Debut Single “International Love Assassins” – June 15th / EP to Follow
May 17th, 2018
First off, I should let you know, my artist name is now Pineapple. That’s right, I am a forty-two year old, white AF woman from the San Fernando Valley, who makes a conscious effort toward eating a plant-based diet; my name is “Pineapple” and … wait for it … I rap. Huh? This is all happening in real time and comes as a surprise to me. I wouldn’t wish it any other way.
For the past eleven months, my musical partner Nataraj Tribino and I have been working our asses off, cultivating a fresh avant pop musical collaboration. We call ourselves Illuminati, which means “enlightened ones” in Italian. Yes, our name is loosely inspired by the cult meaning of the word, which some use to reference the “deep state” government when it comes to conspiracy theory type conversation; however, we use the word more specifically in the glory of all its lightness. We believe ‘We The People’ possess all the power necessary to heal as individuals, as a species, as a race – the human race. Whatever powers-that-be have conspired, colluded or coincidentally stumbled into the systemic corruption and divisiveness that holds us back from unifying and tapping into our true potential as a people, cannot hold a candle to our light when we come together. At our core is an inherent human compassion for one another. We yearn to love and be loved. It’s that simple, but that love has been tainted and we have been programmed by fear, and, sadly, for profit.
Illuminati strives to bring light to darkness through our music and content. We have begun this movement with a desire to empower the people. Self-love and inner peace lead toward compassion for one another and global peace.
Our debut single “International Love Assassins” invites our listeners to take a meditative look into the healing that lies inside each of us. As we examine our fears, breathe into them, dissolve them, in turn we project that same healing outward to our fellow humans. “We’ve gotta get right with ourselves, before we get right with each other, we’re all in this together.”
I.L.A. will be available June 15th. We are honored to have Nile Rodgers as a co-writer who plays rhythm guitar on the track. More info to come. Meanwhile, here is a video tease:
December 7th, 2017
As 2017 winds up, down and all around, I stand at a crossroads in my unlikely, uncommon and unexpected musical journey. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion life will be much different a year from now. Always a good time to write.
After searching for a proper producer for twelve years, I am currently recording on the regular and in the beginning stages of releasing brand new music with my partner/producer, Nataraj. We are creating under the name Illuminati Muzic.
Our first single “Int’l Love Assassins” will be released early 2018, with a surprise musical guest.
My musical dreams are coming to fruition in serendipitous, synchronistic and seemingly destined ways. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Now that I am finally releasing recorded music as an artist (opposed to solely as a songwriter), it seems appropriate to pay tribute to the song placements I’ve had over the years with some wonderful indie artists. As I developed my songwriting chops, as well as my own artistry, I was blessed to have such beautiful voices breathe life into my words.
Each and every one of these indie releases is meaningful and a foreshadowing of more to come on my path. In the past it was habit to focus more on what was not happening in my career than what was. These days I am in the mind-frame of cherishing every little victory along the way. Each of them has brought me to where I am today. In the perfect present.
Artist: Tricia Battani/ Written by: Stephanie Carlisi, Tricia Battani, Nick Battani and G’harah “PK” Degeddingseze
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Charles Dickens fan especially his immortal A Christmas Carol. I don’t have a nativity set I have statues of the ghosts and Bob Cratchit and of course, Dear Mr. Scrooge. So when I first listened to Tricia Battani and her delightful song, Dear Mr. Scrooge I was enthralled. Yes on the surface she is singing to that stingy old miser from the 1800’s but the song is so cleverly written that the dual meaning can be used on so many levels. Brilliant. And still Christmas. And the music is sultry with a hip hop bluesy flare but it works magnificently. This truly will melt the cold heart of anyone that it is sung too. So think of that Scrooge in your life and have at their cold heart. So don’t be a Scrooge this holiday season. Buy this CD or you will be haunted by ME!!”
Being interviewed by Eliza Gales lit a fire beneath me. Articulating my inspiration and vision for my novel in the written word, on the page, after all these years, opened my heart to allow my story to come out, again, in a new way, with a fresh voice.
It was on a whim that I replied to Eliza’s inquiry on Craig’s List (seeking writers to interview about their Hollywood novels), and ever since I took the emotional risk to put myself out there, doors have been flying open in my heart, in my mind, and out in the universe.
The book will be available soon. More information to come.
She worked as a personal/executive assistant/temporary development executive in the entertainment industry for fifteen years (namely Paramount Pictures & CBS) while developing her creative writing skills and projects.
During that time, Stephanie’s artisit path lead her into music when JD Souther (Eagles, Linda Ronstadt) hired her to transcribe his journals for his upcoming album, “If The World Was You” (2008), on which he thanked her for “rendering lyric clarity from chaos.” In working with Souther’s lyrics, Stephanie realized she might have her own knack for songwriting.
Souther encouraged Stephanie to put her words to music and she went on to collaborate with Los Angeles artists, songwriters and producers in creating her burgeoning catalog of songs. She taught herself to write songs on guitar and began performing her material. As well, she wrote a novel inspired by her experience working for a legendary songwriter and, in turn, becoming a songwriter herself. Her songs offer a soundtrack for the story.
She has co-written three television pilots and a sci-fi feature film script.
April 2015–July 2015: Juniper Place Productions, CBS Television, Studio City, CA
Director of Development
Offered support to Executive Producer, Jeffrey Kramer, while his head of development was on maternity leave; oversaw all development projects, created pitch materials, liased with talent agents, writers, producers and studio executives; read and provided coverage on high-volume book, television and film script submissions; generated and updated a detailed submission log; maintained project grid; researched potential projects; set and attended agency development meetings.
November 2003–April 2015: Act-1/Volt Workforce Solutions/Star Staffing, L.A., CA
Temporary Executive Assistant
On-call temp for high-profile entertainment companies/executives such as Timberman-Beverly Productions, VH1, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, CBS, Dr. Phil & The Doctors,Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment,William Friedkin Productions, Sherry Lansing Foundation, Jon Dolgen, Bill Silva Management, Andy Hewitt, and AFM: liaised with high-level executives, producers and talent; drafted correspondence; read scripts and provided coverage; researched potential talent/projects and created presentations for consideration; maintained, duplicated and distributed script and music submissions; edited and maintained copy and data for television promos; maintained business, social and travel calendars; handled heavy phones; rolled calls; scheduled meetings and conference calls; extensive experience in film, television and music environments.
May 2012–August 2013: Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, CA
Executive Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Paramount Pictures
Generated and distributed complex Business Affairs Agenda (including project status reports, option status reports and WGA writers’ reacquisition requests) for high-level executives studio-wide; maintained, distributed and summarized agreements for motion picture business and talent-related deals; maintained timesheet submissions department-wide; provided comprehensive administrative support (rolling calls, scheduling meetings, maintaining files, submitting expense reports and coordinating travel).
August 2009–January 2010: Concord Music Group, Beverly Hills, CA
Executive Assistant to the President of A&R
Liaised between executive and artists, musicians, managers, producers, The Recording Academy, etc; drafted correspondence; screened and maintained music submissions, duplication and distribution; scheduled recording sessions; maintained personal and business calendar and travel itineraries; submitted artist and record label information to The Recording Academy for the 2010 Grammy Awards; maintained record industry profit and loss statements; facilitated day to day office administration.
January 2008–April 2009: Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, CA
Executive Assistant to the Vice President of Business Affairs, Motion Picture Music
Edited, redlined and distributed composer, songwriter, soundtrack and producer agreements; summarized complex legal agreements for all relevant legal and non-legal music and motion picture personnel; created and maintained soundtrack advance charts; prepared large volume of correspondence; facilitated day-to-day office administration.
March 2003–Nov. 2003: JD Souther (Eagles songwriter), Hollywood, CA/Nashville, TN
Transcribed lyrics/poetry from handwritten format to type; performed editing and formatting; organized electronic and paper files; completed special projects as assigned; assisted in the process of choosing material for songwriting purposes. Received special thanks for, “Rendering lyric clarity from chaos,” on Souther’s album, If The World Was You (2008).
2003–2005: Slamdance International Screenplay Competion, Hollywood, CA
Read scripts, provided coverage and voted on finalists/winners for international screenwriting competition.
August 2000–December 2000: Irv Schechter Company, Beverly Hills, CA
Read scripts and provided coverage on submissions; handled heavy phones, set meetings, and arranged auditions; dealt with casting directors, managers, and producers and clients; edited clients’ video reels, resumes and bios; scouted talent.
May 1998–June 2000: Irena and Mike Medavoy, Beverly Hills, CA
Managed household duties, social/business calendars, and drafted correspondence to business associates in entertainment and political arenas; planned and executed special events, screenings, fundraisers and political involvements such as Dessert with the Clintons, COACH for Kids Millennium Ball and Annual Golden Globes Nomination Party.
Pepperdine University; Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast/Telecommunications, Emphasis in Creative Writing, December 1998
Semester Abroad Program, Florence, Italy (1997); K-CAL 9 Internship; newsroom & field reporting (1998); TV-3 Entertainment Anchor, Pepperdine University (1997)
Learning Ally – reading & recording for the blind and dyslexic; Motion Picture & Television Hospital – activities department; BookPals (Screen Actors Guild) – reading for school children
Today is day two of me being back to unemployed. Friday was my last day of a three-month gig working in development for a production pod at CBS. It was a whirlwind experience, during which I learned a shit ton, not just about the business, but about myself, as well.
During this temporary tenure, I made a commitment not to go backward and start taking temp assignments again as an executive assistant, after spending three months working in development. I am hell-bent on moving forward.
I awoke this morning to a familiar sense of doom in which my thought pattern goes something like this: What if nothing changes? What if I never “break through” with my writing? How will I make money? What if I have to go back? What am I going to do? Nothing’s happening. I am delusional to believe it’s going to be different this time around.
Making coffee in the kitchen, I caught myself mid-cycle of doom and changed my thoughts to this: What can I do differently?
This is what I’ve come up with: My days, for the past few months, were consumed by a fast learning curve and then the hustle and bustle of a busy development season. Now, with no set task to fill the hours of my days, I am experiencing a void. My mind is scrambling to fill this space, this uncomfortable void, falling back into my traditional cycle of doom to do just that.
WAIT!! What if I refuse to fill the void with doom?
By nature, something, one way or another, is going to fill this void. Right? I mean, think about it: something always happens. I’m not saying that I should set about with a bunch of magical thinking and envisioning miracles and magic, but, what if I simply refuse to fill my void with doom?What if I am simply cool with what IS right now and use my energy to explore areas that do inspire me, like writing this blog…updating my website…taking inventory of all the wonderfulness that has occurred and all the stars that have aligned opposed to the ones that have not …
At the very least it is a fascinating experiment in quantum physics. And, just like that, I am back in science class.
Maybe It’s Time was my very first co-write. I wrote the lyrics with Danielle Trudeau, a soul sister of mine, in the Music Department at Paramount Pictures, after reading the Alfie script, circa 2004. Back then, the music department was in the Crosby Building, which is now a gargantuan, gazillion dollar Technicolor Complex. As those in-the-know know, there is no place on the planet like the music department at Paramount Pictures, especially when it was in the Crosby Building. Danielle and I were working for the president of the department. He was away, recording at Abbey Road, and we were kids in a candy store. I had big dreams and stars in my eyes. I wanted our song to go in the movie so badly, but, alas, I was up against Mick Jagger & Dave Stewart, so, it didn’t happen, not even close. (They won a Golden Globe that year, Best Original Song Motion Picture, Old Habits Die Hard.)
I’ve come to think of Maybe It’s Time as my modern-day, Desperado—specifically Linda Ronstadt’s version, which, in my mind (and in Johnny Cash’s mind), is one of the most gorgeous recordings of all time. I don’t fool myself into believing that this song is on that level of greatness, but I think itwas a pretty solid first try.
A couple years after writing it, I had the good fortune of having the song critiqued by the producer of Linda’s version of Desperado. In response to listening he wrote: “OK, your song writing has taken a big leap forward. Big. You’re spending those nights in your new space at something with some real results…the song is beautiful. Ouch, yes…but beautiful.”
That was a pretty big moment in my plight as a fledgling songwriter. I’ve learned to celebrate the little victories, as a means of survival, if nothing else.
Last year I finally got the guts and the opportunity to perform Maybe It’s Time live, at music venues all over L.A. It had been a dream of mine for ten years. The experience, without a doubt, was far grander than the dream. There is no high like it.
I read an interview once in which Linda was asked to whom she was singing when she performed Desperado. She said she finally realized that she was singing to herself. I had that same experience with Maybe It’s Time. There came a time, not long ago, when I finally looked at myself in wondering why I always come up empty-handed. Maybe it’s time I landed.
Inspired by real events, Father F*cker! is the coming-of-age story of a young woman struggling to find her artistic voice, after a lifetime of supressing the traumatic loss of her father.
Sicily Terrentini is finally ready to face her daddy’s death when Jake Easton hires her as his “songwriter’s assistant.” Little does Sicily know, Jake is a notorious womanzier who uses his ladies as muses for his songs, and she’s his next target. Jake, older than Sicily’s father would be had he lived, turns out to be the challenge of a lifetime for a girl facing her #daddyissues.
Father F*cker! opens windows into the worlds of songwriting and working as a Hollywood assistant, while posing the questions: Can a girl overcome her daddy issues? and Does age matter when it comes to love?
*Here is one long, twisty trip down a rabbit hole … I started writing with a bang and never finished.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I stand from the couch and stumble to the center of my living room. My body aches from head to toe, inside and out, throbbing, per usual. I sink to my knees and sit still for an extended beat. I am sick and tired of my worn out broken record prayers to God.
“God, please help me. Please send divine intervention. I promise to try. I’ll be good, I swear. I’ll do anything. Please, God, help me stop drinking.”
I lower my hands from prayer position and use them to cradle my pulsing head. I hurt too much to cry, or, perhaps, I am too dehydrated.
I devise a plan in dead silence, not even believing myself. I have heard it too many times before.
I will not drink this weekend. I will smoke pot, because I know that Rose and her father will be smoking pot; that will be okay, but I will not drink. When we return from Sedona, if I continue to drink, I will report to HR and tell Rob Brown that I need to go to rehab. My Viacom benefits will cover the expense. I think of my boss and I feel shame; he will be confused and disappointed, worried for me. I think of spending one more day at my desk at Paramount shaking from a raging hangover with Hollywood deal-making swirling around me and I feel claustrophobic. Maybe a break would do me some good, anyhow. The inevitable looms like a concrete wall two inches in front of my face. I have exhausted all of my options. I know it, but very few people in my life have a clue.
It is 10am. I am due at Rose’s at noon. I already want a drink because I know that it will immediately assuage the nausea of my horrid hangover. The night before I was sitting on my regular barstool at a local Santa Monica bar, drinking red wine alone, when she called.
I finish my second glass of pinot noir and want to order another, but feel self-conscious about the short period of time I have been sitting here, on my usual stool, at my local drinking spot. They know I’m an alcoholic. My phone vibrates on the bar displaying Rose’s name. I pick it up, a perfect distraction to put off ordering my next glass for a few minutes. Maybe they’ll think I’m normal.
“Hey, Sicily, how’s it going.”
“All good,” I lie. “How are you?”
“Good. I just picked up four new types of weed from my friend’s dispensary, really good shit: God’s Gift, Phoenix Sun, Vortex, and L.A Woman. I hand picked them for our spiritual journey to the vortexes.”
“Wow, that sounds—potent,” I say, anxiety tickling my gut.
“I also got a new vaporizer pen, a few lollipops and a handful of candies.”
“That oughta do the trick,” I reply thinking of an off-handed comment a mutual friend, Eugene, made about Rose, whom I hardly know: Rose sure likes her weed, he said during a late night drinking binge. I felt like a kid on Christmas when Eugene suddenly remembered that Rose and her father left behind some weed and a smoking device at his house. At the time I had only met Rose and her father once, but as I smoked their weed, to compliment my already-seeing-double-drunkenness, I knew that I liked them.
“There’s only one change in the plan that I need to discuss with you,” Rose says now.
“What’s that?” I ask dismally, as I nod to the bartender’s would you like another glass gesture.
“My knee is giving me trouble, so I really can’t drive. We can still take my car and split the cost of gas, but would you mind driving the whole way? It should take about six hours. I hate to ask, but I would really appreciate it.”
The anxiety in my gut graduates from a tickle to a punch. This spiritual journey is starting to sound like a slippery slope. “Sure, no problem at all,” I say passive aggressively. “I’ll see you at noon.”
I hang up the phone and reach for my freshly poured pinot. I’m such a people pleaser, I think as I gulp unabashedly in an attempt to numb the anxiety. I have an uneasy feeling, but I keep telling myself that this spiritual journey to the energy vortexes of Sedona, Arizona has appeared in my life for a reason. It’s been too long since I’ve gotten out of L.A. Rose has offered a nearly all expense paid trip to Sedona for her aunt’s birthday. It has felt like an out of body experience planning this trip with Rose. It is unlike me to take off for a weekend with a girl I hardly know, but I have an agenda. My agenda has a mind of its own.
I flash back on the synchronistic chain of events that has led me to this pending spiritual journey.
I am slouched at my desk in the Sumner Redstone Building at Paramount Pictures. My boss is on a Transformers 3 call on the other side of the wall. The familiar buzz of his voice talking big numbers is comforting white noise. I haven’t had a drink in two days so I am feeling okay, other than the fact that I am miserable. I am cyber-stalking Rose Michaels’ Instagram page: @msroseinla. I have met her once before, five years ago. She is drop dead gorgeous. Eight years younger than I am. Dressed to the nines. Jet-setting around the country with her R&B superstar boss, PrettyBoy. Working in a state-of-the-art recording studio, where I would die to be, even though I love Paramount; I am never content where I am. Rose’s life appears like a fairytale splashed across Instagram in thumbnail snapshots. In every photo her legs appear longer, her designer dresses shorter, her tresses more luxurious, the musical stars (with whom she poses) shining brighter.
The industrial-sized printer churns behind me, signifying that my boss has printed out a document. I stand on cue, retrieve the P&L Report, staple it, highlight the name of the project: Transformers 3, walk it into my boss’s office and set it in front of him.
“Thank you,” he mouths, as always.
I sit down and resume my cyber-stalking as my boss spitfires numbers from his fresh P&L report. I ogle a photo of Rose standing in front of a recording mic in PrettyBoy’s studio. The caption reads: just recorded my first vocals! I am jealous. I am jealous that Rose is recording vocals in PrettyBoy’s studio. I am jealous that my songwriting partner, Natalie Gianni, is set to start a songwriting collaboration with Rose, without me. Rose and Natalie are in their late twenties. I am 37. I feel like a loser. They worship Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. I bow to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Maybe I am not a loser.
My cell phone vibrates from the desk. It’s Natalie calling from my apartment; she has been staying with me for the past month from Vegas while I pay her to work on a song with me. The song is called “DarkLight,” the first song I ever wrote all by myself on guitar. I am now paying Natalie and my guitar-master ex-boyfriend, Miles, to develop the song with me. I am paying them each five hundred dollars. I am paying for studio musicians, mixing and mastering. I am also paying for Natalie’s room and board while she is in L.A., and splitting the writer’s and publisher’s shares of the song equally, even though the song was fully written when we started development. I am always giving away the farm.
“Hello?” I answer, feeling weird about my stalking activities.
“Girl! I’m so excited!” Natalie gushes.
“What’s up?” I ask, afraid of her good fortune.
“Rose says I can bring you in on our songwriting session!”
Adrenaline sits me up straight in my chair. “Are you serious?” I ask, as manic sparks start to fire in my brain.
“Yes! I asked her if I could bring my songwriting partner and she said ‘yes.’ She wants to get a group of female writers together and wait till you hear the best part!”
“PrettyBoy is encouraging her to do it and says he’ll mentor us!”
“Aghhh!” I squeal in a whisper, as to not disturb my boss on his Transformers 3 call. “Oh my Gosh! Girl, this is huge!”
“This is it!” Natalie echoes my excitement.
“You know we made this happen, right?”
“We’re witches,” Natalie confirms.
“We wrote PrettyBoy’s name into “Beautiful Alone” two years ago and now we’re writing with his assistant. It’s pure manifestation.”
“We’re gonna get discovered. He told her that we should call ourselves Bitches that Write.”
“Eew!” I reply in disgust.
“I know, I don’t like it either, but, girl, who cares! He’s won twelve Grammys.”
“Right! Who cares! But, can I make one point?”
“Make whatever point you want, girl! We’re being discovered by PrettyBoy!”
“It should be Bitches Who Write not Bitches That Write.”
“Okay, well you can take that up with PrettyBoy when we’re writing in his studio! Can you leave work right at six? I told her we’d be at her condo by seven.”
“Hell, yes!” I said, “This is important.”
Gold records spinning in my eyes, I hang up the phone with Natalie and Google Terrance “PrettyBoy” Brewer.
Natalie climbs into my car parked outside of Rose’s condo for a little pre-songwriting session pow-wow.
“Should we listen to the Vortex Meditation one time before heading in?” she asks.
“Great idea, girl,” I reply, fidgeting with my iPhone to access my iTunes. “You wanna do ‘abundance’ or ‘relationships?’ I ask.
“Umm—let’s do relationships, since we’re starting a new collaboration.”
“Agreed,” I say, pressing ‘play’ on the Jerry & Ester Hicks relationships meditation.
Hypnotic music fills my Volvo, as Natalie and I close our eyes and breathe deeply, followed by Abraham’s soothing voice: “Welcome, we are extremely pleased that you are here. It is nice to have this opportunity to visit about relationships. Breathe in; breathe out. There is no subject of greater significance to you than relationships, for without others you could not be you. Breathe in; breathe out. The others with whom you share your planet are of tremendous value to you, even when you want different things. Your earth environment is large enough to accommodate all of the variety of interests, beliefs and desires. Breathe in; breathe out. Your differences are of great advantage in the stimulation of new ideas and are important to your expansion. Breathe in; breathe out…”
By the time we are finished in the vortex, fifteen minutes later, we are centered, calm and positively vibrating in unison: DarkStar Songwriting Team.
We approach Rose’s perfect Brentwood condo and punch in her code on the intercom. In the elevator, Natalie affectionately squeezes my arm, “Girl, I’m so proud of us. I’m so glad you are here with me.”
I smile back warmly, confused by my own jealous love for her, “Me too,” I say, wondering if she has invited me because she thinks she needs my lyrical ability, or because she wants to see me thrive right along side her. Our ten-year relationship has often been complicated—competitive—if not downright co-dependent; but there is no denying the love between us.
The door swings open and Rose stands before us in flesh and blood, donning designer workout attire and her tresses pulled back in a loose bun. Without a drop of make-up, she is undeniably striking, standing 5’9”, my exact height, with dark hair and eyes, opposite my coloring. Here I go comparing myself. Rose is a beauty and I feel dowdy, although, deep down inside, I know that I am not.
Rose welcomingly pulls us into her modern, ultra-feminine condo. Natalie gives her a loving hug and introduces us.
“Rose, this is my songwriting partner, Sicily Terrentini,” she says generously. “She’s a brilliant lyricist.”
Rose looks me up and down, mirroring my actions, and squints her eyes. “Nice to meet you,” she says in a tone that I can’t help but interpret as snotty.
“I’ve actually met you before. Five years ago at Disneyland,” I inform her, not at all surprised that I remember but she does not.
“Disneyland?” she asks confused, trying to place me.
“Yes, after the NAMM show. I was with Eugene. We met you and your family for dinner.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t remember you,” she says. “Eugene is like family to me,” she lets me know, in a tone that I can’t help but interpret as possessive, although I am likely projecting.
“Yes, I know,” I confirm. “He is one of my best friends. I used to live with him.”
“So, did I,” she counters.
“Yes, I know.”
“Cool,” she finishes the segment off-handedly, “Any friend of Eugene is a friend of mine! I’ve ordered Thai food. It should be here in fifteen. Do you ladies smoke?” she asks, then nods at Natalie, “I know you do,” she says, then turns toward me, “Do you?”
Natalie answers for me, “Hell, yea, she does. That’s all we do, smoke and write songs.”
“This is working already,” Rose says. “Follow me into Studio D,” she laughs loudly at her own humor and points to a piece of paper that she has taped to the second bedroom door boasting the title “Studio D” in colorful marker.
Studio D is small and dark with an immediately depressing vibe. Neon lights travel the perimeter and a lava lamp shines from the desk. It is equipped with an acoustic guitar and a keyboard, which feel like instruments that are never played. Pro-tools is up on a laptop; a recording mic is hot; and a Volcano Vaporizer warms in the corner. There is a vision board on the wall comprised of magazine clippings of Rose’s dreams and aspirations: her dream ass, her dream abs, a G-5, a dream house, Beyonce on stage, an image of Janet Jackson, a microphone surrounded by musical notes, an exotic island, etc. The room is wallpapered with affirmations: I am wonderful! I am loving and lovable! I am talented and funny!
Rose heads to the Volcano and loads a big fat bowl of medicinal marijuana from the grinder. She allows the balloon to fill with vapor and hands it to me.
“This weed is called Creativity,” she says. “I figure it’s perfect for our task.”
I take the balloon and admit, “I’ve never used one of these before.”
Rose looks at me like I’m an alien and Natalie comes to my rescue.
“Here, girl,” she says, operating the device and holding it up to my mouth, “Just inhale.”
As I inhale half the balloon, I am thinking that I simply come from a different generation of weed smokers. I am hyper-conscious of my age around these two; it is a feeling that I battle being around Natalie all the time. Now the twenty-somethinger has multiplied.
I pull away from the balloon and exhale the vapor in a slow stream and feel immediately anxious, regretful, paranoid. I have a love-hate relationship with marijuana at this point in my twenty-year smoking career, which has slowed down significantly over the past year or so.
“I’m good,” I say, and Natalie finishes off my balloon, before handing it back to Rose for a re-filling.
Natalie inhales a balloon and then I watch Rose inhale three entire balloons in a row. It is clear to me that she is not new to this act and there is a feeling of manic sorrow to her relationship with the vaporizer and the weed; it reminds me of my relationship with alcohol. Speaking of which, right about now, I would love a drink. I noticed a bottle of wine in Rose’s kitchen when I walked in and I know that a glass of it would take the insecure, self-conscious edge off; but two nights ago I got shit-faced and am trying to stay away from my poison.
The phone rings and Rose says, “Perfect timing! Thai food’s here!”
She buzzes in the deliveryman and heads to the front door. She signs off on the whole meal and I note her generosity.
The three of us sit down to a heavenly Thai spread accompanied by a roundtable conversation about where we each are in our plight in the music/entertainment industry. I am stoned, so it is hard for me to tell what is projection and what is reality, but I tap into a certain sense of destiny about our union, which is fused with a competitiveness, a cattiness, an insecurity that comes with three women coming together to accomplish a task when none of them is exactly where she wishes to be in life.
“Do you sing too, Sicily?” Rose asks.
“I do,” I reveal. “I write my own songs on guitar and sing them, but not in my collaboration with Natalie. I step aside for obvious reasons when she’s involved.”
“I can understand why,” Rose relates as we both look, rather longingly, at Natalie. “She has an amazing voice.”
“The voice of an angel. I always say that being around her makes me feel like I should never open my mouth again,” I throw out my praise with a tinge of envy, always; I can sense that my sentiment is shared by Rose, whom I have never heard sing, although I know from my Instagram stalking and her vision board that she has the desire. “Oh, to be able to sing like Natalie,” I continue. “She has been a voice for my words for nearly ten years.”
“You two are lucky to have that,” Rose says. “I wish I had a collaboration like that.”
“We co-write the words,” Natalie throws in, defending her position as a writer.
“And the melodies,” I add, defending my position as a musician.
“And now you do have a collaboration like that,” Natalie tells Rose, coveting her pending entrance into the PrettyBoy Enterprises, a longstanding dream of hers; although I must admit, I hardly know who PrettyBoy is, other than what I know from Natalie. She wants admittance into the kingdom and I want it because she wants it.
I segue, looking to Rose, “You and I have something in common,” I tell her.
“What’s that?” she asks.
“I once worked for a songwriter who mentored me, too.”
“Who’s that?” Rose asked.
“His name is Jake Easton; he wrote a bunch of songs for the Troubadours, James Taylor, Catherine Millay.”
Rose looks at me sideways and I am certain that she has no idea what I am talking about.
“I wrote a book about the experience,” I add, out of habit.
“Wow!” she says, “You really are a writer. I’d like to write a book about my life. Has it been published? I’d like to buy it.”
“Not yet,” I lament, shame stabbing at my heart.
“I think I should be a reality show,” Rose adds. “My life is amazing and my boss is my best friend. I tell Terrance everything,” she laughs. “He let me leave work early today so I could take my favorite aerobics class at the gym. He is encouraging me at this phase of my development to really go for it and become all I was born to be. He tells me that I have untapped potential.”
“Girl, that’s wonderful!” Natalie gushes, and I wonder if she shares my feeling as a pang of jealousy jolts through me in comparison of my situation to Rose’s. My boss is the EVP of Paramount Pictures. I generate the Business Affairs Agenda once a week containing every project that has been optioned, purchased, in production etc. I dream of my own novel and scripts listed on the agenda, but nobody ever helps me. I’ve been at Paramount ten years. Nobody throws me a bone. I’ve paid my dues and I’m still an assistant. On and on and on and on spins my “woe is me” rumination.
Our stoned-inhalation of Thai food has slowed down and Rose asks, “Are we ready to move this party into Studio D?”
“Girl, I was born ready!” Natalie says, and it’s true; I know she can’t wait to get on that mic.
Back in Studio D, Rose head straights to the Volcano and begins her routine of grinding, loading and filling. She shoves the balloon at me.
“I’m good, thanks,” I say, not wishing to exacerbate my anxiety.
She hands it to Natalie, “I’m good too,” says Natalie.
“Well, I’m a gangsta!” says Rose and proceeds to inhale another two balloons.
I can’t help but feel that Rose is labeling herself as a “gangsta” in order to justify a sabotaging habit that she wishes she could break, kind of like how I compare myself to Charles Bukowski in order to justify my alcoholism.
“You ladies ready to listen to some tracks?” Rose asks, when she’s finished vaporizing.
Natalie and I are always ready when it comes to songwriting.
“Yes!” we sing in unison.
Rose heads to her laptop and pulls up iTunes.
“Should we start with a couple of tracks that Terrance has already approved and suggested that we start with? Or a couple of others that I have collected from producer friends of mine?” she asks with a far-off, glazed over look in her eyes.
Natalie and I shoot each other a confused glance. Is she on crack?
“Uh, hmm,” I say with a tinge of sarcasm, “Maybe we should start with the one’s Terrance has approved.” I feel strange using his real name, instead of referring to him by his stage name: PrettyBoy. It feels like I am trying to act like I am personally connected to him, when I am not. Fame is confusing. Success is confusing. Being close to it. Feeling so far. The power-hungry pursuit. Chasing these dangling carrots. Aghhhh … I’m so tired of jumping through hoops, playing games, swallowing my talent. Can we please just write the damn song.”
“I second that!” Natalie blurts and heads to the mic. “Press play on the one he is most passionate about and let’s start.”
I am grateful to Natalie for being as driven as I am. We have that in common; when it comes to songwriting we are focused on execution.
“Is the lighting okay in here?” asks Rose.
“It’s perfect!” I say, in order to keep her on track, even though the place feels like a dank dungeon. “I love what you’ve done with Studio D.”
“Okay, cool; I just want to make sure we’re all comfortable.”
“Press play,” Natalie commands, and I can tell that she feels like I do, that we can almost touch it, taste it, feel it, and that Rose’s stoned distraction is keeping us from our destiny.
I take my laptop out and open up Microsoft Word, so that I can get my fingers moving once the music starts.
Rose presses ‘play’ and the sound of an energetic R&B track fills Studio D. Natalie starts vocalizing on the mic, random little melodies and adlibs which, of course, sound alarmingly tailor-made for the radio, and I am stung by my usual feeling of inadequacy where our collaboration is concerned; if even a word should come out of her mouth, maybe it will be discovered that I am obsolete, so I start typing whatever idea is closest to my surface: R-e-t-r-o-g-r-a-d-e.
I pull up the Internet, with the desire to spark my idea with inspiration.
“Mercury’s in retrograde,” I blurt out manically. “Feels like we’re flying backway! Here we are again trying to begin…”
“What does that mean? Backway? Is that even a word?” asks Rose with a blank stare, as Natalie immediately puts the words to her melody on the mic, sounding suddenly like a young, hip Janet Jackson, twenty-thirteen.
I read out loud from my Internet search, thinking that the strange, stagnant feel of stuck energy in Studio D, and this songwriting session with PrettyBoy’s gate-keeper assistant who has never before written a song, may be a manifestation of Mercury in retrograde:
(retrograde research starts here) “Three or four times a year, the planet Mercury slows down and appears to move backward in the sky for approximately three weeks as it orbits the sun. It’s an optical illusion, since there is forward movement, like speeding by a slow-moving train; as it recedes it appears to go backward. While delays and misunderstandings do seem to happen, there seems to be a magical trend that people and ideas return, for integration, resolution and more. As the planet of communication, Mercury retrograde tends to breed a certain level of confusion. Mercury rules our “lower” mind–how we perceive and interpret information that we receive from our environment, and how we relay that information to others. Mercury has rulership over such things as speaking, negotiating, buying and selling, listening, formal contracts, documents, travel, the mail and shipping, and so forth. All of these areas of life are affected when Mercury is functioning in a sluggish state. Decision-making is challenged during Mercury retrograde. Needless to say, it is not advised to sign contracts, engage in important decision-making, or launch a new business. Delays and challenges are more probable with Mercury retrograde. It’s a time when being careless with money, our personal information, or paperwork can be costly.
This period is best used for re-organizing and reflecting. We look at the world a little differently–through different filters–and can come up with some very important inner revelations. It may be difficult to communicate them under this influence, but not everything needs to be rationalized. Mercury retrograde periods can be times of heightened inner awareness, when meditation, benefiting from keeping a journal, reworking old plans, and reviewing past work are favored.
It is important to note that there is absolutely no reason to suspend projects or anything of the sort during the Mercury Retrograde cycle. It’s not an ideal time to start new ones or to sign contracts, simply because a change of mind is very possible once Mercury turns direct. However, it’s a fabulous time to do some “outside of the box” thinking. Acting on our ideas, however, might be best left for a Mercury Direct period.”
To press ‘play’ on The Pinkprint, Nicki Minaj’s third studio album, is to pierce the platinum artist’s heart and experience the beautiful but bloody contents as they come spilling out, sans filter. Minaj’s pulse is palpable in a musical statement that defines exactly where she is in her artistic process: raw and vulnerable, present and unveiled, confident and unapologetic; she steps further out on a creative limb than ever before.
All Things Go, the opening track of this nineteen song epic journey, a slow breathing, spaciously produced synth-rap track, eases in then musically builds, while lyrically hitting on impact with open, reflective honesty that sets the stage. Although the first words Minaj utters are: “Yo, I had to reinvent / I put the V in vent / I put the heat in vents,” the artist seems more so to be uninventing herself, paring down to her core, sharing her soul with fans. After a decade of presenting trend-setting music from behind a mask of tongue and cheek spitfire raps, alter egos, quirky accents, lavish costumes and bright, distracting colors, Nicki Minaj is finally allowing us get to know (the real) Onika Maraj, and it is a pleasure to meet her.
The Pinkprint comes with the confidence of the only female rapper who can flaunt, as she does on (track 7) Want Some More: “You seen that list? It was me, Baby, Jay-Z and Diddy,” in response to Forbes naming her the top female earner in hip-hop. With that confidence, Minaj crosses back and forth from her signature fast flow rap to melodic pop, from R&B to hip-hop, from hard-ass to introspective singer-songwriter who knows that her fans, and the music industry at large, have got her back; and, so, she is free to express herself.
Minaj ’s evolution is evident when comparing the exposed introduction into The Pinkprint with Roman Holiday, the opening track off her last studio album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded; an up-tempo wall of sound yanks us into a circus tent in which the star’s sassy alter ego, Roman, plays ringmaster with a thick British accent and a sardonic tone that veils the actually poignant lyrics of an artist not quite ready to reveal her unarmored, authentic self: “Take your medication, Roman / Take a short vacation, Roman / You’ll be okay,” as she admits to being overwhelmed by a fast-paced, high-profile life.
Minaj has since taken the aforementioned medication and vacation in the form of writing this new album, whereby achieving necessary therapeutic release of some painful issues, rapping about the murder of her little cousin and a teenage abortion in All Things Go; dissolving her tough exterior and confessing to intimacy issues that prevent her from allowing herself to love and be loved in I Lied: “Even though I said I didn’t love you, I lied, I lied, to keep you from breaking my heart.” She goes on to confess that behind her tendencies toward violence hides fear: “You’re just a heart breaker / Won’t let you break mine / ‘Cause I’ll be smashing windows and cutting them brake lines.”
Cinematic, driving and suspenseful, standout track, The Crying Game, with its infectious, plaintive hook, delivered with pristine vocals by UK singer-songwriter, Jessie Ware, grabs from the top and does not let go until the very last note, a bleak portrayal of a painful, doomed relationship “laced with drugs” and “blood dripping out your arm on my Asian rug,” “another slap to the face, another undercut,” Minaj confides with candor, “I’m just abusive by nature, not because I hate ya.”
The Pinkprint offers more than a traditional heart-spill, break-up album as Minaj takes a sharp turn with Get On Your Knees, co-penned by Katy Perry and co-vocalized by Ariana Grande’s sweeping pop pipes. The ladies flex their feminist muscles, assuring men they don’t “need a dozen roses,” “don’t need a pretty poet,” “let me sit on your face, it’s okay you could play with it,” “I’ma need you to beg for it,” seguing into Feeling Myself, a Beyoncé collaboration, ode to masturbation, in which the Flawless pair reunites to insinuate they can take care of themselves and Minaj ensures she, “ain’t gotta rely on top forty, I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap,” “Just on this song alone, bitch is on her fourth flow.”
Only, featuring Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown, effectively sets up the boys’ guest appearances with the startling declaration, “I never fucked Wayne, I never fucked Drake,” “If I did I’d Minaj wid him and let him eat my ass like a cupcake,” and while it may seem a necessary part of the formula to feature Minaj ’s male counterparts, it feels like a meandering break in the flow of feminine emotional impact that Minaj had successfully been building. Here, the album loses its pacing a bit, facing a challenge to redirect.
Although there are gems, both musically and lyrically, throughout the rest of the album it is apparent that, Minaj, certainly not one to dabble in cliché, hasn’t taken to heart that of “less is more.” Embedded amidst the aimlessness of the second act is Anaconda, the most notable commercial hit off the album to date, which samples Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back and relies on somewhat of a “fart joke” factor in grabbing public attention, not much more than a necessary evil. A selection of tracks could have been omitted, rendering the whole of the listening experience more thematically solid and memorable.
Fortunately, Minaj rounds it off, bringing the composition full circle to its initial impact with reflective, sorrow-tinged, pretty pop ballads like, the album’s first released single, Pills N Potions, Bed of Liesfeat. Skylar Grey and the gorgeous Grand Piano on which the artist refrains from rapping and leans entirely on her vocal chops, which boast an impressive range and absolute control of her instrument, leaving us with a cleansed palette. This is about as naked as we’ve seen this artist and we want more.
Nicki Minaj is a performer who continues to break ground, not only in the music industry, across genres, but also in her personal and artistic development. Hers is a well that runs deep, and after a few listens to Pinkprint, it is clear that she is in no present danger of hitting bottom. If she is not already there, she is heading toward icon status.