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Billboard

Eminem And Paul Rosenberg Cover 'Billboard' Magazine

Billboard took a trip out to Detroit for their new cover story. 

Perched in the lofted second floor of a photo studio, Eminem leans over the balustrade to address his longtime manager, Paul Rosenberg, who’s down below, trying out his best angles while having his portrait taken. “Yo, Paul! Can you sign a CD for me when you’re done?” he calls out, face obscured under a baseball cap. “You’ve got the streets on fire right now!”

The room ripples with laughter, and Em disappears back into the loft. It’s January in Detroit -- no one’s idea of paradise -- but for the 45-year-old MC born Marshall Mathers, the city is home and hideaway: both the place his myth was born, and a shield against the glare of publicity that comes with being one of the most famous rappers on the planet. It was in Detroit where Marshall, as everyone knows him here, met Paul Rosenberg in 1996, when he was an aspiring rapper on the brink of giving up and Rosenberg was a law student with an eye on the music biz. They started working together the following year, and now, over two decades on, they’re back in Detroit with entirely different titles attached to their names: Eminem, top five dead or alive, 15-time Grammy winner and almost certainly the best-selling rapper of all time (47.7 million albums sold in the United States, according to Nielsen Music); Rosenberg, elite music manager, label owner and, as of Jan. 1, the newly-appointed chairman/CEO of Def Jam Recordings.

Three weeks prior, Eminem released his first album in four years, Revival, a mix of self-reflection, schadenfreude and lyrical dexterity that made him the only artist in history to debut eight straight albums at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It also ended his longest break between releases since a prescription pill addiction forced him to take a five-year hiatus at the height of his career, a period that included a 2007 methadone overdose (recounted in the Revival track “Arose”) that nearly killed him. Since his return with 2009’s Relapse and 2010’s Recovery, Eminem has largely chosen to avoid the spotlight, content to be a hip-hop J.D. Salinger penning songs for Holden Caulfield’s Spotify playlist.

That downtime gave Rosenberg, 46, the chance to assess his own career. A bear of a man at 6 feet 6 inches tall, with a calm disposition, he’s a natural storyteller and unassumingly funny, not to mention a scholar of classic hip-hop, punctuating conversations with anecdotes about Duck Down Records and asides on the best Slick Rick song (For Rosenberg, it’s “La Di Da Di” or “Mona Lisa”; Eminem offers “Lick the Balls” or “Children’s Story”). Eminem’s partner in Shady Records, a joint venture with Interscope, Rosenberg began thinking “four or five years ago” about starting a separate label to work with artists who didn't fit with the Shady brand. He approached Universal Music Group with the idea, but chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge eventually countered with a different one: handing Rosenberg the reins of Def Jam. (Steve Bartels, Def Jam’s CEO since its split with Island in April 2014, stepped down in December 2017.)

“To me, this is an opportunity to do something great in the music that I grew up loving, that I've been passionate about since I was 10 years old, and in a lot of ways it's a dream come true,” says Rosenberg. That dream, he says, will hinge on returning the label to what he sees as its four founding pillars: “originality, authenticity, cutting-edge artists” and “rapper as rock star” branding. “Def Jam is the greatest hip-hop label that has ever existed -- I don’t think there’s much argument against that,” he says. “I don’t want anybody to think I want to make it an old-school hip-hop label, because I don’t. I want to follow that blueprint into the future with the kind of artist that exists now.”

Before Rosenberg could focus on his new gig, however, he was back in Detroit to roll out the Eminem album. Revival was greeted on Dec. 15 with familiar criticism of the MC over the strains of misogyny and sexism (or, for some, his political incorrectness) that remain in his lyrics, and equally polarized responses to the scathing attacks -- kicked off in October with his explosive BET Hip-Hop Awards freestyle, “The Storm” -- on Donald Trump, whose base overlaps with Eminem’s. In response, a number of die hard fans began to turn on the MC, which he addressed in a new verse on Revival track "Chloraseptic" after the album's release: "Then I took a stand / Went at tan face and practically cut my motherfuckin' fan base in half / And still outsold you."

“I know I say a lot of fucked-up shit,” admits Eminem in an earnest moment, sunk into a leather couch with Rosenberg after the photo shoot. “But a lot of shit is said in jest, it’s tongue-in-cheek, and it has always been that way through my whole career -- saying shit to get a reaction out of people. It’s my artistic license to express myself. Last time I checked, Trump isn't an artist and doesn't have an artistic license. I'm not the fuckin' president.”

Preoccupied as he may be with Trump, Eminem is eager to give Rosenberg his shine. Sitting down for this interview, he interrupts his manager during a characteristic rumination on the lyricism of KRS-One: “Hey, let me know when you guys want to do an interview. I know it’s your show, but I just want to have your back when we start...”

How would you describe your dynamic?
Paul Rosenberg: I officially started working with him in ’97, so this is the 20th year. It’s 20 years of being in business with each other and being friends.
Eminem: Twenty years of hell. [Laughs.]
Rosenberg: There are moments when it’s extremely serious and intense, and there are other moments where it’s very lighthearted and, dare I say, juvenile.
Eminem: You dare say.

How did you meet?
Rosenberg: When I was in law school in Detroit, I used to go to this place called the Hip-Hop Shop, which was on 7 Mile Road. It was a clothing store that turned into an open-mic, freestyle-battle place on Saturdays. One day [Eminem’s close friend, the late Detroit rapper] Proof pulled me aside and said, “Hey, I want you to stay after open mic today so you can check out my man.” Proof wanted me to check him out because he knew that my goal in law school was to become a music lawyer, and he looked at me as somebody who might be able to help artists in the local community be able to make connections after I had graduated and started a career. So I stayed and he cleared everybody out, and in comes this guy --
Eminem: I had stopped rapping for probably six, seven months. It just felt like it wasn't really going anywhere. We were living in the attic at Kim’s mom’s house that we had turned into a room. Now, I hadn't heard from Proof in like three months at this time. I knew he was still doing his thing; I didn't know to the extreme, that it was to the level it was at. But Proof called me and he was like, “Yo, write something, come here tomorrow and say it, and if you don’t like it you don’t ever have to do it again.” It was like 10 or 15 people. I don’t remember meeting you that day.
Rosenberg: I remember you showed up with Kim [Mathers, now Scott, Eminem’s ex-wife]. You were wearing this white sweatsuit.
Eminem: Yeah, that I always wore. [Laughs.] I rapped and I got a good reaction, and from that point I just started writing again.
Rosenberg: Then a few months later, you put out [independent debut] Infinite, which I bought from you for, like, six bucks on cassette. And that's how we met.

What led to you guys working together?
Rosenberg: I thought he was really talented, but at that point he hadn't figured out who he was yet as an artist. He was trying to sound like other people, like Nas --
Eminem: I wasn't trying to sound like other people -- I just kinda did. [Laughs.] I was a cross between AZ, Nas, Souls of Mischief, Redman, all the great hip-hop that was out at the time.
Rosenberg: I moved to New York and started studying for the bar [exam] and stayed in touch with everybody from the music scene in Detroit. At one point, [a friend] hit me up and said, “You got to check out the new stuff Eminem’s doing.” So I got his number, called him up and [asked him to] send it to me. I got the cassette, listened to it and I was really blown away. I realized that he had found his voice; he stopped being so self-aware and self-conscious about what he was saying and how he was saying it and just sounded like somebody, for lack of a better description, who didn't give a fuck. And it really came across in the music. So I called him up and [asked] if I could represent him. That's how it started; I was his music attorney.
Eminem: And then I would make trips back and forth with friends to New York.
Rosenberg: Yeah, and that's how the friendship started to grow. Neither of us had any money, so he would literally sleep on my couch and we just figured it out. And when you say we pounded the pavement, we literally pounded the pavement, because again, you couldn't send stuff electronically. I had to literally go to clubs with an armful of records and hand them to DJs and get in front of Stretch Armstrong and Tony Touch and Clark Kent like, "Hey, I'm Paul, I want you to check out Eminem." And to this day, I've got relationships with these guys, and I met them from handing them records. I don't want to sound like the old guy reminiscing and being nostalgic, but that face time, that human connection, it's difficult to replace. And I think there's value in that, and we miss that today.

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Singers Ronald Isley (L) and Kim Johnson perform at the "18th Annual Soul Train Music Awards" at the Scottish Rite Auditorium on March 20, 2004 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevin Winter

Music Sermon: The Soul Train Awards Been Lit, We're Just Late To The Party

Black Entertainment's oldest televised awards show has been patiently waiting for us to come back.

As I was watching the 2019 BET Awards, at some point around trying to decipher the difference between DaBaby and Lil Baby, I said – not for the first year – “I’m not the BET Awards demo anymore.” BET’s flagship awards’ aspiration to cover every segment of Black entertainment has always stretched it a little thin; current rap and R&B artists, plus legends, plus some gospel, plus a few TV, movie and sports moments, and some social good and politics crowds a run-of-show. But in the last several years – probably due to me moving solidly into the Urban Adult Contemporary demo – watching the BET Awards has been comprised mostly of me tweeting “Who is this child?” while waiting to see maybe two performances and a tribute. But then, in sweet November, BET gives me my entire two-step life with the Soul Train Awards, where I know (almost) every artist and live for every performance and I can’t even tell you who took an award home because that’s not even the point. The Soul Train Awards is family reunion time: an opportunity for your respected faves get their props, and a platform for soulful new school artists who don’t get mainstream airplay. It’s a night to dance and sing along in your living room. Ain’t no stuntin’, no pretense, no cappin’ (did I use that right?). It’s just a good ass time. So why did it take us so long to embrace it again?

BET has owned the legacy awards show since 2009, but for years the Soul Train Awards seemed a bit forgotten. The timeline wasn’t joining forces to watch the Tom Joyner Cruise Live (Side note: Tom Joyner should ABSOLUTELY do the Tom Joyner Cruise Live). Over the last four years, however, an aging millennial demographic combined with a drive of ‘90s nostalgia and renewed demand for straight up and down soul music has shined a light on the awards broadcast. Since 2015, the BET ecosystem has also thrown more support behind the show, including moving it from a Centric/BETHer-branded property to a BET proper event and giving it the same Viacom-wide simulcast as the BET Awards. Production values, talent bookings, and show elements keep rising, and the TL is paying attention. This Sunday, the Soul Train Awards will air live for the first time (the show is usually taped a week or two in advance), with Black America’s favorite on and off-screen besties Tisha Cambell and Tichina Arnold hosting for the second year.

It’s by grace, though, that the Soul Train Awards is even still here for us to enjoy. The show that launched as the only televised Black entertainment awards ceremony started fading during Black music’s growing mainstream dominance, and then was lost in the shadow of the bigger and splashier BET Awards. Superstar artists stopped attending, because teams no doubt felt like their presence wouldn’t move the needle on sales, and it became the Old Heads Awards. Quietly, though, the Soul Train Awards has been a ratings driver for BET since the network acquired the show; the rest of us (including talent) are just finally catching up. And we should be ashamed it took so long! This specific celebration of Black entertainment is as important now as it was when launched over 30 years ago — almost more so — for the very reason that it’s not just a show packed with hottest, newest, latest. But to appreciate the show’s legacy and staying power, we should look back at its history.

In 1987, Soul Train founder Don Cornelius decided it was time to elevate his 20-plus-year-old platform to another level. At the time, the major entertainment awards weren’t properly acknowledging Black artists. The handful that had reached massive pop success – Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston – were recognized and honored.

But in the 80s, the soul and R&B world was still vast and wide.

Cornelius decided it was time to create a night of celebration and excellence which, like Soul Train itself, was created for us, by us. He insisted at the time, “Black music is too big and too powerful not to have its own awards show. It’s overdue.” The Soul Train Awards was born.

Not only did Cornelius want to create a space for our artists who were overlooked by award shows like the Grammys and the AMAs, but also an awards system that didn’t hang on politics, or follow the same long-time criticisms of Grammy voting; selections by a group of people who just vote on the names they know. The voting block for the Soul Train Awards was made up of black retailers, radio programmers and artists themselves, to grant the prized Soul Train trophy design based on African sculpture. But the Soul Train Awards weren’t even meant to be about the awards; they were about highlighting our talent – current and established – featuring special legacy honors, originating the concept of tributes via performances instead of just film packages, and putting together super-performances of key artists across genres. This was our showcase.

For the first eight years of the show, the hosting panel was a mix of Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross, and Patti Labelle, and our biggest and best showed up in their award finery ready to celebrate and be celebrated. When the Grammys weren’t yet making room for hip-hop, Don gave it a little light (not a whole lot, but a little), and the Soul Train Awards honored Black entertainment across the board, not just music.

In fact, until 1994, the Soul Train Awards were the only televised Black entertainment awards. The Source Awards debuted as the first hip-hop awards show in 1994, The NAACP Image Awards were first televised in 1995, and that same year the female-artist heavy landscape prompted the creation of Soul Train’s Lady of Soul Awards. For the first several years, the Black entertainment community turned out in numbers for their long-awaited party. The first year, Black luminaries from Magic Johnson to Miles Davis to Stevie Wonder to Don King to Run DMC to Isaac Hayes were in the building. In 1990, Michael Jackson snubbed the Grammys, but showed up at Soul Train. Whitney Houston was even famously booed at the Soul Train Awards because the crowd felt she was too pop, and this was not a pop space. This was a forum for soul.

But like many of our most important early platforms for Black culture, progress eventually rendered almost of these celebrations obsolete. As Black music crossed over, more Black artists were being recognized by the mainstream, and Black culture became the culture, the entire Soul Train brand felt outdated and unnecessary. By 2000, the awards were in a bit of an identity crisis. After twelve years at LA’s Shrine Auditorium, the show bounced to a new location every year for the next six years. Cornelius started having trouble getting stars to commit to the awards because they were held within a month of the Grammys.

Then, in 2001, BET debuted their award show: a younger, hipper, and larger budget version of the Soul Train Awards that adopted virtually the same format, with Viacom promotional power and a dedicated channel and time slot (unlike Soul Train’s syndication) to their advantage.

In 2006, Soul Train signed off after 35 years and over 1,100 episodes as the longest-running nationally syndicated TV program in America at the time. Around the same time, the syndication company for the show and the awards, Tribune Entertainment, changed hands and shut down. In 2007, the Soul Train Awards’ biggest winners of the night, like Beyoncè and John Legend, didn’t bother to show. Finally, in 2008, there were no Soul Train Awards. And had that been the end of the line for the show for good, there probably would have been very little complaints or rumblings – we’d stopped paying attention, anyway. BET seemed to have all Black excellence bases on lock with the BET Awards, the BET Honors (which debuted in February of 2008), and the BET Hip-Hop Awards (2006). But fortunately, someone at the company had the good sense not to let the Soul Train Awards die.

As part of BET on Jazz’s rebrand to Centric (now BETHer), BET acquired the Soul Train Awards and revamped the program to fully embrace its old head’ness, perfect for the channel geared towards an older demo with a soul music focus. They moved the awards from LA to Georgia (it has since moved to Vegas), changed the date to November, got Terrence Howard and Taraji Henson coming straight off of Hustle & Flow to host, and gave tributes to Charlie Wilson and the Gap Band, Chaka Khan and Motown. That’s a party.

Now, here’s the part we probably haven’t been paying attention to: since the very first year in 2009, the Soul Train Awards has been a fourth-quarter ratings hit for BET. In fact, 2009 was the award show’s highest rated broadcast ever in its history. Media and consumer trends often focus on the young, overlooking that while the 35-and-older set may not be as reactive, we’re loyal. Especially with music and entertainment (a look at any number of R&B theater tours featuring people who haven’t released an album in ages will tell you that). The cultural powers-that-be finally seem to be catching on: things that were long considered “Auntie & Uncle” territory, like Essence Festival, are hitting the hip radar. The Soul Train Awards is part of that wave. Also – and this is my personal, not data-supported, get-off-my-lawn opinion – there’s a lightness and fun with good ol’ R&B, soul and even older hip-hop that you just don’t get from the pull-your-panties to the side R&B and mumble rap of the last 10 years.

The BET Awards is now at a similar crossroads as the Soul Train Awards was in the early 00s: major talent is skipping the show, and the network is challenged to put together a cohesive program while trying to serve all demos. After two years of plunging ratings, the broadcast finally seems to have found balance again in 2019. But still, I’m not personally here for all the Lil’s, the YBNs and YGs and other letter configurations, and Babies and whatnot. I need music that works as a backdrop for brown liquor in red solo cups, please. But as viewers and fans, we also have to check ourselves on our awards show criticisms. Complaints amplify every year around the Grammys, AMAs and the like that we need to give less weight to mainstream awards and celebrate our own, ourselves, which is exactly what Don Cornelius and then Bob Johnson and team set out to do. During the BET Awards, though, there are gripes about the diversity and quality of talent, content and production. There was even a period of Black Twitter referring to them as the “EBT Awards.” Criticism is often valid, but straight disdain isn’t. Also every year, there are cries about how we need more and different awards shows. Meanwhile, Soul Train’s been right there, chillin’, with your old school faves and your burgeoning soul stars. I’m ok with knowing I’m not the right in the pocket of the BET Awards demo anymore, but that means I’m going to support the Soul Train Awards with all my Auntie might, because Black music and culture needs the intergenerational love and community that the Soul Train Awards represent.

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DaBaby Takes His "Bop On Broadway" In New Video

DaBaby's music videos have become a big deal. He's been consistent with releasing entertaining visuals, featuring playful choreography, and imagery. Today (Nov. 15), the North Carolina native unveiled the brand new visuals for "Bop   on Broadway," a song from his latest offering, Kirk.

Directed by Reel Goats, the video is billed as a hip-hop musical and features lots of gleeful dancing. In fact, at one point the Jabbawockeez take over the video.

In other DaBaby news, the"Baby on Baby" rapper has been running the Billboard's Hot 100 chart for six consecutive sixth weeks, as a result of having eight songs on the latest weekly Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Of DaBaby's eight songs on Billboard, four are from his Kirk LP. The other entries are collaborations with Lil Baby, Chance the Rapper, Megan Thee Stallion, Post Malone, and Lil Baby.

Watch the video above.

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Ryan Miller/WireImage

Solange Uses Her Divine Spirit To Calm The Mind And Body For "Bridge-s" Performance Piece

There's a serene feeling over the bodies standing in the iconic architecture at the Getty Center Museum. Jazzy horns, peaceful keys, and crisp guitar riffs gently interrupt the soothing silence as dancers dripped in marigold threads swayed to "Counting," a composition created by Solange. A series of odd numbers like "5", "7" and "9" are recited on a loop by half of her dancers while the others chant "6", "4" and "2." It's just a preview of her latest creation Bridge-s but felt like a dynamic meditation.

Bridge-s brings yet another magnetic piece into her series of interdisciplinary works that spawned after the release of her magnum opus, A Seat At The Table. The world was introduced to Solange's artistic side thanks to performance art pieces at the Guggenheim in New York and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Composed by Solange and choreographed by Gerard & Kelly, Bridge-s was created with the pillars, beams, and columns around the museum in mind. Dancers and the orchestra used the space to their advantage, with tuba players catching the peripheral of attendees from afar.

Four rollouts will take place November 16-17, curated with a selection of films that include Black to Techno by Jenn Nkiru, AFRONAUTS and Boneshaker by Nuotama Bodomo, The State of Things by singer-songwriter Kish Robinson (Kilo Kish) and more. In its entirety, Bridge-s was designed to explore "transitions through time."

This was felt throughout the performance piece as dancers move with the intent of love, internal struggle, and unity. In a stunning zine designed by Sablā Stays, Gerard & Kelly shared the emphasis behind their modernist and inclusive approach.

"Our work, like hers, is part of an interdisciplinary effort throughout the arts and humanities to redefine modernism by critically engaging its prevailing narratives. By accounting for differences of gender, sexuality, and race. By focusing on intimate and collective histories. By centering our work around the body, dance and movement," they said.

Solange also opened up about the importance the museum and the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg played in the performance piece. "Both Elbphilharmonie Hamburg and the Getty Museum have sure strong distinctive voices spatially, and so the intention is that all of the work, the movement, the language, the songs all align with those principles," she said. "Working with Gerard and Kelly, who share many of the same philosophies on their approach to interpreting time and space through performance has really built the foundation [for] the spirit of this collaboration."

Like the rest of us, the artist watched closely the dancers glide across the floor, while bandmembers release enchanting sonnets with vocalists dropping a few high notes in between. Guests like Thundercat (and his Pikachu backpack), Kilo Kish, Dev Hynes of Blood Orange and Tyler, The Creator were also left speechless after the performance.

“I just want to thank you guys for allowing me the space to evolve, experiment and express new frontiers,” Solange said to the crowd after the assembly provided endless cheers.

Learn more about Bridge-s and get free tickets here.

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