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How Good Was Jay-Z & R. Kelly's 'Best Of Both Worlds' Album?

A look back at Hov and Kellz' monumental album 15 years after its original release. 

In 2002, Jay-Z and R. Kelly joined forces to release The Best of Both Worlds, an album that appeared to be a classic in the making on paper, but would ultimately falter under the weight of massive expectations. Arguably the top artists in their respective genres at the time, Jay-Z and R. Kelly had already proved to be bankable stars  with the ability to create timeless music, so the idea of the two combining their talents for a full-length album was more than a pretty big deal---and just short of a wet-dream for hip-hop and r&b fans.

First connecting in 1996, Jay-Z appeared alongside R. Kelly and his group Changing Faces on "All of My Days," from the blockbuster Space Jam soundtrack, the song would be the genesis of their collaborative history. Following Jay's career-changing Hard Knock Life album, the two would connect once again when R. Kelly tapped Hov to appear on the Kellz posse cut, "We Ride," but their first meeting of the minds that truly made major waves was "Guilty Until Proven Innocent," from Jay-Z's 2000 release, Dynasty.

With both artists under intense scrutiny from the media, "Guilty Until Proven Innocent" saw Jay-Z and R. Kelly proclaiming their innocence while firing back at the critics and pundits. The single peaked at No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard Rap Singles chart. The pair would team up again in 2001 when Jay-Z hopped on the remix to R. Kelly's hit single "Fiesta," a track that would run the summer that year. The remix also became their most successful collaboration to date, peaking at No. 6 on the Hot 100,  and spending five weeks atop the US R&B chart.

The "Fiesta (Remix)" inspired R. Kelly to suggest that he and Jay-Z record a whole album together thus birthing The Best of Both Worlds.  The album that saw the two attempting to recapture the magic of his collaborations with The Notorious B.I.G. on tracks like "Be Happy," and "Fuckin' You Tonight." "The vision I'd wanted to bring to life with Tupac still haunted me," R. Kelly wrote in his 2012 autobiography Soula Coaster. "I wanted to marry rap and r&b in a way the world would never forget. With Biggie and Tupac gone, though, I wasn't sure who could fill the bill. There were strong rappers, but I needed the strongest."

READ: Jay-Z’s New Venture Through Roc Nation Will Benefit Startups

Released on March 26, 2002, The Best of Both Worlds debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart, with 285,000 copies sold in its first week, and became certified platinum within months of it hitting the shelves (people still bought CDS back then). Songs like the album's title-track, as well as the infectious single, "Take You Home with Me a.k.a. Body" were accepted by fans but The Best of Both Worlds was panned by critics, who deemed the album as an underwhelming effort that failed to live up to its potential. Another detriment would be R. Kelly's criminal charges in June of 2002 after allegedly appearing in a sex-tape with an underage female. This ultimately caused the the duo's Best of Both Worlds tour to be canceled, and drew a dark cloud over the album.

Fifteen years later, The Best of Both Worlds remains an album of note, and influenced future collaborative albums between rappers and singers in its wake. The passage of time has given us a chance to reassess the album, and we've given it a track-by-track rundown on how the individual songs stack up today.

1. "The Best of Both Worlds"

The Best of Both Worlds opens with the album's title-track, and according to Jay-Z, was big enough of a meeting of the minds to garner comparisons to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. crossing paths. Produced by Megahertz, the beat is bolstered by triumphant horns and pounding drums which make for a celebratory soundscape for the fellas to commemorate the occasion. "I got a million on that boy singing, whatever on the flow/Y'all got cheddar to blow, whatever, let a nigga know," Jay confidently spits, while Kellz  chimes in with incessant ad-libs reminding listeners that this is indeed the best of both worlds. Although Megahertz's contribution sounds slightly dated by today's standards, and R. Kelly's bits are a bit over the top at time, Hov steers the ship steadily with his brash couplets and contained flow, making this title-track worthy of an occasional spin in 2017.

2. "Take You Home With Me a.k.a. Body"

Trackmasters are among the oft underrated hitmakers in hip-hop, and Tone and Poke's fingerprints being on this Best of Both Worlds track is yet another example of their greatness. "Take You Home with Me a.k.a. Body" is the prototypical mid-tempo club banger with its syrupy hook, provided by R. Kelly, and infectious beat, which Hov navigates effortlessly. Dropping flirty lines like "I crept up behind her/Mami threw it like a quarterback, I caught that like Rice/I call mami Montana, bandana/Tied her hands up - this is gangsta love," Jay-Z and Kelly are in full mack mode with a tag-team like game. "Take You Home with Me" still retains all of the luster it had upon its release 15 years later.

3. "Break Up to Make Up"

Produced by R. Kelly and Trackmasters, "Break Up to Make Up" is another winning effort from The Best of Both Worlds and serves as evidence of the lost duo's chemistry when on one accord. "You and me, havin sex/After an argument, that shit's the best, R. Kelly croons on the hook, while Jay-Z compares his relationship struggles to the War Of The Roses--and make-up sex as the antidote. It's a mid-tempo jam that entices you to get on the dancefloor and bust a step or two, "Break Up to Make Up" is a stellar collaboration between Jay-Z and R. Kelly that has only gotten finer with time.

4. "It Ain't Personal"

Jay-Z and R. Kelly put the boasting and love affairs to the wayside for a bit of reality rap on "It Ain't Personal," one of the more sobering offerings from The Best of Both Worlds. Produced by R. Kelly and Trackmasters yet again, the song finds the guys addressing friends-turned-foes and fair-weather associates--with the latter crooning: "We used to get money together, bone honies together/Pushin chromed out twinkies in custom coach leather/You claim it's all love, but nigga it's whatever/Cause this is business, it ain't personal" on the track's hook. In retrospect "It Ain't Personal" could be perceived by some as being applicable to Jay-Z's own relationship with Damon Dash, which deteriorated in the subsequent years following the release of Best of Both Worlds, but regardless of inspiration, and irony, given Hov and Kels' own falling out, remains a gem.

5. "The Streets"

Intense topics continue to be broached on "The Streets," which features Jay and Kelly reflecting on the harsh environments that shaped and molded them. Produced by R. Kelly, "The Streets" includes a pair of prime verses from Hov, who spins vivid tales of his genesis in the streets---and the high-stakes encounters that he experienced and witnessed. R. Kelly also rises to the occasion, and he gives warning to the young black youth. "Son don't let these streets, get the best of you," he sings whileshowing moments of introspect about the toll that life on the streets can take on the psyche. "The Streets," which sounds like it could've been lifted from the recording sessions for Blueprint 2 continued the two superstars' winning streak on the LP.

6. "Green Light"

Powered by a rollicking guitar and tumbling drums, "Green Light" is another solid pairing between the two superstadrs. Robert's opening verse is initially hurried as he attempts a double-time flow, but quickly smooths out as it transitions into the hook. Jay-Z, for his part, turns in an efficient verse, save for the Mickey Mouse ad-libs, but the best aspect of "Green Light" is surely Beanie Sigel's appearance, and the Broad Street Bully proceeds to get grisly. "Red dot I got 'em, tell that nigga move slow/Head shots pop 'em when I let the uz' go" Beanie barks, delivering a few bars that contributes to the song's overlooked power.

7. "Naked"

R. Kelly gets into his R&B zone on "Naked," the lone solo track on Best of Both Worlds. Crooning "Suddenly, I feel the need to pull you close to me," R. Kelly proceeds to convey his lustful yearning all over the sparse piano-driven track, which is reminiscent of the fare featured on his 2001 effort, TP2.com. Although a bit out of place on this album, "Naked" is among the strongest selections on Best of Both Worlds and can certainly assist in baby-making endeavors, even 15 years later.

8. "Shake Ya Body"

Most albums are guilty of having at least one clunker so glaring that it instantly gets the skip button, and "Shake Ya Body" fits that bill on Best of Both Worlds. Produced by R. Kelly and Trackmasters, the beat is standard jiggy fare and misses the mark when compared to the other superb tracks featured on the album. R. Kelly tackles the bulk of the song, but his performance is a forgettable one, leaving Lil Kim and Jigga to swoop in and attempt to salvage what they can with a few timely quotables, but even their superb contributions can't save the day.

9. "Somebody's Girl"

The Best of Both Worlds regains its footing with "Somebody's Girl," an infectious offering from the album that finds Jay-Z and R. Kelly at their best, owning their respective roles in their partnership. Again the upbeat song was produced by R. Kelly and Trackmasters, and it can be thought of as a "Fiesta (Remix)" revisited. We can't deny that it shares similar qualities to Hov and Kels' masterful 2001 single. Celebrating the joys of O.P.P., Jay-Z and R. Kelly earned a winner with this party-ready selection.

10. "Get This Money"

The Best of Both Worlds hits another snag with "Get This Money," a contrived and pedestrian outing from the two musical icons. R. Kelly takes on the bulk of the workload on this trip, but gives an underwhelming performance, with an uninspired hook bogging down the track even more. Although Jay-Z, who drops gems like "Pull up on the block, cran-apple Benz/White tank top, cran-apple trim/Egg-shaped watch, cran-apple gems/Dice hands 'side both of them," saves this track from being a total dud, "Get This Money" is a track that would've been better left on the cutting-room floor---and has not stood the test of time, if it ever stood at all.

11. "Shorty"

"Shorty" is yet another selection that R. Kelly dominates, which ultimately serves as its detriment. The record finds R. Kelly getting brash and taking it to the competition, bragging "Its like this, some of yall niggas got, legs for lips/Running ya mouth mad cuz I, pop that Cris/Go up in 310, and cop that six/Then roll around with yo chick." Jay-Z, who bats cleanup in the 9th inning on the song, knocks it out the park, boastfully rhyming "C'mon and make moves with a dude who move cane/Like a old man, you know who game this is Young Hov/Name is respected in fifty different languages, mommy come roll." Overall, "Shorty" avoids being an all-out disaster, but is one of the more egregious missteps from The Best of Both Worlds era.

12. "Honey"

Powered by a groovy bass guitar and a sample of "Love You Inside and Out" by The Bee Gees, "Honey" is one of the more refined deep cuts on The Best of Both Worlds. Although Jay's opening verse technically precise, his attempt to channel Nelly is an ill-advised one, and makes for one of his few blunders on this album. Slight missteps aside, "Honey" is an oft-overlooked highlight from Jay-Z and R. Kelly's collaborative history.

13. "Pussy"

Jay-Z and R. Kelly close out The Best of The Both Worlds in grand fashion with the aptly titled track "Pussy," which finds the two lamenting the joys and dangers that come with  falling too deep into the abyss of  love. "The power of the p-u-s-s-y/That's why every motherfucker in the world dress fly/Every baller that can afford it, they cop the best ride/For the power of the p-u-s-s-y," Hov explains before spinning a tale of his own experiences of being infatuated. Featuring a glowing guest verse from Devin the Dude, which would further raise his own profile and expand his reach, "Pussy" always gets overlooked because of its sheer placement, but is an essential offering from The Best of Both Worlds.

 

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Justin Newhouse

Filmmaker Coffey's 'About The People' Depicts Honest Conversation On Being Black In America

About The People, a short film created by New York City-based filmmaker Coffey is an ode to the power honest conversations about social justice, equity and race have within black and brown communities. The movie hosts a group of black men that hold court at a conference table to discuss how they can improve society for their kinfolk.

Their discourse concerns the social-economic inequalities that often grips black men at the hands of police brutality and lack of opportunity. In the end, a young black woman joins the conversation as well. Each character is named after their respective accomplishments in life.

There’s The Militant (Coffey), The Athlete (Akintola Jiboyewa), The Professor (Nashawn Kearse), The College Boy (Diggy Simmons), The Celebrity (Sterling Brim), The Executive, (Tyler Lepsey), The Preacher (Dorian Missick), The Author (Hisham Tawfiq), The Senator (Michael Kenneth Williams) and The Janitor (Ebony Obsidian).

Throughout the story, The Militant challenges The Preacher on his religious beliefs and optimistic viewpoint in believing that, through a higher power, all things are possible. Coffey, who grew up in a religious home in a small town in South Carolina, says his character’s defying ways were intentional. Through The Militant’s anger, he was able to release his own rage.

“As the co-writer, I could have been any one of those characters but I chose The Militant because I knew he was the one that was shaking up that room,” Coffey explains over the phone. “When you get that many brains in one room there’s absolutely no way everyone is going to say, ‘Okay everything is going to be joyful and we’re on the same page,’ it never happens that way.”

“There’s always a throw off in that room and it had to be The Militant, who ruffled some feathers,” he continues. “So, because I was pissed off in real life, I choose that character.”

About The People is inspired by a conversation Coffey had with his eldest son on police brutality. After not giving his son a curfew during the summer, he questioned why he would come home while the sun was still out. His son replied, “Me and my boys are making sure we get home before dark so we won’t get killed by the cops.”

That same fear plagues millions of black and brown men in America, where your skin color determines how much your life is worth. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s something Coffey didn’t want to shy away from. His first encounter with police brutality was watching the news of the L.A. riots after Rodney King was beaten by the LAPD in 1991. At the time, the world was a simpler place; social media didn’t exist, the Internet was in gestation and ubiquitous movements like Black Lives Matter hadn’t made CNN headlines yet. However, injustice was something that inevitably would enter Coffey’s life. It became clearer when he became a father in New York City.

“At that time I didn’t have kids,” he recalls when the L.A. riots were happening. “But the moment I did birth a child, which was here in New York that’s when it became like, ‘Okay my color is a problem because I’m a person of color, it’s already one strike against me which is crazy, but it’s reality.'”

In addition to discussing the conundrums that accompany being a black man in America and attempting to arrive at a consensus on how they can all make this situation better, there’s also a bigger topic at hand which deals with the inclusion of black women in this conversation. Near the film's end, The Janitor, a young black woman with an afro overhears their conversation. She’s intrigued by their discourse and takes it upon herself to jump in—unexpectedly, but with urgency.

Though she is met with opposition from some people in the group, they quickly realize she has the answers they’ve been looking for. She’s the missing piece to the puzzle they’ve been trying to complete. Historically, black women have played a major role in activism and have held the weight of the plight that swallows black men into a system that wasn’t made to protect them. But somehow don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Gillian B. White of The Atlantic breaks down this dichotomy in a 2016 article, titled Why Black Women Matter. “The necessity of black female activism, to me, is one of the most complex and important parts of this conversation,” White notes. “Black women haven’t been the backbone of agitation just because they wanted to be, but because oftentimes, they are the only ones who are able to.”

“Black men are America’s favorite victims. The country’s racial brutality and bias all too often truncate the lives of black men—either through death or incarceration,” she continues. “Even before the modern versions of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and recent police violence, black men had targets on their backs. From lynchings to indentured servitude in coal mines during Jim Crow, the country’s legacy of taking black men’s lives and liberty has left black women to bear the burden of caring for families and advocating for justice for their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers whose voices are often silenced.”

The Janitor was created in honor of Coffey’s grandmother and Angela Davis. Reminiscent of his childhood he decided to put the character in the end since his grandmother always had the last word. “The structure of the film is personal to me,” he explains. “My grandfather would have his friends over and they would drink and watch sports, and if there were problems it would be him and friends that would talk about these problems. But when my grandmother would find out they didn’t have the answer to these issues, she would provide the solution.”

In About The People Coffey creates an honest dialogue about what it means to be black in America and feel constantly oppressed by authority figures that are the direct product of white supremacy. The admission is universal considering how much of this world has been colonized by greedy European settlers, but its message is deeper than that. Money is another toxic element in the lethal poison where oppression and inequality are formed. Yet he made this film as a catalyst of hope—not to go against the powers that be.

“The honest to God truth is this isn’t written to go against any white people at all,” he says. “This is written for people of color, my kids and everybody else’s kids to try to follow these guidelines so it will be a better world for them.”

Special thanks to director Sterling Milan, Sincere Giles and Samuel K. Rhind.

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Courtesy of Endeavor Audio

Peter Rosenberg And Cipha Sounds Talk Juan EP's Return And All Things Jay-Z

Hip-hop podcasts are everywhere. Yes, everyone wants to be heard, but not everyone who wants to be heard is focused on moving the culture forward. Enter hip-hop nerds, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. After a year hiatus, the duo is returning to these podcast streets with the Juan EP, where they bring their valid expertise on all things hip-hop.

Cipha and Rosenberg joined forces with Mass Appeal and Endeavor Audio to deliver comprehensive conversations about the culture, some of our favorite moments in hip-hop, favorite albums, best rhymes, among other things. During the podcast's first season, the DJs touch on who is arguably the greatest MC of all time, Jay-Z.

"I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes," Cipha Sounds tells us in our phone conversation. "Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic."

Drawing help from some of Shawn Carter's closest friends, Cipha and Rosenberg dig into Jay-Z's career to discuss his best collaborations, beefs and pinpoint moments of Hov's greatness. VIBE caught up with the fellas and chatted about the Juan EP, Jay-Z and much more.

VIBE: First, this has been bothering me for years. Who is Juan Epstein? Rosenberg: Juan Epstein came from the fact that Cipha and I got paired together. He's Puerto Rican and I’m Jewish. Juan Epstein was a Puerto Rican/Jewish character on the show, Welcome Back, Cotter. I never watched the show, I think Cipha may have been the one to tell me about the name. That was perfect.

The podcast has been on hiatus for a while now. How was the process of bringing the podcast back? Rosenberg: We’ve been wanting to bring it back for a minute. We’ve been looking for the right opportunities and the right partners. And we thought Mass Appeal was a really good home. And when the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a really good fit. We’re trying to do something right for hip-hop, and curated well, and do right by the culture. When Mass Appeal came up with an option it seemed like a perfect fit. It was a great excuse and forced us the get organized and bring it back.

Cipha Sounds: The reason I love this podcast is because it really is two hip-hop fans who were lucky enough to get paid from hip-hop, and we get to talk to some great people from the hip-hop community about hip-hop. There aren't any outsiders speaking about our culture. And we learn new things that we never knew before.

With you guys coming from radio, do you prefer podcasts over radio programming? Rosenberg: It’s a different thing. [Podcasting], it’s more in line with what I’m really passionate about. And it’s really fun. It’s two different versions of a similar thing. They’re both broadcasting, but this gets to be about hip-hop, and not the bullsh*t side, the gossip. This really is about the music.

Cipher: I don’t consider one over the other. I definitely like having long conversations with hip-hop artists.

Season One of the Juan EP is about Jay-Z. Why him? Cipha: Everybody always has all these conversations about the top five [MCs] and who’s the G.O.A.T. I wanted the same street corner, lunchroom conversation with some actual research, and facts from people who were there. People who handle the question with some real information. And also, it is fun to get people’s opinions on it. Of all the sh*t that Jay-Z does that influences the culture, whether it be becoming the first billionaire or marrying Beyoncé, I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes. Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic. Since we're talking Jay-Z, there was a time, well, at least in my hometown of Mississippi, where people were aggravated with Hov for frequently using B.I.G's rhymes.  Cipha: Let me answer this one. Let me tell you and all of your friends in the barbershop in Mississippi, every time Jay says a B.I.G. line, Biggie's kids eat. The reason he does it is because it pays for Biggie’s family to live the way that they should’ve lived if Biggie was still alive, so he pays for school, and homes all off of saying a line.

Wow. I didn't know that. Rosenberg: Yes, anytime Jay-Z samples a B.I.G. line, thanks to B.I.G.'s publishing, his family eats.

What are some of your favorite episodes so far? Cipha: My favorite is the Clark [DJ Clark Kent] episode. I loved how he broke down the details of how Jay-Z and Biggie met. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know and I’d be like, "How will I ever, ever know that?" There’s no way. Like, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know who was in the room and basically to find out not only was Clark Kent in the room but basically orchestrated it.

At times, Jay-Z takes a lot of heat. For instance, this NFL partnership business. Some people have even said he's partly responsible for the gentrification happening in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Rosenberg: We talked a lot about Jay-Z's ventures and how he’s taken flack for some things. And Jay-Z the businessman is a different thing than Jay-Z the artist. We go into a lot of detail about the business and how he’s viewed, And we defiantly get into the question, on the episode, actually next week [on the Nov. 19th episode titled, "I'm A Business Man"].

Here's some fun Jay-Z stuff. To me, the best intro song in the history of hip-hop is Jay's "The Dynasty Intro." Let's debate this. I'm ready.  Rosenberg: I agree that it’s up there. I probably haven’t done the extensive research like you have. But The Dynasty is definitely one of my favorite Jay-Z albums, which is funny because first, it wasn’t a Jay-Z album, then it was a Jay-Z album. So I wonder did he have that intro on there already when it was just a Roc-A-Fella album or did he add it once it became a Jay-Z album? Who would I even ask?

VIBE: Guru.

Rosenberg: Was he around then?

VIBE: Bean’s first album came out before The Dynasty album...

Rosenberg: And Guru did Bean's album...

Cipha: Yes, but even if he wasn’t around... this guy is so strategic. I know that the Pharrell [Williams] record made him make it a Jay Z-album instead of a Roc [A-Fella] album, but that intro, it’s not long and the beat is not complicated. It's a simple hip-hop beat. Damn, we now have to do an episode about this.

Rosenberg: And that's what this show is about. For people who are interested in stuff like that. And this is the perfect time to dig into the podcast because all of the episodes are available. You don't have to wait for the next episode.

Hip-hop fans can tune into every episode of Juan EP below or on Stitcher, and Endeavor Audio.

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Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.

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VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party at the W South Beach, where the pajamas designed by February James and LaKela Brown will be premiered.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit," just like everything else in the world.

 

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🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

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