Amanda Spann and Sheena Allen
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Drink Up: Black Female Tech Developers Create New Adult Beverage Mobile App, “Alchomy”

Amanda Spann and Sheena Allen are adding new meaning to how we hold our liquor.

Tracking their digital footprints through apps like Blerdology and PicSlit, mobile tech developers Amanda Spann and Sheena Allen never considered that their journey in the tech world would lead them to their latest development, Alchomy.

The innovative, location-based mobile creation is a drink discovery community in which users can share, save, and recommend adult beverages. From cocktails, to Mai Tais, to cognacs, the Alchomy mobile app keeps you in the mix by curating your personal tastes by location with access to over 16,000 drink recipes.

As it continues buzzing through mobile app stores, Spann and Allen are embracing the unprecedented creation while navigating the technology world as black, female entrepreneurs and developers. VIBE tapped into a conversation with the two ladies on the app’s development, minority presence in mobile technology, and how they're keeping bottoms up.

 

VIBE: What motivated you to tap into the tech world?
Sheena Allen: I started doing mobile apps in 2011 while I was a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi. I got involved in technology from a random idea. My major in school was actually psychology, and had no interest in doing anything technical at all.
Amanda Spann: I had always had this underlying interest in technology, but didn’t go to school for it. I majored in communications and fashion. When I started off doing public relations in the fashion and entertainment realm, I worked with several different entertainment entities. At the time, I felt a little insecure about entering the tech world because I didn’t know coding. But after speaking to a few people, I learned that there were plenty of opportunities in technology outside of being a developer. I thought about how to segue way out of entertainment and focus on technology public relations. After working on that, I was introduced to different opportunities and started tapping into the social enterprise. The rest is kind of history.

Are there any black techies that paved the way for you to launch your career in the technology realm?
AS: One person who really gave me the push in the right direction was my dad. He works in technology and encouraged me to get rid of the fear of not being competent and as qualified as my counterparts. Another person would be Lindsey Holmes, who is not really a developer but works in the tech space as a well-respected consultant. She gave me that push toward entrepreneurship. I remember her telling me that she made that leap a couple years ago and never looked back.
SA: When I started out, no. I’m from Mississippi, so tech was a foreign idea to me. Once I got into it, the first to inspire me was Kimberly Bryant. She runs Black Girl Code, and has always been a huge influence because what she has done in the tech world is amazing. After that, there was also a mentor I met along the way who helped me along my way.

For Alchomy, why adult beverages? What piqued your interest for this instead of food or restaurants?
AS: When I originally conceptualized it, I was traveling a lot for work. When that job ended, I started thinking about how easy it was to just pick a quick spot to grab something to eat, but it wasn’t always so easy to find a great place for drinks. Drinks have always just been an interest of mine as well as learning more about the cocktail market. I don’t have a background in bartending or any type of expert in the market, so I really wanted to work on making my palette a little bit more sophisticated. When I researched whether this was really worth doing, I started seeing how many people really have an interest in drinks. Actually, about 87% of Americans drink. So, there I saw that the market was picking up and the quintessential, average question is, “Where are we having drinks today?” Everyone can relate to that, so I grabbed the opportunity there to create something interesting and innovative. The food space is not completely saturated, but it’s already been done so many times. No one is doing drinks in the way that we are.
SA: For me, it was the fact that I had already done apps and most of them have been photo-based with the exception of one, which was finance-based. When Amanda approached me with this idea, I appreciated that it was different. It was definitely a different category. There’s always people who are asking where they want to go for drinks, and I loved this idea when she pitched it to me.

Before Alchomy, you ladies co-founded other apps like Blerdology and PicSlit. What did you take from your experience with those mobile platforms into the development of this new app?
SA: Everything I had done before Alchomy was trial-and-error. Everything I did, I learned on my own. I spent time in Silicon Valley and in Texas, so I was really just learning and experiencing how the technology world works. Before, I didn’t really know the ins and outs. All the mistakes I’ve made from the brainstorming, to the whiteboarding, to knowing what Apple will accept and reject all contributed into making Alchomy the best that we could.
AS: It was just a huge jump from going from publicist to founder. This was a lot more all-inclusive. Being a founder of an app versus a publicist for one such as Blerdology, you literally have to know everything. I really was dependent on Sheena and our other two partners and learning about their areas of expertise. It took a lot of time to sit down with each of them and say, ‘Hey, can you show me more about XYZ.’ Then, just navigating the process and learning to stay ahead of the curve so that they can do their jobs efficiently. The biggest takeaway from dealing with other apps before this one would be learning how to work on your business and in your business at the same time. It is a challenge projecting where you want to move forward. Also, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t put the promotions before the product, and as a publicist for the previous apps, that was innate for me. It takes time to build something that people will actually use and that’s what we are in the process of doing now.

Now, as an established black developer, were there any major challenges you faced trying to break into the tech world?
SA: I’m guesstimating this number, but I believe there are only about three percent black female founders for tech companies. I believe there’s about one percent who ever get funded over $250 thousand for them—it’s somewhere around those numbers. You come in as a minority, and anytime you’re the minority it’s a challenge. I look at it as a gift and a curse because you are the minority. It takes more to break in and people might look at you funny. One person takes one step and you might have to take 10. But the gift is that once they do look at you, if you’re doing it right you’re giving them something to look at.
AS: I cosign [Sheena’s point]. There’s so many articles and information about lack of diversity in certain industries. Especially with being a black woman in technology, there’s oftentimes this unique perspective of an African-American mindset, how we produce products, and how we consume them. I definitely think we’re at an advantage. The challenge would be building a network. People gravitate toward helping people that not necessarily look like them, but people that feel familiar to them. There’s opportunity for us, and I think we just have to figure out how to connect the dots to be on the same page as these investors. There’s a lot of research now about that process to help mitigate that system and navigate through more seamlessly.

What are your thoughts on other mobile apps geared solely toward the black community like SoulSwipe for example? Do you believe they’re progressive or faulty and divisive?
AS: Personally, I love SoulSwipe! I think it can be a catch-22. There’s definitely a need for those communities because you want to foster a good place for people to feel comfortable. I know a lot of my friends really enjoy it beause it cuts out some of the clutter from othr dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and other apps like that if you’re looking for a black partner. There’s a different feel and atmosphere on an app like that. I don’t believe it’s divisive; anyone can use the app, it’s just geared toward a specific market and I don’t anything wrong with that. I mean there’s plenty of apps that are created that don’t really have the black audience in mind, and we still use them. I don’t see why we can’t make one that does have that audience in mind and be of value as well.

How do you stay above the competition?
SA: The biggest thing that sets us apart is our content and the strategies we use. It’s much different than an app you can just go in and find a recipe for. That’s just an option and a feature of Alchomy. We offer much more than just the basics.
AS: We are a lot more open to the dynamics of those who like drinks and entertainment versus just one or the other. With other apps in our space, they’re very narrow and focus on just one segment of drinking. They may focus just on going out on the town or recipes. When you think of who most people are as people, it changes. The same person you are winding down after work on Tuesday is not the same person you are turning up on Saturday. Our mobile platform accommodates both. Also, we wanted to make a recommendation engine that could curate your content by your tastes and location. When you go out, you want to know what places have what you like—anywhere in the world. We didn’t want to just feed people something based on what’s popular to other people. Take Yelp for example, which does reviews. There’s a big difference between a review and a recommendation. A review is either a person really likes or hates something. But, there’s no consideration for people who may be considering that particular venue and what experience it may have been trying to give that the person may not have understood. We want something that’s more customized, customer-rich, and taste-based.

Lastly, are there any major changes or developments coming up for Alchomy users?
AS: We can’t release too much, but there’s a couple new cool features coming this summer. We will be having our Android launch during that time, too, since the app is only available to iPhone users. Definitely be on the lookout for that!

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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?

Jac

quees: 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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