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Mike Boyce

Digital Media Entrepreneur Karen Civil Discusses New Book 'Be You, Live Civil'

The New Jersey native gives the scoop on her new self-help narrative.

Hailing from Elizabeth, N.J., Karen Civil is making her debut as an author with her new self-help book, Be You, Live Civil, and dishes on all that life has to give once you find your purpose and tap into your true potential. The media maven chats it up with VIBE to give an inside scoop on what the book is all about and what gems can be found so readers can find that little push into the right direction to motivate themselves into the light of success.

From her humble beginnings to what landed her in the position where she is now, the media maven opens up on her personal journey as she takes a trip down memory lane. Civil specifies when she decided it was time to build her own empire and take the media world by storm, one civil move at a time. She also shares the importance of a great team, taking that leap of faith in life, and staying ahead of the game to create her very own lane in the world of media.

VIBE: How did you come up with the title and what was the story behind it?
Karen Civil: Be You, Live Civil was a tour that I started and it’s just always something that I’ve been to myself. "Be you, live civil" is like “live my life.” That was my short version of saying to live my life. It really just fell from that, because when I first moved to L.A. a few years ago, I was like: “Listen, Karen. Be you, live civil.” With certain books you have to give a breakdown of what exactly it is so that was the extra edition part of unlocking your potential and living in your purpose. It was just something that I would constantly say to myself. It was my reminder.

What made you take the step forward to release Live Civil?
This has been a book I’ve been working for a couple a years now and the original deal I had didn’t go through. My birthday last year I just played around and now I feel like my birthday that it was time for me to give back and share something with the world to leave a lasting impression. So I was like, I’m going to release a few chapters of the book. I’m going to make like a workbook, make it fun and have the conversations be engaging in the additional pages in the back so people can add their thoughts on certain things. This is something that’s been ongoing for the last few years. I’ve decided to put it out on my own. They can pick it up on LiveCivil.com but I felt like I had so many people asking me that I had to do this.

What is the number one factor that you hope readers will take and gain from reading?
Really self-motivation. That and self-love. Nobody is going to love and honor your dreams like yourself. It’s really not looking for someone to be your superhero but for us to save ourselves and to really understand that. I’ve been at the lowest of lowest of my life and it took that for me to realize that I want to do better and to be better. The first step is to believe in myself and to really be my own cheerleader, to just put on my invisible cape and go.

Hailing from Elizabeth, N.J., what was the life of Karen Civil like growing up in that area?
Growing up in Elizabeth was interesting. My parents are of Haitian descent and we didn’t fit in. I was weird, I liked different things, I wasn’t going to parties or clubs so instead of getting away from who I was as an individual, my mom just made me embrace it. She was like: ‘Girl, if you like to wear the rock & roll jeans. That’s you. If you want to wear all black. That’s you. If you want to experiment, have fun with life then stop taking it so serious.’ It honestly was scary, it was very interesting. Now I look back at it and a lot of people who didn’t take to me but now a lot of them reach out to me on Facebook and say a lot of different things like ‘I’m proud’ and everything else. I’m glad that I never let them defeat me.

A few years back, you decided to take that leap of faith and go into business for yourself. What about that point in time made it the turning point of your career?
I was at a point where it was like now or never cause I put so much focus into a lot of other people and things that didn’t matter and I was like: ‘I should put all of this focus and energy into something that I love.’ Because what’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t work out then I just go back to doing what I was doing before. I mean, why not give it a try? If you have nothing to lose then you might as well, and that was the place that I was in. I had to have that talk with myself like: ‘Karen, you have nothing to lose so you might as well.’

How do you keep yourself aware of the type of content that you produce and deliver to separate yourself from other platforms?
I’ve now realized that you can't do everything on your own and I have a wonderful team and they all work very hard on the site to create content, to do certain things, to bring the ideas. I want people to know that you don’t have to think like Karen. I want to hear your ideas because I don’t see it as my company, I see it as our company. I think that’s what been helping me move forward because this is just not my website, this is something that’s going to leave a lasting impression that you all are a part of. Something that I want them to treat like their baby and that’s honestly been working. You know, with the site some think that oh, you have to be the face, you have to be the everything. I give people on my team the opportunity to excel as well and I think that’s what continues to keep me ahead. I may not be able to show or do an interview, I give them the opportunity to run the show and that has been working.

When did you realize that you definitely wanted to be a part of the media industry?
Seeing Carson Daly on TRL, listening to Angie Martinez, and really Angie Martinez because I remember the "Ladies Night" video came out, she had the jumpsuit on. She’s regular, she wasn’t trying to oversell it and she was just being herself and I was like: ‘Dang, I want to be like Angie!’ I would just love her because you just know her voice, you wasn’t checking for her outfit and everything else and all this other stuff. You just love her cause she’s her and I was like, I can do the same thing. People are going to love me for the same reasons. I love to talk. I love to do certain things. So it was really Angie who did that for me.

What would you site as the foundation of your success?
The mentor strength that I had around me and that helped me grow, just so many people that helped me elevate. Just the wonderful people that I can call my friends.

If you could name a moment that you’re most proud of during your career thus far, what would it be?
Being able to know that me living my dream and having the courage so many other people. Just having that conversation: ‘Girl, because of you, I started this.’ I remember this particular R&B star that was like: ‘I remember when I sent you my SoundCloud and you critiqued it because I didn’t think that you were going to respond but you critiqued it!’ And it’s that moment, and I don’t even remember it, but that meant a lot to me. Having those conversations to know they feel like that they have someone in their corner.

With everything on your plate, how do you obtain balance to make sure everything is up to the quality that meets your standards?
It’s like a seesaw effect where you excel in one, you may fall in another so that’s always been my thing. There will be the moments where it’s like me having this conversation right now when I didn’t have chance to call my nephew. It’s always going to be a moment where you can't be at everything and it’s a sacrifice. It’s something that I’ve learned to deal with and I’m becoming okay with. I just try to be there for the most important moments and really have time management.

With media constantly changing in the blink of an eye, how do you adapt to sudden changes in the industry?
We’re just focusing on what new companies are doing and you just have to make sure you stay ahead. And now it’s like people aren’t watching TV, they’re watching Netflix. It’s honestly where it’s going now and that’s something that I’ve been able to do. You know, with Civil TV, people watch it on YouTube so now we have it OnDemand. It’s just catering to people and giving them that easy access and making sure content is there and that is what we’re super focused on.

If you could give any advice to those who are afraid to take risks and step outside of their comfort zones, what would it be in order for them to elevate their careers?
I am big on that if you have nothing to lose then you have everything to gain. At this point, it’s just about taking that first step. I tell people that the same way that they believe in God is the way that they should believe in themselves and their dreams. And people be like: ‘Oh, that’s blasphemy!’ No, not at all. I love my religion, I love everything about it, but at the same time, I love my career and I want to do it with the same love and compassion.

Being able to keep a positive outlook on nearly everything in your life, in what ways has that enhanced your life and all throughout your career?
I think it has helped me for the better. Just continuing to keep it on the positive side and I feel like the energy and the certain things around me have been refocused. I feel like I am in a better space and I appreciate that so much more. I like the progression and the things in my life because that all keeps me happier.

What’s something that you haven’t done yet but would like to next in your career?
Oh, maybe go running with Michelle Obama. You know when she has some free time, I’ll go catch her at the gym so you never know. So yeah, go work out with Michelle.

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Derrel Todd

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

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

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

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

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

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

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUCY PEARL

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

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOLO SAADIQ

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

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

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

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

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

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

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

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

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

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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