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Ladies First: ESPN's Cari Champion On Taking Charge In A Male-Dominated Industry

ESPN's Cari Champion also talks managing multiple personalities

On a snowy March morning on the East Coast (March 6), Cari Champion is moderating a heated debated among Chris Broussard, Freddie Coleman and Scoop Jackson over the top contenders for NBA MVP this season on ESPN's First Take (regular hosts Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were both on vacation). When it comes time to wrap the discussion, Champion slams her palm on the table, screaming "Time out, time out" and neatly summarizes the argument (James Harden and Russell Westbrook are favorites) before cutting to commercial break.

Every day, the cameras show what Cari does best: handling fiery personalities (most of the time, they're male) as the lone woman at the table. As a former Tennis Channel anchor and news reporter for various markets across the country including West Virginia and Florida's West Palm Beach, Champion has been doing what her name implies: winning.

Making her mark while covering the come-up of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, she eventually made the leap to ESPN in 2010 and continues to stand tall among her male colleagues. VIBE recently called Cari and got all the goods on being a woman in sports journalism, pursuing your passions and why Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" movement is so necessary.

My MLK Moment (Realizing the dream):
I was 7 years old and watching Oprah on the television like a lot of young girls [have]. I didn't know what she was doing but I felt like it was exciting. Something about her presence made me think she was doing something important. Then I started to watch a lot of local news women in my market—I grew up in L.A.—so there was a woman by the name of Angela Blackmon. I would watch her all the time and she was just so sweet, so good to me in terms of how she would make me feel when I would watch her show 'cause when you're a kid, you don't wanna watch news. Then as I got older, I shared what I wanted to do with my mother and family, and they were like, 'Of course! You love to talk. You would totally be great.' I didn't know the impact it would have, where it would ultimately lead or the responsibility it would have but it felt right.

On finding my voice:
When I was a junior or senior in high school, I knew [journalism] was what I wanted to do and that I was going to pursue it because I wanted to be class president. I started running my campaign, and my mother was telling me about what it meant and the responsibility. I knew [it meant] galvanizing the troops. [The class] was trying to determine where we were going to have our prom. The establishment and administrators were suggesting we do it their way and we, as the students, wanted to do it our way. I knew I wanted to have a voice, help people who couldn't be heard or couldn't necessarily vocalize what they wanted. My dream and goals were always just to be a local news reporter. I would envision [myself] making a difference and I loved telling stories. The two just worked perfectly well for me.

On her personal inspiration and mentoring others:
It would have to be my mother. She's one of the most amazing women I've ever met. She's always said, 'Do whatever you want to do. It doesn't matter. You can always overcome the struggle.' She has given me a good belief in self that helps me push forward even when things are very difficult. I hope that I can do that for others. I take a lot of people under my wing, invest in them and give them words of encouragement because sometimes it's hard to see what's next or the accomplishment in what you already have.

On managing multiple male personalities:
There's no blueprint. It starts behind the scenes. There is always a double standard [for women] so we have to be comfortable—and that is such a tough thing to say—we have to be willing to, for lack of a better word, lean in. For Women's History Month, we [had] Sheryl Sandberg come on First Take and her "Lean In Together" movement is such an amazing thing. We have to be able to speak up in the morning or evening meeting. We have to sit at the head of the table and give suggestions no matter what the outcome is [whether] they don't like our suggestions, what we have to say or our words. We still need to be willing to say, 'Hold on one second, I'm talking.' A lot of my job is managing personalities and people and that goes on [or off] television. You have to become an expert in observation. I understand people, what makes them move, what doesn't or how I feel they'll react and I anticipate all of that. When I'm dealing with three, four guys at the table, it really is a barbershop and you have to know how men interact. It goes for the person you're working with. It also has a lot to do with how they respect you and how you respect them, and just being able to prove you can sit with [the guys] and be okay with sitting with them.

Hardest story I've had to cover that taught me something new about myself:
Probably the Ray Rice [assault case]. I remember initially covering it when the story came out and we didn't have the video yet, thinking, 'Oh god, [Ray] did something wrong.' The pushback was, 'Well you don't know what she did to lead up to that. Some women encourage batter. Women sometimes hit men,' and I immediately said, 'I don't care what she did. She's not a man.' Everything in my spirit told me that it was wrong but as a journalist, you can't go on assumptions, you have to go on the facts. The facts were [Ray] got in trouble, [he and his then-fiancee, Janay] were both arrested and [Commissioner Roger Goodell] gave him a two-game suspension. We all thought, 'Well, that's crazy. He's only getting [suspended for] two games. There has to be more to this.' Then when the video came out, there was all this retroactive outrage. I felt an obligation to be a woman but at the same time, tread lightly because I needed to be objective. But then I felt like, 'What is there to be objective about?' We've seen this man literally knocking out this woman so why do I need to be so objective?' There was such a burden on my heart to be a woman, be emotional and be okay with being emotional but also to deliver a story. It's such a delicate balance. I learned a lot [through] talking about it from what I thought was an objective standpoint. No matter what, domestic violence is a humanity issue and such a divisive topic. I learned a lot about who I was, what I was capable of handling and what my biases may have been. For better or worse, it made me a better journalist, made me more astute, made me ask more questions and see people's circumstances in a different way.

The definition of a boss:
When I think of someone who's a boss, I think of a person who is extremely powerful but doesn't have to say it. They're a leader but don't have to show it. They're completely comfortable in their skin. Herm Edwards would say, 'When emotions were at a high [in a team huddle], I would purposely speak softly.' A boss is someone who leads with a gentle hand by example.

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One-Woman Show: A Closer Look At Soledad O’Brien
The Blueprint: Karen Civil On Rocking The Industry And Beyond
Poetry In Motion: Ballerina Misty Copeland On Standing Out
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Meet Lifestyle Connoisseur, Miss Diddy
Nothin' But Sweat: Meet Personal Trainer, Massy 'Mankofit' Arias

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Carmen Mandato

Lil Kim Talks '9' Album, Biggie And Rick Ross Comparisons, And Celebrates City Girls' JT's Freedom

This past July, Lil Kim canceled two interviews, citing that the outlets wouldn’t “put respect on my name” and “wanted to be messy.” But the rap legend known as Queen Bee has had plenty of blessings this year. At a dinner honoring their friend Notorious B.I.G.’s birthday on May 21, she and Lil Cease reconciled their strained relationship after not seeing each other in person for 13 years. In September, she received the I Am Hip Hop Icon Award at the 2019 BET Hip-Hop Awards and gave a nostalgic performance with surprise appearances by Junior M.A.F.I.A., Musiq Soulchild and O.T. Genasis.

The year’s worth of positivity culminated with the release of 9, Lil Kim’s long-awaited fifth studio album that pairs her raunchy, street-oriented bars her fans love with guest appearances by Rick Ross, City Girls and Rich The Kid. While Kim has released several mixtapes over the past decade, 9 is her first studio album since 2005’s The Naked Truth, which she released days within beginning a prison bid. And her fans were patiently waiting: the day of the release of 9, Lil Kim was trending nationwide on Twitter.

In a conversation with VIBE, Lil Kim speaks about her new album, weighs in on comparisons between Biggie and Rick Ross, and rejoices the City Girls’ JT newfound freedom.

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VIBE: Your last official album was The Naked Truth, and you had a lot to say on that album because of what you were dealing with. What made you decide to make a new album now?

Lil Kim: Why not? I’m a beast, I love music. Why not? I love music, I’m good at what I do, and my fans want it. As long as my fans want it, I’m going to keep giving it to them and doing what I want to do.

Your fans definitely want it. You were trending worldwide today on Twitter when the album dropped. What’s it like to see the interest that high so far into your career?

It’s amazing. Not only was I trending, but I was number one in so many different countries. Number one, number two. Number 16 on all genres since last night, before the album even officially dropped.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

You guys are doing EXCELLENT! 🙌🏾 Beehive don’t let the devil deter you from the greatness that is happening and the history that is being made. Ya’ll keep going because there’s so much history to be made and we’re just getting started. ❤️ We outside fr, the streets have spoken 🔥 #9️⃣

A post shared by Lil' Kim (@lilkimthequeenbee) on Oct 21, 2019 at 5:52pm PDT

The album sounds current, but it still sounds like you. Was there a dedicated effort to make it sound current and like what's already out there?

It was actually a dedicated effort to do what I wanted to do. To be the classic Kim I am, and be in the now and to be in the future.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Pray For Me.” How did that come together?

That’s one of my favorite songs, too. I wrote that song right in my kitchen. I thought about it when I was going through a lot of things. I’m a very spiritual person, I’m big on energy and spirit. The energy I was feeling when I heard that beat, that’s where I wanted to release the energy and the things I was going through in that song. The song came like that, we didn’t add that in the beat in there. So I felt like the beat was laid out for me. I already saw Rick Ross, and I already saw Musiq Soulchild, and I saw myself setting the song up.

A lot of people, I believe including Diddy, have said that Ross reminds them of Biggie. Do you agree with those comparisons?

I think he has some similarities, yeah. You can tell that Biggie’s influence is there, and that’s amazing. There will never be another BIG, period. But I don’t think necessarily that Ross is trying to be BIG or anything like that. I think that he just has big love for BIG, and he has a lot of similarities, and I love it. His style is super dope. I’ve always loved him, and I think he expressed that from the moment he came out.

Another favorite is “Auto Blanco.” On that record you said, “BIG and Pac be alive if you niggas ain’t gas shit up. If I knew who did it, I’d personally wrap their caskets up.” It’s been a while, but are you still actively mourning?”

All the time I’m mourning his death. All the time. But as far as trying to go to the end of the world to find out who did it, no, I just let God work that out. Because sooner or later, everything from the dark will come out. But at this point, all I can do is live for him.

Tell me about the significance behind the number nine as this album's title.

Nine is my spiritual awakening number. There were nine members in Junior Mafia, my baby was born June 9, Biggie passed on March 9. It is 2019. My birthday is 7/11, seven plus two is nine. When you get a spiritual awakening, you have to act on that moment. And there you have it… Something that’s a spiritual awakening can’t be negative. With every rise, every level you go to, with every win when God is working on your life, the devil’s gonna come. But nine is all positive.

The Naked Truth is an angry record, and you had plenty of reason to be upset. After you got out, how did you get to the point where you were able to grapple with what happened and move forward with your life?

Because it wasn’t what people thought. I met some of my best friends inside. I got a lot of rest the first two weeks, I was tired because I was working. I learned a lot. It was like going to a very, very, very, very bad boarding school. (laughs) I learned a lot, and I got to get closer to God. It wasn’t as bad inside as it was when I came home, the things I had to go through, to be honest with you. I had worse times outside of prison than I did in prison. I had to go through some really really dark, deep things.

JT of City Girls just got out of prison, and you had them on your album on the song "I Found You." Do you have any advice for JT?

I haven’t spoken to her yet, but we’re trying to set up a call so I can talk to her. That’s my girl, I’m so happy that she’s home. I know that feeling. Ain’t nothing like your freedom. I love that girl, I love them, I love Miami…I think everybody who just comes home renewed with how they move and live at that point, because you’re free. You use your own discrepancy. Everybody has their own different climb that they’re going to.

At the Biggie dinner, you were reunited with Cease. What has it been like to have that relationship mended?

It’s a beautiful thing. As you can see, nothing but greatness and beautiful things have come out of that. Look at the BET [Hip-Hop] Awards! That shit was fucking nostalgic! That shit was fucking amazing. Junior M.A.F.I.A. came out and the crowd went nuts. Sometimes when people realize things they have done and they apologize sincerely, that is worth more than gold. That’s a family member. Family fucks up, that’s it. We do that in our family and relationship. But when it’s family, especially for someone like Biggie, we have to come together and we have to let Biggie live the way he’s supposed to. That was my way of mending his broken heart.

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For Us By Us: 8 Things To Know About The Black News Channel

A network for us by us is heading to a television near you. The Black News Channel, a network dedicated to quality news and original content for African-Americans, will see the light of day next month.

BNC has been over a decade in the making thanks to J.C. Watts, the former Oklahoma congressman who wanted to create a platform similar to CNN with only news and insight by people of color. Networks like BET and TVOne have respectfully released similar programming in the past with BET Nightly News and News One Now hosted by Roland Martin, but this new network plans to run on a 24-hour news cycle while tying in programs that will benefit teens, women, and HBCUs.

It was recently announced that Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan made up a large part of the investment pool, with many wondering just how the network will be run. Khan has reportedly voted for President Donald Trump but has continuously slammed his tenure as commander-in-chief.

According to BNC's website, their mission statement is "to provide intelligent programming that is informative, educational, inspiring and empowering to its African-American audience." They also hope to "preserve a proud black American heritage" and inspire viewers with uplifting and spiritual content daily.

The network will launch across over 30 million households on Friday, Nov. 15. In the meantime, here's everything you should know about the Black News Channel.

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1. The BNC Was Co-Founded by J.C. Watts, A Former Athlete Turned Republican Congressman

Watts has worn many hats in his life with most of them existing in the business space. Some of his endeavors include a public affairs consulting company as well as director seats at companies like retail giant Dillard's, CSX Corporation and ITC Holdings.

Before jumping into the business world, Watts played college football for the Oklahoma Sooners and later, the Canadian Football League. After becoming a Baptist minister in the early '90s, he ran for Congress and served four terms.

During that time, Watts worked alongside Capitol Hill with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. During the late '90s, he was elected to the chair of the House Republican Conference. He also co-founded the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa and helped develop legislation with Congressman John Lewis to establish the Smithsonian Museum of African American history.

The idea for BNC came in 2004 with the intent to provide quality news and original programming to African-American households. "The Black news channel is culturally specific to the African-American community," he told The Street earlier this month.

"You've got 200 plus stations on any cable system. We are the one location that you can come and find out about wellness culture, current affairs as it relates to African-American communities." He also stressed the need to provide a safe space for black wellness earlier this year on Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club.

2. The BNC Was Almost Based On FAMU's Campus

Before setting up shop in Tallassee, Florida, Watts was interested in filming on the campus but decided against it. Instead, the network will work closely with Ann Kimbrough in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University and other Historical Black Colleges & Universities across the country.

3. It Will Serve Over 30 Million Households

BNC will operate as a 24/7 news channel and will launch to an estimated 33 million households. A reported 23 million are satellite owners while the other 10 million are from cable TV households in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. A studio was also built this year for the network in New Orleans.

In the early stages of the network, the company created "on-air programming trials" that served 8 million people. The project helped the company with the type of content they wanted to create and the content viewers wanted to see.

4. Religion And Faith Might Play A Role In Programming

Under the site's goals for the Black News Channel, the company notes how they've built strong relationships with African-American figures from the clergy, media, and politics. While it isn't known just how faith will play into BNC's ideology, there seems to be something there.

5. One of Their Biggest Investors Has A Fickle Relationship With President Donald Trump

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants Black News Channel to reflect the views of African-Americans but critics aren't thrilled about his political ties. Khan reportedly voted for Trump and donated $1 million to his inauguration. During an interview at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit this month, Khan explained his appreciation for Trump's economic retort but a distaste for his social policies around immigration, religion and civil rights.

Khan was one of the first NFL owners to famously lock arms with players in solidarity for Colin Kaepernick who was slammed for kneeling during the National Anthem. “Those were human causes that [the players] brought a lot of attention to," he said.

"And since then, the league has done a lot. We’d need a special program with you to go through all the stuff. And the players have done a lot. That was the time for talk and symbolism; since then, it’s been time for action. And there’s been a lot of action. Local communities, prison reform, a lot of those things that impact not only minorities but other people.”

But when it comes to his investment in BNC, Khan wants to change the narrative in media about black lifestyles. “I believe there is an undeniable calling for everything the Black News Channel will deliver to African-American television audiences, who have historically been underserved, in an era where networks have otherwise successfully targeted news to specific demographic groups and interests,” Khan told WJCT, adding, “My decision to invest is an easy one, because we get to answer that call.”

6. Original Programming Will Cater To Black Women and Teens

An estimated 12 hours will be dedicated to the news while the rest will focus on content dedicated to women and teens. Other programs will also shed light on alternative sports like MMA, Muay Thai and the NBA on a global level.

Some standout program synopses include:

Being a Woman

This daily one-hour hosted talk show is dedicated to topics of interest to women of all ages. Show topics will range from childbirth to caring for elderly parents, business to politics, and entertainment to hair care. No topic is too big or too small for this woman-to-woman discussion. The show host will select distinguished women from the vast array of academic experts and alumnae professionals associated with our Historical Black Colleges & Universities to co-host each day’s program.

Getting Ready With Jane: Today's Teen

In this show, family therapist Jane Marks gets real with teens and speaks a language they can understand. With more than forty years of experience helping families and young people in crisis, Marks offers helpful and timely advice to young African Americans about coping in today’s world. This one-hour weekly program is family-friendly and offers a message of hope. Today’s Teen Talk series is definitely “must see TV.”

My Money

This daily half-hour business show will examine best practices for wisely making and managing your money, as well as news and information about what is happening in the financial markets at home and around the world. This format will include a host and financial experts as studio guests.

7. HBCU's Will Have A Great Influence On The Black News Channel

BNC's relationship with Historical Black Colleges & Universities will run deep. Not only will aspiring journalists have an opportunity to work at the network but they will also have exposure to media training and state of the art production.

The series Living Social at HBCUs will also explore life on HBCU campuses and the intersection of education and cultural development.

8. Larry Elder Will More Than Likely Ruffle Feathers

Everyone loves a wildcard and BNC has found one in Larry Elder. The radio staple and attorney has over 25 years in the industry from news programs on NBC and ABC News & Talk. He also starred as a judge on Moral Court, an early production by TMZ creator Harvey Levin in 2001.

Elder's views have been seen as conservative but he reportedly identifies as a Libertarian. After walking away from the news show sector, Elder made his way to digital radio and podcasting where he's led conversations on topics like "Unwed Fathers" in the NBA, education, and criticism of the early presidential candidates of the 2020 election. He's also a frequent user of the #HillaryUnhinged hashtag that criticizes the former presidential candidate.

Larry Elder NEW Video: Why Won't The 'Woke' @NBA Take On The 800lb Elephant On The Court--UNWED FATHERS?!?https://t.co/Tbtqmcz25c#FathersMatter pic.twitter.com/I8oOAOcKIx

— Larry Elder (@larryelder) October 21, 2019

School Choice, Pt. 2

Larry Elder VIDEO: Black and Hispanic Democrats WANT Choice in Education--White Democrats DO NOT!https://t.co/ghQQMNS4iV#SchoolVouchers

— Larry Elder (@larryelder) October 20, 2019

A program hasn't been shared on BNC's website but Elder is listed as a "Show Host/Commentator." We're sure many will tune in to hear about today's culture from his perspective.

Learn more about the Black News Channel here.

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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. Lil 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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