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Steve Jackson

NEXT: Leikeli47 Won't Be Seen, But Best Believe She'll Be Heard

The masked marvel is taking over.

Leikeli47’s rhymes are the windows to her soul. Much like she keeps her facial appearance under lock-and-key, many aspects of her personal life are also left to the imagination, leaving the rapper to use her words as her welcome mat. However, you shouldn’t let her private nature deter you from any beliefs about what she may or may not be like.

The petite Bed Stuy-bred MC is wearing an all-black sweatsuit, camel-colored Timbs and a black Paisley-print face mask, a tomboy-esque style she helms as “dramatically comfortable.” However, she’s an undercover ‘girly girl’; her hair is, how the kids say, laidt in a slicked-back, left-parted bun with her immaculate baby hairs on display, and she’s rocking an assortment of gold jewelry, from nameplate necklaces to rings. While only her deep-set eyes, chocolate-colored freckles, and smile (which features a gold tooth cuff) are seen, her expressive aura is felt throughout your time with her, which is more than enough.

She’s smiling and cracking jokes while posing for pics in front of the famed mural of one of her idols and fellow Brooklynite, The Notorious B.I.G. When prompted about the proximity of her childhood area to the shoot location, she of course keeps you guessing, and states with a laugh that she grew up “not that far” away.

During the Uber ride to dinner, a conversation about New Orleans Bounce, song recommendations and musicians she fancies (like Rihanna, Ty Dolla $ign and D.R.A.M) offer glimpses of the woman behind the cover-up. Interacting with others while at Miss Lily’s in the Lower East Side, however, shows the impact of Leikeli’s life as a (private) public figure.

A svelte and stunning waitress at the Jamaican-inspired eatery embraces the rapper with a hug before breaking into an impromptu cover one of her biggest tracks to date. “‘I got money!’ That’s my sh*t!” she giggles while shimmying to herself. Near the meal’s conclusion, “Money”—‘47’s snapping, catchy ditty about the power of a positive mindset and strong work ethic—blares out of the speakers to the musician’s surprised delight.

“I rarely listen to myself outside of performing,” she smiles after the song ends. “So, when I hear my song, it’s like ‘shoot, that is me!’”

Leikeli, who cites Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, N.E.R.D and the Red Hot Chili Peppers as her biggest influences, dropped her sophomore album, Acrylic, on Nov. 15. Her resume boasts several projects such as her 2016 debut LP Wash & Set, 2015’s Leikeli47, 2014’s LK-47 Pt. II, and her self-produced mixtape, 2012’s LK-47. She’s gained fans in notable figures such as Skrillex, Diplo, Issa Rae, Missy Elliott, and JAY-Z, who named his 2016 TIDAL summer playlist after her song “F**k The Summer Up.”

The rollout for Acrylic involved the release of two separate “bundles”—the energetic “Pick A Color” and the experimental “Design.” Before savoring the album in full, listeners were able to feast on its appetizers, which are chock full of sonic and thematic flavor. On the project, fans can enjoy songs like “Roll Call,” which drips with HBCU pride, “CIAA,” a neo-soul dipped track that shows off 47’s singing chops, and the bossed-up “Girl Blunt,” which was featured on the third season of HBO’s Insecure.

“What's crazy is that, Acrylic, it's one of my best [projects], sonic-sounding,” the energetic artist states in between munches of jerk french fries. “Just musically, I can hear my growth and I can hear myself reaching those points of when I first heard some of [my idols] sounds. Sonically, there's no ceiling with my favorite artists, and that's how I wanna be, I just wanna continue to just grow and glow musically.”

Leikeli notes that much like Wash & Set, Acrylic is a peek into her intentionally hermetically-sealed life. The musician called on some of her favorite producers to create musical magic that’s both enticing and entertaining, such as Gavin Williams, Mike Barney, Dave Hamelin, Clyde N Harry, Charlie Burrill and the album’s executive producer, Harold Lilly.

“[Acrylic is] an invitation to walk to our campuses, hence ‘Roll Call,’ it's an invitation to our love stories, hence the song I have called ‘Top Down,’” she points out. “It's just another creative way for me to just let people know where I'm from and give people a little insight about me, the area I grew up, my friends, my schools. Black life, period. ‘Come on in, y'all, come on in. Let's party, let's do it,’” she says with a wave of her hand.

She details that Wash & Set and Acrylic are part of an album trilogy, and sticking with the beauty motif is something that helps create a relatability factor not only for her fans and listeners but between them as well.

“I've never been interested in interviews and stuff like that, a lot of my narrative is in my music,” she grins. “So [Wash & Set] was my first invitation to where I'm from, but I also wanted to speak to not looking like what you've been through, not looking like anything you're actually going through. The way that our nail salons, our barbershops, wherever you are, are set up, you don't know how much you relate to your neighbors. But one thing we do know, when you leave that salon, you don't look like anything you're going through. You look refreshed.”

Leikeli is optimistic that this overarching theme in her music will give listeners the confidence to be true to themselves. Individuality is a trait the rapper says she’s always possessed. However, she notes that her personality really sparkles through while wearing one of her ski-masks. A shy person by nature, Leikeli47 was initially hesitant to wear a mask due to discouraging words from others in her formative years as a musician. However, after adopting an “eff it” mentality and continuing to wear facial disguises despite the naysayers, she gained courage and liberation in her personal and professional lives.

“You know, my mask plays my little superhero cape,” she says while pointing to her face. “I feel like the Dark Knight, or one of those superheroes, or Superman… the mask, it represents freedom. I'm free with it on. Outside of it, though…? (Laughs) I wish people saw me outside of the mask the way they see me in the mask. Even in my quietness, I'm the same person, you know what I'm saying?”

While she doesn’t always wear a mask (she points out how terrible it would be to wear it in places like the airport), ‘47 certainly feels most comfortable with one on. On a higher level, she says wearing a mask is representative of the love she strives to put forth in her music, and it holds a deeper meaning about the importance of individuality.

“I really do hope that [fans] look at [the mask] as an escape,” she explains. “Or look at it as the labor of love that it is. Doing [music], it really is just a labor of love. It gives me the ability to create, to be free, to be fun. Music-making is a people business, and I wear this mask, not just for me, but for you. So you can get out there and do what you want. You can be the person that you wanna be, you can love who you wanna love. I hope today, this mask represents just being different.”

While she doesn’t divulge much about her personal life, she reveals that as a bullied, introverted young girl who worked with the cards she was dealt in life, music always provided therapeutic comfort during tough times. She also points out that being teased helped her carve out important values she held on to as she continued to grow.

“[Bullying] taught me how to fight back, how to stand up for myself, how to be resilient,” she says. “And also in a sense, it taught me how to fight for what I want with this music. So the same way I had to fight people who bullied me, I fought against the machine that said I would never make it.”

It’s not surprising that she did "make it," though. Growing up in a musical family with relatives who “played, wrote or sang,” ‘47 says that it was hard to ignore the influence it was going to have on her. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I've always heard different genres, different things and different sounds,” she says of her childhood. “[Music] was a beautiful escape, and it led me here, and what's crazy is it was the only thing that I chased. As cliche as it may sound, you know how some kids knew that they wanted to be a doctor, or they knew that they wanted to be a gymnast early? It was the same exact thing [with music].”

“The difference with me is that I was just super shy, you know? And I didn't have a lot. I didn't have a whole lot of resources to do anything,” she continues. “My very first studio session was in a bathroom in Virginia in the projects. But it was always something in me that I wanted to be the best that I could be at. Even in that bathroom, I knew even then, 'this is the beginning of it, you gotta start here.' Even to this day, it's this or nothing. I honestly believe if you have a dream, a passion, go at it. And I'm talking about going for it, like, stupidly, dumb, crazy hard. This may sound crazy, but fail. When those things happen, that's the universe testing you to see how bad you want it.”

Leikeli is grateful for her support system back home and thanks some “incredible black men” in her life for having her back during her come-up. She’s also thankful for her “number-one supporter”—her brother—who, up until last year, was actually unaware that she was a musician. However, when he returned from jail, she stood in the truth she hid from him for so long.

“I told him I was working a regular job, I think he thought I worked in an office,” she explains as her eyes become more expressive. “If I was in the booth, or if I'm in the studio, I gotta front. (Whispers) 'Hey, I'm about to go into this conference.’ (Laughs) I felt like this is something he wouldn't understand over a telephone. Even in that moment, it was like, 'wait what?' As time went on, everything was like woah, everything started making sense to him.”

Leikeli47 isn’t someone who “hopes” for things to happen; if she wants something, she’s going to go out and do it. Keeping the latter sentiment in mind, she will continue to make music, will play Madison Square Garden and “will touch millions of people.”

“I like to speak things into existence,” she states firmly. “I like to say it how I see it. For me, there's no hoping, I'm always just gonna do it. I don't care how many times I gotta fail to do it, I'm gonna do it. I'm not gonna ‘try’ nothin', I'm gonna go do it.

While she’s working tirelessly on doing everything she sets her mind to, she’s steadily gained visibility on her road to glory. In 2014, she was the surprise guest during Skrillex and Diplo’s New Year's Eve Jack Ü concert at Madison Square Garden. She rapped in an all-female cypher with Rapsody, Kash Doll and Tokyo Jetz at the 2017 BET Hip-Hop Awards. This past January, she was one of the performers for Missy Elliott’s tribute at Essence’s Black Women in Music event. The rapper, who calls Virginia her second home, has been inundated with Misdemeanor comparisons for quite some time. Albeit flattered, Leikeli says that it would take “a lifetime” to fill Missy’s shoes.

“It's no slight to myself… but [the comparisons are] blasphemous, man. Blasphemous,” she says. “There's never going to be another [Missy Elliott], but I'm not mad that that's the company that I sit in, because she's the greatest.”

What inspires Leikeli47 to do what she does? She says knowing there are “no ceilings” in life and having the ability to live fearlessly both push her to strive for greatness. So far, a positive mentality has proven to be beneficial for the New Yorker. Much like her mask, music gives her superpowers to do whatever she wants, and she won’t stop until she’s taken over the world. While she does have doubts from time to time, she’s a firm believer in hard work and living out your dreams. That dedication is something you can see at all times—mask on or mask off.

“I never claim defeat, but you do have those moments where you think, hmm... I hate that it happens, but just being human, they kind of creep in,” Leikeli says. “'Is this gonna work? Will this work? Will that happen?' I've conditioned my brain to quickly jump out of that. As soon as I have this thing where I'm like, 'Is this gonna work?’ Yes, it's gonna work.”

READ MORE: Missy Elliott Becomes First Female Rapper To Be Nominated Into Songwriters Hall Of Fame

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Justin Newhouse

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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