Amidst 50 Cent and Charlamagne Tha God's shaming of Floyd Mayweather for his reading disabilities, are you forgetting about the many everyday people who can't read?

Floyd Mayweather Can’t Read: Can The Men In Your Life Do Better?

We now all know that Floyd Mayweather may be a poor reader, thanks to 50 Cent’s challenge and radio host Charlamagne Tha God’s co-sign with audible proof of his reading disability. Now what? Chances are, if there are young African-American men in your life, many of them can’t read well either. According to a study from the Nation’s Report Card, only 14 percent of all African-American 8th graders performed at or above a proficient level in reading. And the statistics for boys are even more depressing—they scored, on average, six points lower than the girls. And not being able to read well doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Floyd may have earned millions last year but the millions of little Black boys around the country who fumble through reading aren’t making that kind of cash. And reading levels are a predictor of academic success, (especially when you can’t box like Floyd). Right now, fewer than half of African-American males receive their high school diplomas and less than 5% go on to college. And of course, we know education is a major factor in a person’s life trajectory. The literacy rates of African-American men in this country are directly connected to the fact that the unemployment rate for Black men is twice the rate for white men. Will making Floyd the butt of a national joke encourage young black boys to strengthen their reading skills? Doubtful. It’s more likely to make poor reading skills a source of greater embarrassment. Especially since Floyd’s response to the controversy was to post pay stubs totaling $70 million dollars with the caption: Read This.

If you put the script that Floyd was trying to read into a search engine that measures reading levels, it’s on a ninth-grade reading level. (A sentence like “The Cat In The Hat knows a lot about that,” is on a first-grade reading level). Floyd dropped out of high school in his senior year, more than 20 years ago. So is it really a surprise that he doesn’t read on a ninth-grade level? Let’s use this as an opportunity to turn the attention to the young men in our own lives. Give your sons, brothers and male friends a reading challenge. How well do they do? Are they reading on grade level with no difficulties? How did they score on their national exams? If they’ve graduated from high school, can they read a page from a twelfth-grade level book like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? Is it funny if your friends or family members struggle with reading? Is it possible that Floyd’s story can inspire us to do something about the other young men in this country who are struggling as well? After the laughter has died down and we’ve all moved on from this story, maybe we can log on to allforgood.org and find a program in our area that needs tutors to help improve the reading levels of the young people in our communities. 50 Cent is not donating $750,000 to support literacy. And Floyd hasn’t come out to supporting the idea of improving reading skills. And no one is dumping ice on their heads in support of raising literacy rates for young African Americans. So what will happen to the other Floyds in this world who are struggling with literacy—and not making $70,000,000 a year? —Aliya S. King

Aliya S. King's is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including the New York Times Bestseller, Keep The Faith, with recording artist Faith Evans. She had written for VIBE since 1998. Find her at aliyasking.com and @aliyasking.

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Peter Rosenberg And Cipha Sounds Talk Juan EP's Return And All Things Jay-Z

Hip-hop podcasts are everywhere. Yes, everyone wants to be heard, but not everyone who wants to be heard is focused on moving the culture forward. Enter hip-hop nerds, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. After a year hiatus, the duo is returning to these podcast streets with the Juan EP, where they bring their valid expertise on all things hip-hop.

Cipha and Rosenberg joined forces with Mass Appeal and Endeavor Audio to deliver comprehensive conversations about the culture, some of our favorite moments in hip-hop, favorite albums, best rhymes, among other things. During the podcast's first season, the DJs touch on who is arguably the greatest MC of all time, Jay-Z.

"I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes," Cipha Sounds tells us in our phone conversation. "Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic."

Drawing help from some of Shawn Carter's closest friends, Cipha and Rosenberg dig into Jay-Z's career to discuss his best collaborations, beefs and pinpoint moments of Hov's greatness. VIBE caught up with the fellas and chatted about the Juan EP, Jay-Z and much more.

VIBE: First, this has been bothering me for years. Who is Juan Epstein? Rosenberg: Juan Epstein came from the fact that Cipha and I got paired together. He's Puerto Rican and I’m Jewish. Juan Epstein was a Puerto Rican/Jewish character on the show, Welcome Back, Cotter. I never watched the show, I think Cipha may have been the one to tell me about the name. That was perfect.

The podcast has been on hiatus for a while now. How was the process of bringing the podcast back? Rosenberg: We’ve been wanting to bring it back for a minute. We’ve been looking for the right opportunities and the right partners. And we thought Mass Appeal was a really good home. And when the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a really good fit. We’re trying to do something right for hip-hop, and curated well, and do right by the culture. When Mass Appeal came up with an option it seemed like a perfect fit. It was a great excuse and forced us the get organized and bring it back.

Cipha Sounds: The reason I love this podcast is because it really is two hip-hop fans who were lucky enough to get paid from hip-hop, and we get to talk to some great people from the hip-hop community about hip-hop. There aren't any outsiders speaking about our culture. And we learn new things that we never knew before.

With you guys coming from radio, do you prefer podcasts over radio programming? Rosenberg: It’s a different thing. [Podcasting], it’s more in line with what I’m really passionate about. And it’s really fun. It’s two different versions of a similar thing. They’re both broadcasting, but this gets to be about hip-hop, and not the bullsh*t side, the gossip. This really is about the music.

Cipher: I don’t consider one over the other. I definitely like having long conversations with hip-hop artists.

Season One of the Juan EP is about Jay-Z. Why him? Cipha: Everybody always has all these conversations about the top five [MCs] and who’s the G.O.A.T. I wanted the same street corner, lunchroom conversation with some actual research, and facts from people who were there. People who handle the question with some real information. And also, it is fun to get people’s opinions on it. Of all the sh*t that Jay-Z does that influences the culture, whether it be becoming the first billionaire or marrying Beyoncé, I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes. Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic. Since we're talking Jay-Z, there was a time, well, at least in my hometown of Mississippi, where people were aggravated with Hov for frequently using B.I.G's rhymes.  Cipha: Let me answer this one. Let me tell you and all of your friends in the barbershop in Mississippi, every time Jay says a B.I.G. line, Biggie's kids eat. The reason he does it is because it pays for Biggie’s family to live the way that they should’ve lived if Biggie was still alive, so he pays for school, and homes all off of saying a line.

Wow. I didn't know that. Rosenberg: Yes, anytime Jay-Z samples a B.I.G. line, thanks to B.I.G.'s publishing, his family eats.

What are some of your favorite episodes so far? Cipha: My favorite is the Clark [DJ Clark Kent] episode. I loved how he broke down the details of how Jay-Z and Biggie met. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know and I’d be like, "How will I ever, ever know that?" There’s no way. Like, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know who was in the room and basically to find out not only was Clark Kent in the room but basically orchestrated it.

At times, Jay-Z takes a lot of heat. For instance, this NFL partnership business. Some people have even said he's partly responsible for the gentrification happening in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Rosenberg: We talked a lot about Jay-Z's ventures and how he’s taken flack for some things. And Jay-Z the businessman is a different thing than Jay-Z the artist. We go into a lot of detail about the business and how he’s viewed, And we defiantly get into the question, on the episode, actually next week [on the Nov. 19th episode titled, "I'm A Business Man"].

Here's some fun Jay-Z stuff. To me, the best intro song in the history of hip-hop is Jay's "The Dynasty Intro." Let's debate this. I'm ready.  Rosenberg: I agree that it’s up there. I probably haven’t done the extensive research like you have. But The Dynasty is definitely one of my favorite Jay-Z albums, which is funny because first, it wasn’t a Jay-Z album, then it was a Jay-Z album. So I wonder did he have that intro on there already when it was just a Roc-A-Fella album or did he add it once it became a Jay-Z album? Who would I even ask?

VIBE: Guru.

Rosenberg: Was he around then?

VIBE: Bean’s first album came out before The Dynasty album...

Rosenberg: And Guru did Bean's album...

Cipha: Yes, but even if he wasn’t around... this guy is so strategic. I know that the Pharrell [Williams] record made him make it a Jay Z-album instead of a Roc [A-Fella] album, but that intro, it’s not long and the beat is not complicated. It's a simple hip-hop beat. Damn, we now have to do an episode about this.

Rosenberg: And that's what this show is about. For people who are interested in stuff like that. And this is the perfect time to dig into the podcast because all of the episodes are available. You don't have to wait for the next episode.

Hip-hop fans can tune into every episode of Juan EP below or on Stitcher, and Endeavor Audio.

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Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.

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VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party, which is a pajama party, and then you see the two artists designed those pajamas. Those are going to be for sale, and the proceeds go to those artists. Just thinking outside the box and having fun. I think it might be the first pajama party at Basel.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit," just like everything else in the world.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

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Lee Steffen

MK Asante's 'While Black' Docuseries Explores Being A Gifted POC In America

The bravery of the youth has been at the heart of some of the nation's most prominent organizations like the Black Power movement, civil rights movement, and Black Lives Matter, to name a few. The unparalleled courage of raw-minded young adults is uplifting, educational, and not to be ignored. One person paying attention to the shorties of the future is activist and professor, MK Asante.

Asante, author of Buck: A Memoir and It's Bigger than Hip-Hop, joined forces with Snapchat for a ten-episode docuseries titled While Black with MK Asante, produced by Snap’s joint venture with NBCUniversal, Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts, along with Main Event Media. The program explores what it means to be young, gifted and black through the lens of several young men and women who are making a radical change within themselves and their communities

"On average, over 210 million people use Snapchat daily, and 90 percent of 13-24-year-olds in America are on Snapchat, so we want to create a series that dealt with some really important and impactful issues, and deal with it where the kids are," MK Asante said during a phone conversation with VIBE. "We want to create a show that starts a conversation and empowers them on their phones. Snapchat has been a pioneer in mobile storytelling. And this series explores what it means to be young gifted and black in America."

The professor of English and film at Morgan State University spoke to us about While Black With MK Asante, lessons gleaned from kids hosting the Snap Originals series, and more.

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VIBE: The kid Nasir, who talked about being shot...the intelligence he has for being in tune with his emotions is inspiring. Many of today's young rappers are in tune with their emotions like that.  Asante: That’s my nephew. He’s 19 years old, he’s been shot. He survived all of that and makes music. In his music he tells the story, it’s a very inspirational story. He’s 19 and he’s found his purpose. And he understands why he’s here now. But he also talks about his perspective on gun violence.

Nasir talked on his own. Those weren't questions I asked him. He started on his own talking about PTSD, and what that’s like. The film crew observed that my nephew is very observant. In a way that’s noticeable. You’re dealing with someone who notices every single thing around him, behind him, in front of him, every car that rides by. Someone commented on that, and he said, "It’s PTSD. I’m aware of everything. I have to be."

Can you tell me about one of the kids you spoke with who is doing amazing work in his/her community?   Thandiwe Abdullah, she's a 16-year-old co-founder of the Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles Youth Vanguard. She helped organize, and lead a bunch of demonstrations, and a bunch of actions that ultimately lead to the overturning of racism in L.A. school policy in random police searches of kids' bags and stuff like that. We talked to her about all of these issues. You have more hope for the future because you realize that there are young people like that who get it.

Speaking of random police searches, when they use language about high crime rates in these areas, how do you combat that? It’s not an argument that we honestly heard while we were making the show, but it’s an argument that I have heard. When you look at the numbers, statistically, you realize that the great majority of African American kids are not criminals. I think the problem is that we’re really talking about perception, we’re not talking about reality. We're talking about the perception that I’m going to do something, not that I’m doing something. How do you perceive someone, and why do you perceive someone the way that you do? Why does a cop throw a 12-year-old child down to the ground and punch them? Because they do not perceive that child as a child. And that’s what we talk about in one of the episodes. It’s not about any realities that are happening. It’s really about a distortion of media, and distortion in the media and distortion over time. This isn’t new.

What did you observe while working with these gifted black kids? I observed that to be young, gifted and black in America means to remove the limitations. The young people that we feature in the show and the spirit that we want to capture is really a spirit of victory, a spirit of overcoming impossible circumstances. One of the things that I see the young people creating is a new language and with a new language comes a new reality.

The show also exposed me to lots of young people around the country, and their articulation of what they’ve been through and what they're going through and even the system was amazing, powerful. They inspired me. That’s one of the things I love about documentary-based stuff. It’s real people. I always feel like I walk away with real information.

For MK Asante, what does it mean to be a black man in America? Not having limitations. Create a new reality, a new language, and a new world. I know that sounds counterintuitive because we’re taught you can’t do this while black, you can’t do that while black. But that is not the totality of our experience.

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