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Through The Looking Glass: Newcomer Amare Symoné Gives Us A Peek Into Her World

Meet burgeoning singer-songwriter, Amare Symoné. 

Carving a lane for yourself in the music industry is always a difficult task. It is especially daunting in the digital age of social media. Amare Symoné, however, is up for the challenge, as the 19-year-old is already well on her way to making her wildest dreams come true.

Performing since a young age, the California-born, Brooklyn-raised singer is an artistic extension of her parents Mahogany L. Browne and Jive Poetic, both of whom tour the world as working poets. Symoné released her EP titled Glass Windows via SoundCloud on Oct. 12, and has performed throughout New York and Chi-Town whilst still finding time for her schoolwork as a student of Columbia College Chicago. She was featured on the #LTAB2016 Mixtape and Twitter Mixtape: The Spring Experiment 2016, and was a recipient of the 2016 Converse Rubber Tracks.

VIBE caught up with Symoné to discuss her musical aspirations, opening statement to the game, and how to remain authentically yourself in a society obsessed with what meets the eye and that lives to box you in. —J’na Jefferson


A photo posted by #GlassWindowsEP (@amaresymone) on

VIBE: Each of the music scenes you've grown up around or lived in are very different. How would you describe each of them?
Amare Symoné: I think New York is very obviously hip-hop based, and because there's such an original sound, it's very hard to do something different from that. New York is always super stubborn when it comes to their sound, they're always trying to preserve it, if you know what I mean. It's understandable though, because hip-hop was popularized there and essentially created there. Chicago is so versatile and it gives you space to do what you want to do. So there are Chance The Rappers' and Mick Jenkins' who are able to coexist in the same space, and still be successful like Chief Keef or G Herbo. So that's pretty interesting, I love that they allow you to grow. That’s why I came here [Chicago] for college, because I needed another big city that could foster my growth but also challenge me. California is different because it's a lot of funk. It’s a different type of sound, it's more laid-back, smooth, R&B, funk. I think all three places that I've lived have definitely inspired me when it comes to my music, and all the different styles I try to include.

How would you say that your sound pulls from these places?
I'm still growing in terms of my sound, but I do know that the soul that I would hear in a lot of old hip-hop songs, my dad was a DJ so I grew up hearing a lot of late '90s, early 2000s hip-hop and rap.

The good stuff!
All the good stuff, right? I don't wanna throw shade [Laughs], but I like old hip-hop way more. Even the soul samples and the soul singers, I definitely take from that. That's really why I love listening to old rap, because it brings me back to that stage, and it inspires me even more. In terms of Cali, I think that I do want to bring more of that funk element into my music. I have not yet, but I do want to work with more instrumentalists. I definitely want to bring that fresher sound into my music, and more live-sounding music. I think that's gonna challenge me in a way, but I also realize as an artist, we no longer use instrumentalists as much as we used to, and instrumentalists used to have their own sound. People could tell, 'oh, that's so-and-so on the trumpet,’ or ‘that's so-and-so on the piano.' They had a distinct sound. But now, instrumentals have taken over, instrumentalists don't really get to have their own sound in someone's song. It's no longer their own, it's more producers. I don't want my music to be so electronic, I do wanna keep the music as human as possible. I want a human handprint on my music, I don't just want to work with various producers. I do want to try and produce my own music in the future as well. Chicago did a good job preserving jazz music, just like New York, and I think that's really dope. I do try to implement jazz into my music as well. I do try to scat, even trying to bring as much of a jazzy feel as possible.

Where do you think your love of music came from, and who do you think influenced your interest in it?
My mom, when she was pregnant with me, she said that she sang in choir. Surprisingly though, I'm the only singer in my family. My parents are both poets and writers and activists, but I think my love of music came from my parents' love of music. My mom was a journalist, she was around music when she came from California to New York, so she had a love of music. My dad was also a DJ, so I think my love came from my parents. I think it's also just a part of African American culture, like music, art, even when they try to tell us that art isn't important in life. It is, and it's what we've done to survive for so many years. We've created music to survive.

Why is your EP titled ‘Glass Windows’? What's the meaning behind that title?
Thank you for asking! [Laughs] Everything I do with my art is very much intentional, everything. From the way I titled my 'Glass Windows' EP to the way my song titles look. Everything is intentional, so thank you for asking that. Glass Windows means being vulnerable, and everything is on display, and you can't really hide anything. Imagine being in a box, and it's got glass windows. You can't hide any of that. You have no choice but to be anything but vulnerable, and I wanted to bring that to the forefront for my EP because a lot of it was just me being really honest. Since it was my first EP, my first-ever recorded project, period, I just wanted to be really vulnerable with my audience and my listeners. I wanted my introduction to be as raw as possible, because that's just how I am as a person. I just try to be as much myself as possible. Vulnerability makes you brave because you're choosing to be vulnerable and you're choosing not to hide all the things that society would say are too ugly to talk about.

Where do you come up with your lyrics? Are they inspired by the places you've been, the experiences you've had?
I'd definitely say a mixture of both. I've had the opportunity to travel a lot, and that could be because my parents are professional poets and artists, so they get to travel because of their careers. I've been to Paris, the Bahamas, Jamaica. I've gotten to experience many different cultures in Brooklyn and California. The ability to travel has really helped with my writing, as well as my poetry background. I like to read a lot, I think we should really take advantage of it. Even if you can't afford to go on a trip to here or there, you can at least travel in a book. You can go somewhere for a minute. You can be outside of yourself and your mind, you're just in somebody else's world that they've created for you. I definitely try and keep up with poetry and books, other people's music, other people's art, visual art, performance art, all of that. That's where I get my writing from.

When you do poetry and writing, do you find yourself writing in a similar style to that of your parents? Or do you have your own voice?
I think that we are all products of who we are influenced by. So, if I read and listening to only Nina Simone and Maya Angelou, I'm gonna be inspired by them. If I listen to Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, I'm gonna be inspired by them no matter what. We definitely take a lot from our influencers, but it's our job to take it and make it into our own, because that's what they would want us to do. They wouldn't want their art to be stolen. So, I definitely feel like my poetry and lyrics have been influenced by my parents, but I try to recreate it in my own way for sure.

On your Soundcloud, the description to your EP read, “I reintroduce my humanity and fearlessness to be brave and accept the person I have always been.” Have you ever tried to be someone you're not?
I can easily remember being in Brooklyn and trying to claim to be all of these different ethnicities and races. "Oh yeah, I'm this! Oh yeah, I'm that!" Just to be a different black, because I was made to feel like if I'm not hella Caribbean, and I don't speak the perfect patois, or if I'm not Latina, these boys ain't checkin' for me. I'm not beautiful. So, I would try to be something I wasn't and people I wasn't, instead of just taking pride in who I was. For sure, that was a time that I can remember off the top, just me trying to be someone I'm not. Even freshman year, it was really hard. I was growing into myself, and I realized I was around people who wanted to stunt my growth and didn't want me to become a different type of person. They didn't want me to grow, they didn't want me to change. They didn't want me to evolve and prosper and progress.

How’d you snap yourself out of that?
I snapped myself out of that by making sure to cut off those people that just had negative intentions. I made sure to cut those people off because I figured, "you know what? You're not letting me grow into this woman that I want to be. You're not allowing me to grow into the person I want to become, that I've always needed to become." There's a reason why I moved to Chicago, there's a reason why I chose Columbia College Chicago, there's a reason why I met the people I met and why we're here. There's a reason for everything. I recently lost a friend, and he's the first producer I ever worked with, and when I first moved to Chicago, I met him and we ended up cutting my first song, "DWR." But there's a reason why I was supposed to meet him. There was a reason why we were supposed to make music.

Sometimes you just have to get rid of the mud to get to the clear water you choose to surround yourself with.

Tons of the songs are pretty personal, so what would you say is the track on the EP that is the most personal, and why?
I think "Not Enough" is my most personal record because for years, as a black woman in America, I felt like I was never enough. I didn't resemble the women on TV who always looked made up and done. On social media, you're like "I don't look like this girl on Instagram, I don't look like this girl on Tumblr," and "if I post a picture, I'm not gonna get as much love." Sometimes you have to take a break from social media because it literally breaks you down! I even had a moment the other day where I was like, 'I don't feel pretty," and I know I'm beautiful, but I don't feel pretty. Social media does a great job of making you feel like you are not enough. So, I have moments, and I really needed to write that song because I knew that I wasn't the only one out here feeling like this. I need to make a song, I need to make music that's going to save somebody's life other than mine. I need to put this out in the world, and I want this to do something in the world. So, I definitely feel like "Not Enough" is very personal.

I feel that a lot too. People measure their self-worth more in likes and comments and followers rather than just looking in the mirror and believing in themselves what's actually true. I find myself like, "do I want to post it on this, or on another site that will get more love?" And I shouldn't be like that!
Oh my gosh. Yes! So scary!

To be a millennial and to have these things dictate the way we think and the way we feel and act, unfortunately, is how it is. You're only 19?
Just turned 19, yep!

You're so young. But it's nice to talk to a 19-year-old who sees that things are different, not only for millennials, but for black millennials and black women. You don't let it tear you down.
Thank you! It is hard, especially after this election. This was the first election I voted in and I'm like "oh my god, why does this have to be the first election that I got to vote in?" The sexism has gone too far. Even in the music industry.

What has been your favorite venue to perform at, and what’s the energy like compared to other venues?
I think my favorite venue was performing at NuYo. I love performing at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. My mom hosts on Friday, but even those who don't know me, I get so much love with my art. The other venues, they're just as supportive, but don't feel like home as much. I like performing at YCA, Young Chicago Authors. They're dope, but New York is my home and NPC, I grew up around the people that work there, you know? It's just different, it's nothing but love when I go there. Chicago is so prideful though. That's really hard for me as a New Yorker, sometimes it's overwhelming, but I love this city. I've had tons of firsts in Chicago, a lot of growth here. It's a beautiful city.

What are you hoping 2017 brings you?
I want to be able to do things to help me accomplish my goals. My goal is to get attention with my art. I want to inspire people and I want to break genre boundaries and talk about many of the things that aren't talked about in music. I'm happy that there's more awareness with certain things in music. I just want to talk about it in different ways. I hope that 2017 brings me more opportunities to meet the people that see me and hear my music and see what I'm fighting for. I need a challenge so that I can become better. I want to travel! I want to be able to live off my art. I want to perform at Afro Punk and Lollapalooza and North Coast. I want to just be able to continue to perform and later on my career, I want to be able to mentor aspiring artists and people of color. I just want to help those who love the arts, and want to help in a different way.

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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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