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Revolt TV

Joe Budden Talks Creative Beefs With Diddy And Leaving Rap Behind

In a candid conversation with VIBE, Joe Budden talks about leaving rap behind and spats with Diddy.

The rap game ain’t based on sympathy, and Joe Budden knows this firsthand. Despite his eponymous 2003 debut album spurring the hit song “Pump It Up,” label politics ended up getting his sophomore Def Jam LP shelved. He’s beefed with the likes of 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Prodigy, and The Game. And Slaughterhouse, his supergroup with Royce Da 5’9”, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz, was relatively short-lived after only releasing one album with Eminem’s Shady Records that fans felt grasped too hard for radio spins.

But the Jersey City representative has never felt bad for himself, and he has always been a self-starter. He harnessed his pain into the cult classic Mood Muzik mixtape series, which embraced the Internet-friendly indie route before many other artists figured it out, and predated much of the vulnerability that rap would mature into in the later aughts. He also began to foster a career as a media personality. He co-hosted a morning show on Hot 97 early in his 20s and jumped into Internet content early with his Joe Budden TV YouTube series. The latter series built more interest in Budden and his relationship with ex-girlfriend Tahiry, landing them a spot on Love and Hip Hop: New York in 2013. And in February 2015, he debuted the first episode of I'll Name This Podcast Later (now known as The Joe Budden Podcast) which would eventually allow him and his cohosts to tour around the country. But he truly showed his media prowess on Everyday Struggle, a digital-only show with Complex that brought the fiery debate format of ESPN's First Take to hip-hop. Alongside co-hosts DJ Akademiks and Nadeska Alexis, Budden gave industry commentary while sparking contentious viral moments with Lil Yachty and Migos, racking up millions of views. In January 2018, he left the show, leaving some wondering about his next moves: he had already announced his retirement from rap with his 2016 album Rage And The Machine, and there was no telling where his media career would go next.

But Budden had a plan, and now his seeds are beginning to sprout. He announced in May 2018 that he was launching a show with Diddy’s network Revolt TV called State of the Culture, and last month, announced that his Joe Budden Podcast would be joining the Spotify network while increasing their output to two episodes per week. State of the Culture, co-hosted by Scottie Beam and Remy Ma, is scheduled to premiere digitally on Monday, Sept. 10 at 5 p.m., and on the TV channel on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 10 p.m. After years of toiling in the recording studio, he's arguably working harder now than ever, producing three shows a week between all of his endeavors.

He jovially visited the VIBE offices last week in a polo shirt and fedora, with the same open book approach that has garnered him such a loyal fan base. But days later, Eminem, offended by his signee’s comments about his music last year, would diss him by name on his surprise album Kamikaze–released on Budden's 38th birthday. A fitting gift for one of hip-hop’s firestarters. In a candid conversation with VIBE, Joe Budden talks about leaving rap behind, creative beefs with Diddy, and how he convinced his new business partners that he isn’t crazy.

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VIBE: You dedicated so much of your life to rapping. When did you first become comfortable with the idea of leaving music behind?

Joe Budden: I don't know if I was ever comfortable with the idea. I had to condition myself to even pretend to appear comfortable. Early on, it was real tough for me to stick to my guns and say "I'm retired, I'm not rapping, don't ask me for nothing." But I had to do that because I love rapping and I love music, so if I don't do that, you can't be halfway in it and halfway out. If you're in it and you love it, you're right back in it. That took a lot, I can't say that I was ever really comfortable doing it. I don't know if I was ever comfortable with the way it sounded when it rolled off my tongue. People didn't really understand my vision of where I was trying to go, and now people understand in hindsight, but that comfort comes with time.

Do you ever write on your own at home, even if you don't put it out?

No. I've written enough in my professional career, which was part of the reason I decided to retire. You put your blood, sweat, and tears into an album and you think that's where it ends, but no–when you go on tour you're still carrying the life of that album and the life of those songs until you put your next project out. I was writing sh*t down that I was feeling with all my soul and I was living it for the next year and a half to two years, it wasn't very pleasant. So today, when I have those type of thoughts, no, I'm not in a rush to go write them. I kind of enjoy the fact that I don't have to write anything. For so long, we had to write to pay a bill, we had to write in many instances where maybe you weren't even inspired to write because it was your job. That's how passion, creativity, and love gets killed. I kind of re-gained love in retirement, if that makes any sense.

In our last interview, you said that you can't say all of these things about what artists need and what the industry needs to do, and still remain in the industry when you see it going away from that.

You just gotta lead by example. I've always had something to say about the state of the culture and it always boils down to what are you doing to fix it? Throughout my entire career, I can find pockets where I've attempted to do things differently to contribute. It wasn't until I was able to really retire and let go. They say if you love something you gotta let it go, and it just sounds like bullsh*t. But once you actually do it, once it became a selfless act, once I wasn't angry and bitter about my time in music–how can I help everyone else? Sh*t was so fu**ed up for me and goddamn, I fought the fight all of these years, and I relate to you young ni**as. I'm coming off angry ‘cause I’ve never done this before, and I'm passionate, but boy do I relate to y'all. Y'all don't have no information. Y'all getting all this f***ing money and y'all getting robbed without a gun right in front of your face, with all of the tools to do something different. It’s my responsibility, it's my duty ‘til I die. That's the mission. It's going to always be the mission, just in what tool we’re using.

"Puff just needed to know that I was not as psycho as he had read in the past."

Does it feel weird for you to be contributing to the culture from outside of it as opposed to being an artist?

I don't look at it like I'm outside of it. I look at it like I'm running right next to it from outside of it, so yeah, you’re right. But I guess I don't look at it from outside, because the good fight that I'm fighting for musicians and streaming is just musicians rights. Podcasts are streams, so I'm still fighting for the rights of entertainers. It feels different being received the way I'm being received and the way the things I say are perceived today, that feels different. For me, I'm doing the same things that I've always done. I've always been outspoken. I've always been honest. I've always said things that maybe other people were afraid to say. That's been constant through my entire career–it just so happens that the people are behaving like we need it today more than ever, so they're receptive to it.

"‍You know I ain't never really fu**ed with Joe Budden's music like that but we need this sh*t, like you might be the most important n***a out here. I'm gonna keep it a buck." Nothing flatters me more than that. It's the most unbiased, honest critique that you can say. "That thing that you thought you are excellent at, to me, is the worst thing in the world, you didn't add to my life in that. But I see value in you somewhere else." Wow. For a ni**a like me who always hung his hat on MCing, I'm humbled to the highest degree. My mom always said, “whatever attracts them to you is just what attracts them to you. Some people like you ‘cause you’re cute. Some people like you cause you’re funny. Some people like you ‘cause you got money. Welcome them all." So I welcome all these ni**as today.

It’s one thing to just shoot the sh*t with your friends in front of a microphone. But what has the process been like of creating shows and segments from the ground up?

That was practice and experience, probably. That was me at Hot 97 doing the morning show as a 23-year-old falling asleep during a commercial break. That was me sitting in my room doing some internet show called "This Is My Fu**ing Show." This was 2009-2011, I was selling it on iTunes for 99 cents–we didn't know what a podcast was, but that was a podcast. It was being at Complex and learning how to be on camera, Love and Hip Hop learning how to be on camera, and I just bring all that to the podcast and somehow it works. Rory & Mal don't give a f**k about none of that. They’re two ni**as. They’re thinkin' that we kickin' it. It's my job to try to at least simulate some form of structure, that’s where the fun part comes in for me.

How do I apply all of the things I've learned over the years to this show and take what I think broadcasting is to the next level? We’re calling it a podcast but is it a podcast? No, this is broadcasting, my ni**a. We’re reaching Africa. We reaching Egypt. We reaching people all over the fu**ing universe. That’s not a pod. [With] a pod, you think of something tight and very small. Broad means big. I'd like to think that I'm probably the broadest caster. You can plug Joe Budden in anywhere and it's going to work. Reality TV, scripted, unscripted, radio, studio, rap, podcasts, digital, YouTube—where you wanna go? Tell me what you want to do, I’ma find a way to make it work.

You've spoken previously about some of the rappers you look up to. Are there any journalists or media personalities who you look up to?

All of 'em. I look up to Angie, I look up to Clue, I look up to Flex, I look up to Charlamagne. I'm inspired by all of 'em. That's how creativity goes further. You have to pull from all of these different geniuses. But I still want to be myself, I still want to be distinctive in how I deliver, execute and broadcast.

It's interesting because often artists seem to see journalists as wanna be artists outside of the culture.

I can't identify with that because I've never looked at it like that at all. But I see what you mean, I guess in sports, people sh*t on Skip Bayless, like, "You ain't never played, ni**a shut up." I understand what you’re saying there, but I've never looked at it like that. It's what do you have to say, and how do we say it? Period. I've never looked at journalists that way ever. Y'all are really important, which is why y'all have a huge responsibility on y’all as well. The pen is mightier than the sword; I believe that I'm a wordsmith. So when journalists aren’t responsible and take that for granted, then they have a hard day with me.

As a rapper, you’ve had your share of tiffs with other artists. How do you handle pissing off an artist musically versus pissing off an artist as a media personality?

In music, it's a very competitive thing so you never really give a f**k if you pissed somebody off. Just go write a verse. I'm the better rapper, [so] let's prove it. In media, that isn’t the goal. I'm not here to offend people. I'm not here to disrespect people. I'm not here to hurt feelings so if I ever do that, I'll apologize. I'd like to think that I'm armed enough to voice my opinion without just flipping somebody the bird. We can have discourse if that's what the person wants to do. If they don't want to do that, then I don't really feel like we should have an interview in the first place, so it's going to always work out.

When I read about the Spotify and Revolt deals I thought to myself, “Joe doesn't care if he says something that's going to destroy a relationship as he is being his most honest self”–

That's correct. If I'm doing something that could be deemed as ruining a relationship. In Joe's eyes that relationship has been ruined, so there's never really much to salvage there.

But Puff has a lot of relationships.

That's why Puff is Puff, and that's why Joe is Joe. So [you’re asking] how are we going to balance me being the a**hole and a non-social person around Puff who has all of these amazing industry relationships with people I may or may not get along with, yes?

Yes, but it's not just Puff. Spotify has relationships with artists, too. Do you have any fears of there being a clash in that situation?

No. My relationships today are all based on my relationship with that person or entity. It's no longer based on how I respond to other people. That was how I had to deal as a rapper. I couldn't really say nothing bad about you if you were cool with him, and I was cool with him because we're rappers. But post-rap? … I want people to have all the relationships they want and I have my own relationships. Don't get it f**ked up. I'm not like a renegade out here. How I conduct my relationships is very different from how other people conduct theirs. I'm not I guess what you would say "industry." I've never called somebody to play my record. I've never asked somebody to play a record. I'm not massaging a relationship so you could do something for me. I don't give two fu**s about none of that sh*t. I'm here to get the work done and, fortunately, I've built my work to a place where I could do exactly what I want to do and deliver. That's how I was brought on as a partner at Spotify. That's how I was brought on as a partner with Revolt. Puff just needed to know that I was not as psycho as he had read in the past, and I assured him of that.

How did you assure him of that?

Because that's a gift. That's a talent when you see Joe Budden on camera just looking like veins are popping out of his head or looking like he’s uncontrolled or just talking with a lot of conviction. That's an on switch. Once I'm walking off the set, I'm fine. We can kick it. You need to understand that balance if you're going to develop some trust and in any relationship, you need trust–business, personal, romantic. I think in the meetings that I had with Puff, he was able to see that he can trust me. The Spotify deal doesn't get done if they're not able to trust me. I've been in this business for a long time. I've seen how relationships go when you're not to be trusted, when you're viewed as a liar, when you're viewed differently. Remember: I'm the guy that's been viewed differently, so I've been on both sides of the spectrum. So I get it, I understand it all. I don't take none of this sh*t for granted.

You and Diddy are both used to steering your own ships. What was it like to have a situation with two people who are both used to making all the decisions on their own?

I spent all of this past Friday cursing Puffy out. In my head, of course, because I have too much respect for Puff to ever disrespect him. But my point is we had a creative spat all Friday. Friday night around 11:30, we FaceTimed each other and I flipped him the bird like this and he said, "Come on, give it to me. Say it. Say 'f**k you.'" I said, "Yeah, f**k you." He smiled and laughed and he said, “I love you. I want us to be able to fight. I want us to be able to have these types of talks. We’re not gonna always agree, but we have to continue to move forward.” That's what it's like. You need that. I'm a firm believer in that creativity can't live anywhere where you can't fight, where you can't argue, where you can't disagree, where you can't debate, where I can't call you names, where I can't get up and flip this f**king table over. I might want to storm out. "Hey, I'm not talking to you this week, I'll hit you back next week." That's how great sh*t is birthed.

That wasn't happening at Complex. There were a lot of people there who were scared to speak. All the creators felt oppressed, they felt like they weren't really getting the bang for their buck. So to get to Revolt and to fight with Puff for the greater good of something we both care greatly about, I couldn't script it better. Tell me another mogul exec as accomplished as him that's in the mud. This is the mud. I left Complex in December 2017, we're premiering the show in September 2018. That's eight months of me and Puff and Robyn (Lattaker-Johnson, Revolt TV’s head of content) and John and Andre Harrell and whoever having creative differences. We could have written something out. Complex wrote 20 shows out since I left there; ask me about them. Or better yet, I'll ask you about them. You can't tell me the name; they're going to fail, they're really bad. That's what happens when you rush things. We weren't in a rush. It's going to look like we weren't in a rush.

A lot of your best work has stemmed from pain, but now you seem pretty happy: you have a partner, a new child, and you’re now working on your own terms. When Royce Da 5’9” stopped drinking, he said he had to convince himself that he could create without alcohol. Did you have to convince yourself that you could create while being happy?

Good question. After my album, All Love Lost, my good friend Emanny moved to LA. He's been my vocalist for a lot of years. We write music together, so that was a big blow to me when he left because I had to convince myself I could write music without my guy. We come up with melodies, he's my singer, he's my vocalist. Today, rap is all about melodies. "Wow, my melody guy is leaving, sh*t." I was stuck with that at one point. Then I got in there and I said, “You know what? I'm a rapper. I'm good at rap, [the] f**k are you talking about? Go rap.” I went on Rage & The Machine, and that's why every beat just sounded like a different ni**a rapping, flow-wise. I was like, “All right, what I’ma do? We’re not rapping about pain, we wanna be happy. We’re not trying to be sad and depressed and my vocalist was gone, what’s up?” And boy, I loved it. Loved the experience, loved how it came out.

I ain't even attempt to rhyme a word since that album, so it's been a few years. I've been happy and the universe has been responding to me, and they're cheapening the value of music every day. When I just look at things in totality, it's like why would I rap? Is it for the money? No. Is it to prove something? No, I've done that. Is it to give my fans another project? No, I’ve got 16. Is it to show the young people I can rap? No. What do you have to say? Have you said everything you want to say for today? Yeah. For today, my mission is greater.

I can't just be responsible for the 50,000 people that are gonna buy my album. I have to be responsible for the 2 million people that listen to a podcast a week like it's a much greater responsibility to the world. I'll be 40 years old in two years, but my birthday is Friday (August 31). Like, enough. For what? Yeah, no. God is good. Now because God is good and because the universe is so great and because we're full of so much gratitude, maybe one day down the line I’ll sit at home in a rocking chair. I'll pull a pen out and I'll say, "You know what, man? Let me just fu**ing write 12 bars and see if I still got it." And I'll toss it out there just because I can. But I can't predict that. I may have too much fun.

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Scott Harrison

Music Sermon: The Divinity Of Luther Vandross

“There are voices in this world and once they sing, it’s a stamp on everybody.” Bravo producer and personality Andy Cohen was asking Patti Labelle about her dear friend Luther Vandross on talk show Watch What Happens Live. “Luther’s done that.”

Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. was the preeminent urban pop singer; the essence of ‘80s quiet storm R&B. He was called “the velvet voice” and “the Black Pavarotti,” but there’s not really a male predecessor he compares to because he didn’t pattern himself after the soul men like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, or Teddy Pendergrass. He studied the divas. Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Patti Labelle were the voices that fascinated and inspired a young Luther. Seeing Dionne Warwick live at the Brooklyn Fox Theater made him realize he wanted to sing. “She came on stage and just killed me; the music was more serious, the song value was more serious. 'Anyone Who Has a Heart' was a masterpiece,” he told The Washington Post. “I decided at that point that I wanted to do something in music."

The difference informs the distinction between him and most other men of R&B. Luther sang from a softer space, topically and tonally. He usually sang from a gentle, easy place. Not urgent. Not aggressive. Never suggestive. His first greatest hits compilation was titled The Best of Luther, The Best of Love because his entire catalog was love. Romantic and devoted love, not sex or lust. Adoration. And while his voice is appreciated–he’s featured on every greatest vocalist list of note–the full range and depth of Luther’s vocal craftsmanship are not. He was a writer, producer, and one of the greatest vocal manipulators in the game, as well-known and sought-after from early in his career for his vocal arrangements as his singing. The New York Times once described Luther as having an “obsession with the human voice, bordering on clinical.” Some people’s gifts are leagues beyond the old talent-plus-preparation-equals-opportunity equation. Some are truly called, anointed even. Luther was divinely appointed.

The world was officially introduced to Luther in 1981, but he was already an established singer’s singer on the professional circuit. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, teenaged Luther was part of youth performing arts group sponsored by the Apollo Theater called Listen My Brother. Their music was largely social commentary, and they performed in and around New York, including on the very first episode of Sesame Street.

In 1974, Luther accidentally landed a gig as a background singer and arranger for David Bowie. He visiting a friend in Bowie’s band at the studio, and talking about an idea to improve the hook for “Young Americans,” unaware that the singer was standing within earshot. Bowie loved the idea, hired Luther, and quickly became a champion for the young singer’s budding career. Luther handled vocal arrangements for the entire Young Americans album, and additionally wrote the album cut “Infatuation.” He also performed a 45-minute opening set of his own material each night on tour, at Bowie’s insistence.

Luther’s singing here on the far left.

Bowie then introduced the crooner to Bette Midler, who took him on tour, and Luther’s career as an in-demand background singer and arranger was underway. His study of great female vocalists helped him develop an ear that set him apart. “One of the contexts you have to understand was that the background singing has always been a female-dominated area,” Luther explained in an early interview. “I was bringing stuff on my own to the sessions that was kind of unique in terms of how to do background vocals. And later I learned never to give away anything you can sell, so I started charging for this extra bit of approach, which was fine, because by this time everyone wanted it so bad that they were willing to pay for it.”

Over the years, Luther sang with Carley Simon, Chic (“Everybody Dance”), Average White Band, Chaka Khan, and Roberta Flack, who chided him for getting too comfortable as a background singer and encouraged him to finally put a demo together. Due to his own intimate relationship with excellence in backing vocals, Luther was famously known to always use the top talent in the business for his albums. A read through the personnel of his catalogue will reveal names including Cissy Houston, James Ingram, Darlene Love, Tawatha Agee (lead singer of Mtume), premiere professional backing vocalists like Fonzi Thornton, and Lisa Fischer, who Luther pushed to get out of her comfort zone and record as Flack did with him.

During a recording session for Quincy Jones, Luther was introduced to a commercial producer, who then helped him break into the jingle-writing business. He’s always been credited with his ability to write an infectious hook–that talent was honed with jingles.

Before Luther took the solo leap, he tried the group route. He briefly had a deal as part of a group called, appropriately, Luther. They recorded two albums, but neither made any noise. Then, he joined disco group Change as their frontman and had two hits, including one of my favorite mood-boosting, make everything right anthems.

Luther had a little money in his pocket from commercials and background singing, and from writing and producing a song for the Broadway musical-turned-major motion picture The Wiz.

Oh, you didn’t know Luther wrote “A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice)”?

He had the means to record and produce his demo himself, and assembled what became his career dream team. While in the group Listen My Brother, Luther met pianist Nat Adderly, Jr., son of jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley and nephew of saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. As a session singer, he met bassist Marcus Miller and recommended him to Gladys Knight, and the two bonded while on tour. He recruited them both to put together the songs that eventually became Never Too Much, and they were key contributing architects to Luther’s signature sound.

Miller is responsible for those slappin’ basslines that were prevalent in Luther’s early work, and for most of Luther’s uptempo cuts. “I never had any official responsibilities with Luther because we used to just work,“ Marcus shared in an interview, “but I felt like one of my (unspoken) responsibilities was to make sure Luther had tracks on his album that could be played on the radio during the day time.”

Adderley’s genius came through in Luther’s trademark covers. In Luther’s case, “remake” is a more apt description than “cover,” because he and Nat would take the original songs apart, stretch them out, invert them, slow parts down, add sections, reverse some sh*t… it was a whole different composition when they were done. The lush string and woodwind arrangements in Luther ballads are Nat’s handiwork. Incredible piano flourishes and solos, also Nat.

When both Miller and Adderley worked on the track, magic ensued, starting with Luther’s forever-a-bop solo debut “Never Too Much.” Coming out of the funk band driven ‘70s landscape, labels were doubtful of Luther’s smooth solo style. Epic finally took a chance, and it hit just as popular urban music went through its next evolution, which happened to be right in Luther’s sonic pocket.

“Luther, Marcus Miller and I had a real musical connection,” Nat has said. “We saw stuff the same way. We thought of things in the same way. When we came together, we really learned about each other and fed off of each other.”

Luther knew who he was as a singer and an artist. He wrote and produced the majority of his early material, and continued to co-write and co-produce through most of his career. He was clear on what worked for him both vocally and formulaically. Marcus Miller shared, “One of the things I used to hear him say was ‘I don’t need to compete with any other singers. Other singers sing hard, high, and with a lot of riffs. That’s not me. That’s not my thing. I’m just going to style these people to death.’” And he styled us to death, honey. Luther was the king of melisma and dramatic effect, but without oversinging. Where most vocalists would build towards a climax in the song, Luther’s structure was often reversed. He’d start easy, build during the middle, and come back to a soft, light, but emotional close.

This careful, deliberate singing was part of his genius. There’s a reason Black folks yell “Take your time,” to soloists when they’re in their bag–mastery isn’t rushed.

As I mentioned before, Luther was also a transformative cover artist. Would straight Deebo your song – that was his song, now. And artists didn’t even mind, because he elevated it so incredibly. Some of Luther’s biggest hits are covers: “Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me” (The Carpenters and Aretha Franklin), “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (Dionne Warwick), “Since I Lost My Baby” (The Temptations), “Bad Boy/Having a Party” (an interpolation of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party”), “If Only for One Night” (Brenda Russell), “Creepin’” (Stevie Wonder). He was a repeat offender with Dionne Warwick’s material from Burt Bacharach and Hal David, jacking not just “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” the song that blew him away at a young age, but also “A House is Not a Home”–on the same album. And she didn’t even care, look at her.

Luther’s capabilities as Mr. Steal-Your-Song also translated to his strength as a duet partner. He knew how to blend voices so perfectly, he was outstanding when paired with another strong vocalist. Luther produced Cheryl Lynn’s 1982 album Instant Love, and took the opportunity to use a Tammi and Marvin classic to showcase the singer’s strength beyond uptempo dance hits.

One of my favorite Luther duets and covers is an album cut with the tragically uncelebrated Martha Wash. Their version of the torch song standard “I Who Have Nothing,” is a little heavy on production in some places, especially the early ‘90s R&B sax, but their voices are perfect together. And the breakdown at the end? Whew. All the feels. All of them.

But Luther could also do very sweet and simple arrangements, like his duet with Gregory Hines. This song always makes me wish Gregory had done more professional singing after he left musical theater.

Don’t get it twisted, though, Luther specialized in controlled vocals, but he could act a fool when he wanted to. Especially when playing off the energy of another singer, like his dear friend and my favorite Auntie, queen of extra just because she can, Patti Labelle.

Jenifer Holliday and Luther messed around and pushed poor Paul Simon out of his own damn song.

Luther was a balladeer of elite caliber, but he’ll also get an uptempo jumpin’, literally. When Aretha’s career was in a lengthy lull and facing the challenges of a new musical era, Clive Davis called Luther to write and produce for her. Luther, who once called himself an "Arethacologist," was thrilled to work with one of his biggest idols and inspirations. But Luther was a very exacting producer; he would tell vocalists specifically what and how to sing. Auntie Re wasn’t playing that at first, and even stormed out of the studio at one point, but the end result was her biggest hit in seven years.

Luther himself has several cookout and red cup party classics. Tunes that me, you, your mama and your cousin can dance to. That’s part of the beauty in Luther’s music; there’s no content too mature–or too immature–for anyone. While recalling Luther, Marcus Miller remarked, “There is no greater feeling in the world than walking down the street in New York City and hearing a Luther song blasting in the street.” I can personally confirm, as someone who’s heard Luther blasting while in these New York City streets.

What I don’t believe is acknowledged enough is Luther’s longevity. A 20-year career is a rare feat for any artist, but especially for a core R&B singer who started in the ‘80s. Luther did have pop hits–“Here and Now” was one of the biggest wedding songs of the ‘90s–but he was always a core R&B artist, and always stayed on brand and on topic. He was somewhat inactive in the latter ‘90s after ending his contract with Epic Records; he released one album with Virgin records in 1996, but it’s not usually included in his definitive material. Whispers and speculation about his health began, as he’d spent much of the ‘90s going up and down dramatically with his weight. But he made a fierce return in the early aughts. His final two albums, with Clive Davis’ J. Records, were two of the biggest in his career, with material that was relevant and contemporary without sounding contrived.

This song makes me want to put on some white linen and go on somebody’s boat ride.

As secure as Luther had always been in his artistry, he still felt overlooked as a writer and producer and longed for critical recognition beyond R&B. Out of 33 career Grammy nominations with eight wins, only two were in the Pop category. It wasn’t until his final album, 2003’s Dance With my Father, that Luther earned the elusive Song of the Year nomination and subsequent win he’d been longing for, for the album’s title track. But he also suffered a debilitating stroke in April 2003, before the project’s release. Since he was unable to shoot a video, artists who loved him stepped in with their children or parents as a tribute. Warning: this video may cause severe allergy flareups.

I have no doubt that barring health issues, Luther would at minimum still be touring. He was one of the most thorough live performers I’ve ever seen, with production simple enough to keep the vocals as the centerpiece, but extra enough so you were visually entertained as well (lots of sequins). Luther was touring in 2003 until his stroke (do yourself a favor and listen to his Live at Radio City Music Hall album, his last live appearance), and was scheduled to perform at Essence Festival that year. Can you imagine Luther at Essence Fest?

When news of Luther’s death broke, my mother and I–both huge fans–were driving to a family reunion, and we played and sang along to his music for about four states. I still play Luther when I need a boost, or when I want to burrow deep down into my feelings. When I want to go into chill mode, or when I want to dance around the house. Luther is all-purpose. He is all-emotion. He is everything. He was a gift.

--

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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Issa Vibe: The Best Songs To Fit Your Different 4/20 Sessions

April 20th isn’t a national holiday, but it might as well be.

Although recreational marijuana use is only legal in 10 states, the U.S. is home to approximately 35 million regular users of cannabis, according to a survey done by Yahoo News and Marist University. That's 10.6 percent of the American population and while that may seem minuscule, the numbers are growing daily and it's understandable.

Weed has now become a staple of American culture; it's become a legitimate business in the states where it's legal, it's now part of the way people socialize, and better yet it's a theme in some of the hottest music out today. "Kush" has been included in some of the hardest verses that millennials and generation-z kids have heard in their lifetime.

Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg, amazing emcees in their own right, are also widely known for their love of the green plant. Wiz's biggest album, Rolling Papers is clearly influenced by weed and along with the Snoop Dogg-assisted "Young, Wild & Free" is all about that green positivity.

There's an endless list of hits about rolling up a joint, hitting it and passing it, but what about moods? Whether it's a bowl, a blunt or an edible weed, can leave people feeling a variety of ways and that all can be traced to a certain strand of weed someone's inhaling, or the mood they're already.

Regardless, it's important to be prepared and have music ready to match whatever feelings marijuana concocts; and that's why VIBE compiled an adequate list of songs for each of the main pot moods.

So on this 4/20, sit back, relax, smoke and find the songs that suit the vibe.

___

The "Let Me Chill Out" Mood 

Sometimes the best way to come down from an over the top high is to play some tunes with a soft beat and a light voice. The best artists in the game right now, like Jhené Aiko for instance, have created that sound that's perfect for when relaxation is needed, so of course, she made the list.  These are the top four songs that can help anyone kick back and relax if a pull from a joint just isn't hitting the right way.

"Blue Dream" by Jhené Aiko "Muse" by Afro Nostalgia "Summer Games" by Drake "LOVE." by Kendrick Lamar (feat. Zacari) The Bad B*tch Hours or "Top Two and I'm Not Two" Mood 

You look around the room and realize: you're top two and you're not two in it. All it took was one or a couple of puffs and then a pass to make you feel pretty good about yourself. One of the main upsides to smoking that's constantly mentioned in the media is that it can help alleviate chronic pain, well, another positive to it is that it can leave you feeling sexy, sensual and everything in between.

This is that high that can make you feel that you're significant other is lucky to have you, and subsequently makes you hit them up, that tells you: you're single and ready to mingle. It's a smoking session that lets you know: if you shoot your shot now, you'll score and it's a session that you want music playing that only affirms how sultry and seductive you feel. If this is how 4/20 leaves you feeling, putting on some RiRi or even Young Thug can effectively get you 'in your bag.'

"Same Ol' Mistakes" by Rihanna "Tyrant" by Kali Uchis (feat. Jorja Smith) "Worth It" by Young Thug "Smoke Break" by Chance the Rapper (feat. Future) The "Head in the Clouds" Mood 

More often than not, edibles have the power of leaving people spaced out and speaking slowly, after consuming them. Sometimes smoking weed, or hotboxing with friends is a silent event. Either everyone's consumed by their phones, or every other person has been looking at a nonexistent spot on the wall for the past 15 minutes.

Regardless this isn't the high where people want to hear "Act Up" by City Girls, no matter how much they love them. No, this is the high where people need music that takes them on a journey. Songs where the production is out of this world and it seems like the artist specifically made the song for a smoke session like no other. Travis Scott's ASTROWORLD is full of tracks with that vibe, and Lil' Wayne, a weed connoisseur of his own, has songs that fulfill that need too. Smoke a bit and let the weed do its thing.

"ASTROTHUNDER" by Travis Scott "I Feel Like Dying" by Lil' Wayne "Hyyer" by Kid Cudi "St. Tropez" by J. Cole The "Got the Giggles" Mood 

This is when the blunt hits perfectly and there's nothing wrong in the world or when the bowl did its' job and leaves everyone feeling silly. A "feel good high" is the best way to describe and the best way to live through that kind of smoke session is to listen to some "feel good music." These are the songs that can have people swaying unknowingly to its' beat, or the tracks that leave people smiling from ear to ear. This is the session that lets people know that "this is it chief," and here are the best songs to go along with it.

"Pass the Vibes" by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment "Dreamcatcher" by Metro Boomin' (feat. Swae Lee & Travis Scott) "It's a Vibe" by 2 Chainz (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz & Jhené Aiko) "Binz" by Solange
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4/20: A VIBE-Era Timeline Of Hip-Hop's Relationship With Cigars And Rolling Papers

Hip-hop's relationship with Mary Jane has always been a beloved one. From song from artists like Styles P, Curren$y and Snoop Dogg, laying back and enjoying nature's herbs is a coveted pastime in the game.

But we wouldn't be able to enjoy it all without the inclusion of cigars and rolling papers. Sure, we have vapes and other creative ways to reach aerial heights, but the OG accessories bring a different element to the table. The herb holiday might be a perfect time for enthusiasts to light one in the air, but VIBE was inspired to pay homage to hip-hop's love for the preroll.

Only keeping the VIBE-era in mind (starting from 1992), we analyzed companies like Swisher Sweets, Phillies and more, along with its ambassadors throughout the game like Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill and Wiz Khalifa.

Enjoy the brief timeline of Hip-Hop's relationship with cigars and rolling papers below.

Made with Visme Infographic Maker

___ 1. Zig Zag

 

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A post shared by Zig-Zag World (@zigzagworld) on Apr 15, 2019 at 1:06pm PDT

Established Since 1855

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1992-1996 / 2009-2013

Most Popular in California

Top Ambassadors: Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, Juicy J

In 1988, N.W.A. founder Eazy-E established Zig Zag as the official rolling paper for west-coasters after referencing the brand on a song from his solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It. In subsequent years, Zig Zag would appear on songs from legends like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, and B-Real, resulting in the brand becoming synonymous with the west coast.

The decline in west coast rap's popularity during the latter half of the '90s would result in a decreased amount of nods to Zig Zag within hip-hop, as other brands continued to dominate the conversation. In 2009, Zig Zag's standing among rap fans would receive a jolt when Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y teamed up for their collaborative mixtape How Fly, which included numerous references to the brand. However, as other brands of rolling papers began to dominate the market, Zig Zag's approval rating faltered slightly, but continues to transcend generations and will forever be remembered as the O.G. smokers utensil.

2. E-Z Wider

Established Since 1972

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1992-1996 / 2008-2011

Most Popular in New York

Top Ambassadors: Wiz Khalifa, Chris Webby

The east coast's affinity for blunts is well-documented, but for a brief period during the '90s, EZ-Wider became the alternative for a select group of rappers out of New York City. Introduced into to hip-hop lexicon by A Tribe Called Quest member Phife Dawg on "Scenario (Demo 2)," EZ-Wider enjoyed a short run among smokers in the hip-hop community before losing its luster by the mid-'90s.

After more than a decade of sporadic mentions in rap songs, EZ-Wider made a comeback. This was largely on the strength of rappers like Wiz Khalifa, who brought the brand back to prominence in the late aughts during his transition from rolling cigars to smoking using paper. Over the past decade, EZ-Wider's popularity has been eclipsed by competing brands in the market, but its place within hip-hop history is secure.

3. Phillies Cigars (Known as Phillie Blunts)

 

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A post shared by Phillies Cigars & Tobacco Fans (@philliescigars) on Oct 7, 2018 at 1:19pm PDT

Established Since 1910

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1992-1999

Most Popular in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Atlanta

Top Ambassadors: Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Redman, Big Pun, Big Boi, N.O.R.E., Big L

The first cigar to truly reign supreme in hip-hop is the Phillie blunt with a history that runs deep. Referenced as early as 1989, the Phillie came to prominence during the early '90s, with rappers like Redman, Nas, and The Notorious B.I.G. becoming unofficial ambassadors of the brand.

Found in some of the most memorable rap songs of all-time, the Phillie blunt was the cigar of choice on the east coast but began to spread to regions like the south and midwest, with artists like Big Boi of Outkast, and Twista singing its praises. By the end of the '90s, the popularity of the Phillie blunt began to wane, and while it still receives the occasional mention for nostalgic purposes, has never regained its stature as the go-to cigar in hip-hop.

4. Swisher Sweets

Established Since 1959

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1993-Present

Most Popular in California, Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, Louisiana

Top Ambassadors: Three 6 Mafia, UGK, 8Ball & MJG, Scarface, Kid Ink, Lil Wayne, Freddie Gibbs, Gucci Mane, Wiz Khalifa, The Game, Lil Durk, Fat Trel, Ab-Soul, YG, Danny Brown, Fredo Santana, Machine Gun Kelly, Wale, Mac Miller, G-Eazy, G Herbo, Kevin Gates, Jeezy, 21 Savage

During the early '90s, Swisher Sweets emerged as the cigar brand of choice among marijuana enthusiasts in the south and western regions of the country. Since as early as 1993, when rap group Souls of Mischief helped put the brand on the map, Swisher Sweets cigars have become a staple in hip-hop, maintaining their popularity for the better part of a quarter century.

Over the years, Swisher Sweets has been name-dropped in songs by rappers from all corners of the country, but rap legends UGK and Three 6 Mafia were among the brand's most fervent supporters. Today, artists like Gucci Mane and Lil Yachty continue to keep Swisher Sweet in the public consciousness and recognized as one of the legacy smoking utensils in hip-hop culture

5. White Owl Cigarillos

 

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A post shared by Gotham Cigars (@gothamcigars) on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:29am PDT

Established Since 1887

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1993-1997

Most Popular in New York

Top Ambassadors: Wu-Tang Clan

One cigar that caught traction among marijuana aficionados during the early-mid '90s was the White Owl, which became one of the leading brands on the east coast at its peak. Initially popping up on the rap radar via a mention by Gang Starr member Guru in 1992, White Owl would be championed by a number of rap artists out of New York. One act that helped solidify White Owl's standing within hip-hop culture was the Wu-Tang Clan, as numerous members of the Staten Island-based collective paid homage to the brand until its sudden decrease in popularity during the latter half of the decade.

6. Optimo

 

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A post shared by | Cigars (@optimocigars) on Feb 24, 2019 at 5:02pm PST

Established Since 1898

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1997-2001

Most Popular in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee

Top Ambassador: Juicy J

The Notorious B.I.G. may have immortalized the brand after referencing their cigars on his hit single "Big Poppa," but Optimo's lineage in hip-hop can be actually traced back to the southern region of the country. As rap acts out of the south began to reach a national audience during the latter half of the '90s, Optimo's approval rating skyrocketed as well, quickly becoming the cigar of choice for many of the region's star talent.

This particularly proved true in states like Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, where Optimo was considered king among blunt smokers and mentioned at a seemingly constant clip. Optimo cigars are not as prominent in rap lyrics as they once were, but remain a legacy brand in the south and have earned their rightful place in the annals of hip-hop history.

7. Garcia Y Vega

 

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GO GET #1882 BACKWOODS AT YOUR NEAREST SMOKE SHOP!!! #1882s

A post shared by Garcia Y Vega 1882 Cigars (@1882_backwoods) on Jun 22, 2015 at 10:57am PDT

Established Since 1882

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop):1995-2001

Most Popular in New York, California

Top Ambassador: JT tha Bigga Figga

One cigar brand that had a brief, but noteworthy run within hip-hop was Garcia Y Vega, which was touted by various rap artists on the east coast in beyond. Finding its way into a rap song as early as 1994, the popularity of the Garcia Y Vega cigar was largely relegated to the east coast during its peak years in the latter half of the '90s.

The brand's popularity reached all the way to California, where rappers like JT the Bigga Figga helped give Garcia Y Vega its cultural clout. Today, a Garcia Y Vega cigar is largely considered a relic, but its recognition within the hip-hop community as one of the defining brands for blunt-gut spillers is well-deserved.

8. Dutch Masters Cigars

 

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#DutchMastersCigars

A post shared by Russian Cream (@dutchmasterscigars) on Apr 15, 2019 at 5:31pm PDT

Established Since 1911

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1996-2008

Most Popular in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia

Top Ambassadors: Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, The Lox

In terms of sheer dominance of the market, Dutch Masters was once at the top of the list of cigars among marijuana smokers. Introduced by members of the Wu-Tang Clan during the group's rise to power, Dutch Masters would quickly catch on with fellow New Yorkers, including like-minded rap acts Mobb Deep and The LOX.

By the time the smoke from the cigar wars of the '90s cleared, Dutch Masters was the clear victor, as the brand extended its dominance into the next decade. While Dutch Masters' stronghold on the lungs of rap artists and fans alike began to dissipate by the end of the aughts, the brand still receives nods til this day and remains the go-to cigar within the hip-hop community.

9. Backwoods Smokes

 

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Rate these 1-10 and why? #exoticbackwoods

A post shared by Backwoods Cigars (@backwoods_cigars) on Mar 26, 2019 at 3:41pm PDT

Established Since 1973

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1998-2005, 2013-Present

Most Popular in New York, Philadelphia, California, Texas, Atlanta

Top Ambassadors: Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Mac Dre, Travis Scott, Lil Yachty,

One cigar that has transcended regions and managed to sustain its standing among marijuana smokers is the Backwood, which has a history that is as rich as any brand in hip-hop. Referenced in a rap lyric as far back as 1994, by the turn of the century, Backwoods saw a spike in popularity, with rappers from the east coast and west coasts singing its praises.

After finding equal footing with the competing cigar brands at the time, Backwoods' visibility within rap dipped during the latter half of the aughts, before returning to prominence the next decade. This was due in large part to the influx of a new generation of rap stars gravitating to the brand, resulting in it regaining its reputation as the unofficial cigar of hip-hop as of 2019 and moving forward.

10. RAW Rolling Papers

 

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A few cones a day.. : @ganjawitness #rawlife #natural #rollingpapers #alcoyspain #rawpapersovereverything

A post shared by RAW Rolling Papers (@rawlife247) on Feb 10, 2019 at 5:10pm PST

Established Since 2005

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 2012-Present

Most Popular in North America

Top Ambassadors: Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, 2 Chainz, Mick Jenkins, Chris Webby, Z-Ro, Futuristic

As the new kid on the block, RAW Rolling Papers may lack the rich history of other brands in the market, however, its place as the current smoking utensil of choice in hip-hop cannot be denied.

Establishing itself right in time for the cultural gravitation to rolling papers during the late aughts, RAW Rolling Papers capitalized on early cosigns from marijuana mavens like Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y to infiltrate the culture. With about a decade since its first mention in a rap song, RAW Papers have become a cultural institution in their own right, partnering with various rap artists and connecting the dots between hip-hop, culture, and marijuana.

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