The U.S. Commemorates World AIDS Day
Getty Images

'Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS' Chronicles Black Women's Silent Plight With HIV/AIDS

On World's AIDS Day, VIBE takes a glimpse of the silent epidemic haunting black women in the U.S. and Africa. 

Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS, directed by Harriet Hirshorn, thoroughly examines the lives of the many black women who have been disproportionately affected by HIV. Through their battle with the virus, there comes a blinding blanket of invisibility that shields their stories from the rest of the world. Since the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America, the infection was known to be a disease for gay white men littered in the queer enclaves of San Francisco and New York City. For the most part, the world has remained ignorant to the virus, simply thinking it’s something that just still affects gay men.

When the AIDS pandemic broke out in America, several activist groups started in efforts to help bring awareness and prevention for the virus. There was ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which started in March of 1987, and GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), which began in 1982, among many others. During these early days, the world didn’t know what to make out of a virus that was aggressively killing off hundreds of gay males. The media pondered and attempted to find out.

“Two rare diseases have struck more than 100 homosexual men in the United States in recent months, killing almost half of them, and a medical study group has been formed to find out why,” reads a 1981 The New York Times report, titled, "2 Fatal Diseases Focus of Inquiry."

Eventually, the mysterious disease was identified, and thousands in the U.S. were dropping like flies. Amid the pandemic, as white gay men became the face of the virus—both those who were infected and politically fighting against it—women who were infected by the virus, or advocated for it were somehow forgotten about.

The film chronicles the contributions women gave to the movement, and at times, also fought against the unfair treatment of those who were affected by the virus.

There’s Katrina Haslip, who was incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York, and found out she was HIV positive while in prison. While incarcerated, she co-founded ACE (AIDS Counseling and Education) along with fellow inmates Judy Clark and Kathy Boudin. Haslip also fought to change the definition the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention had for HIV, which excluded symptoms that women who were HIV positive were experiencing—like pelvic inflammatory disease and vaginal candidiasis, a yeast infection. Because of the CDC’s strict guidelines, infected women didn’t have access to treatment.

Subsequently, she became a defendant in a case against the Federal Government, which in turn, helped changed the definition of the virus and was now inclusive to  women receiving the treatment they needed. Theresa McGovern, from the HIV Law Project, fought alongside Katrina. Haslip died in 1992 of AIDS shortly after the new legislation passed. She was 33 years old.

Among their white and Latina counterparts, black women are infected with HIV at higher rates. The CDC reports that in 2015, "4,524 African American women were diagnosed with HIV, compared with 1,131 Hispanic/Latino women and 1,431 white women.”

Yet this issue isn’t solely in our backyards; it transcends the world and is highly prevalent in Africa. Hirshorn excels at documenting the virus’ impact on a global level, and introduces viewers to Nigerian activist Morolake Odetoyinbo and Burundi advocate Jeanne Gapiya as they grapple with their infections simultaneously fighting to end the root of it.

VIBE spoke to Hirshorn about the importance of shining a light on the women who are on the forefront on the fight against HIV/AIDS, and on raising awareness for the cause.

--

VIBE: Why do you think people are still so ignorant to the HIV/AIDS epidemic?
Harriet Hirshorn: The ignorance is probably because the people in the U.S. anyway, they are most likely to be impacted by this epidemic. People of color, communities of color, lower income communities. I feel like the dominant culture tries to keep everyone else marginalized, and one way of doing that is not having the information that we all need to have accessible, so there is this kind of rapid ignorance.

I think because AIDS has become this structural issue people kind of think that HIV doesn’t really exist. In the mainstream world, and basically the rest of us who are not in that world who know that it does still exist—there’s no place where the gap is bridged. And probably one of the biggest challenges of making this film was not knowing where that bridge was. To put that information in the film because it’s 67 minutes long, but there are so many things that I wanted to include especially when I started realizing the level of ignorance just in the general population.

What did you want to include that you had to leave out?
I wanted to include a woman getting ready to get health insurance when they were against the medicaid expansion, and she was panicking. She was just panicking that she wasn’t going to be able to get her meds anymore. She wasn’t sure that if she knew where to get the right ones. Was her treatment going to be interrupted, where her CD4 cells going to go right back up, or where they going to plummet; was she going to get sick?

I wanted that to be acted out in a sequence because I actually had the material for it, but then I realized I couldn’t put that in there. Basically I described the structural barriers to having people access things, and that’s on a card now instead of as a sequence because it was too much to fit in.

Why were women not being treated for HIV back when it started? Were they not allowed to get an HIV test?
It’s even weirder than that. Women were HIV positive, and sometimes they had no T cells at all. But the diseases that they were catching—the opportunistic infections—were not on the CDC’s list. So women who were HIV positive, some of the first opportunistic infections they would catch would be things like pelvic inflammatory disease. Well, that didn’t qualify as AIDS, but that’s what HIV positive women were catching, and HIV negative women don’t ever get it.

So it’s pretty obvious that it was an AIDS defining symptom. But because the CDC had only studied men at that point, that wasn’t on their list of an AIDS defining symptom. So the definition of what was AIDS, was what had to change. Everybody knew that these women were HIV positive. Their medical folder would say HIV positive, but not AIDS. There was like a stamp that said that on their folder.

So they weren't allowed to receive treatment?
They didn’t get treatment. They didn’t get access to any of the benefits they would have access to had they been considered to be living with AIDS, and not just HIV. I mean unless they can pay for it themselves they could have access to Bactrim. If there were any kinds of treatment out there, AZT, anything else, they didn’t have access to it.

At that same time, women were trying to get into clinical trials. But they weren’t accepted because if you can get pregnant, and were of baring age they wouldn’t accept you in a clinical trial. So that means they couldn’t test on women, just men.

In those days, being in a clinical trial was one of the ways to get access to treatment. If you couldn’t get it through your doctor, you could enroll in a clinical trial. I think that’s what a lot of poor people did. They try to get themselves in a clinical trial, and that way at least they know they’d get some medicine.

How effective do you think activism is in this present day considering ACT-UP, and other organizations like it, usually meet at LGBT safe-spaces, like The Center in New York City? Is the message still getting across outside of the LGBT community?
That’s a really interesting question because I feel like it’s gotten less personal, and more political. In the sense one of the things that ACT UP did, and I feel in a sense is really palpable is that just before the Affordable Care Act, everybody was talking about the notion of the single pair. I feel like the existence of groups like ACT UP, and other health oriented groups. That has been an overwhelming, and undying influence. In this very kind of microcosmic way they tackled the fact that access to health care was not equitable.

Now, that’s been a real consciousness thing. I think the American public started to think maybe we all deserve a right to health. Like maybe that should actually be a human right. Maybe it shouldn’t be something that can be bought and sold. I think that ACT-UP really contributed to the raising of our consciousness. Does it relate to us in the same was as gay people? Probably not. It’s much more of a mainstream issue now. I think that’s kind of what were seeing with the group Rise And Resist. There are a lot of old ACT-UP people in there.

In the film you feature people that wouldn’t be expected to be the face of HIV. Like Dr. Joyce, a pastor from Louisiana who goes around testing others, and promotes safe sex. Do you have a deeper reasoning for including that?
We did want to focus on women who were living in high prevalent areas, and Baton Rouge is the second prevalent area of the U.S. There were many, many women who were really interesting. There were a couple of young women, and there were a couple of women who were born with HIV. There was a spoken word artist named Mary Bowman. There were many people that we interviewed for this. And was actually really hard to whittle it down to the five that were in it. It would’ve been great if it was a series of 50 women rather than five.

Joyce just seems to be really good at galvanizing people, explaining things, and making them get an HIV test. I think she’s really daring. She just gets people to respond, and yeah we didn’t choose her because of her being unusual in any way, it’s because it's in her DNA she is really a community worker.

Did you ever think about mentioning the HIV preventative drug, PrEp in the film?
I have the same feeling about PrEp as I do about microbicides. That we are really talking about HIV negative people, and the film really focuses on HIV positive people. All of those characters in the film are living with HIV. When people in Burundi were sitting on the waiting room of the medical hospital, all of them are living with HIV, all the families are living with HIV, all the kids.

The focus of the film was to make something empowering for people who are living with HIV. PrEp, and microbicides are really interesting. Personally I think PrEp is amazing, the issue for me is how do you make it accessible for people who really need it.

What do you hope the public takes away from this project?
I want people to take away the notion that HIV affects everybody. It’s not over, and that it’s still a global problem. The other really loud message would be everybody who needs to be on antiviral therapy  should have them. Also, acknowledge it and recognize that women have been at the forefront since the beginning. Women have been living with HIV from the very beginning.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Justin Newhouse

Filmmaker Coffey's 'About The People' Depicts Honest Conversation On Being Black In America

About The People, a short film created by New York City-based filmmaker Coffey is an ode to the power honest conversations about social justice, equity and race have within black and brown communities. The movie hosts a group of black men that hold court at a conference table to discuss how they can improve society for their kinfolk.

Their discourse concerns the social-economic inequalities that often grips black men at the hands of police brutality and lack of opportunity. In the end, a young black woman joins the conversation as well. Each character is named after their respective accomplishments in life.

There’s The Militant (Coffey), The Athlete (Akintola Jiboyewa), The Professor (Nashawn Kearse), The College Boy (Diggy Simmons), The Celebrity (Sterling Brim), The Executive, (Tyler Lepsey), The Preacher (Dorian Missick), The Author (Hisham Tawfiq), The Senator (Michael Kenneth Williams) and The Janitor (Ebony Obsidian).

Throughout the story, The Militant challenges The Preacher on his religious beliefs and optimistic viewpoint in believing that, through a higher power, all things are possible. Coffey, who grew up in a religious home in a small town in South Carolina, says his character’s defying ways were intentional. Through The Militant’s anger, he was able to release his own rage.

“As the co-writer, I could have been any one of those characters but I chose The Militant because I knew he was the one that was shaking up that room,” Coffey explains over the phone. “When you get that many brains in one room there’s absolutely no way everyone is going to say, ‘Okay everything is going to be joyful and we’re on the same page,’ it never happens that way.”

“There’s always a throw off in that room and it had to be The Militant, who ruffled some feathers,” he continues. “So, because I was pissed off in real life, I choose that character.”

About The People is inspired by a conversation Coffey had with his eldest son on police brutality. After not giving his son a curfew during the summer, he questioned why he would come home while the sun was still out. His son replied, “Me and my boys are making sure we get home before dark so we won’t get killed by the cops.”

That same fear plagues millions of black and brown men in America, where your skin color determines how much your life is worth. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s something Coffey didn’t want to shy away from. His first encounter with police brutality was watching the news of the L.A. riots after Rodney King was beaten by the LAPD in 1991. At the time, the world was a simpler place; social media didn’t exist, the Internet was in gestation and ubiquitous movements like Black Lives Matter hadn’t made CNN headlines yet. However, injustice was something that inevitably would enter Coffey’s life. It became clearer when he became a father in New York City.

“At that time I didn’t have kids,” he recalls when the L.A. riots were happening. “But the moment I did birth a child, which was here in New York that’s when it became like, ‘Okay my color is a problem because I’m a person of color, it’s already one strike against me which is crazy, but it’s reality.'”

In addition to discussing the conundrums that accompany being a black man in America and attempting to arrive at a consensus on how they can all make this situation better, there’s also a bigger topic at hand which deals with the inclusion of black women in this conversation. Near the film's end, The Janitor, a young black woman with an afro overhears their conversation. She’s intrigued by their discourse and takes it upon herself to jump in—unexpectedly, but with urgency.

Though she is met with opposition from some people in the group, they quickly realize she has the answers they’ve been looking for. She’s the missing piece to the puzzle they’ve been trying to complete. Historically, black women have played a major role in activism and have held the weight of the plight that swallows black men into a system that wasn’t made to protect them. But somehow don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Gillian B. White of The Atlantic breaks down this dichotomy in a 2016 article, titled Why Black Women Matter. “The necessity of black female activism, to me, is one of the most complex and important parts of this conversation,” White notes. “Black women haven’t been the backbone of agitation just because they wanted to be, but because oftentimes, they are the only ones who are able to.”

“Black men are America’s favorite victims. The country’s racial brutality and bias all too often truncate the lives of black men—either through death or incarceration,” she continues. “Even before the modern versions of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and recent police violence, black men had targets on their backs. From lynchings to indentured servitude in coal mines during Jim Crow, the country’s legacy of taking black men’s lives and liberty has left black women to bear the burden of caring for families and advocating for justice for their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers whose voices are often silenced.”

The Janitor was created in honor of Coffey’s grandmother and Angela Davis. Reminiscent of his childhood he decided to put the character in the end since his grandmother always had the last word. “The structure of the film is personal to me,” he explains. “My grandfather would have his friends over and they would drink and watch sports, and if there were problems it would be him and friends that would talk about these problems. But when my grandmother would find out they didn’t have the answer to these issues, she would provide the solution.”

In About The People Coffey creates an honest dialogue about what it means to be black in America and feel constantly oppressed by authority figures that are the direct product of white supremacy. The admission is universal considering how much of this world has been colonized by greedy European settlers, but its message is deeper than that. Money is another toxic element in the lethal poison where oppression and inequality are formed. Yet he made this film as a catalyst of hope—not to go against the powers that be.

“The honest to God truth is this isn’t written to go against any white people at all,” he says. “This is written for people of color, my kids and everybody else’s kids to try to follow these guidelines so it will be a better world for them.”

Special thanks to director Sterling Milan, Sincere Giles and Samuel K. Rhind.

Continue Reading
Courtesy of Endeavor Audio

Peter Rosenberg And Cipha Sounds Talk Juan EP's Return And All Things Jay-Z

Hip-hop podcasts are everywhere. Yes, everyone wants to be heard, but not everyone who wants to be heard is focused on moving the culture forward. Enter hip-hop nerds, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. After a year hiatus, the duo is returning to these podcast streets with the Juan EP, where they bring their valid expertise on all things hip-hop.

Cipha and Rosenberg joined forces with Mass Appeal and Endeavor Audio to deliver comprehensive conversations about the culture, some of our favorite moments in hip-hop, favorite albums, best rhymes, among other things. During the podcast's first season, the DJs touch on who is arguably the greatest MC of all time, Jay-Z.

"I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes," Cipha Sounds tells us in our phone conversation. "Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic."

Drawing help from some of Shawn Carter's closest friends, Cipha and Rosenberg dig into Jay-Z's career to discuss his best collaborations, beefs and pinpoint moments of Hov's greatness. VIBE caught up with the fellas and chatted about the Juan EP, Jay-Z and much more.

VIBE: First, this has been bothering me for years. Who is Juan Epstein? Rosenberg: Juan Epstein came from the fact that Cipha and I got paired together. He's Puerto Rican and I’m Jewish. Juan Epstein was a Puerto Rican/Jewish character on the show, Welcome Back, Cotter. I never watched the show, I think Cipha may have been the one to tell me about the name. That was perfect.

The podcast has been on hiatus for a while now. How was the process of bringing the podcast back? Rosenberg: We’ve been wanting to bring it back for a minute. We’ve been looking for the right opportunities and the right partners. And we thought Mass Appeal was a really good home. And when the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a really good fit. We’re trying to do something right for hip-hop, and curated well, and do right by the culture. When Mass Appeal came up with an option it seemed like a perfect fit. It was a great excuse and forced us the get organized and bring it back.

Cipha Sounds: The reason I love this podcast is because it really is two hip-hop fans who were lucky enough to get paid from hip-hop, and we get to talk to some great people from the hip-hop community about hip-hop. There aren't any outsiders speaking about our culture. And we learn new things that we never knew before.

With you guys coming from radio, do you prefer podcasts over radio programming? Rosenberg: It’s a different thing. [Podcasting], it’s more in line with what I’m really passionate about. And it’s really fun. It’s two different versions of a similar thing. They’re both broadcasting, but this gets to be about hip-hop, and not the bullsh*t side, the gossip. This really is about the music.

Cipher: I don’t consider one over the other. I definitely like having long conversations with hip-hop artists.

Season One of the Juan EP is about Jay-Z. Why him? Cipha: Everybody always has all these conversations about the top five [MCs] and who’s the G.O.A.T. I wanted the same street corner, lunchroom conversation with some actual research, and facts from people who were there. People who handle the question with some real information. And also, it is fun to get people’s opinions on it. Of all the sh*t that Jay-Z does that influences the culture, whether it be becoming the first billionaire or marrying Beyoncé, I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes. Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic. Since we're talking Jay-Z, there was a time, well, at least in my hometown of Mississippi, where people were aggravated with Hov for frequently using B.I.G's rhymes.  Cipha: Let me answer this one. Let me tell you and all of your friends in the barbershop in Mississippi, every time Jay says a B.I.G. line, Biggie's kids eat. The reason he does it is because it pays for Biggie’s family to live the way that they should’ve lived if Biggie was still alive, so he pays for school, and homes all off of saying a line.

Wow. I didn't know that. Rosenberg: Yes, anytime Jay-Z samples a B.I.G. line, thanks to B.I.G.'s publishing, his family eats.

What are some of your favorite episodes so far? Cipha: My favorite is the Clark [DJ Clark Kent] episode. I loved how he broke down the details of how Jay-Z and Biggie met. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know and I’d be like, "How will I ever, ever know that?" There’s no way. Like, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know who was in the room and basically to find out not only was Clark Kent in the room but basically orchestrated it.

At times, Jay-Z takes a lot of heat. For instance, this NFL partnership business. Some people have even said he's partly responsible for the gentrification happening in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Rosenberg: We talked a lot about Jay-Z's ventures and how he’s taken flack for some things. And Jay-Z the businessman is a different thing than Jay-Z the artist. We go into a lot of detail about the business and how he’s viewed, And we defiantly get into the question, on the episode, actually next week [on the Nov. 19th episode titled, "I'm A Business Man"].

Here's some fun Jay-Z stuff. To me, the best intro song in the history of hip-hop is Jay's "The Dynasty Intro." Let's debate this. I'm ready.  Rosenberg: I agree that it’s up there. I probably haven’t done the extensive research like you have. But The Dynasty is definitely one of my favorite Jay-Z albums, which is funny because first, it wasn’t a Jay-Z album, then it was a Jay-Z album. So I wonder did he have that intro on there already when it was just a Roc-A-Fella album or did he add it once it became a Jay-Z album? Who would I even ask?

VIBE: Guru.

Rosenberg: Was he around then?

VIBE: Bean’s first album came out before The Dynasty album...

Rosenberg: And Guru did Bean's album...

Cipha: Yes, but even if he wasn’t around... this guy is so strategic. I know that the Pharrell [Williams] record made him make it a Jay Z-album instead of a Roc [A-Fella] album, but that intro, it’s not long and the beat is not complicated. It's a simple hip-hop beat. Damn, we now have to do an episode about this.

Rosenberg: And that's what this show is about. For people who are interested in stuff like that. And this is the perfect time to dig into the podcast because all of the episodes are available. You don't have to wait for the next episode.

Hip-hop fans can tune into every episode of Juan EP below or on Stitcher, and Endeavor Audio.

Continue Reading
Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.

---

VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party at the W South Beach, where the pajamas designed by February James and LaKela Brown will be premiered.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit," just like everything else in the world.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

Continue Reading

Top Stories