'Atlanta's' Music Supervisors Aren't Breaking Records, They're Educating The Youth

Series music supervisor Jen Malone and music consultant Fam Udeorji are teaching young creatives the power of their music. 

Atlanta has once again provided us with unforgettable moments and music selections for your playlists with "Robbin Season." As one of the few series on cable led by young people of color, the decision to expose audiences to artists like Tay-K, Kelea and Yung Bans is a mix of feeling and perpetual design.

Jen Malone and Fam Udeorji may have the titles of music supervisor and consultant, but everyone has a hand in the pot. They include director Hiro Murai, editors Kyle Reiter and Isaac Hagy as well as creator Donald Glover. With their ears in tune with hip-hop and R&B’s past and future, the group has given artists a platform they normally wouldn’t be exposed to.

“I think it's about Atlanta being genuine to Atlanta,” Udeorji explains. “But it's also being genuine to our own kind of music sensibilities. There's a wide spectrum to pick from. From the writers to the editors, to Jen and myself, we all have contributions. A writer may be listening to a very specific kind of indie choice, and we might have our editors who are listening to Harry Belafonte. When you have so many different sensibilities, you get to go into a scene with the best feeling to translate into the scene. But there's always a broad spectrum to choose from.”

The job isn’t as easy as it sounds. The relationship between music and television dates back to the 1940s when music was the last thing on a network head’s mind. As more music-based shows reached networks like NBC in the 1950s, relationships between the music industry and television were molded due to the process of licensing and royalties for labels and the artist. It’s why the job of a music supervisor goes beyond being the perfect human aux cord. Malone and Udeorji have unknowingly become music senseis to younger artists who haven’t quite mastered the business aspect of their craft.

Malone learned this first hand when it came to getting Tay-K’s “The Race” on the series. “With Tay being in jail, who's taking care of his portion of stuff? We also can't make a check out to ‘Tay-K,’ Malone explains. "Teaching the younger artists is something that I've taken on because I want them to understand what they're signing. I want them to understand how the process works. I don't want them to think that we're trying to mess with them. And I'll tell them, ‘You call any of these lawyers. You talk to any of these people and they'll tell you I'm legit. I'm not trying to screw you over. There's no scamming going on here.’ From a clearance perspective, it's a lot easier for me this season and creatively as well, I'm definitely much more in it. I know what's going on.”

As the way we digest music continued to morph from radio to soundtracks to streaming playlists, music supervisors seemingly give the gift that keeps giving–placement. Paired with storytelling, it also makes the characters more relatable.

"Teaching the younger artists is something that I've taken on because I want them to understand what they're signing. I want them to understand how the process works." - Jen Malone

“You have these kids that are on their way to rob a Mrs. Winners and you think, ‘What do they listen to?’ And you go, ‘They probably listen to Tay-K, probably listen to Yung Bans, they're on SoundCloud a lot,’” Udeorji explains. “And then you mentioned UGK. If Paper Boi is in his house, what is he listening to? He's an older rapper so he probably has respect for older southern music. Last year one of my favorite moments in the show was when Lakeith Stanfield (Darius) was singing Cheryl Lynn’s "Encore."

“There's a lot of music we grow up listening to. Our parents may throw on some Al B. Sure when they’re cleaning the house. Willie's (played by Katt Williams) the kind of guy that would make his kid clean up to that music. You start with those characters, then you start trying to dig into their brains and think about what they would be listening to. Willie's playlist is soul, you know Paper Boi might listen to some soul but for the most part, we were like, ‘He’s playing music off his laptop, let's get him listening to UGK.’ And then you have what might be teenagers definitely on Soundcloud so let's get some Soundcloud rap in there.”

An artist whose music lives on Soundcloud includes Miguel Fresco. His track “Above Ground” was featured on the “Money Bag Shawty” episode where Earn leads the crew to the strip club in the name of the flex. Fresco says the track was inspired by his experiences with fraternity life and Atlanta nightlife. “I think Atlanta is one of the dopest shows on TV,” he says. “It's also one of the realest in terms of a true depiction of the Atlanta music scene. Music plays a huge role in the way messages are conveyed on the show. It sets the mood for a scene. There's so many emotions that can be expressed with music and Atlanta is one of the best at picking the right songs. It's crazy because I don't think I've heard a song on the show that I didn't like.” He refers to hearing his song on the series as a blessing. “It's a big win for the team because I've always known the song is special,” he says. “It's also the first one I've produced for myself that we've actually released.”

“I feel like we're really hitting our mark, but it's a real team process.” -Fam Udeorji

“There are just a lot of younger artists on the Atlanta scene and now I'm rooting for them,” Malone says. She realizes how others may see their position as a poignant one in their careers. “That's not our job, to break records, but when we have that desire for a song to play, we're not just going to use a library song,” she adds. “We're going to find that artist, the kid that's making beats in his bedroom and get his mixtape out. We'd much rather do that than have just any song in there. Every piece of music is chosen for a reason, so it's exciting to have that opportunity where an artist gets a placement and things start to change for them. It's a very cool part of our job.”

Fresco submitted his music through Empire Distribution, but Udeorji says with their second go around as music supervisors, clearing songs directly with artists and managers was a smoother ride. “It was just easier to have placements where you know the conversation with management and whoever was already set in place,” he explains. “So even when there was a newer artist, you would go through this process of seeing whether they had a publishing deal, if they were set up with a PR role and this time around, we were just ready. We weren't just picking a song just based off of watching it one time. We had options with that. We had good communication with the editors, with Kyle, and Isaac, and we kinda just knew what they wanted this time around.”

One trend that was seen this season was the strong R&B and soul selections. In “Teddy Perkins,” two tunes from Stevie Wonder mirrored the episode as Darius travels to meet the polarizing character. “Sweet Little Girl” welcomes Darius into Teddy’s bizarre world while “Evil” brings him out and highlights the levels of pain and suffering Teddy and his presumed brother Benny faced.

“I've always been into soul so to be able to dive even deeper with that on this show is just something that I haven't been able to do in some of the other projects that I've worked on,” Malone says. “All the people that are working on this show have amazing taste so I'm always being exposed to new stuff. We also ask ourselves, ‘What are the song(s) doing to enhance the scene and what is that piece of music contributing to when you're watching the show?’”

In part of having a very reactive position in the Atlanta universe, it’s also helping to bring more light to the role of music supervision on television. 2017 marked the first year the Emmys presented an Outstanding Music Supervision award, which went to Susan Jacobs of the HBO series, Big Little Lies. There’s a chance their team could be in that category in the near future. “It really does feel like a basketball team where you take some time to really understand everybody's skill set,” Udeorji says. “I feel like we're really hitting our mark, but it's a real team process.”

See all the songs featured on "Robbin Season" so far below.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Gideon Mendel

Uzo Aduba, Debra Lee And More Honor Nelson Mandela's Life And Legacy

I was 5-years-old when Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island. It would be another 20 years or so before I learned what got him there. Mandela was a distant figure throughout my youth, but I knew he was deserving of respect. His salt-and-pepper hair, his slow yet deliberate walk and his booming voice made sweet by his African lilt informed me, even as a child, he wasn't just some guy.

Growing up in Queens in the 90s, however, made South Africa seem about as distant as Saturn. All the country's woes and its wins wasn't a concern for a shy kid, turned boy-obsessed teenager. "Whatever's going on in South Africa is South Africa's business," I foolishly said to my teenage self.

But as I got older, and injustices became too blatant to ignore, pieces of Mandela's teaching orbited their way from my peripheral to my direct line of sight.

Then, in 2013, when news outlets reported on Mandela's touch-and-go health I learned of his lofty sacrifices, his world-changing accomplishments, and grace made more resolute with his warm smile. During his last year of life, I understood Mandela was actually more than any of us could imagine.

To honor the 25th anniversary of the first Democratic election in South Africa, Mandela's legacy organizations hosted a luncheon at Washington, D.C's Marriott International Hotel. The affair, which celebrated Mandela's becoming the first black president in South Africa, was attended by dignitaries, entertainers, guests and all those inspired by South Africa's resilient leader.

BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee opened the two-hour event and assured everyone it's her mission as a Mariott board member to execute all of Mandela's ideals.

“I lead the company’s committee to ensure excellence in diversity and inclusion Globally. #LoveTravels – the cornerstone of our purpose-driven marketing program – represents our celebration and support of inclusion, equality, peace and human rights and we cannot think of anyone who embodies these values more than Nelson Mandela.”

Orange Is The New Black's Uzo Aduba took to the stage following Lee's welcoming statements. The Emmy-award winning actress and gifted orator delivered a passionate rendition of Mandela's May 10, 1994 inauguration speech.

"Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all."

Aduba, 38, continued, "We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil."

After guests dined, Graça Machel, stateswoman, activist and Mandela's widow spoke. Donning a small blonde Afro, a pink silk scarf and a navy blue knee-length dress, Machel expressed her appreciation to all those who continue to champion her late husband's work and even quipped about her love for leaders.

Aduba returned to the stage this time as a moderator leading an intimate conversation with representatives from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela's Children Fund, and the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital. Before the afternoon was over, guests were treated to live entertainment from Grammy-award nominated singer-songwriters, Chloe X Halle.

Two hours wasn't enough time to appreciate Mandela's legacy or even come to a full understanding of his life, but guests left thankful, full and gracious to have spent the afternoon honoring a man who showed the world, "It only seems impossible until it's done."

Continue Reading
Jamie McCarthy, and Bryan Bedder

Take Five: DJ Khaled Talks ‘Father of Asahd’ And #Summergram Partnership

DJ Khaled started the summer off right with the release of his 11th studio album, Father of Asahd. It’s the second consecutive album where his two-year-old son serves as executive producer after 2017’s Grateful. Although Khaled’s rollout remained quite a mystery, the mega-producer is now in the midst of a heavy promotional schedule, jam-packed with guest-heavy Saturday Night Live performances and summer collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, SZA, and more. Possibly his most appropriate partnership is with Pepsi and Instagram’s #SummerGram.

#Summergram has introduced customizable, reality filters and digital stickers to enhance the digital experience for consumers. Quirky summer-themed catchphrases like "Tropic Like It's Hot," "Turnt Not Burnt," "Catching Rays," and "Call Me On My Shell Phone" will appear with graphic icons and QR codes on Pepsi bottles that will help get fans in the mood for summer fun– pool parties, cookouts, and beach days. In celebration of the new launch, DJ Khaled joined social media maven, Chrissy Teigen, for a week of #Summergram events throughout major cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami.

“We are so excited to work with Instagram and bring some of their newest technology directly to our most loyal consumers. We know our fans love sharing their favorite moments on social media, and the summertime lends itself to so many post-worthy moments and occasions,” Todd Kaplan, VP of Marketing, Pepsi said. “The breadth of our Pepsi #Summergram statements and custom AR filters will ensure that there is something for everyone – no matter what you’re doing this summer – to help people unapologetically enjoy their best summer moments.”

No one knows how to make a summer anthem or amass a faithful social media following quite like Khaled. DJ Khaled briefly spoke to VIBE about his latest partnership and walked us through his vision for Father of Asahd.


VIBE: What are your thoughts about your new partnership with Pepsi's Summergram? DJ Khaled: This seems like the perfect fit. I am excited to work with Pepsi – they are always spreading positive vibes and the Pepsi #Summergram collection is a lot of fun to play around with. You know I’m always posting to Instagram and these new AR filters help bring my content to the next level. Look out for more Pepsi #Summergram filters from me all summer long.

It seems like you’ve been intentional with this album rollout even more so than your past projects. What can you tell me about your strategy for this rollout? I decided we can’t do anything dinosaur anymore. For this album, everything had to be big. From the music to the rollout, everything had to be big! And watching it all come together is just beautiful. And I love to see the excitement from my fans! At the end of the day, it’s all for my fans.

What was the toughest song to create? To work with so many different artists and so many moving parts, I imagine it can be challenging. Every challenge is a blessing. The toughest ones to make are usually the biggest ones. I’m blessed to work with great artists and be able to create beautiful music together.

Can you speak to your intentions on beginning the album with “Holy Mountain” and ending it with “Holy Ground”? Me and Buju have a special relationship and have been friends for years. The whole album is very spiritual so it seemed right to start and end the project with those records. The message of the album is to not only receive our blessings but to protect them, as well. Everything for my son, Mama Asahd (Nicole Tuck) and fan love.

How did you go about securing the ‪Buju Banton features? He’s been relatively absent for years, so what were those early conversations like to get him on the album? Buju is family to me - and when he came back, I went to Jamaica to welcome my brother back home. He met my son and we were just vibing. Then Buju asked me to “play a chune” and I played him the “Holy Mountain” beat and Buju finished it in one take. We caught that take on film which is now in the “Holy Mountain” video. Then Buju said play me another one. I had this idea for “Holy Ground”—I played it for him and he loved it. The rest is history.

Continue Reading
Courtesy of Think BIG

How CJ Wallace Turned His Connection To Notorious B.I.G. Into A Cannabis Brand

Christopher Jordan “CJ” Wallace was exposed to the music industry at an early age. As the son of Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans, the 22-year-old recalls growing up with countless musicians stopping by his family’s home studio. “We had a studio in our house when we lived in Atlanta. This is around the time [of] Bad Boy South,” he tells VIBE during a visit to our Times Square office. “Any given Tuesday, Usher might come over. It would be crazy.”

While his childhood home served as a revolving door to legends, his family members purposefully delivered a reality check in the form of life-altering questions about his future. CJ’s mom, stepfather, Todd Russaw, and paternal grandmother, Voletta Wallace, constantly reinforced this idea of purpose and responsibility. Though he was only five months old when his father was fatally shot in 1997 in Los Angeles, he was expected to uphold Big’s legacy.

“[They] would talk to me very truthfully, like, ‘hey, it’s not fair, but this is how it is,'” he explains. “'You have a responsibility that a lot of people don’t have and that a lot of kids your age don’t have. You could f**k it up, or you could do something right.’”

This jolt of truth unfolded into a mission to discover what he was meant to do. His options were relatively limitless. The obvious path would be to get into music or maybe fashion. While CJ still had many of his dad’s artifacts – including freestyle videos and at-home footage – he wanted to learn what connected him not only to Notorious B.I.G., the persona, but to also Christopher George Latore Wallace, the man. “For me, it was figuring out how I can develop a brand that can honor the legacy of my father, be something I’m proud of and can pass down to my kids and grandkids. And yeah, something my grandma will definitely support at the end of the day.”

And that’s when it hit him. CJ remembered the relaxed and joyful vibe that overcame his family’s old Atlanta studio. “It’s all about the energy and that’s kind of where for me – sitting next to the speaker, smelling the cannabis, smelling the incense – that was what started it for me,” he says.

Wallace went on to found Think BIG, alongside Willie Mack and Russaw. Think BIG, he explains, is a brand and social movement encouraging society to embrace the cannabis industry and realize its potential to heal and stimulate creativity. In its first plan of action, the brand launched its first product: The Frank White Blend, named after one of B.I.G’s many aliases.

Right now, there is a common focus on the recreational use of cannabis; consumers are flooded with images of kids, middle-aged adults, and celebrities sparking up to escape their realities or “have fun.” Prior to the arrival of Psalm West, Kim Kardashian threw a CBD and meditation-themed baby shower for her fourth child in April 2019. In addition to lifting you off the ground, however, Wallace, Mack and Think BIG want to introduce society to the healing and creative benefits of cannabis. Mack learned about cannabis’ healing powers in a major way during his youth.

“As a kid, watching [how] the AIDS crisis ravaged the world and seeing the LGBT community fighting for cannabis to help them with nausea during AZT [antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS] was my first indication of [thinking] cannabis was a drug, but people are actually using it to try to stay alive,” Mack said, noting that he had several family members who were dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Similarly, Wallace uncovered the alternative nature of the plant when his family experimented with it as a form of medication for his younger brother, who was diagnosed with autism. After testing various strains, Wallace confirms they found the right balance, but since cannabis isn’t an approved medication, his brother is unable to use it publicly. “This is helping my youngest brother every day,” he insists. “It’s unfair because we can’t give it to him and let him take it to school and have the school nurse actually prescribe it to him so he’s constantly getting that regular medication. You can’t take it to school, but the kids in his school are being given opioids, which has crazy after effects.”

Creatively speaking, Wallace and Mack consider cannabis to be the “ultimate ghostwriter.” It’s no secret B.I.G. was an advocate. From numerous consultations with his family members, he learned his dad often smoked while recording. (Mack also notes famous smokers like Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley.) Just about every corner of the music industry has dabbled in recreational smoking, but no genre has been hit as hard as hip-hop. While fans love to watch Snoop Dogg smoke on Instagram Live or share a spliff with Kid Cudi during a concert set, the hip-hop community as a whole is met with backlash and often times targeted by police due to cannabis.

“I feel like anything associated with black men is just immediately going to be deemed bad or evil,” Wallace says, referencing the negative connotation rappers receive. It’s Wallace’s mission, however, to adjust that perspective. “I feel like it’s really up to us to change that narrative. That’s why I try so hard to stop saying words like ‘weed.’ Cannabis, it’s actually a plant," he continues. Both Wallace and Mack noted the terms "weed" and "marijuana" hold negative connotations and are commonly used in connection with minorities. "We were lied to for so long. If we were given proper knowledge from the start, I feel like the entire hip-hop community and the entire way we talked about it would’ve changed.”

Beyond educating consumers with their message and products, Think BIG also seeks to improve the criminal justice system as well as launch charitable projects. According to “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Such racial disparities reportedly exist in all regions, states, and counties around the United States and largely contribute to today's mass incarceration crisis.

In recent years, the U.S. government has made significant strides to correct this injustice. California, Nevada, and Maine are among the first states to legalize cannabis; states such as New York have already begun the process of exonerating offenders convicted of nonviolent charges and marijuana possession. Despite the steps forward, Wallace and Mack say there is a long road ahead.

Not only is it difficult to eradicate a vicious cycle that has left many black and brown people behind bars, but it is also hard to forge spaces for them to succeed in a rapidly changing industry. “Being able to understand how to navigate the industry that’s constantly changing and to do it without a bank account or full funnel of money, makes it that much harder,” Mack says. “Then on top of that, you got people sitting in jail who should be out of jail for nonviolent possession of cannabis. So, we’re faced with having to work four times as hard to make half as much because of the color of our skin. It’s a constant fight and we look at it as how can we set an example, share our knowledge, [and] show more information?”

It takes a group effort, Mac says. While Think BIG is setting a place at the table for black businesses in the cannabis industry as well as shifting the conversation around the plant, Mack suggests other ways to get involved that ultimately uplift the black community. “It’s much easier to enter into the market based on something you already know,” Mack insists, pointing out the opportunities for design firms, packaging, and communication firms to join the movement.

Wallace and Mack know the journey ahead is going to be a roller-coaster ride fit with many twists and turns, but they’re ready. “You got to dream big, as your dad said, and think big,” Mack says. “Everyone else in this industry is thinking about global billion-dollar companies, why shouldn’t we?” As for Wallace, he understands how difficult the process is and will be, “but, it wasn’t more emotional than the first 21 years of my life.”

Continue Reading

Top Stories