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After A Moment Of Clarity, Lloyd Redesigns Himself And His Story

He's back. 

Nestled in Downtown L.A.’s art district on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, the 30-year-old singer is seated at a table inside Cafe Gratitude. While a vegan restaurant might be the last place you’d expect to see an R&B artist, Lloyd is on different wave these days. The New Orleans-born-Atlanta-bred crooner hasn't eaten meat in five years, along with cutting sugars and processed foods out of his diet. Food restrictions are a portion of Lloyd's overall transformation, that includes being "less reckless" in regards to women. In fact, he credits his 4-year-old and 1-year-old nieces with changing the way that he treats the opposite sex.

“I love my nieces, let that be the first thing I state on the record,” he tells VIBE over lunch. “My nieces made me reevaluate how everything represents them. Unfortunately, it takes some kind of a catalyst–even though we all have mamas and sisters and strong women to draw from–but my nieces made me care about what it means to love a woman."

Over the last several years, Lloyd has been on a self development journey, which involved taking a break from music. “I didn’t have to put out albums for a check,” he says. “[But] I had to do that when Katrina happened. I had to put out Street Love because I didn’t have a choice, my family was [displaced].”

For more than half of his life, music has been both a passion and a paycheck. Lloyd signed his first record deal at 10 years old, and put out his first project by age 13 as a member of the teen pop group N-Toon. Once the group dismantled, he hopped around different labels and eventually landed at Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc. Records where he released his 2004 debut album Southside. Thanks to the album's title track and single, "Hey Young Girl," buzz around the “curly headed black boy” was building, and it may have been too fast for him to keep up. “My life wasn’t mine anymore—which is a blessing, not a complaint,” he says of entering the music business early on. “But it took me away from people who I really needed at times, and who I felt really needed me.”

“I started to redesign myself.”

In 2007, Lloyd snagged his first Top 10 single with the Lil-Wayne assisted, “You.” The lead track from his Street Love LP landed at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. Over the next two years, he would release Lessons in Love, sever ties with Murder Inc. and join Interscope Records. Before his 2011 album, King of Hearts, was released, Lloyd decided to chop off his hair and donate it to children with cancer. “It was supposed to be a reflection of ‘From this day forward, I’m going to rebuild, strip it all the way down to work on myself.' Cutting off a big part of me for someone else was the first step.”

The haircut triggered a transformation that made him move from Atlanta to Los Angeles. “I was focused on trying to not look to other people for validation,” he reveals. “To not point the finger anymore, to not require anything but accountability for my own actions. I started to redesign myself.”

Embracing a new mindset and a new diet began to rub off on his family, a feat he describes as one of his “prouder” accomplishments. “Being from New Orleans, growing up Creole and just eating every fucking thing under the sun, every kind of butter and hot sauce—it’s delicious, but it’s not good,” he explains mentioning the "scary moment" when he learned that his cousin had diabetes. “My cousin was my best friend, and he got diabetes in his early 20s, so the fact that I got my mama making quinoa and pastas now–nobody ate quinoa as far as I’m concerned up until a few years ago–adding more vegetables, fruits, less preserved foods, that was our start.”

Besides the dietary switch, Lloyd committed to twice-daily workouts at UCLA's Drake Stadium and began getting visits from the likes of Diddy, Ciara, and producer Polow Da Don. “We were all doing it together," he recalls. "It definitely wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but it was one of the most important, and it bled into my whole approach to music, the kind of music that I was looking for.”

The search took him outside of his comfort zone, and into a space that made him feel as "organic" as the food he was consuming. “I started listening to Fela Kuti, Brazilian jazz, and Marvin Gaye—and not like the final product. I was listening to the demos from Marvin Gaye," he clarifies. "I started only buying real records and getting lost in Miles Davis and [John] Coltrane and Porgy and Bess, and then I was like ‘I need a talent.”

The newly-discovered “talent” came in the form of a guitar (named Sylvia, after his late grandmother), and he played it every day. Between perfecting his chords, and hitting the road with Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, and Diddy’s Dirty Money crew, Lloyd decided to leave L.A., and move back to Atlanta.

“I didn’t have to put out albums for a check. [But] I had to do that when Katrina happened.”

“I was missing the people that really mattered most,” he confesses. “When I was in L.A., I was by myself, which was another challenge, to eliminate myself from what I call ‘healthy distractions.' I had my house in Atlanta and I had an apartment [in L.A.] on Sunset [Boulevard], and it was like ‘Why am I wasting money?’ So I went back to Atlanta. I got back home and I realized that I missed it so much," adds Lloyd. "Although I’ve experienced a lot and I’ve got so much to share, I missed a lot and I just wanted to be there to catch up, to participate in a way that I never could.”

Being back home meant that he wasn't missing out on family milestones, including helping his sister–who was in medical school at the time–during her pregnancy. But despite driving her to the hospital, he missed his niece's birth due to commitments back in L.A.

“I cried on the plane,” he admits. “I really wanted to be there, this was special. My mom said ‘Boy you got nothing to cry about because you’re gonna be a great uncle, and when she gets older she’s gonna love you for going out there in the world and doing what you love.’ So with that, I started to try to accept the fact that I’m going to have to learn how to balance [work and family] because I started to love it too much."

“I loved being a recluse, going to the grocery store, being a regular motherfu**a.’ People would come up to me and say, ‘Are u making anymore music? We miss you,’ and I would say ‘Are you not happy with what u hear? What do you need me for?’”

By this point in Lloyd's hiatus, taking his niece to get ice cream became more appealing than hitting the studio, though he still made time for fitness. He tried out Bikram yoga, and participated in 5k runs, before things began to change again. “I started to feel the itch that happens to all of us that really love this [music] shit," admits the singer. "I had to go.”

A photo posted by Lloyd (@curlyheadedblackboy) on

The push back into recording came from a friend who needed help with a track for another artist. While at the studio, Lloyd ran into Shakespeare, the producer behind TLC’s “No Scrubs,” Destiny Child’s “Bill, Bills, Bills,” and more. “He was one of the people who I never worked with but I always respected,” notes Lloyd. “And out of that [meeting] we began to work on [the song] ’Tru.’”

Word began to spread that he was making music again, and the chatter resulted in a phone call from Ghazi Shami founder of EMPIRE distribution, the San Francisco-based label whose credits include D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli,” Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s “All the Way Up,” and Rich Homie Quan’s “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh).” He took the meeting with the label exec, and although Shami was excited about “Tru,” Lloyd had reservations. He wasn’t sure where the song would fit with trap records permeating radio. Eventually, Lloyd entered into a deal with EMPIRE, with a plan to “release one song, and see how it goes.” “Tru” debuted in May, as the title cut off his four-song EP, which was released in early December. On the Justice League-produced track, Lloyd discusses his time off, and the loss of his unborn child due to an abortion.

“It’s very rare that I’ve been a part of something that’s come out that’s as pure and honest as that,” he says of the single. “I didn’t wanna come back with turn up [music]. I thought it was important for me to attack it on an honest and truthful level but also from a vulnerable place as a man—because that’s what my nieces made me. That’s what the women in my life made me. For me to abandon that just for record sales or a check, or some quote-un-quote ‘bi***es’? That would never suffice.”

Instead, the track went on to became a cathartic experience and an act of gratitude for his fans. “That was my moment to show them what they mean to me,” he explains. “I started working on ‘Tru’ and it had everything that I needed: the guitar and the story. That’s all I wanted. The way Bob Dylan built his music. Of course, if I come out playing all acoustic sets with my Bob Dylan hat on people are gonna say ‘This nigga’s having a mid-life crisis,‘ but I was like ‘Let me find a balance between the worlds that I’m in love with. I thought that was the best way to keep it in the same vein of what I’ve done before but also to have everything that I was looking to move towards.

A photo posted by Lloyd (@curlyheadedblackboy) on

“Now I can play my music with just the guitar, I can strip it down to its simplest form and I think that’s special,” he says looking down at his vegan meal. “Just like with my food, I can strip it down to the simplest form and still enjoy it and know that it’s not just how it looks and tastes, it's about how it makes me feel. How it feeds my soul, my body, and my spirit.”

The fan feedback allowed Lloyd to see his own music differently. “It made me respect the idea that [my fans] are real individuals, not just numbers in the matrix.  These are real people going through real issues every day, and something that I’m doing with all my heart is giving them something they need. That made me respect it more, respect them more.”

In August, Lloyd debuted the “Tru” music video which was shot in his East Atlanta stomping grounds, with only a director, an assistant, and a Bluetooth speaker. The visual has garnered more than 16 million views on YouTube to date. “I will tell you this, I felt like I had some gum on my shoe for those first scenes,” he says. “To this day I still get [emotional when the single] comes on the radio. It’s hard to listen to, when I heard it the first few times I fuckin’ cried. It’s that kind of thing for me.”

With his upcoming fifth studio album, Out My Window, Lloyd is officially moving at his own pace, which means no deadlines and no gimmicks. “There is no quota to be met,” he asserts. “It’s just feelings, and I believe that it won’t take as long to capture the feelings. The dopest thing about the past four years for me was that it was four years. We don’t always have the luxury of time, the blessing of patience. I had some patient ass fans and friends, and I had time to develop and grow, and nurture myself.”

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The 40 Best R&B Songs Of 2019

If you're a true lover of R&B, you can appreciate a soulfully soothing, quiet storm-worthy, put-it-on-repeat-and-think-about-your-boo (or potential boo) type of song. If you're a true lover of the genre, you sometimes find yourself reminiscing about the days when R&B of the '90s and 2000s was sensually laced with emotional vocal runs and the music videos featured not only a scene in the rain but also a phone, 2-way pager or some kind of communication device. And if you're a true lover of R&B, you've followed (and hopefully accepted) how the genre has evolved and survived since then.

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Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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