Interview: The Airplane Boys Talk Upcoming Music, Fashion And Touring The World

Hailing from Scarborough, Toronto, The Airplane Boys are an alternative rap group consisting of two members, Bon Voyage and Beck Motley (real names Manny and Jason). Their debut mixtape Where’ve You Been hit the internet back in 2011 and they’ve since toured the world making a name for themselves in the music world. VIBE recently sat down with fellas to talk about their new sounds, the countries they’ve been to and what their take on Banksy and more

VIBE: How did you two first meet each other and decide to form a rap group?
Bon Voyage: My parents split when I was ten and I moved to a neighborhood in Malvern, which is a part of Scarborough, met this guy on the first day of school and he came up to me like ‘yo you want to join me for this talent show?’ I’m like ‘yeah let’s do it’ and we’ve been best friends ever since. We both started rapping around the same time just as kids, ten years old. So here we are; long story short.

What were your musical influences growing up?
Bon Voyage: Oh man, Neptunes, Timbaland and Missy, Puff Daddy and Ma$e, N.E.R.D.
Beck Motley: Outkast, Andre 3000, The Beatles, Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson of course, the usual suspects.

How would you describe your music for someone who’s never heard of you guys in a sentence?
Bon Voyage: We’re forward thinking storytellers. Everything is true to the heart, it’s not like it’s a story it’s our story at all times.
Beck Motley: Experimental hip-hop. We have a lot of influences from electronic, to funk to jazz. We started in a jazz band, and we were doing jazz festivals so a lot of our ear resonates from that jazz era. We try to implement as many of our influences into the hip-hop. We’re first and foremost storytellers because that’s the way we express ourselves.

You’ve had some pretty creative video concepts so far, what kind of thing are you looking to do for your next video? Any cameos?
Bon Voyage: We’re really happy about this one video we just shot called “Scarborough Kids” it’s us telling our story from the bottom to the top and it’s putting on for exactly where we’re from, our neighborhood and Toronto as a whole.
Beck Motley: Childhood friends, people who we grew up with in Scarborough, Toronto and people that we look up to, who are doing it big in the industry. People from Scarborough are going to watch it and have that sense of appreciation that this region harvested some of the most talented, creative minds. Not talking about us, I hope we reach that, but there are a lot of things that are coming from Scarborough that aren’t recognized. It’s only right to go back to where we started. We’ve never felt so confident before.

Check Out APB's Latest Video ‘The Blessing’ Below

What artists are you listening to right now, is there anyone you’d want to collaborate with?
Bon Voyage: Well listening to Drake, most definitely. Nothing Was The Same was amazing. I think he’s in a very confident place. For him to be there coming from Toronto it means a lot to us to see that.
Beck Motley: When you hear artists that reference places that you grew up in, it means a lot to you. The people that worship these bands, like in Liverpool The Beatles, it adds to the mystique of the UK. In the States, with Jay Z when he raps about stuff in Brooklyn, you want to go there. I think with Drake he has the ability and the voice to do that. He’s saying things that us kids in Toronto we live, we walk through, we eat at, we have our first dates at and it means a lot to us because we’ve never had that voice, not just for up and coming artists, for people living in that city. He’s doing more than just being an artist; he’s becoming an ambassador and opening the gates. Furthermore on the question, we’re listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar and what he’s bringing to hip-hop, we’re listening to a lot of Big K.R.I.T, to Banks the singer, The Weeknd, there’s a lot of music we’re listening to.

Did you catch the Cypher performances at the BET Hip Hop Awards? Who was your favorite?
Bon Voyage: Yeah, that was cute. It was good for hip-hop, there’s a great energy and its dope to see that lyricism is back.
Beck Motley: Kendrick, it’s his time right now. We appreciate when people don’t waste time and when they have their moment they utilize it to the best of their ability and you just have to recognize it and salute it because you never know how long that moment lasts for.

Are you Banksy fans? Have you had a chance to check out any of his work around NYC? What did you think?
Beck Motley: Oh yeah we saw his exhibit in a truck. We love Banksy man; anyone that’s trying to make statements with their art, not just for commerce but for self-expression and to make a movement to inspire. Whether it’s within the rules or where it’s restricted. That’s what art is for, it’s a language that’s forbidden to handle or control. Banksy is one of the artists that are trailblazing that. People like Kanye, people that do it for art, that’s where we want to be.

The Airplane Boys ‘Young Kings’

As very fashion conscious young men, how would you describe your image in three words?
Bon Voyage: Us.
Beck Motley: Honest, organic.
Bon Voyage: We’re not necessarily fashion guys, but we’re style guys. We mix up pieces, we make our own clothes.

Are you looking to start up a fashion label as well?
Bon Voyage: Definitely. We’re going to drop our merch and whatever comes of that and grows we’re looking to do that.

What can we expect from your new album Egos And Expectations?
Beck Motley: Our story. We’ve been doing this for a year and a half now. We’ve seen places like Coachella, performed at the O2 Arena, travelled to Asia, the UK and that’s a lot for people that are just coming into it. When we got back to Toronto and we saw our family. We decided let’s go back to our roots, let’s write what’s true to us, let’s not miss a step in our development, let’s not miss a step in who we want to be as people but more importantly as artists. This project is called ‘Egos And Expectations’ and with opportunity comes the great responsibility of maintaining your ego and being level headed. Also handling, controlling and balancing your expectations. I think those are the most important things for us as a crew, us as friends and us as individuals in order to grow as people. So when you listen to the album you know who the real, not just Beck and Bon are, but who the real Manny and Jay are. We’re just Scarborough kids, creative minded kids that wanted to create art that inspires. That’s all we want.

You’ve already toured internationally. Where has been your favorite country to visit so far?
Bon Voyage: Man, we had an amazing time performing in Korea in front of like twenty thousand people. But I think I would say Tokyo, Japan. Best energy, its dope to see the balance between spirituality and the forward thinking technology and just how put together everything is. It’s great to see the fashion, how they own hip-hop as a culture out there. They appreciate hip-hop much more than we do domestically, it’s the craziest thing, it makes you want to go back and do your research. It was dope to see the culture spread across and for us to be able to take what we think of the culture, our perception of it, over there. It was amazing.
Beck Motley: We liked Shanghai too. We’re strong believers of it’s not the places that make it; it’s the people that make the environment. It’s the conversations. You can be in the most beautiful island, but if you’re alone for so long you’re like what’s there to do, where am I going, what’s challenging me? At least here you are meeting people that are opening your mind that are telling you their stories. To pick a place, like he said, aesthetically Japan but this whole journey, meeting everyone is a trip in its own.

What’s next for The Airplane Boys? Any more new music or shows we should know about?
Bon Voyage: Man, just more growth. This project, just building up and making sure we deliver this right to the best of our abilities. We have a chance now and we’re going to take it. So just expect us to be in your face, in a good way hopefully. We’re looking to tour Europe we’re looking to be in France, Russia and Poland very soon.

The Airplane Boys ‘Brave’

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Music Sermon: The Soul Train Awards Been Lit, We're Just Late To The Party

Black Entertainment's oldest televised awards show has been patiently waiting for us to come back.

As I was watching the 2019 BET Awards, at some point around trying to decipher the difference between DaBaby and Lil Baby, I said – not for the first year – “I’m not the BET Awards demo anymore.” BET’s flagship awards’ aspiration to cover every segment of Black entertainment has always stretched it a little thin; current rap and R&B artists, plus legends, plus some gospel, plus a few TV, movie and sports moments, and some social good and politics crowds a run-of-show. But in the last several years – probably due to me moving solidly into the Urban Adult Contemporary demo – watching the BET Awards has been comprised mostly of me tweeting “Who is this child?” while waiting to see maybe two performances and a tribute. But then, in sweet November, BET gives me my entire two-step life with the Soul Train Awards, where I know (almost) every artist and live for every performance and I can’t even tell you who took an award home because that’s not even the point. The Soul Train Awards is family reunion time: an opportunity for your respected faves get their props, and a platform for soulful new school artists who don’t get mainstream airplay. It’s a night to dance and sing along in your living room. Ain’t no stuntin’, no pretense, no cappin’ (did I use that right?). It’s just a good ass time. So why did it take us so long to embrace it again?

BET has owned the legacy awards show since 2009, but for years the Soul Train Awards seemed a bit forgotten. The timeline wasn’t joining forces to watch the Tom Joyner Cruise Live (Side note: Tom Joyner should ABSOLUTELY do the Tom Joyner Cruise Live). Over the last four years, however, an aging millennial demographic combined with a drive of ‘90s nostalgia and renewed demand for straight up and down soul music has shined a light on the awards broadcast. Since 2015, the BET ecosystem has also thrown more support behind the show, including moving it from a Centric/BETHer-branded property to a BET proper event and giving it the same Viacom-wide simulcast as the BET Awards. Production values, talent bookings, and show elements keep rising, and the TL is paying attention. This Sunday, the Soul Train Awards will air live for the first time (the show is usually taped a week or two in advance), with Black America’s favorite on and off-screen besties Tisha Cambell and Tichina Arnold hosting for the second year.

It’s by grace, though, that the Soul Train Awards is even still here for us to enjoy. The show that launched as the only televised Black entertainment awards ceremony started fading during Black music’s growing mainstream dominance, and then was lost in the shadow of the bigger and splashier BET Awards. Superstar artists stopped attending, because teams no doubt felt like their presence wouldn’t move the needle on sales, and it became the Old Heads Awards. Quietly, though, the Soul Train Awards has been a ratings driver for BET since the network acquired the show; the rest of us (including talent) are just finally catching up. And we should be ashamed it took so long! This specific celebration of Black entertainment is as important now as it was when launched over 30 years ago — almost more so — for the very reason that it’s not just a show packed with hottest, newest, latest. But to appreciate the show’s legacy and staying power, we should look back at its history.

In 1987, Soul Train founder Don Cornelius decided it was time to elevate his 20-plus-year-old platform to another level. At the time, the major entertainment awards weren’t properly acknowledging Black artists. The handful that had reached massive pop success – Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston – were recognized and honored.

But in the 80s, the soul and R&B world was still vast and wide.

Cornelius decided it was time to create a night of celebration and excellence which, like Soul Train itself, was created for us, by us. He insisted at the time, “Black music is too big and too powerful not to have its own awards show. It’s overdue.” The Soul Train Awards was born.

Not only did Cornelius want to create a space for our artists who were overlooked by award shows like the Grammys and the AMAs, but also an awards system that didn’t hang on politics, or follow the same long-time criticisms of Grammy voting; selections by a group of people who just vote on the names they know. The voting block for the Soul Train Awards was made up of black retailers, radio programmers and artists themselves, to grant the prized Soul Train trophy design based on African sculpture. But the Soul Train Awards weren’t even meant to be about the awards; they were about highlighting our talent – current and established – featuring special legacy honors, originating the concept of tributes via performances instead of just film packages, and putting together super-performances of key artists across genres. This was our showcase.

For the first eight years of the show, the hosting panel was a mix of Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross, and Patti Labelle, and our biggest and best showed up in their award finery ready to celebrate and be celebrated. When the Grammys weren’t yet making room for hip-hop, Don gave it a little light (not a whole lot, but a little), and the Soul Train Awards honored Black entertainment across the board, not just music.

In fact, until 1994, the Soul Train Awards were the only televised Black entertainment awards. The Source Awards debuted as the first hip-hop awards show in 1994, The NAACP Image Awards were first televised in 1995, and that same year the female-artist heavy landscape prompted the creation of Soul Train’s Lady of Soul Awards. For the first several years, the Black entertainment community turned out in numbers for their long-awaited party. The first year, Black luminaries from Magic Johnson to Miles Davis to Stevie Wonder to Don King to Run DMC to Isaac Hayes were in the building. In 1990, Michael Jackson snubbed the Grammys, but showed up at Soul Train. Whitney Houston was even famously booed at the Soul Train Awards because the crowd felt she was too pop, and this was not a pop space. This was a forum for soul.

But like many of our most important early platforms for Black culture, progress eventually rendered almost of these celebrations obsolete. As Black music crossed over, more Black artists were being recognized by the mainstream, and Black culture became the culture, the entire Soul Train brand felt outdated and unnecessary. By 2000, the awards were in a bit of an identity crisis. After twelve years at LA’s Shrine Auditorium, the show bounced to a new location every year for the next six years. Cornelius started having trouble getting stars to commit to the awards because they were held within a month of the Grammys.

Then, in 2001, BET debuted their award show: a younger, hipper, and larger budget version of the Soul Train Awards that adopted virtually the same format, with Viacom promotional power and a dedicated channel and time slot (unlike Soul Train’s syndication) to their advantage.

In 2006, Soul Train signed off after 35 years and over 1,100 episodes as the longest-running nationally syndicated TV program in America at the time. Around the same time, the syndication company for the show and the awards, Tribune Entertainment, changed hands and shut down. In 2007, the Soul Train Awards’ biggest winners of the night, like Beyoncè and John Legend, didn’t bother to show. Finally, in 2008, there were no Soul Train Awards. And had that been the end of the line for the show for good, there probably would have been very little complaints or rumblings – we’d stopped paying attention, anyway. BET seemed to have all Black excellence bases on lock with the BET Awards, the BET Honors (which debuted in February of 2008), and the BET Hip-Hop Awards (2006). But fortunately, someone at the company had the good sense not to let the Soul Train Awards die.

As part of BET on Jazz’s rebrand to Centric (now BETHer), BET acquired the Soul Train Awards and revamped the program to fully embrace its old head’ness, perfect for the channel geared towards an older demo with a soul music focus. They moved the awards from LA to Georgia (it has since moved to Vegas), changed the date to November, got Terrence Howard and Taraji Henson coming straight off of Hustle & Flow to host, and gave tributes to Charlie Wilson and the Gap Band, Chaka Khan and Motown. That’s a party.

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The BET Awards is now at a similar crossroads as the Soul Train Awards was in the early 00s: major talent is skipping the show, and the network is challenged to put together a cohesive program while trying to serve all demos. After two years of plunging ratings, the broadcast finally seems to have found balance again in 2019. But still, I’m not personally here for all the Lil’s, the YBNs and YGs and other letter configurations, and Babies and whatnot. I need music that works as a backdrop for brown liquor in red solo cups, please. But as viewers and fans, we also have to check ourselves on our awards show criticisms. Complaints amplify every year around the Grammys, AMAs and the like that we need to give less weight to mainstream awards and celebrate our own, ourselves, which is exactly what Don Cornelius and then Bob Johnson and team set out to do. During the BET Awards, though, there are gripes about the diversity and quality of talent, content and production. There was even a period of Black Twitter referring to them as the “EBT Awards.” Criticism is often valid, but straight disdain isn’t. Also every year, there are cries about how we need more and different awards shows. Meanwhile, Soul Train’s been right there, chillin’, with your old school faves and your burgeoning soul stars. I’m ok with knowing I’m not the right in the pocket of the BET Awards demo anymore, but that means I’m going to support the Soul Train Awards with all my Auntie might, because Black music and culture needs the intergenerational love and community that the Soul Train Awards represent.

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With an estimated $14 million in income (before taxes), Nas X debuted at No. 18 on the list ahead of Miranda Lambart, Lady Antebellum and Rascal Flats. Country star Luke Bryan topped the list with $42.5 million followed by Zac Brown Band, Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney rounding out the Top 5.

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