Catherine Brewton is VIBE's latest feature for Women's History Month Catherine Brewton is VIBE's latest feature for Women's History Month

High Notes: Meet BMI Vice President, Catherine Brewton

BMI Vice President Catherine Brewton reflects on her highs and lows for VIBE's latest "In A League Of Their Own" series

Catherine Brewton’s climb to the top of the corporate ladder at Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) took 15 years, proving hard work takes time. Currently serving as the Vice President of writer/publisher relations at BMI, Brewton laced up her Louboutins and trekked her way from director in 1997 to manning her own dream team today.

The former executive director of the Grammys has mastered her pen game when it comes to locking in partnerships or creative services for her clients. You might’ve heard of the nationwide panel “How I Wrote That Song,” or the BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards. Well, that has all became reality under Brewton’s direction. But given the leading lady’s inspiring feats, the one thing that she’s not hesitant to ask for is assistance.

“All of the steps were really about me knowing that if it’s not something that I’m not proficient in, you align yourself with people who have those specialized skill set," Brewton told VIBE. "Sometimes, our biggest failures come when we think we know it all and can do everything,”

She adds, “I think you’re as good as the team around you, and you certainly can’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know this, but I’m going to figure it out.’ I think those are some of my most valued lessons and certainly some of the greatest gifts that I’ve acquired and learned in becoming successful. “

Here, the accomplished exec dishes on what keeps her motivated, how to handle life’s inevitable roadblocks, and keeping her mother’s legacy alive through her foundation Harvest Center.

A photo posted by Catherine Brewton (@c_brewton) on

How I handle challenges:
I’m pretty even-keeled and demanding in the same respect. In my early careers, I would just be very confrontational and try to get resolve. Now, I give myself five seconds, ten seconds, two days if I need time out to really process what is the best approach, but I often times just try to take a moment of quiet time to say, “Okay, God, what would you have me to do in this situation?” What I’ve learned is really patience, and sometimes the situation comes to really determine how are you going to come out of that situation? I believe that you just have to be patient and sometimes not speak or react when you are faced with challenges. Determine how and what you can do to move forward. Sometimes it’s not going to be a perfect resolution, but in all of it, I try to learn from the good, the bad, and indifferent.

On managing controversy:
I try to be forthright. If you can’t accept responsibility for things that go wrong, then I think you’ve failed as a leader. I try to be transparent. If I’ve done something that is a detriment to my team or to the organization, or in any aspect or facet of my life, I take ownership. I put my man pants on and I stand up and I accept responsibility and then I look at what can I do to try to manage it going forward. I think we just all have to be accountable.

My blueprint for success:
I don’t know that there is a blueprint necessarily that I followed. I just showed up everyday with a plan and the plan is to really be extremely organized. Coming out of General Electric, my first job in the music business was the Grammys. I opened the Atlanta chapter of the Grammy office and I had no experience in building out an office. I certainly didn’t have experience really manning a music division for the Grammys, but out of necessity, I had to learn and put people around me who could help me do the things that I wasn’t gifted or versed in, like developments, meeting with contractors, and picking out furniture. All of the steps were really about me knowing that if it’s not something I’m not proficient in, you align yourself with people who have those specialized skill sets.

Hardest project I've ever done:
One of my most difficult events or challenges was I used Pharrell, Chad of the Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins, and Dallas as the house band for a James Brown tribute. They nearly drove me nuts and that was at the pinnacle of all of their careers. They were all multi-million dollar, very successful producers, and I had the wild notion, “Catherine, Pharrell plays drums, Dallas plays guitar, Rodney plays keys, Chad plays everything. Why don’t we use them as the house band for the James Brown tribute?” We pulled it off, but I go back to that notion. You’re talking about very gifted, talented guys, and having them show up, rehearse, and learn all of this material, be present and not be like, “Let’s just jam out for nine hours.” That’s probably been one of my most challenging moments.

My biggest (personal) win:
Probably being able to sustain. My mom passed in 2007 and she has a facility that feeds and houses men and women who are homeless and/or transitioning. When she departed, there was no succession plan. I’ve been able to step in with a full-time gig and we’ve continued to provide the services. It’s now 30 years running and six or seven [years] after her departure. My career and my success in the entertainment business had everything to do with what I did with her facility in Charlotte and I’m proud to say it’s still serving hundreds of thousands of poor and homeless, and disenfranchised people. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to do it and still do it.

My mentor-in-my-head:
Maya Angelou is still one of the most well-read, accomplished folks [I know]. I love Tyler Perry, who's an acquaintance. I’ve certainly had some wonderful moments with him. Everybody loves Oprah, but my biggest mentor and fan was my mother. Her instilling in me the fundamentals of being a woman, being successful and God-fearing, and the things that I think, in her absence, I can still chew on and really be present with.

My unlikely inspiration:
I’m just a huge fan of Snoop. We honored him a few years back and as unconventional as he appears, he’s someone that has the heart of gold. In this chapter in his life, he understands the balance of giving and being of service. That’s just been such a heartfelt friendship that I value because you see the Snoop who’s smoking medical marijuana, but he’s a family man. He’s concerned about his community. He gives millions of dollars of his own money to help fund these football clinics in Compton and now he’s trying to take it to other markets. I’m low-key a big, big, big fan.

My dating philosophy:
Date where it makes sense. I’m being honored this weekend at an organization, and I’m being given the award of excellence. I did an interview with them in the past few days and they asked, 'How does someone like yourself date?' I said, 'I keep it simple. I don’t date where I eat. I don’t look for companionship in the music business.' That’s my number one mantra because then it becomes a distraction. Most of the time when I’m dating, and I’m dating someone now who lives in L.A., I don’t want anybody that has anything to do with music because then how do we disconnect when we do have time alone? Make sure you put some distance between what you do and your personal life. I [also] believe you can be single and happy. Everybody wants companionship and to be in a relationship, but I think until you’re okay with that [being by yourself], you’re not going to be a really good partner. To be a good partner, you have to be okay with being on your own.

The definition of a boss:
I think my biggest accomplishment as a boss is I’ve invested in the people around me. Whether they stay here or not, they can go on and take on the same mantle and the same purpose that I’ve instilled in them and that is to show up first and don’t be afraid to leave last. In everything you do, give it your best shot.

Something my mom told me that I'll never forget:
Your greatest gift in life will be what you do for those who have nothing to give you.

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Derrel Todd

Music Sermon: Forget The King of R&B, Raphael Saadiq Is The Son Of Soul

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

This week, Cash Money artist Jacquees set off an internet firestorm when he proclaimed himself to be the “King” of R&B “for (his) generation.” The comment led artists, executives, music fans and #BlackTwitter in general to debate: who is the King of R&B? (Spoiler alert - it’s not Jacquees.)

While a consensus was never reached, the heated discussion illustrated how much the definitions and ideas of R&B and R&B stars varies between age groups. Ironically, one name that seldom appeared in the convo belongs to one of the most consistent and prolific presences in soul and R&B music for the last 30 years: Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq has become like a stealth superhero of soul for the last several years of his career, moving to the background as more writer/composer/musician, so the impulse for many might be to label him as an “old school” artist. But that’d be a misnomer, as he’s still had his hand in some of the most influential music for the current generation. Perhaps he transcends a simple R&B conversation as a self-identified Son of Soul (the difference between R&B and Soul is a topic for another day), but however you want to categorize him, he is not widely-enough acknowledged for how he’s kept us jamming, constantly, for three decades.

Let’s explore the iterations through which “Ray Ray” has blessed us over the years.


During the birth and rise of New Jack Swing and then the subsequent evolution to Hip-Hop Soul, Tony! Toni! Toné! was one of the last of a dying R&B breed: the band. They – and a few years later Mint Condition - were standouts as live musicians in an R&B landscape turning to sample-based production. This set both groups apart, establishing them early on as serious soul acts, and making them forerunners of the neo soul sound to come in the late ‘90s.

Like almost every black musician and/or producer of note in his peer group, Saadiq developed and honed his musical chops in the church. Exposure to Motown and Stax by his blues singer father led him to the bass and served as inspiration for his future style. But he, brother Dwayne and cousin Timothy Christian received their formal Tony! Toni! Toné! training on the road: Raphael and Christian toured as part of Sheila E’s band on Prince’s Parade Tour and Dwayne with gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.

Having been properly trained, educated and tested in blues, soul, gospel, and funk, the three formed Tony! Toni! Toné!. Their first album was a modest success, achieving gold status from the RIAA, but wasn’t a standout. The trio started taking the reins on writing and production on their sophomore effort, and the Tonys as we now know them showed up. They announced both their musical background and intentions with their album titles: The Revival, Sons of Soul, House of Music. They were not there for catchy, formulaic R&B. They developed a signature blues, soul, gospel and funk hybrid, rolled up in modern R&B and hip-hop fusion.

The Revival is arguably a new jack swing album – “Feels Good” is a must-have on any new jack playlist – but they were taking the existing marriage of R&B and hip-hop and adding an even deeper soul element, reaching back to ‘70s sonic roots. It was the sonic equivalent of taking new jack swing chicken and shaking it in a paper bag of old-school musically-seasoned flour.

The group still had the kind of jammin’ uptempos found on their debut, Who?, but started to establish themselves as producers of some of the greatest R&B ballads of the ‘90s.

When you think of the Tonys’ music, aside from “Feels Good,” the first song that comes to mind is probably a slow jam. Most acts are fortunate to get one true signature song in their career. Tony! Toni! Toné! has several, and they’re timeless. Put them on today and see if you don’t hit a body roll.

They also established themselves as formidable soundtrack players (as any 90s act worth their salt did. Remember soundtracks, by the way?). They had cuts on the House Party II and Boyz in the Hood albums.

By Sons of Soul they’d found their pocket, and they pushed the sonic limits of contemporary R&B to the extent that some outlets classified the album as jazz, it was such an outlier. Saadiq recognized that they were doing something important for genre. Something that was connecting old style and new. In an interview about the album in 1994, he expressed what he saw as the group’s role in music. "We've been very blessed to be able to be a group that writes our own songs and people have accepted us from both sides, hip-hop and the R&B…I feel very fortunate to be able to do that here in 1993-94, because like you know, it was starting to be a dying thing that was happening. But I guess we were like the bridge between hip-hop and soul and R&B.”

Going back to the aforementioned King of R&B discussion, Diddy chimed in the conversation (he knows a little something about the topic) to run down some criterion to even be considered. His list included vulnerability and adoration in the lyrics and subject matter, the ability to sing a woman’s “draws” off, and the pen game to write hits. Check, check and check. Sons of Soul deservedly landed at or near the top of a gang of 1994 year-end lists and the Tonys continued to raise the bar for the ballad game. Real talk, the last four and a half minutes of the “Anniversary” album cut are better than some entire R&B albums.

With House of Music, the group sought to even more fully showcase all their influences and inspirations: the Al Green-esque “Thinking of You;” the Stylistics-inspired “Holy Smokes & Gee Wiz;” the Bay Area connect with DJ Quik for some G-Funk with “Let’s Get Down;” the straight-up church moment of the “Lovin’ You” reprise closing out the album, with Christian putting all that good anointing on the Hammond B3 organ. This was our clearest glimpse what Saadiq had in store for the future.


When Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up and Saadiq put together supergroup Lucy Pearl, we realized he was on some other sh*t. First, the very idea to bring En Vogue’s Dawn Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Saadiq together was genius. Then, oh…what’s this sound? Tony! Toni! Toné! with a little somethin’ extra on it? Saadiq revealed his ability to reinvent himself, stylistically and sonically, and play in different music spaces. Successfully. Hits, check.


After Lucy Pearl, Saadiq embarked on his first solo projects. We’ll get to those, but the more remarkable part of this era was his expansive work as a writer, producer and session musician for others. As mentioned earlier, Tony! Toni! Tone! was an inspiration for neo soul (a term Saadiq loathes), which pulled from ‘60s and ‘70s influences, paired with the return to live instrumentation, mixed with hip-hop swag. Saadiq was a sometime member of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla’s Ummah production collective, but had also been working on outside projects since the Tonys were active. Through either the Ummah or alone, Ray was behind hits you may have attributed to someone else.

-D’Angelo, "Lady:" Saadiq co-wrote, co-arranged and co-produced the still-perfect ode to #WCEs (Women Crush Everydays) with D’Angelo.

-Bilal, "Soul Sista:" Soul and R&B great Mtume on the pen, Saadiq on production.

-Angie Stone, "Brotha:" OK, who’s gonna create the 2018 “Unproblematic” edit of the “Brotha” video?

-Total, "Kissing You:" No, this wasn’t Stevie J. Now, imagine this as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song. You can absolutely hear it, right?

-Erykah Badu and Common, "Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop):" Saadiq again proving he’s a master of the perfect fusion of hip-hop and an old soul groove.

-D’Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel):" Saadiq has admitted he later realized he was channeling Jay Dee’s style throughout the D’Angelo session.


As a solo artist, Saadiq has accomplished what few can: continuously evolving his sound and aesthetic while yet managing to still always sound like himself. The retro-influence has been a constant in his work, but that influence ranges between decades and musical eras. He’d given us a taste of solo Ray through “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack, but that could easily pass as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song.

With Instant Vintage (again letting you know what he came to do with the title), Saadiq expanded on his existing signature sound of soul, funk, gospel and R&B; a sound he coined “Gospaldelic.”

With Ray Ray, he delivered a modern blaxploitation soundtrack. But then, in 2008, he went all the way back to Motown and the purest soul sound for The Way I See It. Saadiq was committed to an authentic return to ‘60s soul for the entire process. He eschewed slick, modern production techniques for old-school practices, including vintage equipment, all live instrumentation and single-take recordings. He donned slim-cut suits and classic frames for his look, and delivered a retro soul package via the 45 inch LP box set. But it still sounded incredibly fresh and modern, and that is his gift.

His last solo album, 2011’s Stone Rolling, was a progression of The Way I See It, staying in the same retro soul pocket, bringing some funk and rock’n’roll back into.

Or did he?


The thing about Saadiq is that he doesn’t just look a perpetual 30 years old (he’s 52. It don’t crack.). Unlike a lot of “old heads,” he keeps his ear current, as well. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid are his musical nephews. He praises them and their music often in interviews, heralding them as the current bridge-builders between eras and urban genres. Labelmate Leon Bridges adapted his The Way I See It and Stone Rolling formulas - from the sound to the ‘60s-style dress and imaging - for his own, and had Saadiq’s enthusiastic blessing. He listens to SZA, PJ Morton and Daniel Caesar. And he still has his finger on the pulse of current urban musical movements.

Saadiq was an executive producer on Solange Knowles’ 2016 A Seat at the Table, garnering a Grammy for the anthemic “Cranes in the Sky.”

He’s also helped to bring the full authenticity of the West Coast to Insecure for the past three seasons, serving as the show’s composer.

And he hasn’t abandoned his peers and contemporaries, garnering a “Best Song” Oscar nomination last year with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound’s “Mighty River,” and just recently executive producing John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. Only time will tell what he brings on the forthcoming solo album he told VIBE about, titled Jimmy Lee.

Whether his name is included in King of R&B conversations or not, Saadiq has been booked and busy in every area of black music since before 1988, keeping both aunties and nieces grooving, with no signs of slowing or stopping.

RELATED: Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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