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Aaliyah Week: How 'One In A Million' Pushed The Envelope Of R&B

A few creatives behind the album speak on their contributions and how 'One in a Million' influenced R&B.

Even though Age Ain't Nothing But A Number was Aaliyah's debut album, it wasn't my first introduction to the teenaged artist. Her sophomore effort, One in a Million, was my first musical taste of her sound, and eventually led me back two years prior to her debut. But her 1996 follow up solidified the musical trajectory that Aaliyah began to trail blaze.

Partly helmed by the beats of Timbaland to the lyrical content penned by Missy Elliott on standout tracks like "4 Page Letter" to "Heartbroken," a timeless sound was created that still rings loudly today in other artist's music. The title track alone has been sampled time and time again. Although Tim and Missy took the reigns sound-wise, the album was stacked with top notch writing/producing credits including Diane Warren, Jermaine Dupri, Rodney Jerkins, Craig King, Carl-So-Lowe and Daryl Simmons.

In celebration of the soundscape's 20th anniversary (Aug. 27), a few creatives behind the album speak on their contributions and how One in a Million influenced R&B.

Craig King: Produced "Got To Give It Up," "Never Givin' Up"
Tavarius Polk: Featured On "Never Givin' Up"
Daryl Simmons: Produced "The One I Gave My Heart To"
Diane Warren: Penned "The One I Gave My Heart To"
Craig Kallman: CEO Of Atlantic Records
Carl-So-Lowe: Produced "I Gotcha' Back"
Daniel Pearl: Directed "4 Page Letter" Video
Marc Baptiste: Album Cover Photographer

Pack Your Bags, You’re Headed To Detroit

Craig King: It was sickeningly cold in Detroit. I was out there for three months in a condo that they put me up in just to record non-stop. We did about eight songs and out of the eight, four made it. I was honored to work in the studio because it was the same studio that Anita Baker did the Rapture album in. Shout out to Van Guard Studios. I walked in and I remember, and keep in mind at this point I had already had a number of big, platinum albums, so I wasn’t going to be totally star struck, but I was definitely anxious because I wanted to get to work. Aaliyah had already told her management that she wanted to work with me, and I knew that she had already said that she liked the music that I had done with Monica [Payne] back in New Jersey (“Never Givin’ Up”). I was already prepared to go in and knock that out. When I walked in, her little face was so bright and just so ready and righteous, I was like, ‘This is going to be easy,’ because her spirit is just ready to go. We all sat in the room for a minute, we talked to the engineer and then I said, ‘Do you mind if I borrow you for a minute?’ And she said, ‘Yeah.’ We ran out of the room and went to the piano room. We sat down for a little while on the piano and talked. I said, ‘Do you mind singing “At Your Best” for me and I’m going to play the piano and I’m going to modulate, but just sing it and then we’ll just modulate it. I just want to get a sense of your range.’ I turned the lights down, she sat next to me on the stool and we started to play the song and I got chills all over my body. That’s one of my favorite Aaliyah songs. I just looked at her and I said, ‘This is going to be fun!’ and she said, ‘I know right!’ Then we got up and we walked back in the room and her mom says, ‘How’d it go?’ She said, ‘I’m ready!’ Then we started going at it, we went to work.

Tavarius Polk: At the time it was snowing and I can remember having on a black leather jacket with a Detroit, Michigan jersey and some jeans when we very first met at the studio.

King: We went to the mall one day because I told her that I didn’t know it was that cold in Detroit and I had gone out there with a pea coat. She was like ‘You have to get a bomber.’ We went to the mall, got this full-length bomber with a hood on it and she was like, ‘I’m paying for it. It’s my weather, let me pay for it.’

Missing this Angel! What's goin on with R&B people??

A photo posted by craigaking (@craigaking) on

Polk: We used to do a lot of shopping. Her favorite thing at the time that we all used to talk about was a pair of shoes that were called Mags. Those shoes were like $500 and up and a couple of us ended up buying the same exact color, same exact style. We used to joke about it and she would be like ‘Why are y’all jocking me?’ We would say whatever, we’re just buying what we think is hot, too.

King: Whenever I was told that Aaliyah was on her way to the session I got excited because I knew she was going to come in there with that humble spirit and we were really going to have a good conversation about the records. We went to the mall one night before we went to play laser tag because after sessions we would do things that were just fun. That was the advantage of doing the records in Detroit. It’s her hometown so she could take you around town. Everybody who knew her would just go crazy when she walked into a place.

Daryl Simmons: Aaliyah had a cool vibe and swag back then that other girls didn’t have. She was kind of already a star without bragging about it. She was kind of that very confident, low-key star that didn’t really have to brag about it. She carried herself in that mystique, like an old movie star with the dark glasses and whatever that don’t have to say a lot.

Working On 'One In A Million'

Diane Warren: I remember really liking Aaliyah and wanting to work with her. I like to give an artist something that they don’t usually do and that’s what my songs tend to do. It tends to show what a singer can or can’t do in certain situations. But if you can sing, these songs can show a different side to you and show your range and show that you can really sing. I think I reached out to Craig Kallman at Atlantic and said I wanted to work with her. They were down.

Craig Kallman: I met her when she was sixteen, and she immediately had this kind of electrical charm about her. She was incredibly charismatic and just the sweetest, nicest, artist but also carried herself with a real, kind of almost mysterious air about her. She had this way about her that was very intriguing and telling. Obviously, she was beautiful, and the most incredible smile, and had a great sense of style. And just carried herself extremely maturely, but she was also very cool at the same time. And just sort of dialed in to what was cutting edge from fashion to music. She just had a great aesthetic about her. At that point, you know you were in a presence of a star and she had a unique tone and vocal tone, and style, own vocal style. So it was the complete artist package. She really was somebody who had it all. You could say she had it all. And it was just very exciting to get the opportunity to sign her because artists like that are few and far between. She really had something incredibly magnetic. We were very lucky to bring her to Atlantic.

Carl-So-Lowe: Timbaland was so innovative, and to me, he set the pace for that album with “If Your Girl Only Knew” and stuff like that. I think everything else pretty much fell in place after that and just kept the album iconic. But to me, Timbaland set the pace for it.

King: We came in right as she got her budget ready to go. Vincent [Herbert] and I were the first people she called, we were the first group. That’s why we had so much freedom to go in and create a sound because we didn’t have to do a song here or there. They wanted us to go in and build a sound. We built a sound and it was a departure from R. Kelly. Then they took that and played it for Missy and Timbaland because Missy had just had a hit record with Gina Thompson and P. Diddy.

Kallman: When we signed Aaliyah, and brought her over, the conversation with her to find an innovative producer who wasn’t currently dominating the charts and we talked about how do we find her own sound that was going to define her. I really just started meeting with tons and tons of new songwriters and producers, just looking for someone creative that had their own spin on things. And one day, this young kid came in. His name was Tim Moseley. He started playing me beats and it was a really obvious meeting of, ‘This doesn’t sound like anything that’s out there and really had its own super exciting and electric, just dynamic properties.’ I called up Aaliyah, and I said, ‘You need to meet this guy. His name’s Timbaland, and he’s new. He’s out of the Devonte [Swing] camp. I said I think this could be your muse to really create something special. And they hit off. We put Missy and Timbaland and Aaliyah together, and everybody really hit it off famously. The chemistry was incredible and they just started creating and creating and it really worked. She obviously made  One in a Million, an album that was very, very much ahead of the curve and didn’t sound like anything that had come before it.

Lowe: I believe Jomo, Barry Hankerson’s son, reached out to So So Def and I think it happened from there. I knew she was coming to Atlanta, and we had nothing prepared at the time. It was her, her brother and her mother. I was kind of shy, so I went to play video games. Jermaine [Dupri] had these arcade video games of Mortal Kombat. Aaliyah walked over and said, ‘What you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m playing Mortal Kombat.’ She says, ‘I bet I could whoop your a**.’ I said, ‘I bet you can’t, not with my Sub-Zero.’ She came over and she was really good. I was surprised, but she could not beat Carl-So-Lowe with Sub-Zero. She got frustrated, hit the knob like, ‘You suck,’ [laughs]. From there, we just had a really good working relationship. I think we worked with her for three to four days because she was so focused about what she needed. Jermaine and I, we were trying to make extravagant stuff. She felt like she had gotten that from Timbaland already, and she wanted more simplified songs on the album that were really good, that had a presence on the album. We came up with “I Gotcha Back” with the interpolation of Leon Haywood’s “I Want To Do Something Freaky To You,” I believe it’s called. I replayed that, programmed the drums. Jermaine changed some of the beat and some of the snare sounds and gave it that So So Def thing. We had it, and she loved it.

Simmons: I got a last minute call from BabyFace because he lived in L.A., and I was here in Atlanta. He sent me “The One I Gave My Heart To,” and I listened to it. I loved the song. He couldn’t do the session with her, and he knew that I could do it. I was glad that he called me because I got the chance to work with her. It was very special. I never met her before that, and when she came in she was very quiet. She came with just her dad, and she was very quiet and soft spoken. I pushed the button, said, ‘Okay just warm up a little bit,’ which I do with all singers. And I’ll just sit there and look at a magazine and just kind of let them warm up with no pressure. I’ll tell them we’re not recording, but I’m always recording. She started singing and I heard this voice. I looked out in the room, and I was like, ‘Is that you?’ She goes, ‘Oh yeah, that’s how I warm up.’ She was doing all this incredible opera. It was the furthest thing I would have ever thought that she could do. It just blew my mind.

Warren: It showed her vocal range, and I know a couple of people thought she wouldn’t be able to do that song. I thought, ‘No, she’ll be able to do that.’ I remember being in the studio when she was singing it and hitting those notes and it was just beautiful. It just showed another side to her. The octave goes up in the end and some of that was what I written into the song, but she took it somewhere else. She put her own thing in it and she did some ad-libs. That’s when someone is really good. I liken it to an actor, to someone writing a script and if they walk in, Meryl Streep or whoever reads their script they’re going to change a little bit of it or make it their own because naturally they’re great. It’s the same thing with a singer with a song. You’re giving it to them a certain way they’re going to take it to another level because of what they do. That’s what she did. She not only rose to it, she went beyond it. She nailed that song and it was amazing what she did. It’s still one of my favorite records.

King: I wrote “Never Givin’ Up” with a girl named Monica Payne who now manages V Bozeman. We started to work on the track, writing lyrics. She sat on the floor and the first line, “Sitting here in this empty room,’ because the room was fairly empty because I had just moved into that house. I remember thinking this is my way of giving love to the Isley Brothers, but the ‘90s version of that. When we got to the line “Angels watching over me,” it was an ode to the Clark Sisters because they had a song about something similar to that. I had to tap into that Detroit thing and I know Aaliyah is going to love it. I brought in a guy name Tavarius [Polk] who was a part of our team and he sang on it. He was like 13 or 14 years old at the time. He sang the male part and killed it. Aaliyah fell in love with his voice, too, so we kept him on it. He came in and owned it. He sounded like a grown man.

On this day we lost u!!!!! #AWMG #AALIYAH

A photo posted by TAVARIUS POLK #AWMG (@tavariuspolk) on

Polk: I was just shocked to finally get to meet someone like her. It was always neat to work with an artist or do a duet with an artist that was already on that level as she was. It was great. When I met her, we clicked instantly. The vibe was good in the studio. We became real good friends even after the fact; we would sing on each other’s voicemails at the time, we had two-way pagers. I would sing on hers and she would sing on mine as well as Missy. The initial feeling was great. I was the first male artist other than R. Kelly that she had ever did a duet with on her own project so it meant a lot. After doing that, she told me herself that I was her favorite male singer. I hold that dear to me even to this day.

King: When we record, Aaliyah always wanted to turn the lights off completely in the booth so you couldn’t see her face. That was always funny. When we got to the line “Angels watching over you,” it goes high up and her voice almost sounds like an angel. In that section when she finished it, she just ran out of the booth screaming, ‘I love it!’ Her mom jumped up and they hugged each other.

Polk: The studio session only lasted for one day because we were pretty quick with the studio work. I arranged my own verse at the time. I did get to put my own energy and input into the record as well. I coached a few of the ad-libs that her and I did together on that record. It was great working with Craig King. He’s a great writer and composer. She’s a great singer and a great artist as well as myself. We all had a great time. We went back the second day and we listened to the song as they mixed it. We sung it amongst each other in there as they were mixing it. We were very happy and excited about it.

She still got my back!!! #aaliyah

A photo posted by TAVARIUS POLK #AWMG (@tavariuspolk) on

King: I think “Never Givin’ Up” lyrically and vocally she just took you to places that you didn’t know she could go. It was a good balance of songs. They really said something that you didn’t expect them to say. She went deeper than you would expect her to go. She gave us some great notes up in there. I was also the vocal producer on that record because it was a challenge for me because I knew I wanted to get the very best performance out of her that I could. There’s something very fulfilling about watching an artist grow right under your eyes.

Polk: We rehearsed it at the piano before she even went in the booth. It was good because we all got to vibe and really learn the song before we went in there and did it. It was a great sight. I picked up my little pointers from her and the etiquette of how to record in front of the mic and the different things with the headphones that you can do.

King: When I was mixing “Never Givin’ Up” in L.A. I ran into Brandy and Wanya, I knew Wanya from Philly and I had worked with Brandy on another project. They said, ‘What are you doing out here?’ I said, ‘I’m mixing Aaliyah at a studio near by.’ They ended coming over to the studio and Brandy said, ‘What is Aaliyah working on now? I want to hear it.’ I just played “Never Givin’ Up’ and her eyes watered up. She said, ‘She absolutely destroyed this. This is her new sound?’ I said, ‘Yeah this is where she’s going.’ I called Aaliyah that night and told her, ‘Brandy and Wanya were in the studio and they absolutely loved “Never Givin’ Up.’” She was like, ‘That’s what’s up!’

Warren: She was an old soul. She was wiser than her years and the way she carried herself. She had a lot of class.

Happy birthday #AALIYAH #babygirl #bigsis #AWMGWORLDWIDE #AFISHAL #nevergivingup #oneinamillion #stillnumber1

A photo posted by TAVARIUS POLK #AWMG (@tavariuspolk) on

King: Aaliyah visualized “Got To Give It Up.” She said she wanted to use Slick Rick on it. I said, ‘That’s different.’ She got him on that one with her own star power. She came in and cut the track and it was cute watching her cut it because she was dancing the whole time. It’s just one of her all time favorite songs. She said it was one of her dad’s favorite songs too. She just vibed out in that space. To me, the funniest part was trying to figure out the lyrics. Marvin Gaye sang in such a crazy way, a lot of words we didn’t know. We had to sit there for hours making sure we were writing it down properly. We still think we might’ve gotten some words wrong. We replaced about five words just so that they would be female. We didn’t want it to sound like it was from the ‘70s so we changed some lyrics because some of the words just wouldn’t work in the ‘90s like “suga mama.” [laughs]

Kallman: She definitely had an executive producer’s ear. She had a great sense of what was right for herself, and you have to give her a lot of credit for steering those sessions to a place that obviously created meaningful hit records.

King On The Hidden Track “No Days Go By:” It was one of those records that came from the ‘90s era that was more typical of the ‘90s than the other records that I did with her. She heard it while I was at the studio. Probably the fourth week we were there I played it for her. I wrote the whole song. She was so involved in the vocal arrangement with me that I really don’t care if they gave her a writer’s credit. I have no ego about this kind of stuff. I wrote the song, played it for her and the next day she said let’s just cut. She didn’t want her manager to know. We cut it first and then they walked in on it. They weren’t expecting this. I think we had a Slick Rick sample in it, “La Di Da Di,” I think we started it the line, “It’s all because of you.” It was just one of the songs we cut. I don’t even consider it when we talk about her projects because most people don’t know about it. I may end up posting that one-day, a gem that I did with Aaliyah years ago.

Kallman: The goal was to have this be her really coming out and having a defining moment artistically to really set herself apart. Her videos, as well, really contributed to that. Her sense of style and star power that exuded from the videos, I think contributed as well to setting her apart from the rest of the pack.

Aaliyah In Front Of The Camera

Daniel Pearl: I met Aaliyah on the video set for “One in a Million.” We didn’t have too much dialogue with her then. My procedure as a cinematographer/cameraman didn’t interact with the talent too much. That’s the director’s job. My job is to realize the director’s vision, give him or her the shots that they’re asking for and to do the appropriate lighting. We did two videos together. The first we did was the “One in a Million” and the “One in a Million (Remix),” and then I don’t know how much longer it was, probably months or a year passed, I was asked to shoot “4 Page Letter.” That video is what I probably considered my first official directing job. I was impressed from the beginning with her sophistication for her age. It’s a very interesting blend of professionalism and innocence that she possessed that appealed to me. Barry Hankerson, who is an old acquaintance of mine, he called me up and in a spur of the moment I decided yes, this is the time to do it and try it. People had been asking me for years to direct and I always said no, but I thought perhaps this young artist at the time had impressed me when we worked together and I thought perhaps it was time to do that.

Marc Baptiste: I was on contract with Seventeen magazine for two years and shot almost all of the covers and editorial back in the day. That was the very first time I met Aaliyah for a cover shoot. She was excited. She said, ‘I’m going to be on the cover of Seventeen!’ We did eight looks and the music was blaring. I ran into my friend Kidada Jones who is Quincy Jones’ daughter. They were really good friends back then. She introduced us at the Mercer Hotel. We got along great and the next thing I know, ‘I’m going to put my album out. Let’s meet.’ She flew in a month later with her dad, brother, mom and we met at this hotel in the Upper East Side. We talked about the concept of One in a Million, and Aaliyah at such a young age, she was very focused, she knew exactly what she wanted, how she wanted it. We talked about some concepts and she loved it. After the meeting, I got the call that she really wanted me to shoot the album cover for One in a Million. I remember it was a super long day. We started at nine in the morning and we didn’t finish until like 11 p.m. or almost close to midnight. We shot all the way downtown from Canal St. train station. At the time I had the studio at 33 Harrod, that’s where we shot her, and it was incredible. We took a van to Dumbo, Dumbo wasn’t Dumbo back then. It was pretty rough area, so we did half a day in the studio, half a day on location. She worked really hard. She didn’t complain, just kept pushing herself. We rented motorcycles and went all out. It almost looked like a music video shoot, that’s how elaborate the set was.

Pearl: It’s pretty well known that her brother Rashad wrote the concept for “4 Page Letter.” He wrote a short story and they got me the short story, which I loved, and I then translated that into a treatment, a music video treatment. I basically wrote it up as a film, described it scene by scene, some descriptions of what the shots will be, etc. We went from there. She was really easy to get along with. It’s interesting, she managed to preserve, although she grew up in the industry, she was still able to walk that line between the innocence of youth and the knowledge of someone with experience. You could approach her. She didn’t feel like she knew it all, she was very open to conversation. I think she was on her way to becoming a talent on a magnitude of a Whitney Houston. She was a complete package. She was beautiful, she was a singer, a writer and she was an actress.

Baptiste: I wanted to keep her real. The fact that she grew up in Detroit and born in Brooklyn, I wanted to give the album cover a street chic vibe so that she’s more approachable to an audience. I didn’t want to bring her in a Bentley or anything like that. That wasn’t her. She was a down to Earth person. I wanted to keep it street chic and play off her beauty. The actual cover was shot on the Canal Street station. When we did the Subway shot, it was one of our last setups. Back in the day, people didn’t go to Canal Street after nine o’clock or Howard Street. Canal Street was dead around nine. That particular album shot was done really late, like 10:30 or 11 p.m. There were only a few riders in the car.

Pearl: I shot “4 Page Letter” in a place called Sable Ranch, which is northeast of Los Angeles, 45 minutes. It was amazing. I had a great production designer and we basically went into an existing forest and we dressed it with some of the vintage and some of the things to make it more interesting than it was, it took a couple of days. The opening shot for “4 Page Letter” had this big long crane shot. The crane doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s a 75-foot long crane arm that came out of Russia. With that crane in the forest, we started up above the trees and we smoked up the background and the sunlight was coming through the trees. We drop down and pick Aaliyah up as she crosses along a stream. The crane arm also had on its under side a track to run the camera. Not only could the camera be out of the end of the 75-foot arm, the camera could also roll on the under side of that whole arm to track along. We were up in the air, we crane down to her eye level, and the camera starts to track along the arm back to the base of the crane. Some of the vines and the things the camera passes through are attached to the arm. There are cables that support the arm to keep it steady and we actually attached some set pieces to that. As the arm to the crane comes down the pieces come with it and the foreground pieces are actually attached to the crane. It’s quite a cool shot. Oddly enough, when I saw it, although I thought it was a great shot, I thought that we needed to break it up and cut out of the shot. Aaliyah and everyone said, ‘No you can’t break up the shot. The shot is too cool the way it is.’

Baptiste: We didn’t want to deviate too far from her personal style. That’s why we kept it 100 percent Aaliyah. The other iconic images like the electrical facility that’s behind her, she just defined strength and power, electrical power.

Pearl: She was very open to ideas and it’s sad that I have to revisit all of this. It’s a terrible loss really.

The Everlasting Impact Of ‘One in a Million’ & Aaliyah

King: That album was so groundbreaking at that period in music that you’d be hard pressed in finding another album that did a hard reset in the music industry. That album did a hard reset and keep in mind that so many people thought she was over, they thought she was a one hit wonder, they thought she was an R. Kelly protégé, no one expected anything else. He had done Changing Faces and after he had stopped them, they never came back. When I got the call to go to Detroit I was like, ‘She’s doing what?’ I was even shocked because I made her a part of that whole R. Kelly thing. It’s going to come and it’s going to go. We got in the studio and I realized that she’s serious. As a body of work I think One in a Million was her best body of work from top to bottom. The song “One in a Million” kicked the door in for all of us.

Kallman: What I loved about Aaliyah was that she was always up for taking risks and taking chances and giving new people opportunities. She was never afraid of pioneering new sounds and new styles. And that’s evident in her final work because she was willing to really push the envelope and never stay in the same place.

Simmons: Once I saw her in movies, she was such a natural. I’m like wow, she’s just really good at all that she does, style, or clothing, and all that. She definitely would have been a big music exec at some point in her life. You could see that whole thing. Probably a lot of the things that Beyoncé has done, she would have done. I’m not saying on the same level, but she was definitely headed towards that same kind of career to me.

Polk: Everything about her is just something gorgeous. We were in the process of remixing “Never Givin’ Up.” My group, Afishal, we’re in the process of trying to do it, but of course there’s some things that have to be cleared with the record first, with the label and everything. But I’m hoping that they will get to hear that, real soon, hopefully on this project that we’re working on now.

Lowe: I thought that we’d get a chance to work again, and unfortunately what happened, happened. She’s with the angels right now.

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A Look At Fabolous And Jadakiss' 'Verzuz' Battle

After pairing two of the most acclaimed stars in contemporary R&B on Juneteenth, Verzuz returned to its rap roots, as Jadakiss and Fabolous went heads up to see whose catalog reigns supreme. While the event between the two — who joined forces for the highly-anticipated and critically acclaimed joint-album, Friday on Elm Street, in 2017 — was undoubtedly friendly and laced with compliments throughout the battle, there was no question that each came with the intent to outlast the other and walk away the victor.

With both having released their debut solo albums in 2001, Jadakiss and Fabolous' trajectories within the rap game have been eerily similar. While Jadakiss spent the latter half of the '90s as a key cog in the Bad Boy Records machine as a member of The LOX, Fabolous bided his time dominating the mixtape circuit under the guiding hand of DJ Clue, who helped him secure a record deal through his imprint, Desert Storm. Throughout the aughts, both artists matched their commercial success with standout showings alongside other rap and R&B artists and on the mixtape circuit, building reputations as elite wordsmiths. Today, both continue to churn out material and are regarded as OG's in the game, with resumes that place them on the list of the greatest rappers of all-time.

As two of the greatest rappers out of New York to ever pick up a mic, and with their willingness to perform and compete out of love for the culture, it was a given that Freddy and Jason face off in a Verzuz matchup tosee whose lyrical sword cuts the deepest, once and for all. Aside from minor technical difficulties during the tail-end of the battle, this edition of the Instagram Live event continued the seamlessness of previous battles, with Jada and Fab proving that R&B and gospel artists aren't the only ones who know how to put on a show in effective fashion.

In this matchup, Jadakiss went first for the first ten rounds, with Fabolous responding with his own selection, before switching the rotation for the final ten rounds, with Jadakiss answering with a song of his own. The evening, which included backstories behind each artist’s most popular records, friendly, albeit competitive banter, and countless trips down memory lane for the viewers and those commenting in the chat, is one that rap fans will remember for quite some time and is a testament to Fab and Jada’s staying power and music contributions to the culture. Here’s a round-by-round breakdown and recap of the Verzuz battle between Jadakiss and Fabolous, along with who we felt walked away as the victor when all was said and done.

ROUND 1: DMX feat. The LOX & Jay-Z's "Blackout" vs. Lil Wayne feat. Fabolous & Juelz Santana's "You Ain't Got Nuthin'"

Jadakiss wastes no time throwing down the gauntlet, as he lets off his verse from "Blackout," his collaborative effort with his LOX brethren, JAY-Z, and DMX, from the latter's 1998 LP, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. In return, Fabolous contests Kiss' opening pitch with a freestyle, which ultimately pales in comparison to Kiss' memorable posse-cut

Winner: Jadakiss

ROUND 2: The LOX's "Recognize" vs. Cassidy feat. Lil Wayne & Fabolous' "6 Minutes" DMX feat. The LOX & Jay-Z's "Blackout" vs. Lil Wayne feat. Fabolous & Juelz Santana's "You Ain't Got Nuthin'"

Sticking to the Ruff Ryders era of his career, the raspy one comes through with "Recognize," the standout, DJ Premier-produced cut off The LOX's sophomore LP, We Are the Streets. From there, Loso draws another lyrical miracle out the deck via "6 Minutes of Death," his scorching showing alongside Lil Wayne and Cassidy from Cass' I'm A Hustla album, which lands with impact, but falls short of a deafening blow in this matchup.

Winner: Jadakiss

ROUND 3: Nas feat. Jadakiss & Ludacris' "Made You Look (Remix)" vs. Lloyd Banks feat. Fabolous, Kanye West, Swizz Beatz & Ryan Leslie's "Start It Up"

Having captured the momentum early on, Jada continues to run up the score by tossing Nas' "Made You Look (Remix)" out on the table. Fabolous makes a valiant attempt to put some numbers on the board with Lloyd Banks' 2010 single "Start It Up," and although the track itself is a certified street banger, it's no challenge for one of the most memorable remixes of the early aughts.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 4: Jadakiss' "By Your Side" vs. Fabolous feat. P. Diddy & Jagged Edge's "Trade It All Pt. 2"

Having secured the first few rounds in convincing fashion, Al Qaeda Jada lets his foot off the gas, throwing out one of his more beloved deep cuts, "By Your Side," from his sophomore LP, Kiss of Death. His back against the ropes, the captain of the Street Family resorts to his grab-bag of hits, pulling out the Jagged Edge and Diddy-assisted summer smash, "Trade It All Pt. 2," giving the Brooklyn Don his first round of the bout.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 5: The LOX's "All For the Love" vs. Fabolous feat. Kobe's "Imma Do It"

Faltering a bit in the previous round, Jadakiss returns fire with his solo selection from The LOX's '98 debut, Money, Power, & Respect, which Fabolous ironically jacked for his Friday Night Freestyles series, five years ago. In turn, Fabolous fails to regroup, misfiring with "Imma Do It," an underwhelming offering from his Loso's Way album, accounting for one of the more lopsided rounds in this edition of #Verzuz

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 6: The LOX's "Chest 2 Chest Freestyle" vs. Fabolous' "Keepin' It Gangsta"

Jadakiss goes out of the confines of the rules a bit by unleashing a vintage freestyle over Showbiz & A.G.'s "Next Level (Nyte Tyme Mix)," which pairs his bars with DJ Premier's sonic craftsmanship. While a strong selection in its own right, it gets outgunned by Fabolous' early street anthem, "Keepin' it Gangsta," adding another point to the Brooklynite's scorecard.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 7: Ruff Ryders "WW III" vs. Fabolous feat. Junior Reid's "Gangsta Don't Play"

When in doubt, Jada seems to mine material from his Ruff Ryder catalog to gain an edge against his opponent, this time drawing "WW III," the star-studded battle royal featuring Scarface, Snoop Dogg, and Yung Wun, out the deck. In turn, Loso misplays his hand, deciding to strike back with the Junior Reid-assisted "Gangsta Don't Play," a solid composition on its own merit, but no threat to the Ryde or Die Vol. 2 compilation.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 8: Noreaga feat. Big Pun, Nature, Cam'Ron, Jadakiss & Styles P's "Banned From TV" vs. Fabolous feat. Jay-Z & Uncle Murda's "Brooklyn"

Looking to further increase the distance between himself and his opponent, Jadakiss goes for the jugular with "Banned From T.V.," Noreaga's epic posse-cut featuring New York's prized rookie class of 1998. Fabolous, who continues to struggle to find his footing, mails it in with "Brooklyn," which is an admirable display of his pride for the thoroughest borough, but does little to move the crowd, in this scenario.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 9: The LOX's "Blood Pressure" vs. Fabolous' "Young OG"

Sticking to the script, Jadakiss caters to his core base once again with "Blood Pressure," his murderous solo outing from The LOX's We Are the Streets album. Fabolous, who has yet to play off of his versatility or track record as a hitmaker, goes with "Young OG," a favorite from his Soul Tape series, again failing to answer the bell.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 10: Black Rob feat. The LOX's "Can I Live" vs. Jeezy feat. Fabolous & Jadakiss' "OJ"

For the last round of the first half of the #Verzuz proceedings, Jadakiss picks "Can I Live," as his last shot before skipping to the showers for half-time. An opportunity to grab an easy basket before retaining the rock after the half is squandered by Fab, who again misfires with a lackluster counter, in the form of "OJ," a record that actually includes an appearance from Jadakiss himself.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 11: Fabolous feat. French Montana's "Ball Drop" vs. Puff Daddy feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes' "Victory"

For the second half of this #Verzuz battle, Fabolous gets the first possession and rises to the occasion with "Ball Drop," his festive, French Montana-assisted NYE anthem. However, Jada, who's history as the pen behind some of Diddy's biggest hits is well-documented, goes left-field, playing Diddy's verse from "Victory," effectively snatching this round from the jaws of defeat.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 12: Meek Mill feat. Fabolous & Anuel AA's "Uptown Vibes" vs. Sheek Louch feat. Jadakiss, Styles P & J-Hood's "Mighty D-Block"

After spending the first half of the battle attempting to steal rounds with sleepers, Fabolous finally decides to lean on his strengths, which is delivering high-octane radio hits and club banger. However, being that he's now on the offensive, his appearance on Meek Mill's "Uptown Vibes" gets quelled by "D Block Anthem," giving Jadakiss an overwhelming advantage over his Freddy vs. Jason costar on the scoreboard.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 13: Fabolous feat. Nate Dogg's "Can't Deny It" vs. The LOX's "F--k You"

For Round 13, Fabolous lands a haymaker, using 2Pac's "Ambitionz Az a Ridah" instrumental to incorporate his breakout, 2001 hit, "Can't Deny It," into his playlist. While Jadakiss claps back with the incendiary We Are the Streets cut, "Fuck You," the Nate Dogg-assisted "Can't Deny It" is too strong of a record to be denied.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 14: Fabolous feat. The-Dream's "Throw It in the Bag" (Remix) vs. Jadakiss' "Knock Yourself Out"

With the majority of his winning rounds coming off the strength of his high-charting singles, Fabolous looks to rely on that formula, coming through with the Drake-assisted remix to his 2009 single, "Throw It In The Bag." Unphased, Jadakiss brings out "Knock Yourself Out," the equivalent of his big joker, for neutralization, stealing yet another round.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 15: Fabolous' "Young'n" vs. Ghostface Killah feat. Jadakiss' "Run"

Fabolous takes it back to his throwback jersey and tilted brim days with "Young'n," one of the biggest singles of the rap star's career. Not to be outmatched, Jadakiss goes with "Run," his collaborative effort with Ghostface Killah, for this round, but falls short of landing the knockout punch.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 16: Fabolous' "You Be Killin Em" vs. Puff Daddy feat. The Notorious B.I.G., Lil' Kim & The Lox's "It's All About the Benjamins" (Remix)

Just when Fabolous looks to have cracked the code to victory, Jadakiss comes through with a record that's simply too seismic and timeless to overcome. This occurs yet again in Round 16, when Jadakiss counters Loso's 2010 smash, "You Be Killin Em," with "All About the Benjamins," one of the definitive rap records of not only the Bad Boy era, but the '90s as a whole.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 17: Fabolous feat. Ne-Yo's "Make Me Better" vs. DJ Clue feat. Jadakiss & Mary J. Blige's "Back 2 Life 2001"

Despite finding himself in a deficit, Fabolous remains vigilant, keeping Jadakiss honest with formidable salvos like his Ne-Yo-assisted chart-topper, "You Make Me Better," which he pulls out in Round 16. Jadakiss shows love to his Yonkers comrade Mary J. Blige by spinning "Back 2 Life 2001," their collaboration from DJ Clue's The Professional 2 album, but it's not enough to overcome one of Fab's smartest chess moves of the night.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 18: Fabolous feat. Mike Shorey & Lil Mo's "Can't Let You Go" vs. The LOX feat. Timbaland & Eve's "Ryde or Die, B---h"

In one of the more stylistically intriguing rounds of the night, Fabolous deploys "Can't Let You Go," his syrupy, 2003 hit, "Can't Let You Go," featuring Mike Shorey and Lil Mo, while Jadakiss goes with The LOX's 2000 single, "Ryde or Die, B---h" featuring his LOX brethren, Timbaland and Eve. While "Can't Let You Go" was the bigger Billboard hit, reading the room is an invaluable skill when participating in a #Verzuz battle, and according to the demographic and expectations of those tuning in to see these particular artists face-off, "Ryde or Die, B---h" is the more enticing offering, all things considered.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 19: Fabolous feat. Tamia's "Into You" vs. Jaheim feat. Jadakiss' "Diamond in da Ruff" (Remix)

As the battle winds down, and with Jadakiss having all but secured his bragging rights, both artists choose to play off of one another's selections, with Jadakiss answering Fabolous' "Into You" with "Diamond in da Ruff (Remix)," a sleeper of a gem in his catalog. However, "Into You, which is universally regarded as one of Fabolous' signature records, nabs him a latter round

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 20: Fabolous' "Breathe" vs. Jadakiss feat. Styles P's "We Gonna Make It"

For the final round in the battle between Freddy and Jason, Fabolous unleashes what may be his biggest trump card with "Breathe," one of the most impactful street anthems to come out of New York City in the past twenty years. Luckily, for Jadakiss, he still has one more trick up his sleeve, which turns out to be "We Gonna Make It," his beloved duet alongside Styles. P from his 2001 solo debut, Kiss Tha Game Goodbye. Two of the biggest rap records to hit the streets of New York. "Breathe" and "We Gonna Make It" are seemingly impossible to choose from, resulting in the lone draw of the night.



Devoid of any bad blood or shade, Jadakiss and Fabolous were content playing to the Verzuz crowd and enjoying the moment, particularly Jadakiss, whose level of intoxication visibly rises throughout the proceedings, giving the battle an even more light-hearted feel. While Fabolous, whose laundry list of Billboard charting lead-singles and guest appearances, didn't play his best hand this go-round, there were a few moments during the battle that reminded the viewers of his versatility as a songwriter with a catalog of unsung gems. For his part, Jadakiss, the winner of this Verzuz edition, by all accounts, played to his strengths, relying on the sheer amount of blockbuster posse-cuts and guest verses on his resume. Following the battle, each artist's DJ let off a brief medley of each artists' biggest records and fan favorites that didn't make the cut of their playlists, ending the night on a respectful and celebratory note.

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Alicia Keys and John Legend attend the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Jon Kopaloff/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

A Look At Alicia Keys And John Legend's 'Verzuz' Juneteenth Celebration

After the collective family service we had with Verzuz: The Healing at the end of May, the Instagram Live event took a small break. On Friday, June 19th, Verzuz returned with a special Juneteenth edition featuring a modern-day dueling pianos between Alicia Keys and John Legend.

For the first male/female matchup of the series, Legend and Keys are—on the surface—a perfect match. They’ve been much compared over their careers, having both emerged at the height of the neo-soul era and becoming the remaining two pianists in R&B. Despite the ways in which they’re similar, the two singer-songwriter catalogues are actually very different, which was evidenced during their celebratory pairing.

Legend, whose latest studio LP Bigger Love debuted on Friday, used the occasion to remind viewers—many of which were core Legend fans that have drifted since he’s gone more Adult Contemporary with his music—why they loved him in the first place. He leaned heavily into his deep discography of features and some uncredited assists fans may not have known of. Keys, who has also released new music with her self-titled album earlier this year, was a little less focused in her playlist for the night but covered all bases from big hits to newer cuts.

This Verzuz wasn’t full of the meme-generating moments, technical difficulties, and quotables that have become the secondary appeal of previous matches. In fact, one of the few viral moments was between comedian Tony Baker and Teddy Riley in the Verzuz chat at the very beginning of the evening. Much like Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond’s Healing, Alicia and John joined more as a celebration than a battle, jumping on background vocals for each other’s songs and collaborating on select pieces like their collective welcome for the night’s festivities, a rendition of Bob Marley's very fitting “Redemption Song.”

ROUND 1: Cham feat. Alicia Keys “Ghetto Story Chapter 2” vs. Lauryn Hill's “Everything is Everything”

In each Verzuz, one of the artists feels less strategic with their lineup than the other. This week, that artist was Keys. Surprisingly so, considering the advantage of having Verzuz head (Captain? Owner? Don King?) Swizz Beatz as a personal coach. Her featured turn on “Ghetto Story” was a bop, but not enough of a favorite to merit an opening position. For Legend, the piano setup allowed him to flex the rules and pull out his first appearance on a major project before he even had a deal: playing the keys on Lauryn Hill’s 1999 single, “Everything is Everything.”

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 2: Alicia Keys' “Underdog” vs. Slum Village's “Selfish” feat. Kanye West and John Legend

Alicia started the second round with “Underdog,” a track from her 2020 self-titled album. A curious choice despite debuting it at the Grammy’s earlier this year, viewers still don’t know the song that well. John moved into the “things I did with Kanye” portion of his early catalogue (it’s easy, now, to forget that Legend started as part of Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music camp) with the Slum Village jam “Selfish.”

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 3: Alicia Keys' “Karma” vs. John Legend's “Used to Love You”

On the third round, Keys gets into her hits, but Legend counters with his debut jammy jam from 2004's Get Lifted. That “Holla, holla, holla” still goes. Hard.

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 4: Eve and Alicia Keys' “Gangsta Lovin’” vs. John Legend's “So High”

The songs were too different in this round to easily call a winner. Alicia wins points for “Gangsta Lovin’” being a somewhat forgotten gem in her arsenal. “I forgot about that one!” is always a plus during a Verzuz event, and part of the reason Swizz and Tim insist that participants have a deep catalogue in the first place. But John’s move into his wedding song tunes, and again utilizing the piano, gave him an edge.

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 5: Usher and Alicia Keys' “My Boo” vs. John Legend's “Ordinary People”

“My Boo” is a strong AK favorite. High sing-along factor, high nostalgia. This round should have been a lock for Keys, but John countered with his 2004 seminal ballad “Ordinary People” and sang live at the piano (Alicia didn’t even get all the way into her verse on “My Boo.”)


ROUND 6: Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down" vs. Common's “They Say” feat. John Legend and Kanye West

Keys’ 2009 “Empire State of Mind (Part II)” was an appropriate tribute to resiliency and potential for current times, even if some viewers were wondering why she chose her solo version instead of the Jay-Z collaboration (my guess at the answer: piano). Common’s “They Say” still holds up now, but Keys wins out for sentiment.


ROUND 7: Alicia Keys' “Teenage Love Affair” vs. John Legend's “Heaven”

This was an uninspiring round for me. “Teenage Love Affair” and “Heaven” are both good songs for what they are and encourage some head-nodding when played. I think they’re songs that nobody turns off or skips, but they don’t exactly go back to listen to them when thinking of these artists either.


ROUND 8: Alicia Keys “Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)" vs. John Legend's “Another Again”

In my anecdotal experience, if you poll 20 Black women in their mid-late ‘30s and ask them their favorite John Legend track, a good 15 are going to give “Another Again” as their second choice. If not, their first. (Probably because the lyrics reflect early experience staying in cycles with people they knew they needed to move on from.)

But, Keys' ode to relationships we have no business being in, the Aubrey Graham co-penned “Un-Thinkable,” is undeniable.

WINNER: Drake. I mean Keys.

ROUND 9: Alicia Keys' “If I Ain’t Got You” vs. John Legend's “This Time”

“This Time” is a Legend sleeper ballad from the largely slept-on Evolver, but “If I Ain’t Got You” has all the things we love about Alicia: the keys, the lyrics about devotional love, and one of her best uses of her raspy alto.


ROUND 10: Alicia Keys' “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart” vs. John Legend's “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” feat. Ludacris

I mean… John’s lovingly awkward two-step aside, do we even have to discuss a round with “Tonight” in it? No, we don’t.

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 11: Alicia Keys' “A Woman’s Worth” vs. John Legend & The Roots' “Wake Up Everybody” feat. Common and Melanie Fiona 

John Legend and The Roots' version of “Wake Up Everybody” was poignant for the day (as is their entire 2010 Wake Up! project if you’ve never listened to it), and it provided another opportunity for Keys and Legend to collaborate, but “A Woman’s Worth” is Keys right in her pocket.


ROUND 12: Alicia Keys' “Diary” feat. Tony! Toni! Tone! & Jermaine Paul vs. Kanye West and John Legend's “Blame Game”

I was really, really, really hoping John was going to fully take on Jermaine Paul’s part for “Diary” (he came in with some teases here and there). Still, even without the full “I won’t tell” back and forth we would have all loved to see live, “Diary” is still a winner. Plus, John lost points for having to apologize to Ms. Phyllis (his mama) on air for the curse words in “Blame Game.”


ROUND 13: Alicia Keys' “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” vs. Rick Ross' “Magnificent” feat. John Legend

Another uneven round that’s hard to call at face value. Legend reminded us early in the evening that he and Rozay have damn near an album’s worth of collaborations, and “Magnificent” is one of the best ones. But “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” is a “Purple Rain” sample—almost a cheat code. Also, they used “Magnificent” as a Ciroc intermission.


ROUND 14: Alicia Keys' “Superwoman” vs. Estelle's “American Boy” feat. Kanye West

“Superwoman” wins by default here because while John co-wrote “American Boy” and signed Estelle to his brief HomeSchool imprint, he played the song more as a vehicle to tell his career story than as a formal submission towards his 20.


ROUND 15: Alicia Keys' “You Don’t Know My Name” vs. Rick Ross and John Legend's “Rich Forever”

Before Alicia and John got into their songs at the top of the night, they mentioned a song they’d both worked on together, but never named the track. That song was the 2003 Kanye-produced “You Don’t Know My Name,” which John provided the soulful “Ooh oohs” for throughout. Legend put up another strong showing in the Legend/Ross collection, but AK did the (slightly stalkerish and not advised under modern social norms) call to “Michael” live, and that alone is a winner.

WINNER: Keys but really Legend because he sang the “Ooh’s” live.

ROUND 16: Alicia Keys' “Unbreakable” vs. John Legend's “Green Light” feat. Andre 3000

Whew, those Black couple references in the beginning of “Unbreakable” have not aged well over the last 15 years, and the instant retro feel of the track wasn’t enough for us to overlook it. Legend’s “Green Light” with 3 Stack’s beloved voice shined a little brighter as we all tried to let that cringey moment go.

WINNER: Legend by default

ROUND 17: Alicia Keys's “In Common” vs. John Legend's “U Move, I Move” feat. Jhene Aiko

This round is tough, because while AK’s “In Common” was a groove, the song never really gained traction (despite SNL performances, ad campaigns, etc). Legend and Aiko’s “U Move, I Move” also feels like a groove, but is fresh-out-the-box new and a single on Legend’s new album.


ROUND 18: Alicia Keys' “Girl on Fire” vs. John Legend's “All of Me”

“Girl on Fire” is one of Keys’ biggest hits. But it was so ubiquitous at its height, no one really wants to hear it anymore. Collective sighs and groans rippled throughout the internet from the beginning of the song. Fortunately, Keys herself seems to know everyone’s tolerance for “Girl on Fire” is low; she kept it short. Legend’s own ubiquitous monster, “All of Me,” was going to win whatever round John decided to play the song anyway, so just as well.

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 19: Alicia Keys' “Fallin’” vs. DJ Khaled's "Higher" feat. Nipsey Hussle & John Legend

“Higher” was a Grammy winner, a number one hit, and has become a tribute to Nipsey Hussle, having been released immediately after his death. But “Fallin’” is still magic, from those opening notes that wanna-be singers butchered everywhere throughout 2001. No contest.


ROUND 20: Alicia Keys' “No One” vs. John Legend and Common's “Glory”

Let’s just skip over the “No One” moment because “Glory” is an Oscar-winning song and a Black freedom anthem and John gave a history lesson on Juneteenth while introducing the track, so we don’t even need to talk about anything else.

WINNER: The Fight for Justice

BONUS ROUND: Alicia Keys' “Perfect Way to Die” and John Legend's “Never Break”

The two closed out on solemn and pensive notes for their benediction offerings. Keys with her latest tribute to the many Black lives continuously being cut short without justice; and Legend in response with one of his new tracks, a story of the strong foundation of love, that can also be applied to our endurance and our fight in the face of injustice and tragedy.

They came marching in the city that day, they say

Carryin' signs in the street

Cryin' eyes in the streets

But they heard nothing from the city that day, they say

Just another one gone

And the city moved on

-  "Perfect Way to Die"

We will never break

We will never break

Built on a foundation

Strong enough to stay

We will never break

As the water rises

And the mountains shake

Our love will remain

- "Never Break"

Friday night’s Keys and Legend card wasn’t as eagerly anticipated or as big a draw as some previous Verzuz matches. They were also competing with no small amount of virtual Juneteenth programming, including a Friday night R&B concert series Keith Sweat hosts in partnership with iHeart Radio. But it was a fun night, a good reminder of the power of live musicianship and good songwriting (or, as Legend said frequently during the night, “a copyright”), and just a good vibe all around. The ultimate winner, as with all Verzuz matches, was the music.

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Kendrick Sampson And Channing Godfrey Peoples Talk 'Miss Juneteenth,' Black Love's Portrayal And More

As many organizations and people around the county celebrate the 155th anniversary of the remaining Black slaves' freedom, Queen Sugar writer and director Channing Godfrey Peoples delivers a new drama film, Miss Juneteenth.

Starring Little Fires Everywhere star Nicole Beharie (as Turquoise) and Insecure fan-favorite Kendrick Sampson (as Ronnie), the feature film follows Turquoise, a former beauty queen and hard-working single mother named who strives to encourage her teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to take part in the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant while navigating love and loss.

Ahead of the film's debut, VIBE correspondent and host Jazzie Belle sat down with Peoples and Sampson—who are also Texas natives—to discuss how the film beautifully paints the characters' love story, what the celebration of Juneteenth truly means to them and the Black community, and what they hope viewers take away from the insightful and relatable film, especially in today's fight against institutionalized racism.

"My hope is that this story will be amplified because it's another Black story about the humanity of Black folks," said Peoples. "And then it will open doors for more human stories about Black folks to be told."

"I love our culture. I love the way we sound. I love the inflections that we have. I love our accents and how they're different than white folks," added Sampson. "We have to think really about what that [Juneteenth] pageant means and what we are exemplifying within that pageant. And what Juneteenth actually means, and if those are cohesive. What are we fighting for in liberation?"

Watch the full interview between Jazzie, Kendrick, and Channing above. Also, see excerpts from their conversation below. Vertical Entertainment's Miss Juneteenth is now streamable on-demand i.e. Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime, FandangoNow.

On what Juneteenth means to them

Kendrick Sampson: Juneteenth is a reminder that when we fight, we win. We have to take on abolition as a framework for activism that if one person is in bondage, we all are in bondage. It wasn't ever about the person who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. No oppressor ever just benevolently gave us something because they woke up one day and said, "All right. We're going to give y'all back y'all freedom." It was hard fought for like hardcore radical people that were willing to put their bodies on the line and not just allies, but accomplices.

I grew up knowing July 4th, Independence Day, was bullsh*t because our people weren't independent. What independence were we celebrating? And so Juneteenth is my favorite and it's got a lot more flavor and culture.

Channing Godfrey Peoples: It [Juneteenth] was a fabric of growing up. Is was a fabric of my childhood...For me, commemorating Juneteenth was always about acknowledging our ancestors who Kendrick's talked about who were slaves in Texas getting their freedom late. And Kendrick talked about the themes in the film. And I think I really wanted to portray thematically that Turquoise is on this journey finding her own sense of freedom, by coming to terms with her own past later in life.

On the inspiration behind playing Ronnie

Sampson: I understood who Ronnie was and I thought it would be an honor to portray a Black man from Texas that was different than Nathan because Nathan is from Houston on Insecure. And, that was an honor, especially dealing with mental health issues and such, which I'm hugely passionate about. But just all of us have trauma. I know Ronnie, I got brothers that are Ronnie. And I wanted to honor Ronnie. I wanted to have the chance to show that nuance. I wanted to show that the humanity in it is that, again, you can't be a Black man person, trans, woman, sister, whatever, cannot be Black in America without experiencing a level of trauma and having generational trauma inform how you operate.

On the portrayal of Black love on-screen

Peoples: I think one of the things that I love about Turquoise and Ronnie's relationship is the thing that they have in common. You can feel their history, you can also feel their baggage, but what they have in common is their love for their daughter. And you're seeing them act that out as parents in different ways. Like another question I was always asking was how did these characters parent, and that was driving the decisions for the film. How does Turquoise parent? How does Ronnie parent? And at different moments...you're seeing the yin and yang of that, the positive and negative of both. Both are just trying to love this child.

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