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Inside Rudimental’s Roaring Arena Tour With Ed Sheeran

On the Sunday of the second weekend of Coachella this year, Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow posted a live performance photo of Rudimental he took at a squashed angle from the audience on his Instagram with the paraphrased caption: “…this is what @RudimentalUK having the most fun I’ve ever seen a band having looks like… Incredible show too, just totally fly… Perfect way to finish #Coachella…”

McMorrow, whose beautiful, soft tones could not be more at odds with Rudimental’s colorful, party smashers, accurately summed up Rudimental’s effect on pretty much everyone who has ever seen the British dance/pop group live. Once you’ve experienced the bombastic performance of Rudimental’s core four: Amir Amor, Piers Aggett, Leon Rolle (AKA DJ Locksmith) and Kesi Dryden, along with their expanded live band which among others included trumpeter Mark Crown, drummer Beanie Bhebhe, and a revolving door of vocalists, you are guaranteed to get caught up in the party starting vibe. Rudimental is currently supporting Ed Sheeran—with whom the group did some recording previously—on his arena tour. The set time might be early and the seemingly youthful female-only crowd may have no prior exposure to Rudimental, but from the vantage point of 10 rows from the ceiling of the Staples Center on the Los Angeles date, the packed general admission pit area is rippling with the same kind of fiery energy Rudimental generates at a festival where it is the headliner.

For its part, Rudimental is putting on a full-on performance. Locksmith is pushing his cardio stamina paces racing around the stage and shouting encouragement like a spin instructor. In response the audience is roaring, making its own chorus to the infectious, high-energy numbers from Rudimental’s debut album, Home. Included are guaranteed crowd-pleasers such as Brit Awards best single winner “Waiting All Night” and the uplifting “Right Here” to the stickable “Feel The Love,” where the Rudimental performers all stand in a row at the edge of the stage conducting the audience through the lyrics very successfully.

Rushing from the Staples Center to Sound Nightclub in Hollywood, Rudimental has been ending most nights on this tour with a DJ set featuring their DJ duo, Locksmith and Aggett. The two bring the extended Rudimental family along, which includes their friends in each city. This being Los Angeles, that number is greater than the average stop. It feels like the Rudimental posse picks its friends based on how “up for it” they are because the Los Angeles behind-the-decks VIP wristband-ed bunch are seriously having it, egged on by the Rudimental boys—and girl. Rudimental’s recent find, vocalist Anne-Marie Nicholson, clad in a skin-tight white dress which rivals her platinum pulled-back hair, is the rowdiest of the bunch starting ice fights and faux picking fights with anyone who accidentally bumps into her. She looks good doing it too, glowing like the strobes-and-water dance scene in Flashdance when the club lights hit her.

Discovering and developing untapped talent is one of Rudimental’s strong suits. Other than Emily Sande and Alex Clare, the vocalists on Home were all unknowns that Rudimental turned into instant stars—at least in their native UK—by featuring them on radio- and club-ready bangers. Cases in point: John Newman, Foxes, Angel Haze, Ella Eyre, MNEK, Sinead Hartnett, Becky Hill, Syron. This made record company executives jobs super-easy as their work was done and packaged nicely, ready-to-go. Where’s your next big thing? On the next Rudimental single of course.

“It has become we’re the go-to thing to break an act,” acknowledges Aggett, weighed down by a formidable, ginger-edged beard which recalls that of Sons Of Anarchy’s Opie, pre-gig in Sound’s not quiet at all offices located above the club’s dancefloor. “You’ve got to be on a Rudimental record or a Disclosure record. The industry has shifted to the producer-artist. We’ve set up our own label, Major Toms, like our studio. Now we can sign a new artist we’re excited about.”

“We’re breaking those artists, now we get to keep those artists on our label,” concurs Locksmith, his pent-up post-live gig/pre-DJ gig energy radiating in the small office space. “[Nicholson] whom you saw tonight, she’s going to be on our album. When the time comes for her album, we’ll be able to launch her, people will be able to start following all of the culture and the family we have around us.”

“We’d like to create our own little Motown,” says Aggett. “That’s a label that inspired us, the way they had their structure and the music they created. We’ve got a dream to have Rudimental albums and all these amazing projects to come out of that.”

A couple of songs from the still-being-worked-on second Rudimental album were performed at the show this evening. Not as party-hearty as what we’re used to from them, one horn-driven track even had a ska bent to it, aided by Crown’s playing.

“The new record is not going to be one style—which I’m sure our fans wouldn’t be expecting,” says Aggett. “It has the eclectic-ness of the first album. We never think about a direction, but a lot more soul in us has come out in the record. We’ve just started scratching the surface with us as a team in the band.”

“The ethos is going to be the same: positive vibes, uplifting music that you want to rave to, go out clubbing to, clean your house to, drive your kids to school, to work to, whatever, all that combined in one stays the same,” says Locksmith. “The way we’ve been creative this time around has been amazing. We know each other more now, and we’ve grown in the way we work as musicians. The way we’ve created this record, it’s more organic, more natural. We can’t wait to get to the argument stage where we argue with each other about what should and shouldn’t be on the record.”

Following the group’s Rudimental and individual social networks, over the last year or so they have been working in some legendary studios with a diverse array of superstars, including Sheeran, Nas, Kelis, Steely Dan, DJ Premier, George Clinton, and Will Heard. While the studios are legendary, they are chosen more because they fit in with Rudimental’s hectic touring schedule rather than their history. Whether they are at Westlake in Los Angeles, birthplace of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or in a small, cold room in Eastern Europe, as long they have their instruments, speakers, and are together, they can generate a Rudimental vibe. The new album is in its final stages with the tour bus functioning as a mobile studio where the foursome is furiously trying to finish it up for a 2015 release.

“We had a long list of pop artists we could have worked with and sold ourselves out to mainstream, but we’ve stuck to our guns,” says Locksmith. “We want to work with people who have influenced us. One of our dream people to work with is Lauryn Hill. We grew up listening to the Fugees and the Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. That got us to where we are now. We still keep knocking on the door to get her in the studio to try to revisit that whole era and revamp it.”

Revisiting the past is the theme of Locksmith’s and Agget’s opening DJs’ set who are playing some gems from the ‘90s, setting the right mood for the Rudimental boys’ slot. They, in turn, run the gamut from classics to current favorites including a generous sprinkling of their own tracks and remixes, and even numbers like “Bad Boys” and “Hit The Road Jack,” which they manage to make sound relevant, important, and just right. It doesn’t hurt that Crown selectively plays his trumpet at certain points, heightening the experience that much more, and that Locksmith is so hyped he looks like he’s on the verge of losing it at any moment. The Rudimental impact is strong, live or DJing.

“It’s happened to me where I’ve listened to an album and didn’t quite understand what it’s about,” says Locksmith. “When I see the performer live, I get it, I’m in it. We’re one of those acts in certain respects. Four average guys who have grown up with each other, when we are on stage we express all the negative and positive times we’ve gone through in a positive way. People see that and want to get involved. It’s a vibe. It’s a culture.”

“We’ve gone through a lot to get to this point,” says Aggett. “Every time we get on stage, it is a release for us. With Rudimental, it really explains what we’re about. That’s what’s great about touring around America, you get to show that story.”

--Lily Moayeri

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Uzo Aduba, Debra Lee And More Honor Nelson Mandela's Life And Legacy

I was 5-years-old when Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island. It would be another 20 years or so before I learned what got him there. Mandela was a distant figure throughout my youth, but I knew he was deserving of respect. His salt-and-pepper hair, his slow yet deliberate walk and his booming voice made sweet by his African lilt informed me, even as a child, he wasn't just some guy.

Growing up in Queens in the 90s, however, made South Africa seem about as distant as Saturn. All the country's woes and its wins wasn't a concern for a shy kid, turned boy-obsessed teenager. "Whatever's going on in South Africa is South Africa's business," I foolishly said to my teenage self.

But as I got older, and injustices became too blatant to ignore, pieces of Mandela's teaching orbited their way from my peripheral to my direct line of sight.

Then, in 2013, when news outlets reported on Mandela's touch-and-go health I learned of his lofty sacrifices, his world-changing accomplishments, and grace made more resolute with his warm smile. During his last year of life, I understood Mandela was actually more than any of us could imagine.

To honor the 25th anniversary of the first Democratic election in South Africa, Mandela's legacy organizations hosted a luncheon at Washington, D.C's Marriott International Hotel. The affair, which celebrated Mandela's becoming the first black president in South Africa, was attended by dignitaries, entertainers, guests and all those inspired by South Africa's resilient leader.

BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee opened the two-hour event and assured everyone it's her mission as a Mariott board member to execute all of Mandela's ideals.

“I lead the company’s committee to ensure excellence in diversity and inclusion Globally. #LoveTravels – the cornerstone of our purpose-driven marketing program – represents our celebration and support of inclusion, equality, peace and human rights and we cannot think of anyone who embodies these values more than Nelson Mandela.”

Orange Is The New Black's Uzo Aduba took to the stage following Lee's welcoming statements. The Emmy-award winning actress and gifted orator delivered a passionate rendition of Mandela's May 10, 1994 inauguration speech.

"Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all."

Aduba, 38, continued, "We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil."

After guests dined, Graça Machel, stateswoman, activist and Mandela's widow spoke. Donning a small blonde Afro, a pink silk scarf and a navy blue knee-length dress, Machel expressed her appreciation to all those who continue to champion her late husband's work and even quipped about her love for leaders.

Aduba returned to the stage this time as a moderator leading an intimate conversation with representatives from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela's Children Fund, and the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital. Before the afternoon was over, guests were treated to live entertainment from Grammy-award nominated singer-songwriters, Chloe X Halle.

Two hours wasn't enough time to appreciate Mandela's legacy or even come to a full understanding of his life, but guests left thankful, full and gracious to have spent the afternoon honoring a man who showed the world, "It only seems impossible until it's done."

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Take Five: DJ Khaled Talks ‘Father of Asahd’ And #Summergram Partnership

DJ Khaled started the summer off right with the release of his 11th studio album, Father of Asahd. It’s the second consecutive album where his two-year-old son serves as executive producer after 2017’s Grateful. Although Khaled’s rollout remained quite a mystery, the mega-producer is now in the midst of a heavy promotional schedule, jam-packed with guest-heavy Saturday Night Live performances and summer collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, SZA, and more. Possibly his most appropriate partnership is with Pepsi and Instagram’s #SummerGram.

#Summergram has introduced customizable, reality filters and digital stickers to enhance the digital experience for consumers. Quirky summer-themed catchphrases like "Tropic Like It's Hot," "Turnt Not Burnt," "Catching Rays," and "Call Me On My Shell Phone" will appear with graphic icons and QR codes on Pepsi bottles that will help get fans in the mood for summer fun– pool parties, cookouts, and beach days. In celebration of the new launch, DJ Khaled joined social media maven, Chrissy Teigen, for a week of #Summergram events throughout major cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami.

“We are so excited to work with Instagram and bring some of their newest technology directly to our most loyal consumers. We know our fans love sharing their favorite moments on social media, and the summertime lends itself to so many post-worthy moments and occasions,” Todd Kaplan, VP of Marketing, Pepsi said. “The breadth of our Pepsi #Summergram statements and custom AR filters will ensure that there is something for everyone – no matter what you’re doing this summer – to help people unapologetically enjoy their best summer moments.”

No one knows how to make a summer anthem or amass a faithful social media following quite like Khaled. DJ Khaled briefly spoke to VIBE about his latest partnership and walked us through his vision for Father of Asahd.

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VIBE: What are your thoughts about your new partnership with Pepsi's Summergram? DJ Khaled: This seems like the perfect fit. I am excited to work with Pepsi – they are always spreading positive vibes and the Pepsi #Summergram collection is a lot of fun to play around with. You know I’m always posting to Instagram and these new AR filters help bring my content to the next level. Look out for more Pepsi #Summergram filters from me all summer long.

It seems like you’ve been intentional with this album rollout even more so than your past projects. What can you tell me about your strategy for this rollout? I decided we can’t do anything dinosaur anymore. For this album, everything had to be big. From the music to the rollout, everything had to be big! And watching it all come together is just beautiful. And I love to see the excitement from my fans! At the end of the day, it’s all for my fans.

What was the toughest song to create? To work with so many different artists and so many moving parts, I imagine it can be challenging. Every challenge is a blessing. The toughest ones to make are usually the biggest ones. I’m blessed to work with great artists and be able to create beautiful music together.

Can you speak to your intentions on beginning the album with “Holy Mountain” and ending it with “Holy Ground”? Me and Buju have a special relationship and have been friends for years. The whole album is very spiritual so it seemed right to start and end the project with those records. The message of the album is to not only receive our blessings but to protect them, as well. Everything for my son, Mama Asahd (Nicole Tuck) and fan love.

How did you go about securing the ‪Buju Banton features? He’s been relatively absent for years, so what were those early conversations like to get him on the album? Buju is family to me - and when he came back, I went to Jamaica to welcome my brother back home. He met my son and we were just vibing. Then Buju asked me to “play a chune” and I played him the “Holy Mountain” beat and Buju finished it in one take. We caught that take on film which is now in the “Holy Mountain” video. Then Buju said play me another one. I had this idea for “Holy Ground”—I played it for him and he loved it. The rest is history.

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Courtesy of Think BIG

How CJ Wallace Turned His Connection To Notorious B.I.G. Into A Cannabis Brand

Christopher Jordan “CJ” Wallace was exposed to the music industry at an early age. As the son of Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans, the 22-year-old recalls growing up with countless musicians stopping by his family’s home studio. “We had a studio in our house when we lived in Atlanta. This is around the time [of] Bad Boy South,” he tells VIBE during a visit to our Times Square office. “Any given Tuesday, Usher might come over. It would be crazy.”

While his childhood home served as a revolving door to legends, his family members purposefully delivered a reality check in the form of life-altering questions about his future. CJ’s mom, stepfather, Todd Russaw, and paternal grandmother, Voletta Wallace, constantly reinforced this idea of purpose and responsibility. Though he was only five months old when his father was fatally shot in 1997 in Los Angeles, he was expected to uphold Big’s legacy.

“[They] would talk to me very truthfully, like, ‘hey, it’s not fair, but this is how it is,'” he explains. “'You have a responsibility that a lot of people don’t have and that a lot of kids your age don’t have. You could f**k it up, or you could do something right.’”

This jolt of truth unfolded into a mission to discover what he was meant to do. His options were relatively limitless. The obvious path would be to get into music or maybe fashion. While CJ still had many of his dad’s artifacts – including freestyle videos and at-home footage – he wanted to learn what connected him not only to Notorious B.I.G., the persona, but to also Christopher George Latore Wallace, the man. “For me, it was figuring out how I can develop a brand that can honor the legacy of my father, be something I’m proud of and can pass down to my kids and grandkids. And yeah, something my grandma will definitely support at the end of the day.”

And that’s when it hit him. CJ remembered the relaxed and joyful vibe that overcame his family’s old Atlanta studio. “It’s all about the energy and that’s kind of where for me – sitting next to the speaker, smelling the cannabis, smelling the incense – that was what started it for me,” he says.

Wallace went on to found Think BIG, alongside Willie Mack and Russaw. Think BIG, he explains, is a brand and social movement encouraging society to embrace the cannabis industry and realize its potential to heal and stimulate creativity. In its first plan of action, the brand launched its first product: The Frank White Blend, named after one of B.I.G’s many aliases.

Right now, there is a common focus on the recreational use of cannabis; consumers are flooded with images of kids, middle-aged adults, and celebrities sparking up to escape their realities or “have fun.” Prior to the arrival of Psalm West, Kim Kardashian threw a CBD and meditation-themed baby shower for her fourth child in April 2019. In addition to lifting you off the ground, however, Wallace, Mack and Think BIG want to introduce society to the healing and creative benefits of cannabis. Mack learned about cannabis’ healing powers in a major way during his youth.

“As a kid, watching [how] the AIDS crisis ravaged the world and seeing the LGBT community fighting for cannabis to help them with nausea during AZT [antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS] was my first indication of [thinking] cannabis was a drug, but people are actually using it to try to stay alive,” Mack said, noting that he had several family members who were dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Similarly, Wallace uncovered the alternative nature of the plant when his family experimented with it as a form of medication for his younger brother, who was diagnosed with autism. After testing various strains, Wallace confirms they found the right balance, but since cannabis isn’t an approved medication, his brother is unable to use it publicly. “This is helping my youngest brother every day,” he insists. “It’s unfair because we can’t give it to him and let him take it to school and have the school nurse actually prescribe it to him so he’s constantly getting that regular medication. You can’t take it to school, but the kids in his school are being given opioids, which has crazy after effects.”

Creatively speaking, Wallace and Mack consider cannabis to be the “ultimate ghostwriter.” It’s no secret B.I.G. was an advocate. From numerous consultations with his family members, he learned his dad often smoked while recording. (Mack also notes famous smokers like Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley.) Just about every corner of the music industry has dabbled in recreational smoking, but no genre has been hit as hard as hip-hop. While fans love to watch Snoop Dogg smoke on Instagram Live or share a spliff with Kid Cudi during a concert set, the hip-hop community as a whole is met with backlash and often times targeted by police due to cannabis.

“I feel like anything associated with black men is just immediately going to be deemed bad or evil,” Wallace says, referencing the negative connotation rappers receive. It’s Wallace’s mission, however, to adjust that perspective. “I feel like it’s really up to us to change that narrative. That’s why I try so hard to stop saying words like ‘weed.’ Cannabis, it’s actually a plant," he continues. Both Wallace and Mack noted the terms "weed" and "marijuana" hold negative connotations and are commonly used in connection with minorities. "We were lied to for so long. If we were given proper knowledge from the start, I feel like the entire hip-hop community and the entire way we talked about it would’ve changed.”

Beyond educating consumers with their message and products, Think BIG also seeks to improve the criminal justice system as well as launch charitable projects. According to “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Such racial disparities reportedly exist in all regions, states, and counties around the United States and largely contribute to today's mass incarceration crisis.

In recent years, the U.S. government has made significant strides to correct this injustice. California, Nevada, and Maine are among the first states to legalize cannabis; states such as New York have already begun the process of exonerating offenders convicted of nonviolent charges and marijuana possession. Despite the steps forward, Wallace and Mack say there is a long road ahead.

Not only is it difficult to eradicate a vicious cycle that has left many black and brown people behind bars, but it is also hard to forge spaces for them to succeed in a rapidly changing industry. “Being able to understand how to navigate the industry that’s constantly changing and to do it without a bank account or full funnel of money, makes it that much harder,” Mack says. “Then on top of that, you got people sitting in jail who should be out of jail for nonviolent possession of cannabis. So, we’re faced with having to work four times as hard to make half as much because of the color of our skin. It’s a constant fight and we look at it as how can we set an example, share our knowledge, [and] show more information?”

It takes a group effort, Mac says. While Think BIG is setting a place at the table for black businesses in the cannabis industry as well as shifting the conversation around the plant, Mack suggests other ways to get involved that ultimately uplift the black community. “It’s much easier to enter into the market based on something you already know,” Mack insists, pointing out the opportunities for design firms, packaging, and communication firms to join the movement.

Wallace and Mack know the journey ahead is going to be a roller-coaster ride fit with many twists and turns, but they’re ready. “You got to dream big, as your dad said, and think big,” Mack says. “Everyone else in this industry is thinking about global billion-dollar companies, why shouldn’t we?” As for Wallace, he understands how difficult the process is and will be, “but, it wasn’t more emotional than the first 21 years of my life.”

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