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Strike A Pose: Madonna's "Vogue" Dancers Recall Blond Ambition Tour & Gay Life In The '90s

Life after superstardom…

In 1990, Madonna embarked on her Blond Ambition World Tour. She trekked from Japan to Europe to North America, challenging societal views on sexuality while entertaining the masses. She pushed the envelope with wildly provocative dance numbers and concert themes, yet never failed to promote safe sex. “You know you never really get to know a guy until you ask them to wear a rubber,” she unapologetically said to a crowd in Japan, before jumping into her set of “Get Into The Groove.”

Due to the tour’s highly sexualized and risqué acts, she faced various death threats, ban threats from the Vatican, and warnings of arrest. However controversial, there was no denying the pop star was on a journey to put a human face on the gay community and empower female sexuality.

After the tour in 1991, came Truth or Dare, a behind-the-scenes documentary of the show, which also chronicled the lives of seven of Madonna's back up dancers—Luis Camacho, Oliver Grumes III, Salim Gauwloos, Jose Gutierez, Kevin Stea, Gabriel Trupin, and Carlton Wilborn.

“You see the dancers that I work with and little bits and pieces of their life,"  said Madonna during an interview on Good Morning America circa 1991. "I deal with a lot of  issues… and what I think to be a big problem in the United States and that is homophobia. There is a real big section in the movie devoted to that. These things exist in life. I’m only presenting life to people. I’m not presenting anything that they are not exposed to in everyday life, but maybe they don’t want to deal with it. If you kept putting something in somebody’s face eventually maybe they can come to terms with it.”

Twenty-five years later, these dancers are telling their own narrative (with the exception of Trupin, who died in 1995 at 26, due to complications from AIDS) in Strike A Pose, a Tribeca Film Festival documentary created by Ester Goud and Reijer Zwaan. The film, which had its grand North American debut on April 15, explores the truth behind everything that happened on tour and in the aftermath of the release of Truth of Dare. Three of the dancers — Stea, Trupin and Grumes — sued Madonna for the film due to issues with contracting and for publicly showcasing their homosexual identities, a huge issue for Trupin at the time. Trupin’s mother echoes his feelings about Truth or Dare in the recently-premiered Strike A Pose. "[It's] not a statement that he wanted to make. It was Madonna’s statement,” she said of her son’s sexuality.

The documentary also sheds light on how the tour first got started, with Madonna recruiting a pair of Latino dancers from New York City: Luis Camacho of Puerto Rican descent and Jose Gutierez of Dominican descent. Together, they choreographed her famous “Vogue” video.

Both were kids from the underground voguing scene and part of the House of Extravaganza, a crew of the New York ballroom scene.  Camacho and Gutierez were dance majors at Fiorello H. La Guardia High School Of Music And Performing Arts, and with a little hard work and a serendipitous encounter, they got the job.

“It’s crazy when you have this person give you this opportunity and we really didn’t work for it,” Jose muses. “It wasn’t a job that we were training for, like most dancers do.” Prior to dancing with Madonna at just 18, Jose trained at Eliot Feld Ballet Tech School since the third grade and traveled to Brazil and Japan with the House of Extravaganza.

On a bright spring day, Luis and Jose are holding court in a pressroom on the second floor of The Smyth Hotel. They discuss their experiences with Madge, the tour, Strike The Pose and the impact Truth Or Dare had on the gay community. “The first film gave us an opportunity to be express ourselves,” says Luis.“This new movie gave us an opportunity to express ourselves in a different light."

VIBE VIVA: What was it like being a gay Latino in the early '90s?
Jose: At the time it was crazy because there was a lot of a crime in the streets. Being gay wasn’t accepted as it is today, and I was very rebellious at a young age. [Laughs] So growing up then, even though what was around me was very distracting I managed to try to stay focused on my dancing. I’m from the Lower East Side—my family came from nothing really, they migrated here from the Dominican Republic. [Dancing] was a way to get out of the ghetto.

The gay scene opened my eyes to so many artistic things, and that also helped me develop as an artist. I was more dedicated as a kid, growing up I loved to dance, but other than that it was very hard growing up in the ghetto, trying to stay focused when everything around is drug deals and stuff like that. I came out at a very young age to the club scene, and that was my escape where I got to dance, perform and travel.


So were you part of the famous ballroom scene voguing documentary Paris is Burning?
Jose: Yes, oh my god I was a baby! I was 16-years old. I remember sneaking off for a weekend to Washington, D.C. to go compete at a ball. I snuck away without telling my mom. And that was a scene from Paris is Burning. I remember thinking to myself ‘I want to win, so I’m trying to get everything in there.' I was voguing at the speed of light, 'cause I didn’t want to lose. [Laughs]

Take me back to that night when you and Luis auditioned for Madonna at the club?
Jose: It was in club Sound Factory. A mutual friend of ours, Madonna’s make-up artist Debi Bazar, was like ‘Madonna’s coming she’s looking for dancers soon, and I told her about you guys, you have to meet her.’  In situations like that, you’re always like 'yeah yeah, whatever.’ And so we submitted a video of us dancing with the whole House of Extravaganza.

One night we walk into the club, and we see Debi and she was like ‘Come here I want you to meet somebody.’ She introduced me right there to Madonna. I remember being in awe. She said, 'Hey, I heard a lot about you guys, you guys do this vogue thing and I want to see.’ I was still stuck 'cause I remember thinking ‘you want us to show you now in the club? And she was like ‘Yeah, right now.’

I was always fashionably inclined, I was done up in this crazy Gaultier outfit. And I was like ‘how do you want me to dance like this?’ Her bodyguard took off his pants and gave them to me in the VIP bathroom. I couldn’t believe I was wearing her bodyguards’ pants; he was this huge dude. But I managed and practically auditioned on the spot. And once the club got wind that she was there, the whole club turned into an audition. She said ‘Sit here with me,’ to me and Luis. ‘And let’s watch these guys, tell me what you think.’

We were there for at least two hours, then she invited us to the actual audition. We beat out 7,000 dancers. It was crazy, because she thought that I was just an underground dancer—a voguer from the gay community. She didn’t know that I was 10 years into training. So she was like ‘Oh I want you to come and do the “Vogue” video, but I don’t know if I’m going to take you on tour, because there are other forms of dance that you have to be able to do.’ Then when she saw me she said ‘I didn’t know you can do all of that.’ I was like ‘You didn’t ask me’. [Laughs]

"DATHROBACK"

A photo posted by INtheNAMEoftheFATHER(J🙏🏾SE) (@fatherjose.xtravaganza) on

Did you feel any pressure to do well in the video for “Vogue”?
Jose: Oh yeah! We wanted show good work coming from the community—especially on a main stage for the world to see. We wanted to deliver the goods.

What was that first night like on tour?
Jose: The minute she came up on a lift and they saw a little bit of a hair, everyone just went crazy. And your heart is beating out of your chest. I remember that was the first moment in time I was like, ‘Oh sh*t is real’ And when you hear them screaming your name, at 18-years old, you’re like ‘They are screaming for me?’ It was like you just want to jump out into the crowd—such a great feeling.

How did it feel like when Truth or Dare came out?
Jose: It was very overwhelming for me at the time. I didn’t set out to move people; you’re so young that you don’t realize that. You don’t think that people are like ‘Oh my god Truth or Dare saved my life.’ Today, I still get ‘Watching that movie, saved my life, seeing you being so open and comfortable made me want to come out to my family.’ That to me is amazing cause at that age, you don’t set out to do any of that. You’re not looking to be a role model, you’re just looking to live in that moment. That’s why I think I didn’t realize till much later what I had accomplished. I was just there to dance, and I loved what I was doing. I was just a young kid expressing my art. I’m so glad I was able to touch and move people. The fact that people still appreciate it 26 years later is amazing.

Why do you think the '90s needed this?
Jose: Because it was a time where we needed something new. The '90s just came in and being part of the community and part of the scene—with the rise of pop art, I think they needed somebody like Madonna to put the community on the map. [She] opened up people’s eyes to so many things that are going on in the world. It’s here: boys like each other, we’re gay, we’re human, we’re talented.

I think it played a major part in the early '90s because you never seen anything like it. That was before reality shows, now you see it like nothing. But back then to see two boys kissing was overwhelming, but it was happening. I can’t even imagine someone being not proud of who they are. We have to be proud of who we are, and everybody is somebody. We are all here for a reason. And ever since I was a kid I always remembered that: ‘You’re gay, but you are special.’

Truth or Dare showcased the love Madonna had for you guys. How would you define your relationship with her back then? 
Jose: I didn’t know how to take it. I was so young, and yeah I loved the love. She was almost like a mother to us.

Luis: This was our first big mainstream thing. We were quote in quote kings of the underground with House of Extravaganza. But this crossover was the first to us. She really took to us. By the time we got to Los Angeles and started working we were really tight. We felt very akin to her. She was really loving towards to us.

Oh yea!!!"almost forgot."HOPE ALL YALL HAD A WONDERFUL FOURTH O JULY WKND!!!!"

A photo posted by INtheNAMEoftheFATHER(J🙏🏾SE) (@fatherjose.xtravaganza) on


How was it like dealing with all the controversy the Blond Ambition tour spurred?
Jose: When they started calling hotels and leaving death threats [it] was scary. But at the same time that made us want to be even fiercer. I was ready to take off my clothes and everything. And after all of that, we were extra provocative.

Can you describe to me a different side of Madonna that you guys were privy to?
Jose: I saw such an emotional side. I thought I was going to lose my job because I got her so upset, to the point where she was crying. The tour was almost ending and we got into a conversation, and she was promising us to continue with a record deal, and performing at the MTV Awards. And I sad, ‘You’re a liar, we’re not going to see you again.’ I said ‘Oh please, you’re just gong to forget about us.’

It really hurt her feelings. And she just kicked me out of her dressing room. So that was a moment for me that I never saw—cause you think, ‘When this is over you’re going to move on.’ She just started crying and she said, ‘Just get out of my room.' She kicked me out.

Luis: She honestly was really loving and motherly to us. But besides that, she was an around-the-way girl when there weren’t any cameras around. She was really chill, relaxed and we hung out.

What was it like adjusting  after you guys got back home from tour?
Luis: The phone wasn’t there for room service!  [Laughs]

Jose: It was a rude awakening. You’re spoiled with this lifestyle. As a kid you can easily adapt to all of that. I hated home, I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be in my mom’s house. My mother looked at me like ‘Calm down before I smack you down.’ [Laughs]

Luis: Even though we didn’t come back to the situation we were accustomed to, we came back with so much knowledge.

Jose, in Strike A Pose, your mother mentions her disappointment because you didn’t continue with your dancing career. Why didn’t you keep going after working with Madonna?
Jose: I got distracted for a moment and I hid for a while. A lot my friends started dying when AIDS began to hit and I lost grip of a lot of things. I was still so young and I didn’t know how to deal with everything. All my family and friends that we had looked up to passed on. I was also caught up in messy relationships. Not to say that I regret anything, it made me who I am today, but I think that all of that was happening so fast. There were times where I had three or four friends in the hospital dying at 18-years old and nobody knew where it was coming from. It became very hard, and you do things that you wouldn’t normally do because you feel cheated and you walk around bitter. I did that for a while. I was getting so much love and adoration, but I didn’t see any of that stuff.

What are your fondest memories of Gabriel?
Luis: He was never upset about anything.

Jose: He was always smiling—so sweet.

Luis: He was such a good-natured person. We never came across someone like that, especially us—we came from a lion’s den. We come from this background of either you're fierce or you’re not. Gabriel was this little ball of sunshine and light.

How did you guys feel about the lawsuit Kevin, Oliver and Gabriel filed?
Luis: We were in the middle of doing a record deal, so we really didn’t want to get too involved with what was going on. At that time we didn’t understand why.

Jose: It divided us.

Luis: They had something in their contract from their agency that they were not honoring.

Do you guys understand why Gabriel did it?
Luis: I understand why he did it, but that wasn’t our situation. We were out and proud already. Do I understand why he wanted out the movie? Yes. Do I understand why she would want him in the movie? Yes.

How does it feel like not having a relationship with Madonna now?
Jose: Sometimes it feels weird, because you like to think that these moments you share with a person aren’t just business. There are feelings involved. I know she thinks the same. Whatever the reason is, she has moved on. Life happens and she is a celebrity as well. I don’t expect her to come knocking on my door, but I definitely miss her on a personal level. It doesn’t have to be gig. It was more than that.

How do you feel about critics who say Madonna hasn’t given people of color the proper recognition for starting the vogue dancing movement?
Jose: She took two of our own and allowed us to take it all over the world. This vogue thing needed somebody like her.

If you can give your younger selves advice what would it be?
Luis: To be more focused

Jose: Be more present.

Do you guys have any regrets?
Luis: I don’t regret anything.

Jose: Sometimes. I always say that everything that we did has made us who we are today. No I wouldn’t change anything that happened. We would do everything the same way. [But] just be more focused like Luis said.

Luis: If could have went to Los Angeles afterwards and gotten represented, I would’ve probably done that.

What are you guys doing now?
Luis: I own a show in Palm Springs, it’s called "Carnival Cabaret," and it’s a female impersonator show. I choreograph for it, but I’m not in the show. And I’m writing a memoir right now, too.

Jose: I’m working with the kids at The Door, an organization dedicated to helping youth. I just did a project with Baz Luhrmann and Jaden Smith, which is coming out on Netflix. It’s called The Get Down. I was on it as a consulting choreographer, and they asked me to be in the project. I also just got back from Sweden, from teaching a workshop there— still trying to keep dancing.

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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?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

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?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

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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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.

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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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