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Marjua Estevez

Wild & Free: Nitty Scott's New Outlook On Feminism And Wanting To Reach New Fans

Nitty Scott, MC is breaking free of the pressure of fitting in.

Nitty Scott, MC is a combination of sexy, intelligent, and talented. It's not everyday that you find all three qualities wrapped into one woman, but you can say that the multi-dimensional appeal has always been a part of her story.

READ: Game On Smash: The New School Of Latina Women In Hip-Hop

Michigan born, Florida bred, New York remixed, Nitty Scott soaked in the various cultures she was exposed to throughout her coming-of-age. And although the backdrop might have changed a few times, her home life remained firmly rooted in her family's heritage.

Growing up as an Afro-Boricua, this femme fatale experienced the best of both worlds, describing the soundtrack to her environment as a mix of "Latin and soul vibes." Nitty was raised on the sounds of Celia Cruz and La India, as well as Billie Holiday and Marvin Gaye, respective influences of her mother and father that really helped shape her own identity as a musician.

"One really good thing that  I took from both of those influences is the timelessness. A lot of those records they were playing me spoke to the times that they were created in [and] spoke to me then and can still speak to me now," says Nitty. "I always liked that me and my parents were listening to music that we could both connect with. It was music that transcends, artists where you can relate to what they’re talking about at any point in history. My parents laid down the groundwork for that. It inspired me to make music to connect with people on that level, that isn't just for a particular corner of the world or lifestyle, but music that can speak to everyone on a human level."

Albeit the days of listening to Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with her dad are long gone, Nitty keeps her off-kilter upbringing close to her heart and reflects that in her career. After breaking through in 2010, she continues to deliver her jaw-dropping bars and poetic stories of women empowerment, self-discovery, and love, all with a Latinegra flare.

On the heels of her upcoming project CREATURE!, Nitty sat down with VIBE Viva about her latest music and its journey through her past, which ultimately resulted in her evolution as a woman and creative.

"It's a blend of the old and the new," she explains. "It’s the same as having those parts of me that never go anywhere, but still continuing to grow and add to my ideas. That’s what this is. It’s building on the foundation of what already is."

VIBE Viva: You have a pretty diverse background, what was it like growing up for you?
Nitty Scott, MC: I like to say that I was born in Michigan, made in Florida, and paid in New York. Growing up, it was kind of difficult for me because I felt like I had to have loyalty to a certain region or hood. It was kind of this identity thing, where I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere specifically. I didn't have a stable childhood, but when I realized that it just makes me a diverse person and it enables me to speak to several walks of life instead of just one, that's when I started to embrace it and thought that it was dope that in being successful, there are so many different communities that are being put on and getting a voice, whether it's Florida hip-hop, the Brooklyn scene, Afro-Latinas, or young people in general. There are all these different categories I fall under and I think it's dope that I can represent them all.

You broke out in 2010. Who was Nitty Scott then and who is Nitty Scott now? In what ways have you evolved?
A lot of things have changed, but the main one is my world view and a lot of the ideas that I hold true. I've become less rigid. I was borderline one of those people who's so conscious and aware that it becomes a little bit elitist and self righteous. And I checked myself on that, where I felt like I didn't want to a be a condescending individual and I opened myself up to different perspectives. And once that happened, a lot of the things that I would put out, I immediately saw that some of those messages were problematic. For example, feeling like I always had to choose between being fun and sexy versus some one who is intelligent and conservative. As a woman, I always felt like those were my choices and either you're a prude and your stuck up or you're a "thot" and you're using your sexuality to get ahead. That internalized misogyny showed itself in a lot of my work. I'm guilty of putting down women simply because they didn't carry themselves the same way I did, but that was a result of being trained that there's a certain idea of a woman that means that you can respect her. And now in my true adulthood, I realize that's not true. Every woman deserves respect because of her humanity. So I have embraced this new idea of feminism of not telling women they have to be one or the other, but to exercise their choice and deserve to be respected regardless of what it is.

READ: Premiere: Nitty Scott, MC Descends From Her Galactic Throne In “U.F.O.” Video

Even some of my ideas about going mainstream [have changed]. I was always team underground, team independent and I still am, but I think that sometimes you're message can be something that really needs to be heard and because of that you need to do things that reaches the most amount of people. I had this epiphany where I don't want to short-change myself. I used to think that I'll just say what I have to say and if I become a star, so be it, if I don't you can still catch me at the Nuyorican Cafe. But I want more and I think it's okay to say that you don't want to stop at just having respect, but you want to be able to leave a legacy for yourself. Sometimes you have to appeal to people from where they are to get them to where they need to be. I think my talent and my message is worth trying to make it as big as possible.

Can you talk about the CREATURE! album's inspiration?
The CREATURE! album was inspired by wanting to bust out of this box that was created for me. It's a celebration of my intersecting identity, all these different things that add up to me. It's about being wild and free. It's being undefinable and free from the idea of what a female should be, what a black girl should be, or what a Latina should be. All of these labels are so full of responsibility and pressure that I no longer want to live up to. I want to be a creature. I want to be contradicting, wild, uninhibited. That's what I did with the music. It's a politically aware album and it's fun as well, which is the perfect medium. I get to show people  that I can discuss the impact of a feminist movement like Pussy Riot and still twerk on my couch, and that’s okay. I want to show that dimension that I have and that a lot of women that inspired me have. It's a daring album. It's a tapestry of moods. I sampled a lot of my favorite records on there, so a lot of them have a special connection where this record got me through a particular time and now I'm taking it apart and telling my story on it. There's a little bit of rock elements, EDM, tribal sounds. It's me changing the idea of what a Nitty Scott record can sound like.

What singles really stand out to you or did you have fun producing?
I have a record called "Negrita." That one is really dope; it's fun and rude. It's about being Afro-Latina. It's celebrating that fusion. It's a nickname that my mother always called me. It's this cute term of endearment in the Latina community. And another record called “BBYGIRL” is kind of like a feminist anthem. That one is another favorite record of mine."

Can you talk about the process of blending the new and the old elements together on CREATURE!?
It's about creating something that can speak to more people whether it's bigger hooks, cool concepts, but always giving you rap. I know that's what people love; that's my strong point. In every record I tried to find that marriage and make sure that you're getting that skill that always stood out, but also moving away from being so technical that you can't just vibe out. For my hip-hop nerds that are going to dissect everything, I'm talking about things and there's substance and wordplay. And for the people who can care less about what I'm talking about, there's a fun hook in there for you to twerk to.

Now that you've had you're own self-discovery, do you feel that you have a responsibility to address empowerment and political issues in your music?
Absolutely. The way that society has their stigmas, it's very important for me to speak on those things. When I get backlash about changing, it makes me feel like people may have never understood me at all because if you know me and listen to me, then all of my previous work, whatever the message was, it was still me saying that there's a cause, I believe in it, I'm going to talk about it. So when that cause changes, why wouldn’t I do the same? It's within my personality.

Have you seen Chi-Raq?
I haven't seen it, but I've seen the backlash and Chance the Rapper's tweets about it the other day.

What are your thoughts on women abstaining from sex as a means to stop murders?
I saw both sides to what was going on and I can't judge the film itself because I haven't seen it, but I think it's a good thing that what has happened and what is happening in Chicago is being given this platform and it's being discussed on a larger level. But from what I understand, the essence of what's really happening isn't captured. But I think [the concept] is pussy power. I think it's an interesting concept to say that we're not going to give you that if you don't think in a way that preserves life. It seems like it would be very effective. There's nothing like a woman to a man.

Where do you see your career going in the future?
Within the next five years, I hope to become a more established artist, some one who might be considered a mainstream success, enough to have a couple of albums under my belt, potentially through a major [label], world tours, endorsements. Things of that nature that really legitimize the [saying] 'Mom, I'm going to be a rapper.' Beyond that, I definitely see myself expanding to other mediums in entertainment, acting. I was cast in two, independent films. I tried my hand at it, and I really love and I would love to master the craft more. I have this weird thing about wanting to be a Cover Girl. I think it's very important that a girl like me can be a Cover Girl.

But I want the Grammys, I want the AMAs, I want the moon men. And after that is give back time, what I really want to ultimately do. I know that I have to do certain things to put me in that position to do that. I want to do a lot of humanitarian work, build schools in Africa, have a center where LGBT, homeless youth can go because that's something that affected me. I want to be successful to make sure my  mom doesn't have to worry about anything ever again and to use that influence to make the world a better place.

 

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Katie Spoleti

How Dinah Jane Shed Her Pop Coating And Bloomed Into An R&B Butterfly

With just 21 years around the sun, Dinah Jane has accomplished more than most. Her star initially rose alongside her pop sisters Fifth Harmony in her teens but in between chart-topping hits like "Work From Home" or "Worth It" was a longing for something more.

The "more" arrived this spring in the form of her debut collection, Dinah Jane 1, three tracks that play to her power vocals and confident nature. Leading single "Heard It Before" gives listeners the feels of the aughts with the help of producer extraordinaire, J. R. Rotem. Jane's accompanying tracks like "Pass Me By" and "Fix it" are just as alluring given her honey coated vocals. Instead of jumping from genre to genre, the songs are in the vein of Jane's R&B language, a move that transpired after a reflection into her musical identity.

The journey included experimentation with her first solo effort, "Bottled Up" with Ty Dolla $ign and Marc E. Bassey. The song was a bop by nature due to its similarity to her work in Fifth Harmony, which left Jane determined to find her sound.

"Being a solo artist now made it hard to define who I was because I was singing so many different styles before," Jane tells VIBE. "I had to take time for me to really cope and understand what it is that I really want to come out as my true identity. When I dropped my first record "Bottled Up" it was more me transitioning from Fifth Harmony to myself, I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be."

After a session with a producer in Atlanta, Jane arrived at the realization that the artists in her phone (Monica, Mariah Carey), was a sign for her to dig up her soulful roots. It's hard to deny Jane's vocals helped to build her former group and now, her own career.

"The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest," Jane said. "I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. I was always afraid to portray them as something that people didn't know about and so my thing is like, 'Oh, I don't want them to think of my family like this or my friend who's not my friend right now.' I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic, real and raw I have to be honest not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good."

With a new attitude and direction, Jane is ready to fly above her worries. Check out our chat with the singer-songwriter below.

***

VIBE: When you were putting your three-pack together, what was going through your head? Was there a particular sound or moment you wanted to catch?

Dinah Jane: It was more like a certain direction. I felt like there was a part of me that had not been exposed yet as far as style. I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be. I started listening back to records where I was like, 'Wow, this is something that I wish was mine.' Some of Monica's records, Faith Evans or Mariah Carey, by the way, she followed me on Instagram [Laughs].

Congratulations!

She followed me on Instagram so I kind of got that verification that I should definitely do R&B. Those are artists that I've always been inspired by. I remember I went back to when I did my first audition on X Factor, and I said, "Who is that I want to sing and showcase my talent?" It was Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy."

I felt like if this is a perfect time for me to throw in a bowl of my favorite artists that I've always looked up to and mesh it into who I am now. When I did "Fix It," I felt like it was so organic for me to go that direction and lean towards, so, when that happened the song became what it is now. I love the message behind it, I didn't realize it would empower so many people.

"Fix It" is actually my favorite out of the three. You just referenced your identity. Do you know what that is now? Or is that sonically or personally?

I think more so sonically, that's where I was lost the most because I had to put myself in a drawer for seven years. Now that I'm here, being a solo artist like I said, I was lost. Sonically I had to redefine who Dinah Jane was this whole time. I remember being in a session in Atlanta and this guy at the time asked me, "Who do you have on your phone? Let's look through it."

He's going through my phone and it's all R&B, not even that much pop, just singers from back then. And he's just like, "I was not expecting this, I thought you'd be the hype girl listening to all trap music." I have that personality trust me, but musically this is me. That clicked in my head that I was heading somewhere else and I needed to jump back to my old ways.

I love that. "Heard It All Before" has gotten so much love from your fans. I know you're not supposed to look at the comments but one that stood out was "I love this sound, leave pop alone." Do you ever feel trapped in one genre since you started within the pop bubble? 

It's funny that you say that. I feel like people or fans they kind of want to box you into who they think you are. I was telling someone, my fans they sometimes think they know me better than I know myself and it's kind of scary. There are times where I'm like, "No I don't have to be one way." It's crazy cause when I go to the studio I feel like I can be so versatile. I can do R&B easy but there are sometimes where I want to do those pop records, "Always Be My Baby" is that pop record to me and some people are good with it, some aren't but I think it just comes with your fanbase.

For me, they know my potential, honestly, they saw me on X Factor or even my YouTube days when I was 11 or 12 years old. They're like, "No Dinah, this is you, this is you, I want you to keep doing more of these." Eventually, I'll want to do some other things as well. But as of right now, it's truly R&B.

When it comes to creating you're always challenging yourself. What were some of the challenges that you've been facing this year while making music?

The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest. I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. It's always been my challenge and I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic and real and raw I have to be honest to myself as well, not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good. My Mom always told me, "You've got to be real with yourself."

For sure. All three of these songs are super straightforward. What was it about keeping that energy while you were making these songs?

I was just trying to balance it. Like I said it was the most challenging part balancing that and I feel like with "Heard It All Before," it was the most fun, relatable song to write because my best friend was going through something. I was like "What?! He said what?!" We were literally having a full on group chat about it. When I did the music video, I wanted it to be about the situation that I was in with my girl. We were like, "You know what we've heard that all before." I just want to make this bundle relatable, sexy but then also swaggy and just not try so hard. So, when we put these three songs together, it felt so organic and true to who I was.

Even in the video, you exude so much confidence. What does confidence mean to you?

I think it's self-love. When you truly love yourself, you can see it in your face. You can see it in the glow and the energy you're giving to people. I wasn't always this confident, I would definitely say I was never this confident but, thanks to my mom, she always expressed that to me.

She said, "Dinah, I know you don't feel that beautiful today but you need to pick on the little things that matter. What's your favorite feature? Your lips. What's your favorite outfit you got going on? Pay attention to your best qualities other than that one negative thing you're picking on."

The confidence was never there but when you have people that are around you always encouraging you to love yourself and realizing your truth and worth, that's when the confidence kicks in. It's not something that's overnight, it takes time. It took years for me to realize that. Like I said, you have to surround yourself by honest, real people who can definitely make you see what you're not seeing.

Facts. Have you become that vessel for your friends as well? Like passing all of that on. Your mom passed it to you, you pass it to your friends, are you that person?

Yeah, it's like a telephone game. I have a younger sister who's 17 and she's always been insecure about her weight or her breakouts and I'm like, "You're a teenager, you're supposed to go through that phase. If I went through that you've got to go through it too."

In a way, I have to guide her through the stages. I was just talking to her last night and she's telling me about her friends and how she feels like she doesn't fit in, or certain cousins where she feels like she has to be a certain way. I was like, "Don't be a certain way, the way you carry yourself will vibrate and you will be so much more vibrant, it'll grasp more onto you. Just be your true self, you don't have to be anything else. I know who you are and you know who you are."

I feel like kind of being that older sister I feel like her mom sometimes. So I always feel this responsibility that she always feels 100.

What are some other plans you have for yourself, with your music for the year?

This is the first bundle. People wanted it to be named an EP but I was like, "Nah. It cannot be an EP because an EP is at least five to seven songs top."

This bundle is like a mini-project, it's the anticipation for the actual album. So, I want you to keep getting the feel of who I am, keep giving you these sneak peeks and then boom, hit you with the album. That's in the works, we'll see what happens. That's what we say now but sometimes things change, so don't get too excited.

Have you've been working with anybody? Any featured artists or any producers who are really understanding of who you are as an artist?

As far as features, I have one and then I'm working on another one.

So you can't say who they are?

I can't say. As far as producers and writers, J.R. Rotem is literally my dog. We walked into the studio and all of his plaques are all over the wall, plastered everywhere and we were like, "We get it, you're a legend. You're going to make me a legend," is what I felt in that room. I feel this great connection with him where we can be friends but also have that chemistry musically where he can connect with me instantly.

I love how we did  "Fix It," he brought out all of the live instruments and he made it feel like you were actually on stage, he made it feel bigger than what it was. So, I give him so many props for that because I've never felt that way in a session where I felt like I was onstage and it was just me by myself, no one else, well of course with a whole a** band, but I just felt the topic and the song, the musicality behind it is what meshed so well because of him. He is my dog for sure and my therapist because if it weren't for him this song would have not been made.

Stream Dinah Jane 1 below.

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Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

Rap, throughout its history, has always referenced parenthood in some form. Most often, it was to extol single mothers for their goodness while deadbeat fathers were berated and called out for going ghost. In recent years, as the social media landscape has blown open the avenues of communication, famous rap dads, in particular, have become increasingly transparent about their lives as family men. Where years ago there seemed to be endless bars mourning the demise of the father, artists are now using their platform to balance the scales. They’re showing themselves to be present and intentional.

Few albums make me think more about the concept of parenthood, and legacy, than Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, 4:44. It’s a stark and blistering work of memoir, heavy on confession and self-examination. When 4:44 finally dropped, I, like many others, was filled with wonder. How was it that Jay had managed to so fluidly deconstruct everything I’d been wrestling with for the last few years? Though the specifics of our experiences differed greatly, the central ideas dissected on 4:44, especially those concerning fatherhood and family life, had been swimming around my brain for some time.

***

Hip-hop saved my life. And it was fatherhood that set it on fire. This bears explaining.

What hip-hop has done for me, is what it has done for millions of fatherless and heart-wounded kids—it provided, at the very least, the shading of a better life. If it wasn’t for hip-hop, and the value I ascribed to it, it would be impossible to know just how far I’d have settled into the more lamentable aspects of my environment. Forasmuch of a goon as I was growing up, something always kept me from becoming too emotionally invested in harsh crime. I dabbled in mischief like an amateur chef knowing he would only go so far. I saw in hip-hop, in the art of it, something worth pursuing with tenacity; something like a healthy distraction. So I committed to finding my lane.

Though there were brief stints dedicated to developing my modest graffiti skills and footwork, it was the words that flowed and came without struggle. The school cyphers sharpened my wits and compelled me to feed my vocabulary daily. Only my wordplay could save me from getting ripped to shreds in a lunchroom battle. I read books and scoured the dictionary for ammunition, I listened to stand-up comics who fearlessly engaged the crowd and proved quick on the draw. It seemed fruitless to know a billion words if I couldn’t convert them into brutal attacks. I had to break the competition down and render them defenseless, stammering for a rebuttal. There could be no confusion as to my superiority. So instead of joining the stickup kids or depositing all of my energy into intramural sports, I put my soul and mind into the task of taking down all manner of wack MCs. That’s why I say that hip-hop saved me.

But fatherhood was its own saving grace. It showed me that the world did not revolve, nor would it ever revolve, around my passions. Fatherhood put an extra battery behind my back as a creative, sure. But it’s more about being a consistent presence at home than chasing any dream.

***

As an artist and writer, I cannot so much as think about fatherhood without considering some of the material that deals with feelings comparable to those I felt after I became a father. Songs that contextualize very specific emotions over the drums.

In his 2012 track “Glory,” Jay-Z, someone who had long been vocal about his strained relationship with his father, reflects on the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy, his first child with wife Beyoncé. Produced by the Neptunes, “Glory” was released on January 9, just two days after Blue was born. From start to finish, it carries a sort of gleeful melancholy that resonates on multiple levels. While it is, in essence, a comment on the exuberant joy attached with welcoming a child, “Glory” is also a note on death and mourning.

Before Blue came along and flipped the script, Beyoncé had suffered a miscarriage. The pain the couple experienced left them fearful of not being able to conceive. The dual purpose of “Glory” is made clear from the outset, and with blazing transparency. “False alarms and false starts,” offers Jay, laying the groundwork for what immediately follows: “All made better by the sound of your heart.” The second half of the couplet establishes what was, as we come to learn, the most pivotal moment in the rap mogul’s life up until then. The moment where all is made right, where the sting of loss is eclipsed by the possibility of new birth. Jay continues in this mode, shining light on the redeeming gift that is Blue and, also, how the child is a composite of her mother and father, yet more still.

The opening bars of the following verse are equally striking as Jay, addressing Blue, touches on the death of his father from liver failure. Jay is signaling here, leading us somewhere but with the intent to shift gears. Instead of dwelling on his father’s shortcomings like one might expect him to, Jay breaks left, resolving that deep down his father was a good man. What begins as an indictment of a cheat who walked out on his obligations, ends with a declaration of forgiveness and generosity. But Jay soon directs the focus back to his blessing and how hard it is not to spoil her rotten as she is the child of his destiny. It becomes apparent that this is a man at his most self-actualized. A few more welcome digressions and “Glory” closes the same way that it begins, with the final line of the hook: “My greatest creation was you.” This points to something that I, too, came to know as fact. That no matter what I do, and regardless of what I might attain—power, wealth, the esteem of my peers—nothing is quite comparable to the happiness and the terror that comes with siring a child. “Glory” succeeds as it casts aside any traces of bluster and bravado, making room for Jay to unearth lessons that were hard-won yet central to his maturation. And what is the purpose of making art if not to bust open your soul and watch it spill over? Shout out to the rap dads raising babies and doing the work to shift the narrative.

Juan Vidal is a writer, critic, and author of Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation.

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Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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