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Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' Was A Magical Yet Haunting Foreshadowing

...because what's inside her never dies.

Pretend for a moment Amy Jade Winehouse's ending isn't documented, that she never joined the wretched 27 club and her downward spiral—south of the musical greatness she so effortlessly dwelled in—didn't begin as tabloid fodder and later morph into sadness and grief by fans and music lovers the world over.

Make believe the beehive, winged black eyeshadow and tattoos weren't sold for profit as mock Halloween costumes the year she passed, and instead is just an outward declaration of her respect for singers of yesteryear, as well as her individuality from the littered pop-music scene.

Think back to the first time you heard her booming voice; full of color, texture and layers and that moment you assumed Amy was surely a jazzy, bluesy black girl from a jazzy, bluesy black town past the Mason Dixon, and not a white chick from North London.

Pretend that Amy finally worked on that third album and that Back To Black wasn't her final goodbye.

Pretend... just for a moment.

Amy's first and only top 10 U.S. hit would also become an eery reminder of what could've saved her. The Mark Ronson-produced and autobiographically written "Rehab" is Amy being the stubborn mule she is. On the doo-wop influenced track she sings matter-of-factly of her defiance—not pride—in refusing to enter a treatment facility stating she doesn't have 70 days when all she really needs is the wise words and melodies from Donnie Hathaway to cure her blues. And on top of her conviction, she believes she's justified because after all, her father thinks she's fine.

The insanely sticky single made Winehouse and Ronson the industry's newest darlings. Radio couldn't get enough of "Rehab" and David Letterman invited the singer and her fleet of black men background singers to his late night show back in March of 2007. "Rehab" would later become her lyrical suicide note we all placed in our spam folder when sh*t was sweet, and then went digging to find for clues when we learned of her heartbreaking, yet unsurprising death. "Rehab" (no pun intended) was the perfect cocktail. It was honest, fun, tongue-and-cheek and sounded like you finally found the original song that had been sampled by an unworthy artist. It gave you Motown vinyl feels with its robust horns, rhythmic claps and rolling drum patterns. Amy created pop music, yes, in the sense that it was popular, but there was nothing artificial about the sound she developed, or the addiction that enveloped her.

I told ya I was trouble/Yeah you know that I'm no good.

When fans heard the lyrics to Back To Black's second single "You Know I'm No Good," listeners should've taken heed because Amy knew Amy better than we knew Amy. Even while singing of cheating on her beloved Blake, the man whose name is tattooed over a pocket square right above her left breast, we were enticed. We wanted more of the trouble she sang of because whenever Amy sang—whether it be of her drug addiction and alcoholism, or the f**kery caused by Mr. Jones (a song aptly titled "Me & Mr. Jones" rumored to be about her friendship with Nas)—it made us crave her. We'd all like to believe we're responsible, emotionally intelligent human beings, but fire, temptation and pain are bigger aphrodisiacs then we're willing to admit, and Amy's voice kept all of us aroused.

Somehow Ronson, Amy and Salaam Remi, the album's second producer, decided 2006 wasn't a suitable time to be in musically and transported all of us to a place where live instrumentation was dominant, and like lap dogs panting at the sight of our owner, we followed.

The album's first real left turn comes with "Just Friends." While the horns are still palpable on the track and throughout the entire 34 minute album, the heavy island influence is new to the listener's ears. It isn't overwhelming, though. Remi somehow fits it quite snuggly into the pocket and theme of the entire project, but you can't help but feel like you're in Negril, where Jamaican men beg the DJ to replay the chuunnne. While Remi is tight lipped about his relationship with Amy, he still keeps her close with a photo of the two embracing that sits on top of his office desk.

Amy doesn't opt for the big Celine, Whitney or Mariah riffs. Instead her power is demonstrated in the slight tremors of her voice, the cascading notes that fall from her mouth like sweet rice grains and the overall depth of her voice. Amy's voice stains you like red wine. Once you hear it, you can't un-hear it.

One I wished, I never played/Oh, what a mess we made/And now the final frame/love is a losing game

Perhaps the album's most relatable track and proper ballad is "Love Is A Losing Game." With her rich voice that echoed of hopelessness and defeat, Amy describes the hurt and anguish one experiences when your love affair expires. Maybe Amy was singing of the break up between her and Blake, or spoke to a friend and interpreted their turmoil, but either way Amy sang away the salt in our wounds on the days when we could manage the separation, and then punctured what we thought were healed wounds with her soulful voice on other days. Amy could do that, love you then hurt you and all she had to do was stand in front of a microphone.

At the 50th annual Grammy awards, Amy walked away with Record of the Year beating out Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" and Rihanna and Jay Z's "Umbrella" along with Song of The Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Rehab." The elder statesmen of the evening, Herbie Hancock, took home album of the year with his River: The Joni Letters. But it's all to the good, the world was convinced. Amy had "it." Whatever "it" is, she owned it and freely let her fans bask in it. But despite our pretending and our unhealthy belief that good art can only be spawned from a self-destructive artist, this good time with good music would only last for so long.

Amy began to forget the words to songs she wrote. She was visibly intoxicated, stumbling on stage or just completely out of it. Amy—already a tiny Jewish girl before the drugs and alcohol—started to look frail, weathered and worn. Unflattering photos of her began to litter the Internet and our once bluesy beloved chanteuse was now drowning in her own personal hell. She was losing the battle of addiction, and all we did was sit on the sidelines and watch, laugh, judge and shake our heads.

On July 23, 2011, Amy's bodyguard found the singer in her bed unresponsive. According to reports, the 27-year-old died from alcohol poisoning. The "Rehab" she sung about and refused to go to was now a sick facetious joke. It was no longer in good taste to sing or hear the song. It was a horrible told-you-so laid to bed atop professional musical production.

Amy's rise and death allowed for other artists to have an easier transition to fame. Adele, Lilly Allen and others were all given a chance and not mocked before singing a single note because of Amy and Back To Black. The TRL generation now accepted beautiful rhythm and blues could come from across the pond. As a fan, would I rather have Amy here than savor the last record she offered and surmise about her future greatness? Of course, but death, as permanent, dark and scary as it is, is alluring and once again, Amy ever the seductress trumped us all.

Maybe it's better this way, y'know? Are we emotionally advanced as a society to truly appreciate great talents while they're still alive? Or do they only merit their rightful praise once they're gone and we can't critique their work, tear them apart and try to connect the dots of their personal woes made public with their lyrical content? Back To Black still sounds like nothing we've heard to date and it's 10 years old. We didn't deserve Amy's voice.

She told us she was no good and we didn't believe her. Yet despite the talent, the hearty voice and the wild troubled soul, maybe Amy knew her time with us would be short. After all, she did name her final album Back to Black.

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Kamaiyah Talks Long-Awaited Debut 'Got It Made' And Independent Status

On a cloudy afternoon in New York City, rapper Kamaiyah is dressed for comfort, wearing a purple sweatsuit, and the purple beads adorning her signature box braids match her fit. She’s made a stop at the VIBE office during a day of interviews, accompanied by a crew of three women, including her newly appointed A&R Justice Davis. Kamaiyah is observing more than speaking, preserving her voice since she is recovering from a nuisance cold. But the East Oakland native’s energy switches from laidback to zealous as we discuss her lead single “Still I Am” for Got It Made, her long-delayed forthcoming project dropping February 21.


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After almost 4 years I present to you my project “ Got It Made “ 2•21•20 the wait is over we going up and this mutha fucka slap 💁🏾‍♀️ flood my comments with 500 ☂️’s and I’ll drop a song tonight 👀 (Presave link in my bio)

A post shared by Kamaiyah🧿 (@kamaiyah) on Feb 3, 2020 at 11:00am PST

On the CT Beats track, the go-to producer for her hypnotic g-funk sound, she earnestly raps, “I done took plenty losses/ That's why I feel like I deserve to keep flossin'/ This shit is exhausting/ When you boss up and run your own office.” The verses point to her departure from Interscope Records and YG’s 4 Hunnid Records and the launch of her new label GRND.WRK (pronounced groundwork), in partnership with Empire last August. She decided to dip after the release date for her project Something To Ride To was pushed back multiple times. This makes Kamaiyah one of few women in hip-hop, and perhaps the first from the West Coast, to run her own shop.

“It's very important and vital because a lot of people feel you need a man to make you an artist,” Kamaiyah said. “You need a man to mold you into what you need to be.” But Kamaiyah — who has been rapping since she was 9, recording in the studio since she was 11, and dropped a critically acclaimed mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto (2016) before she was signed to a major deal — already knew what kind of artist she wanted to be before she signed on the dotted line.

In the months since she left the label, she began building her office in the upstairs area of her loft; finished recording, mixing and mastering Got It Made, a project she was planning before she parted from Interscope; and her manager Brandon Moore became her partner on her new venture. 2020 will be the first year Kamaiyah has full control of her career since breaking into the mainstream hip-hop world in 2016. This was always part of her master plan and why the previous arrangement did not fit her.

“I signed too fast, but I never wanted to sign,” she reflects. “I was always the artist that was like, 'I don't want no deal.' I wanted to hustle because I knew where I come from. Everybody does it independently. But at that time it was the best decision for everybody. I took that L for the team and we learned a lot. It was like four years of music business school.”

Kamaiyah wants to carry on in the spirit of Bay Area hip-hop legends like E-40, known for their independent spirit of hustling their CDs out of their car trunks. But she also wants the pop accolades of hip-hop superstars like Drake, Missy Elliot, and Oakland’s original hip-hop icon MC Hammer. Her biggest hit to date is YG’s "Why You Always Hatin?” also featuring Drake, which charted at no. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100. But she wants more. Success for Kamaiyah means Grammys, Billboard No. 1's, and gold and platinum plaques. Partnering with Empire, a digital-first independent distributor, and a label launched by San Francisco native Ghazi Shami in 2010, could be her winning ticket. In the past decade, Empire’s launched several successful hip-hop projects such as Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 album and Anderson .Paak’s album Malibu. This partnership can give Kamaiyah the independence and support toward the mass appeal she’s seeking. Having dealt with project release delays in the past, her strategy going forward is consistency.

“Great quality music at a rapid rate...People just want to see you [working]. And if they know you consistent, they gon’ consume the music.” Kamaiyah also wants to use her platform to sign new talent, especially in the Bay Area, where she said artists can benefit from music business education when their records go viral. “Once they get the traction and the record, it becomes this egotistical thing and it's like ‘I made it cause I'm cracking out here.’ But they don't realize it's a whole world to build towards.”

Her first project Got It Made will be the blueprint for GRND.WRK. The project is feel-good music her fans “can shake their asses to and vibe out to and ride out to,” she said. For instance, she teamed up with veteran Trina for the f**k boy revenge track “Set It Up.” They role-play as two women who have been cheated on by the same man. “We get together and we go against the ni**a instead of us going against each other,” Kamaiyah says. On “Get Ratchet,” which she calls a “modern bounce” record, she taps DJ Espinosa, a San Francisco native known for winning Red Bull Music’s 3Style DJ competition, to spin at the end of the track. For “Digits,” a song about getting someone’s number, she brings on fellow Oakland rapper Capolow, a newcomer she’s excited to give a bigger platform to. She describes the track as “magical gangsta sh*t.” On past projects, Kamaiyah sampled '80s and '90s R&B (i.e. “I’m On” and “Leave Em”) but says the only track on Got It Made that has a sample is “1-800-IM-HORNY.” She intentionally avoided the high cost of clearances, an obstacle contributing to past project delays. She won’t mention names but says she enlisted “legends who created those records that we’re sampling” to shape the project's sound. Fans can expect Kamaiyah to begin touring the project in April.

Although she’s finally releasing her project, her fans might be curious about the status of her other promised records such as Woke and Don’t Ever Get It Twisted. Will they see the light of day? “Anything I did at that part of my life I have PTSD from,” Kamaiyah said frankly. “It was done with good intentions, but then it became something negative and when you put that out, the world is going to feel that. And energy is transferable so I'm not putting out that shit.”

While Kamaiyah was facing career obstacles in recent years, she witnessed the impact of tragedies close to her community. The death of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old Black woman who was murdered at a train station in the Bay Area Rapid Transit in 2018, hit close to home as Kamaiyah has family close to Wilson’s family. (John Lee Cowell, who is accused of stabbing Wilson to death, is currently on trial.) “Do I feel like he should be convicted? Absolutely. To the furthest extent. You took this woman's life. She barely got to live.” Then there was Nipsey Hussle’s murder in 2019. Kamaiyah said she had a long talk with Nip a month before he was killed last March. He wanted to see her reach her full potential, especially as a woman representing the Bay Area. “He’s telling me, ‘What you mean to our culture we never had’,” Kamaiyah said. That last conversation put the battery in her back when she was on the fence about her music. “I'm frustrated career-wise and that's a person that was like, ‘Don't stop because we need you in this culture.’ So I gotta hustle 10 times harder ‘cause other people see the long end of the vision.”

Justice Davis, Kamaiyah’s A&R, is ready for Kamaiyah’s vision to come to life. Davis began working as Moore’s assistant and after giving input, moved up the ranks. As a Los Angeles native, Davis said she brings the knowledge of her city’s culture together with Kamaiyah’s Oakland hustle. She wants to see Kamaiyah grow as a businesswoman, artist, and for their team to prosper. “[I hope] for people to see her talent and know she really is the queen of the West coast."

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Kamaiyah / (GRND.WRK/EMPIRE)

New Music Friday: Kamaiyah, Royce Da 5'9", YoungBoy Never Broke Again

This week, two artists are taking their own approaches toward independence: Kamaiyah has released her debut studio LP on her new record label, and Royce Da 5'9" takes the plunge by handling all of his own production. More new music this week comes from YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Elaquent, and Rick Ross.

Kamaiyah – Got It Made After years of running with YG's 4Hunnid Records and Interscope, Kamaiyah has gone indie for her new project, Got It Made. In the follow-up to her 2016 mixtape A Good Night In The Ghetto, she's doing a lot on her own: she's dropping it on her own label GRND.WRK, and its ten tracks have a sparse guest list. Kamaiyah told VIBE that she wanted to make an album that her fans "can shake their asses to and vibe out to and ride out to," equipped with CT Beats funky Oakland sound. Look out for the Trina-assisted “Set It Up,” the bouncy “Get Ratchet” (which features scratches by San Francisco's DJ Espinosa), and “Digits,” a song with new Oakland rapper Capolow that she describes as “magical gangsta sh*t.” Apple Music | TIDAL

Royce Da 5'9" – The Allegory Royce Da 5'9" used his last two albums, Layers (2016) and Book of Ryan (2019), to give fans a long-awaited look into his childhood and his personal life. The Allegory, sees him taking on another new approach: pro-black ideology. Preceded by the singles "Black Savage" and "Field Negro," Royce uses this new album – the first of his career that he's produced in its entirety – to motivate black people to love and help each other. "Us as black men, we just wake up one day like, 'this is what I am,' and we have no idea where it came from," he recently told VIBE. "I’m very conscious of our people...and having a platform and understanding how important that is." As for guests, Royce calls on all three starters from the Griselda camp for individual songs, his former Slaughterhouse brethren KXNG Crooked, promising young woman MC Ashley Sorrell, Grafh, Vince Staples, G. Perico and more. Apple Music | TIDAL

YoungBoy Never Broke Again – Still Flexin, Still Steppin NBA Youngboy is one of the biggest streaming rappers in the game these days, so his fans will certainly be happy with Still Flexin, Still Steppin, his first project of 2020 and his first since last year's AI Youngboy 2, his first number one album. Though he's had collabs with JuiceWRLD, Gucci Mane and Plies over the past year, this project only has one guest spot, which is Quando Rondo. Press play for what's sure to be another strong set of hedonistic-yet-emotive street tunes. YouTube | Apple Music | TIDAL

Elaquent – Forever Is a Long Time In his first compilation album, Ontario producer Elaquent lends jazzy, sample-driven production to a suite of guests like Oddisee, Guilty Simpson, Blu, and more. Mello Music Group has a strong track record, and it continues with this week's release. iTunes | Bandcamp | Spotify | Amazon | Apple Music Forever Is A Pretty Long Time by Elaquent

Rick Ross ft. Dwyane Wade, Raphael Saadiq, UD – "Season Ticket Holder" The Miami Heat have had an unexpectedly successful season in the NBA's Eastern Conference so far, but this is an even bigger surprise: "Season Ticket Holder" has Miami rap royalty Rick Ross bringing none other than future NBA Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade into the booth. The former player known as Flash actually drops a sixteen, along with an appearance by his Miami Heat teammate Udonis Haslem. Raphael Saadiq sings the hook. Apple Music | TIDAL

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Nas and A$AP Ferg host Hennessy All-Star Weekend Saturday night at The Old Post Office in Chicago in celebration of the newly announced multiyear partnership between the spirit and NBA.
Caleb Zahm

Nas Hosts Hennessy's All-Star Weekend Party, DaBaby And A$AP Ferg Perform

Hennessy celebrated its NBA multi-year spirit partnership with festivities during the league's All-Star Weekend. After hosting an intimate reception, the global cognac brand turned the vibe up, hosted an evening of cocktails and performances at the Gentlemen’s Lounge in Chicago's Old Post Office. Nas served as the welcoming host of the night as he introduced his fellow Hennessy ambassador A$AP Ferg, who kicked off the night of performances.

After warming up the crowd with performances of  "Work," "Plain Jane" and his new single "Value," he brought out MadeinTYO to perform a short number. Shortly after, DaBaby amped up the crowd with a high-energy set with performances of "Bop," "Suge," and more alongside Billion Dollar Baby Entertainment artists Stunna 4 Vegas and Rich Dunk.

As the Hennessy specialty drinks flowed and bites made their rounds, some of music and sports' biggest stars stopped by the event to enjoy the fanfare including Saweetie, Dave East, and others. Scroll through more images down below to see what you missed.

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