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VIBE Summer 2014 Cover Story: Mack Wilds


Mack Wilds got his start as a good (stickup) kid in The Wire's mad city. Now he’s looking for his next come up: R&B heavyweight. Can he steal your heart?

STORY: Clover Hope | PHOTO: Sarah McColgan

Up the stairs, past the main pole and the women with strings for clothes, Mack Wilds is in the VIP section of Club Lust doing his job—reintroducing himself. He’s wearing a grey sweatshirt with black-and-white LeBrons on his feet. A black bandana hangs from his back denim pocket. He greets me with a grin (he’s a smiler) and a tight hug, as if we’re cousins at a family function and not a Sunset Park, Brooklyn strip club during graveyard shift hours. As DJ Self plays a soundtrack of sinful staples, from Juvenile’s “Slow Motion” to Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” Wilds works the room, posing for pics and exchanging daps with men in camo and women in leggings. They can’t quite put a name to the face, but they recognize him as that kid from The Wire.

A dancer in a black thong, a Pam-from-Total hairdo and an ultra-cropped white tee that hugs her boobs saunters up next to his bodyguard, Brick. Mack is seated. She looks at him quizzically, and then leans in, her ass inches from the Cîroc bottles on the table.

“You rap? Or sing?” she asks, with a little hood in her voice.
“Sing...” says Wilds.
“What song do I know?”
“Oh!” She does a little shimmy. “Heh-nuh-see! Heh-nuh-see!”

Wilds nods and ignores the slight. On HBO’s The Wire, Tristan Wilds, as Michael Lee, looked like the kid worth saving from Baltimore’s criminal corners. Mack Wilds, the 25-year-old R&B singer, still looks like a boy in the face, though he no longer needs saving. He’s on to his second act—convincing us that he’s not just a singing actor. And he’s aiming for a career track that might place him in the company of actors who’ve made that improbable (and profitable) leap into music—Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Lopez, instead of, say, Eddie Murphy. So for the past year, Wilds has been the Waldo of New York events. Club Lust is one of his many appearances.

It’s hard not to dismiss his recording pursuits as mere recreation. Drifting into music from Hollywood (his respectable post-HBO roles include the George Lucas-produced Red Tails and The Secret Life of Bees) generally attracts skepticism. But Wilds surpassed low expectations with his debut project, 2013’s New York: A Love Story. A stream of soft, moody ballads and club tracks seasoned with East Coast rap beats (from legends Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Salaam Remi), the album earned him a 2014 Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album, which surprised everyone, including him. “I’m still in awe by this whole process,” he says. “It’s nuts.”

The mainstream validation upped Wilds’ stock, and his summer schedule now includes an opening spot on the Under the Influence of Music tour with Young Jeezy, Wiz Khalifa and Tyga. “People don’t even realize there’s an album out—and that it’s actually kinda good,” says Wilds, only mildly frustrated. “It’s that initial feeling, like, Why would he do this? I can’t be mad at that. Like with Justin Timberlake. When he jumps into acting, he’ll have actors like, ‘Oh my god, what is he doing?’ But he’s good. And he’s not just good. He’s brilliant and he’s funny and has charisma.”

Mack knows that JT’s evolution from Mickey Mouse Club to boy band star to pop icon-slash-reputable actor is incomparable. But he’s quick to stress his own work ethic. His peers are easily classified as either vocalists posturing as hardcore rappers (Ty Dolla $ign, his covermate August Alsina), ethereal penmen (Miguel, Frank Ocean) or Chris Brown. Mack is the ’round-the-way guy. He’s the gentleman in the strip club. He’ll toss singles and entertain the dancers at Lust, per expectations. But when a particularly aggressive stripper shoves a set of dimpled cheeks in my face, he extends a hand, Prince Charming-style, to rescue me. He doesn’t abuse the bottle service—he only drinks “for celebratory occasions.”

Actors are masters at deflecting and playing faux humble, but Wilds is the instantly likable type whose unpretentiousness seems genuine. It’s hard to imagine him as an undercover jerk, and those who’ve worked with him will corroborate that the modesty is real. “He’s not putting on for the crowd, trying to portray something he’s not,” says Ne-Yo, who co-wrote Wilds’ single, “Own It.” “I like the raw, realness of Mack’s album. It’s New York to its core, which is what he exudes, yet not in a typical way. The music is comfortable in its own skin.”

In actuality, being a double threat is a minor handicap (Wilds auditions for film roles regularly “to keep it sharp,” he says). But perception is everything. “I’m a realist in a sense,” he says. “Like, where am I gonna survive in a world of 2 Chainz and Drake? Frank, Miguel and all of these guys. I remember coming across them in my travels and being like, ‘Yo, bro, I got some music coming up.’ And they’re like, ‘Okay, cool, how’s that movie going?’”


Two days after Lust, Wilds hosts a Saturday afternoon block party for the Fashion Institute of Technology. The gig involves a short performance of “Own It” and “Henny,” plus emcee duties for the school’s amateur fashion show. The sparse crowd consisted of no more than 50 students and passersby in the street. “Dixon is performing on stage right now. He sings,” says a blonde girl over the phone.

Afterward, Wilds hops in a SUV with his two road managers and Brick. He cues the original version of his album cut, “The Sober Up”—a dreamy morning-after tune written by James Poyser—and taps his customized, paint-splashed Timberlands to the beat. Love Story is primarily self-written and was released through Salaam Remi’s Sony Music imprint, Louder Than Life. The album closes with “Duck Sauce,” an ode to hood Chinese spots. So naturally, we’re headed to Mack’s favorite Chinese restaurant, Wo Hop, in Chinatown, a place where collages of police badges and photos of patrons litter the walls. “It’s like walking into an old Kung Fu flick,” he says.

Wilds is from Staten Island, a borough that means little to most New Yorkers. From first through 12th grade, he went to a predominantly white school outside of his Stapleton Projects zone—Michael J. Petrides School—where he hung in creative circles. Hearing his older brother and high school friends brag about acting auditions made him anxious to follow suit. His mom, a beautician turned stockbroker (“It was something she fell into,” says Wilds), gave him money for a MetroCard and professional headshots to get started. “She always made sure we were super independent,” says Wilds. “She’d say, ‘If you make it, it’s your fault. If you fail, it’s your fault.’”

His first commercial, a spot for a toy car, involved running around a supermarket. Wilds got The Wire at 17, after a role in the Spike Lee production Miracle’s Boys, a TV series on the little known network, The N. The show co-starred Julito McCullum, another kid from The Wire. No one remembers it. Everyone remembers The Wire’s 2008 series finale, in which Wilds’ good-kid character shoots a shop owner in the knee and becomes the new stickup man. “The Wire was eerily comfortable because it was so similar to my neighborhood,” says Wilds. “I was in the streets one day with Snoop [played by Felicia Pearson] and the producers were like, ‘You can’t do that. These kids will kill you, thinking that they’re killing Michael.”

If not for The Wire, an indisputable top-five greatest show ever, a shot at music would be less probable. Salaam Remi was a fan of Tristan, the actor, before meeting him at the BMI Awards and signing him in 2012. “People liked his character’s integrity on The Wire, which wasn’t too far from the integrity that he has himself,” says Remi.

Wilds’ five-year run as the clean-cut Dixon in the rebooted 90210—a role he chose over playing Lil Cease in Notorious—made him even more of a suburban household name. In between shooting, Wilds sat in on studio sessions with Remi, playing apprentice. Every time he sang, people were surprised. “He’s not doing the play-play Auto-Tune singing. He can do a lot with his voice,” says Remi. “When we were recording ‘Don’t Turn Me Down,’ I left the room and came back in and Mack nailed the falsetto. [Producer] Rico Love looked at me, like, ‘Wow, I ain’t think he could do this, but this is special.’ Most people hear it and they’re like, ‘Who’s the girl on the record?’ And then they realize, it’s actually Mack.”

In his music, Wilds is the sensitive humble-bragger with a slight edge who’ll say things like, “You’re the only one I let see this side of me”; the guy who might not realize when a girl is really feeling him. Standing on the sidewalk outside Wo Hop, Coke can in hand, Wilds carries cartons of leftover fried rice and wings. Besides socializing professionally, he dates (not Sevyn Streeter, as rumored), and he’s open to a ’round-the-way chick. Maybe someone like Yaya, his childhood crush, the girl who all the boys wanted. Even then, Mack was modest about his charms. “I remember thinking, she doesn’t like me, and tried to leave it at that,” he says. That changed one day while they were playing Skully—a game with bottle caps—in the street. “We were all joking around, kicking each other’s bottle caps,” he says. “Next thing you know, while everyone else is play fighting, she grabs me up, throws me up against the wall and kisses me. That was my first love.”

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Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax doesn’t want to be the bad guy of R&B. He says this with a sinister, yet warm smile. With year-end debates taking over social circles, Jacquees wants all the flowers for his glowing debut, 4275. “I ain't never had a year like this, I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this,” he says, as he raises his iced out wrist to draw his progression. “It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.”

At 24 years old, the singer knows a thing or two about the ever-changing genre. Nearly half of his life has been dedicated to music, specifically to quiet storm-like sounds that now take on new meaning in our adult love lives. He’s hibernated under the radar for some time with his 2014 debut EP 19 and released gentle falsettos and big name features with Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz along the way.

But between his accolades, he’s been condemned for his favorable “Quemix” of Ella Mai’s “Trip” and now, his self-proclaimed status of “The King of R&B” for his generation.

"I just wanna let everybody know that I'm the king of R&B right now," Jacquees said in an Instagram post on Sunday (Dec. 9). "For this generation, I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it's my time. Jacquees, the king of R&B.”

R&B artists like J. Holiday and Pleasure P shared their two cents on the matter while the game’s most elite like Tank, Tyrese and Eric Bellinger dropping stacks of knowledge on the gift of consistency, respect, and talent. But Jacquees has these things and then some with legends like Jon B., Donell Jones and Jermaine Dupri in his corner. Despite quick reactions from his peers, Jacquees is confident in nature and proud of his space in the game.

“I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one,” he tells VIBE, just days before his “King of R&B” comments went viral. “You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees.”

Jacquees’ music is just a branch of what R&B has evolved into. Over the years, artists like SZA, H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, The Internet, Miguel and many more have flipped the genre on its head by churning out music that not only speaks to the soul, but to their vocal abilities. Successful R&B records aren’t confined to rap guest verses and traditional instruments now take center stage. But Jacquees sits in an interesting space seeing as his style caters to a grey area of folks who just heard their first Monica album yesterday and now appreciate a good nayhoo like the rest of us.

With hopes to release his sophomore album in February 2019, Jacquees chats with VIBE about his confidence, making 7275 and why he’s the perfect leader for R&B today.


What have you learned about yourself as a human and an artist in 2018?

Jaquees: This was my biggest year. I made the most money I’ve ever made. I dropped my album and was able to take care of my family. I ain’t never had a year like this and I thank God for that. I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this, (slowly raises a hand to the ceiling) It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.

I think I learned about my whole self in 2018. Being that it was my biggest year, I went through a lot of stuff personally, but I think the biggest thing for me was listening to other people but also trusting myself. I have a strong mind so more of listening to myself helped.

Do you think you're the good guy or the bad guy in R&B?

Who do you think I am?

I think you’re a sweetie.

I don’t wanna be the bad guy, I’m a good guy. I’m easy to deal with. I’m a sweetie, but ain’t sh*t sweet though. (Laughs)

You have a lot of ‘90s and 2000s influence in your music. Do you ever feel you might sound dated, or do you think you’re bringing new sounds into the genre?

I just think I'm bringing a whole new sound. When I was younger, someone told me if you switch up what you’re doing, someone else is going to do it and you’re going to be pissed off. Just stick with it. When I was 14, everyone was telling me I needed to make club records but I didn’t want to do it. I remember CEOs saying, “Just let Jacquees do that [what he wants,]” because it’s a clock.

I figured out how to get my records at the club without changing who I was. I remember making “B.E.D.” and finding my flow on my project 19, you know? That’s when I got my swag.

What does love look like to you right now?

I think about a family. I think about me, a girl, a kid or something, like a whole family. One day I’m going to have it. I’ll still be in the game but I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s my wife over there with our son and daughter.” I'm getting older, too. I’ve been in the game for 10 years for real, but I’ll be 25 next year and soon they’ll be a little Jacquees.

There are a lot of layers in today’s R&B, especially in the mainstream resurgence it’s had. In that, there aren’t as many young male black vocalists being pushed to the forefront. I want to know your thoughts on where you exist in the genre today.

I think there's a big wave coming back right now because even if R&B didn't die down they weren’t promoting it that heavy. Artists were making songs, they just weren’t being acknowledged on a mainstream level. I think the game is really putting R&B back on top. You know, you’ve got artists like me, Tory [Lanez], Ella Mai, H.E.R., so many people, you know what I’m saying? Of course, you had Chris [Brown], Trey [Songz], all of them but that’s when we were in school. It’s a new time, ain’t no big male R&B singers.

I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one. You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees. They’re not rugged like me. You’ve got Jodeci and Boyz II Men. I’m Jodeci, they’re all Boyz II Men. I’m street, they’re not street like me. You can hear it in their voice. There’s a difference.

It’s no disrespect to nobody because they’re all my friends, but I still wanna be number one. If we’re playing the game and I lose, I’ll be mad as hell but I’m still a good person. I just want to win.

As you should. Everyone wants to make the best music they can–

But I ain’t no hater either. The game is like a sport. The game is like high school. I remember being at this year’s BET Awards and seeing certain singers and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re seniors.’ I knew I was a freshman, but I saw Meek and all of them thought, “He’s a senior.’ You know how it is when you walk through school in the first year. Then the second you’re like, “I’m the ni**a now.”

When I did the Soul Train Awards in November, I felt like a sophomore that everybody knew. They knew me from my freshman year, but this time I’m playing varsity.

You’ve said before you want to do this for a long time–

Yeah, I want to make music forever and it’s my choice. I want to make enough money for me to turn down shows because now, I have to take everything I get. I always tell artists, you got this much time to make this much money. Because after that, sh*t’s closed. I've seen it happen.

For me, I know I got longevity in this game because I'm an R&B singer and a lot of R&B singers have longevity if you take care of yourself, you know what I'm saying? Even rappers, you know what I'm saying? You keep that flow going, don't do no lame sh*t, you know you’re stick around.

How do you take care of yourself?

You gotta take care of your health. That's number one. Your mind and your health is your biggest thing. Keeping good people around you...stay in good spirits with me. I like to keep good people around me. I like people around me [who] make me laugh. Smile, I don't really like people around me that I got to be like, “What's going on?” I just like people who are themselves.

Stream 4275 below.

READ MORE: Tyrese, Usher And Others Reacts To Jacquees' Claim That He's The King Of R&B

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Music Sermon: The Groundbreaking Sprite and St. Ides Hip-Hop Campaigns

Today, rap music is used to sell everything from electronics to tax filing services to nut butter grinding machines at Whole Foods. We understand that hip-hop culture is essentially the root of everything cool and hip in culture, period, and it’s been commodified and appropriated within an inch of its life. But in the early ‘90s, the genre was far from Madison Avenue-friendly. Aside from the groundbreaking deal between Adidas and RUN DMC, brands didn’t yet see full value and impact of hip-hop…except in the food and beverage industry.

Beverage companies centering campaigns for the urban demo around black music was nothing new; Coca-Cola had ads featuring artists such as New Edition and Anita Baker singing their hearts out for the cola in the ‘80s, and Schlitz Malt Liquor had a legendary – and hilarious - run of spots featuring The Commodores, The Four Tops, Teddy Pendergrass and more through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, in the early ‘90s two brands put their entire business on hip-hop’s back, by not only building their brands but spring-boarding the recognition of the music and artists as a marketing and advertising tool: Sprite soda and St. Ides malt liquor.

In the ‘80s, Sprite was languishing behind competitor 7Up when parent company Coca-Cola decided to focus on the youth market, and the quickly growing hip-hop culture was part of the strategy. African-American ad agency Burrell Communications tagged hip-hop acts for a series of spots that began a long-standing marriage between the brand and the culture, starting with Kurtis Blow in 1986. It was one of the first national TV ads to feature a rapper.


In 1990, the brand kicked off the “I Like the Sprite in You” campaign, using rap acts that matched the soft drink’s bubbly energy, starting with Heavy D & the Boyz before partnering with Kid ’n Play the following year. The ads featured the artists clad in lemon-lime fare, rhymin’ about lymon.

HEAVY D - 1990 KID’N PLAY – 1991

With Kris Kross, they turned it up a notch and had us crunk inside the Sprite can. Edgy. Also, this was catchy as hell.


Then in 1994, a young brand manager from Clark Atlanta University named Darryl Cobbin had an idea for a new direction: Gen X was about authenticity and independence of thought, not following the hype. Sprite ditched the pop-friendly crossover acts and identified more “authentic” rap artists – lyricists with street and cultural cred – to rep the brand. “Lymon” was also out of the window, as they moved away from marketing taste and towards marketing attitude. (Cobbin later spearheaded the iconic, yet grammatically questionable, Boost Mobile “Where You At?” campaign.)

Gone were the bright yellow and green sets, because while the new slogan said, “Image is nothing,” it was all about image. Bright and shiny was traded for dark and gritty. Now we were in the studio; a fly on the wall for freestyle sessions. In the first spot of the series with Grand Puba and Large Professor, Puba closes with “First thing’s first, obey your thirst.” It’s legend even within Coca-Cola that Puba ad-libbed the phrase that then became the brand’s tagline that remains to this day.


The “Obey Your Thirst” spots also took us the street corner, the club, and inside the ring when Sprite resurrected the legendary KRS One vs. MC Shan battle.

KRS ONE & MC SHAN - 1996 NAS & AZ – 1997 THE LOST BOYS – 1997

By the late ‘90s Sprite had spent roughly $70M on the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign, tripled sales, and commanded a majority market share of the citrus category (which also included 7Up, Sierra Mist, and Mountain Dew).

Sprite had also succeeded in becoming an official and established part of the culture. They were family. The brand further expanded into urban youth culture through a partnership with the NBA, while continuing to evolve the creative of the rap campaigns.


Near the end of the decade, Sprite explored the overlap between hip-hop culture, comics and martial arts with a series of posse spots based on Voltron (representing all hip-hop regions) and the 5 Deadly Venoms (with all female emcees).


Over the years, Sprite has continued to be one of the most consistent brands in hip-hop. We’ve grown accustomed to spotting the logo everywhere from music festivals and shows to the background of BET’s hip-hop cyphers. They revitalized the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign with Drake in 2010 and paid homage to the greatest lyricists in rap with the “Obey Your Verse” campaign featuring iconic rappers and cans with classic lyrics in 2015.

SPRITE "Obey Your Verse - Cooler" (starring Rakim) from SHOUT IT OUT LOUD MUSIC on Vimeo.

St. Ides’ run with hip-hop doesn’t have the same happy ending as Sprite’s. The brand’s usage of rap petered out in the mid-90s after wide backlash and a series of lawsuits.

For St. Ides, hip-hop was the brand campaign. It’s how they built their business. The brand was introduced in 1987 and their rap campaigns launched in 1988. The malt liquor 40 oz., with significantly higher alcohol content than beer at around a $2 price point, was already a staple in lower-income neighborhoods and hip-hop culture. The “Crooked I” capitalized on that.

Parent company McKenzie River secured Ice Cube as their anchor spokesperson and tapped West Coast producer DJ Pooh to spearhead advertising creative. Pooh lined up a veritable who’s who of additional West Coast rappers over the years, including Geto Boys, Cypress Hill, Warren G, Snoop and Tupac; plus the thorough-est from the East, including Eric B and Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie and EPMD.

EPMD & ICE CUBE - 1991 GETO BOYS & ICE CUBE – 1992 ERIC B & RAKIM - 1992

Unlike Sprite’s campaigns which were first jingles and still felt like commercials, even when elevated to trading hot bars for Obey Your Thirst. St. Ides spots, however, looked and felt like straight up music videos with album-worthy production and flow.

ICE CUBE – 1993 MC EIHT – 1994 NOTORIOUS B.I.G. – 1995

Complex even named Wu-Tang’s St. Ides spot “Shaolin Brew” as one of the collective’s 100 best songs! (But at least it’s ranked near the bottom; #97.)


In fact, in 1994, the brand did turn the hottest of the joints into an album, with the St. Ides promotional mixtape dropping at your neighborhood liquor store. It featured full-length songs about getting twisted off the malt liquor from Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, MC Eiht, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Nate Dogg.

The Snoop and Nate track is low key a jam, still. Homegirl in the background starting at the 10-second mark is a whole mood.

This blatant marketing of malt liquor directly to black and brown youth wasn’t going to go unchecked indefinitely. It was all irresponsible, even while being genius for the demo. In 1991, the Wall Street Journal listed the St. Ides ad campaign among one of the worst of the year, which probably didn’t matter at the time since WSJ readers weren’t St. Ides’ base.

In 1991, Public Enemy released Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Back. The album featured “100 Bottle Bags,” a direct criticism against malt liquor companies marketing specifically to urban communities “…but they don’t sell that sh*t in the white neighborhoods.” Shortly after the release, St. Ides found itself in Chuck D’s crosshairs, and he fired the first in a series of big shots against the brand, marking the beginning of the end of their love affair with hip-hop. An 80-second radio spot featuring Cube used a sample of Chuck’s voice without his permission. The ad had already aired over 500 times on rap radio shows when Chuck sued St. Ides parent company McKenzie River for five million dollars (they settled out of court).

Then, St. Ides and McKenzie River fell under legal scrutiny from the New York State Attorney General in 1992 for using verbiage like Cube’s lyric “Get your girl in the mood quicker, make your jimmy thicker…St. Ides.” to suggest the malt liquor increased sexual prowess. Can you imagine the think pieces if that spot ran today?

They were later in hot water with the New York AG’s office again, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (the ATF) for advertising perceived to the be targeted towards minors, with complaints that it glamorized gang affiliation and promoted sex. After having production completely shut down for a short while and getting hit with heavy fines, St. Ides tried to clean up its act, adding “drink responsibly” messaging into the spots.

By ’96 the run was over. Hip-hop was growing up, getting money and moving towards more sophisticated alcoholic beverage choices. Alizé and Hennessy, anyone?

The relationship between hip-hop and alcohol never ended, of course, but has continued to evolve to match the evolution of the lifestyle. We don’t go to the corner store no more, homie (save a brief return in the early aughts of Four Loko). We’re toasting to the good life with premium brands, some of which are now owned by the artists.

We can look back now with the wizened, woke eyes of maturity and possibly scrutinize our artists selling out at the expense of the community, but for the young and burgeoning hip-hop culture, both the St. Ides campaigns and the Sprite campaigns opened the door for the power and commodification of hip-hop and consumer brands. For better or for worse.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations


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