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'Purple Rain' Turns 30: Prince's Engineer Shares Majestic (And Maddening) Studio Stories

There are those high pressured, perilous jobs that are not for the meek. The U.S. Secret Service; a window cleaner for the world's tallest building—Dubia's 2,716 feet wonder Burj Khalifa; Kanye West's publicist. But during the '80s, one would be hard-pressed to find a gig more intimidating or unpredictable than working as a music engineer for Prince. Susan Rogers has lived to tell the tale.

An Associate Professor of Music Production and Engineering at the prestigious Berklee College from 1983 to 1988, Rogers had the ultimate insider's view of the obsessive, glorious run of arguably pop music's most prolific talent.

"You are talking about someone who would play a show from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and then perform at an after party," she recalls of Prince's torrid pace. "Then I would book a recording studio for 1 a.m. while on tour and Prince would work on his music or say Sheila E's record. There is so much great, unreleased material from Prince. We would work all day and night long, and then he would be up the next morning ready to do it all over again."

But the Purple Rain-era holds a special place in Rogers' heart. For the then 27-year-old, it was baptism-by-fire after being hired as the songwriting machine's personal studio technician in August of 1983. It was during this period that Rogers, who would go on to engineer for such acclaimed Prince works as Around The World In A Day, Parade, and Sign 'O The Times, witnessed the making of the enigmatic artist's highest selling album (the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning 1984 film has to date sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide). In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Purple Rain album, VIBE sat down with the studio veteran to discuss her wild and crazy ride with Prince Rogers Nelson from superhuman, marathon recording sessions to escaping the clutches of film icon Elizabeth Taylor on the Purple Rain tour. This is not music, this is a trip. —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)

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VIBE: You set out to become an engineer in 1978, at a time when women were an anomaly on the technical side of recording. What compelled you to go into such a male dominated field?
Susan Rogers: It was the clear ether of youth [laughs]. I did not know it was male-dominated, and I didn't know any musicians in the business. But what I did know is I loved records and that I had fantasized about being a studio engineer. I always knew I wasn't cut out to be a musician or a songwriter. My calling was to be on the other side of the glass and to be sung and played to. I just aimed in that direction and found myself there. If people needed a tape machine repaired, the tape machine doesn't care what gender you are [laughs].

What was it about Prince that made you want to work with him, and what was your role on the Purple Rain project?
I was riding a city bus in Hollywood and there was a kid who was sitting in the back of the bus with a boombox. I heard the song "Soft & Wet," and I remember thinking, "I got to find out who this is...this is great!" I became a Prince fan immediately. By the time [1980's] Dirty Mind came out, my mind was completely blown. It was everything I wanted music to be: It was R&B, rock, soul, and funk. And it was art music. Prince was bold, creative and he was making a statement and he had original thought.

I knew I would do anything to work with Prince. So then in 1983, I heard through the grapevine that Prince was looking for a technician. And then I went right to Glen Phoenix, who is the President of Westlake Audio, the studio where Prince recorded and told him I would be perfect for him. I'm female and Prince likes working with females. I am completely well-trained as a technician so I knew I could do the work and I was a huge fan. Glenn asked me a lot of questions and then he sent me over to Prince's management.

That had to be very surreal for you, right?
It was. They made me an offer right then and there. At the time I was just joining Prince I didn't know what he was like and what he was thinking going into Purple Rain. But I can say that it was clear that he had momentum. When I first met Prince he was just coming off the 1999 tour. He had already done some of the recording for Purple Rain and there was more to be done. At this time, I wasn't hired as his engineer. I was his maintenance tech. But you got the sense from being around him that he felt empowered. Prince was aware that with this new power he could do even more than what he had achieved with 1999. It was a big deal for such a young artist to go to his record label and say, "I want to make a movie." This is an artist who created his own competition with the Time, Vanity 6, Sheila E, and others. Prince was going to try to see how far he could go with all of his artistry.

Were you around when they initially recorded parts of Purple Rain at August '83 First Avenue gig?
No. But I was hired in August of 1983, around the time the First Avenue songs were [premiered]. I was planning the transition from moving from Los Angeles to Minnesota. There was a mobile truck at First Avenue and David Rivkin, Bobby Z's brother, did the recording during the live gig. But I did arrive in time to do a lot of the overdubs for the Purple Rain album. The first thing Prince had me do was work on his home studio. I had to tear out an old console and install a new one. He had just brought a new API console. I repaired his tape machine, which was an Ampex MM 1200. I got a lot of stuff done. One of the first songs we worked on was "Darling Nikki." We did a lot of work for the Purple Rain album in his home studio.

"Darling Nikki" is a hell of a song to have as your first project. Did you press play and think to yourself, "What have I gotten myself into?"
[Laughs] You have to remember I was his new employee. So Prince had me put up the tape of "Darling Nikki." I pushed up the faders and I remember thinking, "Holy shit!" "Darling Nikki" wasn't even finished yet, but you could tell it was something special. I would hazard to guess he did it all by himself; he played everything. The song "Let's Go Crazy" was recorded live at a rehearsal. That was one of the first things I did with Prince. He rehearsed the song and the arrangement of the song with his band The Revolution. At that time, St. Louis Park was the city where Prince rehearsed. Now typically, the recording studio is isolated from the musicians, but not in this case. We had the recording equipment right in the middle of the floor. We recorded the band live and then Prince and I stayed there late, late late to do the guitar solo and the additional instrumental parts. That was the first song I recorded with him from beginning to end. It was crazy.

You talk about recording with Prince so nonchalantly, but from all the stories about his recording exploits he was known for wearing out engineers. How were you able to keep up?
Let me tell you. At that time, four hours of sleep was a good night's sleep for Prince. I would usually get a phone call at 9 a.m. and it's from Prince. When he would call that meant come to the studio immediately. Prince would tell me what kind of set up he wanted. The most important thing was to never hand Prince an instrument that wasn't in tune. His technicians taught me how to tune his piano, drums, bass, and guitar. And this included setting up a vocal mic as well. Prince would come downstairs and usually have a lyric sheet written in long hand. And he would tape it up on a stand in front of the drums. I'd hit record and he would play the entire drum track from beginning to end without a click with the song in his head. He was a musical genius, especially on the drum machine.

Show off...
That's how talented he is. Prince wanted to be able to walk from the drum booth into the control room, pick up the bass and play the bass parts. Next, he might do the keyboard or pick up the guitar. He'd get half of the instrumentation done and then by himself he would record his vocals. Once it was time for vocals, I would leave the room. He always had to do his vocals alone because he needed that concentration. We could finish an entire song and have it printed and mixed in one day and have copies made. And then a few hours later, the phone would ring again and it's Prince [laughs]. And I would come back and do the whole thing again. But that's just so extremely rare. Most people don't or can't work like that.

Can you think of any other artist that has been that obsessed with recording at such a torrid pace?

No. I can't think of any other artist who has ever done what he's done. His competition at that time was Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna. Now there have been other artists since that have seemingly done it all in the studio. But they don't really do it all. They are not writing, producing and arranging all of their material. And playing every instrument and writing music for movies at the same time and writing for other artists. Prince was doing all this and designing every aspect of his live show. He even designed his own clothes. To do all this and be on top for as long as he was and to have that many hit records and exercising that much control and power and that much anonymity over that many aspects of your music there's no precedent for that.

You are not dealing with someone who wakes up and does the dishes, huh?
[Laughs] That's true! When I first got to Prince's home it was a typical split-level suburban house and the studio was in a bedroom downstairs right below his living room. So his piano was right above me. While I was downstairs in his bedroom for a week installing his console and doing his wiring, Prince was just waiting for his studio to be built, and I would hear him on the piano playing over and over again. I heard him play an early version of "The Beautiful Ones" more than any other song. He was just working it out over and over again. It was a powerful theme for him in his playing. It was really a privilege to hear him play these great songs. He would sit down at the piano and just play.

What was a typical recording session with Prince like during the Purple Rain era?
A typical session for Prince was when we started a song from scratch we typically didn't leave the studio until it was mixed and printed. No one else did that. But Prince did that for every song. So if we came in and we started a song from scratch we would either do the drum machine or live drums first. Then we might bring in members of his band. But usually, he would finish an entire song without any help. We would not leave until everything was overdubbed. When I officially became Prince's engineer I would usually be mixing it as we went along. He changed his method of recording after Paisley Park was built because he could finally use automation. But most of the time I was with Prince it was very old school.The only time we would remix something after the fact is when the original track was cut live like in the case of "Let's Go Crazy" and subsequent records like "Mountains." And of course, we would remix tracks that were recorded live by the mobile truck. We would bring it back in the studio, fix it and mix it. That was the case with "Purple Rain" and a few other tracks on that album.

Did you have a hand at recording Purple Rain's film score as well?
Even though I came in late on the project, I was doing quite a bit of work on the album and the movie. In addition to sequencing Purple Rain and taking it to mastering, I helped with recording the incidental music for the film. I was hearing it all as it was coming together.

Was there a sense that you were working on a game-changing project?
There was definitely a sense that the Purple Rain soundtrack and entire project was noteworthy. We had no idea that this thing was going to sell how many millions of copies that it did. But there was a sense that if they hadn't noticed Prince before they would notice him now. And he had songs that didn't make it on the album like "Wonderful Ass," which was on a tape that was just sitting there in his room when I joined him as an employee. He had those great [Purple Rain b-sides] like "17 Days," a song I loved! He had so much material. That was probably his most fertile period. And really good stuff. I was disappointed that his funk songs like "17 Days" didn't make it onto Purple Rain.You engineered on the Purple Rain tour as well. What's your fondest memory?
We had a mobile recording truck at the Superdome in Louisiana. Imagine being a single-named artist and selling out two nights at a place that holds 60,000 people. That's where we recorded "4 The Tears In Your Eyes." This was an astonishing moment for me. I was on the side as the band was taking the stage and was hit by the sound of 60,000 people. I have never heard anything like that before. Prince and the stage looked so small in a place of that size. It was great just to realize what this guy had accomplished. After that, we played Los Angeles, which was a big deal because you would see all of these celebrities backstage. I'm looking at Prince like, "Wow, you are the guy I go to work for everyday."

That had to be a humbling experience for everyone involved, right?
It really was. Prince was an output for recording and performing. That's all he did. But he didn't want to be backstage, and yet something remarkable happened at the Forum. Prince was held captive by Elizabeth Taylor! He didn't want to be talking to Elizabeth Taylor... not there; not after a sold-out show. But there he was. My ex-boyfriend John was also backstage. So I'm running around because we have the mobile truck there, too. John looked at Prince being talked to by Elizabeth Taylor and he saw a brother in trouble [laughs]. And John thought to himself, "I'm going to fall on the sword." So John jumped in between Prince and Elizabeth Taylor and did his best Quincy, Massachusetts, nutcase kid. He's screaming, "Prince, the show was wicked awesome! I took two hits of acid and smoked a big joint!"

That should have been a Dave Chappelle sketch.
It was hilarious! That was enough of a distraction where Prince could look at Taylor and go, "Well, nutcase in the room...what are you gonna do?" and make his escape. I never heard this until Prince told me that story afterward. He was laughing when he told what happened. He said, "Man, that dude saved my life...I love that guy!"'

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Meet Amaal, The Socially Conscious Songstress Ready To Express Her Own Truths

Somali-Canadian singer Amaal is like no other. At close to a year old, she and her family, consisting of seven siblings, immigrated to Canada to flee the devastating war in Somalia. That experience, in addition to her strict upbringing, all played a defining role in the artistry she hangs her hat on today. Amaal has never shown herself to be the kind of artist whose lyrics are filled with fluff, sunflowers and daisies. Instead, each line in her music represents pivotal, significant moments in her life, whether they pertain to heartbreaking experiences with love, enlightening trips back to Somalia, or learning to embrace her true self. The Toronto native’s work has always possessed a sense of honesty, but it’s on her newly released EP Black Dove that her vulnerability becomes abundantly clear.

Raised by traditional Muslim parents, Amaal admits that she’s always had a certain type of image to portray and standards to live by. However, despite the parental pressures that she grew up with, Amaal was content—for the time being. She didn’t reveal the fullest extent of her personality to her parents for the longest time, but they did know pieces of her and Amaal was at peace with that. That is, until it started to affect her music making process.

“I felt very dishonest, to be honest,” the 29-year-old says about creating music that primarily fulfilled the impression her parents had of her. “I didn’t feel like I was being true to myself. [I] felt like I was lacking presence in my own music.”

Once the former University of Toronto student was candid with herself, she became candid in her music about various aspects of her life, and that is how Black Dove was born. Amaal went from singing on afropop beats to leaning on R&B sounds much more heavily in her material. However, despite shedding the original soundscape that introduced her to the music world, Amaal plans to always have that element that traces back to her Somali roots.

“I absolutely love [afropop] and I still always want to incorporate that,” she says. “Everything I did before I would still want to incorporate.”

Prior to the release of Black Dove, Amaal would pen songs about her travels to Somalia, the period of time she lived there as a teenager, and while that theme may not be as overt in her new EP, it’s still an important piece of her heart and life. To this day, when she’s not busy in the booth preparing new tunes, she’s in Somalia aiding the community in more ways than one. And old, new and future fans of Amaal have October’s Very Own’s (OVO) Noah Shebib to thank for the arrival of the songstress on the music scene.

Full of tranquil energy, Amaal opened up about the various meanings Black Dove holds to her, navigating the music industry as a Somali-Canadian woman and staying true to herself no matter the cause.

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VIBE: You’ve described Black Dove as being an EP that represents the "you" that you’d previously kept hidden. Can you explain exactly what "you" was hidden? Amaal: Yeah, that's a good question. I was raised in a very sort of strict, conservative upbringing household. There's just a lot of things that I felt like wasn't ever a possibility that I can do. I didn't imagine certain things to be possible for me. When I started doing music I really didn't express a lot of the things I was going through in my relationships, 'cause to even be in a relationship is not really looked at in a good way. I started doing music that always had this message of hope and resilience within the community of people I was raised with: immigrants, refugees. When I did that music, I felt like my mom, my parents were very proud of me. Although it was my story and what I wanted to do, I felt comfortable being in that space and that's what I kept doing. That's what I kept going at. Just one time I thought, There's so much in my life that I've been through, that I've kept hidden, almost living a double life. I felt very dishonest, to be honest, and I didn't feel like I was being true to myself. [I] felt like I was lacking presence in my own music. I was disappointed and I thought, This has to change.

I just started talking about things that I had gone through in relationships, staying in a relationship longer when I should've left and the whole concept of struggle love. Just the black community, my community... I feel like we, as women, sometimes we feel like we have to endure pain in order to show that we love someone. From the outside looking in, people didn't assume that about me, but that is kind of what I was. I grew so much from that and I wanted to share that in my music. Black Dove to me represents freedom. I love birds, I love doves, I think they're so empowering and free and I'm a black woman, so it was like black dove.

It’s interesting that you felt like you were living a double life, even though it was in a space that you were comfortable. The way you are with your family, even though it is you, it's not the full extent of who you are. Yes, absolutely. In your music it's very hard but if I was doing a 9-5 job, I could, 'cause I was mastering it, I would be able to still continue doing that. But now, I have to have those conversations. I'm actually really learning I didn't give [my parents] enough credit. They're actually really awesome people and I'm disappointed in myself that I could've opened up in more areas. But there's still some stuff that needs to be talked about.

 

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My loves, I’m so excited to share that my EP BLACK DOVE will officially be out July 12 🕊🙏🏾Black dove means to me freedom. Freedom of my own captivity. Freedom of the shackles society placed on me! It means no longer committing a disservice to myself and owning every part of me. It’s having the courage to show up and recognizing true strength is in being vulnerable. It’s Breaking down to rebuild and running to the other side of my fears. I feel so honoured to share these moments with you all! It’s only just the beginning! @applemusic presaves will be available next week ❤️ 📷 @byseanbrown Special thanks to @sidneigum for allowing me to wear this heavenly dress!! You’re beyond talented and im so thankful!

A post shared by Amaal (@amaalnuux) on Jun 27, 2019 at 4:57pm PDT

Was it difficult for you to be so honest with this EP, having gone through the experiences that have led you to be completely honest with who you are? Yeah, it was. I love how you worded that earlier. Although I was living a double life, I was comfortable in that area. It was working but I definitely had to face those things that I was pushing away. I just realized the definition of the strength that I thought I was and people perceived me to be was a front. There was a lot of ego-dropping and really being raw and vulnerable with myself. That's why for a lot of the tracks, I like the instruments to be very ambient and not that much going on. I like to build off of one or two instruments because I want to let my subconscious do the talking so that my ego's gone and I can be present. But I think that's the journey of getting there. It didn't happen overnight. There's some stories there that I never thought I would share but now I'm excited to talk about them.

Would you say that your need, or the feeling that you felt to hide yourself, came from just that specific place? From family? Mostly family, religion. Religion is number one. That played a huge role. Something I really struggled with, even talking about it in interviews, I'll be honest with you, because I do have a very deep connection with Somalia. I do a lot of activism work. I went to school for that and I want to continue doing that line of work. Unfortunately, there still is some sense of safety that I have to think about so I have to censor some things. But religion was hugely a part of it.

When you were in school, were you still doing music? I always did music. But even when I released my first body of music, the intent wasn't to be a frontrunner, to be a musician. It was out of pure expression. It was actually really innocent. Me and my cousin would write together, we'd be like "oh wow we have so many songs let's go to a studio and record." That was it, it was really to show my family and friends the clips and then it did really well. It pushed me into that setting. I actually had to take some time away from school, to go and focus on it and then I ended up getting signed to Noah Shebib. He's Drake's right hand. That was an amazing experience as well, but music was always the core.

You moved to Canada from Somalia at a young age. Do you feel as if the move didn’t have as much of an effect on you being so young? I absolutely remember nothing of it. But the experience had an effect on me because of everyone. We ended up moving to an area in Toronto where it was mostly Somali people who were running from the world. We all came with our PTSD and mental health issues. So, you did sense that things were not okay. Because I mean the first few years, the war went on for a long time. It’s debilitated the country. Almost my entire life I've known instability to be there. Thankfully it's getting better, but it's deeply within us. Even though we were away from the problem, we weren't. 'Cause my mom was getting a phone call of her dad passing away, getting killed, her brother essentially losing his mind because he saw so much. Bad news coming constantly to us, so it did still feel like it was present and it did affect us for sure. In ways maybe I don't know, in ways that I think it inspired me more to work harder in this life because I owe it to them and their sacrifice.

Do you feel very connected to your Somali heritage? Yeah, big time. We were very lucky because my dad made a big point that when were coming into the house, he'd say "Leave your English at the door" and "When you step in the house you speak Somali." People are very surprised to hear me speak. They're like "I would not have expected that." It's not amazing, it is good, but when I went to Somalia, I went woah, nevermind. I thought I was with it... yeah no. It's a poetic language. It's not like direct speaking, it's a lot of poetry. And you're like "oh my God, I don't know." I do the direct talking, my way of speaking is very different but it's very fascinating there.

When's the last time you went to Somalia? I saw on your Instagram page that you’ve been there a few times. Yeah, I was there a lot. I believe 2017, I was there three to four times, and then I was there in 2006, I believe. I was there for a year [in 2006]. It was pretty interesting. But the last few times I went to do famine relief work. There was a really bad drought that happened and a humanitarian crisis. There were like six million people that were going to go without food. A guy named Jerome [Jarre] started this initiative—two million dollars were raised and then we went there, took multiple trips, giving food, water, whatever the necessities were that they needed. So I took, three or four trips back and forth. It was phenomenal. It was the most sad, beautiful, everything experience ever. I saw a lot there that I wasn't prepared for.

Do you feel like there are other life experiences that have shaped you into the woman and artist you are today? Absolutely. That trip to Somalia—the one that I was there for a year—I say that trip. Even today what I'm doing, that's how much it domino affected my life. Because when I went there, I went a little bit spoiled, naive, ungrateful a little. I'm going to be honest. I was like "school's school, whatever," I just didn't care. And I went there and I saw how appreciative, how humble, how thirsty people were for knowledge, their education is huge. And how little they have but how content they are with what they have. I just remember thinking: "You've got to check yourself, you're kind of wack. You have all these opportunities." And these people are so inspiring and so everything. I learned there that although their world collapsed during the war, women were the backbone of that nation, they're the ones that kept it going. I admire them so much more, I really connected with my roots. I always say the girl who went there is gone. Left. I came back a completely different person. I couldn't connect with my friends, I immediately enrolled in school. I got my sh*t together. I did, I had to. Ever since then it's been my compass that's kind of guided me. It's so crucial to me.

Being described as socially conscious, not only in your music but outside of your music, why do you think being aware of our world and the issues that go on around us is so important? I forget this quote somebody said it but, I believe our ticket to this Earth is to be paid in service. That's just the way that I feel because Earth is our home and it provides so much for us and it's our job to also provide for it as well. That means all of its living mammals, whatever it is. I think coming from a country that's experienced so much turmoil, a continent that's gone through hell and back, and has been exploited—and don't even get me into that—I don't even know where it comes from but I know I was born with it. Does that make sense? It's instilled in me, so to put it into words, it's hard for me. But I just know it's necessary for not just you but for our future generation and their kids, you gotta clean your home right?

So is the growth you experienced from that trip and in general over the years, and who you've shaped yourself to be and who you're still shaping yourself to be, is that the message you want your fans to get from Black Dove? Are there any other messages you hope your fans pick up from your EP? I definitely hope that they can understand the journey that I've been on because of the style of music that I was doing for so long. But I think they will because I believe a lot of women from upbringings that I've had, there is that internal struggle that we all deal with where we want to please our parents but we also need to please ourselves. This project for me is... I'm pleasing myself. I feel there's this awakening happening, that women are starting to... essentially there's always been that message, but right now it's more powerful and we're really owning our voices. Feeling empowered in our sexuality and just who we are in our identity. If anything they could take is owning yourself and being okay with you are. You're enough. I'm writing that in my little cards to everyone, "You are enough."

The music you’re making now is a lot more R&B, and has a bit of a “vibey” energy to it, but not in the stereotypical sense. Being an artist, who would you say you idolized growing up? I'll be honest, I never idolized any artist. I think that word, I've always had a hard time with. But if there's someone I absolutely loved and adored, it was Aaliyah, because she had an Arabic name, too. I connected with her and she was of my generation. I didn't have the opportunity to hear a lot of music in my household. I didn't start singing until I was in high school, I didn't even know I really had it, anything. I started to listen to music in high school and I'd go back and be like, "Oh my god, who's this?" Nina Simone, Sam Cooke and all these greats. Nina Simone I loved because she lived in an era of oppression and the history of America was happening. She used her music to talk about that. She found a way to do it that I think a lot of people still aren't able to. I would say people from that time. Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill, Toni Braxton, too. Love her voice. Of course Beyoncé, she's the obvious, the guidebook, right? Aaliyah was my number one top.

How'd you discover that you could sing? I was singing Mario's "Let Me Love You," and a friend was like: "Oh, you sound good." I'm like "Really? Cool." And then I'd be singing on the bus and then somebody else said something, I was like "Okay, interesting." So I just started singing more. My sisters would say you sound pretty and I would mimic other artists. Not mimic them in that way, but practice tone and agility and the little runs.

With artists today, do you have anyone that you'd like to collaborate with? Yeah. There's two artists that I love. Two female artists, I'm obsessed with them. It's Ari Lennox and NAO. I would love to. I think they're brilliant.

Ari Lennox definitely matches your sound. Ah, I love her. She commented on my picture the other day, I damn near lost it. She's just so special. When I see her interviews she's just so real, very nice, and like awkward but in the most beautiful way. I love her. I'd love to work with those two. And then for producers, Pharrell would be a dream come true. There's a guy named Stint, he lives in L.A. I've worked with Noah [Shebib] before but to actually get back in and release a song together that would be dope. 'Cause we have stuff from the past. Yeah, I think that'd be a nice little full circle moment.

 

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A post shared by Amaal (@amaalnuux) on May 27, 2019 at 10:31am PDT

Getting deeper into your music, what was the process for creating this EP? How long did it take for you to complete it as well? The process for me was deprogramming myself, if that makes sense. Whatever cultural binds that were holding me back in my life, I had to first approach that before I even went into doing music. It was a lot of that type of work. And then when I went into the studio I really wanted space in my tracks, so I can express myself and let the subconscious tell the story and bring forth things that I've gone through in my life that I never would've shared. I felt like that's what I needed to do in that moment.

It was a little bit hard because one of the stories was about visiting someone that I loved that went away to jail for eight months. I visited him every single weekend and during that time, I'm telling you right now, very little people knew. Just my sisters because they know everything about me, a few girlfriends and that's it. I never thought I'd ever share this story, but going through it, it started off as a bit shameful, head down, getting on the bus, you just really don't want to say where you're going. And then by the end of it—because we would take this bus that was filled with women, who were going to see their loved ones as well—I remember falling in love with them. It was like a sisterhood that we formed, a support system. They had my back, I had theirs. In the end to feel shame would mean to be ashamed for them as well and I loved them. I just remember that whole feeling melting away and seeing them and myself in a light of admiration. I was very proud of myself. There was no shame. That's what the EP was for me. Telling those stories, telling those moments, I otherwise would've bottled up and it took a year and a half, I would say. I did start doing the EP and then I erased almost everything and I started all over again when I found this place that I was at. I was like, "No, I gotta be honest and open."

If you weren't as vocal before, do you feel like you had to be more vocal in the music industry? More assertive? How do you navigate it? Aw, man. A lot of my failures was because I wasn't assertive. A lot of my setbacks was because I never spoke up for myself and that is a lot culture as well. I was taught to allow the other person to decide. It definitely held me back in a lot of opportunities, and taking me to where I needed to go. It's interesting because you want to be able to do that without being called a bi**h, which is really sad, or a diva, which I find really heartbreaking. It's really sad. I'm now finding my voice and I'm for the first time seeing the reaction. Before I just allowed it, so that's been a really interesting landscape to navigate because I'm like,"oh I was honest with you and you're offended, why are you offended? There's no reason to be, so, now I have to soothe you again." I'm still learning and finding the best way to do it but it's really hard being a woman in this industry because it is male-dominated. But, I'll take being a bi**h now, 'cause at least I won't look back and be like, "I should've said something," 'cause that's how I felt previously in my past things, relationships that I was in.

Listening to Black Dove it’s very vibey and seductive. How did you make sure your sound was distinct and unique to you? For me, I feel I paid a lot of homage to my Somali background and we sing in a bit of a pentatonic scale. It's the Middle Eastern sound, it's just some of the runs. And I did it, in not what I thought, it was like a run that you wouldn't hear in the Western R&B style of music. I tried incorporating stuff like that. Picking drums that had a bit of an African feel, drum pattern to it. If the music was sounding not as unique, I would try to make sure at least the topic in which I'm singing about does. But honestly my go-to usually is very minimal. I gravitate towards that and I think that's been my unique thing because most production that I hear there's a lot happening. I know when I hear a lot happening, when they do that with some of my songs, I get a headache. Honestly, it's weird, I feel clustered. I feel like my message is being lost a little bit. Even in my graphics, some of the designs, I'm very minimalistic, very simple. I try to incorporate that into my music, I hope that's been able to set me apart.

On your song "Later" you sing, "if I hold us down you'll change your behavior." And from what could be understood from the song, it seems like a relationship that you give your all in, but the same isn't reciprocated and if it is, it's later. A lot of people can definitely relate to that feeling. Is this song from personal experience? Oh this one's all personal, 100 percent. It's the story I was just sharing with you. I actually wrote this song on my bus ride to go see him. It's such a long story, but to sum it up, we were already in a bit of a weird place during all that time. I think that would put stress on any person or any relationship. But, going there to see him, I remember thinking "I want to be there for him, I want to be loyal, down to that ride or die." And it can be damaging sometimes but in my case I really felt it was worth it. But yeah those are my questions, "I'll hold us down, I'll do all this stuff for you but will it be worth it and will you see my efforts." It was definitely being inspired by those women because we all shared a similar story. That's the story that it came from, that's so cool that you picked it up the lyrics.

Moving forward in your music, what is one constant that you want your fans to take from you as an artist? Some fans will take different things. Muslim-Somali women I think I want them to take that I'm a risk taker, I am resilient, I'm in a place where the judgment of others is no longer of importance to me and I really hope that that's something that is taken. Overall as a black woman, I hope that people can take the place that I'm in and feel comfortable with where they're at in life and feel empowered and powerful and comfortable in their skin and that they're very important and valid and that they're voice is to be heard. I think just that sense of independence, I really hope overall is what people take from this music.

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Bisexuality Is Fluid, And TV Is Finally Catching Up

There was a lady who sold bootleg DVDs on my block when I was a kid—three for 10 dollars. My mom would usually let my brother and I pick whichever ones we wanted, and on one occasion, I specifically remember us picking out American Pie 2, Austin Powers in Goldmember, and 8 Mile. Those were the days when we’d watch movies over and over again until we could recite every line before it reached our ears. My brother always wanted to put on Goldmember. I, on the other hand, was obsessed with 8 Mile, more specifically with Brittany Murphy’s character, Alex. I understood exactly why B-Rabbit (Eminem) was so into her. She spoke in a low, sultry voice and always knew what she wanted, then went for it. That was in 2002, when I was 10. It was the first time (that I can remember) that I suspected I liked girls.

I didn’t know, for sure, that I was bisexual until I was in college. I had been “pretend kissing” girls and being turned on by ones I liked as long as I could remember, but I always attributed that to my hypersexuality. I’ve always been a very sexual person. The way I heard people talk about bisexuality reinforced that belief for a long time: bisexual men are gay boys in denial, and bisexual women are insatiable straights. I always think about how different my teenage years would’ve been had I seen more bisexual characters on TV, ones who could help me navigate questions that I didn’t feel comfortable asking and conversations that no one had with me. Right now, there are more bisexual characters on TV than ever before, and even though some shows have a lot of work left to do, lots of them are putting in the work to portray important stories and jumpstart necessary conversations. Here are 10 times TV shows actually got bisexuality right.

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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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