After nearly a decade of covering the most soulful UK singers to cross the Atlantic, writer Kathy Iandoli hopped on a flight to London in pursuit of the source of England's endless soul.

Global Week: I Visited London And Discovered The Secret To UK Soul

Anglophile (n.) – a person who admires England, its people, and its culture. I remember this one repeated scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation, where Clark W. Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) is traveling through London and keeps accidentally beating up the same man. On bicycle, on foot, you name it, but the gentleman remains cordial and warm. It’s obviously “taking the piss out” of the Brits (as the Brits would say), suggesting their need for etiquette outweighs their need for a valid emotional response. I just remember watching that as a kid and thinking, “British people are so much nicer than Americans.” *** The year was 2006. I had actively been writing about hip-hop for close to five years—professionally (as in making money) for half of that time. I was already annoyed. Think of the timeline that year: Jay Z’s Kingdom Come (which elicited yawns from everyone but me because “Beach Chair” remains my pensive jam), The Roots’ Game Theory, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, Game’s Doctor’s Advocate, Ghostface’s Fishscale. None brought rap to its knees like Nas’ incendiary Hip-Hop Is Dead though. The sentiment echoed throughout the culture. Sure, some of the aforementioned releases were either cohesively amazing or had some standout singles worth something, but that declaration by one of Rap’s neo-architects was bone chilling for a hip-hop-loving writer like myself. Hip-hop was dead. And my career was just born. I felt like William Miller in Almost Famous being coaxed by Lester Bangs to go to law school (the same institution I coincidentally ducked three years prior) instead of being a writer because they were approaching the “death rattle” of rock. Nas told me hip-hop was dead, so I immediately became uninspired. I had plenty to write about, but the outlook felt so bleak. I was excited to be a working writer, but wasn’t excited about the fodder. I needed more. So much more, that I continued working at record labels, management companies and radio stations while writing in pursuit of inspiration. Then a wave of new female artists from the UK arrived. Image and video hosting by TinyPic Two important ones in fact: Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. They felt like the 'Pac and Biggie of white girls. Nas and Jay Z. Both had big mouths—one was darker and more depressed than the other—both waving middle fingers. Once Amy and Lily entered my frame of reference, it was game over. I found something new to write about that intrigued me. Being the Alternatives Editor of at the time, it was easy to fit them into the evolving non-rap sub-category on the site. The section was previously reserved for strictly R&B, but I opted to cast the widest net possible, considering R&B in 2006 was being described as Justin Timberlake and Gnarls Barkley. Times were changing. The girls from the UK were ground shakers. I interviewed Joss Stone, and she talked shit about Dallas Austin (he would later release a response video titled “Fuckin’ For Tracks”), I attended Amy Winehouse’s first New York City concert, sitting adjacent to Blake Fielder-Civil who gyrated with a half-lit cigarette dangling from his mouth every time Amy glanced at him from the stage. I spoke with Lily Allen, who had a show on March 9 at the time and dimmed the lights and played Biggie for like ten minutes straight, a nod to the anniversary of his death. These girls were the direct descendants of hip-hop’s influence. These girls oozed “I Don’t Give A Fuckness.” These girls were me. I’d spend the next several years of my career documenting this influx of talent in all of its forms. Duffy, Pixie Lott, Girls Aloud, Kate Nash, Mark Ronson, Florence & The Machine, Adele, La Roux, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J, Alex Clare, Katy B, Emile Sande, Rita Ora, Eliza Doolittle, Marina & The Diamonds, Natalia Kills, Jessie Ware, FKA twigs, Sam Smith. The list goes on and on. If I wasn't speaking directly to the artists (most of the time I was), I was writing about them. I was distinguishing their regions of the UK by their accents, hearing their stories about London’s BRIT School (comparable to NYC’s LaGuardia High), hanging up the phone or walking out of the interviews thinking, “Damn, they have their shit together.” And the music? Well, they had the blood of John Lennon, Dusty Springfield, Kate Bush, Tricky, Imogen Heap, Portishead, and even the Spice Girls running through their veins, so they were as good as gold in my book. Some more talented than others, yes, but all possessed a level of honesty that was severely lacking in the American pop music landscape. Perhaps that’s why when they hit here it caused such a mass hysteria. We all knew about the first British Invasion starring the Beatles, but this was perhaps a more spread-out second wave. There were subtle differences, too, that made all the difference in an interview. I would ask the assembly line of pop artists from the U.S. a question like “How is your day?” and the go-to response still is “Pretty good, yours?” You ask a girl like Jessie Ware and her response is “Fucking starving. I’m also feeling a bit shit because I feel like I haven’t slept in a month.” Honesty. Everywhere. From radio to rhetoric. As my career progressed, I became the unofficial interviewer for anyone coming from the UK for a multitude of publications. I’ve interviewed Ellie Goulding something like 12 times (look it up), with this one being the most recent. I learned the slang, I learned the regions. However, I never visited the UK. Talk about a low-key phony. Here I was for close to a decade, waxing philosophical on a place I never even visited. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to visit London; I was always just too busy writing about it. So three weeks ago, I took my first trip to London—partially to visit friends and actually see London, but also to understand why I felt so connected musically to a place I never experienced.

A photo posted by kathy iandoli (@kath3000) on

My first day in London, my friend and I were walking to Notting Hill from Shepherd’s Bush because we hadn’t quite understood the Tube yet (it’s one hell of a walk). As we approached Holland Park, a man yelled to my friend “Protect Ya Neck!” (she was wearing a Wu-Tang Clan hoodie). It was Stuart Zender, original bassist for Jamiroquai and Music Supervisor for Mark Ronson. Next to him, Preetesh Hirji, formerly of the duo Mattafix. The two were taking a beer break before heading back to the studio. Hirji built a secret studio with his own two hands in the basement of the Lansdowne House, formerly the location of the legendary Lansdowne Studios, home to some of the greatest recordings ever made. They asked us to join them in the studio, and not wanting to be a statistic or the plot line of a Lifetime Original Movie, we politely suggested we stay at the pub with them. After hours of chatting, we headed outside, having met their friend singer/songwriter Rosita Lynch, who was also heading to the studio (“Another girl means we’re safe,” we decided). While outside, Zender meets two other gentlemen (one carrying a bass) and invites them to the studio as well. By dusk we were seated in an impromptu jam session with a room full of new friends. “Does this happen all the time?” I asked Hirji. He smiled and replied, “Welcome to London!”

A photo posted by kathy iandoli (@kath3000) on

While no day on my trip was as musically poignant as that one, things started making sense throughout my time in London. Visiting Camden Town and seeing the statue erected of Amy Winehouse only 50 feet from a John Lennon mural, walking into The Hawley Arms and feeling Amy’s spirit through the pub walls. Watching a sublimely talented busker busking right in front of a “No Busking” sign. Listening as a platinum artist-turned-friend complained to me that the West London recording studio she was in didn’t have the equipment necessary to capture a specific sound. It just all made sense why the talent London cultivates comes here and automatically makes us feel something. There’s a level of honesty and reality that seems to be missing in the U.S. versus the UK. It’s not to say that America is lacking in talent. That’s far from true. But for decades and decades, American music has rested on an aesthetic. Women having to look a certain way regardless of the beautiful sounds coming out of their mouths, and not to mention historical wounds from Black music being whitewashed by artists like Pat Boone and Elvis Presley, and still feeling that tension today. Sure, the UK has its own history with its own set of baggage, but for the most part the music feels more like inspiration and not appropriation. There’s a level of respect—from Eric Clapton funding Muddy Waters’ tombstone to Joss Stone paying most of her advance to pull Lauryn Hill from hiding for a verse on her album. You ask Ellie Goulding about Destiny’s Child or Lauryn Hill in an interview, and she clutches her heart and starts singing Beyonce runs from “Emotion” like she’s at church. Jessie Ware needs a fainting couch whenever you mention Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston. There’s an unconditional love for the music and the pioneers of it. And while artists from the UK come to America in all colors, shapes, and sizes, they all bring their truth to the music. Whatever that may be. It’s no wonder why America’s most notorious truth tellers (hip-hop artists) gravitate towards collaborations with UK artists. So yes, for almost a decade I repeatedly wrote love letters to London with no envelopes or stamps. But after actually visiting, I should be sending a “Thank You” letter for giving a young writer something to say for this long—finding my own truth while writing about theirs. —Kathy Iandoli

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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.

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“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.


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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