THEY. THEY.
VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: R&B Is Taking Many Directions And Music Duo THEY. Is Creating Their Own

VIBE shadows R&B duo THEY. during their Summer's Over Tour and discuss their forth-coming project Nu Religion: Hyena. 

New York City's Terminal 5 venue appears to be eerily quiet on a Monday evening. Just over three hours remain before the club’s gates open to anxious millennials who booked tickets weeks in advance just to see the Summer's Over Tour rock the house. A seemingly infinite line of crazed girls dressed in skimpy skirts and heels, who were bobbing up and down as if live music were playing at that moment, scale the side of the building on West 56th Street in the ear-piercing cold, huddling close to each other for warmth. There isn’t a visible door to the venue, just a garage to the automobile dealership next door. And upon asking some of the girls where the entrance is, their looks to each other prove they have absolutely no clue. It’s the blind leading the blind, yet they continue to stand there shivering and conversing amongst themselves. Amid all of the chaos and anticipation, R&B duo THEY.—the first act on the tour—slip in inconspicuously through the talent entrance on the other side of the building.

A brolic security man at the only open door, who insists everyone have their passes clearly stuck on their bodies, gives the green light to enter the three-story establishment where crew members are frantically pacing the ground floor, taping down loose chords and tampering with sound boards. THEY., comprised of Dante Jones and Drew Love, hover in a corner by a table of merch with the rest of their entourage, awaiting their slot for sound check. On the outside of the clique looking in, the preparations seem a bit unorganized: press passes are unaccounted for, the boys have been there for what seems like forever but haven’t even touched the stage, and lighting crews still haven’t mastered a pattern that won’t blind its audience after the first blink. But even through the chaos, THEY. are in high spirits and oozing with excitement. Drew hands out the first round of hugs, followed by Dante and their management team. After a few playful jokes and small talk, a man buried by the DJ booth and sound equipment in the middle of the arena calls the boys to the stage for their quick run-through.

Only seconds into their test run of their cover of Usher’s “Nice & Slow,” the tech crew motions for the group to exit the stage by the side staircase because a couple of remaining tape lines have not been properly mounted in place. Men and women dressed in all black give one final sweep of the area, and THEY. re-enter the spotlights on stage to work out the last kinks. Despite a few hiccups with the mics and earpieces, sound check goes pretty smoothly, but nothing can truly prepare them for what happens when the doors open and the lights signal show time.

Three days before showtime, THEY. is paying a visit to the Midtown VIBE headquarters on a warmer day in Midtown, New York with their three-person deep management crew. Standing in the narrow walkway dead center in the office are two, short men with a distinctly 90s street style. Dante is donning an acid wash, denim jacket with tattered black jeans to match and a folded down bandana wrapped around his natural hair. Drew is similarly giving off a 90s boy band vibe, sporting a grey hoodie tucked into light wash overalls. At first glance, they seem worn down by the constant movement from one press gig to the next, but it won’t take them long to let their guards down and liven up.

After a rotation of handshakes and introductory remarks, the group’s head PR guy suggests we quell the boys’ hunger and walk around in search of a food joint that can promptly host a party of eight (the rest of their managerial crew meets us there). We settle on a bougie clam shack just two blocks from HQ, where everyone is seated on display in the restaurant’s front window. THEY. sits at the right end of the table, farthest from the exit. As jackets and outer garments begin to shed, so do the barriers, making room for their personalities to shine. Drew is a super charismatic kid with a vocabulary of a cat from Southeast, D.C. That’s not crystal clear to those of whom don’t hail from the nation’s capital, but dialogue often includes words like “moe,” “joint” and “kill.” Drew thrives off of making jokes and conversation, often ping-ponging from side convo to convo. By comparison, Dante may seem like the “shy one,” but upon sitting down, that’s not the case at all. His approach is much different, but he has that kind of dry humor that will make everyone crack up as soon as the punch line hits. He’s quirky at times and perceptive to whichever way the conversation is going.

Even with separate personalities, the boys behave similar to brothers or a best friendship comparable to that of Keenan and Kel’s dynamic relationship. As they sit across the table from each other, they go back and forth, tossing around jokes and throwing subtle jabs. They’re only interrupted for brief moments, when Drew blasts his friends at the other end for taking shots at his menu selection. You’d think that the musical connection in the studio and constantly feeding off each other’s energy would be the reason for their close bond during casual outings, but Dante attributes their connection to their mischievous childhoods. In their early teens (or even so early as kindergarten for Dante), the two had a knack for digging themselves into a pit of trouble. And not the type of trouble you get in for lying or talking too much in class, but incidents that warranted suspensions in kindergarten and reprimands that were far greater than any detention. “I think me and Dante just don’t like when people tell us what to do,” Drew says. Devilish smirks instantly light up on their faces as they try to recall the worst thing they ever did when they were younger. After a couple seconds of pondering, two light bulbs spark.

Drew:It was April Fool’s Day, so everybody [was] playing jokes like it’s cool. You remember how the teacher used to have those overheads and sh*t? She was sitting with the little overhead joint. I didn’t care what she was talking about. I thought it was April Fool’s Day; it’s my time to make a joke, bro. I wanted a new girlfriend at that time, so I was trying to make everybody laugh. So I went up to the front and tapped her on the back like, ‘Can you help me?’ But I had a sticker on the back of my hand. So I put it on [her back]. I don’t remember what it said, but it was some f**ked up sh*t on the back of that sticker. She went over to the chalkboard to teach the class, and that and everybody in the class started laughing. Then she went over and sat on her seat, and I had a thumb tack [on it]. You used to read the stories about a thumb tack on the seat, so I tried it, and I got suspended for eight days for that joint. But the worst part is she laughed at first, and I was like okay, cool. Then after the class, she was like, ‘Come here.’ You should have seen when she jumped and sat on that tack, that was so funny.

Dante:I had a pretty legendary freshman year. There was one time, if someone ever said something slick to me, I was really going to get back at you. So this kid said something like, ‘oh shut up p***y,’ or something like that in class. And I was like, alright. So I came up with this scheme to take a sh*t in his backpack and then him open it up in his next class and then him see it. I didn’t give a f**k because he had said some sh*t before. So low and behold, I couldn’t go whenever I got the backpack and got in the stall. So I just shoved it in the toilet and tried to come up with this whole story that I saw the backpack. Anyways, somebody tried to snitch on me, but they didn’t have any evidence. It happened in the bathroom; there’s no cameras in the bathroom. [The victim confronted him]: ‘Your boys snitched on you. They all said that you did it.’ And I was like, ‘I didn’t do it.’ He was like, ‘Dante, they already said you did it. There’s cameras…’ I was like, ‘There are no cameras. I checked for cameras.’ And then I was reading a magazine in class, so they suspended me for reading a magazine. They basically tried to suspend me for both of them at the same time. Like I said, I was a f**ked up kid. After that, everybody heard the story of the backpack, so other dudes tried to start doing it as their own revenge to together people… I would always get blamed for it.

The two’s glory days in high school may evoke the same emotions of terror and shock, but that’s pretty much as close as their childhoods ever got to running parallel to one another. 27-year-old Dante grew up in a secular home with two brothers in Denver, Colorado. His super accepting and open-minded parents were originally raised in the Midwest, with his mother hailing from the Southside of Chicago and his father from Oklahoma. But both moved to Denver for a change of scenery and pace. “We kind of just did our own thing,” he says. “I don’t know if I’d say I had a traditional black upbringing. I don’t know how much of that was in Denver.” Dante also notes that he didn’t grow up around the church, although he wishes he did because “those are the best musicians in the world.” But he got his fair share of unique influences to make up for that.

Early memories flashback to him bumping to anything created by Jimmy Jam and Jerry Lewis, the song and production team that ran the 80s R&B scene and whose most notable collaborator to date would be Janet Jackson. He also found himself tuning into BET’s Rap City in the early 2000s, which broadcasted videos, interviews and freestyles from Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Dipset. And despite what people may think about new-and-coming talent, he’s heard many of Biggie’s tracks. Other than his ear for retro soul and some early trap music, living in Denver put Dante on to the pop and rock scene. “The biggest bands that have come out of Denver are One Republic and The Fray. It’s a lot of pop music and pop writers and producers that come out of there,” he explains. “We got ‘Whoomp (There It Is),’ [a song performed by Tag Team in 1993], but other than that, there’s really not much of a hip-hop scene. It’s always been more of a rock, indie vibe.” Because of his unique circumstances, Dante never dabbled in urban music until he met Drew. “I couldn’t do 808s or the high-hats or any of that stuff. I was purely focused on being an indie pop, more rock-driven producer… That’s the last thing that I figure out, how to be an urban producer,” he says. Dante thanks his partner in crime and music for helping him “ride” those urban tracks.

Drew had a rather different child-rearing and intro to music. He grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, born to two strict, military parents who wanted their son to get a proper education rather than chase a dream which they chalked up to be “street-rapping” in the early stages of his career. “I was a smart kid and they wanted me to go to school and all that. But towards high school and college, I knew I could do the school thing, but there was no motivation. I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to do music,” Drew says. His thirst for the “starving musician” path probably came from the overflow of music scenes in the DMV area. Although a combination of congas, drums and synthesizers from Go-go bands like Rare Essence, Backyard Band and TCB were blasting from every automobile speaker, Drew opted for a more cookie cutter theme, jamming to songs like Hansen’s 1997 track, “MMMBop,” Britney Spears, N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys. “‘MMMBop’ is one of the best songs of all time. I don’t care what anybody say,” he declares while glaring at his team at the end of the table, who made a snarky comment about his musical preference. But with his love for pop also came the appreciation for 90s band Parliament-Funkadelic, The Supremes and Motown, thanks to his dad’s command of the car radio. He gradually made the switch back to John Mayer and “slow guitar” music, while slipping in a Future or Drake track.

“There’s a lot of flavor and mix of different sounds out there. I brought all of those influences and blended them when I met this guy,” Drew says, pointing to Dante. With that being said, D.C.’s merging of different styles and genres was crippled by what Drew described as “an ignorance,” where “people don’t come together and support each other.” “Everybody’s out for their self. That’s why it’s hard to really make it out there. I had to go to L.A. before I really was able to spread my wings and find some type of success,” he says, making sure to shout out Wale, Goldlink and Logic for making it happen. It’s a good thing he packed his bags and ventured thousands of miles to the opposite coast, otherwise THEY. wouldn’t be sitting here splurging on a meal of clam chowder, crab cakes and a custom-made lobster grilled cheese dish, charged to the company card.

The two crossed paths at least four times in the summer of 2013 in L.A. before they finally exchanged ideas. “He was already in L.A. at that time for a good 3-4 years. He had been working, producing for other people. I came to Hollywood fresh, like I was cool as sh*t, wearing shades inside,” Drew remembers. “I met this dude about 3-4 times before I actually remembered who [he was]. Then one time he was like, ‘dude I’ve met you before.’” “Yeah,” Dante energetically chimed in, “and he reached his hand out and I didn’t even reach out. I was like, ‘I met you four times. Not doing this again.’”

Drew continued, "Then shortly after that we had our first session and we did some trash song for Maroon 5. It never got placed, but the next session, he showed me some secret beats that he was working on. At that time we had clicked so well that he felt comfortable enough showing them to me. It was so different than anything I’d ever heard. He had a melody on one of them, and ‘I was like, ‘Yo, this is exactly what I want to work on.’” After recording a couple of songs, Drew suggested they transform their collaboration into a full musical act, with him commanding the mic with his vocals and Dante masterminding the production and instrumental elements. “Here we are two years [after their first project dropped in 2014] later,” Dante adds.

Drew’s melting pot of Go-go, R&B and pop influences combined with Dante’s fusion of punk rock, 80’s R&B and soul doesn’t exactly sound like a platinum record in the making. In fact, the duo joked that their respective music scenes and influences don’t mesh at all. But even so, the two have been able to create cohesive bodies of work, starting with their EP Nu Religion. “We have such diverse influences and to be able to take them and cohesively put it into a song and combine it with new age R&B and 808s from the trap world, that’s one of the things we’re able to do really well,” Drew says.

Their three-track EP, which came as a pleasant surprise in 2015, was a beautiful and raw blend of Dante’s rock and Drew’s pop. Although it was just a quick teaser, the project represented the new era and direction of the R&B genre. “I remember back when I was growing up, R&B was Jaheim; it had to be slow. But now the context of what R&B is [has] expanded,” Dante notes. As a result, they say, the doors opened up to variations of the category like Bryson Tiller’s “trap soul” and their own, which they peg as “grunge n’ b.” But where does that leave the state of R&B? Both agree the once-definitive lines have been blurred, which could be considered a gift and a curse. On the positive end, Drew says the new age gives “real creatives and musicians a chance to be different.” On the other end, it welcomes the “five-minute” artists—ones who take only five minutes to create a record and then label it a “fire” track. THEY. value the craft and wish to continue to focus on the foundations that R&B undoubtedly builds upon, one of which being its melody. “Melody is winning right now, and I think that me and Dante [are] probably some of the best people in the game as far as melody is concerned” Drew says. “We respect it and have always respected it. That’s our first and foremost priority,” Dante adds.

The boys’ melody-making abilities have paid off. Not only have they cultivated a progressive following (they have an accumulated 44K followers on Instagram and Twitter), but they’ve also nabbed the attention of production heavyweight Timbaland, who’s worked with major talents such as Aaliyah and Justin Timberlake. Aside from getting a special shout out from the legend on Instagram, Timb has also offered his mentorship to the group. Although Drew suggests it’s a “hands off” type of guidance with valuable “tidbits” here and there, Dante spilled that he’s provided him with the understanding of when “enough is enough” on the production side. “He’d throw me little assignments, and then he’d come back 6-7 hours later. I’ve been sitting there nervous like, ‘oh sh*t, is he going to like it?’ I finally press play and he’d be bobbing his head. He’d say after, ‘Oh you made Uncle proud with this one. Now I know, we can keep vibing out,’” Dante says. But hands off doesn’t mean he didn’t steer from the passenger seat from time to time. He'll still “sh*t” on some of the beats that Dante spent hours crafting as well. Timbaland’s veteran status helped lead the way, but they also took notes from rookie, Bryson Tiller, whom they joined on his Trapsoul Tour earlier in the year. It was the first set of shows for both acts, making the experience even more rewarding and educational. Some best takeaways of their days with Bryson included the enormous fan base they gained, plus observing another career blow up before their eyes.

The duo confessed to bumping Trapsoul until it was tired and outplayed, but now it’s their turn. THEY. is coming back with a new project Nu Religion: Hyena, which in some ways, is a follow up to their early EP, but also an experimentation that incorporates Timb’s musical lessons as well as their own ideas. Their latest releases gave fans a taste of how different, yet consistent they’re coming. “What You Want,” perfectly executes the union of synthesized drums with a rock-inspired energy, while “Rather Die” channels Nirvana’s “Polly” (the song may not make the album because of copyright issues). “When we did the Nu Religion EP, we had other songs we were working on, but for the sake of keeping it concise, while still giving enough for people to get a sense of what we do, we just left it at three songs,” Dante explains. “But there’s so many bases that we didn’t get to cover in the EP, that we’re going to cover on the album. There’s going to be a lot of unexpected turns and vibes.” Although both were hesitant to say what audiences should expect, Drew reassures people that “there’s at least a song on there that everybody can f**k with.” The album is compiled of songs the duo wrote and produced together as a team. There may have been some disagreements sprinkled into their studio sessions, but for the most part the two bounced ideas off each other as Dante jumped from the keys to the drums, while Drew played around with the melodies. The only breaks they seemed to take was to grab a swig of their favorite poisons of choice: Jameson and an assortment of wine and beer.

In the blink of an eye, hours have gone by since first arriving at the venue. The clock strikes a little past seven o’clock, and only now have the security allowed the rush of fans pass through the gates. It is no longer just girls, but a mix of young men as well, piling into the main floor, bringing an echo of chatter with them. THEY. has disappeared behind the stage so to keep the element of surprise. The swarm of fans huddle in front of the stage, awaiting the show’s start. The tour, which is comprised of THEY., Jeremih and PARTYNEXTDOOR, seems like the most appropriate follow up after returning from their run with Bryson, and has even attracted a lot of buzz, but not for the reasons you may expect. Rumors suggesting an ongoing disagreement between Jeremih and and Party’s camp quickly stained the 13-date tour very early on. Although THEY. have stayed mum to the issue, Jeremih has been vocal in accusing Party’s team of sabotaging his mic during his set in his hometown of Chicago on Nov. 29, and then later alleged they swiped his name from the roster at their remaining shows in San Antonio, Denver and L.A. this month. Behind closed curtains, the tour may be crumbling, but their show in New York didn’t reflect that inner turmoil.

THEY. enter the stage with an overwhelming amount of energy matched by the screaming fans who stood sandwiched in between the stage gate and other overjoyed partygoers. As practiced in sound check, the boys perform a short set, highlighting their latest release “What You Want.” Just as they had displayed at the clam shack days before, Dante and Drew are in sync, bobbing and weaving around each other as they dance around and ad-lib when necessary. The audience looks receptive to the newcomers, with many singing along and chronicling the experience on Snapchat and Instagram. “Real music is back,” a comment Drew mentioned earlier at the table discussion, still echoes in the venue.

As far as what their long term goals entail, everything is possible. Dante previously earned a Grammy for his writing creds with Kelly Clarkson years earlier, but he wouldn’t mind seeing THEY. reach that status. “It would be important and dope if an urban, black album won Album of the Year for the Grammys,” he says. That ideal could possibly become a reality at the 2017 Grammy’s with nominations for Drake’s VIEWS and Beyonce’s Lemonade in the running. The group also has their sights set on collaborating with a mix of talent including Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend and Kanye West. When asked if that was still an option considering Ye’s breakdown and controversial comments (an even more recent visit to the trump Tower), Drew’s reply is simple: “Every n***a go through some things. He’s a genius.” But more important than shows, accolades and feature slots, THEY. wants to produce quality content that inspires them just as much as their fans. “If you keep it fun and refreshing all the time, it’s a little harder to get bored and uninspired.”

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(L-R) Flex Alexander and Shanice attend the Soul Train Weekend Kick-Off Party on November 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(Photo by Earl Gibson/BET/Getty Images for BET

Interview: Flex and Shanice Talk 'Virtual House Party,' Staying Together And That Call From Aretha Franklin

Shanice and Flex Alexander are ‘90s Black pop culture in the form of husband and wife. Shanice was an R&B ingenue with a hypnotic smile and powerful voice beyond her years when her sophomore album Inner Child propelled her to pop status thanks to the 1991 hit “I Love Your Smile.” Flex was a background dancer for acts like Sal-N-Pepa, before becoming a comedic actor and a mainstay on our TV sets during the golden era of Black TV in the ‘90s through early ‘00s.

After years of pulling in approximately $25K per week (according to Alexander) and not knowing how to properly manage the income, the couple lost their home, liquidated their assets, and filed for bankruptcy in 2010. They chronicled part of their journey with their reality show Flex and Shanice on OWN from 2014 to 2016 and are now positioning themselves for their respective next career chapters.

A big part of Flex’s next chapter was announced in July, when Netflix revealed they were bringing a slate of UPN shows from the early ‘00s arriving to the app this Fall. The line up includes Girlfriends, on which Flex originated the role of Darnell Wilkes; and One on One, which features Alexander as a single dad to teenage Kyla Pratt (and also features Shanice singing the theme song). Following the eagerly met premieres of classics Moesha, Girlfriends, and The Parkers, One on One and Half & Half (Essence Atkins and Rachel True) premiered on Thursday on the video streaming platform.

The couple, who celebrated their 20th anniversary this year, talked to VIBE recently about adjusting during the COVID-19 pandemic, growth as a married couple, and that time Aretha Franklin asked her to play a role in the upcoming Respect biopic.

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VIBE: How have you all been doing with everything that's going on?

Shanice: We're hanging in there. (Flex) doesn't like it when I say, "We're hanging in there."

Flex: We are doing exceptionally well. We are alive, we are healthy. Just dealing with it like everybody else, taking it one day at a time because you can't really plan too far ahead.

Did you ever think that we would be going through something like this?

Shanice: No, never. Flex said he kind of...Didn't you say over the years you thought...No. You said you read a lot of books and stuff.

Flex: Yeah. I do a lot of reading and stuff from my college days. Just stuff that talk about this stuff that's going on I like to get into. Everybody thinks it's conspiracy or whatever, but I just didn't think it would be in my lifetime. It is an adjustment for everyone. Like she said, we try to find the positive in it. We sit at the table, we eat dinner at the table, we can sit down. I say, "Baby, do you want to watch a movie?" We sit there and just hang out. Before, we were just crossing [paths where] everybody's hustling and grinding, hustling.

With the senseless police killings, racism seems to be at an all-time high. What type of conversations are you guys now having with (teenage children) Elijah and Imani now that they're older and this could happen to them or any other young adult? What are you telling them?

Flex: This is something I know I've been talking to Elijah about not just since this. When he was younger, just explaining him as a young Black kid, being a Black teenager turning into a young Black man, just the crosshairs that's on their back. You talk to them about if you're pulled over what to do, what not to do. We don't like to let him ride. He has friends that have cars and I'm like, "No, four or five of you all in the car? No. That's an open invitation." It hurts us because their regular daily livelihood has just changed. They would just walk down the street to the store. Now, we're like, "No."

Shanice: He [Elijah] has one friend that we allow him to be around. One of them wanted to play basketball and wanted me to drop them off at the park and I said no. There was a noose in our area.

Flex: Less than a mile from our house.

Shanice: Less than a mile from our house, there was a noose at the park. I sat in the car and I just watched him play. Normally, I would just drop him off and come back and pick him up, but I don't feel safe anymore.

Flex: And we have to have the conversation with Imani as well because it's not just relegated to just men and boys, women, too. We get ahead of the conversation, but they are very keen. Listen, information is traveling fast. They got these phones, they see stuff as well. A lot of the time, they tell us stuff and we're like, "What?" We just try to instill in them the best that we can and just pray over them.

 

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Throwback photo of @flexaforeal and I ♥️ We look like kids Flex lol

A post shared by shanice (@shaniceonline) on Sep 21, 2020 at 7:22pm PDT

Shanice, nobody sounds like you. You were a young pop icon, not just as an R&B artist, but also in pop - and paved the way (for other young crossover singers). How does that feel today?

I just feel blessed to have longevity in this industry. I've had my ups and downs. You know how crazy this industry is and sometimes you get frustrated and it's like, "Why am I doing this? I want out. I don't want to do this anymore." But then, when I get online and I talk to the fans directly on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, it keeps me going. I get emotional because I've had some great moments in the industry, but then I've had some very low moments and it gets frustrating sometimes. I love music. I love singing. It's in my blood. I've been singing since I was seven months. I do it because I love to sing and I love my fans. I have the best supporters out there.

You both are such a likable couple and people gravitate to you from all walks of life, from all nationalities. What is it about you two that they can identify with Flex and Shanice?

Flex: Just being us.

Shanice: I think we're just being ourselves.

Flex: We're just being ourselves. I'm on here deejaying on Instagram and she's here dropping it like it's hot. (Shanice laughs) That's what she does. We just try to be ourselves and we show a little bit of that doing the reality show and sharing what we went through because we wanted people to know what we went through and that you can come out of it. We just don't, I'm going to say a real old school word, we don't put on airs-

Shanice: Airs. (Laughs) That is real old school.

Flex: ... for anyone. We're in here every day. I want to throw it back to her real quick. I see the pain and stuff that she goes through the ups and downs and disappointments. Even through all this, you're still like, "Man, is it a place you want to reach?" She feels like, "I didn't get there." I said, "Listen, you've had more success than a lot of people and it may not have been here, but people love you." Whether they like to hear it or not, she's paved the way. There's no dig against anybody because a lot of them have said it. You paved the way for the Monicas, the Brandys. Beyonce even spoke to her and told her Solange sang your song (“I Love Your Smile”) at a talent show. I try to tell her just, "Hold on to that and just keep doing what you're doing," because you see where everything is going in the business, in the industry. And to have a good name and people that love you, I think, is a great thing. That brings longevity.

You guys have been staying creative. I see you’ve been doing virtual house parties. Who came up with that concept?

Flex: It came from me starting deejaying back in 2016. I was doing it once a week. Every Thursday I was doing, and she would be in the bed. When we got here, I started doing it again. It was right at the beginning of the pandemic. I just jumped on, and then she came over and then just started—

Shanice: I was like, I said, "Let me be your hype girl." (Laughs)

Flex: It worked. It's at a point now where if I get on it by myself, people are like, "Where's Shanice?"

Shanice: I like to drop it like it's hot. (Laughs) It’s fun.

Flex: It helps our mind because we didn't know what ...I'm talking about when it was like March when it was cold and rainy out there and all of this gloom and doom...we didn't know what was happening. The people that came in and people that were on our page, people said, "Yo, this helped me so much get through the night or helped me get through the week. Man, that meant more than anything." I didn't care if there were 10 people on there or 10 thousand. We just go on there. We shout everybody out.

 

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Thank you EVERYONE for rocking last night!!! We appreciate your undying support, to our day one #LockdownwithFlex family you already know!!! And my fellow New York brother @lilcease thanks for hanging last night we hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane✊🏾✊🏾

A post shared by flexaforeal (@flexaforeal) on Jul 24, 2020 at 11:39am PDT

Flex, you’ve written and produced your own TV show, you’re a comedian....Are you working on any other current TV projects? Will we see you on a screen again soon?

Flex: Before I mention that, I'm excited about Netflix releasing One on One. It was through the Strong Black Lead who really pushed for us to be in more places and to have another life. This is crazy because two years ago, I wrote the reboot. I had it ready to go, and then that happened and I'm like, "Man, This is perfect."

Shanice: It's perfect timing.

Flex: This could lead right to it. I'm thankful for that. I just wanted to throw that out there. We have an animated series that we're working on now. We just got a showrunner attached and we're working on that. I have a drama that I've developed right before the COVID hit. We also worked with a Black-owned company called Ceek, where we do the Flex and Shanice Virtual House Party. They have great programs and they do live concerts. They've had Elton John, they've had Lady Gaga.

Shanice: Jennifer Lopez.

Flex: They have DL Hughley on there with Chris Spencer, [and] we're on there now. What they're trying to do is create this virtual experience [where] I come in, I deejay, [you] put your (VR headset) on and you're in the party. It’s great to partner with them and just continue to stay active and creative. It just keeps you going.

Shanice: And I've been doing live concerts in my living room.

Flex: Yeah. It's crazy because we've worked a lot.

Shanice: We've been doing so much in this living room. (Laughs) Like Flex said, we were working before the pandemic, we're working our butts off more now.

Tell us how you balance being in the entertainment business, being stars, having a family and being married. You're probably going to tell me love, but there has to be something else besides love that has kept you together. What do you think it is?

Flex: Honestly, praying is the first.

Shanice: Praying. Yes.

Flex: And communication. We can agree to be disagreeable.

Shanice: We've had our ups and downs. It's not like it's been all great, but we do love each other and we don't go to bed angry. We're mad at each other and we try to talk it out, and I just feel like you’ve got to try to make it exciting and you can't get too comfortable. People, after a while, they get bored in their relationship.

Flex: There are times that she ain't checking for me; she doesn't like me right now, so I'll come downstairs and she'll be up here. There's time's out like that. We go to different parts of the house and we figure it out.

Shanice: And we try to give each other a little space to breathe. We may come back to the situation and talk about it.

Flex: Every day you figure it out, you grow. I think I'm understanding who I am more now at 50 than I did at 30 or 35. I just love being here, being with my family, us having fun together, the kids. It's a beautiful thing, man. It's a beautiful thing.

Flex, what’s one thing that Shanice has taught you about being married? What have you learned from her?

Flex: Growth. I would say growth because if there's anybody that I've seen grow is her. If there's anybody I've seen with perseverance, it’s her. Her patience, her kindness, her. It has really taught me to listen more because as the man you're like, "I got it." She says, "Something ain't right," and I'm like, "I got it." Learning how to cut that off in my brain and go, "You know what? I need to listen. I need to listen to her. I need to hear her." I think that was probably one of my biggest hurdles is not that I didn't listen, but listen and go out, really listen and apply it. I've just seen so much from her in 20 years that I'm just like, "Wow, man. We've got 100 more to go." I just want to grow some more, and we’ve got more fun to have and love to have. We're done with the babies, though.

Shanice: Right. No more babies.

Flex: We're done with the babies.

Shanice: No more babies.

Flex: No more babies.

Shanice, what one thing Flex has taught you, or that you’ve learned by being married and connected to him for so long?

Shanice: I've learned that people over the years grow and they change, and sometimes you have to learn how to go with the change. I've learned to try to adjust to the change because we're not the same people we were 20 years ago.

Flex: Not in a bad way, though.

Shanice: Not in a bad way.

Shanice, you’re an international pop star. You started in pop and then crossed back to R&B, and can travel the world with just “I Love Your Smile.” That's big in itself, but can you share some of your greatest accomplishments? 

I think when I got nominated for a Grammy, that was like a big highlight for me because when I was a little kid I used to always look in the mirror and I used to practice my speech. I used to always dream about getting awards. I have several moments: the Grammys, (Aretha) Franklin, rest in peace—when she turned 50 the Queen of Soul reached out to me and flew me and my band and my dancers down to her house. I did a whole concert in her living room with a band and dancers and everything. That was so big for me.

Meeting Michael Jackson, singing on three of his records. I sang in the background for like three songs, and that was big for me. Just being able to travel all over the world. “I Love Your Smile” was No. 1 in..I believe it was 22 countries. I've traveled all over the world and I'm still traveling the world because of that song. “Saving Forever For You” was a big record for me as well with Diane Warren and David Foster. That went to No. 5. It didn't go No. 1, but it was almost number one. That was another big pop record for me. So you're right. I came out pop and then I crossed over to R&B.

I’ve got another Aretha story. I have to say this. I was having one of my moments when I was frustrated about the industry. I was home and I was crying and I said, "God, I don't want to do this anymore." I was feeling really low. I was like, "I'm done. I don't want to do this." And then, Flex came home and he was like, "Somebody reached out to me.” I think it was Aretha’s sister-in-law saw Flex and said Aretha wants to get in touch with Shanice. Here’s her cell number. So Flex comes home and says, "Miss Franklin wants to get in touch with you. This is her cell number." I'm like, "Me? Really?" I called her and we talked for like probably an hour. We talked for a long time, and she said, "I reached out to you because I want to tell you I know real talent when I hear it, and you got it." This is when I was feeling down. This was nothing but God telling me keep going.

So she said, "We had auditions. I'm doing a movie about my life, my life story." And she said, "Most likely Jennifer Hudson is going to play me, but I would love you to play my sister." I’m sitting on the phone like, "Yeah!" They'd been talking about this movie forever. Even when she was alive they were talking about the movie, and I said, "Anything you need. I would love to be a part [of it]." We talked several times over the years about the movie. Unfortunately, she passed. I think God wanted just to encourage me to keep going. I think that's why that happened. It was just to tell me to keep going. I just had to share that story.

Flex, what would you say to the younger Flex as he’s just starting out in the entertainment industry?

Take everything in more. Enjoy it. Don't fly through it so fast. Tell the people you love that you love them while you have them. I would have learned more about the business on the financial side to plan better. Those would probably be the things I would say, but I think overall, it would be to take it all in, sit back and take it in more. I think things happen so fast and it's like, I'm here, I'm there, I'm dancing, Salt-N-Pepa here, boom, traveling the world. And then, you think it's all going to keep going. You think it's all going to just last forever. And then, next thing you know, you look back and the time has passed and all you have is maybe a picture. I think that would be the thing I would tell myself.

Shanice, what would you tell up and coming talent that is trying to break into the entertainment business?

Shanice: I would tell them to definitely do it not for the money, do it for the love. The money and all that stuff will come. Believe in yourself. Back when I started, you had to get the approval of a huge record exec to put you out there. And now, because of the internet, you don't have to wait on somebody to tell you if you're good or not. You can put out your music on iTunes and get out there and create an audience online. I would say just don't give up on yourself, keep trying. It may not happen overnight. It might. There are people like Justin Bieber. He got on YouTube and he's one of the biggest stars in the world. Everybody's story is different, but you just have to keep trying and keep believing in yourself.

Flex: Yes.

Shanice: Just don't give up. You’ve got to keep going. Even when it seems like it's impossible, you just gotta keep going.

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Then & Now: Common Details How He And J Dilla Collaborated On The "Thelonious" Track With Slum Village

J Dilla and Common had a really tight creative bond and, at one point, lived together in L.A. So you know that Common got dibs on all of his hot beats first. They were hip-hop brethren just trying to work together and of all of their collaborations, living and posthumous, the track “Thelonius,” is the sharpest intersection of the two legendary artists' careers.

A singular song fit for two albums, the cut was placed on Common’s fourth studio album Like Water for Chocolate and Fantastic Vol. II, Slum Village's classic sophomore album. “Thelonius” as we know it was in a way an accident...a soulful snafu that we get to enjoy forever. In this excerpt of VIBE's Then & Now video franchise, Common shares how the song manifested unplanned, willed into existence by Dilla’s uncompromising creative compass.

The story is brought to life with artwork by visual artist supreme, Dan Lish (@DanLish1), the man behind Raekwon’s The Wild album artwork. The illustrations you see in this video are a small fraction of what you can find in his upcoming book: Egostrip Vol 1 – The Essential Hip Hop Art Book, a psychedelic visual history of hip-hop to be enjoyed by the genre’s oldest and youngest fans alike. 

Today is the last day to support Lish's Kickstarter for the incredible project. Click the following link for a copy of your own: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dan-lish/egostrip-book-1 

“I picked up on what inspired me about the artists, whether it be a certain lyric from a classic song or my perception of what may be going through their mind at the moment of creation,” says Lish.

There is much more to be said about all of these artists. For more stories on Common’s catalog, including several more Dilla cuts, stay tuned for the upcoming episode of Then & Now, where we dig deeper into notable tracks in the career of one Lonnie Rashid "Common" Lynn, Jr.

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