Image by Tara Jacoby, featuring the shade artist at a young age.

Well folks, this is it. I now find it difficult to even remember the origins of Shade Court, though I do clearly remember, like many things in my life, it was born out of my frustration. Frustration at watching publication after publication misuse this wonderful, beautiful word and all the rudeness and arrogance it entails. I manifested my degree, clerked with none of your damn business and found myself sitting atop the most revered court in the land.

But it hasn’t always been easy. Even today, the New York Times found a way to test me with a sad and incorrect definition of shade that is so sorry as to not even be worth the court’s full attention. No, I may have made little dent with the thirsty headline writers of the internet, but there was a change—with you all, the readers. You’ve listened and learned and now you know better. You are the ones who must go out into the world and called out the misuse of shade when you see it, and revel in the glory of well thrown shade when it blesses you. Thank you for learning. Thank you for believing. Thank you for reading.

Shade Court Docket #2017JZ000083

Images via Getty.

The Case: If you have room in your brain for such matters, you’ll recall Josh Peck and Drake Bell have severed the sacred ties of their Nickelodeon-contracted bond. Things really got serious when Josh didn’t grant Drake an invite to his recent nuptials. Instead of being happy he dodged the bullet of spending $300 on towels for other people and making small talk with other people’s relatives who say vaguely racist things about your hair, Drake got upset and tweeted through it.

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But you know who was invited to the wedding? John Stamos. Which, honestly, is fair. There are very few events I wouldn’t at least consider inviting John Stamos to. Anyway, John recently posted to Instagram this bro-themed picture with his best buddy, Josh Peck.

The Defendant: Cosmopolitan

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The Evidence:

The Deliberation: This is so rude!!!

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I find it a little difficult to believe John Stamos has some sort of specific and passionate dislike of Drake Bell (though maybe he knows what Josh knows and Drake doesn’t). Largely, John Stamos seems like kind of a dick, but in a good way, which would explain much of this.

What’s great here are the many interpretations one could have of this post. It could conceivably be taken as John making a fun, slightly homoerotic joke about his friend Josh. But it can also easily be seen as a dig at Drake—taunting him for not getting an invite to the wedding and rubbing in the fact that John gets to be friends with Josh while Drake is off doing, I really have absolutely no idea the hell what. I love shade that’s utilitarian.

The key piece of evidence for me is the fact that John said “I was invited to the wedding.” He could have phrased that differently but this feels intentional and rude. At the same time, he doesn’t say anything particularly untrue. It gives John that necessary, “Who? Lil ol’ me? I just wrote a funny caption” kind of deniability and enough subtly to qualify as shade.

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Given their history in this court, it sort of pains me to hand Cosmo a win in this final Shade Court, but I’m for shade truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for shade justice no matter who it is for or against. I am a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits shade as a whole.

That’s how that Malcolm X quote went, right?

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The Ruling: Shade

Shade Court Docket #2017JZ000084

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The Case: A recap: Taylor Swift does not get along with the Kardashans after Kim Kardashian ethered her in front of millions on Snapchat for being a lying liar. It would stand to reason, then, that she wouldn’t be on great terms with the Kardashian-adjacents known as the Jenners.

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It also seems safe to say that while once casual acquaintances or bored frenemies, Kendall Jenner and Taylor Swift are now simply regular celebrity friends, which is to say, they hate each other. Kim all but confirmed this recently.

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One of Taylor’s OG squad members who may or may not still be on the payroll is Karlie Kloss. Fine? Fine. Over 4th of July weekend, Kloss was spotted in Paris posing for pictures with Kendall Jenner. Fine? NOT FINE (if you are an obsessive Taylor Swift fan)!

The Defendant: BuzzFeed, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Inquisitr

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The Evidence:

The Deliberation: This is probably confusing if you’re not someone who particularly cares about how Taylor Swift spends her free time. Taylor Swift really loves the 4th of July because she is an American who used to sing country music, dagnabbit. Last year, Swift held a huge photoshoot designed to look like an actual party. There were very thin white women in bikinis and water slides and documentation of Taylor’s totally and completely, honest-to-god valid and very real relationship with Tom Hiddlesworthsmithpencetuppenceabag.

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I love the indignation among Swift fans over Karlie not only hanging out with a Kardashian-adjacent, but on THE FOURTH OF JULY. Still, I have my doubts. For starters, I don’t think Karlie Kloss is deft enough for shade. Honestly, I know nothing about this woman other than that she’s a model and is friends with Taylor Swift but that’s sort of all I really need to know, isn’t it?

Plus, the shots of Karlie and Kendall are rather innocent and nondescript. It really looks like they happened to be at the same event and each just radiated towards the other skinny, rich white girl with millions of Instagram followers in the room. There doesn’t seem to be much else to it. Karlie didn’t post a shady caption or a recreation of that group bikini shot or any number of more sinister options.

Assuming Karlie and Taylor are actually good friends, this is really just kind of a dick move. But not all dick moves are shade. This may perhaps be a controversial ruling, but I am Judge Brown and not only do I live on the edge, I bought the deed, tore it down, built a beautiful new property and will sell it at a profit after the neighborhood has fully gentrified.

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The Ruling: Not shade

Shade Court Docket #2017JZ000085

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The Case: On his latest album, 4:44, Jay-Z says a lot. One song, “Kill Jay Z,” finds the rapper dissecting his sins and considering what might happen to his family if he doesn’t make a change.

I don’t even know what you woulda done

In the Future, other niggas playin’ football with your son

The lyrics are a damn clever reference to the rapper Future, whose ex-fiancée, Ciara, moved on with her life and found a husband who loves both her and her child.

On another track off the album, Jay lectures presumably younger rappers about business acumen and withdrawing thousands of dollars worth of cash so they can pose with it for Instagram posts:

Y’all out here still takin’ advances, huh?

Me and my niggas takin’ real chances, uh

Y’all on the ‘Gram holdin’ money to your ear

There’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here, yeah

Got it?

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Future “responded” to the lyrics with the following Snapchat post:

The Defendant: Hollywood Life

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The Evidence:

The Deliberation: Now, you might be thinking: Huh, wait a minute. Jay Z specifically dragged Future about being a negligent father. Why is he focusing on the money thing?

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That would be an excellent question!!!

I mean, technically Future could be one of the targets of Jay’s “do it for the gram” slam, but why take issue with the thing you’re maybe being called out for instead of the thing you’re DEFINITELY being called out for? If anyone out there drinks lean regularly, maybe they’ll have some answers for me.

The thing is, had Jay been addressing Future directly about taking dumb photos with stacks of money, Future’s Snapchat might have been kinda shady—not clever or particularly good shade, mind you, but I might have given in.

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There’s also a logical fallacy at play here. Is it really shade if you’re trying to shade someone over the wrong thing? I would argue, nah, not really. I don’t know guys, maybe Future got confused. Maybe Jay-Z’s intricate wordplay and metaphor was too much for Future. Or, maybe he was high and forgot about the real diss. Yeah, that’s probably it.

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The Ruling: Not shade

Shade Court Docket #2017JZ000086

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The Case: The city of Chicago recently installed a new art sculpture across the street from Trump International Hotel and Tower. The piece stands 6 feet tall and spells out “REAL FAKE” in metallic gold. The result, is this:

The Defendant: New Now Next

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The Evidence:

The Deliberation: Now, there are a few more layers here. The sculpture was originally displayed at Art Basel back in 2013, so it’s not like Chicago went out and commissioned this. Plus, back in 2013, the words “Trump” and “president” elicited the maniacal laughter of our sweeter, less nuclear war-to-be days.

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When asked about the art, a representative for the city said: “What’s wonderful about art is that it is completely open to interpretation.”

And now it all falls into place.

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Look, I get that this wasn’t specifically designed to fuck with Trump, but it’s all just a little too convenient. That spokeswoman sounds like she definitely delivered that statement while stifling a chuckle. Plus, the city knew what this sculpture was, where it would be headed and what the setup would look like. I have to believe they could have easily relocated this piece or simply not displayed it at all, but here we are. In the land of Obama.

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While at first it does seem too obvious, coupled with their rather valid denial of any intentionality and “LOLZ emoticon shrug” attitude about the whole thing, I’d say the city of Chicago channeled their Broadway equivalent and pulled off some damn good acting. Oh yeah, guys, *wink wink* we totally *wink wink* believe you.

The Ruling: Shade


When I ended Shade Court for the first time, I stopped because I felt like I’d done all I could for these ingrates. I had explained shade as best I could, I’d been as funny as I could, and YET.

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However, more than anything, I felt blocked. It’s hard to feel like you’re being funny and entertaining when you’re trying so hard to be funny and entertaining. I assumed that because I’d been having a difficult time, it showed in my work and you all deserved better than that.

But then I got an email. In my inbox landed a note from someone calling themselves Jamaica Kincaid. Surely this was not the actual Jamaica Kincaid, I convinced myself, because why is she reading Shade Court and emailing me about it? Turns out, I have no idea what I’m talking about because it was totally her. After considered her note I realized: Well, damn. I have to bring Shade Court back now.

And I’m so glad I did. I stopped because I’d lost some confidence in my work for this particular column. However, one shocking, beautifully composed and absolutely perfect request changed all that.

A Fan Writes to You

Dear Ms. Brown,

Please, please bring back Shade Court. I miss seeing the picture of that wonderful wise little girl on Fridays but most of all, I miss your writing. You are so funny, so keenly observant, so deep, so necessary. Your Michelle Obama column was the best thing I have read in a long time, certainly the funniest. I won’t say more but please know that I admire you tremendously and I miss you on the page (so to speak) very much.

Sincerely,

Jamaica Kincaid

And with that, court is adjourned.