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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Living Outside ‘The Man Box’: A Look At Masculinity And Self-Care

A study from Promundo and AXE aimed to open up a larger conversation about masculinity. For the 2017 research, a large group of men from the United States, U.K. and Mexico were surveyed about their day-to-day habits.

The findings concluded that most men ages 18 to 30 often feel pressured by society to fit into what is called “The Man Box,” or a social construct of male identity that pushes stereotypes on boys and young men regarding how to act “like a man.” These stereotypes include behaving “tough,” being aggressive to prove masculinity and ignoring aspects of self-care, such as mental health and emotional vulnerability.

Throughout the last few years, several male-centered brands have attempted to rectify these stereotypes. Gillette released an advertisement calling out toxic masculinity at the top of 2019. AXE has been committed to shedding hypermasculinity and harmful stereotypes through the promotion of various campaigns such as “Senior Orientation” with artists such as John Legend and rapper KYLE, and its latest campaign, “Bathsculinity” featuring Lil Rel Howery.

“Bathsculinity” is categorized as “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of young men who take pride in their appearance and feel confident in expressing their most attractive selves, inside and outside of the bathroom.” While it may be difficult for some men to embrace their self-care sides, it’s incredibly important for them to find time to take care of themselves.

"AXE continues to break the barriers of masculine stereotypes each year by partnering with great organizations and individuals who support this mission," said Dawn Hedgepeth, General Manager and Vice President of Unilever Deodorants, Men's Grooming and Hand and Body Lotion. "It is our hope that the Bathsculinity mindset will encourage guys everywhere to embrace self-care and self-confidence in every aspect of life.”

Self-care involves multiple avenues, and many men are starting to come to terms with the importance of self-care and keeping their own health in check.

Physical Self-Care Is More Than Just Looking Good

“…Men in the Man Box in the U.S. and UK are significantly more likely to report having “often” or “very often” spent an hour or more bathing, grooming and clothing themselves in the last month,” according to The Man Box findings.

Many men may think that self-care is purely physical; you know, the “sitting in the bubble bath, cucumbers over the eyes” deal. Public figures like Pharrell and Frank Ocean have been open about the importance of male-grooming. In a rare 2018 interview with GQ, Ocean discussed his serious skincare routine. Pharrell spoke with DAZED in 2017 about his regimen for his ageless skin, stressing the importance of exfoliation. The Man Box research reads that this emphasis is due to the belief that “Women don’t go for guys who fuss too much about their clothes, hair, and skin.”

While the notion that “when you look good, you feel good” is still important, this is one mere, surface-level aspect of physical self-care. Despite these high-profile admissions of personal grooming, 24-year-old Weso tells us that to him, physical care is so much more than face value. VIBE reached out to numerous young men regarding the importance of self-care in their own lives.

“Self-care to me is anything you do that makes the mind, body, and soul feel good,” he explains. “Putting the right food in your diet, washing your face to prevent acne, speaking to a therapist to stay on top of your mental health.”

Weso adds that this means resting when necessary. In mid-May, Steve Harvey made controversial comments about the importance of sleep, stating that “rich people” don’t sleep the recommended eight hours a night, suggesting that a lack of rest is the key to becoming successful. Additionally, Diddy has been a vocal advocate of “Team No Sleep,” a lifestyle promoting a non-stop work ethic to achieve greatness. However, it has proven to have some consequences for him in the long run.

"I was proud of working 18 hours a day and sleeping three hours a night," he told ABC’s Nightline in 2010. "It's something now that has turned into a problem for me: not being able to sleep.”

25-year-old Justin notes to us that while “the hustle” is idolized in American culture, nothing is more paramount to self-care than listening to your body.

“Many of us come to ‘the city that never sleeps’ in pursuit of excellence and have watched our fair share of motivational videos that instruct us to sacrifice sleep for 'success,’” he says. “By constantly consuming this propaganda, we compare our lives and work ethics to a photoshopped standard.”

Additionally, men have to be on their P’s and Q’s when it comes to their inner physical health. Earlier this year, 52-year-old actor Luke Perry and 51-year-old director John Singleton both passed away from reported stroke complications. Their sudden passings were surprising because not only were both men healthy in appearance, but they were both relatively young. While strokes, unfortunately, affect people of all ages, statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the chance of a person suffering from a stroke doubles after the age of 55, with 75 percent of strokes occurring in individuals over the age of 65.

“Seeing your idols or celebrities dealing with these same life stressors should make them more relatable and open people’s eyes up to the fact that money and fame does not solve everything,” 25-year-old Nikko explains to VIBE when asked if men should consider headlines about health as cautionary tales for their own lives.

“I see these headlines and start thinking, ‘Do I want to work ridiculously hard, peak at 35 and die at 45? Or do I want to run at a marathon pace and grow steadily throughout the course of a long healthy life?’” Justin continues. “I'd choose the latter, but I think each of us has a choice.”

Don’t Downplay The Importance Of Mental Health

Perhaps the biggest stigma plaguing men pertains to the importance of mental health. The Man Box study reports that many men don’t discuss mental health due to the notion that it’s not masculine to discuss issues surrounding the topic, nor is it masculine to ask for help to cope with them.

“Some members of the Bestow Gill, Leeds, UK group said that if they were having a problem [with mental health], they would simply ‘bottle it up and get on with it,’ or ‘work it out,’ perhaps by going to the gym, or ‘just put the kettle on,’” the report reads. “In other words, they don’t talk about feeling sad or depressed.”

Instead, boys are conditioned to “act tough” in order to maintain a certain level of perceived masculinity, to conceal their true feelings or any problems they may be facing. Despite the stigma that surrounds such an important topic, the study did reveal that while men don’t always seem to be comfortable reaching out to professionals regarding mental health, they found solace in discussing it with those closest to them.

In the U.S., 25 percent of the men surveyed revealed they felt most comfortable seeking help with sadness or depression from their mothers, compared to 11 percent with a male friend and 7 percent with their own fathers. This coincides with the belief that women are usually more perceptive with discussions surrounding emotions.

“I think it's important to be vulnerable in the face of adversity,” Justin says. “The relationships you've built are meant to be relied upon during these times. Trust your friends, rely on your family, and also check on your friends, even the ones who seem to have it all figured out.”

There’s also shame of some sort surrounding the importance of mental health as it pertains to black men. According to the National Alliance On Mental Illness, nearly 19 percent of African Americans are reportedly living with a mental illness, with 1 in 5 American adults having experienced it.

In an interview with Black Enterprise, psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor discussed that stigmas regarding mental illness in the black community–– especially among black men–– could potentially lead to a “why try” attitude when it comes to getting help.

“See your primary care provider, get a physical, examine your medications and talk about your stressors,” she recommends. “Be open and honest about what’s been going on. Follow up if recommended to a therapist or psychiatrist.”

Another tip? Don’t ignore mental health issues, and try to develop good habits while on the road to seeking necessary help.

“This world is hard enough as it is even with your mind and body operating optimally,” Nikko says. “You may be faced with bad breaks, but I always say to myself that this situation could be so much worse. Focusing on the positives as opposed to the negatives again ties back to developing good habits. [These choices] and consistently reminding myself of this has largely shaped my outlook on life.”

 

It’s Okay To Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve

“Some young men in the U.S. and UK who adhere to more rigid gender norms also demonstrate transgressive emotional behaviors such as crying in front of friends or talking about emotional topics,” Promundo writes in The Man Box study.

There are various ways in which humans, in general, can experience different emotional issues. Even as something as simple as the amount of social media likes and comments we receive, Weso explains, has effects on our confidence and self-esteem, resulting in emotional distress– as small as it seems.

“The sad truth is that these apps can alter your mood,” he continues. “Putting up a picture and not getting enough likes can make you start second guessing your appearance.” One of the biggest examples of toxic masculinity involves the notion that men “aren’t supposed to cry.”

When dealing with grief, trauma and other emotionally taxing issues, it’s actually more beneficial to your health to cry, rather than to “stay strong.” Psychiatrist Judith Orloff M.D., author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, wrote in 2010 that tears actually release endorphins, which reduce stress for the crier.

“Typically, after crying, our breathing and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state,” she discusses in a piece for Psychology Today.

Dennis, 28, tells VIBE that after a bout of depression a few years ago, he realized there’s nothing wrong with showing emotion, and that crying is important to experience every once in a while.

“Society used to make me feel that If I was vulnerable to ask for help or express my grief then it would be accounted as weakness or feminine, which is ridiculous in hindsight,” he says. “I’ll be the first to say I’m man enough to cry. I was conditioned to believe that If I fail in life, that it’s my fault and only I can change it. I used to bottle up my worries and say nothing. I took depression with a coke and smile, so be weary of those fake smiles men put on. [They’re] probably a little deeper, and you will be astonished with the heavy load men carry just make sure no one else can see their troubles.”

“We deal with the pressures, sometimes we just deal with it in silence, in a dark, dark closet,” a focus group participant for The Man Box (U.S.) stated. In dealing with these pressures, many men often feel like it’s their best bet to talk to someone they trust. Weso tells VIBE that in times of emotional strife, he often leans on his family members.

“Surrounding myself with my family gives me piece of mind,” he explains. “My family is my constant reminder to keep going and in a sense play as the angel on my right shoulder.”

Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is not feminine. Self-care is necessary, and now more than ever, it’s important for men to take hold of this fact in order to make sure they’re performing, living and thriving to the best of their abilities in all areas of their lives.

“Your life is yours, and the decisions you make are your own,” Nikko concludes. “To truly believe in ‘self-care,’ it’s vital to prioritize and choose yourself over others when the opportunity presents itself. It may sound selfish, but to truly take care of yourself you must sometimes be selfish with your time because it’s what’s best for you.”

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Then And Now: Lloyd's Influence In R&B Is Stronger And More Important Than Ever

“Then & Now” is a celebrity series highlighting legacy acts in hip-hop, R&B and beyond with fresh reflections on the hit songs that once soundtracked our lives.

Lloyd has a unique position in R&B. With over 15 years in the game, the singer-songwriter is well aware of how broad his fan base is and how his sound is appreciated by his peers. "I'm the youngest cat at the old school R&B show now," he shared in VIBE's Then And Now series about performances with legends like Keith Sweat. Co-signs from singers like Sweat and praise from artists like Drake, Lil Wayne and Childish Gambino have only made fans curious about the singer's pen and creative process.

But nostalgia or hip-hop edge hasn't boxed the singer-songwriter in. Lloyd started his year with the City Girls-assisted single "Caramel" and a slot on B2K's widely successful Millennium Tour. His latest album Tru was adored by critics and spawned his massive comeback single of the same name. Released in 2016, "Tru" had a slow burn on the R&B charts and recently reached over 100 million views on YouTube.

"I learned through the song that sometimes being No. 1 doesn't always mean it's the best," he said. "A song can be No. 1 and fade out immediately and a song that's No. 10 might still be around for years to come. I'm still grasping how big of an impact it had. It's the first time I've seen people cry while I'm performing the song and it's the first time I've ever cried while performing a song. I wanted it to be worthy of people's hearts for many years to come. I'm glad that I was able to shine in that way and it is by far my proudest moment as a songwriter, and a son, a brother, a father and lover, definitely."

It also taught Lloyd the gift of patience. While creating the project, he completed his G.E.D and made some new friends along the way. "I learned that it means a lot to people to see individuals who they have an admiration for or respect for doing things alongside them," he said about the experience. "I also learned that no matter what you do in your life, no matter who you are, no matter how successful you become, your momma will always cry at your graduation."

"Tru" also happens to be a testament to his varied batch of hits. After kicking off his solo career in the early aughts, Lloyd linked with Irv Gotti's Murder Inc. imprint and released his first single, "Southside," featuring Ashanti. From there, the Atlanta native became a teen idol and an R&B heartthrob, dropping sensual and lively jams with help from longtime collaborators Jasper Cameron and Maurice "Big Reese" Sinclair.

"Jasper always drives ideas for the songs based on the conversations we would have about my life," he said. "I never knew he was writing songs as he was talking to me and he takes the conversations and put it into music." It was an unexpected formula that helped Lloyd create some of his biggest singles like "Player's Prayer," "Hey Young Girl," and the Lil Wayne collab, "You."

"It's a testament to other artists out there who sometimes feel the pressure of having to, in some way, conform to what is popular or what is on the radio or in the club," he said of his catalog. "You don't have to live there, you know. There are other places for you to live and be great and we need all of those different sides, in order to feel completion. So I'm glad I can shine in that way."

If we've learned anything about Lloyd is his ability to align himself with artists like Drake and Gambino before they reached critical acclaim. The singer appeared on Drake's classic mixtape So Far Gone ("A Night Off") and Gambino's meta tune "Telegraph Ave (Oakland by Lloyd)," which featured a song within a song.

"That is all in the mind of one Childish Gambino," he said, noting that he was originally meant to sing the hook to "3005" but missed the deadline. The two went to high school together and a mutual friend reached out in hopes of Lloyd being featured on the Grammy-nominated album, Because the Internet. "I reached out to him and told him, 'I'm sorry I passed on that, anything you ever need from me, holla at me because you're brilliant.' And then he came back to me with 'Oakland.' He told me, 'It's going to be your song but I'm going to sample it inside the song.' I had no clue how he was going to do it, but it came out dope."

There's an acoustic version of "Oakland" in Lloyd's vault, which he predicts will see the light of day.

The fabric of Llyod's R&B style carried enchanting patterns. By refusing to limit himself, he's continued to be relevant to this day. He's taking his musical talents and fresh acting chops to TVOne for their new film, The Bobby Debarge Story, airing this month. The film will highlight Debarge's infamous career in soul with Lloyd taking on the role of Gregory Williams, the founding member of Switch. 

 

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Im so humbled to announce That I have just completed filming for my FIRST ever movie role! You can catch me playing the part of Gregory Williams, formerly of the band Switch (and founding member), in the soon to be premiered #TheBobbyDebargeStory on @tvonetv ... Big thank you to @russparrshow , @swirlfilmsig , @roshon & @Blue_kimble for guiding me through my first scenes and helping me get into my character more. Can’t wait to see how it comes out ... 🎥💥🙏🏿

A post shared by Lloyd (@curlyheadedblackboy) on Feb 24, 2019 at 10:32am PST

"R&B is the DNA of different music," Lloyd said. "I don't go into music with a genre kind of mentality. I just listen to the soul, the message and the flow. You can find R&B in everything. For people to think it ever lacked staying power or that it was dead [were wrong]. It was just changing faces. Sometimes, exceptional rhythm and blues acts get overshadowed or under-appreciated and now, there's definitely a light that is shown on a lot of different people." 

Check out Then & Now with Lloyd above.

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Katie Spoleti

How Dinah Jane Shed Her Pop Coating And Bloomed Into An R&B Butterfly

With just 21 years around the sun, Dinah Jane has accomplished more than most. Her star initially rose alongside her pop sisters Fifth Harmony in her teens but in between chart-topping hits like "Work From Home" or "Worth It" was a longing for something more.

The "more" arrived this spring in the form of her debut collection, Dinah Jane 1, three tracks that play to her power vocals and confident nature. Leading single "Heard It Before" gives listeners the feels of the aughts with the help of producer extraordinaire, J. R. Rotem. Jane's accompanying tracks like "Pass Me By" and "Fix it" are just as alluring given her honey coated vocals. Instead of jumping from genre to genre, the songs are in the vein of Jane's R&B language, a move that transpired after a reflection into her musical identity.

The journey included experimentation with her first solo effort, "Bottled Up" with Ty Dolla $ign and Marc E. Bassey. The song was a bop by nature due to its similarity to her work in Fifth Harmony, which left Jane determined to find her sound.

"Being a solo artist now made it hard to define who I was because I was singing so many different styles before," Jane tells VIBE. "I had to take time for me to really cope and understand what it is that I really want to come out as my true identity. When I dropped my first record "Bottled Up" it was more me transitioning from Fifth Harmony to myself, I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be."

After a session with a producer in Atlanta, Jane arrived at the realization that the artists in her phone (Monica, Mariah Carey), was a sign for her to dig up her soulful roots. It's hard to deny Jane's vocals helped to build her former group and now, her own career.

"The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest," Jane said. "I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. I was always afraid to portray them as something that people didn't know about and so my thing is like, 'Oh, I don't want them to think of my family like this or my friend who's not my friend right now.' I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic, real and raw I have to be honest not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good."

With a new attitude and direction, Jane is ready to fly above her worries. Check out our chat with the singer-songwriter below.

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VIBE: When you were putting your three-pack together, what was going through your head? Was there a particular sound or moment you wanted to catch?

Dinah Jane: It was more like a certain direction. I felt like there was a part of me that had not been exposed yet as far as style. I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be. I started listening back to records where I was like, 'Wow, this is something that I wish was mine.' Some of Monica's records, Faith Evans or Mariah Carey, by the way, she followed me on Instagram [Laughs].

Congratulations!

She followed me on Instagram so I kind of got that verification that I should definitely do R&B. Those are artists that I've always been inspired by. I remember I went back to when I did my first audition on X Factor, and I said, "Who is that I want to sing and showcase my talent?" It was Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy."

I felt like if this is a perfect time for me to throw in a bowl of my favorite artists that I've always looked up to and mesh it into who I am now. When I did "Fix It," I felt like it was so organic for me to go that direction and lean towards, so, when that happened the song became what it is now. I love the message behind it, I didn't realize it would empower so many people.

"Fix It" is actually my favorite out of the three. You just referenced your identity. Do you know what that is now? Or is that sonically or personally?

I think more so sonically, that's where I was lost the most because I had to put myself in a drawer for seven years. Now that I'm here, being a solo artist like I said, I was lost. Sonically I had to redefine who Dinah Jane was this whole time. I remember being in a session in Atlanta and this guy at the time asked me, "Who do you have on your phone? Let's look through it."

He's going through my phone and it's all R&B, not even that much pop, just singers from back then. And he's just like, "I was not expecting this, I thought you'd be the hype girl listening to all trap music." I have that personality trust me, but musically this is me. That clicked in my head that I was heading somewhere else and I needed to jump back to my old ways.

I love that. "Heard It All Before" has gotten so much love from your fans. I know you're not supposed to look at the comments but one that stood out was "I love this sound, leave pop alone." Do you ever feel trapped in one genre since you started within the pop bubble? 

It's funny that you say that. I feel like people or fans they kind of want to box you into who they think you are. I was telling someone, my fans they sometimes think they know me better than I know myself and it's kind of scary. There are times where I'm like, "No I don't have to be one way." It's crazy cause when I go to the studio I feel like I can be so versatile. I can do R&B easy but there are sometimes where I want to do those pop records, "Always Be My Baby" is that pop record to me and some people are good with it, some aren't but I think it just comes with your fanbase.

For me, they know my potential, honestly, they saw me on X Factor or even my YouTube days when I was 11 or 12 years old. They're like, "No Dinah, this is you, this is you, I want you to keep doing more of these." Eventually, I'll want to do some other things as well. But as of right now, it's truly R&B.

When it comes to creating you're always challenging yourself. What were some of the challenges that you've been facing this year while making music?

The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest. I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. It's always been my challenge and I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic and real and raw I have to be honest to myself as well, not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good. My Mom always told me, "You've got to be real with yourself."

For sure. All three of these songs are super straightforward. What was it about keeping that energy while you were making these songs?

I was just trying to balance it. Like I said it was the most challenging part balancing that and I feel like with "Heard It All Before," it was the most fun, relatable song to write because my best friend was going through something. I was like "What?! He said what?!" We were literally having a full on group chat about it. When I did the music video, I wanted it to be about the situation that I was in with my girl. We were like, "You know what we've heard that all before." I just want to make this bundle relatable, sexy but then also swaggy and just not try so hard. So, when we put these three songs together, it felt so organic and true to who I was.

Even in the video, you exude so much confidence. What does confidence mean to you?

I think it's self-love. When you truly love yourself, you can see it in your face. You can see it in the glow and the energy you're giving to people. I wasn't always this confident, I would definitely say I was never this confident but, thanks to my mom, she always expressed that to me.

She said, "Dinah, I know you don't feel that beautiful today but you need to pick on the little things that matter. What's your favorite feature? Your lips. What's your favorite outfit you got going on? Pay attention to your best qualities other than that one negative thing you're picking on."

The confidence was never there but when you have people that are around you always encouraging you to love yourself and realizing your truth and worth, that's when the confidence kicks in. It's not something that's overnight, it takes time. It took years for me to realize that. Like I said, you have to surround yourself by honest, real people who can definitely make you see what you're not seeing.

Facts. Have you become that vessel for your friends as well? Like passing all of that on. Your mom passed it to you, you pass it to your friends, are you that person?

Yeah, it's like a telephone game. I have a younger sister who's 17 and she's always been insecure about her weight or her breakouts and I'm like, "You're a teenager, you're supposed to go through that phase. If I went through that you've got to go through it too."

In a way, I have to guide her through the stages. I was just talking to her last night and she's telling me about her friends and how she feels like she doesn't fit in, or certain cousins where she feels like she has to be a certain way. I was like, "Don't be a certain way, the way you carry yourself will vibrate and you will be so much more vibrant, it'll grasp more onto you. Just be your true self, you don't have to be anything else. I know who you are and you know who you are."

I feel like kind of being that older sister I feel like her mom sometimes. So I always feel this responsibility that she always feels 100.

What are some other plans you have for yourself, with your music for the year?

This is the first bundle. People wanted it to be named an EP but I was like, "Nah. It cannot be an EP because an EP is at least five to seven songs top."

This bundle is like a mini-project, it's the anticipation for the actual album. So, I want you to keep getting the feel of who I am, keep giving you these sneak peeks and then boom, hit you with the album. That's in the works, we'll see what happens. That's what we say now but sometimes things change, so don't get too excited.

Have you've been working with anybody? Any featured artists or any producers who are really understanding of who you are as an artist?

As far as features, I have one and then I'm working on another one.

So you can't say who they are?

I can't say. As far as producers and writers, J.R. Rotem is literally my dog. We walked into the studio and all of his plaques are all over the wall, plastered everywhere and we were like, "We get it, you're a legend. You're going to make me a legend," is what I felt in that room. I feel this great connection with him where we can be friends but also have that chemistry musically where he can connect with me instantly.

I love how we did  "Fix It," he brought out all of the live instruments and he made it feel like you were actually on stage, he made it feel bigger than what it was. So, I give him so many props for that because I've never felt that way in a session where I felt like I was onstage and it was just me by myself, no one else, well of course with a whole a** band, but I just felt the topic and the song, the musicality behind it is what meshed so well because of him. He is my dog for sure and my therapist because if it weren't for him this song would have not been made.

Stream Dinah Jane 1 below.

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