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The Perfect Struggle: MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry On Being Okay With Making Mistakes

MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry talks life, career and the one thing women should not be afraid of.

In the history of high school drama, nerds tend to get the short end of the stick. While preferring to keep their noses buried in books, the academically zealous usually opt out of Mean Girl gossip and make social sacrifices to land 4.0 GPAs and clock in for extracurricular endeavors.

But geniuses nationwide re-upped on cool points when Melissa Harris-Perry, host of the wildly popular The Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC, boldly and unapologetically claimed to be of the same ilk. While the Virginia-raised author, professor and public speaker is warm, funny and personable, MHP is no fool, often diving deep into topics of politics, art, race and whatever else the mother of two feels demands attention.

And while Melissa proudly lets her nerd flag fly, she'll also show off her cool side while dancing in her seat to hip-hop, R&B and other smooth tunes as the show goes to commercial break. VIBE called up MHP to discuss race, balancing life in North Carolina and New York, and the one thing women shouldn't fear.

Shh, enough talking. Class is in session.

My morning routine:
It depends a lot on what morning we're talking about because I live in two different places. On Monday through Thursday, I live in North Carolina and on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I'm in New York for my show. So Monday through Thursday, I wake up whenever baby Anna (we call her A.J) wakes up, which could be as wonderfully late as 5:30am or it could be 3 in the morning. It depends on what she wants. (Laughs) She wakes up and then around 6:00, I get some of the housework done that I never have time to do. I do a load of a laundry, unload the dishwasher, water the plants. At 6:30, I wake up my 13-year-old and put on my running clothes. Then I drive my 13-year-old to school, come back and the babysitter is there for the baby. I hand off the baby, go for a run, come back, take a shower and head to campus. I try to be at campus between 9 and 9:30.

On Friday mornings, I do something similar except instead of hitting campus, I hit the airport. I fly to New York and then on Saturday and Sunday mornings, I'm up at 5 and prep for the show. We start prepping on Wednesdays, but my personal reading takes place on Friday and Saturday mornings. I get up, get my coffee, sit in the living room and I usually read from about 5:00 to 7:00, go for a run and then get to the office by 8:00.

My MLK Moment (Realizing The Dream):
I think educators are a little like doctors. I think doctors have been playing with their toys and taking their blood pressure by the time they're six years old, and I believe teachers similarly were lining up their Barbies and teaching them the alphabet. My dad is a college professor, his twin brother is a college professor and my mom taught at community colleges, even though she worked [for non-profit organizations]. I was always kind of a teacher's pet and used to love my teachers. So I always knew [I would be an educator]. I certainly made the decision when I got to college, saying, 'Well I'm never leaving. This is great.' (Laughs) But the other part was my college adviser was Maya Angelou. Being with her and seeing that she was an educator in so many different ways, I'm not sure if I ever said to myself, 'Oh, I want to be like Dr. Angelou,' but she became the primary model of adulthood for me.

Favorite Maya Angelou quote:
There are two quotes that are particularly impactful for me. One is that, 'Courage is the greatest virtue, because without courage, no other virtue can be practiced consistently.' The other thing she would say is, 'All comparisons are odious.' You don't compare [yourself to the next person like], 'Am I smarter than her? Is she prettier than me? Is that house nicer? Does he have a better car?' Our humanity is unique. It helps when I read the better reviews of some shows and then I just remember, 'Nope, all comparisons are odious.'

On realizing my race and gender:
So I'm African-American. My mother is white and my father is black and both my parents were married before they met and had me. I have one sibling who has two white parents and three siblings where both parents are black, so we're truly a mixed race family. It was something that I was always aware of, but specifically when I was 14 and I was a freshman in high school. Two very different things happened. I was a cheerleader and I loved being one. I went to a public high school in central Virginia where football is king. It was very clear to me that there was a cap for how many black girls could be on the team and that no matter how many black guys were on the football team, people in the stands didn't want to see more than a few African-American girls as part of the cheerleading squad. So I not only learned about being black and a woman, but also being light-skinned because one of my girlfriends who was dark-skinned and was equally good, did not make the team when I did. The other thing is I'm a sexual assault survivor and that was the year I was assaulted. The perpetrator is an African-American man, who was my neighbor. I didn't tell [anyone] for about 10 years. One of the reasons I didn't tell [anyone about it] was about race, [from] experiencing the worst kind of vulnerability as a girl and as a woman, and suddenly understanding what it means to be a girl and victimized in this way, and then for [the perp] to be someone who was in the [same] race group.

On my biggest fear and hope for my daughters:
There's no question that my biggest fear as a mother of daughters is sexual assault, and that's because I'm a survivor and report on it. I also know how fundamentally altering—not just to your life, but to your whole character and sense of self—sexual assault can be. Also, [I know] how powerless any given parent is over it. My mom was a great parent. My dad was a fine, wonderful parent. You can't put your children in a protective shield [to prevent sexual assault] from happening.

But I guess I'll also say, unlike some parents, I don't hope that my children's lives are worry and struggle-free. I mention often that my dad was an intense guy. He grew up in the Jim Crow South, was part of the civil rights movement and when we were growing up, he would sign our birthday cards [when we were] three, four, five years old with 'The struggle continues, Daddy.' (Laughs) Years later, I've learned that [the struggle] is such a gift. What I hope for our children is that their life isn't without struggle, but specifically, they have good allies and meaningful struggle.

Women should never be afraid to...
Make mistakes. The fear of making a mistake so often keeps us from trying the hard stuff, and I think it's particularly true especially for high achieving African-American women who recognize we're not just representing ourselves, but often representing the race. We'll only do the things we know we're going to be good at so that way, we're leaving a good impression about who we are, but then we never try the thing we might fail at. Look, I've failed a lot. Like I said before, Maya Angelou was my college adviser. She did not act perfect in front of me and that was such a gift. She let me see her be a woman and a human, and not just Dr. Maya Angelou. It was liberating because when I went out into the world and I made a mess sometimes, I was like, 'Well Maya Angelou used to make a mess sometimes, too and she is still everything!'

Biggest on-air regret:
The most obvious one is the experience I had at the end of 2013 when we put up a picture of the Romney family. [Editor's Note: Melissa-Harris Perry and a panel of guests mocked Mitt Romney's family holiday photo, which included the governor's wife, 22 grandchildren and their adopted African-American grandson. Melissa later issued an on-air apology.] The way the conversation went turned out to be hurtful—and this is why it was such a great learning experience for me. Things were said and I did not immediately regret them. Then the response came and it was clear to me that we not only did something that was hurtful to that individual family, but we spent two years as a team developing our show as a safe space for all different kinds of families. This should be the one show you can always tune into and know that your family will always be affirmed, and we messed up.

On knowing the audience in TV land:
Part of it is we don't try and simplify [the content]. We do try and use the clearest language that we can, although sometimes we use academic language to define it. But part of it is we really do our very best to respect that our audience is smart. If [viewers] show up on a weekend morning to talk about the stuff that we talk about, then they're actually capable of complex reasoning even if they're not scholars and haven't spent years reading books. I do believe sometimes, some media [outlets] don't respect their audience enough to give them the benefit of the doubt that they can come along.

People would be surprised to know that I'm...
A great baker! I make a mean red velvet cake. I can make cookies. There's sort of a joke that I make cookies automatically. When I start to talk about politics with people in my kitchen, I'll just whip up some cookies from scratch. I'm only an average cook. My husband does most of the cooking because he's from New Orleans. I'm also an HGTV addict.

The best lesson I learned from marriage:
Ahh, man, this is my second marriage. But I will tell you this: a bad marriage will take away your fear of death. (Laughs) A bad marriage is a bad thing but similarly, a good marriage is life-giving in all kinds of surprising ways. Let me be clear: my first husband is a good guy, but we had a bad marriage. I mean, I don't know who I was during those years, but I was not Melissa Harris. So when I met and started dating James, it really was shockingly easy. All these people who are like 'Marriage is hard work,' [I say] grown-up life is hard work. But it's just I see him, he sees me, and we just like the shit out of each other everyday! (Laughs) And I adore the way he parents our children. If there's a great lesson I've learned from this marriage, it's that respect is so central. Love is great but man, when you can pair that love, friendship and deep respect for who a person is, it's a great marriage.

On whether or not racism can end:
What I want for us to struggle towards is for the consequences of racial bias to be reduced as close to zero as possible. I think there is a lot of reason for us to believe, from social psychology, cognitive psychology and decades of sociological work, people make groupings and they make judgments based on those groupings. Will people stop grouping each other and making judgments? No. But can we move to create a world where the consequences of racial bias be reduced as much towards zero? Yes! Will we get to zero? Probably not. Can we push ourselves, our society, our culture, our public policies, our laws, our practices so that being born in a black body will have fewer and fewer negative economic, social and political and even bodily consequences? Yes! In fact, I think we're already on that track. The consequences of being in a black body in 1776 are very different than in 1876 and different in 1976, and very different in 2015.

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Justin Newhouse

Filmmaker Coffey's 'About The People' Depicts Honest Conversation On Being Black In America

About The People, a short film created by New York City-based filmmaker Coffey is an ode to the power honest conversations about social justice, equity and race have within black and brown communities. The movie hosts a group of black men that hold court at a conference table to discuss how they can improve society for their kinfolk.

Their discourse concerns the social-economic inequalities that often grips black men at the hands of police brutality and lack of opportunity. In the end, a young black woman joins the conversation as well. Each character is named after their respective accomplishments in life.

There’s The Militant (Coffey), The Athlete (Akintola Jiboyewa), The Professor (Nashawn Kearse), The College Boy (Diggy Simmons), The Celebrity (Sterling Brim), The Executive, (Tyler Lepsey), The Preacher (Dorian Missick), The Author (Hisham Tawfiq), The Senator (Michael Kenneth Williams) and The Janitor (Ebony Obsidian).

Throughout the story, The Militant challenges The Preacher on his religious beliefs and optimistic viewpoint in believing that, through a higher power, all things are possible. Coffey, who grew up in a religious home in a small town in South Carolina, says his character’s defying ways were intentional. Through The Militant’s anger, he was able to release his own rage.

“As the co-writer, I could have been any one of those characters but I chose The Militant because I knew he was the one that was shaking up that room,” Coffey explains over the phone. “When you get that many brains in one room there’s absolutely no way everyone is going to say, ‘Okay everything is going to be joyful and we’re on the same page,’ it never happens that way.”

“There’s always a throw off in that room and it had to be The Militant, who ruffled some feathers,” he continues. “So, because I was pissed off in real life, I choose that character.”

About The People is inspired by a conversation Coffey had with his eldest son on police brutality. After not giving his son a curfew during the summer, he questioned why he would come home while the sun was still out. His son replied, “Me and my boys are making sure we get home before dark so we won’t get killed by the cops.”

That same fear plagues millions of black and brown men in America, where your skin color determines how much your life is worth. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s something Coffey didn’t want to shy away from. His first encounter with police brutality was watching the news of the L.A. riots after Rodney King was beaten by the LAPD in 1991. At the time, the world was a simpler place; social media didn’t exist, the Internet was in gestation and ubiquitous movements like Black Lives Matter hadn’t made CNN headlines yet. However, injustice was something that inevitably would enter Coffey’s life. It became clearer when he became a father in New York City.

“At that time I didn’t have kids,” he recalls when the L.A. riots were happening. “But the moment I did birth a child, which was here in New York that’s when it became like, ‘Okay my color is a problem because I’m a person of color, it’s already one strike against me which is crazy, but it’s reality.'”

In addition to discussing the conundrums that accompany being a black man in America and attempting to arrive at a consensus on how they can all make this situation better, there’s also a bigger topic at hand which deals with the inclusion of black women in this conversation. Near the film's end, The Janitor, a young black woman with an afro overhears their conversation. She’s intrigued by their discourse and takes it upon herself to jump in—unexpectedly, but with urgency.

Though she is met with opposition from some people in the group, they quickly realize she has the answers they’ve been looking for. She’s the missing piece to the puzzle they’ve been trying to complete. Historically, black women have played a major role in activism and have held the weight of the plight that swallows black men into a system that wasn’t made to protect them. But somehow don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Gillian B. White of The Atlantic breaks down this dichotomy in a 2016 article, titled Why Black Women Matter. “The necessity of black female activism, to me, is one of the most complex and important parts of this conversation,” White notes. “Black women haven’t been the backbone of agitation just because they wanted to be, but because oftentimes, they are the only ones who are able to.”

“Black men are America’s favorite victims. The country’s racial brutality and bias all too often truncate the lives of black men—either through death or incarceration,” she continues. “Even before the modern versions of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and recent police violence, black men had targets on their backs. From lynchings to indentured servitude in coal mines during Jim Crow, the country’s legacy of taking black men’s lives and liberty has left black women to bear the burden of caring for families and advocating for justice for their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers whose voices are often silenced.”

The Janitor was created in honor of Coffey’s grandmother and Angela Davis. Reminiscent of his childhood he decided to put the character in the end since his grandmother always had the last word. “The structure of the film is personal to me,” he explains. “My grandfather would have his friends over and they would drink and watch sports, and if there were problems it would be him and friends that would talk about these problems. But when my grandmother would find out they didn’t have the answer to these issues, she would provide the solution.”

In About The People Coffey creates an honest dialogue about what it means to be black in America and feel constantly oppressed by authority figures that are the direct product of white supremacy. The admission is universal considering how much of this world has been colonized by greedy European settlers, but its message is deeper than that. Money is another toxic element in the lethal poison where oppression and inequality are formed. Yet he made this film as a catalyst of hope—not to go against the powers that be.

“The honest to God truth is this isn’t written to go against any white people at all,” he says. “This is written for people of color, my kids and everybody else’s kids to try to follow these guidelines so it will be a better world for them.”

Special thanks to director Sterling Milan, Sincere Giles and Samuel K. Rhind.

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Courtesy of Endeavor Audio

Peter Rosenberg And Cipha Sounds Talk Juan EP's Return And All Things Jay-Z

Hip-hop podcasts are everywhere. Yes, everyone wants to be heard, but not everyone who wants to be heard is focused on moving the culture forward. Enter hip-hop nerds, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. After a year hiatus, the duo is returning to these podcast streets with the Juan EP, where they bring their valid expertise on all things hip-hop.

Cipha and Rosenberg joined forces with Mass Appeal and Endeavor Audio to deliver comprehensive conversations about the culture, some of our favorite moments in hip-hop, favorite albums, best rhymes, among other things. During the podcast's first season, the DJs touch on who is arguably the greatest MC of all time, Jay-Z.

"I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes," Cipha Sounds tells us in our phone conversation. "Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic."

Drawing help from some of Shawn Carter's closest friends, Cipha and Rosenberg dig into Jay-Z's career to discuss his best collaborations, beefs and pinpoint moments of Hov's greatness. VIBE caught up with the fellas and chatted about the Juan EP, Jay-Z and much more.

VIBE: First, this has been bothering me for years. Who is Juan Epstein? Rosenberg: Juan Epstein came from the fact that Cipha and I got paired together. He's Puerto Rican and I’m Jewish. Juan Epstein was a Puerto Rican/Jewish character on the show, Welcome Back, Cotter. I never watched the show, I think Cipha may have been the one to tell me about the name. That was perfect.

The podcast has been on hiatus for a while now. How was the process of bringing the podcast back? Rosenberg: We’ve been wanting to bring it back for a minute. We’ve been looking for the right opportunities and the right partners. And we thought Mass Appeal was a really good home. And when the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a really good fit. We’re trying to do something right for hip-hop, and curated well, and do right by the culture. When Mass Appeal came up with an option it seemed like a perfect fit. It was a great excuse and forced us the get organized and bring it back.

Cipha Sounds: The reason I love this podcast is because it really is two hip-hop fans who were lucky enough to get paid from hip-hop, and we get to talk to some great people from the hip-hop community about hip-hop. There aren't any outsiders speaking about our culture. And we learn new things that we never knew before.

With you guys coming from radio, do you prefer podcasts over radio programming? Rosenberg: It’s a different thing. [Podcasting], it’s more in line with what I’m really passionate about. And it’s really fun. It’s two different versions of a similar thing. They’re both broadcasting, but this gets to be about hip-hop, and not the bullsh*t side, the gossip. This really is about the music.

Cipher: I don’t consider one over the other. I definitely like having long conversations with hip-hop artists.

Season One of the Juan EP is about Jay-Z. Why him? Cipha: Everybody always has all these conversations about the top five [MCs] and who’s the G.O.A.T. I wanted the same street corner, lunchroom conversation with some actual research, and facts from people who were there. People who handle the question with some real information. And also, it is fun to get people’s opinions on it. Of all the sh*t that Jay-Z does that influences the culture, whether it be becoming the first billionaire or marrying Beyoncé, I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes. Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic. Since we're talking Jay-Z, there was a time, well, at least in my hometown of Mississippi, where people were aggravated with Hov for frequently using B.I.G's rhymes.  Cipha: Let me answer this one. Let me tell you and all of your friends in the barbershop in Mississippi, every time Jay says a B.I.G. line, Biggie's kids eat. The reason he does it is because it pays for Biggie’s family to live the way that they should’ve lived if Biggie was still alive, so he pays for school, and homes all off of saying a line.

Wow. I didn't know that. Rosenberg: Yes, anytime Jay-Z samples a B.I.G. line, thanks to B.I.G.'s publishing, his family eats.

What are some of your favorite episodes so far? Cipha: My favorite is the Clark [DJ Clark Kent] episode. I loved how he broke down the details of how Jay-Z and Biggie met. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know and I’d be like, "How will I ever, ever know that?" There’s no way. Like, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know who was in the room and basically to find out not only was Clark Kent in the room but basically orchestrated it.

At times, Jay-Z takes a lot of heat. For instance, this NFL partnership business. Some people have even said he's partly responsible for the gentrification happening in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Rosenberg: We talked a lot about Jay-Z's ventures and how he’s taken flack for some things. And Jay-Z the businessman is a different thing than Jay-Z the artist. We go into a lot of detail about the business and how he’s viewed, And we defiantly get into the question, on the episode, actually next week [on the Nov. 19th episode titled, "I'm A Business Man"].

Here's some fun Jay-Z stuff. To me, the best intro song in the history of hip-hop is Jay's "The Dynasty Intro." Let's debate this. I'm ready.  Rosenberg: I agree that it’s up there. I probably haven’t done the extensive research like you have. But The Dynasty is definitely one of my favorite Jay-Z albums, which is funny because first, it wasn’t a Jay-Z album, then it was a Jay-Z album. So I wonder did he have that intro on there already when it was just a Roc-A-Fella album or did he add it once it became a Jay-Z album? Who would I even ask?

VIBE: Guru.

Rosenberg: Was he around then?

VIBE: Bean’s first album came out before The Dynasty album...

Rosenberg: And Guru did Bean's album...

Cipha: Yes, but even if he wasn’t around... this guy is so strategic. I know that the Pharrell [Williams] record made him make it a Jay Z-album instead of a Roc [A-Fella] album, but that intro, it’s not long and the beat is not complicated. It's a simple hip-hop beat. Damn, we now have to do an episode about this.

Rosenberg: And that's what this show is about. For people who are interested in stuff like that. And this is the perfect time to dig into the podcast because all of the episodes are available. You don't have to wait for the next episode.

Hip-hop fans can tune into every episode of Juan EP below or on Stitcher, and Endeavor Audio.

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Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.

---

VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party at the W South Beach, where the pajamas designed by February James and LaKela Brown will be premiered.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit," just like everything else in the world.

 

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🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

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