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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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Music Sermon: Classic Conscious Posse Cuts For The Hip-Hop Generation

#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.

The year 1985 saw one of the biggest moments in music history when Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson gathered pop and rock stars from across the musical spectrum as U.S.A. for Africa for the anthemic “We Are The World,” raising funds for short and long-term humanitarian aid throughout Africa.

The following year, Dexter Scott King was inspired to create a similar moment. After decades-long efforts in Congress with pushes from public figures and notable artists, his father Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was finally being observed as a national holiday. King wanted to tap younger energy - the growing hip-hop generation – to put a spin on “We Are The World” in commemoration of the first MLK Day.

King reached out to Kurtis Blow, who’d been part of a mass anti-apartheid project the year prior. “I get a call… he says, ‘Hello, Kurtis. I want you to record a song for my father.’ I hung up on him,” Blow told Vlad TV. “He calls me back, ‘I’m serious, I’m Dexter Scott King.’ I said, ‘You playin’.” Kurtis finally realized nobody was playing on his phone, and they got to work. With Blow as producer, King and co-writer/co-producer Phillip Jones assembled a who’s who of young hip urban and urban crossover artists. “Anyone who was too young for ‘We are the World,’” he explained to Vlad: El Debarge, Stephanie Mills, Whitney Houston, Lisa Lisa, Full Force, Stephanie Mills, Teena Marie, Menudo (featuring young Ricky Martin), New Edition, Stacy Lattisaw, James JT Taylor, Whodini, Run-DMC, Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys and Kurtis.

They planned to shoot a video at the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change — the designated recipient of all proceeds from the song — to give it a proper spotlight, but they needed money. A benefactor showed up in the form of Prince. Yes, that Prince. According to Kurtis, The Purple One donated $90,000 for a visual.

At this point, supergroups for a worthy cause weren’t a brand new thing. Prior to “We Are The World,” there was Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” for Ethiopian Famine Relief. In 1985, Artists United Against Apartheid released “Sun City,” but it was nowhere near as big a hit or pop culture moment as the other two.

“King Holiday” was the first of these event songs for us. For something specifically and directly connected to and about us.

After that, black musicians teamed up were several other socially-charged collaborations that took on issues close to home or challenged us as a community to do better–and then there weren’t any more of them. It could be because of lack of incentive, or abundance of egos. Or shrinking of artist pools in some areas, or the shrinking of budgets overall. It’s certainly not due to lack of topical options. Whatever the cause, in honor of MLK Day, we’re going to look back at some of the great supergroup movement moments in black music.

STOP THE VIOLENCE MOVEMENT: “SELF-DESTRUCTION” – 1989

In the three short years between “King Holiday” and “Self-Destruction,” rap expanded from a niche genre to a full cultural movement. But along with that ascension came a growing affiliation with violence. In ‘87 and ‘88, melees were breaking out at rap concerts, and the art form was held solely responsible. Two incidents at New York’s Nassau Coliseum, one with a fatality, were the breaking point. Just as hip hop was coming into its own, it was in danger of stalling out. Media and community leaders were condemning rap as a negative influence. Venues started banning rap concerts, a pall hung that over rap shows and tours until the Hard Knock Life Tour ushered in a new era of all-rap shows more than a decade later.

The situation was dire. Journalist Nelson George contacted music executive Ann Carli with an idea: a posse cut with an anti-violence message. They took the name “Stop the Violence Movement” from a Boogie Down Productions song, and so appropriately enlisted BDP’s help. “This wasn’t about police brutality,” founding member D-Nice said around the song’s 25th anniversary. “This was about how we were killing each other and why we needed to put a stop to it.” The 17-year-old D-Nice produced the song, and BDP leader KRS-One laid his verse down first, followed by some of the best-known rappers on the East Coast: Ms. Melodie, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Heavy D, Public Enemy, Stetsasonic and Just-Ice. Just was a controversial addition because he’d recently been accused of shooting someone, but his presence lent sincerity to the message. The video, shot in part at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, was the largest gathering of rappers at one time to date. Beef was squashed, like former rivals DJ Red Alert and DJ Marley Marl pictured together at Scott LaRock’s grave. And though the record featured all east coast lyricists, Tone Loc showed up to rep the west in solidarity.

“Self-Destruction” was released on Martin Luther King, Jr Day in 1989, and received video support, but it didn’t get mainstream radio airplay. It still reached No. 1 on the rap charts in March and stayed there for ten weeks, driving enough sales enough to raise $500,000 for the National Urban League. The Stop the Violence Movement and “Self-Destruction” are still considered one of the most important moments in hip hop. The following year, the west coast took the baton.

WEST COAST HIP HOP ALL-STARS: “WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME GANG” – 1990

Even if you’ve never set foot on the left coast, you know that LA was embroiled with racial tension, gang violence and a confirmed distrust between the black community and law enforcement in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s the climate that birthed “F*ck the Police” and Boyz N The Hood. “All in the Same Gang” was created in the same spirit as “Self-Destruction,” but specifically addressing the violence between nearly 100,000 Los Angeles area gang members.

Michael Concepcion, a founding member of the Crips, conceived the idea after a shootout left him paralyzed from the waist down. He reached out to key west coast artists – some former gang members themselves – to float the idea. Once they were on board, he pitched it Warner Brothers Records. His path was no doubt made easier by the success of “We’re All in the Same Gang.” Additionally, hip-hop’s commercial viability was being recognized as a real thing thanks to Yo! MTV Raps, among other factors. Warner got on board. The single was produced by Dr. Dre––his first track that wasn’t for Ruthless Records––and proceeds were designated for LA youth organization Project Build.

The track featured 14 of the west coast’s biggest rap and rap-affiliated stars, including Tone Loc, Young MC, Digital Underground, MC Hammer, JJ Fad, Michel'le, Def Jeff, Oaktown's 3-5-7, and N.W.A. The video was shot in Watts at the Nickerson Gardens projects––Blood territory, but the Bloods and Crips provided joint security during a temporary truce. Again, assisted with the foundation laid by “Self-Destruction” and illustrating how far rap had come in a short time, the single surpassed the success of its east coast predecessor. It not only hit No. 1, but crossed over to the Hot 100 chart and earned a Grammy nod for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

H.E.A.L. (Human Education Against Lies): “HEAL YOURSELF” – 1991

KRS-One is hip-hop’s Al Sharpton. If there’s some organizing poppin’ off, he or Chuck D––who may as well be hip-hop’s Jesse Jackson––is in the mix. It’s what they do; it’s their role in the culture. KRS and Chuck talked about this during a Rap City takeover in 1992, “The reason I came up with certain topics like H.E.A.L. and Self Destruction, etc., is because of the need for black people to be organized…So we get most of the rappers together, we organize, say something of some relevance…With rap music, when it’s time to get busy, I can get on the phone with Kane and go,‘Yo Kane, what’s up?’ I can get on the phone with Heavy and go ‘Yo Heavy, what’s up?’ and they’ll be right there.”

KRS always had a focus on self-education. Distrust of the education system and messages from mainstream media was a prevalent theme in his music. The collective H.E.A.L., named for an acronym Human Education Against Lies, expanded on that as a movement against propaganda and false information. “Heal Yourself” features Kid Capri, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J (perhaps redeeming himself for not participating in “Self Destruction”), MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Ms Melodie, Jam Master Jay, DMC, Freddie Foxx and KRS-One kicking knowledge about education, colorism, drugs, sex, AIDS, domestic violence and politics. The collaborative released a full album, Civilization vs. Technology, but as the lead track, “Heal Yourself,” is the best-known.

B.M.U. (Black Men United): “U WILL KNOW” – 1994

All the black male singers in the known universe came together to create this uplifting theme song for the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack. “U Will Know” is one of those moments unlikely to happen again, simply because there aren’t enough artists to pull off an event outing of this magnitude. The death of R&B groups alone probably halved the potential roster.

Aaron Hall, After 7, Al B. Sure!, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Christopher Williams, Guy, El DeBarge, Gerald LeVert, H-Town, INTRO, Joe, Keith Sweat, The Rude Boys, Portrait, R. Kelly, Silk, Stokley Williams, Tevin Campbell, Raphael Saadiq (on bass) and the Tony’s, Usher, Lenny Kravitz (also on bass). Yes, all of ‘em. Together. Same song. Your church’s Men’s Day Mass Choir could never.

But “U Will Know” is more than a soundtrack song; it’s now part of soul music lore. The gospel-infused track was written by a young D’Angelo, and his brother. It was the second song he’d ever written, on his first demo, and his publisher placed it for the film. He’s often credited the song with landing him his deal.

Looking back on the video now, he belongs amongst those artists and their voices and talents, but in actuality he was the new kid. “It was surreal,” he shared in a 2014 Red Bull Music Academy interview. “Here I am in a room with all my heroes.”

The track hit No. 4 on the Billboard R&B chart and cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100. But the biggest takeaway, if we’re keeping it a buck, is that Gerald Levert lowkey called everybody else his background singers.

“FREEDOM (The Theme from Panther)” – 1995

In 1995, it was the ladies’ turn, with a once-in-a-career mass assembly for the Panther soundtrack. “Freedom” originated on Atlanta R&B singer and Dungeon Family affiliate Joi’s super slept-on debut album, The Pendulum Vibe. Director Mario Van Peebles then had the idea to flip the Dallas Austin track for the Panther soundtrack and gathered, apparently, every black female artist signed to a label. Many reports say over 60 artists were involved, but VIBE cited 93 artists in its August 1995 issue – all for a monumental song and video.

“Freedom” was promoted as a tribute to the women who’ve fought in the trenches for liberation and justice like Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, Harriet Tubman (note: here’s a moment where it’s acceptable to evoke Tubman, rappers), Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks. The collaboration encompassed female artists across multiple genres. The main edit featured Vanessa Williams, Mary J. Blige, Zhane, TLC, Aaliyah, Caron Wheeler, Pebbles, Xscape, Brownstone, Karyn White, Amel Larrieux, Monica, En Vogue, Joi, Queen Latifah, Patra, N’Dea Davenport and Miss Jones (seriously, everybody with a deal) on vocals. (In a cute parallel to “You Will Know,” vocal arrangement was in the hands of a not-yet-known Angie Stone).

There was also an all-rap version with Patra, Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-n-Pepa, Left Eye, Yo-Yo, and Me'Shell NdegéOcello (Spoken word. Rap. Same.). The lyrics addressed standing up to racism and oppression, but also fighting against misogyny and sexism, all through sisterhood.

“I represent not only in the kitchen and the bedroom / But also in the boardroom so give me more room / Deny my opportunity, you in jeopardy / Yo, yo, set me free, don't hinder me, let me be”

There's only one thing infuriating about “Freedom:” there’s so little story around it. Nothing like this had ever happened before and will probably never happen again (there aren’t enough artists!), but there’s no easily-found behind-the-scenes footage, no EPK interviews, no making-of documentation. This was obviously conceived to be a moment, but wasn’t documented as such, which is a loss to music history. There’s not even a mass choir name!

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Over the years, these supergroup projects continue to pop up occasionally as world events call for them. There was even a “We are the World 25” for Haiti disaster relief. However, the art form of conscious posse cuts has fallen off. In 2015, The Game spearheaded collective of rappers and R&B singers for “Don’t Shoot,” a tribute to Michael Brown and in support of Ferguson, but it wasn’t a moment. There wasn’t the requisite in-studio-with-headphones video. In an age where artists can’t easily agree to outside projects without the label in a huff, when it’s not as easy to get on the phone with your peers the way KRS One did and summon them for action, and when verses can be sent via email with no direct connection with collaborators, the comradery and communion in these projects is lost, and that was the heart. Fortunately, time hasn’t dulled the relevance of these earlier moments.

PS: Somebody give MC Lyte the “Most Consistent” award for being in basically all of these joints.

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Mac Miller performs during Behind The Scenes With Mac Miller Filming Music Choice's 'Take Back Your Music' Campaign at Music Choice on July 17, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Thundercat, Juicy J, Ariana Grande And More Pay Tribute To Mac Miller For 27th Birthday

It's not lost on many just how much Mac Miller's influence affects today's lovers of hip-hop. The rapper and songwriter's passing was a blow to the industry last year as he seemed to be hitting a special space in his creative journey.

With today (Jan. 19) being what would've been his 27th birthday, friends and musical partners are sharing stories and messages of love about their favorite Capricorn.

Frequent collaborator and friend Thundercat shared on Twitter a moment Mac helped create with the "Them Changes" artist and his family. "All three of us were in the same room, playing and creating and enjoying music with Mac," he tweeted about an impromptu session with his brothers and Mac.

"Mac was and always will be a special dude, he was definitely Lebowski to me. I will always remember a man I considered to be another one of my real brothers and best of friends in the short time we got to spend together. I miss him so much every day."

See more touching messages from Mac's friends below.

Mac was hands down one of thee freshest people I’ve met so far in life, never a dull moment. I’ll share one of my favorite moments with you guys on this most dope day. I always enjoyed getting a chance to work with him, we would spend days at a time...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

..Creating music, playing music and introducing each other to new music all the time. This is the day he met my brothers @drummaboiblue1 & @_K_I_N_T_A_R_O_ it was a bit of a whirlwind how it all happened because at separate times they both came flying...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...through the studio door at separate times of the late night. My older brother @drummaboiblue1 kicked the door in and starts rapping and making hip hop hands at Mac who was sitting at the computer and it was so intense he just turned and looked at me like..

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...”Holy shit, this is your brother?” I didn’t know what to expect next because it could have easily gone south, but I got a chance to see what made Mac so special. My brother is hands down the most amazing drummer in the world *dont at me* and what I saw...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...from Mac really stays in my heart because I watched him turn my older brothers energy into creative energy by challenging him about the title of best drummer in the world, and handing him pots & pans and things from around the studio and the house...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

..shortly after Mac turns to me & says “hey man your brother @_K_I_N_T_A_R_O_ is gonna come by, I immediately felt like there was a possibility that this would be overwhelming for Mac, as I have seen from past situations in life experience with people & us..

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...but none the less, all three of us were in the same room, playing and creating and enjoying music with Mac. For those that don’t see the significance, music and family can be a very intense experience in itself in life (if you know, you understand)....

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...it’s not always so easy and lighthearted like everyone would like to imagine it is however as it may be, the night went on,and the moment passed. Since that moment me and my brothers never really would be in that same setting and satire for years...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...the reason that this story is so special is because while we were working on what’s the use, he started going through old music and came across that song, when he played it I began to tear up and I had to keep myself together because it was so special...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...that he captured it! Almost like a photo. he turned to me and reminded me of how wild that night was and we had a good laugh about it and continued working. No one really owns any recordings of us like that, so it was really special to me...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...Mac was and always will be a special dude, he was definitely Lebowski to me. I will always remember a man I considered to be another one of my real brothers and best of friends in the short time we got to spend together. I miss him so much every day...

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

...he changed my life in a real way. Thank you @MacMiller Happy Birthday! pic.twitter.com/4HVdwj2fMs

— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) January 19, 2019

https://twitter.com/ArianaGrande/status/1086537160079990784

Happy birthday Mac Miller! pic.twitter.com/DT31Smpbqt

— Hi-Tek (@HiTek) January 19, 2019

Happy Birthday @MacMiller. Love You Always & Forever

— THE INTERNET (@intanetz) January 19, 2019

Smile today - Mac Miller ❤️ pic.twitter.com/l5rmQDu5XE

— Karen Civil (@KarenCivil) January 19, 2019

 

View this post on Instagram

 

damn i miss this so much! i miss jamming with you and writing with you and talking about anything and everything. just watching you produce was my favorite. i miss the way you used to support me in everything that i did. i miss your smile and your tight ass hugs. i love you. happy birthday to a legend.

A post shared by NJOMZA (@notnjomza) on Jan 19, 2019 at 10:07am PST

Happy birthday to one of the purest artists I’ve ever known, Mac Miller 🙏🏾 RIP https://t.co/e8IIGaRjhx

— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) January 19, 2019

we miss you and love you Mac Miller happy birthday

— rex orange county (@rexorangecounty) January 19, 2019

Happy bday to my brother Mac Miller i miss my bro every day https://t.co/pXAn552l1w

— juicy j (@therealjuicyj) January 19, 2019

happy birthday Mac! 👼 tell your friends you love em twice as much.

— bear (@6LACK) January 19, 2019

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Nathan Pearcy

Planted Not Buried: The Moral Courage Of Asante McGee

One would think the tides would turn after the six-part docuseries Surviving R. Kelly pried the wool from the eyes and ears of negligent music fans two weeks ago. Executive produced by writer and filmmaker dream hampton (stylized as such to honor bell hooks), over 12 million viewers total were gifted proof of Kelly’s predatory ways by archived interviews from the man himself with gripping testimonies from black women spanning the ages of 16 to 33.

While watching the 6-hour series, it became clear that Kelly’s 30 years in the game traumatized the lives of those he allegedly sang about in his platinum and gold hits. It’s a factor that would morally awaken anyone, but between protests and his label departure from Sony, something else happened that wasn’t seen in the wrecking of other abhorrent figures.

Sleuth-like behavior from the court of public opinion reared its head in the other direction, shaming the women who came forward with their stories. Hate came tenfold toward hampton for her previous career in music journalism, particularly a profile on Kelly in VIBE’s 2002 issue, a month before he was accused of engaging in sex acts with a minor on videotape.

Not only were hampton’s character and prior working relationships brought into question, but the intake of Kelly’s music also skyrocketed with average streams totaling 1.7 million a day compared to the 955,600 average in 2018. Even as Atlanta and Chicago district attorneys announced investigations, the singer celebrated his birthday with reported girlfriend Jocelyn Savage and adoring fans while singing “Bump n’ Grind.” Although Savage sat in the club with Kelly, her parents Timothy and Jonjelyn Savage hadn’t (and still haven’t) seen their daughter in several years since she met the singer at the age of 17.

Memories like cookouts, proms, love tales and weddings soundtracked by R. Kelly trumped a conscientious duty to at least lend an ear to black women. From the outside, black women continued to go unprotected as memes and Instagram influencers turned their pain into comedic relief. With black women at the front of today’s movements (Black Lives Matter, #MeToo) and the current political battle in the White House (Rep. Maxine Waters and Sen. Kamala Harris), moral courage from the rest of us shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

In a digital space where endorphins rise in the blink of an Instagram notification, it’s not lost on many that black women go ignored in cases of sexual violence. Presumably, it’s more important to take part in “call out culture” instead of adhering to black women who’ve sacrificed their bare bones for our community, preferably black men.

In the throes of the backward backlash, one of R. Kelly’s alleged victims, Asante McGee, stands as a gleam of hope for young black girls and women. It’s the mission statement during our conversation with McGee, one of the first women to publically share her story of her time spent living in the Atlanta home where Kelly reportedly kept women captive for sexual purposes.

For McGee and other survivors like Lisa Van Allen and Lizzette Martinez, there’s no joy in recalling the emotional, mental and sexual abuse by Kelly, but the determination to hold the embattled singer accountable for his actions is worth it.

“I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word; they want to help others,” McGee says during our phone interview. While the rest of us are in shock over black women standing up for Kelly, the mother of three is centered on standing up against the other R. Kellys of the world who are disguised as our friends, uncles and pastors.

Even as a TMZ report claimed McGee was contacted for a criminal investigation against Kelly, McGee says no one has done so, promoting her to be more vocal in her journey to share her truth.

It’s in her tone, calm and reserved, while seemingly being at peace as the public processes what’s been hiding in plain sight for so long.

“I've received more positive than negative [messages on social media] so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health,” she adds. “If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general.”

As shared on Surviving R. Kelly, McGee opened up about being a fan who had the chance to travel with Kelly for two years before being invited to live in his Atlanta home. While there for only a few weeks, the days were unbearable once she realized she was there to be a servant to Kelly’s desires.

For McGee, the aftermath of the documentary was just as eye-opening since she learned how many people were complicit as well as the lengthy timeline of his reported behavior. It’s a juxtaposition many sexual assault survivors face in the aftermath of their healing. Studies have shown black women who face sexual violence in their lives have a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal ideation, pain-related health problems, and low self-esteem.

Just a day before our interview, a page titled “Surviving Lies” surfaced on Facebook in an effort to discredit McGee and another survivor, Faith Rodgers. Mugshots from McGee’s troubled past were collaged together and a video of her ex-boyfriend taping a conversation with her then 18-year-old daughter without her consent also resurfaced. Believed to be conducted by a member of Kelly’s camp, McGee doubts it’s Kelly himself behind the page for one desolate reason.

“Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website,” she says. “Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.” It was taken down hours later but another quickly surfaced.

The tide will be brutal but McGee isn’t giving up any time soon.

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There’s a lot to take in here, but we can start off small. Sometimes, subjects don’t like to watch the documentaries they participate in. Have you watched Surviving? If so, what was your reaction?

Asante McGee: When I first saw the documentary, the first night had me very emotional because I learned a lot of things that I didn't know about him. Also even finding out that people knew about the things he was doing and were actually covering up for him.

So for the documentary, it was very emotional. With the documentary promoting itself, I know a lot of people were still defending him. But after night one, I just knew that we would change the minds of those who have defended him because of how in-depth it was. But then you had a lot of people claiming it was fake or scripted.

It was heartbreaking to watch and it was even more heartbreaking to see that people were still sticking up for him. There’s even a video of popular Instagram figures like Rizza Islam in tears while standing up for Kelly. How has the reaction been for you, especially from black men?

#SurvivingRKelly I Don’t Wanna Hear Anymore Of This .. pic.twitter.com/y5zMoZmmZW

— ɖŗɛ nigga 🤧 (@thedreswift) January 6, 2019

I received a lot of support from black men personally. They’ve been in my DMs thanking me for sharing my story and saying "As a father of young black girls, it hits home." They're happy that women like me are speaking out and actually letting people know just how much he's capable of.

I've seen a lot of black celebrities that weren't even speaking on the subject that have now come forward. I've seen a few black men that are still taking up for him, which (laughs) I really don't understand how and why, but I've seen more support from those not taking up for him.

Do you think your wounds are healed? I’ve seen interviews where people have asked questions and treated this like a reality show and not cases of sexual assault.

My wounds have definitely not been healed. While watching the documentary, I feel like I was reliving the events, especially when it got to the part of me going to house and just showing that black room.

What was it about your room that prevented you from going into the “black room” instead?

I didn’t want to enter my room because that’s where I felt like a prisoner. I was only allowed to come out of that room when someone would knock on my door telling me to come downstairs or if I was summoned to the black room. The black room is where we were forced to do all kinds of sexual acts with him and each other. When you were summoned to the black room you knew you were not going to enjoy it.

When you're on the outside looking in, people are generally judging. I don’t think people realize how emotional things got, and how questions like, “What happened next?” on social media as the documentary aired can be triggering.

I understand that you may want to engage in a conversation with us, but that wasn’t the time because we had just revealed a lot of embarrassing things to the entire world. That was not a moment to be proud of. I just wish people would just understand and I know a lot of people didn't mean any harm in doing it, but you know after I calmed down I explained to those why I didn't want to talk to them, they understood.

Do you feel like you're learning new things about yourself in this process?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Asante McGee (@asante_shelthia) on Dec 7, 2018 at 8:58am PST

Definitely. I didn't realize how strong I was until now. I think I built myself to become strong after the documentary aired because like I said, I was receiving a lot of backlash prior to the doc and even leading up to it and I thought it would mentally break me down. I'm happy to know that I am stronger than that. I’m overcoming a lot of obstacles I didn't think I would overcome.

That's beautiful. The questions, as well as this interview, can be draining. It also doesn’t help that there’s a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies” floating around. Do you think R. Kelly was behind that?

Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website. Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.

Why are you trying to expose his victims? It's like you're trying to intimidate us and trying to get us to shut up by bringing out our past or just doing anything you can to manipulate the situation for people to say, “Oh, well that person was lying.” Their goal was to discredit us one by one.

The sad part about it is that they took that one down but that person has since created another one. So that it's another page saying the same stuff over again.

There was also a claim that you teamed with Jocelyn's father, Timothy Savage, to extort money from Kelly. Where do you think that accusation came from?

My ex and I had a bitter breakup so he’s behind that. I opened an HVAC business and he had one too, but the state sent him a cease and desist for his business due to fraud.

He knew that I contacted the Savages once I left the Atlanta home to inform them about their daughter. My ex knew I was helping them to get their daughter back and after our bitter breakup, he blamed me for his business closing and wanted to get back at me. He knew my reasons for going to his concert in December of 2016, I was on the phone with him the entire time. He’s trying to make money by using my name and discrediting me.

He also believed I was paid for my interview with Kelly so he taped a conversation with my daughter without her permission. She was 18 at the time and we were in a bad place. Like any parents and daughters, me and my daughter were having issues and she actually moved out and lived with someone else. He used that opportunity to call her after he saw me on the Megyn Kelly show. He knew that he could manipulate my daughter into saying whatever he wanted her to say so if you listen clearly to the conversation, you can hear how he's baiting her to say certain things.

At the end of the recording, you can hear her saying that I'm texting, “Do not tell him where he lives, he might be trying to kill me.” So clearly you can hear me saying that I'm afraid of this guy because of his personal vendetta against me.

He figured, “This is about to be my payday, I'm gonna go ahead and do this.” The video has actually been out since May and it just so happened that they weren't spreading it around until after the docuseries to discredit whatever I was saying.

How do you remain so zen during these times? How do you fight back during these negative clouds now?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Asante McGee (@asante_shelthia) on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:11am PST

What really keeps me going and that motivates me every day is when I see these messages telling me how proud they are or they're sharing their stories and because we came forward, others are able to also come forward and start their healing process.

I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word, they want to help others. So just from receiving those messages, I've received more positive than negative so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health. If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general. He's going to have these fans and they're always going to believe him, that’s the tough part.

What can people expect from your book, No Longer Trapped In The Closet?

I recently released the book (Jan. 3), but it came together as the BuzzFeed story and my interview with Megyn Kelly came out. At the time, I read the comments and just saw a lot of people doubting me because of my age. It said, “Oh, she’s lying. She’s too old.”

I just wanted people to get a better understanding of my life so they can say, “Oh okay, she was going through this and why she trusted him so much.” I included evidence to support my claims with him.

Do you ever think about the other girls who were in the house with you? Do they ever cross your mind?

I think about them every day. It's one of the reasons why I came forward, to begin with. My breaking point wasn’t just one moment. The controlling and dictating when I can eat and bathe was hard but there was one girl in particular who was close to my daughter’s age (who was a teenager at the time) doing things to him in front of me and other people. It hit too close to home. I thought, “I’ve heard the rumors,” but to see this young girl in his presence was too much. I knew at that point that this needed to stop.

Would you be comfortable sharing what that was?

The mind-blowing thing that I witnessed happened when it was myself, the young lady, him, one of his assistants and another girl. We were all sitting in his cigar room in the Atlanta house, just listening to music and drinking alcohol. All of sudden she just pops his penis out and just started performing fellatio on him. I'm hearing the sounds and I look up like “What's going on?” and everyone around me did not seem bothered.

I was the only one that was bothered by what's going on. I'm just like, “What in the hell, are you serious?” And I looked back down and tried to ignore but in my mind, I'm envisioning my daughter. This could be my daughter.

Can you describe your relationship with your daughters now as opposed to when you dealt with R. Kelly?

I’m sure other mothers can relate to this; mothers and teenagers have their ups and downs. This was a period where kids start to rebel against their parents. Now we are in a better place and that’s what matters and my daughter is very supportive of my story and this movement.

Has it been hard to tune into your sexuality after all of this?

My sexuality hasn't changed in any way, but it is hard for me to trust a man. At this point, any man that I have been in contact with has a hidden agenda. I've tried to date after Rob and it was a hidden agenda behind it. At this time, I don't have a question [or] doubt about my sexuality, it's just my trust in men in general.

McGee released her memoir No Longer Trapped In The Closet: The Assante McGee Story prior to the airing of Surviving R.Kelly. You can purchase the book from Amazon here.

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