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'City of God' Remains A Cult Classic 15 Years Later

'City of God' not only won fans over from around the world. 

In 2002, Brazilian director and screenwriter Fernando Meirelles unveiled Cidade de Deus, a film that put the microscope on the epidemic of organized crime that ravaged Rio de Janeiro, transforming it into a haven for political corruption and criminality. Adapted by Bráulio Mantovani from the 1997 novel of the same name written by Paulo Lins, Cidade de Deus is told from the vantage point of "Rocket" --- a resident of the favelas (The hood) with aspirations of becoming a professional photography while attempting to navigate and survive in a world filled with anarchy and nihilism. "Li'l Ze"; a hardened gangster with an unquenchable taste for blood, holds court over the favelas with an iron fist and sparks a war that ends with his demise.

After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, where it earned rave reviews, and was initially released exclusively in Brazil, Cidade de Deus, which would be released in the U.S. in January 2003, under its American translation City of God, was a critical and commercial success stateside, yielding $7.5 million at the box office.

With a cast that included Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Alice Braga and Seu Jorge, City of God would be one of the most lauded films of 2003, earning Academy Award nominations in multiple categories, including Best Director (Fernando Meirelles), Best Adapted Screenplay (Braulio Mantovani), Best Cinematography (César Charlone), and Best Film Editing (Daniel Rezende), as well as earning numerous honors for best foreign film.

In spite of its plot and actors not having any direct ties to hip-hop, since it was released, City of God has been received as a cult classic, with rappers like Lil Wayne, J. Cole, Snoop Dogg, The Game, AZ and other rappers giving nods to the film in their lyrics, a testament to its status as a cult classic.

In celebration of the 15th anniversary of its state-side release, we talked to some of our favorite rappers about what makes City of God timeless and one of the greatest movies of its time.

CyHi the Prynce:
“It was a great movie that showed the challenges and mindset of kids growing up in a 3rd world environment trying to overcome poverty with frustration and violence.”

Nitty Scott:
"I had the actual DVD from a friend, the Portugese version Cidade De Deus — I was actually going through this phase where I only wanted to watch like, indie foreign films. There was a wave of joints like this too, Carandiru, Cidade de Homens ... I was on it. Binge-watched them all in my apartment in The Bronx. [My favorite character was] LIL DICE! He was mad bloodthirsty and disturbing in a way that puts other villains to shame. He was an orphan — just a gangsta, fearless kid who took over the City of God by robbing and killing whoever he had to. I think it was the untrained acting by the locals and kids [that makes it a classic], and the fact that the narrative occurs adjacent to the tropical tourist paradise that is Rio. It put the forgotten slums and the lives that exist there right in front you, and I think a lot of people never saw or cared about that reality. And maybe the actors had lines or scenarios to play out, but it didn’t feel inauthentic or exploitative, just like an empathetic capture of an untold story in the favelas.

Tate Kobang:
"My uncle put me on with City of God during a smoke session I seen it first time last year in April. My favorite character has to be Lil Dice, he shares my reckless way of thinking and getting what I want ... by any means. I think that's what makes the movie a classic is them showing not only the come up but the downfall from more than one point of view."

T-Rell:
"City Of God was definitely a movie you can’t forget! It definitely puts a huge magnifying glass on drugs and violence that goes on everywhere not just in our own communities!"

Eric Bellinger:
"City of God is one of those classics that you HAVE to see! This movie is epic because its message stays with you. That’s what art, film and entertainment should do. It made you think; it made you conscious and aware of things going on outside the little bubbles we live in, but also how we are all really in search of the same things: love, survival, passion, power, money and loyalty. It's so crazy how they brought so many life altering elements into one story! And the fact that they were so young is even crazier!"

Odie:
“I love the film so much because the style is so fast paced and in your face. Every scene felt like an unforgettable moment in life, and the way that they captured the emotion and adrenaline in these moments through the cinematography was amazing.”

Noah Caine:
"A friend of mine had been talking about this wild movie with subtitles that was based in Brazil or something where there were “wild things that really happened in the the hood over there,” so naturally me and all the homies wanted to see it. I watched it on DVD. [My favorite character from the movie was] Benny, man! Dude was the perfect example of a D-Boy who woke up mentally and
was finally trying to get out of the life.

He had a chance to make it out of the ghetto and do good for real and he ended up getting killed in some mix up at a party. It’s the perfect example of what people in and around a life like that fear and it was extremely relatable. He was also just a fly, good hearted dude and everybody in his hood had love for him. He was the hood favorite. I know a lot of dudes in the hood that remind me of Benny. That movie is definitely a classic. It’s definitely up there in my top 3 and everybody should watch it or own the DVD. It captures the struggle and conflicts of coming up in poverty from that perspective of despair and how all these different people from different walks of life interact when their paths cross. Like I said, if you’re a person that’s familiar with poverty and unfortunately a life of drugs, gun violence and gang culture, you definitely can relate to all the characters in the movie in some way. Even if you ain't familiar, it still makes you feel like it’s easy to understand their struggles. Ultimately the characters just wanted to make it out or be comfortable within all that madness in some way and the film

Fat Trel:
“Dope movie, I Think it's real and says a lot about the slums. That's how Life goes in the streets. It's one of my favorite movies of all time”

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P Diddy promotes his new Diddy Dirty Money single 'Coming Home' and his headphones DiddyBeats at HMV, Oxford Street on January 20, 2011 in London, England.
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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

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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Courtesy of Level.com

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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