Mario Mario
VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Interview: Mario Is Coming Back To Music, But He Still Needs More

Mario gets cozy with VIBE and discusses his absence from the game and what he's bringing back to the table. It's deeper than you think. 

While the friend zone usually isn't a coveted space and getting braids isn't usually a romantic revelation, Mario took it there for us with 2002's "Just A Friend" and 2003's "Braid My Hair." He was responsible for creating adolescent anthems that kept us going and brought the Baltimore born R&B singer right into the seat next to us as we navigated those hormone-driven years.

Fast forward a bit and after acting in Step Up and Freedom Writers, the crooner seems to be on a hiatus. For seven years we don't hear much from the triple threat as he splits from his label, a lengthy process, and begin his own called New Citizen. There's no gossip to be found and the "Let Me Love You" singer is in the cut. The question begs, where is Mario?

Now, the crooner has officially returned to the scene with the new single "I Need More" under his label. In an enlightening sit-down with VIBE, the singer born Mario Barrett opens up about where's he's been, his new spirituality, his upcoming project Paradise Cove and exactly what he learned in his 20s as he rounds his 30th year.

VIBE: Let's start in the beginning. You started out the gate with "Just A Friend" and it was such a nostalgic moment working with Biz Markie. Do you feel like that shaped your music going forward from there?
Mario: I'm going to be honest with you, the first song that I ever recorded was with Fabolous. It was called "Tameeka" and it was on the Doctor Dolittle 2 soundtrack. It was first studio session I'd ever been in. I just remember being super young and being in the studio for like 16 hours, recording the same parts over and over. I was like "I don't wanna do this," I was crying. I was like 14 years old. He kept me in the studio for hours. So my first session was like... jail cell. It was punishment for wanting to be an artist.

But you made it through.
I made it through, but it ended up being a big song on the soundtrack. Then yes, my first single ended up being "Just A Friend." I think what that song did was it made me relatable. It was very boy-next-door meets young, soulful kid. Although the song was a remake, the way that I approached it, there was a lot of soul in there. That fun boy-next-door vibe. It shaped the relatability for sure.

"Braid My Hair" is still one of those songs. If someone says "I'm going to get my hair braided", its guaranteed that someone in their 20s in the room is going to sing the song. How does that feel to still have that moment?
It gives me a sense of appreciation for the people I was working with coming out the gate. The people I was around, they were very adamant making sure that the first album was relatable and I didn't loose that kid from Baltimore vibe. Although I was turning into a machine when it came to doing those interviews, shows, etc. I still had moments. I was telling this story the other day about when I was going to record "Braid My Hair" in New York. I was in the studio, my hair was looking crazy and I didn't want to record that day. I didn't want to work, I was out of it. I was telling Harold Lilly, "Yo I just want to go home bro and let my girl braid my hair. I don't want to be here right now." He was like, "Well if you don't feel like working, then we going to get something out of it. We're going to write a song about you getting your hair braided." I'm like bro, don't nobody want to hear that. The song ended up a moment, so I appreciate those types of approaches to music. It wasn't calculated, it just happened. Sometimes that's where the magic is.

How was it working with Gucci at peak" Gucci"? Was that calculated?
You mean when I did "Break Up"? That was little more calculated. I was in Atlanta recording with Sean Garrett and originally... I'm going to tell you the real story, originally it was just my song. Sean liked the record so much that he was like I'm not giving it to you unless I'm on it, too. Because he was doing his artist thing so he was like I got the relationship with Gucci so I should be on the record. Gucci got out of jail the night before, like the night I recorded the song he had just got out, the next day he was in studio recording. That was the song that took him into the mainstream so it was a good look for everybody. It was a fun song, it was a fun time. Doing the video in my hometown was super cool. it was the second video i shot in my hometown so it was cool. I actually shot "Break Up" at my crib back in Baltimore.

Getting into the present, outside of the music, where have you been at? What have you been doing?
Personally, a lot personal growth. A lot of deciding and digging into who I am as a person. The things that I desire, more into my spirituality. I've always been into spirituality, but now its become such a big part of my life because its been what's helped me balance out my life in the settings that make me who I am. From music, from the artist, to the person who grew up in Baltimore that never really dealt with issues that I had growing up, to the creative individual who can tap into himself confidently and can be confident about what I believe in instead of just being like, oh well, let me just be an artist on the label that they tell me what to do.

It gets to a point in your career where you have to become a true artist. You have to decide who you are. I feel like in R&B, that's where a lot of R&B artists get lost. They get to a point where they hit a ceiling. At this day and age, you've got to be more interesting than just a R&B artist. Or else you'll just be the guy that people say "oh I love the music, he's dope." But what else? I'm more than just an R&B artist. I'm an actor, I'm a creator, I'm a writer, I'm an author, I'm a director, I'm a visionary. So these are things that I've decided that I'm okay with sharing this, I'm okay with being this person. Taking time off allowed me to tap into that side of myself. Also, I came in the game when it was really about the music and really about the art. Now, it's so many smoke and mirrors and gimmicks. I was like okay, let me step back and let that happen, and then when I come back I'm going to come back in the right way from all platforms. From behind the scenes, in front of the scenes, everything that I do is going to be meaningful so that I don't get lost in that. There's a distinctive perception that stands out of everything that's going on. Let me make sure there's no misconceptions.

A lot of true artists have that reclusive moment. They find themselves after disappearing for a minute, then they come back and they are their peak highest self.
I think those in this lifetime who are supposed to reach that part of themselves, will. Some people may have to reincarnate to do it again to reach that. But it's just interesting that I'm actually an artist, that I have this voice. Certain things I just experienced, I didn't ask for, it just happened because I started to be conscious about my health and that trickled into other things. Like what is this vibe, what is this energy, this is different. I want to pay attention. I didn't take no drugs, no psychedelics. Certain things are just happening.

A lot of also finding the right people to work with in the studio, that understand the vision and understand the path. Just wanting to make sure I'm in the greatest space possible to come back and take on the responsibility of influencing the culture and especially of the new generation.

You turn 30 tomorrow. You're at this point, but what did your 20s teach you?
How did you know?! I'm kidding. Oh my God. [Whistles] It's like three different phases. The first phase of my 20s was just me wilding out and kinda like having fun slash trying to prove to people that I was around. I felt like I had something to prove. Then the mid 20s was more like alright, love life and trying to find the type of girlfriend I wanted but, still kind of wilding out. And then the later 20s was kind of more stepping into my spirituality and stepping into my creative space and deciding this is the type of artist I want to be. I want to take this serious. I feel like my 20s overall taught me that nothing is a mistake, there are no mistakes. There are choices and there are consequences, whether they're good or bad. And then there are lessons.

That's what I learned in my 20s. I learned how to navigate the mental plane on a whole 'nother level. It's like on the mental plane, certain things can be transmuted. I learned to control my mentalism. Then after that, I learned how to do it physically. As an artist, you're doing all these things in front of the world. So how do you communicate that through the music, through your art, through your performances? These are all things that make up real artists. 30 is like everything you do is intentional. At 30, you have the knowledge, you have the tools but there is so much more to learn.

I was listening to "I Need More" and that's a new sound. I could see these things coming across in the new song. Like don't get me wrong, I f**k up some commas and I have all these things but, I need more. So is that really what you want to get across to your fans?
110,000 percent. I couldn't have said it better. Ultimately, I want people to look at me and understand when I do something and see the deeper meaning behind it. Understand that it's art and the expression of art comes from a higher place of creativity. That should inspire people to be their own artists. Whether it's fashion or writing or whatever. It's all communication, everything is communication.

For R&B now, do you think it's dying out with new wave and acceptance of trap and twerk music?
I look at things from all points of view and I think that we're all... we have the capability to do so much, why tap into one part of yourself? Of course it has evolved and it's changed. Because of the aesthetic, the R&B as we knew it, was so much more laid back and so much more about love and relationships, it was more musical. Now we're in a place where everybody is exposed to so much that it's not as interesting because their minds are being stretched, but also programmed at the same time. Stretched, but it's being stretched in these categories. But the people who stand out are the ones who do it, then they throw you off and do something interesting. I don't think it's "dead" because there aren't enough artists doing it an interesting way. It's also dead because programming. the radio programs, TV programs, all these things program what is cool and what's in. I love R&B, but I also love alternative music. I also appreciate trap, hip-hop.

What do I think could be better is the messages in the songs. A lot of the messages aren't really saying anything, it's not really leading the generation anywhere. Everything is driven by the ego, nothing is super, super vulnerable. There's only a few people in hip-hop that are vulnerable: Drake, J.Cole, Kendrick. I think it's coming back, though. It may not come back the way we envision it. I'll definitely have some of those type of vibes, but it may not be super traditional.

That was my next question, is Paradise Cove going to give the R&B vibes? What can your fans from "Let Me Love You"/"Braid My Hair" expect and what are your new fans going to get?
New fans are going to get definitely more vulnerability, definitely a more symbolic approach in respect to the music. R&B doesn't traditionally lend itself to that type of prospective, but it's just a new me, a new day. I can't even think about, let me try and go back and do this for the fans, I have to give them where I'm at and keep it quality.

What are some of things, if you can tell me, that you'll be talking about on Paradise Cove?
I have a record called "Same Thing" that's all about cycles being repeated until we learn our lesson. The first lines go "Money, fortune, fame, and women/So much to taste in this kingdom/Don't know if I can trust my feelings/I got the love but do I mean it." It's a lot deeper, the lyrics are a little more introspective. I just go into real situations that ain't always pretty.

You were speaking about getting into the behind the scenes stuff. Did you get into any producing, etc?
Co-production on "I Need More" and writing on it, co-production on "Same Thing." I'm pretty much involved in every aspect of it. Just to make sure it's super authentic. I also co-directed the video [for "I Need More"] and created the concept for the video as well.

That's awesome. Parting ways from your label, that took some time. How is your new label going?
It's a lot of work! You want to be professional, you want the people who work for you to be excited to work for you. It's a lot of staying on top of everything, making sure that people are paid on time and making sure things on time. Especially when you're doing a video, you got to get through the casting, you have to get through this and that. I love that process because it comes out exactly how I want it to. It's not like I have to argue with the label to get approvals for this or that or they like a concept and I don't and then they're like, well we're spending money so you're going to shoot it anyway. I don't have to worry about any of that and that's what I love about it.

Getting into the future now. What are your short term goals for your career right now?
My short term goals are to reestablish my brand. To continue to communicate as a creative through platforms like VIBE, different print platforms. To create visuals that allow people to see where I'm at now as a performer, as a singer, as an artist. And to touch as many platforms again, get in front of the big screen again.

How is that going?
I haven't done anything in awhile, so that's what I'm working on. Building my team for that again, that's a short term goal. Just really getting the brand back out there and getting myself back out there as a performer, as a model, as an actor. I'm writing a book right now, Life in Exchange. I feel like we are constantly exchanging parts of ourselves for another. We are constantly in this exchange with life. Life gives us an experience and we exchange our reaction to the experience with life. That gives us our present moment in where we are. It's just different tools and different perspectives that are used to advance the life on a personal and spiritual level.

What are your long term goals? Like 10, 15, 20 years from now.
I hope to be sitting back watching all the things that I create continue manifest new opportunities and hand it over to people that I trust to really take it forward. By that time I'll be 50 years old, so I hope to be sitting somewhere writing another book or shooting a movie, just manifesting all the great creatives in the world and keeping the culture the going. Hopefully by that time, the world will transition to a better place. That we, as in humanity, will be in a better place collectively.

Ultimately that's what I want to add to it. Outside just doing music and films and entertainment, I want to add to humanity in a positive manner. And show people that you can be individual and follow your dreams and you can add to the uplifting of humanity in any way creatively. I would like to have family and kids. Later on down the road.

So if you could go back to any historical period to be a singer, though, which one would you go to?
The '50s, '60s, '70s, Marvin Gaye, that vibe. Play the piano, afro probably. It was where all you had was music. That was in a time in film that had really good storylines and dope music, that was really all people had. They didn't have Instagram and Twitter, it was all about the art. Fans could only see you at your show. They had to come to the show and you had to give your all. That's all you had. You came from small city and your parents didn't have much, music was all you had and you gave it all on the stage.

Speaking of, how do you balance your new spirituality with being in such a high visible, social media heavy world?
For me, its kind of easy to balance that out. I'm not really out in the club every single night or trying to be that guy who f**king with all the latest models just to be able to say I bagged her, I don't care about stuff like that. So you not going to find any gossip out about me and I don't deal with crazy girls out here, I don't have time for none of that. You gotta be in your square as a woman, I need a conscious woman. I didn't bring myself this far... I'm not judging anyone, but if you want to be a writer then you should probably hang around writers or someone that can write better than you. So if I'm going to be intimate with a woman, I want to make sure I'm okay with being that person. Take on that vibration of whatever they got going on and if not, just because I understand what's happening, a lot of people don't understand whats happening during exchanges of sexual energy. So it's like for me, you aren't going to find me acting crazy.

 

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Erik Umphery

Meet Ebenezer, The Crooner Poised To Restore Soul Into Modern R&B

Ebenezer is a man of few words but the purveyor of a million feels throughout his music. Before the novel coronavirus left the singer-songwriter isolated in Los Angeles, the London-born artist was at the VIBE office in New York a few moons ago playing his latest project, Bad Romantic 2.

A few laughs fill the room but what really takes over is the boptastic tune "3 am in London." With a sample from Kandi Burruss's 2000 release "Don't Think I'm Not," we get a look into his creative process. After revealing his origin story in 2018 with 53 Sundays, Ebenezer returned with the Bad Romantic series. It's a title bestowed to him by the many women he's dated. As a songwriter, engineer, producer, and composer for himself a slew of other artists like Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Stefflon Don, K-Pop faves SuperM and Craig David, love seemed to slip through the cracks. 

"I always try to make time," the crooner insists. He might not get love right all the time, but his determination to enrich modern R&B is a sword he's willing to fall on. While sharing stories behind cuts from Bad Romantic 2, a grin comes across his face as every tale is connected to love lost.

"It wasn't like there wasn't any lack of effort. It's just the way my schedule worked," he said about the making of "Flexible," a track bound to lead a quiet storm playlist. "I remember working so hard at the time that I was sleeping in the studio. I didn't have any money to go home [to London] so I had to work until something gave. I would mention how difficult it was but maybe she didn't understand the hustle or the grind at the time."

His hard work led to his latest single, "Flaws And All." The track speaks of his efforts to make love work no matter what, a notion anyone can relate to. As we continue to talk about love, one thing is for certain–Ebenezer is in love with creating. His eyes light up while breaking down each track and his shoulders ease up when he speaks about his versatility. In addition to the world hearing Bad Romantic 2, he's used social distancing to produce songs via his "Quarantine Studio Sessions."

 

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A post shared by Ebenezer (@ebenezersworld) on Mar 27, 2020 at 10:56am PDT

Below, get to know a little more about the elusive artist, the making of Bad Romantic 2 and some of his biggest inspirations.

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VIBE: With you producing at a young age, did you have support from your family?

Ebenezer: I'm a London boy but my parents are originally from Nigeria. They were on the run from immigration at one point but after things calmed down there was a big focus on education. They were like, "No you, can't. Education first." There would be big arguments and fights but eventually, I chose music. Or maybe it chose me? I started working and producing while on the phone with artists and things came together.

But I owe everything to my mum because she is the biggest cheerleader I've ever had. This woman had three kids and did everything to get by. She held it down. I had cousins who called immigration on us and they're supposed to be family–immigration comes kicking open the door and raiding the house. So I believe that the blessings I'm getting now are from God and our prayers.

What do you enjoy the most: producing/engineering or writing? 

I don't know if I can choose. I just use different parts of my brain for producing and writing. It is fun to split them up and bring them together at times.

What's your voice in R&B today? 

From childhood to the present, I've been in piece of s**t relationships and my songs reflect that. It's not be being vindictive to my exes. I take full responsibility for the things I've done and I try to be honest as I can in my music. The worst thing I could do is be one-sided.

There's that aspect of accountability missing in R&B these days so I get it. How is creating R&B-pop music for K-Pop artists? You worked with SuperM recently and it seems like they really enjoy the era of 2000s R&B. 

It's easier because they let you do whatever you want. You want a variety of harmonies because there's a lot of people in one group. But I like creating for K-Pop artists because you're able to let every individual stand out and have their own moment. It's dope they're adopting that sound.

Who are some of your inspirations? 

Kanye West for sure. My brother was a big hip hop head so I grew up on Rakim, Big L, Big Pun, Tupac, Biggie, Jay Z, Wu-Tang, but my decade has the Drakes and the Kanyes, so they were my biggest inspirations. College Dropout was the album that had me say, "I'm doing this music thing, I don't care."

My sister is a big R&B fan. She played a lot of Jagged Edge, Jodeci, stuff like that. So I was lucky to have the hip hop side and the R&B side presented to me all at once.

In addition to love and relationships, what else drives your creative process? 

It comes in stages for me. I like to make projects with a theme. For example, 53 Sundays was a project about growing up in London as an immigrant and the adversity we experienced racism and gang violence. It's how I overcame it and how my family dealt with it.

There's a lot of self-love in those songs because nothing is free, especially coming from having nothing. You have the Bad Romantic projects that are pretty self-explanatory in the title [Laughs]. I'm going to make it all tell a story so when you look back at the projects, it's a timeline and you'll see who I am.

What makes a "Bad Romantic and a "Good Romantic?" 

My exes are bad romantics. [Laughs]

So it's their fault? 

Nah, my exes would say there are some things that I'm good at and some things I'm terrible at. There are different love languages and what someone may require, I might not speak it. I like to provide gifts because growing up with nothing, you never want to see anyone without.

But I struggle with time because I'm always working and they had it. I have this thing called "The Okay Attitude." You can write me a novel in a text and I'll say, okay. Life expectancy for us is low as it is and we spend most of our time arguing about trivial things so if that's how you feel, that's how you feel.

And a "Good Romantic?"

Being attentive, caring, not being so selfish. I don't know, everyone is different. Some people require a lot. They say, "Shower me with gifts." But others say, "I just want your time, whenever you can afford it."

Unfortunately, I can't afford it.

What do you want listeners to get from your music?

That I'm just a bad romantic that's trying to better himself.

Stream Bad Romantic 2 here.

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Pony Boy

Slim Thug On His Coronavirus Diagnosis, Holistic Remedies And New Album, 'Thug Life'

Slim Thug, born Stayve Thomas, is a relatively healthy being. His daily regimen includes three-mile runs and keeping his diet in tip-top shape. Since he was 27, the rapper has battled high blood pressure and switched up his lifestyle for the better. Thirteen years later, the Houston native is hip to holistic methods like oregano oil to lower cholesterol levels, spirulina to reduce blood pressure and absorbing good vibes only.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported 1,303 people in the state have tested positive for novel coronavirus, one being Thug. The rapper and businessman was slighted after learning of his positive diagnosis on Tuesday (March 24).

Thug fell ill with a headache and a slight fever after running errands last week. While his symptoms were mild, his doctor provided him with a 24-hour test that confirmed it all. "Some people think I'm making it up," he tells VIBE over the phone Thursday (March 26). "Some people think I'm working for somebody, it's crazy."

As conspiracy theories permeate through social media, the 39-year-old is focused on keeping fans informed about the virus. His social distancing wasn't the best as he got a haircut a week before he was diagnosed, which is why he's firm on it today. "It's real and people should take it seriously," he said. "Especially for young people. You could pass it on, it could be deadly to somebody you love. You have to be a human and say, 'I have to protect others by not being reckless.'"

This hasn't changed Thug's plans to release his forthcoming album, Thug Life, Friday (March 27).  The veteran rapper who dropped classics like, "I Ain't Heard of That" and guest verses on Mike Jones' "Still Tippin," and Beyonce's "Check on It" wants his new music to be a safe haven for the times.

Released last week, his single, "This World" highlights today's ups and downs, with a telling sample from the late Charles Bradley.

The silver lining continues to glisten for the rapper. After sharing his diagnosis with fans, many began sharing black-owned businesses that specialize in holistic medicine. They include Soul Food Vegan and natural herbs from Jinka Premium.

In our conversation below, Slim Thug highlights the importance of social distancing, why rappers should stay connected to their fans and how the late Tupac Shakur inspired his new album, Thug Life.

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Just found out I got Corona virus

A post shared by Slim Thug (@slimthug) on Mar 24, 2020 at 10:14am PDT

VIBE: How have you been coping with this? Take me back to your initial thoughts when you found out all of this was happening.

Slim Thug: I was definitely surprised because I was trying to be precautious way earlier than a lot of people. I started to feel a headache and a fever and I've never had those symptoms so I thought, 'Man this Corona time, it's got to be something.' But at the end of the day, I haven't felt severe sickness or nothing.

I have high blood pressure, I already do this. I run three miles at the park and go to the gym every day, so I'm pretty healthy. You know, I never felt like I wouldn't be able to fight this off, I never really felt really sick or crazy sick, just kind of felt like a sinus infection.

With you being a healthy person, what has this told you about the virus?

It's serious and it can be deadly, but at the end of the day, if you're young and healthy and don't have any other underlying conditions, then you should be able to fight it off. My doctor shared how the only thing you can do is stay home and let it run its course. He said to drink a high volume of fluids like vitamin c to keep your immune system up.

Have you ever been interested in holistic practices?

I believe in medicine, I'm not gonna lie if I need a Z-Pack, I'm gonna get it (Laughs). But there's a lot of people around me who shared some things. I'm on a lot of herbs right now. They done gave me all types of kits and stuff that I posted on Instagram. I've been on oregano oil, black seed oil, and it's working. I'm trying everything from boiling orange peels to elderberry. I'm trying to stay on it, I feel good. I go outside and post up in the sun and try to drink hot tea during the day.

Hip-hop artists haven't said too much about the virus, but some are engaging more with fans on social media. What else do you think your peers can do with their influence during these times?  

If you're a rapper, you should be taking advantage of this time and giving content out to the world as much as possible. I've seen so many different artists be creative. Look at DJ D-Nice. About a year ago, I started spinning. I'm not really a DJ, I'm just having fun. But for D-Nice to have 150,000 people on his Live? You would never go to a club and DJ for that many people or never "see" Oprah and all of them. It's a whole new wave, a whole new world we're stepping into. You're reaching over 150,000 people and this is elite people at the same time.

It's inspired all the real DJs to get on. I'm seeing DJs from Houston like Mr. Rodgers spin for 12 hours straight and he had the whole city in his Live. We were all just in the comments, it's crazy, but it's amazing though because you have thousands there and you won't see that many people in a real club.

 

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After Hours Vibes are DIFFERENT in #ClubCorona. That 7am hour had me hella delirious and in rare form. Went in the bag and dropped that OutKast Spottie and brought the LIVE band out during my LIVE set. From 9p-2PM (17hrs nonstop) we went crazy. Long story short, don’t miss 2nite!! - s/o @honeyboneshawty for capturing this moment!

A post shared by DJ Mr Rogers (@djmrrogers) on Mar 25, 2020 at 1:11pm PDT

It's a new experience, so you have to be creative with it. My album Thug Life is out today [March 27th], but I've hosted a live listening on my Instagram. It was inspired by [2]Pac. Back in the day, he had a project called Thug Life and with Slim Thug being my name, I just had to use it.

I even saw Swae Lee [of rap duo Rae Sremmurd] do a whole concert. You just got to be engaged with your people and they will appreciate that because everyone is sitting at home bored with nothing to do. If they're busy now, they will have time to tune in later. All artists should be taking advantage of this moment, stay at home and give the people as much content as they can watch because they all want to see something right now.

What do you think it is about music that has people wanting it more than ever?

Music is just therapy to your body and soul. Whenever I'm stressed out, I got a playlist for that. I got a playlist for anything and any mood I need to be in. Music is very important because of a lot of Black people/minorities, don't go to therapy, they don't have a lot of access to resources that can help ease stress.

A lot of the times, a good song can do that for you, it can make you feel good. All of that. So it's very important. I feel like my content is good for these times. I have a song called "This World" that's about real-life stuff.  I got a record with [veteran Houston rapper] Z-Ro I'm finna drop that's like a gospel song to me. When I hear it, it just takes me there and I think people are going to feel the same.

Lastly, you mentioned you're getting into DJing. If you were to throw a Quarantine Party, what are the Top 5 records you have to play no matter what?

At my Quarantine Party, it's going to be the real playing. I've done a few mixes for the last ten days. I would say the go-to records are 90s R&B. It's just therapeutic feel-good music.

Hearing people singing really calms you down. Jodeci, Babyface, all of it. Guy, Keith Sweat. If you want to turn up and take it what's good now, Travis Scott is perfect to get lit to.

For those who want the real throwback rap, you might want to hear some Tupac. There's something for everybody, whatever you like, there's a playlist that will put you in a great mood and I think everyone should tap into that for real, it's real therapy.

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The History Of The Scottsboro Boys

Decades before the Exonerated Five became one of the biggest-known examples of Black and brown youth being targeted and falsely convicted, there were the Scottsboro Boys. The group of nine black teenagers, ranging from ages 13 to 19, were wrongly convicted of raping two white women on a freight train in 1931.

Haywood Patterson, Clarence Norris, Charlie Weems, brothers Andrew and Leroy "Roy" Wright, Olin Montgomery (who was nearly blind), Eugene Williams, Ozie Powell, and Willie Roberson (who suffered from severe syphilis and could barely walk) were arrested on rape charges, which began a years-long battle for freedom. Four of the nine teens knew each other prior to being falsely accused and convicted.

On March 25, 1931, the teens boarded the Southern Railway freight train in hopes of finding jobs, along with other Black and white passengers. As the train made its way through Alabama, a fight broke out after a group of white passengers attempted to attack a group of Black passengers. Patterson was one of the passengers targeted which triggered a melee, that led to the white passengers getting kicked off the train in Skottsboro, Ala.

The angry posse headed to a nearby sheriff where they claimed that they had been attacked by Black passengers. Police intern arrested every Black passenger on the train for assault. Meanwhile, two white women on the train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, told police that they had been raped by the Black teens. It’s suspected that the women lied out of fear of being arrested for prostitution. A doctor later examined the women and determined that they were not raped.

Nonetheless, police arrested the teen, who were dubbed the Scottsboro Boys. Price and Bates went to the Scottsboro Jail and identified the teens as their attackers. In the age of Jim Crow and overt racism permeating through the South, the Scottsoboro Boys never stood a chance. White lynch mobs marched to the jail where they were being held and demanded that the boys be released into their custody so that they could kill them. As a result, the National Guard was called in to escort the Scottsboro Boys from jail to court. The boys were not allowed to consult with an attorney and were instead appointed two lawyers, one of whom was 69-year-old Milo Moody, who hadn’t tried a murder case in years. A second lawyer assigned to the case was a real estate attorney.

The first round of trials took place over the course of one day in a standing-room only court room with all-white, all-male jurors. Black jurors had been systematically blocked from the jury pools through disenfranchisement that also stripped many Blacks of the right to vote.

Patterson was tried separately, followed by Norris and Weems. The defense offered no closing arguments, but prosecutors closed by urging jurors to sentence the boys to death. Within two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Norris and Weems, amid cheers and applause in the court room. Patterson’s trial began as jurors were deliberating the case against Norris and Weems. Despite having no evidence and conflicting stories from Price and Bates, Patterson was convicted and sentenced to the electric chair. Powell, Roberson, Williams, Montgomery and Andy Wright’s trial began minutes after Patterson’s trial ended. The jury quickly convicted them and sentenced them to death.

Prosecutors decided that 13-year-old Roy Wright was too young for the death penalty. Within hours, the case was declared a mistrial as jurors were deadlocked on sentencing for Roy Wright, although they all agreed that he was guilty, despite him being innocent.

The other eight Scottsboro Boys were sentenced to death, but the Alabama Supreme Court issued a last-minute indefinite stay of execution. The case caught the attention of the International Labor Defense, and the NAACP.

On March 24, 1932, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the convictions against seven of the Scottsboro Boys, and granted Williams a new trial. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court later that year. In a landmark decision, the high court ruled that the boys had been denied the right to a fair trial under the 14th Amendment, and sent the cases back to the lower court.

The Scottsboro Boys were tried again, this time in Decatur, Ala., which was roughly 50 miles from Scottsboro, but still in Ku Klux Klan territory. The ILD appealed the case and hired defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz. Bates recanted her rape story and agreed to testify on behalf of the defense. Despite Bates’ cooperation, and no evidence proving their guilt, the Scottsboro Boys were convicted again, though Patterson’s death sentence was suspended.

In a unanimous decision, the Alabama Supreme Court denied the defense’s motions for a new trial, and in January 1935, the case returned to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time. The guilty verdict against Norris was overturned and new trials were ordered for him and Patterson. Norris’ third trial ended in another conviction and death sentence along with Weems and Andy Wright. Roy Wright spent six years in prison while the case was tried several times.

Prosecutors eventually agreed to drop the rape charges against Powell, who was later convicted of assaulting a deputy sheriff and sentenced to 20 years. The remaining rape charges were also dropped against Montgomery, Roberson, Williams and Roy Wright, and they were released from custody.

Enduring back-to-back trials took a tole on the group that likely had a ripple effect on their lives. One of the accused was left disabled after being shot while being escorted to prison. Others returned to custody on various convictions over the years. Norris, the eldest and the last surviving among the bunch, evaded parole in 1946 and went into hiding for 30 years. He was found in 1976, and pardoned by Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Norris died in 1989.

After more than 80 years, the Scottsboro Boys were posthumously pardoned in 2013. See more on the story in the video below.

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