Alyson-DTLA-53-1510071229 Alyson-DTLA-53-1510071229
Nathan Jesko

Interview: 15 Years After “Work It,” Alyson Stoner Talks Missy Elliott’s Character And Influence On Her Career

"[Missy] created an atmosphere of easy-going, good-natured fun..."

In the 15 years that Missy Elliott’s magnetic fourth studio LP Under Construction joined the legendary MC’s catalogue, it has become her highest-selling album to date, reaching a total of over 2 million albums sold. In 2004, the album was Grammy-nominated for Best Rap Album as well as Album Of The Year, and spawned hits such as “Work It,” “Gossip Folks” and “Pussycat.”

Other than knowing we’ll be getting true lyricism when it comes to Misdemeanor, fans have also come to expect eye-popping visuals with stand-out choreography. Through the years, her videos have highlighted her individuality and creativity as an all-around entertainer. While several dancers have performed in her videos throughout the years, one dancer in particular rose to fame in her own right during and after the Under Construction era.

Alyson Stoner has over 40 film credits to her name since donning a pink track suit and pigtails. She’s starred in films such as Step Up, Cheaper By The Dozen and its sequel, and has done extensive work on the Disney Channel in Camp Rock, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Phineas & Ferb. She’s currently working on new music and is hoping to release her forthcoming album soon.

The now 24-year-old, who also appeared in Eminem’s “Just Lose It” video and danced backup for Will Smith and Outkast, continues to keep it movin’ today. She performs in several viral dance videos of her own, takes classes and teaches as often as she can. She hopes to continue to spread the power of dance by embarking on her own dance tour one day.

For the 15th anniversary of the album’s release, VIBE caught up with the well-spoken young woman over the phone, where she discussed her start in Missy’s colorful videos and how her career has popped off since. She also explains how working with industry superstars during her career’s beginnings has had lasting effects on her work ethic.

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VIBE: How did you get your start in the commercial dance world?
Alyson Stoner: I started dancing at the age of three in my hometown of Toledo, Ohio, and it really was my sister's dream to pursue dance professionally. I had a basketball tournament or scrimmage that got cancelled [one day], and this audition came in for a music video. They were looking for young kids. For fun, we had time and we went, and it ended up being the Missy Elliott audition.

There were about 400, 500 kids, it felt like a zoo. We learned some choreography, and at that time...I'm almost positive that I was one of the only people from that day of the audition process to make it through. By the time we got on set for "Work It," I almost feel like they hired other young girls just from the community, from the neighborhood to come get down. Of course, I stuck out like a sore thumb, because they put me in the pink jumpsuit and pigtails and I was the only white girl.

To this day, I'm really grateful for Missy and whoever's idea it was [to put kids in the video]. They had to have been thinking about making a statement that's still applicable today that kind of bridges the gap between different lifestyles and different people through music.

What do you think draws people to watching talented kids? There's a lot of kids working today in the dance industry, in the commercial world, who are so young and talented, it’s insane.
I think generationally, as human progress does its thing, we are constantly impressed by the upcoming generation. Not just a matter of motor skills and memorization, but these kids seem to be grasping storytelling at a younger age, and they're making creative choices, stylistically, that express feelings that we know as adults they've never even experienced before.

I think there's just a wonderment about it. As a young person training in an athletic program, it can quickly turn into a little bit of a workhorse, train-hard, competition sort of thing. From the outside looking in, we're wowed by these young people, but I have to admit, when I am around the young people in the industry, I try to activate their youth while they're in class with me. I don't want it to become, "who can do the most flips in the least amount of time?"

It's not about the achievement; retain that sense of young exploration, hobby, outlet, expression. I think this climate of social media and viral videos can get compromised really quickly. I understand the Olympic mentality, but it's pretty intense on a young psyche.

What was that initial meeting with Missy like?
Missy has been wonderful from day one. She kept the kids in a separate location, and used a different version of the song [“Work It”] that was edited, so we wouldn't have to be exposed to some of the other content.  She was really kind, just kind-spirited.

I think having someone who was like a friendly, courteous aunt, and then watching the video later and realizing the magnitude of her celebrity and influence just goes to show her character, how really genuine and present she is with people, and how thoughtful she is with her crew and her cast.

I would have never expected to work with her for that long. There were times we considered going on tour with her, and Missy and her camp just simply said, 'A tour is not a good environment for kids, and we don't want them around it.' People would probably would have loved to see us go off! Now, a generation later, it's a little more common, but at that time, it would have been us on stage with Eminem, and 50 [Cent] and these other people. Missy said, "Nah, not for the little ones." She was thinking about our well-being the whole time, and that's really great.

Did she give you any advice on the set when it came to performing to your best ability?
At eight and nine [years old]...it didn't have to be direct advice, she created the environment for us. She created an atmosphere of easy-going, good-natured fun, and I think it allowed us to not even consider that we were performing in front of a camera that's gonna be syndicated to the world. It really kept us, in a very palpable way, engaged with each other and focused on the dance. That's something that I think the best artists retain—the ability to invite you into their small, intimate inner space, and let that be what radiates. That's sort of what I learned from Missy, that everything is really inside out.

"It's not about the achievement; retain that sense of young exploration, hobby, outlet, expression. I think this climate of social media and viral videos can get compromised really quickly. I understand the Olympic mentality, but it's pretty intense on a young psyche."

She's definitely that kind of artist that makes you think, ‘Oh! That's what she was trying to tell us!'

Yeah, and she leads by example. That's the best way to learn, and I was taught so much just by being around her. At that age, I could only work a certain number of hours, and she's only in a couple of shots, so she made a lot out of the few moments that we did have together.

Coming from a small town growing up, when people started to notice you from the videos, what was your first reaction to that?
It was exciting, [but] it was also odd. I don't think a young person ever really quite knows what's going on when their norm becomes going to the grocery store with sunglasses on at 11 years old. It's kind of weird, and I'll say it also went to my head the first little season, because that became normal for me. Then, it was all about maintaining a career at 10 years old and staying out in the public eye with new projects. 'New, new, new, new, new!' It's had its severe effects over the years, but looking back I'm grateful.

If I choose to stay in this industry, I'm grateful that I was exposed to it at a young age, so I'm able to sort of maturely handle the nature of fame being sort of this illusion that we buy into, knowing it's not really real, but it still comes with responsibilities. When you have influence, what you say and do matters. Even if you didn't want to be judged for it, you will be. I learned a lot of lessons really young.

Since being in Missy's videos, you've worked in movies, you've worked for Disney, you're a singer, you still perform. Looking back, what it is like to see that it started out with dancing?
I think the best part in this moment, looking back, is that I've never loved dance so much as I do today. The fact that my soul and my entire being still feel alive when I think about dance and when I'm moving is one of the few, few...and I mean few [laughs] elements of being in this crazy industry that makes it absolutely worth it. It gives you that reassurance that you're tapped into a true part of yourself, and your hard work has paid off, but you're also still excited about what's ahead.

That's awesome.
Trust me, it's up and down, but I've never loved dance as much as I do today, and that feels really great. It feels like an old friend!

You did a tribute dance to Missy a few years ago. What was it like putting all of that together?
That was so stressful [Laughs]. Man, I got off a plane and I had about 300 messages asking if I was going to be on the [2015] Super Bowl performance, or why I wasn't there. Then all the memes started circulating with my young face [Laughs]. By no means was it me trying to capitalize on a moment to reclaim fame, but I did feel compelled to create an honorable tribute, to pay homage to Missy and thank her.

Assembling about 40 people in three days, a crew pulling all favors, everyone coming together for free. That was sort of the first example of me taking charge of an idea and line producing and coordinating an entire set, and running an entire show, while also performing myself, and being in the editing room with my videographer, and saying, 'Not that shot, this shot,' 'this honored the original choreography best,' making those decisions.

A lot was riding on that video. Hours before we were supposed to release it, my YouTube [channel] got hacked. It was a series of those events that test you. I was sitting on my kitchen floor with my publicist trying to come up with ideas, exhausted. Buzzfeed was on the other line asking for the code for the video, and handling so many things but still hearing the question in my head, 'How badly do you want it? How much do you care?' I said ‘I could throw it all away and call it off, but my gut feels like this is meant to happen.’

Honestly, it was one of the first times I trusted my gut. I was told by my team and my family not to do the video. They thought it would come across negatively. I said "I think as a person and a performer, people will see the quality of people in this video, and that our energy is positive and full of gratitude." It has like 18 million views on it, which now is not even a lot compared to viral videos, but at the time, it was a part of that first wave.

I bet she was really excited to see it. She has such a respect for the dance community.
It's been nice! We stay in touch a little through mutual friends, some in her main crew are friends of mine. Whether it's a 'happy birthday' message here, or an encouragement there, it's nice to feel her presence. Hopefully in the future, I'd love to link up with her again and speak as adults and say, "Hey, here's who I've become as a woman. You've inspired me, what might we be able to make together for the next generation?"

Would that be the one thing you'd say to her if you saw her today? Or you'd say something else?
I'm in a creative space making my album right now. If I saw her today, I would create a room, and the speakers would be the floor, and we would just lay down and listen to music, feeling the vibrations of the music underneath us. We would talk or just be quiet, and enjoy music together and then create something. That's what I would love to see happen!

That would be really cool! Just the thought of having a room with speakers on the floor...
Yeah girl, a new music video idea! [Laughs].

So you've worked with Missy, you've worked with Eminem, you’ve worked with monsters in the game. Being able to say you've worked with such superstars in the industry, what's that like? Does that feeling validate anything?
I'm probably not gonna give you the answer that I would have given you two years ago—I would have been like, 'Yeah it's so great!' But to be a little more honest, there's such little control about how your career materializes. I think I'm grateful for the fortune of it, but it really could have been anyone. There's a specialness to savor the moment because I had the fortune of meeting them, but with that comes a sacredness to do something great with it. If you're gonna be surrounded by greatness, don't miss out on the opportunity to find the greatness within yourself.

It was Steve Martin in Cheaper [By The Dozen], and Hilary [Duff] had Lizzie McGuire, and she was the biggest tween star at the time. It's awesome to be surrounded by people operating at high levels, because I immediately came into the industry expecting the best out of myself, and setting high standards. Without those, I don't think you build the tenacity to endure what's ahead.

This industry has a lot of parts that no one outside of the industry will ever know or understand. These people pushed through and built something memorable, so that was my standard. That has to be my launching point. It can only get bigger and better from here. I am grateful for it, but really, it could have been anyone. I could have quit after the millionth ‘no’ that I've gotten, and someone could have taken my spot in a heartbeat. It's so unpredictable.

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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T.I.

Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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