08. The Ankh-Right Chronicles

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I’m too paranoid to drive my own car worrying about who’s going to trail me or fuck with my transmission. Supposedly that’s how the Miniskirt Mafia killed Escobar even though his Dominican mistress insists he caused the dive through the guard rail. accident. Between being high as a kite and hype from a fight with his wife, Lydia said he was driving erratically from the moment they got into his Hummer. According to the tabloids, she even told the police that Esco snapped and back slapped her when she pleaded with him to slow down. I don’t know what to believe but figure if I stuck with Uber or Lyft, I’m safe. Or at least safer.

Going into New York City not only takes my mind off Malik, it keeps his suspicions at bay. Ironically, recording the followup to Ankhanetics has the same impact. He wakes up in a great mood, bringing me breakfast in bed, doing chores around our ranch house and then heading down to our studio in the basement. Meanwhile, I sit in our king size bed watching my scrambled eggs and sausage links grow cold because I’m afraid to eat them. Instead I scrape the food into a plastic bag, knot it up, and shove it into my purse to discard on my way to the studio we rent in the Bronx.

As soon as Ride submits her contract, we schedule her first recording session. I invited Leila to come meet her, but one of her boys is sick so she has to stay home with him. When Ride and I are finished at the studio, I might swing by Leila’s crib in Astoria. I’m in desperate need of some face-to-face girlfriend time.

My driver is a petite bald chick who reminds of Poussey from Orange is the New Black. She barely acknowledges me, and I prefer that. I mumble good morning, climb into the back seat and get to work. My phone battery is low so I rummage in my bag for the portable charger and come across the Miniskirt Mafia calling card.

I don’t want to call them, I never wanted to call them, and I never will call them. I rip up the card and stuff it into the ashtray.

When I plug my telephone into the charger I find another text message from Shelby J. Lee. This thread began last week when my freelance publicist released the news that I had signed Ridin’ Hood. Shelby hit me up minutes after she pressed send.

But she’s still blowing up my text messages trying to get me on her web series Straight Street with Shelby J. I haven’t had an interview with her since the Explicit Content fiasco. I had stayed away from the media throughout Hi-Jack’s trial and only came forward to speak exclusively to Shelby when I was ready to launch the Coven. I knew she would extend me fairness and get me clicks. That was 2004. Now with almost seven million YouTube subscribers and an exclusive contract with Bent reportedly valued at over six-figures, I wouldn’t be dodging Shelby if she wanted to discuss anything but Ankhanetics.

It kills me because Shelby is my secret idol. The woman is a visionary who was always miles ahead of the industry, blazing trails in constantly shifting ground. Shelby launched her vlog when folks were still fucking with MySpace. I once made the mistake of saying to Leia, “Shel JL and I are besties in my mind.” She was beyond hurt and avoided me for two weeks. My initial guilt turned into resentment right quick wondering how did Leila and I get to this place where I had to constantly prove that I had forgiven her for betraying me. I said this to Malik, and he told me, “You know that saying reason, season, lifetime? Maybe Leila’s season in your life is over, and you should just let her go. Just let the friendship fade to black.” That made sense to me, and while I still had love for Leila, I was tired of walking on eggshells when I was the victim. Yet I could never bring it, rationalizing that it would make things worse to bring up the past that I wanted to reassure her was settled.

Then I had the miscarriage and sunk into a depression so deep I couldn’t see one minute into the future. I hit rock bottom just as Leila was released from prison. Malik called my doula to watch over me as he drove to Bedford Hills to pick her up. On the ride back, Leila got on his phone and handled everything like her last name was Pope. My doula God bless her always somehow had me bathed, dressed and packed when Malik and Leila arrived. I had forgotten completely that Leila was coming home that day and the sight of her stepping out the car pierced the psychic lid on all my trapped feelings. I ran out the house shrieking and threw myself into Leila’s arms. We sunk into the lawn, Leila holding me as I sobbed, “My baby, my baby…” A half-hour later, I allowed Malik to check me into a women’s retreat center where Leila had scored me a bed. I stayed there for almost three months.

I start to send Shelby a polite but firm text declining her umpteenth request for an interview when my driver pulls off to the side. I gripe to myself at no longer having my ride to myself as the back door opens and a white woman in an expensive pantsuit eases in beside me. She closes the door and turns to face me. “Hello, Cassandra.”

Samantha fuckin’ Reiser. The Gloria Allred of the hip-hop industry. Need to find the loophole in an ironclad pre-nup? Call Samantha Reiser. Without entering a courtroom, she can turn a deadbeat dad into Father of the Year. As if he didn’t have enough legal problems for a lifetime – Hi-Jack dared Samantha to meet him before a judge. He was trying to revive Explicit Content and fool people into believing he had turned a new leaf by signing an R&B singer. Of course, she was in court with Reiser not even a year later contesting a contract that made Toni Braxton’s deal with LaFace look like a million-dollar lottery ticket. Reiser ethered Hi-Jack with briefs instead of bars, and rumor has it that he backpedaled because the kind of questions she was raising in deposition threatened to land Hi-Jack on the feds’ radar and his ass back in prison.

So this is it. Malik is serving me papers. I don’t know whether to be relieved to finally get this divorce under way or embarrassed that he beat me to it with an attorney known for defending hip hop wives. But then why go to this length of having his lawyer bum rush my ride if murder is still not on the table?

I pounce on my door, and my driver lurches back onto the highway. Samantha say, “Cassandra, relax. We’re not interested in hurting you.”

“Who the fuck is we?” I debate clocking her in the face, but then I have to contend with the driver. She has one eye on the highway and one on me through the rear view.

“You know who I represent,” says Samantha. “The organization you failed to contact after your lunch meeting with Ms. Fernandez.”

Ms. Fernandez. Olivia Fernandez. Ridin’ Hood. Samantha and the Tia Norfleet wannabe are with the Miniskirt Mafia. Even though I realize the car shouldn’t be bugged given that they nabbed me, I’m afraid to say their name.

“Olivia’s a sweet girl,” Samantha says. “She came to me wanting me to look at your contract but couldn’t afford the fee. I referred her to a protege who’s just out of law school and more in her price range, but Olivia insisted on me. She was back in my office a week later with the retainer.”

She has me so confused. “Ridin’ Hood led you to me? But why?”

Samantha grins. “I wouldn’t admit that if she had. We’re reaching out to you because we’re very concerned about your husband.”

I look away from her and out my window. “Get in line.” I turn back to Samantha. “What’s your beef with him?”

“We don’t like what we’re hearing.”

“On track, in the streets, what?”

“Both.” I look away again forcing back the tears burning the corners of my eyes. I feel Samantha’s hand on my shoulder. “Cassandra, we have been in this industry a long time. We understand the role of hyperbole and metaphor and all that and aren’t going anywhere.” I turn to face her unchecked tears be damn. “But Malik is starting to get traction. This Movement is not a metaphor. He’s building something very dangerous especially for women.”

“I know.” Ankhanetics has to be stopped. Still I find myself saying to Samantha, “But please don’t hurt my husband.” My mind scrambles for a rationale. “You’ll only martyr him.” That takes Samantha aback. She and the driver exchange glances through the rearview mirror. They realize I have a strong point. “Tell your client that even though I never intended for it to grow into this, I take responsibility for planting the seed and want to help you stop him.”

The driver shakes her bald head. “We can totally take him down without you, Bri,” she barks into the rear view mirror. “How you s’posed to help us anyway when you ain’t even know him well enough to think he could get out of control with this Ankhanetics shit? Plus, nigga wants you dead.”

“Bitch, tell me something I don’t know.”

Samantha raises her hands like a mother referring warring siblings. “Cassandra, has Malik attempted to harm you?”

I can’t tell her the truth. Malik would be dead by week’s end, and Ankhanetics would go global. He has to be checked alive. And I still need to believe I can turn him around as slight as the odds are. If Hi-Jack is in his ear, there’s a reason why I’m not gone already. Malik still needs me. Or at least something from me.

“Answer her question, yo.”

“No, he hasn’t. If anything, he’s been really lovey dovey. Making me breakfast in bed, asking me to be on tracks..”

The driver scoffs. “Straight up abuser shit.”

“I agree,” says Samantha. “Which means if she tries to leave now, she’ll be in peak danger.”

Poussey 2.0 sighs. “Right.”

Samantha turns back to me. “Cassandra, I believe that you understand the gravity of the ideology your husband is promoting….”

“And we know you ain’t with that shit either,” says the driver finally cutting me some slack.

“But if our intelligence has any credence, I don’t think you have the influence to reign in Malik.”

The driver says, “She did take down Explicit Content and lived to tell the tale.” Then she says what I’m thinking. “But can lightning strike twice?”

“Here’s what I’m going to recommend to my client,” says Samantha. “That we give you some time to turn Malik around yet keep our ears to the ground and our eyes on your back.

I remember what Leila said about my having angels. “Thank you.”

“But I can’t promise you I can convince them of anything. There’s a strident minority who believe that you’re in complete alignment with him because of your silence. You wouldn’t be the first woman to be in full-blown denial about her husband’s capacity for violence.” The driver pulls up to the PATH station. Samantha says, “And while in the history of our organization, we have never regulated a woman before as a matter of principle, there’s a first time for everything.”

“These bitches that done stuck us with 45 got us revisiting policy and shit.” Baldilocks stops the car and unlocks my door. “Stay on track and watch your back.”

As I watch them drive off, I wonder if she means for Malik or them.


07. The Ankh-Right Chronicles

Need to read or watch any episodes from 1-6? Click here for the episode index.

There’s an online community where hip-hop aficionados go to learn, follow and share information about the real underground scene. Deep, deep, underground. They call themselves The Enlightened. Click on the logo to enter their message board… if you dare.


06. The Ankh-Right Chronicles

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Need to read or watch any episodes from 1-5? Click here for the episode index.

Fake iPhone Text Generator iOS

Written by Sofia Quintero

Malik Alexander performed by Mikal Amin Lee
bandcamp –
twitter: hrapgun
Hired Gun on SoundCloud

(©) Sofia Quintero


05. The Ankh-Right Chronicles

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04. The Ankh-Right Chronicles

Need to read or watch any episodes from 1-3? Click here for the episode index.

I have to pretend like I haven’t a clue that Malik is scheming widowerhood so I continue with business. The truth is I have no choice. The blockbuster sales of Ankhanetics keep the Coven afloat. Neither my wallet nor my spirit can ignore that the only man on my record label – the husband who wants me dead – is its bestselling artist. So even though I just want to drown in my bedsheets like I did after the miscarriage, I keep my meeting with Ridin’ Hood at a restaurant in the northwest Bronx.

As a one-woman A&R department, this is the last step in my vetting process. The first time a potential talent comes to my attention, I invite them to our studio in Mott Haven where I put them through a series of tests.

Test #1: I choose a random track from the online links they sent me and have them perform off the cuff. Although you’d be surprised how often heads will fluster at reciting their own verses, most obviously ace this not realizing it’s both a warm up and a setup. Over the years, I have passed on several people who surely didn’t write their own lyrics, and that’s not going to fly at the Coven. I’m not really looking to see how comfortable they are with their own material which they should be if they truly wrote it. What I’m looking for is how they behave after they nail it. Confidence is good. Nervous optimism is good. Unreadable focus is good. Arrogance gets the pass which is why I didn’t sign Sugar Shane who Malik never lets me forget eventually joined Roc Nation. Ride advanced with a jittery smile, knowing she had done well but anticipating the next test.

Test #2: I throw a topic at them, and they have to freestyle. Malik and I have so many arguments over this, but as the founder and HBIC at the Coven, I always have the final say. I’ve passed on some incredible talent because they couldn’t spit off the dome, but time has proven me right on this. Everyone I chose not to sign because they couldn’t freestyle made one or two mediocre albums and then faded from the scene. Malik accuses me of being too ol’ school for insisting that the ability to improvise rhymes is a reflection of raw talent, but for me this isn’t just about that. When it comes to freestyling, discipline cultivates the talent. If you’re not practicing your delivery, expanding your vocabulary and the like. So if you can freestyle, I know I’m dealing with someone who gives a fuck about the craft and isn’t just in this for money and fame. Someone for whom consistent improvement is its own reward. It tells me you have a thick skin, too, which is especially important since I sign mostly women in an industry that is still overwhelmingly male.

Test #3: I throw out a prompt and give you twenty minutes to produce sixteen bars. They don’t have to be flawless, but they need to be coherent, clever and without cliche. Most folks take shortcuts, turning the prompt into a hook, and that kind of slickness irks me. If really ain’t that clever if eight out ten people do the same shit.

Now Ride killed this one with a one-word prompt.


Ride’s head ticked. “‘Bigly’? Or ‘big league?’”

I wasn’t mad at her for asking but still. “You tell me.” Who was I to give her a definitive answer when it remains in dispute on a world stage?

Ridin’ Hood didn’t say anything else. She put her head down and got to work, furiously thumbing away at her cell phone until I called time. Not only did Ride use both bigly and big league, she clowned rappers who ever likened themselves to Donald Trump, interpolated Kool Moe Dee with the hook How you like ‘im now? And shouted out the Central Park Five. Then she spit some lines that had me rolling so hard on the floor behind the boards, I didn’t hear her last few lyrics.

Thin skin, big wig, rich white boy rage
Still ain’t refudiate that Times’ full page

Ride stopped rhyming. “You OK?”

“Bitch…” I pulled myself to my knees. “Did you just say refudiate? You didn’t just sub Sarah Palin.”

She bounced up and down on the balls of her feet. “You see, Bri? That’s why I have to be on your label. You caught that shit! You get me.” Another belly laugh knocked me onto my side for another round. “Yo, I spit that for — nah, let me be professional and not call him out – but don’t you know I spit that for some big-time label dude, and he tried to rag me. Ridin’ Hood did a dead-on impression that revealed to me exactly who it was. “Oh, that’s not a word. The word is repudiate. And that’s not really how you should use it.”

That made me stop. “Mansplaining muthafucker.” And what if Ride had made up a word or used a word the wrong way or whatever? This is hip-hop. We fuck with language all the time. Stiplificate. Wanksta. Magmatize. When a dude does it, he’s a genius, but let a chick do it, and now a producer needs to see a bitch’s SAT scores. “The goal post always fucking shifting.” Then I caught something. “Wait a minute… So you spit that before. You didn’t make that up on the spot?”

Ride’s cheeks flushed red. “I’ve been playing with that word for a minute.” She was speaking a mile a minute. “I got some verses in progress for a song about females who get ahead by sidlin’ up to men, and Palin came to mind… Like I been wantin’ to use refudiate for a minute so it’s, like, at the top of my head… And like with all the shit that’s been goin’ down since the election of 45, I wanted to remind people, you know, that this shit has been in the offing for a minute and…”

I picked myself off the floor. “So I’ll call you about next steps.”

“So are you signing me? Not tryin’ to press. I just want to understand where I’m at.”

“I’ll call.”

I didn’t want to hold using “canned” material against her because Ride’s explanation made sense. But on the heels of that, she referred to women as females which is a pet peeve of mine. Why isn’t the wrongness of that shit basic in 2017? When I told Leila about my hesitation to sign Ride behind that, she had rolled her eyes, called me Petty Kruger and asked me if I really thought everything other artists create on the spot didn’t subconsciously draw from things they’d already been toying with. “Sign her, Bri,” she had insisted. “Sign her, and mentor her. Whether she takes off or not, it’ll be a good experience for both of you.”

Quite frankly, Ride has Leila to thank for the fact that I did call to meet with her at Tin Marin in Riverdale. I have the contract in my bag, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to offer it to her. It also helps that Malik wasn’t with it. He said that she doesn’t have enough edge. “Not in her music, not in her steelo, not in her mental,” he said. “She not built for this shit.” People thought the same about me – still fuckin’ do I’m sure – so I’ll be the judge of that after this lunch.

After Ride and I exchange compliments on each other’s outfits, order appetizers and banter about the weather and transportation, I say, “I just got one more question for you.”

“Shoot. I’m an open book. Nothing to hide.”

I believe her, and if Malik were here, he’d tell me that exactly is her problem. “Name the person who doesn’t want you to win.”

Ride wasn’t expecting that. “Personally? Professionally?”


She shifts in her seat. Ride thought of someone immediately and is debating whether to tell me. “I can’t tell you why, but Sugar Shane fucking hates me.”

Her answer throws me. The most promising artist at Roc-A-Fella had a beef with her? This could be a goldmine or a volcano. “How do y’all know each other?”

“We don’t. I can’t even tell you how she knows about me never mind why she be comin’ for me. All I know is that Sugar takes a few shots at me on the mixtape that caught Jay’s ear.”

“Here’s your chance to tell me the truth, Ride.”

She kisses two fingers up to God, and that part of me that still belongs to Malik cringes at the childish gesture. “I’ve been trying to figure it out. Only thing I can think of, Bri, is that Shane thinks I’m an easy target.” Ride shrugs. “Real talk. She ain’t got the chops to try and make a name for herself by challenging someone like Nicki or Azealia. Me, I got some respect underground so I’m big enough prey to bother, but since I’m not really a battle MC…”

“Let’s not confuse someone who likes to pop shit for clicks with a battle MC,” I say, and my current situation with Malik hits me as if the ceiling just caved in on me. “Excuse me for a second.” I get up from the table and stride to the restroom with Leila’s taunt Punchanella, Punchanella pounding in my head. I push my way into an empty stall and lean against the door. Who was I going to be in the fight of my life where I’m sleeping with the enemy? Malik was no longer an entertainer popping shit for clicks, and I was never a battle MC. The memories of Leila chanting Punchanella, Punchanella at that Explicit Content party all those years ago flood my head, and it takes a moment for me to recall my doctor’s advice. I push the breath stuck in my chest to my belly and narrate a counter script to the scenes playing in my head. I’m not that girl anymore. That experience brought out the strength I always had. I not only prevailed, I survived.

The scene of Leila humiliating at my first big industry party starts to fade, and my deep breaths wash over my body. I exit the stall, splash water on my face and clean my smudged mascara. I still have the slightest tremble in my walk that I hope Ride doesn’t notice as I head back to our table. Even though the server is heading back to the kitchen after just having brought our orders, I signal for him to bring us the check. I need to wrap up this meeting, get back home and determine how I’m going to navigate my marriage now that it’s become a high-stakes chess match.

“Are you OK?” Ride asks as I retake my seat.

“Yeah, yeah, sorry about that.” I think of a quick lie to put her at ease. “For a moment there I thought my period took me by surprise.” Ride gives me a sympathetic smile while I retrace our conversation. When I pick up my fork, she does the same, and I realize why I have a soft spot for her. While they have completely different temperaments and upbringings, Ride resembles Leila. “So here’s what I need to know? Let’s say Sugar Shane drops a diss track on you. Are you taking the high road or clapping back?”

Ride flips the script. “Regardless of what I do, are you going to have my back?”

“You asking me questions?”

She puts down her fork. “I don’t get to do that?”

“I’m not saying that.”

Ride puts both hands on the table as if preparing herself to push away from it. “I didn’t mean any disrespect and not to dodge your question. I don’t think there’s a better place for me than the Coven. I’ve dreamt about being signed to your label and working with you ever since I decided to really go for this.” The tension in her hands relaxes as I intently listen. “But if you’re not going have my back regardless of what I decide to do, Bri, then I might as well take my chances with a bigger label. They’re gonna try to manipulate my every move, too, but they’ll probably do more for me in exchange.”

“And what would you do that I’m just supposed to co-sign?”

Ride sighs. “I have to clap back, Bri. Studio beefs ain’t my thing, but if anyone never mind Sugar Shane comes what am I supposed to do? Just eat it?” The mere hypothetical has her anxious and resigned. Ride throws up her hands and says, “There’s no high road in hip-hop.”

“You’d step up.” She starts to remind me of myself. I can’t tell if that’s a good thing.


I burst out laughing. As I reached for my credit card to place it in the billfold, it occurs to me that I was asking Ridin’ Hood if she could become the artist I never was. Now that she gave me the answer I wanted, she reminded me that if she could step up, I could, too. That I had done it before and can do it again. The fact that I never feel that I have the choice to do otherwise is irrelevant.

“I’m taking care of this now because I have to jet out of here when we’re done, but take your time eating,” I say as I open the billfold. Sitting on top of the check is a business card. I pick it up. On one side there are two silver capital Ms against a black background and on the other there’s a number with an odd area code. No name, no address, no email.

I didn’t hide the card quick enough. Ride sees the card and immediately recognizes it. “Holy shit.”

I try to play it cool by dropping the card into my pocketbook then digging out the contract. I slide it across the table toward Ride, and her giddiness and gratitude becomes the necessary deflection. She jumps up, runs around the table and throws her arms around me. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bri. You won’t be sorry. I’ma bust my ass for you, you gonna see.”

“Now don’t sign this right now. Have a lawyer look at it and explain it to you.” At this point, I feel circumstances require me to sign Ridin’ Hood just because of the confidentiality clause in the contract. I can’t risk her telling anyone about what she just saw. Still she’s young and impressionable, and I pride myself on always keeping business above board. “If you don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, you better hustle, borrow or whatever to get it. Let that be the first thing you do for me.”

We finish our meal, chit-chatting about anything and everything except the business card burning a hole in my purse. When Ride leaves, the server returns with my card and receipt to sign. As I do, I ask him if he slipped the business card into the billfold. He has no idea what I’m talking about and that makes the whole thing real.

When I get into my car, my first impulse is to call Leila. I reach for my phone to find that Leila had text me almost two hours ago wanting to know how it went with Ride and pushing me to sign her. I start to respond when I hesitate. Leila just might be behind this. After all, she was the one who connected me to Dania so maybe Leila led them to me via some prison connections. I sit there debating whether I should respond to Leila. Then I spend even more time chastising myself for not trusting her. Leila didn’t lead them to me. I had to be Dania who contacted them. Leila wouldn’t recommend Dania to me knowing the urban legend was true and landing me on their radar, would she?

I wasn’t going to find out by playing dumb. Doing that with Malik took up enough bandwidth. I text Leila to let her know that I was pretty sure Ridin’ was going to sign with the Coven. Then I take a deep breath and type my next text.

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(©) Sofia Quintero


00. The Ankh-Right Chronicles – Episode Index

Think of this as your on-demand menu to THE ANKH-RIGHT CHRONICLES. As this is a multimedia work-in-progress, the index is updated every time the latest episode has been uploaded. It doesn’t, however, include the latest episode. A new episode is uploaded every Friday.

Episode 01 – January 27, 2017
Episode 02 – February 3, 2017
Episode 03 – February 10, 2017
Episdoe 04 – February 17, 2017
Episode 05 – February 24, 2017
Episode 06 – March 3, 2017
Episode 07 – March 14, 2017


03. The Ankh-Right Chronicles

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Episode 01
Episode 02

Fake iPhone Text Generator iOS

Written by Sofia Quintero

Malik Alexander performed by Mikal Amin Lee
bandcamp –
twitter: hrapgun
Hired Gun on SoundCloud

(©) Sofia Quintero


02. The Ankh-Right Chronicles


(Note: Find Episode 01 here.)


There’s a song that says every story is a love story. You best believe no rapper wrote that shit.

Last year when no one knew Malik and I were on the brink of divorce, Complex placed us on its list of best couples in hip hop. Obviously, Bey-Z ranked at the top. Malik and I landed squarely in the middle at number five because Kimye should never have qualified. I don’t know what pissed off Malik more – that someone devoted thirty words trying to argue that the Kardashians were hip-hop or that Papoose and Remy Ma ranked before us.

“Who would be checking for them as a couple if they weren’t the best thing on a reality TV show filled with has-beens and wannabes geared towards females on Twitter?” Malik said as he chucked his iPad across our sofa.

“What I told you about calling women females?” I said although his whole statement stung. “The show is called Love and Hip Hop. Remy has a phenomenal comeback story, and Pap waited six years to be a part of it.” Their love rings true I kept to myself.

“I can’t believe I’ma say this, but maybe…” Malik jumped up and began to pace. “…we should try to get on the show, too.”

This from the man who understood how obsessively private I was and all the reasons why. Malik had said it was one of the things he loved most about me. I’m the only active MC who doesn’t have a Twitter or Instagram account. In more blissful times, he would serenade me with Papoose’s lyrics. Too real for Twitter, check her timeline, you won’t see no tweets. Then again, I didn’t have shit to promote.

Perhaps if Malik had argued that appearing on the show might revive our marriage, I would have considered it. I never failed to reciprocate my husband’s humility with my own. However, he kept it strictly business so I said, “We don’t need to be on some reality show. We need for you to be in the studio making an album.” I needed to do the same but kept that to myself, too. Malik’s falloff was hurting my label and our relationship, and that was impacting my own creative output in a vicious cycle with no end in sight. “Not performing being in the studio for a three-camera setup only to release one song over three months.”

Malik dropped back on the sofa. “How the fuck am I supposed to make a comeback without a… a….”

“A downfall.”

“Yeah, a nigga gotta endure a tragedy or scandal or some shit that gets him all kind of attention. Then he drops something, it sells itself. Doesn’t even matter if the shit’s any fucking good.”

Whether he intended to or not, Malik was plunking all my strings that afternoon. Even Leila wasn’t aware of the deep-seated insecurity I still harbored about the launch of my career. Given the role she played in that saga, we never discussed it. To this day I question whether my first album was genuine fire or only went platinum on the heels of the Explicit Content controversy. Only Malik knew that sometimes I sat in my office playing songs I recorded when people still bought CDs listening for the things my champions praised in their reviews and not being able to hear them. The first time I told him that was the first time he kissed me.

Instead of asking Malik what he meant and starting a fight, I said, “The solution is to double down on who you are.” At the time I couldn’t explain why I knew it to be true and just attributed it to my creative instincts. In retrospect it was my stubborn ego.

“You mean more conscious shit that people say they like but don’t buy?”

“Your next joint can’t just be a string of tracks no matter how profound, lit or whatever. It has to be a concept album that elevates you beyond the Conscious MC archetype.” I swung my legs off the sofa and planted my feet on the floor. “Your next album has to be the soundtrack of a movement. A movement that you create lead.”

Malik’s eyes widen. “You mean like I’m a prophet.” Then he laughs. “Negrodamus has already been done, Bri.” But when we’re talking art or business, and my husband calls me Bri, I know he’s listening to me. Cassandra is his wife, but Bri is his producer. “Besides you don’t think the prophet thing is kind of cliche?”

He was right. Not only was prophecy trite, it was too late. When the totalitarian tangerine became president,  his minions  wasted no time bucking up in the so-called sanctuary of New York City. White boys from Throggs Neck to Stapleton were wildin’ out on any melanated body in their path. The NYCHA cop who choked a mentally ill Black man to death in the South Jamaica Houses had just asked for a bench trial which meant that he’d be back on the beat by month’s end. Meanwhile, a Latina girl lost seven months on Rikers Island after being falsely accused by some granola chick who castrated her hipster boyfriend in a jealous rage that was the stuff of a Lifetime movie. The Big Apple had always been infested with worms, and now they were eating their way to the peel.

“No, not a prophet exactly.” I scooted across the sofa and reached for his iPad to search for the definition. Seer. Soothsayer. Fortune teller. “If you position yourself as a prophet, people expect you to predict the future. When you’re wrong – and you will be wrong – you lose credibility.”

Malik saw where I was headed. “More like a philosopher.” Still he didn’t sound enthused, and I couldn’t blame him.

“Closer but not quite. At least philosophers are associated with original ideas, and they’ve been known to cultivate followings. But I’m thinking bigger than that.” The algorithm based on Malik’s recent searches popped up an ad for The Ashacre. Called the comeback of the year, Cryciss had created an over-the-top persona named Petey Posturepedic who he described as “the Fuckboy Extraordinaire.” Track after track, Petey owned up to his aintshitness. The album cover was a closeup of two ashy Black hands texting Hi wats gud??? Those three “words” were in reply to five texts from over the course of a week, each angrier then the last wanting to know if they were gonna hang out or what. Women ate it up like Badu’s Tyrone, believing a man was acknowledging their pain by clowning the type of guy who caused it. Men copped it like an aural protein shake that made them more alpha with every rotation. The Ashacre was filled with quotable comedic genius hip hop hadn’t heard since MF DOOM, and I was a hate club of one. Only I could hear the Cryciss beneath the character and the subtext where the butt of the joke was not fuckboys but the women who gave them play and deserved everything Petey Posturepedic dished out.

“What I mean, Malik, is that most conscious artists aren’t saying something new, right? They say know your history, read this book, follow this person…”

Malik rhymes, “Farrakhan’s a prophet that I think you oughta listen to…

“Exactly! They promote ideas that already conceived by somebody else.” Now I’m back on my feet and walking toward him. “We need to create a persona where you’re the one with the original ideas. Kind of like a new religion the way L. Ron Hubbard did with Scientology.” I got hype. “Malik, you could create anything you want! Combine Afrocentrism with the right amount of science and whatever’s popular…”

“The Law of Attraction…”


“… Numerology…”

“…the Enneagram…”

“Whatever so long as you can manipulate it into a coherent whole…”

“Well, it’s not like I got to explain everything ‘cause what religion really does that,” said Malik walking past me to the couch and reaching for his iPad. “Some mystique is good.” He sat down and launched the app he used to draft bars.

I sat beside him on the couch and was almost overcome by that feeling of the first time we realized our chemistry was more than artistic. I had just signed him to the Coven, and we were in the studio alone working on his first album.On loveseat behind the boards, we sat thigh to thigh with a MacBook propped on our knees and were wired together by that simple touch. “Best of all, you let the audience shape it. What is it that they already believe? What beliefs scare them that they’re hoping are untrue? What questions do they want answers to? You invent it all based on what people need to hear, and you got built-in buy-in.”

At first Malik nods his head but then raises a finger in the air. “Some of it should be a little controversial though. Maybe even a little painful. At least, cause for debate.”

I knew what he meant and why it was a brilliant idea, but I feigned otherwise because it had been forever since I saw Malik this excited to create. For months we hadn’t been that couple who wrote together on that very sofa, he on one end with his iPad and I on the other with my Moleskin, our legs entangled, in comforting silence. “Give me an example. What do you have in mind?”

“Gimme a topic.” He smiled at me like he hadn’t in a long time. Like the music was the means to the end that was us.

At first, Malik and I developed Ankhanetics together understanding that it was a gimmick. The project was challenging, fun and even sexy, and his most absurd positions on things like Black feminism, homosexuality and interracial relationships were my best concoctions. Then inspired by the Umar-Seti Beef of 2016, Malik decided to take Ankhanetics to YouTube as a way to promote the album before its release.

Auspicious for business but apocalyptic for romance.

(©) Sofia Quintero


01. The Ankh-Right Chronicles


That moment when a twenty-two year old hacker gives you evidence that the most influential hip-hop artist in the world wants you dead.

Dania met me at a cafe across the street from Yeri & Yoli’s Unisex. From where I sit sipping on matcha tea, I can see that the place is packed. No one knows that I’m the third but silent partner in the business or that it was my idea to design and market the salon as the place where you could get your shape up, purchase your new Tims and meet Ms. Right Now before hitting the club or that I’m the one who put in a call to Mona Scott Key’s location manager and lobbied sitdown status on Love and Hip Hop. All they know is that it’s the trendy boutique where Erica Mena made her comeback to Love and Hip Hop by flinging a bottle of acetone at some Instagram model trying to break into the rap game. That appearance on the show with a cameo from the Segui Twins – the most endearing sisters on VH1 since Cardi and Hennessy – made the salon where you had to get your nails polished and edges smooth before a Thursday night on the town.

After ordering a toasted chocolate croissant and cappuccino, Dania pulls a binder out of her La Boriqueña backpack and slides it over the table. I flip it open and the first email says all I need to know. “You never told me how you found me,” she says before biting into the croissant.

“A friend recommended you.” My stomach sinks deeper with every page I turn. There are emails, Google Docs, text messages. They’d be cryptic to others, but they’re explicit to me.  “I got voicemails, too. That guy you thought might be involved?” I put my finger to my lips to warn Dania not to say any names. “You were right.”

That moment when the  nigga whose career you resurrected decides the next upgrade requires teaming up with your nemesis and plotting to kill you.

Dania casts her eyes on her gnawed nails. “They laugh.”

The night I suspected Malik wanted me dead was the third and last time I thought maybe we could resolve our differences. His invitation to appear on the remix of The Miner’s Canaries – a track dedicated to the memories of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Aiyana Jones – was supposed to be an olive branch. Not only were we in the studio for the first time in years, things were really flowing. When the engineer stepped out for a smoke, Malik had pulled off his headphones, bit his lip and said, “We should do a whole album.”

Between running the label and promoting Ankhanetics, I hadn’t released an album of my own since the disaster of 2011. I stayed on the radar with a handful of features that scored high on the charts, but that just amped up the pressure. Fans were giving me the Frank Ocean treatment, and the block to my creativity only ballooned.  

Malik had offered me a break that I so desperately need, but my pride made me snicker at his suggestion. “No, for real,” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder. “I’ve been so focused on building the Movement, the Music’s fallen by the wayside. The whole point of the Movement was to push the Music.”

This fucking Movement. What I pitched as a concept for Malik’s next album took on a life of its own and now might cost me mine. Meanwhile, I’m the Frankenstein behind this monster. Ankhanetics went multiplatinum, and every song has my touch. The entire concept was mine not Malik’s. What I conceived as a comeback album reinvented Malik into the Black L. Ron Hubbard.

I stay underestimating myself.

“Yeah,” I told Malik. “Let’s do it.”

“This calls for a celebration.” He left the booth and came back with two glasses filled with champagne. He kept refilling my glass between takes, encouraging me to have more even though he knows damn well I don’t drink like that. Meanwhile, he nursed the same glass throughout the night.

Later back at my condo that single drink had me laying in the fetal position across the porcelain floor. With my stomach in a Palomar knot, I tried to call Malik maybe eight times, but he never answered. No matter how bad things had gotten between us, he always returned my calls. That’s when I realized that Malik tried to poison me, and any more champagne would have killed me for sure.

So I called Leila. She left her husband and kids and got to Edgewater within the hour. She cleaned me up after every round of ipecac, and when I was well enough to talk, she gave me Dania’s number. “Before you make any moves, you’ll have to be sure.”

Dania now asks, “Is there anything more you need me to do? Say the word, I’ll fuck his whole shit up.”

I laugh. The girl looks twelve with those 90s overalls and Where’s Waldo eyeglasses. Dania probably has a list as long as her arm of childhood bullies she done fixed but good after teaching herself how to code.  “I know you can.”

“Or if you feel you need to…” Dania lowers her voice and leans across the table. “I can set you up and make you disappear. You’ll have everything you need, and no one’ll ever be able to find you.”

Running never crossed my mind, and yet for a moment, I consider it. I’ve already fought for my life twice before. But running isn’t an option. Trump is president, and people desperate for rebel leadership are falling behind Malik when he’s just as dangerous.

I can’t run because this is my fault.

I place a twenty dollar bill on the table to cover the tab then slide a business envelope across the table to Dania. Inside is five hundred dollars in small bills. She had only asked for half of that, but based on what Leila told me about her, I knew she would over deliver.

On the drive back to Jersey, I call Leila. “So? What’d she say?”

“It’s true. He’s in cahoots with Hi-Jack. Niggas got the whole thing scripted like they write for Shonda Rhimes.”

“Fucking Hi-Jack,” says Leila. “You know what this means. You can’t divorce Malik, Cass. Not just yet.”

As I turn onto the George Washington Bridge, I look down at my four-carat wedding ring. Leila’s right. I discovered Malik. I made him, and when his career began to fade like Trump’s promises to his lemmings, I reinvented him.

Now I have to end him before he murders me.

(©) Sofia Quintero


The Resistance Before the Breakthrough – The Teacher’s Edition

What a difference a week of phone calls can make.

I’ve seen the light.
I’ve come around.
I’ve changed my mind.

And it actually feels good.

First, let me be a sport and give a hat tip to those who done told me so from the start. Gary Chou, the mind behind Orbital, had encouraged me to organize a live gathering of the students in the beta version of the self-study ecourse based on my novel Picture Me Rollin’. The co-facilitators and advisors he brought to boot camp to support us in implementing our projects agreed.

Each and every time, I listened, smiled, nodded and said, “Yeah, but…”

I thought I had good reasons for my resistance to a live component to my ecourse. I mean, it’s an e-course, right? Among the other reasons, I had – all of which I still think are logical – it seemed that extending myself at that level defeated the purpose of using the digital tools available to gather people online.

But logic has its limits, and in those limits are emotional sinkholes. This became evident to me after holding the first round of office hours this week. Having candid conversations with my students revealed how much of my resistance was rooted I concerns that were not logical at all. After reflecting on these conversations, I can now see and admit that my resistance to organizing a gathering of my students was based on an attitude a lot like this.

I’ve known for a long time that the best teachers are willing to learn from their students even if sometimes it’s difficult. Often when it’s difficult because a flaw in your knowledge or pedagogy has been exposed or the power differential has been shifted out of your favor. Essentially, the growing pains comes from having your ego checked.

My students not only reaffirmed what I already knew to be true about the value of a live gathering, they also deconstructed my deepest concerns with clarity, humor and another kind of emotional logic. By the end of the last telephone call, I was actually looking forward to organizing something. Once my resistance crumbled, the floodgates to more creativity – both with respect to this endeavor and a few others on the back burner yet in the same vein – crashed open.

I genuinely believe that the greatest resistance comes right before the breakthrough. I’ve blogged about it before with respect to challenging students, and I often have comforted fellow teachers with this principle when they have lamented about students who dug their heels in when being faced with information that threatens to shatter a way of thinking upon which much of their worldview and sense of self has been built. I totally underestimated that this applies to teachers as well.

TWo office hours, and now I know better.