Belly-VIBE-5 Belly-VIBE-5
VIBE/Stacy-Ann Ellis

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Belly

Belly reveals how he landed on The Weeknd's chart-topping album and more in VIBE’s latest edition of Views From The Studio.

Flight Klub Recording Studio sits on a sleepy, unassuming block in New York City's Garment District, hidden between an inactive thread and supply storefront and industrial scaffolding. It's a premier studio that artists and producers alike use as an escape, a musical getaway to create freely from the radio noise and static cling of the outside world. Despite its grandiose word-of-mouth implications, its front door is actually a riddled freight elevator, conveniently stained with a surprisingly glamour-free garbage stench and miscellaneous liquids puddling in its metal crevices. Nevertheless, it's just the kind of gritty ambiance that Canadian rapper and songwriter Ahmad Balshe, better known by his stage name Belly, works best in.

"I love it here," says Belly, who has spent a decade cultivating a name for himself in the industry, of New York City. While the Palestinian emcee recently rose to acclaim in the states due to amassing several co-writing credits on frequent collaborator The Weeknd's chart-topping 2015 LP, The Beauty Behind the Madness ("The Hills," "Earned It," "Often," among others), those further up north have known him as a solo star whose debut album and slew of mixtapes dating back to 2005, added JUNO Award-winning (basically the Canadian version of the Grammys) to his moniker.

On a balmy August afternoon, Belly is catching a vibe in the metropolis, having chose the dimly lit recording space as the haven to put his newest project on wax. Now, with a Roc Nation deal and his first project in four years pushing his solo career back to the forefront, there's much anticipation built around the wordsmith.

Here, Belly reveals how he climbed Canada's rap ranks, landed on The Weeknd's chart-topping album, and the one word that describes signing to Roc Nation nearly a year ago in VIBE’s latest edition of Views From The Studio.

You have a very diverse background, being born in Palestine and moving to Ottawa, Ontario before your teen years. How did you get into rap? 
When I came to Canada, I would see videos on TV and stuff, and I was like, "Yo, this is me right here." My first two albums that I ever owned were Doggystyle by Snoop and Ready To Die by Biggie. I used those albums to learn English because I was still using broken English. Those albums shaped the sound and style of my music today.

That's interesting. Prior to forming your own musical taste, what were your parents playing in the house? 
Honestly, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. Aside from like Arab music, that was like the only foreign music at the time that we were listening to.

Would you say your background has influenced your music at all? 
Growing up in the Middle East taught me to be hospitable and respectful. It gave me a lot of culture and made me very family oriented. At the same time, it taught me how real life actually is. By the time I made it to [music], it was like a whole different world. It was like a complete culture shock. I think all of my experiences kind of shaped what people hear today. I try to always include my actual experiences in my music. 

Can you recall what sparked your interest in songwriting specifically? 
When I was really young and in school, I used to write poetry a lot so I was really good at rhyming words my whole life. I think that was like my prerequisite into writing songs and making music.

What were those first bits of poetry about?
I was always trying to get some girl so I'm sure it had something to do with some girl I was trying to get or some poem for the prettiest girl in school or something like that.

Did you get her?
I always get her [laughs].

So, how did writing poetry in school service itself into a career?
Well, before [a career] I put out a series of mixtapes in Canada, which nobody was really doing back then, and we did crazy numbers with them. That's what really led to me even being known enough to be able to drop songs like "Pressure" and my early singles.

"Pressure" was one of the standout singles from your debut album The Revolution, which won a JUNO Award for the best Rap Recording of the Year. What do you think helped your rise? 
I think it was something new to everybody. I kind of learned the game from this side. I was coming out here a lot, learning things and just watching the hustle was like the most eye opening thing for me to see the real street hustle that took place, selling CDs on corners and all that and having street teams really wilding out, making a difference. When you go somewhere presence-wise, people feel it. They just all walked in dressed the same. This is like the takeover, and I think I learned some of those things and brought it up north, and it was like unstoppable. Nobody had ever seen nothing like that before.

There weren't any other artists on that same wave at that time in the city?
Nah, I wouldn't say there was. When I first started doing that, there was nobody doing that or no one at least to my knowledge doing that. For me, when I was basically trying to reapply what I learned up north, I wasn't thinking about singles, and I wasn't thinking about mainstream or crossing over. I didn't care. I cared about making mixtapes. That was like the coolest sh*t to me when I came, especially coming to New York and seeing culturally how much impact a mixtape can have on your life, and that's really how I came in the game was with the mixtapes. By the time I did the mainstream stuff, it was like that's the only thing left for me to do. I had three successful mixtapes at that point, and it was time to do something else.

Many people today, mainly in America, were introduced to you through The Weeknd. 
Man, he's a real one. He's one of the special souls in this thing, and he's been the same since I've known him. I've watched his life go from having nothing to having the ability to have whatever he wants, and he's still the same guy, and everything is focused on his music and how good his music is. Like the amount of genius that he brings to the table when he walks into a studio is like the reason why he's still here, and he's been able to put out so much music and people can still f**k with him on both sides. His songs can go number one and culturally he can still impact just as hard, which is something a lot of people lose. Like they have one or the other, but I feel like he still has both.

How'd you guys end up working together? 
We actually didn't work together for like the first three, four years we knew each other. We were just homies. We were friends. I was doing my thing; he was doing his thing. When we worked for the first time together, it was just naturally. Just walked into the studio like, "Oh sh*t, this is hard. Let me jump on this." That's how we came together. We never forced it.

Haven co-written many platinum and number one songs, is it ever hard to find that balance of what you should give away to another artist and what you should keep for yourself? 
I think nowadays it's a lot easier for me because I know who I like to work with and who I don't like to work with, and then I know when I make something that kind of feels like me, [where] I have too much of my personality in it to give it to somebody else, that's when I know that I got to keep this. I honestly don't really do songwriting sessions anymore if it's not with people I actually f**k with.

What would constitute somebody that you f**k with because there are some people who treat it solely as a business and keep it pushing. 
I think just someone that I have a real relationship or at least like a real friendship--even if it's not a friendship--like a real connection with because it's going to translate into the music. As good as you can be, if two people with stank attitudes walk into a room and want to make music, they can both be geniuses, and they're going to make sh*tty songs. That's just gonna happen because the vibe isn't right, and the energy isn't there.

What's your writing process like?
I think for me, I write my best songs when I'm tormented. Even with songs and songwriting and stuff like that, I can't sit there around a bunch of people and do it. Like I have to be by myself in my own feelings, in my own thoughts and then I think I can express some of the sh*t that I don't feel like I want to say around everybody. Once it's in a song, it's in a song. It doesn't matter.

How does that lend itself to The Weeknd's multiple chart-topping hits?
With him, it's all him. I'll be honest with you. Like it's all his vision. It's his creativity. It's his conceptualizing. That's his baby. That's his masterpiece. I've been blessed enough to be thought of when he needs me and when I can complement something he's doing, but I could never take credit for the stuff I've done with him.

Earlier you mentioned your best work is done when you're tormented. Do you ever get writer's block or feel like you have to go and live life to really hone in on what you're saying?
My schedule doesn't allow it. I've been trying to take a vacation for two years. I just want to go somewhere for like four days, but just doesn't happen. This is all I do. Every day I walk in here, I know I can create something. I'm confident, and that's why I never feel no way about trying to hoard my music because the minute you do that, subconsciously you're telling yourself that you can't deliver something like that again. With me, I'm so open with giving away music because I feel like I can walk back in here and do it again.

That's interesting, especially after the whole world waited for Frank Ocean's album for four years. You also had a similar time lapse between your most recent project. 
I can only speak on myself and for me, but I did have people waiting for a long time, I can't lie. Sometimes people have to realize it's more than just songs and putting out music. It's mental health involved a lot of times, and a lot of artists go through personal s**t. A lot of artists are emotional and, again, I speak from my own experience and my own views, but that's what caused me to not even want to be in the spotlight anymore. I was loving the fact that I was just writing songs behind the scenes, still getting to make money and make music, and that was cool for me, but this is cool too so this is the part of my life I'm living now. If I decide one day I can't handle this mentally no more or whatever the case may be or this is taking too much of a toll on my family or whatever it is, what's to say I'm just gonna be able to pump out music for people every day? We do have a certain obligation as artists, but we also have certain responsibilities as human beings to ourselves and to the people we love. It's a hard line to walk. I'm learning that right now with just so many things changing for me recently and just seeing how [I'm] losing certain people along the way and just things that you've never expected. My music is only half of it.

in real life.. life goals || roc/xo

A photo posted by Belly (@belly) on

You've been signed to Roc Nation for almost a year now. I'm sure that was a full circle moment for you. 
It feels amazing and it felt amazing to know that Jay Z personally was the one who wanted to make this happen. [He's] someone I've idolized my whole life so it's still crazy to me.

Your most recent release was Another Day In Paradise, which was your foray back into the spotlight as a solo artist after having lots of success behind the scenes, ultimately leading up to your signing to Roc Nation. How did you feel about its reception? 
Working with everyone on that album was incredible. Honestly, it was just really dope getting to work with [Lil] Wayne. I wasn't actually in the studio with him, but just to know that he was on one of my records, that's like a dream as a young rap guy coming up like, "I gotta get Wayne one day," and I got that. I think the reception, like I said, I don't make music to try to be like, "Yo, this one is going to crossover for me." I make music that I know my fans are going to love, and in doing that, I know they're putting other people on to my s**t and that it's growing like that, and every year it gets a little bit bigger, and it doesn't have to get crazy. It just has to grow, and it's grown. That's exactly what the project did. When I dropped it, my fans loved it. They thought it was one of my best pieces of work ever. That's the most I could ask for. That's who I cater to.

Is there anything you feel like as an artist and songwriter that you haven't gotten that you deserve?
I'm humble man. Honestly, I can sit here and tell you what I expect. Just to even be able to do this--the most important thing for me is to be heard. To a lot of people, they want to be seen. I rather be heard. As long as people hear me, and I have that platform, and I have people's ears, what more can I ask for? I'm going to sit around and complain that someone has it better than me or people look at somebody in a different way that I feel like I should be looked at? What am I going to do? I'm going to make music for the people who love me for it. That's who I'm here for.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Justin Newhouse

Filmmaker Coffey's 'About The People' Depicts Honest Conversation On Being Black In America

About The People, a short film created by New York City-based filmmaker Coffey is an ode to the power honest conversations about social justice, equity and race have within black and brown communities. The movie hosts a group of black men that hold court at a conference table to discuss how they can improve society for their kinfolk.

Their discourse concerns the social-economic inequalities that often grips black men at the hands of police brutality and lack of opportunity. In the end, a young black woman joins the conversation as well. Each character is named after their respective accomplishments in life.

There’s The Militant (Coffey), The Athlete (Akintola Jiboyewa), The Professor (Nashawn Kearse), The College Boy (Diggy Simmons), The Celebrity (Sterling Brim), The Executive, (Tyler Lepsey), The Preacher (Dorian Missick), The Author (Hisham Tawfiq), The Senator (Michael Kenneth Williams) and The Janitor (Ebony Obsidian).

Throughout the story, The Militant challenges The Preacher on his religious beliefs and optimistic viewpoint in believing that, through a higher power, all things are possible. Coffey, who grew up in a religious home in a small town in South Carolina, says his character’s defying ways were intentional. Through The Militant’s anger, he was able to release his own rage.

“As the co-writer, I could have been any one of those characters but I chose The Militant because I knew he was the one that was shaking up that room,” Coffey explains over the phone. “When you get that many brains in one room there’s absolutely no way everyone is going to say, ‘Okay everything is going to be joyful and we’re on the same page,’ it never happens that way.”

“There’s always a throw off in that room and it had to be The Militant, who ruffled some feathers,” he continues. “So, because I was pissed off in real life, I choose that character.”

About The People is inspired by a conversation Coffey had with his eldest son on police brutality. After not giving his son a curfew during the summer, he questioned why he would come home while the sun was still out. His son replied, “Me and my boys are making sure we get home before dark so we won’t get killed by the cops.”

That same fear plagues millions of black and brown men in America, where your skin color determines how much your life is worth. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s something Coffey didn’t want to shy away from. His first encounter with police brutality was watching the news of the L.A. riots after Rodney King was beaten by the LAPD in 1991. At the time, the world was a simpler place; social media didn’t exist, the Internet was in gestation and ubiquitous movements like Black Lives Matter hadn’t made CNN headlines yet. However, injustice was something that inevitably would enter Coffey’s life. It became clearer when he became a father in New York City.

“At that time I didn’t have kids,” he recalls when the L.A. riots were happening. “But the moment I did birth a child, which was here in New York that’s when it became like, ‘Okay my color is a problem because I’m a person of color, it’s already one strike against me which is crazy, but it’s reality.'”

In addition to discussing the conundrums that accompany being a black man in America and attempting to arrive at a consensus on how they can all make this situation better, there’s also a bigger topic at hand which deals with the inclusion of black women in this conversation. Near the film's end, The Janitor, a young black woman with an afro overhears their conversation. She’s intrigued by their discourse and takes it upon herself to jump in—unexpectedly, but with urgency.

Though she is met with opposition from some people in the group, they quickly realize she has the answers they’ve been looking for. She’s the missing piece to the puzzle they’ve been trying to complete. Historically, black women have played a major role in activism and have held the weight of the plight that swallows black men into a system that wasn’t made to protect them. But somehow don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Gillian B. White of The Atlantic breaks down this dichotomy in a 2016 article, titled Why Black Women Matter. “The necessity of black female activism, to me, is one of the most complex and important parts of this conversation,” White notes. “Black women haven’t been the backbone of agitation just because they wanted to be, but because oftentimes, they are the only ones who are able to.”

“Black men are America’s favorite victims. The country’s racial brutality and bias all too often truncate the lives of black men—either through death or incarceration,” she continues. “Even before the modern versions of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and recent police violence, black men had targets on their backs. From lynchings to indentured servitude in coal mines during Jim Crow, the country’s legacy of taking black men’s lives and liberty has left black women to bear the burden of caring for families and advocating for justice for their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers whose voices are often silenced.”

The Janitor was created in honor of Coffey’s grandmother and Angela Davis. Reminiscent of his childhood he decided to put the character in the end since his grandmother always had the last word. “The structure of the film is personal to me,” he explains. “My grandfather would have his friends over and they would drink and watch sports, and if there were problems it would be him and friends that would talk about these problems. But when my grandmother would find out they didn’t have the answer to these issues, she would provide the solution.”

In About The People Coffey creates an honest dialogue about what it means to be black in America and feel constantly oppressed by authority figures that are the direct product of white supremacy. The admission is universal considering how much of this world has been colonized by greedy European settlers, but its message is deeper than that. Money is another toxic element in the lethal poison where oppression and inequality are formed. Yet he made this film as a catalyst of hope—not to go against the powers that be.

“The honest to God truth is this isn’t written to go against any white people at all,” he says. “This is written for people of color, my kids and everybody else’s kids to try to follow these guidelines so it will be a better world for them.”

Special thanks to director Sterling Milan, Sincere Giles and Samuel K. Rhind.

Continue Reading
Courtesy of Endeavor Audio

Peter Rosenberg And Cipha Sounds Talk Juan EP's Return And All Things Jay-Z

Hip-hop podcasts are everywhere. Yes, everyone wants to be heard, but not everyone who wants to be heard is focused on moving the culture forward. Enter hip-hop nerds, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. After a year hiatus, the duo is returning to these podcast streets with the Juan EP, where they bring their valid expertise on all things hip-hop.

Cipha and Rosenberg joined forces with Mass Appeal and Endeavor Audio to deliver comprehensive conversations about the culture, some of our favorite moments in hip-hop, favorite albums, best rhymes, among other things. During the podcast's first season, the DJs touch on who is arguably the greatest MC of all time, Jay-Z.

"I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes," Cipha Sounds tells us in our phone conversation. "Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic."

Drawing help from some of Shawn Carter's closest friends, Cipha and Rosenberg dig into Jay-Z's career to discuss his best collaborations, beefs and pinpoint moments of Hov's greatness. VIBE caught up with the fellas and chatted about the Juan EP, Jay-Z and much more.

VIBE: First, this has been bothering me for years. Who is Juan Epstein? Rosenberg: Juan Epstein came from the fact that Cipha and I got paired together. He's Puerto Rican and I’m Jewish. Juan Epstein was a Puerto Rican/Jewish character on the show, Welcome Back, Cotter. I never watched the show, I think Cipha may have been the one to tell me about the name. That was perfect.

The podcast has been on hiatus for a while now. How was the process of bringing the podcast back? Rosenberg: We’ve been wanting to bring it back for a minute. We’ve been looking for the right opportunities and the right partners. And we thought Mass Appeal was a really good home. And when the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a really good fit. We’re trying to do something right for hip-hop, and curated well, and do right by the culture. When Mass Appeal came up with an option it seemed like a perfect fit. It was a great excuse and forced us the get organized and bring it back.

Cipha Sounds: The reason I love this podcast is because it really is two hip-hop fans who were lucky enough to get paid from hip-hop, and we get to talk to some great people from the hip-hop community about hip-hop. There aren't any outsiders speaking about our culture. And we learn new things that we never knew before.

With you guys coming from radio, do you prefer podcasts over radio programming? Rosenberg: It’s a different thing. [Podcasting], it’s more in line with what I’m really passionate about. And it’s really fun. It’s two different versions of a similar thing. They’re both broadcasting, but this gets to be about hip-hop, and not the bullsh*t side, the gossip. This really is about the music.

Cipher: I don’t consider one over the other. I definitely like having long conversations with hip-hop artists.

Season One of the Juan EP is about Jay-Z. Why him? Cipha: Everybody always has all these conversations about the top five [MCs] and who’s the G.O.A.T. I wanted the same street corner, lunchroom conversation with some actual research, and facts from people who were there. People who handle the question with some real information. And also, it is fun to get people’s opinions on it. Of all the sh*t that Jay-Z does that influences the culture, whether it be becoming the first billionaire or marrying Beyoncé, I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes. Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic. Since we're talking Jay-Z, there was a time, well, at least in my hometown of Mississippi, where people were aggravated with Hov for frequently using B.I.G's rhymes.  Cipha: Let me answer this one. Let me tell you and all of your friends in the barbershop in Mississippi, every time Jay says a B.I.G. line, Biggie's kids eat. The reason he does it is because it pays for Biggie’s family to live the way that they should’ve lived if Biggie was still alive, so he pays for school, and homes all off of saying a line.

Wow. I didn't know that. Rosenberg: Yes, anytime Jay-Z samples a B.I.G. line, thanks to B.I.G.'s publishing, his family eats.

What are some of your favorite episodes so far? Cipha: My favorite is the Clark [DJ Clark Kent] episode. I loved how he broke down the details of how Jay-Z and Biggie met. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know and I’d be like, "How will I ever, ever know that?" There’s no way. Like, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know who was in the room and basically to find out not only was Clark Kent in the room but basically orchestrated it.

At times, Jay-Z takes a lot of heat. For instance, this NFL partnership business. Some people have even said he's partly responsible for the gentrification happening in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Rosenberg: We talked a lot about Jay-Z's ventures and how he’s taken flack for some things. And Jay-Z the businessman is a different thing than Jay-Z the artist. We go into a lot of detail about the business and how he’s viewed, And we defiantly get into the question, on the episode, actually next week [on the Nov. 19th episode titled, "I'm A Business Man"].

Here's some fun Jay-Z stuff. To me, the best intro song in the history of hip-hop is Jay's "The Dynasty Intro." Let's debate this. I'm ready.  Rosenberg: I agree that it’s up there. I probably haven’t done the extensive research like you have. But The Dynasty is definitely one of my favorite Jay-Z albums, which is funny because first, it wasn’t a Jay-Z album, then it was a Jay-Z album. So I wonder did he have that intro on there already when it was just a Roc-A-Fella album or did he add it once it became a Jay-Z album? Who would I even ask?

VIBE: Guru.

Rosenberg: Was he around then?

VIBE: Bean’s first album came out before The Dynasty album...

Rosenberg: And Guru did Bean's album...

Cipha: Yes, but even if he wasn’t around... this guy is so strategic. I know that the Pharrell [Williams] record made him make it a Jay Z-album instead of a Roc [A-Fella] album, but that intro, it’s not long and the beat is not complicated. It's a simple hip-hop beat. Damn, we now have to do an episode about this.

Rosenberg: And that's what this show is about. For people who are interested in stuff like that. And this is the perfect time to dig into the podcast because all of the episodes are available. You don't have to wait for the next episode.

Hip-hop fans can tune into every episode of Juan EP below or on Stitcher, and Endeavor Audio.

Continue Reading
Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.

---

VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party at the W South Beach, where the pajamas designed by February James and LaKela Brown will be premiered.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit," just like everything else in the world.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

Continue Reading

Top Stories