Jennifer Fossil was a 16-year-old woodwind prodigy from “money-earnin’” Mount Vernon in New York’s Westchester County—home of the legendary Pete Rock, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Heavy D, and a little-known jazz musician named Earl Fossil. Likewise, Earl was a woodwind specialist, who had played with such greats as Herbie Hancock, Donald Byrd, and Miles Davis.
Earl was Jennifer’s biggest influence, her idol, and her grandfather. All of their conversations were about music. He told her stories of the legends with whom he’d shared the stage during his heyday, and she shared with him the sounds of future legends who might someday impact music like Earl and his friends did.
The two of them seldomly agreed that any product of today’s music was as good as yesterday’s, but every so often, one of Jennifer’s Hip-Hop era artists would surprisingly pique Earl’s interest.
That’s what happened that afternoon as the two of them sat in Earl’s living room listening to a mixtape from two years ago called Martin & Gina, a rare glimpse into the relationships and love life of a Hip-Hop artist. The title, of course, was inspired by the cult classic TV comedy series from the 90s, Martin, starring legendary comedian, Martin Lawrence, who happened to be from DC.
Earl heard something in the young rapper’s music and it wasn’t just clever punchlines, crafty metaphors, and cunning similes. No, it was the superior use of the piccolo… He hadn’t heard anything like it in 40 years. And that was because 40 years ago was when he had played it for a recording on his first solo album from which this admittedly impressive Hip-Hop song had sampled.
Not knowing the proper steps to take, or if there were steps to take at all, Earl decided to let someone else hear it, so he phoned his old manager. But being nearly 80 now, the manager decided it’d be best if their old record label heard it, assuming they’d know better what to do. The record label, the publishing company, and their lawyers all came to the same conclusion…
Which is why that day in the coffee shop with Ty and J, just when I was about to get up to get a coffee, a man was standing at our table, smiling. He looked at Ty, and then J. Each of us looked at each other, trying to figure out who knew him—a skinny, middle-aged white guy, wearing a bike helmet and a coat that was seemingly too thin for the 45-degree temperature outside.
“Ms. Kenya Shaw?” he asked.
“Yes?” I said with suspicion.
He pointed an envelope at me and waited the two seconds it took me to accept it, before he said, “You’ve just been served.” And then he walked away.
I opened the envelope and pulled out a small stack of papers. I quickly skimmed the first few lines and realized right away what this was.
And I said aloud, “I’m being sued… for copyright infringement.”
That was yesterday. I’d been sitting on this information for an entire day now, not knowing what to do.
“So, in situations like this,” I said to Derek, as we sat facing each other at a little table for two at the Asian Bistro in Old Town Alexandria, “they do research. They know that we don’t have a significant amount of money to compensate them for the damages. So, this is about making an example out of us in order to, you know, teach us and people like us a lesson.”
We had already ordered and eaten, and I was still talking about what I had spent the entire evening talking about—my pending lawsuit. It was like I couldn’t help myself.
I looked over and noticed him silently looking back at me as I stopped for a moment, choosing to stare at the remaining bits of sushi left on my saucer in front of me.
“I’m sorry,” I said to him. “I’m just going on and on about this.”
Again, he didn’t say anything; he just looked at me, allowing me to continue to unravel right in front of him.
“I mean, we came here to have a nice… a nice dinner and all I’ve done is dump all of this on you like I don’t have anything else to talk a—”
“Kenya,” he said, finally stopping me. He waited until I was fully attentive, looking him right back in the eyes, before he said, “Can’t you see… I’m not going anywhere?”
I secretly exhaled. I often didn’t know if my music jargon-laden banter was irritating to the people hearing it, so I usually kept this kind of talk to a minimum. This was a special case though. I had never been faced with anything like this, so rambling was all I really could do.
“You’re scared,” he said. “I get that, but—”
“I’m not scared,” I said quickly, nearly cutting him off just to lie. I didn’t want him to see me scared about something else. I wanted to appear strong. He’d already seen me at my worst once before; I didn’t need anything else to expose me right now.
He looked at me, not believing a word I was saying, and he asked, “Then what are you if you’re not scared right now? Shit, I know I’d be.”
“I’m fine,” I said. “I just… I mean I know you’re listening, but I shouldn’t bother you with this lawsuit stuff.”
And then I unconsciously straightened myself in the chair as I prepared to change the subject: “How is your ah… program—the program you’re setting up with the city? How’s that coming?”
This made him snicker, as he flicked his eyebrows in a way that let me know that he noticed what I was doing and found it somewhat amusing. But he wasn’t falling for it.
He said, “You don’t want to bother me. But what if… I want to be bothered?”
I squinted and looked at him in the eyes before asking, “Do you like to challenge me for the fun of it?”
“You don’t find the charm in being challenged?” he asked.
“Like that,” I said. “Answering questions with questions.”
The table was silent for a brief moment as we looked at each other.
And then he asked, “Oh, you wanted an answer this time.”
He smiled. I didn’t.
“Look, I just… I don’t want to treat you like something you’re not,” I said.
“And what am I not?”
I lightly shrugged as I looked around the table to try and find an answer.
“You’re not my…” And I stopped. I didn’t want to say it, even though by this point, we both knew what I was thinking: he wasn’t my boyfriend. In fact, we had never labeled each other, and besides the occasional nickname, “Maestro,” I was just Kenya to him. And he was just Derek to me. Therefore, he had no real obligation to sit there while I vomited my emotions about something for which I could do absolutely nothing.
But I knew that this kind of thinking was just an excuse. Even if we had been officially “together,” with cute little “girl” and “boy” titles, I’d still feel regretfully embarrassed about this amount of transparency.
“Therapist,” I finished. “You’re not my therapist.”
And it was as if right then, in that moment, Derek realized something. He exhaled softly as he sat back in his chair, letting his eyes move away from mine and onto the floor. And then he began to look around the restaurant, which seemed to be filled with nothing but people sitting in couples or equal groups that would leave you to assume they were on group dates. There appeared to be a person for every person at every table. But when his eyes finally came back to us… it was as if he realized right then that with us, this just wasn’t the case.
So as a waiter walked by us—not the one that had been waiting on us all night—he extended his hand to stop him and say, “May I have the check, please?”
+ + +
+ + +
In another one of her stereotypically 21st-century attempts at therapy—the self-help seminar—Ty insisted that J and I join her for an evening with Dr. Mia Eleanor Spencer, a law of attraction YouTube vlogger-turned-author of such bestsellers as, Your Confidence is Your Key and Heart of Attraction.
We met Ty in front of the conference room at the Marriott Marquis and we all made our way in and to our seats together. She was already holding one of Dr. Spencer’s books, with which she’d planned to stay after in order to get signed.
Despite agreeing to come with her and even buying our own tickets, Ty felt the need to keep convincing us of why she was such a fan of Dr. Spencer’s: “She talks a lot about how we can use our minds in order to truly live and have the lives we desire. Detachment, you know, is just as important to attracting what you want as anything. Letting go is so important…”
She went on as we made our way toward the front—a benefit of being an hour early—and I couldn’t help but wonder whether, along with the other 500 people who would fill those chairs over the next hour, if we’d be talked into walking over fire or facing some other so-called mental blocks. I wasn’t sure if I was mentally prepared to face those kinds of fears just yet.
“You would be amazed at how much of what happens has to do with how we think,” Ty said. “Ask the Universe for what you do want, not for what you don’t want. It’s all in his book. It’s just… amazing—”
“So you brought us here with you because you think we don’t know how to think?” J concluded.
Ty considered how she was going to answer that question. “I think we could all do better. For instance, we’d all like to have better relationships, right?”
“Being single doesn’t have anything to do with my thinking,” I said.
She gave me a look with one eyebrow raised slightly higher than the other, and said, “Really? Why are you and Derek not together?”
I couldn’t argue with her. It had absolutely everything to do with my thinking.
And then she looked to J and said, “And you don’t have a house in DC yet because you keep telling yourself that you can’t afford it.”
“No, the list prices keep telling me I can’t afford it,” J said. “It has nothing to do with what I tell myself.”
“And that attitude…” Ty said, “is exactly why you’re still renting.”
J laughed. “Okay, so… you’re divorced because of your thinking? Not because you married a fucking asshole?”
Caught off guard by J’s candor, Ty took a moment before revealing, “Perhaps… had I been in an overall better place mentally, I would’ve attracted a different kind of guy.”
J and I looked at each other, baffled by this new and rather odd take on her own marriage.
“But wasn’t that shit arranged?” J asked, resistant to Ty accepting some responsibility in her failed relationship.
“It wasn’t arranged; it was… encouraged. Big difference,” she said.
She had met the guy who would eventually become her husband at the planning for a charity event overseen by one of her father’s companies. She was there on official business as a regular volunteer when her father brought him in and introduced him to everyone as the new Web guy.
Because he did such a good job on their new website, app, and other tech stuff, her father saw him as a hard-working, decent young man, and he was genuinely happy when he found out Ty was interested in him—the first time he’d ever been okay with a guy dating his only daughter.
The belief was that he came from a good family and understood the logistics of navigating the world of the elite. His mother was an epidemiologist that did a lot of work in the third world and his father was one of Georgia’s leading real estate developers.
What she didn’t know until later was that he was estranged from his family. He told her that it was because he and his father didn’t get along. And for that reason, his people were not involved in their wedding.
René White was the man of her dreams—always walked on the outside of the sidewalk, held the umbrella for her, ordered for her at restaurants, and always made sure she had his jacket on chilly nights out. He was perfect.
Soon after they were married, however, she found out the real reason he was estranged from his family—his gambling addiction had crossed the line when it introduced violence into their home. For their own peace of mind, they cut him off when was 20, and he’d chosen to never forgive them for that.
Once he had a wife, that side of him began to show rather quickly. He liked to gamble, he liked to entertain different women, and he liked to sometimes numb this pain with coke… What he didn’t like, though, was having to work. So, sometimes he didn’t—which slowly became none of the time.
It had not even been a year before Ty knew that it was not going to work. It took her almost another year before she was able to admit it to anyone else, and she still couldn’t bring herself to file any papers. It wasn’t until her father found out that René had embezzled money from one of his companies and told her outright that she had to “get out of this,” that she actually took herself away from him for good.
For the longest time, she would say that she had no idea how she could’ve attracted such an asshole. However, more recently—with the help of both her own therapist and Dr. Spencer, who we were about to meet—she was taking more responsibility for her role in that toxic relationship.
“There was red flag after red flag. I ignored it because marriage was something I desperately wanted and I was mentally forcing the issue,” Ty admitted reluctantly. “I mean… a big part of controlling your mind so that you can attract what you want is knowing how to not want it so much.” She shook her head and said, “I’m telling you, it’s really fascinating stuff. I can go on and on about this, but—”
“Come to think of it,” J said, cutting her off. “You make an interesting point. I’m having the worst luck with houses… and maybe it’s because I don’t really want them that much, but I still attract really great men.”
Ty rolled her eyes, regretting the fact that she had almost started to take J’s input seriously.
Despite Ty’s disinterest, J proceeded with her story anyway.
J currently lived in a brownstone in the Southwest quadrant of the city that had been converted into a three-unit apartment building. She had been living there since before the baseball stadium and the cool new renovations to the wharf—before it was somewhere people actually wanted to live. Despite all the great changes, though, J had noticed the increased police presence in her neighborhood lately. But what she didn’t notice was just how much they noticed her too… Until two days ago.
She seldom drove, but with Metro’s maintenance on the green line, and of course the recent changes to her budget for the sake of homeownership, she figured it was more economical to rent a car versus using a ride-sharing app everywhere she needed to go.
So, that afternoon, after having to park her rental car about a block away, she began the trek to her apartment in the rain. She hadn’t taken a step before she noticed a bright flash just as she closed the car door. She looked back and noticed a police car parked two spaces behind her. The window was down and the cop sitting in the driver’s seat was fumbling around with his phone.
“Hey!” she said, walking back toward him. “Did you just take my picture?”
Not exactly knowing how or if he should lie, he said, “Ah. I did. Yes.”
“Why?” she asked.
And again, he was stumped. He couldn’t come up with anything.
“I came to a complete stop at the stop sign. Looked both ways. I’m parked legally. So… what the fuck?”
She waited for an explanation, but he was still dumbfounded.
This pissed her off even more, and she said, “You know what? If I get a fucking ticket in the mail, I’m suing your ass and DCPD for harassment and wrongful ticketing—”
And that’s when he quickly got out of the car to hopefully calm her down and stop her from making more of a scene than the one she’d started.
“Wait, wait. I’m sorry,” he said. “Okay. I just wanted to get your attention. I guess I didn’t think it all the way through.”
J was confused, and she stood there waiting for a better explanation than this if he was going to change her mind about the lawsuit.
“You won’t get a ticket. It was just… the flash from my cell phone.” And he showed her that all he had was his cell phone.
Relieved, she finally cracked a smile.
“It’s just… I’m around here every day. I see you and think… you are just so beautiful,” he said. “I just wanted to meet you, that’s all.”
J told us, “I agreed to go out with him if he agreed to stop flashing me.”
“Yes, because the one thing you hate is guys flashing you,” Ty remarked, not even attempting to disguise her sarcasm.
J laughed anyway.
I noticed the tall, butterscotch complexioned guy standing in the aisle, staring down at Ty before either she or J paid him any attention.
But he interrupted their laughter by saying, “Excuse me, Miss? But don’t I know you?”
Ty looked up at him, and a smile appeared on her face before she furrowed her brow to ask, “Jean-Allen?”
She stood up as they embraced.
“Wow. Jesus. How’ve you been?” she asked.
“Great,” he said, as they came out of the hug and stared at each other, still smiling. “You look great,” he added.
“Thank you,” she whispered, almost brushing off his compliment, before turning to us and saying, “Oh. Jean-Allen, my friends: J and Kenya. This is Jean-Allen Phipps—”
“From a past life,” he said, joking.
“Jean-Allen actually accompanied me to my cotillion,” she said, and looked back at him, smiling as they perhaps remembered that event fondly.
Meanwhile, J and I shared a different look, like, “Cotillion? Really?”
J and I came from—let’s just say, a very different socioeconomic environment. When I was born, both of my parents were in college. I don’t know if it was because of me, but neither were four-year graduates; it took them quite some time to finish, as they both worked all kinds of jobs while balancing school. I was old enough to actually remember going to both of their graduations—my mom from University of Maryland and dad from George Washington.
The house I currently lived in with my father was actually the same house he grew up in. We lived there with my grandmother, who passed away when I was 15. It’s in one of DC’s most affluent neighborhoods—thanks to gentrification—and even though my dad did okay for himself now, if the house was on the market today, he wouldn’t be able to afford it, so we were lucky in that sense.
That’s all to say that my family was generally working class until relatively recently.
J, on the other hand, didn’t even fare that well. As an illegal immigrant with an illegitimate child, her mother got work when and where she could, mostly typical blue collar, daily jobs. When she couldn’t find work, she struggled to keep a place for the two of them to live and was even forced to stay in shelters on more than one occasion.
Fortunately, she was brilliant when it came to language arts and wisely chose to split time working and taking classes. By the time she started her career as a teacher, J was 16.
Like her mother, J chose education as her way up and out. Scholarship offers from Vassar, Vanderbilt, and Howard helped make that dream an easy one to follow.
So, even though cotillions have their place across various levels of social status, for J and I growing up, they were just things we read about in novels because—let’s just say—our parents had more important things with which to concern themselves.
Ty’s cotillion friend then said, “And if someone would have told me that you would be even more beautiful today than you were then, I would never have let my parents move out of Naples after that.”
As she blushed, Ty said, “I don’t recall you being so charming.”
“I was just a boy then. Now I represent one of the country’s best-selling nonfiction authors… of whom you are obviously a fan.”
J and I looked at each other again after noticing how blatant he was about wanting to reintroduce himself to Ty.
“Represent?” she asked.
“I run a successful literary management company,” he said. “Dr. Mia was one of my first clients.” He began reaching inside his suit jacket to retrieve something from the pocket. He pulled out a card and pointed it at her. “Listen, I would love to catch up. I can tell you all about how I convinced her to write her first New York Times Bestseller.” He smiled and said, “Give me a call.”
“I will,” she said. “It was good seeing you.”
They shared another smile as he walked off. Ty continued staring in his direction as she retook her seat.
“Doesn’t look like you have a problem with attracting the right things to me,” J said.
“He did not look like that when he was 16,” Ty said, discreetly.
That evening, I spent two hours learning all about the law of attraction, energy, and vibrations, and how my life might actually be different if I knew how to use these tools to my advantage.
Maybe Ty was right and Dr. Spencer was onto something. Could my thinking actually be affecting my fate?
+ + +
+ + +
It had been three days now since I’d been subpoenaed, and with the potential lawsuit still fresh on my mind, I made an urgent request to see January in order to get clarity about what to do next.
She sat on the front of her desk giving me her undivided attention as I sat just a few feet away on a chair facing her.
“We first started working together after Taj came to me asking for help with an already completed album. So I began working with him,” I explained. “We printed a few hundred copies and put some stuff online for people to download. I was still learning the ropes, you know: trying to get a full understanding of how to run a label. How to run a business, actually. The authority that I have now over things, I didn’t have then—”
“Because the project was already done when he came to you,” she finished.
“Exactly,” I confirmed.
She stood up and said, “So, would you say that technically, his first album wasn’t released under 16:9 Recordings?”
I took a deep breath, knowing exactly what she was asking me. “I guess not, technically,” I admitted. “I didn’t incorporate the business or even start using the name until about a year later. Does it matter that we didn’t even make that much money with it? Most of the online copies were given away—”
“This isn’t about whether you sold the music or even profited from it in any way,” she said. “This is about the fact that it was used unbeknownst to the owner and without permission. Allegedly,” she added for good measure. “In other words, this is a lawsuit about principle. And respect.”
I already knew this, and so I just took a very deep breath and let it out with a quick, frustrated blow.
“Okay, you could do one of two things,” January continued. “The first would be to remove yourself and your company from the lawsuit. You could argue that the property in question was not your responsibility, but that solely of the artist.”
I unconsciously shook my while staring at the floor as I thought about it. She could obviously tell that this was not an option I was going to take.
“And what’s the other of the two things?” I asked.
January stared at me for a moment, perhaps silently disagreeing with my decision not to entertain the first option.
So she said, “The only other thing would be to concede defeat. Acknowledge your company’s responsibility and try to negotiate a settlement.”
I took another one of those deep breaths, realizing what I was faced with now, as January just stared at me with a long, heavy face, filled with sympathy.
She said, “I’ll… make a few calls—see if I can find someone willing to help you.”
* * *
Everyone around me was in the market for a little help. Tk still desperately needed a proper manager, so he decided to hire Ava Toussaint, a former major label exec who currently represented two successful Hip-Hop artists.
He’d met her at a show about a year ago, and the two of them stayed in touch via social media. He appreciated that she shared and “liked” everything he posted, so he recently decided to reach out to inquire about her services. She was more than willing to meet.
Ava was originally from Minneapolis but was now based close to us in Baltimore, where she’d moved a year ago after finally getting married again.
I’m not being judgmental when I say, “finally.” These were her exact words when she was telling us her story over lunch at a quirky, politically themed burger joint on Capitol Hill.
Ava came from a very devout Muslim family in Minnesota, who picked out a husband for her before she was 17. She eventually married this guy, and for three years, she played the role of doting wife, even reassuring her commitment by having a baby, despite living in perpetual misery.
Although he hadn’t been physically abusive, she almost wasn’t sure if the emotional toll wasn’t worse. She didn’t go into the specifics, but she did say that according to him, she wasn’t good for anything except exactly what she was doing right then at 21, being his wife—and was only half decent at that.
I noticed a slight twinkle in her—even almost a smile—when she told us about the call she’d gotten one evening, just as they were entering their fourth year as a couple, saying that he husband and the father of her child was dead.
“Not even a month after we buried him, I left Minnesota and moved to New York,” she said. “Dead or not, I was going to prove to him that I could be more than he ever knew.”
So, she got a degree in music business from NYU, moved up from her entry-level secretary position at Def Jam to one of their junior VPs in artist development in just four years. From there, she moved around from one label to the next, getting better positions each time.
Everything was great while in New York, but the further she got away from age 30, the more she heard complaints from her mother about not being a proper woman. She said it didn’t bother her and that she understood her mother’s words were just a cultural difference. But to me, using words like, “finally got married,” sounded a little bit like she had a clock on this as well. Just saying.
So about two years ago, she was introduced to a guy who her friends said was, “really ready to be married again.” He had also been married before. It didn’t take him a full six months though to propose to Ava, and they were married within a year.
Oh yeah, he lived in Baltimore, so she moved from New York to Baltimore just after their ceremony. Even though, by this point, she had transitioned from working in an office to overseeing artists’ career more intimately, which allowed her to run her own business from home, Baltimore wasn’t exactly ideal, but there was the obvious “pro” of having a husband, which outweighed the “con” of being single at 40, even if it was better for business in New York.
“Well, from what I can see, there’s a lot here that needs to be fixed,” she said to us while looking at her laptop, perhaps at the media kit I’d sent her.
“No doubt, there’s some work that needs to be done,” I said in our defense. “But I was able to implement sales strategies that enabled him to not have to sell CDs out of the trunk of his car.”
“Which is good because I don’t even have a car,” Tk added.
“But at this point, he should be much further along. Maybe if he had been selling CDs out of a trunk, his numbers would be better,” she said, matter-of-factly.
Ava was… I’d describe her as “prickly.” Even working in the music business all these years, I had never met someone who seemingly intentionally made people feel like they should be honored to be in her presence. And I’ve met people whose presence I was actually honored to be in, and even they expressed niceties to warm up the room.
Not Ava though. Something was ice cold about her. The only smile I detected the entire meeting came when talking about—what I would now determine was an opportunity out of Minneapolis—her husband’s death.
She sighed and said, “No worries. It’s on my very long list of things to fix.”
I silently thought to myself, “Wow,” as Tk and I caught eyes for a moment, perhaps both thinking the same thing as we just accepted the insult.
“So ah…. Is there anything else you need from me?” I asked.
“No,” she said, closing out some programs on her laptop, apparently finishing up here.
But then she stopped and changed her mind as she remembered something: “Yes. Taj tells me that currently there’s a legal situation?”
I inhaled, wishing that he hadn’t told her, or anybody, about this. But before I could respond, he jumped in to explain.
“I just told Ava that you would fill her in. I didn’t know how much I should or… shouldn’t say.”
Finishing another deep breath, I said, “It’s okay. Ava, you don’t have to be concerned. I’m handling everything and it won’t affect your situation with Taj.”
“But if I’m going to be his manager, don’t you think I need to know everything that’s going on?”
I almost smiled as I said, “Absolutely.” But then I added, “And anything that directly deals with Tk, I’ll keep an open dialogue with you—”
“I don’t like secrecy, Kenya,” she cut in. “And this sounds like a deliberate attempt to conceal information that could affect the dynamic of his future with this… label.”
“But I’m telling you that it won’t.”
She kept her eye roll to just 180 degrees, not a complete 360-degree roll, but just enough to express her dissatisfaction as she said, “And your obvious avoidance of the topic makes me question how truthful you’re being about my not having to worry.”
Tk looked at me, but I just continued to look at her, and she continued to look at me.
So very politely, I said, “The legal situation is an internal issue—with the record company—and it neither concerns nor will it affect Tk in any way. And since your job is with him, not the label, the lawsuit does not concern you. So, with all due respect, as the chief executive officer of this company, I don’t believe that it is in the organization’s best interest to divulge the details of any legal situation to outside parties unless absolutely necessary. Or preferably until the matter has been resolved.”
And with that, she simply closed her laptop, albeit slightly harder than maybe she intended, and told Tk she would talk to him later.
We got up to leave too once she was gone, and Tk thought it would be funny to cut the leftover tension by making a high pitched growling noise to insinuate a catfight he’d just witnessed.
“Don’t do that,” I said, shaking my head.
He just laughed. “I know. She can be a little… intense. But she has a lot of experience and she knows how things are supposed to be done. I’ll talk to her.”
We exited the restaurant, and once we were outside, Tk stopped and said, “Thank you,” without looking at me.
He was very serious now. I might even call it emotional.
So I asked, “For?”
He looked at the ground, perhaps to find the right words. But in typical succinct, Tk fashion, he just said, “Man, everything.”
I knew better than to prod. After a few minutes discussing our upcoming schedules, which included meeting up several more times that week, we went our separate ways.