FYF Fest 2016 - Day 2
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for FYF

When You Weren't Looking, Blood Orange Delivered The Album Of The Year

Blood Orange's 'Negro Swan' is an exploration into the duality of the black man with art that transcends the norm.

Blood Orange may not be looking to change the world, but his music strives to change conversations surrounding mental health and masculinity. The British singer-songwriter's latest studio album, Negro Swan, was an underrated release in Aug. 2018 and an ode to black depressives with an anxious tale of the marginalized black life and the strife that lies within it.

Enclosed in a 49-minute project, the playlist screams from its belly with angst, clocked in soft voices and live instrumentals. No one wants to be the odd one out at times/No one wants to be the negro swan,” Blood Orange cries on "Charcoal Baby," a track positioned toward the album's center and the first single released in promotion of the new LP.

His single "Hope" is a reluctant battle with love and expectations mastered by Diddy and Tei Shi. A first for the music mogul, Orange captures the Bad Boy producer in a rare mood — vulnerable.

Negro Swan listens as an organized free-flowing thought that hinges on vulnerability, bringing you to the pits of adolescence where you once navigated your position in the world. Blood Orange — also known as Dev Hynes — gives raw expression and a broadening definition of the black man. Masculine and fluid, the long play is not just for queers or people of color; it's for anyone who needs to feel comfortable. 

Speaking to VIBE, Blood Orange opens up about expanding the understanding of a man and masculinity and the creative process behind Negro Swan.                                                                                                                                         ---

VIBE: First I want to congratulate you on your album Negro Swan. I want to start with one of your songs, "Charcoal Baby." You played it a year ago before you released it at The Meadows.

Blood Orange: Yeah, I did.

What made you decide to wait almost a year before releasing it?

For me, especially those songs, I felt like the context of the album and everything around it would serve it better. I felt that the content of the album would help to serve it with the artwork and the video of the song. I felt it would make more sense that way.  

In the video, you open with the definition of family, so what does family mean to you?

To me, it's definitely not a case of blood, it's whatever you choose. That is my interpretation.

Do you think that your core values come from your chosen family, or what has been instilled in you since you were a child?

I would say a mixture of both. I feel like I was given some very good models as a child that are definitely ingrained in me. But you know experiencing life also led me to people that have helped to expand those core beliefs. I am very much informed by people whom I trust.

I really liked your visuals for “Jewelry” and that Janet Mock was in it, and the mosh pit style of all of the black masculine-presenting people. I really loved that you had on this rainbow belt in the middle of all of this.

(Laughing) The belt.

I wanted to know what was your inspiration for the video? How did Janet Mock being in the video come about and then the mosh pit of course?

The song to me is the center of the album. Personally, I feel like every aspect of the album is well-represented in that song. It was important for me to have that put out visually. Out of all the songs on the album, that's the one that moves about more. I thought it would be good if the video was more of a visual rather than a music video, so it could ground the music and make it easier to understand.

You have one image for each section that's somewhat strong. Each of the sections, I tried to visualize each as its own image. It’s interesting because I did not have an album cover at that point, and my label was asking me because time was running out, and I told them no matter what happens, the album cover will come from that video. I always knew that video, to me, summed up the album, so I didn't know what it was going be, but I was just going to take tons of photos while shooting and directing, and I knew that there would be an image for it from the album.

The "Chewing Gum" video with A$AP Rocky — I think it is very interesting because both of you have very different styles and ways you do music and present yourselves. What was it like working with A$AP Rocky being that the dichotomy between you two is so different?

It was good. One thing that is interesting about our video is that I actually shot it before the song was finished. I shot that video nearly two years ago, which is kind of crazy? That happens a lot with different videos that came out, I actually did years before. I am always working on these things at the same time, and then they kind of melt together, but that one was basically a couple of nights.

I was staying at his house at that period and working on music. Worked on the song, had started a verse on it, and I was still trying to work on imagery with the album. Then, I had this vision with us two that I felt would, in a way... I'm always just working out things. The scene that is a group of us in "Jewelry" kind of mobbing is the same tone as what I was working on in the “Chewing Gum” video. It's hard for me to use words because I use visuals. I don't know delicate masculinity.

I think overall, the imagery that you have created does a really good job at capturing a masculine presence in a very delicate way. You do very well at providing different layers to black men.

That's cool, yeah that's sick, that’s all I'm trying to do. So, that's what that video is. I just felt like it was a place that we could meet, Rocky and I. I was trying to create this world where it worked.

What is your favorite video that you created?

There are a lot. I think "Jewelry" and "Saint." It captures something. I think “Jewelry” captures the mood of the album and "Saint" captures, I don't want to say “behind-the-scenes,” but it captures the energy of when I am making stuff because that is actually my studio in the video.

Oh really?

Yeah, nothing is staged in that. I had my friends be there and we planned all the shots but that is my studio that is the view. That's it in Chinatown (NYC). Nothing was moved. I didn't move keyboards. That is literally it. To me, that was kind of a special one because it had that energy. So that (“Saint”) and "Jewelry."

Recently, I saw on your Instagram that you worked with Mariah Carey on her Caution album. That must have been a very interesting moment?

Yeah, that's wild. We worked on that song before Negro Swan came out actually. We really connected, I don't need to say, but she is real. Her music knowledge is so crazy, and I mean it's wild, not just in terms of what she knows discography-wise, but everything. Just her actual music intellect. It was just an insane learning experience. I still can't quite believe it happened actually.

That's amazing, because she is considered a music legend and a vocal legend, so being able to work with her must be really affirming in the fact that you are a talented artist and people are interested in hearing you.

I guess I should start looking at it like that. It's still really hard for me to take stuff like that in.

Why do you say that?

I don't know. I just still feel really personal. I still make stuff the same way I made it when I was, like, 14. Everything is still pretty much the same. I mean, some techniques have changed and I keep to myself quite a bit. I haven't read a review in like nine years.

I've seen that you identify as being fluid, and I wanted to know how your fluidity transfers to your music?

I think it transfers in the way that is kind of interesting. I never really feel like I am working on music. It's always like I am just doing things and living life and while I do that I work on music. So everything in my life goes into my music.

Because of that, it's more journalistic or just driving into. It's like this thing that is a constant that is happening, so I think because of that, and because it is so personal, and because it is really just me and what is on my mind, I don't really write songs. But especially, like, I can honestly say the entirety of Blood Orange stuff, there have maybe been three times I have written a song. As in, I sat down and wrote a song from start to finish. It's more like a bunch of tapestries or pieces that I am always working on at the same time and weaving in and out of, which is why sometimes lyrics repeat and melodies repeat.

I finish all the songs at the same time and then the album is done. So everything that is going on in my life and how I am feeling. I feel in my life the freer and easier making music is. It's essentially like fluidity and my sexual preference is like a part. It's as important as me singing about my childhood and my day-to-day. It kind of goes right inside.

So being that you identify as fluid, do you also consider yourself to be masculine?

I don't know. It may sound kind of crazy, but I kind of leave that stuff up to whoever wants to think about it. I don't think about it, because to me I am just being me. I don't ever really think about those tags or things. For example, I play a crazy amounts of sports — my whole life, I always have. I guess in the world that has set up the idea of "boys play sports" that can be seen as masculine, but because I don't really view the world that way I don't know if it's masculine.

You have spoken out about being harassed for being fluid, how do you find serenity in yourself when hate comes your way?

I've learned to really take it as something has been triggered inside the person that is giving the hate. I have learned to understand that more. Rather than it being about me, it's about the person who is projecting, which is obviously an easier said practice than it is done. I learned to go there and to still keep myself and think of myself and stay somewhat positive. I mean, it is tough but I've had to work on that, and I am still working on that, really.

Do you think you openness about being fluid has affected your perspective of being a black person in the music industry?

I don't know, I don't think about this. I don't know if that is good or bad, but I just really believe in everyone being themselves and everyone being themselves without judgment, which I feel is really important.

Especially in a world nowadays where it seems like nobody is allowed to make mistakes- which is strange because literally, no one is perfect — and I think this pressure will make people not be themselves. It's kind of counterintuitive, I find that a little sad. So, I don't know.

I am turning 33 next month, and I think about my life, and having to work things out by myself, and the place that it took me, and the places I don’t understand, and maybe the mistakes I have made. It just kind of... I feel like it's a journey I would never, ever want to replace, because it has made me who I am, and made me sure of who I am without feeling any shame within that. I feel like it’s a positive thing.

I tried to say it a couple of times when people would ask me about the album, and I would try and say I have a view of what I think this album is about and the title can be taken anyway people want. But the most important thing for me is that no one feels like they can't reflect on that. I want everyone to be able to listen to it and take something from it, and not feel that it is not for them. It may be somewhat specific because it's my point of view making it, and I know what I was thinking about, but I want every single person who wants to take something from it to be able to take something from it, regardless if that is queer, non-binary, or cis or anything. I want people to feel comfortable in being those things.

How do you think you got to the point of you being so comfortable within yourself?

Honestly, from going to a very dark place. I've gone to some very dark places in the last few years, and I think, again, that the only way out is when you are just left with yourself. It's almost like going to the end of extreme pessimism and nihilism, and the outcome is that of "I don't know a negative optimist." Something like that.

If for some reason there was a time machine and you could give young Dev advice, what would you tell yourself?

Probably just to keep going. I mean, I say it to myself now, so I would have probably said it back then too. Just keep doing you. All that matters in life is yourself and family and people you love, and trying to make others and yourself happy and living life. That's kind of all I care about.

READ MORE: Divine Intervention: Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes Shows What It Really Means To Be Young, Gifted & Black On ‘Freetown Sound’

From the Web

More on Vibe

Courtesy of DubShot Records

Boomshots: The Unstoppable Rise Of Dre Island

"We rise to the top," Dre Island sings on "We Pray," his massive collab with Popcaan, "cause we know what it takes."

Building on that theme of musical and spiritual elevation, the multi-talented musician—singer, deejay, songwriter, producer, and pianist—has just released his debut album Now I Rise. The project features the aforementioned "We Pray" as well as crucial collaborations with the likes of Jesse Royal and Chronixx. "Ah mi family dem deh," says Dre Island, who has toured Europe backed by Chronixx's band Zincfence Redemption. A graduate of Kingston’s Calabar high school—alma mater of both Jr. Gong and Vybz Kartel—Andre Johnson aka Dre Island is a living link between the vaunted “roots revival” movement and the sound of the Jamaican streets.

“The revival is really within the people," he says. "Reggae music never stop. Reggae artists always been touring. So it’s just the people’s awareness.” During a time when reggae and dancehall stand at a crossroads, Dre Island has emerged as one of the few artists capable of bringing together dancehall vibes and the ancient roots traditions—not to mention outernational connections like "People" his collaboration with UK talents Cadenza and Jorja Smith. “An island is a small land mass surrounded by water,” the artist told Boomshots correspondent Reshma B in their first interview. “But if you read further it’s also a place where you go to find yourself.”

Released through a joint-venture partnership with New York-based DubShot Records and the artist's own Kingston Hills Entertainment imprint, Now I Rise is a 13-track set that includes the hit single “We Pray” featuring Popcaan, “My City,” as well as the recently released “Be Okay” feat Jesse Royal. Never-before-heard tracks include “Days of Stone” featuring Chronixx and “Run to Me” featuring Alandon as well as tracks produced by the likes of Jam2, Anju Blaxx, Teetimus, Winta James, Dretegs Music and Barkley Productions. The artist is now managed by Sharon Burke, founder of the Solid Agency in Kingston, Jamaica. Earlier this month, Dre Island premiered the official music video (directed by Fernando Hevetia) for the last song on the album, “Still Remain.”

“This album speaks of arising, growth, new beginnings and emerging from the ashes," Dre Island states. "At this time, these are all the things we need based on what is happening right now. The truth is, since 2015 I have been advertising that the album is coming. It has been five years and the time is right. As an artist and person Dre Island move different. I embrace Rasta and this way of life, but I am not part of any group like Boboshanti or Twelve Tribes. Everything I do is inspired by the father. I am moved to drop this album at this time because I am divinely inspired to do so. When you look at a song like “We Pray” I can take no credit for a song like that. Yes I wrote the lyrics and built the rhythm and I voice the track, but it's a prayer, not just a song so how a man fi tek credit for something that come from above.”

Dre Island and Boomshots have been linking up from early in his musical journey. During a recent trip to New York City, he sat down with Reshma B to speak about the new project and his unstoppable rise. Check the reasoning:

Continue Reading
Carlos Perez

Anuel AA Breaks Free

In 2015, an entourage of close to 30 men drew guns among one another during a traditional Christmas parranda in Puerto Rico. The scene turned into something straight out of a movie when a pair of gangsters clandestinely attempted to kidnap local rapper Anuel AA. After a brief scuffle and flagrant shouting match, however, the man born Emmanuel Gazmey Santiago went on to finish the evening’s holiday spree in the boisterous company of his loyal posse.

Months later, after ushering in the new year on a promising note by featuring on one of Latin trap’s first global hits – De La Ghetto’s sex anthem “La Ocasion” with Arcangel and Ozuna – someone delivered Anuel AA a divine premonition of sorts: “If you keep talking about this stuff in your songs, something really ugly is going to happen to you.”

A Puerto Rican music legend, Hector “El Father” of reggaeton-turned-son of God, paid Anuel a visit to share his foreboding message. “He and I did not know each other,” explained Anuel, who prides himself on waxing poetics about the real-life experiences Hector was concerned with, “but God spoke to him and Hector felt he needed to reach out to me. When he warned me, he said it with so much conviction that he even cried.”

Having forged a legacy of his own as one of the key trailblazing reggaeton entertainers of the ‘90s who later signed a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Hector – now a devoted Christian – understood life imitated art when it came to Anuel’s lyrics.

“My lyrics talked a lot about God and the devil, so when he told me that,” Anuel continued, “I knew I needed to make some changes. Those themes, good versus evil, they were my mark and what separated me from the rest.”

On April 3, 2016, just two weeks after meeting with Hector, Anuel was arrested and held in Guaynabo’s correctional institution on charges of illegal gun possession. Following his biggest musical break yet, just as he was touching the cusp of international stardom, a court judge sentenced Anuel to 30 months in federal prison without bail.

Raised east of San Juan, in the Puerto Rican city of Carolina, Anuel AA has a lot in common with many of my favorite MCs: he’s charming, resolute, and lyrically gifted, yet marred by a criminal past, complicit misogyny and the constant struggle between right and wrong. “I had no choice but to carry those weapons with me, because of the issues I had on the street,” the rapper said to VIBE Viva over the phone, while quarantined in Miami. “I thought to myself I’d rather be locked up than found dead.”

Indeed, Anuel had evaded his probable demise when he was nearly abducted and landed right behind bars months later, fulfilling a prophecy that cost him both his freedom and a flourishing start at the tipping point of trap music en Español. “I was being forced to reckon with all the bad things I had done for money in the past,” Anuel expressed, regretfully. “I started reading the Bible for the first time and realized that my talent and blessings came from God, not anywhere else.”

Anuel had begun to take music seriously around the same time his father, José Gazmey, was laid off from his coveted A&R position at Sony Music. With his back against the wall, a scrappy Anuel left home at 15 and began to engage in felonious activity to help provide for his family and finance his music endeavors.

Like many rappers on the island, Anuel was influenced by popular culture and trends on the mainland, most discernibly by contemporary trap. Anuel understood the genre’s synonymy with street life and the drug enterprise and immediately took to Messiah El Artista, a Dominican-American rapper VIBE profiled for championing Spanish-language trap music all over New York.

“I figured if Latin trap was doing well in New York, it was for sure going to pop in Puerto Rico,” said Anuel, who had signed with the Latino division of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group the year prior to his arrest. “I spent about a month in New York before I returned to Puerto Rico. Then I started to release all the songs I had, one by one, and they began to gain popularity.”

While artists like J. Balvin helped breathe new life into the reggaeton genre in Colombia, Anuel wanted to spearhead a movement in Puerto Rico with a sound all their own. “I recorded the ‘Esclava’ remix with Bryant Myers and it might not have taken off worldwide, but it became a huge trap song in Puerto Rico.”

Akin to the heydays of reggaeton, an Afro-Caribbean genre-fusing hip-hop and reggae that originated in Puerto Rico, trap music was considered lowbrow and was heavily criticized for its vulgarity, violence, and explicit lyrics. Puerto Rican critics and artists alike had very little faith in the music’s potential and therefore denounced it. “DJ Luian, who is like a brother to me, couldn’t understand why I wanted to put all my energy into music that none of our artists wanted to sing.”

“Reggaeton went dormant for years,” he continued. “It was necessary to make trap music, because it felt like reggaeton was stuck in another era.” A self-described student of the late and oft-controversial Tupac Shakur, Anuel thought reggaeton had reached its pinnacle and believed Latin trap would be its successor.

Songs like “Nunca Sapo,” where Anuel channels Rick Ross’ Teflon Don ethos and spits a grimy slow-tempo flow over a sinister 808-laden instrumental, helped put a face to Anuel’s little-known name in the US. On cuts like Farruko’s “Liberace,” Anuel speeds up his delivery for fun and plays on the “Versace” rhythm popularized by Migos, who all hail from Atlanta—the widely credited birthplace of trap music.

For Anuel, whose life mantra “real hasta la muerte” is now a famous hashtag, music aspirations had little to do with radio play. Anuel, 27, was largely concerned with dominating the digital space, especially while incarcerated. Despite his arrest, he continued to release music from behind prison walls while his team fed his massive following up-to-date content.

Hear This Music CEO, DJ Luian heeded what Anuel was trying to accomplish and began to work with Bad Bunny, the Latin Grammy-winning artist and star voice of the current Latin trap movement. “When I was locked up, Luian helped develop Bad Bunny and he basically became in charge of keeping trap alive while I was away,” said Anuel, who ironically came under fire recently and was accused of throwing shade at Bad Bunny for the video treatment of “Yo Perreo Sola,” in which the rapper-singer dresses in drag as a stance against toxic masculinity.

“I couldn’t believe something like this was going viral,” Anuel interrupted anxiously before I could expound on a question concerning their relationship. “It looked like it was something that was edited or put together to make my Instagram posts read that way. I immediately texted Bad Bunny about it and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, people are always going to be talking sh*t.’”

Anuel considers Bad Bunny a genius at what he does and maintains that despite not knowing each other very well, he and his fellow compatriot are friendly collaborators with a working rapport: “When he and I do a new song together, what will people say then?”

Today, the collective jury will reach a verdict upon listening to Anuel’s newly-released sophomore studio album Emmanuel, where fans will find a track titled “Hasta Que Dios Diga,” a sultry, mid-tempo reggaeton number. Fans can expect to hear a star-studded project riddled with guest features, including Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee, Enrique Iglesias, J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Karol G, to name a few.

Discussing life during a global pandemic, Anuel spoke fondly of his partner-in-rhyme, Colombian singer-songwriter Karol G. “She’s the love of my life. She’s been there with me through the good and bad. People who really love you are the ones who stand firm by you when things are bleak. In my toughest moments, Karol was there. She’s shown me how to be a better man,” he gushed.

“Karol comes off as super feminine—which she is, but Karol also has a really tough masculine side,” Anuel laughed heartily on the other end of the line. “She rides motorcycles and likes taking them up these crazy hills. She rides jet skis too! She’s like a dude, haha. We work well together and we give each other advice all the time.”

The pair are making the most of quarantine life in South Florida, releasing a self-directed and self-shot music video for their joint single “Follow,” a reference to flirting over social media in the era of social-distancing, the idea that shooting one’s proverbial shot can lead to a budding romance.

On July 17, 2018, Anuel dropped his debut studio album, Real Hasta La Muerte, hours before he was released from jail. By September, the RIAA certified his introduction to the game platinum, garnering the attention of Roc Nation artist Meek Mill. When the Philly wordsmith released his fourth studio LP in November of the same year, followers were geeked to learn Anuel had earned himself a place on Meek’s highly anticipated Championships album with “Uptown Vibes.”

I always wanted you and anuel aa to make a track together bc i feel like he’s the meek mill of spanish trap , how was it working with him ?

— Nagga (@naggareports) December 17, 2018

“Recording with Meek Mill for me was like when Allen Iverson played with Michael Jordan for the first time,” Anuel said, singing praises about their first-ever partnership. “I’m a huge fan of Meek; when his music took off I was still in the streets, so I related and identified with a lot of the things he was saying.”

“Meek doesn’t understand a lick of Spanish,” he mused in jest, “but he’s always with a bunch of Latinos. When I speak to him he says, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, but my Spanish [speaking] ni**as tell me you be talking that sh*t!’”

Anuel leveraged his knack for storytelling and released “3 de Abril” earlier this year, an emotional freestyle about the day he was arrested and a graphic snapshot of his trials and tribulations.

“I did things without caring about the consequences. I thought I was a man because I was street smart. Now I know what it’s like to lose everything, so I wanted to talk more about my life and the experiences of me and my family,” Anuel described the inspiration behind the song.

Following the release of “3 de Abril,” Anuel again turned hip-hop heads when he and Lil Pump shared a fiery audiovisual for their collaborative effort “Illuminati,” stamping Pump's first new song since summer 2019. This year, Anuel also has songs with Colombian pop empress Shakira (“Me Gusta”) and with the late Juice WRLD (“No Me Ames”).

Albeit Anuel and Juice WRLD never got to meet in person, Anuel learned about the Chicago rapper from listening to his singles on the radio in jail. “The same year I won Billboard Latin’s Artist of The Year award, Juice WRLD won New Artist at the American Billboard Awards. We ended up recording the song after that but held off on releasing it for a bit because he and I had respective singles coming out at the same time,” Anuel explained.

“By the time we were finally ready to premiere it, Juice WRLD had passed away. We were never able to record together in person, but at least we got to feature him on the video. I know the tribute gave his fans and family some needed strength.”

Less than 30 minutes have gone by and already I am forced to wrap my conversation with Boricua’s burgeoning superstar:

Anuel, explain “real hasta la muerte” for me. Why exactly is this mantra of yours so important? 

“I can’t betray anyone. I don’t know what it’s like to really betray someone. I’m very loyal to my circle, my family, and those I hold close to me. Being real is what keeps me humble. It doesn’t matter how much money I make or how much I accomplish. What’s critical is staying real to myself and keeping my feet on the ground. That’s what helps keep me going.”

This interview was translated from Spanish to English and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Continue Reading

Exclusive: BBD's Mike Bivins And Ricky Bell Speak On Funk Fest 'Garage Concert Series' And George Floyd's Murder

The early '90s wouldn't be the same without Bell Biv DeVoe's style of hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it. Even as a stark departure sound and style-wise from their New Edition group days, BBD  literally ushered in a new tint to the already hot sounds of Teddy Riley's "New Jack Swing" of the mid to late '80s. Their universal party anthem single, "Poison," cures any wack wallflower growing jam and will forever be the barbeque favorite of your aunt and uncle to sprain an ankle to while dancing.

So today, May 28th at 9 pm EST on FunkFestTV.com, it's only right that the crew known as BBD brings that same energy to the comfort of our homes, with "The Garage Concert Series" during these quarantine times via a streaming deal with the 19-year-old urban music festival, Funk Fest. The series is billed as a jam session that comes to you with the flavor of a bare-bones home garage performance that gets to the organic feel of the music. Joining BBD in this landmark event will be recent Verzuz social media battle stars, Jagged Edge.

Tonight's festivities will be in honor of aiding those in need through the newly created charity by the trio named BBD Cares. This community initiative focuses on the seniors of Laurel Ridge Rehabilitation Care Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Proceeds from the moderately priced pay-per-view performance will go to those impacted by the grip of Covid-19. "We’re proud to launch the Garage Concert Series and our BBD Cares effort to raise money and awareness during a time when our communities, our culture, and our society need healing," said Ricky Bell.

Both Mike Bivins and Bell spoke to R&B Spotlight founder, Cory Taylor for VIBE on ZOOM to detail the idea and plans for the Funk Fest and Garage Concert series, as well as expound on the turbulent times we are currently experiencing in society. While explaining how hard things are to bare, music being an outlet helps in healing and this digital event looks to continue to flourish in expanding that notion. “The Garage Concert Series, which we conceptualized and named after other culture-shifting brands like Amazon and Microsoft that started in their garage, is our contribution to the global community,” states Bivens.

Be sure to watch their interview with us and log on to FunkfFestTV.com at 9 pm EST for a blast to the past of good music for a great cause. Ronnie DeVoe sums it up best, “our goal is to continue to spread the love while raising money for those who are most in need.”

Continue Reading

Top Stories