Courtesy of United Masters

Steve Stoute Talks New United Masters, NBA Deal, And The Death Of Record Labels

"Our objective is to help artists get much better at turning their streaming revenue into other forms of revenue."

Perpetual trailblazer Steve Stoute is ready to bring independent artists into the new reality of the entertainment industry. Today (Nov. 8), Stoute’s United Masters and the NBA announced a global partnership that will enable independent artists to have a direct connection to the men’s professional basketball league to get their music featured on the NBA’s digital platforms, including Twitch, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. As part of the multi-year partnership, the distribution company will also offer the opportunity for independent artists and their music to be featured in NBA highlight videos, exposing the NBA’s social community of 1.5 billion to new artists.

“I think the NBA is like the new MTV. The new music videos. That's how I feel about it,” Stoute told VIBE. “Because I find myself watching them over and over and over again. I know what's about to happen, but I still watch over and over again.”
There’s a lot of credence to that proclamation. The NBA has more than twice as many YouTube subscribers, and nearly three times as many Instagram followers, as ESPN. The average Instagram user is on just the Android app for 53 minutes a day, while the average American household spends under 8 hours watching all of TV, which doesn’t leave much time for an MTV that has been hemorrhaging viewers for the better part of this decade.

His United Masters company is built to be a direct competitor to the traditional record label model, providing artists with distribution and reams of analytics to help bring them to their target audience, for a fee, while allowing artists to maintain full ownership of their master recordings; pretty much unheard of in a major label system.

In an extensive interview with VIBE, the music industry legend spoke about arena-sized visions for the NBA partnership, why the idea of record labels is dying, how artists selling just music isn’t enough anymore, and how the new MTV is more than music.


Why is this partnership with the NBA so meaningful?
As a fan of music, the relationship between the NBA and music, it just feels so synonymous to me. When I first got into the advertising business, one of the first commercials I ever did was this spot with Jadakiss and Allen Iverson. Do you remember that?

With the basketball? That's classic.

Yeah, with him rapping to the sounds of the basketball. I've always seen it that way. I’ve always seen the world that way. So, when I decided to build an independent distribution company to really help independent artists, I was like "How can I take what the NBA has -- the fanfare, the global reach of it all -- and connect these independent artists so that they all can be able to get into that level of opportunity?" Wherever you walk around the world and you're watching Kevin Durant go off, Steph Curry on fire, and LeBron dunking the ball. All these things that you see. Putting the soundtrack behind those moments, to me, is what music—specifically rap music with the NBA—does that really well. It's synonymous. They speak to one another really well.

So I wanted to be able to take all these independent artists and give them an opportunity to not only be heard on a global level but to give them visuals that actually allow the audience, when they see, to connect to it. I think the NBA is like the new MTV. The new music videos. That's how I feel about it.

How so?
I find myself watching them over and over and over again. I know what's about to happen, but I still watch over and over again. You go to a game, and you look at all these guys on the sideline. It's everybody from the music business. Or you watch the relationships between the NBA athletes and the musicians. The entire thing feels like one holistic thing where the NBA and the music business is one. Those videos that come out every day, I know if you get the right music behind them—and you're tagging these artists, and it's sending you to a playlist—not only is your music there, you're being tagged and getting recognized, but then all of sudden, they're pushing you to the playlist where that music is located, and you're an independent artist. I think that's the best promotion in the world.

How are those artists selected? Do they opt-in?
The artist submits their music to Then, we listen to it, and go through the selection process, and pick them to be a part of the program. So it's not everybody. There’s a submission process.

Then you find out which video the artist and the music should go to? How is it going to look for artists?
The NBA has 19 billion views each year. There are 19 billion video views of NBA content that comes out each season, and United Masters' artists exclusively have that opportunity. It's a nonstop operation, to be quite frank with you. It's a 24/7 operation of getting the music cut to the films.

United Masters was announced in November 2017 and you already have a partnership with the NBA. How did that come about and how long did it take?
Well, fortunately for me, I've built a long career on working with partners, and over-delivering for partners. So, when I reached out to the NBA and told them I had the idea, it was really about how can we get this done and how can we help all these independent artists get an opportunity to be heard. It took us about three months.

Just so I can get a little more clarity on this. The press notes say artists’ music will be featured on the NBA's digital properties. Is it going to be a situation where the NBA does their highlight packages where there will be music from United Masters' artists in it?
Yes. That's right, and we're going to extend this stuff into the arena as well.


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When will independence become the norm in our culture? Powerful discussion from the first iteration of The Shop.

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So United Masters' artists will be getting played in Madison Square Garden and things like that?
Yeah. Don't tell me you're a Knicks fan. (Laughs)

Yeah, I'm a Knicks fan. Come on, man. Kevin Knox is the future.
By the way, Kevin Knox could be the future, for sure. I don't know what the hell is going on with Porzingis. Is he hurt? Is he not? It's unclear to me.

He's probably just trying to make sure New York doesn't mess him up with his contract.
Like the Kawhi Leonard thing from last year.

Do you have any plans to make a stamp at the All-Star Game with United Masters? Anything brewing right now with this partnership?
(Laughs) Throughout the NBA season, there is going to be a series of events that connect the partnership, for sure. I don't want to be specific, yet, obviously. I think whether it be to the All-Star Game or the playoffs, our job is to help make these artists [and] promote these artists whenever we can and however we can. It's a good time of year, being that the season is picking up, to help get these artists in front of these fans who love the NBA and obviously love music as well.

I've been following United Masters since its inception and I remember a Billboard interview you did in March where you revealed United Masters helped 2 Chainz see a 60% bump in merchandise sales. In the last six to seven months of United Masters being around, have there been any other similar success stories?
When we first announced the company in November [2017] we announced the company and really were focused on talking about our fundraising. We wanted to build something to give some light education around when you should post [and] when you shouldn't post. Looking at your socials and trying to get a gauge of how to maximize your social footprint. We ran some tests, I call them “tests,” with 2 Chainz and Future, specifically around their merch. We sold their merch stores out. It was very important because what I believe our objective is is to help artists get much better at turning their streaming revenue into other forms of revenue.

So—A: get them attention and get them heard. B: give them an opportunity to get more reach and create more revenue. I think it was very important to get cases that show examples of how we did that, to help certain individuals. 2 Chainz is a very good friend of mine. We did it for him. Him and his manager, Tek, were extremely happy with the results...they would have just opened up their merch store and tried to find people to get with them to see who was buying the Gucci Ghost stuff or whatever. We actually put a system around it to help find the people who were streaming music and loved them. We sold more merch for him in two or three years than he had sold previously through his merch store.

In 2018 and beyond, do you feel like record labels are necessary or useful?
I think record companies are really important, and they matter, for certain artists. If you want to build a business and own your rights and own your masters and be able to hand something down to your kids, if that matters to you, you shouldn't sign to a record company. But, if you're looking to stay in the best hotels, fly fancy, and all that other stuff, and that matters to you primarily, if that's the primary thing that matters to you, then you should probably sign to a record company.
T.I. just did an interview last week, and he said it really well about why he decided to go independent versus being with a record company with releasing his music. It just doesn't feel like, outside of the advance, you're getting your true value. I think you're starting to see, and correct me if I'm wrong, more and more artists are celebrating not being in a record deal than I've ever seen before. Young Dolph turning down $22 million or whatever it was. Even down to Iggy Azalea saying she's out of her record deal and how happy she is. To me, that's a brand new thing. I mean, I've been doing this for a long time. Artists are waking up to the fact that they should have more control and not be locked into this agreement that is not necessarily 100 percent in their long-term best interest.

As you said, you've been in the industry for a while. What artist or situation do you wish could have benefited from something like United Masters back in the ‘90s, when you were in the industry as a record executive?
That's a good question. What artist? I probably would say the industry at large, because back then... Let me rewind that. I would say back then United Masters probably wasn't going to be something that would have taken hold in the industry because you still had to make CDs. You still have to ship them to different warehouses. You still had to do all of those types of physical labor issues that require a lot of money, and a lot of manpower, which I think would have been labor intensive. The amount of artists [music] that were being released at that time, there was so much money because people were paying $16.99 [for an album]. Everybody was getting bags, and everybody was like, "Okay, well, why do I want to go through the effort of doing that?” Everybody wasn't looking to get sneaker deals or these type of deals. They were selling their music and making a lot of money.

It's now, today, where with streaming music you could do well if you have an outstanding smash. To make a lot of money from streaming is hard. But to use the influence that you have from streaming to go on tour, or to sell sneakers, or to sell merch, to me, that's the new business. And in order to do that, I think you have to link technology with culture. This is not about just helping the artist get down with the NBA. This is about linking technology and culture together so that you can be able to do what I did for Future. Put some music out, people like your sh*t, people like you, they listen to your songs. But then that's not where the money is going to be. The money is going to be at selling out that merch store. I don't think that was the focus or the emphasis of the industry at the time. You had Sean John, you had Rocawear, and you had a few guys like that. But the industry at large wasn't on it like that.

What analytics did you provide the NBA to get the deal to go through? How long is this deal going to last?
Well, the deal is several years. Yeah, there was a lot of analytics involved. The analytics came from a very simple place: Is there a crossover of NBA fans and music fans, and how can we connect those two together? Once we knew that, it was sort of not just you and I knowing it because we are fans of both hip-hop and the NBA, but actually going through the NBA system, [emphasizing] that this thing is a real symbiotic relationship between these two audiences. That was what we had to prove before we could move forward.


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The business is changing at an alarming rate. Adapt or die.

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Is this NBA deal a test case for United Masters bringing artists to other sporting leagues?
I don't want to show my hand. You don't want me to show my whole hand.

You left the music business for advertising with your ad company Translation. What made you want to get back into music?
I think there's a great opportunity for independent artists right now. I think that independent artists have an opportunity to be heard. I think independent orders are the next great creators of our generation, and if I can put together a platform that gives them the opportunity to make money doing what they love then, to be frank with you, that's what I've been trying to do my entire life. I've always been pushing culture forward. I've always been the first guy to say, “Let's go do this. Let's make a Jay-Z sneaker. Let's work with McDonald's. Let's do our own fragrance. Let's do Carol's Daughter.” I've always been that person. I see all these artists trying to get out there. They realize that they don't need to go to a record company, Instagram is MTV, and Apple and Spotify are the new Tower Records. I'm seeing that. How can I build a bridge to connect those two for them so they don't have to go to a record company anymore?

Speaking of merging technology and culture. These new entities you mentioned, Spotify and Apple, are gaining influence in the music industry. There's been a discussion around if these streaming services are getting big enough, should they become their old record labels? Spotify just made it easier for independent artists to get their music on the platform. Do you see Spotify becoming a record label?
No. I don't. I think that the record label thing is going to go away entirely. I think artists should sign to themselves. It's not about a record label or anything like that. I think every artist should sign to themselves. They should be their own record business themselves. There should be hundreds of thousands. [Like] Chance the Rapper.

Speaking of Chance The Rapper, he says he made $6 million from his "3" hats he sells. Deals like that have put the idea of independence into question. What is your idea of what independent means in 2018?
I think independent means, right now, is owning your future.

In 2017, artists reportedly took home 12% of the $45 billion of revenue the music industry generated, mostly from live performances. With artists making a sliver of the music energy revenue and streaming services becoming more influential on what is successful in music, how have those discussions between United Masters and streaming services been as of late?
Great relationships with streaming services. I think the streaming services realize the same thing I see that more artists could go direct. More artists don't need, you know, record companies to do what they were going to do. The relationship between independent distributors and the Spotify’s, Apple’s, and Tidal’s of the world is amazing.

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Carmen Mandato

Lil Kim Talks '9' Album, Biggie And Rick Ross Comparisons, And Celebrates City Girls' JT's Freedom

This past July, Lil Kim canceled two interviews, citing that the outlets wouldn’t “put respect on my name” and “wanted to be messy.” But the rap legend known as Queen Bee has had plenty of blessings this year. At a dinner honoring their friend Notorious B.I.G.’s birthday on May 21, she and Lil Cease reconciled their strained relationship after not seeing each other in person for 13 years. In September, she received the I Am Hip Hop Icon Award at the 2019 BET Hip-Hop Awards and gave a nostalgic performance with surprise appearances by Junior M.A.F.I.A., Musiq Soulchild and O.T. Genasis.

The year’s worth of positivity culminated with the release of 9, Lil Kim’s long-awaited fifth studio album that pairs her raunchy, street-oriented bars her fans love with guest appearances by Rick Ross, City Girls and Rich The Kid. While Kim has released several mixtapes over the past decade, 9 is her first studio album since 2005’s The Naked Truth, which she released days within beginning a prison bid. And her fans were patiently waiting: the day of the release of 9, Lil Kim was trending nationwide on Twitter.

In a conversation with VIBE, Lil Kim speaks about her new album, weighs in on comparisons between Biggie and Rick Ross, and rejoices the City Girls’ JT newfound freedom.


VIBE: Your last official album was The Naked Truth, and you had a lot to say on that album because of what you were dealing with. What made you decide to make a new album now?

Lil Kim: Why not? I’m a beast, I love music. Why not? I love music, I’m good at what I do, and my fans want it. As long as my fans want it, I’m going to keep giving it to them and doing what I want to do.

Your fans definitely want it. You were trending worldwide today on Twitter when the album dropped. What’s it like to see the interest that high so far into your career?

It’s amazing. Not only was I trending, but I was number one in so many different countries. Number one, number two. Number 16 on all genres since last night, before the album even officially dropped.


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You guys are doing EXCELLENT! 🙌🏾 Beehive don’t let the devil deter you from the greatness that is happening and the history that is being made. Ya’ll keep going because there’s so much history to be made and we’re just getting started. ❤️ We outside fr, the streets have spoken 🔥 #9️⃣

A post shared by Lil' Kim (@lilkimthequeenbee) on Oct 21, 2019 at 5:52pm PDT

The album sounds current, but it still sounds like you. Was there a dedicated effort to make it sound current and like what's already out there?

It was actually a dedicated effort to do what I wanted to do. To be the classic Kim I am, and be in the now and to be in the future.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Pray For Me.” How did that come together?

That’s one of my favorite songs, too. I wrote that song right in my kitchen. I thought about it when I was going through a lot of things. I’m a very spiritual person, I’m big on energy and spirit. The energy I was feeling when I heard that beat, that’s where I wanted to release the energy and the things I was going through in that song. The song came like that, we didn’t add that in the beat in there. So I felt like the beat was laid out for me. I already saw Rick Ross, and I already saw Musiq Soulchild, and I saw myself setting the song up.

A lot of people, I believe including Diddy, have said that Ross reminds them of Biggie. Do you agree with those comparisons?

I think he has some similarities, yeah. You can tell that Biggie’s influence is there, and that’s amazing. There will never be another BIG, period. But I don’t think necessarily that Ross is trying to be BIG or anything like that. I think that he just has big love for BIG, and he has a lot of similarities, and I love it. His style is super dope. I’ve always loved him, and I think he expressed that from the moment he came out.

Another favorite is “Auto Blanco.” On that record you said, “BIG and Pac be alive if you niggas ain’t gas shit up. If I knew who did it, I’d personally wrap their caskets up.” It’s been a while, but are you still actively mourning?”

All the time I’m mourning his death. All the time. But as far as trying to go to the end of the world to find out who did it, no, I just let God work that out. Because sooner or later, everything from the dark will come out. But at this point, all I can do is live for him.

Tell me about the significance behind the number nine as this album's title.

Nine is my spiritual awakening number. There were nine members in Junior Mafia, my baby was born June 9, Biggie passed on March 9. It is 2019. My birthday is 7/11, seven plus two is nine. When you get a spiritual awakening, you have to act on that moment. And there you have it… Something that’s a spiritual awakening can’t be negative. With every rise, every level you go to, with every win when God is working on your life, the devil’s gonna come. But nine is all positive.

The Naked Truth is an angry record, and you had plenty of reason to be upset. After you got out, how did you get to the point where you were able to grapple with what happened and move forward with your life?

Because it wasn’t what people thought. I met some of my best friends inside. I got a lot of rest the first two weeks, I was tired because I was working. I learned a lot. It was like going to a very, very, very, very bad boarding school. (laughs) I learned a lot, and I got to get closer to God. It wasn’t as bad inside as it was when I came home, the things I had to go through, to be honest with you. I had worse times outside of prison than I did in prison. I had to go through some really really dark, deep things.

JT of City Girls just got out of prison, and you had them on your album on the song "I Found You." Do you have any advice for JT?

I haven’t spoken to her yet, but we’re trying to set up a call so I can talk to her. That’s my girl, I’m so happy that she’s home. I know that feeling. Ain’t nothing like your freedom. I love that girl, I love them, I love Miami…I think everybody who just comes home renewed with how they move and live at that point, because you’re free. You use your own discrepancy. Everybody has their own different climb that they’re going to.

At the Biggie dinner, you were reunited with Cease. What has it been like to have that relationship mended?

It’s a beautiful thing. As you can see, nothing but greatness and beautiful things have come out of that. Look at the BET [Hip-Hop] Awards! That shit was fucking nostalgic! That shit was fucking amazing. Junior M.A.F.I.A. came out and the crowd went nuts. Sometimes when people realize things they have done and they apologize sincerely, that is worth more than gold. That’s a family member. Family fucks up, that’s it. We do that in our family and relationship. But when it’s family, especially for someone like Biggie, we have to come together and we have to let Biggie live the way he’s supposed to. That was my way of mending his broken heart.

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For Us By Us: 8 Things To Know About The Black News Channel

A network for us by us is heading to a television near you. The Black News Channel, a network dedicated to quality news and original content for African-Americans, will see the light of day next month.

BNC has been over a decade in the making thanks to J.C. Watts, the former Oklahoma congressman who wanted to create a platform similar to CNN with only news and insight by people of color. Networks like BET and TVOne have respectfully released similar programming in the past with BET Nightly News and News One Now hosted by Roland Martin, but this new network plans to run on a 24-hour news cycle while tying in programs that will benefit teens, women, and HBCUs.

It was recently announced that Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan made up a large part of the investment pool, with many wondering just how the network will be run. Khan has reportedly voted for President Donald Trump but has continuously slammed his tenure as commander-in-chief.

According to BNC's website, their mission statement is "to provide intelligent programming that is informative, educational, inspiring and empowering to its African-American audience." They also hope to "preserve a proud black American heritage" and inspire viewers with uplifting and spiritual content daily.

The network will launch across over 30 million households on Friday, Nov. 15. In the meantime, here's everything you should know about the Black News Channel.


1. The BNC Was Co-Founded by J.C. Watts, A Former Athlete Turned Republican Congressman

Watts has worn many hats in his life with most of them existing in the business space. Some of his endeavors include a public affairs consulting company as well as director seats at companies like retail giant Dillard's, CSX Corporation and ITC Holdings.

Before jumping into the business world, Watts played college football for the Oklahoma Sooners and later, the Canadian Football League. After becoming a Baptist minister in the early '90s, he ran for Congress and served four terms.

During that time, Watts worked alongside Capitol Hill with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. During the late '90s, he was elected to the chair of the House Republican Conference. He also co-founded the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa and helped develop legislation with Congressman John Lewis to establish the Smithsonian Museum of African American history.

The idea for BNC came in 2004 with the intent to provide quality news and original programming to African-American households. "The Black news channel is culturally specific to the African-American community," he told The Street earlier this month.

"You've got 200 plus stations on any cable system. We are the one location that you can come and find out about wellness culture, current affairs as it relates to African-American communities." He also stressed the need to provide a safe space for black wellness earlier this year on Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club.

2. The BNC Was Almost Based On FAMU's Campus

Before setting up shop in Tallassee, Florida, Watts was interested in filming on the campus but decided against it. Instead, the network will work closely with Ann Kimbrough in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University and other Historical Black Colleges & Universities across the country.

3. It Will Serve Over 30 Million Households

BNC will operate as a 24/7 news channel and will launch to an estimated 33 million households. A reported 23 million are satellite owners while the other 10 million are from cable TV households in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. A studio was also built this year for the network in New Orleans.

In the early stages of the network, the company created "on-air programming trials" that served 8 million people. The project helped the company with the type of content they wanted to create and the content viewers wanted to see.

4. Religion And Faith Might Play A Role In Programming

Under the site's goals for the Black News Channel, the company notes how they've built strong relationships with African-American figures from the clergy, media, and politics. While it isn't known just how faith will play into BNC's ideology, there seems to be something there.

5. One of Their Biggest Investors Has A Fickle Relationship With President Donald Trump

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants Black News Channel to reflect the views of African-Americans but critics aren't thrilled about his political ties. Khan reportedly voted for Trump and donated $1 million to his inauguration. During an interview at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit this month, Khan explained his appreciation for Trump's economic retort but a distaste for his social policies around immigration, religion and civil rights.

Khan was one of the first NFL owners to famously lock arms with players in solidarity for Colin Kaepernick who was slammed for kneeling during the National Anthem. “Those were human causes that [the players] brought a lot of attention to," he said.

"And since then, the league has done a lot. We’d need a special program with you to go through all the stuff. And the players have done a lot. That was the time for talk and symbolism; since then, it’s been time for action. And there’s been a lot of action. Local communities, prison reform, a lot of those things that impact not only minorities but other people.”

But when it comes to his investment in BNC, Khan wants to change the narrative in media about black lifestyles. “I believe there is an undeniable calling for everything the Black News Channel will deliver to African-American television audiences, who have historically been underserved, in an era where networks have otherwise successfully targeted news to specific demographic groups and interests,” Khan told WJCT, adding, “My decision to invest is an easy one, because we get to answer that call.”

6. Original Programming Will Cater To Black Women and Teens

An estimated 12 hours will be dedicated to the news while the rest will focus on content dedicated to women and teens. Other programs will also shed light on alternative sports like MMA, Muay Thai and the NBA on a global level.

Some standout program synopses include:

Being a Woman

This daily one-hour hosted talk show is dedicated to topics of interest to women of all ages. Show topics will range from childbirth to caring for elderly parents, business to politics, and entertainment to hair care. No topic is too big or too small for this woman-to-woman discussion. The show host will select distinguished women from the vast array of academic experts and alumnae professionals associated with our Historical Black Colleges & Universities to co-host each day’s program.

Getting Ready With Jane: Today's Teen

In this show, family therapist Jane Marks gets real with teens and speaks a language they can understand. With more than forty years of experience helping families and young people in crisis, Marks offers helpful and timely advice to young African Americans about coping in today’s world. This one-hour weekly program is family-friendly and offers a message of hope. Today’s Teen Talk series is definitely “must see TV.”

My Money

This daily half-hour business show will examine best practices for wisely making and managing your money, as well as news and information about what is happening in the financial markets at home and around the world. This format will include a host and financial experts as studio guests.

7. HBCU's Will Have A Great Influence On The Black News Channel

BNC's relationship with Historical Black Colleges & Universities will run deep. Not only will aspiring journalists have an opportunity to work at the network but they will also have exposure to media training and state of the art production.

The series Living Social at HBCUs will also explore life on HBCU campuses and the intersection of education and cultural development.

8. Larry Elder Will More Than Likely Ruffle Feathers

Everyone loves a wildcard and BNC has found one in Larry Elder. The radio staple and attorney has over 25 years in the industry from news programs on NBC and ABC News & Talk. He also starred as a judge on Moral Court, an early production by TMZ creator Harvey Levin in 2001.

Elder's views have been seen as conservative but he reportedly identifies as a Libertarian. After walking away from the news show sector, Elder made his way to digital radio and podcasting where he's led conversations on topics like "Unwed Fathers" in the NBA, education, and criticism of the early presidential candidates of the 2020 election. He's also a frequent user of the #HillaryUnhinged hashtag that criticizes the former presidential candidate.

Larry Elder NEW Video: Why Won't The 'Woke' @NBA Take On The 800lb Elephant On The Court--UNWED FATHERS?!?

— Larry Elder (@larryelder) October 21, 2019

School Choice, Pt. 2

Larry Elder VIDEO: Black and Hispanic Democrats WANT Choice in Education--White Democrats DO NOT!

— Larry Elder (@larryelder) October 20, 2019

A program hasn't been shared on BNC's website but Elder is listed as a "Show Host/Commentator." We're sure many will tune in to hear about today's culture from his perspective.

Learn more about the Black News Channel here.

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Josias Valdez

SAINt JHN Brings Unwavering Confidence To New York's Experimental Rap Sound

SAINt JHN’s amalgamation of primal energy and eager mosh pits at Rolling Loud are unmatched. A hazy sunset would’ve been a fitting pairing for his rage session, but his early set at New York’s Citi Field Saturday (Oct. 12) gets the job done. While a few curious eyes from VIP are studying the vibes, the trenches are full of fans screaming lyrics to “5,000 Singles,” "94 Bentley” and “Trap” (feat. Lil Baby)—all standouts from his sophomore project, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs.

The diverse crowd isn’t a surprise to the Brooklyn artist. JHN’s musical ancestry has allowed his vines to branch out to artists like Usher, dvsn and Beyonce; all artists he’s earned co-writer credits for respectively. But then there are those who discovered him through Fortnite or his work on “Brown Skin Girl.” No matter how Ghetto Lenny crossed fans' path, he’s grateful listeners are making the pit stop.

“It's better than anything I could ask for, that’s what I wanted,” he tells VIBE. “I just wanted people to hear the sounds and fall in love and not overthink it. You get a 12-year-old and you'll get a 55-year-old standing next to each other in the audience. They’re from different eras of music but they’ll feel the same way.”

JHN calls his presence at New York’s first Rolling Loud “good timing” in light of his appearances across the traveling festival’s Miami, L.A. and Bay Area staples. But the moment feels kismet since JHN is one of the few surviving New York performers who were able to hit the stage.

Just 24 hours before the festival kicked off, fellow rising Brooklyn acts like Casanova, Sheff G, 22Gz, and Pop Smoke as well as Bronx rapper Don Q were banned at the request of the NYPD because of their alleged affiliations to recent “acts of violence” citywide. While fellow NYC natives like A$AP Rocky, Desiigner, Jim Jones and Fat Joe took the stage, JHN was one of the few acts to represent New York’s new sound.

“Those artists come from the places I come from,” he said of the ban. “In instances like this, you have to separate the art from the incident. Clearly these artists come from different pasts—they talk about it in their music. But the point of the music is to transition out of that.” Many of the artists like Cassanova and Don Q spoke out against the NYPD’s influence in the festival.

"I’m at war with my past and the scars that they still leave on me every day," Casanova said on Instagram. "I will continue to fight against biases and advocate for those facing this same issue."

“You have to give them the opportunity to tell their stories or you further entrap them,” JHN adds about the group of rappers. “They end up stuck in the same positions they’re trying to escape by making a concrete wall around their history.”

JHN’s history is a mix of the power of attraction and community. His early years comprised of creating the building blocks of his label GØDD COMPLEXx and his fashion line Christian Sex Club. While making his dreams a reality, the grind led him to genuine friendships with future superstars like Jidenna, Skrillex and Ski Mask The Slump God. Last year, JHN released his debut album Collection One paired with head-bashing shows across the country.

Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs takes his sound to the next level with melodic punches on tracks like “I Can Fvcking Tell” and the Lenny Kravitz-assisted “Borders.” With punk and rap flowing effortlessly from JHN, the artist can only attest his glowing confidence to the game of life.

“My journey is where I'm at right? It's the monopoly board of my life, and I'm making my rounds,” he says. Being confident grows every year. So me saying "too lit to be humble" [On “5,000 Singles”] that just means I'm not gonna call it nothing else, I'm just gonna tell what it is. This is who I am, fuck with it. If you don't like it, you can turn left. You can turn around if you want, but this is happening.”

On his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz, JHN looks back with a big smile and several words. “Iconic, outrageous, Ignorant. Three o'clock in the morning of Paris,” he says. “Checkered floors. Space. Leather fixtures, Dark rooms. Lenny Kravitz. SAINt JHN. My nigga, I can tell you anything. I can tell you it smelled like cigars, whiskey, rum, and the Bahamas because in my mind, all that shit happened.”

But in all seriousness, the moment was an indication for JHN that his journey in music is paved with golden intentions.

“It was reinforcement,” he says. “The first time I worked with Usher, I learned that I belonged in the room. You know the first time you get invited into a room you have never been in and you almost feel like you lied your way in? The second time, you don't feel like you lied your way in.”

JHN's IGNORANt FOREVER Tour kicks off Nov. 11 in Miami with stops in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York. See the dates here.

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