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Shanti Das And EmPOWERED Serve To Explore The Reality Of Food Deserts

As AHA's first National Power Embassador for EmPOWERED To Serve, Shanti Das discusses discovering her hood was a food desert, how to join the movement and the threat of insitutionalized limited access with AHA's Crystal King.

I walked up to Shanti Das and Crystal King, heart racing and nerve-wracked because as a young professional aspiring to breakout into the music scene, being in the same room with the First Lady of LaFace Records is intimidating, yet exciting. But, as we unraveled the layers to her story in connection to the American Heart Association (AHA), through the EmPOWERED To Serve movement, my nerves calmed. She became more accessible and my menacing fear of saying the wrong thing, alleviated.

My feelings going into the conversation with Das and King mirrors the reality of the relationship between urban communities and social health determinants, prompting AHA’s EmPOWERED To Serve to get involved. Having no control over these external factors can welcome in the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and stress-health concerns, which hits close to home for AHA. Once the time is taken in getting to know these issues and our knowledge is fine-tuned, we realize our anxieties are unwarranted.

Das joined AHA’s EmPOWERED To Serve community, not because she doesn’t like her job and the turn up, but because she wants her family to stick around long enough to enjoy all the highs right next to her. Das premiered her role as a National Power Ambassador in a big way this past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Jan. 16), with her Take Me Home documentary. The mini-film is centered around the dangers of food deserts, which refers to the “parts of the country that do not have ease of access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods.” These are usually in urban communities where food insecurity is a part of everyone’s story.

“So, food deserts are very real and often times people don't even realize that they live in a food desert. I grew up in a food desert. I didn't know that. I just thought this is the way life was. We just went to Miss Annie's--a candy store--and that's just the way life was, you know… You don’t think of it as weird, that’s just your reality.” - Crystal King

But, EmPOWERED To Serve’s sole purpose isn’t to just make noise in the staple person-to-person, grassroots way. They are also adding a global and federal advocacy component to their strategy. Their goals for Black History Month 2017, but more generally 2017, is to host discussions, create sustainable solutions to close the disparity gap, and explore the social determinants of health. As King explains, the movement is so much bigger than a person-to-person solution because of the institutionalized threats.

“It's about the systems changing. So, we partner with major organizations and we partner with government entities, from a global-federal advocacy level, all the way down to the individual. We want to make the healthy options the default options.” - Crystal King

In an effort to usher in these alternative default options, the EmPOWERED To Serve community hosts an "EmPOWERED To Cook" series on their site. The series features recipes for healthier alternatives like Cantaloupe Citrus Water--which incorporates flavors with greater health benefits like ginger and turmeric--to spice up basic necessities, while treating us with a less sugar-packed staple dessert with their Blueberry Peach Cobbler.

The focus of this portion of the series, “Chapter 1: Take Home” featuring Shanti Das, is food access and choices. But, EmPOWERED To Serve plans to expand beyond just food, because a “healthy lifestyle” is more than just remodeling food deserts and making the right dietary decisions. Learn more about what EmPOWERED To Serve is all about through the movement’s first National Power Ambassador, Shanti Das, and AHA’S own, Crystal King.

So can we start off with you (Shanti Das) talking about your story and your connection to the AHA first?

Shanti Das: I'm really excited about It takes people of influence, like myself, back into their communities to really bring awareness to heart disease and stroke. It also focuses on discussing the social determinants of health so we can create new opportunities for healthy lifestyles. EmPOWERED To Serve did a mini documentary on me, called Take Me Home. They took me back to my neighborhood, which is Southwest Atlanta. I got to go in and kind of see what's going on in the neighborhood and what social determinants still stand. Also, taking a step back to realize what it was like growing up not having access to a good grocery store where you would have fresh produce and fresh vegetables and that sort of thing. All these years later, and there’s still not a great grocery store within a five mile radius--that’s ridiculous. But, still seeing that there is a Wendy’s and a McDonald’s or a wing spot on every corner. Where are the vegan spots or the entrepreneurs who are putting up the Smoothie Kings? They're not coming into those neighborhoods. As a result, our grandparents, aunties and our relatives that still live in that area are suffering. They're suffering from heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. And even with children, you see how obesity is on the rise. We've got to get healthier options to these families and these urban communities because it's just not right. Taking it a step further, when you look at these urban communities from a gentrification standpoint, if you're not a part of one “cool” area of town, you don't have access. So with all of that, you have to wonder: "What's going to happen in our communities?"

Crystal King: I’m so glad you brought up access. I want to layer on top of that, so everyone understands what Shanti just laid down. It’s really about access. All too often, we have people who are dictating our communities saying, "Oh, you should just eat right" or "You should do better." But, it's not that easy right? Because we’ve all needed something to eat quick, or spur of the moment. Like with here [Manhattan], it may be easier to make a healthier choice than when you travel to Brooklyn. So, our focus is to show that it's not just about choices, it's also about access. It's the combination of the two.

Das: And what we want to do as ambassadors, is work with our local politicians by advocating and making sure that these zoning laws don't just help out the wealthier people. We want to prevent the funneling of fast food into our communities. They have to create better options for us and give us that access.

In addition to the advocacy aspect of EmPOWERED To Serve’s movement, will you be hosting events and partnering with other businesses with a like-minded goal in order to gain more awareness?

King: For us, it's all about systems changing. So, it's not just about that one-on-one behavior change. When we talk about events and awareness, that’s more one-on-one. Instead, we partner with major organizations and government entities, from a global-federal advocacy level, all the way down to the individual. But, we really need people to follow us to understand. And this generation is incredibly passionate about change. It makes me think about Common and the song "Glory" where he says: "it takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy." So, we really want to give them the tools and the knowledge to be able to do that. The way that they can is by becoming an ambassador.

Das: And let’s be real clear about what’s going on in the country right now. If social security and all these different things start getting cut from our family members, they’re going to be even more stressed out. So, we have to make sure we’re eating right and staying healthy so we can survive these next four years. If we don’t have our health, we can’t work. It all ties in, y’all. It’s so real and we have to get it together. We talk about staying woke, well this is a large piece to being “awake.”

“Can I be honest? I didn't even know the term before I hooked up with [Crystal]. I was like 'Food desert? What? That's just my hood'... It's just the reality of it. But it is time to really educate people to say 'You know what? What you're dealing with is something that we can make progress towards,' if everybody just realizes.” - Shanti Das

I couldn’t agree more. So, could you talk about becoming an ambassador and what it takes to be one?

King: Becoming an ambassador is easy. Go to the website, sign up and we will push out opportunities on a regular basis. We connect people to AHA affiliates in their area so they can be a part of the change in their communities. Like I said before, this generation is passionate about the advocacy--we see that everyday. We just want to ensure health is included as one of the things that’s being advocated for, around, and on.

Das: Right. I feel like we’ve become desensitized to it. I’m sitting here thinking, "Okay, how many people do we know that look like all of us, who aren’t affected by high blood pressure?"

King: I don’t know anybody who isn’t.

It’s scary, but true that we’ve become desensitized. Sometimes it seems that we know so many people with these issues that we think it’s not going to happen to us.

Das: Or we see this as inevitable.

King: Or we have the “I’ll just deal with it when I get older” attitude.

Das: And of course, there’s nay-sayers out there who are like, “I know people who exercise, eat right and they still drop dead.” But those are one in a billion. You still need to do what you need to do for your life and your family. We have to go back into our neighborhoods and make sure--just like we're fighting for all these other rights--we have to fight for choices and access in our communities because we live in situations where we don’t know the causes for things. Can I be honest? I didn’t even know the term before I hooked up with you [Crystal King]. I was like ‘food desert? What? That’s just my hood.’  It's just the reality of it. But it is time to really educate people to say, "You know what? What you're dealing with is something that we can make progress towards," if everybody just realizes.

Since we’re on the topic of food deserts, during this conversation, I realized that I lived in one too. But a local food market, with fresh food options, opened up a few years back and now these options are only a short walk away from my house.

Das: That’s great! That's what we need more of and that's what we're trying to do. We’re setting out to create more opportunities for those types of businesses to come into these areas.

King: You know what’s real funny? We were heading to a meeting out in Brooklyn today and we pass Farragut housing. And I just thought to look it up because I just like to know the story behind things. I'm reading about Farragut housing and lo and behold, one of the things that they pointed out was 'there are a lack of affordable healthy food options in the area, making the area a food desert.' Options include a Chinese restaurant, some bodegas and a small grocery store with a single aisle of produce. One of the things that we talk a lot about, is when there's a food desert, it's typically a desert for a number of other things and not just food. We were talking with some of our partners in Chicago and the lead for one of our huge projects was saying, 'This is a pharmacy desert. Our elderly residents have to go however many miles away to get their prescriptions because the pharmacies are leaving the area.’ It's a pharmacy desert and a financial desert. They don't have any real banks in this particular area. All that exist are pawn shops and check cashing places. Just seeing Farragut Houses today and learning more about it made me think about that.

Das: Which makes even more sense for the millennials because this is who we’re speaking to, VIBE readers. You guys are going to be the ones from an entrepreneurial standpoint to break the curse of the food desert and step in. Not only by fighting with legislation for the access, but starting your own business and creating better opportunities and healthier choices for your families. Whether you’re getting married young, or whether you're single, not everyone wants to live in the ‘burbs. Some people might want to go back to where they grew up and live. Or you might not be able to get that job right out of college--or get that apartment--you might have to go back to the house, to the crib, to the hood and live. Then what’s going to happen? And you can quote me on that. So you guys have to create healthier options for yourself. We just want everyone to be around for a long time so the turn up is forever, and not just 20-30 years.

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That Glow, Tho: How To Revive Your Skin After A Brick A** Winter

Whew, chile! Freshly fallen snow may be nice to look at, but the dry skin that accompanies the winter months ain’t it. And by the time the first tulip blooms come springtime, best believe your skin—which just endured months of humidity-deprived conditions—is super parched. Pass the moisturizer, please!

“The lack of humidity during the winter months is the main cause for the ‘winter’s itch’ and dryness,” Dr. Meena Singh, board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon, told VIBE Vixen over email. And let’s not forget how the shorter days rob us ladies of the melanated variety of our warm and natural glow.

Luckily, there are many ways to combat such cold weather woes, both during and after the winter.

“I personally change my regimen significantly between seasons,” Singh added. “In the winter time, I am more prone to use heavier ointments and butters. Whereas in the spring, I can typically get away with moisturizing with emollient creams and lotions.”

But that’s not all you can do to whip your skin back into shape. Looking to bring your fly and radiant self back to life? Look no further. Vixen reached out to five women of color dermatologists, who’ve shared the following tips to help you get started.


Hydrate From Within.

How many times have you asked a woman with bomb skin what her secret is and been met with the “I drink a lot of water” response? Did you figuratively roll your eyes? We’ve been there and we get it, especially since science says genetics do play a role in how your skin behaves—but homegirl wasn’t wrong!

Dr. Fran E. Cook-Bolden, board-certified NYC dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, tells Vixen that while you may not feel as thirsty when it’s cold out, it’s still important to stay hydrated and drink your eight glasses of water a day.

“The best way to avoid dry skin in the winter is to tackle it from the inside out,” she says.

Other ways to stay hydrated? suggests eating fruits such as apples, pears, and clementines, which are all over 80% water. Plus, not only will the vitamin C content of these fruits help you ward off the flu in the winter, but they’ll also keep you cool and refreshed once the weather warms up.

We stan a multifaceted solution.

Don't Forget To Cleanse.

As important as it is to drink your eight glasses a day, it’s also important to keep up with your cleansing routine—even if you’re not sweating as much.

In fact, board-certified Chicago dermatologist Dr. Caroline Robinson tells Vixen that maintaining moisture during the harsh winter months begins with cleansing. Washing our face removes makeup, dirt, and debris from the day, preventing buildup and breakouts. This also means the expensive serums and moisturizers you’ve probably splurged on are better absorbed by the skin.

But don’t overdo it!

“I find that many patients are over-cleansing, over-exfoliating or using cleansers that are not appropriate for their skin type and this is causing excess dryness,” she added. “Using a more mild cleanser can help tremendously in the battle against dryness.”

Our dermatologist-recommended favorite? CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser Bar.

It may also help to reconsider what you’re washing with when the weather changes. Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton, Medical Director of Ingleton Dermatology, adds that as the temperatures go up, your routine should become “less heavy.”

“Switch from more hydrating cleaners and oils to foamy, gel-based cleaners” and to “a lighter weight daily moisturizer,” she advises. And if you’ve been skimping on the SPF don’t—you’ll definitely need it when the sun is back in these streets.

Keeping Up With "Wash Day" Is Important, Too.

Otherwise, you may end up with a condition called seborrheic dermatitis, which often appears on the scalp as a result of product buildup, but can also show up in skin folds such as behind the ears, under the breasts, etc.

“A dry, itchy and flaking scalp is very common in the winter and becomes more common as the frequency of washing the hair decreases,” Cook-Bolden tells Vixen. “When seborrheic dermatitis presents, it’s a common belief that applying scalp lotions, gels or pomades will help to treat the condition and is indeed sometimes helpful in temporarily soothing the itching and irritation.

However, as these products build up on the scalp, they can actually worsen the inflammation and overall worsen seborrheic dermatitis.”

So keep up with your hair care regimen, and if you do find yourself with a case of the seborrheic itchies, don’t hesitate to reach out to your dermatologist for an anti-inflammatory treatment.

Ceramides & Antioxidants Are Your Friends.

If you’re not familiar with ceramides and their superpowers, now’s the time to get familiar. Why? Because they can be extremely healing for desiccated skin.

As Atlanta board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tiffany Clay explains, ceramides are fats in the surface of the skin. When added to skin care products, they not only help your skin retain moisture, but they also give your skin a boost after being exposed to the elements like pollution and icy wind.

In terms of what to use, you’ll want to look for products described as “non-comedogenic,” which means a product is less likely to clog your pores. Additionally, products containing hyaluronic acid (HA) are also a win because of its ability to attract and hold water at the surface of the skin.

“I typically recommend patients keep their antioxidant serum/lotion (vitamin C) and their retinol on board no matter the season,” Clay also notes. “Over- the- counter retinols and prescription retinoids are vitamin A derived medications that most people use in a topical form.”

And they’re a major win-win. Using retinols/retinoids short term will help exfoliate your skin and give you that Kelly Rowland glow. Their long-term use helps to promote collagen production in the skin, minimizing fine lines and decreasing excess melanin production, which will even your complexion, reduce hyperpigmentation, and help reduce photo-damage.

As for vitamin C, look at it as SPF’s best friend.

“Vitamin C is an antioxidant that, when applied topically in combination with daily sun protection, decreases free-radical damage from ultraviolet exposure,” Clay shares.

Those rays don’t stand a chance.

Exfoliate, But Make It Gentle.

It may be tempting to grab the St. Ives but don’t. Instead, Clay suggests, get acquainted with chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandolin acid, or salicylic acid.

These strong but gentle powerhouses typically come labeled as AHAs and BHAs (alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid) and are way less harsh on the skin. Those over-the-counter scrubs you’re used to? They tend to leave scrapes and cuts on the skin, which can lead to inflammation and—you guessed it—hyperpigmentation... and we ain’t ask for all’at.

If you do decide to use a traditional scrub, Ingleton suggests trying Dove’s Exfoliating Body Scrub.

“This will help to slough away dry, dead cells on the surface and also hydrate/moisturize the skin in the process,” she says. “Apply a hydrating body lotion after doing the scrub.”

But again, be gentle!

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Photo and video courtesy of Capitol Records Video Team, Go To Team

Quavo Talks Can-Am Partnership, Offset's "Magnifico" Solo Album And Upcoming Huncho Day

There’s something special to be said about the art of speaking things into existence. Just two years ago, Migos released “MotorSport,” a single that played to all of the group members’ lyrical strengths with scorching features from Cardi B and Nicki Minaj. Behind the hit single lies their love for all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes, which has now morphed into a creative partnership with Canada’s Can-Am motorcycles.

Launched Friday (March 8), the budding businessmen will unveil Can-Am's icy turquoise Ryker 2019 model and incorporate the dynamic three-wheel motorcycle into an upcoming music video.

Speaking to VIBE about the partnership, Quavo said the deal was a natural fit considering the Quality Control artists are already "all about that skrt, skrt, skrt." Signature sayings aside, the deal is bound to introduce the rappers’ fans to another means of transportation and flexing.

We caught up with the rapper as he headed to Mexico to kick it with Cardi B and Offset where Quavo shared his love for bikes, Offset’s "magnifico" solo album and the second annual Huncho Day coming up at the end of March.



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W E R E A D Y T O R I D E #CanAmRyker #partnership

A post shared by Migos (@migos) on Mar 11, 2019 at 6:07pm PDT

Vibe: How did the partnership with Can-Am come about?

Quavo: Can-Am is what I am. The partnership came about because we're all about that skrt, skrt, skrt. [sings] They pulled up with the Can-Am and it was a conversation of nothing but skrt, skrt skrts.

Was the bike life big for you coming up in Atlanta as a kid?

I was whipping anything with wheels on it. We had quads, dirt bikes, and go-karts. I have the big four-wheeler right now with me. You can see the Can-AM over on my Instagram, where I'm dressed up in the all-green suit. I'm an outside adventurous type of guy myself.

What were your thoughts on Offset's solo album completing the Migos trifecta?


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Father of 4

A post shared by OFFSET (@offsetyrn) on Mar 4, 2019 at 8:05pm PST

It was a masterpiece. Magnifico. Everybody had their chance to do their own thing. I'm definitely proud of my guy. He came out and he hit them hard where they're supposed to be hit at.

How did "On Fleek" come together between you and 'Set?

That was a new record. Matter of fact, I had just recorded that the day before the album came out. It was priceless.

With Offset opening up and letting people into his personal life, is that something you'd ever consider doing with a project?

That's something I'd think about, I don't really do stuff like that. That's what he represents. His relationship and what he's got going on makes him an open guy. [He] and his wife live that type of life. That's not the route I go. I try to be more musical and give y'all an image of what my life is about and see how you can relate to my position.

What can we expect from Huncho Day coming up at the end of March?

Huncho Day is going to the international Pro Bowl. Superstars upon superstars. The best players that play the game. Last year, I had the best players to play the game. Everybody that comes out gets a little secret to Huncho's sauce, so they can ball in their real league. We got some NFL MVPs and a Rookie of the Year. Make sure you're there, it's going to be a special day.

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I T S B O U T T H A T T I M E #HunchoDay2k19 CALLING ALL MY PATNAS And ATHLETES To Come Out Have Fun On The Nawf. Doin For The Culture And Most Def For The Community!!! @vonmiller @tg4hunnid @ajgreen_18 @ricflairnatureboy @mohamedsanu @jno24 @lilbaby_1 @lilyachty @juliojones_11 @alvinkamara @martavisbryant10 @roby @richthekid @troubledte6 @yfnlucci @21savage @offsetyrn @yrntakeoff @ezekielelliott @jacquees GUWOP BETTER BE THERE THIS YEAR!!!!! @laflare1017

A post shared by QuavoHuncho (@quavohuncho) on Mar 4, 2019 at 11:45am PST

Did you plan to be involved with the NBA Dunk Contest when Hamidou Diallo dunked over you to clinch the title?

Nah, everything in my whole life is about surprises and popping up. He pulled up on me and I told him, 'Let's do it.' We didn't have to practice anything. I knew it was going to go smooth. We don't need practice, like [Allen Iverson].

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A post shared by QuavoHuncho (@quavohuncho) on Feb 16, 2019 at 8:13pm PST

A few leaked tracks have hit the internet recently, are you aware of how that may have happened?

Somebody leaked them. Sometimes when you got so much drip and it's filled to the brim, it's going to spill over and you got to clean it up every now and then. That's some hot s***t, but it won't be going on anything because it leaked. I'm about to get on this 250-foot yacht in Cabo, document that!

Find out more details behind their Cam-Am partnership here.

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9th Wonder On The Everlasting Marriage Of Hip-Hop And Sampling

Third time seemed to be the charm for D’USSE's Re-Mixer Series. As a multitude of guests arrived in Los Angeles for Grammy festivities this month, music and spirit enthusiasts settled in at Hollywood's Beauty & Essex to enjoy lessons in music and sampling by legendary producer 9th Wonder.

The third annual D’USSE Re-Mixer Series brought out those curious about the cognac's spirited cocktails along with those who were ready to hear the sounds of DJ Oliva Dope. In addition to 9th's presence at the mixer, fellow music and DUSSE lovers like Memphis Bleek, Rapsody, Insecure's Sarunas J. Jackson and Bacardi Senior Portfolio ambassador Colin Asare-Appiah were also ready to show off their cocktail making skills.

But there wasn't just D'USSE cocktails to indulge. Guests enjoyed rich lessons on the importance of R&B's marriage to hip-hop. While today's resurgence with artists like SZA, Ella Mai, H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar have brought emphasis back to the nayhooos of it all, early tunes remind us that hip-hop's skeleton carries plenty of soul.

Chic's "Good Times" provided weight for The Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," DeBarge's "A Dream" gave reflection for 2Pac's "I Ain't Mad At Cha" and James Brown's "Funky Drummer" allowed us all to lay back and enjoy Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's "Let Me Ride."

R&B sampling continues today in nearly every chart-topping hit. Donny Hathaway's 1972 track "Jealous Guy" gives power to Chance The Rapper's "Juice," Beyonce's '03 tune "Me Myself and I" loops lovingly on Meek Mill's "24/7" with Ella Mai and The O'Jays' 1972 single "Backstabbers" spruced up Drake's "Fake Love."

As 9th Wonder shared the beauty of notable samples as guests like R&B songwriting legend Brian Michael Cox popped in to teach scratching methods to aspiring DJs, the relationship between hip-hop and R&B seemed to be stronger than ever.

"I think we need that," 9th shares with VIBE about today's balance and the current popularity boost in R&B. "I'm a historian by nature so I watch trends and I watch culture. Everything repeats itself whether we're talking about fashion and especially music. When I was 20 years old, D'Angelo was my version of something 20 years before that which was Marvin Gaye and Stevie [Wonder]."

Today, 9th praised artists like BJ The Chicago Kid and H.E.R., who took home two Grammys for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance for "Best Part" with Daniel Caesar, for providing more than just trusty falsettos.

"I think with H.E.R., Ella Mai, Daniel Caesar, Anderson .Paak and BJ The Chicago Kid and a myriad of other R&B artists who are budding believe in the music and believe in the feeling," he explains. "That's another resurgence that happened in the 90s but everything runs in cycles, history repeats itself and nothing is new under the sun."

D'USSE's relationship to music is also something worth noting 9th says. "I think spirits in a way make you euphoric and there are moments in hip-hop that make you feel euphoric too," he says. "Sometimes, your favorite song can be just as important as your favorite drink. When you're dealing with drinks and music, you're dealing with the five senses and how they go together. They also rely on each other too. You can't have one without the other."

With D'USSE's cognac carrying classic notes and grape varieties, 9th views its relationship to the music just the same with classic sounds from legends like Teddy Pendergrass and The O'Jays.

"If I were to have any soundtrack or label that's dedicated to D'USSE cognac, it would be Philadelphia's Gambling Cuff, all the Teddy Pendergrass, The O'Jays 'For The Love of Money' and 'Backstabbers,' 'Love TKO,' 'Turn Off The Lights/ Close The Door,' he listed. "All of those are really smooth, really cool. That's the kind of music that matches the drink."

One can only hope the gems gleamed through any buzzed feelings the cocktails brought forth. If so, it's a lesson in music worth remembering. "A lot of people don't know the history of drinks like that and a lot of people don't know the history of sampling like that either," the producer says. "Bartending [and making spirits] is their passion, music is mine. We just have to make sure people realize it's paramount to everything."

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