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Courtesy of Emilio Rojas

Embracing The New: Emilio Rojas Reintroduces Himself To Music With 'Life Got In The Way'

Emilio Rojas chops it up with VIBE to discuss ‘Life Got In The Way’ (out Nov. 2), his re-introduction to music, the difficulties of being an independent artist and the current surge of Latino music over global airways.

Emilio Rojas is back on his grind. After taking a four-year hiatus from music, the Venezuelan-American rapper is ready to reintroduce himself to the rap game, sans bad vibes and negative energy. Abandoning New York after recording the entirety of what has become his upcoming album, the Rochester native set out for Los Angeles to reflect on the rocky path his career was beginning to take.

Initially driven by bad management and a lack of synergy, Rojas was able to strike a chord of creativity in La La Land—despite discovering a general distaste for In-N-Out and the facade of North Hollywood clout. Using the time to clear his mind, realign his vision and create new content, Rojas is itching for new and existing fans to listen to his long-awaited project, Life Got In The Way.

Circling back to NYC to sit down with VIBE and discuss the making of his new album (out Nov. 2), his re-introduction to music, the difficulties of being an independent artist and the current surge of Latino music over global airways, Rojas is in his element. Comfortably kickin’ it in the building’s artist lounge, the 34-year-old rapper is confident in who he is and what he’s become. Both laid back and extremely attentive, Emilio Rojas speaks with conviction and new sense of clarity–music is his outlet. As someone who has lived his life walking the line between his Latino heritage and white background, Rojas uses rap to beat the system. A proverbial martyr for those who have been hushed, Emilio Rojas needs the world to know that the vexed question of whether or not it’s cool to be cultured no longer applies.

“Even with this resurgence of Latin culture, my voice is still unique because I talk about the assimilation,” he says. “Nobody is speaking for that.”

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VIBE: You’ve uprooted from your New York Home to L.A. Why did you move out?
Emilio Rojas: Because I felt like there was a lot of like weird energy I just needed to change. I'm a big energy person. There's no stones in my pockets, no crystals, but that's where I draw the line. Up until then, it's energy all day.

I feel like L.A. has super chill vibes, though.
Kinda. I feel like it's fake. I feel like every interaction you have, for the most part in L.A. is evaluating if you're of some utility to them. So it’s like, “what kind of following do you have?” Then you're thinking, alright well how many followers do I need to have to be your friend.

That shouldn't matter.
But that's the corny sh*t. That's the type of sh*t they're on so that's why I don't f**k with L.A. I mean, I f**k with L.A, but it's not the people from L.A., don't get it twisted, it's like the transplants. It's like somebody from Pennsyltucky come and like he was like the biggest person in Iowa and then comes and like moves to North Hollywood and like thinks he has to be a certain way.

 

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LIFE GOT IN THE WAY TOMORROW AT MIDNIGHT‼️‼️‼️I’m SOOOOOO Hype!!!!! Can’t wait for y’all to hear this!!!!

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Do you record in L.A.?
Yeah. I like recording there, the creative culture out there is amazing. There's so many different people doing so many cool things, like everybody wants to create content, right? Content is the word of the day, but everybody's into it, people are very collaborative, the energy is usually good so like I love that.

Let’s talk about your project, Life Got In The Way. It's definitely been a long time coming.
Thanks, we've been working.

Is this music you've been sitting on for a while?
Yeah. I don't wanna call it my album, it's a project that I have that I wanna give to people, you know what I mean? I feel like it's important to distinguish.

I mean, it's the first time since your L.I.F.E. EP in 2015, right?
Yeah.

Would you say it's showing a lot of growth or chronicling your experiences since then?
Oh yeah, there's a lot of growth ‘cause I needed to explain some sh*t to people. I felt like I had to make certain records just to kinda button up the story really nicely. I feel like back then there were two Emilios. For one, you had this Emilio who was being pressured to create what they were calling “competitive and urgent records.” I had a lot of external pressure from people like, "yo we need a record for mix show," "we need a record for radio" and sh*t. Really I'm an artist who likes to say sh*t, so when you put me in this situation where you're pressuring me to create some sh*t, I'm way out of my comfort zone. You really just have to let me stumble on a record. I feel like anyone who just goes out deliberately to do anything is gonna sound contrived. I feel like there was that side and then the side that people love me for, which is like when I'm saying sh*t to really be my authentic self. So to present that to my audience and to really grow the way I wanted to grow, I felt like I had to f**king throw that mix-show-pressure Emilio out and just be regular Emilio, talk about what I wanna talk about and not let anybody else influence my creative process. I don't need yes men around me, I'm very open to constructive criticism, but I want people who understand the vision and there was a lack of that. That's why I moved to L.A., that's what this project is, and that’s what I wanna do.

I noticed that you're always sharpening your pencil and your craft through freestyles of popular songs. Is that what you were doing throughout your hiatus?
I was just bored and I was like "we're about to start this rollout and there's always pressure,” so I'm kind of looking at this like a re-emergence, like I'm starting again. What I wanted to do was re-engage fans that have been there for a minute and just remind them like "alright I know I've been quiet for like a good f**king minute, but like I'm still dead nice."

Oh so it’s like your reintroduction to music.
Yeah, I'm looking at it like a promo single—this whole project.

If you had to re-introduce yourself in a short a few sentences, what would you say?
I'm Emilio Rojas and I'm at war with love and at odds with the system. I'm always in conflict. Like it's perpetually conflict, whether it's in my personal life, my relationships, my own identity, or what's going on in the world.

"There are some very influential people who at multiple different times in my career told me to either A, stop going by my real name and use my 'passable whiteness' or B, just tone down the Latin sh*t as a whole." —Emilio Rojas

You've been dropping a lot of music videos to lead this new release. What are you most excited for fans to hear?
I'm most excited for fans to hear "New To New York" off this project. I'm from Rochester and I moved to New York City like "once I get there I'm gon' get it" and that's what the record is about. It's about leaving where you're comfortable and where you're from and going somewhere else and like thinking that it's gonna change your life and obviously it but the hope is that it's for the better. It's about like having lofty goals and then the reality. There's like a dope switch and we got a crazy video for it. I'm excited about it.

As far as your goals, where do you aspire to be?
I don't have an end-goal. I wake up in the morning, I talk to my mom, I go to the gym, I go to the studio. Life is good, you know? I want to make records that will last longer than like a blog post and I know everything is so quick right now but I wanna make things that, you know, the people that relate to them can keep going back to.

I feel like the themes in your music can definitely contribute to longevity.
You hear sh*t that's fun and you love it forever, too, and I'm not saying I don't want to make fun music, but I also feel like my fans get mad at me when I talk about things that aren't super serious. Like damn, y'all want me to be f**king miserable? [Laughs]

 

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Out here in new yorkkkkk let’s gooooo #lifegotintheway Nov. 2

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It seems like you release a lot of your emotions in your music, do you have any other outlets for that, or would you say you leave it all in the music?
That's an interesting question. I mean music has always been cathartic. It's funny because I've been criticized for that in relationships. My girl at the time told me that I didn't talk—and I don't. I'm a very pensive and observant person, I'd much rather look at a room than participate in it and I think a lot of times it comes across as arrogant or aloof, but it's really just that I have a general distrust for most situations just because of my experience. I think my music is like a moment where I allow myself to be vulnerable. I'm glad I have it because I don't know what else I do to let things out.

Your "Crown Of Thorns" video has a huge boxing theme. Do you box?
I used to try, but I don't have that killer instinct. I love boxing though, I love boxing.

Your album is executively produced by !llmind, that's huge!
That's my boy since he rapped!

For real? I was gonna say how did that happen? I know he's worked with like Drake, J. Cole and the list goes on.
I worked with him first.

Really?
No, no, no. [Laughs] !llmind is my guy. I've known him for so long, we have such a history together. He's a genuine person, he's super talented, and we've been talking about doing this record for a long time. Actually, it's funny cause right before Joell [Ortiz] and him did the "Human" record, we started working on this. I finished it, I put it away and then I went to L.A. and I just kept working on music, but I was like "no, I gotta put this sh*t out, ‘cause it's dope."

I was watching a video where you guys were talking about the music and it seemed like you guys were really good at collaborating.
Yeah, he has such a good energy. I don't like to force sh*t. A lot of times people will ask you like "yo, what's your dream collab" and I'm like, "I don't give a f**k, I'm not chasing anybody." If it makes sense then that's what's supposed to happen. I just feel like there's so much pressure ‘cause the industry is all about relationships. It's like "oh, you're not cool unless you f**k with so and so" but I'm not trying to play that game, I just wanna make dope sh*t.

People try to force features with artists that are hot and you can hear it in the tracks, but you have your boys on your album, right?
Yeah. Even if my boys had no fans, if you're dope and we make a dope record, I’ma put that sh*t out. Everybody started with nothing, so it's foolish—I think it's short-sided to only deal with people who are hot for the moment.

It's called clout chasing.
It's how you become a trash person.

The credentials for "Crown Of Thorns" say you shot, directed and edited the video. Are you into videography?
We lost the footage for the original video.

How?
I don't f**king know.

I mean it was over a year ago.
Yeah so we lost it and I was like "f**k, we need a video for this," ‘cause it was like the first video. I didn't know I put that in the credits, I should delete that, I don't want people to know that.

Why? It's dope that you're involved in all parts of the creative process.
Because I don't know what the hell I'm doing. [Laughs] I YouTube tutorialed everything. But yeah it's fun, it was actually dope cause now when he's shooting a video I could be like "nah man, let's do flash cut here" ‘cause I went to YouTube and now I know all these terms.

You can flex a little.
[Laughs] I'm an expert now.

"I want to make records that will last longer than like a blog post." —Emilio Rojas

Even with your music video for "The Cost" you were posting about how you were really feeling the Quentin Tarantino vibes of it, so I was really thinking that you were out here putting a lot of thought into your music videos.
I do but as an independent artist, you always wanna do these crazy f**king videos, right? But crazy f**king videos cost a crazy f**king amount of money. I really would like to do some crazy Quentin Tarantino sh*t, but instead we do like cool Quentin Tarantino sh*t, but I'm still proud cause it's like yo we did this on our own! We shoestring budgeted this sh*t and it still looks fly.

I thought it looked good.
Yeah I'm happy with it, I love it. You can make a lot of things happen just off of good old-fashioned can-do-it-ness—I made up that word but you can just make sh*t happen if you work and pull resources. I'm blessed to have fans that are supportive and friends that are supportive and everybody is willing to lend a hand and help me facilitate things, which makes a $2,000 look like $5,000.

Aside from "New To New York" do you have any other videos coming out?
We shot this video for a record called "20 Bands" which is dope, it's like a tattoo record. It's a little more ratchet—a lot of rap hands. I'm sitting on maybe 80 records besides this project so what I'm gonna do once we finish rolling this record out with !llmind is I'm gonna start dropping weekly and bi-weekly content. Probably a video a month.

You’re most excited for fans to hear "New To New York" but what record was most important to you?
"The Cost." I love that record because I was so beautifully passive aggressive in the moments that I created it. I was dating this amazing, beautiful, crazy girl from Queens and we lived together and she was getting jealous because I was about to go on tour. You know, when you're jealous and your boyfriend is an artist who's about to go on tour, the first thing you think of is "you're gonna be f**king bi**hes on tour!" So, you know, she's throwing plates, she's going to la bruja and sh*t and getting spells cast and I'm walking in the apartment and there's bowls of water in the corner and sh*t. We ended up breaking up right before I left for tour and this is two days before and she's in the room packing her sh*t and !llmind sent me this beat. At first I just put it on and just started writing just so she could hear me. I had no intention of putting the record out or anything, but then the sh*t turned out really dope. My boy Gene [Nobel] did the hook and I really like the record, it's like one of my favorite records. I just think it's so relatable, especially if you've ever been in a relationship that you just don't wanna let go of or just comes at a price, you know? For me to be in that relationship I would have had to sacrifice so much and that's why it's called the cost.

There's been a huge Latino dent in the charts lately. How do you feel about that?
We went through the fire. We were all told that it wasn't cool, we were told to tone it down. I literally just had this conversation, so I'm glad I'm getting asked it because people need to be held accountable and I wish I was brave enough and big enough to name drop, but I'm not. There are some very key players and some very influential people who at multiple different times in my career told me to either A, stop going by my real name and use my "passable whiteness" or B, just tone down the Latin sh*t as a whole. I've had major DJs at major radio stations tell me that they don't like to use my name on air because they feel like they're introducing a salsa artist and these are Latinos who are telling me this and they DJ in a city whose largest listening demographic is Hispanic. I've had major tastemakers, bloggers and influencers tell me to stop using Latin references—and I'm not even super OD with that sh*t—because they don't relate... meanwhile they're from f**king Nicaragua or some sh*t. Now those same people are literally scrambling to hop on the wave.

I've had those same people wonder, "why haven't you ever used a Latin angle?" Let me answer in Spanish: ¿qué? Like, what? What do you mean a Latin angle, like y'all sh*t on us for years? I had managers tell me! Like I got a song on one of the records where I'm like, "Management said can it with that Hispanic sh*t/ But mira mira motherf**ker" like that's what I am, you know? I don't ever claim to be something I'm not. My father is an immigrant from Venezuela, my mother is from New York, I grew up walking the line and that's all I ever talk about, I never claim one side more than the other and I think that's a voice that's just been muted, even now. Even with this resurgence of Latin culture, my voice is still unique because I talk about the assimilation. Like I'm a first generation child of an immigrant who's trying to identify with the Latin side as well as the white side and nobody is speaking for that.

I hear you.
How many kids are like us and who's speaking for us? Even now, there's still nobody. It's like this is a conversation that is echoed. This sh*t haunts me! I have this conversation all the time and there's definitely a void and there's a whole group of people just wanting to be addressed. We're a huge f**king group of people who are routinely marginalized and I wanna change that, even if I'm not the only voice—I hope I'm not the only voice. It's amazing to see Cardi and Bad Bunny and Ozuna and J. Balvin and all these people blowing up because we have such a rich culture and it's great the world gets to experience it but we went through it.

Can we expect any bilingual songs on Life Got In The Way?
No, because this is a little bit older. There might be some references, but when I was working on this record I was still very much in "tone it down" mode because I foolishly bucked to external pressures when it came to that. I like to talk about my experiences, but I was overthinking alienating a whole other audience. I do have a record that talks about it, though. It's called "Tainted" and it's already out, but it's dope. It talks about the duality, the struggle, how you're not enough for either side, and how both sides ostracize you because of that.

READ MORE: Premiere: Emilio Rojas, Jarren Benton & Rexx Life Raj Team Up For “Used To”

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Filmmaker Coffey's 'About The People' Depicts Honest Conversation On Being Black In America

About The People, a short film created by New York City-based filmmaker Coffey is an ode to the power honest conversations about social justice, equity and race have within black and brown communities. The movie hosts a group of black men that hold court at a conference table to discuss how they can improve society for their kinfolk.

Their discourse concerns the social-economic inequalities that often grips black men at the hands of police brutality and lack of opportunity. In the end, a young black woman joins the conversation as well. Each character is named after their respective accomplishments in life.

There’s The Militant (Coffey), The Athlete (Akintola Jiboyewa), The Professor (Nashawn Kearse), The College Boy (Diggy Simmons), The Celebrity (Sterling Brim), The Executive, (Tyler Lepsey), The Preacher (Dorian Missick), The Author (Hisham Tawfiq), The Senator (Michael Kenneth Williams) and The Janitor (Ebony Obsidian).

Throughout the story, The Militant challenges The Preacher on his religious beliefs and optimistic viewpoint in believing that, through a higher power, all things are possible. Coffey, who grew up in a religious home in a small town in South Carolina, says his character’s defying ways were intentional. Through The Militant’s anger, he was able to release his own rage.

“As the co-writer, I could have been any one of those characters but I chose The Militant because I knew he was the one that was shaking up that room,” Coffey explains over the phone. “When you get that many brains in one room there’s absolutely no way everyone is going to say, ‘Okay everything is going to be joyful and we’re on the same page,’ it never happens that way.”

“There’s always a throw off in that room and it had to be The Militant, who ruffled some feathers,” he continues. “So, because I was pissed off in real life, I choose that character.”

About The People is inspired by a conversation Coffey had with his eldest son on police brutality. After not giving his son a curfew during the summer, he questioned why he would come home while the sun was still out. His son replied, “Me and my boys are making sure we get home before dark so we won’t get killed by the cops.”

That same fear plagues millions of black and brown men in America, where your skin color determines how much your life is worth. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s something Coffey didn’t want to shy away from. His first encounter with police brutality was watching the news of the L.A. riots after Rodney King was beaten by the LAPD in 1991. At the time, the world was a simpler place; social media didn’t exist, the Internet was in gestation and ubiquitous movements like Black Lives Matter hadn’t made CNN headlines yet. However, injustice was something that inevitably would enter Coffey’s life. It became clearer when he became a father in New York City.

“At that time I didn’t have kids,” he recalls when the L.A. riots were happening. “But the moment I did birth a child, which was here in New York that’s when it became like, ‘Okay my color is a problem because I’m a person of color, it’s already one strike against me which is crazy, but it’s reality.'”

In addition to discussing the conundrums that accompany being a black man in America and attempting to arrive at a consensus on how they can all make this situation better, there’s also a bigger topic at hand which deals with the inclusion of black women in this conversation. Near the film's end, The Janitor, a young black woman with an afro overhears their conversation. She’s intrigued by their discourse and takes it upon herself to jump in—unexpectedly, but with urgency.

Though she is met with opposition from some people in the group, they quickly realize she has the answers they’ve been looking for. She’s the missing piece to the puzzle they’ve been trying to complete. Historically, black women have played a major role in activism and have held the weight of the plight that swallows black men into a system that wasn’t made to protect them. But somehow don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Gillian B. White of The Atlantic breaks down this dichotomy in a 2016 article, titled Why Black Women Matter. “The necessity of black female activism, to me, is one of the most complex and important parts of this conversation,” White notes. “Black women haven’t been the backbone of agitation just because they wanted to be, but because oftentimes, they are the only ones who are able to.”

“Black men are America’s favorite victims. The country’s racial brutality and bias all too often truncate the lives of black men—either through death or incarceration,” she continues. “Even before the modern versions of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and recent police violence, black men had targets on their backs. From lynchings to indentured servitude in coal mines during Jim Crow, the country’s legacy of taking black men’s lives and liberty has left black women to bear the burden of caring for families and advocating for justice for their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers whose voices are often silenced.”

The Janitor was created in honor of Coffey’s grandmother and Angela Davis. Reminiscent of his childhood he decided to put the character in the end since his grandmother always had the last word. “The structure of the film is personal to me,” he explains. “My grandfather would have his friends over and they would drink and watch sports, and if there were problems it would be him and friends that would talk about these problems. But when my grandmother would find out they didn’t have the answer to these issues, she would provide the solution.”

In About The People Coffey creates an honest dialogue about what it means to be black in America and feel constantly oppressed by authority figures that are the direct product of white supremacy. The admission is universal considering how much of this world has been colonized by greedy European settlers, but its message is deeper than that. Money is another toxic element in the lethal poison where oppression and inequality are formed. Yet he made this film as a catalyst of hope—not to go against the powers that be.

“The honest to God truth is this isn’t written to go against any white people at all,” he says. “This is written for people of color, my kids and everybody else’s kids to try to follow these guidelines so it will be a better world for them.”

Special thanks to director Sterling Milan, Sincere Giles and Samuel K. Rhind.

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Courtesy of Endeavor Audio

Peter Rosenberg And Cipha Sounds Talk Juan EP's Return And All Things Jay-Z

Hip-hop podcasts are everywhere. Yes, everyone wants to be heard, but not everyone who wants to be heard is focused on moving the culture forward. Enter hip-hop nerds, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. After a year hiatus, the duo is returning to these podcast streets with the Juan EP, where they bring their valid expertise on all things hip-hop.

Cipha and Rosenberg joined forces with Mass Appeal and Endeavor Audio to deliver comprehensive conversations about the culture, some of our favorite moments in hip-hop, favorite albums, best rhymes, among other things. During the podcast's first season, the DJs touch on who is arguably the greatest MC of all time, Jay-Z.

"I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes," Cipha Sounds tells us in our phone conversation. "Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic."

Drawing help from some of Shawn Carter's closest friends, Cipha and Rosenberg dig into Jay-Z's career to discuss his best collaborations, beefs and pinpoint moments of Hov's greatness. VIBE caught up with the fellas and chatted about the Juan EP, Jay-Z and much more.

VIBE: First, this has been bothering me for years. Who is Juan Epstein? Rosenberg: Juan Epstein came from the fact that Cipha and I got paired together. He's Puerto Rican and I’m Jewish. Juan Epstein was a Puerto Rican/Jewish character on the show, Welcome Back, Cotter. I never watched the show, I think Cipha may have been the one to tell me about the name. That was perfect.

The podcast has been on hiatus for a while now. How was the process of bringing the podcast back? Rosenberg: We’ve been wanting to bring it back for a minute. We’ve been looking for the right opportunities and the right partners. And we thought Mass Appeal was a really good home. And when the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a really good fit. We’re trying to do something right for hip-hop, and curated well, and do right by the culture. When Mass Appeal came up with an option it seemed like a perfect fit. It was a great excuse and forced us the get organized and bring it back.

Cipha Sounds: The reason I love this podcast is because it really is two hip-hop fans who were lucky enough to get paid from hip-hop, and we get to talk to some great people from the hip-hop community about hip-hop. There aren't any outsiders speaking about our culture. And we learn new things that we never knew before.

With you guys coming from radio, do you prefer podcasts over radio programming? Rosenberg: It’s a different thing. [Podcasting], it’s more in line with what I’m really passionate about. And it’s really fun. It’s two different versions of a similar thing. They’re both broadcasting, but this gets to be about hip-hop, and not the bullsh*t side, the gossip. This really is about the music.

Cipher: I don’t consider one over the other. I definitely like having long conversations with hip-hop artists.

Season One of the Juan EP is about Jay-Z. Why him? Cipha: Everybody always has all these conversations about the top five [MCs] and who’s the G.O.A.T. I wanted the same street corner, lunchroom conversation with some actual research, and facts from people who were there. People who handle the question with some real information. And also, it is fun to get people’s opinions on it. Of all the sh*t that Jay-Z does that influences the culture, whether it be becoming the first billionaire or marrying Beyoncé, I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes. Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic. Since we're talking Jay-Z, there was a time, well, at least in my hometown of Mississippi, where people were aggravated with Hov for frequently using B.I.G's rhymes.  Cipha: Let me answer this one. Let me tell you and all of your friends in the barbershop in Mississippi, every time Jay says a B.I.G. line, Biggie's kids eat. The reason he does it is because it pays for Biggie’s family to live the way that they should’ve lived if Biggie was still alive, so he pays for school, and homes all off of saying a line.

Wow. I didn't know that. Rosenberg: Yes, anytime Jay-Z samples a B.I.G. line, thanks to B.I.G.'s publishing, his family eats.

What are some of your favorite episodes so far? Cipha: My favorite is the Clark [DJ Clark Kent] episode. I loved how he broke down the details of how Jay-Z and Biggie met. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know and I’d be like, "How will I ever, ever know that?" There’s no way. Like, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know who was in the room and basically to find out not only was Clark Kent in the room but basically orchestrated it.

At times, Jay-Z takes a lot of heat. For instance, this NFL partnership business. Some people have even said he's partly responsible for the gentrification happening in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Rosenberg: We talked a lot about Jay-Z's ventures and how he’s taken flack for some things. And Jay-Z the businessman is a different thing than Jay-Z the artist. We go into a lot of detail about the business and how he’s viewed, And we defiantly get into the question, on the episode, actually next week [on the Nov. 19th episode titled, "I'm A Business Man"].

Here's some fun Jay-Z stuff. To me, the best intro song in the history of hip-hop is Jay's "The Dynasty Intro." Let's debate this. I'm ready.  Rosenberg: I agree that it’s up there. I probably haven’t done the extensive research like you have. But The Dynasty is definitely one of my favorite Jay-Z albums, which is funny because first, it wasn’t a Jay-Z album, then it was a Jay-Z album. So I wonder did he have that intro on there already when it was just a Roc-A-Fella album or did he add it once it became a Jay-Z album? Who would I even ask?

VIBE: Guru.

Rosenberg: Was he around then?

VIBE: Bean’s first album came out before The Dynasty album...

Rosenberg: And Guru did Bean's album...

Cipha: Yes, but even if he wasn’t around... this guy is so strategic. I know that the Pharrell [Williams] record made him make it a Jay Z-album instead of a Roc [A-Fella] album, but that intro, it’s not long and the beat is not complicated. It's a simple hip-hop beat. Damn, we now have to do an episode about this.

Rosenberg: And that's what this show is about. For people who are interested in stuff like that. And this is the perfect time to dig into the podcast because all of the episodes are available. You don't have to wait for the next episode.

Hip-hop fans can tune into every episode of Juan EP below or on Stitcher, and Endeavor Audio.

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Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.

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VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party at the W South Beach, where the pajamas designed by February James and LaKela Brown will be premiered.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit," just like everything else in the world.

 

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🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

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