A Conversation With Jermaine Dupri & Friends
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Interview: Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Built The Platform For ATL Hip-Hop

On the heels of So So Def's 25th Anniversary Tour, Jermaine Dupri talks to VIBE about his brand's legacy and influence on today's hip-hop sound. 

The landscape of hip-hop is heavily stacked with talent coming from Atlanta. Some of the biggest names in the industry are all ATL-bred, including Migos, Future and Childish Gambino. While it’s hard to imagine what hip-hop would be like without the aforementioned voices of today, it would be a disservice to not mention one of the most significant influencers in putting the South on the map: Jermaine Dupri.

Over the course of 25 years, Jermaine Dupri has been at the forefront of the Southern movement. From cultivating and nurturing the careers of groups like Kris Kross and Xscape to global sensations like Bow Wow, Dupri has proven—against many odds—that Atlanta’s rich musical culture should be heard and respected just as much as the culture of popular regions like New York and Los Angeles.

“The narrative of hip-hop was that [it] came from New York and it would be there forever. Then the West Coast came, and they pulled a little of that energy, but people were still fighting for it to come anywhere else,” he tells VIBE during a phone interview. “I went through DJs in New York telling me that my records were whack. People fought this whole movement for a good little while. It was not easy for me to break.”

Instead of just talking about it, Dupri proved his point with hits. He’s produced and written some of the biggest bops of this lifetime including: “Jump” by Kris Kross; “Always Be My Baby” and “Don’t Forget About Us” by Mariah Carey; “The First Night” by Monica; “Nice & Slow,” “U Got It Bad,” “Confessions Part II” and “Burn” by Usher; “My Boo” by Usher and Alicia Keys; and “Grillz” by Nelly feat. Paul Wall and Ali & Gipp. His skills have earned him countless accolades, including the most recent honor of being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

If you don’t already know, you can soon learn about Dupri’s influence as well as the impact of the artists he’s cultivated at the So So Def 25th Anniversary Tour, which will kickstart in its hometown of Atlanta, Ga., on Oct. 21.

Before he walks down memory lane, Dupri chopped it up with VIBE about So So Def’s legacy and influence on today's hip-hop sound.

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VIBE: How do you think So So Def changed the landscape of hip-hop history?
Jermaine Dupri: You look at where music is today, it doesn’t sit in the same place that it sat 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, people thought that music was only going to stay in these same places – New York and L.A. What I was able to accomplish showed other cities we can make Atlanta hot. St. Louis can come in and then this place. It opened the door for other people coming from other places besides what’s already out there.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in order to convince the rest of the world that ATL's sound was a force to be reckoned with?
Getting the mindset to change, to believe that there was room for those other places, getting the mindset of what we were trying to bring to the table wasn’t what New York or L.A. was doing. The narrative of hip-hop was that [it] came from New York and it would be there forever. Then the West Coast came and they pulled a little of that energy, but people were still fighting for it to come anywhere else. So, I went through DJs in New York telling me that my records were whack, telling me that they were tired. People fought this whole movement for a good little while. It was not easy for me to break. It was like pulling teeth.

 

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In addition to music, So So Def also had a big influence on street style and even dance culture...
Oh yeah, 100 percent. I would get credited for all of that if I was from New York or L.A. The fact that I’m from Atlanta, people don’t credit me with fashion because Atlanta’s not connected to the fashion network. You don’t think about fashion when you think about Atlanta. The other day I posted the suits that me and JAY-Z had on in “Money Ain’t A Thing.” That was in '98. The whole suit and the undershirt were all Versace. People didn’t start understanding what Versace is until the Migos. Even B.I.G.—people give Biggie and Puff that fashion [credit] as well. I think it’s just because I was coming from a place where people weren’t paying attention. Everything about Kriss Kross was style. Even when I brought Xscape out, they were a different-looking female group as opposed to dresses and high heels. They were a little bit tougher, but if you go back and look at it now, it’s a style that you see girls dress like. I was basically the stylist for all of my groups.

What influences from So So Def do you hear in hip-hop artists today?
Every record that’s on the radio that has a hi-hat, all of that, that’s all me. Because other records came from the South [feature those hi-hats], people just look at it as that’s just the sound. I did an interview the other day with Questlove on his podcast, and the first question he asked me was why are my hi-hats always so loud. In production, they know that Jermaine Dupri is known to have the loudest hi-hats on any songs, whether it be Mariah, Usher, Brat, whoever. You could turn the record all the way down and still hear the hi-hat.

Putting hip-hop beats under ballads is another one. If you think about Usher’s Confessions, it doesn’t feel like a Bobby Brown record. It feels like a rap record that somebody’s singing on top of. Jodeci had a lot of hard R&B ballads, but the simplicity that was done with the Usher records gives it its own breath. Even the way that I wrote Usher’s My Way album, the way that he’s singing on “U Make Me Wanna” and “ Nice & Slow,” that style of singing – Chris Brown, Trey Songz, 6lack, Bryson Tiller, Drake – everyone singing over rap records, that was not happening until I did that with Usher.

READ MORE: Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Tour Features Bow Wow, Da Brat, J-Kwon And More

As you may know, hip-hop recently celebrated its 45th birthday, and So So Def has been around for more than half of hip-hop’s history. Have you ever processed that?
Never. You know why? I have the weirdest career in hip-hop and I say that because I started so young. I started So So Def when I was 17 years old. My first group when I was 17 was Kris Kross. So what that does, that makes people believe that Jermaine Dupri is as old as Puff or JAY-Z. I’m not as old as these guys. I’m not far away from them, but they’re older than me. They're at least five to six years older than me. So it’s crazy when people talk to me, they speak to me and ask me questions about the '80s in hip-hop. In '83, I was 12 years old. I wasn’t even old enough to get in no club. I actually feel like hip-hop was further along, so I get lost in it because I was so young.

It’s unique that all of your artists will be participating in the anniversary tour. How do you maintain a family dynamic over 25 years?
I’m very good at separating things, and one of the things that I’ve always separated is that my business from one artist to the next has nothing to do with each other. Although Kandi brought me Jagged Edge, I never presented Jagged Edge as “Presented by Kandi from Xscape.” I never sold my artists on the backs of nobody else. That’s what other companies do, they sell you on Biggie, Faith Evans is his wife, and you know the story there. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I always stayed away from that. When I brought out Anthony Hamilton, most people don’t know Anthony Hamilton was on So So Def because I didn’t connect him to anything that was over there. Bow Wow was the king of 106 & Park, but I wasn’t bringing out Anthony Hamilton. And people were looking at me like why are you taking this harder road, won’t you just put Bow Wow on his song and dumb it down? I don’t think like that. I feel like each person always deserves their own space if they’re their own talent. With that being said, nobody has a reason to argue with Anthony Hamilton. We don’t have a reason to even talk to the other artists unless I ask them to. So the only problems that could ever happen inside So So Def, is with me and the artists. The artists always support each other because they are all a part of that brand. It’s like kids going to a college, you don’t get mad at the college. You might get mad at the teachers, but everybody represents the university.

But So So Def’s roster is so versatile and spans across many different genres. So, isn’t that difficult to maintain each person as their own entity?
I started so young, I got the opportunity to see people’s mistakes. I watched the Teddy Riley era with the New Jack Swing. I watched Hurby Luv Bug with Salt-N-Pepa and Kid N’ Play. I watched so many camps come up and people trying to build clues in hip-hop that I saw things that didn’t work for them. I’m not afraid of taking long walks. A lot of people want to be great, but they want to cheat to get to the greatness. I’m cool with talking the walk around the block to get to where I want to go as opposed to the cheat because the cheat has flaws. It has things that will come back to haunt you. I always use Anthony Hamilton as an example because Anthony Hamilton was a long walk. When Anthony Hamilton came out, we were doing shows in different places. I couldn’t get but 50 people to come and check him out. And So So Def was So So Def, and every artist was already platinum. But the way I was selling Anthony was not on the back of Bone Crusher. I want people to understand the mind of Jermaine Dupri as far as signing artists as well as understanding the depth of this artist and how different he is from anyone else that I have on this label. So I’m really a stickler with trying to make sure people understand my mindset. When dealing with people understanding your mindset, you got to stick to what it is you’re doing. When you stick to what you’re doing, sometimes that road ain’t as easy as the rest of them.

When you were starting out, black-owned music labels were hard to come by. What has allowed you to maintain longevity in the game in comparison to other labels that have folded?
I think my artists eventually started to understand me. It’s interesting because I had workers who used to work for me and I have a whole company and I would go out and produce Usher, and people at my company would wake up in the morning and be competing against their boss. And would call me into a meeting and say, 'Jermaine, you and your selfishness are keeping…' One time Bow Wow had “Like You” and Mariah had “We Belong Together” and “Shake It Off.” I had No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 on the Billboard. They were all my records but they were from two different companies. One was So So Def and the other two were Def Jam. “We Belong Together” moved from No. 1 and “Like You” went into No. 1, but “We Belong Together” was keeping Bow Wow from getting to No. 1. What I’m saying is, I didn’t care about that. I care about longevity. I care about us continuing on. I would have been selfish to not give Mariah that record. I would not be doing myself the justice of who I am as a songwriter and producer to hold songs. I say that to say that I feel like all my artists started realizing my mentality and that’s the only way that you have longevity in this business, is that you continue to keep moving on and don’t try that selfish mentality of holding on. So when you look at Tiny and Kandi, and how they started writing on the TLC records and “No Scrubs,” they wrote for a female R&B group. Prior to that, I’m sure they would have never even thought like that. ‘We not writing for TLC to help more females outdo us.’ That’s how the mentality of those people think, but I think being around me, you start learning that you don’t have to live your life like that. You don’t have to think that this person is going to be bigger than you just because you helped them. There’s nothing wrong with helping people. I’m looking at Loud Records and Wu-Tang. Wu-Tang is celebrating their 25th anniversary but Loud Records has nothing to do with it. So, it’s not all the companies; it’s the mentality behind the person who owns and runs the company.

 

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Growing up Hip Hop is back this Thursday! @guhh_wetv, look at my little girl 😢

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You’ve previously discussed So So Def’s knack for staying ahead of the curve. What’s the next phase that will take the brand to its 30th or 50th anniversary?
Just that TV show in itself. If you look at The Rap Game, I’m in my fifth season. By the time young guys realize how much TV I’ve done, I’d already done did 30 to 40 shows. And I say that because that’s the whole aesthetic of So So Def. If you look at the music industry right now, everybody wants to be “Lil.” Lil this, Lil that. Where did that sh*t come from? When Lil Bow Wow came out. That’s why it’s so funny about how the press treats Bow Wow. I mean Bow Wow says crazy things on Instagram on Twitter, don’t get me wrong. But at the same time, people treat Bow Wow as if he wasn’t ahead of the curve. He was so far ahead of motherf**kers, especially now. You talking about 2018. Bow Wow was doing 106 & Park in 2001. This was 17 years ago and he was only 12 years old. It’s because I’m from Atlanta, and what I do in Atlanta, you guys don’t see. Y'all have little dinners in New York that have nothing to do with nothing. Y'all don’t hear anything from us until the project actually comes out. So people don’t get enough of it the way that they do in other cities to respect it for what it is. But as far as being ahead of the curve and not just the title, it’s no artist right now that people claim they like or they talk about that is over 25 years old.

That’s all So So Def has ever been. People act like they don’t remember. Dr. Dre and Eminem dissed me for working with kids. Now Kanye has a record with Lil Pump. Come on! Oh, now it’s cool? My whole thing has always been if you 17, I’m going to sign you. If you 12, I’m going to sign you. I never signed anybody that was 25 and up on So So Def. Da Brat was 19; Xscape was teenagers; Jagged Edge was teenagers. So to see the music industry, where it is right now, it definitely says you guys weren’t paying attention. I’m saying people see what the Kardashians are doing. The most famous person in the world is Kim Kardashian and she’s only famous because she has a TV show. So now, think about the most popular rappers in the world: Eminem, Drake, JAY-Z, you could throw Puff in there. Who has a TV show? None of them. Me. And who has a TV show that’s a rap TV show, not Making the Band, The Voice, not no bullsh*t American Idol. A show that is about our culture. I am the only one right now in 2018 that has a TV show that’s about the youth. You can’t be more in the mix than that. Our demo in the rap game starts from five to 50 years old. All they know from watching The Rap Game is So So Def. They not hearing about nothing else right now. I’m so far ahead of the curve it’s ridiculous. That’s not where it’s going to stop, but that’s just to show you. That’s So So Def. Wherever I lay my head is my home.

READ MORE: Xscape Docuseries Is Reportedly Coming To Bravo

At one point did you stop keeping track of your No. 1 records?
I was reminded by Scooter Braun who used to work for me that for 16 years straight, I had a number one record on the Top 100. I never thought about that then and I didn’t start thinking about it until I made it to the Songwriters Hall of Fame because I had to really start thinking about was I worthy to be there. It’s only two people from this world that’s been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which is me and JAY-Z. I start only paying attention to it for the artists. Mariah’s last number one record or biggest was “We Belong Together.” So I’m looking at that saying at some point we have to top ourselves. Quincy Jones made Thriller when he was 50. I got five years to make Thriller.

What do you want people to take away from this tour?
I want to make sure that with this tour because it’s one in a million. People should come see this for a bunch of different reasons. One, if you love the music and you were a fan of the music, but two is just the fact that black music, the narrative is that we don’t get our shine and we don’t get our celebration until the people are dead and gone. Every artist that was signed to So So Def since 1992 will be there. That in itself for black history and black music, you don’t get that. People should come just for that, to be a part of it so that at some point in life you can say I saw it. It’s no other company in the music business that’s even on the pace to do what I’m doing right now. Cash Money got the most artists out of anybody that’s out, and that’s only three. Ten. Everybody that’s on this tour is so ready to go on this tour and give you one of the best shows that they could ever possibly do.

 

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Vinyl collectors and lovers

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READ MORE: Jermaine Dupri Becomes Member Of The Songwriters Hall Of Fame 2018

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Kamaiyah/GRND.WRK/EMPIRE

Kamaiyah Talks Long-Awaited Debut 'Got It Made' And Independent Status

On a cloudy afternoon in New York City, rapper Kamaiyah is dressed for comfort, wearing a purple sweatsuit, and the purple beads adorning her signature box braids match her fit. She’s made a stop at the VIBE office during a day of interviews, accompanied by a crew of three women, including her newly appointed A&R Justice Davis. Kamaiyah is observing more than speaking, preserving her voice since she is recovering from a nuisance cold. But the East Oakland native’s energy switches from laidback to zealous as we discuss her lead single “Still I Am” for Got It Made, her long-delayed forthcoming project dropping February 21.

 

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After almost 4 years I present to you my project “ Got It Made “ 2•21•20 the wait is over we going up and this mutha fucka slap 💁🏾‍♀️ flood my comments with 500 ☂️’s and I’ll drop a song tonight 👀 (Presave link in my bio)

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On the CT Beats track, the go-to producer for her hypnotic g-funk sound, she earnestly raps, “I done took plenty losses/ That's why I feel like I deserve to keep flossin'/ This shit is exhausting/ When you boss up and run your own office.” The verses point to her departure from Interscope Records and YG’s 4 Hunnid Records and the launch of her new label GRND.WRK (pronounced groundwork), in partnership with Empire last August. She decided to dip after the release date for her project Something To Ride To was pushed back multiple times. This makes Kamaiyah one of few women in hip-hop, and perhaps the first from the West Coast, to run her own shop.

“It's very important and vital because a lot of people feel you need a man to make you an artist,” Kamaiyah said. “You need a man to mold you into what you need to be.” But Kamaiyah — who has been rapping since she was 9, recording in the studio since she was 11, and dropped a critically acclaimed mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto (2016) before she was signed to a major deal — already knew what kind of artist she wanted to be before she signed on the dotted line.

In the months since she left the label, she began building her office in the upstairs area of her loft; finished recording, mixing and mastering Got It Made, a project she was planning before she parted from Interscope; and her manager Brandon Moore became her partner on her new venture. 2020 will be the first year Kamaiyah has full control of her career since breaking into the mainstream hip-hop world in 2016. This was always part of her master plan and why the previous arrangement did not fit her.

“I signed too fast, but I never wanted to sign,” she reflects. “I was always the artist that was like, 'I don't want no deal.' I wanted to hustle because I knew where I come from. Everybody does it independently. But at that time it was the best decision for everybody. I took that L for the team and we learned a lot. It was like four years of music business school.”

Kamaiyah wants to carry on in the spirit of Bay Area hip-hop legends like E-40, known for their independent spirit of hustling their CDs out of their car trunks. But she also wants the pop accolades of hip-hop superstars like Drake, Missy Elliot, and Oakland’s original hip-hop icon MC Hammer. Her biggest hit to date is YG’s "Why You Always Hatin?” also featuring Drake, which charted at no. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100. But she wants more. Success for Kamaiyah means Grammys, Billboard No. 1's, and gold and platinum plaques. Partnering with Empire, a digital-first independent distributor, and a label launched by San Francisco native Ghazi Shami in 2010, could be her winning ticket. In the past decade, Empire’s launched several successful hip-hop projects such as Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 album and Anderson .Paak’s album Malibu. This partnership can give Kamaiyah the independence and support toward the mass appeal she’s seeking. Having dealt with project release delays in the past, her strategy going forward is consistency.

“Great quality music at a rapid rate...People just want to see you [working]. And if they know you consistent, they gon’ consume the music.” Kamaiyah also wants to use her platform to sign new talent, especially in the Bay Area, where she said artists can benefit from music business education when their records go viral. “Once they get the traction and the record, it becomes this egotistical thing and it's like ‘I made it cause I'm cracking out here.’ But they don't realize it's a whole world to build towards.”

Her first project Got It Made will be the blueprint for GRND.WRK. The project is feel-good music her fans “can shake their asses to and vibe out to and ride out to,” she said. For instance, she teamed up with veteran Trina for the f**k boy revenge track “Set It Up.” They role-play as two women who have been cheated on by the same man. “We get together and we go against the ni**a instead of us going against each other,” Kamaiyah says. On “Get Ratchet,” which she calls a “modern bounce” record, she taps DJ Espinosa, a San Francisco native known for winning Red Bull Music’s 3Style DJ competition, to spin at the end of the track. For “Digits,” a song about getting someone’s number, she brings on fellow Oakland rapper Capolow, a newcomer she’s excited to give a bigger platform to. She describes the track as “magical gangsta sh*t.” On past projects, Kamaiyah sampled '80s and '90s R&B (i.e. “I’m On” and “Leave Em”) but says the only track on Got It Made that has a sample is “1-800-IM-HORNY.” She intentionally avoided the high cost of clearances, an obstacle contributing to past project delays. She won’t mention names but says she enlisted “legends who created those records that we’re sampling” to shape the project's sound. Fans can expect Kamaiyah to begin touring the project in April.

Although she’s finally releasing her project, her fans might be curious about the status of her other promised records such as Woke and Don’t Ever Get It Twisted. Will they see the light of day? “Anything I did at that part of my life I have PTSD from,” Kamaiyah said frankly. “It was done with good intentions, but then it became something negative and when you put that out, the world is going to feel that. And energy is transferable so I'm not putting out that shit.”

While Kamaiyah was facing career obstacles in recent years, she witnessed the impact of tragedies close to her community. The death of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old Black woman who was murdered at a train station in the Bay Area Rapid Transit in 2018, hit close to home as Kamaiyah has family close to Wilson’s family. (John Lee Cowell, who is accused of stabbing Wilson to death, is currently on trial.) “Do I feel like he should be convicted? Absolutely. To the furthest extent. You took this woman's life. She barely got to live.” Then there was Nipsey Hussle’s murder in 2019. Kamaiyah said she had a long talk with Nip a month before he was killed last March. He wanted to see her reach her full potential, especially as a woman representing the Bay Area. “He’s telling me, ‘What you mean to our culture we never had’,” Kamaiyah said. That last conversation put the battery in her back when she was on the fence about her music. “I'm frustrated career-wise and that's a person that was like, ‘Don't stop because we need you in this culture.’ So I gotta hustle 10 times harder ‘cause other people see the long end of the vision.”

Justice Davis, Kamaiyah’s A&R, is ready for Kamaiyah’s vision to come to life. Davis began working as Moore’s assistant and after giving input, moved up the ranks. As a Los Angeles native, Davis said she brings the knowledge of her city’s culture together with Kamaiyah’s Oakland hustle. She wants to see Kamaiyah grow as a businesswoman, artist, and for their team to prosper. “[I hope] for people to see her talent and know she really is the queen of the West coast."

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Jack Dempsey for Crown Royal Apple

Joe Freshgoods Put On For Chicago With Royal Apple Goods Collection & Pop-Up

The Windy City's chilly air seeps into the building as the main door cracks wide open. Busy crew members scurry between rooms, ensuring every fixture and branded display is arranged perfectly before the clock strikes 3 o'clock. A group of focused workers huddles nearby to go over loose ends and delegated tasks. Throwback hip-hop jams float throughout the warehouse, teasing the chill vibes to come. Time is of the essence and it's almost showtime; Confirmed guests will soon start trickling into Moonlight Studios in the next hour or so. It's the calm before the storm at The Royal Pop-Up, a two-day event curated by Crown Royal Regal Apple and its creative director, streetwear designer extraordinaire Joe "Freshgoods" Robinson.

In the first room to the right, a crew of black, swagged-out mannequins stands tall in the middle of the room, rocking yellow hoodies, black and white tees, pants and bandanas etched in J-F-G, Crown Royal, and red apples. With the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend serving as the backdrop, fashion and basketball enthusiasts alike are set to get an exclusive glimpse of the limited-edition capsule collection, Royal APPLE GOODS, designed by Chicago native Freshgoods in collaboration with the Canadian whiskey brand.

Not too far away stands the DJ of the night, fellow creative and entrepreneur, Vic Lloyd, setting up his station as he prepares to set the musical energy for part of the day. To the left of him, a pair of workers in all-black prep the tote bags they'll be pressing with APPLE GOODS' design and logos. In another room to the far left, nail artists Tacarra "Spifster" Sutton and Slay Lewis are settling into their stations where they'll be taking manicure appointments to deck out the nails of anyone looking to add an extra flair to their fit. Two barber chairs are about 20 feet away for attendees down for a fresh cut or a quick line-up by the South Side's own Roger “Rodge” Williams of Raw Cutting Room.

Staying true to his hometown has always been Freshgoods' wave. While getting his feet wet as an intern at Leaders 1354 and working at Fashion Geek, he started his own apparel brand Don't Be Mad, eventually co-founded Fat Tiger Workshop with Lloyd and others, and caught the eye of major brands like adidas, McDonald's, New Era, and more. So it's no surprise that Freshgoods hand-selected some of his home city's top creators and makers to help make the pop-up experience that much more authentic and true to Chicago.

In the last room, friendly bartenders are preparing the Regal Apple Bar where specialty cocktails will be served in golden cups. On the opposite side, a sneaker cleaning station is ready to keep guests' kicks crispy, while two framed, Crown Royal Regal Apple-themed backdrops are perched in front of a brick wall, perfect for those looking to capture the moment in the form of a picture.

In an unused room in the back of the studio space sits Joe Freshgoods, relaxing on a black, plush couch, rocking the hoodie from the Royal APPLE GOODS collection, a pair of loose-fitted, tie-dye pants and his latest, sold-out New Balance 992 collaborative shoe. Despite the craziness that is All-Star Weekend and a jam-packed schedule of appearances and connecting with friends, Freshgoods is chill, present, and ready to chat about working with Crown Royal, Chicago’s underestimated fashion scene, his favorite '90s fashion trend and more.

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Tell us about the Royal Apple Goods capsule collection. What inspired the designs?

Royal Apple Goods was pretty much inspired by basketball, my love of lettering and a bit of my colorway. I wanted to make cool basketball merch. Just stuff that you can go to the gym in and rock. I just wanted to make it a dope basketball-themed collection.

We noticed that you decided to work with some fellow Chicagoans for different parts of this pop-up. Why was that important to you?

Oftentimes, when these big activations pop up in different cities, they never really tap into the community. It was pretty dope to be able to have my people around town who I collaborate with —a lot of the barbers, DJs, artists, nail techs, people that are moving and shaking in Chicago. Everybody that's working in each booth [at this event] is someone that people respect. I think if we're doing a project in a city as big as Chicago, you want guests and people to recognize, "Oh, that's [Spifster] the nail tech." Because a lot of these people are really booked. You don't often get to see these artists in one room at one time. Like Rodge, you’ve got to book him two weeks in advance. I know with Spif, she's booked six months in advance. It's rare to be in an area where you can just go from station to station, get merch from me, get your nails done by the hottest nail person, get your hair done, and listen to good tunes. It was just important to just tap in with the local community. It just made sense.

With your style mantra being "Clothes is art defined by the times," how do you define today's time in fashion?

I think for me, you hear that streetwear is dying and that it's always like a thing where I still thrive on the art of, "Oh, wow." I love merch related to a time, you know? Everybody that gets my merch today and tomorrow, it's going to be dope to say, "Yo, I went to this event that Joe helped put on, and he had merch."

I love making clothing like concert merch. That's my whole vibe. If I was a rapper that did a show in Chicago, this would be my merch for that show, you know? That's how I approach a lot of my products with different brands. This is what I wanted to do with Crown that made sense for the community. Right now, I've got the hottest shoes dropping today, but I'm doing something different with Crown Royal. I like to give some stuff away, so this feels good.

If you were to create say a retro '90s fit, what would that look like? What's Joe wearing from that decade?

I was always a fan of the Naughty By Nature overall. I don't know. I like that rugged Timberland...I just like that real rugged, man-man, streetwear look, you know? Obviously, I love to dress colorfully, but I've always been a fan of that construction worker wave of the early '90s. That was with all the sweatsuits and all. That's always been my wave. Yeah, real Treach, Naughty By Nature vibes.

In a recent interview, you mentioned how Chicago kind of plays the little sister to other cities and is often overlooked or left out in different ways. What do you think this week means for your home city when it comes to fashion, the culture, and everything?

I think this week is very important. When Chicago first got the news that there was going to be a very big basketball week, it was pretty dope. This is one of the first times since being a kid to have all these people from out of town here. Since I've been an adult, there hasn't been a Super Bowl here or anything. I don't know, and we had this big thing about Chicago where it's like, "Am I safe here?" But it's a beautiful city.

The Royal Pop Up was a vibe during #NBAAllStar weekend. Here's what you missed: https://t.co/etxoU0pPnp pic.twitter.com/gVS4nmmUHt

— Vibe Magazine (@VibeMagazine) February 20, 2020

I think it's one of the top food cities to me, in my opinion. Yes, it's a cold city, but it's pretty awesome to see all these events going on. All this positivity. Complex Con was here. That was big, but this is bigger. It's so cool to see all my peers doing their projects, and everybody supporting each other. There's no beef. Everybody's about community. It feels good. With this big basketball weekend, I'm glad so many people are getting to experience Chicago for the first time like this.

It's insane and to imagine the last time All-Star Weekend was here a little over 30 years ago? It's a sigh of relief for Chicago to be a city of attraction where people are comfortably out and about versus being in Cali or Los Angeles.

Exactly.

With the NBA All-Star game set to honor the late Kobe Bryant, what’s one of your favorite memories of Kobe?

Kobe was so serious on the court. He performed to the highest level. Every time he stepped off the court, and you saw Kobe in commercials, it was like whoa. I was always a big fan of his commercials, especially the one with Kanye. When he was dancing with Tony Hawk...it was always dope to see that, "Oh, he’s human," even though he was a shark on the court.

Every time Kobe would just make people laugh. In certain in-game moments, he would dance a little bit. He was so stern on the court, but every time Kobe showed personality, every time he was a comedian, it was just funny because it was coming from Kobe.

As a man of many talents, can we expect you to indulge in any other endeavors? What's next? Joe Freshgoods: The Movie? 

Not yet (laughs). I'm really just trying to expand the brand. Right now, I'm building a really great team. I think teamwork is so key to movement. For so long, I was so used to doing things myself, but within the last three, four years of just having a team, it's felt like there are endless possibilities. I'm just kind of expanding. I'm really big on pop-up shops. It's something that I've honed in on as my thing, being able to connect with different communities across the world. I kind of want to get bigger at that. That's the goal for the next few years is to just kind of expand on these pop-up moments, and make them live a little longer in different cities.

What inspired you to take the pop-up shop route with your brand?

It's pretty simple. It's like the Master P formula when it comes to going from state to state selling your mixtape as opposed to having your mixtape in Target, or Best Buy, or in Sam Goody. For example, I could make more money going to New Orleans. No brand ever goes to New Orleans to show love. But with me, I pull up with my team, we do a pop-up in NOLA and actually get to touch the community.

Traditional retail is kind of dying in the sense of going to New York and opening up a big store. That whole model is changing to the point where now I can go to a certain area and pop-up for five days, and do well, go to L.A. and then go to Houston, you know? With that formula, a lot of brands can't do that, but I can and I'm going to keep doing it.

Lastly, if the Royal APPLE GOODS collection had an accompanying playlist, what three songs would be on it?

Ooh, that's a really good one. Aw, man. The Bulls theme song (“Sirius” by the Alan Parson's Project). That's one, that's just a vibe right there. Man, I need a toxic Future song (laughs) Okay, "March Madness" and Hall & Oates' "Sara Smile." Yeah, I like that.

Additional reporting by Obehi Imarenezor

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Scotch Porter

Scotch Porter Founder Calvin Quallis Talks New Haircare Line, Self Care Beyond Products

Calvin Quallis worked multiple jobs that he hated before founding Scotch Porter, but between childhood memories at his mom’s beauty parlor and his own trips to the barbershop, one thing stuck out. “On some of those worst days, I’d go get a haircut and come out thinking I could take on the world,” Quallis said. “So I’ve always known that grooming and self care had the chance to make you feel better about yourself.” After founding a barbershop called Center Stage Cuts  in New Jersey and seeing so many customers with dry, damaged hair in their beards, he began to research ingredients and start making products in his home. In the first 12 months of Scotch Porter – named after his favorite drink (scotch) and his favorite musician (Gregory Porter) – he made more than a million dollars in sales. Since then, Scotch Porter has become one of the most known names for black men’s beard and skin care products.

This year, Scotch Porter is seeing changes. February has seen the launch of a new hair care line, and a new set of ingredients to the beard and skin care products that were already so popular. Plus, the signature brown tubes that hold their products has been changed to new, streamlined blue packaging. Quallis visited the VIBE office to talk about the foundation of the company, 2020’s new leaf, and Scotch Porter’s emphasis on community and lifestyle beyond what their customers put in their dopp kits.

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VIBE: Black men have always cared about how we look, but in recent years, we’ve been more comfortable using products for our faces and beards. Where do you think that comfort comes from?

Calvin Quallis: I think it’s a couple of things. One, access to social media. We’re always in front of a camera, always visible. When you’re always visible, you want to look your best. Two, folks are just much more comfortable that were in the past considered female-oriented. So, always being in front of a camera, with selfies and the gist, and wanting to look your best and becoming comfortable using products that were originally toward women.

VIBE: I’m not sure that you were the first black beard company that I heard of, but you were definitely one of the first that I had seen that didn’t just seem like a homemade thing. You were very professional. What kind of strategy went into how you presented the product?

I did work at a design firm. So just seeing designers put together beautiful buildings and different projects, and also in my own personal life, I like nice things. So in terms of the overall aesthetic for the brand, I think it comes somewhat naturally, and then also working at a design firm and seeing how they put together projects, and how they start from scratch, and how they think about design. I think that lended a hand as well.

VIBE: When you were selling this early on, was there any convincing you had to do for the customers?

At that time, I didn’t see many folks talking to black men about beard care or hair care. I didn’t see ads on Instagram or Facebook. So when we launched, it was easy to break through the noise. I noticed at the shop that guys were growing out their beards more, and there weren’t products on the market meant specifically for coily, curly, dry hair. So I seen that as an opportunity, and folks weren’t advertising products like that. It kind of made it slightly easier than it is now, because every other day there’s some new product that’s popped up that someone has created. At that time, it was easier to cut through the clutter because there wasn’t much available for guys with hair textures like us, and they weren’t advertising it if it did exist.

 

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All the hair care you need is right here. Try the Scotch Porter Superior Hair Collection, to clean, nourish, hydrate and style your hair from start to finish. ⁠With key ingredients Kale Protein and Biotin, achieving the healthy hair & scalp you need is waiting for you. 👀 no further... add this collection to your cart. #MensGrooming #ScotchPorter

A post shared by Scotch Porter (@scotchporter) on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:01am PST

VIBE: Tell me about the new hair products you’re launching. 

We’re launching new reformulated hair care products, along with reformulated beard and skincare products. Our new hair care line includes five products: our Hydrating Hair Wash, Nourish And Repair Hair Conditioner, Smoothing Hair Balm, Smooth & Shine Hair Serum, and our Leave-In Conditioner. All of these hair care products, including our beard and skincare products, are multifunctional, so they do more than just one thing. Our hair balm and hair wash don’t only cleanse and condition, but also include some flake reduction actives, and healthy hair and scalp botanicals that help with things like dandruff, and it also helps prevent hair thinning.

VIBE: I’ve been using Scotch Porter for so long that I always associate the image of the brown containers. What made you decide to change up the look?

I’ve noticed for a while, the space is just becoming increasingly competitive. I’ve known for about a year that we needed to reinvent ourselves, and to reup. Make better products, make them more affordable – we’ve been able to reduce the price point on all our products by about 25 percent. Also, pull out things from our products. There’s no BHTs, there’s no parabins, no formaldehyde donors. We’ve gotten rid of phenoxyethanol, and we’ve included really interesting ingredient stories. This, again, is all based on seeing how the landscape has gotten increasingly competitive.

VIBE: I wanted to dig into that a little bit. You were one of the first in the space. What do you think is the balance between sticking with what you know, vs. knowing when you need to change?

Part of it is insight. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on around you, with a focus on the consumer. Understand what’s going on in the marketplace, but also thinking how we can better serve the customer by delivering even better products. The products that we’ve reformulated are even better than we’ve had before. Thinking of price points and making products more accessible. Then, just giving folks more value and pulling out interesting ingredients that help with some of the issues that men have as it relates to grooming.

VIBE: One of my favorite parts of Scotch Porter is the emphasis on lifestyle and community. Last year, I went to the pop up shop you had, and I was impressed – not only did you have the products at a discount, but you also had the panel for black men to congregate. You also have the email newsletter, and the print manual; in the former, you recently told customers to go to the doctor. Also, each purchase comes with the NakedWines voucher. It just feels like there’s an intention to make black men enjoy each other and love themselves.

It stems from our mission. Our mission from day one has always been to help men feel their best and to live their most fulfilled lives. These touchpoints are just expressions of that. Even as I think about wellness – over the last 14 months or so, I’ve lost 60 pounds. I’ve been getting better at looking at what I’m putting in my body, and what’s important, and these are the things I need to do if I want to be around longer. I’m still on my journey; I ain’t there yet. But we’ve always been talking about how internal and external wellness are a big part of helping guys to feel their best. Some of the articles you see, or the pop-up shop where we have a discussion around mental health, and even the articles on going to the doctor. It’s a holistic approach to helping men feel their best. For us, it’s never been about just giving you the next goop to put in your beard, and that’s all that you need to look and feel your best. It’s internal and external.

VIBE: The manual and the newsletter have these important messages, but it doesn’t feel like they’re talking down to you. It just feels like one of my homies emailing me about it.

Because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to digest it. And again, I’m on my own journey. I’m not there yet. I’m not rocking a six-pack. And it’s not necessarily about that. Each and every day, what can you be doing to make your life better? For us, that’s what it’s about, and that’s the conversation that we have with guys. It’s not about us being on a soapbox pretending we have it all figured out.

 

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It’s official! We’re proud to share that #ScotchPorter is now available at select @Target retail locations across the nation. (CLICK LINK IN BIO FOR STORE LOCATOR) • • We’re pumped about our retail expansion as it provides us with the opportunity to bring our #MULTIPurpose better-for-you Beard and Face care products straight to your local #Target store. • • When it comes to accessing products that are non-toxic and healthier for you, you deserve options that won’t break the bank. With key ingredients in our Beard and Face collections including Biotin and Pomegranate Enzymes, our products have you covered. • • Thanks for riding with us, we’re just getting started!☄️ #MensGrooming #TellAFriend

A post shared by Scotch Porter (@scotchporter) on Feb 17, 2020 at 1:55pm PST

VIBE: Within the past couple of years, Bevel sold their products in Target and they were later acquired by Procter & Gamble. Do you have any plans to expand in terms of selling products outside of the website?

On February 9, we launch in about a third of the Target doors with our beard care and skin care products. We’re super excited about that. Target has launched a campaign, and I’m included in the launch for their black history month Black Beyond Measure campaign, where they’re highlighting black founders and their success stories. Excited to be a part of that and share my journey, both with potential entrepreneurs and regular customers.

VIBE: Anything else about Scotch Porter that people should know?

One of the things that’s always been important to me is providing access, opportunity and employment to people that look like us. It’s really intentional. I’d say about 95 to 98 percent of the folks that work with us look like me and you. We provide opportunity, and we provide what I consider great pay. I remember when I was working for somebody else, feeling like I had to fight to climb the career ladder, the limitations that were put on me had nothing to do with my skill set. When I was starting Scotch Porter, I made it very important to hire people who look like us and give them an opportunity to climb up.

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