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Dennis Leupold

Tinashe’s ‘Joyride’ Is In High-Gear: “What I Want Is What I Need To Do”

The singer spoke to VIBE about her sophomore album, Joyride and more. 

It’s 48 hours until Tinashe releases her highly-anticipated sophomore studio album, Joyride, and the singer-dancer-pop-star has been lounging upstairs in her suite at New York City’s Roxy Hotel. That becomes crystal clear when she waltzes into the Roxy’s picturesque bar and restaurant wearing sweatpants and a beanie over her platinum bob.

Her breezy demeanor and get-up is quite different from the usually curated fashion and electric energy she brings to every live show, but there’s a reason for that. “So busy,” she exhausts in laughter. “I’ve been mentally preparing [for the album to drop]. Tomorrow I have to be up. I have rehearsal all day… I’m not going to sleep for awhile.” On top of the long press run ahead, she just performed on Good Morning America on Apr. 6. Through her weariness, the singer is inviting and ready to speak about the moment she and fans have been waiting three years for.

In 2015, when she first announced her forthcoming project, Tinashe was riding in the passenger seat of her own musical career. Joyride was expected to drop that same year, but it’s due date quickly became muddled by a string of misfortunes, including a cancelled tour and frustrations with her label, RCA. In 2016, she raised brows after accusing the label of prioritizing Zayn Malik’s debut solo album over hers. She kept on the media’s radar with a dreamy collaboration with Britney Spears and a stellar tribute to icon Janet Jackson at the 2015 BET Awards (Jackson requested her personally), but still no album.

Now, rocky road behind her, she’s scooted to the driver’s wheel, and the view looks pretty glorious. “I feel more confident than ever before,” she asserts, sipping her mimosa in a booth in the corner. “I feel like I’m in a really good place mentally, like the universe is going to align with my energy. I’m putting those vibes out there.” Well, the stars are in formation, and Joyride has finally arrived (Apr. 13). Tinashe spoke to VIBE about the method to her madness, navigating her 20s, and the path to self-discovery in her music and self.

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VIBE: First of all, congratulations because you’re in the home stretch! But let’s start with your first single off the album, “No Drama.” Was there a feeling or inkling that you had to choose that track as the lead?

Tinashe: I felt like it had something to say. It was power, in your face. It made sense coming back off of a hiatus. It was important to speak to my situation. It had that crazy energy. It feels so urgent and energetic. When we recorded the song, I was like ‘we need to put this song out this week!’ And when we added Offset, it added more energy to the track.

In an era where rollouts for albums are so rushed and chaotic, you did a nice job of leading up to yours, with the string of singles and visuals. Was having a clean rollout part of the vision?

I have had several rollouts of other singles in the past, that haven’t been as well thought out and planned. It was important when we recorded this music this summer, that it was presented in the right way, to the point that we held things back along the way until everything else was ready. That was really important to the presentation and making it look complete and making it look like everyone on the team was on the same page, as opposed to just throwing something out there and seeing what would stick.

I wanted to do Joyride the justice that I felt like it initially deserved.

So, we finished the album over the course of July, August, and around September and October is when we started curating the art around it, shooting the videos, getting all of the photoshoots and the creative vision together. And then over the course of the next months, it was fine-tuning. I think that was really smart. It felt good.

The album definitely sounds like a solid, cohesive body of work. But in particular, you seem to have the slow-burning club songs down to a T. They’re slow and sultry and unconventional, but still work perfectly in the club.

Maybe that’s just tapping into two sides of me that are both equally important. It’s having that energy, stuff that you can dance too… Dance is such a big part of what I do and how I express myself. So it’s important that a lot of my music has that danceability factor. But then at the same time, historically, I’ve really loved creating vibes and moods and music that feels sensual and dark. So, it’s combining both of those things together.

Are you a perfectionist when it comes to your live performances?

For sure! My live show, it’s such an important aspect or element of who I am as an artist that it’s really critical that the live show is representative of who I am because that dance element and connecting with the fans is so crucial.

If we were to lay out your discography – Aquarius, Nightride, etc. – it’s pretty easy to find the differences between them in terms of theme and mood, but what would you say is the difference in regards to your artistry and technique?

I created music from a different approach with this last go around. I was more purposeful on how I would finish tracks in determining which elements I could improve and which elements were still missing. This project also has a lot more energy than pretty much every other project that I put out in the past, which was a conscious effort for sure.

You know better than any of us how strenuous this process was, why did you choose to hold onto Joyride as the title?

For a number of reasons. I still felt like it truly represented where I was in my life, what I’m going through. The concept stuck with me as far as the highs and lows, and enjoying the journey and taking it as a young person going on this adventure through life. A lot of it was pride and not wanting to quit on something that I started. I wanted to do Joyride the justice that I felt like it initially deserved. I felt like it would have felt like a really unfinished piece of the puzzle or something that would’ve felt incomplete.

Was there anything that you did distinctly different as far as vocals, techniques, etc?

I used a wider range of vocal stylings on this project. There’s a lot of tracks that are in my lower register. There’s also some tracks that are completely in a higher register, kinda playing with different vocal techniques.

In my career and in the rollout of this project, there were highs and lows. There was super fun times. There was discouraging times, times where I felt like I had to come into my own and be a woman and own my intuition.

There’s belting songs, softer songs. Even a lot of my projects and mixtapes in the past have been more sultry and the vocals come from a softer perspective. These vocals have more body. There’s a lot of usage of things I learned along the way and things I wanted to experiment with.

So, you built a studio in the Hills to work on the project, Right? How did that change the dynamic of your creative process?

Yeah, it really changed everything for me. I feel like it was the really big turning point because I had all of these thoughts and songs… I had been working on the project already for almost two years at that point. So I had a lot of material, but I just felt like it was discombobulated. I needed to focus and hone in on what I was doing to finish it to the best of its ability. So having a home base that was centered around creativity and creating music 24/7 helped organize my thoughts. It made me more purposeful because I had a better understanding of what I was working with, what I needed, where I wanted to go.

Did you ever feel like it was hard to separate the artist from the regular girl because you were essentially eating, breathing, and sleeping out of the same place you were creating?

I don’t know if it’s separating it necessarily, but there’s something to be said for recording songs with lots of different people in lots of different studios and locations and you have bits and pieces of things that you like, but not full songs that you really love. You can feel sometimes that it gets a little out of hand and you need to reel it back in and focus on the pieces that you love. How can you make them better? For me, I’m much more comfortable working in a home studio environment. Even if I get something that I really like, when I bring it back into my own personal space, I can elevate it even more.

What was the best memory from working in the Hills?

It was the summer house. We called it the “Hollywood House.” My friends would come over all the time. We would have Taco Tuesday parties. I would cook tacos and invite everyone over, and we would have a really great energy. We’d wake up in the morning, and we’d go down to the Chateau Marmont and have mimosas and then come back and work all day. Go out to dinner, then come back and work all night. Everyone was so positive, and we were having so much fun there. I gained a sense of confidence knowing that I did this. I can get this awesome house and live this cool lifestyle and make music.

Did you find parallels between the process of finally dropping this album to being in your 20-somethings and navigating your own life?

Absolutely. That’s why the concept is so important to me. In your early 20s, there so much uncertainty as far as what’s going to happen next and where’s my life going to go. ‘Where am I gonna live? Who are my friends?’ There’s so much newness that happens all the time. There’s highs, there’s lows. You’re able to have so much fun, but then you’re juggling responsibilities. All of that, is reflective in the music.

At the end of the day, I don’t feel like I fit into any of these genres perfectly, and that’s truly what makes me the most fulfilled as an artists is to dabble in different things and have different influence, and not have to stick to one sound all the time.

In my career and in the rollout of this project, there were highs and lows. There was super fun times. There was discouraging times, times where I felt like I had to come into my own and be a woman and own my intuition.

When you say “be a woman” and “come into my own” do you mean as far as speaking up for yourself and voicing your opinion?

Yeah. It’s not even necessarily speaking up but coming to your own conclusions yourself and owning your own instincts and trusting in yourself and creative power. I think that’s something that is always important to continue to maintain. It’s easy for that sometimes to get derailed, and it’s important to come back to that.

Do you think that it’s particularly hard to navigate that as a female artist?

Yeah, absolutely. And when you’re coming into your sophomore album, it’s a completely different set up than the first project. You have all the expectations of the public, people inserting their opinions – from the media to the fans and the label – about which direction you should take. That can definitely play into how you view your own music and path. I think it took some time for me to truly understand what I want is what I need to do. I need to follow that gut instinct.

Do feel like your fans’ impatience clouded your judgement in terms of creating your vision?

For sure. I’m the type of person that doesn’t like being told what to do. Fans are like, do this, put out the album, make it sound like this. And then I’m like, ‘Screw you guys! I’m going to do what I want. And sometimes that’s not even what I want. It’s just a reaction to feeling like people are trying to control me or box me in.

In interviews, people always seem to ask you whether you’d categorize yourself as a pop star or and R&B singer. Do you ever think people don’t understand what a pop star is?

Yeah, there’s a categorization issue. Being a black woman adds to the confusion. Coming from a place that’s “urban” or rhythmic, confused people initially. To me, the pop stars that I always look up to, were the Britney Spears’, the Christina Aguilera’s, the Beyonce’s. That’s what I viewed as a pop star. So when people started to minimize me and make me an R&B or this or that, it would just rub me the wrong way. Now, I just try to brush off all titles and do me. At the end of the day, I don’t feel like I fit into any of these genres perfectly, and that’s truly what makes me the most fulfilled as an artists is to dabble in different things and have different influence, and not have to stick to one sound all the time. It’s super boring.

What advice or words of wisdom would you have given yourself before jumping into this journey?

Be patient. I would always get so excited about the new music. I’m like, ‘It has to come out now!’ That at the time felt like the best case scenario. But in hindsight, it’s like you see the time that it did take was important for my creative evolution. So, appreciate the time that it takes, appreciate the stuff that you go through. I think the other thing that I’d tell myself is that nothing is really going to go according to your plan, and that’s alright. When things don’t happen the way that you expected them to happen, it’s not the end of the world. Just re-evaluate and keeping pushing forward. That’s life. And also, none of this stuff matters as much. At the end of the day, it’s just about the fact that I’m still able to create my music, maintain my business, travel, and play shows. That’s really the dream. I’m in it, so enjoy it.

What’s the vision behind the album art?

I wanted it to be all from a futuristic perspective. I wanted to take the Joyride concept even further, to say it wasn’t just a ride through this world, but a ride through time and space. You’re creating your own universe. I’m creating my own destiny, and Joyride universe, and taking that out of this world in a sense. Say, we’re on this crazy adventure, and I wanted the art to represent strength, power, and confidence from a body perspective. I also wanted to mirror Nightride in the sense that they both have this silhouette. And then adding the element of cyborg robot is representative of me creating myself and being the master of my own universe. It’s really out there.

As an artist the journey is probably never finished, but as Tinashe, when do you think you’ll reach your full journey of self-discovery?

I don’t know if that ever stops. That’s probably what always keeps me going, is that I have this hunger and drive to improve upon myself, not even as an artist but a personal level. Just to become a more well-rounded person, more confident, and more happy and calm and centered. All of those things play into how I go about creating my music. I feel more confident than ever before. I feel like I’m in a really good place mentally, like the universe is going to align itself with my energy. I’m putting those vibes out there. I’m still growing and evolving and looking to forward to how I will continue to do that in the future.

What do you want your fan base to take away from this album as far as you and your growth as an artist, and what do you want them to take away for themselves?

So, I would like them to take away from me, that you don’t give up on something. This project really did come out. That I’m a real artist. I feel like there’s this weird misconception that if something feels more mainstream that it’s less artistic or less respectable, which is not true. The same energy or thought is going into these as well. So, I would like people to respect the art. And then from their own perspective, I think the music itself speaks to this level of confidence. It’s important for me to give people a sense of escapism. When they listen to this project [I hope] it makes them feel good regardless of factors in their life. I want them to empowered, sexy, like they can have fun. Even the more vulnerable songs, they still come from a place of power.

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Ebro Darden caught the Internet's wrath after calling out Kodak Black for sexual assault during an interview.
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We're Looking At Y'all: Hip-Hop Won't Have A 'Me Too' Moment Because Of Apologists

Ebro Darden — the host of Hot 97 FM’s radio show Ebro In The Morning — caught the ire of the Internet Wednesday evening (Dec. 12) after a clip from an interview with 21-year-old rapper Kodak Black made the rounds. The longtime radio personality merely admonished and acknowledged the rapper’s recent sexual assault cases, including one that he is currently awaiting trial for. While Ebro noted he wouldn’t be able to go into details since the case is ongoing, he did take a moment to acknowledge that sexual assault is serious, and the discussion will not be ignored in the future.

“Respect to everybody involved in that case, we can’t get into details today… We take sexual assault here serious,” “El Viejo Ebro” exclaimed. “We can’t get into details, but we hope to have you back so that we can have a deeper conversation about that. It’s a serious topic, we’re hearing these stories a lot.” No more than two minutes later, the interview was over, as a visibly uncomfortable Kodak, legal name Bill K. Kapri, stated that the media is “entertained” by “bullsh*t” before leaving.

For some asinine reason, Ebro — a man whose job it is to interview musicians about life and their craft — was the one getting the heat for bringing up the allegations. The uproar was not given to the alleged sexual offender, but to the host acknowledging the wrongdoing by the alleged sexual offender.

Label booked him. I didn’t force anything. I was attenpting to make sure a huge issue was not ignored. https://t.co/vnl0JqeLfi

— El Viejo Ebro (@oldmanebro) December 13, 2018

Earlier this year, Buzzfeed posed the question: “Will Time Ever Be Up For Abusive Men In Hip-Hop?” Due to the fans, some media personalities and the higher powers continuing to insulate these artists and avoiding discussion of the elephants in the room, it won’t — at least for the time being.

Fans of the Florida MC ignorantly tweeted that Ebro is likely working “with the Feds” for bringing up the sexual assault allegation proves that time will not be up anytime soon for men who allegedly abuse women in the game.

Due to many fans’ beliefs that hosts and journalists should “stick to asking artists about music” — and not the controversial lives often documented and discussed more than the careers that provide them bread and butter on the table — time will not be up. A similar “demand” came up earlier this year, when Laura Ingraham said LeBron James should just “shut up and dribble” instead of using his platform to discuss politics.

Then, there are media personalities like Peter Rosenberg, who during the Kodak interview aimed to deflect from the situation at hand by asking about the moon landing of 1969, in order to make Kodak feel a bit more comfortable (although his status in the hip-hop game despite his documented wrongdoing certainly makes some uncomfortable as well).

We also can’t ignore the woman on the panel, Laura Stylez, who chose to stay silent instead of using her platform and her voice to stand up for the women allegedly affected by Kodak’s behavior, or women in general. As a woman, her silence rubbed me the wrong way entirely.

These two, however, are not the only problematic personalities. DJ Akademiks, YouTuber turned host of Complex’s Everyday Struggle, often discusses his relationship with embattled musician Tekashi 6ix9ine.

“I’m a little sad… but these are the decisions that got here,” Ak, real name Livingston Allen, said in a recent episode of the YouTube series regarding Tekashi’s recent high-profile racketeering arrest and possibility of life in jail. However, he continued to acknowledge that the young man is his n***a, and has not appeared to call out Tekashi for the allegations against him in terms of sexual misconduct.

It doesn’t appear he’s discussed his homie’s sexual misconduct charges head-on since 2014. Even in this particular interview, it appears that the 27-year-old was being more of an apologist for his friend, stating that “[he] could tell [Tekashi] was young, and obviously not thinking straight.”

Is this insulation of musicians who lead perilous lives a way to hold on to the clout these personalities have obtained? Or, is it realizing that if they stop defending these artists as a way to defend those who are hurt, they’ll lose a legion of equally as troublesome fans and followers in the process? Why not attempt to discuss the difficult topic at hand with as much discretion as possible, instead of getting a biased view of the story for clicks?

I know that as a woman in hip-hop, hip-hop doesn’t always love me back, but if this isn’t a slap in the face? To have this conversation occur in the same week that Cyntoia Brown was told she had to serve 51 years in prison for defending herself against a potential rapist, it’s infuriating to have to write about the blatant disregard and disrespect for the well-being of women in society in a field that I hold dear to my heart.

Due to the “separating artists from art” thought-process, especially in such a male-dominated industry and genre, it’s unsurprising that this is the response Ebro received for calling out wrongdoing.

This is the same thought process that allows R. Kelly to continue to tour despite well-documented instances of sexual misconduct for 25 years.

This is the same thought-process that causes music fans to lash out at Vic Mensa for “vehemently rejecting the trend in hip-hop of championing abusers”; although many would argue that he wasn’t the proper messenger to convey such a statement, the intentionality in the statement was appreciated by many.

On a grander scale, this is the same apologist thought-process that placed Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and Donald Trump in the White House… and look at how well that’s going.

If we continue this trend of protecting the men in the game and not putting the well-being of the minority consumers of the genre into consideration (such as women and members of the LGBTQ community), hip-hop could be headed to a very murky place. While I don’t always agree with Ebro Darden, I applaud his effort in attempting to start a conversation that can’t continue to be ignored any longer, especially as a man with a platform in the hip-hop media space.

As hip-hop fans, we should aim to hold these artists accountable for their lyrics, comments and behavior. We can’t argue that they’re not hurting anyone through these things just because you don’t feel threatened, because best believe, someone does.

Whatever side of the fence you’re on, Ebro, Vic and other men attempting to hold these artists accountable is a small step on a long journey. While it’s clear that consumers are more interested in the music these people put out than the lives they lead, it would behoove all of us to take a long look at the state of the game beyond the bars and beats.

READ MORE: Ebro Calls Out Kodak Black For Sexual Assault During Interview

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On 'Captured,' Spice Proves Women Can Rule Dancehall One Hit At A Time

Since her childhood, Spice knew the career path she wanted to attain would come with its fair share of roadblocks. After putting in work and releasing a stream of singles in the early 2000s, Spice would receive minor recognition here and there. Despite this slow-burn to stardom, the determined artist kept her foot on the gas until VP Records presented her with a contract in 2009. While maintaining the love she has for the dancehall genre, the “Complain (Mi Gone)” singer knew that she had to adopt an independent artist’s tenacity and hunger for success. Her knack for charting melodies began to become the norm, but with little support from the label (according to Spice), the fortified singer had to find her own way to become a household name.

Spice’s first appearance on the charts arrived nearly 10 years ago. The Jamaica-born singer and glorified dancehall artist Vybz Kartel collaborated on “Romping Shop,” the pair’s erotic take on Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent.” The melody peaked on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Chart at No. 76 in 2009, solidifying an already influential being in Kartel and a destined-for-stardom demeanor in Spice. In 2014, her So Mi Like It EP landed at No. 14 on Billboard’s U.S. Top Reggae Albums chart. Today, the “Fiesta” artist is celebrating her place on the boards again with her mixtape Captured, but this time the self-proclaimed dancehall queen reigns at the top spot.

Released in November 2018, Captured (Spice Official Entertainment) broke through the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart at No. 1 (Nov. 17). The 19-track project displays Spice at her finest: the melodies that her fans long for like “Mine Mine Mine” to “Body Right” are abundantly sprinkled throughout the mixtape. While those whine-tastic songs will get any waistline rocking, tracks like “Black Hypocrisy” and “Captured” put into perspective the harsh realities the singer, born Grace Latoya Hamilton, faces in her career.

The title track, which strikes an emotional chord within Spice when she performs it, is dedicated to her label VP Records and emotes a feeling of being trapped in a deal that has yet to fulfill its promise in her eyes. “They signed an album deal with me from 2009 for a five-album deal and they’ve never released an album with me,” Spice says. “Even when I visited them with lawyers, they still don’t want to release me out of the contract.” The revelation was made public earlier this year when Spice sent a stern message to the label. The statement prompted a response from VP Records, which reassured fans that it’s working on “finalizing the album and all the necessary clearances.”

While Spice tackled that aspect of her career, she also took a stand in the face of another battle plaguing many people of color across the globe. On “Black Hypocrisy,” Spice poses a question of whether she'll find success with lighter skin. To ensure the message was not only heard but seen, Spice erased all photos from her Instagram account and shared a new look that had spectators confused or infuriated. With a blonde wig and fair skin, the artist sparked a conversation on colorism and the psychological effects it has on people who go through the process of lightening their skin to appear acceptable in society’s view.

 

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@nosworthycreations @makeupurmind876 @spexphotography Every thing happened so quickly but I promised them that when the truth was revealed about my “Makeup complexion” 🤪 that I would show my public gratitude to these two ladies who made it possible @nosworthycreations did the viral picture that you know with “coconut milk” and @makeupurmind876 did the other picture and also the official video for the #blackhypocrisy Thanks for bringing my idea to life, sorry for the multiple bottles of makeup that was wasted and thank you for patiently applying it to my skin for 4 hours each time. 🤣 photo shoot by @spexphotography @nosworthycreations @makeupurmind876

A post shared by Grace Hamilton (@spiceofficial) on Nov 14, 2018 at 3:00pm PST

To amplify her message, Spice endured a four-hour transformation that was made possible by “about 10 bottles of makeup.” The video for the song has amassed over 3.4 million views on YouTube and went straight to No. 1 on the iTunes Reggae Singles chart.

Although Spice pulled from previous experiences of people making her feel as if her skin is a detriment, it was the comment of an unnamed dark-skinned woman that inspired Spice to go full throttle with the song’s creation. According to Spice, the lyric “Dem seh mi black til mi shine, til mi look dirty” was said to her by that aforementioned woman, a statement Spice says rocked her core but encouraged her to keep fighting against the sentiment. The woman later apologized after hearing her words on the song, which Spice posted on Instagram.

“As many people who know Spice as dancehall queen I never normally attack social commentary or certain types of issues,” she says. “I’m normally a raunchy singer. So for me to come out with a picture and the reggae type of songs that I did was a shocker to the world. I also believe that’s what caused the great uproar because they were so shocked regarding the picture that I posted and also the message in the song because they did not expect that from Spice.”

Pulling a fast one on her worldwide fans is something Spice says she was not hesitant to go forth with even though her team members were reluctant to her idea out of fear of “negative feedback.” Despite the apprehension, Spice took on the role “fearlessly.”

“As a black woman myself, I know what I’ve been going through over the years and growing up as a child. Even in my adulthood, it still affected me. I wanted to use my platform to bring awareness to colorism because it is something that has been swept under the rug for years.” As a fortified entertainer, though, Spice hopes other black women across the world and out of the spotlight, “take the baton and run with me” to defeat colorism.

Spice says her “Black Hypocrisy” single “sets the bar so high” for her mixtape because of its early success, and given that achievement, her mission to educate listeners from her Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta fame on the “realness” of dancehall culture was a sure bet. Although melodies like "Gum" and "Big Horse" serve as a great introduction to the majority of Spice's past lyrical content, "Yass Goodie" and "Romantic Mood" present the foundation for which Spice stands tall on.

On the latter, Spice pays homage to her foremothers in the 1980s-90s era of dancehall and reggae. Patra, Lady Ann, Sister Charmaine, Dawn Penn, and Sister Nancy are a few of the names the entertainer lists when asked about the song's inspiration. To invoke their spirits on wax, Spice reached out to famed producer Clevie (part of the legendary production duo Steely and Clevie) to create this timeless sound.

"I told him I wanted the same exact track that those ladies used to record from, from back in the ‘80s of dancehall music, which was also one of the most popular riddims from out of dancehall, which is called the Giggi Riddim," Spice says. While Clevie met Spice's request with confusion because he had "a new riddim that was more 2018," Spice was adamant on re-imagining that popular base for her day one and new supporters. Some of the samples that are found within include Penn's "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)," "Romantic Call" with Patra and Yo-Yo, and the everlasting "Bam Bam" by Sister Nancy. For Spice, these women "paved the way so that I could have a role as queen of the dancehall right now.”

Even within this title, Spice hopes her leadership can help usher in the next class of women dancehall artists. In a "male-dominated business," she understands the hardships that women in the genre face, mainly because of dancehall's entrenched nature. "For women to tackle it and be on top of it or to be respected in the genre, she has to be aggressive, very hardcore delivery wise, she has to be on point," Spice says. "It's not a genre where any and anybody can come up and sing two ABC songs and people say, 'Yes, that's an artist,' or 'Yes, that's a dancehall artist.' It's very difficult, aggressive, hardcore genre and that's why most of the women have it so hard and difficult because people don't take them seriously."

In 1994, Billboard introduced its Reggae Albums chart. Only nine solo women within the genre have attained a No. 1 title, as reported by The Tropixs. On Aug. 6, 1994, Patra entered the listing with Queen Of The Pack. It spent 17 weeks at the top spot. The chart was later dominated by Bounty Killer, Shaggy, and Bob Marley & The Wailers until 1997 when Diana King's Think Like a Girl disrupted the boys' club. If a solo woman artist within the genre appeared on the chart from that point onward, they were found within compilation albums like Reggae Gold, Dancehall Xplosion, or Pure Reggae.

In 2014, Etana's I Rise peaked at the top for a week. Joss Stone also spent a month atop the roster with her first full-length reggae album Water For Your Soul in August 2015, before returning to No. 1 for a week in two separate months: once in September and the next in November. HIRIE's Wandering Soul took home the gold in 2016, while last year saw Queen Ifrica's Climb, and Tenelle's For The Lovers at No. 1 on separate occasions. Just this year, Hollie Cook's Vessel Of Love went No. 1 for two weeks in February, while Santigold's I Don't Want: The Gold Fire Sessions landed up top in August 2018.

While the latter half of the 2010s saw a minor bout of consistency with women on the reggae charts, Spice is hopeful that the future of the genre, including dancehall, will be increasingly inclusive of its women creatives. "There's a lot of different women in dancehall right now, and I believe that each of them are representing themselves in a different way," Spice says. By clinging to her mission, Spice also believes if she remains authentic to the true essence of dancehall, then more doors will continue to be opened. "That's why I try to represent the genre itself in such a way where I stick to the roots and stick to the hardcore dancehall so that people can know that's really the genre and love it for itself."

To stay on the track of making history and showing the next generation that goals can be fulfilled if authenticity is your middle name, it's important (and a no-brainer) for Spice to celebrate her wins. Ahead of the mixtape's release, "Black Hypocrisy" went No. 1 on iTunes' Top Reggae Singles while Captured netted the top spot on the U.K. iTunes Reggae Albums chart. The listing is consistently dominated with classic melodies by Bob Marley & The Wailers so "for me that's a great accomplishment because Bob Marley is the greatest reggae icon to ever have walked the face of the Earth and for me, little Spice, to have taken him from the number one position is something that needs to be applauded," she says.

Black hypocrisy it number 1 on iTunes in the reggae category, thank you smurfets 💙 Link in my bio pic.twitter.com/jhZlD6MVnX

— Grace Hamilton (@spiceofficial) October 23, 2018

Another artist familiar with breaking a record once held by Marley is Buju Banton, who garnered the title for the most No. 1 singles in Jamaica in 1992. Banton’s 'Til Shiloh album (1995) recently rose to No. 1 on the iTunes Top Reggae Albums chart, a position previously held by Bob Marley & The Wailers' Legend (Remastered). Banton was released from a U.S. prison on Dec. 7 after serving seven of his 10-year sentence for illegal possession of a firearm, and intent to sell cocaine. Immediately after his discharge, Banton boarded a plane to return to his family in Jamaica.

"Buju Banton is one of our reggae icons so his returning to Jamaica is going to be a well-celebrated moment," Spice says. "Despite the negative backlash that they have of him out there in the world, we are still going to love him as our own." Banton’s release also accompanies another momentous moment for Jamaica.

In late November, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) added reggae to its list of global heritage treasures, a feat Spice believes will pave the way for the genre’s inhabitants to make history. “We as artists from Jamaica have been fighting for certain recognition with our genre,” she says. “Even dancehall itself, we also believe that hip-hop takes a bit from dancehall sometimes and we don’t get the credit for certain things. But it may take years but myself as an artist is here to do it a step at a time until it reaches where it should. This is an accomplishment for the genre.”

While hip-hop artists have found major success by recording the sounds of dancehall or reggae (Snoop Dogg-turned-Snoop Lion, The Fugees’ influential blend, even Drake circa Views From The 6), Spice utilized that tactic to inspire a domino effect of getting fans to spin more of her records. During her time on her first season of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta, Spice welcomed a new wave of American advocates. To permanently reel them in, the 36-year-old performer made it her mission to record a melody on the mixtape titled “Move Fast” that can find a home on a twerk playlist but still amplify her dialect.

“We took the fact that they love hip-hop, and we used a hip-hop beat and gave them a sound that they’re used to but I would also catch back a little of my native language which is patois and introduce it to them a bit,” she says. “I’m trying to fuse the two so that they would understand more about my genre and maybe if they listen to ‘Move Fast’ they will hear my accent and go, ‘Oh, she’s from Jamaica, she’s in dancehall, let me listen to another track.’ Then they will listen to another track from the mixtape, which is authentic dancehall. Then they may fall in love with the genre.”

In the process of finding adoration for Spice’s beloved dancehall, she hopes that fans will also applaud her for the recent encounter of success, and the fact that she’s operating as an independent artist despite the fact that she’s signed to a major label. “I think for me I’m just humbled over the fact, especially that I did this on my own without my record company,” she says. “I’m really happy and excited and proud of myself for even believing in myself and pushing myself to reach to this limits without no management team or record company. I’m really humbled by my journey.”

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Saba's Rhymes Mean A Lot But John Walt Day Means More

“Act like ya’ll know, man. This a holiday,” boasted Frsh Waters, the co-founder of Chicago collective Pivot Gang and the opener of the second annual John Walt Day concert. It's Thanksgiving weekend and while families are gathered around the dinner table, lovers and supporters of Pivot Gang–comprised of Saba, MFn Melo, Waters, SqueakPIVO and a few more–filled the spaces of the city's Concord Music Hall to keep up a holiday tradition of their own.

With a newly-grown fro, Waters enters the stage with no introduction, a contrast from initial mic stand-clasping nervousness during the inaugural John Walt Day, launched at House of Blues Chicago in 2017. Walt Jr., the cousin of Saba, was killed last year and is the sole inspiration for the rapper's John Walt Foundation that brings the arts to children in the city.

The concert is a resounding tradition that his Pivot Gang brothers don’t plan to break anytime soon, with anticipation flooding the city each Thanksgiving weekend and a simultaneous celebration of Walt’s birthday on November 25th. The concert is just a piece of the loving puzzle Saba, Waters and the rest of the group created to keep his legacy alive.

With repeated crouching and soulful backing by Chicago band, The Oh’My’s, Waters regained balance after kneeling on an uneven speaker, referring to the crowd as "Church,” a christening that he echoes on the ending of "GPS" a feature from Saba’s well-received debut album Bucket List Project.

 

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Happy 26th @dinnerwithjohn Long Live my niqqa Johnny 📷 @bda.photo

A post shared by Westside Cat (@frshwaters) on Nov 25, 2018 at 11:37am PST

Saba may have dropped the stellar sophomore project, Care For Me this year, but the continuation of John Walt Day means more. Sold out for its second year in a row with 1,400 in attendance, Pivot Gang house-DJ Squeak Pivot blares "Scenario" by A Tribe Called Quest as the crowd multiplies before his booth. Avid fans gather in all creases of Concord Music Hall, especially on the second floor, where a merch stand resides exclusively for John Walt items. A haloed painting of Walt (or DinnerWithJohn as listeners knew him best), sits next to an assortment of buttons and t-shirts, as a guest brings a newly finished painting of Walt to the show.

Between sets, the crowd roared for cuts by Chicagoans Ravyn Lenae and Noname, who’s Room 25 track "Ace" is cut abruptly before MfnMelo takes the stage. With orchestration by Care For Me co-producer Dae Dae and harpist Yomi, Melo flowed through "Can’t Even Do It" and briefly spoke to the crowd about Thanksgiving, inviting attendees with leftover pies to meet him after the show.

Strutting to Ariana Grande's kiss-off anthem "thank u, next," The Plastics EP rapper Joseph Chilliams poses freely, cloaked in a light pink teddy bear coat. “I made this song because there aren’t a lot of black people [in Mean Girls]. I realized that the fourth time,” Chilliams joked before performing "Unfriendly Black Hotties."

Joined by four-year-old Snacks Pivot, John Walt’s mother Nachelle Pugh pinpoints her nephew’s curiosity of joining his older cousins Saba and Joseph Chilliams as their miniature hype-man.

 

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John Walt Day It didn’t even feel real, so much love in the room. For the encore they usually yell the artist name or one more song or something like that. But on this night they yelled “LONG LIVE JOHN WALT”. I wish this could be everyday. I wish I could play you this new shit we just did. I wish you were here. Love you @dinnerwithjohn look at this coat” lmao 💗💗💗💗 📸 by my shooter @notryan_gosling

A post shared by Joseph Chilliams (@josephchilliams) on Nov 26, 2018 at 3:29pm PST

“It’s like Walter jumped into his body and he’s coming back through this kid," she said of the toddler's enthusiasm. "He’s studied Saba, he’s studied Joseph, and he’ll say 'Auntie, can I use your phone?' So he’d use my phone and watch the boys’ videos on YouTube. Joseph is a person that the kids look at and say ‘He’s so fun,’ and [Snacks] wants to be like him. Everything that they do, [Snacks] is studying them.”

Pugh credits Young Chicago Authors for sparking her son’s musical pursuits, with guidance by poet Kevin Coval. “Kevin mentored him until the day he passed. I really love and respect someone that can just work with kids and give them a place to express themselves creatively,” Pugh said. “Working towards a goal of creating something that I know [Walt] wanted to do, and to help others in the same token, that gives me a sense of accomplishment.”

The stage then transformed into a resting kitchen with illuminating lights on the bottom of side-by-side counters, with Care for Me co-producers Dae Dae and Daoud behind their respective keyboards. Once settled, Saba rushed the stage to perform "Busy," with a special appearance by singer theMIND. The pulse of the venue throbbed as Saba took brief pauses to talk intimately to the crowd. “I lost a lot of people close to me,” he said. “A song like "Stoney" is such a celebration of life. It’s crazy to think how long ago that sh*t was. John was still alive.”

As Saba diverted into memories of Walt’s life, Nachelle recalled the album listening event for Care For Me. “Saba wouldn’t let me listen to it. He didn’t even tell me that he was working on it until it got really close [to the album’s release]," she said. "Then, he warned me about "Prom/King." I think he was thinking about letting me listen to it by myself at first, but then he thought about it like ‘Nah, I’m not gonna do that while she’s by herself, let me just let her listen to it while she’s with everybody else.’ That was an easier way to break it to me, so I wouldn’t really break down.”

Saba capered into "Prom/King," but performing the heart-tugging ode to Walt was a first, even after embarking on his 2018 Care For Me tour.

“I didn’t know he was gonna do that. I didn’t think that he’d ever be able to do that. I don’t think he thought he’d be able to do that,” Pugh explained. “I don’t know if anybody captured the expressions, but I think he was in tears and he was just fighting through it. We went through this fight together on the day we found out what happened with Walt. When he got finished, he sat down, turned around and he looked at me and I’m like 'We did it.'”

Even with "Prom/King" being the most grief-stricken track on Care For Me, Nachelle revealed that the most poignant song about her son was "Heaven All Around Me," realizing the message just months after the album’s release. “I was like, 'Walter wrote that song through Saba,' she said. "That’s the song that gets me the most off Care For Me. I don’t think [Saba] intentionally did so, but it just put so much power behind "Prom/King" because you see what happened. He told a story.”

The storytelling of Walt’s legacy was fulfilled throughout John Walt Day, from Joseph Chilliams doing a comedic, warbled rendition of "Ordinary People," Walt’s favorite song to play on the aux cord, to the entire Pivot Gang reuniting to perform their ensemble track "Blood" for the first time. Walt’s presence was unwavering, with remaining Pivot Gang members continuing to carry his eternal flame.

“This year’s show, the passion was a little bit stronger, because at the time we did last year’s show, I think we were all still in denial, like 'We’re gonna wake up from this dream’ type of thing.' Pugh said. “I think we accepted the fact that [Walt’s] not coming back. They wanted to go as hard as possible because they were doing this for him.”

 

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JOHN WALT DAY was so beautiful. We gotta find a bigger venue for next year. I made so many new friends. Pivot tape up next 💪🏽🔥

A post shared by Joseph Chilliams (@josephchilliams) on Dec 1, 2018 at 5:15pm PST

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