Interview: Elzhi Goes In Depth About Fighting Depression, Flint And The Legacy Of Detroit Hip-Hop

Rapper Elzhi catches up with VIBE.com

In the often hyper-machismo culture of hip-hop, a lot of value is placed upon your public persona and image. Never mind humanity when it’s all about keeping your poker face, your chips stacked high and your image larger-than-life. But sometimes, like the great writer Langston Hughes says, “Life ain’t been no crystal stair.” In the midst of enjoying the music, we often forget that when a rapper is out the recording booth and when the cameras are off, artists are just as human as the rest of us.

READ: Talib Kweli, Elzhi & Phonte ‘No Competition’

Although most emcees often dish out their anguish and pain on songs, there’s hardly ever any dialogue about the reality behind mental illness and clinical depression -- especially among entertainers. They live hard and fast lives where no matter what happens, even if they lose loved ones, they have to keep moving for the sake of their careers. Unlike us regular folk, artist don’t have time to mourn or heal. It’s an ugly game.

In a grander view, depression is also something that isn’t talked about much in the black community without having a negative stigma attached to it. And depending on how a person copes -- it will either lead to a new beginning of healing or a downward spiral of self-destruction.

Thankfully, Elzhi, who did hip-hop justice as a part of the legendary Detroit group Slum Village, did the former and turned his pain into art. While suffering from a deep depression for years, even during his run with his critically acclaimed Elmatic tape, he went through a lengthy hiatus leaving fans thirsty for more. Now, he's using music to help fight his demons with the album Lead Poison, a lyrically and musically elegant personal narrative about all that he has been going through. With many revealing stories, exemplary lyrics, and solid production, fans will be drawn in to what is his most personal album to date,

Lead Poison is me finding that outlet of getting that poison out the only way that I know how and that's to write. The first step is to get it out and write down all the things that are bothering me. The next step is to talk about it the way I’m doing right now. So I feel good, I feel fresh,” said the D-Town lyricist.

Heading on the bright road to recovery, he El chopped it up with VIBE and went into detail about what he was going through, how he wants to combat he negative stigma of depression, the legacy of J. Dilla and Detroit Hip-Hop -- and he certainly pulls no punches on the water crisis in Flint, Mich.

How long did it take for you to put the album together?
What’s funny is if you follow my career, it’s like it doesn't really take me that long to do a record. In this particular case, I was working on myself while I was working on the record because I was going through so much because the way that I looked at life was like... my perception was all about the deception pretty much and at one point in time, I never was able to look at the bright side of what was going on.

Once I really got together what I wanted to say, then I had to go through that process of like, okay, I gotta make the subject matter a little lighter, I gotta be a little playful with this, it’s a certain way I gotta come with it. I wanted my album to sound more whimsical, ‘cuz I was in the mind state of Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, that kind of vibe. I wanted the record to sound real whimsical, but at the same time, tell my story, so it took a minute to actually get that fusion going and put it through that funnel to make it sound the way I wanted. But once I got it there, once I heard how it sounded for the first couple of tracks it was like 'okay, now I know what to do with the rest of them.' But I would say it took me like a year to just fix everything completely.

Is depression something that you’ve been dealing with all your life or did it happen between Elmatic and now?
What happened was, I never really dealt with it because I was on the move. When my mom passed [in 1998], life flipped upside down for me. And I feel like around that time I probably should have talked to somebody. I should have talked to a counselor, a psychiatrist, or something. But at that time, I was so driven to do what I wanted to do because I’ve been rhymin’ since I was eight. When my mom passed it hurt me, but because I wasn’t sitting on my ass and wasn’t chasing a dream. I didn’t really have time to deal with those issues. It started with that and along the way you had people who turn their back on you and show their true colors and you still moving.

Then issues with your label to find out that their doing things that you don’t really approve of, and you still moving so once I got out of that label issue and got out of that group I was in at the time, I actually sat my ass down and was trying figure out what my next move was. That’s when everything started flooding. My psyche was like… I was feeling the aftershock of an earthquake. And so form there it became this thing where it was just like, 'damn!' Everything from homies passing and other real life situations. It was too much and it got to my spirit, and then I did Elmatic. ANd I couldn’t even enjoy that moment, you know what I’m saying? Like, going on tour and kicking it with the people who enjoying the record and testimonies about the record and how they felt about it. It was very much appreciated, but I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in the right headspace... thinking everything was ok, and it wasn’t.

I’ve had bouts with depression myself, man. How were you battling that while coming off as if you still had it all together?
It was crazy, cuz you know, my manager makes magic happen, he that guy. He was hosting industry parties and wanted me to come along, which is understandable, but I would get there -- and I would feel really out of place. I’m not really with the fake s**t. I’m just not like that, and I can’t do it. You can probably see it in my face, like I’m not having a good time. So it’s like I’d front like everything is okay, but I be really feeling out of place knowing that my s**t ain’t together like that. So with that, I spent a lot of time with myself, especially because I ended up developing trust issues with people who I thought was family and was tossing that word around, frivolously, like we was really brothers from another mother, and I found out that we wasn’t.

It was kind of difficult for me to open up to people who I didn’t know like that and really study what was really going on. I had to study their mannerisms, how they walk, how they talk, what was in their eyes when they was talking to me, the grip of their handshake and that kind of s**t. I had to spend time to myself. That was some of the best and worst times of my life because I was getting close to God and really got spiritual. Being able to pick up on the signs and pick up on what he’s saying and I’ll go to church or whatever. It was also a constant struggle to overcome depression, it had me in a headlock, it was bringing me to the ground. I was constantly fighting that s**t, but sometimes it will win, sometimes I’d win. But doing it by myself, it was kind of wack as f**k. I got through it, though.

What’s something that you wish you could have done differently in your darkest hours?
At that moment in time, I should have realized that it’s not the size of your problems, it’s how you view them, you realize it’s not a problem because anything that God allows to come to you is beneficial for you, and a lot of people like to choose to live their life like seeing things only with their two eyes that was given for them to navigate the third dimensional plane, but that’s not how you look at things.

You gotta look at things through a spiritual way. That means going deeper, cutting through the surface and fabric of reality and accept what that really is. Once you understand that anything being thrown at you is beneficial, then it’ll change the way you look at life. So I wish that was something I was fully knowledgeable about.

If you could, how would you like to change the stigma of depression and mental illness within the black community?
The only way I know how is through my God given gifts. Just being real with what I write. Eventually I want to write books about my struggles of depression and winning that battle. Maybe I could put a book out there that somebody can pick up and read or maybe I could do a seminar or something and get something out of that, or through my lyrics.

Going back to Elmatic, going on the road and as an entertainer, the kind of entertainer that I am, I’ll get off the stage and go to the [merchandise] table and kick it with the people that came to the show. There were so many people that came to me like, my mom passed, and I heard your version of “Memory Lane” -- and I totally relate and it got me through this and it got me through that. And so that’s when I started realizing the power of what we do as emcees, to be able to have that soapbox. To be on that soapbox and say what we want to say. Now some people misuse their power and they don’t really understand their power like that, but once you understand it you would watch some of the things that you say. So it would probably be like writing and getting that writing out there, just playing my part to get people to change the way they think and overcoming depression.

Did the anticipation for the album get to you?
Nah. Every now and then I’d tip-toe on a certain site and see somebody comment out of frustration because it took too long. They might have said some choice words that I don’t agree with and some people that I know would be like, 'oh they saying that, man, I would have did this or said that,' and I really didn’t see it that way because I changed the way I looked at things. I wasn’t really putting any information out there. In this competitive game of hip-hop everybody wants to wear the crown. Part of me was embarrassed to put it out there, but once I started writing really how I felt and what it’s about, it set me free. It literally became medicine. The poison inside of me, of how I felt was coming out my pencil, writing what I was writing, it set me free. To be more open about what was going on. So I couldn’t blame that person being frustrated or whatever. In actuality, I saw a positive in it like, this kid really gives a f**k and I love that.

What’s your thoughts on what’s going on with the Flint water crisis? Did you have any friends and family out there?
Nah, I don’t really have any friends or family out there, but I think it’s disgusting, man. Just the whole situation of people getting backed into a corner. They can’t really sell their cribs or anything. It’s illegal because of the lead situation and poison water. And then, babies getting rashes from washing up in the water, and then they’re still threatening to cut peoples water off if they don’t pay!

To me, that’s bulls**t , just the whole thought process of allowing that to happen in the first place, people dying behind it, s**t is f**kin disgusting to me, man. Somebody gotta pay for that, at least in my opinion. I don’t understand it, man. I want to do something for them, I wish I had the bread to do everything I want to do but I want to do something for ‘em.

Who do you think should get the blame for what’s going on there?
When you talk about deaths and people dying because of decisions that was made, that’s blood on people’s hands. When you talk about deaths, [I think Gov. Rick Snyder] should be in a jail cell. It’s other things that I’m hearing too as far as like, one of my peoples I used to rap with, he’s working at the plant and he was telling me things that was happening in the plant and it had something to do with Snyder. He gotta pay for that. You know what’s crazy? I’m hearing that it’s happening in other parts in America where people are dealing with pollution in their water. To know that it’s a kid out here not knowing what clean water looks like. So I mean, it’s so f**king disgusting.

What’s your thoughts on Dilla Day that just passed recently?
It still amazes me that people around the world celebrate J. Dilla and rightfully so, he changed everybody’s life, but just to know the man and see the love that he get is incredible. [People] ain’t know Dilla like I know Dilla but they loved the music that he put out. They love it so much that they’ll go buy posters and frame ‘em and art pieces that was created by somebody and put ‘em on their wall, and it’s just incredible to see it just to see all the love that he get and how his music has not only change people’s lives, but… it’s crazy to know the guy. It’s just a blessing to see. And every year I feel like it’s another person getting up on him. It’s just growing and growing.

Considering that Detroit brought us so many legends and great artists like J Dilla, Slum Village, Eminem, Kid Rock, yourself, Black Milk, all that, do you feel that Detroit gets the proper respect it deserves from hip-hop?

I think we get the low key respect. I think we are respected. I think people appreciate what we do. I can’t speak on other cities, but it’s kind of hard to make it out Detroit. But low key, from the Amphibious, to the Movie Mans, to the Andreas, the Guilty Simpsons, I feel like people know. People know what’s up and we see it everywhere. I remember Inspectah Deck being at Rock the Bells, and I remember walking through the little area to get to the stage and I hear somebody calling my name and it was Inspectah Deck and I was like “Oh s**t, Inspectah Deck know me?” It’s always that feeling like, 'Rakim know me?' Yeah, I think we get that respect, that low key respect, but man, I’ll take it how I can get it. I’m just being myself and doing what I do.

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Nathan Pearcy

Planted Not Buried: The Moral Courage Of Asante McGee

One would think the tides would turn after the six-part docuseries Surviving R. Kelly pried the wool from the eyes and ears of negligent music fans two weeks ago. Executive produced by writer and filmmaker dream hampton (stylized as such to honor bell hooks), over 12 million viewers total were gifted proof of Kelly’s predatory ways by archived interviews from the man himself with gripping testimonies from black women spanning the ages of 16 to 33.

While watching the 6-hour series, it became clear that Kelly’s 30 years in the game traumatized the lives of those he allegedly sang about in his platinum and gold hits. It’s a factor that would morally awaken anyone, but between protests and his label departure from Sony, something else happened that wasn’t seen in the wrecking of other abhorrent figures.

Sleuth-like behavior from the court of public opinion reared its head in the other direction, shaming the women who came forward with their stories. Hate came tenfold toward hampton for her previous career in music journalism, particularly a profile on Kelly in VIBE’s 2002 issue, a month before he was accused of engaging in sex acts with a minor on videotape.

Not only were hampton’s character and prior working relationships brought into question, but the intake of Kelly’s music also skyrocketed with average streams totaling 1.7 million a day compared to the 955,600 average in 2018. Even as Atlanta and Chicago district attorneys announced investigations, the singer celebrated his birthday with reported girlfriend Jocelyn Savage and adoring fans while singing “Bump n’ Grind.” Although Savage sat in the club with Kelly, her parents Timothy and Jonjelyn Savage hadn’t (and still haven’t) seen their daughter in several years since she met the singer at the age of 17.

Memories like cookouts, proms, love tales and weddings soundtracked by R. Kelly trumped a conscientious duty to at least lend an ear to black women. From the outside, black women continued to go unprotected as memes and Instagram influencers turned their pain into comedic relief. With black women at the front of today’s movements (Black Lives Matter, #MeToo) and the current political battle in the White House (Rep. Maxine Waters and Sen. Kamala Harris), moral courage from the rest of us shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

In a digital space where endorphins rise in the blink of an Instagram notification, it’s not lost on many that black women go ignored in cases of sexual violence. Presumably, it’s more important to take part in “call out culture” instead of adhering to black women who’ve sacrificed their bare bones for our community, preferably black men.

In the throes of the backward backlash, one of R. Kelly’s alleged victims, Asante McGee, stands as a gleam of hope for young black girls and women. It’s the mission statement during our conversation with McGee, one of the first women to publically share her story of her time spent living in the Atlanta home where Kelly reportedly kept women captive for sexual purposes.

For McGee and other survivors like Lisa Van Allen and Lizzette Martinez, there’s no joy in recalling the emotional, mental and sexual abuse by Kelly, but the determination to hold the embattled singer accountable for his actions is worth it.

“I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word; they want to help others,” McGee says during our phone interview. While the rest of us are in shock over black women standing up for Kelly, the mother of three is centered on standing up against the other R. Kellys of the world who are disguised as our friends, uncles and pastors.

Even as a TMZ report claimed McGee was contacted for a criminal investigation against Kelly, McGee says no one has done so, promoting her to be more vocal in her journey to share her truth.

It’s in her tone, calm and reserved, while seemingly being at peace as the public processes what’s been hiding in plain sight for so long.

“I've received more positive than negative [messages on social media] so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health,” she adds. “If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general.”

As shared on Surviving R. Kelly, McGee opened up about being a fan who had the chance to travel with Kelly for two years before being invited to live in his Atlanta home. While there for only a few weeks, the days were unbearable once she realized she was there to be a servant to Kelly’s desires.

For McGee, the aftermath of the documentary was just as eye-opening since she learned how many people were complicit as well as the lengthy timeline of his reported behavior. It’s a juxtaposition many sexual assault survivors face in the aftermath of their healing. Studies have shown black women who face sexual violence in their lives have a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal ideation, pain-related health problems, and low self-esteem.

Just a day before our interview, a page titled “Surviving Lies” surfaced on Facebook in an effort to discredit McGee and another survivor, Faith Rodgers. Mugshots from McGee’s troubled past were collaged together and a video of her ex-boyfriend taping a conversation with her then 18-year-old daughter without her consent also resurfaced. Believed to be conducted by a member of Kelly’s camp, McGee doubts it’s Kelly himself behind the page for one desolate reason.

“Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website,” she says. “Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.” It was taken down hours later but another quickly surfaced.

The tide will be brutal but McGee isn’t giving up any time soon.


There’s a lot to take in here, but we can start off small. Sometimes, subjects don’t like to watch the documentaries they participate in. Have you watched Surviving? If so, what was your reaction?

Asante McGee: When I first saw the documentary, the first night had me very emotional because I learned a lot of things that I didn't know about him. Also even finding out that people knew about the things he was doing and were actually covering up for him.

So for the documentary, it was very emotional. With the documentary promoting itself, I know a lot of people were still defending him. But after night one, I just knew that we would change the minds of those who have defended him because of how in-depth it was. But then you had a lot of people claiming it was fake or scripted.

It was heartbreaking to watch and it was even more heartbreaking to see that people were still sticking up for him. There’s even a video of popular Instagram figures like Rizza Islam in tears while standing up for Kelly. How has the reaction been for you, especially from black men?

#SurvivingRKelly I Don’t Wanna Hear Anymore Of This .. pic.twitter.com/y5zMoZmmZW

— 🔥 ɖŗɛ (@thedreswift) January 6, 2019

I received a lot of support from black men personally. They’ve been in my DMs thanking me for sharing my story and saying "As a father of young black girls, it hits home." They're happy that women like me are speaking out and actually letting people know just how much he's capable of.

I've seen a lot of black celebrities that weren't even speaking on the subject that have now come forward. I've seen a few black men that are still taking up for him, which (laughs) I really don't understand how and why, but I've seen more support from those not taking up for him.

Do you think your wounds are healed? I’ve seen interviews where people have asked questions and treated this like a reality show and not cases of sexual assault.

My wounds have definitely not been healed. While watching the documentary, I feel like I was reliving the events, especially when it got to the part of me going to house and just showing that black room.

What was it about your room that prevented you from going into the “black room” instead?

I didn’t want to enter my room because that’s where I felt like a prisoner. I was only allowed to come out of that room when someone would knock on my door telling me to come downstairs or if I was summoned to the black room. The black room is where we were forced to do all kinds of sexual acts with him and each other. When you were summoned to the black room you knew you were not going to enjoy it.

When you're on the outside looking in, people are generally judging. I don’t think people realize how emotional things got, and how questions like, “What happened next?” on social media as the documentary aired can be triggering.

I understand that you may want to engage in a conversation with us, but that wasn’t the time because we had just revealed a lot of embarrassing things to the entire world. That was not a moment to be proud of. I just wish people would just understand and I know a lot of people didn't mean any harm in doing it, but you know after I calmed down I explained to those why I didn't want to talk to them, they understood.

Do you feel like you're learning new things about yourself in this process?


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A post shared by Asante McGee (@asante_shelthia) on Dec 7, 2018 at 8:58am PST

Definitely. I didn't realize how strong I was until now. I think I built myself to become strong after the documentary aired because like I said, I was receiving a lot of backlash prior to the doc and even leading up to it and I thought it would mentally break me down. I'm happy to know that I am stronger than that. I’m overcoming a lot of obstacles I didn't think I would overcome.

That's beautiful. The questions, as well as this interview, can be draining. It also doesn’t help that there’s a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies” floating around. Do you think R. Kelly was behind that?

Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website. Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.

Why are you trying to expose his victims? It's like you're trying to intimidate us and trying to get us to shut up by bringing out our past or just doing anything you can to manipulate the situation for people to say, “Oh, well that person was lying.” Their goal was to discredit us one by one.

The sad part about it is that they took that one down but that person has since created another one. So that it's another page saying the same stuff over again.

There was also a claim that you teamed with Jocelyn's father, Timothy Savage, to extort money from Kelly. Where do you think that accusation came from?

My ex and I had a bitter breakup so he’s behind that. I opened an HVAC business and he had one too, but the state sent him a cease and desist for his business due to fraud.

He knew that I contacted the Savages once I left the Atlanta home to inform them about their daughter. My ex knew I was helping them to get their daughter back and after our bitter breakup, he blamed me for his business closing and wanted to get back at me. He knew my reasons for going to his concert in December of 2016, I was on the phone with him the entire time. He’s trying to make money by using my name and discrediting me.

He also believed I was paid for my interview with Kelly so he taped a conversation with my daughter without her permission. She was 18 at the time and we were in a bad place. Like any parents and daughters, me and my daughter were having issues and she actually moved out and lived with someone else. He used that opportunity to call her after he saw me on the Megyn Kelly show. He knew that he could manipulate my daughter into saying whatever he wanted her to say so if you listen clearly to the conversation, you can hear how he's baiting her to say certain things.

At the end of the recording, you can hear her saying that I'm texting, “Do not tell him where he lives, he might be trying to kill me.” So clearly you can hear me saying that I'm afraid of this guy because of his personal vendetta against me.

He figured, “This is about to be my payday, I'm gonna go ahead and do this.” The video has actually been out since May and it just so happened that they weren't spreading it around until after the docuseries to discredit whatever I was saying.

How do you remain so zen during these times? How do you fight back during these negative clouds now?


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A post shared by Asante McGee (@asante_shelthia) on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:11am PST

What really keeps me going and that motivates me every day is when I see these messages telling me how proud they are or they're sharing their stories and because we came forward, others are able to also come forward and start their healing process.

I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word, they want to help others. So just from receiving those messages, I've received more positive than negative so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health. If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general. He's going to have these fans and they're always going to believe him, that’s the tough part.

What can people expect from your book, No Longer Trapped In The Closet?

I recently released the book (Jan. 3), but it came together as the BuzzFeed story and my interview with Megyn Kelly came out. At the time, I read the comments and just saw a lot of people doubting me because of my age. It said, “Oh, she’s lying. She’s too old.”

I just wanted people to get a better understanding of my life so they can say, “Oh okay, she was going through this and why she trusted him so much.” I included evidence to support my claims with him.

Do you ever think about the other girls who were in the house with you? Do they ever cross your mind?

I think about them every day. It's one of the reasons why I came forward, to begin with. My breaking point wasn’t just one moment. The controlling and dictating when I can eat and bathe was hard but there was one girl in particular who was close to my daughter’s age (who was a teenager at the time) doing things to him in front of me and other people. It hit too close to home. I thought, “I’ve heard the rumors,” but to see this young girl in his presence was too much. I knew at that point that this needed to stop.

Would you be comfortable sharing what that was?

The mind-blowing thing that I witnessed happened when it was myself, the young lady, him, one of his assistants and another girl. We were all sitting in his cigar room in the Atlanta house, just listening to music and drinking alcohol. All of sudden she just pops his penis out and just started performing fellatio on him. I'm hearing the sounds and I look up like “What's going on?” and everyone around me did not seem bothered.

I was the only one that was bothered by what's going on. I'm just like, “What in the hell, are you serious?” And I looked back down and tried to ignore but in my mind, I'm envisioning my daughter. This could be my daughter.

Can you describe your relationship with your daughters now as opposed to when you dealt with R. Kelly?

I’m sure other mothers can relate to this; mothers and teenagers have their ups and downs. This was a period where kids start to rebel against their parents. Now we are in a better place and that’s what matters and my daughter is very supportive of my story and this movement.

Has it been hard to tune into your sexuality after all of this?

My sexuality hasn't changed in any way, but it is hard for me to trust a man. At this point, any man that I have been in contact with has a hidden agenda. I've tried to date after Rob and it was a hidden agenda behind it. At this time, I don't have a question [or] doubt about my sexuality, it's just my trust in men in general.

McGee released her memoir No Longer Trapped In The Closet: The Assante McGee Story prior to the airing of Surviving R.Kelly. You can purchase the book from Amazon here.

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Tiffany Rose/Getty Images for Ciroc)

Ugo Mozie Talks New Partnership With Allbirds, Building His Craft And Working With Beyonce

In December 2018, Allbirds, a billion dollar sneaker line, partnered with trendy media company Complex to host its environment-conscious themed event titled "Sustain This." The name of the gathering is a huge part of the San Francisco-based footwear corporation’s eco-friendly stance.

Held at Manhattan’s trendy and spacious Foley Gallery, tastemakers from fashion to entertainment arrived to see the uniquely crafted displays and visuals of sustainability. Whether it’s food, new fashion, or recyclables like wood and metal, these different products all centered around being environmentally friendly.

Sitting inside the small, compact basement is Allbirds’ latest partner, creative director Ugo Mozie with his hands crossed and eyes closed in deep thought while discussing his new ventures and many accomplishments — all before age 30. Mozie was born in Nigeria and predominantly raised in Houston, Texas before attending college at St. John's University in Queens, New York to major in Public Relations & Business Law. Since 2009, the year he dropped his first fashion line, he racked up quite the clientele that includes Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Travis Scott, Larry King, Jeremy Meeks, and Celine Dion.

What makes Mozie standout from the current wave of fashion stylists and creative directors is that he never lets go of his culture. Instead of shying away from it, he embraces the unique style of Nigerian attire from his hip fedoras to sleek male fits to the colorful pants and pattern-spotted shirts. Aside from his day job as a fashion creative, he also gives back to his African community as a social activist with his non-profit organization WANA. Its mission is to let the world know of other great African talents and creatives.

Rocking a Nigerian kufi cap with a smooth caramel leather jacket (reminiscent of movie character Indiana Jones), the 27-year-old dives into his partnership with Allbirds, how his upbringing informs his professional decisions and having someone like Beyonce on his list of clientele.


VIBE: How did your connection with Allbirds come about? Ugo Mozie: My partnership with Allbirds came about with mutual friends knowing some teams at Allbirds, and Complex recommending me as a person who had an insight in sustainability and doing projects that are helping the environment and promoting sustainable living. We had a conference call, and I realized that we pretty much vibed in the same frequencies and had the same vision when it came to preserving the Earth and doing things to also upcycle things we found from the Earth like trash and recyclables.

How does Allbirds fit within your business goals? Allbirds fits into my personal business goals because we share the same vision when it comes to preserving the environment and sustaining the Earth.

What looks are in for the winter season, for men and women? For the winter season, I think this year is really all about minimal chic. It's about strong statement coats, underdressed by simple silhouettes and simple color, monochromatic under. I feel like where there is a lot going on in the environment with the politics that people are really showing their style of simplicity,elegance, and the details.


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While working on these amazing projects this year, I had no clue that I would be recognized and able to share the story and project with you all so soon. Thank you @complex & @allbirds for allowing me to share a big part of my passion with the world. Let’s keep spreading the love and pushing toward sustaining the world. #shadowmanvan @wanaorg

A post shared by Chief Ugo Mozie II (@ugomozie) on Dec 13, 2018 at 2:05pm PST

If you were working with popular brands that don’t use eco-friendly methods, what suggestions would you give? I feel like [a] brand that is including recycled products and eco-friendly material sustainable products are brands not only considering the future but also are innovative enough to cross that bridge. Sustainable fashion is the future, and I know that any brand who doesn't understand or take note of that is going to lose and suffer the repercussions in the future.

One of your clients was Beyonce. What does she tend to look for in her designs? Having Beyonce wear my products was definitely an honor and amazing. Beyonce as a person looks to not only wear the high-end big designer, she gives young fresh designers a chance. She's very interested in incorporating culture and cultured pieces into her wardrobe. hat's a true fashionista, [a] true stylish person doesn't distinct one-sided.

How has your background as a Nigerian man contributed to your style and success here in the States? My background as a Nigerian man contributed a great deal to my style and my aesthetic and the way I think, the way I work. The confidence I have from knowing where I came from and who I am plays a large role in the way my clients relate to me and also respect me. As of recent, I've been the go-to person for African fashion, high African style, and high-level African taste and I feel like people are now understanding that you can get quality and great products out of Africa as well from what I've been putting out and showing in the media.

Many African parents are bent on their children being doctors, lawyers, engineers. How did you your parents react when you told them that you wanted to work in the entertainment industry? My parents, although they're both African, born and raised in Africa, were very liberal and understanding I feel like, from an early stage or early age. I was very confident and aware of the role I wanted to play in the world, and my parents have been supportive., Unlike your typical African parents, they were open-minded and supportive on my risks and dares to go into the entertainment industry, go into fashion. They knew that whatever I was passionate, ambitious, and driven about, I will succeed. And I did.

What obstacles did you face while developing your craft? Like every successful person, I definitely faced a lot of obstacles during my journey. And I still do every day, but the most challenging ones are up here. Where, what happened when it came to moving? No, moving from Houston where I grew up to New York was definitely a challenge. Having to understand the ways of the city, how to communicate, how to navigate, how to develop myself in the city. There wasn't anything like what I was used to. And then after moving from New York to Paris, another obstacle was having to transition to another culture, another language, and then from New York from Paris to L.A. was one of my most challenging transitions because after that I was most pivotal for my career. ost of my challenges come when I make a big change and the biggest changes for me came when I moved.

In September, you visited Uganda’s Nakivale Refugee Camp to connect with refugees. Why did you decide to support this cause? That trip was honestly a life-changing one. I was invited by my friend, Nachson Mimran who was visiting there and invited me and I thought I was going to go to a refugee camp and see a lot of sad things and see, you know, a lot of poverty. But I was very inspired by the fact that they had a great system, great learning system and a lot of enthusiasm and positive outlook on life. These people have been through so much heartbreak, lost their families, lost their homes, still have to deposit them out beyond life. I was very inspired and motivated to help them. So we developed different, sustainable ways to provide help for the community. One being the big project and also implying the passionate ability, sugar, bad upcycling with designers out there as well.

Who are your top five all-time artists from Nigeria or of Nigerian descent? My top-five favorite artists are Fela Kuti, Sade, Seal, Wizkid, and Runtown.

What advice do you have for others trying to come up in fashion? What I can really say is just dig as deep as possible and try and be as authentic to who you are. Your value and your uniqueness comes from your culture, comes from your personal style. It comes from who you are. Don't see too much inspiration from the outside.

What are your goals in 2019? I hope to create more projects or activations real quick. More artists that are adding value to the world and doing things to make the world a better place.

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Prince Williams

Future Keeping His Sobriety A Secret Says More About You Than Him

On Tuesday (Jan. 16), Future made the revelation that he was sober. Who knows, maybe he traded the lean in for alkaline water and fresh juices. While this may have come as a shock to fans who have often linked the rapper to heavy drug use, what was even more astonishing was that Future concealed his sobriety for weeks or even months—not because he was diligently working on weaning himself off of the dangerous drug of choice without distractions, but because he feared how the announcement would affect his music stats and fan base.

It’s certainly customary for fans to tie a characteristic or specific subject to an artist’s music or brand. For instance, Mary J. Blige makes breakup music, Trey Songz markets sex, and Lil Peep frequently made emo, drug music. Future’s artistry in particular is deeply rooted in drug use as a method of self-medication to cope with heartache, pain and suffering. He’s arguably recognized as the godfather of this new generation of mumble rappers, who romanticize drug use as a form of self-care. Percocets and molly not only served as the tools for a catchy chorus in 2017’s “Mask Off,” but also provided a lens into Future’s real-life pastime.

When messages such as a breakup, sex and addiction become the primary focuses of an artist’s narrative, we inherently expect them to continue with those trends, especially if the music is a success. Future’s DS2 debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Mary J’s 2017 studio album Strength of a Woman—which discussed her public divorce from manager and husband Martin “Kendu” Isaacs—debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. But Hendrix’s inability to share such a positive transition in his life says more about the negative effects of fan culture and the music industry as a whole than it says about him.

“I didn’t wanna tell nobody I stopped drinking lean,” Future admitted to Genius. “I didn’t tell because I felt like, then they gon’ be like, ‘Oh, his music changed because he stopped drinking lean.’ It’s just hard when your fans [are] so used to a certain persona you be afraid to change.”

The weeknd needs to get back on drugs and make some good music like he used to

— alaina (@lalalaina_) January 13, 2017

Fans naturally equate spiraling and unhealthy behavior with good music and would rather see their favorite musician continue to spiral for the sake of their craft and our entertainment. Although there are new movements promoting mental health awareness and self-care within the hip-hop community, fans still praise the destruction of the genre’s biggest artists.

When The Weeknd split with his girlfriend Bella Hadid in 2016, many prayed for another dark, narcotic-fueled album comparable to 2011’s stellar House of Balloons, which was released during a time when he was deeply involved with cocaine and pill-popping. Twitter users seemingly encouraged such behavior, leveraging musical satisfaction over the well-being of the XO artist.

While fan approval shouldn’t necessarily dictate an artist’s creative process, the possibility of negative feedback that comes with “switching things up” can often be too loud to ignore. In an interview with VIBE, A Boogie wit da Hoodie also reiterated his hesitation with stepping away from his usual themes of relationships and heartbreak on his No. 1 album, Hoodie SZN. He ultimately included both versions of himself—the heartbreak and the new A Boogie—in order to appease his loyal fan base and evolve as an artist. “I feel like all my fans saw what I was doing, but they just didn’t care. They loved how I started so much that they didn’t care about the switch up. They wanted me to be heartbroken.”

Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ pic.twitter.com/EXiOKoT72v

— John Canales (@_JohnCanales) April 25, 2018

The association of success and pain doesn’t only revolve around drug use or broken relationships. It was suggested that Meek Mill’s brief incarceration for a probation violation set the foundation for his 2018 comeback and No. 1 album, CHAMPIONSHIPS.

“Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ,” one user wrote on Twitter. Despite the frequent protests for his immediate prison release, it’s almost as if some fans approved of his demise once it was over because it somehow forced him to make better music.

There is a danger in requiring artists to stick to their brands, especially when it focuses on abusing and glorifying a harmful lifestyle. Fans have to be willing to allow artists to evolve because that transformation extends far beyond the music; their art mimics life. You will not die if artists like Future or The Weeknd pivot the focus of their music away from chronicling drug use, but they could, and that should be the only point that matters here.

If we can support artists like 21 Savage as he explores other subjects besides his chains (Nipsey Hussle cosigned 21’s decision after DJ Akademiks suggested that he didn’t want to hear anything else from the artist) or salute Jay-Z as he's evolved into talking about investing in stocks and collecting priceless artwork, then it shouldn’t be difficult to endorse the Future's new chapter—whatever that may be—as well.

Future is gearing up to release his new album The WZRD on Jan. 18, and if you can seriously criticize his music not because of the quality but because it doesn’t sound like his typical doped up brand, then Future was never the problem—it’s you.

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