2017 MTV Video Music Awards - Roaming Show
Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

TDE's Dave Free On Maintaining Authenticity, SZA's Stardom, and Kendrick's Pulitzer

The Top Dawg Entertainment president shares how TDE maintains its authenticity, keeps all of its stars on the same page, and ascended from the underground to the top.

If there was ever any doubt that Top Dawg Entertainment was the best crew in music, the past two years should dead any arguments. Kendrick Lamar was already considered one of the best rappers in the world with classics like good kid m.A.A.d city and DAMN., but his star shined even brighter after the latter album earned him a Pulitzer Prize. K. Dot also spearheaded the music for Black Panther: The Album for 2018’s record-breaking and cultural tentpole Marvel Comics film. R&B singer-songwriter SZA dropped a potential classic album with her debut LP Ctrl in 2017, and Jay Rock released a strong album of the year candidate, Redemption. The TDE squad celebrated their success as a team with the Championship Tour, which brought all of the label’s stars–Kendrick, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, SZA, and SiR–together under one roof for an international string of shows.

The artists are the stars of the show, but TDE’s executives deserve their just due. The triumvirate of founder/CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and co-presidents Dave Free and Terrence “Punch” Henderson have created an environment where creativity comes before the plaques and critical acclaim. And the squad keeps working: after Dave Free’s interview for this story, Kendrick Lamar landed a memorable role on Power and their new signee REASON dropped There You Have It, a stirring collection of West Coast gangsta rap musings. Dave Free spoke to VIBE about how TDE maintains its authenticity, keeps all of its stars on the same page, and ascended from the underground to the top of the food chain. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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VIBE: At one time TDE was the bubbling underground crew, but what has it been like to really work your way up to being a powerhouse?

Dave Free: In the middle of the process, it looks the same, just the resources changed. We get more resources to do bigger and better things but it feels and smells and looks the same because it's rooted off the same concept of repetition. So for us, we haven't even gotten to the celebration point yet, because there's still so much more to do. When I talk to friends and I talk to buddies, and even just hearing you say everything you're saying right now, that's when I get kind of pulled back into the perspective that “damn, it's been a long time. We were just that. We were that underground crew that was trying to figure out how to get our feet in the game and now it's the total opposite.” It's really hard to say in a few words ‘cause it feels exactly like when we were in Carson just grinding in the studio. It feels exactly the same.

How long do you think it took for you guys to really find your groove?

I would say about eight years 'til we figured out what not to do. The earlier stages when we were just really grinding through. It's not about what you do right, it's about what you're doing wrong. We were doing a lot of right, but the wrong stuff sets you back. You don't have to do everything perfectly, just don't do anything that [sets you] back.

What would you say you were doing wrong that you had to correct?

Not so much doing wrong, more like just the knowledge of not knowing things––not knowing who to talk to, not knowing the next steps in being in the game that's forever changing. This whole system of hip-hop is a forever changing system. You can't replicate the system, so as management we're working and trying to figure out how to get our artists out there more and how to get them more notoriety or how to maybe not go so broad with it at first. Start it off slow and build up a pace where we can sell consistency. Consistency is built into a career, just like Kobe practicing in a gym, Steph Curry working on his dribbling skills. [It’s the] same concept from a managing perspective, or a boss' perspective, and then the artist hops on to that same concept just through their artistry, depending on what type of music they want to make, depending on what type of beat, depending on what they wanna say, who they want to talk to. Both of those things are happening at the same time and then you meet up. It meets right in the middle, perfect timing where I'm perfectly ready and equipped to manage what this artist has right at the perfect time. It wasn't so much the wrong things, it was just the not-knowing part like, you know, growing in the business and having to learn how to go up in the business. Learn how to be nimble, don't have your mindset to one way of doing things. You have to have multiple ways of doing things.

It's a trip just how much the game can change in a certain amount of time. good kid, m.A.A.d city just came out in 2012 and it feels like that was a lifetime ago. What are the differences between breaking an artist like Kendrick back then and breaking an artist now?

Oh man, the approach is totally different. I was actually telling a buddy of mine because he just thinks we just have all the cheat codes, we just hit a button and they could just be famous the next day. None of the tactics we used back in the day to break Kendrick, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock or ScHoolboy would work now, none of 'em. It's a whole new game. Blogs were very influential back then and I'd have to build a lot of relationships with blogs and now it's just more about streaming. You have to have the relationships with the streaming sites and it can't just be a fake relationship. It has to be a relationship of understanding. Back in the day, if a blog posted a bunch of stuff, it was no hurt no foul. For streaming, they centralize. They have to post what works for their system too, it's kind of back to a radio format a little bit in a sense.

And the single is back. The single wasn't as important when Kendrick was coming up, it was more about the quality of an album. Now, the single takes you back into to the album. When Kendrick was coming up it was more about... the album [would] take you into it and then hopefully you get a single in the middle of that. It's a totally different game, totally different system.  It's forever changing. We’re just trying to be nimble and change with it, pay attention to what's happening. I'm even back in the situation where I'm making business—I don't even go to the club and party, but I'll go to the club, go sit in there and pay attention to what's happening. I never get jaded and never get stuck in my ways.

One thing TDE has a really strong reputation for is authenticity. Very few moves come out of your camp that don't feel real. How do you maintain that despite being at the level you’re at? Many artists will seem authentic early on, but the bigger that they get—

It gets more watered down after time.

Exactly.

The biggest thing for that is our family structure. Everybody in the company has a voice. When albums come out we bring everybody in. We don't create yes men in our camp, and that plays a large part in why the artists can stay true to themselves. You're competing with your brother, you're competing with the guy next to you, and if he's rooted and grounded because he has a good support system, then you're more likely to be just as rooted and just as grounded. Two, we tend to sign really hard working artists. I've worked with artists that are so talented but didn't work hard, and that can mess up the authenticity because now you have to counteract that with bringing in people to help the equation. Then the artist gets further and further away from themselves. But we've been able to sign artists that understand that this is a blessing beyond belief. When you appreciate something that God doesn't have to bless you with and you are around people that treat it the same way, it tends to rub off and it becomes a situation where you value it. So you spend a crazy amount of time perfecting it, and that works with the music and even with the plan of just how you live your life and how your music dictates your life.

What you said about the family structure stands out. “Ab-Soul’s Outro” on Section.80 truly summarized the whole album, so it felt like Ab was a part of the process. And in the video where you guys played Jay-Z's verse on "B***h Don't Kill My Vibe" for Kendrick, that scene is preceded by the crew mobbing out to ScHoolboy Q’s "Yay Yay." How do you maintain that family structure when everyone is doing so many things?

It's hard, I won't act like it's not hard and it's different remnants of that in today's time now, too. For example, Jay Rock’s “Win” video. Getting all the artists in one place at one time was literally the hardest thing ever. If you look at the video, you won't see ScHoolboy Q in there because he just got there a little too late. It is a hard thing but when you care about what your brother is doing and what your team is doing, you'll make the time. You just try to figure it out. When SZA is touring, she's traveling all over the world; you know, if we can't get her right at this moment, we'll figure out the best way. She was traveling, we needed her on Jay Rock's album, she went and got in a studio and knocked out the feature. It was already people waiting for features at the time, but that's something she ain't gon' miss out on. We just support each other, man.

The Championship Tour was a long time coming, it took so long to get us to that point where we could take all the artists out on one tour together. When all of 'em got on tour, it was like a high school reunion––they see each other but they hadn't seen each other together in one space, from the guys that are artists and the guys that are just in the background as management and staff. The energy was so great on that road. Everybody is working but we all care, we all want to see each other win and grow. If I can be there, I’ma be there. Kendrick literally flew off his tour from Japan to South Korea. He only had four days off and he spent 2 of those days shooting videos–one for Jay Rock and one for Anderson .Paak. Anderson .Paak is not signed to TDE, he’s signed to Aftermath, but it's the same concept. It's still family, it's still people that we support and we love, and we’re gonna do whatever we have to do to support them.

How did you guys react when you heard that Kendrick was getting a Pulitzer Prize?

I got a call that morning and we have a group chat––me, Top, Kendrick, Sounwave, a few other homies. I got a call from my publicist and he was like, “Did you hear anything from the Pulitzer people? You’re winning a Pulitzer for DAMN.” I was like, “Man, stop playing.” I just thought it was a rumor going around. I dropped it in the group chat and I was like, “Word on the street is, your name is in the mix for the Pulitzer.” It was just shocking. You never think in a million years that they would understand the concepts enough to award a boy from Compton that honor. It still is a big moment. I wear the hat all the time, Kendrick changed his whole stage name to Pulitzer Kenny. It's showin' that we're breaking barriers. There were people that came before us that did this so we can get to this point, so we make them proud, and we showed another kid that's sitting in his f**kin' room wherever he is that these things are possible.

It’s less about the award and more about the concept of people that came before us and the people that's gonna come after us. That's what you do it for. It's about shaking up the system and showing people it doesn't have be the way it's supposed to, the way you think it's gon' be. Sometimes you might be shocked, you might see the guy that's not supposed to be the winner become the winner. That's very important for our youth to see that.

You guys already have a working relationship with Interscope Records, but for Black Panther: The Album, you also worked with Marvel. What was that process like?

It's different because you have to put yourself in a place where you have to understand their deliverables also. It was actually a great experience because it was an experience that we definitely wanna get more into. So for our first step to be Marvel, which is the cream of the crop in the film space, it was like that final quiz but it was a crash-course on the first day. They understood that Kendrick is a true artist and he had to stay true to his artistry and we understood that this is less about it being our thing and more about it being a [collaboration]. It worked out great, we were against time but everybody stepped up and it became something we're really proud of. We're very proud of the accomplishment and to just be right there, hand in hand with a movie, was so powerful. Ryan Coogler and all the cast, something that's so powerful for our kids to see and understand that we got our own superheroes we can look up to and be proud of. I don't wanna make it seem like it was easy, but it wasn't difficult either when you have people who want the same concepts.

This past year also saw SZA become a star––Ctrl may go on as a classic. Last year, she was calling out TDE execs on Twitter about the album not being out. What has it been like to see her rise to prominence, and how difficult is it to make sure that everyone on the roster feels valued at all times?

To answer your first question, every artist goes through that point where––when you make music you're creating a child, and it's hard for artists to put their child in someone else's hands. Business and artistry have to collide in order for greatness, and we just have a proven track record. Give me your child, and I’ma help raise him, nurture him, help him grow. And that concept developed into wanting to get her music out there. No, let's take our time and make sure it's perfect: let's get the videos done, get the concepts done, then look at her now. It's a testament to the artist pushing themselves to deliver a concept and management staying firm on how we do things as a brand and as a family.

I would say the first part [in making artists feel valued] is to keep them working, keep everyone moving. An idle mind is the devil's playground so we don't let the mind be idle because even though you're not dropping music, you're still working, you're still recording. I shoot videos a year in advance, literally. Some of the videos you see from Jay Rock’s album is a year in advance. That keeps the artist in the place where even though music is not coming out right away, they're busy, they're active, they got something to do and they're in the fold of the family vibe. The fans don't know our schedule and we try to update them as much as possible but we know our schedule and the artists know the schedule. For the most part, the artist knows, “after so and so, it's my time,” and we give everybody their time. When it's their time, you know because it's gonna be an onslaught of rollouts, materials, contents. So the artists are in a system where they know how it works, it's really just people on the outside that don't understand the process.

You guys just announced the signing of REASON. What expectations do new artists have after signing to TDE?

If you sign to TDE or if you want to sign to TDE, I think the expectation is just for [the] quality of work. That's why most people would wanna be with this label because it's definitely quality over quantity and it's a system of helping your brother, showing up for your brother. You have to have both of those characteristics if you really looking over this way. Most people that are trying to be with us have those characteristics: want to be a part of a family, want to be a part of a concept, not just out there creating by themselves. I think the biggest thing for new artists is the competition level. You’re coming into a fold of Kendrick, ScHoolboy, SZA, Jay Rock. There's less expectation about what the brand can do for you ‘cause the brand is proven, we've proven that if we develop time into our artists we can turn our artists into something. You got to compete with Kendrick Lamar, he's not gonna go easy on you on the track. He gon' tap that a** on the track for sure so you better come with it. The same thing with SZA, she gon' get on the track, she gon' serve it up so you better be ready. Same thing with Jay Rock. Jay Rock holds the crown for the most destroyed tracks from TDE, getting on with artists and destroying everybody on the track. He's the highest competitor in the camp when it comes to each other. He's gonna pull the best out of you. So I think the artists are focused more on that. “Sh*t, how do I come in and make an impression on the guys that are killing it already?"

That's what I noticed the most and that's probably the most pressured situation for them. SiR is like, "Man how do I even show these guys I'm tight, how do I even get them to pay attention to me?" The first time I brought SiR to the studio with Kendrick, Kendrick was like, "Go in the booth," and it literally reminded me of the time that Top told Kendrick to go in the booth. The first time Dot came, Top was like “go in the booth and rap.” Dot was in the booth for two hours. Dot did the same thing and I felt the energy that I felt when Top said that with Kendrick. I bring SiR in to [see] Kendrick and I'm in the same position I was in back then. It's like, “h sh*t, I hope he kill it in front of Dot. I hope Dot sees what I see."

What are you planning for this next year? What haven't you done yet?

'We’re getting heavy into the film game. I'm trying to get heavier into it. Kendrick’s trying to get heavier into it. A lot of the guys want to get more into the content creation game. We got a lot of new artists, we got REASON, we got other new things coming. To us, it's about replicating the success but also stretching our hands into as many fields as humanly possible. So all those big investors and all those big guys that wanna be with a winning team, come talk to TDE ‘cause we’re looking into a bunch of different fields. There's no label on what we can do now. Top literally just left my house and we were talking about everything else that we have to do. It can be real estate to just investments, we have to do more. Music is the driving force to create the opportunity, but we have to do more and we're inviting anybody that wants to do more to come speak with us.

READ MORE: TDE's REASON Hopes To Marry Real Rap With Community

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CIRCA 1980: Photo of Bill Withers
David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Bill Withers' Greatest Hits: Remixed, Sampled And Covered

The recent loss of legends in jazz, soul and classical music have saddened the music industry and reminded us of their touching gifts to music. The passing of Manu Dibango, Krzysztof Penderecki, Ellis Marsalis Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli and Alan Merrill brought endless tributes from peers and fans with the recent loss of soul singer-songwriter Bill Withers doing the same.

With a mirage of hits, the iconic songwriter left his mark on music with the release of his debut album Just As I Am in 1971. "Ain't No Sunshine" put a spotlight on his songwriting while 1977's "Lovely Day" reminded the industry of his signature vocals. Withers released eight studio albums, one live album and garnered three Grammys for his powerful songs that gave hope and love to fans to this day.

Hip-hop and R&B have gained the most from Withers as his music went on to inspire records like "No Diggity" by BLACKStreet, "Roses" by Kanye West and other songs from UGK, Dr. Dre, Jill Scott and more.

Take a look at some of Withers' finest tunes covered, remixed and sampled below.

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8. “Lovely Day” | Menagerie (1977)

Sampled On: T.W.D.Y., “Player’s Holiday” | Derty Werk (1999) LunchMoneyLewis - “It's Gonna Be A Lovely Day” feat. Aminè | Pets 2 Soundtrack (2019) Swizz Beatz - “Take A Picture” |One Man Band (2007)

Standout: T.W.D.Y., “Player’s Holiday” | Derty Werk (1999)

Short for "The Whole Damn Yay," the group used Withers' sample while throwing a splash of The Bay's laid back flavor. With cameos from future legends like E-40 and Ray Luv, the single already embodied the best of R&B and hip-hop with guest verses from Too Short, Mac Mall and Otis & Shug. The mimosas and yacht are also a great touch.

Covered By: Jill Scott, The Original Jill Scott from the Vault Vol. 1 (2011) Alt-J, This Is All Yours (2014) Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2 (2013) Kirk Franklin, The Nu Nation Project (1998)

Standout: Kirk Franklin, The Nu Nation Project (1998)

Who was going to beat a chorus singing to the lordt? Franklin's take on the classic gives us stirring gospel and appreciation for Withers and God. There are plenty of covers that have lifted the same vocals as Withers, but the ones listed have put their unique spin on the track.

7. “Ain't No Sunshine” | Just As I Am (1971)

Sampled On: DMX - “No Sunshine” | Exit Wounds Soundtrack (2001) Lil B - “Up And Down” | Based Jam (2012) 2Pac- "Soulja's Story" |  2Pacalypse Now (1991)

Standout: DMX - “No Sunshine” | Exit Wounds Soundtrack (2001)

"No Sunshine" served as the only single from DMX's film alongside Steven Seagal, which gave everyone the perfect backdrop to the movie and X's intricate storytelling. Both the original and flipped version points out the dark elements of our lives. Withers penned the song after watching the film 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses, he pondered over the toxicity in his life. "Sometimes you miss things that weren't particularly good for you," he said in 2004 to SongFacts. "It's just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I'm not aware of."

Covered By: Soul For Real | Candy Rain (1994) Michael Jackson | Got to Be There (1972) The Boris Gardiner Happening | Is What's Happening (1973) The Temptations | Solid Rock (1972)

Standout: Michael Jackson | Got to Be There (1972)

At 14, the future King of Pop gave a riveting cover of Withers' hit for his debut album, Got To Be There. From his vocal control throughout the track to the instrumentation, his cover takes the song to another level of heartbreak.

6. "Grandma's Hands” | Just As I Am (1971)

Sampled On: BLACKstreet - “No Diggity” feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen | Another Level (1996) Big K.R.I.T. - “I Gotta Stay” | K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (2010) Brother Ali - “Waheedah's Hands” | Champion (2004)

Standout: BLACKstreet - “No Diggity” feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen | Another Level (1996)

R&B heads are well aware of BLACKstreet's neverending ballads and the genius of Teddy Riley. But the pivot of their sound for their sophomore album Another Level was due to Withers and the William “Stylez” Stewart. Speaking to Fact Mag in 2017, the creator of New Jack Swing gave credit to Stylez for bringing him the sample of "Grandma's Hands."

“If he hadn’t played that sample for me, there would never be a ‘No Diggity’ And if he didn’t write it according to the melody I gave him so it would sound that way because I wanted it to sound funky,” he said. “I wanted it to be appealing to everyone, but mostly to women. I wanted every woman to feel like they were the ‘No Diggity’ girl and that song was about them and it came across. And now, still, today, that song plays and people are on that dancefloor.”

Covered By: Gil Scott-Heron, Reflections (1981) Merry Clayton, Merry Clayton (1971) Barbra Streisand, Butterfly (1974)

Standout: Gil Scott-Heron, Reflections (1981)

Gil Scott-Heron's version of the soul classic reminded us of his versatile talents. From spoken word to his vocal abilities, the Godfather of rap music always came through with his own sound and style. Reflections was one of four albums the late artist dropped in the 80s with critics looking to it as one of his finest projects. Other cuts from the album included "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and "B Love."

5. "Use Me" | Still Bill (1972)

Sampled On: Kendrick Lamar - “Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst"  | Good kid, Maad City (2012) J. Cole- "Dollar And A Dream II" | The Warm-Up (2009) Leela James - “So Good" | Fall For You (2014) UGK - "Use Me Up" | The Southern Way (1992)

Standout: Kendrick Lamar - “Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst"  | Good kid, Maad City (2012)

Lamar's take on "Use Me" blended right into the themes of his debut album, Good kid, Maad City allowing the artist to create another world on the project. To make things even better, Lamar also sampled Al Green's "I'm Glad You're Mine" for the track.

Covered By: Grace Jones, Indigo Nights, Live (2008) Mick Jagger feat. Lenny Kravitz, Wandering Spirit  (2004) Issac Hayes, Dr. Dolittle Soundtrack (1998)

Standout: Mick Jagger feat. Lenny Kravitz, Wandering Spirit (2004)

On his third solo album, Jagger linked with Rick Rubin to test his creative energy, allowing him to work with Lenny Kravitz on their version of "Use Me." Colliding worlds was one thing but to hear Kravitz's vocals come in on the bridge, set the track apart from the rest.

4. “Kissing My Love” | Still Bill (1972)

Sampled On: J. Cole - “The Cut Off" featuring kiLL Edward  | KOD (2018) Dr. Dre - "Let Me Ride" featuring Snoop Dogg, RC and Jewell | The Chronic (1992) Masta Ace- "Movin On" | Take A Look Around (1990) Master P- "Bastard Child" | The Ghettos Tryin To Kill Me! | 1994

Standout: Dr. Dre - "Let Me Ride" featuring Snoop Dogg, RC and Jewell | The Chronic (1992)

"Kissing My Love" is one of most sampled from Withers catalog, thanks to its feverish drums. It's also why it fits into Dr. Dre's single and the G-funk era.

3. Grover Washington's “Just The Two of Us” featuring Bill Withers | Winelight (1981)

Sampled/Covered On:  Will Smith - “Just The Two of Us” | Big Willie Style (1997) Eminem- "Just The Two of Us" | Slim Shady EP (1997) Keri Hilson- "Pretty Girl Rock" | No Boys Allowed (2010)

Standout: Will Smith - “Just The Two of Us” | Big Willie Style (1997)

Touching and soulful, Smith's dedication to his eldest son Trey is just too cute for words.

2. “Let It Be” | Just As I Am  (1967)

The Original: The Beatles - “Let It Be” | Let It Be (1968)

"Let It Be" is a pretty special record. Aretha Franklin recorded a version a year before the release of The Beatles' version and Withers gave his take on the record in the 70s. Slightly faster, his upbeat take on "Let It Be" just hits different.

1. “Rosie” | Menagerie Re-Issue (1977)

Sampled On: Kanye West - “Roses” |  Late Registration (2005)

As the somber part of Late Registration, "Roses" brings us into Kanye's world where he contemplates the mortality of a loved one. It's a sentimental take on the sample and one of the artist's most underrated songs. It's also a hidden gem for Withers as it isn't featured on Menagerie's LP. It was added as a bonus track on

Enjoy the jams in playlist form below.

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Andy Chan

Stephon Marbury Talks New Documentary And Bringing Hip-Hop Culture To The NBA

The epicenter of culture and entertainment, New York City is known as the land where stars are born and legends are made. The birthplace of hip-hop and the mecca of basketball, the grittiness of life within the five boroughs has cultivated an innumerable amount of creatives notorious for their tenacity in the booth, as well as talented athletes known for their exploits on the hardwood. Stringing rhymes together may not have been Stephon Marbury's claim to fame, but his story of surviving the projects of Coney Island and using his athletic talent to reach fame and fortune has made him a global hero. His journey is examined in the new documentary, A Kid From Coney Island.

Chronicling Stephon's journey from Coney Island's Surfside Gardens housing projects to Beijing, China, the film documents his family's lineage within the basketball world, his meteoric rise as a high school prodigy, the successful, yet tumultuous NBA career that followed, and how he rediscovered himself thousands of miles away from home. Directed by Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah, and executive produced by NBA superstar Kevin Durant, A Kid From Coney Island came to life when producers Jason Samuel and Nina Yang Bongiovio reached out to Coodie and Chike, who were working with Samuels on the HBO documentary Legacy of a King, to jump on board.

From there, Coodie and Chike met with Marbury, with both parties bonding over their spiritual backgrounds and focus on family, earning the trust that would result in a transparent glimpse into the inner workings of his life and the chain of events that led to his most controversial moments. With Hollywood veteran Forest Whitaker in the fold as a producer, the last domino to fall would be Kevin Durant, who, along with his business partner Rich Kleiman, expressed an interest in taking on the project under their Thirty Five Ventures media company. "Kev, him and Rich Kleiman, they came in as executive producers and [out of] his love for Stephon," Coodie explains. "And then when they saw the final product, they wanted to definitely support it and made sure that we got it out there for these kids to see. It was an important story to him."

In addition to Marbury's exploits on the court, A Kid From Coney Island also touches on his impact as one of the first NBA players to fully embrace and embody the look, attitude, and vibe of hip-hop culture, a period which Coodie Simmons recalls fondly. "It was definitely the golden age of hip-hop, 96, that era," he shares. "And it was the emergence of hip-hop and basketball. We seen it, it happened with Stephon and A.I. and Kobe Bryant and all of them guys who came in, 'cause you'd see Magic Johnson and 'em, they're suited up. Or even Mike, Mike had his tailor-made suits so that's all we'd pretty much seen, but when those guys came in, they had to change the dress code because of them guys."

One of the directors' goals for the project was to help humanize Stephon Marbury and illustrate the toll that mental health can take on a person's psyche, whether it be a world-class athlete or not. "For those that don't know Steph, I think that they will just get a great story of redemption," Coodie says. "Of not quitting and going somewhere to actually succeed. When we weren't welcome in one place,we went somewhere else and made it happen. And then I think, two, the whole depression and mental health, people don't really understand that in our community that's real big, but we ignore it or we shun it away, we don't get therapy like we need, so I think people will see Stephon's story as a redemption and really inspire 'em. His story will inspire so many when they see it and those who knew Steph and remember him from the NBA, I think they will see that he's a real person."

Featuring a cast that includes Ray Allen, Fat Joe, Chauncey Billups, Cam'ron, Stephen A. Smith, DJ Clark Kent, Bonz Malone, Set Free Richardson, and more, A Kid From Coney Island is a riveting watch for any sports or hip-hop fan and gives insight to the life and times of one of the most beloved athletes of the hip-hop generation. While the film’s theatre release was thwarted by the coronavirus, it’s now available to watch and own digitally.

VIBE hopped on the phone and spoke with Stephon Marbury about his journey across the globe, his role in solidifying the marriage between basketball and hip-hop, and what it means to be A Kid From Coney Island.

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VIBE: How did the idea to document your journey from Coney Island to Asia and back come to life? Stephon Marbury: Well, it started with talking about my experiences and my journey and all of the stuff that was going on in my life. When we spoke about these different things, about four years ago, we were speaking about doing a biopic movie and then we said there was an opportunity to do a documentary. They said, “Well, why don't we start it off with a documentary first before we do a biopic movie, that would be pretty cool to tell the story and get people to understand what had taken place.” So then we went into speaking and talking about all of the different things that I've done and about us documenting what was going on in China. We did that for a whole season, a whole year, and then it pretty much came to life after putting all of the right people in place and making sure they could execute the flair.

Kevin Durant is one of the executive producers on the documentary. How would you describe your relationship? Kevin Durant, I've been watching him since he first came into college and he ventured off in Thirty Five Ventures, the media company. The opportunity came about where he wanted to be a part of it. After he watched it he asked me. … I have a lot of love for him, his game and what he tries to do off of the basketball court, trying to help people. And he's one of the best basketball players on the planet. So him coming on board was right in alignment with what we were doing and having his own media company.

What was it like working with Coodie and Chike on the film and how would you describe that dynamic? Those two, they're authentic, they're real. They understand capturing the moments that people need to capture from what we put on the screen, to want to be inspired and want to reach higher. To want to have that motor and that motivation to keep pushing forward throughout the ups and downs of going through life. People can watch, and hear it, people can listen. Those guys have their style and what they want the world to see, and I think working with those two guys, they had the vision. Along with partnering up with Jason Samuel. And having Forest Whitaker basically oversee and make sure it looks the way it needs to look and sounds the way it needs to sound for people to resonate with the story.

New York City is notorious for its crack epidemic and the violence that came as a byproduct of it, which coincided with your own coming of age. The documentary covers how that environment also sheltered you and provided a safe haven for you to hone your talents in. How would you say that relationship with the people in your community shaped you as a man and inspired your drive and will to win? I was blessed to grow up in the projects, where I was able to have my mom, my dad and brothers and sisters guide me in the way that I needed to be guided. So me, having that spiritual-based background, I've always been able to understand what it was that I was pushing for and what I was looking to see for myself. And I had the faith and I trusted a higher power to get me through those obstacles. Coming from Coney Island, you get the bitter and the sweet, as far as growing up in an impoverished area, in the ghetto. whatever you wanna call it. I come from that, and to make it better was the only resort.

One of the common themes that is touched on throughout the documentary is the bond you have with your family and your lineage within the basketball community. How important was it to highlight the role your family played in your journey? It's all about stories. I pretty much cultivated all of their thinking and doings on the court, and their ways and how they see the game should be played, I put that all together. When you see me on the court, as the person that's playing in the NBA, but all of their games are entwined into my game and they taught me all of what I know and I was able to take something from each and every one of them. But for me, having them and my family - my mom and my dad, bless my dad's soul, he's not here anymore - to have them be able to give me not only the tools, but to help me utilize the tools [was great].

You were also one of the first basketball players to truly embody and exude an aura comparable to a rap or neighborhood, from the part in your hair to the earrings, tats, jewelry and that whole rugged demeanor. At that time, was it important for you to display that look and attitude for the world to see? That '96 era, B.I.G., Pac, Nas, what they did during that time was a correlation to what we were doing in basketball, Iverson, myself, so that was our era. That's what we were listening to during these times. So because of that, that direct correlation had an impact on the culture and what we did and how we did things, so we grew up with that type of swag. We had that atmosphere around us at all times, which was a motivation and push to inspire us to do great things. To be different, to create abstract things on the court. To go on the court and do what you do, play how you play. You get to paint your vision and your idea of who you are as a basketball player on the court. They gave us that culture side on that music side for that part.

Your draft night moment is one of the most memorable in the history of the NBA and was a moment that was not only about you, but your whole family. What emotions did seeing that footage 25 years later bring to the surface? It was an amazing time and it was a very emotional, impactful moment, not only for myself and my family, but all of the people from Coney Island. Somebody made it from where we're from, doing something that we love to do, so all of the emotions they run high and stay high and it's always something that will continue to be impactful. And that will continue to be monumental because we did it together, it was a team effort, what we were able to accomplish.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the documentary is your relationship with Kevin Garnett and how your careers and journies would become synonymous with one another. How would you say that brotherhood impacted both of you during your coming of age? It always was love and will always be love. For me, I stay consistent in who I was and how I was as a basketball player and as a person. Sharing the court with Kev, he's doing something to help me and I'm doing something to help him and we made each other wise when we played [with each other] on the basketball court.

The documentary also highlights you being a host to other future pros like Chauncey Billups and others. How did these relationships form and manifest in kids coming from all over the country to visit you in Coney Island, Brooklyn? Basketball. I mean, Chauncey was at an All-American camp and when he was at All-American [camp], I was like, 'Why don't you just come to Coney Island and stay,' so when he's staying he was shocked, he was blown away. I'll never forget, it was one of the hottest days during that time in the summertime and we didn't have no air-conditioner and we were on the hunt trying to find a fan, but you couldn't find a fan. He was like, 'Man, I ain't ever experience being in the projects, all of these big buildings and just seeing how people live and all of that.” It was fun to give someone that experience and Chauncey and I are still friends as we speak. I've known him since high school and he's one of the people who I've stayed in touch with, talked with, and has just been an inspiration in our lives. Not just in basketball, but seeing all of what he's doing and how he's trying to help people. Building these bonds and building these relationships as basketball players is all because of the ball,and the ball gives the opportunity for people to connect.

New York City basketball was very competitive, with players like you, Felipe Lopez, God Shammgod and others in heated competition, and is now considered a golden era for the city. What were those battles against guards like Rafer Alston and Shammgod like and did you feel the weight of that competition for the top spot? Nah, I just did what I did and went on the court and played the way so that I'd get myself to be where I could be. I always felt like if you wanna be the best, you gotta play against the best, you gotta dominate against the best. You gotta just show and prove what you can do, and in New York, you know you're always gonna have that competition on the court, you gotta have that drive and that motor in New York in order to be the top. And those guys were some of the top players in the world so everybody was going for it to be one of the top, which was pushing us to fight and try to make it in the NBA."

With all of the similarities, the belief has always been that He Got Game was inspired by your own story of being a coveted basketball prospect out of Coney Island, which is covered in the documentary. Did you have a relationship with Spike prior to the film and did he ever reach out to you personally during that time? Yeah, he reached out to me. He wanted me to audition and I wouldn't audition to play me so that's how that pretty much went. And I understood what he was saying later, but I still didn't understand then because I was like, 'You want me to play me?' But it was about acting, it wasn't really about playing the part, which was understandable, but the movie was a well-written movie. It wasn't all true. Like some of it's true, a lot of it's not true, but it was a great basketball movie to tell a story about a player who came from a place [like Coney Island].

You and KG were one of the first athletes to go outside of the traditional system and sign a shoe deal with AND1, who were up and coming at the time. How did you get involved with the brand and what were some of the other opportunities you turned down in favor of working with AND1 that you can mention? During that time, we could've signed with anybody. Anybody would've signed us, but AND1, at the time, all they had was T-shirts of, like, Larry Johnson on 'em with Grandmama, so for me it was an opportunity to build something from the ground up. It was something that was different, it was something that was unique because it was different and they were willing to sell shoes at a reasonable price point.

Your transition to Minnesota and being away from your family was touched on in the film. How would you describe that distance between you and that core unit affected your tenure there? I mean, it was different. I went from New York, where it's a melting pot, to Atlanta, where it's predominantly black where I was at, and went to Minnesota, where it's primarily white. But for myself, around that time, at a young age, that was a culture shock to me, which was part of my decision in me wanting to go back home and play in the tri-state area. I wanted to be in a culturally diverse city, [like] where I was from. That was when I was young and then, as I grew older, I started to see what people were saying as far as, "Oh, you see the possibilities about you and Kevin Garnett playing together for so many years in Minnesota?' I was like, "Yeah, I can see that," but I would've had to spend seven years in Minnesota and it wasn't just about basketball with me, I had a life as well. It snowed all the time and it's always cold, there's 10,000 lakes. Weather watch season, warning watches. Like, "If you go outside today, you can die if you get caught outside." There's things like that, just from natural habitat, to put myself in that position where I would have to make a decision for life and death things, which that's every day, all of the time, but because of the weather? I couldn't receive that message at the time and stay in a place like that. It was never about basketball or playing with Kevin.

One of the highlights of the documentary is your performances in the EBC tournament at Rucker Park, which you were a long-time participant in. What are some of your favorite memories from those tournaments and how would you say your impact helped bridge the gap between streetball and the NBA? When you play against guys that could've or should've made it to the NBA, not only are those guys reminders of our lifestyle from the street guys that didn't get to make it, it's fun because they get an opportunity to see the difference in why you're playing in the NBA and why some may not make it. Because you got guys in the NBA that can't play in the Rucker, they don't know how to get on the court and play that style, but you put them in an NBA game and they can play. Not everyone can perform on that stage, playing in the Rucker. Now, with the way our basketball is right now, you gotta be able to do both.

What's the backstory to your relationship with Fat Joe, who also appears in the documentary? I mean, we just clicked since when I was playing with the Nets, and this goes back to '99, over twenty years. And our relationship has just been love, that's all. He's real funny, he's real, he's street, he's Joe (laughs), you know, so our relationship just grew and built from that. He was like, 'Yo, I'm putting together a team at the Rucker.' I was like, 'I'm down, what's up.' He was like, 'Steph, five, I need this chip, five.' I'm like, 'That's done, don't worry about that. We gonna get that.'

Were there any moments in the documentary that were raw to the point you were a bit hesitant to touch on or revisit? Nah. My life is my life, what happened is what happened, it's a part of it. One dude was like, 'Ah, you were crying on the internet.' I said, 'I see people cry every day when people die, I can't cry about my dad? I can't cry about me having a moment from my father eating Vaselines?' I was like, 'I'll eat Vaseline right now, in front of your face’ (laughs). People stick needles in their arm or their mom sniffs coke, and I was like, 'You're talking about me eating Vaseline?' It doesn't make sense. It's okay for you to speak about something that everybody talked about and that's all they talk about. And I was like, 'If that makes me crazy, I'm sorry for the people that are born with the things that make them crazy.

Aside from old video clips, you don't appear in the documentary until you begin recounting your transition to China. Whose decision was that and what, if any significance, do you think that added to conveying the gravity of that moment? It's storytelling. The story speaks for itself, it tells the whole tale until I started talking. The way they did it was perfect. When I come on, it's picking up from where everyone watched and when I say watched, I mean the time frame of what was going on in my life. But no one knows about China. So that's why I told the story about China.

Towards the end of the documentary, you visit a local barbershop in Coney Island and befriend a young child, which results in one of the more emotional scenes in the film. Can you take me through what was running through your mind at the moment and why the child's answer to your question about him being president garnered that response? Nobody ever told him that he can be anything, that he can be the president. He just thought that, 'Oh, only these people can be the president,' no, you can be the president, too. So for us to be able to teach these children and give these kids the idea of, 'You can do this and you can do that,' that's really what it's about. It's not really about anything else because we're gonna leave this space and go to another space when we pass on and they will be the ones that will be here to continue. And then what we want them to pass on to the next generation. Encouraging and giving them the idea that they can do whatever they wanna do on the earth if they aspire to do that."

China was a spiritual awakening for you, it seems. How would you say that experience helped you heal and grow in different areas? One of my mentors said to me, “Steph, it's like going on a retreat,” before I went, and that's exactly what it was. It was not only a spiritual journey and a spiritual awakening, to be able to have gone over there to do some of the things that I've done, it was all in accordance and it's all in the plan as far as what was bound to happen in your life, but you don't know there's something going on 7,000 miles away. Like, if somebody told you, “Oh, if you go over there, these things are gonna happen.” What's gonna happen? “Oh, you're gonna have two statues, a museum, you're gonna have three championships.” You're gonna be looking at them like, no way, not a kid from Coney Island is gonna receive all of these different things. “Yeah, this is what's gonna happen, you're gonna go to China and you're gonna do this, you're gonna do that and this is gonna happen, that's gonna happen and you're gonna be one of the people that makes China a basketball country.” That's not something that you think about or dream about. So going there was part of my story, it's part of my history, it was part of what was going to put me back into a space within myself where it was going to allow me to be focused in my life. So for me, seeing it play out how it played out, I'm blessed and thankful that I was able to see my obstacles, but at the same time, have the guts to continue to go forward. I felt like I wasn't gonna be able to.

What do you hope viewers take away from this documentary after watching it? Become more aware of the truth because when you can tell your own truth people can get a better understanding of the lies that were told. That's how I like to look at it because a lot of people had a lot to say about what happened and what went on with my life and my journey, but they weren't living in my journey, they were only reading about my journey. I think they see this, they'll have a better understanding because sometimes people just don't know and they go with what they think and then they talk about what they think or what they heard. And more importantly, I hope people can become inspired by it, to do what they feel they wanna do in their lives and go for it.

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Mario Tama

People Of Color Are Hesitant To Wear Homemade Masks

While the country is experiencing a shortage in face masks, the Center for Disease Control recommends that people wear homemade face mask. But many people of color have reservations about going outside with bandanas, or other homemade masks wrapped around their faces.

One person exercising caution in following the suggestion of the CDE is Trevon Logan, economics professor at Ohio State University.

"We have a lot of examples of the presumed criminality of black men in general," Logan said to CNN. "And then we have the advice to go out in public in something that ... can certainly be read as being criminal or nefarious, particularly when applied to black men."

I don’t feel safe wearing a handkerchief or something else that isn’t CLEARLY a protective mask covering my face to the store because I am a Black man living in this world. I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive.

— Aaron Thomas (@Aaron_TheThomas) April 4, 2020

Hospital administrators around the country are seeking government help to secure more masks and other personal equipment. With many out of work, there is an untold number of poverty-stricken families who simply can't afford to buy masks.

"This (wearing a homemade mask) seems like a reasonable response unless you just sort of take American society out of it. When you can't do that, you're basically telling people to look dangerous given racial stereotypes that are out there," Logan said.

Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem. It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Wearing homemade masks during the COVID-19 pandemic could easily expose blacks to more racial profiling.

"This is in the larger context of black men fitting the description of a suspect who has a hood on, who has a face covering on," Logan said.  "It looks like almost every criminal sketch of any garden-variety black suspect."

Gang affiliation is also a serious issue in large cities such as New York City, L.A., Chicago, among others. With this, there's a great possibility that wearing bandanas for masks could expose men and women to violence from gang members as well as police.

Cyntoria Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University told CNN that bandanas are commonly associated with gang affiliation or part their respective uniforms, including a bandana tied around the forehead similar to a sweatband.

"People of color have to make conscious decisions every day about the way they show up in the world and are perceived by others, especially the police," Johnson said.

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