of what a Black American girl was supposed to be. Too bad, she saw me as a threat instead of someone who could team up with her to inspire black and brown girls to live outside the box.
During the photo op, Remi didn’t let go of her martini. She had a red sucker in her hand that she dipped in her drink and stuck in her mouth, repeating that bizarre action every few seconds.
“You looked like a crackhead on that stage,” Remi mumbled under her breath as the cameras flashed, capturing our unenthusiastic smiles.
“The people liked it,” I shrugged.
“And you got an award for that? But I got nothing?” She shoved the sucker between her lips and pulled it out with an obnoxious pop of her lips.
Markus, standing nearby, overheard her remark and made a wary side glance in her direction. But he quickly pulled his attention back on his publicist who was talking to him.
“You know what, Remi? Just because you didn’t win doesn’t mean you’re not talented.”
“You’re right,” she croaked, ’I mean, I did ‘share’ a Grammy win for that guy’s song I did a feature on, even though technically I didn’t really win anything since it was on his album. Oh! And I do have two Grammy nominations. So, at least I can say the Grammy’s know I exist. BSN might love you, but you’re still irrelevant at the Grammy level.”
I wanted to punch her in the eye. But even my knuckles were too good for her face. Before I could verbally defend myself, Markus jumped in at my rescue.
“Okay, Remi. I hear you straight talkin’ out your ass and hatin’. You done had enough to drink.” He snatched the glass from her hand, “How much did you even drink?”
“More than what you make me swallow every Friday night!” Remi let out a boisterous hyena-like laugh, with her tongue sticking out.
My mouth dropped. I thought Markus was going to hurt her feelings in front of everyone. Instead, he barked at her, “Shut the hell up.” Then he took my hand and together we stormed away from the cunt.
“Don’t let what she get to you,” Markus expressed, as he walked me to my reserved table.
“I don’t even care anymore,” I scoffed, even though I was lying to myself.
I could sense that he was embarrassed by Remi’s trashy comment. Regardless of what she said was true or not, Markus was trying to have a level of class different from the aggressive image he sold on records and in music videos. Instead of being that six-foot-three, muscular, menacing yet attractive, dark-skinned Brooklyn rapper, he was showing a more polished, vice-president side in his suit and tie. He wanted to give some of the (White) industry gatekeepers at the party an alternative image to his hood Mandingo persona.
Before cutting the cake, I went to the reserved table where my dad and my publicist Latrice were sitting. My eldest sister Desta was sitting next to Dad. She did me the honors of coming along to support me and my big night.
While I was looking like one of those ‘fresh crew’ hipster kids from downtown, Desta showed up to the awards embodying the real version of me. She sported a Black Sabbath band tee, a leather jacket covered in metal spikes, ripped black jeans, and Doc Martens. And she had shaven the right side of her head, leaving the rest of her shoulder-length hair straight. The burgundy dye in her hair oddly complemented her golden tan skin and smoky eye makeup. People would have never thought she was a 22-year-old senior at Columbia University majoring in African American studies. Especially with her gothic tattoos and her septum piercing. She was a proud Black female metal-head and skater. I prefer hard rock and punk over metal, but she still supported my dream of being a rock musician instead of an R&B star. Besides teaching me how to skateboard, she took me to my first punk concert when I was 14 and hooked me up with some of her friends, who had a rock band, to record the rock songs on my demo.
“Guys, we’re about to cut the cake,” I announced excitedly.
“I’m ready to go home,” Desta groaned as she texted on her phone. “I got a study group in the morning.”
“Desta, don’t worry,” Dad cried, “I already told you we’re leaving early so you can get up in the morning.”
As much as Dad was serious about my career, he was just as serious about education. Even though I left high school to be homeschooled at 16 after getting signed, he made it known that I wouldn’t have any music career if I didn’t earn my high school diploma.
“It’s only midnight, Desta. You’ll be able to get about six hours of sleep once we get home,” I reassured her, wrapping my arms around her shoulders from behind. Desta snuggled her head against my arms, acting softer than the spikes on her jacket, which were poking into my forearms.
Latrice gave me a look that prepared me for what she was going to say.
“Did you take that picture with Remi?” Latrice asked.
“Yeah, it was cool,” I lied. I didn’t want to speak about the picture any further. I just took Desta’s hand and walked her to the cake table with Dad and Latrice following behind us.
The cake-cutting was… interesting. The photographers captured me cutting the first slice. The guests made a bid to give me a congratulatory hug in exchange for a slice of cake. At first, the cake slicing was briefly interrupted when the hook from my song “Silly”, that won the Best R&B Song award, blared from the D.J.’s speakers.
I know you got me actin’ silly,
I can’t help myself,
Even though it kills me. (repeat 1x)
After the chorus repeat, the beat dropped into a crunked-out, techno-laced, hip-hop interlude. Markus, who was beside me and thoroughly buzzed from alcohol, started bouncing his legs and throwing his arm in the air to the beat. I couldn’t help but get hyped up with him with the cake spatula still in my hand. I ignored the cake icing that I was dropping everywhere, reliving that moment on the BSN Awards stage. And some other people around us joined in on the dancing. Markus held my hand and we did a dance move where we kicked our feet up and let our calves hit. The dance seemed old-school, which was very fitting with that dookie chain I had around my neck.
“Alimah, cut the damn cake,” Desta screamed between laughter.
I calmed down and resumed the cake-cutting. After the D.J. switched from my song to another R&B track, Elliot’s made his way to the table to get his slice of cake. After receiving so many hugs, he caught me the hell off guard when he kissed my cheek. Seeing that I could barely move, he just took the spatula from my hand and sliced himself a piece. I glanced over his shoulder and saw Adaku watching us. Her face was still calm, so I figured she probably didn’t even see him kiss me. In my mind, I tried to convince myself that it was just a friendly kiss since we established some kind of big brother/little sister relationship.
“Who’s next?” I blurted out, pretending that moment didn’t happen. I felt uncomfortable as I struggled to suppress the arousal that erupted in me. I could barely smile because I didn’t want to enjoy that carnal sensation that I secretly desired.
While I was eating cake with my family at the table, Elliot came over and took a seat. Fuck, my stomach twisted. I could barely look at him. But I was forced to, when he playfully stuck a fork in my slice of cake and pulled the plate away from me.
“What are you doing?” I cried.
“I’m gonna call your trainer and tell her about this big ass piece of cake you ain’t supposed to be eating,” Elliot joked.
Then he started eating the cake! In between fits of laughter, I begged for him to surrender the fork. He kept moving the plate every time I moved it back towards me. It was both hilarious and annoying because that was some damn good vanilla cake with raspberry filling.
“He’s right, Alimah,” Dad said, refusing to rescue my cake from Elliot’s grasp. “You should have gotten a smaller piece.”
Dad found my playful exchange with Elliot cute. In his fatherly eyes, Elliot and I had that big brother-little sis bond that I was convincing myself was real. At first, he didn’t trust Elliot, especially with him being a man of hip-hop, a genre that Dad didn’t really care for like most folks from his generation. But he tolerated the genre enough for me to be signed to a hip-hop record label that also welcomed R&B, pop, and rock. Elliot had won him over when he produced a chart-topping song with Markus that sampled one of Dad’s funk-jazz records from the ’70s. Dad received a huge cut since he owned most of his publishing. Since then, Elliot had become like a friend of the family.
Elliot stopped teasing me and let me finish the cake. Feeling self-conscious, I only ate half of it and gave the rest to Desta.
“Elliot, I remember in an interview, two years ago, you mentioned being a huge fan of Black Sabbath,” Desta pulled at her shirt for him to see, “I love Sabbath.”
“Yeah, they influence a lot of my production,” He said, “Led Zeppelin, too.”
“I love Zeppelin,” I expressed, feeling my cheeks blush when he mentioned his love for Led Zeppelin.
“I usually despise rap,” Desta confessed, “but your sound kind of drew me in. You can catch me at a weak moment if a rap song got some punk or metal intertwined in it. And your productions are really dark and edgy. I love that.”
I excused myself from the table to go to the restroom since I was still feeling uneasy about sitting next to Elliot after that kiss.
Inside the restroom stall, I meditated on the toilet, feeling soothed by the urine flowing out of me. Then, the sound of the door flying open and high heels clunking on the marble floor disrupted my moment of silence. Through the crack between the stall door and its hinges, I made out Bambina’s figure. Her trademark blonde ponytail weave gave it away. When I stepped out, I greeted her. She didn’t answer me. She just leaned over the restroom sink, frowning at her reflection through red, teary eyes. I glanced away from her and washed my hands, then smear away mascara running from my eyes with my wet fingers.
“You are so gorgeous,” Bambina mumbled out loud.
I blinked at her.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you,” she responded with a nod.
“Thanks,” I beamed, “even though this sweat’s making my makeup a mess.”
My large doe-eyes stared back at me in the mirror’s reflection. I used to think I was weird-looking as a preteen, no matter how much my parents reminded me of how pretty I was. The public had fallen in love with the smoldering, piercing gaze of my big eyes, my dark eyebrows, and pouty full lips. This combination of features sometimes made me look sinister at certain angles with certain makeup. In other words, I had resting ‘bitchface’. But makeup artists and photographers thought my bitchface was sexy and mysterious. I’ve learned to accept my face and body since coming into the music industry. I relied on other people’s compliments to fuel my confidence. I always have.
“Don’t let the industry ruin that cute face,” she cautioned.
“I won’t let them.”
“However,” she blurted out with attitude, “Elliot probably won’t force you to change shit since you already a redbone with curly hair. And you got a cute shape. He ain’t gonna need you to slap on a blonde weave and smother your skin in bleach. Chicks like me gotta stay out the sun since you light skin females are takin’ over.”
“That doesn’t make me better than you. Redbone, dark, light, whatever.” Then I added, “And Elliot has always said you were pretty.”
“Girl, gon’ somewhere!” she grumbled cynically.
That pretty much shut me up. I didn’t want to make Bambina’s bad side worse. I reexamine her appearance—a skinny tattooed figure underneath a pink latex mini-dress and clear stiletto sandals. She was no longer the curvy, cinnamon brown-skinned rap diva that signed with Lux Records back in 1998. Her curves disappeared along with the life behind her eyes. The skin of her face looked ashen, showing that she probably have tried bleaching her skin. She was still pretty despite looking like hip-hop vixen-meets-macabre.
Bambina quickly snapped her silver clutch open, took out a metal tube, and held it up to her nose. A loud snort vibrated from her nostrils as she inhaled from the metal tube. After wiping the white powdery residue from her nostrils, she dropped the tube back in her purse.
“Damn,” I whispered.
I just pretended to not have seen it, even though Bambina obviously didn’t since she did it right in front of me. And it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen that stuff go up someone’s nose, whether it was in a restroom, at a party, or in the living of my childhood home.
Bambina touched my shoulder and bid me a good night as she headed out. I exhaled emotionally, took out my phone, and texted Dad:
I WANNA GO HOME.
Dad, my sister, and I headed back home at 1:30 a.m. Elliot and Adaku had already left thirty minutes before us, but I was still feeling the sensation of his lips and stubbly beard against my cheek. Elliot knows my history of having a celebrity crush on him before meeting him. Thanks to Dad’s industry connections, my chances of meeting Elliot was a little higher than that of a fan without the connections. But even at that, I didn’t think it would ever happen. The star-struck feeling wore off after meeting him so many times. However, we had a heart-spilling conversation that changed the dynamics between us and made him even more attractive. Through that deep conversation, I learned that he suffered from depression, just like me. My depression was tangled up with anxiety and some other behavioral issues, so I had to take medication for it and go to therapy twice a month. But that’s the thing; Elliot never mentioned if he took meds or not. Still, that darkness we shared set the foundation for a deeper bond that led to him giving me his personal cell number. He said I could call me whenever I wanted just to talk or vent, as long as it wasn’t about business.
While I stood outside in the valet lot with my family, Dad and I somewhat got into it like we often did.
“Are you mad at me for bringing up rock music,” I probed him, trying not to catch his facial expression.
“Alimah, you would beat a dead horse until it’s a pile of bone dust,” Daddy grumbled.
Desta burst out laughing. When she caught me giving her a dirty look, she quickly apologized to me.
“I’m sorry,” she stammered. “It’s just…the visual he painted was funny.”
“Stop talking about your rockstar dreams, Alimah. You need to thank God you won three awards tonight!” Daddy scolded at me. “You could have won nothing like the other people you were up against!” Whenever Daddy got irritated or angry, his Ethiopian accent got stronger. He usually sounded British, which might have been because he lived in London for a few years.
“I’m just tired of the label saying that the audiences aren’t ready,” I whined. “As if, there’s been no Black women, in the history of music, who have been successful making rock music? I mean, c’mon! I love R&B but it’s not what I want to only be known for.”
My debut album was R&B that was heavily hip-hop and pop produced. The only rock-like energy on the record was the accompanying background guitar I played on my Fender bass. R&B was the genre that the label started me out on because marketing a Black female rock alternative artist for a debut was a financial risk. My debut was the safety net to gain more fans, and instead of adding rock songs, I was forced to sing pop with hip-hop elements to get my suburban White teen support. I had to put up with this marketing tactic until the label was ready to take a big gamble and market me to a rock audience. It’s all a fucking racial mess.
“It’ll happen, baby doll,” Desta said to me sweetly.
“When?” I cried. “There’s already some Black chick from Canada who’s been doing pop-rock. Pop-rock isn’t even real rock music! But she’s getting a lot of push because she’s half-white and never acknowledges her black side.”
“Will you stop complaining?” Daddy yelled. “You sound jealous when you have no reason to be!”
“Really, Dad?” Desta groaned. “You’re the main one being so anti about her doing rock and, like, the biggest brick wall standing in her way.”
“Shut up!” he snapped at her. Then he turned to me, “You keep up the way you’re thinking, and great things will stop happening for you. Your ungratefulness is a sin before God, who has blessed you tonight.” He pointed his hands at my trophies that both Desta and I were holding. “Don’t be that way—you are better than this because I taught you to be!”
When Dad noticed the tears in my eyes, he softened up and pressed my head against his chest. I quickly wiped my eyes when the valet attendant pulled up in Dad’s dark grey Mercedes SUV. The last thing I wanted was someone to see me being a crybaby when I was supposed to be a rising superstar everyone was admiring that night.
When I got into the backseat of the car, my phone vibrated in my purse. My mood lifted from zero to a million when I saw that it was a text from Elliot:
HEY ROCKSTAR. :) CALL ME WHEN U GET HOME. I’LL CALL BACK.