AXE Senior Orientation Announcement
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John Legend Pushes Hip-Hop To Demolish Masculine Stereotypes With AXE's "Find Your Magic" Initiative

The R&B singer joined a AXE's recent panel to discussion ways to encourage millennial men to be themselves. 

"Seventy-five percent of guys believe that society says guys should act strong even if they feel scared or nervous."

 

Hypermasculinity, like many other topics in the hip-hop community, has often been pushed under the rug. Although we all come out of hiding now and then to salute those—Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, and Kanye West to name a few—who briefly dismantle barriers resurrected by this male-dominated industry, there's still very little room for guys, in particular, to be who they are meant to be.

But it's 2017, and the idea that men can only listen to trap music and have to stay far away from the color pink is outdated. So as part of an initiative to encourage self expression and reverse hyper-masculine stereotypes within millennial men, AXE has continued its "Find Your Magic" campaign with an intimate discussion panel last Wednesday (Aug. 23).

The panel included masculinity expert Carlos Andrés Gómez, LGBTQ advocate Hunter Klugkist, and a current high school sophomore. Award-winning recording artist, John Legend also appeared on the panel to discuss his journey to self expression, the stigma of men in the hip-hop industry, and artists' responsibility to destroying crippling stereotypes. Hear are some of his biggest takeaways.

Finding His Voice

Unlike some of the other panelists who shared stories about their high school days, the "All of Me" singer didn't have the most traditional upbringing. At a young age, Legend was home schooled, prompting him to skip a number of grades by the time he got to high school. "By the time I got to high school, I was two years younger than all my classmates. I was 12 years old and everybody was taller and had a deeper voice. So the actual physical manifestation of masculinity hadn't arrived yet," he recalled. He admitted that he was a nerd and at times didn't fit in, but found refuge in music. "For me, music was the thing that made me feel like I could be myself," he added. "I could get on stage and connect with people. That helped me love myself more and open myself up to people. I think art has given me that self expression, that joy in my life and helped me in all of the facets – develop more confidence, develop a connection with people."

Besides using art as a tool, Legend also acknowledged his father's role in reimagining what a man was supposed to be. His father, Ronald Lamar Stephens, was a factory worker by day, but dabbled in the creative realms of painting, carving and sewing in the afternoon. "I think we had an example of someone who wasn't the straight definition of what a man's supposed to be. In the day he was doing the manly factory job and then at home, he was making his own suits, painting and drawing," he explained.

Navigating Hip-Hop

And it was that foundation that would guide him through the music industry, despite it's harsh reality. "I came up collaborating with a lot of hip-hop artists, and hip-hop is known to be a hyper-masculine form and appears to be misogynist," he explained. "So I was collaborating and surrounded by artists where that was the norm, even though Kanye was breaking all of those norms. I think you can be influenced by all those, but it takes some growing up, maturing, and finding yourself, and falling in love to help you understand exactly how you wan  to express yourself in that environment in a way that's more empathetic in a way that's honest." Today, Legend attributes his continued growth to falling in love with his wife Chrissy Teigen and fathering his 18-month-old daughter, Luna.

Hip-Hop, Stand Up & Take Responsibility

In addition to the discussion panel, AXE announced the launch of "Senior Orientation" – a program dedicated to empowering and promoting inclusivity to students at Centennial High School in Ohio. The program offers a custom curriculum, mentorship and a series of performances that will foster a free and creative space for students to express their unique voices.

While it's a step in the right direction, Legend says the hip-hop community and influencers have a responsibility to do their part in dismantling hypermasculinity in all facets. "I think [artists] have the power and also the responsibility to use that power wisely and in a way that can help young people envision other ways to be," Legend stated. "Nicki helps you [directed at high school panelist] with ways to be, and I think JAY-Z talking about his relationship with his wife and therapy, it's helping other people realize ways to be. I think we as artists, we have an opportunity to really help people think about who they are as we're thinking about who we are."

 

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Babyface And Teddy Riley's Botched Instagram Live Battle Proves Less Is More

Last night (April 18th), the battle of all Verzuz battles between legendary music writers/producers, Teddy Riley and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, hit a major digital pothole and couldn't recover for the over 400k viewers in attendance on Instagram Live. Mega producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland — who are the founders of the battle platform and have showcased many of these events since the quarantine started — hyped this long-awaited match up for weeks. Their disappointment in the face-off being barraged with sound issues was felt through their IG Live post-talk. "Teddy Riley was doing too much, " Swizz lamented and to what Timbaland agreed.

What those two are referring to is the frontman for '80s and '90s R&B groups Guy and Blackstreet (respectively) Teddy Riley who showed up on his own IG Live with a full stage set up. He had a keyboard, a DJ, what looked like a drummer in the cut and a hypeman dancing a la Flavor Flav style. It was a lot to witness as he warmed up the sound, which was fine before Babyface finally showed up on the split-screen. Just moments before Face appeared, the followers for the event quickly climbed to 300k in less than 8 minutes. Babyface's lag time in showing up prompted some of the commenters, which was super star-studded, to say things like, "He's still picking out his wardrobe," to "I think 'Face is scared, he's not gonna show." All of which was nonsense, as the flow of followers made it hard for Riley's team to catch Face's request to join. So for about 15 minutes, there was the anxiety of weeks of talk by the promoters and days of posting by T.R. and Face falling on this moment. The pressure to deliver was on. Black Twitter was seasoning the session as a true date night and hangout spot all day. Even going so far as to shower, shave, do hair and get "a good outfit" and some drinks on deck for the festivities.

Once the pleasantries were out of the way, there was Face, solo in a studio with a black blazer (what was that, velvet?) a white button-up and a smooth setting with a mixing board behind him. Riley, on the other hand, had what is now known as a full production team (and like his live performance a few weeks ago from his home studio, there was no social distancing being practiced) and once he kicked off his tunes (Face made him go first, which no one wants to do in these battles, "Seniority wins," said Face) it was doomed from the start.

@THEREALSWIZZZ x @Timbaland discussing the issues with #TeddyRileyVsBabyface pic.twitter.com/yPkjNAlbAg

— Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAire) April 19, 2020

Riley's multiple mics and crowded space made for garbled and more so echoed tunes and took the punch away from his valued opener, "The Show" by Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew. He literally performed the '80s classic summer hip-hop hit like he was at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. His hype man was amped, but the viewing audience wasn't feeling it. Face was polite and even tipped his respect to the track, but then followed like the casanova crooner he is and toasted his champagne flute to the ladies in attendance and pressed play on his crisp sounding system and let the wailing intro of "Two Occasions," by his group with his producing partner/iconic music executive L.A. Reid, wash over the crowd. Just from resetting the tone from uptempo hip-hop to a classic slow-jam, let us know we were in for a long night of Face controlling the mood.

Most felt that the echo issue that Riley was having would sort its self out or would be handled by one of his many staffers on set, but it only got worse as Riley responded in the second round with the all-world dance theme, "Groove Me," by Guy. The deep synth groove is a surefire party starter, but the echo and his live-action performance were lost in a sea of comments that scrolled up the screen like, "What are you doing...Why do you have a hypeman...Stop and fix the sound, Teddy...What in the hell..." And that was the nice stuff. With an emphatic James Brown-like arm drop to stop the band, Riley finished the jam and knew he just sent Face a hard shot to the body. Face, ever the chilly willy, kind of chuckled and commented about how he first heard the song and liked it. He mentioned going into his list of artists to choose from for his next selection and talked about how they both worked with him to great success, then dropped the hammer with Bobby Brown's "Don't Be Cruel." Ouch. It was clean, pumping and felt like an early dagger that would only plunge deeper if he was using it this early in the match.

A little light banter was kicked as they both gave anecdotes about the times surrounding those songs and it almost seemed like a stalling tactic for Riley as his team knew something was wrong, but seemed to not be checking the stream of "FIX THE SOUND...you are echoing," chants in the comments. They toyed a bit but went on into a good mid-range gem by Riley in "I Like The Way (The Kissing Game)," by Texas quintet Hi-Five. Still beset with echo issues, right after the tune ends (a bit prematurely at that, as Face was playing his songs for two minutes or more) the talk about tech issues starts to get more robust. Face is cool with giving Riley time to figure it out, yet goes into another strong single with Bobby Brown and "Every Little Step." Again, it felt like another crystal clear banger that Riley wouldn't be able to match sound or energy-wise. And that's saying a lot as Riley has his own huge Bobby Brown hit to launch, but with the echo, it probably wouldn't work.

[email protected] also shared a video about their postponed #Verzuz battle. New date on the way! 🥊🥊 pic.twitter.com/fjAY74zED3

— Vibe Magazine (@VibeMagazine) April 19, 2020

So, at the end of round three, with the IG Live audience mainly giving the smooth operator Babyface the upper hand and straight clowning Riley's hypeman (memes and gifs of his homie were starting to pop up on Twitter and Instagram, DURING the battle) and sound issues, T.R.'s team calls a 20-second time out. He explains they need to get things right. They seem to also start wondering if it's Babyface's side that's causing their echo. The whole live feed, filled with celebs like Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Fabolous, Snoop Dogg, and so many music executives, comedians, entertainment stars and everyday people became expert sound technicians, "Take the Irig out, Teddy!" to "Just use the iphone speakers, Ted!" even "The issue is your side damn it." It got ugly. Folks were tee'd off for the fact that the situation was on Riley to fix since he had so much going on. All while Babyface threw a few shade covered remarks. When asked about fixing his side, "It's just me...you know social distancing and all."

After the brief break in action, Riley looked to redeem himself as the sound seemed to get a tad bit better. The echo was light, but the sound was low, damn near muffled and coming with no power or kick. Even though he was going hard in the paint to sell the same line up of songs, as he convinced Face to start from the top of round one AGAIN.

They sped through the rounds one more time with light convo, touching on cool stories about the same rounds of songs to ease the tension, but a little of the spark was gone and the comments were turning into tomatoes hurling at Riley. Deserved or undeserved, this performance was spiraling out of control. Comedian Michael Blackson asked, "Where are the promoters?" In the midst of a slow down in action, one of Riley's team members grabs the mic and announces that they would need to pause the battle for an extended amount of time. "We need to get the sound right, so we'll be back at 10:30 pm, about 30 minutes from now. So log back in around then." By this time Babyface had already dipped off-screen a few times (I assume to refill his champagne flute to walk to his awaiting warm bath---I kid.) and seemed to lose interest in trying to get Riley's attention when they clearly couldn't hear him. Before the end though, actor and R&B artist, Tyrese Gibson lobs a shot at Riley in the comments that ended up going viral for the wrong reason: "Throw in the tile." He surely meant "towel," but it was too late, the internet savages screen grabbed the line and dragged him over to Black Twitter to skew him over the BBQ. Why? 'Cause it was looking like the battle was over and there was nothing better to do (of course Tyrese fired back and blamed it on autocorrect).

 

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🤣🤣🤣 Y’all ain’t shit!! #TeamDL #Repost @royalewatkins with @get_repost ・・・ And so it begins!!!!

A post shared by realdlhughley (@realdlhughley) on Apr 18, 2020 at 7:34pm PDT

The live feed went out and most people huddled on the cool-out hill on the Black Twitter side of town. Quarantine life has deposited most of the in-the-know social media folks to mainland digital scapes and this battle had over 414k people wandering outside of the venue. The jokes started to pile up, memes of Teddy Riley looking like Theo from the Cosby show wearing the ill-fitting/misconstructed Gordon Gartrell shirt that his sister Denise made versus Babyface as the original pristine Gordon Gartrell shirt was floating around. (In hindsight, the fun of the night was in all of the jokes, they helped ease the tension.)

Swizz Beatz and Timbaland ran to their IG Live stations and expressed their respectful displeasure with Riley's setup but promised to get it right. It seemed like the show was going to resume at the delayed time until Babyface posted a video on his page saying that the show should be postponed and that they should do it another time. That put the fork in the whole ordeal and about 20 minutes after that, Riley also made a video expressing how technical difficulties held up the night and how they would get it right. "OUR apologies..." he stated. By then, most folks headed over to Club Quarantine on DJ D-Nice's IG Live, where he played a full set of Riley vs. Face songs. A DJ literally saved the night.

Hopefully, with all the greats that are involved in this super amazing Verzuz platform, they get the tech side going like they got the 20 tracks per artist with one verse and one hook rules implemented. All the big band production needs to scale down and some basic rules of engagement toward presentation by both parties have to be agreed upon. But with everything, there is a backstory, and this one will be told at some point...preferably over a good sound system.

"Yall, just sign back on in 30 minutes"

Babyface: pic.twitter.com/huQj3HhzUL

— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) April 19, 2020

500k people: We can’t hear you Teddy.

Teddy Riley: pic.twitter.com/Dw3SqbwrAw

— SB (@SBrown_) April 19, 2020

Teddy Riley sound be like... pic.twitter.com/FTyu3b9DUX

— Kevín (@KevOnStage) April 19, 2020

 

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All love @niariley. But damn 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂

A post shared by Van Lathan (@vanlathan) on Apr 18, 2020 at 7:36pm PDT

 

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Ayo Teddy Riley...

A post shared by The Turntable Whisperer (@djscratch) on Apr 18, 2020 at 7:41pm PDT

Everybody watching #TeddyvsBabyface @IssaRae lol pic.twitter.com/vKdJ7Copoq

— #TeamFullSizeNigga (@DontaFromVA) April 19, 2020

Now it’s no sound. We got to wait 7 whole days for this? 🤣 pic.twitter.com/CcC2grMsGf

— Toni Braxton (@tonibraxton) April 19, 2020

Wait... pic.twitter.com/Wocp2lWTKz

— In the House Like Cool J. (@naima) April 19, 2020

Teddy’s hypeman dancing like what we all thought 2020 would be like 💃🏾 Teddy vs Babyface pic.twitter.com/jfbauDjPjc

— SuzieBeChoosy (@MissNoelSzn) April 19, 2020

 

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BABYFACE BATTLE POV 🤣🙄🤣🎸 . . #affioncrockett #comedy #babyface #teddyriley #verzuz

A post shared by Affion Crockett Comedy (@affioncrockett) on Apr 19, 2020 at 2:16am PDT

Babyface as soon as he got off the live: pic.twitter.com/yTVFjyprEF

— Jeremy Moon 🌙 (@jeffuhz) April 19, 2020

Listen, Babyface, Teddy Riley, Tyrese and Tamar are trending in a horrible year of 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, bringing laughter to our souls by accident. Maybe we needed this instead of the live music 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/s4a2AJ7rOx

— Kendra Ann (@KendraAnn4) April 19, 2020

Us: Fix the echo.

Teddy: pic.twitter.com/Id7GeWHGIb

— Thee Stallion of Troy 👑 (@smiilinbiig) April 19, 2020

Man imagine of Keenan Thompson and Micheal Che spoofed tonight’s fumble on SNL. Keenan as Babyface would make my night. pic.twitter.com/q503j0QV2i

— Huskegee Airman (@JLBarrow) April 19, 2020

Teddy Riley pic.twitter.com/2fA21buomg

— ANTHONY ADAMS (@spiceadams) April 19, 2020

We really turned disappointment into Twitter gold last night. Black people are so resilient lol.

— Sylvia Obell (@SylviaObell) April 19, 2020

 

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Tabernacle. #TeddyRiley #Verzuz #Charlamagne

A post shared by VibeMagazine (@vibemagazine) on Apr 19, 2020 at 7:32am PDT

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Flo Ngala

The Millennium Tour 2020: Pretty Ricky Returns To Heat Things Up

The energy inside the Chase Square at Madison Square Garden is electric. The Millenium Tour 2020 returned to New York City on a rainy Friday night (March 6), satisfying fans’ yearlong wait for the nostalgic vibes to arrive in the city that never sleeps.

Big hoop earrings and jersey dresses paint the picture inside the lobby while chatter amongst small groups of people about which artist on the bill will have the best set fills the air. "I'm here for Pretty Ricky," says one elated fan as she rushes to find her spot on the line waiting to enter the doors of the Hulu Theater. "My boys are back and I'm not missing out on this."

Around this time 15 years ago, the members of Pretty Ricky were beginning to make their debut in a crowded R&B scene that included other notable groups like Jagged Edge and 112. Their platinum-selling debut single "Grind With Me" charted at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and helped the group stand out by opening the door for listeners to explore their raunchy, steamy world.

Since that time, the group has experienced ups and downs. Their first two albums, Bluestars and Late Night Special, were certified Gold with the latter debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The success from their first two albums catapulted the group into superstardom, winning millions of fans across the world and touring with the likes of Omarion, Chris Brown and Bow Wow. Unfortunately, personal issues and inflated egos within the group caused friction and placed a hold on things for the next few years.

Fast forward to today, and Pretty Ricky is back to heat things up. As a part of The Millenium Tour 2020, the group joins Omarion, Bow Wow, Ashanti, Lloyd, the Ying Yang Twins and more on a 32-date tour across the country. It's the second time in two years that Pretty Ricky has hit the road with the first being last year's The Millenium Tour, and if anything, the group is having even more fun with it.

Pretty Ricky back in NYC like they never left on The Millennium Tour 2020#PRETTYRICKY#THROWBACK#THEMILLENNIUMTOUR2020 pic.twitter.com/7RODWvEbsH

— ME VKV DON DVDV 🇭🇹 (@BlackDynamite91) March 10, 2020

"There are stretchers outside just in case someone faints," Spectacular tells VIBE as the group prepares for a special meet-and-greet with fans before their set. "You know how Pretty Ricky does it."

"It feels like 2005 all over again," Pleasure P exclaims as fans screamed just outside the curtains. "All the girls got on their throwback stuff. The energy is great, and of course, we're banging them with hits every night and it feels good."

The hits were flowing as Pretty Ricky made a strong case that they were the best performers on the bill. During the lively set, rabid fans sang along to "Grind With Me," "Your Body" and "On The Hotline" while rocking to the first-ever live performance of the group’s newest single "Body." The Florida natives even showed they haven't missed a step hitting their trademark gyrations in silk white pajamas with precision.

First ever live performance of Pretty Ricky’s newest single “Body” in NYC. #THEMILLENNIUMTOUR2020#PRETTYRICKY#BODY pic.twitter.com/Ac41pzC4KL

— ME VKV DON DVDV 🇭🇹 (@BlackDynamite91) March 10, 2020

"We know this is exactly what the people need, that good music and that good feel from back in the 2000s," says Spectacular who also performed on stage in nothing but a towel halfway through Pretty Ricky's set. "We want to bring that same feeling back and it feels great being back on this tour to give the fans what they want."

"Every single night we get to come out here and create a nostalgic experience for them," Baby Blue adds. "It's kind of like we were the soundtrack to their life and it feels good to create that lifetime experience. They get to relive their high school moments or maybe the first time they lost their virginity, their first kiss or the first time they went out with their homegirls."

A few years ago it seemed Pretty Ricky would be no more after they put their issues front and center on VH1's Love & Hip Hop: Miami and tried numerous times to fix their problems. There were even reports of a fight breaking out backstage between Pleasure P and Baby Blue at a show in Phoenix in 2018, but Baby Blue assures the guys are more than good this time around.

"It's a family and the thing about that is sometimes you might get into disputes, or whatever, then two hours later you're hugging. That's the strength in family and it's good that it's like that with us," he says as Slick 'Em cracks a joke with Spectacular to the side. "Sometimes in other businesses you might not be able to voice how you feel about certain things and how it gets received. With family, you can voice those feelings, but you have the option to make a change and go back to that family member and tell them I apologize and I love you. I think that's what keeps us together because it's a family-based business."

Keep up with Pretty Ricky at @PrettyRicky on Twitter.

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An interior view of Spotify Celebrates Black History Is Now Pop-Up on February 28, 2020 in New York City.
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Spotify

Spotify Opens 'Black History Is Now' Pop-Up In New York City

As Black History Month comes to a close, Spotify is taking the annual moment to another level. On Friday night (Feb. 28), Spotify hosted a VIP preview of their immersive exhibit-style pop-up celebrating "Black History Is Now: Phenomenal Black Music." The opening party was an exclusive first look at Spotify’s celebration of the songs and women that have shaped the way music is made, experienced, and replicated across the world.

The pop-up celebrates 32 phenomenal songs and women, with representation ranging across genres and generations—from Bob Marley and Mary J. Blige, to Lil Nas X and Lizzo. Opening to the public for one weekend only, the exhibit features a look into the songs and artists with stories curated by music journalist Jewel Wicker, interactive elements curated by the Spotify creative team, surprise merch drops, and performances and panels.

As part of the experience, Spotify also partnered with Levi’s to build out a customization station, where guests can pick out patches designed by Joe Freshgoods and Jamilla Okubo and have them pressed onto Levi’s jackets. After DJ Olivia Dope, delivered jams from the likes of Bel Biv Devoe, Spotify's Director and Head of Music Marketing at Spotify thanked her team and attendees for joining the festivities.

Shortly after,  6LACK hit the stage and performed jams like "Ex-Calling," "Pretty Little Fears," and more. The pop-up is open to the public in NYC on Saturday, February 29th  from 11 am to 8 pm and on Sunday, March 1st from 11 am to 7 pm. As for the free merch, everything will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more details and to RSVP, visit Blackhistoryisnow.splashthat.com.

For more information on the campaign, head over to blackhistoryisnow.com. Scroll down below for more pictures from last night's opening event and watch highlights from the event on VIBE's Instagram Stories.

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