Michaela Coel Michaela Coel
VIBE/ Jason Chandler

NEXT: 'Chewing Gum's Michaela Coel Brings Biting Wit That Won’t Lose Its Flavor

The U.K. sensation’s brand of comedy in her award-winning show ‘Chewing Gum’ is the snap, crackle and pop that television has been waiting for.

Michaela Coel is a tough act to follow… literally. Due to her hectic schedule, I finally catch up with her in early-March, during a brief bout of downtime for a Skype interview after about a month of playing e-mail tag. I’m also on literal downtime, as I tuck in a quiet, carpeted corner of our office to sit and talk to this magnetic up-and-comer.

Ever the busy bee, Coel, adorned in periwinkle overalls and a tan shirt, explains that she is trying to be mindful of the pace for our chat, as she’s getting ready to run off again—this time, for a date.

“It’s so rare for me! I’ve spent, like, three hours trying to figure out how to be a person who goes on a date,” she says while smiling and touching her center-parted onyx bomb, which gets shaved off just two days later for her turn as single mother Simone in the forthcoming musical film, Been So Long. Her effervescent personality shoots straight through my Macbook Pro, and our laid-back conversation makes it feel like we’re not a computer screen, five hours and a continent away, but face-to-face, yucking it up. All the chasing was worth it.

"I'm black, I'm dark and I'm f**king beautiful. My skin is gorgeous, I love myself, people with good eyesight love me too, and the rest of the world can f**k themselves." —Michaela Coel

The 29-year-old screenwriter and actress hails from London, where her comedy sitcom Chewing Gum recently started its second season. The show made its way into global consciousness after it nabbed a deal with Netflix, and Season Two will drop on the streaming service April 4. Although Chewing Gum is relatively new on television (it first aired in late-2015), it has earned Coel not one, but two BAFTA Awards: Best Female Performance In A Comedy Programme and Breakthrough Talent for writing the show.

“I mean, it's quite mad actually,” Coel says in her charmingly raspy English accent, regarding the success of her hit show. “It's quite mad how people seem to get the show the way I wanted them to get it. I get messages from people that break down the show to me, and I'm like, ‘You get the show as if you wrote it,’ and that's amazing. It's been really cool.”

The aforementioned sitcom is based off of Coel’s one-woman play Chewing Gum Dreams, which is named in reference to a symbolically dark poem about London’s working-class. As Coel explains of the poem, citizens are portrayed as Hooded Angels who are unable to balance the different aspects of their lives, and as a result, everything falls and splatters to the ground like chewing gum.

The show tells the story of Tracey Gordon, a chaste 24-year-old shop clerk living in an underdeveloped London housing estate, who is ready to become more worldly and swipe her V-card. However, Tracey’s family of militant Christians and her own unfamiliarity with anything remotely sexy complicates her endeavors, yielding hilarious results. In the first season, viewers are introduced to Connor, an enthusiastic-yet-dreadful poet who becomes Tracey’s romantic interest; her best friend Candice, a BDSM enthusiast who is a fervent supporter of Tracey’s sexcapades; and an ex-flame named Ronald, who is harboring a secret of his own. Coel excitably assures that the second season will bring more in-depth storylines for series regulars like Candice and Grandma Esther, the official introduction of a secondary character named Ola and, of course, the crude humor fans have come to love from the show.

Chewing Gum doesn’t hold back on the abundance of OMG-moments, which aim to challenge the stereotypes of Christianity and sexuality. In the first scene of Season One, we find Ronald and Tracey praying. As Ronald passionately promises God that he and Tracey will wait until marriage (or “until they die”) to have sex, Tracey fantasizes about gettin’ it on. In another hilariously cringe-worthy moment, Tracey finally gets alone time with Connor, and tries to kiss him virtually everywhere before an unsuccessful attempt to “sit on his face.” While the comedy has supporters all over the world, Coel assures that not everyone is ready for a TV series where absolutely nothing is off-limits.

“Those who get the show, get the show, and then I think [for] other people, it's way too vulgar and disgusting,” the former self-proclaimed “super-Christian” explains. But really, I have never wanted it any other way. I’m not afraid to comment [on sex and religion]. I think you just have to do you, whatever that is, and not feel like you have to be a certain way for other people to like you. That's bullsh*t.”

Another important aspect of Chewing Gum is that it displays race and class differences without making them the central focus of the series. Both are unspoken, but never unnoticed. Tracey’s love-interest Connor is a white man, while Esther, a white woman, is the grandmother of Candice, a black woman.

The characters also live in an area that, financially, isn’t too well off. Coel was raised in London's Tower Hamlets in a similarly styled residential area to that of the Chewing Gum universe, where she faced economic hardships growing up. Her experiences in her hometown are one of the major inspirations for the show.

“There's loads of different cultures,” she explains of her old neighborhood. “There's loads of different people from different countries, but at the same time, it's not a very happy area. Chewing Gum is kind of like the world I wish I grew up in. There wasn't really a sense of community growing up. You [also] don't see working-class black people being happy on TV.”

The show also taught Coel valuable lessons as a relatively new comedy writer. Before the show, she primarily penned poems, songs and plays, so she explains that she was “aiming in the dark" when she was first tasked with writing a sitcom.

“I didn't write a pilot, there wasn't a pilot for Chewing Gum. I did, like, two five-minute scenes. I did 41 drafts of my first episode,” she notes as I clutch my chest, feeling sympathy for her and the writer’s struggle.

“Oh it was hell. It was absolutely hell,” she continues as her oval-shaped eyes widen. “I had never done scripts. I hadn't written in commercial breaks. The stories were all there, they were just in the wrong place. It was like a really long, two-hour film. I had to learn how to write episodic. My friend was like, ‘Use a script editor, shows normally have a script editor.’ So I was like, ‘Um, excuse me? Can I have a script editor?’ [laughs]… This was, like, six weeks before we f**king shot it.” This situation taught her how comedy is structured in a different fashion than that of a poem or play, and she wrote the script in more of her “natural” style and rhythm for season two of the show.

"It's just a constant reminder that I can come to this party, but it's not my party. I've been allowed in. This is not my home, and I don't really have a real space here.” —Michaela Coel

Of course, Coel got the hang of comedy writing, and she was awarded with a BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Academy Awards) for penning Chewing Gum. During her acceptance speech, where she wore a Kente cloth dress made by her mother, Michaela made sure to speak directly to young women of color, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams with unabashed confidence.

“If there’s anyone out there that looks a bit like me, or just feels a little bit out of place just trying to get into performing,” she emotionally proclaimed, “you are beautiful, embrace it. You are intelligent, embrace it. You are powerful, embrace it.”

Chewing Gum’s goofily lovable heroine Tracey portrays black self-love and acceptance in her own wacky-yet-captivating way.

“[Tracey is] a black, dark-skinned woman, who is just being free and crazy, and she's vulnerable, and she's funny, and she's cute, she's endearing and she's messed up,” Coel says. According to her, there is a need for more “nearly invisible” black characters on television who represent the imperfect woman and their navigation through life.

“I don't see it on TV enough, and that's why I made the character,” she continues. “If I wasn't black, I would have wrote that part for a black person and cast someone else. I want people to watch it and to feel liberated and do whatever they want.”

Black female creatives like Coel, The Chi’s creator Lena Waithe and Coel’s close friend, Insecure’s “super dope” Issa Rae, have gone over massive hurdles to create television shows and films featuring characters who are relatable to one of television’s most important demographics. However, Coel says the entertainment industry itself still couldn’t be further from the finish line when it comes to inclusion and acceptance.

“Being a dark-skinned woman right now is interesting. It is really, really interesting,” she says as her brows furrow and the energetic tone in her voice shifts to something more serious. “At awards shows, you win an award, right? And you get your gift bag, and it's like M.A.C makeup or something, and it's all for white people. You get tanning lotion, white people's foundation, and it's just a constant reminder that I can come to this party, but it's not my party. I've been allowed in. This is not my home, and I don't really have a real space here.”

Despite the ever-apparent racial struggles within the industry, Coel continues to look on the bright side, and assures me nothing is going to deter her from chasing her dreams and creating compellingly colorful content like Chewing Gum. Nothing will steer her away from being unapologetically true to herself, either.

“[Marginalization] is what breeds creativity, it's what inspires us,” she says as her broad smile reappears. “I can't be mad about it because I'm black, I'm dark and I'm f**king beautiful. My skin is gorgeous, I love myself, people with good eyesight love me too, and the rest of the world can f**k themselves. I’m gonna have a little dark-skinned party over here. I'll have a good time!”

Chew on that.

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The 25 Best Latinx Albums Of 2019

As we inch closer to the end of another memorable chapter in music, the Spanish-language gap gets bigger by the day. To anyone who believed reggaeton's second coming or Latin trap was a trend were gravely mistaken as artists across the diaspora found success on the charts and in the streaming world. Artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and J Balvin continued to thrive off last year's releases while dropping memorable singles (and joint projects). Others like Sech broke the mold for the marriage of hip-hop and reggaeton with Panamanian pride. Legends like Mark Anthony and Ivy Queen reminded us of their magic while rising artists like Rico Nasty, DaniLeigh and Melii provided major star power and creative visuals for their tunes. Latinx music has continued to push boundaries and the same goes for our list.

Enjoy our ranking of the 25 best Latinx albums of 2019.

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Pictured (L-R): WurlD and Sarz
Courtesy of Management

Meet Sarz and WurlD: The Nigerian Producer-Singer Powerhouse Showing Africa’s Sonic Range

There’s a slow infiltration of sultry, soulful, lo-fi music in afrobeats—and the latest from Nigerian producer Sarz and his fellow countryman and singer-songwriter, WurlD, is just a taste of how the scene is evolving. Before landing at No. 1 on Nigeria’s iTunes Albums Chart, I Love Girls With Trobul was a long time coming. Backed by Sarz’ fresh instrumentals, WurlD flexes his songwriting chops to talk about all things love and lust in this eight-track EP. The project is a cohesive narrative of the ups and downs people face when grappling with relationships.

On the origin story of how this project came to be, the duo notes that a mutual friend of theirs made the initial connection for them to explore working together. Sarz, born Osaretin Osabuohien, then sent over a few beats, with WurlD delivering with 2018’s “Trobul” in less than 24 hours. Sarz says he was so in love with the song that this collaboration needed to go beyond one track. They both describe the foundation of the EP as “seamless,” and for WurlD, this was one of the few times he made a decision to work on a project with someone without overthinking it. It just felt right.

I Love Girls With Trobul is the duo’s take on balance while pushing the culture forward. WurlD comes with his relatable, minimal lyrics (he’s also worked with the likes of BOB, Trinidad James, Mario, Walshy Fire and more during his time in Atlanta) while Sarz (a chart-topping producer who’s had Niniola and Wizkid grace his beats) delivers trendsetting instrumentals. There’s a song on I Love Girls With Trobul for everybody—for those on the continent and in the diaspora alike.

“Mad” is the newest music video to drop from the EP. A continuation of the storyline that the collaborators showed us in their previous single “Ego: Nobody Wins,” we take a look at the dysfunctional insecurities of a relationship between WurlD, born Sadiq Onifade, and his love interest (played by Bolu Aduke Kanmi). The relatability of the visual and the song will surely get you in your feelings.

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VIBE: Sarz, what kind of sonic journey did you intend to take listeners through in this EP?

Sarz: I was trying to make something that suits WurlD’s sound, makes him comfortable enough to express himself, and also isn’t alien to the afrobeats space. I was also trying to push the narrative with the sound because that’s what I’m known for. I’ve always been that producer in Nigeria that doesn’t really follow trends and does stuff that other producers use as a template to make music. This is just one of those projects where it doesn’t sound like anything else in the afrobeats space right now. This time next year, you’ll hear so many songs that sound like songs off this project.

How would you describe the creative process of working with each other?

WurlD: We had to trust each other—I was very open. It was all about both of us meeting in the middle. There were times where Sarz would advise me to tweak the conversation in my lyrics. Another thing we focused on was bringing Africa along as much as possible. He’s Nigeria at its core. I learned how to create music in America, though I was born in Nigeria—so I know the culture. I lived there until I was a teenager. We understood each other and I was open to the idea; we were both determined to do whatever we needed to do to make the best project. One of our biggest challenges making this was that we were both in different places throughout the process, so the ongoing support we got from “Trobul” kept us alive. We recorded the first series of songs in L.A., the body of it in Atlanta and we then finished it in Lagos earlier this year.

Sarz: We had to go back and forth with ideas because his musical background and experiences are different than mine. There were certain songs that we had to go back and forth with to make it more relatable and right for the project.

Why is a project like I Love Girls With Trobul needed in the popular African music scene now?

Sarz: From my end, I feel like when you’re genuine with your art and speaking your truth, people will always gravitate to that—because there’s someone out there that feels the same way you feel. I don’t know who’s out there who feels the same way, but judging from the reviews and feedback we’ve been getting, there are so many people that we’re touching right now with this.

WurlD: I like the idea of collaboration. I wanted to shine a light on the importance of collaborating with producers. Living in the States for so many years, I saw this happen every day. I noticed how there are different ways to collaborate and how in general there’s not a lot of love for producers. I hope this inspires other producers to put more value in themselves.

Wurld, what inspired you to be so vulnerable with the stories you share in the EP?

WurlD: I feel like when I’m creating music is when I’m the most vulnerable. Music is communication—people go through things. I like the idea of empowering people through words where a sad song can actually lift you up. If it’s done in a happy space, you don’t feel so sad after all. I can’t really explain how I balance that but it’s a free, caring space. I care about the listener. I understand how difficult it is to empower yourself through a heartbreak. It’s being vulnerable, but it’s to be free and accept a loss. I understand the need for people to feel empowered to get up and keep going, so that makes it easy for me to tap into my vulnerability and to keep the audience lifted.

Sarz, what inspired you to conjure a sinister, dark sound with “Mad”?

Sarz: There’s nothing like that in the African space right now. That was the last record we made, and I felt like the project needed a little edge. After working on a few records, “Mad” was the standout one. We just knew this is what we’ve been looking for—it was just me trying to make a global soundtrack. I feel like anyone, anywhere in the world can relate to “Mad,” even though it’s afrobeats.

Walk me through its music video. What should viewers keep in mind while watching?

WurlD: We wanted to stay close to the conversation of the song. And “Mad” goes through different emotions with an afro-dance element. The key part in the record is how I’m dealing with my issues and I’m dealing with yours, but at the end of the day we get mad and we’ll make up. This is an everyday situation. We fight, we come together. And we wanted to highlight that in the video. With “Ego,” we were disconnected. With “Mad,” we give it a try when you break up to make up. The making up part is not easy, so there’s a lot of highlighting the highs and lows of those emotions to get past what made you mad. The dance elements highlight African culture and we wanted to keep it simple, stylish and straight to the point.

Sarz: With this project, we were really just trying to do things how we feel. And the project itself sounds like a story from the first song to the last. We wanted to try and keep that visually and interpret it as much as possible so people understand that journey with the visual.

What’s next from the project?

WurlD: I feel like this project we created is the first of its kind coming out of this region in Africa. We hope to inspire and show the rest of the world the necessity of range. Africa is not just one thing, and there’s so much more that we have to offer. We’re planning on doing more visuals because we feel strongly that these records deserve A1 narratives and visuals that push the culture forward and shines a light on African art.

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Jenny Regan

NEXT: Kemba Makes The Song Cry On His Painful Masterpiece ‘Gilda’

Kemba doesn’t look like the stereotypical rapper. He's not loaded with expensive jewelry, a large entourage, "exotic" women, and stylish clothes. The budding MC is reserved. Remember the quiet, artsy, yet cool kid in high school who didn’t put on a thick shield of toughness, but you knew he’d fight when invited to? That’s Kemba, the seemingly reticent kid moving to the beat inside of his headphones.

It’s a dreary Thursday afternoon near the end of September. Exactly six days prior to this date (Sept. 28), the Bronx native released his sobering album titled Gilda, the follow-up to 2016's Negus album. But even in the face of album release parties and the fame that comes with having a record deal, the Republic artist refuses to put on the clichéd mask of a rapper.

The regular degular kid arrives solo, and on time, at VIBE’s Times Square office. Despite his mother’s death still fresh on his mind, Kemba seems to be in great spirits. He’s generous with posing for pictures, calmly standing where the photographer asks him to. While Kemba is totally alert, his eyes hold a glare that shows he’s pondering some valuable lessons recently learned.

One listen to Gilda, named after his mother who died of a stroke, and it’s clear that the bubbling MC is adept at sorting through thoughts and unearthing lessons from deep-rooted pain.

“I’m just getting into the habit of speaking about things and not holding anything in,” Kemba says when asked about extracting lessons from discomfort. “I haven’t had a lot of revelations yet. I’m still getting accustomed to recognizing my thoughts, and feelings, sharing my thoughts, and looking at the feeling wheel, and identifying all of the things that that situation makes me feel.”

Kebma began his rap career as YC the Cynic. With Eminem being a big influence on his early rap style, Kemba’s lyrical ambition is evident on early mixtapes like 2010’s You’re Welcome and 2011’s Fall Forward, where he’s rapping over a mix of industry instrumentals and original beats. Kemba was also doing a lot of open mics around the Rotten Apple, tapping into his gift of wordplay and building his fanbase through an old-school path of impressing local crowds. His burgeoning career leveled-up after being discovered by Queens MC, Homeboy Sandman, who introduced Kemba to Hot 97 radio personality Peter Rosenberg.

But as Kemba found his footing in the underground scene and came into his own as an artist, he decided to trade in his YC the Cynic tag for a handle more befitting to the picture he wanted to paint of himself.

“I try to separate myself from constructs. I never really had pride in my name [YC the Cynic]," Kemba recalls. "I always felt detached from my real name. So I just wanted to choose something for myself.”

“I wanted it to sound youthful, like it had african roots to it, and to sound strong," he continues. “And I really just searched a bunch of names. I went through names for about a year. Like YC the Cynic, you hear it, and you can think of the type of person that would have that name. I just wanted a name that, to where I could do whatever [musically].”

Fast forward to 2019, Kemba’s departure from the battle rhymes on Gilda is his best project to date. The album moves through a series of revelations, family issues, and takes listeners on a journey of a young man trudging through hardships.

One week after the release of Gilda, Kemba sat with VIBE for a discussion about regrets, finding meaning from traumatic situations, and controlling his narrative.

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VIBE: Gilda sounds like a project where you’re exposing a bunch of lessons that you recently learned. Kemba: I feel like it led to that. It started with me examining my life in a way that I haven’t before. It started with me not being able to process my mom’s death. At some point I started to write again and it was like, “Oh shit, this is how I feel.” But I didn’t know that until I wrote it. This is the only way I’m going to find out about myself, so let me just do this. Let me think about my childhood and write. And then at some point that became me examining myself, reading back what I wrote. I’m going to therapy now, and I’m figuring out different ways to understand myself. But that started from me realizing there was more to it than writing.

I sense that you have some regrets about the relationships in your family? It’s hard because a lot of the relationships in my family are so broken. There are a lot of family members that I love and talk to on a regular basis, but there are still some that I do not know if it will ever be repaired. And I realized that as you get older it becomes harder to link with people, and you look up and it’s been a year since you saw them. Just spending time gets really hard as you get older. But that’s the goal.

Do you wish you spent more time with your mom? I think my mom is like a whole different relationship. I wish I would’ve been there with my mom. And I did spend time with my mom. I wish it would’ve been more quality time. Now I know the difference between spending time and quality time. I wish I’d known more about her, her history, and her upbringing. So yes, there are regrets.

Has your family heard the album? A lot of my family has heard the album, and I’m pleasantly surprised that the acceptance has been as good as it has. I imagine that a lot of the people that it was about didn’t hear it. But everybody that I heard from said they were proud. Some cried at some point and said they love me. And that’s a good of an acceptance that I get from them. There’s this theme of controlling your narrative throughout your music too. How young were you when you realized that that’s important?

There's a lot of talk of controlling your narrative in your music. Most 23-years-old are not thinking about controlling their narrative. When did this become a thing for you? I can’t remember when I had that idea that that was important but I do know that in general that if you don’t control your narrative someone else will. There’s a laundry list of evidence, from the history to America to the history of hip-hop, where people don’t really stake claim, and they get the value to the point where the story is up for grabs. Like right now, for as long as I have lived it’s been recognized that Kool Herc is the Godfather of Hip-Hop and as the story goes on the story gets misconstrued. And other people take claim. So controlling your narrative is super important.

Are you into activism? Your album Negus gives me that feel. That’s how I came up. I came up being part of a community organization called Rebel Diaz. They showed me the way of the social activism. We lead and organize a bunch of marches. We went down to Ferguson,down to Baltimore for Freddie Gray. I was doing that a lot, but music took more and more of my time. But I would love to get back to that. Those are my brothers. I look to them for advice often.

What will Kemba’s story read like? I’ve thought about it. I don’t know the exact answer. I just know the things that I love to do. I want to be a part of making incredible art as long as I live. Making my own art, and helping people with their art. Whether that means creating music, helping other people create music, or just executive produce projects, producing, writing for people. I just want to be involved in art, and more involved in social service.

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