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VIBE Cover Story: Alicia Keys 'Freedom Agenda'

FREEDOM AGENDA

STORY BY SIOBHAN O’CONNOR | PHOTOS JILL GREENBERG
STYLIST LAURA JONES | MAKEUP FRANCESCA TOLOT
HAIR ADIR ABERGEL

AFTER MORE THAN A DECADE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, ALICIA KEYS IS FINALLY FINDING HER VOICE.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Alicia Keys and her husband, Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, are wearing matching pants. His: expertly tailored and trim, skimming his sneakers just so. Hers: a sexy waxed denim that hugs her in all the right places. Both are the color of a well-made cappuccino. They’ve agreed to be interviewed together over dinner, a double date of sorts. It’s one of those novel ideas cooked up by magazine editors, but Keys, who seems more open now than she’s ever been, was keen to participate. And what better way to convey closeness than with his-and-her trousers.

But spend a couple of hours with them drinking cocktails that taste like tropical fruit juice, and it’s clear they don’t need color-coordinated out?ts to get the point across. He’ll tug at the sleeve of her coat to help her shimmy out of it. Her hand will rest sweetly on his thigh. They’ll talk about their partnership in a way that says, “We want the whole world to have what we have,” and they’ll do it by telling you about the moment when they knew they were soul mates.

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Don't Call Young M.A. A Lesbian Or Female Rapper

Young M.A. is making it clear that she's more than a label. On the heels of her debut studio album, the Brooklyn native sat with Hollywood Unlocked UNCENSORED's Jason Lee, Mylissa Ford, and DJ Damage for a candid interview in New York City.

During the extensive interview, the rapper spoke candidly about heartbreak, the pressure of delivering another hit after her chart-climbing single, "Ooouuu," and why she doesn't consider herself a lesbian despite the politically correct names under the LGBTQ+ umbrella."

"No, just Young M.A....No, I don't do [those] labels." When asked to clarify if that means she's into men, she candidly said, "Absolutely not. That's it. I just wouldn't date a guy....I'm just Young M.A., man. I just don't dig dudes. I love women."

Young M.A. took it even further when the topic of pronouns/titles and sexual orientation came up and took it a step further, saying, "Not even with the 'female rapper' thing, I don't buy into that. I'm just a rapper. I'm Young M.A."

When asked why she's against being put in the box of a female rapper, the music artist started by saying, "First of all, female rappers alone seem to be the only ones in a box because you don't say 'male rapper.'" She added, "You really don't...When you see a male rapper you don't call him a "male rapper," you call him a rapper. And with the female rapper, it seems like the female rap thing is more glorified.

"And then the gay rapper thing, I feel like if we don't want to be separated. If we're uniting and we're doing all this type of thing where we want people to accept us for us, and stuff like that. Then as people, just like you're a human and I'm a human, why still separate yourself? To me, it just doesn't make sense. If you just want to be accepted for who you are, just say, 'I am me'...I just came in the game being me."

During the sitdown, Young M.A. touched on why she decided to respond to Kodak Black's comment, the importance of nurturing your fanbase as an independent artist, and her KWEENZ Foundation's mission to help those in East New York, Brooklyn who've experienced grief and trauma after the loss of a loved one.

Watch the full interview above.

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Lil Wayne performs at the 2019 Outside Lands music festival at Golden Gate Park on August 09, 2019 in San Francisco, California.
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Lil Wayne Talks ‘Ghost Recon Breakpoint’ Game, ‘Funeral’ Sessions And More

When Lil Wayne released his long-delayed Carter V and resolved his legal differences with Cash Money Records a year ago, he could have walked into the sunset and ended his career as one of the greatest artists ever. He’s put more than 20 years of his life into music, starting his career as a fresh-faced teenager in the mid-90s and going nonstop with more than 30 albums and mixtapes, an all-time great run of guest verses, a relentless touring schedule, and an indelible impact on the other rappers who have come after him. But Tunechi is still staying just as active, both in the booth and outside of it. 2019 alone has seen him launch a collection with American Eagle, continue his annual Lil Weezyana Fest for the fifth year, and tour with Blink 182 while releasing mashups of their previous work.

But today, Wayne is speaking with VIBE about another one of his passions: video games. He’s doing commercials for Ubisoft’s upcoming Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the 11th game in Tom Clancy’s tactical shooter franchise, slated for an Oct. 4 release. The ads see Wayne showcasing his hilarious personality, playing online with a team of other players and throwing jokes while consistently letting them down with phone calls and other distractions.

“That’s happened more than a few times, when you play games a lot, especially with your homies, and everybody’s on some sort of team and everybody’s counting on everybody,” Wayne tells VIBE over the phone. “It doesn’t even have to be a phone call. It can be somebody at the door, it can be your mom screaming at you, anything.”

Artists have historically relied on video games to pass the time during their tours, and Wayne has always been known for his adoration for the Madden NFL series. He’s a die-hard sports fan, as seen from his social media and his appearances on sports talk shows with his friend Skip Bayless. Years ago, T-Pain said he saw Wayne and Cash Money co-founder Birdman bet up to $10,000 on games, while letting the computer battle it out to see who wins – like sports betting, but you get to pick each other’s competition.

“I don’t recall that,” Wayne laughs when asked if T-Pain’s statements were true. “I don’t recall letting the computer play for no $10,000, but we definitely probably played each other for something like that. … I’m sure I didn’t lose that $10,000 bet whenever it happened. I don’t think I’ve lost too much. I’d say about $500 would be the biggest loss I’ve had, if anything. Maybe $1,000. But I’m putting the [cheat] code in on you and everything for that $10,000.”

These days, while Wayne says that Drake and Birdman have made games tough for him in terms of other artists, he admits that his biggest competition is at home.

“If I’m playing an artist, I’m only practicing against you to get better against my kids. You gotta stay superior on stuff like that,” he chuckles. His sons are aged 10, 9 and 9, “but think they’re 21 and 22.” “My sons, they like to play vintage, so I have to go back and get a team that was great in the year of the team that they pick. My middle son’s vintage team is the LA Rams, my youngest son, Meatball, is going to go with the Atlanta Falcons from the year that Deion Sanders was playing, and my oldest son, Tune, is going to go with the Bengals when they had Boomer Esiason.”

Wayne also spoke about the Top 50 rap lists that have been circulating this summer. While he’s cited Jay-Z as his GOAT before, he took time to give credit to Missy Elliott as one of his favorite rappers and described her impact using another sports analogy.

“A lot of people, their eyes widen up when I say that. If I placed her, there may be a question. It shouldn’t be, though,” Wayne says. “When Missy came out, everybody was rapping about the same things, and everybody [in each region] was trying to get better at the same things, one type of style, in my eyes. … Missy came out way from Virginia on some other shit, making sounds. Her and Timbaland were like Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick.”

His rap bonafides are unquestionable, but Wayne has also dabbled in rock: his tour with Blink 182 was paired with a mashup of his song “A Milli” and the band’s “What’s My Age Again,” and he released his own rock album Rebirth in 2010. When asked if he would consider making another rock album, Wayne said he liked the idea.

“I would definitely want some help on it this time. I did that one by myself. The most help I got, I consider her like another mom, is [soul/R&B singer] Ms. Betty Wright. She taught me a few strings, a few chords on the guitar, how to hold a few notes,” Wayne reveals. “I would definitely fuck with Blink, I’d let Travis go crazy on one or two of them bitches. … I would love to go back and do some vintage songs on it this time as well. I would have to get some clearances on one or two songs from a band or an artist we all love, and do it like that. I’m trying to see what’s up with a Nirvana song or something. Try to get my Kurt Cobain on.”

The Young Money Entertainment founder also says that despite a lack of updates, he and Drake still plan to make an album together.

“We’re both doing what we do, but he already know,” Wayne says. “We still text and send songs here and there, change a verse because he killed me or change a verse ‘cuz I killed him. It’s still the same competition.”

While those two projects are good interview fodder, Wayne’s 13th studio album Funeral is further along – he’s said in the weeks after this interview that he plans to release it by the end of the year. It’ll be his first collection of new, timely music in at least four years, and he says his recording process has changed drastically since his prolific mixtape days.

“I love the difficulty of trying to fit in with what’s going on today, making sure I sound likable to the ears today and having to remind myself that it’s not about what it was back then. Going to the studio now, for me, is awesome. I used to go to that mufucka and do 12 songs a night. Cut a beat on, I’m going to go and you let me know when to stop,” Wayne says.

“It’s different now. I can’t wait to get in the studio now every night, just to see what I can come up with. [Before] it was just me going to the studio and saying, let me kill ten more songs and then I’m going to go home or do whatever I was doing. Now, it’s let me see what I come up with. Self-discovery, rebirth – call it whatever you want to call it but it feels awesome, I swear to God.”

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