Furious 7's Tyrese Covers VIBE Furious 7's Tyrese Covers VIBE

Digital Cover: Tyrese Takes 'Furious 7' Into Overdrive

Talent can be raw, ready but not always willing. That's never the case with Tyrese Gibson, R&B, rap and Hollywood's most inspired entertainer.


With his final solo album Black Rose and emotional action film Furious 7 dropping this year, Tyrese Gibson is not letting personal and professional adversity stop his drive

While the average guy might crave a cozy back room for a man cave, the entire backyard of Tyrese Gibson’s Woodland Hills home has all the makings of a dude’s dream haven. Way in the back, past the Hibachi restaurant, half-court basketball, pool and bar stocked with rare rums, there’s a giant projection screen, facing rows of cushy cream seats. To the right of the outdoor theater is his home office and recording space, which features a sundeck with an outdoor canopy bed and pizza oven. The logo of his label imprint, Voltron Recordz, illuminates on the front outside wall.

The circular firepit is the preferred hangout area on this brisk February night, as the actor/singer gives a tour of his continuously evolving household passion project. But he skips over one highlight: A mural of himself with late friend and fellow actor Paul Walker. The adjacent wall depicts Transformers Autobot Bumblebee and a speech bubble with an esoteric quote: “Roman! That was funny as hell, what you did to Brian and Dom in Fast 7! You guys are badass!!!”

At times, it’s still difficult for Tyrese to speak about the tragic death of his Fast & Furious franchise co-star, who was killed in a car accident on November 30, 2013, just before completing filming of Furious 7. He compares the sting of Walker’s passing to that of divine R&B darling Aaliyah. Fights back tears earlier today when he recalls finishing the movie (out April 3) without his brother from another.

“Imagine getting your last hug, having your last moment in the same location and then we start filming again in the same place,” the 36-year-old says, getting choked up. “Of all the people that ended up transition, it hurt to see him transition the most.”

Despite his grieving, Tyrese has been keeping busy, now that Furious 7, his fourth starring role in the franchise as Roman Pearce, has wrapped. The man who first captured hearts more than 20 years ago by singing about soda in an iconic Coca-Cola commercial is onto his long-gestating Black Rose double album, featuring one disc of singing and another under his rapping alter ego, Black Ty. The LP, which Tyrese says will be his final as a solo artist, will share its title with an accompanying documentary about the making of the project, as well as a book on relationships. In addition, he’s dropping a 23-minute short film called Shame, starring himself and Jennifer Hudson. All are slated for a July 7 mega release date.

As for the big screen, Ty is delivering both on- and off-camera. He will appear in the sequel to Kevin Hart and Ice Cube’s cop comedy Ride Along. Plus, he co-wrote and sold the script to an action flick called Desert Eagle to Universal Pictures.

“I got these visions; they are all God-sent,” he says from his home, three weeks from the debut of Furious 7. “They’re very aggressive and very specific and detailed... I’m addicted to creativity.” —John Kennedy


VIBE: The Fast and The Furious script was inspired by an article on street racing that was first published in VIBE Magazine. Did you ever think it’d blow up into a billion-dollar franchise?
Tyrese: Clearly the story was an influential one, because a lot of people have showed up to support and experience this franchise domestically and internationally. I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I thought I was going to be in [2 Fast 2 Furious] and it would be over after that. But the fans around the world continue to show up. I was in Germany and [people] walked up and didn't know a lick of English, but knew Roman Pierce and my name because of this franchise. That's a big deal. The one and only franchise that's this successful that's not a comic book or a TV show. For us to be at Furious 7, it's a real blessing.

SEE ALSO: VIBE Vault: Racer X - The May 1998 Article That Inspired 'Fast & Furious'

Furious 7 is the most ambitious of the series. Is there pressure to top the previous film?
With the success comes a lot of pressure. How will we make it bigger, better [and] more interesting? How do we have a moment where you're crying, emotional, [and] on the edge of your seat? How do we take it up a notch? We just hope that we never let the fans down. The overall magnitude of [Furious 7] is bigger. And very emotional for all the obvious reasons—our brother Paul Walker. So we’re trying to find a happy medium. You don’t want to come off too happy, too excited because we know what happened to our brother. But at the same time you are excited because the overall movie in itself—including Paul—is the best one of the series. We had to rise the occasion, become each other's positive reinforcement and help us to get through making this movie, and we did. And we brought our brother with us. We're excited. We believe that this is going to be the most successful one of all of them.

It has to be an extremely bittersweet project for you.
Way more bitter than sweet, trust me. This was supposed to be a worldwide press event, hit seven or eight countries. We narrowed it down to just L.A. It’s just too much emotionally. [Paul] was literally an angel. A good person, always smiling, always happy—just a great soul. We had a lot of opinions and ideas flying around. We made sure that everything about his moves and the moves that were going to be made were protected.

“Imagine getting your last hug, having your last moment in the same location, and then we start filming again in the same place... where I had last seen Paul. It was a lot.”

Production was halted for four months after Paul Walker’s death. What was it like on that first day back of filming?
The first day was very challenging because we started back in Atlanta, and that’s where I had last seen Paul. And the base camp where all the trailers were set up at was the same base camp. Imagine working on a movie on behalf of someone that was there, who is no longer there but they’re there in spirit. Imagine the first day of filming coming back to the set and experiencing that. Imagine putting that level of professional hat on. It was a lot. We had to pick up the pieces and recover, get closure, compartmentalize our emotions and move forward.

Ludacris has said he’d like to see Tom Cruise join the franchise, and Michelle Rodriguez is campaigning for Rihanna. If you could draft anyone onto the Furious cast, who would it be?
Matt Damon. That's what I want. That's my invite. Matt Damon, join us.

Let’s talk about your upcoming album, Black Rose.
My first single is called “Dumb Shit,” featuring Snoop. The second single is called “Shame.” I be doing dumb shit, so I’m ashamed of it. Everyone of my singles are intertwined. It’s going to tell a story. When has anyone ever released a double album, one hip-hop [disc], one R&B [disc]? [There’s also] a documentary, book, and a movie.

SEE ALSO: Wiz Khalifa And Iggy Azalea ‘Go Hard’ For The ‘Furious 7? Soundtrack

What’s Shame about?
It’s a musical short film, starring me and Jennifer Hudson. Twenty-three minutes in running time. It’s controversial as hell. I shot the whole thing on my own with Paul Hunter. Bobby Reid did the casting. It’s a game changer.

How many singles are you releasing?
Five singles. I’m going to keep rocking. This “Shame” song is going to change all of our lives forever.

“I don’t write books; I write life. I don’t sing songs; I sing life. If it’s not coming from a real place I just don’t do it.”

Tell me a little bit about the documentary. Is it about you?
It’s about the making of the album. I rented a house. It was a luxury rental about 14,000 sq. ft. in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Nineteen of us sleeping in one house for 32 days. Basically the making of this double album went down in this house. That happened about two years ago. It was another vision I had. I was like, “Arizona? Why Arizona, God?” “Just go to Arizona.” Alright.

What’s the premise of the Black Rose book?
The Black Rose book it’s going to be just like my first two books, about life, love, spirituality relationships and the challenges of it. This is how uncomfortable this book is going to get it: The first chapter is called “How responsible are you for the father your kids don’t know.” That’s chapter 1. We always call them motherfuckers deadbeat dads, but we’re not talking about the alienation that goes down. We’re not talking about the women that are so angry and bitter they stop those fathers from having access to the kids. We all complain about it, but no one has ever wrote about it. This book is a very uncomfortable book.

Did you work with Rev. Run on this book again, too?
No, this is my book.

Where did you find inspiration as far as content for Black Rose, the album?
I don’t write books, bro; I write life. I don’t sing songs; I sing life. If it’s not coming from a real place I just don’t do it.

And these come from your life?

You’re in the sequel to Ride Along with Kevin Hart, a.k.a. Chocolate Droppa. Who do you think would win in a battle between him and your rap alter ego, Black Ty?
Kevin won’t be ready for Black Ty. I don’t think he would do that to himself.

You co-wrote a script for a film called Desert Eagle, that was picked up by Universal Pictures. From where did the idea for that movie originate?
I was on the freeway looking at these beautiful billboards of Native American Casinos promoting artists that are performing at their casino. And then I started doing research about the sovereignty of Native Americans. They basically have their own world within our world, because they basically have their own government. They do whatever they want on their land. And then I just said to myself: ‘What if the mafia and the drug lords decided to take advantage of that fact that the Native Americans are allowed to do whatever they want?” If somebody get shot and killed or a fight breaks out in a casino they don’t report that on the local news. It’s like Bad Boys, Fast And The Furious and Lethal Weapon; it’s on that level.

SEE ALSO: Digital Cover: Furious 7’s Ludacris Goes ‘Beast Mode’

That can open another door for you, take you to another level.
I’m excited and very grateful because it sends the right message that Universal Pictures sees the value in Tyrese beyond Fast and The Furious.

You seem to be on a creative streak right now.
I’m going to say this with all levels of aggression and humility: I can’t afford all of my thoughts. I can’t afford [to do] everything that I think of. But that’s all going to change soon because money for me means nothing other than being able to finally move on the creativity. I’ve been making money for 20 years. We all have our highs and lows when it comes to money. The value in money at this point is being able to move on your creative ideas.

Any last words on Furious 7?
We will make the world proud. It’s going to be beautiful.

Photo Credit: Erik Ian for VIBE Magazine

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Jon Ragel

Martin Lawrence And Will Smith's May 1995 Cover Story: 'Flippin' The Script'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 1995 issue of VIBE Magazine.

Written By: Scott Poulson-Bryant Photographs By: Jon Ragel

One big summer movie - Bad Boys. Two prime-time funnymen - Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Teaming up to bust caps as well as guts, Smith and Lawrence are an odd couple on the screen and off. Scott Poulson-Bryant talks with both of them about Blowing Up and Growing Up.

When you think about it, it's downright unprecedented. Prime-time television's biggest black stars—Will Smith of The Fresh of Bel-Air and Martin Lawrence of Martin—are starring in Bad Boys, a big-budget Hollywood action-comedy full of stunts and explosions and big, crowd-pleasing laughs. Two for the price of one. Call it Beverly Hills Cop 2 meets Miami Twice.

It's easy to think these entertainers, who hold sway over their own hit network sitcoms, would have been at each other's throats, throwing prima donna shade over the slightest of perceived slights. But according to both actors, things were smooth. "We basically ad-libbed every scene," Will says. "It was two and a half months of two of the silliest guys in comedy doing exactly what they wanted to."

In Bad Boys, they play two Miami detectives in the special narcotics division whose temperaments are 180 degrees apart: Will is Mike Lowrey, a flashy playboy; Martin is Marcus Burnett, a homebody family man with a mortgage to pay. After making the biggest arrest in the department's history, the duo have to find the thief who stole $100 million worth of heroin from the station house, or they'll lose their jobs.

Smith and Lawrence weren't necessarily playing their roles from experience—offscreen they're different, but not in the way the Bad Boys are. At the time of filming, Will was the married-with-child brother who wanted to focus on family values, and Martin was the recently dis-engaged rascal, doing his thing on the singles scene. Now, on the eve of the film's release, it seems they've done another role reversal. Will Smith is grappling with an impending divorce from Sheree, his wife for more than two years, and with how it will affect their two-year-old son, Willard C. "Trey" Smith III. He says he's not yet ready to talk about the situation, though he does note that the sudden death of his infant half brother, Sterling, took him back to Philly, where he now intends to spend more time. On the flip side, Martin Lawerence got married in January to ex beauty queen Patricia Southall. He and his wife are planning for children, and Lawrence, after a year of professional ups and downs, looks at the future with great expectations.

Everything's happening so fast for these two transplanted twentysomething East Coast guys who found fame and fortune out West by doing their versions of black-boy cool for the masses. So fast and furious, in fact, that crammed schedules never allowed all three of us to meet at the same time. I had to wait endlessly for Martin. First he was just back from his Caymans honeymoon, then he said he had injured his back, then he was busy finishing his show's "Player's Ball" episode, featuring an array of blaxploitation stars. All that waiting, however, left plenty of time to chill with the very accommodating Will Smith.

We spent one day cruising around L.A., pumping Teddy Riley's BLACKstreet tape in Will's white Ford Bronco. I had been there last June when the media began its all-out assault on OJ, so driving along the freeway in this particular ride with a black male superstar at my side took on an almost surreal quality. "I had mine before all that started," Will noted. But the irony didn't escape him. When the ringing car phone signaled Will's booming system to automatically pause, one thing raced through my mind: The rich really are different. But the price of livin' large is steep out in this bright-lights, big-titty world, where dream seekers flock and where black boys, in particular, come to Blow Up, if not to Grow Up. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are trying their best to do both.

Caverting around the low-key set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air wearing oatmeal colored linen and boots, Will Smith seems thinner in person, wiry almost, even though he had to follow an extensive workout regimen for his movie role. His face does its trademark dance between seriousness and just buggin', the balancing act between sophistication and boyishness that has kept this 26-year-old in the public eye for the past eight years.

Smith's office conveys the same sense of his multi-layered self. A big-screen TV is in one corner, the tangled joystick cords of a Sega video game in front of it. A mini-stereo rests on a low table, surrounded by cassettes. A plethora of gold and platinum DJ JazzyJeff and the Fresh Prince records line the far wall, a reminder of the up-and-down road that led to Will Smith's current state of Blowing Up affairs. And adjacent to that wall hangs a huge painting—by a fan from Miami—of Will uncharacteristically in repose. It doesn't seem vain for Will Smith to have a massive painting of himself in his dressing room. One gets the impression he needs his, more serious side to look down upon him, to bestow the necessary intensity to reach his goal: to be the reigning funnyman in the prime-time wars—which is as serious a job as any, as Martin Lawrence also well knows.

"What makes you an effective superhero is that you don't want to be," says Bad Boys costar Will Smith. "Like Bruce Willis in Die Hard--- the last thing he wanted to do was run over that glass barefoot."

With five years of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air under his belt, Will Smith has the hip teen thing down. I ask him if he thinks he's a natural clown—considering the comedic video persona of his early rap days and raucous appearances on late-night talk shows—and he laughs. "I'm just outgoing," he says, then pauses, as if that doesn't quite sum it up. Then he jumps right back in to answer, appearing to try out responses in his mind as he goes along. "I'm comfortable enough to impose myself on my surroundings," he continues. "That's the best way to describe it, really. It's a gift. It's the ability to impose myself on my surroundings without making people feel imposed upon."

Good answer, I'm thinking, as he continues on, knowing innately that a good answer isn't enough. Only a great answer will suffice. "But it's always been like that. When I was younger, it was more about being different when everyone else wanted to fit in. I always wanted how I talked or my clothes to be different. Peer pressure never meant anything to me. If something was done one way, something in me resisted it."

He pauses again and laughs. "It was the same way in my music. Something in me enjoyed coming to New York from Philly and people not liking us at first. When everyone else was trying to act tough and grab their dicks, the first thing anyone heard me say on record was, 'Oh man, my eye! This guy just punched me in my eye for nothing.' I enjoyed that. I strove for that. Oris is it strived? Or striven?" He throws his hands in the air, deferring to the writer in the room. "Whatever, just put it right in the article."

Will Smith can make that kind of demand. In fact, you want him to make demands of you because he's so demonstrative, acting out scenes from his life when words won't suffice, rapping entire verses of "The Message" to make his point about rap's changing style, reciting complete Tony Montana monologues from Scarface to illustrate a point you just made, challenging your taste in movies ("You haven't seen Pulp Fiction yet?"), challenging you to one-up him ("Don't you wanna ask me some more questions?"). But it's almost more interesting just to observe Will Smith. He's a perpetual performer, always doing his job, always giving his all.

Six years ago, though, the Fresh Prince nearly gave it all away, nearly lost the crown off his head. He blew up too big too fast, and it all came crashing down. He suddenly went broke. His first album, 1987's Rock the House, went gold the following year. Then 1988's He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper eventually sold 3 million copies, spurred by the single "Parents Just Don't Understand." Next, And in This Corner merely went gold, before 1991's Homebase, the return to Philly roots featuring "Summertime," went platinum. His most recent album, 1993's Code Red, went gold. The DJ. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince phone line, the first celebrity 900 number, minted money—in its day it was the second-highest-grossing line behind Dial-A-Joke. "In '87-'88 I was rich," he says. "In '89 I was broke."

Broke like, rich-folks broke? I ask. No dollars in your pocket, but a couple hundred thou tied up in investments and CDs? He laughs and shakes his head vigorously. "Nah, man. I was broke. Like, can't-buy-gas, sell-the-car broke. Actually, you know what? Sell everythingbroke. I was a moron. I had the suburban mansion, a motorcycle, I was traveling the world. I was 18 and the world was open, and when the world is open like that it makes you crazy, you want everything. I wasn't any happier with money, and I wasn't any less happy when I went broke. It hurt, and mentally it was tough dealing with, but inside it didn't change. I still had my family, and I could still have a good time. I could still laugh."

He rebounded in a new arena-prime-time TV as the star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, post-Cosby sitcom with a nod to The Jeffersons: movin' on up with a hip hop twist. Then, through sheer force of will, Smith made it to the big screen in 1992, debuting in Where the Day Takes You as a wheelchair-bound street kid. His role in the Whoopi Goldberg comedy Made in America (and the screams of teenage girls on the set) led to his landing the plum role of Paul, the sad, confused con man in the critically acclaimed film version of the Broadway hit Six Degrees of Separation. In the process, Will Smith's screen persona grew exponentially, acquiring layers of resonance devoid of the street corner histrionics usually demanded of young black male actors.

As Smith copes privately with the dissolution of his marriage to a woman who shunned the amusement park of the klieg lights, his public persona enters the high-stakes world of shoot-'em-up, make-'em-laugh, big-bank movies. And he may have just found his Axel Foley—the role that will give him a defining big-screen image. Produced by the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer team behind Eddie Murphy's Beverly Hills Cop series, Bad Boys stretched Smith in ways he's never been stretched before.

"With all that jumping and shooting when you're making an action movie, you realize that it's a stunt, not a trick," he says. "And it brings out all that testosterone. I saw how the situation brings that stuff out in people. Everybody has an action hero in them; everyone wants to kick in a door and shoot somebody." On the other hand, he says, "I knew it had to be as real as possible, because what makes you an effective superhero is that you don't want to be. Like Bruce Willis in Die Hard the last thing he wanted to do was run over that glass barefoot. People can't relate to a guy who just jumps in front of bullets."

Martin Lawrence knows that too, considering the potshots he's taken in public over the past year. Coming on the sitcom scene more than two years ago as Martin Payne, Lawrence instantly became the quotable cock of the walk with a bop in his step. He was the leading man in Martin (the funniest post-hip hop black show on the air) and did double duty as the host of the successful Def Comedy jam.

But somewhere along the line, Martin lost its stride. Year No. 2—the 1993-94 TV season—was supposed to be the one in which its star, Martin Lawrence, Blew Up, bringing his candid ghetto realness to the moviegoing, record-buying masses with his first concert film, You So Crazy, and comedy album, Talkin' Shit. Things didn't quite work out that way. The endearing wannabe who played Bilal (a.lea. Dragon Breath) in the House Party movies seemed to morph into a larger-than-life, self-made superstar from the 'hood, whose comeuppance was—like Tony Montana's—just around the corner.

First, there was his battle with the Motion Picture Association of America over the NC-17 rating they slapped on his concert film, You So Crazy. Of course there was race issues here (why a brotha gotta get the NC-17?) and censorship issues (why a brotha gotta get told what to say?), but what got lost in all the hoopla was that this comedic performance didn't meet the high standards he had already set for himself. Neither did his next notorious public moment.

Last winter, on his first Saturday Night Live hosting gig, Lawrence brought Def Comedy Jam to Lorne Michaels's crib. It was a debacle. Spraying the small stage with the scent of his insecurity and nervousness, Lawrence littered his opening monologue with scatological references that play fine on cable but shocked NBC's brass. He subsequently found himself at the center of a media storm regarding his not-ready-for-network language and subject matter, which ultimately led to his being de-scheduled from an appearance on Jay Leno.

Looking back at the whole situation, Lawrence believes he was "set up" by the SNL people ("They kept telling me, 'Do what you do.' And I did.") and admits to a certain nervous energy that informed his antics. He also says that after so many black folks came out to see him at Radio City Music Hall in New York earlier that year, he anticipated playing to a more racially mixed studio audience. Yet ultimately he chalks the disaster up to youth, to being intimidated by the history and mythology of the once-cutting-edge late-night dinosaur. But for a minute there, it looked like Martin Lawrence was about to be taken out like just another sucker MC.

Lawrence wasn't going to let that happen. He laid low after enduring those storms, held back on public appearances, broke up with his then girlfriend, actress Lark Voorhies, and concentrated on Martin—which was still being talked about, although two years into its run the funniest thing people were saying about the show was that it wasn't funny anymore. (And exactly where was Sheneneh, anyway?) Lawrence also started looking for a movie script that would have a "buddy-buddy feel to it, but something that was real, that would be good for my audience and work for other audiences as well." Which was probably a good move for him: That way he wouldn't have to carry the burden, or the risk, alone—as he did in his concert film and on SNL. 

He found Bad Boys, a movie that was, ironically, originally slated to star former Saturday Night Live clowns Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. In the box-office-friendly blend of action and comedy, perhaps Martin saw the opportunity in his first starring role on the big-screen to follow that other foulmouthed black funnyman who found fame on TV. Eddie Murphy, the post-Pryor model of black comic as household name, has already primed the box office for Lawrence and his generation's brand of raw good humor. Maybe Martin Lawrence too had found his Axel Foley—a role that could establish him as a cinematic franchise with Badder Boys and Even Badder Boys to follow. As creative and fluid as his work can be, Martin's savvy very much includes keeping the business plan in full focus.

"I called him Martin Lawrence King," says Smith of his costar. "It's really important to him to be real, and present himself and his work to his audience with integrity."

Sitting in his small office in the Martin bungalow on the Universal lot, with fake African masks adorning the end tables—"I don't know where they're from," he says casually—Martin Lawrence, dressed in a black turtleneck and gray plaid slacks, comes off less like a creative dynamo than as the Hollywood hyphenate he is: sitcom star, executive producer, sometime writer, and soon-to-be feature film director. He's very wary, even difficult, toward the press these days. Like other stand-up-to-sitcom stars, Martin fought through the usual creative control issues, in part by firing longtime manager and show cocreator Topper Carew, reportedly before a live studio audience. When asked about that incident, his reply is, "I have the utmost respect for him, but I don't wanna go there."

Ask Lawrence if he likes having more power on the set, and he looks at you with a blank stare and asks, "What do you mean by power?" Then he adds, "I have more say, so if I don't like something, we won't do it. If I do like something, we do." Does it make work more difficult with more responsibilities behind the camera? "You have to be the judge of that," he replies tersely. "If people are saying the show's suffering because of it, maybe I'm too much involved in the business."

While making Bad Boys, it wasn't hard for Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to find a working rhythm, even though both guys are more accustomed to having straight men than being them. "You never see two brothers from different networks getting together to do something like this," Lawrence gushes. "But we had a lot of fun. We worked hard together. Since both of us have comic timing on the sitcoms, we knew it was just a matter of getting together and finding out how we complemented each other."

"That's the beauty of working with another comic," agrees Smith. "You go in in the morning and you have no clue what's about to happen. I'm used to changing lines on my show, and he does the same thing. It was like a tennis match. He would say something, then I'd toss a line right back."

Smith was also taken with Lawrence's devotion to the social and cultural impact of their collaboration. "He has a lot of interesting insights," Smith says. "I called him Martin Lawrence King. It's really important to him to be real, and present himself and his work to his audience with integrity. We'd talk for hours about whether our coming together would mean anything to young black kids. Would it mean anything that we were being strong enough for it to work with no problems?"

Which begs the ego question. Compared with Will's accessible playfulness, Martin is guarded and defensive in person. Yet on-camera, he invariably thrusts himself centerstage, as if demanding his costars catch up to his manic energy. His mercurial reputation precedes him. When I mention that he's regarded as a taskmaster, Lawrence replies, "I feel everyone should come to the project as I do. If you don't care as much for it as I do, why are you there?"

When I ask Will Smith, "Do you have a big ego?" he replies, "Yeah, I have a huge ego, but I don't impose it on people. You have to have a big ego to be an actor. But I have control over that, because I don't like how it feels when other people throw their weight around. That experience makes me struggle really hard not impose myself on people for selfish reasons. Ego drives you. I think it's really important. But you have to control your ego; you can't let your ego control you."

When I ask Lawrence the same question, he looks at me for about 20 seconds before responding. After a bit of verbal jousting and nonanswers ("Do you think I have one? What defines a big ego?"), I ask him how he's changed as a result of having a hit TV show, a wedding that was covered by the tabloids, and a big summer movie about to drop.

"I've grown up a little more," he says, "though I don't know if I'll ever be fully grown-up, 'cause I ain't trying to lose the kiddish things in me, 'cause that's what I love. I love to bug out and be spontaneous and talk some shit. I changed for the better, and I'm steady trying to get better at what I do. But by the same token, I talk shit. We all do. "Spoken like a true bad boy.

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Sacha Waldman

Missy Elliott's June 2001 Cover Story: 'Freaky Tales'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2001 issue of VIBE Magazine.

Missy Elliott blasts back onto the scene with her third album, the innovative and sexy Miss E...So Addictive. Marc Weingarten bonds with the reborn, self-aware woman in charge and discovers her new style of sexual healing.

Written By: Marc Weingarten Photographs By: Sacha Waldman

BET's 106&Park is the kind of hip video show designed to lure the viewer into thinking there's a party going on, when in fact every facet of the production is micro-managed to death. The set's decor, with its glitter and cardboard facade, is strictly high-school prom, and the young crowd is bused in to provide the requisite whoo-whoos and arm-pumpings at the proscribed moments.

Within the context of this plastic, denuded TV landscape, Missy Elliott is a splendorous vision of cool. For her guest appearance on tonight's show, she's busting out her new look, which might be called Casual Fabulous: a purple denim jacket and jeans ensemble with "Missy" emblazoned in studs down the right leg, white tennis shoes with matching studs, spiky short hair, and wonderfully gaudy jewelry on each hand.

Elliott's here to show "Get Ur Freak On," the debut video from her new album, Miss E... So Addictive, for the first time in front of a TV audience, but it's hard to tell if the crowd is buzzing or if it's just the usual puffed-up enthusiasm.

"So, tell us about the video, Missy," host AJ reads from the cue card. Elliott explains that it's the first time she's worked with director Dave Meyers, who also directed music videos for Janet Jackson, Dave Matthews Band, and OutKast. Something is afoot here; what, no Hype Williams? The video rolls. Opening shot: The camera pushes in on a Japanese ninja warrior, rambling incoherently. It's a shot across the bow to her hip hop contemporaries: This is gonna be some new crazy Missy sh*t, nothing at all like the old crazy Missy sh*t. Some of the kids in the crowd are stirring audibly. What exactly is this, anyway?

The next scene is in some godforsaken netherworld, where ghostly cadavers hang down like ivy and booty-bumpers seem to dance in a kind of stop-time suspension. Cut to Missy: No space suits here, no goggles. Just a body shimmy and a whole mess of braggadocio. "Listen to me now, I'm lastin' twenty rounds/And if you want me, come and get me now," Missy barks over a strangely compelling Asian riff that sounds like something from Miss Saigon.

It's hypnotic, ballsy, amazing: The BET kids are head-nodding in approval, elbowing each other in the arm. That phoned-in party vibe is slowly morphing into something genuine. Director Meyers pulls out some visual tricks: Missy's neck extends, twists itself toward the lens. She spits, and the viscous globule flies until it finds its way into the mouth of a male dancer. The audience lets out a collective gasp. It's kind of gross, but it's also cool.

Suddenly, the video segues into another Missy jam called "Lickshots," a steady rolling jeep-thumper equally as good as "Get Ur Freak On." Then it all unceremoniously cuts out. The crowd is going psycho; they're actually on their feet, yelling and stomping their approval. Missy seems a little flummoxed and very appreciative: "Thank you, thank you so much," she says, but it's no use. The peanut gallery has drowned her out.

"Man, I ain't never seen anyone get a standing ovation here before," says James Cruz, vice president of promotions at Elliott's management company, Violator/AMG. It sounds like artist hype, but it turns out this is one of the first times any video has received a standing ovation on 106 & Park. 

Is Missy Elliott back? With a vengeance, yo.

Suddenly, Elliott found her bountiful cash flow hitting rocky shoals. The 'Supa Dupa Fly' clips had cost $2 million a pop, and they say on Elliott's balance sheet like two-ton weights.

"EVERY time I get reaction like that it feels like it's for the first time." It's the morning after her BET guest shot, and Missy is about to make the promotional rounds at MTV with a series of interviews for various shows. She's still thrilled about what went down last night. "It's like a high. It made me think that my work wasn't in vain," she says. "You know, hopefully, I can get three more years of this!"

Three years? Whatever happened to the brash arrogance of youth? Elliott's not even 30, and she's already talking like a weather-beaten cynic. Perhaps she's seen too much too soon. Having worked the music business from every conceivable angle, Elliott's taking stock now, weighing the good with the bad, and making her moves accordingly. She's certainly a different person from the 25-year-old polymath prodigy who spun the hip hop world on its ear with Supa Dupa Fly in 1997. That album, and Elliott's groundbreaking videos for "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," and "Sock It 2 Me," both of which were directed by Hype Williams, rewrote the rule book for every woman who's ever dreamed of hip hop glory, but who would never dream of compromising herself to achieve it.

Supa Dupa Fly's platinum success, and Elliott's songwriting and producing track record for artists like Aaliyah ("One In A Million," "If Your Girl Only Knew"), 702 ("Steelo"), and SWV ("Can We") among others, enabled the Portsmouth, Va., native to write her own ticket with Elektra. The company gave her a label imprint, The Gold Mind Inc., with a full roster of handpicked talent. At the time, Missy was seemingly bulletproof. She even managed herself. Who needs to give up 20 percent, for Christ's sake, when there's so much money rolling in?

Two years later, Elliott released her follow-up, Da Real World, a darker, less playful album that also sold a million copies, but did so in a much quieter fashion than Supa Dupa Fly (read: negligible media buzz, fewer MTV spins). Gold Mind's inaugural release, Nicole's Make It Hot, sold anemically, despite bearing the freakishly imaginative thumbprint of Elliott's songwriting and production skills.

Suddenly, Elliott found her bountiful cash flow hitting rocky shoals. The Supa Dupa Fly clips with which she had universally raised the standard for video production had cost roughly $2 million a pop, and they sat on Elliott's balance sheet like two-ton weights, dragging down her bottom line. Despite the success of Da Real World's "Hot Boyz," which stayed atop Billboard's rap chart for 18 straight weeks, the album failed to live up to her sales expectations, and she still harbors some residual bitterness about it.

"I was in 'prove your point' mode when I made that album," says Elliott, before heading into the walk-in closet-sized New York City studio where MTV's Direct Effect tapes. "You know, like, can she do it again? I was more intense on that album. I honestly think it could have done a lot better, but Elektra cut my singles off after three, and 'Hot Boyz' broke a record for staying at number one! How can you cut off an album when the last record has done so well?" Sylvia Rhone, chairman/CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group, explains that they were "still able to recover and maintain the kind of sales we achieved with Supa Dupa Fly, and with the tremendous success of 'Hot Boyz,' we thought it was best to end on a high note."

Da Real World's failure to live up to Elliott's expectations has spurred her to be more hands-on with every aspect of Miss E...So Addictive, from marketing to single-street dates. "I'm probably more involved with the business side of things now than I am as an artist," says Elliott. "I spend a lot more time in meetings with my artists and for my own project. I thought I knew a lot then, and you learn more as time goes on, but two years ago, I don't think I was educated about the business." That's why "Get Ur Freak On" is being released now, a full month and a half before the album's release, so it can "marinate in the clubs for a while, get a street buzz going."

Elliott may be more involved with biz than show now, but she isn't spreading herself as thin as she once did—booking massive gobs of studio time, working 24-7 as if her life depended on it. Two years ago, she hired Mona Scott, a partner in Violator, the powerhouse management firm that also handles Nas, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and Maxwell, among others. If a decision has to be made, it's done by committee now, not a party of one.

"There were situations where I would go into the studio with an artist to lay down a track, and I wouldn't get a check," says Elliott. "Mona told me, 'Look, you've gotta get the first half of the check before you do any work.' The bills were just piling up. A lot of that pressure is off of me now. If there's a situation where I don't want to do something, I don't have to look like the bad guy."

Elliott was spending too much money and not getting enough back in return. "It was crazy," she says. "I mean, I've got a lot of love for this business, but at the same time, I gotta make sure my mom is taken care of." Her mother, Pat Elliott, helps Missy manage her money, pay her taxes on time, and invest prudently whenever a $500,000 check rolls in. She's Missy's most trusted adviser—the only person, in fact, that she trusts unconditionally. When Pat suffered a massive heart attack in March that required rehabilitative therapy, it cast a black cloud over the prosperous, placid little universe Missy had created for the two of them.

"It really messed with me," says Elliott. "I've always been close to my mother, and it's hard for me now, knowing I have to go overseas for the album and leave her. She's all I've got. If she was gone, they'd have to put me in a strait-jacket. I'd be messed up for a long, long time. Just seeing her in the intensive care unit, it was so hard."

When asked how her father—who Pat Elliott divorced when Missy was 14 years old—reacted to her mother's sickness, Missy says, "I don't think he knows about it."

"MAN, I live to take this makeup off!"

Her promotional chores finished at Direct Effect, Elliott leaves MTV's studios in the Viacom building and hops into a stretch limousine waiting for her on 46th Street by the service entrance. She wipes her glitter mascara off with a box of baby wipes, then fumbles through her pocketbook for a copy of the new

"I'm not saying I'm celibate, but I watch a lot of friends who are unhappy because they feel they have to be with a man.... I decided early on that I would never take [stuff] from a man."

album. Popping it into the stereo system, a strident bass thump rattles the limo's windows, and a strange brew of synth sirens and space-age sound effects begins to cast a spell over Elliott. She's in a trance state: eyes closed, arms akimbo, mouthing the words like any other fan: "If I give you head, you'll never leave," she rhymes on "Lickshots."

Make no mistake: Elliott's astonishing new album Miss E... So Addictive is all about sex—how to get it, how to do it, when to spurn it. While she may have touched upon the subject in the past, this represents a subtle shift in Elliott's persona. Gone are the Supa Dupa Fly days, when Elliott was content to be a jeep-beeping homegirl with a space-age secret identity and leave the heavy breathing to pheromone bombs like Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown. Missy is tired of being, in her words, "a cartoon." It was time to peel off the mask, show the world what Missy was really all about. And, as it turns out, she's all about sex. For virtually any other hip hop performer, this wouldn't be an unusual development, but for Missy, it's a stunner.

Consider her background, which was scarred by sexual trauma at a very early age. A teenage relative sexually abused Elliott beginning when she was eight. This went on frequently over the course of a year. Her father also mercilessly beat her mother for years. "Stuff like that never leaves you," says Elliott. "I'll never forget walking into the house and seeing my mother crouched in the corner with her arm out of the socket. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about all of it."

In high school, Elliott was fast and loose with men. "Did I have relationships? I was bonin'," she says. "I was going through a time when all that stuff kept playing in my head, and, eventually, you begin to seal yourself off from anything that reminds you of that situation." Shunning psychiatry, Elliott instead turned to the church for spiritual sustenance and some degree of comfort. "I believe God healed me from a trauma that, for somebody else, would have made them lose their mind."

As for her attitude toward men today, it's strictly an arms-length proposition. "I have learned to be happy with myself," she says. "I'm not saying I'm celibate, but I watch a lot of friends who are unhappy because they feel they have to be with a man, but then they catch them doing whatever. I'm like, I'm happier than ya'll. I've seen so much, that I decided early on that I would never take any sh*t from any man."

Unlike stars like Madonna, who equate sex with power but really pander to the fantasy life of men, Missy's new sexual frankness truly is a form of empowerment, because it's being done on her own terms. When you're Missy's kind of beautiful—the kind that doesn't fit the standard set by mainstream, white America—you can't be co-opted by a music industry that values the commodification of flesh. When Missy raps "Get Ur Freak On," it sounds less like an invitation and more like a command, and you'd better obey.

"I don't trip, because it doesn't have to be about you getting all butterball naked and singing 'Oops!...I Did It Again," says Elliott. "If you've got talent, you just have to do you. If they want to take their clothes off and sell those records, fine—just call me to do a song on your album!"

There's a newfound boldness on Miss E... So Addictive that was only hinted at on Da Real World, a willingness to seize whatever it is that strikes her fancy with blunt bedroom tactics. Check the song titles: "Dog In Heat," "Ex-sta-sy," "Get Ur Freak On," "One Minute Man" (as in "I don't need no...").

"As females, we went through our anger moment," says Elliott. "Then, it was all about 'Where's my money? We don't want no broke dudes.' Then, before that, it was about love. So for me, it was like, dag, all of the old topics are worn out one way or another! I just wanted to cross the border with this album. When was the last time somebody made records like Prince, or Rick James, or Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing?' I wanted to do what everybody else is scared to do."

Miss E... So Addictive shifts the paradigm in other ways. With Supa Dupa Fly, Elliott and her childhood friend/partner-in-rhyme Timothy "Timbaland" Mosely introduced a new vocabulary of beats the way Chuck Berry introduced a new way of playing guitar into rock'n'roll's lexicon 40 years prior. Elliott refers to them as "double beats," and they do have a kind of double-jointed agility about them. Tim made this bass drum skip and skitter over tracks like a fibrillating heartbeat, liberating hip hop from straitjacketed, four-on-the-floor rhythms.

But admiration soon begat emulation, and countless producers began packing their tracks with rubberband beats. Elliott and Tim started complaining in the press about beat thieves pilfering their stuff and even wrote songs about it (Da Real World's "Beat Biters").

Soon, it got to the point where you couldn't read a Mosely interview without him complaining about being robbed of his rhythms. Those protests quickly grew tiresome. A Spin review of Da Real World began with the pungent line: "Enough about Timbaland's goddamn beats already."

"Tim's bitter," says Elliott. "When people come up to him and say, 'That was a hot track you produced,' when he didn't work on it, that's what agitates him. But I realize that, when something is hot, people are gonna embrace it and gravitate to it."

Then Tim and Elliott read a Prince interview that called out the duo for whining, and it rocked their world. "Prince was wondering why we wouldn't just switch our style if we were so upset, and it kind of hurt me and Tim," says Elliott. The two knew they had to lighten up a bit. Timbaland admits to feeling "animosity" toward biters in the beginning, "but now it's all good," he says. "[People biting] is like them sending me cards saying get well soon. I'm flattered." Missy says, "We knew we couldn't just keep barking about it, we had to switch the sh*t up."

Have they ever. Miss E... So Addictive almost completely abandons the old formula in favor of a new palette of sounds: Indian raga, techno, house, old-school funk. The new album contains within its 15 tracks a multitude of musical worlds, all of which are thrown into Elliott and Timbaland's sonic supercollider and spat out in fascinating new ways. The requisite crew of guest stars—Ludacris, Ginuwine, Da Brat, Eve, Method Man, Redman—are on hand, the male rappers providing gender-specific retorts to the females' sexed-up battle cries. "I wanted the guys to represent for the guys," says Elliott. "I wanted to have both sides in there."

Few hip hop artists are as savvy as Elliott when it comes to strategic alliances, and Missy's got a clutch of synergistic projects that should help fatten her royalty statement at the end of the year. For starters, there's "Lady Marmalade," the Labelle cover from the soundtrack to the new Nicole Kidman film Moulin Rouge. The single features Lil' Kim, Mya, and teen Lolitas Pink and Christina Aguilera singing their hearts out. "I ain't even gonna front, those girls can sing," says Elliott. "I think the competition made Pink and Christina both work a little harder."

The remix of "Get Ur Freak On" features 22-year-old pop phenomenon Nelly Furtado, who adds Jamaican-style chants to the already exotic record. "I saw her on MTV, and I knew she was gonna be big," says Elliott. "I wanted to hook that up, but she's incredible. People are gonna trip on that record. It sounds so different from her own sh*t."

Mick Jagger gave her a call recently, too. The Rolling Stones' frontman wanted to talk to her about writing and producing some songs for his upcoming solo album. "I went to this hotel room here in New York, and he played me some of the songs he already has," says Elliott, "and I'm sitting there thinking, Damn, isn't this a bi**h?! I'm in the room with Mick Jagger, and he's playing his songs for me? This sh*t ain't real! I go from talking to Mariah to working with Whitney then leap to Mick Jagger? Who's next?"

In her attempt to reach white kids, classic-rock baby boomers, soccer moms, and whoever else she can snag, Missy's side projects might be misconstrued as the canny chess moves of a crass opportunist. Does she worry about looking like a big sellout? "You've gotta come with the goods. If a joint is wack, I'm not gonna do it. With the Moulin Rouge thing, I felt like they were into the record 100 percent, so I knew it would be handled correctly."

Missy, Act Three, is firing on all pistons, the only way Elliott knows how to do it. Older, wiser, and more willing to expose her real self to a public whose hunger for the new and the novel grows ever more ravenous, Elliott just might reclaim hip hop from the big-pimping poseurs that threaten to bling bling the genre into creative oblivion. The trick, as she is well aware, is to get everyone to listen. "Things have changed, but that's not gonna stop me," says Elliott. "Keeping it real means keeping it real for myself."

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L-R: La La Anthony, Lela Loren, and Naturi Naughton
Karl Ferguson Jr.

The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The 'Power'

Originally, Courtney A. Kemp wanted to call her Starz scripted drama The Price. She pulled the name from a teaching associated with Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program that proclaims pain is the price of admission to a new life.

“We were going to show coke on a scale and then the dollar amount,” she said. “So, the price would’ve been the price of the drugs, but also the price you have to pay to get a new life.”

It was about a drug dealer in recovery who had a sponsor, but the execs instructed Kemp to take out the recovery aspect. After doing some thinking, she realized her project was less about how much one has to pay and more about how much control one doesn’t actually have.

“At its core, it’s about powerlessness,” she said. “So, I called the show Power.”

Sitting at a cherry wood table inside a plush private dining space at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel, Kemp reveals her attraction to the pursuit of power stems from her childhood. Growing up in the affluent, white burg of Westport, Connecticut, her ultimate wish was to have complete, ever-elusive dominion.

“I grew up in an abusive household, and all I wanted was to be able to control my parents. All I wanted was to be able to control my [older] brother. I didn’t want him to leave and go to college. I was a black kid in a white town.”

Kemp lets the words “abusive household” roll off her tongue with a sense of normality that denotes she’s accepted the home she was raised in.

There were a few other kids of color in the area, but eventually, they moved, leaving little Courtney by her lonesome, prompting her to escape into a world where she would have the final say, seeking -- and finding -- her power peak in writing and storytelling.

“That’s always the writer’s question: What if? What if? But it also goes to a sense of powerlessness. I can’t make it like I want it to be, and one of my biggest character defects is that I like to control people,” Kemp said. “So, what does that turn into? That turns into writing people because I can actually make them go places. ‘Interior. Ghost’s apartment. Day. Tasha enters.’ I can make them say things. It’s control. Power comes to the essence of control. Controlling your universe, controlling your environment.”

Kemp may have realized early on she likes to control people, but it was before recovery in 2007, when a “shift,” as she calls it, occurred, and she learned she isn’t a puppet master.

“There have been times in my life, not now, when I was much more likely to use deception to get my way. After a certain point in my life, I accepted the fact that I cannot get my way. There’s really no way to control the universe. We’re powerless over what happens next. You can be sitting in your kitchen, and a stray bullet could whiz through the window, and you’re dead, and that’s nothing you did wrong.”

VIBE: What specifically happened in 2007 that made you realize you can’t control anything?

Courtney A. Kemp: I’m probably not going to answer that question.

I don’t push for an explanation or re-work the question in hopes to dupe her into answering. Her no was a full sentence, said with intention and boundary. All she reveals is things changed for her spiritually placing her on the path to where she is now.

And today, Courtney Kemp sits at the top of her Power empire. With the help of executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Kemp birthed a crime drama about James St. Patrick, also known as Ghost, a man living a dual life as a drug dealer-turned-nightclub owner trying to leave the streets he’s littered with dope for the legitimate world of New York City nightlife. Kemp and the rest of the Power writers boldly explore the ramifications of manipulation, duplicity, and lies.

Kemp is deliberate with her words. She’s survived whatever recovery she’s hush about and, in turn, has become a forthright woman with steadfast conviction. She ferociously defends characters who’ve merited ire from fans, (“I will go toe-to-toe with you about Holly”) and doesn’t show a bit of remorse when discussing beloved characters killed off the show (“If you ask me if I regret killing Raina, no. Period.”)

So, it’s interesting that with all her truth, Kemp finds liars to be “fascinating.”

“They always get caught. No one ever doesn’t get caught,” she said. “It’s such a fool’s errand. It’s amazing to me. If you run a full game, a full deception, eventually, you’ll get caught. That always happens. It never doesn’t. I have to use a double negative. It never doesn’t happen. So, it’s fun for me.”

Premiering in June 2014, Power--which stars Omari Hardwick in the principal role, along with a diverse cast of characters exhibiting unscrupulous and deceitful behavior -- received noticeable fanfare on social media and earned solid ratings during Season One. After being greenlit for a sophomore season, the secret couldn’t be contained any longer, and new fans were curious to learn what the hubbub was about while old fans awaited lustily to see how things would play out. Now, five years later, Kemp is ready to bring this street tale to an end.

“I don’t want to be a show that drags on for nine or 10 seasons, and there’s no story to tell. This story is over. It begets the next story, but this story is over, and I wanted to pay it true homage and give it the respect it needed. When people say ‘Oh, I want more seasons,’ what they’re saying is they want more of the same, but you can’t do the same story over and over again. Some things have to end.”

Kemp is 42, with a round, warm face and shoulder-length black hair. She often tucks a few strands behind her ear when getting into the nitty-gritty of show talk. Her smile is wide, her skin clear. As a busy mother, creator and showrunner of a hit cable-network drama, the bags one would assume should be under her eyes are noticeably not there. She shies away from compliments about her skin, stating she’s wearing great makeup but admits she’s intense about skincare.

As she sits with her legs crossed, Kemp is relaxed yet alert. Donning a calf-length one-sleeved black dress, she’s removed her gold strappy high heels for nude ballet flats. She’s just finished her first VIBE photoshoot, and the excitement of it all begins to settle in.

In 2016, VIBE spoke with Kemp inside her Brooklyn offices about the show’s success prior to its Season Three premiere, the conversation’s focus being its leading men, Ghost (Hardwick), Dre (Rotimi Akinosho), Tommy (Joseph Sikora) and Kanan (50 Cent). Three years later, it’s the women's turn and Kemp is just as eager to give the ladies their well-earned shine: Naturi Naughton, who plays Tasha; Alani “Lala” Anthony, who plays LaKeisha, and Lela Loren, who plays U.S. federal prosecutor Angela Valdes, have all contributed to the delicious mess that is Power.

In past interviews, Kemp has stated Tommy’s character was always supposed to be a white boy. (Interestingly, Andy Bean who played Agent Greg Knox originally tried out for the role. Kemp said “his audition was f**king bananas,” but Knox wasn’t physically on par with Hardwick’s muscular stature making him look more like a little brother than an equal.) I asked her if she, in turn, intentionally envisioned a white Latina to embody the role of Angela, a question that merited furrowed eyebrows and a bristled response.

“Okay, so, first of all, I push back on ‘white Latino.’ I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know what that is. I don’t even know what that’s saying. What is a white Latino? There are people who consider themselves white Latinos; I guess that’s a thing I’ve never heard about before. Being from the East coast, so many people are Afro-Latino, so I don’t know what a white Latino would be.”

“However, [Angela] was always Puerto Rican.” Kemp continued. “One of the people I looked at ... I looked at Elizabeth Rodriguez. We looked at Monique Gabriela Curnen, who played other parts on the show, so we were going after Puerto Rican actresses. That’s what I wanted. Puerto Rican, no matter how they showed up. Again, I really don’t like that term ‘white Latino.’ I don’t even … how does that even work? I’m not going to even ask you those questions; I’m just confused. It was always to try and find someone who was Puerto Rican.”

She describes Angela as a woman with flint to move through the ranks of a masculine work environment, but also a woman who possesses a girly-tenderness. According to Kemp, Lela Loren has both.

“You have to have a certain amount of f**king flint to get through law school, and then you have to have a certain amount of flint to get through what are highly masculine, male-dominated environments when you talk about attorney’s offices and state attorneys and cops and law enforcement. These women are not shy, and I needed someone who could stand up to Omari,” Kemp said.

“When she fought with Omari, you felt her in the room, and we needed someone also with the softness to still have that little-girl sense of love. To still be in love with her first love. Lela had this very specific quality.”

Admittedly, Lela Loren isn’t good with names, but she makes up for her absentmindedness with hugs and cheek kisses. “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” she asks while offering an embrace without leaving hints of red lipstick on the side of my face. The 39-year-old who grew up in northern California and Mexico is all smiles this Saturday afternoon. The Beverly Hills sun is kind, and a faint breeze blows through her newly cut shoulder-length bob. Loren runs her fingers through her mocha hair, confessing she wanted it shorter, but instead exercised restraint.

On Power, AUSA Angela Valdes knows nothing of holding back. Loren describes her character as a woman ultimately led by her heart, so much so, her tenacity and ability to color outside of the lines have caused many to question what ethics if any, she abides by. Loren said she understands the methodology behind Angela, but never personally subscribed to it.

“How you get something done is as important as getting it done. Ultimately, for me, it’s about the process. Keeping your integrity, who you are as an individual, how you achieve your goals, is as important as achieving your goals,” she said.

Loren is laid back and present. After posing with co-stars Naughton and Anthony, she kicks off her white Sergio Rossi pumps and wiggles her toes a bit before sitting pretzel-style on lawn furniture outside of the Four Seasons’ Il Posto Room.

Leaning forward with a glass of champagne in hand, ready for questions, Loren thinks before she speaks, often looking into the distance to draw on words to formulate her response, but after talking with her, it’s not hard to imagine her as a journalist, or an educator like her parents. She describes herself as a little nerdy and a voracious reader who’s found joy in Yuval Noah Harari’s 2015 novel Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind.

Valdes has a badge and a gun; Loren has a cat and a garden. Her real-life doesn’t mimic the one she plays on television, which has been delicious -- and also a bit daunting.

“The best part about playing Angela has been all of her wonderful contradictions. It’s so fun to try to find the through-line of someone that has such extremes. She can be so defensive and so manipulative. Then, at the same time, she can be so soft and fragile and almost pathetic,” she said earnestly. “But the hardest part about playing Angela has been realizing that in the outer world, there’s still a very narrow lane for women. As soon as a woman steps outside of that lane, fictional or otherwise, a lot comes at you.”

For five seasons, Angela was the woman partly responsible for breaking up the St. Patrick household, and for some viewers, that’s all they can see. They don’t see Angela’s ambition or persistence or that while leading a drug task force, she’s also caring for her sick father. If Angela’s reputation plucks at Loren’s nerve, she doesn’t show it.

“I think what playing Angela or being on Power really helps me understand is how you can only tell half the story because the audience inevitably brings the other half. No matter how clear you try to make that story, how it resonates with them or how they interpret it, they’re really feeling the narrative. Even times when people would take a scene and how I believe Courtney intended it, how I intended to play it and how it landed on them are so different. In some ways, you have to surrender to this lack of control because we’re only telling half the narrative. The other half is from the viewer.“

Kemp knows things may be changing, but when casting the show, she intentionally wanted a woman to play opposite Hardwick who wouldn’t traditionally be thought of for the role.

“I did look for a brown-skinned woman to play Tasha because at that time -- this is not relevant as much -- but at that time, there were no brown-skinned women on TV playing the beautiful, sexy part. Now, if you remember from the beginning, Tasha was always smart, but Tasha was the gorgeous one,” Kemp said. “I wanted that beauty, sensuality, responsibility and that partnership. Ghost and Tasha were partners, and I wanted all of that from a brown-chocolatey person.”

Naturi Naughton is an even five-feet high, but she has a six-foot-tall personality. On set, the 35-year-old doesn’t wait for direction from photographer Karl Ferguson Jr.; instead, she narrows her eyes during one frame, purses her lips in the next or crosses her ankles, leans forward and with her body says: “I’m here.” Beyonce’s “Formation” plays in the dimly lit 1,000-square-foot room, and Naughton -- in her figure-hugging, red velvet Galvan London dress -- pops against the slate-grey seamless backdrop. The singer-actress oozes confidence with every flash from Ferguson’s camera.

The assurance booming from Naughton is a far cry from when fans are introduced to Tasha during the Season One opener. As Mrs. St. Patrick walks into Club Truth with Ghost on her arm, the first time Tasha opens her mouth, she needs to be affirmed by her husband.

“Tell me I’m beautiful,” she says as she leans her head onto Ghost’s shoulder. He replies: “You already know you are.” But in later seasons, viewers realize Tasha actually didn’t know.

“Tasha was looking for Ghost to validate her, which is why she says, ‘Tell me I’m beautiful.’ The truth is she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. She doesn’t know who she is without him,” Naughton said. “In Season One, she was lacking a bit of self-confidence. She was lacking maturity. I feel like over the seasons, to now, she grew up. Six seasons later, she’s now like: ‘Okay, who am I without you?’ I think she’s gained self-confidence, and she’s unapologetic about the kind of woman she is. As opposed to looking for him to tell her she’s enough, Tasha now knows she’s enough.”

Her character’s new confidence runs parallel with where Naughton is in her own life. As a single mom to her two-year-old daughter, Zuri, Naughton has weathered her own storms, however, the new layer of thick skin didn’t come easy.

“I’m a woman now,” Naughton reflects. “A lot of it had to do with motherhood and relationships that I’ve been in, break-ups and heartbreak. I feel I learned a lot through some of those hardships and about what it’s like to love and not love, to be in love, to fall out of love, to have a child, to be raising a two-year-old. It’s a lot of work. You’ve got to be a strong woman to do that.”

“I’ve grown up because the show gave me an opportunity to grow. This character is so complex, and she has so many different dimensions. I’m a big girl now,” Naughton says with a smile. “I’m really proud of myself. I used to be hard on myself. I still am, but I’m proud of myself because I worked hard, and I’ve done it for six seasons. I was breastfeeding while shooting Season Five, and that’s hard work. I think I’ve allowed myself to feel proud of myself. And as a woman, we should do that.”

Tasha’s character received praise for being Ghost’s “ride-or-die” wife, which hasn’t always been easy for the character. Yet after five years of being loyalty-ish -- Tasha was married when she had her affairs with Shawn and Terry Silver -- Naughton says her definition of loyalty has expanded since walking in Tasha’s stilettos.

“There are a lot of different ways to stay loyal or be loyal, but to also see when loyalty is betrayed, how do you come back from that? [In] Season One, Ghost starts cheating on Tasha with Angela, and then lies to her in Season Two and says he’s going to end it, but he continues to lie to her and Tariq and with Kanan,” Naughton said.

“It’s so many different areas where she feels like the loyalty has been lost, but she continues to ride for him. That’s a deep wife-level loyalty that I have yet to experience because Tasha has been riding for Ghost, even when he was in jail, but I admire that in a way. She never jumps ship. She didn’t bail on him when things got tough.”

As Tasha stood by Ghost’s side throughout his philandering, the sole person loyal to Mrs. St. Patrick was LaKeisha. Played by Alani “La La” Anthony, Kemp made it obvious only one woman was truly benefiting from the friendship, while the other may have received a hand-me-down Yves Saint Laurent purse here or there. If loyalty is considered a weakness in the world of Power, Keisha’s back may sport the biggest target.

“I think it’s a very complicated friendship. I think it’s hard to be friends with somebody when you’re jealous or you want their life. That’s why things between the two of them get so tricky as the seasons go on, and especially in this last season because there is a real friendship there, but there is an underbelly of jealousy,” Anthony explains. “I feel like [Tasha has] never been a real friend to Keisha the way Keisha’s been to her.”

Anthony dissects the push-and-pull of LaKeisha and Tasha’s relationship donning an Area gunmetal cocktail dress and strappy Gusseppie Zanotti open-toe heels. While walking to a quiet location away from the chatter of the photoshoot, the sun hits her dress, and she sparkles. Her hazel-green eyes shimmer and her hair is the perfect amalgamation of blonde, honey and brown streaks. Before the interview begins, she requests an iced tea. La La, as she’s professionally known, or La, as she’s called by close friends, can best be described as the homie -- the very gorgeous, humble homie -- who’s just as comfortable in full glam as she is in a pair of Air Force Ones.

Kemp maintains every character on Power has agency and always has a chance to leave the situation. She especially underscores this when speaking about LaKeisha.

“We’ve given LaKeisha a lot of opportunities not to double down with Tommy. She can peel off at any moment, and she doesn’t. In [Episode] 409, he comes, and he begs her: ‘Can I run my money through your shop again?’ She mushes him and says ‘Tommy, get out of my face!’ And then she goes back to him.”

For Anthony, the most challenging part about bringing Keisha to life wasn’t her unwavering allegiance: It was her ignorance’s marriage to it. How could she not see or feel she was receiving the short end of the stick while offering friends and lovers the rod?

“I think Keisha can be naive at times. You just want to slap her,” Anthony said smacking the air. “Even that scene when she told Tommy: ‘You’ve never killed anyone, right?’ It’s those moments. It doesn’t make it difficult; it’s just understanding her perspective and why she thinks like that. I think we all know a LaKeisha. We’ve had a LaKeisha as a friend or we know somebody [like her].”

Anthony sips her tea and ponders some more about LaKeisha’s obedience to the game and to Tasha. She knows that’s where she and her character differ.

“[LaKeisha] is a loyal friend, and I consider myself a loyal friend. I think a lot of times, her kindness gets taken for granted because she is willing to do anything to help friends and to help Tommy. I don’t want to take that in my life. I don’t like for kindness to be taken for weakness, but I definitely want to be a loyal friend. I am the type of person to be that for the people I love.”

Anthony’s voice is raspy but welcoming. She’s professional and personal. Her legs are crossed and her back is straight. She offers nothing about her personal life. I also don’t ask. The only tea she spilled is that she doesn’t allow her 12-year-old son, Kiyan, to watch Power.

“He’s tried a million times but he’s not allowed to watch. He’s 12. I don’t think a 12-year old should be watching Power. People can disagree with me, but that’s how I feel.”

Portraying LaKeisha has given Anthony a perspective she didn’t have prior to landing the role. Now she has a clearer understanding of relationships and why people do what they do.

“Playing Keisha has given me more of an understanding of women, relationships and friendships. Not that I was ever judgemental, but we’re always so quick to say, ‘Well, that will never be me,’ and the next thing you know it is you.” she said flatly. “I always say everyone doesn’t know what they’ll do until they’re in that situation. Keisha is giving me more of an understanding. You have to look at someone’s background, why they think the way they do, why they function the way they do. This is all from childhood or how we were raised. It gives me more understanding when I’m talking to other women.”


Thirty-five minutes have passed since the start of the interview with Kemp. I push for two more questions and her publicist pushes back with two more minutes. When we began, Kemp hesitantly accepted compliments on the show’s run, noting that despite the hard work, long hours on set and the writing, she credits its success to something bigger.

“It’s hard because people keep saying that to me, and I don’t know what they’re congratulating me for, in a way, because it’s God’s will how many people watch the show,” she said. “I cannot compel that.”

Viewers have been tuning in -- on Sundays in the summer, no less -- because they’re that invested in the lives of the characters Kemp created. As a byproduct of that, life is no longer the same.

“Everything’s different,” she said somberly. “Everything is different. I think maturity and experience put lines on your face and grays in your hair for a reason, and I’ll leave it like that.”

As the woman penning the scenes portrayed onscreen, Kemp’s work is more recognizable than she is. When out and about in New York with series regular and boyfriend Michael J. Ferguson, she jokes she’s often asked by fans to take pictures of him with them. In California, they’re even more aloof.

“In L.A, nobody knows. In fact, sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey, Courtney, have you been working?' ”

After five seasons, Power’s mountain of manipulations and powdered substance will collapse and crash in the series’ final run, normally a 10-show stretch that Kemp and Co. are splitting into two: Part One whets appetites with 10 hour-long episodes that premiere Sunday, Aug. 25, and the remaining five arrive in January 2020. Anyone left standing at the onset of this new season may be in a body bag by the end of it all. Kemp has proven in the past that her loyalty is to the story, not to any singular character. So, all bets -- if they were ever on -- are truly off.

Eager fans will see how it all plays out when we tune into Starz to hear those three scrumptious words we’ve been waiting for all year:

“Previously on Power…”


Photographer: Karl Ferguson Jr.

Art Designer: Nicole Tereza

Videographers: Vince Patrick and Jason Chandler

Makeup Artists: Vanessa Scali (Lela Loren), AJ Crimson (Naturi Naughton), and Sheika Daley (La La Anthony)

Hair Stylists: Aviva Perea (Lela Loren), Alexander Armand (Naturi Naughton), and Ray Dodson (La La Anthony)

Wardrobe Stylists: Alyssa Sutter Studios (Lela Loren), Brian Mcphatter (Naturi Naughton), and Maeve Reilly (La La Anthony)

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