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From A Script To The Big Screen: David Talbert & Will Packer Talk 'A Meyers Christmas'

VIBE visited the Atlanta-based set on their 23rd day of filming to talk with Talbert and Packer about the forthcoming release.

Playwright and filmmaker David E. Talbert and film producer Will Packer are ready to bring holiday cheer to the big screen for 2016.

The dynamic duo have combined their creative geniuses for Universal's A Meyers Christmas, a heartfelt family flick centered around an estranged family that is brought together during Christmas after their mother passes away, starring a slate of thespians from the legendary Danny Glover to Gabrielle Union to Omar Epps to Mo'Nique to Jessie Usher. 

VIBE visited the Atlanta-based set on their 23rd day of filming to talk with Talbert and Packer about the forthcoming release. "It’s a totally different movie and it is very relevant and it feels like a movie of today," Packer says. "It feels like a movie that is touching on themes that are important today. So what I liked about this Christmas is the fact that for that time, for what it was, it was a good cast, and a good solid family story that happened to be around a black family."

Continue scrolling as the duo details what they have in store next holiday season.

On choosing to work together:
David Talbert: All the number one movies, back to back to back. I don’t like Will [Packer]. But the fact that every movie goes number one, what the hell?  [Laughs]
Will Packer: Nobody likes me. I just make them work with me. They pretend.
DT: I met Packer when we did Stomp the Yard. Our paths hadn’t really crossed creatively before, but I’d always been a fan of what he does. Always quality, always presents our people in the best light, and I wanted to be a part of that. The script got to Pack and he called me up and said, “We have to do this in Universal.” Pack is the ultimate salesperson, so it doesn’t take but a moment to get pulled in. So he said, “I want to give you everything you want to have for this film. We’re going to have a great cast, we want to have a great soundtrack, and I want to present the movie the way your work should be presented.” And that was the most important for me, was someone who says I want to see this piece of art you’ve created, you’ve labored over presented in its best, possible light.
WP: The timing was really so perfect. I was with my development team saying we need another great Christmas family movie. Whenever I say that, I say this like honestly, I really believe the last good one was This Christmas. Why haven’t we had something with an amazing cast, a heartfelt story, and bring a family together around the holidays? And that’s such a great time for families to come together and do things together. It is about food, it is about family, and whether your family is the worst family ever or the best family—or like most of us, somewhere in between—it’s all we got. It’s family. So when I read this script, the timing of it was so perfect and he really nailed it. He nailed the tone. He nailed that heartfelt, around the holidays, love everybody, even if you hate them, you love them around the holidays. You will know somebody in this family, I guarantee you. And if you don’t, you are the person.

On the basis of the film:
WP: David’s script portrayed a narrative about a powerful black man, a black father figure, holding a family together at a time of grief, stress and dysfunction. They’ve lost their mom, it’s the holidays, and he’s the heartbeat of the family holding it together.
DT: That’s really the movie. Danny Glover’s character is like we’ve got five days till Christmas. Can we all act like we’ve got the good sense that your mother raised you with for five days? Can we do that? And that’s really what the movie is: can they make it to five days, five days with all the history and backstory and all that stuff with four children and an aunt, husbands and wives, and grandkids. Can they make it inside this house in five days?

On the star-studded cast and on-set chemistry: 
DT: Pack said to me, "In a perfect world who do you want to play these roles?" He delivered most of the people that I wanted in this movie. I mean Danny Glover is a icon. He kills every frame, it’s like a master class of acting when he’s on and everybody is like mesmerized. And Mo’Nique, I mean we’ve seen her dramatically for maybe the past what, five years or whatever. People forget she is a master of comedy as well. This movie gives her a chance to mix in her comedy with her drama. She just grounds the movie, and Gabrielle Union brightens it up. And we wanted Omar Epps to being a bit of that Love and Basketball swag. Kimberley Elise, who is one of the finest actors in our community, was just such a pleasure to work with her and what’s she’s doing is going to surprise a lot of people. That chick is so bad. And from Romany Malco, who I’ve been a fan of. So, I could go on… You’re going to see a different side of them. You’re going to see what you love from them but you’re going to see different layers. That’s what Pack and I talked about before doing this movie. We didn’t want to just do a movie where you say, oh, I know what that movie is because of the cast. You don’t know what this movie is and you’re going to get more than what you expect with all these people together.
WP: And I like the new mix of people because there have been, the black ensemble comedy, that’s a genre to itself. I’ve made them, Dave’s made them. And you haven’t seen this collection of actors together, though.

On the soundtrack being an important element of the film:
DT: That was all Packer. Packer laughs at me because there are no songs recorded after 1985 on my iPod.
WP: Dave ‘Old Soul’ Talbert. All this new ratchet stuff, he doesn't know. Don’t bring up Meek Mill, Drake, Silento. He doesn’t know anything about none of that stuff.
DT: It's a wonderful balance though because he's got his ear to the streets and he knows what’s hot and we come from two different perspectives and it’s the marriage of the two that’s making the magic in this movie because I bring everything I know to the table with passion and so does he.

Table read magic #MeyersChristmas A photo posted by Will Packer (@willpowerpacker) on

On elevating the black experience through film:
WP: It’s a totally different movie and it is very relevant and it feels like a movie of today. It feels like a movie that is touching on themes that are important today. So what I liked about This Christmas is the fact that for that time, for what it was, it was a good cast, and a good solid family story that happened to be around a black family. This one elevates it. This one takes it to the next level and that’s what we have to do with content. We can’t continue to make the same movie; the audiences wouldn’t come. This is not This Christmas 2. This is a whole new thing. But I love the fact that it resonates with audience, not in just the same way, but even more. There are levels to this and there’s depth to this that I just haven’t seen in a film with actors that look like these actors, and I’m proud to be apart of that. I make no pause about it. It’s a universal story, where you could switch these actors and you could have a Latino family, you could have an Asian family, you could have a white family. It would still work. The fact that they are black actors and the fact that it does have the sensibility that it has behind the camera, gives it a whole other element of flavor that I love, that I think audiences are really going to resonate with.
DT: And those movies stand on their own. I think This Christmas stands on its own. Soul Food stands on its own. Those are still iconic movies. And so my thing was to look at those movies and see what was the magic that those movies had and then I went and said, okay, okay, what’s my magic? Because both of those movies had great magic in them. This Christmas was a very big hit and it had some magical moments all through it with some great performances. So I said okay, what am I going to do to step up to the table?

On having a black patriarch:
WP: It’s one of the things that attracted me to the script originally because when you see these scripts, nine times out of ten, it is about that matriarch –  that woman holding the family together. And to read a script that was about a powerful black man, a black father figure, holding a family together at a time of grief, stress and dysfunction, and he’s the heartbeat of the family holding it together. I had not seen that.
DT: It just really occurred to me that we don't see images like that promoted as much. I wanted to make sure on screen that we honored that, and Danny Glover is the absolute best choice we could’ve had and he grounds it very well. Great image, great image for my son.

On their goal with the film:
DT: I can’t wait for when we start screening it. Our goal was to make a classic. Packer’s made so many of those in his career, and our goal coming together was to make a classic that people would watch, not just watch on the holidays, but watch forever and ever and ever. And knock on wood, we got 12 more days, but we’re doing that thing. And at the end of the day, this story is a story and if people believe in it and are touched by it and are moved by it, then that’s what really matters the most at the end of the day. You put a few cameras up a few places just to capture that life, that love, this experience, and I’m thankful.
WP: This is going to be a huge release, as it’s the 2016 holiday release for Universal. You know, they don’t have another Christmas movie, or another holiday movie. This is the one. And I love the fact that it’s a Dave Talbert movie that stars Danny Glover, Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union and all these other great actors. I love the fact that you have these beautiful brown faces that are going to be on the screen for the world to see. I think people will be able to relate whether or not you look like these characters or not because family is family.

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Taraji P. Henson Hosting New Podcast Series, 'Jacked: Rise of the New Jack Sound'

Actress and philanthropist Taraji P. Henson is the host and producer of Jacked: Rise of the New Jack Sound, a newly premiered podcast series on the rise and fall of the popular music genre, New Jack Swing.

From Univeral Music Group and independent podcast publisher Wonderly, the six-part series "focuses on the complex relationships of a group of teenagers from Harlem who would create a sound that forever changed music." Aside from featuring classic songs from UMG's catalog—like Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rumpshaker,” Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative,” Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison”— the audio feature includes interviews from the singers, songwriters, and musicians including Teddy Riley, former member of Guy and one of the innovators of the hip-hop, R&B, funk, house-fused genre that dominated the airwaves from the mid-'80s until the early '90s.

Jacked is written by Rico Gagliano and Andy Hermann, with Barry Michael Cooper serving as a c0nsulting producer.

Earlier this year, Henson kicked off the year with the debut of her hair care line, TPH by Taraji. Her non-profit Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation has been providing free virtual therapy session for people of color to combat the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic. She'll also be hosting the 2020 American Music Awards with Bel Biv Devoe and Nelly scheduled to perform. Clearly, Taraji P. Henson is booked and busy.

As for the Jacked podcast, you can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, the Wondery App, and other streaming platforms.

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Dana Lixenberg

VIBE Vault: 'Dre Day: Andre Harrell' (December 1995 / January 1996)

In the business of music, there's no name with as much resonance as Motown. Former Uptown Entertainment president Andre Harrell—the man responsible for Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, and Heavy D—is taking over the legendary label and promising to bring the noise. But can he fight through the nostalgia and lead Motown into the 21st century? By Anthony DeCurtis. Photographs by Dana Lixenberg

"You know how Jeffrey Katzenberg became Disney? That's what I want to do. Like, how you felt Jeffrey had a passion about Disney—his Mickey Mouse watches, Disney sweatshirt, Disney tie. That's what I'm talking about. I will be at the Motown Cafe. I'll make Motown ties, watch­es, sweatshirts. I intend to make Motown the black Disney," Andre Harrell says with a smile. "You might as well start calling me Walt."

Harrell, 35, is obviously a man with a plan. Good thing, too. He's stepping into one of the most vis­ible jobs in the entertainment industry: president and CEO of Motown Records. "It's always been a dream of mine to head up Motown," he says.

Yet the lofty position confronts Harrell with a critical challenge. Motown has fallen far from what it once was. Aside from the monumental Boyz II Men, Motown has increasingly become a sound­track for nostalgia, much more redolent of the past than the present. It's so hard to say good-bye to yesterday, indeed. Harrell, a product of the hip hop generation, knows his job is to introduce Mo­town—music, television, film, video, animation, and new media—to tomorrow.

A Bronx native, he got his start in the early '8os as half of the rap duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (He was Dr. Jekyll.) After moving over to the business side of the business, he hooked up with rap mogul Russell Simmons and soon landed a top spot at Simmons's company, Rush Communications, where he worked with the likes of Run-D.M.C., L.L. Cool J, and Whodini.

Harrell stepped out on his own in 1986, when he launched his own label, Uptown Entertain­ment, as part of a joint venture with MCA. At Uptown, Harrell defined a contemporary R&B sound for the hip hop age, bringing the world Guy, Heavy D, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Al B. Sure!, Father MC, and most recently, Soul for Real (with whom he had his first No. 1 pop hit, "Candy Rain"). He produced the 1991 film Strictly Business, and he coproduces the hit Fox series New York Undercover.

Successful as the artists on his label proved to be, Harrell has felt constrained in his efforts to make them pop superstars, both by his arrange­ment with Uptown's parent company, MCA, and by the troubling racial politics of the music busi­ness in general. Moving to Motown, which is now based in Los Angeles and owned by PolyGram, presents Harrell with the opportunity to put at least some of these issues behind him. At Motown, Harrell says, he'll have more people, more prerogative, more punch.

Seated on a couch in the living room of his Upper West Side New York apartment, dressed simply in a black shirt and white slacks, Harrell focused squarely through his blue shades on what must be done. A framed photo of a serious-looking Harrell arm-in-arm with Mickey Mouse sat on an end table.

Clearly a man who enjoys control, Harrell was soft-spoken and intent. He didn't want to be mis­understood. "Am I correct?" he would ask. "Do you follow me?" He leaned forward, and his voice rose with passion as he discussed his frustrations with MCA. Otherwise, he slipped back into the pil­lows of his sofa and spoke as if he was envisioning his future life in a dream.

Harrell knows he has as much on the line as Motown, if not more. All eyes will be on him. It's one thing to say you would've done something if only you'd gotten the chance. It's quite another to get the chance and have to do it.

"Every record has gotta be right," he said. "I'm trying to sign stars. I'm not gonna have wack-juice on me. Never did, never will."

What has Motown meant to you over the years? When was the first time you knew what it was?

The first true Motown experience I had was when the Jackson 5 were on the Ed Sullivan Show. I think it might've been, like, 1969, '70. They sang "Stand!" and "I Want You Back." I had never seen a black teenager on television—it was incredible. After that, I realized who the Motown artists were. My parents listened to them: the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, the Four Tops, the Temptations.

What did the company represent for you?

Motown has always been the epitome of black excellence and artistry. Stevie sang about love in the most sensitive way, as well as telling about the plight of his people. Marvin sang about the plight of his people and his internal fight, but he sang about love in a very sexy way. They were major influences.

Speaking of Stevie Wonder, he made a strong album last year and nothing happened with it. Can Motown sell a Stevie Wonder record in this day and age?

The Four Tops, the Temps, and, especially, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross—these are national trea­sures. You have to treat them like events. Stevie Wonder, he's someone I would do an Unplugged with. Or a couple of years ago, it was Stevie's 3oth anniversary in show business. You could have got­ten Stevie Wonder a television special. We could have had artists pay tribute to him—pop artists, rock artists, R&B artists, rap artists, everybody could have participated. And there's probably no other female, black or white, who's as fabulous as Diana Ross, who epitomizes the glamour and excitement of a star diva.

What about new directions? What makes Motown happen in the '9os?

Motown has to become the lifestyle label for the times that the active record-buying audience—the audience who's 15 to 3o—is living in. One of the ways you do this is by putting out records that are in the groove that that audience is living in. Like if Mary J. Blige was a Motown artist, Motown would have some of her imaging on it. It's that young, hip hop—soul, Generation X energy. Same thing if Jodeci was on the label. Back in the day, Motown talked to everybody in the ghetto—and it talked to the rest of the world too.

"WHEN YOU THINK OF MOTOWN NOW, YOU'RE GONNA THINK OF ANDRE HARRELL. I'M NOT GONNA WORK FOR MOTOWN, I'M GONNA BE MOTOWN."

That sounds like the philosophy you espoused at Uptown.

The thing that [Motown founder] Berry Gordy led the way with is the idea that the label head becomes the image of the label. Myself, I allowed whatever celebri­ty occurred in my career to happen through the artists. I was so consistent with the kinds of artists who were on my label, after a while, it was, like, "Who's behind all this?" I was behind it.

Going into Motown, my plan is this: When you think of Motown now, you're gonna think of Andre Harrell. I'm not gonna work for Motown, I'm gonna be Motown—in the way I dress, the records I put out, the causes I choose to get involved in, the artists from the past, the artists who are there now, and the artists in the future. Like I lived Uptown Records, I'm gonna live Motown Records.

But you, Russell Simmons, Sean ."Puffy" Combs—and Berry Gordy before you—are entrepreneurs. You're identified with the companies you founded. With this, you're stepping into something—

—that's already existing. I'm gonna be Motown for this generation of young-adult record buyers. Motown was the blueprint. Berry Gordy was the blueprint for what I became.

Were you conflicted about leaving Uptown?

I had tremendous conflict. It was like I was walking away from my works of art. There will never be another Mary J. Blige—it's rare to find a queen. There will nev­er be another Jodeci. There'll never be another Heavy D. But I have to go, because Motown gives me the power I need to go to the next level. I have to make African-American superstars. At Uptown, I was able to make black icons, but they were icons only to black people.

[I was] trying to grow Uptown, to have indepen­dence, to be able to say, "This act is getting ready to be a worldwide star, and I'm gonna take all my resources, and we're gonna march to this one beat." I was trying to do that for nine years. Between me and the corpora­tion, I could never get it to happen.

In terms of support from MCA?

I think MCA, after a period, wanted some of these things to happen. For whatever reasons, though, the execution between the two sides never worked. The biggest record I ever had was Jodeci's [1991] Forever My Lady—3 million.

When [Arista president] Clive Davis got in the game, I felt myself shrinking. Once he got in business with LaFace [L.A. Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds] and [Dallas Austin's] Rowdy Records and Puffy [Bad Boy Entertainment], Davis's commitment and his exe­cution were taking those artists where I wanted my artists to go. I wanted Mary J. Blige to sell the 7 million that Toni Braxton did.

Jodeci came to me because I had Al B. Sure! So they figured, "He knows how to do this. We wanna be down with him." They drove 13 hours, sat in my lobby for eight hours just to meet me. Now, I feel like, with Arista being involved with LaFace and the other labels, they sold 7 million Toni Braxtons. They sold 6 million TLCs. I'm, like, if I can't sell these kinds of records, I'm gonna slowly shrink. I was catching heat from my artists, who wanted that kind of stature. I would bring that frustra­tion to MCA, and we couldn't seem to come to terms.

Was the idea, "Well, Andre's doing fine. He's doing a cou­ple of million here, a couple of million there. He's covered. Were gonna invest somewhere else"?

I felt like a figurehead. I had all this energy around me—like, I was the Man. I was the founder and chairman of Uptown Records, a major, culturally influen­tial entertainment company for African-Americans in the '9os. But I didn't feel like the Man, because I could­n't put my finger on the button that would really make it happen. I don't want to be in that position anymore. I need to have more control. I need to be responsible for the big picture. And being at Motown positions me to create a truly black pop company. I got a film divi­sion, a television division. I got green-light power for small movies. I don't have to ask anybody.

What are your plans with Gordy?

We're gonna do a series of commercials—print and television. He endorses me. We spoke yesterday for about an hour, and he said, "Any advice I can give you about where we go from here, feel free to call me." We're gonna spend time together and talk about his history with the elder stars. I feel as if I've had a tremendous amount of experience working with stars' drama and ego, but we're talking a whole 'nother level of stars. I've never built a superstar. There're superstars at this house.

How do you build superstars?

If black stars are gonna have a shot at becoming pop stars, it's gonna be because the chairman of the company is committed to them—and because their music is his personal taste. That's what I'm bringing to black music, to black musical stars. Not just their art form but their plight as African-American men and women.

What you're describing is a role that black executives play, but aren't they often frustrated in their attempts to rise at most record companies? 

I can't talk about it enough, how few black execu­tives get to control their playing field. Black music is becoming the music of the popular culture. Because of that, companies are repositioning their priorities and trying to get in the game. But as black music becomes more important, there should be more black presidents and black chairmen. As soon as the black executive's artist reaches platinum, suddenly the artist and man­ager have to deal with the president of the corporation, because he controls the priorities at pop radio. The black executive becomes obsolete. As his music gets bigger his power diminishes. He's more or less told, "Go find the next act and establish it."

It's an emphasis on the creative—

—as opposed to the business. That's why young black executives don't get to become the old chairmen—the wise men who've seen it and done it. They get to stay hot black executives so long as their instincts are hot. But this is a lifestyle business—only a few of us, black or white, are going to be cool enough to have great in­stincts our whole career.

The black executive is not given the opportunity to become the business and the music. Why not? Why shouldn't he be the one that everybody reports to? When you get an act that sells 5 million—at a major compa­ny—the black executive's out of the room. But when there's some sort of problem, the major label looks at the black executive: "Why can't you handle this act?" When the artist hires a violent manager and the violent manager is coming up to the record company, the label's, like, "How did it get to this?" How? Because they [the white executives] couldn't see it coming. Because they re not sensitive to his issues. By then the relation­ship between the record company and the artist is dys­functional. And then the black executive gets blamed and fired. But they created the monster.

When I had the artist, I talked to his mother, his girl­friend, his babies' mother with the two children, dealt with his drug counselor, and whatever other dysfunc­tional Generation X problems he has. He'd call me late at night.

But he feels like they're just businesspeople. And they don't understand. And they might be racist. He's comin' with all that energy. Even if they like him as a person, he still has goo years of issues he has to get over to accept them. And they have a lot of work to do to gain his trust and respect.

So what are your immediate plans?

I will be moving to Beverly Hills. I'll have a house out there for a 12-to-18-month period, and I'll be bicoastal between the New York and L.A. offices. Then I'm moving the company to New York. I'm going to have a satellite office in Atlanta—A&R-oriented. I'm going to build a recording studio in New York, Motown Studios.

Any new musical directions?

The sound I'm going for now is soul. I'm looking for voices that sound like 400 years of slavery and then some. I'm looking for that inspirational, take-us-out­-of-our-plight, Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Al Green voice. I'm looking to build those kinds of stars now.

What about the younger acts on Motown? Have you met with Boyz II Men?

No. Those meetings will come after I execute the deal. Boyz II Men are the biggest group I've ever seen. I don't know what I'm bringing to the party except to keep them from goin' crazy from the level of success they've had. They probably need a break, a little time out to lead their personal lives. Outside of that, that for­mula is working. Queen Latifah, I'd like to bring her record sales up to match her celebrity. Zhané I'd like to give a little bit more image. I'm gonna bring Johnny Gill back—he had a fabulous first album. And I'm excit­ed about working with Michael Bivins. He's tremen­dously talented, and if he and I get together, we can real­ly do some important things.

Are you apprehensive?

I got a lot of work to do. But no problems. Making hits is not a problem. I'll be making some noise real quick. And I ain't gonna stop makin' noise until I'm done.

-

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1995 - Jan. 1996 issue of VIBE Magazine | Written by Anthony DeCurtis | Header Photography by Dana Lixenberg

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DJ Khaled attends the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

DJ Khaled Cuts Off Twerker On Instagram Live, Inspires "Talk To Me Normal" Remix

Like the saying goes: when you give an inch, they take a mile. DJ Khaled learned that lesson over the weekend after he had to cut off a twerking follower on his Instagram Live session.

The producer and recording artist hopped on his social media account on Sunday (May 3) to chat with his fans and followers. To make the moment more engaging and interactive, Khaled opened up his request lines for one-on-one chats and chose a couple of lucky followers. What he didn't realize was that one request would be from a woman ready to twerk on camera, Quarantine Radio style.

"Oh, sh*t, oh, sh*t," he said aloud with his hands up in the air once he realized what was about to go down. "No, no, don't do that. No, it's all love but you know what I'm saying? I've got a family and everything. I've got love," he stressed to the giggling blonde before she proceeded to pour water on her derrière.

 

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I have love for everyone please take it easy when I’m on fan luv ig luv . Again I have love for everyone please lets be respectful nothing but love BLESS UP !

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled) on May 3, 2020 at 4:25pm PDT

"Just talk to me normal, talk to me normal," he requested as he covered his eyes from seeing what she was doing. But did she care to oblige? Nope, because 45 seconds of fame and "we live baby!" Khaled gave up on pleading and closed out the chat repeating, "I can't, I can't."

Shortly after, Khaled posted the incident on his Instagram account with the caption, "I have love for everyone please take it easy when I’m on fan luv ig luv. Again I have love for everyone please lets be respectful nothing but love BLESS UP!"

And like clockwork, the video made its rounds and inspired one producer to create a remix, because, that's what we do when we need another level of comic relief. Much like Brooklyn's own DJ iMarkkeyz, who gained momentum on Billboard's charts for his remix of Cardi B's coronavirus rant, producer DJ Suede posted a remix of the moment and it brought more laughs to probably one of DJ Khaled's most stressful moments.

Hear it down below. You're welcome.

 

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#IGotAFamily #IGotLove 🕺🏾💎#RemixgodSuede #AnotherOne @therealcocoabrown #Diamonds @sophiajamesxo

A post shared by Dj Suede (@remixgodsuede) on May 3, 2020 at 9:48pm PDT

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