Damien Lemon 'The Half Hour'

Interview: Comedian Damien Lemon Wants A 'Half Hour' Of Your Time

Funnyman Damien Lemon knows that comedy ain’t no joke. In addition to bringing laughable do’s and don’ts to MTV’s Guy Code, Lemon has also snagged a coveted stand-up special on Comedy Central’s The Half Hour. The result of meticulous writing and planning to get the punches just right, the comedian's offering of 30 minutes of banter is an example of the refinement of his natural gift of humor. But careful tuning in, it may be the start of a Lemon addiction. --Iyana Robertson VIBE: Congrats on The Half Hour special. How did the opportunity come about? I’ve been doing comedy now, it’ll be nine years at the end of this year. And basically, I’ve been on their radar for a while. I was on the channel a while back, I did Russell Simmons’ The Ruckus a few years back, and just a couple of other things with Comedy Central, shows, commercials, stuff like that. So each year, comedians submit their half hour, or a set for consideration to be a part of this Half Hour franchise. And they picked me. It was kind of just that simple: I’ve been doing comedy for a while, they were familiar with me, we’d done some things together, so when the opportunity came to submit, I submitted and they rocked with it. Where were you when you got the call that you would be on it? Where was I? That’s a good question. And I was blown away because, I won’t say I didn’t expect to get The Half Hour, but the thing is you’re supposed to send in a video of your set and I couldn’t find a half hour video to send in. So I just sent in an audio version of a half hour that I did in D.C. And they got me off of that. So it was beautiful. Let’s talk a little bit about stand-up. So how much preparation goes into putting a stand-up show together? Oh, it’s tons of preparation. It depends on the stand-up though. But my stand-ups, you know what we do? We come up with our material, write our material, and then at that point you have to go basically work the material out. So you get up time and time and time again just to get the phrasing right, to see what hits, what doesn’t what to edit. It would be the comparison of, you know how you write and you bring it to your editor, and then they take pass, and then they cut it, and then you write it again, and you bring it to your editor and it’s finalized? It’s that same type of process, but in front of people that could be like ‘Nah, we not feelin’ that at all.’ You test the material with actual audiences? Yeah, in front of actual audiences. And how do you know what to go back and change? Every time I perform, I tape my performances. So basically, you know immediately if it works or not, if they laugh or they don’t, if they’re not feeling it or if it’s quiet. But then when you go back and listen to it, you may find laughs in placing you didn’t hear in the moment. Then you can see, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, this line got a laugh, or the setup got a laugh, but then the punchline kind of dragged here.’ It’s just really a taste of going over it and over it again. The beauty of being in the New York comedy scene is there is so many comedy shows and so many spots that you could have. Like, I could come up with a new joke on Tuesday, and do four shows that night, and do that joke four times in front of four different audiences, and I could shape the joke a lot within just a day. So you give me a month with that joke, I could definitely sharpen it, know where it lands, know where to put it in my set. It’s just repetition, repetition. And editing. In the clips from The Half Hour, you do jokes about really random things like, hand dryers in a bathroom. How do you pick which situations would really be funny as hell? If it makes me laugh, then that’s the start. If I laugh, then it’s like ‘Let me see if people would feel the same way I feel about this.’ Or maybe it’s just in how weird it is. Some people would just bug out off of how weird it is. When I talk about the Airblade, I travel a lot, so I’m all over the country. I’m at the Mall of America right now. So you go to a place like that, you go to the bathroom, and there’s a Airblade [hand dryer]. And just one day I was like ‘Wow, this is pretty interesting. I wonder if I put my dick in this...’ [Laughs] It’s just one of these things. It’s that simple. It’s like ‘Yo this is wild.’ And I share that with people, and they get a kick out of it.

[Laughs] And do you think that anybody who’s outgoing and funny in real life can be a comedian? I think if you’re outgoing and funny in real life, you got a chance at being a comedian. But it’s just at that point, it becomes about the craft. It becomes about presenting these ideas. I always say, ‘It’s one thing to be funny when there’s no stage.’ When people don’t expect you to be funny, you can be funny because nobody was really expecting you to make them laugh. But when you assume the role of the guy that going to make people laugh, then it’s a little bit different. There’s presentation involved, there’s craft involved, you gotta take your ego out of it, and you gotta serve that audience. A lot of comedians complain about that like, ‘Damn. Every time I’m out, people just expect everything that comes out of my mouth to be funny.’ Does that happen to you? Sometimes, but it’s not a complaint. I would like to think I’m naturally funny, just in conversation, but it’s not the worst burden in the world. I think people that know me and people that kick it with me, they can understand when I just want to be normal and just have a regular conversation. Who are you comedic inspirations? What comedians have you looked to become a better one over these nine years? There’s a ton of people that inspire me. I mean initially it was Eddie Murphy, that’s who inspired me to get into comedy. But over the last nine years? I’m still inspired by Chris Rock. I love the way that he thinks. I love the way that there could be a topic and there could be ten different comedians take a stab at that topic, and he’ll come with a totally different angle on that topic. I always liked that, he’s very brilliant in that way. I like my man Hannibal Buress. Hannibal is very funny. When you hear him on stage, it’s like walking through his mind and his way of thinking is so different from so many other people’s. It could be absurd, it could just be so ridiculous sometimes that you’ll probably never come to that conclusion, so it’s very unique. I like his business savvy. I always say that as good a comedian he is, he’s just as good a businessman. He’s a good dude, a friend of mine. I like Louis C.K., I think Louis is very dope, very honest. Over the last nine years that I’ve been doing comedy, I’ve been listening to a lot of older guys. Like I swear, I couldn’t appreciate Richard Pryor as much when I was a comedy fan as now when I’m comedian. Because you see how vulnerable Richard Pryor was on stage. He put himself all the way out there, flaws and. And to see a black man be that vulnerable on stage is something. It gives you strength to be like ‘You know what? I’ll try this.’ I like that he’s daring. And then there’s other dudes that I came up with like this dude Smokey, he’s been on Def Jam and things like that. He’s one of my favorites. Smokey is just super prolific. He hosts a weekly room in Harlem called Mocha. And every week he’d have new material. You could count on it. And it’s people that take months to come up with new material. When I first started doing comedy, I had the opportunity to interview Tracy Morgan, for VIBE actually, and I got to sit with him as a new comic and pick his brain with just about every question a new comedian could have, and he answered everything candidly and with a lot of insight. So that helped. I remember driving around with that tape of us talking and listening to it for months. Just because there was so much advice to it. So those are some people.

Is there anything about your comedy sets that you’ve held onto all these years that has literally worked since the beginning? As far a jokes go, nah. I like to evolve. I don’t think there’s anything I want to hold onto. The thing about comedy is, you don’t want to keep doing the same jokes throughout your career. You want to retire these jokes in some kind of fashion, whether it’s a half-hour special, or an album, or an hour special, things like that. You try not to be too precious about it. You love the jokes when you birth them, but you want to share them with the world, and move further. Because my comedy is just a reflection of the life I’m living, so I can’t be but so attached to a certain joke. But as far as maybe my approach in comedy, I just want to continue to really be fearless. Like, I really want to continue challenge myself and put myself out there and push the envelope, try my hardest to be great, try to wring as much out of topic as possible. From the sound of it, when you’re putting together a stand-up show, there’s a lot of repetition, memorization, and alterations for audiences. That’s how a lot of comedians end up acting. Is the silver screen something you’re looking into? I am. I’m definitely looking into doing some acting. I did a little bit of acting, I was in The Amazing Spider-Man, that was cool. I had a Web series that I produced call D Lemon In The Morning. I’m interested in a lot of those type of things. You know, as long as the opportunities are cool and it’s great work, I would love it. Plus the thing about acting is that it exposes you to a bigger audience, so people can enjoy you on the acting tip, think you’re funny asTh hell and discover in that moment, ‘Oh he’s a comedian? I might want to see him live.’ What the difference between doing Guy Code, and then switching up and doing a comedy special? The difference is, one, it’s me for 22 minutes, by myself. I mean for Guy Code, we have the benefit of sitting in a chair for two hours talking about the topics of each episode, and they take the what they feel is the funniest and slice it down. They help you out with it, whereas with the half hour stand-up, it’s just you, for 22 minutes, doing your material. It’s a journey. When you’re seeing me live, or when you seeing me for a half hour, you’re taking a journey with me for 30 minutes. The common denominator is your want to be funny in both mediums though. What’s you comedic niche? What sets you apart from the other funny guys? I think my comedic niche is that I am who I am, I’m just me. So I’m going to try and be true to myself and I think that’s where the originality will come from. Nobody can be you better than you. Nobody’s living my life but me. So when I go up on stage and I talk about things that are personal to me, it’s going to resonate because it’s my life that I’m talking about. So I just feel like me being myself is going to differentiate me from other comedians. Okay, so now you have to pitch this Half Hour special. Go. This is you opportunity to see Damien Lemon, rising comedian, for half an hour, for free, before you go out and spend some money on a ticket. So this is a tester. If I was a drug dealer, this would be that little free package that I give you. Hopefully, you’ll go get high off of that, and then you become addicted. Next thing you know, you’re sweating, fiending, scratching yourself, subscribing to my YouTube page. That’s what I want to to do. I want you to just take this little sample, and get strung out. Lemon's The Half Hour comedy special airs tonight (July 11) at 12a/11c.

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Derrel Todd

Music Sermon: Forget The King of R&B, Raphael Saadiq Is The Son Of Soul

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

This week, Cash Money artist Jacquees set off an internet firestorm when he proclaimed himself to be the “King” of R&B “for (his) generation.” The comment led artists, executives, music fans and #BlackTwitter in general to debate: who is the King of R&B? (Spoiler alert - it’s not Jacquees.)

While a consensus was never reached, the heated discussion illustrated how much the definitions and ideas of R&B and R&B stars varies between age groups. Ironically, one name that seldom appeared in the convo belongs to one of the most consistent and prolific presences in soul and R&B music for the last 30 years: Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq has become like a stealth superhero of soul for the last several years of his career, moving to the background as more writer/composer/musician, so the impulse for many might be to label him as an “old school” artist. But that’d be a misnomer, as he’s still had his hand in some of the most influential music for the current generation. Perhaps he transcends a simple R&B conversation as a self-identified Son of Soul (the difference between R&B and Soul is a topic for another day), but however you want to categorize him, he is not widely-enough acknowledged for how he’s kept us jamming, constantly, for three decades.

Let’s explore the iterations through which “Ray Ray” has blessed us over the years.

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

During the birth and rise of New Jack Swing and then the subsequent evolution to Hip-Hop Soul, Tony! Toni! Toné! was one of the last of a dying R&B breed: the band. They – and a few years later Mint Condition - were standouts as live musicians in an R&B landscape turning to sample-based production. This set both groups apart, establishing them early on as serious soul acts, and making them forerunners of the neo soul sound to come in the late ‘90s.

Like almost every black musician and/or producer of note in his peer group, Saadiq developed and honed his musical chops in the church. Exposure to Motown and Stax by his blues singer father led him to the bass and served as inspiration for his future style. But he, brother Dwayne and cousin Timothy Christian received their formal Tony! Toni! Toné! training on the road: Raphael and Christian toured as part of Sheila E’s band on Prince’s Parade Tour and Dwayne with gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.

Having been properly trained, educated and tested in blues, soul, gospel, and funk, the three formed Tony! Toni! Toné!. Their first album was a modest success, achieving gold status from the RIAA, but wasn’t a standout. The trio started taking the reins on writing and production on their sophomore effort, and the Tonys as we now know them showed up. They announced both their musical background and intentions with their album titles: The Revival, Sons of Soul, House of Music. They were not there for catchy, formulaic R&B. They developed a signature blues, soul, gospel and funk hybrid, rolled up in modern R&B and hip-hop fusion.

The Revival is arguably a new jack swing album – “Feels Good” is a must-have on any new jack playlist – but they were taking the existing marriage of R&B and hip-hop and adding an even deeper soul element, reaching back to ‘70s sonic roots. It was the sonic equivalent of taking new jack swing chicken and shaking it in a paper bag of old-school musically-seasoned flour.

The group still had the kind of jammin’ uptempos found on their debut, Who?, but started to establish themselves as producers of some of the greatest R&B ballads of the ‘90s.

When you think of the Tonys’ music, aside from “Feels Good,” the first song that comes to mind is probably a slow jam. Most acts are fortunate to get one true signature song in their career. Tony! Toni! Toné! has several, and they’re timeless. Put them on today and see if you don’t hit a body roll.

They also established themselves as formidable soundtrack players (as any 90s act worth their salt did. Remember soundtracks, by the way?). They had cuts on the House Party II and Boyz in the Hood albums.

By Sons of Soul they’d found their pocket, and they pushed the sonic limits of contemporary R&B to the extent that some outlets classified the album as jazz, it was such an outlier. Saadiq recognized that they were doing something important for genre. Something that was connecting old style and new. In an interview about the album in 1994, he expressed what he saw as the group’s role in music. "We've been very blessed to be able to be a group that writes our own songs and people have accepted us from both sides, hip-hop and the R&B…I feel very fortunate to be able to do that here in 1993-94, because like you know, it was starting to be a dying thing that was happening. But I guess we were like the bridge between hip-hop and soul and R&B.”

Going back to the aforementioned King of R&B discussion, Diddy chimed in the conversation (he knows a little something about the topic) to run down some criterion to even be considered. His list included vulnerability and adoration in the lyrics and subject matter, the ability to sing a woman’s “draws” off, and the pen game to write hits. Check, check and check. Sons of Soul deservedly landed at or near the top of a gang of 1994 year-end lists and the Tonys continued to raise the bar for the ballad game. Real talk, the last four and a half minutes of the “Anniversary” album cut are better than some entire R&B albums.

With House of Music, the group sought to even more fully showcase all their influences and inspirations: the Al Green-esque “Thinking of You;” the Stylistics-inspired “Holy Smokes & Gee Wiz;” the Bay Area connect with DJ Quik for some G-Funk with “Let’s Get Down;” the straight-up church moment of the “Lovin’ You” reprise closing out the album, with Christian putting all that good anointing on the Hammond B3 organ. This was our clearest glimpse what Saadiq had in store for the future.

LUCY PEARL

When Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up and Saadiq put together supergroup Lucy Pearl, we realized he was on some other sh*t. First, the very idea to bring En Vogue’s Dawn Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Saadiq together was genius. Then, oh…what’s this sound? Tony! Toni! Toné! with a little somethin’ extra on it? Saadiq revealed his ability to reinvent himself, stylistically and sonically, and play in different music spaces. Successfully. Hits, check.

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

After Lucy Pearl, Saadiq embarked on his first solo projects. We’ll get to those, but the more remarkable part of this era was his expansive work as a writer, producer and session musician for others. As mentioned earlier, Tony! Toni! Tone! was an inspiration for neo soul (a term Saadiq loathes), which pulled from ‘60s and ‘70s influences, paired with the return to live instrumentation, mixed with hip-hop swag. Saadiq was a sometime member of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla’s Ummah production collective, but had also been working on outside projects since the Tonys were active. Through either the Ummah or alone, Ray was behind hits you may have attributed to someone else.

-D’Angelo, "Lady:" Saadiq co-wrote, co-arranged and co-produced the still-perfect ode to #WCEs (Women Crush Everydays) with D’Angelo.

-Bilal, "Soul Sista:" Soul and R&B great Mtume on the pen, Saadiq on production.

-Angie Stone, "Brotha:" OK, who’s gonna create the 2018 “Unproblematic” edit of the “Brotha” video?

-Total, "Kissing You:" No, this wasn’t Stevie J. Now, imagine this as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song. You can absolutely hear it, right?

-Erykah Badu and Common, "Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop):" Saadiq again proving he’s a master of the perfect fusion of hip-hop and an old soul groove.

-D’Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel):" Saadiq has admitted he later realized he was channeling Jay Dee’s style throughout the D’Angelo session.

SOLO SAADIQ

As a solo artist, Saadiq has accomplished what few can: continuously evolving his sound and aesthetic while yet managing to still always sound like himself. The retro-influence has been a constant in his work, but that influence ranges between decades and musical eras. He’d given us a taste of solo Ray through “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack, but that could easily pass as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song.

With Instant Vintage (again letting you know what he came to do with the title), Saadiq expanded on his existing signature sound of soul, funk, gospel and R&B; a sound he coined “Gospaldelic.”

With Ray Ray, he delivered a modern blaxploitation soundtrack. But then, in 2008, he went all the way back to Motown and the purest soul sound for The Way I See It. Saadiq was committed to an authentic return to ‘60s soul for the entire process. He eschewed slick, modern production techniques for old-school practices, including vintage equipment, all live instrumentation and single-take recordings. He donned slim-cut suits and classic frames for his look, and delivered a retro soul package via the 45 inch LP box set. But it still sounded incredibly fresh and modern, and that is his gift.

His last solo album, 2011’s Stone Rolling, was a progression of The Way I See It, staying in the same retro soul pocket, bringing some funk and rock’n’roll back into.

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

The thing about Saadiq is that he doesn’t just look a perpetual 30 years old (he’s 52. It don’t crack.). Unlike a lot of “old heads,” he keeps his ear current, as well. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid are his musical nephews. He praises them and their music often in interviews, heralding them as the current bridge-builders between eras and urban genres. Labelmate Leon Bridges adapted his The Way I See It and Stone Rolling formulas - from the sound to the ‘60s-style dress and imaging - for his own, and had Saadiq’s enthusiastic blessing. He listens to SZA, PJ Morton and Daniel Caesar. And he still has his finger on the pulse of current urban musical movements.

Saadiq was an executive producer on Solange Knowles’ 2016 A Seat at the Table, garnering a Grammy for the anthemic “Cranes in the Sky.”

He’s also helped to bring the full authenticity of the West Coast to Insecure for the past three seasons, serving as the show’s composer.

And he hasn’t abandoned his peers and contemporaries, garnering a “Best Song” Oscar nomination last year with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound’s “Mighty River,” and just recently executive producing John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. Only time will tell what he brings on the forthcoming solo album he told VIBE about, titled Jimmy Lee.

Whether his name is included in King of R&B conversations or not, Saadiq has been booked and busy in every area of black music since before 1988, keeping both aunties and nieces grooving, with no signs of slowing or stopping.

RELATED: Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

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

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VIBE / Nick Rice

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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