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Opinion: Has Barneys Turned Jay Z Into Bad Santa?

Move along window shoppers, there’s absolutely nothing to see here.

The Barneys crime scene seems to be over because Jay Z said so. With his statement last week, addressing Barneys racial-profiling accusations, he remixed the sentiment of a line spat in his verse for Kanye West’s 2005 remix of “Diamonds Are Forever,” “I’m a business...man, let me handle my business, damn.”

While Jay Z is fresh off of a Samsung-sponsored platinum album and new sports agency, truth is he’s been building a coup d’état reputation since leaving former Roc-A-Fella Records partners Damon Dash and Kareem Burke for the Def Jam Records presidency. So no one should be surprised at his decision to move forward with the Barneys New York deal, which initially saw 25 percent of all proceeds going to Jay’s Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation. Since the controversy, which got Black America’s britches in a bunch, terms have since been restructured so that SCSF receives 110 percent of sales revenue and Hov gets a seat on Barneys board. Even the launch party was cancelled. All this under the condition that he has “a leadership role and seat on a council specifically convened to deal with the issue of racial profiling.”

“I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win.” —Jay Z, "Moment of Clarity"

Trayon Christian was nine-years-old when The Black Album came out. He was three when Jay said “I want money like Cosby, who wouldn’t?” A few years before the release of “Dead Presidents,” Bill Cosby attempted to buy the NBC network. NBC wouldn’t even give Bill a feather off of the peacock. Bill knows why his bid was rejected and if Jay really keeps “one eye open like CBS,” he does too. The transfer of wealth (money and wisdom) from generation to the next is crucial for collective empowerment. At a glance, you don’t judge the origin of a Blue Blood family’s financial status; you just know that they are white, so it doesn’t need to be questioned. Where others get to blend into the backdrop of white privilege, the protrusion of black and brown does not. Credit card scams run rampant throughout immigrant East European communities in New York City. Whether dressed in sweats or suits, their lack of melanin affords them a benefit of the doubt; their 19-year-olds aren’t side-eyed for buying an expensive belt. Let’s not forget, Trayon’s card was approved. So what’s in your wallet?

The belt Trayon bought cost $350. He said he wanted it because he saw Juelz Santana wearing it. I imagine him listening to Rick Ross proclaim, “[I spent a] stack on my belt” before police detoured his ride home. Has anyone asked Juelz or Ross for their opinion on the incident? Jay just happened to be in the building, but what if Rachel Roy was doing a similar deal with Barneys? Would anyone have asked her to boycott?

Somewhere, maybe in America, Harry Belafonte is smirking at the irony. This is his “light work” in the fight against poverty and injustice. Had Jay taken the time to not mistake Belafonte’s constructive criticism as a battle rap, this Barneys situation might have had a totally different face. The results may have appeared the same but the purpose and lessons learned may have been different. I trust Jay on 64 squares, but I’m not sure he knows how to move weight that isn’t measured on a scale or Billboard chart. Is being “Che Guevara with jewels on” really complex or just missing the point?

Just because Jay-Z comes from the ghetto doesn’t mean he fights against poverty in the same manner that Cornel West does. Many poor people don’t even understand their circumstances in a socio-political context. In the hood, they’re familiar more so with the “coke boys” than the Koch brothers. Since Jay beat the odds and others at their own game, he innately embodies something so precious to African-Americans: “us versus them.” We want his way to be our way, but capitalism has a bigger agenda. Jay is of the Frank White elk, not Guevara, Marx, Fanon, Zinn or Baldwin’s; nor does he have to be. What the masses aren’t seeing is that there are some things that Jay-Z takes, and others the powers that be allow him to have. The Nets have dozens of affluent owners. They never needed Jay’s fractional monetary investment. But it’s the people without money who think it’s all about money. The grandest problem here, though: in the cases of racial profiling, we’re all poor.

If there was ever an ounce of truth to Bill Cosby wanting to buy the rights to the Little Rascals for the sake of controlling the images of that Buckwheat era, then of course NBC wouldn’t give him the power to white wash American history’s skid marks. In his lifetime, Mr. Cosby has surely donated more money to black people and institutions than Mr. Carter. To a hustler, giving out turkeys in the hood on Thanksgiving is the ultimate act of ghetto love. The difference between charity and philanthropy is that one is usually temporal; the other is wider and a lifestyle.

We need our elders to help us help ourselves, even if we don’t agree with them. As an advocate of Mr. All Black Everything, I’m concerned that Jay Hova was more annoyed by the timing of his deal’s interruption than the actual transgressions by Barneys. Jay is doing a great job at manifesting his destiny and breaking down Cosby’s walls into Jay-E-L-L-O. He set out to build a black dynasty and accomplished that, yet his hard hat remains on. He doesn’t owe any of us an explanation for the ethics of his business. He knows the deeper you go into the vault, the more blood-covered money you find. Unfortunately, he’s on a level where the M’s no longer justify the means but doesn’t seem to realize it. So it is now up to the people to determine the real price of the sales tag. Hov is not God, and this Barneys debacle might be God’s sarcastic way of reminding us. —T. Better Baldwin

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10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Intent On Impact, Kiana Lede Is Ready To Leave Her Mark

After learning The Alphabet Song as a little girl, Kiana Lede would always “get in trouble” for singing during class. “My mom was like, ‘why can't you focus?’” she laughs while reminiscing on her career’s formative years. “I was like, ‘I don’t know! Songs are just playing in my head all the time!’”

Whilst sitting in a shoebox-sized room at Midtown Manhattan’s Moxy Hotel on a humid September day, the now- 21-year-old Arizona-bred R&B songbird, actress and pianist speculates that she “may have had ADD.” However, she settles down after taking off her white cowboy boots and flops down on the ivory-clothed bed, demonstrating that her fiery Aries energy can be contained. Cool as a cucumber, Lede shuffles between chewing on banana candies and blowing smoke rings after taking drags from a pen, all while musing about her journey to becoming a Republic Records signee.

“I just grew up singing and doing musical theater, and reading a lot of books, and playing piano way too much in my room by myself,” she says, pushing her big, curly brown hair out of her face. Her expressive green eyes widen as she grins. “It was my thing. Nobody in my family does music, just me.”

After winning Kidz Bop’s 2011 KIDZ Star USA talent contest at 14 (which her mother secretly entered her into), Lede was signed to RCA Records. She was released from her contract and dropped from the label three years later. However, thanks to guidance and friendship from the Grammy-winning production duo Rice N’ Peas, (who’ve worked with G-Eazy, Trevor Jackson, and Bazzi), she released covers of songs such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while working to get her groove back. The latter rendition resulted in Republic Record’s Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman flying her out and signing her to his label.

“I got a second chance, which a lot of people don't get,” she reveals. “So I'm really happy that that all happened. I wouldn't be here right now in this room if that didn't happen.”

Thanks to the new opportunity she was given, Lede’s sound has evolved into something she’s proud of—equal parts soul, R&B and bohemian. As evidenced by the aforementioned ensemble, glimmers of each aesthetic can be found when observing her personal style as well. She released her seven-song EP Selfless in July, which features the bedroom-ready “Show Love” and “Fairplay,” which manages to fit in the mainstream R&B vein while also showcasing her goosebump-inducing vocals. The remix of the latter features MC A$AP Ferg. What pleases her most is that it not only garnered a favorable response from fans, but that those listeners found it so relatable.

“As an artist, it's really nerve-wracking for someone who writes about such personal things all the time,” she says. “Just the fact that it is my story… It's good to know that other people know that there's somebody on their side, and they're not the only ones going through it. A lot of people obviously feel this way, and have been through this same thing that I've been through. So I think that's cool.”

Although she moved to various places as a Navy serviceman’s daughter, Lede claims Phoenix as home. This means she hails from the same stomping grounds as rockers Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. However, growing up in a mixed race household gave way to tons of sonic exploration outside of the rock-heavy scene.

“My dad's black, and both of my parents are from the East Coast,” she says of her musical and ethnic upbringing (she’s black, Latina and Native American). “[My parents] listened to a lot of R&B. My mom listened to a lot of SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men. I didn't realize I knew the songs until I got older. I played a charity show with T-Boz, and I was like 'why do I know these songs?'” Lede also says her father was a fan of neo-soul and gangsta rap, but she personally believes the early-2000s was the best time for music.

“[That era] influences a lot of my music subconsciously, and also, singer-songwriter stuff,” she continues. “I listen to a lot of early-2000s music because I played piano most of my life. I listened to Sara Bareilles, John Mayer.”

An open book, Lede details some of her struggles with anxiety and depression with the utmost candor. After being dropped from RCA, her trust in people diminished, and she experienced long bouts of depression after being sexually assaulted by someone in the industry. The track that she feels most deeply about is “One Of Them Days,” which tackles these issues head-on.

“When I'm anxious and depressed, it's really hard to be happy,” Lede says. “Most of the time, I can do it, but there are just some days where I literally can't separate the anxiety, and I can't tell anybody why, because I don't really know why myself… I was feeling very odd that day, didn't even know if I could write a song. Hue [Strother], the guy who I wrote the song with, he was like 'I totally get you. Lots of people go through this.’’’

As we’ve observed in headlines recently, mental health and being honest about life’s trickier situations can help someone going through the same thing, and Lede hopes her music provides encouragement to those who are struggling. As for how she’s learning to push through her mental health roadblocks, she meditates, runs, and is an advocate for therapy, especially in Trump’s America, where harrowing news reports dominate the cycle.

Another hallmark of Kiana Lede’s personality is her bleeding heart for others. She cites women of color, sexual assault victims and the homeless youth specifically as individuals she feels most responsible to help, since she is personally connected to all three. While she’s aiming to create a project that helps homeless youth specifically, she’s working hard this holiday season to ensure that they have a place to stay “at least for the night” after horrific wildfires displaced many individuals in California.

“My passion is really people. Music is just a way that I can get to helping people,” she says with a grin. “Helping people emotionally and physically are both very important. I never want to stop helping people. I feel if other people can respect me, and I can respect myself, then I'll be happy. Happiness is all that we strive for.”

Recently, Lede played her first headlining solo show, a one-night event at The Mint in Los Angeles. While she was thrilled to see that the show sold-out, she was even happier to see the faces of her audience members, who she said ‘looked like [her].’ “Mixed girls, brown girls, black girls, gay boys,” she explains over-the-phone. Even though she wasn’t in person to discuss her latest huge accomplishment, you could hear the pride and joy through her voice.

As for the future of her career, she’s looking forward to more acting roles. You may recognize her from the first season of MTV’s Scream, and after her recent Netflix series All About The Washingtons with legendary MC Rev Run was cancelled, she has been “reading for auditions” and is “negotiating” for a role in a film set to shoot in NYC. While her time with the Run-DMC frontman was brief, she says he taught her about the importance of “not compromising your art for money.”

What Kiana Lede is most excited about, of course, is making music. She hopes to work on a new EP and then release an album after that. The ultimate goal is to fully realize the dreams in her personal and professional life, and she assures she’s just getting started.

“I want to be able to look back on my career and think 'man, I really poured my heart into this music, and made music that mattered, and made music that made people feel a certain way, whether it's bad, good, sad, anxious, whatever it may be.’”

READ MORE: NEXT: H.E.R. Is The Future Of R&B (And Then Some) In Plain Sight

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Lloyd Pursall

THEY. Break Down The Creation Of 'Fireside' EP And Their Unique Group Dynamic

Dante Jones and Drew Love–equally important, yet separate entities THEY.–arrive comfortably late to the listening of their newly released EP, Fireside. Drew, the more personable member of the group, swaggers into the room in a silk button-down. Failing to fasten the first three of the light brown buttons, his soft mocha chest peeks through. Closely following, Jones saunters in physically present but distant from the world around him, in his Friday's best casual fit. Quickly dividing to greet the crowded room of New York City journalists the pair fan out, taking the east and west wings of Esther & Carroll’s Soho eatery by storm.

Tracks from Fireside flow through the speakers like the honest "Broken," a conversational duet with Jessie Reyez and "18 Months," with Ty Dolla $ign. Both songs go further than love at first sight as THEY. speak on the rough parts of an evolving relationship. Overall, the six-track project takes on the progressive side of R&B with a little help from friends like Reyez, Jeremih, and Wiz Khalifa. Inviting outside forces into their world, the musicians are stretching their creative muscles while providing lessons as ear candy to fans.

THEY. is the culmination of a four-year relationship that has left a beast bigger than the fame in its wake. Standing on the precipice of a new subgenre of hip-hop and R&B, the duo has centered their sound around the eclectic flare of rhythm and blues while crashing into a new lane of its own. The members drive down the same road, they ride in two different cars. Fireside’s inspiration stems from the movie The Grey. "[Fireside is] this really interesting scene where all these different people from different walks of life are coming together,” Jones admits.

Much like the exploits of Agents J and K in Men In Black, their collaboration rings true to the futuristic movie series starring Tommie Lee Jones and Will Smith. Easily distinguished by the eager rookie paired with the grumpy veteran, the roles commandeered by Love and Jones can be heard through the cell phone. Cycling through evolution, the self-proclaimed yin and yang constantly battle the forces of dark and light to bring forth harmony in their ever-changing relationship.

At times unable to see eye-to-eye, the East Coast natives have adapted their rocky partnership, fine-tuning the kinks between them, learning to compromise, and most of all made subtle changes to the ways in which they interact with each other. Never expanding on the nature of their true relationship, the past tensions never seep into the conversation. Throwing subtle brotherly love moments during our interview, the artists toss admirable compliments back and forth.

“He understands where I come from because I am very rough around the edges and very abrasive at times,” Love says of his fellow creative. "Dante can be very hard to read at times, but I think it is an ongoing understanding and continual effort to learn to understand the other person and what triggers them and what doesn't trigger them, what their strengths are and what their weakness are. And how to motivate them and how to work together toward the common goal. I think both the work relationship and friendship have continued to evolve in a good way.”

Following the uprising of their movement through the states, their transcendent sound carried them across the pond to New Zealand and Australia, where they were opened for 6LACK earlier this year. receiving a more welcome reception from their overseas counterparts. The good vibes transferred throughout the show brought them one step closer to the aspirations that bond them together.

“The people are beautiful and you know, are not so pretentious and high strung,” Love explained of the best and worst moments in Australia. “The fans are very receptive to any type of music it seems. They just like to go to concerts and have a good time, as opposed to coming to the United States, you'll get someplace that sit there and fold their arms like you are supposed to impress them.”

 

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Melbourne was a movie 🎥 Round 2 this Wednesday at @theoxfordartfactory. Limited tickets still available. 🐺x🇦🇺

A post shared by THEY. (@they) on Oct 15, 2018 at 6:00pm PDT

Just a few months prior, the duo made their first appearance at Billboard’s Hot 100 Festival. The group caught the short end of the festival stick when their set time clashed with hip-hop acts like Rae Sremmurd and Lil Xan. THEY. was subjected to a crowd cross-armed and unwilling to catch the vibes. Pushing forth a strong performance, the group shattered the hard shells of concert goers, changing their crossed arms and intimidating stares to body rolls and kinder eyes.

As momentum continues for the duo, they've avoided the type of burnout establishing acts normally face. From smaller venues to sold-out arenas, the boys have set their sights on performance meccas like Madison Square Garden. But beyond the surface level goals, THEY. seeks to give the outcasts a place to call home. Leaving their mark on all the generations to come after, former victims of bullying illustrate that life has the opportunity to get better.

“At the end of the day, I want to change the world,” Jones explained. “That's really the goal to change the world and change music and really it only takes one moment. It's like the butterfly effect. We were the first few people to put out the idea of 808's, guitars and pop vocals. Now it's out in the atmosphere and we see a lot more people taking that approach. I feel like ultimately it's circling back our way."

Uncertain about the next trends in R&B, THEY. find themselves ahead of the curve. A few years removed from their first album Nü Religion: Hyena, the two have made strides to perfect their music making formula. Naturally, Dante and Drew are striving to leave a lasting impact on as many people as possible.

Stream THEY.’s Fireside EP below

READ MORE: NEXT: R&B Is Taking Many Directions And Music Duo THEY. Is Creating Their Own

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