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A Short Convo With... Memphis Bleek: "J. Cole Has A Lot On His Shoulders"

Memphis Bleek knows what you are thinking. The 31-year-old Brooklyn MC who was hand picked by longtime mentor Jay-Z to represent Roc-A-Fella as hip-hop’s next big MC back in the late ‘90s doesn’t just point at the elephant in the room. He boldly stares it in the eyes; mocks it even. Bleek never lived up to the promise of “Is That Yo Bitch.” Shawn Carter has carried Bleek for much of career. Bleek will never have a platinum album. Those are just some of the barbs that have been thrown at the veteran rhymer over the years. Which is why Jay’s newest anointed pupil and current cover boy  J. Cole has a lot to learn from Bleek. Most recently, the Marcy Projects spitter garnered the respect of shocked rap fans and music industry insiders when he decided to go the independent route and not sign to Hova’s Roc Nation. As Bleek finishes up his fifth album The Process, the rhyme-survivor reveals to VIBE how he struggled to live up to his early hype and how he ultimately found redemption. —Keith Murphy 

VIBE: Your upcoming album The Process has been in the making since 2005. What’s the hold up?
Memphis Bleek: After my time at Def Jam, I’m doubling back to make a whole new move for myself. That’s why I picked the title The Process for my album. It’s a very personal project. I’ve dropped four albums and this is my fifth one, so I wanted it to be presented in the right way, sound the right way and I wanted it to be handled all by me. If it wins or loses, I want to be able to blame myself. I wasn’t really searching for all-star guest appearances. I don’t want to make forced music like, “Yo, let me put Drake on this record.” Now of course, you want an artist like Drake on your record… you are trying to get hot. But I never want to do the obvious. So on this album, I’m trying to switch it up, get more personal with people. Because how many times can I tell you we are popping bottles at the club or I have the latest car? Come on… I can do that on my mixtape. To me it’s about letting people know about my struggles…the process of being my own man.

You have experienced the buzz and turbulence of being the next big New York MC after appearing on Reasonable Doubt and Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. What advice would you give to someone like a J. Cole, who is experiencing similar buzz as the main hip-hop act on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation?
I would tell him that everybody can’t just say, “Yo, I want to be my own boss.” You have to learn the business, but more importantly you have to have the right team around you. That’s where it starts first. Before you even meet a manager or a producer or a label you have to start with your homies. Because it won’t work if you have a bunch of foul people around you who just want to see negativity. J. Cole has to go all the way in. He shouldn’t listen to someone telling him how to make his music. He should follow his heart. He’s new… he’s not from the NYC, he’s from Fayetteville, North Carolina, so he’s bringing a whole new movement with him. J. Cole has a lot on his shoulders. He can never second-guess what he’s doing.

"I tell J. Cole, Drake or any of the other new cats: Don’t ever let up. Because when you let up, there are new people coming for that spot."
Would you have done anything differently with the heavy buzz you were riding early on in your career?
After “Is That Yo Chick” I wouldn’t have had so many people around me. I wouldn’t have taken the vacation we took to Miami and the situation that happened to my brother [
Ed Note: Bleek’s older brother was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in Miami on Memorial Day weekend in 2000], God willing, probably wouldn’t have never happen. That’s what took some of my motivation away to do music. It was like losing your mind. Everything in the outside world I really didn’t care about because I was in jeopardy of losing my brother. From that point, it seems I was always trying to re-capture something. I was chasing that buzz. That’s why I tell J. Cole, Drake or any of the other new cats: Don’t ever let up. Because when you let up, there are new people coming for that spot.

Were you happy with the direction of your first two solo albums?
Yeah. It was all me. When I did
Coming of Age, at that time, I don’t even think Jay believed I could make an album by myself [laughs]. We went to a Lower East Side recording studio in Manhattan and we laid it down. We got Irv Gotti involved, Ja Rule, we did “Memphis Bleek Is” with Swizz Beatz. Jay was so shocked by that. And I’m like, “Damn, if you like that, imagine what you are going to say when you hear this…” But that goes back to when I said you never let anyone tell you how to do your music. When I came back to record M.A.D.E. if you listen, all the personal songs on there are the people’s favorite. But then I did a bunch of songs that were other people’s ideas like, “You should make a song for the girls,” or “This sound is hot right now.” That’s how I recorded songs like ”P.Y.T.” and “You Need Me In Your Life,” when those songs really weren’t in my heart. You have to do what’s in your heart. Because at the end of the day, you wear it. If it fails you have to wear that hat.

How much did your up and down experiences in the industry play in wanting to remain independent from Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint? A lot of people were under the impression that you would sign with him because of the brotherly relationship you have with Hova.
Everybody felt like Jay was carrying me. That was the perception of the public. If you were standing on the outside looking in you would have said, “Yeah, Bleek don’t have to do nothing, Jay takes care of him.” But I wanted to be seen as my own man. That’s why you didn’t hear anything about me [going to Roc Nation]. This is the best time for me to do my own thing. When everything is over, I want to show you that I can come from the bottom and build it back up. Jay is always going to back me up. When I made my first record I didn’t think 10 people would like it. So now I’m back to that mode. I’m making this record for me. I rap for fun. I felt like after I came back from my brother’s accident it became all business. After 534 it was like come on, man… I don’t rap to get money. I can go in the streets to get money. I do this because this is my hobby. I have fun… I love to make records.

So what does Jay think about your recent moves?

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Kentucky Catholic School Faces Backlash After Students Berate Indigenous Peoples March Protesters

Representatives from Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School have confirmed plans to look into their student body after several of their students appeared in a viral video harassing and mocking protesters at an Indigenous Peoples March.

The viral video above spread around the web Saturday (Jan. 19) a day after the protest that took place in Washington, D.C. Teens in the video were rocking "Make America Great Again" to support President Donald Trump and the anti-abortion March for Life demonstration that was also taking place on Indigenous Peoples Day.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports  Laura Keener, the communications director with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, released a statement about the video: "We are just now learning about this incident and regret it took place. We are looking into it."

In the video below, Indigenous elder Nathan Phillips of the Omaha tribe was reportedly performing a song meant to calm down the crowd when the large group of teens surrounded him, with one eye to eye as he and another elder chanted.

In tears, Phillips recalled the incident, calling for an apology and that the teens would "put that energy into making this country really great." The teens also got their messages mixed up when they also screamed "build that wall" toward him.

"I heard them saying 'build the wall, build that wall,'" he said.  "This is indigenous land. We’re not supposed to have walls here. Before anyone came here there were no walls, we never even had prisons. We always took care of our elders, we took care of our children. We taught them right from wrong."


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#ipmdc #ipmdc19 #indigenousunited #indigenouspeoplesmarch #indigenouspeoplesmarch2019

A post shared by KC🇬🇺🌴🌴 (@ka_ya11) on Jan 18, 2019 at 4:42pm PST

Speaking to The Enquirer Vincent Schilling shared how Phillips has been attacked in the past for standing up for indigenous peoples. Schilling, who is a member of the Mohawk tribe, said Phillips was pelted with trash just a few years ago by Eastern Michigan University students who hosted a Native American-themed party.

"As a Native American journalist, I find this to be one of the most egregious displays of naïve – I can’t even say naïve. It’s racism. It’s blatant racism," Schilling said.

"The guy has just been through a lot. To see Mr. Phillips treated this way is an incalculable amount of disrespect, and it's absolutely unacceptable in Native culture. As a Native man, I’ve got it countless times myself I’ve been mocked, I’ve been teased, my culture has been ridiculed. This is just another brick in the wall. I wanted so bad to walk up to those kids and say, 'You know this is a Vietnam veteran, right?'"

Director Ava DuVernay slammed the teens for their behavior as well as a number of indigenous social justice figures.

Thank you to @VinceSchilling of @IndianCountry and many others who identified the proud Native man who is being harassed. He is Mr. Nathan Phillips. I’m reposting this video from “ka_ya11” on IG. This man’s words pierce my heart. The grace. The wisdom. The hope.

— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 19, 2019

Thank you for the kind shout-out @Ava

Nathan Phillips and I have shared in a sacred pipe ceremony to honor Native American veterans.

He is a Vietnam veteran, such behavior is terrible.

Again, thank you for your support.

— Vincent Schilling (@VinceSchilling) January 19, 2019

The teens in the video haven't been identified.

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Carlos Osorio/AP

Man Exonerated After Serving 45 Years Forced To Sell Prison Artwork For Money

A Detroit man who served 45 years behind bars for a crime that he didn’t commit, is forced to sell his personal collection of artwork that he made in prison. Richard Phillips, 72, doesn’t have steady income at the moment, and his lawyer is currently battling the state of Michigan to get him compensated for the wrongful conviction that stole his freedom.

"I don't have an income right now," said Phillips while showing off his paintings to Fox 2 Detroit. "This is my income."

In the early 1970s, Phillips was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Gregory Harris. He was sentenced to life in prison but always maintained his innocence. “I would rather died in prison than admit to a crime I didn’t do,” Philips said.

Phillips was convicted through an eyewitness account implicating him and a second man, Richard Palombo. In 2010, Palombo admitted that Phillips had no involvement in the murder and that he didn’t even know him. A new investigation was launched in 2014, nearly 20 years later Phillips appealed his murder conviction.

Last March, Wayne County Prosecutors Kym Worthy dropped all charges against Phillips, officially freeing him from prison. “There’s nothing that I can say to bring back 40 years of his life. The system failed him. There’s no question about it,” Worthy said at the time. “This is a true exoneration. Justice is indeed being done today, but there’s nothing that we can do ... to bring back those years of his life.”

Art played a big part in helping maintain his sanity through the sentence. Though he remained optimistic, Phillips admitted that he never truly believed he would be released. To pass the time, he began painting. He pulled inspiration from everywhere: his favorite artists, photos and even tapped into some of the loneliness that he felt in prison. "It was created in a harsh environment. But it goes to show you that beauty can come from something ugly."

Last year, Detroit's Demond Ricks was awarded $1 million for spending 25 years in prison on a wrongful conviction. As it stands, Phillips is the longest-serving wrongfully convicted former prisoner in U.S. history.

Phillips' artwork will be on display at Michigan's Ferndale's Level One gallery beginning Jan. 18.

See more on his artwork in the video below.

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Gladys Knight Defends Decision To Perform National Anthem At Super Bowl Amid Criticism

Glad Knight says she wants to “give the National Anthem back its voice.” The music legend released a new statement defending her decision to sing  the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in Atlanta, next month, amid criticism from fans.

Several artists turned down offers to perform at the Super Bowl in protest of the league’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick. Knight clarified that her choice to sing has nothing to do with Kaepernick, and she doesn't exactly agree with the anthem being "dragged into the debate."

"I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things and they are police violence and injustice,” Knight said in a statement to Variety. “It is unfortunate that our National Anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the National Anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone.”

The 74-year-old singer also noted that she has been on the forefront of social justice issues for much of her career. "I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3 to give the Anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words,” Knight said. “The way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good.

"No matter who chooses to deflect with this narrative and continue to mix these two in the same message, it is not so and cannot be made so by anyone speaking it,” she continued. “I pray that this National Anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us."

Knight isn’t alone in catching heat for joining the Super Bowl lineup. Travis Scott and Big Boi, both of whom will perform with Maroon 5 at halftime, received backlash as well.

Earlier in the week, reports surfaced claiming Scott had a meeting with Kaepernick that ended with “mutual respect” and “understanding.” Kaepernick’s girlfriend and Hot 97 DJ, Nessa Diab, denied the report tweeting, “There is NO mutual respect and there is NO understanding for anyone working against @Kaepernick7 PERIOD. #stoplying.”

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