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EarthGang's Globetrotting Will Play A Major Part In Their Cinematic 'MirrorLand' Album

Inspired by their extensive touring, EarthGang’s next album, 'MirrorLand,' is going to sound like a movie. Literally.

After months of extensive touring, expect EarthGang’s next album to sound like a movie.

Nobody is feeling more charged up than EarthGang right now. The Dreamville duo—comprised of ATLiens Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot (real names Olu O. Fann and Eian Undrai Parker, respectively)—is on a high. Possibly literally, judging by Dot’s low lids and Venus’ wide grin, but mostly symbolically. A few days prior to this interview, Venus and a friend were marinating in the sulfuric ice blue waters of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon—Gucci Mane, also tapped to perform at Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavik, grinned like a Cheshire cat at the iconic attraction a day prior—getting chummy with fellow tourists. “That jawn was amazing. We really were making friends,” Venus recalls. “We were the only black folks there. The youngest folks there, too. We would just hop in there with everybody, drinking champagne, just talking. It was one family from the UK, but everybody else was from Kentucky, [Washington,] D.C., and they were just chatting it up with us.”

Dot, however, spent his afternoon a little differently. “I went out and met a bunch of people, sang some Viking songs,” Dot he says. “I went to this one Viking man's house and he was giving me the whole history behind them. He showed me maps of his people that are over here. I just had a very drug-laced discovery of the world. It was very fun. Smoked weed and just learned the history of how the first people came over here. I love just learning the history of these places.”

EarthGang aren’t just jumping in and out of seasons (“We were in Australia in December and it was hot as hell. Now we're in Iceland in June, almost July, and it's cold as hell,” Dot notes), enjoying therapeutic swims and cultural exchanges at the grand finale of their two-part Never Had Sh*t Tour with J.I.D. They’re also soaking up all the world has to offer as they navigate it, opening their eyes and ears to a bevy of people, personalities and experiences they'd categorize as life-changing.

“It was an amazing experience after all this work this whole month, just to go and relax, talk and reflect on everything that's been going on,” Venus says. “Just to be able to take that back home and be like, ‘Yo, everybody needs to come out [and travel abroad]. No matter what you do, you can do this. Make this joint happen because it's so much out in the world that you need to do and you need to see. It changes your life, for sure.”

Naturally, the serendipity of their globetrotting provides the duo with plenty of inspiration for MirrorLand, an album they’ve been writing and recording the whole stretch of the trek. In fact, much like their Spillage Village cohort’s own Hollywood aspirations, the new project is poised to sound downright movie-like by the time they’re through with it. “We studied soundtracks and scores, not in any attempts to end up on anybody's movie, but just in an attempt to make a project that feels like a movie. To make a project where the whole time listening to it is like, 'damn this could be a whole Tarantino picture,’” Dot says. The LP, which follows behind February’s Royalty, the final installation of their three-part EP series, is slated to drop later this year.

During a candid conversation before their Secret Solstice set, EarthGang shares how touring has changed them for the better, sings the praises of Ari Lennox’s new album and lists the bevy of films that inspired MirrorLand.

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VIBE: What are some of the things you’ve both picked up on since touring across Europe?
Johnny Venus: Over here people are more like accepting. People are just super nice. It’s still racism over here; we still have instances with folks [who] won't let us in hotels because "y'all aren’t guests," but it's like, we're coming up here to change. But they let some of the white folks who go on the tour with us come into the hotels, so we had to wild out on 'em and stuff. But everybody else, the people here are proud of who they are, and they’re trying to really reverse the look of racism over here. You can see that, individually, people are really like, "alright we know we get a bad rep," so people are super cool. They just wanna be a part of society and a part of the world, you know? Especially in Barcelona with so many cultures mixed. Barcelona is my favorite city. So many cultures mixed and everybody is just out having a party, a blast, EDM festival, just meeting so many people from London and everywhere in Barcelona. Like, dang this is really like a global city. That’s basically what this tour has been like for me.

Doctur Dot: They never see us over here, you know what I'm saying? They don't see black people. Whatever you wanna say or call it, they don't see the type of stuff that they see on YouTube in real life. American hip-hop, American black guys from cities, they don't see none of that. Just that alone is a phenomenon over here. It was even a big phenomenon when we were out in Australia because I guess it's even more rare. Just that alone incites a different type of curiosity as to what we’re doing. We were able to make a lot of fans based off that. Like, “I've never seen y'all before,” and everybody's jaws just drop.

JV: Even the black people that you meet over here. Their mouths drop lower than the white people. They're like, 'damn y'all over here,' like you over here, too? It's really dope being with the black folks. We met some folks over in Scotland right before we came out here just walking. We were just looking for food. I'm shouting down the street, “Hey bro! You know where you can get some food?” So he turned around—he kept walking for a minute—but he turned around and he was like, "by food do you mean weed?" I was like "Nahhhh bro, we hungry. It’s like 2 a.m., we’re trying to get some food. We’re out here performing, we’re EarthGang and we just had a show.” He was like, "You guys are EarthGang? Yo, I literally just started listening to y'all like last week!" His people were a block up, three other black guys, and they all came and we took pictures with them. I'm like damn this is so crazy running into y'all like that and just having this moment right there. That's really what this tour is about—so many serendipitous moments of just being here and just letting things just come to you. So, I really appreciate this for sure. And being on tour is like being with yourself constantly, more than when you are when you at home. When you’re home, you’re running into people that you know. You can sit down and talk, exchange stories and stuff. On tour, it's just so quick, like here, here, here, here, here, so the only thing that keeps you grounded is yourself, you know? So it's like, damn I'm really out here.

You two have an album coming out. Was it wrapped before touring, or have you been recording as you go?
JV: Nah, we’re recording, talking about it, extending ideas. We’re still fully in the album process. Fully, completely immersed in it. It's not gonna be done until it’s done.

Does the tour experience add to the process?
JV: Yeah, for sure. It adds to it—the stories, the people, the sounds that you hear. You learn how to continue to take in all this life and put this life into this album. I'm definitely glad we went on tour again before the album is done, because all this stuff is more things to put in the album, more experience of the moment and the now.

"I think hip-hop can be more dramatic." —Doctur Dot

I feel like this is shaping up to be a takeover year for Dreamville.
JV: Takeover!
DD: It's gonna be a very solid year. [J.] Cole’s a genius [Laughs]

First Cole dropped his album, then you have the Dreamville Festival that's happening later this year...
DD: We had J.I.D on the [XXL] Freshman cover. We had EarthGang’s first label album. Big sh*t poppin'.
JV: A lot of seeds coming up, a lot of seeds sprung.
DD: Ari Lennox’s project is amazing, too.

Yeah, I was gonna say where is it?
DD: I heard her whole album.

It’s done?
JV: Yeah. It's so good, it's so amazing.
DD: Well, you never know if it's done but we heard it's done. I remember the time I heard Cole’s album is done and then when it came out it was different.
JV: Different songs.
DD: We work all the time. The album that I heard is amazing. I'm sure the album that comes out is still amazing. I put it up against anybody. Not even just because I know her name, just cause she's... If I ain't never seen her in my life and heard that sh*t, it's like…
JV: I want people to hear her really give it her all because she really puts herself into the moment. I'm like, "Damn you do this sh*t so effortlessly. I want you to continue to like get all this love." Keep going and keep doing it. And this album will really…
DD: It's gonna set her apart from everybody.
JV: And it's gonna let her know that she is worthy of what she's supposed to be.

During a tour stop in London, you two debuted “Up,” a song from your forthcoming album, MirrorLand. What made you want to tease it there?
JV: We like to get people’s perspectives out there so we decided, what other places than London to premiere one of the records off the album. We recorded it in a garage and it was really one of the last songs that we added to the project—I mean the project is not done so who knows what will be on there—but it was one of the last songs we added and it just has a great energy to it that we wanna push. It's so kinetic and so like Mystery World Tour and just like a funhouse vibe, and I really wanted to put that on there.
DD: It was dramatic.

Dramatic?
DD: Super dramatic. Definitely, this whole project will be dramatic and that's okay. I think hip-hop can be more dramatic. I think if you wanna make something dramatic, you can. Who gives a f**k? Do whatever the f**k you want at any time. We very much studied soundtracks and scores and stuff, not in any attempts to end up on anybody's movie, but just in an attempt to make a project that feels like a movie. To make a project where the whole time listening to it is like, 'damn this could be a whole Tarantino picture.' We are very, very big on Quentin Tarantino vibes, Michael Scorsese vibes.
JV: Spike Lee vibes. We want people to be pulled.
DD: This project is so cinematically inspired, more than anything. I think “Up” is a good representation of it.
JV: It’s gonna hit the people. We had a couple of things coming up with that record too that gonna give us a little longer life, but it's definitely a theatrical performance.

What are some of the scores or movies that you looked at?
DD: Both Kill Bills.
JV: The Wiz.
DD: The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz. Sicario. Golden Compass. It's a wide variety.
JV: Documentaries, too. Definitely a lot of documentaries. The Nina Simone documentary. A lot of this stuff just to see how people… because, I mean, even those you can see how people live their lives and the ups and downs in the documentaries. You wanna put that into the music as well because it's not always a leveled approach. I've been watching a lot of interviews and documentaries and it's like, you want that moment and that discourse to put that in a record. People are so forthcoming and honest and you wanna put that honesty in the record.

Some movie placement would still be great, though.
JV: Oh for sure! That's definitely—
DD: That wasn't the direction we shooting for though. We’re shooting—
JV: To make a movie.
DD: To make the album a movie. Anything that gets picked up and put on any movie—
JV: That's beautiful.
DD: I would gratefully accept. [Laughs] Trying to get that check. Trying to get every check. Video games, movies, commercials, all that sh*t.

Will you be making videos to go with that, too? Your previous visuals have been pretty deep.
JV: The videos are gonna be crazy. We’ve been thinking about that right now. We have a lot of things coming, a lot of cinematic pieces. A lot of experimentation in what we got going on. We want it to be jaw-dropping. Jarring.
DD: It's the most, like, true-to-vision project we’ve been able to execute, I would say, just because team-wise it's pretty strong. And I'm not just talking about Dreamville, I'm talking about our team. Our core team. Our managers, our DJ–
JV: Our publicist.
DD: The directors we get in regard to videos.
JV: People from home.
DD: All that stuff. It feels like a presidential campaign. We got a team of people that are at the hub. Let's say Dreamville is the Democratic party, you still gotta have your team. But we actually got a full staff right now and it feels good. Everybody's in the same direction towards a common goal. Sh*t feels good. We finally got an engine, a team. This is a roster record. I think it's gonna do a lot for the project because everybody is working to make it better.
JV: And it's gonna give it that longevity, that life that we pride ourselves on with our albums. We want those to be like timeless pieces. We don't want it to just be like 'oh that's cool, that album was fire. What's next?' Nah, we want it to be very complex, to have so many things in it that you can just pick out one thing and create a video of that. Pick out one thing and create a video of that and continue to put that out and keep this thing going.

READ MORE: Meet EarthGang, The Atlanta Rap Duo Unearthing A Sound All Their Own

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Meet Amaal, The Socially Conscious Songstress Ready To Express Her Own Truths

Somali-Canadian singer Amaal is like no other. At close to a year old, she and her family—she is the middle sibling of seven sisters and two brothers—immigrated to Canada to flee the devastating war in Somalia. That experience, in addition to her strict upbringing, all played a defining role in the artistry she hangs her hat on today. Amaal has never shown herself to be the kind of artist whose lyrics are filled with fluff, sunflowers and daisies. Instead, each line in her music represents pivotal, significant moments in her life, whether they pertain to heartbreaking experiences with love, enlightening trips back to Somalia, or learning to embrace her true self. The Toronto native’s work has always possessed a sense of honesty, but it’s on her newly released EP Black Dove that her vulnerability becomes abundantly clear.

Raised by traditional Muslim parents, Amaal admits that she’s always had a certain type of image to portray and standards to live by. However, despite the parental pressures that she grew up with, Amaal was content—for the time being. She didn’t reveal the fullest extent of her personality to her parents for the longest time, but they did know pieces of her and Amaal was at peace with that. That is, until it started to affect her music making process.

“I felt very dishonest, to be honest,” the 29-year-old says about creating music that primarily fulfilled the impression her parents had of her. “I didn’t feel like I was being true to myself. [I] felt like I was lacking presence in my own music.”

Once the former University of Toronto student was candid with herself, she became candid in her music about various aspects of her life, and that is how Black Dove was born. Amaal went from singing on afropop beats to leaning on R&B sounds much more heavily in her material. However, despite shedding the original soundscape that introduced her to the music world, Amaal plans to always have that element that traces back to her Somali roots.

“I absolutely love [afropop] and I still always want to incorporate that,” she says. “Everything I did before I would still want to incorporate.”

Prior to the release of Black Dove, Amaal would pen songs about her travels to Somalia, the period of time she lived there as a teenager, and while that theme may not be as overt in her new EP, it’s still an important piece of her heart and life. To this day, when she’s not busy in the booth preparing new tunes, she’s in Somalia aiding the community in more ways than one. And old, new and future fans of Amaal have October’s Very Own’s (OVO) Noah Shebib to thank for the arrival of the songstress on the music scene.

Full of tranquil energy, Amaal opened up about the various meanings Black Dove holds to her, navigating the music industry as a Somali-Canadian woman and staying true to herself no matter the cause.

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VIBE: You’ve described Black Dove as being an EP that represents the "you" that you’d previously kept hidden. Can you explain exactly what "you" was hidden? Amaal: Yeah, that's a good question. I was raised in a very sort of strict, conservative upbringing household. There's just a lot of things that I felt like wasn't ever a possibility that I can do. I didn't imagine certain things to be possible for me. When I started doing music I really didn't express a lot of the things I was going through in my relationships, 'cause to even be in a relationship is not really looked at in a good way. I started doing music that always had this message of hope and resilience within the community of people I was raised with: immigrants, refugees. When I did that music, I felt like my mom, my parents were very proud of me. Although it was my story and what I wanted to do, I felt comfortable being in that space and that's what I kept doing. That's what I kept going at. Just one time I thought, There's so much in my life that I've been through, that I've kept hidden, almost living a double life. I felt very dishonest, to be honest, and I didn't feel like I was being true to myself. [I] felt like I was lacking presence in my own music. I was disappointed and I thought, This has to change.

I just started talking about things that I had gone through in relationships, staying in a relationship longer when I should've left and the whole concept of struggle love. Just the black community, my community... I feel like we, as women, sometimes we feel like we have to endure pain in order to show that we love someone. From the outside looking in, people didn't assume that about me, but that is kind of what I was. I grew so much from that and I wanted to share that in my music. Black Dove to me represents freedom. I love birds, I love doves, I think they're so empowering and free and I'm a black woman, so it was like black dove.

It’s interesting that you felt like you were living a double life, even though it was in a space that you were comfortable. The way you are with your family, even though it is you, it's not the full extent of who you are. Yes, absolutely. In your music it's very hard but if I was doing a 9-5 job, I could, 'cause I was mastering it, I would be able to still continue doing that. But now, I have to have those conversations. I'm actually really learning I didn't give [my parents] enough credit. They're actually really awesome people and I'm disappointed in myself that I could've opened up in more areas. But there's still some stuff that needs to be talked about.

 

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My loves, I’m so excited to share that my EP BLACK DOVE will officially be out July 12 🕊🙏🏾Black dove means to me freedom. Freedom of my own captivity. Freedom of the shackles society placed on me! It means no longer committing a disservice to myself and owning every part of me. It’s having the courage to show up and recognizing true strength is in being vulnerable. It’s Breaking down to rebuild and running to the other side of my fears. I feel so honoured to share these moments with you all! It’s only just the beginning! @applemusic presaves will be available next week ❤️ 📷 @byseanbrown Special thanks to @sidneigum for allowing me to wear this heavenly dress!! You’re beyond talented and im so thankful!

A post shared by Amaal (@amaalnuux) on Jun 27, 2019 at 4:57pm PDT

Was it difficult for you to be so honest with this EP, having gone through the experiences that have led you to be completely honest with who you are? Yeah, it was. I love how you worded that earlier. Although I was living a double life, I was comfortable in that area. It was working but I definitely had to face those things that I was pushing away. I just realized the definition of the strength that I thought I was and people perceived me to be was a front. There was a lot of ego-dropping and really being raw and vulnerable with myself. That's why for a lot of the tracks, I like the instruments to be very ambient and not that much going on. I like to build off of one or two instruments because I want to let my subconscious do the talking so that my ego's gone and I can be present. But I think that's the journey of getting there. It didn't happen overnight. There's some stories there that I never thought I would share but now I'm excited to talk about them.

Would you say that your need, or the feeling that you felt to hide yourself, came from just that specific place? From family? Mostly family, religion. Religion is number one. That played a huge role. Something I really struggled with, even talking about it in interviews, I'll be honest with you, because I do have a very deep connection with Somalia. I do a lot of activism work. I went to school for that and I want to continue doing that line of work. Unfortunately, there still is some sense of safety that I have to think about so I have to censor some things. But religion was hugely a part of it.

When you were in school, were you still doing music? I always did music. But even when I released my first body of music, the intent wasn't to be a frontrunner, to be a musician. It was out of pure expression. It was actually really innocent. Me and my cousin would write together, we'd be like "oh wow we have so many songs let's go to a studio and record." That was it, it was really to show my family and friends the clips and then it did really well. It pushed me into that setting. I actually had to take some time away from school, to go and focus on it and then I ended up getting signed to Noah Shebib. He's Drake's right hand. That was an amazing experience as well, but music was always the core.

You moved to Canada from Somalia at a young age. Do you feel as if the move didn’t have as much of an effect on you being so young? I absolutely remember nothing of it. But the experience had an effect on me because of everyone. We ended up moving to an area in Toronto where it was mostly Somali people who were running from the world. We all came with our PTSD and mental health issues. So, you did sense that things were not okay. Because I mean the first few years, the war went on for a long time. It’s debilitated the country. Almost my entire life I've known instability to be there. Thankfully it's getting better, but it's deeply within us. Even though we were away from the problem, we weren't. 'Cause my mom was getting a phone call of her dad passing away, getting killed, her brother essentially losing his mind because he saw so much. Bad news coming constantly to us, so it did still feel like it was present and it did affect us for sure. In ways maybe I don't know, in ways that I think it inspired me more to work harder in this life because I owe it to them and their sacrifice.

Do you feel very connected to your Somali heritage? Yeah, big time. We were very lucky because my dad made a big point that when were coming into the house, he'd say "Leave your English at the door" and "When you step in the house you speak Somali." People are very surprised to hear me speak. They're like "I would not have expected that." It's not amazing, it is good, but when I went to Somalia, I went woah, nevermind. I thought I was with it... yeah no. It's a poetic language. It's not like direct speaking, it's a lot of poetry. And you're like "oh my God, I don't know." I do the direct talking, my way of speaking is very different but it's very fascinating there.

When's the last time you went to Somalia? I saw on your Instagram page that you’ve been there a few times. Yeah, I was there a lot. I believe 2017, I was there three to four times, and then I was there in 2006, I believe. I was there for a year [in 2006]. It was pretty interesting. But the last few times I went to do famine relief work. There was a really bad drought that happened and a humanitarian crisis. There were like six million people that were going to go without food. A guy named Jerome [Jarre] started this initiative—two million dollars were raised and then we went there, took multiple trips, giving food, water, whatever the necessities were that they needed. So I took, three or four trips back and forth. It was phenomenal. It was the most sad, beautiful, everything experience ever. I saw a lot there that I wasn't prepared for.

Do you feel like there are other life experiences that have shaped you into the woman and artist you are today? Absolutely. That trip to Somalia—the one that I was there for a year—I say that trip. Even today what I'm doing, that's how much it domino affected my life. Because when I went there, I went a little bit spoiled, naive, ungrateful a little. I'm going to be honest. I was like "school's school, whatever," I just didn't care. And I went there and I saw how appreciative, how humble, how thirsty people were for knowledge, their education is huge. And how little they have but how content they are with what they have. I just remember thinking: "You've got to check yourself, you're kind of wack. You have all these opportunities." And these people are so inspiring and so everything. I learned there that although their world collapsed during the war, women were the backbone of that nation, they're the ones that kept it going. I admire them so much more, I really connected with my roots. I always say the girl who went there is gone. Left. I came back a completely different person. I couldn't connect with my friends, I immediately enrolled in school. I got my sh*t together. I did, I had to. Ever since then it's been my compass that's kind of guided me. It's so crucial to me.

Being described as socially conscious, not only in your music but outside of your music, why do you think being aware of our world and the issues that go on around us is so important? I forget this quote somebody said it but, I believe our ticket to this Earth is to be paid in service. That's just the way that I feel because Earth is our home and it provides so much for us and it's our job to also provide for it as well. That means all of its living mammals, whatever it is. I think coming from a country that's experienced so much turmoil, a continent that's gone through hell and back, and has been exploited—and don't even get me into that—I don't even know where it comes from but I know I was born with it. Does that make sense? It's instilled in me, so to put it into words, it's hard for me. But I just know it's necessary for not just you but for our future generation and their kids, you gotta clean your home right?

So is the growth you experienced from that trip and in general over the years, and who you've shaped yourself to be and who you're still shaping yourself to be, is that the message you want your fans to get from Black Dove? Are there any other messages you hope your fans pick up from your EP? I definitely hope that they can understand the journey that I've been on because of the style of music that I was doing for so long. But I think they will because I believe a lot of women from upbringings that I've had, there is that internal struggle that we all deal with where we want to please our parents but we also need to please ourselves. This project for me is... I'm pleasing myself. I feel there's this awakening happening, that women are starting to... essentially there's always been that message, but right now it's more powerful and we're really owning our voices. Feeling empowered in our sexuality and just who we are in our identity. If anything they could take is owning yourself and being okay with you are. You're enough. I'm writing that in my little cards to everyone, "You are enough."

The music you’re making now is a lot more R&B, and has a bit of a “vibey” energy to it, but not in the stereotypical sense. Being an artist, who would you say you idolized growing up? I'll be honest, I never idolized any artist. I think that word, I've always had a hard time with. But if there's someone I absolutely loved and adored, it was Aaliyah, because she had an Arabic name, too. I connected with her and she was of my generation. I didn't have the opportunity to hear a lot of music in my household. I didn't start singing until I was in high school, I didn't even know I really had it, anything. I started to listen to music in high school and I'd go back and be like, "Oh my god, who's this?" Nina Simone, Sam Cooke and all these greats. Nina Simone I loved because she lived in an era of oppression and the history of America was happening. She used her music to talk about that. She found a way to do it that I think a lot of people still aren't able to. I would say people from that time. Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill, Toni Braxton, too. Love her voice. Of course Beyoncé, she's the obvious, the guidebook, right? Aaliyah was my number one top.

How'd you discover that you could sing? I was singing Mario's "Let Me Love You," and a friend was like: "Oh, you sound good." I'm like "Really? Cool." And then I'd be singing on the bus and then somebody else said something, I was like "Okay, interesting." So I just started singing more. My sisters would say you sound pretty and I would mimic other artists. Not mimic them in that way, but practice tone and agility and the little runs.

With artists today, do you have anyone that you'd like to collaborate with? Yeah. There's two artists that I love. Two female artists, I'm obsessed with them. It's Ari Lennox and NAO. I would love to. I think they're brilliant.

Ari Lennox definitely matches your sound. Ah, I love her. She commented on my picture the other day, I damn near lost it. She's just so special. When I see her interviews she's just so real, very nice, and like awkward but in the most beautiful way. I love her. I'd love to work with those two. And then for producers, Pharrell would be a dream come true. There's a guy named Stint, he lives in L.A. I've worked with Noah [Shebib] before but to actually get back in and release a song together that would be dope. 'Cause we have stuff from the past. Yeah, I think that'd be a nice little full circle moment.

 

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A post shared by Amaal (@amaalnuux) on May 27, 2019 at 10:31am PDT

Getting deeper into your music, what was the process for creating this EP? How long did it take for you to complete it as well? The process for me was deprogramming myself, if that makes sense. Whatever cultural binds that were holding me back in my life, I had to first approach that before I even went into doing music. It was a lot of that type of work. And then when I went into the studio I really wanted space in my tracks, so I can express myself and let the subconscious tell the story and bring forth things that I've gone through in my life that I never would've shared. I felt like that's what I needed to do in that moment.

It was a little bit hard because one of the stories was about visiting someone that I loved that went away to jail for eight months. I visited him every single weekend and during that time, I'm telling you right now, very little people knew. Just my sisters because they know everything about me, a few girlfriends and that's it. I never thought I'd ever share this story, but going through it, it started off as a bit shameful, head down, getting on the bus, you just really don't want to say where you're going. And then by the end of it—because we would take this bus that was filled with women, who were going to see their loved ones as well—I remember falling in love with them. It was like a sisterhood that we formed, a support system. They had my back, I had theirs. In the end to feel shame would mean to be ashamed for them as well and I loved them. I just remember that whole feeling melting away and seeing them and myself in a light of admiration. I was very proud of myself. There was no shame. That's what the EP was for me. Telling those stories, telling those moments, I otherwise would've bottled up and it took a year and a half, I would say. I did start doing the EP and then I erased almost everything and I started all over again when I found this place that I was at. I was like, "No, I gotta be honest and open."

If you weren't as vocal before, do you feel like you had to be more vocal in the music industry? More assertive? How do you navigate it? Aw, man. A lot of my failures was because I wasn't assertive. A lot of my setbacks was because I never spoke up for myself and that is a lot culture as well. I was taught to allow the other person to decide. It definitely held me back in a lot of opportunities, and taking me to where I needed to go. It's interesting because you want to be able to do that without being called a bi**h, which is really sad, or a diva, which I find really heartbreaking. It's really sad. I'm now finding my voice and I'm for the first time seeing the reaction. Before I just allowed it, so that's been a really interesting landscape to navigate because I'm like,"oh I was honest with you and you're offended, why are you offended? There's no reason to be, so, now I have to soothe you again." I'm still learning and finding the best way to do it but it's really hard being a woman in this industry because it is male-dominated. But, I'll take being a bi**h now, 'cause at least I won't look back and be like, "I should've said something," 'cause that's how I felt previously in my past things, relationships that I was in.

Listening to Black Dove it’s very vibey and seductive. How did you make sure your sound was distinct and unique to you? For me, I feel I paid a lot of homage to my Somali background and we sing in a bit of a pentatonic scale. It's the Middle Eastern sound, it's just some of the runs. And I did it, in not what I thought, it was like a run that you wouldn't hear in the Western R&B style of music. I tried incorporating stuff like that. Picking drums that had a bit of an African feel, drum pattern to it. If the music was sounding not as unique, I would try to make sure at least the topic in which I'm singing about does. But honestly my go-to usually is very minimal. I gravitate towards that and I think that's been my unique thing because most production that I hear there's a lot happening. I know when I hear a lot happening, when they do that with some of my songs, I get a headache. Honestly, it's weird, I feel clustered. I feel like my message is being lost a little bit. Even in my graphics, some of the designs, I'm very minimalistic, very simple. I try to incorporate that into my music, I hope that's been able to set me apart.

On your song "Later" you sing, "if I hold us down you'll change your behavior." And from what could be understood from the song, it seems like a relationship that you give your all in, but the same isn't reciprocated and if it is, it's later. A lot of people can definitely relate to that feeling. Is this song from personal experience? Oh this one's all personal, 100 percent. It's the story I was just sharing with you. I actually wrote this song on my bus ride to go see him. It's such a long story, but to sum it up, we were already in a bit of a weird place during all that time. I think that would put stress on any person or any relationship. But, going there to see him, I remember thinking "I want to be there for him, I want to be loyal, down to that ride or die." And it can be damaging sometimes but in my case I really felt it was worth it. But yeah those are my questions, "I'll hold us down, I'll do all this stuff for you but will it be worth it and will you see my efforts." It was definitely being inspired by those women because we all shared a similar story. That's the story that it came from, that's so cool that you picked it up the lyrics.

Moving forward in your music, what is one constant that you want your fans to take from you as an artist? Some fans will take different things. Muslim-Somali women I think I want them to take that I'm a risk taker, I am resilient, I'm in a place where the judgment of others is no longer of importance to me and I really hope that that's something that is taken. Overall as a black woman, I hope that people can take the place that I'm in and feel comfortable with where they're at in life and feel empowered and powerful and comfortable in their skin and that they're very important and valid and that they're voice is to be heard. I think just that sense of independence, I really hope overall is what people take from this music.

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Bisexuality Is Fluid, And TV Is Finally Catching Up

There was a lady who sold bootleg DVDs on my block when I was a kid—three for 10 dollars. My mom would usually let my brother and I pick whichever ones we wanted, and on one occasion, I specifically remember us picking out American Pie 2, Austin Powers in Goldmember, and 8 Mile. Those were the days when we’d watch movies over and over again until we could recite every line before it reached our ears. My brother always wanted to put on Goldmember. I, on the other hand, was obsessed with 8 Mile, more specifically with Brittany Murphy’s character, Alex. I understood exactly why B-Rabbit (Eminem) was so into her. She spoke in a low, sultry voice and always knew what she wanted, then went for it. That was in 2002, when I was 10. It was the first time (that I can remember) that I suspected I liked girls.

I didn’t know, for sure, that I was bisexual until I was in college. I had been “pretend kissing” girls and being turned on by ones I liked as long as I could remember, but I always attributed that to my hypersexuality. I’ve always been a very sexual person. The way I heard people talk about bisexuality reinforced that belief for a long time: bisexual men are gay boys in denial, and bisexual women are insatiable straights. I always think about how different my teenage years would’ve been had I seen more bisexual characters on TV, ones who could help me navigate questions that I didn’t feel comfortable asking and conversations that no one had with me. Right now, there are more bisexual characters on TV than ever before, and even though some shows have a lot of work left to do, lots of them are putting in the work to portray important stories and jumpstart necessary conversations. Here are 10 times TV shows actually got bisexuality right.

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Fenty And Pyer Moss Model JoAni Johnson Knows The Art Of Being Present

When a 2016 Allure video segment on beauty and aging with grace hit the internet, one of the three subjects immediately held the attention of the masses hostage. It was hard not to quickly fawn over the 60-something woman’s sleek, mature looks, palpable wisdom, gripping gaze, and grounded sense of self. Three years later, that same model, JoAni Johnson, continues to display her elegance for video campaigns, strut down the runways of the designer elite, and stare down cameras for high-stakes fashion photoshoots.

But JoAni Johnson the person barely even likes photos. The 5’4” model with more-salt-than-pepper hip-length tresses waves off compliments about her edgy portfolio. So far, she has photographed for Vogue, ELLE and Essence magazine shoots and campaigns like Pyer Moss, Ozwald Boateng, and most recently, the debut of Rihanna’s Fenty luxury line. However, for the Caribbean American woman—while born in Harlem, her family hails from St. Elizabeth, Jamaica—gratitude and humility run richly through her veins.

In fact, she considers herself to be a tea blender and specialist before the shinier profession that kicked off in her 60s. That, and a mother, which makes her role as a spokesperson for Vaseline’s #ListenToYourMoms campaign all the more fitting. “#ListenToYourMoms speaks to me because as a proud mom, continuing to keep traditions alive and passing it onto the next generation of beautiful and strong women in my family, is important," Johnson said. "Throughout my life, my beauty regime has remained simple and the knowledge of the versatility coupled with the healing powers of Vaseline Jelly, has always been a trusted 'go-to' for generations of women in my own life.”

Her successful modeling career has admittedly been a whirlwind of excitement, nerves, glamour, risks, and stepping way outside of her comfort zone. However, above all her main goal is to stay present and take in each and every moment as it comes. While taking a break from overseeing a New York photoshoot, Johnson opened up about the art of living in the now, how beauty and self-care are intertwined, and all the lessons she’s learned from motherhood.

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VIBE: You’ve been the face of so many notable campaigns this year, like Fenty and Pyer Moss. Would you describe your modeling journey as something that you've planned or more serendipitous? JoAni Johnson: Totally serendipitous, I did not plan this. If you would've asked me two and a half years ago or told me that this would be my life, I would have told you are insane. It happened by chance. The universe has been very, very good to me and I'm just very grateful.

 

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Enormous thanks and love to @Badgalriri (a true visionary!) and @LVMH for choosing me to be on the right side of history with you, as unapologetic fashion game-changers. Representation matters. It always has and this @Fenty campaign is so excellent and so important for multiple reasons in 2019. The marathon certainly continues. #DisruptAllFashionRules #greyhairdontcare #Fenty Shot by @_glen_luchford

A post shared by JoAni Johnson (@joanijohnson6000) on May 28, 2019 at 8:40pm PDT

In terms of the serendipitous journey to modeling, what was that opportunity that you seized and said, "This could be right, this could not be but let me take it?" I didn't even really think about it. I did not get involved in this of my own. My husband encouraged because I just didn't think it was for me. I come from old-school [train of thought] that said you had to be a certain something in order to be successful. When he encouraged me to—it's so funny, I'm not very fond of photographs of myself. It's gotten a lot better in this new world but in the past with the limitations even in cameras, that industry has expanded. We're getting much more quality photographers. Everything has changed and it's all happening at once, so in the past I've never been very happy with photographs of myself.

How did you, looks of photos aside, to be in front of the camera takes a certain confidence just the presence of being there, how did you I guess? Who's confident? (Laughs) Whenever I do something, it's about being in the moment. This is what the universe has presented me with, I am blessed. I am doing the best that I can in that moment. What is the artist, photographer, make-up artist, hair [stylist], what are they looking for? I am just the muse or the conduit. What is the designer looking for? I shared with someone earlier, I don't look at the photographs, I'm not that person. It's your vision, I am just here to carry out your vision.

What things have you learned about yourself in terms of personal style? My idea of me is different than I am. I grew up in a world where I read Ebony fashion for the glamour in them, but on the real side I fight with myself because I will get things that are really glamorous but it's hard for me to wear them because it attracts people’s attention. It's not that I don't care for it, but it's hard. I'm me. I want people to know the human not the outside, the human. It's more important because we're all beautiful. We all have certain gifts that the universe has bestowed on us, it's for us to find it and to share it.

Let’s talk lineage and the things that we pass on to each other, whether it's our friends, our families. What things have you taken from your mother figures that molded who you are, and that you would in turn pass to those who see you as a mother figure? The biggest influences on me as a child were my grand aunts. They were hardworking beautiful women who had such a sense of style and I'm from Jamaican background, so there's a certain expectation that you were taught. You would call it refinement or whatever but it was the English way, that's where it came from. Good, bad or ugly, that's where it emanated from and they were always very stylish. I watched them as my image of beauty and how they cared for themselves, whether it was using Vaseline on their skin or their nightly rituals of taking it off and washing and I was fascinated. It also showed me their doing it was an expression of their love for themselves and also a relaxation, like they were treating themselves. They worked so hard but it was their time with themselves that they chose to carve out because they didn't have to do it. They carved out in their day to really reward themselves with the hard work that they had endured.

So then how do you carve time out for yourself? What is your relaxation look like? I have passed that on to my daughters as well and my mother was also part of that because she learned from them. She taught me and then I passed it on. How do I do it now? I am a tea specialist, tea consultant, tea blender. Taking that time to sit down and make yourself a cup of tea takes time. Just taking that time, that special time for you to stop and just relax.

Whether I am doing a face mask—and I do a lot of them with tea as a base. I do that once a month with tea as a base and then use the Vaseline to moisturize. I love face massages and I can't afford to pay for them. I have to do it myself and I think Tracee Ellis Ross was showing the [jade] roller that she used, I got one. The simplistic things in life, moisturizing my skin with Vaseline and then using the roller, that's relaxing.

For me it's what I owe myself because nobody is going to do it for me. We would like to think that we got it that way and you know people look at me in this role and think it's so glamorous, and it is. There's parts of it that are absolutely glamorous—when I get to wear a Prada suit, just to see the workmanship and admire the thought that they put into creating something like that and I get to put it on. There's the other times when I'm not in that world, what am I doing to take care of me?

What do you learn from now your children? With Vaseline’s campaign, the idea is to listen to your mothers and your mother figures and take what they've put into your life, but what have you taken from them? It's a two-way street, learning is both ways. What have you learned from your children? My daughters teach me that no matter what we have a responsibility in this world that we're in. I came up in the age of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, there was a struggle there was I was in, there's stories about that but you'll read it in my memos. My girls have another journey and they teach me it's got to be done daily.

My oldest and I were walking down the street and she's got like this vision, peripheral vision and she sees this elderly woman—and I say elderly only because it's a way to describe [her physically]—and she was waiting for the bus. She had packages and was trying to hail a cab and they wouldn't stop. My daughter out of the corner of her eye saw it and she walks over to her and she says, do you need a cab? The woman said yes. I did not see that. Because I am in my life, I don't have that. I wasn't gifted with that kind of vision so she teaches me to be more observant with what is going on around.

When I was growing up, we closed off. I lived in a really tough neighborhood at the time and you just closed off. You just kept it moving from one space to another. My daughter is not like that and she has taught me to be more observant and to be more generous with showing the humane qualities.

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