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Catie Laffoon

Hear Her Roar: Leona Lewis Makes Empowering Comeback With 'I Am' LP

Leona Lewis' empowered new LP marks her Def Jam debut.

Pop powerhouse Leona Lewis has become the voice of resilience. After wowing the likes of Simon Cowell on The X Factor, signing to his label and selling over a million copies of her 2007 smash "Bleeding Love" in her native U.K., Lewis is returning with  her fifth studio album, I Am, under her new home, Island Def Jam. The 15-track offering (slated to drop Sept. 11) is chock full of uplifting eargasms, exposing the ups and downs of love, relationships and life's inevitable lessons, subjects Lewis knows a thing or three about.

The album's first single, "Thunder," leads the charge as a celebratory salute to self love. Its simplistic video serves as the perfect visual for the uplifting track. Dressed in a gorgeous, flowy black gown with her signature golden blonde and brown tresses, Lewis hypnotizes with her gray eyes before eye-pleasing nature filters. She also sings empowering lines like, "And I won't wait any longer/ When you let me down, I got stronger."

Now, the girl-next-door-turned-phenom has found her creative footing, scorching souls with music that mirrors life. VIBE recently caught up with Lewis during her recent New York City press run, where she discussed parting ways with Simon Cowell's Syco Music label, signing to Def Jam and possibly dueting with unfiltered labelmate, Kanye West.—Angela Wilson

VIBE: Congratulations on your new album, I Am. What makes this album different?
Leona Lewis: Thank you! Reaching my fifth album is huge for me. It's so cool. I feel like this album is coming from a very strong standpoint. I feel my other albums came from a more vulnerable place about relationships and breakups, and how you get through that. But this time around, it's about a different subject, from a more empowered place. It's a bit more stronger lyrically because of the things I've been through these last few years and growing up all makes for a stronger lyric.

You can definitely tell from your new single, "Thunder," it's personal.
It's such a personal album. It's very emotional. It's me literally wearing my heart on my sleeve.

When would you consider yourself the most vulnerable?
I leave myself the most vulnerable in relationships. I'm very open, and not just in love and romantic relationships, but friendships, as well. I'm a very open person. When I'm in a relationship or friendship, I give my all. I'm a ride-or-die kind of person.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself that it's okay to eat the cookie! I shouldn't stress out as much. I used to be such a worrier, whether worrying about the past or worrying about the future that sometimes, I used to miss the present and what's going on now. I'm definitely still working on the present. I feel like I live in the moment a lot more than I used to.

What was the transition like between labels?
It was a huge step for me because I've been with my previous label for seven years. It was Simon Cowell's label—obviously, such a powerful label—but it was time for me to make a change. We had a bit of a creative difference. My label wanted me to do a covers-heavy album whereas I wanted to do something different really, so I stepped away from it. It was hard because I had great relationships there and so much love for Simon and everyone.

It was a big difference because Island [Def Jam] is very different from where I was at. The artists they work with are very different and they have a very hands-on approach to working. I came to them with my album and they just helped me put things into motion. I needed a change. In any profession or anything you do, sometimes it's good to have an injection of fresh energy into your work, so it was important for me to change teams and get the right team around me again.

Have you spoke to Simon since you parted ways?
I have, and he said he misses me at the label and wishes me well. I definitely have a lot of love for him. If he ever needs me for anything, I'm always there and likewise, so it's all good. I compare it to a relationship. Breaking up with someone, you still remain friends and are amicable, but you still have to move on because you've kind of outgrown each other in a way. I feel like that's what happened with me.

Kanye West is your labelmate now, right?
Yes, he is. I never would've thought it, but he is!

Have you ran into him since the label switch?
No, I have not yet, now that I'm with Def Jam. Although when I was recording my first album, I remember I met him. He was rolling around in a scooter in a studio years ago.

Is there a collaboration we can hope for between you two?
I mean you never know, but not yet.

Speak on your "I Am Empowered" campaign and how fans can get involved?
So on this record and just in life, in general, these past couple of years, I've been very open with my fans. On my Instagram, I talked about the things I've been through and the roller coaster of emotions I experienced [from] the change of label, different relationships I've been through and the ups and downs. I got an amazing reaction from it and a lot of people reached out, sending me stories and obstacles they've been through. One girl had bulimia one time and she opened up [to] me about how she got through it, and another who lost family members had reached out to me with these letters and I felt like I needed to do something with them.

I started sharing them on my social media and it rolled on to this campaign. With the album I Am, I call it, "I am empowered" and I let people fill in the blank of what they want to share with the world. So it's a positive campaign on social media because I sometimes feel like social media can be negative, especially with female artists, pinning each other against each other, and things I'm not into. There's no regard for other people's emotions with a lot of negativity and we need to do something to change that.

What do you say to people who want to compare you to Mariah Carey?
First, I would say thank you! She's one of the voices of our generations, many vocalists learn a lot from her. That's what I hope to, one day, be an inspiration to younger singers because she's such a huge influence. She taught me so much. She's amazing.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
Sometimes, my albums are very heavy and can be quite emotional. Some may think when they meet me, I'm heavy and serious but I'm so silly. I joke and mess around. I'm very lighthearted and maybe, people are a bit surprised [by that] when they meet me.

Pre-order Leona Lewis' I Am LP, dropping Sept. 11, on iTunes here.

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Ian Reid

Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax doesn’t want to be the bad guy of R&B. He says this with a sinister, yet warm smile. With year-end debates taking over social circles, Jacquees wants all the flowers for his glowing debut, 4275. “I ain't never had a year like this, I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this,” he says, as he raises his iced out wrist to draw his progression. “It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.”

At 24 years old, the singer knows a thing or two about the ever-changing genre. Nearly half of his life has been dedicated to music, specifically to quiet storm-like sounds that now take on new meaning in our adult love lives. He’s hibernated under the radar for some time with his 2014 debut EP 19 and released gentle falsettos and big name features with Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz along the way.

But between his accolades, he’s been condemned for his favorable “Quemix” of Ella Mai’s “Trip” and now, his self-proclaimed status of “The King of R&B” for his generation.

"I just wanna let everybody know that I'm the king of R&B right now," Jacquees said in an Instagram post on Sunday (Dec. 9). "For this generation, I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it's my time. Jacquees, the king of R&B.”

R&B artists like J. Holiday and Pleasure P shared their two cents on the matter while the game’s most elite like Tank, Tyrese and Eric Bellinger dropping stacks of knowledge on the gift of consistency, respect, and talent. But Jacquees has these things and then some with legends like Jon B., Donell Jones and Jermaine Dupri in his corner. Despite quick reactions from his peers, Jacquees is confident in nature and proud of his space in the game.

“I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one,” he tells VIBE, just days before his “King of R&B” comments went viral. “You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees.”

Jacquees’ music is just a branch of what R&B has evolved into. Over the years, artists like SZA, H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, The Internet, Miguel and many more have flipped the genre on its head by churning out music that not only speaks to the soul, but to their vocal abilities. Successful R&B records aren’t confined to rap guest verses and traditional instruments now take center stage. But Jacquees sits in an interesting space seeing as his style caters to a grey area of folks who just heard their first Monica album yesterday and now appreciate a good nayhoo like the rest of us.

With hopes to release his sophomore album in February 2019, Jacquees chats with VIBE about his confidence, making 7275 and why he’s the perfect leader for R&B today.

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What have you learned about yourself as a human and an artist in 2018?

Jaquees: This was my biggest year. I made the most money I’ve ever made. I dropped my album and was able to take care of my family. I ain’t never had a year like this and I thank God for that. I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this, (slowly raises a hand to the ceiling) It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.

I think I learned about my whole self in 2018. Being that it was my biggest year, I went through a lot of stuff personally, but I think the biggest thing for me was listening to other people but also trusting myself. I have a strong mind so more of listening to myself helped.

Do you think you're the good guy or the bad guy in R&B?

Who do you think I am?

I think you’re a sweetie.

I don’t wanna be the bad guy, I’m a good guy. I’m easy to deal with. I’m a sweetie, but ain’t sh*t sweet though. (Laughs)

You have a lot of ‘90s and 2000s influence in your music. Do you ever feel you might sound dated, or do you think you’re bringing new sounds into the genre?

I just think I'm bringing a whole new sound. When I was younger, someone told me if you switch up what you’re doing, someone else is going to do it and you’re going to be pissed off. Just stick with it. When I was 14, everyone was telling me I needed to make club records but I didn’t want to do it. I remember CEOs saying, “Just let Jacquees do that [what he wants,]” because it’s a clock.

I figured out how to get my records at the club without changing who I was. I remember making “B.E.D.” and finding my flow on my project 19, you know? That’s when I got my swag.

What does love look like to you right now?

I think about a family. I think about me, a girl, a kid or something, like a whole family. One day I’m going to have it. I’ll still be in the game but I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s my wife over there with our son and daughter.” I'm getting older, too. I’ve been in the game for 10 years for real, but I’ll be 25 next year and soon they’ll be a little Jacquees.

There are a lot of layers in today’s R&B, especially in the mainstream resurgence it’s had. In that, there aren’t as many young male black vocalists being pushed to the forefront. I want to know your thoughts on where you exist in the genre today.

I think there's a big wave coming back right now because even if R&B didn't die down they weren’t promoting it that heavy. Artists were making songs, they just weren’t being acknowledged on a mainstream level. I think the game is really putting R&B back on top. You know, you’ve got artists like me, Tory [Lanez], Ella Mai, H.E.R., so many people, you know what I’m saying? Of course, you had Chris [Brown], Trey [Songz], all of them but that’s when we were in school. It’s a new time, ain’t no big male R&B singers.

I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one. You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees. They’re not rugged like me. You’ve got Jodeci and Boyz II Men. I’m Jodeci, they’re all Boyz II Men. I’m street, they’re not street like me. You can hear it in their voice. There’s a difference.

It’s no disrespect to nobody because they’re all my friends, but I still wanna be number one. If we’re playing the game and I lose, I’ll be mad as hell but I’m still a good person. I just want to win.

As you should. Everyone wants to make the best music they can–

But I ain’t no hater either. The game is like a sport. The game is like high school. I remember being at this year’s BET Awards and seeing certain singers and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re seniors.’ I knew I was a freshman, but I saw Meek and all of them thought, “He’s a senior.’ You know how it is when you walk through school in the first year. Then the second you’re like, “I’m the ni**a now.”

When I did the Soul Train Awards in November, I felt like a sophomore that everybody knew. They knew me from my freshman year, but this time I’m playing varsity.

You’ve said before you want to do this for a long time–

Yeah, I want to make music forever and it’s my choice. I want to make enough money for me to turn down shows because now, I have to take everything I get. I always tell artists, you got this much time to make this much money. Because after that, sh*t’s closed. I've seen it happen.

For me, I know I got longevity in this game because I'm an R&B singer and a lot of R&B singers have longevity if you take care of yourself, you know what I'm saying? Even rappers, you know what I'm saying? You keep that flow going, don't do no lame sh*t, you know you’re stick around.

How do you take care of yourself?

You gotta take care of your health. That's number one. Your mind and your health is your biggest thing. Keeping good people around you...stay in good spirits with me. I like to keep good people around me. I like people around me [who] make me laugh. Smile, I don't really like people around me that I got to be like, “What's going on?” I just like people who are themselves.

Stream 4275 below.

READ MORE: Tyrese, Usher And Others Reacts To Jacquees' Claim That He's The King Of R&B

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Music Sermon: The Groundbreaking Sprite and St. Ides Hip-Hop Campaigns

Today, rap music is used to sell everything from electronics to tax filing services to nut butter grinding machines at Whole Foods. We understand that hip-hop culture is essentially the root of everything cool and hip in culture, period, and it’s been commodified and appropriated within an inch of its life. But in the early ‘90s, the genre was far from Madison Avenue-friendly. Aside from the groundbreaking deal between Adidas and RUN DMC, brands didn’t yet see full value and impact of hip-hop…except in the food and beverage industry.

Beverage companies centering campaigns for the urban demo around black music was nothing new; Coca-Cola had ads featuring artists such as New Edition and Anita Baker singing their hearts out for the cola in the ‘80s, and Schlitz Malt Liquor had a legendary – and hilarious - run of spots featuring The Commodores, The Four Tops, Teddy Pendergrass and more through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, in the early ‘90s two brands put their entire business on hip-hop’s back, by not only building their brands but spring-boarding the recognition of the music and artists as a marketing and advertising tool: Sprite soda and St. Ides malt liquor.

In the ‘80s, Sprite was languishing behind competitor 7Up when parent company Coca-Cola decided to focus on the youth market, and the quickly growing hip-hop culture was part of the strategy. African-American ad agency Burrell Communications tagged hip-hop acts for a series of spots that began a long-standing marriage between the brand and the culture, starting with Kurtis Blow in 1986. It was one of the first national TV ads to feature a rapper.

KURTIS BLOW - 1986

In 1990, the brand kicked off the “I Like the Sprite in You” campaign, using rap acts that matched the soft drink’s bubbly energy, starting with Heavy D & the Boyz before partnering with Kid ’n Play the following year. The ads featured the artists clad in lemon-lime fare, rhymin’ about lymon.

HEAVY D - 1990 KID’N PLAY – 1991

With Kris Kross, they turned it up a notch and had us crunk inside the Sprite can. Edgy. Also, this was catchy as hell.

KRIS KROSS - 1993

Then in 1994, a young brand manager from Clark Atlanta University named Darryl Cobbin had an idea for a new direction: Gen X was about authenticity and independence of thought, not following the hype. Sprite ditched the pop-friendly crossover acts and identified more “authentic” rap artists – lyricists with street and cultural cred – to rep the brand. “Lymon” was also out of the window, as they moved away from marketing taste and towards marketing attitude. (Cobbin later spearheaded the iconic, yet grammatically questionable, Boost Mobile “Where You At?” campaign.)

Gone were the bright yellow and green sets, because while the new slogan said, “Image is nothing,” it was all about image. Bright and shiny was traded for dark and gritty. Now we were in the studio; a fly on the wall for freestyle sessions. In the first spot of the series with Grand Puba and Large Professor, Puba closes with “First thing’s first, obey your thirst.” It’s legend even within Coca-Cola that Puba ad-libbed the phrase that then became the brand’s tagline that remains to this day.

GRAND PUBA & LARGE PROFESSOR - 1994 PETE ROCK & CL SMOOTH – 1994 A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – 1994

The “Obey Your Thirst” spots also took us the street corner, the club, and inside the ring when Sprite resurrected the legendary KRS One vs. MC Shan battle.

KRS ONE & MC SHAN - 1996 NAS & AZ – 1997 THE LOST BOYS – 1997

By the late ‘90s Sprite had spent roughly $70M on the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign, tripled sales, and commanded a majority market share of the citrus category (which also included 7Up, Sierra Mist, and Mountain Dew).

Sprite had also succeeded in becoming an official and established part of the culture. They were family. The brand further expanded into urban youth culture through a partnership with the NBA, while continuing to evolve the creative of the rap campaigns.

KOBE BRYANT, TIM DUNCAN & MISSY ELLIOTT – 1998

Near the end of the decade, Sprite explored the overlap between hip-hop culture, comics and martial arts with a series of posse spots based on Voltron (representing all hip-hop regions) and the 5 Deadly Venoms (with all female emcees).

VOLTRON SERIES - 1998 5 DEADLY VENOMS SERIES – 1999

Over the years, Sprite has continued to be one of the most consistent brands in hip-hop. We’ve grown accustomed to spotting the logo everywhere from music festivals and shows to the background of BET’s hip-hop cyphers. They revitalized the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign with Drake in 2010 and paid homage to the greatest lyricists in rap with the “Obey Your Verse” campaign featuring iconic rappers and cans with classic lyrics in 2015.

SPRITE "Obey Your Verse - Cooler" (starring Rakim) from SHOUT IT OUT LOUD MUSIC on Vimeo.

St. Ides’ run with hip-hop doesn’t have the same happy ending as Sprite’s. The brand’s usage of rap petered out in the mid-90s after wide backlash and a series of lawsuits.

For St. Ides, hip-hop was the brand campaign. It’s how they built their business. The brand was introduced in 1987 and their rap campaigns launched in 1988. The malt liquor 40 oz., with significantly higher alcohol content than beer at around a $2 price point, was already a staple in lower-income neighborhoods and hip-hop culture. The “Crooked I” capitalized on that.

Parent company McKenzie River secured Ice Cube as their anchor spokesperson and tapped West Coast producer DJ Pooh to spearhead advertising creative. Pooh lined up a veritable who’s who of additional West Coast rappers over the years, including Geto Boys, Cypress Hill, Warren G, Snoop and Tupac; plus the thorough-est from the East, including Eric B and Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie and EPMD.

EPMD & ICE CUBE - 1991 GETO BOYS & ICE CUBE – 1992 ERIC B & RAKIM - 1992

Unlike Sprite’s campaigns which were first jingles and still felt like commercials, even when elevated to trading hot bars for Obey Your Thirst. St. Ides spots, however, looked and felt like straight up music videos with album-worthy production and flow.

ICE CUBE – 1993 MC EIHT – 1994 NOTORIOUS B.I.G. – 1995

Complex even named Wu-Tang’s St. Ides spot “Shaolin Brew” as one of the collective’s 100 best songs! (But at least it’s ranked near the bottom; #97.)

WU-TANG CLAN - 1995

In fact, in 1994, the brand did turn the hottest of the joints into an album, with the St. Ides promotional mixtape dropping at your neighborhood liquor store. It featured full-length songs about getting twisted off the malt liquor from Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, MC Eiht, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Nate Dogg.

The Snoop and Nate track is low key a jam, still. Homegirl in the background starting at the 10-second mark is a whole mood.

This blatant marketing of malt liquor directly to black and brown youth wasn’t going to go unchecked indefinitely. It was all irresponsible, even while being genius for the demo. In 1991, the Wall Street Journal listed the St. Ides ad campaign among one of the worst of the year, which probably didn’t matter at the time since WSJ readers weren’t St. Ides’ base.

In 1991, Public Enemy released Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Back. The album featured “100 Bottle Bags,” a direct criticism against malt liquor companies marketing specifically to urban communities “…but they don’t sell that sh*t in the white neighborhoods.” Shortly after the release, St. Ides found itself in Chuck D’s crosshairs, and he fired the first in a series of big shots against the brand, marking the beginning of the end of their love affair with hip-hop. An 80-second radio spot featuring Cube used a sample of Chuck’s voice without his permission. The ad had already aired over 500 times on rap radio shows when Chuck sued St. Ides parent company McKenzie River for five million dollars (they settled out of court).

Then, St. Ides and McKenzie River fell under legal scrutiny from the New York State Attorney General in 1992 for using verbiage like Cube’s lyric “Get your girl in the mood quicker, make your jimmy thicker…St. Ides.” to suggest the malt liquor increased sexual prowess. Can you imagine the think pieces if that spot ran today?

They were later in hot water with the New York AG’s office again, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (the ATF) for advertising perceived to the be targeted towards minors, with complaints that it glamorized gang affiliation and promoted sex. After having production completely shut down for a short while and getting hit with heavy fines, St. Ides tried to clean up its act, adding “drink responsibly” messaging into the spots.

By ’96 the run was over. Hip-hop was growing up, getting money and moving towards more sophisticated alcoholic beverage choices. Alizé and Hennessy, anyone?

The relationship between hip-hop and alcohol never ended, of course, but has continued to evolve to match the evolution of the lifestyle. We don’t go to the corner store no more, homie (save a brief return in the early aughts of Four Loko). We’re toasting to the good life with premium brands, some of which are now owned by the artists.

We can look back now with the wizened, woke eyes of maturity and possibly scrutinize our artists selling out at the expense of the community, but for the young and burgeoning hip-hop culture, both the St. Ides campaigns and the Sprite campaigns opened the door for the power and commodification of hip-hop and consumer brands. For better or for worse.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations

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