Ian Reid

Interview: Remy Ma & Papoose Talk 'A Merry Mackie Holiday' Special, Raising Their Blended Family & More

Remy and Papoose are having all of their family members over for Xmas. 

VH1 is celebrating this year’s holiday season with an upcoming one-hour special, 'Remy & Papoose: A Merry Mackie Holiday.' The leading New York emcees are taking a break from 'Love & Hip Hop' to swiftly hang Christmas decorations around their contemporary North Carolina home. Still, with only a mere 72 hours to get ready for their grand X-mas party, the duo is anticipating a whole lot of chaos to ensue.

The blended Mackie family was in high spirits and the usually stern New Yorkers were working on their southern hospitality all week long. VIBE sat down exclusively with Remy Ma and Papoose to discuss holiday plans, how they maintain alchemy with their spouse's loved ones, Remy’s swanky alter-ego, balancing romance with their co-executive producer credits and more. This is everything you need to know about 'Remy & Papoose: A Merry Mackie Holiday,' before its VH1 premiere on, Monday, December 18th at 9 p.m. ET.

VIBE: You guys have a long history with VH1. How was it filming your one-hour special 'Remy & Papoose: A Merry Mackie Holiday' versus your prior 'Love & Hip Hop: New York' segments?

Remy: It is a little different because when we are filming with "Love and Hip Hop," it is [based on] specific aspects of our lives. We are a little more cautious with [filming]. As opposed to when it is your situation. We both have co-executive [producer] credits on "Remy & Papoose: A Merry Mackie Holiday.” You get to see a different dynamic between us, and our interaction with our family.

Papoose: Yes, I love the "Love and Hip Hop: New York" production team. But, this crew [that we filmed the holiday special with] I liked them a lot, too. It is a good experience from both sides. I kind of disagree with my wife a little bit. I hope she doesn't get mad at me for saying that. [Laughs]

Remy: You can disagree.

Papoose: Nah! Even though we shoot "Love and Hip Hop" with small [segments]. I think they did a pretty good job at projecting what we share, and so does our holiday special.

Remy: You don't think the special gets to see a different side of us that you don't see [usually] on "Love and Hip Hop," at all?

Papoose: I do not want to say that.

Remy: Why? It is still us. It is just a little bit more in-depth and carefree.

Papoose: To me, since we got married on "Love and Hip Hop," nothing will ever top that.

Remy: You are so annoying. He is nuts! He is impartial to "Love and Hip Hop" because we got married on there. That is not even a valid answer. [Laughs]

Papoose: They captured me proposing, and the actual wedding! You can't top that.

Remy: Hmm, let's see when we have our baby.

Papoose: Right! That is a hell of a challenge, to try and top that. But, until then...

Remy: I'm on it!

How do you maintain balance with your blended family?

Remy: It is difficult because everybody has their boundaries. It [will be] different when we have our own child together. We try our best to be [great] parents to all of our children... [and treat them] the same way.

But, we still have to have that little inkling in the back of our minds, to be thoughtful. There are other parents that we have to respect. And, then the kids! I don't want them to feel like they can try and take advantage or play us... because they will if you allow them to.

It's hard work, but we manage to do it. The family is something that we are passionate about. But, I can definitely see how people have issues with it. It's a job. It is hard being a parent to a biological [child], it is double the challenge being a stepparent.

Papoose: Yeah, it takes a lot of discipline. I gotta commend my wife, and myself, also. Because, you have a lot of people who run away from the challenge. They are not parents to their children, and to take it a step further and, actually, be a stepparent? Forget about it!

I feel like each era of parents had different challenges to face. And, when we were growing up, our parents had different [circumstances]. So, now, we are raising children in this era, and Goddamn! I do not want people to think for a second, that it is easy. We are making it work.

VIBE: With making it work, do you think you and your wife have had to unlearn anything, perhaps, generationally, now that you've acknowledged things are much different?

Remy: No, I am still a strong believer in beating kids ass. [Laughs] I'm "team fuck them up." Pap is "team let them get away with murder."

Papoose: Let me tell you this! I probably gotta stop doing this. [But, it is] out of respect for my wife. Even if I know, something needs to be done, I will always call her first to get her consent.

I would never take the matter into my own hands without getting the green light. Once I get that green light, oh, I'm going to go! I think that needs to be done. To keep it fair.

Remy: I mean, let the record reflect, we don't get to physically wash them like I would like to. [Laughs]

Papoose: Oh, no! You can't do that!

Remy: But, I am definitely the queen of punishment! [Laughs] I tell the, "Oh, really? You want to talk crazy to me? Talk crazy without a phone." [The children] say, "Remy just ruins everything." Then Papoose goes behind my back, and tells them, "You know, she was away for a long time."

Papoose: I have to do that.

Remy: "You know, she's a little crazy," he says.

Papoose: I'm like the glue. I keep everything together when it tries to fall apart. I have to because she gets to the point where she doesn't care anymore.

Why did you decide to lay your new foundation in North Carolina?

Papoose: Because she is spontaneous. Next year it might be Mexico. [Laughs]

Remy: What? That is not true! That is what you think?

Papoose: We could have ended up in a lot of places. Like, the Bermuda Triangle. [Laughs]

Remy: We looked at houses in separate places. We visited Connecticut, Virginia, Florida... we even did California.

Papoose: We could have ended up anywhere. That is just the kind of wife I have.

Remy: Stop it! When we started taking expanding our family seriously, and knew that we were going to do In Vitro [Fertilization], we selected North Carolina. I feel [supported] in this location. My mom is there. Also, my grandmother, my sisters, my brother, my aunt, like, almost my whole family lives there. I just want to be around them. When I am there, I am at peace. There is no type of hustle and bustle. When we first got down there, he did not really like it. Now, we chill in the house. We [play] on our Ms. Pac-Man game.

Papoose: I love my Ms. Pac-Man! I don't care. [Laughs]

Remy: He sees it is not that far. It is about an hour on a plane [from New York]. So, family or friends, can come down and visit us. It's cool. Also, Fat Joe helped me convince him. You know, Joe is New York to the core. But, he's been living in Miami for the past fifteen years.

You would never notice that because he is always here. The transition is super smooth. It was just a change. We had children, we raised them all in NYC. I wanted to try something different. My lovely husband, after some forceful convincing, obliged. I told him, "Hey! By the way, I bought a house. We are moving." [Laughs]

How is southern living for you New Yorkers?

Papoose: Everybody says hello to each other. For real! It took a while to get used to that. In New York, it is just, "Get out my way." Down there is just smooth. Honestly, I gotta say, there is no place like home.

Sometimes you might just turn the corner. a see a pack of deers. That's weird. In New York, you might see a stray dog or something. Down there you see a bunch of deers.

Remy: I don't know if they are called a pack of deers. [Laughs]

Papoose: A gang of deer! [Laughs]

Remy: You don't feel like you are rushing. You don't feel like you have borderline anxiety!

Papoose: I don't mind it, though. Y'all not gonna talk down on my city.

Remy: No one is talking about your city. We bigged up somewhere else.

I don't mind the rushing. It is city life.

What created the tight 72-hour party turnaround?

Remy: Well, what happens is, normally I have no time to do anything.

Papoose: She is very last minute!

Remy: No, you're last minute!

Papoose: [For example,] to catch a flight. She will go at the last minute and stress out that poor driver. If he does not have the Waze [app], she will take his phone and download the app.

Remy: First of all, I am very sufficient.

She loves to do things at the last minute. I'm last minute so, I can recognize when someone else is last minute.

Remy: Yeah, but you're last minute, and you suck at it! His last minute-ness is horrible. Horrible!

Papoose: What do you call it, "Bridezilla"?

Remy: Excuse me! What happens is, I have not gotten more than 3 to 5 hours of sleep in the past 5 days.

Papoose: But, that's what I am trying to say about the 72-hour thing! She performs well under those circumstances and does that all the time.

Remy: The problem is when I am working, I can't really plan out when I want to do stuff. So, when something cancels, before anyone can get any bright ideas, and fill it back in with something else.

I said, "Let's get the family together. No one has been to the new house yet." He asked, "We're going to get everybody together?" Yeah! It is not like we are just some random-shamandoms. They were going to come.

If it was like, say one of my other sisters, who said, "Hey! Do you want to come to my house this weekend?" No one is going to fly in and do it. Unfortunately, we are the favorites. I work well with small-time constraints, and it always turns out fine. I did the same thing with my wedding. I literally planned my wedding in 5 weeks.

Papoose: It came out dope, though.

Remy: As much as I do it, I still have this little guy named Papoose, sitting on my shoulder! [Laughs]

Papoose: I did not know how she was going to pull that one off.

Remy: "Just hire somebody! It's too much. You're slobbering on the laptop! You're sleepy. You cannot even stay awake," he yelled.

Papoose: I won't lie. I was like, "What are you doing?" But, she made it happen. It was amazing.

Can you describe your experience co-executive producing alongside Mona Young-Scott?

Papoose: Yeah, you know, it was a good opportunity.

Remy: I'm just going to go on the record, and say, if they just let me do everything for all the shows, they'd all be so much better. [Laughs] That's it. I said it.

We are humbled. We are happy to have the privilege of working beside someone as great as Mona Scott-Young. She is a genius.

Remy: And, if she allowed me, to cast, direct and executive-produce her shows, they'd all be much better. We had this conversation, [Papoose].

Papoose: We did. I heard you. I left the room. I could not take it. [Laughs]

Remy: Mona is like our marriage counselor. [Laughs] When we have any type of debates, he calls her. She is usually on Papoose's side, which really irks me... now that I think about it.

That is not true. She's honest. She is on the truth's side.

Remy: What? Are you serious? He is the favorite there.

VIBE:With that blended dynamic to your relationship, do you feel that helps...

Remy: It definitely does! With her, I feel like, and other key people that are apart of the company, they admire and respect what we have. They go above and beyond to protect our brand.

Papoose: Nah! They really do.

Remy: They protect our relationship. All jokes aside, I respect her. I have a different love for her because she respects what we do.

Papoose: Also, they know, if they don't, Remy will kill them. [Laughs] I am the only one that does not back down from Remy. Y'all just don't know that.

Remy Ma, what advice do you have for wives vying to maintain alchemy among their mother-in-law and spouse's loved ones?

Remy: I'm thinking of a nice way to put this.

Papoose: I'm going to be quiet. I was about to say something.

Remy: The thing is this, with in-laws, you hear certain [quotes]. You think, "It is just a cliche." But, no, there really are certain things that happen in every marriage.

Most wives don't get along with their mother-in-law. In most marriages, the wife has issues with people in the family. And, my husband is the family favorite! He is the favorite uncle. He is the favorite brother. He is the favorite son and favorite everything.

So, when I come and just whisk him away, and now he is mine... by law, under the eyes of the Lord, and he belongs to me, people feel some kind of way about that. So, it becomes like a little territorial thing. It is not purposely.

They say, "Well, that is my brother." Or, it is like, "That's my son." And, I'm here thinking, "Okay! But, according to this ring, he is my husband. And, as long as we all know that, everything is fine." But, I feel like I have decent relationships.

I do not despise, or hate anybody. It pretty much is the same, vice-versa [for the family]. Also, my family really does not rock with me like that, it's the reverse for Papoose. They like him more than they like me. [Laughs]

Papoose: No, she is cutting up on that. [Laughs]

Remy: It is the truth. It's sad. It's really bad.

Papoose: No! It's not that. I'm more reasonable.

On your holiday special, Remy Ma went to her sister's house. Papoose, you were adamant about staying at your mother-in-law's house.

Remy: Oh, absolutely! He knows he is going to get the red carpet rolled out over there. My mother is going to turn into Susie Homemaker, Betty Crocker, and any other lady that you can think of, that will make sure he is good. Where as, I do not get that red carpet treatment on the other side.

Papoose: You do not like to be loved.

Remy: Oh, my God! I do not like to be loved, [really]? Who says that?

Papoose: Your mother will make anything for you. You're just crazy. You say, "I do not like it."

Remy: Whatever!

Who inspired your alter-ego, Remy Martha?

Remy: Well, since you asked! [Laughs] The thing is, people who know me, they know, the rapping thing is what I do. That is my profession. I am good at. I am actually great at it. But, I can pretty much do anything.

For example, this wall [in the conference room] that is mad raggedy looking. It is dry, it's just a corkboard. I would turn that into something totally different. I can do any type of home improvement. I can do any type of baking. I can do any type of cooking. I can do arts and crafts.

If I don't know how to do something, I am going to look it up. And, it was weird when we first got together. I used to bust out things. He would say, "Oh! That is so nice. Who did that?" I'd tell him, "Me." He would not believe me. People do not really know the corky, cool, Gemini side of me.

Papoose: Yeah, she is a genius. She is definitely Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. She is definitely spontaneous. She is very talented, though. She can do almost anything. She is a jack of all trades.

Remy: That is what I thought you were going to say. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Papoose: Yeah, Gemini. That is what y'all are!

Tradition was the focal point on this special. What new holiday tradition does the Mackie family have?

Papoose: Kawanza. The new one, right?

Remy: That's the only one that the Mackie family has. Kawanza was the first one that he included. What he tries to do is take all the traditions of his family and push them onto me.

Papoose: That is why it is called a tradition.

Remy: No! Once you have you have your own family, there is a wife, and a husband. Y'all come together and create your own.

Papoose: Let me tell you something, she hates tradition.

Remy: It is not that I hate tradition.

Papoose: You do. Something is wrong with you. [Laughs] I have to fight with her to be traditional.

Remy: It is annoying!

Papoose: I have to fight with her to be normal.

Remy: He wants to do the same thing every day. Seriously! He wants oatmeal for breakfast, every day.

Papoose: It is good for you. It's the morning, [that is a] great way to start your day.

Remy: No, every single day of his life. If I made him a turkey and cheese sandwich, every single day of his life, he wouldn't be mad. If I made BBQ chicken, rice and some type of green vegetable every single day of his life, for dinner, he wouldn't be mad.

Papoose: I am a simple man.

Remy: Maybe one day I want cereal. Maybe one day I want shrimp and grits. Maybe one day I want pancakes. It annoys him that I want different stuff, just as much as it annoys me that he likes the same things.

Papoose: That's not true.

Remy: It's not true? Every year at Thanksgiving, you want to eat the same stuff. I have been trying to create a different Thanksgiving [menu].

Papoose: That is why it is called Thanksgiving, you make a turkey. It's traditional. She wants to make just tacos on Thanksgiving.

Remy: No, I did not only make tacos. We had tacos at Thanksgiving.

Papoose: Who does that?

Remy: It was Thanksgiving sides! We had soft tacos, taco bowls, and hard tacos with beans and rice.

Papoose: I am not doing that on Thanksgiving! That is not Thanksgiving.

Remy: We were making triple decker tacos, but we were supposed to have cheeseburgers at Thanksgiving. We can have turkey burgers with mac and cheese. We can have burgers with stuffing on the inside. We're talking regular fries, curly fries, and sweet potato fries. It is still Thanksgiving!

It is about being thankful for what you have and enjoying a big meal together. Why is it the same every year? [Why do I need to prepare] collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato pie... for the rest of our lives?

Papoose: Aight! Let me tell y'all what I had to get used to with her. It took me a while, but I have adapted. We can be driving down the road, and she can see a roller skating rink. She will tell me, "Oh! Pull over right here!" Also, we can drive past the airport. She'll say, “Hey! Pull over, I want to go to Cali." We can totally have a destination, we were going home, and she [has no regard]. Remy is very spontaneous.

Remy: He likes it!

Papoose: She will be dead serious!

Remy: I'll get a whole attitude if you try to interfere. Like, "What are we doing? We are not doing anything! Why can't me go rollerskating?"

Papoose: She is a spoiled brat.

Remy: I don't understand. He wants to plan out everything. Nobody plans to go shopping.

Papoose: I am a strategic man.

Remy: Who plans to go shopping? What is wrong with you, weirdo?

Papoose: Be mindful of your surroundings.

Remy: That is his excuse. If anyone ever wanted to whack him, they're going to get him on day two. [Laughs] He does the same things habitually. It's not going to take a long camp out.

Papoose: She thinks that!

Remy: With me, they are never going to catch me! [Laughs] They'll say, “Remy moves around so much.’

Papoose: They will catch her faster. She will be out of pocket or out of bounds. I may do the same things, but I know my surroundings.

Remy: Whatever!

You handed a dream to a loved one during this special. What did that moment feel like?

Remy: That was super cool. It was weird in a way, though. Nobody knew, and I got a lot of flack for it afterward. People said, "Oh! Why didn't you tell me." My husband, he, well... how do I say this? Okay, he can't hold water.

Papoose: That is a lie. You know what is funny?

Remy: Babe, you tell me all of my secrets. He'll come over like, "I don't want you to get mad at me, but I don't keep secrets from my wife. They are throwing you a surprise party." I'm thinking, "What! Why would you tell me?" [Laughs]

Papoose: She is smiling at me right now, but she would be really pissed at me for that. I mean steamed, and won't speak to me.

Remy: How would I know if you always tell?

Papoose: Are you serious?

Remy: He says, "They say they do not want you to know, but I am just going to go out and say it. They bought you a new car!" [Laughs] Why wouldn't he let me see it.

Papoose: She is mad corny on the low. Remy wants to be surprised. So, guess what? I'm a hoping she is learning from this error that she made.

She'll come [and say], "Oh! I did not tell you!" Mind you, I am the guy that would have been loyal and kept her secret. Remy told her sister about the surprise. And, what did her sister do? Her sister went and told her mother, anyway.

Remy: She did not tell. My sister was doing dumb shit that Papoose does, like saying, "I'm not going to say what it is, but a surprise is coming!"

Papoose: I wouldn't have done that. I'd want my mother-in-law to enjoy that.

Remy: You like her more than you like me.

Papoose: Oh, my God!

You maintain your romantic life and careers well. What advice do you have for other couples that aspire to do the same?

Remy: You have to make time for your spouse or partner. Literally, there will be times when I do not care. I will tell him, "Babe, turn your phone off." He'll try to handle things, and tell me, "Nevermind! I'll text them later."

We will go to a movie theater and watch three different movies at one theater. When one is over, we just go to the next one. If we do not have time for that and need to get home early, we stop at the supermarket to buy popcorn. We order a movie On Demand. Or, [go on dates] randomly, if we have time between meetings in the city, we'll say, Hey! Let's go see a play."

We make time for ourselves. I don't want to forget why we are with each other. You know, anybody can start to feel unappreciated.

Papoose: My advice to people who are in entertainment that want to maintain a relationship is grow up! I've been in this music and entertainment business since I was younger. Now that I am more mature, I do not care about the things that I used to care about.

You understand what I am saying? Like, grow up! Do not be so childish. Guess what? It is not that hard. I know what it feels like to have all of this stripped away from us.

I've seen her sit in prison for years. I spent so much time supporting her that, it slowed me down, too. So, within that process, I learned the value of it. There is nothing more important than your family. It is just a job. Do not let this consume you to the point you feel you need to step on your loved ones.

What do you want your fans to prepare for with A Merry Mackie Holiday?

Remy: I want my fans to prepare to see my just be sideswiped by my husband. [Laughs] I don't want you guys to treat him any differently. Do not look at him differently, because I still love him.
I want you guy to love him, too. Regardless of how diabolical he may seem with my mother, when she is around, I want you to love him.

Papoose: Diabolical? Sheesh. That's a harsh word.

Remy: Yes, diabolical. That is how you just flip on me, when the elder ladies in your life come around. He doesn't mean any harm. He is just a mama's boy, he doesn't really care whose mama it is.

Papoose: I am proud of it! That terminology doesn't scare me.

Remy: I didn't say it does. I just want my fans to be prepared to see you. Just know, I still love you the same way.

Papoose: I want my fans to know, and the people who are not our fans to see Black love. They are going to enjoy it. It is going to a marvelous time. Watch it with your family. Sit down together, it will be inspirational. You will laugh, and my favorite part is the ending of the show! It was so dope.

Remy: It was super fun. We got to interact. It is weird because we are used to being in front of the cameras. So, we have our little side jokes. We were watching people in our family shaking like leaves under the camera lens, but everybody was themselves.

Papoose: You're going to love it, man! There is nothing on television that night that is going to be better.

Remy: I concur.

Papoose: You'll see some real people on the tube. Doing some real shit... spending the holiday with their family.

Remy: You didn't do jack shit, but run your mouth the whole time. You talk shit.

Papoose: I'm gonna run my mouth now! [Laughs] At 9 p.m. (ET) watch VH1 on December 18th. Don't miss it. There has been a high demand for this special for so long. People have been cursing out Mona [Scott-Young]. [Laughs] "We want to see Pap and Remy on their own show. We hate the rest of your [Love & Hip Hop] cast members. Get them their own show," [they requested]. Now you guys have a chance to go out there and support it.

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YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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