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From East To West: Tyler Lepley Rises To His First Lead Role On TV One's 'Ringside'

During a press run for the newly released TV One film 'Ringside,' Lepley discusses changing gears on his career.

Life has a funny way of pointing you towards what and where you are destined to be, and in this actor’s case, his dream led him to pursing a career outside of the square we’re sometimes too focused and comfortable in, refusing to venture away from opportunities that’s calling our names.

One would never imagine that the streets of Philadelphia held a young man by the name of Tyler Lepley who knew life had more in store for him. Interested in its physicalities after partaking in several sports growing up, Lepley was mean with the hands and swift with the feet. He knew the 9 to 5 he was working right after college wasn’t where he was destined to be, and in order to receive the change he wanted, he had to get up and go for it.

Moving to what’s known as “the better coast” helped jumpstart the star’s career. You could find him at Glove Works in Santa Monica, Calif., before he made his way to your television every Tuesday night at 9 p.m., after landing a recurring role as Benny on The Have and The Have Nots on OWN. You might have seen him all over your news feed, explore page, and timeline, with almost every woman around the world obsessing over his talented acting skills, built figure, and appealing appearance that’s easy on the eyes, but he continues to stay humble and always references back to his sense of self before the stardom he’s gained.

Being granted the opportunity to showcase his talents on national television, portraying such a complex character, led Lepley towards his first leading role on TV One’s new movie, Ringside, produced by Swirl Films. Written and directed by radio personality Russ Parr, Lepley’s character, Jaxon, is an undefeated boxer that’s preparing to fight against a champion. He treads lightly, swimming around the core issues he faces at home and with his manager on a daily basis, ensuring not to sink in the midst of it all by finding a way to get out of the rut and continue to strive for greatness.

During a press run for the newly released film, Lepley discusses changing gears on his career, his experience working with Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey on The Haves And The Have Nots, and working with Sevyn Streeter on Ringside.

Starting off with your career, you began heading in the route of personal training and you moved from Philly to L.A. to pursue that dream. Why L.A. of all cities?
Tyler Lepley: I didn’t actually start training ‘til I got here. It was actually just something that I kind of fell into. I left Philly and I came to L.A. because I didn’t like my 9-5 job. I wanted something more. I’m a little intellectually curious when it comes to life, and once I graduated I just felt a little bit stuck, almost like I was in a midlife crisis at 23, which makes no sense. The reason I came to L.A. was because I had two cousins that lived here. One of them had worked at the gym. I wasn’t promised a job right then, but it was really just about having that support system. If they were in Florida, I was going to move to Florida, and if they were in Dakota I would’ve moved to Dakota. I just wanted to start something new and it just so happened that this is where a little bit of my support system was.

How did you end up leaving training behind to enter the acting field?
I actually got approached, or you can call it discovered, inside the gym. I moved here and maybe within three months of working at the gym, I grabbed the job, just from being a gym rat, hanging out at my cousin’s gym, probably within a month of moving here. I was working at that gym for about three months and I had someone come into the gym that said I want you to audition for this. I went in and I booked it. But it wasn’t until about two years after that point that I was a full time actor. And I think what makes that domino fall is when you have enough money to actively pursue this full time. When you’re doing work here and there that’s not enough, you know? You have to have a survival job to keep food on the table while you chase the dream. And it wasn’t until I had the volume of work, from a show like The Have and The Have Nots could I actually go ahead and pursue it full time. So that was the determining factor.

Is attending the gym still one of your daily routines?
Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. I think if you want to look a certain type of way, it has to be a staple in your daily routine. But for me, I come from playing football in college and I used to box growing up, so I have lots of scar tissue and my body feels old sometimes so it’s important for me just in terms of my longevity, to stay loose, stay flexible. It’s definitely still a part of my everyday regimen, for sure.

What age did you start boxing?
I actually got into karate first. That’s the first place I ever threw my hands. My dad probably got me started around four or five, and I dibble and dabbled with it, and it wasn’t until I got serious with football and then I got a scholarship for football that it was kind of sitting on the back burner. Just because I had to go to school and I wasn’t getting a scholarship to box, I was getting it to play football. So when I got serious with football is when I hung the gloves up for a while.

Me w the Stunt Coordinator and Fight Choreographer of #Ringside @thebadboyroy @gloveworx @leyonazubuike93

A photo posted by Tyler Lepley (@tylepley) on

What was your first reaction when you heard you landed a recurring role on The Have and The Have Nots with Tyler Perry, and also that you would be airing on Oprah Winfrey’s network?
Well it was crazy. Excited doesn’t even describe it because you have to understand at the time it was Mr. Perry’s first drama series ever and it was Ms. Winfrey’s first scripted series ever. So this was like four years ago. To start off as a series regular, man, it was just like a dream come true. And then now as I look back on it, it was great then when I found out that I was going to have a job and be able to work with these people. But as I been working with them, up until this point, as I look back at it, the biggest lesson that I have was not just a job and being on the TV and stuff like that, which is all great, but to have those types of role models, and to be able to watch Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey in an intimate setting, you can’t even pay for that. I could give all the money in the world and still wouldn’t be able to have access to that. So to be able to have accessibility to greatness is what I really thank God for everyday, because these are trailblazers. Billionaires for crying out loud, just as humble as ever, and it’s a great example of not only how to get there, but how to stay once you get it.

And you and Tyler Perry share the same first name. What is it like being on set with him at the same time? Is someone given a nickname?
(Laughs) Well, well, first of all he’s the rich Tyler. I’m on my way, I’m on my way (Laughs). It’s just so crazy; we laugh at that all the time. It’s not too often you get to drive into a studio and you see your name on the sign. So it’s great, and like I said he’s very personable, he’s very humble, and vulnerable, so we laugh about stuff like that all the time. You know he’s really like, almost like a big brother, molding us and trying to steer us the right way, so it’s really cool to have him around.

Are you surprised by the success of The Have and The Have Nots? It’s completing season six now, plus it’s a scripted television show and it’s really rare that scripted television shows get picked up for multiple seasons now.
You know what, I’m floored by it. It blows me away that the fans tune in. Because I watch the number too, right. So someone at ICM would kick the numbers out, so it would show up in my emails how well the show does. So to see three million people show up for every single week for the last three years, every week when it’s on, even last week we caught another three million. That’s what I’m floored by, the support of the fans. You know it’s a little risqué anytime you see something for the first time, like I mentioned earlier it was his first time doing a drama series, and it was her first time doing a scripted series, so you know there’s always a little worry because you’re doing something for the first time, but at the end of the day, even though I’m floored by the support of the fans, I cant be surprised because these guys, everything they touch turns into gold. I’m trying to learn that blueprint. I’m trying to see how they do it. It’s really exciting.

Plus #BlessUp #HAHN

A photo posted by Tyler Lepley (@tylepley) on

Your work ethic has been really amazing and you’re making your way up to the top. Do you still audition for roles? Or are you automatically casted to play a character now?
No, No, I still audition for roles. Where I’m at right now there are some offers only, there are some things that are only offers, but I still audition. I also like to audition. It’s its own muscle. To go in there, a room full of strangers, and to be able to act like it’s just you and someone else talking. So it really just gives that nervous system and that muscle exercise. It helps you anytime they call action. So sometimes I do, but I still enjoy auditioning.

What was it like working alongside some of the industries biggest talents on Ringside?
It was great. It was exciting. It’s not everyday you have big shots. I remember watching ATL. I saw Sevyn Streeter on the radio the other day with Gucci Mane, and I’ve been a Gucci lover forever. Russ Parr, you’re talking about the radio. Russ Parr does everything. So it’s cool because in my own right, even though I’m the lead I’m coming here learning from everybody, from my co-stars to my director. And it’s great because Russ isn’t like, a dictator. Back when I used to play football, when I had a coach like that who listens to you, we used to call him a players coach. So the way I say that nowadays it’s like Russ is like an active director. He really wants your input. I was excited and I was still learning. It was great, it was a lot of fun for me.

Was Russ the person who approached you with the script?
No. I actually auditioned for this role. I did this one the old fashion way just like I did The Have and The Have Nots. I wouldn’t have it no other way. Because you know you got to see what someone can do. You can watch me on The Have and The Have Nots all you want, or on other shows, but Benny’s not Jaxon, this is a whole different character. I had to go in and do it the old-fashioned way and book the job so it was a lot of fun.

Wrapping up at #TCA discussing #Ringside @beverlyhilton #September4 @tvonetv

A photo posted by Tyler Lepley (@tylepley) on

And Sevyn is a singer so this was her first film ever. Working closely with her, with her playing your sister, how would you say she did for her first movie?
Oh my gosh, Sevyn Streeter did phenomenal. I was blown away when I heard, because I had overheard that it was her first acting job. I would have never thought that because she was just so into it. She was so believable in some of my scenes. I caught her giving me stuff to make me react. She was actually pulling me into some of my scenes. So you see someone like a Sevyn Streeter, that’s when you see someone with natural talent. And to think about it, she’s coming up in this world of entertainment, I’m sure she has a lot of older role models, just like she has Jaxon, that tries to steer her the right way. It’s not all the time that you’re able to tap into that. Sometimes you get so panic by the action you forget about all your life experiences. I was appreciative of her being able to stay in the moment and really draw some of the real feelings out of some of these scenes. Sevyn Streeter was great.

How did the movie come about with you landing the leading role of Jaxon?
I remember when I first went in I was really excited. This is one of the scripts that I had read more than two times. Sometimes I try to read it a few times, like the whole script to get a real feel of what I’m actually doing from start to finish. Normally I would do it twice, maybe three times for any normal audition if I have enough time. Like if it’s tomorrow I’ll be able to read the whole script. So I remember when I read the script at first I was so excited to go in that it almost threw me off. I was just so excited about the project. That’s like a dream role for me. Not only because of the boxing, but to be that caretaker, to be so rough into it. And Jaxon is a really dynamic character. So even for my acting chops I just wanted to do it. So I went in on the audition and then I had like about a week in between the final directing section with Russ Parr. In between that week it was great because I had enough time to really get into it. I started really getting back into the boxing, in terms of like sparing, and just really reading. I read the script like maybe six times. It just really helped me for the final directing session. I just had to get Jaxon down by the final time I went in there. That’s kind of how it went. That old fashion, hard work, and it was a lot of fun when the director called action. It was dope.

Tell me a little bit about the character of Jaxon and what went into preparing to play a boxer?
First of all, you got to have all the physicality down pat. It has got to be not just good, it’s got to be real. It’s got to be authentic. When Floyd Mayweather or Mike Tyson walks around, you can tell they’re a boxer just by them walking in a room. You know what I mean? It’s more than just throwing a punch. It’s very physically demanding in terms of being disciplined to bring the physicality of life. Because if you step in that ring and do the wrong thing you affect the whole movie. It’s not only a role but this is a boxing movie. It has to be real. Then as a actor, someone with dynamic as Jaxon, you gotta give yourself permission to feel all those things. I remember hearing one scene, and I remember doing some of my background work, like Jaxon, Selita, and TC, their parents died when they were really young. It was a very unprepared situation. It’s one of the first scenes in the movie that they talk about. Jaxon, he’s a caretaker, but he was kind of thrust into the dynamics. You know, at six, you don’t want to be daddy. You want to go to senior prom and you want to be reckless, and you want to grow up. So there’s a strong dynamic of him taking care of everyone but not necessarily wanting to. He’s just that good of a man that he has a lot to overcome when he does that. So it’s just like a lot of dynamic intricacies with a character like Jaxon. Or balancing having to give everybody else what they need with taking care of yourself as you go into this life altering, middleweight championship that has the ability to affect everybody. Not only could Jaxon go get killed inside that ring, but the same people he might not want to take care of when he wants to be reckless and free like everyone else, it can affect all these people. So there’s just so many push and pulls, and so many tug of wars with a character that’s as dynamic and as deep and multi complex as Jaxon Holley. So it was a lot of fun but it was necessary, and I think it turned out great.

Official Weigh In #Ringside

A photo posted by Tyler Lepley (@tylepley) on

And it’s a real life drama. I saw the trailer and it’s crazy how the character of Benny on The Have and The Have Nots is a little similar to Jaxon in the movie because you try to hold it all together in the midst of all the family life drama. Do you enjoy taking on such complex roles?
I really do because I feel like it’s such a mirror of my own life. My life is so complex, yeah sometimes it’s bad, but even bad experiences you can learn from. I’ve had so many things that started out as lemon and now I’m drinking lemonade. I love playing complex characters like that because it’s just so much to draw from and they’re real. No villain is always bad and no good guy is always good. You know what I mean? There’s always a ying to the yang, so I look for characters like that. I definitely enjoy them.

Can you remember one experience in life that you can really relate to the character of Jaxon?
I can remember whether it were school. I have lots of instances where I can just remember people trying to steer me. I’m the driver of the ship and I can just remember having lots of outside pressure to do something in my life that someone else may have done in their life. It may have been learning from their experiences, but at the end of the day I have to live my life and do things my way. I’ve had lots of situations like that. Whether it was good or bad, it was just outside things I had to block out in order to succeed and opportunities I had in front of me. Everyone and their mother said do not move to Los Angeles, you are crazy. But I had to do that for myself. It’s just like there’s lots of outside pressures for Jaxon, whether it’s his manager trying to squeeze more money out of him, whether it’s his brother trying to squeeze more money outta him, whether it’s a career that might not be going the best way, whether his blessing for a promiscuous sister. It’s just so much outside circumstances that affect him that he has to end up blocking out because he’s going into a very serious situation and a big opportunity. I’ve had that in life for sure.

Jaxon also meets a female who captures his heart and she’s hiding a secret from him. So how are you, Tyler Lepley, handling fame and the groupies? Because Tyler’s everyone’s man crush Monday, you name it.
(Laughs) I don’t have groupies, not at all. But I think the way to deal with it is almost like going back to that unwavering sense of self. I don’t really put myself in those types of situations really. It doesn’t mean I’m not acceptable to them, but I’ve got a pretty good screening process. It’s not like you have to jump through hoola hoops, (Laughs) but I got good intuition also. I can kind of tell in 10 minutes where this is going. If it’s dangerous, it might just be like a dangerous, fun encounter. There’s a ying to the yang. It’s just fun and cool. If you’re going to do it, just understand what it is. And whatever it is for you. I think to wrap that answer up; the way I deal with all the outside pressures is to go back to who I am. And that’s why you know I’ve been blessed to have never been in a crazy situation yet, because I just go back to, again, my sense of self. And everything and everyone around me reflects that as well.

#Ringside @tvonetv

A photo posted by Tyler Lepley (@tylepley) on

What’s your dream role that you have yet to accomplish that you would like to play in the near future?
Something that I haven’t done before. That’s as specific as I can get. I just like roles that can challenge me; something that’s really going to intrigue me and stretch a muscle that I’ve never used before. So I really look for roles like that. And outside of that, I guess something I’ve always wanted to do as a kid, I always wanted to do a big action movie. I come from sports and I come from a very physical world so I would like to do that also. And that’s why I was happy about doing this role too. I got to bring some of the physicality to it. So definitely stuff like that.

Are you currently working on any other projects that you would like to share?
Right now I actually just got back from shooting the latest season of The Have and The Have Nots. Just got back from ATL. It was dope. What we just shot will air at the top of 2017, so you guys will see that at the top of next year. Right now I’m just busy plugging away this Ringside man. I’m so excited for everybody to see what’s going on, on TV One at 7 o’ clock on the fourth. It’s going to be a lot of fun. And then in the meantime you know just steady working on myself. Going to therapy, I go to my voice lessons, I go to my acting coach, and I plug away day by day, inch by inch, to give in top-notch efforts.

Ringside premieres on TV One at 7 p.m. EST on Sept. 4.

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Ugo Mozie Talks New Partnership With Allbirds, Building His Craft And Working With Beyonce

In December 2018, Allbirds, a billion dollar sneaker line, partnered with trendy media company Complex to host its environment-conscious themed event titled "Sustain This." The name of the gathering is a huge part of the San Francisco-based footwear corporation’s eco-friendly stance.

Held at Manhattan’s trendy and spacious Foley Gallery, tastemakers from fashion to entertainment arrived to see the uniquely crafted displays and visuals of sustainability. Whether it’s food, new fashion, or recyclables like wood and metal, these different products all centered around being environmentally friendly.

Sitting inside the small, compact basement is Allbirds’ latest partner, creative director Ugo Mozie with his hands crossed and eyes closed in deep thought while discussing his new ventures and many accomplishments — all before age 30. Mozie was born in Nigeria and predominantly raised in Houston, Texas before attending college at St. John's University in Queens, New York to major in Public Relations & Business Law. Since 2009, the year he dropped his first fashion line, he racked up quite the clientele that includes Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Travis Scott, Larry King, Jeremy Meeks, and Celine Dion.

What makes Mozie standout from the current wave of fashion stylists and creative directors is that he never lets go of his culture. Instead of shying away from it, he embraces the unique style of Nigerian attire from his hip fedoras to sleek male fits to the colorful pants and pattern-spotted shirts. Aside from his day job as a fashion creative, he also gives back to his African community as a social activist with his non-profit organization WANA. Its mission is to let the world know of other great African talents and creatives.

Rocking a Nigerian kufi cap with a smooth caramel leather jacket (reminiscent of movie character Indiana Jones), the 27-year-old dives into his partnership with Allbirds, how his upbringing informs his professional decisions and having someone like Beyonce on his list of clientele.

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VIBE: How did your connection with Allbirds come about? Ugo Mozie: My partnership with Allbirds came about with mutual friends knowing some teams at Allbirds, and Complex recommending me as a person who had an insight in sustainability and doing projects that are helping the environment and promoting sustainable living. We had a conference call, and I realized that we pretty much vibed in the same frequencies and had the same vision when it came to preserving the Earth and doing things to also upcycle things we found from the Earth like trash and recyclables.

How does Allbirds fit within your business goals? Allbirds fits into my personal business goals because we share the same vision when it comes to preserving the environment and sustaining the Earth.

What looks are in for the winter season, for men and women? For the winter season, I think this year is really all about minimal chic. It's about strong statement coats, underdressed by simple silhouettes and simple color, monochromatic under. I feel like where there is a lot going on in the environment with the politics that people are really showing their style of simplicity,elegance, and the details.

 

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While working on these amazing projects this year, I had no clue that I would be recognized and able to share the story and project with you all so soon. Thank you @complex & @allbirds for allowing me to share a big part of my passion with the world. Let’s keep spreading the love and pushing toward sustaining the world. #shadowmanvan @wanaorg

A post shared by Chief Ugo Mozie II (@ugomozie) on Dec 13, 2018 at 2:05pm PST

If you were working with popular brands that don’t use eco-friendly methods, what suggestions would you give? I feel like [a] brand that is including recycled products and eco-friendly material sustainable products are brands not only considering the future but also are innovative enough to cross that bridge. Sustainable fashion is the future, and I know that any brand who doesn't understand or take note of that is going to lose and suffer the repercussions in the future.

One of your clients was Beyonce. What does she tend to look for in her designs? Having Beyonce wear my products was definitely an honor and amazing. Beyonce as a person looks to not only wear the high-end big designer, she gives young fresh designers a chance. She's very interested in incorporating culture and cultured pieces into her wardrobe. hat's a true fashionista, [a] true stylish person doesn't distinct one-sided.

How has your background as a Nigerian man contributed to your style and success here in the States? My background as a Nigerian man contributed a great deal to my style and my aesthetic and the way I think, the way I work. The confidence I have from knowing where I came from and who I am plays a large role in the way my clients relate to me and also respect me. As of recent, I've been the go-to person for African fashion, high African style, and high-level African taste and I feel like people are now understanding that you can get quality and great products out of Africa as well from what I've been putting out and showing in the media.

Many African parents are bent on their children being doctors, lawyers, engineers. How did you your parents react when you told them that you wanted to work in the entertainment industry? My parents, although they're both African, born and raised in Africa, were very liberal and understanding I feel like, from an early stage or early age. I was very confident and aware of the role I wanted to play in the world, and my parents have been supportive., Unlike your typical African parents, they were open-minded and supportive on my risks and dares to go into the entertainment industry, go into fashion. They knew that whatever I was passionate, ambitious, and driven about, I will succeed. And I did.

What obstacles did you face while developing your craft? Like every successful person, I definitely faced a lot of obstacles during my journey. And I still do every day, but the most challenging ones are up here. Where, what happened when it came to moving? No, moving from Houston where I grew up to New York was definitely a challenge. Having to understand the ways of the city, how to communicate, how to navigate, how to develop myself in the city. There wasn't anything like what I was used to. And then after moving from New York to Paris, another obstacle was having to transition to another culture, another language, and then from New York from Paris to L.A. was one of my most challenging transitions because after that I was most pivotal for my career. ost of my challenges come when I make a big change and the biggest changes for me came when I moved.

In September, you visited Uganda’s Nakivale Refugee Camp to connect with refugees. Why did you decide to support this cause? That trip was honestly a life-changing one. I was invited by my friend, Nachson Mimran who was visiting there and invited me and I thought I was going to go to a refugee camp and see a lot of sad things and see, you know, a lot of poverty. But I was very inspired by the fact that they had a great system, great learning system and a lot of enthusiasm and positive outlook on life. These people have been through so much heartbreak, lost their families, lost their homes, still have to deposit them out beyond life. I was very inspired and motivated to help them. So we developed different, sustainable ways to provide help for the community. One being the big project and also implying the passionate ability, sugar, bad upcycling with designers out there as well.

Who are your top five all-time artists from Nigeria or of Nigerian descent? My top-five favorite artists are Fela Kuti, Sade, Seal, Wizkid, and Runtown.

What advice do you have for others trying to come up in fashion? What I can really say is just dig as deep as possible and try and be as authentic to who you are. Your value and your uniqueness comes from your culture, comes from your personal style. It comes from who you are. Don't see too much inspiration from the outside.

What are your goals in 2019? I hope to create more projects or activations real quick. More artists that are adding value to the world and doing things to make the world a better place.

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Prince Williams

Future Keeping His Sobriety A Secret Says More About You Than Him

On Tuesday (Jan. 16), Future made the revelation that he was sober. Who knows, maybe he traded the lean in for alkaline water and fresh juices. While this may have come as a shock to fans who have often linked the rapper to heavy drug use, what was even more astonishing was that Future concealed his sobriety for weeks or even months—not because he was diligently working on weaning himself off of the dangerous drug of choice without distractions, but because he feared how the announcement would affect his music stats and fan base.

It’s certainly customary for fans to tie a characteristic or specific subject to an artist’s music or brand. For instance, Mary J. Blige makes breakup music, Trey Songz markets sex, and Lil Peep frequently made emo, drug music. Future’s artistry in particular is deeply rooted in drug use as a method of self-medication to cope with heartache, pain and suffering. He’s arguably recognized as the godfather of this new generation of mumble rappers, who romanticize drug use as a form of self-care. Percocets and molly not only served as the tools for a catchy chorus in 2017’s “Mask Off,” but also provided a lens into Future’s real-life pastime.

When messages such as a breakup, sex and addiction become the primary focuses of an artist’s narrative, we inherently expect them to continue with those trends, especially if the music is a success. Future’s DS2 debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Mary J’s 2017 studio album Strength of a Woman—which discussed her public divorce from manager and husband Martin “Kendu” Isaacs—debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. But Hendrix’s inability to share such a positive transition in his life says more about the negative effects of fan culture and the music industry as a whole than it says about him.

“I didn’t wanna tell nobody I stopped drinking lean,” Future admitted to Genius. “I didn’t tell because I felt like, then they gon’ be like, ‘Oh, his music changed because he stopped drinking lean.’ It’s just hard when your fans [are] so used to a certain persona you be afraid to change.”

The weeknd needs to get back on drugs and make some good music like he used to

— alaina (@lalalaina_) January 13, 2017

Fans naturally equate spiraling and unhealthy behavior with good music and would rather see their favorite musician continue to spiral for the sake of their craft and our entertainment. Although there are new movements promoting mental health awareness and self-care within the hip-hop community, fans still praise the destruction of the genre’s biggest artists.

When The Weeknd split with his girlfriend Bella Hadid in 2016, many prayed for another dark, narcotic-fueled album comparable to 2011’s stellar House of Balloons, which was released during a time when he was deeply involved with cocaine and pill-popping. Twitter users seemingly encouraged such behavior, leveraging musical satisfaction over the well-being of the XO artist.

While fan approval shouldn’t necessarily dictate an artist’s creative process, the possibility of negative feedback that comes with “switching things up” can often be too loud to ignore. In an interview with VIBE, A Boogie wit da Hoodie also reiterated his hesitation with stepping away from his usual themes of relationships and heartbreak on his No. 1 album, Hoodie SZN. He ultimately included both versions of himself—the heartbreak and the new A Boogie—in order to appease his loyal fan base and evolve as an artist. “I feel like all my fans saw what I was doing, but they just didn’t care. They loved how I started so much that they didn’t care about the switch up. They wanted me to be heartbroken.”

Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ pic.twitter.com/EXiOKoT72v

— John Canales (@_JohnCanales) April 25, 2018

The association of success and pain doesn’t only revolve around drug use or broken relationships. It was suggested that Meek Mill’s brief incarceration for a probation violation set the foundation for his 2018 comeback and No. 1 album, CHAMPIONSHIPS.

“Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ,” one user wrote on Twitter. Despite the frequent protests for his immediate prison release, it’s almost as if some fans approved of his demise once it was over because it somehow forced him to make better music.

There is a danger in requiring artists to stick to their brands, especially when it focuses on abusing and glorifying a harmful lifestyle. Fans have to be willing to allow artists to evolve because that transformation extends far beyond the music; their art mimics life. You will not die if artists like Future or The Weeknd pivot the focus of their music away from chronicling drug use, but they could, and that should be the only point that matters here.

If we can support artists like 21 Savage as he explores other subjects besides his chains (Nipsey Hussle cosigned 21’s decision after DJ Akademiks suggested that he didn’t want to hear anything else from the artist) or salute Jay-Z as he's evolved into talking about investing in stocks and collecting priceless artwork, then it shouldn’t be difficult to endorse the Future's new chapter—whatever that may be—as well.

Future is gearing up to release his new album The WZRD on Jan. 18, and if you can seriously criticize his music not because of the quality but because it doesn’t sound like his typical doped up brand, then Future was never the problem—it’s you.

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Tragedy Khadafi Talks New Music, Juice Crew Memories, And Evolving With The Times

When speaking on the lineage of hip hop, Queensbridge is integral to the conversation, as the public housing complex is regarded as fertile ground and the home of some of the greatest MCs in rap history. While Nas, Mobb Deep, Capone-N-Noreaga and others are among the first to come to mind when looking back at QB's most renowned exports, Tragedy Khadafi can be credited with helping bridge the gap between the neighborhood's legendary run during the late '80s and its golden era of the '90s.

At a time when rap had yet to fully find its footing, Tragedy Khadafi displayed lyrical abilities and techniques that were beyond his years as one-half of the Queensbridge rap duo, the Super Kids. Tragedy was scooped up by Marley Marl, who inducted the teenage into his Juice Crew collective. However, Tragedy, who was notorious for his exploits in the street, would be incarcerated during the late '80s, returning the to game as Intelligent Hoodlum and releasing a pair of albums during the early '90s. Since settling on the name Tragedy Khadafi around 1995, the rapper has not only made a name for himself, but others, helping usher C-N-N to the forefront of New York City hip-hop and serving as a conduit between Queensbridge's plethora of poetical thugs and the rap game.

In 2018, Tragedy Khadafi was as prolific as ever, releasing the solo album The Builders this past September, as well as Immortal Titans, his collaborative project with producer BP. A seasoned vet with the willingness to adapt to an ever-evolving rap landscape, Tragedy Khadafi is preparing for the next phase of his career, expanding his brand with a new podcast, and a pair of new releases slated for 2019.”We're working on a Drive-By's album for the podcast, “Tragedy reveals. And I'm working on a new solo album, Uniform Garments.”

Tragedy Khadafi hopped on the phone with VIBE to chop it up about his new music, lawsuits against iconic rap figures, being the prototypical Queensbridge MC, memories of the Juice Crew, making the plunge into the world of media, and more.

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VIBE: You recently released your solo album, The Builders, this past September. How has the reception been to that project? Tragedy Khadafi: I got a lot of good responses on the project and honestly, I kinda did that real quick. I didn't even really concentrate. I don't wanna take away from it, but that was nothing in comparison to what I'm doing right now.

What would you say was your goal or mind-state with while recording this album? I was looking at the climate and I was looking at the terrain and I wanted to make an album I wanted to hear. And I wanted to give my fans and supporters something that I know that they look to.

One song on the tracklist that jumps out at listeners is "Stacked Aces," which features a guest appearance from Havoc of Mobb Deep. What was it like working with him again, with the QB connection and your history with one another? It's always interesting when me and Hav’ hook up ‘cause we're like brothers, we’re like family. We got our ups and we got our downs and we go through different things, but we always seem to keep a line to each other, so it was interesting to get back with him because I hadn't seen him in a while. It just always works well when we come together.

How did that song come together? Well actually, I had reached out to him because I wanted to try to get him another situation. What a lot of people don't realize is I brokered the deal and A&R'd Havoc's first solo album with Nature Sounds, which is The Kush. And the plight was for Hav to be given that decorated honor as the East Coast Dr. Dre, so we wanted to make that album Havoc's Chronic, so we called it The Kush. So I wanted to reach out to him again and create another situation. It didn't exactly turn out that way, but we ended up exchanging some tracks, going back and forth, and I actually liked that one a lot. And he was just like, 'aight, go 'head, rock with it' and we took it from there.

You collaborated with producer BP on the album Immortal Titans this year as well. What's the genesis of your relationship with BP and what sparked the two of you to team up for this project? Well with BP, it was interesting. He initially reached out through me through a business associate and manager who actually runs Deep Concept and works very close with Erick Sermon. He reached out to me through the manager for a feature and I told him, 'look, I'm not into doing features no more, I’m into doing whole projects. So he was like, 'word,' so he actually came up with some more beats and we worked out the situation where I would record more songs for the project and it went together well. His production was very high quality and it seemed to be a marriage with my lyrics, so it wasn't hard work, it was all natural. I actually did the whole album in seven days.

The whole writing and the recording, too? Everything, yeah.

You recently filed a lawsuit against Master P. What was the genesis of the lawsuit? My attorney is helping me put in a lawsuit, which we got back a response from Master P's attorneys. We're basically suing him for copyright infringement and things of that nature due to the fact that he took the title and concept "Intelligent Hoodlum" and actually dropped an album called Intelligent Hoodlum (in 2017). It went over a lot of people's heads because I guess people concentrate more so on his other ventures. But he came out with an album and it came across my attention so I approached him on Instagram and tried to open a forum to have a courtesy talk, opposed to just suing him. Then I waited seven months and he left me no choice but to go at him legally, at that point.

What’s the status of the lawsuit, at this moment? We just got response back from the label and they're basically admitting fault, to my knowledge. We're also suing Ice Cube for doing a similar act by coming out with a song, "Arrest The President," and not acknowledging who the originator of that is, which is me. So we're suing him, too, right now.

In a recent interview, Marley Marl said that he feels the style of rap coming out of Queensbridge during the '90s can be traced back to your song "Live Motivator" from Marley Marl's In Control compilation. Would you agree with that statement? Yeah, I would definitely agree. And that's not to take nothing away from Nas or anybody else who came after me out of The Bridge, but truth is truth. You definitely see that there, that was pretty much the archetype and I just think they took it and modernized and made it their own, as they should.

You were also the youngest member of The Juice Crew, which was the hottest rap collective in New York during the '80s. What was it like being around superstars like Roxanne Shante, MC Shan, Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane and how would you describe your interactions with them? The best way I can explain it was like a young Kobe [Bryant] being under Magic Johnson and Earl The Pearl and Wilt Chamberlain and have them as standards to hold yourself to, but actually in your life, you're having interactions with him them. Because I’m sure those players were a standard to Kobe at some point in his life, with Jordan or whatever, but the difference is that I actually had Jordan in the room with me, you know what I'm saying. Having Kane, having Rakim and having Shan—and Marley, to be honest. That was like having Jordan in the room with you. It wasn't me watching Jordan on TV or watching videos, it was me being on the court with Jordan. So to equate that feeling or try to imagine that as a kid out of the projects, off the streets and now you're amongst rap's elite. It had nothing but a great and positive impact on me, the whole way, even to this day.

A lot of rap fans are aware of your solo career, but are unaware that you got your start in rap as part of a duo called The Superkids as a pre-teen. What are your memories of that group coming together and being one of the first kid rappers with street credibility? It was all organic. It was fresh off the streets, it was born the streets it took form in the streets and it grew off the streets. It came by way of a relationship I had with a DJ named Larry Panic. Larry Panic was an ill graffiti artist, DJ and street fighter and he introduced me to Hot Day and me and Hot Day formed the group the Super Kids. We was trying to get on for a long time and it wasn't happening fast enough, so we kinda put ourselves on. We went and pressed our own records up, at that age, we went and made our own mixtapes. And I followed the same template when I got with C-N-N because it was like nobody wanted to put us on the mixtapes at first, so I was like, 'f**k it, let's make our own mixtape.' So I got that from being a Super Kid.

I believe I had just turned 13 and that's when it started. Hot Day was a DJ at a local skating rink called USA, located in Queens, and I would go there and perform. We actually did our first record, it was called "Go Queensbridge / Live At Hip Hop USA,” and we rocked there and actually took the tapes and pressed it and made a record out of it. And we actually used "Take It Off" by Spoonie Gee. It was on Tuff City Records and when we brought it to radio it got more spins than the original record.

After your release from prison, you reintroduced yourself as Intelligent Hoodlum, which saw you being to rap more about enlightenment and knowledge of self. How would you describe that period of your life and career? Initially, when I came home, I can hold Big Daddy Kane responsible. Big Daddy Kane was one of the first people to introduce me to knowledge of self and at first I was like, 'man, I don't wanna hear that sh*t.' And it was an incident where he got into a situation with one of G Rap's entourage. The way he handled it I was like, 'son, this dude is tough.' Not only is he nice on the mic, but he's tough, too. So once that happened, it made me—in a sick way, at that time 'cause I was on my street sh*t—respect what he was saying in terms of knowledge of self and that was my first introduction to it. And I had just came from and I started going through Marley's phone books looking for certain people to talk to and I came across Chuck D's number. Chuck D would talk to me before he even knew me and put me on to certain literature and certain books about certain icons in the revolution, like Huey Newton, H Rap Brown and Assata Shakur. And I started getting interested in it because where I came [from], I was under the ignorance that black people was only hustlers, shooters and killers. And from there it just kinda took off and I took on the moniker Intelligent Hoodlum, which I got from Malcolm X's book after I read his autobiography by Alex Haley. And there's a chapter called "Hoodlum" and I put "Intelligent" in front of it 'cause I saw myself moving in a more different direction and being a better me. And I kept the "Hoodlum" 'cause I was like, 'I'm never gonna forget where I came from, but I know where I'm going now.

One of the more underrated aspects of your career is your track record of helping break new talent, particularly acts like Capone-N-Noreaga. What made you take such an active interest in the careers of others while in the midst of your own? I saw a lot of talent in those brothers you mentioned and one thing I learned from Marley is how to cultivate talent and bring out the best in people. You know, like when Marley got with LL, it brought out a better LL. Of course it had to exist in LL, but it took Marley to see it and be able to help him direct it and channel it in the right way and that's what I see. I consider myself like the Cus D'Amato; Cus D'Amato brought out the best in Tyson and he understood Tyson. I love hip-hop so much that I understand the MC. I understand, not only his rhyming ability, but I understand his plight and I understand his origin. I'm able to see that in a person the minute I meet them, so it's only natural that I help bring that out in other artists. And like I said, I love hip-hop and I never wanted the MC to die. No matter who it comes through or what form it comes through or what vessel it encompasses, I always want the MC to be alive.

When those relationships didn't always remain amicable, did that ever leave you bitter or disillusioned from collaborating or working with artists in any way? That's one of the best questions anybody's asked me, straight up and down, 'cause it's true, and it had for a long time because there's a gift and a curse in loving the culture so much. You can't help but become emotionally attached and it's still a factor that it's a business. I was able to cultivate the talent, put myself in it, but I had to learn more to balance in terms of the business aspect and keeping things on a certain level business-wise and keeping certain boundaries business-wise. Now I'm at a place and space within my mind and in my mindframe that I have now, I'm able to do that, but it had to come with maturity. Did it leave me bitter at first? Of course it did, I'm not gonna lie and say it didn't. But like I said, it took time for me to grow and get past it and not hold it against individuals because ultimately it's on you when you have certain expectations of people. People are always gonna be the human nature of people, so you gotta learn to work through that and it took me time to realize that and kinda conquer it within myself. And that's why I feel great about where I'm at now mentally, because I'm able to become emotionally attached to a project or to an artist, but yet still keep that boundary of business with respect to myself and the value I bring to it.

Do you feel your street cred or rep hindered your career? At times I did, but I realized of course I want more, who doesn't? Jay-Z wants more, Rick Ross wants more. LeBron James wants more, Nas wants more and these are some of the upper echelons in the game. And at first, I felt that way, but I'm exactly where I need to be at this moment in my life and I'm not gonna have any regrets cause all that's gonna do is stifle my growth. I just feel like I am what I am and who I am and to some its means a lot, to some it may not, but to me, it means everything. And that's what's more important.

With 30 years deep in the game, what would you say are your biggest milestones and lessons learned? The parting of C-N-N taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about people, human nature and myself. The passing of my mother, the passing of Big and Pac, and I can honestly say when my son fell out the window and almost died, those are like the biggest milestones of my life.

In addition to staying active on the music front, you've also jumped into the world of media with your new podcast, DBWCC. What does that acronym stand for, and what sparked your interest in starting a podcast? It was initially my brother's creation. It's funny because when I went to do the Lessons album with N.O.R.E.—and this is us getting back together after the wars, after “Blood Type,” after "Halfway Thugs," the back and forth, the rumors, the blatant attacks on each other—we finally got back together and developed some form of relationship. And I drove from New York to Miami with my sister and my brother Chris Castro and that's what DBWCC stands for, Drive-Bys With Chris Castro. So we all drive out to Miami and while I'm out there recording with N.O.R.E.— we did the album in like two days—my brother is telling me that I should create a podcast. And this probably like year or two before Drink Champs and my brother is like, 'the new thing is podcasts;' he told me and N.O.R.E this and we kinda brushed it off.

Later on, N.O.R.E. obviously got into it, but he put this seed in my mind then because he's always been immersed in the now culture of hip-hop, as well as the true era of hip-hop. I looked around at the world I'm in and looked at the marketing and said, 'you know what, this makes sense because people aren't buying records anymore, they're buying experiences. They're buying cultures and they're buying brands,' so we came together on this. And I executive produce it and I'm a co-host on the show and we kinda wanted to take it in a different direction from a "Tragedy" thing 'cause like you said, I have so many titles and labels attached to the artist that we wanted to give DBWCC its own start, its own lane, so to speak.

Away not from Tragedy, per se, but to give people another side of me because people are so used to me being serious on tracks that they don't realize that I have a humor side, that I'm a funny motherf**ker. This particular forum allows me to be that person I am, that other character my family knows me for, but my fans and supporters in the world doesn't necessarily see that from me because I'm always coming at issues. But with this show, I'm just able to be more comfortable more to speak. Not to say I'm not comfortable with my music cause I am, it's just a different side of me and I'm not gonna lie, I love it. It's growing. I'm getting a lot of good feedback and we want our show to be an organic show. We don't want the regular bio-link interview, so that's why we get you in the car, we get you in the seat and we come at you from an organic way, an authentic way. It's more so conversation, opposed to an "interview."

With Noreaga, Fat Joe, Joe Budden and other veteran artists expanding their brand in various ways, do you feel the shelf life for a rapper to be relevant in hip-hop is longer than ever before? I feel like we live in a different time and KRS-One said something some time back that I'm seeing come to fruition. He said, 'we're off the plantation now, but ni**as don't realize we free.' This technology, it levels the playing field; you don't necessarily need a label, and it allows you to be more direct with your fans. Your fans want to grow with you, they want to walk with you, they want to see into your life. And sound is one thing, but visual helps bring it all together and through this particular forum, it helps to do that. Now your music or your records are more or less like commercials, they're not the pillars of your career or the pillars of your climb, not they're more like commercials that should segue into your visual, into your medium forums. That's what they should be and that's what I see them as.

What would you say is the next step or level for Tragedy Khadafi, musically or otherwise? The next step, otherwise, is I wanna come out with a series of books as opposed to just looking at hip-hop as music and I wanna touch on these certain things that we're talking about. l wanna touch on media, I wanna touch on diversity. I wanna touch on overall growth and building social value and allowing to create wealth for artists; that's something I'm very adamant about and that's something that I'm very proactive in doing. Musically, I'm just gonna keep making the music I make and giving the fans what they want from me, what they need from me, and that's where I'm gonna keep growing and evolving into. But more so concentrating on my social platforms, in terms of marketing and branding and really just creating more wealth around my brand and within my brand.

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