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VIBE / Jessica Xie

Madame Gandhi On The Intersectionality Of Feminism And Why "The Future Is Female"

"It's about living in a world where we value femininity, but we value being collaborative and being emotionally intelligent."

According Madame Gandhi, the future is female. She says this with pride and confidence as she arrives at VIBE's headquarters, greeting everyone in her signature style of bright neon colors.

Born Kiran Gandhi, the musician-activist grew up between New York City and Bombay, India. Coming up, she always had a strong appreciation for hip-hop and played the drums since the tender age of eight. After working for Interscope records as their first full time digital analyst and attending Harvard Business School, she scored a gig as “Paper Planes” singer M.I.A.’s drummer before eventually going solo.

The Los Angeles native’s work as an activist stands as tall as her music. A champion of women's rights, she speaks around the country educating women and young girls on combating sexism in the music business, getting involved in music technology, and women’s health and hygiene. One of her most notable claims to fame was her participation in the 2015 London Marathon as she was “free bleeding” while running the 26-mile circuit. The famous photo of her sprinting across the finish line with her friends Ana and Mere soon went viral, which helped spark a conversation of women’s hygiene and having the proper access to feminine hygiene products such as tampons.

“I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was lucky to have access to tampons, to be part of a society that at least has a norm around periods. I could definitely choose to participate in this norm at the expense of my own comfort and just deal with it quietly,” wrote Madame Gandhi in an essay about her experience during the marathon.

“But then I thought…If there’s one person society can’t eff with, it’s a marathon runner. You can’t tell a marathoner to clean themselves up, or to prioritize the comfort of others. I decided to just take some Midol, hope I wouldn’t cramp, bleed freely and just run. A marathon in itself is a centuries old symbolic act. Why not use it as a means to draw light to my sisters who don’t have access to tampons and, despite cramping and pain, hide it away like it doesn’t exist?” she begged.

As a musician, Madame Gandhi is truly a unique and highly creative artist that could be considered a musical alchemist. On her Voices EP, she brilliantly weaves hip-hop, electronic, pop and a variety of other genres with her feminism and social stance to create an emotional, resonating project that effectively captures the beauty of femininity. Although the ride is short, she captivates listeners on a musical journey through feminism and why someday the future will be female.

“To me, the future is female is about living in a world where we value femininity, but we value being collaborative and being emotionally intelligent,” she explained.

Performing at music festivals across the country as a solo artist while drumming for alternative R&B artist Quin, the "Her" singer manages to find some time to chop it up with VIBE about her Voices project and other new music, what the slogan "The Future Is Female" really means, being a woman in the industry and why there aren’t enough women in music technology.

VIBE: One of the songs that stood out to me on your Voices EP was the song “Her." What's the inspiration behind that message?
Madame Gandhi: Well, it was the song I’ve made in the quickest amount of time. That song was probably made in 48 hours where we laid down the beat, me and my friend Alexia, who co-produced it with me. I knew exactly in my head what I wanted the beat to be. She was super encouraging and was like, “Just go into the sound booth and start laying down some ideas.” It was the first take and we used it.

The idea behind that song is women are constantly underestimated and pushed around. We take it because we’ve grown up being used to that almost, being passed over for opportunities or people not thinking we’re as good at reaching our fullest potential as we are. It’s kind of as a warning, it’s like, “Look past your prejudices and appoint her! Put the women on in your life, give them a chance because we’re going to do an extraordinary job.” But then then when the sirens come in when the drum solo comes in, and the aggression comes in it’s like, “Naw, now you’ve crossed the line. Now you’ve completely underestimated us, you’ve threatened us, you caused us oppression and harassment, we’re out." And not only are we out, we’re going to go start our own amazing, alternative parallel universe.

And "Gandhi Blues?" What was the writing process like for that song?
You know, I had to travel [around that time]. It was in the fall of 2015 and I was dating somebody I was really into, I was smitten over this person. I remember having to travel two or three weeks at a time because I was being asked to speak at colleges and universities about menstrual health and hygiene, about women’s equality, about the election coming up, about Donald Trump’s sexism… and obviously, my work is so important to me. But I also felt a deep sense of sadness that I had to keep leaving my own personal life and having to feel like I had to choose.

“Gandhi Blues” obviously references Mahatma Gandhi, who was known for being the father of his own country and liberating India from the British, but was also heavily criticized for being a terrible family man, for not being wonderful to his wife and his kids. That trade and that decision is so difficult for so many activists. If you look at Nina Simone’s life, I share a birthday with her, she’s long known for being in abusive relationships and having to choose between her career and her personal life. So “Gandhi Blues” was a vulnerable song, where I wanted to be honest about how I feel with that stuff. How I wonder if I’ll ever have a full-time partner in my life just because of how my life has been and the constant movement and changes that has to happen for me to do my work.

This idea about being a feminist often paints a very aggressive and angry picture of women or those who have the belief of gender equality. I really wanted "Gandhi Blues" to be in the middle of the album, track three, to say that my brand of feminism is about celebrating our fullest spectrum of our humanity and that the people who do this best tend to be women. Men in society are not allowed to show the fullest spectrum of their personality, but women are and we often get criticized for it. You’re too emotional, you’re too needy. I think emotional strength and vulnerability are some of the most powerful things you can have. So I wanted that song to be there to say you’ll hear me rapping and talking about women’s equality and you’ll also hear me heartbroken and missing a lover like many of us had in our pasts.

It seems like those who follow their dreams eventually must sacrifice love. Do you aspire to have more of that at some point?
That’s such a good question and if I could figure out a beautiful and healthy balance between love and my career, then I would have achieved something really big and too would be able to set an example for others. But to be honest, most men were able to pursue their career and the woman was expected to marry her man and follow him wherever his career took him. He didn’t have to make that trade off, he had the love of his life and he also had his career. Women are the ones expected to make the sacrifice, y’know?

Now we’re living in a world where many young women are accessing the same levels of education and job opportunities as their male counterparts, but obviously, we’re not telling men, “Go sacrifice your career and be with the love of your life," because we want everybody to have access to having a healthy balance of both. So I suppose one of the biggest challenges for women today is how can you balance your career with your love life, and if I could figure it out it would be a good example for the next generation of young women.

What was one of the most important lessons you learned while working for Interscope?
I give Interscope records hella credit, which is why I dressed conservatively and just did my work. I really did my work and I did good work. I stayed there 'til late, I spent so much time with the numbers on Spotify and YouTube, I was such a young hustler. I would deliver reports to my boss early. I would say, “Look at these patterns that I found between Kendrick Lamar’s album sales and Spotify streams. I would notice that when rappers get arrested for something or when the blogs would go crazy for a rapper, the Spotify streams would go through the roof but the YouTube views wouldn’t be as strong—just interesting patterns.

I was really focused on doing extraordinary work and allowing the work to lead. I had a lot of support from those who I worked with at Interscope and while I do believe that sexism and prejudice exist in the industry, especially for women who tend to present even more feminine, I think that often is a blessing and a curse for them because you can use your femininity to get ahead if you’re working with a lot of different men because men can be easily manipulated by sex and beauty.

I intentionally would dial down my femininity, beauty and wear playful, childish or conservative clothing and deliver good work. That was kind of the thing I learned during my time there. It’s an annoying sacrifice that women must make, but it was kind of effective in me winning the team at Interscope and me having not only having Steve Berman, but Brooke Michael write my recommendation letter for Harvard. And to have so many people in the office support me when I went to go drum for M.I.A. Instead of saying it’s a conflict of interest, they were my cheerleaders.

Why don't we see enough women involved in music technology?
From a young age, I think women are socialized [to believe] that they’re going to be more valued for their looks. You give one gender 24 hours in a day and you also give the other 24 hours in a day, but society is telling one gender, “Okay, but you better make sure your legs are shaved and you better make sure you have some makeup, and you better make sure your hair is done, and you better make sure you have a nice manicure." Then whether she realizes it or not, she’s spending 25 extra minutes in the shower, 40 minutes each week to get her hair done at the salon, an hour and a half to get her nails done, let’s just put it all together and say five to ten hours a week just on looks alone. That’s five to ten hours that the boys are putting in playing on their computers, watching YouTube tutorials on how to use Ableton, getting better at mathematics, getting better at their drums.

Overtime, one gender is far surpassing the other gender in terms of their capabilities and skill set. By the time it comes to apply for jobs and opportunities, boys tend to be better and far more ahead of the game because over time they became more comfortable as kids with learning tech and having more access to that than girls. I find it [to be] a really difficult battle because I do enjoy being beautiful, of course. Anyone does, we’re only human. But I think men don’t have to put such a disproportionate amount of time each week on their looks as women have to. So that’s one huge, huge part of it from childhood.

The second part is that I do think a lot of it comes from the men who are still in power to hire women, who choose who gets the role and I do think there are levels of unconscious bias. Not only when it comes to sexism, but it also comes into racism, homophobia and trans-phobia where we think certain people, based on how they look, are more qualified for a job than others. That takes a lot of work, to undo years and years of sexism and racism and homophobia in this country. But I do think that the more—if we even had one person of making it to these top levels, if we had one woman make it to these top levels, I do think she or they or he has a responsibility to see to it that those biases are counterbalanced and more people of diverse backgrounds get hired.

Is that one of your objectives when you include young, women artists of color on stage with you at your shows?
Definitely! I thought that I was going to go to Harvard Business School, graduate and go work at Spotify and be someone of the music industry, responsible for change on the inside. But I’m glad you’re asking me these questions because one thing I’ve been recently saying that I believe more and more, is I’m actually less interested in people of color, women or various marginalized groups applying into these “bro-y” tech cultures. Instead, I want us to just go start our own thing. I want to see women start their own music tech companies that deliver extraordinary value to the communities they serve. Or men, people of color, trans people or queer communities starting their own tech companies to make the world a better place.

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Do you have any new music on the way?
Hell yeah! I have a song inspired by Fela Kuti called "Bad Habits." I have another inspired by a Brazilian trap artist out in São Paulo called Topknot Turn Up, which is about women putting their hair up in a bun and getting their work done. I have a song that I’m about to finish in Detroit, it’s a total lover’s song. It’s about just being so inspired by your lover and just being with them and not really tripping about the rest of the world. So those are the three that I’m most excited about.

How did you first get into music and even playing the drums at such a young age?
I loved music since I was three or four-years-old, because I love pop culture. I grew up in Manhattan, and the bus used to come pull up in front of my parents’ house. I had this amazing funky, black bus driver whose name was Harrison. Harrison would play classical music when he would go and pick up all the kids in front of parents, and as soon as we pulled away, he would change it back to the hip-hop station, Hot 97. We would be in the back, just kids, learning all the rap songs.

He would mute words like the n-word or the f-word, because they kind of felt bad, but at the same time he was like, “Kids, this is educational. You need to know what’s going on in the world." We would listen to Nas, we would listen to all that. Illmatic was poppin’ at that time. I just remember falling in love with it and I loved that I wasn’t allowed to listen to it because my parents were Indian, they were naïve. It was the Clinton era, [Bill] Clinton had a whole campaign against black America and [promoted] mass incarceration and so he scared a lot of people into believing that there was so much horrible gang culture. That made me love it even more, because it felt like truth. I think that was my first foray into music. It’s that it represented something people weren’t talking about, but that felt honest. That showed me another part of life in New York that I didn’t know about.

The drums were a different story. Whether I play this symbol, that symbol, no one gives a f**k. It’s liberating and I also know it was rebellious for a girl to be playing drums. I felt there was enormous power in it and most people didn’t play drums, so I already felt like as a 10-year-old, I was getting gigs. [Laughs]

Why be independent and handle everything on your own?
I think my dad was good about making us independent. We lived in New York City so he would teach me how to buy a subway card and then force me to go and run the card myself even though I was seven or eight-years old and he could have just easily bought it for us. Just small, street smart skill sets and he was big on us taking initiative. My parents used to use that word a lot and I was the oldest [of three children] so I got that a lot.

How do you go about weaving feminism into your music?
I only care about feminism and music, so it’s easy to weave them. But I will say that one challenge that sometimes I talk about is that I’m a very cerebral person and sometimes cerebral speaking doesn’t have swag to it. So you can’t be bumping hella cerebral s**t while people are just trying to smoke and have a good time and drive around in their car. I think a challenge I’m facing right now is how do I take my intelligence and my confidence in my ability to speak about these issues very well and still put it into a seamless, musical body of work that’s accessible. I find that to be very challenging.

Explain…
If make something super simple I don’t feel like it’s authentic to me and then if I make it hella complicated, no one’s trying to play it in a club. No one is trying to f**k to feminism. I mean, I wanna live in that world. [Laughs]

A post shared by Kiran Gandhi (@madamegandhi) on

That’s legit. In a perfect world, “Her” would be a modern slow jam, because it’s so sensual.
Exactly! One other thing I’d like to say is that my message is about celebrating femininity in every person, because each of us came from a man and from a woman. We have both male and female energy, it’s just that we live in a society where we value masculinity more than we value femininity and it’s so bad that we use it as an insult, like calling someone a “pussy." Pussy is not an insult, pussy is divine and open and a combination of things, and so many things can go in and out of it, it’s a completely divine organ. We say “have a pair of balls,” but if you even lightly tap a pair of balls they’re completely in pain! So how did that even happen? That’s one thing, if we’re really going to look at anatomy.

The other thing I wanted to say is that my most joyful conversations when it comes to race and gender in America particularly are always with black men, because black men have experienced oppression when it comes to racism and therefore have the empathy to have a conversation intelligently with women to at least have the sense to put themselves in a woman’s shoes to understand what the oppression might feel like. But if you talk to someone who's never experienced systemic oppression in their life, like potentially a straight cisgender white man, it’s very difficult for them to even believe the kinds of sexism or racism we experience daily, just from looks on the street, to walking into a store, or even simply existing.

Two of the things that I believe hinders a lot of us men of color from being better toward our women is that we have “tunnel vision,” where we knowingly or unknowingly get so caught up in our struggles that we neglect yours, and for others we often fall victim to drinking the proverbial heteropatriarchal Kool-Aid.
I love that you just said that because while I could blame men for it. I want men to take more responsibility, but I do think that if you experienced oppression and then someone gives you power, you are so clinging to that power. If I give you racial oppression, but then I give you sexual power over women, you’re gonna want to take it because it’s the only power we’re giving you in this f**ked up hierarchical society. That’s the reason why black men have stood on the shoulders of black women for so long. It shouldn’t be acceptable and because of the very empathy we’re talking about, you would think that a lot of men would undo it, but I do think that’s why black men have a larger capacity to not contribute to further sexism than white men.

The ranking system is the problem and that’s the concept of “The Future is Female” for me. It’s about women being treated the way we deserve to be treated but more than that, it’s this idea that male energy tends to rank things like, for me to win you must lose and it’s a game, it’s about ego and competitiveness. Obviously, we all need a little of that because that’s motivation, but we’re too far in the extreme of that to where we’re just killing people and raping the earth.

It’s this whole Donald Trump hetero-hyper masculinity thing, it’s very dark. And to me, if you go all the way on the other side, the feminine, instead of the world being ranked, what if the world was linked? Like, you have a skillset, I have a skillset, we come together, one plus one equals 11 now and not two. Where we each can contribute to the joy of delivering value to someone else. I wish we were judged and ranked if anything, based on how much joy and value we are contributing to others, but that to me is the hyper-feminine side of the spectrum.

I also think that this idea that women are too emotional—I think if you go on the hyper side, of course. Can we let our emotions color our vision, 100 percent! But that’s part of our journey as women when to use our emotions for good versus when we must play them down and use logic and reason. But men have the same thing and we don’t criticize men for it, it’s called ego! The male ego is one of the most powerful and destructive forces on earth. It’s the reason we have war, it’s the reason presidents like Donald Trump get elected, because when men go too far on their emotional side of the spectrum it’s called ego and it's contributing to the darkness of the earth. That’s what men and women can learn from each other. Women can learn from men, but men can also learn from the women in terms of being a little more emotionally intelligent, how to manage that ego and how to be more self-disciplined.

At the Pitchfork Festival earlier this year, you gave an excerpt from Gabrielle Gamboa's essay "New Rites of Transition," featured in The Feminist Utopia Project. How did that book inspire you?
I ran the London Marathon, free bleeding in 2015, and this woman in LA compiled this book, found me and gave it to me as a gift. That whole year after that story went viral, so many wonderful people throughout the world were mailing me gifts and/or meeting up in person and giving me something, so I got exposed to a lot of work. But that particular one, I loved how simple the message was and it’s almost heartbreaking. A feminist utopia is just where a girl feels like she can leave her home safely? That’s the f**king utopia?! Damn!

People think that a feminist utopia is that men are dying, women are royalty, blah blah blah. She’s like, “I want to leave the house without someone making fun of my ambition. I want to leave the house feeling safe in my own body. I want to leave the house feeling free and safe enough to voice my own opinion when I have an opinion. It’s like, damn that’s the utopia? Damn! I’m getting emotional just thinking about it, because it makes me so mad. That’s why I picked that piece, because it’s also so humbling and illuminating what we’re talking about.

What’s your relationship with M.I.A. like today?
We haven’t really spoken [in a while]. We did the tour in 2013 and 2014, and I remember when I was in Brazil in 2014 until maybe the top of 2015, I hit her up and I was just telling her I was traveling. She was like, “It’s so wonderful to hear from you, Brazil is amazing, you’re going to love it. Record music while you’re there," which I did. But yeah, I played Pitchfork with her in 2013 and I got to play Pitchfork as Madame Gandhi in 2017, and it felt like a beautiful growth moment.

Beyond just my relationship with M.I.A., I think the best thing for me that came out of that tour, which I’m only realizing many years later as an adult, is how much I learned when it came to management because I was very dialed in and I’m always very intellectually curious so I wasn’t really paying attention to the fans and that kind of thing. I was more like, how are they managing the tour buses, how are they managing the flights, the hotels, the sound check, the transportation, the in-ear monitors, the mix, the life. What’s appropriate? Are you allowed to change the set list? That is what really inspired me from that tour, because I took everything from that tour and applied it to my own managing skills.

One of the more prominent conversations in and out of the feminist community are transgender individuals. As a feminist, do you consider trans-women to be women? Why or why not?
Of course, 100 percent. Anyone who wants to be female, you’re completely welcome to claim your femininity. Obviously, feminists of the past have been trans-misogynistic, because we often feel the need to say, “No, we’re going to tackle the women issue, and then the gay issue, or then the trans issue, and then the color issue." You can’t do that because all of these identities are complete, as we say now, intersectional and they’re all related to each other. And that’s why feminism also got such a bad reputation from other women, because it was exclusionary and we are absolutely not talking about that in 2017. A fourth wave feminist message is 100 percent inclusive and it's celebratory of femininity in all of us.

I would also add that I rep “The Future is Female” and many criticize it for being trans-misogynistic because A: female refers to anatomy, which maybe someone doesn’t have even though they claim their own femininity. And B: because the person who started it in the 1970s did have a trans-misogynistic background where she wasn’t interested in including members of the trans community. I am a firm believer in new generations ascribing new meaning to phrases that have political relevance and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. To me, “The Future is Female” is about living in a world where we value femininity, but we value being collaborative and being emotionally intelligent. We value feminine traits and if anything, the transgender community has been light years ahead of this message. So for me or for anyone to exclude anyone from the transgender community, it would be completely asinine given that they’re the ones who have been brave enough to carry this message long before many feminists themselves.

Catch Madame Gandhi's upcoming performance with Quin at Afropunk on Aug. 26.

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Toots Hibbert performing at Hammersmith Palais, London in 1983.
Photo by David Corio/Redferns

Remembering Toots Hibbert

The best singers don’t need too many words to make their point. Otis Redding could let loose with a sad sad song like “Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa” and get you all in your feelings. Bob Marley got pulses pounding with his “Whoi-yoooo” rebel yell. Gregory Isaacs melted hearts with nothing more than a gentle sigh. Toots Hibbert, who died last Friday at the age of 77, could sing just about anything and make it sound good. One of the world's greatest vocalists in any genre, Toots paired his powerful voice with the understated harmonies of Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias to form The Maytals, a vocal trinity that never followed fashion and remained relevant throughout the evolution of Jamaican music—from the ska era to rock steady straight through to reggae, a genre named after The Maytals' 1968 classic “Do The Reggay.”

Whether they were singing a sufferer’s selection (“Time Tough”), a churchical chant (“Hallelujah”), or the tender tale of a country wedding (“Sweet and Dandy”), The Maytals blew like a tropical storm raining sweat and tears. The lyrics to Six and Seven Books,” one of The Maytals' earliest hits, are pretty much just Toots listing the books of the Bible. “You have Genesis and Exodus,” he declares over a Studio One ska beat, “Leviticus and Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges and Ruth...” Having grown up singing in his parents' Seventh Day Adventist Church in the rural Jamaican town of May Pen, Toots knew the Good Book well.

The Maytals broke out worldwide in 1966 thanks to the song “Bam Bam,” which won Jamaica's first-ever Independence Festival Song Competition, held during the first week of August as the island nation celebrated both independence from Great Britain in 1862 and emancipation in 1834. They would go on to win the coveted title two more times, but “Bam Bam” was a singular song with a message every bit as powerful as Toots' voice. “I want you to know that I am the man," Toots sang. He was young and strong, ready to "fight for the right, not for the wrong." The trajectory of "Bam Bam" would not only transform Toots' life but make waves throughout popular music worldwide.

"Festival in Jamaica is very important to all Jamaicans," the veteran singer stated in a video interview this past summer while promoting his latest entry into the annual competition. "I must tell you that I won three festivals in Jamaica already, which is “Bam Bam,” “Sweet & Dandy” and “Pomp & Pride.” Toots described that first festival competition as a joyous occasion. "Everybody just want to hear a good song that their children can sing," he recalled. "Is like every artist could be a star."

In 2016, on the 50th anniversary of "Bam Bam" winning first place, Toots looked back over the legacy of the tune that made him a star. "I didn’t know what it means but it was a big deal," he told Boomshots. "You in the music business and you want to be on top and you write a good song and you go on this competition and if they like it then it becomes #1." After The Maytals won, the group was in demand not just all over the island, but all over the world. "We start fly out like a bird," he says with a laugh. "Fly over to London."

"Bam Bam" went on to inspire numerous cover versions, starting with Sister Nancy, Yellowman, and Pliers. It would also be sampled in numerous hip hop classics, and interpolated into Lauryn Hill's "Lost Ones." But according to Toots, he did not benefit financially from these endless cover versions. "People keep on singing it over and over and over, and they don’t even pay me a compliment," he told Boomshots. "I haven’t been collecting no money from that song all now."

 

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“This man don’t trouble no one... but if you trouble this man it will bring a Bam Bam” Original Maytals Classic @tootsmaytalsofficial 🎶 All them a talk, them nuh bad like Niya Fiya Ball ☄️🔥💥 via @tonyspreadlove . 💥💣🔫#Boomshots

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When Toots began singing in his parents' church, music was not seen as a career prospect, and the profits were slim for Jamaican recording artists in the 1960s. "Those days we get 14 cents for the record to play on the radio," Toots said. "I get three shillings and five shillings for a number one record, which I had 31 number one record in Jamaica... It’s not about money for me. It’s about the quality that Jamaicans need to go back in the festival jamboree... You gotta talk to the children."

On the poignant “54-46 (Was My Number),” Toots recalls the dehumanization of his arrest and 18-month imprisonment at Jamaica's Richmond Farm Correctional Center for what he always insisted was a trumped-up ganja charge just as his music career was taking off. The song's crescendo comes two minutes in when Toots breaks into a scat solo that cannot be translated into any language known to man, delivered with palpable passion that made his message universal. During Toots' ecstatic stage performances he would follow this riff by commanding his band to “Give it to me... one time!” Then the 'd make 'em say Uh!  (Way before Master P!) “Give it to me... two times!” Uh! Uh! And so on and so forth until Toots worked the place into a frenzy.

The Maytals' live show was so explosive that Toots began touring all over the world, opening for rock megastars like The Rolling Stones and The Who. While Bob Marley richly deserved the title King of Reggae, his friend Toots was performing internationally before The Wailers, and remained a force to be reckoned with throughout his life, blazing a trail for generations of reggae artists to follow in his footsteps.

On his Grammy-winning 2004 album True Love, Toots recorded some of his greatest hits with a host of legendary artists, many of whom were also good friends, including Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Eric Clapton. His 2006 cover of Radiohead's "Let Down" was a favorite of the band's, who used to play it on their tour bus. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood called Toots’ version “truly astounding,” according to Easy Star Records Michael Goldwasser.

Toots supported himself and his family by touring all over the world. During a 2013 show in Richmond, Virginia he was singing John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" when a teenager in the crowd threw a vodka bottle at the stage and hit him on the head. He suffered a concussion and had to stop touring for several years. As his first album in a decade, Got To Be Tough was highly anticipated when it was released on Trojan Jamaica label August 28. On the cover the former boxer and lifelong fighter can be seen throwing a punch. Just a day after the album dropped, Toots came down with symptoms similar to COVID 19. Within a few days he was hospitalized where doctors placed him into a medically induced coma from which he never recovered. As his Tidal obituary pointed out, he passed away exactly 33 years after his old friend Peter Tosh died by gunfire.

Songs like "Just Brutal" from the hit different now, with Toots pleading for more love in a world gone wrong. "We were brought here," Toots sings. "Sold out. Victimized brutally. Every time I keep remembering what my grandfather said before he died."

“I’m feeling alright,” Toots said the last time we spoke, while he was still sidelined with stress issues due to the bottle-throwing incident. "I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling just cool because is Jah works. You seet?" I asked him if the song "Bam Bam," was about him—a peaceful man who should not be provoked—or else. "Nooo don't trouble him," Toots said with a laugh. "It’s gonna be double trouble, triple trouble. A lot of trouble."

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DJ Cassidy

DJ Cassidy Speaks On 'Pass The Mic Vol. 2' Ft. Hip-Hop Greats LL Cool J, Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte And 30+ More MCs

With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc globally, 2020 has been a year filled with tragedy and uncertainty, as an innumerable amount of lives have been taken or affected as a result of the spread of the virus. The world of entertainment, which relies on ticket-holders and live spectators, is affected severely, with artists unable to tour, give live performances, interact with fans, or even create material by committee. This unprecedented blackout of sorts is a tough pill to swallow and threatens to forever alter the industry as we know it. However, as a culture and artform that built its history around making the best of times with minimal resources at its disposal, hip-hop is at the forefront of keeping the public entertained and butts moving, with various DJs, artists, and producers discovering new ways to stay in tune with the people.

While new, digital platforms like DJ D-Nice's "Club Quarantine" and Swizz Beatz and Timbaland's "Verzuz" battle series are ahead of the curve, the latest virtual experience to emerge is Pass The Mic, a live event created and hosted by legendary spinner DJ Cassidy. A native New Yorker, Cassidy, who made his name via the club circuit during the late '90s and early aughts, has a resume that rivals the most accomplished of DJs, having spun at high profile events such as the 2009 inauguration ball for Barack Obama, Obama's 50th birthday party, and the wedding of JAY-Z and Beyonce. Performing hundreds of shows on a yearly basis, Cassidy, whose touring schedule was halted due to the pandemic, was stuck at home when a conversation with legendary soul musician Verdine White of Earth, WInd & Fire gave him an epiphany.

 

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Thank you @revwon @kingdmc @llcoolj @mrchuckd_pe @therealdjchillwill @therealdougefresh @thegodrakim @mcshan1 @mcmilkdee @specialedmusic @emceeserch @mclyte @chipfu @erick_sermon @doitalldu @therealgrandpuba @djpremier @darealgregnice #smoothb @blacksheepdres @therealclsmooth @realpeterock darealmonielove @youngmc89 @chubblive @officialbigdaddykane @robbasemusic @kidfromkidnplay @the_playgroundz @darealpepa @saltnpepaofficial @speech__ @rasadon @eshe2xgrammy @treachtribe @unclevinrock ❤️ You are my heroes. And to all 122,000 people that tuned in, I am truly grateful. 🎙👑🎙#PassTheMic @rockthebells @behindtherhymetv @twitch

A post shared by DJ Cassidy (@djcassidy) on Aug 5, 2020 at 9:13pm PDT

Cassidy explains: "In the heat of the pandemic, in the middle of the quarantine, I was facetiming with my good friend and mentor Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire. Verdine has grown to be a close friend whom I truly admire, and he and I go to dinner every month or so and, obviously, we were not able to do that. So we were on a Facetime call catching up and while I was talking to him, his song, ‘That's The Way of the World,’ came on my speakers. And ‘That's The Way of The World’ is my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire song and on a regular day, it sends a chill down my spine. But being that the world was in flux and everyone was in their homes, separate from each other, [and] being that I was looking into his eyes as I heard the song, a kind of special feeling came over me. And I said, 'You know, I'm very lucky that I have so many relationships with all of my heroes of music and I can hear their music in their company.' And I said, 'Wouldn't it be amazing if I could find some way to give that special feeling to other people around the world during this crazy time. And I said, 'Well, if I can connect my musical heroes from home to home, perhaps I can give people this feeling that I'm feeling right now. And perhaps I can use that as a way to pay homage to the heroes around the world fighting for health.' So therein lies the foundation of the whole idea."

That spark ultimately evolved into Pass The Mic Vol. 1, which saw some of the biggest R&B stars of the late '70s and the '80s performing their greatest hits from the comfort of their homes, for the world to see. The event, which was streamed live on Twitch before being uploaded to Cassidy's Instagram page, was a big hit, amassing upwards of twenty thousand viewers, prompting the DJ to follow up with a second volume geared towards his first love: Hip-Hop. Airing this past Wednesday (Aug. 5), Pass The Mic Vol. 2 saw DJ Cassidy summoning a slew of his friends, who just happen to be among the greatest rap artists of all-time, to join him in a cipher of the most pivotal rap records of the '80s and early '90s. DJ Premier, of the legendary rap group Gang Starr, spoke on DJ Cassidy approaching him to be a part of the massive celebration. "When Cassidy texted me the links to VOLUME 1, I was blown away by the people he chose," Premier shares. "And it kept getting more and more exciting as the songs progressed to wonder who's next. Even the way he sequenced it..."

Beginning with Run of Run DMC performing "Sucker M.C.'s," the nearly forty minute set included appearances from the likes of LL Cool J, Chuck D, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Kid N' Play and Naughty By Nature, all of whom tear the house down, albeit virtually from the comfort of their own. The session includes many magical moments and is filled with a love for one another, as well as the culture that brings us all together.

With the second volume in the series having took place, with many more to come, VIBE spoke with DJ Cassidy via phone about the genesis of Pass The Mic, what the process entailed putting the first two volumes together, the healing and unification of music, and how Black music has had an indelible impact on his life and career.

VIBE: The first volume of Pass The Mic included appearances by Earth, Wind & Fire, New Edition, Bobby Brown, Kool & The Gang, Patrice Rushen, and other stars of the '70s '80s. What made you kick off the series celebrating that particular era?

DJ Cassidy: I think two main reasons come to mind. First of all, the Facetime call with Verdine White was really the genesis of the concept, so it was that call that inspired the whole idea. And it was that song, the first song on Vol. 1 that was playing, so to me, it was automatic that I should go to that era of music to set the project off. But the second reason is kind of a bigger picture, which is I really believe that that music is the most feel-good, uplifting music ever created. It is undeniably body-moving and for two-thirds of my life, I've traveled the world, making people dance and there is no music that uplifts, inspires people, makes people smile and makes people dance than the r&b music of the '70s and the '80s. So when the world is going through what it's going through and people wanna smile and people wanna be uplifted and people wanna unite, there really was no greater music to channel to try to do such a thing, to achieve such a mission.

How would you describe an episode of Pass The Mic and what are some unique wrinkles users can expect?

Pass The Mic is an interactive mixtape delivered in a way that you've never experienced before. As I drop each record, you experience that record with the artist who recorded that record and you connect with those artists from home to home. And through that personal experience, you're left with an emotional experience of music unlike any before. And I'd be lying if I said I thought that all the way through when I started, I didn't. A lightbulb went off for me, I saw the big picture and I went for it, but I didn't quite understand how emotional the response would be until I premiered it.

You've also mentioned how the times we're in, with the COVID-19 pandemic, was also a factor in you creating Pass The Mic. What are your thoughts on how other DJs and producers have been adapting to the climate we're in?

Well, I think the pandemic has been such a tough time for everyone around the world, yet it's also been a great time for DJs to be the best versions of themselves. At our core, we DJs unite people. At our foundation we bring people together through music and no one exemplified that better, bigger and faster than D-Nice. In the first week of the pandemic, he found a way to unite the world through DJing and it was truly beautiful to watch then and remains beautiful to watch now.

You've been spinning professionally for upwards of two decades and have an expansive list of high-profile artists and musicians at your disposal. What has the recruiting process for Pass The Mic entailed and how would you describe the artists' reception to the idea of it all?

Well, the process has certainly evolved, I would say that's the best word to use. The recruitment process for Vol. 1 was entirely different from Vol. 2 'cause while recruiting artists for Vol.1, I had nothing to show. All I had was a crazy idea that some people understood and some people didn't, but what they did exhibit was a unanimous trust in me and for that, I was not only grateful, but extremely honored. We're talking about some of the most legendary r&b artists of all time, they don't need to do my Pass The Mic idea. And they all took a leap of faith and they put their trust in me and I think they were all excited by the results and that really was the biggest reward. The recruiting process for Vol. 2 was entirely different because not only had many of the artists now seen Vol. 1, but for those who didn't I of course had Vol. 1 to show them. One of the greatest experiences was calling Big Daddy Kane, one of the greatest rappers of all-time.

Now, I haven't spoken to Kane on the phone in years. In fact, I might have never spoken to Kane on the phone before. I first developed a relationship when he performed at my birthday party in New York many years ago, over ten years ago. And every time we see him, it's all love and, of course, I admire, idolize and look up to him and I wasn't even sure if I had the right number I called, I got a voicemail, it wasn't his voice. I text him, I said 'Kane, it's Cassidy, is this still you?'  And he called me within five minutes and I picked up and go, 'Kane!' And his first words were, 'Look, if you're calling about something having to do with Pass The Mic, I'm in,' and that was one of the greatest phone calls I've ever had in my life. And I will never forget that one sentence. Big Daddy Kane, the great, the legend, the forefather, he not only saw it, but loved it, felt that's why I might be calling and was down to take part in whatever I was doing and there's really no words to describe that feeling. And that sentiment was common in many of my phone calls  that a lot of the artists I was calling had seen Vol. 1 and were really emotional in their response to it. So the recruiting process from Vol. 1 and 2 were very different, in that respect.

For the debut volume of Pass The Mic, you partnered with Twitch, a streaming platform that's been continuing to gain steam. What spurred you to use that particular platform and is that partnership official?

Firstly, what I was doing wasn't possible to present to people on Instagram. I love Instagram, it's the platform I use the most, it's how I share my life and times, but there was no way I could've presented Pass The Mic through Instagram. So I was looking for a platform that allowed for a live experience, one which I could treat as a live event and there were several: YouTube, Facebook and Twitch. And Twitch seemed like a great home for the launch, their platform, their technology, their fanbase. They're extremely forward thinking and it was a great place, but it was also a partnership with the Behind The Rhyme channel. Behind The Rhyme is a channel on Twitch that presents  lots of great content having to do with hip-hop and r&b, specifically classic hip-hop and r&b, but all kinds of hip-hop and r&b. So it was a great kind of home for Vol. 1 and it worked out well, so I've chosen to host a live event for Vol. 2 there as well. And I've also partnered with Rock The Bells on this edition, they represent all things classic hip-hop so it's self-explanatory. The partnership is a no-brainer. LL Cool J and his brand represent everything that Pass The Mic Vol. 2 strives to represent, the beauty and inspiration of classic hip-hop.

The second episode of Pass The Mic aired this past Wednesday (August 5), and saw you putting the focus on the golden era of hip-hop, with legends like LL Cool J, Run-DMC and Salt-N-Pepa all appearing on the show. How would you describe your relationship with that era of hip-hop and how the music inspired you as a DJ?  

Well, I grew up in that era of hip-hop. I grew up memorizing the words of the hip-hop records of the mid '80s, late '80s, and early '90s, that was my childhood.  Hip-Hop is my first love, hip-hop is why I became a DJ, hip-hop is why I asked my parents to buy me two turntables and a mixer for my birthday when I turned ten. And these artists, the artists who I've included in Pass The Mic Vol. 2 are my true heroes. They are the artists I looked up to as a child, they are the artists I idolized as a child and to this day, I hold them up on the highest of pedestal.  They define the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I danced, the way I dress, the way I fought, they gave me identity. Without these artists, I don't really know what my identity would be. I became who I am through this music, so this volume really meant a lot to me, the last twenty-one days have been surreal.

Yeah, for sure. The reason the past twenty-one days have been so surreal is not only because I got to Zoom with all of my heroes of hip-hop, but because after we knocked out what we had to do we stayed on for another half an hour or more talking. And sometimes I'd be on with some of these artists for an hour and I'd be asking them questions and they would tell me stories and I just heard the greatest anecdotes. And sometimes with those whom I had relationships with, we talked about stories that involved me and us and those were incredibly special, for obvious reasons, but all the stories were just, like, gems. They were just dropping gems on me. I have all that footage and I hope, at some point, there is another component of Pass The Mic where I share those stories.

What would you say are three records from that period that personally resonate with you?

"Sucker M.C.’s" is a very important song to me, as it is to hip-hop culture, as it is I believe, to pop culture. "Sucker MCs," in my opinion, is the archetype of a hip-hop record. It's so brilliantly simple and it's powerful because of its brilliant simplicity. All that's on there is a kick, a snare, a clap, and rhymes. There's no chorus, it's only four verses. And if you think about it, on paper, it's the simplest hip-hop record ever made and it's just so magical because if an alien came from out of space like, 'What is hip-hop?' I would play them “Sucker M.C.'s.” So, for me, it was really important for that reason, to set off this particular volume with that record.

Another record that's really important to me is Arrested Development "People Everyday." It's not only one of my favorite hip-hop records of all-time, it's one of my favorite records of all-time, it just simply exudes joy and celebration. And Speech is not only an incredible rapper, but an incredible singer and his voice is just simply something you can feel. He's uplifting, he's truly a unifying spirit and I'm so happy he was willing to get down 'cause he really brings the celebration to this.

"Hip Hop Hooray," which closes out Vol. 2, is really important to me. As a child, I worshipped the ground Treach walked on. I thought Treach was the coolest person to ever walk the face of this earth. And Treach and Vinnie are the sweetest guys, I've known them since I was a child and they've always been really supportive of me and my career and that song is special. No matter where you go in the world, no matter what music someone loves, no matter how old they are, no matter who they are, no matter where they are, everyone sings along to that chorus and knows exactly what to do with their hands. And there's something really beautiful about that so there's no better song to end this with.

The first two episodes of Pass The Mic have been geared towards celebrating Black icons in music, across various genres. In the age of Black Lives Matter and social injustice, what are your thoughts on how music and the performance of it can help bring forth unity and healing?

I think there is no greater unifying power than music and I think there is no greater healing force than soul music. And soul music doesn't just mean r&b music, it means hip-hop, too, hip-hop comes from soul. And I think we're living in a time of divisiveness, bigotry and of separation and I think we, as humanity, can look to any one thing to uplift people and unify, it would be music. And you mentioned Black music, my life wouldn't be what it is without the music of Black artists, hip-hop and R&B has defined my life in so many ways, and not only in my career. It's my source of inspiration, it's my source of culture, it's my source of style, it's really my source of happiness. And it's through the music of soul artists and hip-hop artists that I've been able to travel the world and make people dance and make people smile.

What do you see Pass The Mic evolving into moving forward and what do you hope viewers walk away with after viewing an episode of Pass The Mic?

I hope people walk away feeling uplifted, that's it. That's the goal, to uplift. And by sharing these records in a unique way, I've been able to uplift, then I've done my job. The magic is in the music and I'm just a messenger. What do I see for the future? Well, at this point, sky's the limit. I didn't anticipate quite an emotional response from people and it's been quite overwhelming. As I said, this was a little passion project to stay creative, to connect with my heroes and to put a smile on a few faces and it turned into something bigger than I could've ever imagined. There's certainly gonna be more volumes and what the future has in store, we shall see.

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Photo by Jax Teller (@_30onme)

Beats, Blackness, and Revolution: A Conversation With Jay Versace

Jay Versace doesn’t care who you thought he was. He never has, and never will. Since his influencer ascension through comedic skits via the now-defunct social media platform, Vine, in 2016, Jay has used his platform to amplify Black spirituality, Black creativity, and Black mental health. Through sharing resources to his large following on social media, he’s continuing to do so even now amid these trying times. One of the several things that he’s been doing to help maintain his inner peace as the country is enthralled in protest has been producing music.

Versace made his first beat in May of 2018, and it was actually met with contention from fans who were only familiar with his comedic side. “When I tweeted I was trying to make music, so many people were like, ‘This is what this is gonna sound like,’ and were sending the craziest gifs and memes and I was like, ‘Damn, y'all really think I have no taste,’” he says when recounting the first time he shared his music on social media. “(Laughs) It was very intense and overwhelming, but I was like you know what, f**k them and kept doing it, kept trying.” And he did exactly that, fine-tuned his beat-making craft by digging into the soulful music he was raised on. Thus, the biggest testament to his growth as a producer has definitely been his early 2020 appearance on Buffalo, New York rapper and Griselda collective member Westside Gunn’s latest critically acclaimed album Pray for Paris, where his beat on the self-titled track “Versace” found him in the production credits next to rap royalty like DJ Premier and Tyler, The Creator. Since this major moment in his music career, Jay has been active in both the studio and on the Internet, spreading awareness about Black rights.

There have been a lot of performative activism surrounding the most recent protests against police brutality following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black folk in this country. Brands—and some white allies alike—have cleared their conscience with a lukewarm effort, a solid week of Instagram story reshares of burning cop cars and picket signs, and empty PR promises to “stand by the Black community.” Jay recognizes this and believes white allies need to protest in their own communities first before leaving to go protest in others’. “They go to our neighborhood to protest their neighborhood (Laughs). Like, nah, go to your neighborhood to protest. That’s why I really want to see white people using their own in their own spaces that we can’t get to because of their privilege.”

Jay always speaks his mind across his social media platforms, and he remains jovial, yet candid in our conversation about his criticism on certain people profiting from Black culture and the Black plight. His stance is very clear: if you profit off the Black dollar, then you have an obligation to speak up for Black rights. “You have to realize, if you benefit off the Black community, this is how you give them back all that they’ve given you,” Jay says. “If you’re sitting in a mansion and just sitting on the Black dollar based on what you’ve been doing, then this is how you contribute.”

As a 22-year-old queer Black man, he realizes he has to fight for his rights not only in a racist American society but also in a hip-hop space that is often plagued with homophobia. “I really have to work extra hard to find my own style and my own taste and just perfect what I’m doing because people see somebody that’s queer and they automatically don’t want to associate themselves,” Jay says when asked about carving out his own space in the music world. “Because they’re homophobic, or because they don’t want to be saying ‘Oh, what was you doing working with him? What were y’all doing in the studio?’” Despite this, Jay’s individuality has never faltered and he has turned his personality into one of his most endearing qualities. A close friendship with the ethereal Erykah Badu has also helped him maintain a deep relationship with his ancestry and spirituality, and he prides himself on how much he’s grown into his Blackness.

Even over Zoom, Jay’s energy and spirit erased our digital distance. Despite him living in California now, the lighthearted—often misunderstood —sarcasm that only two people from Jersey can understand blended immediately between us. He is deeply rooted in his beliefs, unapologetically himself, and simultaneously still growing into his newly discovered goals and ambitions. In a conversation with VIBE, Jay Versace talks about the current revolution for Black rights, how his spiritual roots have influenced his soulful beats, and why his future looks all-Black.

What are your feelings like surrounding the current revolution taking place?

It’s mixed emotions. There’s so much good stuff happening, there’s so much bad stuff happening. There’s so much of just both happening at the same time. I’m worried about my mental health and just how I’m, like, trying to be a better version of me so that I can continue to be a voice or some type of spokesperson for people. So half of me is super into it, I’m ready to unpack. I’m ready to change and make everything all-Black, and then on the other side I’m like, “Okay, let me get my mental health together.”

And speaking of things being all-Black, you’re one of the few influencers who have always really advocated for Black rights on your platform. What are your thoughts on a lot of the performative activism we’ve been seeing from brands and influencers lately?

Something told me something like this was going to happen before. A couple of years ago, something told me it’s going to be some people and some brands, and I’ve already just seen it. This type of stuff’s been kind of happening, where brands or people or influencers don’t really care about the Black community, but they know it’s a crowd they need to have a grasp on in order to get them to where they're trying to go in their career. It’s very selfish. It’s something you really just have to analyze. Like, who’s actually trying to contribute towards change, and who’s trying to just contribute towards their change.

I hate it, and that’s why I’ve been calling brands out. So many brands benefit off of Black people and the Black community, and yet they don’t actually help Black people or they don’t actually go into the community and see what needs help. They actually make it worse. They actually make the community worse by the image that they show Black people as.

I think you are the leader of a vanguard of budding Black creatives, personalities, and young people. How have you seen people our age mobilizing right now, and what do you want to see more of?

I see people our age just using their voice. We’re in a completely different time period, where, like, our ancestors gave us the knowledge. They gave us books, they gave us interviews, they spoke out. So I really see people around me, and influencers using their voice but it’s way more powerful and it’s way more impactful now because we have social media where everybody can hear and see everything, and that’s what’s kind of scary. It’s like, I’m not sure if things are worse or better than what our ancestors went through, because they didn’t have cameras to film everything. So now we’re in a time where everybody has their camera out, everybody's using their voices, like every 5-minutes it’s a viral video. That’s what I appreciate about what’s going on right now, we can actually document every single thing.

And what we need to do more of, I feel like it’s a group effort. It’s some stuff that white people need to do more, like, it’s some stuff that white people need to do more of! (Laughs) And then with Black people, we have to organize. We really have to come together and organize better, but just as far as white people I feel like they need to leave us alone and they need to go to their neighborhoods and make changes within their community.

Have you been able to get out and march at all?

No, I haven’t gone out to protest because the way my anxiety is set up. I’m just seeing so much going on with the police. It’s like wars out there, they going back-and-forth, they throwing gas at people, they shooting rubber bullets, and that’s just something that my anxiety won’t let me participate in. I’ve been protesting online.

And people are finally starting to talk about it now, but all the Black trauma does such damaging things to the Black psyche as well.

That’s another thing, I want to add to what I want to see more of. I want to see Black people take care of their mental health because, that first week when things were really hectic, we don’t know how our minds are going to process that within the next couple of months and years. It’s stuff from when I was a little kid that I didn’t realize was traumatic to me, and it’s just now processing. So we really need to take advantage of what we need to do with our mental health because that’s eventually going to take its toll. And even right now it’s wearing down on people’s minds and I just really want people to see that mental health is important.

You’ve always been really transparent about your struggles with anxiety. What’s been helping you keep your peace during these super trying times?

I’ve been making music, I’ve been telling my friends 'cause my friends have been calling me stressed out. I’m like, “Just make music.” Make music because if you think about the other time period where this kind of happened before, with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, there was a lot of music that was being based on what was going on. I feel like everybody was creating. If you’re an artist, whatever you do, you can contribute to what’s going on by using your skills. So I’ve just been trying to do whatever I do best, and that zens me out.

Do you think artists have an obligation to use their platform to talk about social issues?

Yes, just yes. You have to realize, if you benefit off the Black community, this is how you give them back all that they’ve given you. If you’re sitting in a mansion and just sitting on the Black dollar based on what you’ve been doing, then this is how you contribute. These people need you, these people give to you so give back to them. I don’t understand how that’s so hard. Like, I understand taking some time out to process it and then speak out, but to not speak out at all; I feel like that’s kind of messed up. These people are actually paying your bills, so there is a responsibility to use your voice because not everybody has that following where they can get points across, so we need that. We need people to speak up for us.

The LGBTQ+ Community has always been deeply rooted in social activism. Can you talk about any experiences you’ve had fighting for your voice to be heard as not only a Black man but also a Black queer man in this music space?

I feel like, one thing about music is that being someone that’s queer in music is very difficult. It’s so much homophobia. That’s really the genre I’m going into, that underground hip-hop is so homophobic. So it’s like, I really have to work extra hard to find my own style and my own taste and just perfect what I’m doing because people see somebody that’s queer and they automatically don’t want to associate themselves. Because they’re homophobic, or because they don’t want to be saying, “Oh, what was you doing working with him, what were y’all doing in the studio.”Like, every time I work in the studio with somebody and it comes up it’s like: “Oh, what was y’all doing. What did you have to do for that.” And I’m like, “Yo, we can’t just be two creative people? It has to be something about sexuality?” So it’s like, just what I’m going through right now and trying to make music and being in this homophobic-ass genre, it’s very stressful.

But I feel like it’s changing a lot. A lot of people are coming to their senses and feeling more comfortable with their own sexuality and not having to intimidate other people.

JAYVERSACE · CROSSMYMIND

You’re also boldly independent, I think that’s one of your strongest personality traits. When navigating this music space, how valuable do you think that trait is?

It’s very important just to be stern with what you believe in. I just also feel like, not everything you want to do is worth doing. Not everybody is worth working with. Not everybody deserves to be in your creative space. I know people really want opportunities to come to them, but not every opportunity is worth it. Like sometimes, and definitely as a queer person, if know you’re working with somebody that’s homophobic, is it really worth it? I think about my kids, what do I want to do to set an example for my kids. I want my kids to feel like, whatever sexuality they are, they walk into whatever room or situation as they are and they won’t change for nobody. They will only allow certain sh*t around them, so that’s what I’ve really been trying to do. Yeah, I play sometimes, but as far as allowing certain things to happen around me, I won’t allow. Because you’ll get run over.

I also want to touch on your other Instagram for a minute too, Jayversay. I like to call it your Sprinsta(spiritual Instagram). You’re deeply in touch with your roots, can you talk about how that plays a part in the messages you spread on your platform and your beats? 

My spirituality, just where I come from, my family, everybody was just super Black. And even though I grew up around people who were celebratory of being Black, I also did not want to be Black. I grew up not wanting to be Black. I grew up looking at people on magazines, looking at people on TV, looking at certain Black skin tones. I always felt like I was not accepted.

But now, a couple of years ago, I just started to realize, like, look at my history. I started to really dive deep into these books that my family used to always read and just go deep into my history. I’m like, damn. It just made me very angry, that I had all this kept from me for so long. First I got angry, I went through those emotions, then I just got more proud. I wanted to celebrate it, so I’ve always been about Black culture, Black music, all of that since. And since I first started making videos I’ve just tried to help Black people.

Can you talk about the beautiful relationship you have with the ethereal Erykah Badu? How has she helped guide you in your spiritual journey?

Yeah, Erykah Badu helped me make my ancestor altar, she’s the one who told me I needed one. She’s really, as far as my spiritual journey, made me feel comfortable. She made me feel like, okay I’m not going too far. Cause I was really diving deep into my spirituality, but she was like, “Keep going.” Ever since we first came in contact, she’s always just been trying to help me with everything I’ve been doing. She still hits me up every other week, just asking if I’m good. She’s just a very good person, besides her being a celebrity. Just one of the most beautiful humans I’ve ever come across. I really love and appreciate all the help she’s given me. I don’t know where I would be without her right now.

You were on one of the best rap tapes that dropped this year, and you also have a really expansive knowledge of music, even a brief scrolling of your SoundCloud reflects that. That Clark Sisters sample for “Versace” was beautiful. What got you into listening to the classics? 

Just how I was raised listening to soulful music. My grandparents, my parents, grew up around rappers and singers and it just stuck with me. I don’t really know, I guess it was always a part of me because anything I remember from liking music has always been the same type of music. I think it’s just built inside of me to like a certain type of style of music, like classic stuff.

There’s a funny tweet of yours about how people are so obsessed with 808’s nowadays. What do you try to avoid when making your beats?

I feel people use 808’s and that same snare because that’s louder than their voice, so people hide under drums because they know they not saying anything. Like, they know if they actually said it out loud without rapping it, it would not make any sense. It would sound corny, so people hide behind 808’s and those same drums because it sounds good, but that’s about it.

I try to avoid sounding like people that I’m compared to. I try to avoid sounding like: “Oh, this is like that!” If I hear that, I’m like, “Okay, bet I’m never going to make music like this again because whatever people hear from me, we already have that.” Don’t compare me to anything, I want to be my own person. So I let people tell me “what I sound like,” so I can not sound like that.

Can you speak on the work you’ve been doing with Freddie Gibbs? You said you were working on a project with him.

Freddie Gibbs is a crackhead, so whatever we’re working on is going to take some time. (Laughs) I’ve sent him beats he’s said he’s writing to, but he stays writing to them and I look on his [Instagram] story and he’s on a boat. I sent him the beats and I’m like, “You know what? I don’t know when I’ma expect a project.” I just know I sent him the beats and he hit me up every now and then like, “Yeah, I wrote to this,” and I’m like “Alright.” So I really don’t know, that’s Freddie Gibbs so I really don’t know. The ball is in his court.

Thoughts on Alfredo?

I loved the album. I actually had the same sample as one of the songs on that album.

Really? Which one?

The one where he was like “Babies & Fools." I sampled that the exact same way and was going to send it to Freddie and I’m glad I didn’t cause Alchemist did it.

I mean, the fact that you and Alchemist are thinking on the same wavelength is impressive as hell.

Yeah, that’s what I keep thinking! I’m like, “Hmm, maybe I’m about to get the next Grammy.” (Laughs) Because me and Alchemist made the same beat by accident, that’s insane to me.

I know you’ve also been in the lab with J.I.D and saw somewhere Ari Lennox too, what’s up with that?

We're just working. Me and J.I.D, we damn near made a whole tape. I’ve never heard this side of J.I.D in my life, so I don’t know what’s about to happen when this gets released because this is like, some of the best music I’ve made. Just with J.I.D and how he’s articulating his words and telling stories, he literally brings the beats to life. He creates stories, it’s some crazy sh*t that we made.

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Ari Lennox, I don’t know how she works so fast, but she’s like Walt Disney. She works very fast, so I’m excited to work with her.

What’s a dream collaboration of yours?

Damn, that’s so loaded. (Laughs) I would love to work with Jay-Z. Jay-Z or Kendrick [Lamar], I would love to work with either of them. Just how much they inspire me and how my beats sound. I literally make beats for them, so I would love to work with them.

You made one of your first beats on May 14, 2018. Now, over 2 years later, what are you most proud of in your growth as a producer?

Oh my God! I didn’t even know that. I’m most proud of myself for continuing to do it because when I tweeted I was trying to make music, so many people were like, “This is what this is gonna sound like” and were sending the craziest GIF’s and memes and I was like, “Damn, y'all really think I have no taste?” (Laughs) It was very intense and overwhelming, but I was like you know what, f**k them and kept doing it, kept trying. Kept trying new styles and sounds out, and the fact that I kept going and it’s gotten me this far and now I can say that this is my job, that’s what I’m most proud of. Just listening to my own voice.

You said that Donald Glover, Tyler, the Creator, A$AP Rocky, and Drake started everything really in terms of helping shape our generation. I know you’re just getting started, but when you’re just an old head from Jersey, what is the most important thing you want to leave behind?

Damn, I don’t know. I want to leave behind everything. I want my whole journey to be analyzed, from beginning to end. I don’t want nothing to be left out, I want the whole thing to be seen and experienced so that people can get inspired and do whatever they want to do. That’s the only reason why we’re on this planet, to show other people how to be on this planet. So I want to leave behind my whole experience.

I remember you talked in a Fader interview about how layered you are. I don’t think making beats is something new for you, I think it’s just a new part of yourself that you’re sharing. If you made your first beat a little over 2 years ago, and just got featured on Pray for Paris, where do you hope to be 2 years from now?

Two years from now, I expect for me to have a successful production company, successful music career, modeling, acting, architecture. Any type of thing that I want to do. Everything just thriving, and Blackness all over the f**king place.

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