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Interview: Akon Talks His Revamped Konvict Kartel Label, Why Today’s R&B Works & Plans For His 'Stadium' Project

Those who do great things often move in silence, and Akon is no exception to the rule with his Konvict Kartel label and forthcoming project, 'Stadium.'

Those who do great things often move in silence, and Akon is no exception to the rule.

Throughout his career, the multi-hyphenate artist has made music that has transcended into number ones in nearly every genre. As glow stick fiends jam his songs like “Play Hard,” with David Guetta and Neyo, he was also able to make hip-hop lovers pop bottles to “I’m So Paid” with Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne. Not only has Akon made massive hits for himself, but has also helped catapult some of best acts in music like Lady Gaga, T-Pain and unbeknownst to many, Young Thug. In addition to his multi-platinum career, he’s also helped bring light to millions in Africa with his philanthropic efforts. But the mogul isn’t one to keep the keys to success to himself.

With his newly revamped label Konvict Kartel, Akon is looking to bring forth new talent in hip-hop/R&B. After helping launching the careers of acts like Pain and Jeremih, the singer wants new acts to realize the path to success can be just as simple as a Soundcloud upload, but the business aspect is a long road traveled.

Instead of trying to force his formula on new talent, the “Heatwave” singer wants aspiring artists to vie for a career past a hit single. We talked to the Akon about Konvict Kartel, why viral musicians have short lifespans and his plans to release the five-album project, Stadium. Take out a notepad and grab all the gems you need for your aspiring music career.


VIBE: What inspired you to change your music label Konvict Muzik to Konvict Kartel?
Akon: It’s like the new generation Konvict music. Today is a new time, new sound, new artists, new thinking. These guys are a lot younger, more fun and the energy with the music is totally different. I think it was the perfect time to put a makeover on the label, especially the urban side of things, moving on the Konvict side and just recruit a lot of young artists, new thinkers, just people that think beyond artistry that want to take their brands to the next level.

Tell us about the acts on the label.
We have Young Greatness; he's out of Memphis. We have Tone-Tone out of Detroit and we have collaboration with QC (Quality Control) and Greatness, they have a single out now called "Moola."

What grabs your attention when you’re looking for an urban kind of artist?
When it comes to that side, I'm just looking for an amazing tone, a guy who works really hard and someone who is ready to understand the business. I think a lot of times artists come out and just put songs on YouTube, they blow up, get a lot of views, the label picks them up and they have no experience whatsoever on the game and how to stay there. Ultimately, what happens is the record comes out, the label takes it over, it does a little [bit of numbers] and you never hear from them again. I want artists who want to make a career out of this. They have to understand how this really works to the point of learning more about it and to listen. You have to gather all the notes pretty much of what I have acquired through my years and help take them to the next level.

I think today a lot of artists feel they still can do that on their own since you can promote on social media and you can even learn how to produce on YouTube. Do you think this can hold them back from the business aspect of their careers?
I think it can hold them back a lot. Especially to be a seasoned veteran that understands the business side of it. The creative side, you're absolutely right, they can definitely do it on their own. With today's technology you can make a song in an hour. You can make a music video in two-three hours. It does give you the opportunity to create the content.

You have the content, but what do you do with it? How do you saturate the content? How do you make it relevant? How does it correlate to a business? How does that content now make you money? These are things that you need people to help you realize. People who know the politics of the business and who does what. Now you can take your crew to the next level. Now there's a system. You can become a superstar, but you need a team around you that is going to help you make that long-term success.

And it helps that you're dealing with people that have had their own success, too.
Absolutely. There are a lot of things that you're going to go through that you don't know how to deal with. When that time comes you have someone that's been there and they can walk you through those steps before they even arise.

In the midst of all of this, are you still working on the Stadium album or working on other endeavors?
The Stadium album is done, it's now the matter of putting it out and what system I'll put it out through. I was dealing with a lot when it came to my deal with Universal and the changes they were making within their system. Currently I'm with Atlantic and we've put together a nice little plan as far as how we're going to put it out. So all of that is now being handled on Atlantic's side.

Congrats on that. New deals, new energy, new business.

When you say, as a means of putting out Stadium, what do you think of the way music is being released today? You have people like Beyonce who reinvigorated the whole "surprise album" motif and Kanye West who dropped an album in real time while working on it. Do you think with the times, people are stepping outside of the box when it comes to releasing new music and how listeners digest it?
Personally, I think you have to think outside the box period, regardless of the times because you have to stand out. There has to be some kind of shock value that creates curiosity. When you're an artist like a Beyonce or a Kanye that already have a fan base, you know where your fans are. I can drop a project tomorrow as long as I have access to my fans and let them know the project is coming out tomorrow. By getting a hold of the data, which gives you the information of how to communicate with them. Once you have that, the sky is the limit on what you can do.

You have so many different sounds and I think that's something that's really amazing. You can make an R&B song, a pop song or music with Caribbean and African flavor. Do you think that your fans at the moment are expecting one thing from you or that they know they're going to get hit with so many different sounds?
I think they know they're going to get hit with a lot of different things. It's the reason why I'm deciding to put out the Stadium album the way I did. It's five different sounds, five different territories, and five different types of music because every genre has fans of mine. I've made records in every genre and have had number ones in every genre. So it actually worked out to my benefit because I have a worldwide audience and if one genre that doesn't attract at one point, then another one will. More than anything, I love music that's why I did it. I won't let one particular genre hold me back from what I want do it. I think the fans are pretty much know I'm hitting them from every angle for sure [laughs].

I think that says a lot about your talent and your longevity. For Konvict Kartel, are these are just urban artists?
Yes, Konvict Kartel is just for the urban market, hip-hop, raunchy and grimy R&B. Something that really speaks to the underground.

So for R&B, what do you think the genre today? Do you think the traditional R&B of yesteryear can ever come back as strongly as the airy mid-tempo sounds that are dominating the genre today?
I think it's a decision that the artist would have to make. Every time there's a new generation, they're into something else. My mom and dad were into disco, then you had Marvin Gaye, then the Isley Brothers so you know you even had different types of R&B back then. Then my generation had acts like Jodeci. This generation is totally different. You've got Trey Songz and those guys are totally hip-hop now. Chris Brown, it's really hip-hop with melody. It's really based on the generation that grew up under than genre so you can't really predict what R&B is going to sound like in the next five years. You just have to be in tune with the time and adjust according to the generation because that's what you really do this for, the people. So if the people are requesting one particular thing, then that's what you give them. It's not ever going to be what you personally like. Otherwise, you don't need a record deal you can just make music for yourself in your basement.

Do you plan on expanding your label to include other acts?
Absolutely, we currently do that now. For the last few years, I've been in Africa doing my main Konvict movement there so with there we have artists such as Wizkid, P-Square who's signed to us as well. Those are the top acts that have come out of Africa that are huge in the Afrobeat market in the UK. A lot of people here don't know that. They think music domestically is what really matters but when you travel across the waters you see they're acts in those areas that may not have crossed over yet. Ultimately, my end game is to bridge all that sound, all that music into one so people can open up and listen to music from around the world and not just focus on here in the United States.

Why do you think the artists from overseas have trouble finding success in the States?
I think people don't travel. When you don't travel, you close your mind to what's around you everyday and you really don't open your mind outside of your reach. I'd say three out of ten people I know personally have passports. Some of my friends didn't even know what a passport was. That's just the culture of the U.S. has always been that way. You have some people that are from certain corners who have never left that corner. We've never had a culture of travelers. Sure people go to Cancun or to Hawaii, but you're still in the United States. I think that's why the fear is so heavy here. It holds people down mentally and stagnates them from opening their mind to something bigger. You have to want to explore and taste different foods and interact with different cultures of people. There's so much fear and propaganda that pushes people from not even wanting to leave the United States. I think that holds us down as a people.

There's that notion of generalization. So if you think it's one way here then you assume it's like that somewhere else. I wish it was generally known, but there is growth in traveling when it comes to young African-Americans.
It only makes the confirmation a lot stronger from a mental standpoint. When you go out, you come back with things that stay with you for a long time.

You've been able to travel and give back with your lighting initiative in Africa. How do you feel about other artists like Big Sean who have given back to their cites in light of the Flint Water Crisis?
I applaud them to the fullest because ultimately with your artistry you can spread that wealth and spread that extra blessing to someone to who can possibly need it. Some musicians, athletes and high profile people really care about the people and the environment, and really want to do something powerful. Those are always the ones who stick around for a long time and the blessing always come right back to them. Sometimes it's not hard to question someone's morale or integrity. Just by being around them for a minute but you can also see what they do other than what they're known for and that right there is their legacy.

Phife Dawg of a Tribe Called Quest passed away recently. He's one of the recent black men in the hip-hop community that passed at a fairly young age. The bigger conversation coming from this is the idea of health in the black community. Do you think this is a problem that is left largely unsaid?
I think there's over 40 people that have died in the hip-hop community that I know personally. It's all been from health issues. Cancer, heart attack, unknown diseases. The health issue is serious. We have to start taking it serious or none of us will live past 50. People are now just eating to live and not living to eat. We have to be in the position to know that after a certain age, your body doesn't function the way it normally would. Whether it's fighting a disease or burning off fat as fast. It's just habits you have when you’re younger that you have to switch out when you get older. It's so important, especially if you want a longer life. We have to have more nutritional type of diets even in the workplace because a lot of these people are eating the same foods at work, the bodegas, the restaurants, these things are the same foods that affect your body.

Speaking of being woke, what do you think about Donald Trump’s winning spree during the primaries?
It's a scary feeling. You would think that people were a lot smarter. Trump is like another Hitler with his agenda. I know that he is a very smart businessman and everything, but I just think there are certain parts that he's lacking that he doesn't even know he has. I think he's more into the cameras and the popularity of the celebrity. He knows there are certain things that people want to hear that more than everything; the people have to know how is he going to go through with all of this? He can tell you everything but how is he going to package it? If all fails, he was going to get publicity out if it. Now it's hitting him. He's probably thinking, "Oh, I'm actually starting to win," to "Wow I'm winning" so know it's starting to switch up. I don't even think he himself would get this fair. Before when he ran no one cared. Now they care.

What’s the most important thing you want people to know about Konvict Kartel?
This is a movement and I just want to be in position to offer that platform to artists who understand who they are and where they want to be in the next ten years. That's what we want. We're trying to build careers here.

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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