Aaliyah VIBE cover Aaliyah VIBE cover

Aaliyah's 2001 VIBE Cover Story: 'What Lies Beneath'

WHAT LIES BENEATH?

With a new album and the romantic lead in the upcoming Anne Rice-adapted flick Queen of the Damned, Aaliyah is ready for superstardom. But don’t think you can get too close to her. Hyun Kim tried and found out that some things are best left alone.

Illustration: Alvaro | Styling: Angela Arambulo

 

Aaliyah lives the perfect life. To hear her tell it, she wouldn’t change a thing. “This is what I always wanted,” she says of her career. “I breathe to perform, to entertain, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I’m just a really happy girl right now. I honestly love every aspect of this business. I really do. I feel very fulfilled and complete.” It’s true that a young woman with a burgeoning career in music and film might as well be ecstatic about her life. In fact, there’s nothing more annoying than hearing some spoiled star whine about the pitfalls of success. So, while Aaliyah’s comments are refreshing, you can’t help but wonder if things sound, well, too good to be true. She speaks like a veteran politician – well prepared and press savvy, like she’s reading from an unseen teleprompter. Of course, 22-year-old Aaliyah has been preparing for stardom since childhood. And now that she’s made it this far, it’s impossible to determine when she’s in performance mode, or just honestly being herself. A trained actress who is quickly becoming a hot property in Hollywood, Aaliyah has mastered the art of hiding herself from the public. It started back in the day, when she always rocked dark sunglasses. Because her eyes were rarely seen, a rumor quickly spread that she had a lazy or glass eye. She soon took to covering just her left eye with her long, straight, black hair. She hid again when, at 15, reports of her marriage to 25-year-old mentor and producer R. Kelly – the story broke in the December ‘94/January ’95 VIBE – scandalized the R&B world. If you bring up the marriage with her, she sort of changes the subject. And we’re left searching dying for a glimpse inside this intriguing, mysterious woman. *** It’s a bustling Thursday evening in May, and Aaliyah is lacing up her clunky bowling shoes at the AMF Chelsea Piers Lanes in New York City. She goes unnoticed by the rowdy, drunken group of Wall Street types in the next lane. Her tight, red sleeveless top and slightly faded blue jeans give more of a girl-riding-the-subway look than girl-on-MTV. She playfully tiptoes to the line and stomps her feet when her ball ends up in the gutter. But somehow you get the feeling that she isn’t particularly interested in rolling strikes either. She barely pays attention to her score, listed under the name Baby Girl. Aaliyah’s entourage – her stylist, makeup artist, and hairstylist – are more engaged than she is. The entire scene feels very staged, starring Aaliyah as the around-the-way superstar who’s kicking it with her peoples. “I like the simple things in life,” she insists. “When I have time, I stay home a lot, do things like this or play laser tag. I’ve always been a homebody.” It couldn’t have been scripted any better. Brooklyn-born, Detroit-raised Aaliyah Dana Haughton has been playing her roles well for as long as anyone can remember. All it took was a one-line speaking part as an orphan in her first grade’s production of Annie to convince Aaliyah that performing was her… From ages 8 to 9, she would sing Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston songs at weddings around Michigan. A faithful watcher of Star Search, Aaliyah was dying to compete on the show. At 11 years old, she got her shot. She sang “My Funny Valentine,” lost, and cried. Ed McMahon, the host of Star Search, who introduced the world to Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and countless others, recalls Aaliyah’s performance. “There’s a thing that you see when somebody walks out on the stage,” he says. “I call it the fire. They got that inner fire, which has nothing to do with the schooling, nothing to do with the teacher, nothing to do with the parents. There is a desire in that person to please the audience. You see enough of it to recognize it. And that’s what I saw with Aaliyah.” It wasn’t long before she recovered from her Star Search loss and hit up the stage again. Her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was married to Gladys Knight when he took his then 11-year-old niece on stage to perform with the R&B legend for five nights at Bally’s Las Vegas casino. Knight would call Aaliyah out to perform “Home” and then duet with her on “Believe In Yourself.” Soon after, Hankerson introduced his niece to R. Kelly, whom he was managing. Kelly ended up writing and producing 15-year-old Aaliyah’s 1994 debut Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. Her life as a shy schoolgirl from an upper-middle-class neighborhood was officially over. Not that she cared. Aaliyah is not one of those former child stars who complains of missing out on the innocence of adolescence. So what if she had a full-time bodyguard attending classes with her at Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts? She was living her dream, right? Well, sort of. While she enjoys performing and being a celebrity, she doesn’t want the extra strings – like reporters probing her deepest fears and desires – that come with the package. She makes sure to give only the “Right” answers, because she wants to hold onto whatever is left of her private life. So she only alludes to her relationship with R. Kelly when she says, “Of course, everybody’s had hard times. I’ve had hard times. I don’t really think I will go into detail as to what it was. But when you go through something so painful, it just helps you become a stronger person.” When asked if she’s ever been in love, she says with a bright smile, “Private life! I don’t want to share that.” She’s like the Teflon diva, nothing ever sticks to her. After Kelly, rumors linked her romantically to Ginuwine, Jay-Z, and, most recently, the co-CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records, Damon Dash. In May, Aaliyah hosted a bash for Dash’s 30th birthday at a New York City club where they were spotted together; one person said they were “inseparable” – he even walked her to the bathroom. “I think rumors are hilarious,” she says. “I don’t pay any attention. It goes in one ear and out the other. When you’re in the business, you hang out with people, and people are like, ‘I wonder, are they seeing each other?’ I never dated Jay. I never dated Ginuwine. Damon and I are very good friends. I’ll keep it at that right now.” It’s hard to believe her when she’s wearing a small platinum and diamond Roc-A-Fella pendant on her neck. She claims that it’s hers and that it’s “just a little symbol of a record” and changes the subject, insisting that she’s briefly dated just two men in her whole life. Over the course of her career, the only thing Aaliyah has seemed willing to reveal about herself has been her highly touted body. Her slim frame has become a favorite from fashion figures to frat boys. “She made that hip hop look sexy for women wearing men’s clothes,” says Andy Hilfiger, who cast Aaliyah in the 1996 Tommy Jeans ad campaign also featuring Mark Ronson and Kidada Jones (daughter of VIBE founder Quincy Jones). The ads showed Aaliyah sporting men’s boxers under baggy jeans with a tight tube top. “It created a whole new look,” says Hilfiger. “It was sexy but classic.” By the time the sultry One in A Million hit in 1996, Aaliyah’s sound and look became a lot more mature and darker. Searching for a new style, Aaliyah’s mom suggested her daughter cover her left eye with her hair just like her mom’s favorite classic film actress Veronica Lake. It gave the 18-year-old an enigmatic touch. “She’s got an incredible sense of style, maybe the best of anybody I can think of,” says MTV’s Carson Daly. “She’s really cutting edge, always on step ahead of the curve. [The TRL audience] looks to Aaliyah to figure out what’s hot and what’s new.” She doesn’t have the best figure or best voice, but it’s the way she uses what she has that makes her so alluring. “When we dance together, it’s like synchronized swimming,” says Fatima, Aaliyah’s choreographer. “She is naturally sexy without effort.” Aaliyah’s singing voice, while not all that powerful, sounds like she’s whispering in your ear from the pillow next to yours, slowly seducing you over Timbaland’s simmering beats. “My mother always said that she feels like I always had sex appeal,” Aaliyah says. “Even when I was very young, when I would take pictures, there was something sexual about me. I do feel sexy for sure. I embrace it, and I’m comfortable with it. I enjoy it.” This confidence, her mastery of her assets, is what landed Aaliyah, who had no previous film experience, a costarring role with Jet Li in last year’s Romeo Must Die. Combining hip hop (the movie also featured DMX) and kung fu, Romeo had the perfect formula for box office success. But the critics tore up the highly remixes Shakespearean plot for both its simplicity and lack of any romantic chemistry between Li and Aaliyah. “This movie needs a screenplay,” critic Roger Ebert wrote.

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Josias Valdez

SAINt JHN Brings Unwavering Confidence To New York's Experimental Rap Sound

SAINt JHN’s amalgamation of primal energy and eager mosh pits at Rolling Loud are unmatched. A hazy sunset would’ve been a fitting pairing for his rage session, but his early set at New York’s Citi Field Saturday (Oct. 12) gets the job done. While a few curious eyes from VIP are studying the vibes, the trenches are full of fans screaming lyrics to “5,000 Singles,” "94 Bentley” and “Trap” (feat. Lill Baby)—all standouts from his sophomore project, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs.

The diverse crowd isn’t a surprise to the Brooklyn artist. JHN’s musical ancestry has allowed his vines to branch out to artists like Usher, dvsn and Beyonce; all artists he’s earned co-writer credits for respectively. But then there are those who discovered him through Fortnite or his work on “Brown Skin Girl.” No matter how Ghetto Lenny crossed fans' path, he’s grateful listeners are making the pit stop.

“It's better than anything I could ask for, that’s what I wanted,” he tells VIBE. “I just wanted people to hear the sounds and fall in love and not overthink it. You get a 12-year-old and you'll get a 55-year-old standing next to each other in the audience. They’re from different eras of music but they’ll feel the same way.”

JHN calls his presence at New York’s first Rolling Loud “good timing” in light of his appearances across the traveling festival’s Miami, L.A. and Bay Area staples. But the moment feels kismet since JHN is one of the few surviving New York performers who were able to hit the stage.

Just 24 hours before the festival kicked off, fellow rising Brooklyn acts like Casanova, Sheff G, 22Gz, and Pop Smoke as well as Bronx rapper Don Q were banned at the request of the NYPD because of their alleged affiliations to recent “acts of violence” citywide. While fellow NYC natives like A$AP Rocky, Desiigner, Jim Jones and Fat Joe took the stage, JHN was one of the few acts to represent New York’s new sound.

“Those artists come from the places I come from,” he said of the ban. “In instances like this, you have to separate the art from the incident. Clearly these artists come from different pasts—they talk about it in their music. But the point of the music is to transition out of that.” Many of the artists like Cassanova and Don Q spoke out against the NYPD’s influence in the festival.

"I’m at war with my past and the scars that they still leave on me every day," Casanova said on Instagram. "I will continue to fight against biases and advocate for those facing this same issue."

“You have to give them the opportunity to tell their stories or you further entrap them,” JHN adds about the group of rappers. “They end up stuck in the same positions they’re trying to escape by making a concrete wall around their history.”

JHN’s history is a mix of the power of attraction and community. His early years comprised of creating the building blocks of his label GØDD COMPLEXx and his fashion line Christian Sex Club. While making his dreams a reality, the grind led him to genuine friendships with future superstars like Jidenna, Skrillex and Ski Mask The Slump God. Last year, JHN released his debut album Collection One paired with head-bashing shows across the country.

Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs takes his sound to the next level with melodic punches on tracks like “I Can Fvcking Tell” and the Lenny Kravitz-assisted “Borders.” With punk and rap flowing effortlessly from JHN, the artist can only attest his glowing confidence to the game of life.

“My journey is where I'm at right? It's the monopoly board of my life, and I'm making my rounds,” he says. Being confident grows every year. So me saying "too lit to be humble" [On “5,000 Singles”] that just means I'm not gonna call it nothing else, I'm just gonna tell what it is. This is who I am, fuck with it. If you don't like it, you can turn left. You can turn around if you want, but this is happening.”

On his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz, JHN looks back with a big smile and several words. “Iconic, outrageous, Ignorant. Three o'clock in the morning of Paris,” he says. “Checkered floors. Space. Leather fixtures, Dark rooms. Lenny Kravitz. SAINt JHN. My nigga, I can tell you anything. I can tell you it smelled like cigars, whiskey, rum, and the Bahamas because in my mind, all that shit happened.”

But in all seriousness, the moment was an indication for JHN that his journey in music is paved with golden intentions.

“It was reinforcement,” he says. “The first time I worked with Usher, I learned that I belonged in the room. You know the first time you get invited into a room you have never been in and you almost feel like you lied your way in? The second time, you don't feel like you lied your way in.”

JHN's IGNORANt FOREVER Tour kicks off Nov. 11 in Miami with stops in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York. See the dates here.

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

20 Minutes With Davido: The Afrobeats Giant Talks Confidence, Timing And Strong Foundations

Davido can’t sit still. Maybe it’s early afternoon energy or impatience or knowing that his press rounds for the day aren’t winding down for some hours. Or maybe it’s just the fact that he’s sitting on what he considers to be an audio goldmine. David Adeleke, the gifter of astronomical hits like “If” and “Fall”—two-year-old songs with gravity still strong enough to pull Snapchatting wallflowers and clumsy dancers to the center of the floor—knows there’s much more where that came from.

“It's an album for everybody, I'll say,” he says of his forthcoming album, A Good Time, with a smirk. “I feel like everybody will have at least three songs they love in different genres.”

Technically speaking, the Atlanta-born and Lagos, Nigeria-raised artist has made a moderate splash on the Billboard charts, the metrics most artists use to quantify their success and measure progression in the industry. (In 2019, “Fall” became the longest-charting Nigerian pop song in Billboard history thanks to admittedly delayed radio push.)

However, Davido’s worldwide footprint speaks louder than a few hard figures. This year alone, he’s sold out shows as intimate as nightclubs and massive as London’s O2 Arena, rocked sets at Essence Music Festival and Hot 97's Summer Jam, and was an international headliner abroad at Oh My! Fest in the Netherlands, Afro Nation Portugal, and eventually Afro Nation Ghana alongside afrobeats greats he can safely consider peers.

July summoned his album’s breezy lead single “Blow My Mind” featuring Chris Brown, and a burst of new guest spots this month are carrying that same fresh energy into October. Davido was featured alongside Jeremih in “Choosy,” a new release from Fabolous, as well as on Brown’s “Lower Body,” a newbie on the extended version of his Indigo album. To say he’s ready to fan the mainstream flame with fellow afrobeats and afro-fusion hitmakers is an understatement. “Let us in, open American doors,” he jokes, knowingly. “We will finish everybody.”

In between banter about the turnup we’re missing in West Africa—trust, December in Africa is a thing—Davido opens up about his A Good Time (a genre hodgepodge guaranteed to please), the source of his success (part luck, part work ethic), and afrobeats’ undeniable global appeal.

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VIBE: Tell me about how your 2019 has been so far? Davido: 2019 has been a journey. It’s been the longest time that I’ve spent away from Lagos probably since I came to school in America. Reason being, just wanted to focus and get new energy, new environment to record the album. There’s just so much going on back home, so we’ve been out here the whole year, basically. “Fall” blew up and then we just came out here and worked with it. That album is about to come out and it’s gonna be crazy.

Given the momentum and expectations that come with it, are you more excited or nervous about this next album? I’m not nervous because I’m confident about the music. I’m just anxious to see what the next stage is, the next step. I like to challenge myself. When you reach a stage, you want to challenge yourself to reach higher stages.

You said it’s been the longest time you’ve spent away from Lagos. Is that a good or bad thing? No, that’s good. To me, it's a new energy. The people miss me, of course, but sometimes it's good to be away. To just step back and see where you’re at in your surroundings and stuff like that. I think every artist needs that.

Sometimes when you're too present, people think they know what you're going to deliver. Exactly, and me being out here recording, all my producers I flew in from Nigeria. It's not like I left my team. The whole team is here, so people ain't really heard the music. Back home, in my studio, it's like everybody comes through, so I can imagine recording my album back home, four or five of the songs would have probably leaked already.

You had a great year and so has music from African artists. What has it been like to watch that happen, to see us latecomers catch on? I felt like it was always going to happen. Even when I was in school in Alabama, when I used to play Nigerian songs from artists that were the top artists then—they were the biggest artists, like D’banj, P-Square—when I used to play their music in my dorm room, my American friends would love it. I always knew it was a thing that once America heard it, they would love it. Afrobeats, you hear it once, twice, I promise you, it's going to ring. So I feel like it was just for the people to hear it. Give us a channel to be heard. Radio, now you have social media. Back then all those things weren't in place. Now you have things in place where even if it's not in your face, one way or the other, you can find it. I think if you had all those things back then, social media and the support, it would've been the same.

 

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Were you frustrated with how long it took? Not really, because we've got our stuff going back home, too. You know what I'm saying? Even me today, I make most of my money from back home. And even before afrobeats got mainstream in America, we’ve been coming to do shows. I did a show in New York in 2013 to 5,000 people, and this was when I didn't have most of my big records I have now. Sold it out. But now it's mainstream. You have Live Nation now partnering with us to do shows. Back then it was just like local promoters selling tickets at the clubs and we still had the numbers. Now, our fans can put on the radio and hear us.

It even gives them more confidence. Confidence to be like, you know what? Let's go out and support this culture. So that's why the Afro Nation festival in Portugal, it was bigger than Coachella to me. It just shows that you just needed that platform, and then the fans needed the confidence to come out and really support. The next step now is getting the fans to buy the music because we have the numbers, but you've got to come out and buy it. That's the only way we can really break. The music is spreading. It's on the radio. Everybody’s doing shows. Everybody's touring, but now the next step is getting these sales up.

In a way, that’s most artists’ problems now. Touring is the moneymaker. That and streaming. There's nothing really wrong with streaming. That is why they want us to appeal to the Western crowd because those people buy music. Those people buy merch, blah blah blah. But we have to do what we know how to do. So the Western [crowd], they're actually buying it, but we need our real fans to come and be like, yo, Davido album dropping. It's a campaign—80,000 copies the first week, let's go out and buy. Look at the Latin industry. They're doing numbers. So apart from the music getting big, I feel like, yes, the music is getting accepted, but where are the numbers? When you walk into a building, it's all about numbers. It's not about if your music is sweet or this, or that—it's all about the profit. That's what we'll be working on getting up.

What are your thoughts about seeing really large artists pay so much homage to the afrobeats sound? I mean some people find it offensive, but I actually don't. I mean, first of all, people in Africa do hip-hop, right? So you can't come and say these people are taking our sound when we have artists back home doing trap, doing all these things. I feel that everybody should feel free to do what they want to do, but maybe it won't hurt to evolve. Like, I feel like it was nice how Swae Lee had Tekno produce that record for him and Drake, stuff like that. And they have more of our producers more involved in the sound because those are the ones who really know how to get the sound. Yeah, I think the producer side needs more shine but apart from that, doing afrobeats is [for] everybody. Any artist is free to do any kind of music they want.

Who are some of the producers that we should know? Give us a starter list. I mean, first of all, Shizzi, that's my producer. He did most of my stuff. And we have Kiddominant, that's my other producer. And we have Speroach, this dude Rexxie, he's the one that's doing all the Zanku songs. So he's going crazy. But I feel like they should bring all these artists out here, get a camp, put 'em all in one room and trust me, they'll make magic.

Do you still consider yourself an afrobeats artist now? Some of your counterparts like Afro B and Burna Boy have classified themselves as afro-wave or afro-fusion. I'm just an artist, man. I'm just a musician. Every kind. Of course I do afrobeats, but I'm just a musician. Worldwide musician. World music.

You mentioned the Latinx music scene. Is there anyone you’re looking to collaborate with from that space? Bad Bunny, Maluma. I really want to work with them. I might get a studio session with them when I get back from Nigeria.

How would you say your sound has progressed over the years from your try at making music to now? Of course [when] you're growing, you learn. Sometimes I don't even listen to some of my earlier records, even though I always used to put a lot in my records so it's not like that shit was whack. It was cool but I can see the growth and the quality of the music. Back then we didn't really focus on our sound and mixing and mastering. We’d really just record, next day release. Right now, it's a whole package and music has to be perfect. Right now, they’re playing Nigerian music on the radio, African music, and after African music, they start playing American music. You don't want the level of the quality to drop. And planning. I'm at the label now. Before I could just wake up and just drop, but now they gotta submit the single two weeks before. You know how it is. So, of course, it's way different now from like four years ago.

What else have you learned about yourself personally and the way you work? I'm really, really, really free with my work. I don't really bother myself with strategic planning and stuff like that. What's most important to me is the music. Once the music is good, I feel that's really all you need. And, of course, a good team around you and they're doing what you want. Connect with your fans. Very important, connect with your fans. Don't lose touch of home because that's your foundation, really. Without that foundation, you can't really be big in America when you don't have that foundation in Nigeria. An example is, I've known a lot of American artists for a while who are bigger in America, but when they came to Nigeria they saw the love I get at home. Then coming back is like, the respect is different. They'd come and they were like, Yo, you're the president. You know what I'm saying?

When was the first moment that you realized where you stood with your hometown? That they would be such a solid support system? That was probably for my first song, really. From the first record, man, it's just been love. Davido this, Davido that, negative, positive, negative and whatever.

Negative? What's the biggest critique you've seen of yourself? I don't know. Probably my voice. That's the worst I can think of. I can't think of nothing else.

What's the most memorable place you've ever performed? I've got a couple places. O2 Arena [in London]. I just did [Madison Square Garden] with 50 Cent [for the Power premiere]. That was cool.

Walk me through that. He [50 Cent] brought me out. It was just crazy cause I ain't really met him before. I met him at the pool party or something like that, when I was performing at the pool party, and the reception when I performed was crazy so I think it got his attention. The next day he called me up to perform at MSG.

And then in July, you headlined your first international festival. Oh yeah, yeah. Amsterdam. Yeah. Oh My! Festival, and then Afro Nation, too. This summer was lit, but next summer is about to be dumb lit. This fall's about to be lit. Album's coming October.

One thing I notice about you and the progression of your career is that it’s fueled by a strong sense of faith and confidence. Where do you get that? It just depends, man. Honestly, it's not even confidence. I wouldn't say that Nigeria spoiled me, but like bruh, they just showed me so much love. Like, I didn't really go through like a lot of things. I just dropped and it just took me... I didn't really have to overkill myself. They just kept me there. I don't know why they liked me so much, (Laughs) but they just kept me there, kept me comfortable, kept me confident. Always came out to all the shows, supported all the music. It's just love, everywhere is love. Even the love for Davido spreads to everybody around me. My family members.

Have newer artists in Nigeria or on the continent asked you for advice? If so, what do you tell them? You have to be very hardworking and ready to play the part. That's what they're always asking. But everybody has their different ways of getting to where they need to get to. My way might be different from somebody else's way, but most importantly is just be ready to work hard and the music has to be good. Once the music is good, get your team right, and just work hard. I feel like the other steps, you kind of figure it out yourself.

Who do you think is next up in terms of afrobeats artists?  I mean, there's a lot of other artists. It's like 500 of us. Let us in, open American doors, we will finish everybody. There is a lot of us. I feel like before you stand up and leave Africa, like, yo, I'm going to chase the dream in America, I'm going to chase the dream in Europe, you have to make sure your foundation, your home is super strong.

Is it still a goal to capture or change up the American market? No, not [to] change it, we just want to join it. Add us. We should have our own chart, I think. You know what I'm saying? Like if reggae could have their own chart, I think we can have ours, too. Or let us in the main chart, something. But I feel like it's gonna happen, man. It's been happening, man. Most importantly, I'm happy that American artists themselves open their arms for us as well. I got a lot of records dropping that are not even myself, they're their songs featuring me. Stuff like that helps us as well.

What can we expect from the new album? Just a lot of good songs. It's an album for everybody, I'll say. I feel like everybody will have at least three songs they love in different genres. It’s going to be 13 songs. Well, I’ll probably have "Fall" and "If" on there, so it's really like 11 new songs. But yeah, it's going to be an album for everybody. Trust me. Every type of song is going to be on there. Predominantly afrobeats-infused, of course. Mainly my producers and a lot of your [American] producers, too. With features, me and Chris got a second record.

And lastly, since you speak highly of your foundation, what is the best thing about Nigeria? The people. The attitude, rich or poor. It's just a jolly place. You would laugh, comedians everywhere. There's some bad, bad spirits sometimes, (laughs) but for the most part, it's a very beautiful place.

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Nickelodeon

How 'My Brother And Me' Resonated With A Generation Of Young Black Men

In terms of cultural impact and influence, the '90s ranks as one of the defining decades for black entertainment of the past century. This proves particularly true in the realm of television, with a number of landmark programs debuting that reflected the life and times of blacks in the urban community and beyond. While the '80s produced groundbreaking sitcoms like The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Matters, 227, Amen, and Frank's Place, all of which featured predominantly black casts, these shows were few and far in between.

However, the arrival of a new decade coincided with an influx of programs starring black leads, with shows like Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Living Single, Hangin with Mr. Cooper, Roc, Thea and South Central all making their debut. While these shows were hits across various age groups, they all starred and revolved around actors of age, in some form or fashion. One of the first programs to divert from this formula and place the focus squarely on adolescents was My Brother and Me, a sitcom that often gets overlooked when listing the pivotal shows of its era.

Making its debut on October 15, 1994, My Brother and Me was among the first live-action series to air on Nickelodeon and the first to feature a predominantly black cast. Created by Ilunga Adell and Calvin Brown Jr., and directed by Arlando Smith and Adam Weissman, the show centers around brothers Alfred "Alfie" Parker and Derek "Dee-Dee" Parker, the two youngest children of parents Jennifer (Karen E. Fraction) and Roger Parker (Jim R. Coleman) who experience the typical growing pains of pre-pubescent young men that are coming of age.

Additional core cast members include Alfie and Dee-Dee's older sister Melanie Parker (Aisling Sistrunk),, Alfie's best friend Milton "Goo" Berry (Jimmy Lee Newman, Jr.) who has an infatuation with Melanie, Melanie's best friend and Donnell's older sister Dionne Wilburn (Amanda Seales), Dee-Dee's best friend and Dionne’s younger brother Donnell Wilburn (Stefan J. Wernli),, Dee-Dee’s other best friend Harry White (Keith "Bubba" Naylor), and local comic book store owner Mrs. Pinckney (Kym Whitley).

Set in the suburbs of the west side of Charlotte, North Carolina, My Brother and Me was the Nickelodeon's answer to Sister, Sister, a sitcom on ABC starring identical twins Tia and Tamera Mowry that had debuted earlier that year. With a beat writer for the local newspaper for a father and a school teacher for a mother, Alfie and Dee-Dee enjoyed a stable living environment in which they could thrive academically and socially while simply being kids. A middle-class family with access to all of the basic amenities, the Parkers' economic situation was in stark contrast to the usual scratching-and-surviving, rags-to-riches themes often associated with sitcoms geared towards people of color.

While removed from the harsh realities that often accompany life in the inner-city, the Parker boys were drawn in by the allure of street culture, with Alfie and Dee-Dee both being avid fans of hip hop music, fashion, and style. This love affair would be the driving force behind various episodes, most notably "Dee-Dee's Haircut," during which Dee-Dee allows Goo to butcher his hair after marveling at fellow student Kenny's "Cool Dr. Money"-inspired haircut. Going as far as handpicking designs out of a rap magazine Donell borrows from his sister Dionne, Dee-Dee goes to the extreme in an attempt to mirror Kenny and Cool Dr. Money, a testament to the influence hip hop holds over him. His affinity for the culture is also reflected in the "Donnell's Birthday Party" episode, during which the impressionable youngster mimicking dance moves from a rap video in hopes of tightening up his dance skills.

Alfie and Dee-Dee may have been the intended stars of the show, but to many viewers, the most memorable character from My Brother and Me was Goo, who stole scenes with his humorous wisecracks and mischievous hijinks, often at the expense of Dee-Dee and his friends. From showering Mrs. Parker with disarming compliments to masterminding various plots and schemes in an attempt to get himself and Alfie out of trouble, Goo proved to be the most entertaining member of the show, exuding swagger and confidence that are palpable to the viewer and as hip hop as it gets. On the other hand, Alfie, who is not as overtly demonstrative in his rap fandom as his younger brother or Goo, reps his allegiance to the culture more subtly, with his haircut, backward caps and boisterous mannerisms.

While race was never a prevalent topic on the show, if one was to look closer between the lines, My Brother and Me was unapologetically black and pridefully so. Take, for instance, the various nods to HBCU culture throughout the show, including Roger Parker's various North Carolina Central University sweatshirts and hats, Alfie's Morehouse fit, and insignias from various black fraternities. One other common thread of the show was its incorporation of sports, starting with the Parker household's fandom of Charlotte's local professional franchises on full display, as Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers memorabilia are all visible throughout the household. Cameos also included appearances from NBA stars Kendall Gill and Dennis Scott, the latter of whom teaches Alfie, the superior athlete of the Parker brothers, a lesson in selflessness and teamwork by cutting him from the school basketball team in "The Basketball Tryouts" episode.

Of all of the aspects of My Brother and Me that made the show a game-changer, the fact that it was one of the first times young black males saw themselves in characters on the TV is the most enduring. While plenty of shows and networks fixated on coming-of-age storylines centered around the privileged youth of white America, My Brother and Me provided the alternative, promoting the bond of brotherhood and family values with each episode aired. Preceding shows like Kenan & Kel and Cousin Skeeter, both of which implemented overt comedic or fictional elements, My Brother and Me was a realistic glimpse at the life of the average black boy in America without the overarching narratives of impoverishment, temptation, and despair. For many young black men born in the '80s, the show left an indelible impact on them and holds a place near to their heart a quarter-century later.

In spite of its critical acclaim and popularity, My Brother and Me only aired for one season, as it was canceled after airing its final episode on January 15, 1995. The network would air reruns into the early 2000s before returning briefly during The '90s Are All That block on TeenNick in December 2013, the last time the show would appear on television. In June 2014, Nickelodeon released My Brother & Me: The Complete Series as a two-disc DVD, giving a new generation of viewers and longtime fans of the show an opportunity to relive the magic that the show captured during its short, yet unforgettable run.

In the years following My Brother and Me's cancellation, many of the actors and actresses from the show would fail to find their footing in the entertainment industry, resulting in their acting careers fading into obscurity. Arthur Reggie III scored a few additional credits, appearing in the TV shows Sliders and C-Bear and Jamal, as well as the 1998 film Bulworth, but later transitioned into a rap career, performing under the name Show Bizness. My Brother and Me would mark Ralph Woolfolk's last appearance as an actor, as he decided to leave the industry behind and focus on his education, pursuing a degree in English at Morehouse College in Atlanta, while also attending law school. He is also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and currently serves as a police officer for the city of Atlanta. Jimmy Lee Newman, Jr. scored bit roles in the TV shows Sweet Justice and Sister, Sister in the subsequent years after the show, while Aisling Sistrunk, Stefan J. Wernli and Keith "Bubba" Naylor would never act professionally again.

However, a few members of the cast were able to sustain viable acting careers well beyond My Brother and Me's cancellation, most notably Amanda Seales, Karen E. Fraction and Jim Coleman. Seales would rebrand herself as Amanda Diva and become a successful media personality before transitioning back into acting, last appearing as Tiffany DuBois on HBO's "Insecure." In 2019, Seales debuted an HBO Comedy Special I Be Knowin', and was chosen as the emcee for NBC's comedy competition, Bring the Funny. Jim Coleman has kept himself busy with various roles over the past two decades, last appearing in "The Council," and continues to receive steady work. Karen Fraction would add a few additional credits to her resume after "My Brother and Me," but passed away on October 30, 2007, after a five year battle with breast cancer. She is survived by her two children, Lauren Elizabeth Jean and Lawrence Wm. Morris, and her husband Lawrence Hamilton. And last, but not least, Kym Whitley would enjoy a fruitful career on television and on the big screen, appearing in dozens of shows and films throughout her lengthy career, with her latest role being Mrs. Malinky in the Netflix animated comedy Pinky Malinky.

In the time since the debut of My Brother and Me, a lot has changed in terms of the presence and representation of black youth on television and beyond. A number of black actors and actresses have had the opportunity to shine in a big way, including Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) Zendaya (Shake It Up), Kyle Massey (Corey in the House), Keke Palmer (True Jackson, VP), Miles Brown (Black-Ish) and Alex R. Hibbert (The Chi) all among the more prominent child stars making major waves on TV over the past two decades. That said, 25 years later, the fact remains that My Brother and Me was ahead of the curve as one of the first instances of seeing ourselves in a positive and uplifting light on the small screen.

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