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Ky-Mani Marley smiling

Interview: Ky-Mani Marley On Carrying The Marley Gene And New Album 'Maestro'

“I’m not an artist just because my last name is Marley," he tells VIBE. "I’m an artist because I have things to say and I’m passionate about the craft.”

After eight years since his last album, 2007's Radio, Ky-Mani Marley is back to release a new project titled Maestro. The Rastafarian singer-songwriter and son to legend Bob Marley is known for his smooth reggae sounds and gun-toting role in the 2002 film Shottas. During his musical hiatus, he's kept busy performing all over Europe and South America while feeding fans music for the soul.

Still, the Marley gene is in full effect now that Ky-Mani is ready to share the project he has carefully been piecing together for the last two years. Combining the talents of universal artists such as brother Damian, Matisyahu, Gentleman and Kreesha Turner, the 17-track album stands on its own, despite his famous ties.

“I’m not an artist just because my last name is Marley," he tells VIBE. "I’m an artist because I have things to say and I’m passionate about the craft.”

With peace, love and unity as his mantra, Ky-Mani drops gems about his new LP Maestro (due June 30), perfecting his craft and why an artist should never call favorites on their own album.—Mia B.

VIBE: How does it feel releasing a new project after eight years?
Ky-Mani Marley: I’ve been working on [Maestro] for the last two years. I went through a time of making sure I was free and cleared from my last recording situation. Not being in the market place for so long, it was important [to me] that I came back with the right production, the right lyrical content and just the right energy and vibe, so it took a while.

What do you do when you’re not busy in the studio?
I’ve been fortunate enough to tour. I’ve been touring Europe and South America quite extensively last year. We toured maybe four times throughout the year going through Germany, France, and the entire Europe. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have an album out in eight years, and still be able to tour every year.

Who is your target audience?
I would like to reach all demographics if possible. We made this particular album kind of fun. It’s modern [in terms of] what’s going on right now as far as production. We also touch on some social and political issues that we’re facing right now. We also touch on some love songs and some party songs. We have a deluxe version of the album that consists of 17 songs. It’s like where reggae meets soft rock, and a little bit of gospel, and contemporary. For me, it’s about trying to bring forth good music. Whoever gravitates to it and chooses to listen to it, the more the merrier.

Talk to me about the title. Why Maestro?
Maestro is actually a nickname I received when I was younger. When I was about 14, 15 years old, my little cousin started calling me "Maestro," so it stuck with me. At the time, we were going through several names for the album but we couldn’t really find one that stuck so I just said, let's call it Maestro.

Maestro means a distinguished musician. Do you feel as if you’ve mastered your craft?
Not at all. I don’t feel as though I mastered the craft but I am on the quest to. There’s always more to learn, so can you ever really master a craft? You can never know everything.

SEE ALSO: What Millennials Should Know About… Bob Marley & The Wailers’ ‘Exodus’

Are you nervous about the way the public will respond to this album since it's been a while since your last project?
Ehhh, I guess I am a little antsy. It’s been a while. The market place has changed a lot and it’s changing every month. At the same time, I’m comfortable [with putting out this album] because I put a lot of hard work in there. I made sure that all of my I’s are dotted, my T’s are crossed and that this is the best project I have to offer so I just have to put it out and pray for the best.

Take me through your emotions on the big day of releasing a body of work. Do you have any rituals? Do you check the blogs?
[Laughs] No, I don’t have a ritual—I just take it in stride. Sometimes you can get caught up in some real negative energy. You have people out there who are going to love you, and people who just throw hate because that’s who they are. I stay away from the blogs because I’ll get to answering and sh*t will get heated. I look at it this way. As far as we know, the Bible tells us that they crucified Jesus Christ so if they crucified Jesus Christ and I’m nowhere near that, can you imagine what they would do to me? I try to stay away from the negative energy as much as possible. I try to stay focused and keep a positive vibe around me so hopefully, that influences me to make positive music.

I don’t feel as though I mastered the craft but I am on the quest to. There’s always more to learn, so can you ever really master a craft? You can never know everything.

Your father is considered a global legend in the music industry. Do you ever feel pressure when releasing new music?
I never really feel pressured. I just know that I have to stay in line with what the legacy is while being true to myself. I’ve always done what I wanted to do. At the end of the day, if I tried to replicate what my father did then the talk would be, Oh, he’s trying to be like his father. I think people appreciate when someone is true to themselves. People can see and feel when you’re being true and when you’re being fake, so to me, it’s always important to take the time to make the mistakes and learn from them.

How is your relationship with Damian and all of the Marleys?
Not just Damian but our family has a very close and strong relationship. We’re no different from any other family—we are very close. We agree, we disagree and we agree to disagree. We know how important it is to the legacy and to our father. There is no way we can come from a legacy that speaks of ‘one love’ and be divided as a family.

Talk to me about getting Gentleman and Matisyahu on the album.
As far as Matisyahu, we have a mutual friend and I‘ve been a fan of the music, so he asked if we wanted to link up and I said, ‘Yeah, I would love to.’ We linked up at Tony Kelly’s studio—[Kelly] did a lot of work with Shaggy, Beenie Man and a lot of dancehall stuff. It was so funny because they played the track, and we didn’t communicate with each other about what we were going to write about. We both sat in our corners and started writing. At the end, when we got on the mic, it was a perfect fit. We came to a point where I was dealing with his management for the clearance and it seemed as though we weren’t going to be able to get the song cleared. So I called Gentleman, who I thought would be a perfect fit, as well. During the process, Matisyahu called me back and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’re going to make it happen.’ It worked out so perfectly because the song is talking about, ‘We are the voices of love, we are the voices of peace.’ So I have Matisyahu, who is Jewish; Gentleman, who is German, and me, the likkle rasta yute out of Jamaica.

Which American hip-hop artist would you like to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?
There are so many. I’m a lover of music. Who am I not into?

What is your favorite hip-hop song out right now?
I don’t listen to the radio too much [because] I hear the same 10 songs. Sometimes, it's like they condition us to like these songs. They don’t even give us a chance to like them ourselves.

What’s your favorite song on Maestro?
It’s important to not have a favorite. It’s important to make sure you give that same amount of energy to each and every song. If you do that, they should all be favorite. They should all be your best work. I try not to have a favorite. That means I’m not satisfied with something else that I did.

What are some messages we can find on the LP?
Love and unity. We also have a record called "Fancy Tings," which is more of a party vibe. I also have another dance song on there with Kreesha Turner.

What is the one thing you want your fans to take from this project?
I’ve always wanted to make music that inspires change in peoples lives. It is important to be able to provoke thought and make you want to do better for yourself. I also want them to be able to enjoy the music, and not only think about their strains and struggles because no one wants to hear about that all day either.

Cop Ky-Mani Marley's Maestro on iTunes when it drops June 30.

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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T.I.

Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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