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Are We Witnessing The Decaying Relevance Of The Radio Single?

Though single sales remain inextricably linked to album sales in the pop industry, hip-hop seems to have found an out.

Hip-hop fans have, for years now, watched artists choose between their art and their pockets. There were albums that we loved—ones that reflected upon social issues, politics, and race artfully and poetically—but weren’t catchy enough for radio and didn’t sell. And then there were albums that we didn’t love—that were largely devoid of meaningful content, and yet had that one irresistibly melodic song that generated airplay, and as a result sold quite well. But in 2015, it seems those lines are blurring. Some of the year’s fastest selling full-lengths have also been the least marketed and most critically-acclaimed. Though single sales remain inextricably linked to album sales in the pop industry, hip-hop seems to have found an out. Is the industry being forced to adapt?

In order to better illustrate this trend, let’s consider the paths of Lupe Fiasco and J. Cole, two rappers whose careers began in the past decade with a considerable amount of critical acclaim, as well as fan appreciation for the creativeness and purposeful content showcased in their full-length efforts. In the early months of the 2010s, both were signed to major labels (the same ones they’re still with five years later), and struggling to navigate the distinction between what they desired for their art and the standards of the industry to which they were being asked to conform.

Both Lupe and Cole had certainly shown that they were capable of drawing a considerable audience. Lupe’s first two albums, Food & Liquor and The Cool, had already gone gold and were still selling steadily (to this date sales of the two projects have amassed a combined 1, 780,000 units). J. Cole, the recent Jay Z signee and Fayetteville native, was on the verge of releasing his second mixtape in less than eighteen months. The Warm Up had been met with widespread critical acclaim and was on its way to 500,000 downloads. Most of the songs that would later come to constitute Friday Night Lights had already been written; tracks that would help the project earn the Mixtape of the Year award from BET, and eventually produce 999,000 downloads on DatPiff (it also ranks seventh all-time on the site in favorites).

So why were they encountering so much friction from labels as they prepared to again hit a market that had been so receptive of them in the recent past? It was predominately because neither artist had been able to produce a worthy single; a song that their labels could release for mass consumption, to pique the public’s interest in their full-length effort.

Labels over time had solidified their strategy of using single performance as the primary gauge of future album sales. This had become deeply rooted in the system after many decades, and label executives were confident in this reliance. Both Lupe and Cole had been at work on their upcoming projects (Lasers and Cole World: The Sideline Story) for years. They had songs they were passionate about. Songs that sounded like the natural progression of their sound as they developed as artists. Lupe was getting more political. J. Cole was becoming more adept at his brand of social commentary. But they didn’t have a crossover success; a pop song that might sell outside the hip-hop realm.

In Lupe’s case, it was presented rather simply. In an interview with Complex in February 2011 titled "Lupe Fiasco Hates His Own Album," Lupe stated that he’d been approached by the President of Atlantic Records, and was told bluntly: without a pop single there wouldn’t be an album.

“He played ‘Show Goes On’ for me on the iPod. I was used to it because they presented me like ten other songs in the same fashion or via email… I had to do ‘Show Goes On,’ that was like the big chip on the table. I had to do it and it had to be the first single if the record was going to come out.”

Meanwhile, a few miles east in Queens, J. Cole was finished with his debut album, but it was still without a release date because his label had yet to hear a single-worthy cut. He tried giving them “Who Dat,” but it wasn’t catchy enough to compete with the likes of B.o.B’s “Airplanes” or Jay Z’s “Young Forever.” He made “Higher.” He made “Blow Up.” He made “Can’t Get Enough.” But none of these were the green light Roc Nation needed. At an NYC listening party for Born Sinner in June 2013, Cole had this to say about that time in his life:

I dropped [Friday Night Lights]. I now got a buzz that had spilled passed underground. It was to the real people now… to the world now. However, I don’t have a single. And the next six months of my life was like, literally, hell… The next six months of my life I was making some of the worst, most uninspired music of my life… Imagine every beat you make, you like, ‘Damn, is this a hit kick drum? Is this a hit snare drum? Is this a hit drum pattern? And then once I make that, like, ‘Is this a catchy enough line?’

Fast-forward five years, and everything has changed.

Neither Lupe nor Cole has a song in the Top 40. In fact, neither has had a single chart higher than No. 58 in almost two years now. And yet, they both have had albums released in the past five months, and their labels haven’t changed. (Lupe’s Tetsuo & Youth was his fifth with Atlantic, and 2014 Forest Hills Drive was Cole’s third on Roc Nation).

Cole opted for an intentionally atypical promotion route. He first made fans aware of his album on November 16th with a video trailer, just a little over three weeks before release day. In the coming weeks, no single was released to radio—the only additional promotion came in the form of a Complex cover story, where he explained the album’s inspiration, and a release of the preorder and track-list that came ten days before the full project. But with the release of the album came 371,000 first week sales, and to date it is his highest selling, earning him his first platinum stamp.

Lupe’s release process was also a rather unique one, as he never seemed to make a very determined shot at radio. He first announced the title on the red carpet of the Grammy’s in February 2013, and in May 2014 his first promotional single was released. “Mission” was certainly a more upbeat offering from him, but as a song dedicated to cancer survivors and those still inflicted, it was likely never regarded as a realistic radio success, and it unsurprisingly did not chart. Still, that October Atlantic tweeted that the album would be released on January 20, 2015, and within a month the first official single, “Deliver,” surfaced. “Deliver” was powered by a blazing synth line, but thematically wasn’t really geared for radio, either. As stated on Rap Genius, the song addresses “certain pizza joints that won’t deliver to neighborhoods that are considered high-risk,” and is more largely a “social commentary on deliverance, or lack thereof, for people living in the ghetto.” The song was his second promo release that failed to succeed on mainstream radio, yet the album still released on January 20th as planned.

While Lupe’s album had unimpressive first week sales (it debuted at No. 14 with just 42,000 copies sold), fans and critics have been very pleased by the final product. The album was assigned an 80 at Metacritic, which designates “universal acclaim”—his highest score in the eight-plus years since his debut. It’s also an album that feels very much like the one he set out to create, with its abstract cover art, narrative-heavy songwriting, and more than a few songs that stretch past the six-minute mark.

This seems to suggest that labels may be softening their measures, and—as a byproduct—giving artists more control over their own fates.

Jason Flom, co-founder and CEO of Lava Records and Lava Music Publishing, has had a long and successful career as an industry executive, having served as Chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records, Virgin Records, and Capitol Music Group, as well as being credited for the discovery of Lorde and Katy Perry. He notes that hip-hop has an advantage in marketing experimentation.

“Hip-hop is the most important music of this generation and to a large extent it’s where the voice of social consciousness is coming from,” Flom said. “It’s a genre where there are several contemporary living legends who each have their own huge, fiercely loyal fan base and this allows for innovative, experimental marketing plans to take shape. Radio is still a tremendously powerful force but now more than ever branding and awareness are coming from social media and from the streets.”

Nullah Sarker, the Creative Director for Lava Music Publishing, agreed that this trend is most applicable to hip-hop. “You have to be more holistically appealing in hip-hop than you do in pop. Hip-hop artists are tangible longer… they are embodying a culture. They are more at one with their artistry.”

Elsewhere, Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late has had similar success under quite comparable circumstances. His project, like Cole’s, came as a surprise to fans—a trend that has become increasingly popular after Beyonce’s eponymous and unexpected album rode the strategy straight to five million worldwide sales. This strategy has not been proven equally effective for all, but in many cases, it creates a much more personal sensation around what is typically a middle-man-heavy album release process.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Jason King—a professor and musician at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Record Music—stated, “[Beyonce’s album] seems like a direct gift from the celebrity to the consumer, in a way that I think is going to benefit her. She seems extremely altruistic actually for doing this.” Drake’s new work evoked similar emotions from fans and critics, and has shared the same success. Without an official single, If You’re Reading This was designated platinum the very same week as Forest Hills Drive.

So, what does this mean for labels’ presumed tried-and-true method of determining potential sales outcomes? Has this criterion been outgrown? The times seem to suggest a rapidly changing landscape in the music industry; a landscape where more accessibility and spontaneity in one’s marketing efforts are generously rewarded by more dedicated fan bases.

The inverse of this has proved to be interesting still. Take Omarion’s new album, Sex Playlist, or Jeremih’s repeatedly delayed Late Nights, or even current airway heavyweights Rae Sremmurd’s SremmLife. Each of these artists have produced Top 20 hits: Omarion’s “Post to Be” currently sits at No. 13; Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” peaked as high as No. 6; Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone” has reached No. 16, and two other singles of theirs have peaked inside the Top 30. Yet Jeremih’s album is still in limbo, and neither Omarion or Rae Sremmurd have managed to sell more than 200,000.

If this method is outdated, as seems to be the case, then what has taken its place?

Fan base certainly plays a role. Cole, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar (whose sophomore effort To Pimp a Butterfly has also sold efficiently, reaching gold status in under two months without a Top 40 single obviously have larger fan bases than the likes of Jeremih, Omarion, or Rae Sremmurd. A more even comparison is Nicki Minaj (who has almost twice the combined Twitter followers of Cole and Kendrick). The Young Money first lady released her long-awaited third album, The Pinkprint, in December, after spending much of 2014 following what was largely a traditional promo route.

Four singles were promoted prior to the album’s release date. To date, there have been five promo singles, three of which (“Anaconda,” “Only,” and “Truffle Butter”) have peaked inside the top fifteen, and another in the top thirty. Yet the album has sold only a reported 607,000 copies since its Dec 12 release. It took eight weeks to earn gold status, which is longer than it took her rap counterparts (Drake passed 500k in his first week, Cole in his second, and Kendrick in his third.)

This is not all to say that the market for single promotion in hip-hop and R&B is going away anytime soon. More than a third of the Hot 100’s current Top 40 also appear on the Hip-Hop/R&B chart. As long as catchier, simpler hip-hop is popular, there will be a window for our Trinidad Jameses and Rich Homie Quans—artists who are capable of producing gold-selling singles, but still aren’t able to get a major label album funded and deemed as necessary or desired from the public.

The singles market may never fully disappear from relevance altogether, but the times openly suggest that labels begin searching for alternative strategies. The process of deciphering which artists are deserving of the funding and distribution is becoming increasingly more difficult. Data is beginning to more clearly show that what will motivate a fan to spend 99 cents is not sufficient in getting them to spend nine dollars more. No, it is the artists capable of creating an album’s worth of meaningful content who have found themselves in control, at least for the time being.

It has been a long five years watching our artists’ creativity suffer at the hands of the gatekeepers. A long five years since J. Cole sat in his apartment, depressed and hopelessly uninspired, trying to create a song that would allow the rest of his work—the songs he’d made out of love and passion for hip-hop—to be heard by his fans. A long five years since Lupe penned the words, “They treat you like a slave,” in regards to Atlantic. But finally, it seems, these measures that have kept our artists in captivity for so long no longer will be maintained with the same force. Other methods have proven themselves to be successful. Methods where artists’ relationship with their fans and ability to create an album’s worth of quality material becomes more relevant than the single is—or maybe ever was.

During that night in the SVA Theatre in 2013, J. Cole spoke at length about his song “Let Nas Down”—a song he’d made about the shame he’d felt after learning Nas hated his album’s first single, “Work Out.” Less than a week after its release, Nas remixed the song out of respect for Cole. “Radio records are needed, I just wanted to bring the warning,” he rapped. He was referencing his 1999 label appeasement cut, “You Owe Me,” a deeply misogynistic and unimpressive song that forever hangs over the legacy of one of the genre’s best writers. The need to conform has tainted the work of even hip-hop’s most celebrated technical rappers and poetic lyricists, ever since the lines between popular music and hip-hop began to blur.

But what labels may find waiting at the end of these questions, at the end of their search for a new barometer, is that they really aren’t the ones with the answers anymore.

Jeff Baird is a writer based in New York. He has previously written for The Atlantic, Potholes In My Blog, Fresh New Tracks, and more.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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The 40 Best R&B Songs Of 2019

If you're a true lover of R&B, you can appreciate a soulfully soothing, quiet storm-worthy, put-it-on-repeat-and-think-about-your-boo (or potential boo) type of song. If you're a true lover of the genre, you sometimes find yourself reminiscing about the days when R&B of the '90s and 2000s was sensually laced with emotional vocal runs and the music videos featured not only a scene in the rain but also a phone, 2-way pager or some kind of communication device. And if you're a true lover of R&B, you've followed (and hopefully accepted) how the genre has evolved and survived since then.

2018 was definitely the year where R&B declared its status as "alive and well," in a time where hip-hop made its dominating and profitable presence known. This year, R&B continued to hold its own and kept the smooth, soul-stirring vibes coming even if it didn't hold its traditional form.  As hip-hop and the genre continued to birth chart-climbing singles, R&B songs of the early aughts made a resurgence through sample-laden tracks from artists of the new school.

For VIBE's 2019 Best R&B Songs list, we decided to not only choose songs that deserve a spot on a baby-making playlist but also celebrate the artists who've kept the core of R&B intact in their own way. Some songs are well-known, some are deep cuts. Some of these artists have won a music award or two this year, but the others are just as worthy. Here we've compiled an alphabetical list of songs that have resonated with the R&B lover in us. Get into it.

 

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Singles By Bomb Womxn Of 2019

Nothing hits like a rapper talking their sh*t, especially if she happens to be a womxn. There's a confidence that oozes out from the speakers and into the spirits of a listener open to that addictive feminine energy. This year, we got to see this in a big way thanks to the crossover success of a batch of very different womxn in rap. There's the hot girl also known as Megan Thee Stallion who balances her college courses while grabbing up Billboard chart-topping hits; new mama Cardi B proves you can really have it all and make history at the same time (a la her solo rap Grammy win) and Lizzo, who constantly pushes what it means to be a "rapper" with her style of vibrant pop music.

In 2018, VIBE presented a year-end list dedicated to albums by womxn and this year continues that tradition of spotlighting some of our favorite womxn– who happen to rap. The term "female rapper" has become sour by the minute, with many artists in the game refusing to pair their gender to an artform seemingly jumpstarted by a black womxn. “I don’t want to even be a female rapper,” CHIKA told Teen Vogue recently. “I’m a rapper. So for someone to have a qualifier like that and throw it out there so publicly — it feels really backhanded. I don’t like [it].” She isn't the only one. As hip-hop continues to dominate pop culture, the womxn in the genre are demanding respect for the craft. Here's a list comprised of some of our favorite songs that hit the charts or slipped under the radar.

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Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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