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Vixen Chat: Malik Yoba Talks 'Empire' His Company Iconic 32 & More

Malik Yoba

With over 20 years under his belt, Malik Yoba is one well-known veteran in the acting game. On FOX's new hit drama, Empire, he plays Luscious Lyon's (Terrence Howard) right hand man, Vernon.

And although we are familiar with Malik as a compelling actor (See New York Undercover & Cool Runnings), this gentleman has other layers worth exploring.

During his one-on-one with VIBE Vixen,  Malik shares how he has maintained the longevity in his career, as well the business ventures he is pursuing. He is without a doubt in tune with his status as an individual immersed in the entertainment industry and his passion for the Arts.

Read on to discover how Malik joined the cast of Empire and learn more about his latest venture, Iconic 32.


Vibe Vixen: How did becoming a part of the show Empire come about?
Malik Yoba: I had an appointment with Lee Daniels. I was interested in working with him and I got an appointment for an audition and I met with him. I knew his sister Leah Daniels-Butler for over 20 years. She helped cast me in Cool Runnings, so Leah and I have been friends for a long time. I hadn’t met Lee before but I ran into her, and she told me about the appointment and I went in. Part of what made me want to do it is, in the pilot, there wasn't much written for the character. But the fact that it was Lee, me wanting to work with him and be a part of it, and the fact that he literally stopped me in the middle of my audition and apologized for putting me through the process because he felt that, “I’m a fan of your work, I know you, I feel like I know you, and I feel like you shouldn’t have to do this, but I’m being told that this is how you have to do it in TV.” It was that moment honestly that I felt as long as I’ve been in this business, as long as I’ve been around, over two decades, and you work on all kinds of levels with all kinds of people, it’s just nice when people feel that they’ve seen enough of what you can do to know that they just want to do the dance with you.

Because you are a veteran on the acting scene, how does this character, Vernon, differ from other characters that you have played?
The biggest difference for me is that this is probably the least developed character I’ve ever played. This is my 13th television series, so I’ve played a lot of different types of people. That might be the first thing and I haven’t played this type of role, which is like the guy next to the guy. I’ve either been the guy or a part of a team. So this is more like the confident role, kind of like the Robert Duval character in The Godfather. It has been interesting from that perspective. From an acting perspective, it feels cool to play all types of roles, but in terms of me from an acting perspective, sometimes especially in a series, in the first year of a series, they may not develop each character equally. As an actor you have to do your own work in terms of deciding who this person is and act from that place. So you might write a bio and really give this person a history because a lot of the work from an acting perspective is done internally. If they don’t write it then you have to just be it if that makes sense.

Because Vernon has been out of controversy and playing the wingman role throughout the series, is there anything we can expect from him that will surprise us?
One thousand percent! There’re a few things that happen that you’ll be like, “Wow, ok”, but it’s a soap opera and at the end of the day, it’s not a fine drama. It’s a soap opera. People really enjoy the ride.

People really do. I usually get on Twitter during the show to join in with the live tweeting. How are you feeling about the feedback the show has been getting on social media?
Well I think social media is very powerful. It’s great that we have it because you can watch in real time. I try to be as engaged with folks as possible and you can approach it on so many different levels. I asked a question on Twitter last week during the run of Empire that if we had social media during New York Undercover, that show would have never been off the air. You know, for me doing Empire is kind of like Twilight Zone or Groundhog Day because I’ve been here before. I know what it’s like to be a part of television history and present images that haven’t been seen before and when you have the same DNA the people will always respond in the same exact way. So, one: seeing ourselves, two: hearing our music, seeing the way we dress, hearing our politics, hearing our family secrets, those kinds of images and that kind of construct is always going to get people excited because they don’t see it enough. Having done that before you already know before it even hit the public that it’s going to have this type of effect on people. Social media plays a lot into that a lot in terms of, it’s like it’s the proof, it’s indisputable. 20 years ago doing a show like New York Undercover, we didn’t have that. It would just be fan letters or people seeing me in the street or wherever I’m at, telling me how they feel about something, but now FOX is watching, everybody is watching. It’s like, “this is the impact that this is having”, and so that’s powerful.

This show is very big on music. Do you think that the show will strike some impact within the music industry for artists who are watching and not involved in the show?
That would be interesting to see if it does. You know the show is very inpirational, so I’m getting a lot of requests on social media for people who want to be on the show, who want to submit music. There’s definitely that and in the upcoming season, they were able to take advantage of that in a positive way.

malik yoba

Moving in the direction of the artist, because the show is about the music business and artist’s creativity. How important is it to you for a person to find an outlet for their creativity?
Well I have a few ways I can answer that question, but we were created to create because we were made in the image of the Creator. So everyone is creative and it’s not just about music and acting or painting. People who create financial service, who work in the investment world, or tech world, or science, creativity is everywhere. People don’t always define it as creative because they think you have to be in the Arts to be creative. I think it’s essential, I mean… I am a creative being. I create all kinds of stuff. I always have and I promote it through my company Iconic 32.

That’s what we are about. We are about using creativity, using art, using pop culture, using music, using fashion and technology to promote social good, to create social good. To have ideas and see them manifest, that’s what creativity is. Yea …I think it’s essential. I think so many people are stuck in all kinds of situations work-wise because they have to do whatever, but they really want to be creative. They really want to follow their heart and they’re not able to. I think it’s essential. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have the life I have, but the life I have is the life that I created. I had to move in my own direction and dance to my own drum.

What would you say to someone who is struggling to find the proper outlet for their creativity? There are so many people who have these creative aspirations, have so many distractions surrounding them and are looking for that extra push to find that outlet. What would be some advice from Malik to them?
I think that that’s a kind of loaded question because people are at different stages of the game. Some people have three kids and just have to pay bills, someone else may be in a situation where they are a teenager and they are going to college and their parents want them to do one thing but they really want to do something else. I just think that it’s really important to be mindful about what you think and what you say to yourself. A lot of people spend a lot of time doubting themselves and saying, “Well that’ll never work...I can’t do this...that’s too hard” or “I don’t have time”, and that's their meditation every day. “Oh, I really want to but …”, but the thing about creativity is you just have to do it. Like Nike says, you just have to do it. Put one foot in front of the other and make it happen and when you do that then you have small successes that will lead to bigger successes. The older I get the more I realize I came into the world with a particular point of view that helped me as a kid because I just believed in big shit. I gave my teachers my autograph when I was 13. I always wanted to go to the Olympics and I wanted to bobsled and I ended up doing Cool Runnings. Things that I thought about as a kid manifested as an adult or even as a teenager and I was always aware of that and so I always stayed in that mindset. The more you manifest these things, the bigger your life becomes. Then the dreams get bigger, but it’s hard to remember who you are. Again, we were born in the image of God, the great Creator, so that’s the real deal right there. You have to, I think, really just give it up because we didn’t create ourselves. Regardless of what people believe, ultimately there’s something that is bigger than all of us that is in control of this really and we’re a part of that, a part of that great intelligence. For people who don’t know, because this is my personal prayer, I always want to be in a place where God can use me to edify him. It’s a really simple idea but I think that should be the goal for everybody, “How can I be used to shine light on the world and glorify the greater good?”

Malik Yoba

For people who haven’t heard about your company Iconic 32, what is it about?
Iconic 32 is a lifestyle company and innovation studio that enhances or creates cultural movements for social good and we use pop culture to do that. We use art, music, style, fashion, sports, and wellness, to promote ideas about making the world a better place. If you look at Empire as an example, that’s a great pop culture vehicle to really promote social good. There are official things that happen and unofficial things. So for me, on an official tip, I’ve really been trying to work hard with FOX to understand that lane a little bit more, but that’s been a challenge. There are things that I do independently. For instance, I did a screening of Empire for the second episode down in St. Louis and raised $ 6,000 for the Save Our Sons program that the Urban League started in the wake of the Ferguson crisis. So simple things like that, so I would say for FOX, “Listen, for the Empire premiere, if you did 80 screenings of the show all over the country and if each one of those screenings simply acted as a fundraiser like I did, we could raises half a million dollars in a couple of months for charity.”

Sometimes you have to take it a little to the left to exit to something that really matters and you can actually promote and create social change just by what’s already happening. The song you are already listening to, the movie you are already watching, the technology you already use, the things that are already in your environment. If you take it a little bit to the left, which is, “How can this benefit other people?”, you can actually promote social good in cool and simple ways. That’s really what the company is built on. That kind of thinking, as curators of progress, we galvanize and gather individuals that all think that way. We’re young so a lot of people don’t know we exist yet. We’re little more than a year old, like 14-15 months. My business partner and I met and we had similar passions. We are developing fashion products, and on our website you can get T-shirts and hoodies and there will be more products coming from shoes to bags to consumer products. There will be services. There will be media. It is going to be kind of a crazy world, and we are actually promoting it’s actually called the ZINN app. It’s the first app that is activated through a link. If you typed in “Malik Yoba app,” it’s still in the BETA stage. It’s not even out there yet but it will be very shortly. It is coming in a very big way. That is the next thing on the tech side, so we are working on a lot of different spaces on one premise, be in the ‘give a fuck’ business and you can play in a lot of different spaces. That company for me is just pulling together all the things I have always loved. I have always been a strategic thinker; I’ve always worked with brands, organizations, schools, churches, and community groups. I’ve always worked with pop culture and now it’s like, we can use all this together to help impact the world. We’ve partnered with Common's foundation so part of our products go to the support of the Common Ground Foundation and work he does in the Chicago area with young people. There are other organizations we work with as well.

Where do you see Iconic 32 in 5 years?
You know, for the last couple of days my partners...I have a few partners. But my main partner Sergio Morales, who I work on strategies with everyday, keeps saying we are the next Google. [Laughs] On the tech side, with some of the stuff we are involved with on that side, it really does have the potential to be a complete game-changer. Like that app I was just telling you about, it’s a complete game-changer, but we say we are the Amazon of social good. The product that we sell and curate are really going to be something that you don’t just buy to be buying it. You buy it because it means something and you’re contributing. You know, we laugh because we’re kind of all over the place. Nike started with a sneaker and then it became a lifestyle company, and as a lifestyle company that’s what you do - you become part of people’s lifestyle in many many different ways. From a brand perspective it’s a consumer product and that’s what we see. From a consulting stand point, we will continue to grow that business and be a huge consulting firm. So the sky is the limit.

Tell us something about you that can’t be Google’d.
My Heart.

Your heart?
Yea... you can’t Google that.

Follow Malik on Twitter and Instagram: @MalikYoba

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