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Fenty And Pyer Moss Model JoAni Johnson Knows The Art Of Being Present

When a 2016 Allure video segment on beauty and aging with grace hit the internet, one of the three subjects immediately held the attention of the masses hostage. It was hard not to quickly fawn over the 60-something woman’s sleek, mature looks, palpable wisdom, gripping gaze, and grounded sense of self. Three years later, that same model, JoAni Johnson, continues to display her elegance for video campaigns, strut down the runways of the designer elite, and stare down cameras for high-stakes fashion photoshoots.

But JoAni Johnson the person barely even likes photos. The 5’4” model with more-salt-than-pepper hip-length tresses waves off compliments about her edgy portfolio. So far, she has photographed for Vogue, ELLE and Essence magazine shoots and campaigns like Pyer Moss, Ozwald Boateng, and most recently, the debut of Rihanna’s Fenty luxury line. However, for the Caribbean American woman—while born in Harlem, her family hails from St. Elizabeth, Jamaica—gratitude and humility run richly through her veins.

In fact, she considers herself to be a tea blender and specialist before the shinier profession that kicked off in her 60s. That, and a mother, which makes her role as a spokesperson for Vaseline’s #ListenToYourMoms campaign all the more fitting. “#ListenToYourMoms speaks to me because as a proud mom, continuing to keep traditions alive and passing it onto the next generation of beautiful and strong women in my family, is important," Johnson said. "Throughout my life, my beauty regime has remained simple and the knowledge of the versatility coupled with the healing powers of Vaseline Jelly, has always been a trusted 'go-to' for generations of women in my own life.”

Her successful modeling career has admittedly been a whirlwind of excitement, nerves, glamour, risks, and stepping way outside of her comfort zone. However, above all her main goal is to stay present and take in each and every moment as it comes. While taking a break from overseeing a New York photoshoot, Johnson opened up about the art of living in the now, how beauty and self-care are intertwined, and all the lessons she’s learned from motherhood.

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VIBE: You’ve been the face of so many notable campaigns this year, like Fenty and Pyer Moss. Would you describe your modeling journey as something that you've planned or more serendipitous? JoAni Johnson: Totally serendipitous, I did not plan this. If you would've asked me two and a half years ago or told me that this would be my life, I would have told you are insane. It happened by chance. The universe has been very, very good to me and I'm just very grateful.

 

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Enormous thanks and love to @Badgalriri (a true visionary!) and @LVMH for choosing me to be on the right side of history with you, as unapologetic fashion game-changers. Representation matters. It always has and this @Fenty campaign is so excellent and so important for multiple reasons in 2019. The marathon certainly continues. #DisruptAllFashionRules #greyhairdontcare #Fenty Shot by @_glen_luchford

A post shared by JoAni Johnson (@joanijohnson6000) on May 28, 2019 at 8:40pm PDT

In terms of the serendipitous journey to modeling, what was that opportunity that you seized and said, "This could be right, this could not be but let me take it?" I didn't even really think about it. I did not get involved in this of my own. My husband encouraged because I just didn't think it was for me. I come from old-school [train of thought] that said you had to be a certain something in order to be successful. When he encouraged me to—it's so funny, I'm not very fond of photographs of myself. It's gotten a lot better in this new world but in the past with the limitations even in cameras, that industry has expanded. We're getting much more quality photographers. Everything has changed and it's all happening at once, so in the past I've never been very happy with photographs of myself.

How did you, looks of photos aside, to be in front of the camera takes a certain confidence just the presence of being there, how did you I guess? Who's confident? (Laughs) Whenever I do something, it's about being in the moment. This is what the universe has presented me with, I am blessed. I am doing the best that I can in that moment. What is the artist, photographer, make-up artist, hair [stylist], what are they looking for? I am just the muse or the conduit. What is the designer looking for? I shared with someone earlier, I don't look at the photographs, I'm not that person. It's your vision, I am just here to carry out your vision.

What things have you learned about yourself in terms of personal style? My idea of me is different than I am. I grew up in a world where I read Ebony fashion for the glamour in them, but on the real side I fight with myself because I will get things that are really glamorous but it's hard for me to wear them because it attracts people’s attention. It's not that I don't care for it, but it's hard. I'm me. I want people to know the human not the outside, the human. It's more important because we're all beautiful. We all have certain gifts that the universe has bestowed on us, it's for us to find it and to share it.

Let’s talk lineage and the things that we pass on to each other, whether it's our friends, our families. What things have you taken from your mother figures that molded who you are, and that you would in turn pass to those who see you as a mother figure? The biggest influences on me as a child were my grand aunts. They were hardworking beautiful women who had such a sense of style and I'm from Jamaican background, so there's a certain expectation that you were taught. You would call it refinement or whatever but it was the English way, that's where it came from. Good, bad or ugly, that's where it emanated from and they were always very stylish. I watched them as my image of beauty and how they cared for themselves, whether it was using Vaseline on their skin or their nightly rituals of taking it off and washing and I was fascinated. It also showed me their doing it was an expression of their love for themselves and also a relaxation, like they were treating themselves. They worked so hard but it was their time with themselves that they chose to carve out because they didn't have to do it. They carved out in their day to really reward themselves with the hard work that they had endured.

So then how do you carve time out for yourself? What is your relaxation look like? I have passed that on to my daughters as well and my mother was also part of that because she learned from them. She taught me and then I passed it on. How do I do it now? I am a tea specialist, tea consultant, tea blender. Taking that time to sit down and make yourself a cup of tea takes time. Just taking that time, that special time for you to stop and just relax.

Whether I am doing a face mask—and I do a lot of them with tea as a base. I do that once a month with tea as a base and then use the Vaseline to moisturize. I love face massages and I can't afford to pay for them. I have to do it myself and I think Tracee Ellis Ross was showing the [jade] roller that she used, I got one. The simplistic things in life, moisturizing my skin with Vaseline and then using the roller, that's relaxing.

For me it's what I owe myself because nobody is going to do it for me. We would like to think that we got it that way and you know people look at me in this role and think it's so glamorous, and it is. There's parts of it that are absolutely glamorous—when I get to wear a Prada suit, just to see the workmanship and admire the thought that they put into creating something like that and I get to put it on. There's the other times when I'm not in that world, what am I doing to take care of me?

What do you learn from now your children? With Vaseline’s campaign, the idea is to listen to your mothers and your mother figures and take what they've put into your life, but what have you taken from them? It's a two-way street, learning is both ways. What have you learned from your children? My daughters teach me that no matter what we have a responsibility in this world that we're in. I came up in the age of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, there was a struggle there was I was in, there's stories about that but you'll read it in my memos. My girls have another journey and they teach me it's got to be done daily.

My oldest and I were walking down the street and she's got like this vision, peripheral vision and she sees this elderly woman—and I say elderly only because it's a way to describe [her physically]—and she was waiting for the bus. She had packages and was trying to hail a cab and they wouldn't stop. My daughter out of the corner of her eye saw it and she walks over to her and she says, do you need a cab? The woman said yes. I did not see that. Because I am in my life, I don't have that. I wasn't gifted with that kind of vision so she teaches me to be more observant with what is going on around.

When I was growing up, we closed off. I lived in a really tough neighborhood at the time and you just closed off. You just kept it moving from one space to another. My daughter is not like that and she has taught me to be more observant and to be more generous with showing the humane qualities.

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Pharrell Comments On Rihanna's Upcoming Album

Rihanna is an expert at trolling. Recently, the mogul teased fans with a video of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta’s Karlie Redd having a meltdown, which serves as a metaphor for how the #Navy would react to Rih releasing an album this year. For a period of time, fans have been waiting for Ms. Fenty to release a full-length project since 2016’s stellar Anti.  

Now, clues hint at a possible collaboration with Pharrell on the forthcoming album. Per Billboard, the producer commented on Rih’s latest post with a globe emoji, adding, “They ain’t ready.”

 

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Nobody: Me: Album coming in 2019 Navy in July:

A post shared by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on Jul 11, 2019 at 11:22am PDT

After 3 years of silence, Fenty boss #Rihanna is about to release a new album, and looks like she'll be working with Pharrell.

Who's excited? 😍 pic.twitter.com/8Y5YpSYTYZ

— Calitunes (@CalitunesMedia) July 13, 2019

In 2017, the N.E.R.D producer and Rihanna collaborated on "Lemon," which did relatively well on the Billboard charts (No. 36 on the Hot 100). In a recent interview with T Magazine, the "Diamonds" singer joked that the album would be titled R9. “I’m about to call it that probably, ’cause they have haunted me with this ‘R9, R9, when is R9 coming out?'” she said. “How will I accept another name after that’s been burned into my skull?”

She also mentioned that the album would be a sonic representation of reggae and dancehall. However, some members of her coveted fanbase have been skeptical about the alleged collaboration with Pharrell.

we don't want Sweetener 2.0

— Kristine (@__kristine_h) July 12, 2019

If the song is not iconic bop don't ever get your ass close to Rihanna. We might whoop your ass otherwise @Pharrell Williams pic.twitter.com/28mEdZl1Se

— FEN☕ (@RihannaNepal) July 13, 2019

Wait a minute. Is Pharrell working on Rihanna's album??????????? pic.twitter.com/i1s6BUDvQR

— pettylilbuyer (@PettylilBuyer) July 13, 2019

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Gina Torres attends The Hollywood Reporter's Empowerment in Entertainment event 2019 at Milk Studios on April 30, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
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For Gina Torres, The Mission Is Afro-Latina Excellence In Her New Series 'Pearson'

"I do know about power, and if you sit still, you won't have any."

That’s what the formidable Jessica Pearson, a disbarred New York lawyer who enters Chicago’s dirty politics as a fixer, warns her new boss, the mayor, in the trailer for the forthcoming Suits spin-off series, Pearson.

For fans of the eight-season USA Network legal drama, Jessica’s tough-talk and self-assurance is par for the course. Exuding power from the top of quick-witted head to the tips of her pointy stilettos, Jessica isn’t intimidated by status. An opportunity to tell the man how it only bolsters her own vigor. She’s commanding, incredibly skilled and feared–and she knows it. She’s the kind of powerhouse woman Gina Torres, the Cuban-American actress reprising the role, has taken on throughout her lengthy career.

“I’m very fortunate to play strong, significant women,” Torres, 50, tells Vibe Viva. “It’s been an incredible blessing and one I didn’t see coming early on.”

The Manhattan-born, Bronx-raised Torres got her start on the soap opera One Life To Live but has made a name for herself bringing sci-fi badasses to life. Famously playing Zoë Washburne, an ass-kicking fan favorite in Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly, the Afro-Latina actress was also Nebula, a Sumerian princess and pirate in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys; Jasmine, a demon who takes human form and devours people into her super slaves in Angel and woman warrior Hel in the two-season Cleopatra 2525–a role that won her an Alma Award.

The sci-fi goddess, who also had roles in Hannibal, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias and Westworld, says she, like many aspiring actresses, initially pined for the coveted girlfriend part in films and shows about the mundane life of some American man. But she was rarely cast as anyone’s sweetheart. Instead, she says, each snub guided her down a more fulfilling theatrical path.

“I got to play far more interesting roles,” she says.

For Torres, Jessica’s comeback in Pearson is an evolution of all the fierce women she has played in the past. Unlike in Suits, where the character, a former managing partner at New York law firm Pearson Specter Litt, is somewhat of an enigma, its spin-off, which sees Jessica as its lead, introduces viewers to the complexity of an influential woman of color who understands her might and value.

She is, to quote Torres, a “fully realized human,” who we see restarting her life in the Windy City, navigating the cutthroat, grimy political world as the mayor’s right-hand, grappling with relationship woes that stem from her controversial career transition and reconciling her incessant impulse to win by any means necessary with her drive to do the right thing.

“As I have evolved over the years, as a woman and as an actress, Jessica is a beautiful realization of so many roads taken and not taken. It’s why I think this character will resonate with a lot of professional women,” Torres says. “It shows the sacrifices it takes, the things you have to go through and let go along the way, the rewards and benefits you gain as well as the peace you have to make with it all.”

The idea for the gripping new series, where Torres will make her co-executive production debut alongside Suits veterans Aaron Korsh and Daniel Arkin, came to the actress while she was home watching the 2016 election explode on her TV.

Looking at the key players, their nasty tactics and the cult-like supporters they cultivated from her small screen got her thinking about her former Suits character Jessica and how she might move in this messy political landscape.

“I was perplexed by the different characters who inhabited this world, and I have to say on both sides of the aisle. I was looking at blind loyalty, true believers, people who just want to power grab. I was fascinated by all of that,” Torres said. “Jessica, as a character, I think was particularly interesting to people because she was a loyal, intelligent character who did whatever she had to do to keep her people safe and the firm together. So I started to think of her in this political arena, because she does have a specific skill set that can be seen in a different way, but she ultimately wants to use her power for good.”

She brought the idea to her agent, who told her she “had a show,” and Suits creators agreed. The then-unnamed spin-off was picked up by the USA Network in March 2018. The series casts Morgan Spector (Homeland) as Chicago Mayor Bobby Novak, Bethany Joy Lenz (One Tree Hill) as an ambitious city attorney, Eli Goree (Riverdale) as a journalist-turned-press secretary, Chantel Riley (Wynonna Earp) as Angela Cook, Jessica's cousin, and Simon Kassianides (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as the mayor's tough-guy driver.

As a co-executive producer with influence behind the scenes, Torres has taken the responsibility to drive diversity in the writer’s room. To start, she pitched the character and arc for Yoli Castillo, a DREAMer who is just starting her career in Chicago politics as Jessica’s assistant, who will be played by Puerto Rican actress Isabel Arraiza (Driven).

“Because it was my idea and I brought it to them, the powers that be have been incredibly open to my story ideas and respectful to my original vision of the show, which was to create and mirror Chicago as it is: a diverse world, socioeconomically, culturally and racially,” she said.

Being in the room where stories are created and decisions are made, an experience Torres calls “incredible,” also helped her make a lifelong career dream come true: playing an Afro-Latina character.

“I was very specific about reinventing Jessica’s mythology and making sure, for the first time in my life, I would actually be playing an Afro-Latina character,” she said, excitedly. “In the past, it was never an issue for me because I wasn’t in a position of power, but now, in this instance, I was, and I got to say, ‘this is who she is and we are going to reintroduce her to the world as a proud Afro-Latina character.’”

The Black Cubana, who has played multiple African-American characters during the span of her career, has long called out the mainstream media’s Eurocentric representation of Latinidad.

In 2012, she discussed how casting directors continuously passed on her for Latinx roles in NBCUniverso’s documentary Black and Latino, famously saying, “When I became an actress, I quickly realized that 'the world' liked their Latinas to look Italian and not like me.”

The following year, she told Latina magazine that despite the film industry needing to “figure it out and catch up,” her view of herself never changed, adding, “I know who I am. I’m Cuban American.”

For a Black Latina trying to make it in an industry that not only didn’t understand her but operated to erase her from the popular imagination of Latinidad, self-awareness was survival.

“They didn’t care about the Latina part of me at all because I didn’t look like the Spanish, Eurocentric standard of what Latina women were supposed to look like. But the way I counteracted that was by hiding in plain sight, never pretending to be anything but what I was,” she told Vibe Viva.

Years after Torres criticized the media’s whitewashing of Latinidad, we are seeing more Afro-Latinx characters on TV. On FX, the drama series Pose, which follows the lives of trans and queer African American and Latinx young people in New York's ballroom scene in the late '80s and early '90s, Afro-Puerto Rican actress Mj Rodriguez and the nonconforming Puerto Rican-Dominican-Haitian performer Indya Moore both play lead trans Afro-Latina characters. In the streaming space, even wider representation of Afro-Latinidad is prevalent, with Black Latina main cast members in Orange is the New Black, The Get Down and On My Block.

“We’ve always been around, Afro-Latinx people, gay people, indigenous people, we’ve always been here. Dealing with immigration, diversity, LGBTQ rights and inclusivity isn’t new,” Torres said. “The fact that there has been such a stranglehold on acceptance and inclusivity really boggles the mind. All of our contributions through time are significant, and so what this, [having women of color behind the scenes], brings is a point of view, a truth to what life is, a truth to how society functions.”

While there have been gains for Afro-Latinxs in film and TV in recent years, Torres’ anticipated role in Pearson marks another feat: it’s among the first hour-long, primetime network drama series to have an Afro-Latina lead, alongside FX’s Pose. While social media has been abuzz, praising the legend actress for the triumph, and Torres, too, understands its significance, she also recognizes that representation, alone, is never enough.

“My hope is that people watch the show and enjoy it because it is a great show and the performance is wonderful. I want people to get sucked into it because the success of the show means that I get to be on television for other girls, boys and women like us,” she said. “It’s not always about what you see, but about excellence and creating excellence. So often we are told our stories don’t matter or the talent pool isn’t wide enough, so we need excellence and success for this to last.”

If there’s one thing we can expect from both Torres and Jessica, it’s Afro-Latina excellence.

Pearson airs on the USA Network starting July 17, 2019.

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