How Marvel’s First Black Writer Finally Made Black Panther’s T’Challa an Iconic Hero

Comic book OG Christopher Priest was reluctant about writing what turned out to be his greatest work. It was 1998 and Marvel, which had just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, was desperate for a comeback when the company started the edgier Marvel Knights imprint. Priest—who holds the distinction of being the first full-time black writer at either DC or Marvel—was enlisted to write a new Black Panther series for the endeavor.

This obvious challenge was that Black Panther hadn’t been relevant in years, and the character itself had become a B-lister-at-best after debuting as a Fantastic Four adversary in 1966. Plus, there was the existential weight of being a black writer known for openly weaving race into his work. “I stopped being a writer, or being thought of as a writer,” Priest told Vulture in a recent interview, “and started being thought of as a ‘black writer.’” This wasn’t Priest distancing himself from his racial identity. There’s a version of inclusivity that states black voices are credible in specific lanes even if it’s under this wider umbrella of diversity. This ideology would lead someone to say, “Sure, Priest has been writing for decades, but he doesn’t quite have the experience to write about Superman, though.” It’s one of the many anxieties of being black in a white-dominated space.

Despite those initial roadblocks, Priest not only took on the job he excelled at it. Ultimately what made his Black Panther run (1998-2003​) so reinvigorating was that it delivered a hero who wasn’t confined by any preconceived constructs. T’Challa’s a black polymath with his own set of ethics and king to a sovereign nation. This iteration of the character is crucial because the record-breaking blockbuster film, which is rooted in Priest's work, doesn’t exist without it. But the decades of appreciation for Priest’s work comes from how much depth it applied to Black Panther as a concept. T’Challa’s duties as the king of Wakanda and responsibilities in America form a tension that propels the 62-issue series, and it’s a thread that continues on in author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ more recent saga. The idea of a powerful African nation with its own complexities is a central audacity that ties into the allure of the Black Panther movie.

'Black Panther' poster
Image via Marvel

T’Challa doesn’t explicitly concern himself with race in Priest’s run, but the black-centric philosophy. In an effort to not just make a “black book,” Priest told Black Panther’s story through the lens of Everett K. Ross, a just-past-competent U.S. State Department officer assigned to escort Black Panther during his visit to America. Self-effacing and full of pop culture references, Ross becomes a stand-in for the audience, and his everyman nature forces us to see T’Challa with a sense of awe. When Black Panther conveniently escapes in a hidden ship during a pivotal chase scene in issue No. 11, for instance, Ross is right there to rein us in to contextualize: “[T’Challa’s] a full-bird monarch from one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet. And, somehow, we keep forgetting that.”

The titular Black Panther is a bit too stoic to work as a narrator, but he does work as a character nonetheless because Priest outlines very concisely what T’Challa is about: He has an undying love of his people and dedication to his homeland. They’re a small set of traits that are malleable enough to jump from supernatural fantasy to political thriller. Black Panther’s triumph over satanic ​villain​ Mephisto in the series’ opening arc isn’t simply about good vs. evil as it is about connecting T’Challa to a mythos (the Panther God in this case), setting the tone of what’s to come. When it’s revealed that the only reason that Black Panther has been hanging with the Avengers is just to keep tabs on them, the shock is in how logical this reveal is. After all, why should an African king 100-percent trust a Westerner running around in tights and a star-and-stripes shield?

This iteration of the black panther is crucial because the record-breaking blockbuster film, which is rooted in Priest's work, doesn’t exist without it.

The subversive premise needles at entire concept of what it means to be a hero because Western civilization isn’t a priority for Black Panther. At one point, he sends the global economy into a tailspin to thwart his arch-nemesis Erik Killmonger’s plan to takeover Wakanda. The question of racial identity sneaks in directly in issue No. 6, where a crowd of black people form outside of a New York Hilton reception because of an invitation oversight (the organizers forgot to invite any black people). King T’Challa appears in front of the mass and proclaims that the Avengers are “their heroes” and that the Black Panther is “our hero.” He goes on to deny that title, saying, “In any country—among all peoples! We should not become polarized by self-interest—but embrace common humanity.” T’Challa hasn’t been rolling around spouting hotep-isms at the Avengers; his existence in America comes with tangential significance.

Not to sound all “their earlier stuff was better,” but the best storylines of Priest’s run are in issues 1-12, which cover Black Panther’s meeting with Mephisto and Enemy of the State—a transcontinental summertime blockbuster that finds Wakanda hi-jacked thanks to a farmer-turned-madman and some rogue U.S. Intelligence factions. Must-see showdowns like Black Panther's battle of attrition against Killmonger and damn-near causing World War III with Atlantis provided worthy follow-ups, but sales eventually declined midway through Bush’s first term. By issue No. 50, T’Challa was written out as the star of the series in favor of a new Black Panther: a New York officer that looked more like “Vin Diesel” than kingly.

“None of the artists could convey the BET/gangsta rap sensibility Marvel had requested; qualities Marvel insisted were missing from T’Challa,” Priest said about the misfire. “The thinking seemed to be, if we made Black Panther more ‘street,’ it would sell better.”

As absurd as the change-up was, Black Panther-for-the-streets wasn’t enough to sully what was a groundbreaking take on an underdeveloped character. There are plenty of mainstream black heroes, including John Stewart as the Green Lantern, Static, Falcon, and Luke Cage, to name a few. But Black Panther’s universe carries a specific sense of gravity because of how rigorous and thrillingly it explores the idea of an African superpower that was void of Western influence. Priest is solely responsible for making that premise real on the pages he commanded and now there’s the chance for a new generation to see that world come to life on the big screen. 

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Ryan Coogler Reveals How Kendrick Lamar Got Involved With ‘Black Panther: The Album’

The anticipation for Marvel’s Black Panther flick is getting stronger and stronger each day. But perhaps equally anticipated is the film’s soundtrack produced Kendrick Lamar and his label Top Dawg Entertainment.

In the days leading up to the release of Black Panther: The Album, director Ryan Coogler spoke to NPR about the project and how the TDE crew eventually became involved. He revealed that the initial plan was for Kendrick to contribute only a few songs to the film; however, the rapper’s role became much greater after he was given an extended look at the movie.

“I've been a massive Kendrick fan ever since I first heard him, since his mixtapes, and I've been trying to track him down,” Coogler said. “Eventually I caught up with him a couple years ago—first with Anthony 'Top Dawg' Tiffith, who runs his label, and then later on sat down with him and Kendrick and just spoke about much his music affected me. He talked about my movies that he had seen, and we said if the opportunity comes, we'd love to work with each other on something.”

Shortly after K-Dot completed his fourth studio album Damn, Coogler reached out to the rapper to discuss his involvement.

“To Marvel's credit, they really supported the idea of getting some songs from him,” the director explained. “At first, he was just going to do a few songs for the film, and then he came in and watched quite a bit of the movie, and the next thing I know, they were booking a studio and they were going at it.”

TDE producer Sounwave told NPR that the team had started working on the album during Kendrick’s Damn Tour last summer, and that about half of the soundtrack’s concepts were developed while on the road.

“[During] The Damn Tour, we probably came up with 50 percent of it — the production, the hooks and ideas,” he said. “When we got back from the tour in September, that's when we were able to execute our ideas and reach out to people we respect and whatnot … kind of just put the stamp on it. So, I want to say those two months was the most vital on that tour, in terms of creative process.”

Black Panther: The Album includes appearances by everyone from SZA and the Weeknd to James Blake and Travis Scott to Vince Staples and Jorja Smith. The film’s score was helmed by Coogler’s previous collaborator Ludwig Göransson, who is best known for his work with Childish Gambino. This fact made many fans wonder: Why wasn’t Childish included on the soundtrack?

Though the “Redbone” artist didn’t receive a credit on Black Panther: The Album, it turns out he did contribute to the film’s sound. Rolling Stone’s film critic Peter Travers pointed this out in his recent review, in which he applauded the composer’s work as well as the various hip-hop artists who assisted him.

“[…] It's fair to mention Ludwig Goransson's rousing score with hip-hop song contributions from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Sam Dew, Vince Staples and Childish Gambino,” he wrote.

We’ll have to wait and see just how big Childish’s contribution was.

As we wait for the album to drop, you can check out some its previously released singles here. Black Panther: The Album is set to release this Friday (Feb. 9), one week before the film hits U.S. theaters. 

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High School Ballers Are Putting LaVar Ball on Blast for Trying to Slide Into DMs to Recruit for Pro League

In late December, LaVar Ball made a stunning announcement. Just weeks after pulling his son LiAngelo out of UCLA and saying he planned on preparing him for the NBA himself, the Ball family patriarch revealed he is going to start his own league called the Junior Basketball Association for those players who don’t want to take part in NCAA basketball.

At the time, Ball said he thought it would be “easy” to convince kids to play in the JBA. The plan was to give all players a salary of somewhere between $3,000 and $10,000 and have them play in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

But it sounds like Ball has run into some trouble recruiting prospects to play in the league. According to high school and college basketball recruiting site Tipton Edits, Ball has used social media DMs to contact about 80 high school players to gauge their interest in playing in the JBA. But all of the top recruits have reportedly turned him down, and two, in particular, have put him on blast for his method of going about recruiting.

Tyler Herro, who hails from Wisconsin and is slated to attend Kentucky next season, is one of the players who was contacted by Ball. He shared a screenshot of the message he received from Big Baller Brand before revealing he declined the offer.

Jalen Carey, a guard from New Jersey who will attend Syracuse next season, was also approached by Ball about joining the JBA. He, too, declined the offer he received and shared a screenshot of it on Snapchat.

In fairness to Ball, trying to contact potential JBA recruits through DMs is probably the most efficient way for him to do it at this time since he’s spent most of the last month in Lithuania with LiAngelo and his youngest son LaMelo. But as SB Nation pointed out, he’s getting a whole bunch of rejections from players right now, so it’s probably time for him to switch up his method. Otherwise, the JBA might disappear just as quickly as it initially popped up.

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Azealia Banks Reveals Massive Label Deal: ‘I Have a Home Again’

After being without a major label home since 2015, rapper Azealia Banks recently revealed that she signed a brand new million dollar deal with Toronto-based eOne Music.

“I HAVE A HOME AGAIN… I’m crying,” she wrote in her Instagram caption, expressing her gratitude for the opportunity to make music with a label again. “Thank you guys so freaking much you don’t know how much this means to me,” tagging eOne and its VP of A&R, William Robillard-Cole.

While Banks is undoubtedly talented, she's consistently been in the news more for her behavior on- and offline than for her music. From inflammatory tweets, bizarre live stream rants, and famous feuds with everyone from Iggy Azalea and Cardi B to Pharrell and Remy Ma, the Harlem rapper's music has been sitting on the back burner since 2016. Just a few days ago, she shared a preview of a new song that will likely end up her upcoming project Fantasea II: The Second Wave, reportedly dropping in March.

With the FII release date fast approaching, Banks has already chosen “Anna Wintour” as its first single. Snippets of the track have been floating around since last year, but she now wants to revamp it with features from Nicki Minaj and everyone's favorite Spice Girl, Mel B.

Banks parted ways with her last label, Prospect Park Records, in 2015 and would go on to release her Slay-Z mixtape independently, so we may have to wait and see how this new partnership pans out.

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Lou Williams Talks About Breaking Up With 1 of His 2 Girlfriends

When you hear the name Lou Williams, what’s one of the first things that comes to mind? Despite the stellar NBA career he’s put together since first entering the league back in 2005, it’s probably not his 12.8 points per game career scoring average. It’s also probably not the fact that he’s spent time playing for the 76ers, Hawks, Raptors, Lakers, Rockets, and, most recently, Clippers. Even Williams’ Sixth Man of the Year award in 2015 is probably an afterthought for most people.

Instead, the first thing most people think about when they hear Williams’ name is that, back in 2014, a Baller Alert report revealed he was openly dating two women at the same time. Drake also mentioned Williams’ unorthodox dating situation on his song, “6 God.” Williams had two girlfriends named Ashley Henderson and Rece Mitchell—or “Blonde” and “Brown,” as he often referred to them on social media—and from the sounds of things, the women were both fine with the arrangement with Williams.

This led more than a few NBA fans to christen Williams “the real MVP.”

Even J.R. Smith was blown away by the dating setup Williams had with the two women.

Unfortunately, we have some very sad news to share. In recent weeks, as Williams has dealt with being at the center of trade rumors and being snubbed for this year’s NBA All-Star Game despite playing some of the best basketball of his career, people have wondered about the status of his relationship. In fact, if you search “Lou Williams girlfriends” on Twitter, you’ll find that people haven’t stopped talking about the Lou-Will x Blonde x Brown dynamic since it became public knowledge more than three years ago. People are still fascinated by it.

But it sounds like Williams is no longer running the triangle offense with Henderson and Mitchell. Sports Illustrated reporter Lee Jenkins profiled Williams for the latest issue of the magazine and asked him about how things are going with his two girlfriends. Williams responded by revealing that, while he’s still dating Rece, he is no longer cozying up with Ashley at the same time. Williams said he's still friendly with Ashley, but for reasons he didn’t get into while speaking with Jenkins, the trio has turned into a duo.

 

1of1

A post shared by Lou Williams (@louwillville) on

At least, that’s what we think. Who knows? Maybe Ashley has been replaced with a new woman. Williams didn’t elaborate. But he did say that he still gets asked about having two girlfriends regularly. He also talked about how—news flash—he isn’t the first NBA player to openly date two women who are OK with it at the same time.

“I hear about it every day,” Williams told Jenkins. “Every single day. More players do that than you know. I was just the first person to have it mentioned on a song.”

You can go here to read the rest of Jenkins’ excellent piece on Williams.

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Floyd Mayweather Certainly Isn’t Defusing These MMA Rumors

Earlier this week, Floyd Mayweather posted a short clip of him climbing into an Octagon and dancing around in it for a few seconds, and we really weren’t sure what to make of it.

Mayweather appeared to be trolling everyone with the video. But a short time after he posted it on Twitter and Instagram, it elicited a strong response from Conor McGregor. The UFC champion responded by posting this on Twitter.

It seemed like things would end there, but Mayweather continued to tease the idea of him taking part in an MMA match on Wednesday night. He posted another clip of him standing in the middle of an Octagon and asked everyone what the odds were of him climbing into the Octagon for real for a fight.

 

Come at the king, you best not miss…

A post shared by Floyd Mayweather (@floydmayweather) on Jan 31, 2018 at 4:12pm PST

We should point out that, this time, it looked like Mayweather was doing it in an effort to fulfill some kind of endorsement deal. He was outfitted in a pair of trunks with an advertisement for the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power on them, and he specifically referenced the company in the clip.

“2018. Floyd 'Money' Mayweather. MMA. What are the odds, Paddy?” Mayweather asked. “What are the odds?”

There’s a chance Mayweather may have been doing this for more than just a paycheck. Later on Wednesday night, TMZ Sports caught up with Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza and asked him about the possibility of Mayweather actually agreeing to an MMA fight. He said he wouldn’t rule it out and even revealed he’s planning on speaking with Mayweather about it at the Super Bowl this weekend.

“It will be a topic of conversation,” Espinoza said. “There’s a chance [Mayweather could take part in an MMA fight]…Whatever he puts his mind to, he sort of wills into happening. He willed the McGregor fight into happening. So if he sets his mind to it, it’ll happen.”

Espinoza also speculated about how much money Mayweather would potentially want for an MMA matchup. “He’s not an eight-figure guy anymore,” Espinoza said. “He’s a nine-figure guy.”

We still wouldn’t bank on a Mayweather MMA fight ever taking place. But it seems that, if nothing else, Mayweather is going to continue to use the speculation surrounding the possibility of a fight to line his pockets and get as much attention as he can.

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Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Warriors React to Suffering Worst Loss of Season Against Jazz

The Warriors once again look like the favorites to win the NBA Finals this season. At 40-11, they are heads and tails above every other team in the league. But throughout the course of the season, they have shown that they can be beaten—and even blown out—when they don’t put forth their best effort.

Back in late October, the Warriors sustained a 111-101 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis, just days after knocking off the Rockets in their season-opening game. In late November, Golden State got trounced by the Thunder 108-91 in Oklahoma City. And earlier this month, the Warriors got their rear ends kicked at home by the Clippers 125-106 in a game that featured Lou Williams going off for 50 points. It doesn’t happen often, but those teams have shown that, if you catch the Warriors on an off night, you can give them a taste of their own medicine.

On Tuesday night, the Jazz were the latest team to unexpectedly beat up on the Warriors. Ricky Rubio notched a double-double with 23 points and 11 assists and Joe Ingles knocked down a career-high six three-pointers on his way to 20 points as Utah jumped all over Golden State at home en route to a 129-99 win. The 30-point loss was the Warriors’ worst loss of the season so far.

After the game, several Warriors players tried to explain what happened. Kevin Durant, who scored 17 points during the contest, put a lot of the blame on himself. He admitted to not doing a very good job on the defensive side of the ball while guarding Ingles.

“I can’t let Joe Ingles get loose on 3s like that and expect us to play well on the road, especially in here,” KD said. “I got to start off the game better if we want to win games.”

Steph Curry, who scored just 14 points on 1-for-7 shooting from behind the three-point line, wasn’t happy with the way his team played as a whole. He revealed that, during the fourth quarter, he told Draymond Green it was one of the worst games he’s ever seen the current Warriors team play.

“I asked Draymond on the bench in the fourth quarter if he could remember that bad of a performance that we’ve had in recent memory,” Curry said, “and we really can’t. You can’t just show up, especially on the road, and expect to win. That’s kind of cheating the game.”

Green, meanwhile, was slightly less concerned than his teammates were about the Warriors’ putrid performance. He said he actually thought the Warriors were going to pull off a massive comeback at some point. And even though they weren’t ultimately able to do it, he didn’t sound too worried about what the loss would mean for his team in the long run.

“I'm just foolish enough to believe that we always have a chance,” Green said. “So even going into that fourth quarter, I'm like, 'OK, here we go. All right, here comes a run. They're playing great, but they can't really get over 16, 18. We can cover that really quick. Here we go.' It just ain't never happen for us. So it's cool.”

But Warriors head coach Steve Kerr wasn’t as forgiving as Green was. He attempted to light a fire under the Warriors by blasting them for their “pathetic effort.” He also referred to the “disgusting basketball” he saw them play while speaking with reporters after the game.

“We just didn’t start out the game with any force defensively,” Kerr said. “We weren’t staying into bodies, they were just stopping behind screens, we were lazy on our switches. We played with no sense of urgency, no sense of purpose.”

The good news for the Warriors is that they should have a good chance to bounce back from their loss to the Jazz during their next game on Friday night. They will travel to Sacramento to play the Kings, and seeing as how the Warriors already suffered a surprising loss to the Kings during a home game back in late November, they should have absolutely no trouble getting up for the game and getting back on track.

The Warriors will follow their game against the Kings with another road game against the Nuggets on Saturday night before returning home next Tuesday night for a nationally-televised matchup against the Thunder.

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