biggie-life-after-death-album-anniversary
Bad Boy Entertainment

If Ya Don't Know, Now Ya Know: Notorious B.I.G.'s Final Album 'Life After Death' Defined An Era

Meet the masterminds who mixed and mastered Biggie's 'Life After Death' album. 

Birthed out of Bad Boy Records in 1997, which was still in its infancy at the time, Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death was poised to be a breakout album from the rapper, that would continue to push forward Puff Daddy's dream of getting big and changing an otherwise saturated industry.

While the album would serve as the follow-up to his 1994 project, Ready to Die, unbeknownst to just about everyone, it would also serve as a eulogy for his death. Even so, the album's crisp, club-friendly beats on singles like "Hypnotize" and its striking storytelling on "You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)," made it a classic and turned Biggie into one of the greatest to ever do it.

The album was released on a somber note, rolling out two weeks after the late rapper was killed leaving a VIBE party in Los Angeles. But those who worked closely with him on the album remember the early stages of its creation and Biggie's star power with fondness.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Notorious B.I.G's Life After Death album (March 25), hear stories from some of the producers who worked, created, and partied with Biggie, and how they defined an era of hip-hop.

The Producers

Steven "Stevie J" Jordan ("Mo Money Mo Problems," "Notorious Thugs," "Another")
Nashiem Myrick ("Somebody's Gotta Die," "What's Beef")
DJ Clark Kent ("Sky's The Limit")
Easy Mo Bee ("I Love The Dough," "Going Back To Cali")
DJ Premier ("Ten Crack Commandments")

Meet the B.I.G. Crew: How They Got Started

Stevie J.: I grew up around music. My dad had a gospel group called the Jordan Gospel Singers. I used to listen to them sing and play music all the time. They used to have instruments sitting around after rehearsals, so I got in the mood of playing drums at seven years old. [My dad] gave me some pots and pans and said, ‘Once you beat a hole in these, I’ll give you some drums.’ Two months later, I had a hole in them joints. That inspired me to then pick up the guitar and the bass, the piano, trumpet, saxophone and xylophone. Then when I met this group by the name of Joe Public, they showed me how to make a complete song. From then on, I met Jodeci and after, I met Puffy and it was all history.

Nashiem Myrick: My father was a DJ and he introduced me to the turntables and music. I was in a group with a fella by the name of Harve Pierre, who works at Bad Boy still, and David Abraham. We were under Empire Management and signed to Payday Records. That’s my only experience with the music industry before Bad Boy because we got dropped on my birthday in 1991. My friend Harve was friends with Puff, so once Puff did the transition from Howard [University] to Uptown and then to his own label, [Harve] followed and brought me along.

DJ Clark Kent: I’ve been a DJ since nine, producer since 21. I’ve been a record company executive since 24. I’ve travelled the world as a DJ, as Dana Dane’s DJ, Rakim’s DJ, Biggie’s, Puff’s and Jay Z’s DJ. I make records. I have fun. I loved music since I can remember.

Easy Mo Bee: I grew up in Brooklyn in the housing projects of Lafayette Gardens. I had a father from the South, who’d always bring a lot of gospel, blues, soul and funk around. That’s where I got the love of music from. Besides him being the one who originally introduced me to music, I watched hip-hop begin to take place right in the back park in those projects. That’s where I caught the bug, watching those block parties with the DJs and turntables, and that’s how I became a DJ at 12 years old. After DJ-ing, I made the natural evolution from playing records to wanting to make them. I didn’t know what they called it. I just knew sooner or later I wanted to do that.

DJ Premier: I’m originally from Houston, Texas and I used to work at a record store in Houston called Soundwaves Records and Tapes. The guy that got me the job heard my demo with the group I was originally with when I was going to college. My main MC and I cut newer demos, and impressed Wild Pitch Records with something new, but it didn’t pan out. So my MC got to the point of frustration where he said he was going to join the military and [eventually] joined. That’s when I told Guru [original member of Gang Starr] that I’m down to join Gang Starr because now I’m without my MC. Next thing you know, I joined the group. The other members were from Boston and didn’t want to go to New York. I was brought into the group as the third generation of Gang Starr. There used to be Guru and Damo D-Ski. Prior to that, it was Big Sug and Guru and Swav D. Sug was incarcerated, so since he was gone, that’s how I ended up in the group and carried it on from there. The rest is history.

First Impressions: 'You Know You Just Said F**k Your Mom?'

Stevie J: It was rare for an artist to just go in the booth without a pen and a pad. He would go in with nothing but a story in his head. It just blew my mind that an artist could write a phenomenal rhyme with just an imagination. He was one of the best artists to work with, not to mention that tone and his gifts to be the most fun and funny guy ever.

Easy Mo Bee: I hadn’t really worked with stuff too rough of a texture. I think about the roughest thing I had worked with was a remix for Freddy Foxxx a.k.a. Bumpy Knuckles. I started working with Biggie [on Ready to Die] and he said, ‘F**k the world. F**k my moms. F**k my girl. My life is played out like a jheri curl. I’m ready to die.’ He came out of the booth, and I said, ‘Yo, you know you just said f**k your mom?’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah. This how I’m feeling. Not literally f**k my moms. But it’s hard out here. I’m going through a lot.’ But the more we worked together, the closer we got. He said, ‘Yo Mo, my mom got cancer on her breast. I got a baby on the way, and Puff talking about this music. I hope this sh*t is going to work out.’ He was optimistic about it and hopeful, but he still wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. I grew to understand him more, and from there, it made it easier for us to work together.

DJ Clark Kent: Nothing was hard. Nothing was a fight; nothing was confusing. There wasn’t anything that he was a hard a** about. If you could make him understand it, he would say, 'Alright.’ It wasn’t no, ‘let me explain why you have to do this.’ It was, ‘This why we got to do it.’ He was the easiest artist I’ve ever worked with on any level. Even when I could tell there were things he didn’t want to do, if I could give him a clean, easy explanation, he was cool. He was the artist that if he respected you, he trusted you. That’s the reason why somebody like Puff could make a decision on "Juicy," because he trusted him.

DJ Premier: Biggie used to be on the corner of Fourth and Washington Ave and I lived at this brownstone right down on Washington, in between Lafayette and Green. You had to go to the corner where B.I.G. was posted to go to the corner store for food, weed and our 40 oz. It just became normal to see each other posted on the block. I never had a chance to listen to his demo. When I finally heard it, I liked his attitude and his delivery, and the wit of how he constructed his rhymes. It matched the way he looked when you finally saw him, like, ‘Wow, you look like just what I heard on the tape.’

Live From The Studio

Nashiem Myrick: For the most part, me and B.I.G. had a kinetic relationship because I used to always give him my material and he would love it. Working with B.I.G. was natural. [We] would understand each other, as far as music was concerned. I’d sit in with B.I.G. on his sessions when everybody would leave and go out to a club. He’d bounce things off of me in the booth like, ‘Nash, how that sound?’ I’m like, wow, this guy is asking me to direct him. That’s the relationship we had. We had one big disagreement. He used to bring this one chick from around his way to the studio. I know they was involved at one time, but I don’t know if they was involved then. She was just a cool, beautiful chick. She would always come and pay me some attention when she came to the studio. So what happened was, B.I.G. married Faith [Evans], and then after the “Big Poppa” video, [the chick] came at me and told me the truth: ‘I like you. I always liked you.’ I knew this was going on! So me and her started dating, and she got pregnant by me. B.I.G. took offense, then me and him didn’t speak for like six months and we were working together! Imagine being in the studio with someone and he’s not talking to you, but we still have to produce songs together. It was crazy to me. One day, we had a party in Queens and B.I.G. stepped to me and we aired it out.

Stevie J: The relationship that me and B.I.G. had in the studio is, he trusted me with me being a musician and producer, to do what I do, and I trusted him as a phenomenal MC and storyteller that he was, to do him. It was never no, ‘Try and do it like this.’ He knew what it was. He knew what he wanted the outcome to sound like. So it was never a discrepancy in the studio with me and him. Nine times out of ten, all the beats I played him, he liked them all. B.I.G. would come in the studio with his Jarell Branson and his Don Perignon, his Malibu, cranberry pineapple juice, and might be some Remy there. He would be there with all the boys, they’d be talking while he’s writing, and by the time B.I.G. was ready to go in the booth, all the n***as was sleep. It would be  2 a.m., but you’d hear some of the stories that all the dudes was telling in the rhymes. So how could B.I.G. listen to every single thing in the room and put it all together? I mean phenomenal! That's storytelling at its best.

Easy Mo Bee: B.I.G., Junior Mafia and Lil Cease used to be in the studio like, ‘Mo, just chill man. You sensitive!’ They used that word ‘sensitive.’ I’m from the projects in Brooklyn, and they just called me sensitive. Are you calling me soft? It got to the point that I stopped trying to talk to B.I.G. One time I went to Puffy and said, ‘Listen man, I’m telling you, you better be careful and think about some of the things he's saying. If you ain’t too careful, you might have women’s rights organizations pulling your album off the shelf and all kinds of sh*t.’ He said, ‘Everything's going to be alright. Just chill.’ Seriously though, I think the roughest thing that had come out of New York before Biggie was when Coogie Rap made that album Live and Let Die. Typically back then, that was the roughest thing that ever came out of New York. The West Coast was "ganstering" it up. We wasn’t really doing that yet. So the kind of lyrics he was kicking, I was just concerned about them. That’s all.

DJ Premier: It was just a regular studio situation. In hip-hop, you always got your crew there. Everybody’s smoking weed, drinking, talking sh*t. You always got girls in the room. Girls always want to be around rappers, especially in the 90s because we were really young, rock n’ roll stars in our culture and money was coming in. We didn’t have billions, but a couple hundred thousands was like being a millionaire back in the day. It was just like a frat party.

Disc Notes: Mixing and Mastering

"Somebody's Gotta Die"

Nashiem Myrick: That’s the first track he had for Life After Death. I gave him that during the finishing of Ready to Die, right after I gave him “Who Shot Ya.” It wasn’t even for Life After Death because he didn’t even make that up yet. It was a year before we even started the album. He was working on it gradually. He’d let me hear a verse here, a line there. And then after he finished, I heard the whole story, and put all the sound effects in it. B.I.G. is just a great storyteller, and that was a signature on the album. It bridged the Ready to Die with Life After Death. The last track of Ready to Die, "Suicidal Thoughts," goes right in "Somebody Gotta Die." It’s the perfect blend. The way it’s constructed was fairly new because we had a lyricist like B.I.G., who was painting you such a picture, that we could add elements in it. If you listen to that song, it’s like a movie on wax. You hear all the sound effects, the backgrounds, the rain, people walking, the door shutting, and it goes right along where you can actually picture the song in your head as a movie. No one was doing that at all... We took a lot of things out of a lot of songs because I probably overloaded them too much, but we had time to really sit down and just master that album correctly. I finished "Somebody Gotta Die" after B.I.G. died. He didn’t hear the finished version.

"I Love the Dough"

Easy Mo Bee: It was kind of difficult picking the tracks because we had just finished doing Ready to Die. When it came time to submit tracks for [Life After Death], I’m submitting Ready to Die texture. Puff said, ‘No, we already did that. This time I want it to be more radio, more club.’ He said, ‘ We going to touch on that, but I already got them records from other people.’ I remember during the Ready to Die album, I had made a beat tape. At the end of the beat tape, I put “I Love You More” by Rene and Angela on there. I didn’t make a beat with it; I just knew it was a cool idea. Puff listened to the whole tape. I said to him that [the song] might be a good idea for B.I.G. to use, and he said, ‘Nah.’ So on the second album, when I submitted all these Ready to Die rough texture songs, and he’s like we want something more radio, club, I said, ‘Puff remember that “I Love You More?" What about that?’ His exact words were: ‘Well, hook it up.’ I went back home and hooked the beat up, drummed it up, added some keys, rounded it out, and I brought it back. We took that into the studio and I remember setting up the tracking session at Daddy’s House, but they were just beats. They didn’t have the lyrics. I remember Biggie came in, him and Jay Z, talking and stuff. Then after a while, they started to write in their heads and pace and mumble to themselves. They did that for a while and then B.I.G. told me: ‘Yo Mo, me and Jigga going to step out.’ That was the last time I ever saw him. I waited from that afternoon time to about two or three in the morning and he still hadn’t come back. I had another meeting the next day and I remember telling [Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie] I had to leave so I could get up in the morning. I never got a call about that next session.

"What's Beef?"

Nashiem Myrick: The idea came from Carlos Broady, my partner that I produced with on many joints. He actually sent the raw version to me. When I got it, I immediately gave it to Puff, along with some other tracks. The thing with that is, B.I.G. did the song and I heard the verse, but I didn’t hear the hook. That was the one thing where I said, 'I don’t know about this one.' Puff is looking at me like, ‘What is this guy, crazy?’ But I didn’t hear the whole song, just the first verse. I’m like, ‘Puff, I don’t know about this track. Maybe it’s not the one for B.I.G.’ So Puff brought me in the studio one night and played me the whole song. He said, ‘You still feel that way?’ When I heard it, I got it. You can’t hear that in pieces; you got to hear the whole composition. Then I’m like, wow, B.I.G. did it again! This guy can’t fail. That joint is crazy. And he explains it to you, what's beef. A lot of people was having fake beef in the industry and that was not beef, my man. Beef is when your life is in jeopardy.

"Mo Money Mo Problems"

Stevie J: I’m in the lab in the Midi Room and Ma$e came through. Ma$e said, ‘Diddy, I want you to flip this right here. You got to freak this for me.’ They put that on, I sampled it, looped it up, put the drums on it, replayed the guitar part and added a baseline to it, and that’s that. Ma$e went in and laid his part, then B.I.G laid his. It was actually supposed to be for Ma$e and B.I.G was like, ‘I'll trade you a song for that. Let me get that.’ That’s how B.I.G. got it. Then Kelly Price came and laid the hook. At the time, and even still today, she had that real sultry voice. Once she put that hook on there, we knew it was gone. After, Puff laid his rap, and it was a wrap.

"Notorious Thugs"

Stevie J: I’m in the Midi Room at Daddy’s House studio. I wasn’t a smoker. That wasn’t my thing; I just liked to sip a little bit. We were supposed to be going to L.A. the next day to do the track with Bone and B.I.G., but we didn’t have the track yet. We had a lot of tracks, but B.I.G said, ‘I want you to do a new track for the Bone joint. Here, smoke this.’ It was a weed blunt with liquid hash in it. He’s like, ‘It got leak leak in it.’ I’m like, ‘What is that?’ I didn’t know what it is. He said, ‘Man, just smoke that sh*t.’ So that’s the track that happened after that. The rest of it was history. We got on a private jet, went to L.A., and went in the studio with Bone and B.I.G. Puff kept playing everybody else track. B.I.G. said, ‘Man, play the track from last night.’ That’s when the room erupted. B.I.G. did a song with Bone and cloned the whole sh*t New York style! Who does that?

"Another"

Stevie J: [Lil'] Kim and him were really beefing so you hear all that stuff at the beginning where she said, ‘F**k you,’ and he said, ‘F**k you, b***h.’ They were really going back and forth at each other at that moment. That was real; it wasn’t just ad-libs. So what I did with that track, I pretty much played everything over on the sample ["Another Man" by Barbara Mason], which is what I’d do if I sampled anything. I played all the instruments over and I found the exact drum sounds from the samples and put them on that.

"Going Back to Cali"

Easy Mo Bee: That song is based upon "More Bounce to the Ounce" by Zapp. Mind you, this is the time when B.I.G. and Pac are having their difficulties. It had spilled over into a full fledged East, West war. I told my old manager, in New York at the old block parties and house parties, that joint that would always make everybody go, ‘ohhh yooo!’ is and always will be,"Love is the Message" by MFSB. That’s an anthem. So I was asked, ‘In California, what is compared to what we got in New York? What is that anthem out there at the house parties.’ With no hesitation he said, ‘Man, "More Bounce."’ So I hooked up the "More Bounce" beat. I must have chopped that song into so many pieces. I was trying to cater to the West Coast. I was trying to get everybody on the same accord musically. I figured if I could use an ingredient, something that they loved, maybe that could take our attention off of this nonsense. Let’s party.

Mind you, I didn't know what kind of lyrics B.I.G. was going to put on there. We did not sit down together... The way I found out the song was titled "Going Back to Cali" was I was in the store around the way one night, and Blake C from Junior Mafia came in the store. He said, ‘Mo! What up man? I just came from out there from Cali. I had to leave and come back. They out there balling, having mad fun.’ First of all, it took me by surprise because I was like don’t they got beef, Biggie and Pac, and the East-West tensions? What is he doing out there? Anyway, Blake C was like B.I.G. laced my joint. He said, ‘Yeah, yeah. That "More Bounce" one, he called that "Going Back to Cali."’ I said, ‘What the f**k! Come on man!’ ‘He said, ‘Nah Mo, it ain’t dissing Cali. Matter of fact, it’s bigging them up. You got to hear it.’ I said, ‘Don’t do this sh*t man!’ He said, ‘Trust me, you’re going to love it when you hear it.’ I heard the song, and I was like okay, but I still had this fear about how they would receive it. What’s crazy about that song is here I am just musically trying to cater to California, stroke them a little bit, not knowing that Biggie would come along and he would do that lyrically on the song. I had no complaints about the mix.

"Ten Crack Commandments"

DJ Premier: That was a promo that we did for Angie Martinez on Hot 97. Back then she did a show called “The Hot Five At Nine,” where she played the top five records at nine o’clock. If you listen to the scratch at the beginning, it only goes to nine before the beat drops because it’s nine o’clock. Then when the beat drops, I only go to five because it’s five at nine. It was never ten because it was never intended for Biggie to begin with. Angie was the biggest thing on Hot 97 at that time. Everybody from Wu-Tang to every popular artist that was on the radio at that time, was doing dope promos for Angie’s “Hot Five at Nine” show. So [me and Jeru The Damaja] did our hot five and it just happened to be that beat. That’s why it was so simple. I didn’t want to overproduce. Puff happened to be on the radio that particular day. He heard it, and was like, what’s that? He started putting word out on the radio, ‘Yo Premier, if you hear this, call us on Hot 97.’ He didn’t say he wanted the beat at the time; he just said call. This was back in the time of pagers. All my homies are hitting me up telling me Puffy telling me to call him. I’m said, ‘Word? I’m in the car listening.’ I hear him interviewing, and then maybe 20 minutes in, he said it again. ‘Premier, I’m still looking for you baby. Call Hot 97.’ Once I heard him say it, because I needed to hear it myself, I called. He got on the phone and said him and B.I.G. wanted that beat. He told me the song was called “Ten Crack Commandments” and it was already done. I brought the same reel to Daddy’s House and muted Jeru’s vocals and added a ten because it was only intended for “Hot Five at Nine.” I didn’t have a ten so I put the T-minus ten countdown from NASA when they launch the rockets. Flew that in, and we had a record in maybe an hour. I really like that beat because it was simple. I’ve been driving for a long time and hip-hop comes from the car booming system and the radio. Everything I do is geared towards boomboxes and cars.

"Sky's the Limit"

DJ Clark Kent:  I didn’t have “Sky’s the Limit” in mind. I’m a producer, so I was making tracks all the time. It wasn’t like it was something specific. I made the track and it was actually given to Jay Z first. LL Cool J even had it, but they didn’t want it. We were on the road, and B.I.G. said, ‘When we go back out, bring some tracks so we can start working on Junior Mafia's album.’ I’m like, ‘You serious.?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, we going to make an album.’ We get back on the tour bus and we sat there playing tracks, and he picked what he wanted for Junior Mafia. He came up with the hooks immediately and simply went back home, but in the midst of him picking “Player’s Anthem,” he heard the track for “Sky’s the Limit.” He said, ‘I need that.’ I said, ‘For who?’ Because all I’m thinking is Junior Mafia. He goes, ‘I need that for me.’ I’m like, ‘You’re going to do a solo on this album?’ ‘Naw I need that for my album.’ In my mind I’m going, no. You can’t have it. I’m like, ‘You’re not doing that album right now.' He goes, ‘Yeah, but I’m gonna. I need it.’ I said, ‘So you want me to hold this record until after we do all this other stuff and you maybe make a new record?’ He’s like, ‘I need it.’

The funny part about the track is that I had given it to somebody before. I had to go back to that person and say, 'Do you want it? Yes or no? This is how much it costs because if you don’t want it, I got to give it away.' The guy was like, ‘No, it costs too much.’ So I was like okay, forget it. I kept it for B.I.G. He came up with the hook while he was listening to it, so I knew immediately that it was going to be that good of a record. When Biggie came up with the hook, I was like, oh yeah that’s crazy and he just kept singing the hook. Not everybody can discern Biggie’s voice, but if you listen to “Sky’s the Limit” well enough, you can hear him singing with 112. When it got mixed, I forgot to take his voice out. He sang the whole hook and the verses and everything, then we gave it to 112 for them to sing. In the process, the track gets laid first. The artist goes in, does his verses, puts a scratch hook in. 112 got the record, they sang the hook, and then the record went to mixing, which was the part where you make the song as beautiful as possible. In the mixing, you’re supposed to take out what you didn’t want. The song didn’t really have anything that we didn’t want except for that Biggie vocal on the scratch hook, but it kind of got stuffed in there by accident.

Was It A Hit?: Initial Reactions

Easy Mo Bee: I already knew [Life After Death] was going to be a hit, but when I saw that cover art with the hearse and him standing [to the side] in all black, it shocked me. It looked eerie and spooky. When I saw that cover I said, 'He is going to die.' From that point on I became very worried and fearful for him.

DJ Premier: When it got time to drop Life After Death I definitely knew he had some joints. I was already like damn, this guy got some f**king sh*t. He played me “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You),” which scared me because that can manifest itself, which it did. And not that, that’s not true of what he said lyrically, because it is. It also made me fear that something could happen to him. Especially after Pac had already passed, it made it even worse. It was frightening.

DJ Clark Kent: I don’t know if it was the first of any kind, I just knew that it was dope. When you’re in it, you’re not thinking we’re making history. You’re like, are the records good or not? That’s all that really matters and we knew the records were good. You have to understand, he already had Ready to Die. That was amazing. Then he had Snoop Dogg’s, Nas’ album, and Reasonable Doubt to look at to go, ‘Alright, what I gotta do?’ But the best thing about him is that he didn’t change who he was. He still is the best rapper we ever heard. He understood that Jay Z was the best MC, but he also understood he was the best rapper.

B.I.G.'s Downfall

DJ Clark Kent: There’s video tapes of me in the party dancing, drinking champagne and wearing a Versace shirt. I was Vice President at Motown Records, and B.I.G. said, ‘Yo, we gotta go to London.’ And I’m looking at him like, 'N***a I got a job.' He’s going, ‘Dog, I need you to come to London.’ This is the conversation we’re having inside the party. Twenty minutes later, I got on the phone and was like, ‘Yo, I think I need to do this.’ Then we all were leaving. I turned one corner, he turned around the other corner. I’m at the stop light, the light changes, and then you hear shots ringing. His car was stuck at the light. We didn’t know that they were shooting at his car. We get to where we’re going and I get a call, 'Yo, your man got shot.' I had to double back and go to the hospital. We were going to go to London. Earlier in the day, we were laughing about sh*t.

Stevie J: I was in the car in front of him. I was in the party. I had bought all of the Don Perignon that night, spent about $7,000. I was with him earlier that day. We were at Andre Harrell’s house listening to the album and talking about going on tour, making a whole bunch of money every show. Just a few hours later, he’s not with us. The day before that, me and him in the studio and he’s having a baby with Faith and I’m having a baby with Antoinette [Bennett]. And he said, ‘You could be my son’s godfather.’ I said, ‘You could be my son’s godfather.’ We talking about getting money together for the rest of our lives and this happened. It’s just f**ked up that you could take a life of somebody so [phenomenal]. He didn’t deserve that. That part of the history of my man’s story was not the coolest part.

Nashiem Myrick: That night before B.I.G. went to Cali, we was in the studio and had a chance to talk. I told him, ‘I’m not going to L.A. with ya’ll.’ I had a feeling about that because I usually go everywhere with them. If the whole crew is going, I’m there, but I said, ‘B.I.G., you know how we do. You got problems out there.’ Even if a n***a live around the corner from you, if you got beef with n***as, you don’t go around the corner. I said, ‘Just be careful.’ He said, ‘Yeah, we got that. We got that.’ I felt good when he said it. I was like alright, he must know what they doing. So to get that call, it really didn’t sink in until later on. How did B.I.G. die? It doesn’t happen to people, a big artist in the prime of his career getting murdered.

Life After Death: The Legacy

DJ Clark Kent: The only reason reason why it holds so much weight is because it’s a great album. Him dying had nothing to do with the fact that it’s a great album. Him dying is the tragedy of that album. That ain’t the impact, that’s the tragedy. Still, if he lived, it would be an amazing album. It ain’t about life or death; it’s about the music. A great album is a great album. There’s no science. Bet you know a song by Stevie Wonder. They’re great songs. They can’t go away. You can’t erase what a great song is going to do to you. If a great song is made, it’s going to be great forever.

Nashiem Myrick: Not to boast or brag, but we was making classic joints. We wasn’t making music that was involved with the times. We was doing music on a whole other level. We wasn’t caring about what the sound was at that time. We was the sound at the time. The imagery in those songs comes from a whole different circumstance. We was doing things so different, and I think that imagery that we had then, still transfers to today. You have records from the 50s and the 60s that still big hits today if you really look at the charts. And it’s because of the imagery that Motown had back then. That doesn’t come around every year or every decade. That comes around once in awhile, and [Life After Death] was one of those times. I was involved in one of those moments.

Stevie J: The music that was on Life After Death is timeless music. I listen to a lot of songs right now in the club, and I’m turnt. But I’m not going to be turnt next year to hear that joint. I’m going to go back to that classic Life After Death album. I’m going to go to “Nasty Boy,” “Notorious Thugs,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and I’m going to be like, damn, I can play that for the rest of my life. Classics are around forever.

DJ Premier: You can’t deny greatness. Even those younger generations... I know Lil Yachty said, ‘I wasn’t into B.I.G. or Pac.’ And that’s cool, but it doesn’t disservice to B.I.G’s longevity. B.I.G. didn’t hold down two decades alive; he’s holding down decades dead. His music is not forgotten in the presence of his situation.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Getty Images

20 Years Of TLC's 'FanMail': A Futurist Prelude To Digital Era Intimacy

TLC owned the year 1999. FanMail released on this day (Feb. 23), 20 years ago, and made the Atlanta R&B trio the best-selling female group in the United States. The flood of popular R&B acts that emerged during the early 1990s under the banner of New Jack Swing, hip hop soul, and silky slow jams, fizzled out.

Meanwhile, TLC seamlessly evolved as newcomers like Britney Spears, *NSYNC and Destiny’s Child emerged on the Billboard charts. On the Grammy-winning Best R&B Album opus, TLC and longtime producer Dallas Austin brought back their radio-friendly hip-hop, R&B and pop anthems empowering women and underdogs, this time with a nod to the digital era.

FanMail, from the sound to the art direction, embodied a timely futuristic aesthetic, as everyone was obsessed with technology’s cultural takeover in the new millennium: remember Y2K hysteria, Napster mp3 file sharing, and the Dot.com boom? On the album's cover, T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye's faces appear as silver-faced avatars floating above an orbit. A code of numbers are printed across the cover, imagery often associated with The Matrix. (Although FanMail dropped a month before the film hit theaters.)

On the title track, listeners are greeted by Vic-E, the everpresent robotic voice narrating the album: “Just like you, they [TLC] get lonely, too." She reassures listeners that fame doesn't stop them from being human. The digitized voice is reminiscent of the “tour guide” on A Tribe Called Quest’s 1993 album Midnight Marauders. Yet, unlike Tribe, TLC collaborates with the robot, as it contributes background vocals throughout. Austin also sprinkled FanMail with samples of sounds — check “Communicate (Interlude)” and “LoveSick” for examples — he found on the Internet, movies, and devices like printers, he shared with MixOnline.

It was a smart move to modernize, as it had been five years since TLC released its best-selling 1994 album CrazySexyCool. The sultry mix presented a more mature and stripped back follow-up to the colorful, youthful angst of Ooooooohhh... On The TLC Tip. This five-year gap could have left the group’s fans uninterested, especially if they were releasing in today's fast-paced consumption environment, in which stans demand new releases on social media after only a year or two. But the time away didn’t hinder TLC. Now 10 years in the game, they managed a successful return by dedicating this project to their fanbase.

“Left Eye came up with the title, and we made it come together creatively as a group, along with Dallas Austin,” T-Boz said in their May 1999 VIBE cover story. “It was like, Let’s write and sing one big fan letter. Let’s put fan names on everything – all the singles, the album cover, T-shirts, mugs. Just show our appreciation."

Left Eye also chimed in with a transparent business savvy explanation. “Now we know that the way contracts are set up, it’s not really made for artists to get rich from selling records – that’s the company’s one shot to make money,” she explained. “The artist is supposed to use that as an outlet to do merchandising and other things that we never took advantage of because we were too busy sitting in bankruptcy court trying to get a settlement out of LaFace.”

That part. Although TLC were multi-platinum selling artists up until FanMail, they had faced a public financial battle with their management Pebbitone, Inc. and label, LaFace Records. This caused the delay between their sophomore and third efforts. In 1995, the group, who revealed they were "broke" at the 1996 Grammys, filed for bankruptcy in hopes to break their contract and renegotiate a new deal.

They were $3.5 million dollars in debt and earning an 8 percent royalty rate. In November 1996, they settled with Arista and BMG and LaFace for an 18 percent royalty rate. To add to the drama, there were talks of producer Dallas Austin leaving the project because of back-and-forths with TLC and L.A. Reid over the creative direction of the album, the 1999 VIBE cover story stated. Thankfully, the parties resolved their misunderstandings enough to complete one of the biggest albums of the decade.

On 17 tracks, TLC took on sexuality, insecurities, self-reliance, and vulnerability with resistant messaging, their tried and true winning formula. This energy paved the way for Destiny’s Child’s reign in the 2000s, and the transparency R&B singers like SZA, H.E.R. and Summer Walker carry on today. TLC's defiance gave women of the ‘90s permission to be vocal about the spectrum of their emotions, from their sex drives on “I Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” to revenge cheating on “Creep.” FanMail brought more of those goods.

The most notable “No Scrubs,” also considered pop canon, is a scathing critique on men at bottom of the dating pool. “A scrub is a guy, who thinks he’s fly and is also known as a busta/ always talking about what he wants and just sits on his broke a**,” Chilli belts in opening lines. The no. 1 track became such a phenomenon that it inspired the petty male response, “No Pigeons” from Sporty Thievz, their biggest claim to fame. Former Xscape members Kandi Burruss and Tameka Dianne "Tiny" Harris penned it and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, also behind Destiny’s Child’s no. 1 song “Bills, Bills, Bills,” produced it.

TLC tapped the legendary Hype Williams for the "No Scrubs" visual. Instead of setting the video in a club where scrubs are likely inhabitants, the visual features the trio in outer-space suits floating through a futuristic setting no scrub could ever reach. Most notably Lopes, who in the video does martial arts while a drone films her, manages to keep the digital theme, even when dissing the guys. “Can't forget the focus on the picture in front of me/You as clear as DVD on digital TV screens,” Lopes raps.

The wonky bop “Silly Ho” is another anti-playa anthem, in which TLC proclaim they aren't the kind of women who are scheming for men's pockets. “I can run a scam before he can/ I am better than a man/ I always keep my game all day,” they chant. TLC keeps demanding respect on the choppy “My Life,” their Janet Jackson Control moment, appropriate given their music industry woes.

TLC breaks from jittery beats and Vic-E assisted numbers for alternative pop, on the album’s second no. 1 hit single "Unpretty," which tackles insecurities caused by a toxic partner’s body-shaming. T-Boz deads him by summoning self-love: “Maybe get rid of you/ And then I'll get back to me, yeah.” The track was inspired by a poem T-Boz wrote, Dallas Austin told CNN in 2000. He also spoke on the songs’ folky essence. "I like a lot of alternative music, and when I saw the title, “Unpretty” reminded me of a song somebody like (alternative singer) Ani DiFranco would have (written). I just went at it,” he explained. The crew also gave us sensual beckoning on the mid-tempo groove “Come On Down,” penned by legendary pop songwriter Diane Warren.

The album ends with soulful bop “Don’t Pull Out on Me Yet,” but it’s “Communication (Interlude)” that feels like the proper conclusion. “There's over a thousand ways/ To communicate in our world today/ And it's a shame/ That we don't connect,” they say in a spoken word that offers a foreshadowing to our present human condition. Loneliness is on the rise, and more screen time and less human interaction are being linked to growing depression among American adolescents. "So if you also feel the need/ For us to come together/ Will you communicate with me?” As technological advancements create the feeling of being in closer proximity to more people's thoughts and happenings, it reminds us that these interactions can be fleeting and one-on-one intimacy with your chosen tribe could never become obsolete.

Although its 1999 original drop date has come and gone, in 2019, FanMail is still a fitting soundtrack for dating in the digital age. Whether they're making their contact through the passenger sides of cars or down in the DMs, the personalities pointed out on the poignant album, are still walking amongst us, messing with our hearts one way or another. FanMail proved that TLC was more in tune with the future than their pop peers, and will more than likely continue to be.

Continue Reading
Stacy-Ann Ellis

Meet Afro B, The UK Artist Whose Hit Song "Joanna" Put Him Atop The Afrobeats Wave

Afro B is tired. Or at least, he’s got to be with the nearly gap-free schedule that’s been carved out for him this week. It’s a brisk Friday in February, and while he’s chummy upon arrival at VIBE’s Midtown office, the London-raised Afrobeats artist with deep Ivory Coast roots is trying to keep his energy level up.

He hasn’t stopped running around since he landed in New York a day or so ago, already hitting a bevy of popular local radio stations. And that’s to say nothing of the rest of the stops he has to make before preparing for his 3 a.m. performance alongside Funkmaster Flex at Brooklyn’s Milk River tonight. Well, tomorrow. Yeah, R.I.P. to that sleep schedule.

But why nap when you’re running off the high of a world finally catching wind and diving into the genre of music he’s long held close to heart? A DJ by trade, the man born Ross Bayeto has always been plucking and curating songs for his listeners to really move to, but now when it’s his own music? Game over.

“I call it Afrowave, just a wave of what's happening at the moment,” he says of the rise of Afrobeats music and his rapidly rising place in it. It’s been a full year since his banner song, “Drogba (Joanna),” hit the airwaves, but there’s virtually no way to tell. Based on how fired up the dance floors of the U.S., UK, African countries and beyond get when it comes on, the song hasn’t aged a bit. It still sounds as fresh as when it first rang out in London clubs. Afro B knows better than anyone that there’s no expiration tag on a vibe, especially when the music ignites a new moment every time it reaches a new international border.

“This song has lasted long, long and it's still lasting,” he says. “But it's just touching. The world is a big place, so it's just hitting people that haven't heard it yet. I just have to keep going.”

With “Joanna” under his belt and another potential hit on the way ("Shape Nice," a new collaboration with Vybez Kartel and Dre Skull drops on Feb. 25), it’s now about maintaining that momentum, riding that wave into the next level of his career, and representing the sweet sounds of the culture he loves so much. “If I'm standing for Africa and the culture,” he says, “I need to push what's going on inside it.”

--

VIBE: Tell me a little bit about what brings you to New York. Afro B: For 10 years, I've been pushing this Afrobeats genre and African music and the culture. I had a [DJ] residency at a club called NW10 [in London] and they predominantly played dancehall music and R&B. So, it's kind of hard to break free because I only have sets that would last for 5-10 minutes, or two songs in and the crowd's not dancing because they're not used to what I'm playing. As time went on and we're getting big records from Wizkid and stuff, that's when more people warmed up to it, and, yeah I'm here today. I made the transition from the DJ to an artist five years ago. I made the hit “Joanna,” and that's what brought me to this club world, to New York.

Were people hesitant at first when you were like, "okay, I'm not DJing anymore?" Yeah, of course. ‘Cause people are used to me just shutting down the clubs, making it lit inside. But then they're like, "oh why are you making music, why are you leaving this behind?" At first, I was the DJ making music, now I'm the artist that can DJ. Every week I got a rager show. An Afrobeats rager show that's promoting it every Saturday, 11 p.m. until 1 [a.m.].

What made you want to decide to be an artist? Specifically, an Afrobeats artist? When I was growing up I always listened to African music and I used to play keys in church. So, yeah. The typical story. African music has always been in the blood. I've always been proud about being African and just promoting where I'm from. That's definitely the reason.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Following God’s lead that’s all. 🙏🏾🏆🇨🇮

A post shared by Afro B 🇨🇮‪ (@afrob__) on Jan 23, 2019 at 10:53am PST

Can you break down Afrobeats for those who are unfamiliar? It's easy to just say anyone of African descent making similar music is doing Afrobeats, but maybe that's not the case. Can you break down if there are any distinctions surrounding the genre? Sub-genres like Afropop? Afrobeat without the “s”? Right now it's a bit confusing because there's so many elements merged into one thing. You could hear a track and hear like a dancehall melody in there with a hip-hop hook or the straight-authentic African. So, it's hard to pinpoint where exactly it is, but Afrobeats is the name we're giving it. But Afrobeat without the "s" is more traditional, then over time the sound just started to evolve and evolve, now it is what it is today.

Are people open to it being called or labeled Afrobeats? It's mostly the Nigerians that always have a debate on what we should call something. Yeah, most people are familiar with just calling it Afrobeats. I call it Afrowave, just a wave of what's happening at the moment. I still call it Afrobeats at the same time. Wave is my thing. That's my brand. Just a wave of what's happening at the moment, the new school kind of African sound.

So who else would you put in the Afrowave category? Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy—Burna Boy bounces from dancehall sometimes. There's a lot of UK artists doing that sound, like mixing rap with Afrobeat melodies and dancehall. There’s an artist called J Hus. Kojo Funds. Yeah, there's so many names, man. And the Ghanaian artists as well. There's even a whole French scene that's crazy as well, but they call it Afrotrap, which is more uptempo. Then you got the Angolans and South Africans that have their house vibes. There's a lot of different angles. We should just call it African music but Afrobeats is what the majority call it, the English speakers call it.

Let's talk about the song I got to know you for: “Joanna.” Or “Drogba.” Who is that? He's an icon from my country, Ivory Coast. He used to be a top soccer player—we say football—who used to play for a team called Chelsea and he had incredible impacts. Everyone from my country just saw him as a hero because you know he was representing us. So, in African music, there can be a lot of shout outs towards different people that are making noise or have a lot of money or whatever. There will be artists that will shout out politicians, footballers, maybe NBA players or just random female names like what I did with Joanna.

Yeah, I was about to say, who is Joanna? What does she have to do with anything? We concentrate more on the vibe than the lyrics. When I was in the studio, I was putting more the melodies first and then picking out the words that I thought I could hear. Joanna's what I picked out. Do you want me to explain the lyrics? So "your busybody" means there's a lot going on. “Your busybody busy tonight/Joanna don't leave me outside. Your busybody giving me life." Yeah, that's it. And then, "how you going to play me like Drogba," and that's kind of a metaphor ‘cause he plays soccer. Don't play me like how he did. Don't play with my feelings, you know what I mean?

Why do you think that now it seems that the U.S. is catching up to songs like “Joanna”? Usually we’re late to the international party. Yeah, I released it this time last year. Last year, I took multiple trips here [to New York], just making the most out of it when I was out here. Pushing the song, going to different shows and just drilling it into people's heads. So amongst the African community here that were bringing me out here, it was popping amongst us. I think now it's gotten to a point they did word of mouth to the mainstream people. And now, yeah, now it's picking up here. It's gotten to a point where it's hitting different territories and then it's fresh there. Then it's just like a brand new song again.

Do you think it's necessary to come in and put in that groundwork? I feel that social media's good, but when they see you in person, it's something else. It's feeding your energy, connecting with you, and just getting a better understanding of what it is. When I was coming up, it was a few people calling it reggae and dancehall and then I had to correct them. "This is Afrobeats," and I was showing them different artists and my other songs so that they get a better understanding of what is.

That seems like your DJ sensibility kicking in, too. Working it into the crowd. You just understand the crowd. Yeah, and then it just builds up from there. And also another thing that helps, I attached a dance challenge to it, mainly on Instagram. That was the #DrogbaChallenge, and the craziest thing is, a lot of people that got involved with the challenge were not African. So I was getting Colombians doing the dance, Indian, Dubai, people from out here [in the U.S.]. That gave me an indication that this tune is actually spreading like wildfire. Let me just keep pushing the challenge to see how far it goes. And even after now, I'm still getting videos of people dancing to the song, so that was like a way to market and make it spread.

Where's the craziest place that you've seen your song or your work appreciated? I think it was at an NBA game. I'm not sure what game it was, but just to see the DJ play it. It was a [Dallas Mavericks] DJ Poizon Ivy that played it. And then she just sent me the video, but I didn't know it at the time. She played it during the break time and just ran the tune. That was a big moment.

What songs do you think paved the way for this global movement that Afrobeats is having? The first one I recall is Dbanj’s collab with Kanye West. That opened doors. I think that Snoop Dogg did a song with Dbanj as well, but that didn't impact as much as the one he did with Kanye. That was called “Oliver Twist.” There’s an artist from the UK called Fuse [ODG], he had more impact in that, the European and the Middle East and the UK as well. So he has songs called “Azonto” and “Antenna.” Obviously, the cosigns from Drake as well with “One Dance,” and I think Beyonce posted a couple clips and had like Afrobeat music in the background. Little things like that are just helping it elevate. And Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You" had some African influences so, that was helping it come from underground to mainstream. Just getting cosigns from the major artists.

What does it feel like when you as an international artist see your music get bigger than where you're from? It's crazy because it's gotten to a point when I'm not surprised a celeb is vibing to the song because people that I grew up listening to are vibing to it as well. So I was like, damn. The other day I received a clip of Trey Songz singing it on the mic, I think he was hosting a club night. Ashanti. It was Cardi B in the background, and her sister was vibing to it. And they're fully posting it on their main page and stuff. 50 Cent's son as well. I use it as an indication to show me that, I should keep pushing it because it could get to a serious level. ‘Cause I think the issue is that they give it a certain time, then they'll just move onto the next song and then they don't let the song that could potentially blow up everywhere enough time to grow. Like I said, [“Joanna”] came out this time last year, I'm still pushing the same song. And I’ve only dropped two songs. Well, two songs with a remix in between. That's it. Add more to the fire.

So you're letting it cook. Because attention spans are so short now, that I think people are scared. But that's what's crazy. This song has lasted long, long and it's still lasting. But it's just touching. The world is a big place, so it's just hitting people that haven't heard it yet. There's large amounts of people, I just have to keep going basically.

Do you think it's necessary to have a cosign? It helps it, it helps speed up the process. It going from underground to mainstream. And it also makes a listener who's not used to the sound warm up to it or accept it. Whereas before if it wasn't cosigned by these people, nothing worked. "What the hell is this?" And then just continue listening to whatever they listen to. So, it is kind of important to get those cosigns from major people or major influences for sure.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

@treysongz singing Drogba (Joanna) 🔥🔥 See the joy! This is mad mad mad #AfroWave

A post shared by Afro B 🇨🇮‪ (@afrob__) on Dec 29, 2018 at 2:14am PST

Some Afrobeats songs will be in English, then weave in native language or dialect slang. Do you think there's a way for songs to still have a huge impact globally and really connect without incorporating English? I don't think so, ‘cause I think people need to connect somehow. And I feel that they connect through the lyrics as well as the vibe. The vibe is always there, but if they can understand what's going on, what the artist is saying, what message the artist is trying to send, then they can connect with it more. That's why I feel that “Joanna” works because 95 percent of it is in English. Then there's a bit of Pidgin, a bit of French.

Are there people you'd like to collaborate with down the line, both within the Afrobeats space and then outside of it? Inaudible. Within, I’ve already ticked off who I wanted to collaborate with, which is Wizkid. He did the remix to “Joanna.” Vybez Kartel was in the wish list as well, so, I've ticked that. That's on the way. American-wise: Drake, Swae Lee, Tory Lanez, the melodic people that can add to the vibe. I grew up listening to 50 Cent, Akon. All of the melodic people. I think these days people prefer vibes more than lyrics because right now, there’s a lot of mumble rapping. We don’t know what’s happening, but it sounds lit, innit? Instrumentals are right. Young Thug is an example. He sounds wavy, but we don’t know [what he’s saying].

I looked at your video for your song, “Melanin.” Shout out to you for casting those all those shades of black women. What is it that you love most about the black woman? Everything, man. Everything. I feel like I want to promote them, put them in the forefront, because watching a lot hip-hop videos or whatever, they don't promote the black woman. They'll promote all these models and whatever, Instagram models, but they're not promoting the black African beauty. And if I'm standing for Africa and the culture, I need to push what's going on inside it.

Who do you make your music for? Who do you have in mind when you're creating your music? Everybody. Global. I just want to promote the culture, give them an insight. Shine a good light towards Africa, because I feel like when people think about it, they just think it's poor. If you’ve noticed, for a lot of music videos, they always go to the streets, the projects or whatever, to shoot a video. Like, there's other parts, you know. They always do it. I think the Americans do it the most. I think, "why are you always going there?" Omarion's video, he's in the middle of nowhere, he's in a tribe, and I'm thinking, we're not like that. We're normal people! At the end of the day, everyone's African. We understand each other. The only difference is probably our accents, at times, but you know, there's poor people in America. There's poor people everywhere. We're all the same. But, I don't know, sometimes people think there's a difference between African American and Africans, when that isn't the case. I just wanted to add that, that everyone's one. They should be together. Unity. That's what I stand for.

Continue Reading
VICELAND

Meet John Henry, Host Of VICELAND's New Business Show 'Hustle'

John Henry is a hustler. The 26-year-old, born to Dominican parents and raised in Harlem, knows the right thing to say at the perfect time. His uncanny ability to maneuver in different settings paired with his innate business acumen has catapulted him from a doorman to a part-owner of Harlem Capital, a company designed to invest in businesses created by women and minorities.  

At 18, Henry’s entrepreneurial journey started when a resident of the Brooklyn building where he worked took notice of his intellect and vibrant personality. The tenant owned a dry-cleaning business and offered Henry a chance to make money if he contracted clients for his venture. Eventually, he would end up making the larger part of the profits. This small start led him to develop Mobile City, a dry-cleaning service that winded up catering to Hollywood’s most prominent television and film sets. His first big break in Tinsel Town was in the costume department for The Wolf of Wall Street. He ended up landing more contracts within entertainment, which led him to drop out of community college to solely focus on his company. Since then, he’s sold the business for an undisclosed hefty amount.

“I understood early on that the real money wasn’t the $14 an hour that I was making — the real currency was the people that were there,” Henry tells VIBE. “I had a very people focus approach very early on. When people see something in someone they want to help them out, so there was this one resident in particular, a Boricua guy, who told me, 'You’re too fu**ing smart to be behind the desk, you can have your own doorman. Don’t settle for being the doorman.'”

Now, with his new VICELAND show titled Hustle (executive produced by Alicia Keys and Marcus Samuelsson), Henry sounds like a seasoned vet who’s an owner of five Fortune 500 companies while mentoring the entrepreneurs featured on the eight-episode show. He uses terms like Riches n Niches, Brand Equity, and Biz Def to break down his strategy on helping these businesses go from unknown status to mainstream lucrative ubiquity.

On the first episode, viewers meet Ashley Rouse, the owner of Trade Street Jam, a company that sells $12 vegan jams made out of fruit with low sugar. During the episode, Henry persistently attempts to coax Ashley into quitting her 9 to 5 job to focus on her business. According to a recent interview with XO Necole, Rouse did leave her corporate job.

Amid hosting Hustle and being a part-owner of Harlem Capital, Henry also owns a real estate business and owns 17 apartments in two buildings in Allentown, Penn., Fortune reports. “The sky is the limit” is definitely an understatement when it comes to Henry’s work ethic and drive.

Here, VIBE chatted with him about how he hustled his way to Hustle.

--

VIBE: How did you come up with the idea of a dry-cleaning business at 18, and then get Hollywood clients off it? John Henry: I didn’t come up with the idea for the dry cleaner. I didn’t come up with the idea for a lot of stuff that I’ve done, which is interesting because we’re made to feel like an entrepreneur is someone who has this brilliant idea — and sometimes that’s true, but, more often than not, it’s just a matter of making something out of what’s presented to you.

And here’s what I mean: this resident already owned a dry cleaner. That’s how he made his money. He said, “John, I own this dry-cleaning facility. I don’t have much in this world, but I have this. You go and make something out of it. Convince anyone, I don’t care who it is, go out there and hustle and convince someone to give you their clothes. And if you bring this to me, I’ll clean them for wholesale rate. You charge the market rate and you make the spread.”

So in other words, a suit would cost you $12 to dry clean, it would cost me $4 so I would make the $8 spread. So I was like "Ok.” Eight dollars a piece isn’t much money, but if you’re talking 100 pieces it’s looking much better or 1,000 pieces that’s even better than that. Immediately, I fell in love with the idea that in entrepreneurship the results are really in your hands because no matter how much I open that door, my income was capped as a doorman. Whereas being an entrepreneur it was all up to me.  

To answer your question on how I got started in Hollywood, that also wasn’t my idea. I started promoting my business, so one of the residents in the building told me “I’m in film/TV, we need someone to do our dry cleaning because we shoot at three in the morning and no dry cleaner is open at that time.”

Obviously, he’s like, “What time do you get out.” And I was like, “At 11.” He picked me up, took to me to set of what became my first film account, which was The Wolf Of Wall Street. I was fortunate they gave me a chance. I did well with it. And then he said, "There is a new account. I’m going to introduce you.” That new account was Boardwalk Empire, and Law & Order: A Person Of Interest. Then I went on to do White Collar and Ninja Turtle. I quit my job. I dropped out of college and I really went for this full time.

How did your parents take you dropping out of college? As immigrant parents, they came here and they always had this vision of us being a doctor or a lawyer. They were definitely not thrilled when I told them that I was going to leave school and that I was going to start a business. They were like, “Alright what business?” I said, “Dry cleaner.” They were like, “What?!” because my father was actually a presser growing up. They felt like, “Dude we didn’t come here so you can take a step back, we want you to take a step forward.” But they didn’t understand at the time that it wasn’t about the industry, it was about ownership. That’s the first time I ever really owned anything and now they are my biggest fans. They came around but it took them a little while.   

Did you handpick the contestants on Hustle? VICE gives me a lot of creative liberty. We have a casting company that spreads the word and gets hundreds of applications. Then they’ll do all that part for me and boil it down to like maybe five or 10 finalists per episode. And then I choose who I get most excited by. I drive what happens in the episodes. It’s my vision for how the entrepreneur should grow their business. I told them early on that it would be hard for me to work with a business that didn’t fascinate me. With Ashley, for instance, I hand chose her and I was really adamant about working with her. Every business in the whole season you’ll see was hand selected by me and I was very excited to work with each one of them.

Did you come up with the three business models presented on the show: Riches n Niches, Biz Def and Brand Equity? Do you use them in your own business approach? That section of the show we call Biz Pod. It’s something we came up with. I’m glad you asked because it was kind of a funny story of how that whole device came to be. We were shooting the pilot and I’m so engulfed in my own world that I’m not even noticing when I’m using business lingo. I keep saying we have to biz def or we have to build brand equity. Those are not terms that I made up, but those are terms that are used in business, that maybe are not commonly used outside of business. My director was like, “John what the hell is biz def?” Then Ashley was like, “What’s biz def?” That’s when we realized there is an opportunity here to actually educate the viewer.

We really fell in love with this idea of producing the show around showing an authentic look at entrepreneurship and along the way educate the viewer on some key terms that we think they should take away. That’s kind of how we came up with that little device that ended up being called biz pods. I choose all the terms as well. My director and I go back and forth on what we feel is the best biz pod for the episode and then we take it from there.

View this post on Instagram

 

Take 30 secs to watch this. ⠀ . ⠀ I’ll say say this ‘til im blue in the face... if it ‘clicks’ for even 1 person it was worth it. ⠀ . ⠀ It’s not the idea... it’s the bravery to act on that idea. ⠀ . ⠀ Now go and get it. 💪🏾 ⠀ . ⠀ #entrepreneur #IdeasAreEasy #ExecutionIsEverything #founderlife #startup #afrotech #one37pm

A post shared by John Henry (@johnhenrystyle) on Dec 11, 2018 at 5:19am PST

On the show, you speak with a lot of conviction about the decisions you think must be made in order to achieve success. Were you always this confident or was this a muscle you had to develop? Definitely a muscle I had to develop. The more time you spend in the arena, the more confident you become in your own abilities. But also, the more self-awareness you develop. I have no problem saying, “I’m being too stubborn,” or taking a step back and saying, “I think I’m wrong here.” But one thing I did learn over the years is when you’re in the driver’s seat you have to be careful because sometimes people come with interests that are not aligned with yours. That is a learned skill that comes with time.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced in your career? So many. For starters, I would say one of my biggest challenges was figuring out how the whole machine works. The reason why I’m really passionate about the show is because we get a chance to offer a glimpse to people about the fundamentals of building a business, like the basic building blocks because if you grow up in an affluent neighborhood you kind of have examples, role-models, support networks, all around you at any given time.

If you have a question about taxes you have an uncle that’s an accountant, or your auntie that’s a lawyer or something like that. Growing up in The Heights, in any underserved low-income community, that infrastructure does not exist so the hardest part that took me years to learn was how the whole game works. I’m talking about how the whole machinery works.

How does business affect a community? How does real estate affect a community? How does politics affect business? All these pieces that seem kind of separate are actually very closely interconnected. And it took me probably five or six years to really develop a macro perspective. Now that I have that framework I really feel like I can go on and do anything. So that’s the same understanding that I really want to impart on people both through my personal efforts like the content I create on Instagram and obviously something like the show.

Dominicans make good business people. In New York, many of the corner grocery stores are Dominican or Arab-owned. And Dominicans also own a lot of taxi car companies. Has your cultural background influenced your business sense? Absolutely, and you’re right Dominican people are good at business. In New York, we tend to be more merchants, but the skills that I learned from our culture are fu**ing invaluable. Even just my mom buying plantains on the corner. She would constantly negotiate. My dad trained me to be really resourceful. We had so little growing up that he would teach me to make the most out of it. All these ingrained lessons from our communities were instilled in me. Now that I’m in the corporate arena I’m a beast because a lot of these kids I’m with grew up in a different life path. Now that we’re in the same rooms I find myself consistently outwitting and outmaneuvering a lot of these people because maybe they don’t have some of that cultural edge.

If you can come from a disadvantaged position and make it, you end up having such a massive edge because then you have both; street smarts and book smarts. I think of Jay-Z, he maneuvered real danger and the streets. And now for him to sit in a boardroom there is no one else in that boardroom who’s had his life experience, which makes it even more valuable.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Posting this again for #MondayMotivation cause it gets me so HYPE. 🔥🔥 ⠀ -⠀ HUSTLE premiers on @VICELAND February 10th. ⠀ -⠀ Tag a friend who should see this!👇🏾👇🏾 ⠀ -⠀ #hustlevice #entrepreneur #hustle #viceland #vice #xt4

A post shared by John Henry (@johnhenrystyle) on Jan 14, 2019 at 5:25am PST

What do you think is the biggest risk you can take in your career now? The biggest risk right now that you can take as a business person is to take no risk. If you default to just doing things the way you’ve done them you will go out of business because everything is changing so fast. The media is being consumed differently. Weed is being legalized, retail is going out of business. The mall that used to be so hot is now being replaced by Amazon. Lawmaking and policy-making are now being shifted by artificial intelligence, cars are going to be self-driven. Every industry is changing so much, so the most dangerous risk you can take is not doing anything different.

I love risks because with high risks comes high reward. And it doesn’t always work out and that’s the scary part about it. I’m just focusing on leveraging this opportunity. My biggest risks are all on the Harlem Capital side. I have a $25 million fund and we invest in women and minorities. I don’t just talk about this. We put our money where our mouth is and invest our money into companies owned by people that look like us, and that’s very risky business because a lot of businesses don’t make it.

What do you hope people in your community will take away from being on this show? I’m already starting to see the response. Dozens of people a day are reaching out to me saying, “I’m so proud just to see someone who looks like me that understands business and is on camera while helping other people.” The byproduct of this show is going to be good because people are going to have role models, they are going to see real stories of people who look like them striving to make it, and making it.

Hustle airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on VICELAND. 

Continue Reading

Top Stories