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Blac Youngsta Opens Up About Growing Up Poor, His Brother's Death & Why He Waves Guns Around

CMG's Blac Youngsta has a serious discussion with VIBE.com

I’m from the ‘hood, stupid. What type of facts are those? If you grew up with holes in your Zapatoes, you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough—Jay Z “99 Problems.”

It’s always a celebration when CMG rapper Blac Youngta touches the town. Whether the South Memphis native is unapologetically flexing stacks of money on Instagram, gleefully clicking Ben Franks on his money machine during interviews, or telling an Atlanta news reporter that he's upset with being wrongly apprehended at an Atlanta Wells Fargo -- the 25-year old’s comical charisma is gaudy, but magnetic.

Here's a very simple and common question about Blac's seemingly spur of the moment attitude: "is he for real?" His consistent flow of videos where he is jesting and showing off wads of cash for the camera have created a very visible image of the rapper. If he was faking it for the camera, that wouldn't be gangsta' at all. But being that he was initiated into Yo Gotti's CMG family, it's seriously doubtful that Blac  reps a false persona for the camera. Over the years, CMG's street status has been solid, but if you need more proof, just watch this video where Gotti introduces his hustlin' momma.

Blac's lifestyle may be extravagant to most, but he rose from the dilapidated McMillan Street -- notorious for being crime-ridden -- in South Memphis. Now, he talks about having millions in the bank with a happier aura than Richie Rich.

“Man, it feels good waking up with all that money in my account," Blac said to VIBE shortly after we hopped on the horn. “Sometimes I just call my accountant just to hear how much money I got. I’m about to buy my Grandmomma' a house. She don't want to move though."

In order to understand Blac's bubbly ebullience, you'd have to digest the suffocating socioeconomic upbringing that hovered over his life before linking with Yo Gotti. The rapper born Sam Benson had to shoulder grown man responsibilities before he turned 10-years old. In midst of the manchild manning up, he dealt with death, drugs, jails and suicidal thoughts.

“I think I’m the strongest person in the world," says Blac. "Honestly man, picture yourself being young, working in the corner store, working for food.”

As a rollicking adolescent, Blac secured a job -- on the strength of his grandfather -- at a local grocery store. However, Grandmomma Benson's paltry-social security checks matched with Grandpa Bension's extra cash from cutting grass wasn't enough to make ends meet to feed Blac and his younger brother, who often went hungry.

“When I first started working I was like 7-years old. And I wasn’t working for money then. My nigga, I was working for food, mutherf*cker gave me ten dollars a week. I was stocking drinks, breaking boxes down on the side of the store. All that."

Putting in long hours for food, and a meager wage wasn't enough for Blac to escape the stifling anger that came with his hunger pains. As a child when he witnessed his loved-ones knee deep in the struggle, he quickly found his own survival skills to live by any means necessary.

“My little brothers would come to my job and check on me, and I'd be like 'what you doing, boy?' When they would say ‘I’m hungry.,' I would call the store I was working at with a fake order for some burgers and sh*t when it was getting ready to be closing time. First thing they would say when no one came to pick up the food, ‘you want to take these leftovers home?' They knew we didn't have food at the house.'

However, after getting caught -- on several occasions -- for stealing food from his job, Blac was fired. "I'd stole food from Mr. Jones before, but after about a week or two he'd always let me come back. But that last time, it was over with."

As the unfortunate script goes, Blac quickly learned how to swap dope for dollars. Once the impressionable young man lost his virginity to the drug game, working a 9-5 was a wrap. Blac's life consisted of narcotic sales, street beefs and sentences -- incarceration that is.

“I went to jail for dope charges, gun charges, lot of sh*t. The longest I did was probably like a year. I never did no real time. I was slangin' dope so a nigga made bond. I went to HTC. It was grown folks in there. They had people in there that killed a lot of little kids, you know how people be shooting up schools and shit!”

As it turned out, Blac’s time behind the G-wall was a blessing in disguise. Jail is where the D-boy turned rapper, whose first rap was over Destiny Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills," decided to go full throttle with hip-hop.

“I’ve been rapping my whole life. When I was young I had went to jail for a little minute. And so when I come home I was like, ‘Man, I finna start this rap sh*t."

Upon his release from jail, Blac hit the grown running. As a representative for the underdogs, he quicklty hit the studio to emerge with his debut Fast Brick mixtape. Later adding the second and third installments of Fast Brick put him on the Memphis hip-hop scene.

Also, it was around this time the "I Swear To God" rapper begin hosting block parties for the youth in honor of his fallen comrade King Craddy, who was murdered. But it was the death of Blac's brother that would have the most impact on his life and admitted suicidal thoughts, which he's hesitant to talk about.

“I don’t want to get too deep on it. But my little brother had passed. And, I thought about doing it," says Blac with honesty while talking about suicide. "I’ll keep it one hundred. My little brother wasn’t in the streets, period, and he was dead. I was in the streets, period. So I felt like I should’ve been dead."

"I put my life on the line for him to grow up and go to the military. I did so much sh*t. Stole out stores, stole clothes from people, all type of things for my little brother to live. [For] a nigga to kill him and he ain’t never did shit. [That] was touching me. So yes, I thought about doing it. But I had my kids to live for -- that’s all I’m talk about on that. I don’t like talking about it. I never really spoke on that sh*t.”

Bouncing back from his brother's death, Blac got back to making music. And not long after, he struck with a now local classic titled "Heavy." Then, inked a deal with Gotti's CMG Records while sitting on a Jet.

"Man, that was the happiest day in my life," says Blac about the moment he signed with Yo Gotti. "I've been wanting a deal my whole life. I always wanted this, man. I always felt like once I get to this point that I would give this rap thing my all."

So you see, Blac Youngsta has been through a lot. The song "One Bedroom House," on his I Swear To God mixtape, where raps about sleeping on the floor, and taking care of his little brothers, is 100% true. And yes, Blac jokes a lot, and he is always happy, but it's because of everything that he has overcome.

"I’ve done so much, so I feel the words," says Blac after admitting he waves guns around in the vocal booth. "I damn near be crying. I be in the moment. When I was recording “Shoot Me,” a nigga couldn’t look at me while I was recording that song. I’d tell you not to look at me. I was dead serious. I had the Mac in the booth. When I be rapping some gangsta' shit, I be in the booth with the gun in my hand. If I’m talking about money -- I got to have money in the booth. I can’t talk about it if I ain’t feeling it."

The Youngsta may to be real for some, but his mission doesn't incorporate people who doubt him. Blac has his eyes set on touching the entertainment industry in every way that he can.

"I never wanted to be like an one realm nigga. That’s why I entertain. I like to entertain niggas," says Blac with confidence. I’m in this shit for movies... and soundtracks to movies. I want everything. And I want to make people laugh. But also tell my side of the story."

HOW YOU LOVE THAT😭😭#YOUNGANDRECKLESS #CMG

A video posted by Blac Youngsta (@blacyoungstafb) on

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Katie Spoleti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Congratulations!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So you can't say who they are?

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

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

Stream Dinah Jane 1 below.

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

An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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Mike Coppola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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