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Interview: Sammie Talks ‘Coming Of Age’ And "Beating The Odds" As A Young Black Man In America

VIBE speaks to the 30-year-old singer about his new album and more. 

Sammie lived quite a life before he was old enough to drive. At age 13, the Florida native scored a hit with, “I Like It,” a bubbly anthem that cracked the Top 10 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. After dropping a gold-selling debut, From the Bottom to the Top, and another sugary single, “Crazy Things I Do,” Sammie fell back from the spotlight to find “normalcy.” He attended West Orange High School near Orlando, Florida, where he played basketball for two years and was named homecoming king. In seemingly normal high school activities, Sammie says he discovered a “significance of self outside of music,” a balance between his stage persona and regular life.

Separating the two worlds protected him from being “tainted” by fame. “The business side is the ugly part,” he tells VIBE during a sit-down in West Hollywood, California where the 30-year-old singer was busy promoting his fourth studio album, Coming of Age.

Back in 2005, Sammie was fresh out of high school and ready to return to the very industry that he left behind. But the comeback meant defying his mother’s wishes. “She gave me an ultimatum because she tried to protect me from snakes [in the music business],” he says. “She felt like you lived your dream, go to college and play it safe.”

With only $400 in graduation money, he moved out of his mother’s house and headed for Atlanta with his former manager. He later signed to Dallas Austin’s Rowdy Records and released a self-titled debut led by the Young Bloodz-assisted single “You Should Be My Girl.” On the surface, things appeared to be going well, but by 2009, Sammie announced that he was forming his own company, StarCamp Music, and taking legal action against his manager to “rectify any discrepancies and/or business transactions” made without his knowledge. Over the course of two years, Sammie claims the manager — who he didn't name but says that he considered him to be a “big brother” — manipulated his mind and his money. At the time, his credit was still intact and his cash flow was “so good,” that he didn't initially notice the money scheme.

The experience turned him off from managers and ignited an inner businessman that had been “suppressed” because the manager “coached” him to focus on his craft, rather than his finances. Up until a year ago, Sammie was his own manager, answering emails under one name, and commissioning a friend's help when he needed someone to be the "voice" of his manager character. “Now I do everything and I like it this way,” he says. “It’s more work, but I’m safe.”

Sammie has weathered the proverbial storm that many child stars haven’t been so lucky to overcome. And as a black man in America, he says he has “beat the odds.”

Our interview took place days after the violence in Charlottesville, which for all of its harrowing images, wasn’t as shocking for those who have experience with America's long history of racism. “A cop put a gun to my head in Orlando just for having a nice car and being in a nice neighborhood,” he recalls of one of two incidents of being racially profiled by police. “I put my hands up and had my window down. He put a gun to my temple and told me if I moved he was going to ‘splatter my brains’ in front of my little brother, those were his exact words. I guess I fit the criteria so to speak, I have braids, a beard, tattoos. I look like I’m up to no good when in actuality, I have no criminal record, never been to jail. I’m not dead at 21 or 25. I beat the odds of a young black man in America.”

Three years ago, Sammie released a song about police brutality titled “Dear America.” Though he doesn’t feel pressured to create protest music, he believes it's important to speak up about social issues. However, his new album, out September 15, is a “transparent,” sonic journal about relationships, and his own infidelity. “It’s every encounter that inspired me to be creative but also influenced me and helped me to become the man that I am.”

On Coming of Age, Sammie is making peace with the past and setting his sights towards a better future.

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VIBE: Why did you want to address your infidelity on Coming of Age?
Sammie: It's something that I’m not happy about. I don’t even like that I succumbed to that. My mom and father [broke up] because he was a bit of a ladies man. I love my father, but I’ve always tried to stray from that, so to fall short is disappointing as a man. And I’ve hurt amazing women, nothing was wrong with them, I just wasn’t ready. That’s why I’ve learned the importance of finding out who you really are without trying to build while you’re in love. That’s how you can hurt someone.

So the goal of this album is to humanize men in the eyes of women?
Women think we don’t feel because we don’t express it, or it’s looked at as not being masculine. But we talk about it amongst ourselves. I put those conversations in my music. That’s my niche: the transparency that my peers feel they’re too cool for.

Who are the "peers" that you’re referring to?
It’s not a personal attack on anybody. It’s just a lot of elite R&B singers. They have the platform, as well as the funding to change the game in the way that R&B lovers want it to be. Maybe they’re not in the mental state to create genuine music and they want to turn up and pop bottles. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have money to do that every night. That’s [their] lifestyle but the masses are going through heartbreak and identity crises and trying to figure themselves out while simultaneously falling in love. Where’s the guy [to sing about those topics]? That guy is me. The most vulnerable guy that we talk about in music is a rapper, Drake.

JAY-Z is pretty vulnerable these days…
He is, and I love it! The world loves it because it’s honest. Now people relate to JAY-Z and Beyonce on a whole new [level]. They went from relationship goals to “if JAY-Z cheated on Beyonce, I’m not alone.” That’s what you need: to create records that make people feel less alone.

You spoke openly about your former manager. How much did he steal from you?
Everything. For the first time, I knew what insufficient funds meant. I was on [Soulja Boy’s single] “Kiss Me Through the Phone" when this happened. He had access to everything, it was a nightmare. I was in a dark place, but I don’t look like what I’ve been through. I would perform concerts that would pay my mortgage, but it wasn’t what I was accustomed to. There was no financial freedom. I guess it’s the equivalent of someone who works 9-5. They have enough to pay bills but you gotta sit your a** down after that. I would go on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and I’m in superstar mode, but I’d go back to Atlanta and technically not know how I was going to eat. I had to find a way to get through that without the world knowing.

How did you bounce back?
I met Troy Taylor, my mentor, in church. I shared my story, and he shared some things. He kept me right, spiritually. I’ll never forget. He told me to tithe [put money in the collection plate]. I asked for change because I was going to put $20 in, he was like, "Put the whole $100 in, God will catch you." I’m like, "You’re crazy!" I had a girlfriend at the time and she didn’t know what was really going on because I never looked broke. I put the whole $100 in and the next day I got two bookings for $8,000 a piece. That was the day I realized I’ll never go without again because I jumped out on faith.

What did your mom think about the situation with your ex-manager?
She never said these words, but in her mind, she was like “I told you so,” and that was a fear of mine. If I went to college I wouldn’t have been able to save my mom’s house, to take my sister in, to take care of medical expenses for my father. I helped my brother through private school. If I went to college I wouldn’t have been able to do those things. I think my mom respects that I left with nothing and made something out of myself.

What’s your relationship like with your dad?
It’s not the relationship I would want. Things that I’ve done to women [wouldn't have happened] if my dad probably would’ve been there and said, “There’s something called generational curses. Let me help you through that,” or “Let me pray over you.” I never had that. When I have a son that’s one of the first conversations I want to have with him, when he’s really able to understand that aspect of life. I don’t want him to go through the battles that I’ve gone through, to hurt a woman like I have. I love my dad — I talk to him every week — but I’m 30 years old, there’s nothing he can teach me as a man.

You can always learn more.
I’m forever learning, but I don’t think there’s anything he can give me. Our relationship is more of a friendship. We don’t talk about anything serious. A lot of the things I know about my dad, my mom told me. But I would love for my father to show that [emotional] side. There are times when I say “I love you pops” and he doesn’t say it back. My mom said he wasn’t always so closed off. He’s definitely not mean, he’s super calm, serious, goofy, but there’s another layer that he refuses to let out. I’ve gotten accustomed to him not showing that side. It’s something that I’m at peace with, but if he wants to open up? Awesome. I just don’t know how to bring it out...maybe one day.

Speaking of single parenting, you caught some heat over an Instagram post on the subject. Can you clarify what you meant?
In so many words, I wrote that I would like to see less single parents and more wives. In my caption I put “men and women” should take accountability. I think a lot of single women took offense to it initially -- keep in mind I was raised by a single mother, my last girlfriend was a single parent and I was playing step-dad. I treated her son like mine. She was a packaged deal. I can’t be judgmental because I come from that. I was just saying I’d like to see more queens be married and then have a child. I was advocating for condoms and birth control. I’m not perfect, I’m not sitting here like I made all the right decisions in my sex life, or saying “be like Sammie.” Hell no.

With recent stories about R. Kelly and Usher, do you think that it’s a bad time for male R&B singers?
Are you saying it’s bad because there are rumors being spread about these icons that have been in the business for 20 plus years, or sonically?

A bit of both. People were saying that it basically proves R&B is f*cked up right now since they’re such large artists.
No, that doesn’t mean sh*t about R&B. It shows the state of the generation that we’re in. I don’t know Usher’s personal life, I don’t know R. Kelly’s personal life, neither do the people who were leaving crazy comments [online]. It shows the power of social media. You put [a story] out and people just believe it without merit. I’m saying this because again, I don’t know Usher’s personal life, I don’t know R. Kelly’s personal life, it’s not my business. I have, however, experienced what it's like to have [the media twist your words] and people take it for gold without proof.

So when you hear stories like that, you generally assume it’s a rumor?
Yeah, it has nothing to do with me. No disrespect to anybody, but I’m so purpose driven, I don’t have time to be worried about rumors about anybody. I grew up on Usher, he’s an idol of mine. I love R. Kelly’s music. I care about me and my brand so I have no opinion on that. I just know that in this generation, it’s easy for anything to be thrown out there. No one does research.

Does that make you scared to share too much on social media?
I’m not scared. I live my life, but I’m aware that I could do something crazy and somebody could pull out a camera and now it’s all over the Internet, and it could ruin my career. Celebrities forget that we’re so accessible, not just on Twitter or Instagram. Anybody can take their phone out whenever they feel like it. You have to be cognizant of that. Live your life, but understand that it’s no more "skeletons in the closet." It’s all fair game.

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Derrel Todd

Music Sermon: Forget The King of R&B, Raphael Saadiq Is The Son Of Soul

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

This week, Cash Money artist Jacquees set off an internet firestorm when he proclaimed himself to be the “King” of R&B “for (his) generation.” The comment led artists, executives, music fans and #BlackTwitter in general to debate: who is the King of R&B? (Spoiler alert - it’s not Jacquees.)

While a consensus was never reached, the heated discussion illustrated how much the definitions and ideas of R&B and R&B stars varies between age groups. Ironically, one name that seldom appeared in the convo belongs to one of the most consistent and prolific presences in soul and R&B music for the last 30 years: Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq has become like a stealth superhero of soul for the last several years of his career, moving to the background as more writer/composer/musician, so the impulse for many might be to label him as an “old school” artist. But that’d be a misnomer, as he’s still had his hand in some of the most influential music for the current generation. Perhaps he transcends a simple R&B conversation as a self-identified Son of Soul (the difference between R&B and Soul is a topic for another day), but however you want to categorize him, he is not widely-enough acknowledged for how he’s kept us jamming, constantly, for three decades.

Let’s explore the iterations through which “Ray Ray” has blessed us over the years.

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

During the birth and rise of New Jack Swing and then the subsequent evolution to Hip-Hop Soul, Tony! Toni! Toné! was one of the last of a dying R&B breed: the band. They – and a few years later Mint Condition - were standouts as live musicians in an R&B landscape turning to sample-based production. This set both groups apart, establishing them early on as serious soul acts, and making them forerunners of the neo soul sound to come in the late ‘90s.

Like almost every black musician and/or producer of note in his peer group, Saadiq developed and honed his musical chops in the church. Exposure to Motown and Stax by his blues singer father led him to the bass and served as inspiration for his future style. But he, brother Dwayne and cousin Timothy Christian received their formal Tony! Toni! Toné! training on the road: Raphael and Christian toured as part of Sheila E’s band on Prince’s Parade Tour and Dwayne with gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.

Having been properly trained, educated and tested in blues, soul, gospel, and funk, the three formed Tony! Toni! Toné!. Their first album was a modest success, achieving gold status from the RIAA, but wasn’t a standout. The trio started taking the reins on writing and production on their sophomore effort, and the Tonys as we now know them showed up. They announced both their musical background and intentions with their album titles: The Revival, Sons of Soul, House of Music. They were not there for catchy, formulaic R&B. They developed a signature blues, soul, gospel and funk hybrid, rolled up in modern R&B and hip-hop fusion.

The Revival is arguably a new jack swing album – “Feels Good” is a must-have on any new jack playlist – but they were taking the existing marriage of R&B and hip-hop and adding an even deeper soul element, reaching back to ‘70s sonic roots. It was the sonic equivalent of taking new jack swing chicken and shaking it in a paper bag of old-school musically-seasoned flour.

The group still had the kind of jammin’ uptempos found on their debut, Who?, but started to establish themselves as producers of some of the greatest R&B ballads of the ‘90s.

When you think of the Tonys’ music, aside from “Feels Good,” the first song that comes to mind is probably a slow jam. Most acts are fortunate to get one true signature song in their career. Tony! Toni! Toné! has several, and they’re timeless. Put them on today and see if you don’t hit a body roll.

They also established themselves as formidable soundtrack players (as any 90s act worth their salt did. Remember soundtracks, by the way?). They had cuts on the House Party II and Boyz in the Hood albums.

By Sons of Soul they’d found their pocket, and they pushed the sonic limits of contemporary R&B to the extent that some outlets classified the album as jazz, it was such an outlier. Saadiq recognized that they were doing something important for genre. Something that was connecting old style and new. In an interview about the album in 1994, he expressed what he saw as the group’s role in music. "We've been very blessed to be able to be a group that writes our own songs and people have accepted us from both sides, hip-hop and the R&B…I feel very fortunate to be able to do that here in 1993-94, because like you know, it was starting to be a dying thing that was happening. But I guess we were like the bridge between hip-hop and soul and R&B.”

Going back to the aforementioned King of R&B discussion, Diddy chimed in the conversation (he knows a little something about the topic) to run down some criterion to even be considered. His list included vulnerability and adoration in the lyrics and subject matter, the ability to sing a woman’s “draws” off, and the pen game to write hits. Check, check and check. Sons of Soul deservedly landed at or near the top of a gang of 1994 year-end lists and the Tonys continued to raise the bar for the ballad game. Real talk, the last four and a half minutes of the “Anniversary” album cut are better than some entire R&B albums.

With House of Music, the group sought to even more fully showcase all their influences and inspirations: the Al Green-esque “Thinking of You;” the Stylistics-inspired “Holy Smokes & Gee Wiz;” the Bay Area connect with DJ Quik for some G-Funk with “Let’s Get Down;” the straight-up church moment of the “Lovin’ You” reprise closing out the album, with Christian putting all that good anointing on the Hammond B3 organ. This was our clearest glimpse what Saadiq had in store for the future.

LUCY PEARL

When Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up and Saadiq put together supergroup Lucy Pearl, we realized he was on some other sh*t. First, the very idea to bring En Vogue’s Dawn Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Saadiq together was genius. Then, oh…what’s this sound? Tony! Toni! Toné! with a little somethin’ extra on it? Saadiq revealed his ability to reinvent himself, stylistically and sonically, and play in different music spaces. Successfully. Hits, check.

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

After Lucy Pearl, Saadiq embarked on his first solo projects. We’ll get to those, but the more remarkable part of this era was his expansive work as a writer, producer and session musician for others. As mentioned earlier, Tony! Toni! Tone! was an inspiration for neo soul (a term Saadiq loathes), which pulled from ‘60s and ‘70s influences, paired with the return to live instrumentation, mixed with hip-hop swag. Saadiq was a sometime member of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla’s Ummah production collective, but had also been working on outside projects since the Tonys were active. Through either the Ummah or alone, Ray was behind hits you may have attributed to someone else.

-D’Angelo, "Lady:" Saadiq co-wrote, co-arranged and co-produced the still-perfect ode to #WCEs (Women Crush Everydays) with D’Angelo.

-Bilal, "Soul Sista:" Soul and R&B great Mtume on the pen, Saadiq on production.

-Angie Stone, "Brotha:" OK, who’s gonna create the 2018 “Unproblematic” edit of the “Brotha” video?

-Total, "Kissing You:" No, this wasn’t Stevie J. Now, imagine this as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song. You can absolutely hear it, right?

-Erykah Badu and Common, "Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop):" Saadiq again proving he’s a master of the perfect fusion of hip-hop and an old soul groove.

-D’Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel):" Saadiq has admitted he later realized he was channeling Jay Dee’s style throughout the D’Angelo session.

SOLO SAADIQ

As a solo artist, Saadiq has accomplished what few can: continuously evolving his sound and aesthetic while yet managing to still always sound like himself. The retro-influence has been a constant in his work, but that influence ranges between decades and musical eras. He’d given us a taste of solo Ray through “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack, but that could easily pass as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song.

With Instant Vintage (again letting you know what he came to do with the title), Saadiq expanded on his existing signature sound of soul, funk, gospel and R&B; a sound he coined “Gospaldelic.”

With Ray Ray, he delivered a modern blaxploitation soundtrack. But then, in 2008, he went all the way back to Motown and the purest soul sound for The Way I See It. Saadiq was committed to an authentic return to ‘60s soul for the entire process. He eschewed slick, modern production techniques for old-school practices, including vintage equipment, all live instrumentation and single-take recordings. He donned slim-cut suits and classic frames for his look, and delivered a retro soul package via the 45 inch LP box set. But it still sounded incredibly fresh and modern, and that is his gift.

His last solo album, 2011’s Stone Rolling, was a progression of The Way I See It, staying in the same retro soul pocket, bringing some funk and rock’n’roll back into.

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

The thing about Saadiq is that he doesn’t just look a perpetual 30 years old (he’s 52. It don’t crack.). Unlike a lot of “old heads,” he keeps his ear current, as well. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid are his musical nephews. He praises them and their music often in interviews, heralding them as the current bridge-builders between eras and urban genres. Labelmate Leon Bridges adapted his The Way I See It and Stone Rolling formulas - from the sound to the ‘60s-style dress and imaging - for his own, and had Saadiq’s enthusiastic blessing. He listens to SZA, PJ Morton and Daniel Caesar. And he still has his finger on the pulse of current urban musical movements.

Saadiq was an executive producer on Solange Knowles’ 2016 A Seat at the Table, garnering a Grammy for the anthemic “Cranes in the Sky.”

He’s also helped to bring the full authenticity of the West Coast to Insecure for the past three seasons, serving as the show’s composer.

And he hasn’t abandoned his peers and contemporaries, garnering a “Best Song” Oscar nomination last year with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound’s “Mighty River,” and just recently executive producing John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. Only time will tell what he brings on the forthcoming solo album he told VIBE about, titled Jimmy Lee.

Whether his name is included in King of R&B conversations or not, Saadiq has been booked and busy in every area of black music since before 1988, keeping both aunties and nieces grooving, with no signs of slowing or stopping.

RELATED: Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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