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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Music Sermon: Classic Conscious Posse Cuts For The Hip-Hop Generation

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

The year 1985 saw one of the biggest moments in music history when Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson gathered pop and rock stars from across the musical spectrum as U.S.A. for Africa for the anthemic “We Are The World,” raising funds for short and long-term humanitarian aid throughout Africa.

The following year, Dexter Scott King was inspired to create a similar moment. After decades-long efforts in Congress with pushes from public figures and notable artists, his father Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was finally being observed as a national holiday. King wanted to tap younger energy - the growing hip-hop generation – to put a spin on “We Are The World” in commemoration of the first MLK Day.

King reached out to Kurtis Blow, who’d been part of a mass anti-apartheid project the year prior. “I get a call… he says, ‘Hello, Kurtis. I want you to record a song for my father.’ I hung up on him,” Blow told Vlad TV. “He calls me back, ‘I’m serious, I’m Dexter Scott King.’ I said, ‘You playin’.” Kurtis finally realized nobody was playing on his phone, and they got to work. With Blow as producer, King and co-writer/co-producer Phillip Jones assembled a who’s who of young hip urban and urban crossover artists. “Anyone who was too young for ‘We are the World,’” he explained to Vlad: El Debarge, Stephanie Mills, Whitney Houston, Lisa Lisa, Full Force, Stephanie Mills, Teena Marie, Menudo (featuring young Ricky Martin), New Edition, Stacy Lattisaw, James JT Taylor, Whodini, Run-DMC, Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys and Kurtis.

They planned to shoot a video at the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change — the designated recipient of all proceeds from the song — to give it a proper spotlight, but they needed money. A benefactor showed up in the form of Prince. Yes, that Prince. According to Kurtis, The Purple One donated $90,000 for a visual.

At this point, supergroups for a worthy cause weren’t a brand new thing. Prior to “We Are The World,” there was Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” for Ethiopian Famine Relief. In 1985, Artists United Against Apartheid released “Sun City,” but it was nowhere near as big a hit or pop culture moment as the other two.

“King Holiday” was the first of these event songs for us. For something specifically and directly connected to and about us.

After that, black musicians teamed up were several other socially-charged collaborations that took on issues close to home or challenged us as a community to do better–and then there weren’t any more of them. It could be because of lack of incentive, or abundance of egos. Or shrinking of artist pools in some areas, or the shrinking of budgets overall. It’s certainly not due to lack of topical options. Whatever the cause, in honor of MLK Day, we’re going to look back at some of the great supergroup movement moments in black music.

STOP THE VIOLENCE MOVEMENT: “SELF-DESTRUCTION” – 1989

In the three short years between “King Holiday” and “Self-Destruction,” rap expanded from a niche genre to a full cultural movement. But along with that ascension came a growing affiliation with violence. In ‘87 and ‘88, melees were breaking out at rap concerts, and the art form was held solely responsible. Two incidents at New York’s Nassau Coliseum, one with a fatality, were the breaking point. Just as hip hop was coming into its own, it was in danger of stalling out. Media and community leaders were condemning rap as a negative influence. Venues started banning rap concerts, a pall hung that over rap shows and tours until the Hard Knock Life Tour ushered in a new era of all-rap shows more than a decade later.

The situation was dire. Journalist Nelson George contacted music executive Ann Carli with an idea: a posse cut with an anti-violence message. They took the name “Stop the Violence Movement” from a Boogie Down Productions song, and so appropriately enlisted BDP’s help. “This wasn’t about police brutality,” founding member D-Nice said around the song’s 25th anniversary. “This was about how we were killing each other and why we needed to put a stop to it.” The 17-year-old D-Nice produced the song, and BDP leader KRS-One laid his verse down first, followed by some of the best-known rappers on the East Coast: Ms. Melodie, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Heavy D, Public Enemy, Stetsasonic and Just-Ice. Just was a controversial addition because he’d recently been accused of shooting someone, but his presence lent sincerity to the message. The video, shot in part at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, was the largest gathering of rappers at one time to date. Beef was squashed, like former rivals DJ Red Alert and DJ Marley Marl pictured together at Scott LaRock’s grave. And though the record featured all east coast lyricists, Tone Loc showed up to rep the west in solidarity.

“Self-Destruction” was released on Martin Luther King, Jr Day in 1989, and received video support, but it didn’t get mainstream radio airplay. It still reached No. 1 on the rap charts in March and stayed there for ten weeks, driving enough sales enough to raise $500,000 for the National Urban League. The Stop the Violence Movement and “Self-Destruction” are still considered one of the most important moments in hip hop. The following year, the west coast took the baton.

WEST COAST HIP HOP ALL-STARS: “WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME GANG” – 1990

Even if you’ve never set foot on the left coast, you know that LA was embroiled with racial tension, gang violence and a confirmed distrust between the black community and law enforcement in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s the climate that birthed “F*ck the Police” and Boyz N The Hood. “All in the Same Gang” was created in the same spirit as “Self-Destruction,” but specifically addressing the violence between nearly 100,000 Los Angeles area gang members.

Michael Concepcion, a founding member of the Crips, conceived the idea after a shootout left him paralyzed from the waist down. He reached out to key west coast artists – some former gang members themselves – to float the idea. Once they were on board, he pitched it Warner Brothers Records. His path was no doubt made easier by the success of “We’re All in the Same Gang.” Additionally, hip-hop’s commercial viability was being recognized as a real thing thanks to Yo! MTV Raps, among other factors. Warner got on board. The single was produced by Dr. Dre––his first track that wasn’t for Ruthless Records––and proceeds were designated for LA youth organization Project Build.

The track featured 14 of the west coast’s biggest rap and rap-affiliated stars, including Tone Loc, Young MC, Digital Underground, MC Hammer, JJ Fad, Michel'le, Def Jeff, Oaktown's 3-5-7, and N.W.A. The video was shot in Watts at the Nickerson Gardens projects––Blood territory, but the Bloods and Crips provided joint security during a temporary truce. Again, assisted with the foundation laid by “Self-Destruction” and illustrating how far rap had come in a short time, the single surpassed the success of its east coast predecessor. It not only hit No. 1, but crossed over to the Hot 100 chart and earned a Grammy nod for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

H.E.A.L. (Human Education Against Lies): “HEAL YOURSELF” – 1991

KRS-One is hip-hop’s Al Sharpton. If there’s some organizing poppin’ off, he or Chuck D––who may as well be hip-hop’s Jesse Jackson––is in the mix. It’s what they do; it’s their role in the culture. KRS and Chuck talked about this during a Rap City takeover in 1992, “The reason I came up with certain topics like H.E.A.L. and Self Destruction, etc., is because of the need for black people to be organized…So we get most of the rappers together, we organize, say something of some relevance…With rap music, when it’s time to get busy, I can get on the phone with Kane and go,‘Yo Kane, what’s up?’ I can get on the phone with Heavy and go ‘Yo Heavy, what’s up?’ and they’ll be right there.”

KRS always had a focus on self-education. Distrust of the education system and messages from mainstream media was a prevalent theme in his music. The collective H.E.A.L., named for an acronym Human Education Against Lies, expanded on that as a movement against propaganda and false information. “Heal Yourself” features Kid Capri, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J (perhaps redeeming himself for not participating in “Self Destruction”), MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Ms Melodie, Jam Master Jay, DMC, Freddie Foxx and KRS-One kicking knowledge about education, colorism, drugs, sex, AIDS, domestic violence and politics. The collaborative released a full album, Civilization vs. Technology, but as the lead track, “Heal Yourself,” is the best-known.

B.M.U. (Black Men United): “U WILL KNOW” – 1994

All the black male singers in the known universe came together to create this uplifting theme song for the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack. “U Will Know” is one of those moments unlikely to happen again, simply because there aren’t enough artists to pull off an event outing of this magnitude. The death of R&B groups alone probably halved the potential roster.

Aaron Hall, After 7, Al B. Sure!, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Christopher Williams, Guy, El DeBarge, Gerald LeVert, H-Town, INTRO, Joe, Keith Sweat, The Rude Boys, Portrait, R. Kelly, Silk, Stokley Williams, Tevin Campbell, Raphael Saadiq (on bass) and the Tony’s, Usher, Lenny Kravitz (also on bass). Yes, all of ‘em. Together. Same song. Your church’s Men’s Day Mass Choir could never.

But “U Will Know” is more than a soundtrack song; it’s now part of soul music lore. The gospel-infused track was written by a young D’Angelo, and his brother. It was the second song he’d ever written, on his first demo, and his publisher placed it for the film. He’s often credited the song with landing him his deal.

Looking back on the video now, he belongs amongst those artists and their voices and talents, but in actuality he was the new kid. “It was surreal,” he shared in a 2014 Red Bull Music Academy interview. “Here I am in a room with all my heroes.”

The track hit No. 4 on the Billboard R&B chart and cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100. But the biggest takeaway, if we’re keeping it a buck, is that Gerald Levert lowkey called everybody else his background singers.

“FREEDOM (The Theme from Panther)” – 1995

In 1995, it was the ladies’ turn, with a once-in-a-career mass assembly for the Panther soundtrack. “Freedom” originated on Atlanta R&B singer and Dungeon Family affiliate Joi’s super slept-on debut album, The Pendulum Vibe. Director Mario Van Peebles then had the idea to flip the Dallas Austin track for the Panther soundtrack and gathered, apparently, every black female artist signed to a label. Many reports say over 60 artists were involved, but VIBE cited 93 artists in its August 1995 issue – all for a monumental song and video.

“Freedom” was promoted as a tribute to the women who’ve fought in the trenches for liberation and justice like Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, Harriet Tubman (note: here’s a moment where it’s acceptable to evoke Tubman, rappers), Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks. The collaboration encompassed female artists across multiple genres. The main edit featured Vanessa Williams, Mary J. Blige, Zhane, TLC, Aaliyah, Caron Wheeler, Pebbles, Xscape, Brownstone, Karyn White, Amel Larrieux, Monica, En Vogue, Joi, Queen Latifah, Patra, N’Dea Davenport and Miss Jones (seriously, everybody with a deal) on vocals. (In a cute parallel to “You Will Know,” vocal arrangement was in the hands of a not-yet-known Angie Stone).

There was also an all-rap version with Patra, Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-n-Pepa, Left Eye, Yo-Yo, and Me'Shell NdegéOcello (Spoken word. Rap. Same.). The lyrics addressed standing up to racism and oppression, but also fighting against misogyny and sexism, all through sisterhood.

“I represent not only in the kitchen and the bedroom / But also in the boardroom so give me more room / Deny my opportunity, you in jeopardy / Yo, yo, set me free, don't hinder me, let me be”

There's only one thing infuriating about “Freedom:” there’s so little story around it. Nothing like this had ever happened before and will probably never happen again (there aren’t enough artists!), but there’s no easily-found behind-the-scenes footage, no EPK interviews, no making-of documentation. This was obviously conceived to be a moment, but wasn’t documented as such, which is a loss to music history. There’s not even a mass choir name!

---

Over the years, these supergroup projects continue to pop up occasionally as world events call for them. There was even a “We are the World 25” for Haiti disaster relief. However, the art form of conscious posse cuts has fallen off. In 2015, The Game spearheaded collective of rappers and R&B singers for “Don’t Shoot,” a tribute to Michael Brown and in support of Ferguson, but it wasn’t a moment. There wasn’t the requisite in-studio-with-headphones video. In an age where artists can’t easily agree to outside projects without the label in a huff, when it’s not as easy to get on the phone with your peers the way KRS One did and summon them for action, and when verses can be sent via email with no direct connection with collaborators, the comradery and communion in these projects is lost, and that was the heart. Fortunately, time hasn’t dulled the relevance of these earlier moments.

PS: Somebody give MC Lyte the “Most Consistent” award for being in basically all of these joints.

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Mac Miller performs during Behind The Scenes With Mac Miller Filming Music Choice's 'Take Back Your Music' Campaign at Music Choice on July 17, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Thundercat, Juicy J, Ariana Grande And More Pay Tribute To Mac Miller For 27th Birthday

It's not lost on many just how much Mac Miller's influence affects today's lovers of hip-hop. The rapper and songwriter's passing was a blow to the industry last year as he seemed to be hitting a special space in his creative journey.

With today (Jan. 19) being what would've been his 27th birthday, friends and musical partners are sharing stories and messages of love about their favorite Capricorn.

Frequent collaborator and friend Thundercat shared on Twitter a moment Mac helped create with the "Them Changes" artist and his family. "All three of us were in the same room, playing and creating and enjoying music with Mac," he tweeted about an impromptu session with his brothers and Mac.

"Mac was and always will be a special dude, he was definitely Lebowski to me. I will always remember a man I considered to be another one of my real brothers and best of friends in the short time we got to spend together. I miss him so much every day."

See more touching messages from Mac's friends below.

Mac was hands down one of thee freshest people I’ve met so far in life, never a dull moment. I’ll share one of my favorite moments with you guys on this most dope day. I always enjoyed getting a chance to work with him, we would spend days at a time...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

..Creating music, playing music and introducing each other to new music all the time. This is the day he met my brothers @drummaboiblue1 & @_K_I_N_T_A_R_O_ it was a bit of a whirlwind how it all happened because at separate times they both came flying...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...through the studio door at separate times of the late night. My older brother @drummaboiblue1 kicked the door in and starts rapping and making hip hop hands at Mac who was sitting at the computer and it was so intense he just turned and looked at me like..

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...”Holy shit, this is your brother?” I didn’t know what to expect next because it could have easily gone south, but I got a chance to see what made Mac so special. My brother is hands down the most amazing drummer in the world *dont at me* and what I saw...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...from Mac really stays in my heart because I watched him turn my older brothers energy into creative energy by challenging him about the title of best drummer in the world, and handing him pots & pans and things from around the studio and the house...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

..shortly after Mac turns to me & says “hey man your brother @_K_I_N_T_A_R_O_ is gonna come by, I immediately felt like there was a possibility that this would be overwhelming for Mac, as I have seen from past situations in life experience with people & us..

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...but none the less, all three of us were in the same room, playing and creating and enjoying music with Mac. For those that don’t see the significance, music and family can be a very intense experience in itself in life (if you know, you understand)....

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...it’s not always so easy and lighthearted like everyone would like to imagine it is however as it may be, the night went on,and the moment passed. Since that moment me and my brothers never really would be in that same setting and satire for years...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...the reason that this story is so special is because while we were working on what’s the use, he started going through old music and came across that song, when he played it I began to tear up and I had to keep myself together because it was so special...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...that he captured it! Almost like a photo. he turned to me and reminded me of how wild that night was and we had a good laugh about it and continued working. No one really owns any recordings of us like that, so it was really special to me...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...Mac was and always will be a special dude, he was definitely Lebowski to me. I will always remember a man I considered to be another one of my real brothers and best of friends in the short time we got to spend together. I miss him so much every day...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...he changed my life in a real way. Thank you @MacMiller Happy Birthday! pic.twitter.com/4HVdwj2fMs

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

https://twitter.com/ArianaGrande/status/1086537160079990784

Happy birthday Mac Miller! pic.twitter.com/DT31Smpbqt

— Hi-Tek (@HiTek) January 19, 2019

Happy Birthday @MacMiller. Love You Always & Forever

— THE INTERNET (@intanetz) January 19, 2019

Smile today - Mac Miller ❤️ pic.twitter.com/l5rmQDu5XE

— Karen Civil (@KarenCivil) January 19, 2019

 

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damn i miss this so much! i miss jamming with you and writing with you and talking about anything and everything. just watching you produce was my favorite. i miss the way you used to support me in everything that i did. i miss your smile and your tight ass hugs. i love you. happy birthday to a legend.

A post shared by NJOMZA (@notnjomza) on Jan 19, 2019 at 10:07am PST

Happy birthday to one of the purest artists I’ve ever known, Mac Miller 🙏🏾 RIP https://t.co/e8IIGaRjhx

— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) January 19, 2019

we miss you and love you Mac Miller happy birthday

— rex orange county (@rexorangecounty) January 19, 2019

Happy bday to my brother Mac Miller i miss my bro every day https://t.co/pXAn552l1w

— juicy j (@therealjuicyj) January 19, 2019

happy birthday Mac! 👼 tell your friends you love em twice as much.

— bear (@6LACK) January 19, 2019

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Nathan Pearcy

Planted Not Buried: The Moral Courage Of Asante McGee

One would think the tides would turn after the six-part docuseries Surviving R. Kelly pried the wool from the eyes and ears of negligent music fans two weeks ago. Executive produced by writer and filmmaker dream hampton (stylized as such to honor bell hooks), over 12 million viewers total were gifted proof of Kelly’s predatory ways by archived interviews from the man himself with gripping testimonies from black women spanning the ages of 16 to 33.

While watching the 6-hour series, it became clear that Kelly’s 30 years in the game traumatized the lives of those he allegedly sang about in his platinum and gold hits. It’s a factor that would morally awaken anyone, but between protests and his label departure from Sony, something else happened that wasn’t seen in the wrecking of other abhorrent figures.

Sleuth-like behavior from the court of public opinion reared its head in the other direction, shaming the women who came forward with their stories. Hate came tenfold toward hampton for her previous career in music journalism, particularly a profile on Kelly in VIBE’s 2002 issue, a month before he was accused of engaging in sex acts with a minor on videotape.

Not only were hampton’s character and prior working relationships brought into question, but the intake of Kelly’s music also skyrocketed with average streams totaling 1.7 million a day compared to the 955,600 average in 2018. Even as Atlanta and Chicago district attorneys announced investigations, the singer celebrated his birthday with reported girlfriend Jocelyn Savage and adoring fans while singing “Bump n’ Grind.” Although Savage sat in the club with Kelly, her parents Timothy and Jonjelyn Savage hadn’t (and still haven’t) seen their daughter in several years since she met the singer at the age of 17.

Memories like cookouts, proms, love tales and weddings soundtracked by R. Kelly trumped a conscientious duty to at least lend an ear to black women. From the outside, black women continued to go unprotected as memes and Instagram influencers turned their pain into comedic relief. With black women at the front of today’s movements (Black Lives Matter, #MeToo) and the current political battle in the White House (Rep. Maxine Waters and Sen. Kamala Harris), moral courage from the rest of us shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

In a digital space where endorphins rise in the blink of an Instagram notification, it’s not lost on many that black women go ignored in cases of sexual violence. Presumably, it’s more important to take part in “call out culture” instead of adhering to black women who’ve sacrificed their bare bones for our community, preferably black men.

In the throes of the backward backlash, one of R. Kelly’s alleged victims, Asante McGee, stands as a gleam of hope for young black girls and women. It’s the mission statement during our conversation with McGee, one of the first women to publically share her story of her time spent living in the Atlanta home where Kelly reportedly kept women captive for sexual purposes.

For McGee and other survivors like Lisa Van Allen and Lizzette Martinez, there’s no joy in recalling the emotional, mental and sexual abuse by Kelly, but the determination to hold the embattled singer accountable for his actions is worth it.

“I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word; they want to help others,” McGee says during our phone interview. While the rest of us are in shock over black women standing up for Kelly, the mother of three is centered on standing up against the other R. Kellys of the world who are disguised as our friends, uncles and pastors.

Even as a TMZ report claimed McGee was contacted for a criminal investigation against Kelly, McGee says no one has done so, promoting her to be more vocal in her journey to share her truth.

It’s in her tone, calm and reserved, while seemingly being at peace as the public processes what’s been hiding in plain sight for so long.

“I've received more positive than negative [messages on social media] so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health,” she adds. “If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general.”

As shared on Surviving R. Kelly, McGee opened up about being a fan who had the chance to travel with Kelly for two years before being invited to live in his Atlanta home. While there for only a few weeks, the days were unbearable once she realized she was there to be a servant to Kelly’s desires.

For McGee, the aftermath of the documentary was just as eye-opening since she learned how many people were complicit as well as the lengthy timeline of his reported behavior. It’s a juxtaposition many sexual assault survivors face in the aftermath of their healing. Studies have shown black women who face sexual violence in their lives have a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal ideation, pain-related health problems, and low self-esteem.

Just a day before our interview, a page titled “Surviving Lies” surfaced on Facebook in an effort to discredit McGee and another survivor, Faith Rodgers. Mugshots from McGee’s troubled past were collaged together and a video of her ex-boyfriend taping a conversation with her then 18-year-old daughter without her consent also resurfaced. Believed to be conducted by a member of Kelly’s camp, McGee doubts it’s Kelly himself behind the page for one desolate reason.

“Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website,” she says. “Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.” It was taken down hours later but another quickly surfaced.

The tide will be brutal but McGee isn’t giving up any time soon.

--

There’s a lot to take in here, but we can start off small. Sometimes, subjects don’t like to watch the documentaries they participate in. Have you watched Surviving? If so, what was your reaction?

Asante McGee: When I first saw the documentary, the first night had me very emotional because I learned a lot of things that I didn't know about him. Also even finding out that people knew about the things he was doing and were actually covering up for him.

So for the documentary, it was very emotional. With the documentary promoting itself, I know a lot of people were still defending him. But after night one, I just knew that we would change the minds of those who have defended him because of how in-depth it was. But then you had a lot of people claiming it was fake or scripted.

It was heartbreaking to watch and it was even more heartbreaking to see that people were still sticking up for him. There’s even a video of popular Instagram figures like Rizza Islam in tears while standing up for Kelly. How has the reaction been for you, especially from black men?

https://twitter.com/thedreswift/status/1082056141100724225

I received a lot of support from black men personally. They’ve been in my DMs thanking me for sharing my story and saying "As a father of young black girls, it hits home." They're happy that women like me are speaking out and actually letting people know just how much he's capable of.

I've seen a lot of black celebrities that weren't even speaking on the subject that have now come forward. I've seen a few black men that are still taking up for him, which (laughs) I really don't understand how and why, but I've seen more support from those not taking up for him.

Do you think your wounds are healed? I’ve seen interviews where people have asked questions and treated this like a reality show and not cases of sexual assault.

My wounds have definitely not been healed. While watching the documentary, I feel like I was reliving the events, especially when it got to the part of me going to house and just showing that black room.

What was it about your room that prevented you from going into the “black room” instead?

I didn’t want to enter my room because that’s where I felt like a prisoner. I was only allowed to come out of that room when someone would knock on my door telling me to come downstairs or if I was summoned to the black room. The black room is where we were forced to do all kinds of sexual acts with him and each other. When you were summoned to the black room you knew you were not going to enjoy it.

When you're on the outside looking in, people are generally judging. I don’t think people realize how emotional things got, and how questions like, “What happened next?” on social media as the documentary aired can be triggering.

I understand that you may want to engage in a conversation with us, but that wasn’t the time because we had just revealed a lot of embarrassing things to the entire world. That was not a moment to be proud of. I just wish people would just understand and I know a lot of people didn't mean any harm in doing it, but you know after I calmed down I explained to those why I didn't want to talk to them, they understood.

Do you feel like you're learning new things about yourself in this process?

 

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A post shared by Asante McGee (@asante_shelthia) on Dec 7, 2018 at 8:58am PST

Definitely. I didn't realize how strong I was until now. I think I built myself to become strong after the documentary aired because like I said, I was receiving a lot of backlash prior to the doc and even leading up to it and I thought it would mentally break me down. I'm happy to know that I am stronger than that. I’m overcoming a lot of obstacles I didn't think I would overcome.

That's beautiful. The questions, as well as this interview, can be draining. It also doesn’t help that there’s a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies” floating around. Do you think R. Kelly was behind that?

Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website. Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.

Why are you trying to expose his victims? It's like you're trying to intimidate us and trying to get us to shut up by bringing out our past or just doing anything you can to manipulate the situation for people to say, “Oh, well that person was lying.” Their goal was to discredit us one by one.

The sad part about it is that they took that one down but that person has since created another one. So that it's another page saying the same stuff over again.

There was also a claim that you teamed with Jocelyn's father, Timothy Savage, to extort money from Kelly. Where do you think that accusation came from?

My ex and I had a bitter breakup so he’s behind that. I opened an HVAC business and he had one too, but the state sent him a cease and desist for his business due to fraud.

He knew that I contacted the Savages once I left the Atlanta home to inform them about their daughter. My ex knew I was helping them to get their daughter back and after our bitter breakup, he blamed me for his business closing and wanted to get back at me. He knew my reasons for going to his concert in December of 2016, I was on the phone with him the entire time. He’s trying to make money by using my name and discrediting me.

He also believed I was paid for my interview with Kelly so he taped a conversation with my daughter without her permission. She was 18 at the time and we were in a bad place. Like any parents and daughters, me and my daughter were having issues and she actually moved out and lived with someone else. He used that opportunity to call her after he saw me on the Megyn Kelly show. He knew that he could manipulate my daughter into saying whatever he wanted her to say so if you listen clearly to the conversation, you can hear how he's baiting her to say certain things.

At the end of the recording, you can hear her saying that I'm texting, “Do not tell him where he lives, he might be trying to kill me.” So clearly you can hear me saying that I'm afraid of this guy because of his personal vendetta against me.

He figured, “This is about to be my payday, I'm gonna go ahead and do this.” The video has actually been out since May and it just so happened that they weren't spreading it around until after the docuseries to discredit whatever I was saying.

How do you remain so zen during these times? How do you fight back during these negative clouds now?

 

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A post shared by Asante McGee (@asante_shelthia) on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:11am PST

What really keeps me going and that motivates me every day is when I see these messages telling me how proud they are or they're sharing their stories and because we came forward, others are able to also come forward and start their healing process.

I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word, they want to help others. So just from receiving those messages, I've received more positive than negative so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health. If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general. He's going to have these fans and they're always going to believe him, that’s the tough part.

What can people expect from your book, No Longer Trapped In The Closet?

I recently released the book (Jan. 3), but it came together as the BuzzFeed story and my interview with Megyn Kelly came out. At the time, I read the comments and just saw a lot of people doubting me because of my age. It said, “Oh, she’s lying. She’s too old.”

I just wanted people to get a better understanding of my life so they can say, “Oh okay, she was going through this and why she trusted him so much.” I included evidence to support my claims with him.

Do you ever think about the other girls who were in the house with you? Do they ever cross your mind?

I think about them every day. It's one of the reasons why I came forward, to begin with. My breaking point wasn’t just one moment. The controlling and dictating when I can eat and bathe was hard but there was one girl in particular who was close to my daughter’s age (who was a teenager at the time) doing things to him in front of me and other people. It hit too close to home. I thought, “I’ve heard the rumors,” but to see this young girl in his presence was too much. I knew at that point that this needed to stop.

Would you be comfortable sharing what that was?

The mind-blowing thing that I witnessed happened when it was myself, the young lady, him, one of his assistants and another girl. We were all sitting in his cigar room in the Atlanta house, just listening to music and drinking alcohol. All of sudden she just pops his penis out and just started performing fellatio on him. I'm hearing the sounds and I look up like “What's going on?” and everyone around me did not seem bothered.

I was the only one that was bothered by what's going on. I'm just like, “What in the hell, are you serious?” And I looked back down and tried to ignore but in my mind, I'm envisioning my daughter. This could be my daughter.

Can you describe your relationship with your daughters now as opposed to when you dealt with R. Kelly?

I’m sure other mothers can relate to this; mothers and teenagers have their ups and downs. This was a period where kids start to rebel against their parents. Now we are in a better place and that’s what matters and my daughter is very supportive of my story and this movement.

Has it been hard to tune into your sexuality after all of this?

My sexuality hasn't changed in any way, but it is hard for me to trust a man. At this point, any man that I have been in contact with has a hidden agenda. I've tried to date after Rob and it was a hidden agenda behind it. At this time, I don't have a question [or] doubt about my sexuality, it's just my trust in men in general.

McGee released her memoir No Longer Trapped In The Closet: The Assante McGee Story prior to the airing of Surviving R.Kelly. You can purchase the book from Amazon here.

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