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Nikolas Draper-Ivey

Illustrator Nikolas Draper-Ivey Speaks On How He Walks The Line Between Wakanda And Anime

Nikolas Draper-Ivey says Kendrick Lamar wanted something simple, but impactful. 

Nikolas Draper-Ivey has been drawing since the age of two when he defaced his mother’s white couch with crayons. Luckily, he’s since moved his canvas to paper. With an artistic talent that has led him to one momentous achievement after the other, Draper-Ivey has created viral moments with race-bending sketches of Final Fantasy characters and an incredible cosplay of Miles Morales as Spider-Man.

But although he strived for his primary focus to remain on comics and illustrations, this latest opportunity was one he couldn't pass up. Draper-Ivy garnered his first major break when Interscope Records hired him to craft the cover for the Kendrick Lamar–produced Black Panther soundtrack (Feb. 9). Funnily enough, it ended up being very different from the rest of his work, which entails intricate shapes to convey a range of emotions.

“The thing is I didn't want to approach it like a simple mindset,” he says. “I told myself I'm gonna at least shade each talon, render that in the best of what I can, you know, and then that's how it happened.” The result was a chic but powerful cover that's won over fans from both Marvel and music lines.

His work outside of the soundtrack is just as enticing. While this is a peak moment for his career, he's just getting started. Draper-Ivey is taking his creative talents to the anime industry by teaming up with Noir Caesar, an art collective founded by NBA player Johnny O’Bryant III, to produce a series, XOGENASYS, with the help of the Tokyo-based animation studio, D’Art Shtajio.

Ahead of jet-setting to Atlanta for the Black Panther premiere, Draper-Ivey spoke with VIBE about how the cover came together, working on an anime and why he’s so grateful to God.


VIBE: How did you end up doing the Black Panther soundtrack cover?
Nikolas Draper-Ivey: Interscope reached out to me. They got my info from Disney and they reached out through Instagram. I didn't know it was for Kendrick [Lamar] at the time. They just told me, 'We need some art for the Black Panther soundtrack,' and I fell out of my chair. [Laughs] They said, 'If you can get some sketches over to us tonight...' They told me what they were looking for and then I said, 'Well, I can try to do that tonight,' so I knocked it out.

But, I wasn't satisfied when I sent it. I went back and kept polishing it. Once I found out it was Kendrick, there was like all this pressure because I'm like, 'Aw, crap.' He [Kendrick's rep] hinted that it's probably one of the most influential artists in the world right now and in hip-hop. I felt like I knew who it was and my roommate kind of called it. I didn't want to say who I thought it was because I didn't want to insult whoever it was. So I asked, 'Is it Kendrick?' He's like, 'Yep!' So you know, it was a lot of pressure. What's weird is that they got my info from Disney, but I don't work for them.

How have the reactions been? I saw you posted it on Instagram.
A lot of people are happy, like excited about it. I think when people found out that I was doing it, it was kind of a surprise on both ends because I think for TDE, I don't think they knew the effect I've had in terms of in the art community. I don't think they knew about the Noir Caesar stuff, the stuff with the manga and anime, and all the other artwork that I've done.

I saw that Trevor Noah shared the album cover on The Daily Show. How has it been seeing it everywhere, iTunes, Spotify, etc?
It's really weird because it's... you can be like, 'Aw man, I drew that!' and nobody really cares. I mean, your fans and stuff like that care and people who know who you are but like the general public if you were to go on the street and say, 'Yo!' they're probably gonna look at you like 'Cool, cool, that's nice.' A friend of mine said something really funny: in an alternate reality this made your chest stick out and in another, you went to a club and you tried to hit on some girl with the line, 'Oh yeah I designed the cover of  the Black Panther soundtrack,' and she was just totally like, 'Man, you ain't act in the sh*t, so what?" [Laughs]

So it's good to have that mindset of like eh, small contributions to it. Seeing it is cool. I think once people get wind of, 'Oh this guy also is doing that stuff and that stuff and that stuff,' I think, it'll probably have more gravitas to it. It'll probably be more like 'Oh sh*t.' You know, but to see peoples' reactions to it and see people like it and write articles about it is pretty cool even though I'm still in the shadows. It's only a matter of time because people know that I do it. It's spreading.

I noticed it's different from your other artwork, too.
They told me what they wanted. It was the black background. They wanted the talons and I was like okay, I could do that. The thing is I didn't want to approach it with a simple mindset. I told myself I'm gonna at least shade each talon, render that in the best of what I can, and then that's how it happened. But it is radically different from everything else that I do because most of what I do is comic work, illustrations, concept art and things of that nature, and its heavily stylized and stuff like that.

He could have done a bunch of things but, you know, there are people who are receiving it very well, so it's cool. I get what they were going for. When I saw it all come together and I finished it, that's when it hit me that it was Kendrick. He doesn't do these big crazy covers, all of his stuff is pretty simple. I think probably the most elaborate cover I've seen is the To Pimp a Butterfly cover. Everything else is just really minimal or a simple image. So, with that type of image, it just has to be Kendrick. I understood what they were asking for.

Did you do the design for the tracklist?
I did the cover and the disc.

Was this your first time designing an album cover?
Yeah, this is. It's kind of funny because I remember not wanting to ever do CD covers or album covers because I just wanted to do comics and illustrations. Very, very new for me. This whole thing is very new. It's a very different approach. I can't go into details.

You're about to head to Atlanta to see Black Panther, too. How excited are you?
I'm totally excited. Anyone would be excited for it but then it becomes a different thing once you become a part of the process. Don't get me wrong by any stretch, but my anticipation for it has kind of been like, '[Well,] you're part of this thing now.' Everyone kind of comes in there and they might not necessarily like you, but they may like that soundtrack. They like what Black Panther represents, what it means to them and how they feel after they see something like that. That's my mindset right now. I'm excited for it, but it's been a process working on different things that kind of changed the way I see it now.

It sounds like you're saying it's a lot of pressure.

It's not the first time that hip-hop and anime/manga community got together either. It’s cool that you’re adding to the history of that.
That's the thing about this, when you look at people like Jamie Hewlett (co-creator of the Gorillaz) who did Tank Girl, everyone knows his stuff. You got Takashi Murakami, he did the artwork for Kanye's Graduation album. You got Sam Spratt who did work for Janelle Monae and Logic and countless others. These are respected artists, people look at their stuff and they know their work. So it's kind of like that, but I don't think they [Interscope] knew they were getting into that territory when they hired me to do it.

Is this the first time you’ve gone viral?
This isn't the first time that I've done work that's gone viral. The first time I went viral was for Spider-Man, oddly enough. I did a cosplay as Miles Morales. You can't tell now because I've got hair, but my hair was short and everything. I looked just like Miles Morales and it spread.

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE!! Sup? Figured since Miles Morales is trending, I’d post these photos of me as Miles Morales when I was younger (Because everyone keeps messaging me about it). I don’t even think I can fit this suit anymore, but I could try for a Spider-Punk look now what I’m slightly older. These went viral when I first posted them and it was odd, because for a time, I was being recognized for being Miles instead of being an artist. Some people that follow me now but have seen this in the past didn’t even know that this was me! Isn’t that...something?. Anyway, off to the gym! #milesmorales #artistoninstagram #spidermanintothespiderverse #spiderman #marvel #sony #disney #heroesofcolor #brianmichaelbendis #sarapichelli

A post shared by Nikolas A. Draper-Ivey (@nikolasdraperivey) on

And then, there were the Star Wars samurai sketches. Then I did some other stuff, like Disney characters, Avengers, that spread. I made the Final Fantasy characters people of color, just to prove that you could tell a story like that with people of color and still take it seriously. You don't have to make them stereotypes or tropes or anything like that and it wouldn't change the value of the story.

Black Panther got it right in the movie and that makes me really happy because that's also what I was trying to say with my work. You can have characters of color in these fantastical, sci-fi situations and not have to dumb them down. You don't have to do that. So, that's something. I've been pushing for our people for a minute now.

How about Noir Caesar? How did you get involved with it?
I got involved in Noir Caesar through another friend, his recommendation of another peer, Mikhail Sebastian (Mythallica), he wanted me to do. He gave my information to Johnny [O'Bryant], they were looking for different artists and I got approached to do XOGENASYS. At first, I was like, 'I don't want to do it,' but then Mikhail, he's like my rival, very close friend of mine and he's like, 'Well fine if you won't do it, then I'll do it.' It just lit a fire. You will not have that over me. Give me that script! I went in with it.

What's XOGENASYS about?
I think on the surface, it's like this futuristic MMA story set in 2075; there are people fighting in exo-suits. These people are either prisoners or criminals or they're skilled fighters already and this kid Darius is a big fan of this. One day he kind of gets caught up into it. He's already a skilled fighter in his own right, but he gets dragged into this. He then finds out he's maybe not as strong as he thinks he is but that's just his surface premise. [It’s] really about how we become too famous too quickly and how we deal with that. When you get in a different league than you're used to, how do you deal with that and still hold on to your morals, your integrity? Do you still keep that when you come around different circles, stronger people, much bigger wallets? How does he deal with that? Does he still maintain his integrity at the end of it all?

Is there anything you wanted to add?
One thing, because I don't want to have the chance to be out here and I don't get to acknowledge God in this cause. I know it sounds cheesy but I kind of admire Kendrick and I admire people like Chance [The Rapper] that are able to talk about their belief so blatantly. They don't care. And I don't want that to go uncredited. This has not been easy. None of this has been easy and I really have to give God props for everything, like above all the other names, above all the people who have helped me. I really have to get Him in there because I would have never in a million years thought God would be able to attribute to something like this on this scale, ever.

I've had popularity because of drawing here and there and whatnot but ultimately, it's not just me. I can't say this is all me in this. I've had friends, now we're getting real, I've had friends look after me when I was damn near homeless. One of my friends said, 'We gotta couch you can lay on' when I wasn't getting any work. You know, it's been hard. Things just now started to pick up for me. So all this stuff, the times that I've gone viral or whatnot, I was still suffering. I was still going through a lot of different things and just doing art the best I could no matter how hard things got. I was just doing my art and there were times where I felt like I was straying because I'd become so angry like I was kind of straying away from God. But then you get to a point I had to go back and really, really, really stick to it. And now here we are.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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🖤🤓 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.

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