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Out Of Time: The System Failed Kalief Browder, But It Doesn't Have To Fail Others

In light of TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, VIBE spoke to organizers of the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign to discuss what's next on the juvenile justice reform agenda. 

Spike TV's docu-series TIME: The Kalief Browder Story walked viewers through the unimaginable and horrifying experience that Kalief Browder endured at Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack in May 2010. Because of a bag, a faulty identification from the victim, and a vicious justice system, Kalief spent three years of his childhood in the prison system while his case was wrapped up in a number of technicalities and misrepresented information. In Rikers, the once playful and charismatic teenager was verbally and physically abused by inmates and guards. When he chose to speak up or fight back, he was thrown into solitary confinement for egregious amounts of time. As a result, Kalief's mental health suffered tremendously and despite attempting to conform to society as a 21-year-old, he couldn't and commited suicide in June 2015.

"The Kalief Browder Story is a witches brew of everything gone wrong in the criminal justice system," Mark Soler, Executive Director of the Center for Children's Law and Policy and founder of the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign, said. "Every single entity that was supposed to do a job, failed. The police did not investigate his case adequately. The people at Rikers did not provide a minimum level of safety when he was inside. The doctors that he came into contact with, mistakenly thought he started with a mental illness and gave him powerful anti-psychotic drugs, which had terrible consequences. The prosecutor misrepresented the situation to the court; the judges brought shame to the profession by allowing all those continuances, and Kalief’s own lawyer failed him."

Unfortunately, the system betrayed Kalief, but it doesn't have to destroy others. Stop Solitary for Kids is a campaign launched to eliminate the detrimental method of solitary confinement as an appropriate form of punishment. The campaign, in which Kalief's mother Venida Browder was a board member, seeks to bring awareness to the issue while providing solutions and alternative programs that foster positive change in youth rather than harm.

Kalief's story unveiled the devastating truth of our juvenile justice system, but unfortunately, it was at the hand of his death. With that being said, his death will not go unnoticed. VIBE spoke with Soler as well as Staff Attorney at the Center for Children’s Law and Policy and Campaign Manager, Jennifer Lutz on their organization's mission, the impact of Kalief's story, and what happens next on the path toward reform.

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VIBE: Can you elaborate on the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign and its mission? 
Mark Soler: Everyday there are about 50,000 or more young people who are held in juvenile facilities away from their home. There’s another 5,000 or so who are held in prisons and jails everyday. Solitary confinement is in many juvenile facilities around the United States. We don’t have careful reports on how many kids are put into solitary confinement, but surveys find about a third of young people have an experience of being held in solitary. And about half of those were held for more than 24 hours. Solitary confinement is a terrible experience for young people. It is emotionally damaging and psychologically numbing. The only thing that would come close to it is if you imagine you went into your own bathroom at home and took everything out of it -- the radio, the magazines, everything off of the counter -- leave it completely bare, and then close the door and look at it for the next hour. It’s very hard to do. The lack of stimuli in those places is a terrifying experience.

So what we are trying to do in the campaign is to end the use of solitary confinement. Now, that does not mean if a child is out of control, assaulting other kids or staff in the facility, that there’s nothing the staff can do. On the contrary, if a child is out of control, the staff should separate them from other people they’re getting into trouble with. Put them in a quiet place in another part of the room or their own, and let them calm down. The issue is, once they calm down, they should be released to go back into regular programming. But what actually happens is that the young people get into trouble, talk back to a staff member or get into a pushing match with somebody else, and they get put into their rooms and they’re left there for long periods of time. In many facilities, the minimum is four hours and it can go on for eight to 16 hours or longer. That is totally unacceptable. So we want to end this practice. And the way we want to do this is to bring insiders and outsiders together. To truly end this problem, we need to involve the people who put children into solitary, meaning the people who run juvenile correctional agencies and the superintendents of juvenile facilities and staff. So we have three partner organizations (Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, Center for Juvenile Reform at Georgetown University, Justice Policy Institute) all over the United States, to build on the strength of agencies that are doing the right thing and spreading the word of what they’re doing.

What's the difference between solitary confinement and confinement as forms of punishment? 
MS: Room confinement, which is also called isolation or segregation, is appropriate when a child is out of control. Not only is it acceptable, but it's the strong thing to do to separate a child from getting into a conflict and giving them time to calm down. Everything other than an immediate, short-term time for the child to calm down, is solitary confinement.

Teenagers are going to talk back to the staff, and as expected, staff may become aggravated. How do you build a better relationship between staff and inmates and create trust and compassion between the two parties?
MS: That is the fundamental question in all of this. First of all, there needs to be leadership from the top. There needs to be a clear policy in the facility that we are not going to treat these young people as prisoners. We’re going to treat them as young people who are having trouble, who have potential in life, and need support. And we’re going to make sure they stay safe while they’re here, and help them as much as we possibly can. There needs to be a culture in the facility and in the agency that is a culture of supporting young people rather than a culture that is rigid and punitive. Rigid and punitive is the old way of doing things. [It's] what you saw at Rikers Island. There has to be an environment that is not punitive but instead, looks to the goodness and potential of the young people that are there.

Then we need to make sure that the staff are trained and they are comfortable handling any situation. Most staff get training for handling conflict, where the training is about 20 percent on how to talk to the kids and deescalate and 80 percent is how to get physical control of them -- how to get control of their hands and arms and put them down on the floor. We don’t like those kinds of training. There is a training called Safe Crisis Management that comes out of a program in Pennsylvania where 80 percent of training is how to talk to young people who are in conflict, and only 20 percent is about how to get physical control. Safe Crisis Management spends so much time emphasizing that staff need not obey their intuitive response. An intuitive response when a kid talks back to you is to say I’m in charge. Intuitive responses for staff is to bring other staff in and say to the child, we have more power than you. The training has to train the intuitive reaction out of the staff and replace it with a calm, patient demeanor, which asks the young person to tell me what the real problem is. Young people don’t just fly off the handle for no reason. There’s almost always a reason. It may not be a reason that adults think is a good reason, but it’s a reason. They may have learned that they’re not getting released when they went to court. They may have gotten a call from a family member who told them that mom is having some health problems or heard from someone in the family that [their] girlfriend is hanging around with somebody else. None of them may be good reasons for getting into a fight, but it may be that the young person is very upset and needs a way to express that. In most cases, these police officers at the training academy are only two or three years older than the kids we’re talking about. So they should be able to empathize.

We’re talking about kids Kalief’s age or younger, but as studies have shown, even in your early 20s, the brain has not developed fully. Should there be an age limit on solitary confinement?
MS: Solitary should be thrown out, but it is much harder to do in adult facilities. With adult facilities, you don’t start with the presumption of innocence of adolescence. I’m not talking in a legal sense as in you're innocent until proven guilty. When we’re talking about young people, we believe they can change because we’ve seen them grow. We know from the brain research that people’s brains are developing until their mid-20s. The part of the brain that develops last is the pre-frontal cortex. That’s the part of the brain that covers executive functions or the planning functions. It’s the part of the brain that understands there could be future consequences. A 16-year-old does not have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex. That means that they cannot understand the future consequences of irresponsible behavior now in the way that a 30-year-old can understand it. Adults coming to 17-year-olds and saying don’t do this, you’re going to get in trouble later, is not going to be very effective. In addition, we know that young people are highly influenced by their peers. For most teenagers, they are likely to be more influenced by what their peers do than what their parents tell them to do. That’s not to say their parents are unimportant, but most teenagers are more likely to do what their peers want to do than what their parents want them to do. For those reasons, we have a different way of thinking about young people. When you’re talking about inmates in their 30s and 40s and older, we don’t come with that kind of thinking about them. They are older, their brains have developed, and they get much less sympathy from the public and from the people who run these facilities. That makes it much harder to make changes.

How do you think Kalief’s story gave momentum to this campaign as well as impacted decision-makers or people in power to create change?
MS: The facts of what happened to Kalief are terrible. A lot of them came out in Jennifer Gonnerman’s article in The New Yorker, but the filmmakers [at Spike TV] went further than anybody else. They went further than the police and Jennifer was able to do. They really set out to first understand the story about what happened to Kalief, and then tell the complete story. I have been working on juvenile justice reform for the past 39 years, and I have seen many situations that are parts of what happened to Kalief. I’ve never seen a situation where he was failed by every single agency that was responsible for him. So I think the aggregation of horrible failure is one of the things that is so dramatically impressive about the situation. The comprehensiveness [in the series] of the things that went wrong really has an impact. The other is the way the filmmakers have told the story in an unfolding way. In each episode you learn more of what’s going on. That’s not just putting film clips together; that’s actually telling a story. The storytellers have thought a lot about how to unwind the story in a way that provides entertainment. It’s not happy entertainment, but it’s entertainment that keeps people engaged.

Jennifer Lutz: In addition to working with administrators and directors of facilities and agencies, we also want to provide other ways to address solitary confinement for kids. Specifically, one of those ways is law making. So we’ve seen in response to the series, a general awareness of this issue within the normal viewing public, but also lawmakers and policy makers in states and counties are getting a better understanding of what solitary confinement actually is. [The series] really puts an experiential spin on solitary confinement, and it helps people realize just how horrible it is. So having that footage and allowing us to see it, has raised awareness about the issue of solitary confinement in a new way, and hopefully that will be helpful for those who are involved in law making at the state and federal level and also for people in communities to get involved locally because that’s where a lot of the reform will take place. We are also seeing in facilities that administrators and staff are saying this is really an issue, whereas usually, we thought of being locked up as the end of the problem. But the truth is, that’s really the beginning of a big chapter for someone who is locked up. So it’s for the first time, pulling up the curtain on what happens inside of the juvenile justice system.

How do we counteract the damage that’s already been done?
MS: In terms of the medication, there are psychiatrists who will prescribe medication and not monitor the individuals who are taking the medication and will continue to do it. When it happens in a correctional setting or happens to somebody who has undergone this kind of trauma, it can be devastating. We need to make sure when doctors prescribe powerful anti-psychotic medication, that they carefully monitor.

"To truly end this problem, we need to involve the people who put children into solitary."

There is no way of erasing the traumatic experience that Kalief had because that kind of trauma would stay with Kalief his whole life because of how powerful of an experience it was. The question is how do we incorporate love and support of young people to overcome that trauma? What we have to do is to stress the positives in their life and try to arrange more. In [episode five], [Kalief] kept saying I want to get a job, and the truth is he needed it. For a young person to grow up healthy in our world, they need a couple of things. One thing is they need at least one adult who believes in them completely and will give them undivided love. Kalief had that. He had a mother who gave him undivided love. She was an amazing woman. The second thing is children need to be involved in something. They need to be engaged either in school or as they get older, in work. The third thing is they need to develop their skills. One thing you see with Kalief is what a sweet, young guy he was. He thought deeply about whether he should admit to something he didn’t do. He seemed to think of it as a moral issue and he didn’t want to repeat the experience that his brother had. And so Kalief had terrific skills and talent, but was not able to grow those talents and build them up in a way that would give him a place in society. He kept talking about trying to find his place, but he couldn’t shed the burden that this horrible three-year trauma had brought on him.

You’ve mentioned alternatives to solitary confinement like taking away movie privileges or punishments of that nature, but it’s been acknowledged in the series that some of these kids are more violent than Kalief. What are some other alternatives besides ones that seem a bit softer?
MS: The first thing to think about is how to make sure kids don’t get into this trouble. Young people who are incarcerated should be busy all the time. They go to school for five or six hours a day, but the day is longer than that. The most effective facilities, the ones that have the least amount of conflict, are the ones that have young people engaged in structured activities. If they’re not in school, they can be in groups or counseling sessions. Every facility is in a community and every community has leaders who can come in and talk to the young people. Every community has people in business, including people who have overcome the odds to come in. Every community has health and mental health practitioners who can talk about issues that are directly related to young people. So we encourage the facilities to bring in volunteers to talk about themselves, but also answer questions that kids have. Then we have young people who do violent things, and there are a lot of sanctions that can be applied to them that they won’t like, including writing an essay of an apology to the person they may have hit or gotten into an argument with. For many kids, writing is very difficult. So that’s a sanction that actually means something. Not being allowed to do the things that other kids do is a sanction. The problem with solitary is it kills their soul. We want to make the message that you can’t hurt other people, but if a message we’re sending is we can get three or five staff to overpower you and put you in your room, that is the worst kind of message to send to children. We want children to understand that when there’s a conflict, we resolve it by talking things out.

These alternatives are sometimes called soft, but the important thing is what does the sanction mean to the young person? There’s research that shows combining positive rewards with sanctions is much more effective than just applying the sanctions. And it’s much harder to insist on using the alternatives. It’s easy for a staff person to react to a young person breaking a rule by coming down on them. It’s much harder to use patience and talk a kid down. Most staff have a lot of trouble with it, especially doing it more than a couple of minutes. When we train staff, we say you may have to be talking to this child for an hour at a time, but as long as you’re talking to them, they’re not causing any disruption. The more you talk with them, the more you’re going to learn what’s going on.

JL: You’re using that old school punitive mindset, they seem "soft." But this problem requires a solution that shifts that mindset. We suggest folks do that because we know that it’s worked in Ohio, Mississippi, and Massachusetts. There are other ways to respond to kids. Part of what we see and what we know about young people is that they respond much better to incentives than punishments. So part of this programming is having things for them to do, making sure the facilities have options and things for kids to do that they want to do. That as incentive to maintain positive behavior is actually really powerful. Rather than looking at their behavior that gets solitary confinement as the problem, we should see it as the result of the entire facility. So shifting the culture of the environment, could prevent a lot. And when we talk about kids in gangs, it’s really important that we not lose sight of the fact that they’re kids, but what are gangs for most of these kids? It’s a way to belong. It’s a way to feel a part of something. What we have to do to work with those kids is let them be a part of something else. So create more of a sense of community. These kids are not a special breed of kids. Like everyone else, they respond to things. If we treat them like criminals or animals, that’s probably how they’re going to respond. But if we give them different options, it may be counterintuitive for some folks, but it actually works.

Do you think Rikers Island will ever shut down permanently?
MS: When you see the series, you think there’s no way of fixing this. This is such a terrible place that we would just like bulldozers to bulldoze it all into the ground and start again. There are much better ways to incarcerate people than what they do at Rikers. You can lock people up and they can be locked up for considerable periods of time, but if they’re in smaller facilities, there’s a much better chance that they will not be violent and staff will have a chance to get to know them. They have to break up these gigantic facilities and create much smaller facilities. The problem is the political problem of NIMBY -- not in my backyard. People are not going to want New York City jails in their neighborhood. And that’s a tough one. I remember 25 years ago when there was a single juvenile detention facility in New York City. The woman who was the head of Department of Juvenile Justice at the time was a friend of mine, and she used to have endless community meetings about people’s fear of having criminals in their community. They were afraid of what would happen to the property value. So there was a lot of resistance. I really commend the [New York] mayor for taking a position of closing down Rikers.

How can the community get involved? 
MS: Everybody lives in a community, and there is a juvenile facility in that community or nearby. If people want to know about [solitary confinement], go visit the juvenile facility. See what it’s like inside. But the whole sense of incarceration, of what it means to be locked in and the kinds of places that these young people live in when they are incarcerated, everybody should get a first-hand experience of that.

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Meet Koffee, The Rising Jamaican Star Who Is Hot Like A Thermos

Back in 1962, a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Robert Marley recorded a song called “One Cup of Coffee” and went on to take reggae music around the world. Fast forward 55 years to 2017, when a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Koffee dropped her first record, “Burning,” setting her on a path to become the most talked-about new artist in dancehall reggae right now.

Koffee got her big break when veteran singer Cocoa Tea invited her onstage at the January 2018 edition of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest roots reggae festival. “She name Koffee and me name Tea,” he quipped, calling her the “next female sensation out of Jamaica.” The artist born Mikayla Simpson doesn’t actually like coffee though—she prefers hot chocolate.

After graduating from Ardenne High, the same school dancehall star Alkaline attended, Koffee turned her focus to music. She shot a live video with new roots superstar Chronixx at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios, then dropped her breakout single “Toast,” produced by Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame. That video has racked up 10 million+ views and made the artist, who stands just over five feet tall, a very big name on the island. Now signed to Columbia UK, Koffee will release her debut EP Rapture next month.

“Mi only spit lyrics, don't really talk a lot,” she states on the track “Raggamuffin.” But when Koffee turned up to VIBE’s Times Square headquarters, bundled up against NYC’s February chill in a hoodie, thermals, and Nike x Off-White sneakers, she opened up about her musical journey, the power of gratitude, her surprising inspirations, and how she plans to spend her birthday.

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VIBE: I haven’t seen you since your EP listening in Kingston. Congratulations on an impressive body of work. Koffee: Thank you. I feel humble and proud at the same time. I really put a lot of thought into the EP, the way I structured it, and the content, the lyrics. It really means a lot to me, so I appreciate you saying that.

It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished since Cocoa Tea brought you out on Rebel Salute. Yeah, and that was only a year and a month ago!

So how did the link with Cocoa happen? Actually, it happened through Walshy Fire. After my very first single “Burning,” Walshy reached out and sent me some riddims, in hopes of us working together, which we ended up doing. We were supposed to meet up at a studio in Florida and when we went there Cocoa Tea was already in the building. We were like, “Wow, Cocoa Tea!” Because Cocoa Tea is a reggae legend for us in Jamaica. Walshy actually introduced Cocoa to some of my music, and Cocoa was like, “Wha? Mi gonna bring her out on Rebel Salute next month!” This was in December, and Rebel Salute was in January.

Timing is everything. Rebel Salute made a huge difference. It opened me up to a lot of opportunities. Even today a lot of places that I go, people remember me from there. I was doing music before. I’d done a few shows here and there, but the audience at Rebel Salute is very important. It’s an epic stage to present yourself.

Were you nervous? Just before going out on the stage I was backstage pacing back and forth. I was trying to keep warm as well because it was chilly that night. But I was really nervous because it was my first time being in such a light.

Do you think being so young has helped you? Like, you may not overthink everything. I think you have a point. Because I’m young, my mind is a bit more pure, or uncorrupted. Experiences do have a way of taking away your mental space and the things you’re willing to try. Staying in “the comfort zone” is the most comfortable thing, but sometimes pushing yourself to step outside of that will help you overcome your fears. That, and just the drive and motivation. I definitely try to keep challenging myself.

Reggae has always been a male-dominated industry, but female artists are definitely on the rise. How do feel getting catapulted into that category? I feel like it’s a big responsibility, and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So I don't look at it as, “Oh, I’ve made it.” But I acknowledge that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility now to fulfill and to pull through. It just pushes me to work harder, make more things happen, and just keep it going.

I love the line in your song “Raggamuffin” where you say, “Mi give them heart attack inna mi halter back.” Was that inspired by Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Rankin’” from the ‘70s? Yeah, I love that song. That’s the thing, I would say that every artist is an influence to me. Growing up, I would hear these songs being played by people next door, down the road, all around. Just in the Jamaican environment on a whole. So those songs definitely do have an influence on me, the messages from those times. Once you hear it, it’s in your head. You know it now and it really makes a difference in how you think, how you speak, and everything.

When people think of a female dancehall artist they usually think of colorful hair, long nails… But you seem to have your own swag. How would you describe your style? I would definitely say unique, but at the same time, it is natural to me and not calculated. I don't put a name to it and say, “I’m gonna be this way.” I just kind of flow and whatever you see is me doing what I feel. Like, I’m not sure what these pants are, but I bought them in Berlin. I got this hoodie in the UK—I’m not sure what brand this is either. I was just trying to keep warm. My friend Ayesha from the UK styled me with this top recently for a shoot.

There’s a line on “Burning” where you talk about “Koffee pon di street, tank top inna di heat / Jeans pants an’ Crocs / No socks pon mi feet / Knapsack mi a beat / Well pack up an’ it neat.” Was that your real-life dress code in 2017? Yeah, I remember at that time that’s how I used to roll. You know in Jamaica it’s hot, so I probably had my tank top and my jeans on, or my shorts. And I had this one pair of grey Crocs that I just wore everywhere. And I always have my knapsack. So yeah, that was my reality at that moment.

How far away does that feel, now that you have a stylist and travel the world? That’s amazing. It’s a transition that’s really beautiful and something I really appreciate.

I have a feeling you’re going to re-introduce words like “appreciate” and “give thanks” into pop culture. I hope to start a wave of gratitude. Even by writing that song “Toast,” when I say “We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to,” it reminds me to be grateful. I aspire to be humble and I pray and ask God to help me be grateful. I try to maintain it and I hope that will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about “Toast.” On the chorus, you say “We nah rise and boast.” But then again, a lot of reggae and dancehall artists are very “boasy.” That’s part of the culture. When I say “Wi nah rise and boast” it means that no matter what happens along the journey, we’re still gonna remain the same. We gonna big up we friend and hold a vibes. I’m just making it clear that we never come fe hype.

You can spit pretty fast, but I feel like some people may be missing some of the things you say. But if you listen carefully you’re talking about real things. Thank you for noticing that. When I wrote “Raggamuffin,” a lot of my musical influence came from artists like Protoje and Chronixx. Chronixx has basically been an advocate for the youths, so his message had an impact on me. When I was vibing to the beat, I wanted to cover myself, cover my country where I come from, good things and bad things, and the music, reggae itself.

Growing up, did you see inner city kids not being looked after by their own government and their own people? Most definitely. I wouldn't say that the government is responsible for the lives of everybody as citizens. But there are some general things that need the government’s attention and they don't pay the attention that they should. They'd rather focus on things that can garner income. There are roads that need to be fixed in places that tourists don't necessarily visit. And nobody cares about those roads. Minor injustices, major injustices—just things that really need to be spoken about so that people can think about it and look into it.

BDP used the term Edutainment—education and entertainment. Is that something you present in your music? Yes, it’s definitely something I aim for. I think that it’s important to keep people interested enough to want to absorb what you are saying. And then it’s equally important to present something that is worth absorbing. Something productive, something inspiring, motivating. Just mixing both so that you have their attention and you’re also delivering something that’s worth their attention.

You were still in school when you did your song “Burning.” As a new artist did you have to convince the producers to work with you? Gratefully, no I didn't have to convince them. Because I did a tribute to Usain Bolt before that. I wrote a song with my guitar titled “Legend” and posted a video of me performing it with my guitar on Instagram.

Usain came across it and reposted it, so that garnered a lot of attention. People from the music industry reached out to me, and in that group of people was Upsetta records with their Ouji Riddim. They sent it to my first manager like, “Let’s see what she can do” and so forth.

There’s this thing in Jamaica called Sixth Form. It’s like you graduate high school and there’s an extra two years that you can do as like a pre-college. I applied for it and didn’t get through. Right after that, I did the tribute to Usain Bolt and then Upsetta sent me the Ouji Riddim. I was in a state of mind where I felt disappointed. I felt the need to motivate myself, so I was like “Come with the fire the city burning!”

How does your mom feel about all of this? I started writing lyrics at 14 years old, but she didn't find out until I was 16, when she saw me perform at a competition in school. I invited her there and she was taken aback, like, “Wow! So this what you've been doing?” (Laughs) She wanted me to do academics like every parent wants. And she was little disappointed when I didn't get through to Sixth Form. But over time, as I wrote more and performed more, she began to trust my talent and just trust the process. So she started appreciating the music and now she's fully on board.

What did your mother think of “dancehall pon the street,” like you sing about in your song “Raggamuffin”? As you know I’ve been living with mommy since I was a baby up until I was 17, so being under her roof I didn't go out much. I was always in the house just chilling and stuff. I know that there’s a dance on like every corner. lf you are driving, you always hear music playing. You have the oldies dancehall, you have the new dancehall—everybody just hold a vibe. That’s basically where that line comes from.

Do you go to dances now? I’ve been going to a few parties and getting out, but I haven't been to like a dance dance. I’ve been to Dub Club, you get some really good music there. But Dub Club is like a relaxed kinda vibe.

You recently performed at Bob Marley’s 74th birthday celebration in Kingston. Do you still listen to his music? Most definitely! Bob has set such a great and amazing foundation for the music, the industry, the genre itself, the country, the youth... He’s set such a great example that you haffi really learn from it and take a lot from it so that you know where you’re coming from. You haffi understand how to execute in honor of such people.

What are some of your favorite Bob songs? Well, I performed “Who the Cap Fit” that night, so that’s one of my favorites. And I like “Is This Love” and “Natural Mystic.” That’s just a few.

I know that’s a hard question. What about a dancehall legend like Super Cat? Hmm… “Mud Up” woulda be my favorite Super Cat.

Really?! Yeah, because of the flow he has on it, not necessarily the content. See, I’m from Spanish Town. Jamaicans on a whole, we like vibes. We like lyrics that, as we would say, “it slap!” It touches you, and really hits that spot. So I listen to a lot of different things, and the lyrics that I listen to aren't always conscious. But what I derive from music is not necessarily the message. Sometimes the flow that you’re hearing, that’s the wave for the moment. It may not be the best for the youth, but that’s what people like to vibe to. So you take that vibe, put a positive message to it, and that’s the spin. So I listen very widely.

One of my favorite songs on your new EP is the “Rapture” remix. It was dope that you got together with Govana on that. When I first wrote “Rapture,” Govana had recently done a song called “Bake Bean” that took off in Jamaica. When him drop that, it’s like the flow really resonate with me. I was like, “This is dope.” So when I did “Rapture” I was listening back to it and thought I should probably try to get Govana on this track. And it turned out so sick!

That’s cool to have the credibility where other artists respond to you like that. Because I'm sure it’s not always that easy. No, it’s not always easy. Me haffi give thanks for the way people have been responding.

So no one has kissed their teeth and said, “Nah man”? (Laughs) No, not yet. (Laughs) But what I have to appreciate is just when another artist really listens and pays attention. Sometimes an artist can be good and they don't get the response or the attention that they deserve. Some people don't want to listen, so I give a lot of respect to who is willing to listen.

Well Govana has given you that “crown” in his verse, which reminds me—how did the song “Throne” come about? I remember Walshy sent me that riddim in the first batch of riddims that he sent me. The riddim for “Toast” was also in that batch, but I started with “Throne.” It was basically like a challenge for me. I was like “How am I gonna spit on this?” Because the riddim sounded so dynamic. I was like “mi haffi mash this up!” Hence the fast spit-fire kind of vibe.

What music are you currently listening to on your phone? I don’t listen to my own songs that much. I’m vibing to Mr Eazi. I’ve been going in on the Afrobeats. Burna Boy. Smino the rapper. And I’ve been going in even more on Bob Marley.

Well, it’s reggae month right now. So there’s lots of legendary birthdays—Bob Marley, Dennis Brown. That makes the month even more significant! By the way, I’m born in February also. (Laughs) February 16th.

Happy Earthstrong! Were you keeping that quiet? I just remembered. I’ll be 19!

Wow—you’re gonna be out of the teens soon. What you gonna do on your 19th birthday? Wowwwww—I dunno. I’m gonna see when I get to Jamaica which party. I’ll probably just try and go to a dance or something. That ah go be mad!

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Solitary Alignment: 5 Self-Affirming Reads For Single Ladies On Valentine’s Day

Ahh, the Feast of Saint Valentine—the Hallmark holiday that strikes us with its arrow each year, for better or for worse, depending on your bae status. While the romantic holiday is adored and celebrated by many, if you’re still reeling over, say, your ex’s refusal to commit, chances are Feb. 14 is more of a heartache for you than anything.

But as a wise woman once said, “If they liked it then they should’ve put a ring on it.” So whether V-Day has you scared of lonely or sulking over a lost love, as another wise woman once said, they “would be SUPER lucky to even set eyes on you this Valentine’s Day. That’s it. That’s the gift.” Shout out to The Slumflower.

Sure, having a bae on Valentine’s Day is cool, but so is reminding yourself why you’re just fine without one (cue Webbie’s “Independent”). In fact, single folks have better relationships overall, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. You know how the old adage goes: love yourself before loving someone else.

For this Valentine’s Day, VIBE Vixen rounds up a nourishing list of books for our sisters doin’ it for themselves. Consider this your reminder of how badass you are—because you are! Oh, oh, oh. *Beyoncé voice*

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Johnny Nunez

'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.

 

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@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected] a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly [email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:27am PST

With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

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