2018 Billboard Music Awards - Show
Honoree Janet Jackson accepts the Icon Award onstage during the 2018 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 20, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Music Sermon: Janet Jackson's Early Chapters

In honor of Janet Jackson's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, VIBE revisited the early chapters and shows how the baby sister of one of the biggest stars in the history of recorded music…became one of the biggest stars in the history of recorded music, herself.

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

The third time’s a charm. After twice being nominated and snubbed, Janet Jackson has finally been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This year has been Jackson’s year of redemption – scratch that, vindication. A year that felt like a moratorium on her career was finally fully lifted. The obsessive extent of recently-ousted Viacom head Les Moonves’ vendetta against Jackson following the infamous 2004 Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” has come to light, and Janet has triumphantly returned to the public eye in a way she hasn’t been since that ill-fated halftime performance. She resumed the tour she postponed due to pregnancy, and returned to the charts with her 20th No. 1 single, “Made for Now.”

But this isn’t a story about Janet the Icon. Those stories abound. She’s a symbol of sexual liberation, of feminism and empowerment, of LGBT+ allyship, of live performance mastery, of dance legend–we know those things. This is a story about how she got there, and how remarkable it is that the baby sister of one of the biggest stars in the history of recorded music…is also one of the biggest stars in the history of recorded music, herself. Janet is the only Jackson sibling to fly even remotely close to the sun that is Michael’s level of success, and she did it by deliberately separating herself from the family — and her brother. Janet’s success story is tied to her journey of finding her own identity, not unlike the journey Solange had to take decades later to separate herself from her superstar sibling. When Jackson is discussed now, what’s kind of left out of her narrative is how she struggled for years to find her place, her role, and her footing pre-Control. The big origin story is her break away from Jackson family patriarch and career mastermind Joe, but we don’t really talk about what that looked like for her the way we’ve examined with her siblings. Nor do we really talk about how exceptional her ascent was, forging her way under the shadow of not only a megastar sibling, but an increasingly scandalized family, to be taken seriously in her own right and on her own terms.

From early on, the baby Jackson had an outsized personality and talent for her age. Possibly even bigger than her brother’s when he was a young old soul thrust into the spotlight. Janet has said she wasn’t even considering entertainment aspirations, thinking instead of maybe one day becoming a professional jockey until Joe Jackson put her in the family’s Las Vegas show at age seven. From that point until her young adulthood, Janet’s career was by her father’s design, not her own.

Sassy young Janet was a massive hit as part of the family’s revue, paired with Randy to cover songs by popular male/female duos including Sonny and Cher and Mickey and Sylvia. They specialized in that specific brand of cuteness derived from kids acting “grown.” She hit her marks, lines and cues like a pro three times her age. Janet seemed aware even at a tender age what was expected of her, because “….in the Jackson 5 family, everybody works.”

Grown-up sass — hints of the Janet we’d encounter with Control — in an adorable little afro-puffed, chubby-cheeked package was her thing. She was gifted with a knack for completely age-inappropriate impressions, including her signature, Mae West (this would be such a problem in 2018).

The littlest Jackson arguably stole the show, continuously, with a stage presence, energy, and professionalism that not only matched, but in some cases rivaled that of her siblings. Joe allegedly considered packaging Janet with older sisters Rebbie and LaToya as The Jackson Sisters, but differences between the older two kept that from gaining traction.

Norman Lear spotted Janet in her family’s act, and after the short-lived The Jacksons variety TV show went off the air, he had her audition for Good Times. Janet was added to the post-James Evans (Damn, damn, DAMN) cast as the scrappy, abused Penny Gordon: a lovable, adorable girl who follows J.J. home, and whom Wilona eventually adopts. This was many Gen Xers first introduction to Janet, even if through syndication.

While big brothers were out conquering the music world — Michael with Off the Wall and Thriller, then the brothers as a reunited group for the Victory album and tour — Janet cultivated an acting career. In the early ‘80s Janet was really actress first, singer second, with roles on Diff’rent Strokes and then Fame. Roles that still allowed her to sing, though. After all, she was still a Jackson.

Janet has said that she wanted to continue down the acting road, but Joe wanted her to record. So that’s what she did. She debuted with an eponymous teen soul joint, bolstering production from R&B staples such as Angela Winbush, Foster Sylvers (of the I-can’t-believe-they’re-not-the-Jacksons, Sylvers family) and The Time member Jesse Johnson.

Then, when that album failed to make significant noise, she released the bubblegum pop confection, Dream Street. Both albums were decent outings; not bad, but pretty unremarkable. They didn’t make room for Janet’s actual talent at all. The sense that she was placed where she needed to be and told what she needed to do came across in the music and her performances. Not that she wasn’t a consummate performer, but she was only at about a level two compared to the Janet we would see just a couple of years later.

The albums weren’t working, and she wasn’t feeling it, either. At one point, she was disillusioned with both acting and singing, and considered going to college. She’d made friends with kids from South Central during a moment of adolescent normalcy in junior high school (the Jackson siblings were mostly tutored), and some of them were now at Pepperdine University.

Instead, she followed a Jackson rite-of-passage: rebelling against Joe’s constraints in a declaration of independence. Jermaine did it by marrying Berry Gordy’s daughter Hazel and staying behind on Motown when his brothers left. Big sister LaToya’s moment was posing for Playboy. Janet rebelled by eloping at 18 with someone who understood her better than most probably could. James DeBarge was a member of an entertainment family patterned after her own, and had become a confidant for her in the absence of brother Michael. The marriage was fraught with problems and annulled after about a year, but James brought her back to music and provided her with some much-needed life experience to channel into her work. She told music journalist David Ritz (who, for a while, was one of the only journalists to secure in-depth interviews with Janet during every album cycle), “My marriage was rough, but it deepened my emotions, it made me think about life, and it pushed me towards independence.”

The Control album is when the world first met Janet Damita Jo Jackson, forreal forreal. It was the first time we heard her stories, her thoughts, her feelings, her experiences, instead of those thrust upon her by others. And it was uncomfortable as hell for her, at first. Family friend and A&M Records Head of Urban Music John McClain connected her with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for her third album, forging one of the most important producer/artist relationships in music. The story from there is music lore: Jam and Lewis bring her to Minneapolis, take her to the club, encourage her to explore the city and have experiences to inform the album. What isn’t usually mentioned in that narrative is A&M’s reluctance to record another Janet album at all. “The company didn’t know how dynamic she is,” McClain told Rolling Stone. “…I knew that Michael and Jermaine and Tito and Jackie are real quiet, but when the red light is on in on the studio or when the spotlight hits, they turn into different people. Basically, I had an idea of what Janet had in her.”

Learning to trust herself and explore her creative talents was something Janet had not been allowed to do in the past, and it was like building a new muscle. As the project went along, she became more confident and open. The process of creating Control also made 19-year-old Janet — who was already aware she’d been sheltered — realize just how limited her experiences were. Jam and Lewis’ language and humor (Janet wasn’t used to frequent cursing) almost made her want to retreat back to Encino and Mama Katherine’s arms, but she started to realize she was trippin’ a little. “They were being real. The problem was with my perception, not with (them),” she said years later. “I was this little prude, I was uptight. I knew I wanted control…but I soon saw that I’d have to give in order to get: give myself over to a creative environment that was different and even a little dangerous from anything I’d ever known.”

The now infamous intro, “This is a story about control, my control. Control of what I say. Control of what I do. And this time, I’m gonna do it my way,” wasn’t just an album theme. It was a declaration about the rest of Janet’s career, although we didn’t realize it at the time. Just in case there was anyone who didn’t realize the song was completely autobiographical, she drove the point home in the video (with a genius nod to her Good Times days).

Control is a coming-of-age story set to music, covering everything from the excitement of young, new love…

...to the frustration of ain’t sh*t partners and folks who try to test you.

Oh, and choreography that had kids everywhere bustin’ up their mama’s kitchen chairs…and their behinds.

The album was bold, anthemic, and all Janet (with the assist from Jam and Lewis). Once she finally had perspective, she never let anyone take over her direction or decisions again. Over the years, she’s fiercely denied the involvement of any Svengali figures in her life. John McClain acted in some management capacity, but later insisted he never formally held the title, and many assumed ex-husband Rene Elizondo had taken on the role starting with Rhythm Nation, which Jackson repeatedly said was false. She was essentially managing herself with the help of trusted advisors, involved in every single aspect of recording, creative, visuals and performance. She once broke it down very succinctly, “Nothing happens without my approval.” (It all sounds very similar to another R&B-turned-Pop star after she severed professional ties with her father.)

Control introduced the world to the real Janet. Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 was when she came for domination. Although Control broke sales records, spawned hit singles and was certified multi-platinum, the industry wasn’t sure whether Janet could do it again. She not only replicated the success, but topped it.

Control was an R&B album, on purpose. Jam has said they were “going for the black album of all time.” Just as intentionally, Rhythm Nation was broader, incorporating pop, rock and hip-hop (Jam and Lewis were bricklayers of the sonic foundations for new jack swing). The tone was set via a manifesto at the beginning of the album. A “pledge” for members of this new nation Janet was leading into the ‘90s:

We are a nation with no geographic boundaries
Bound together through our beliefs
We are like-minded individuals
Sharing a common vision
Pushing toward a world rid of color lines

The concept album was Janet’s foray into social consciousness (Ritz called it her What’s Going On, the politically-charged opus by Marvin Gaye). It also highlighted her incredible versatility, garnering award nominations and wins across genres, including a Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy nod for “Black Cat.” She may have come in the door through R&B, but she wasn’t going to be confined to a lane, and she continued to prove it. Janet is the only artist to have Grammy nominations in the Pop, Rock, Dance, R&B and Rap categories and to have No. 1 hits on every format — except Country.

While Janet did work to separate herself professionally from her brother, he was still not only her most trusted advisor through much of her career, but her benchmark for success. The two were the closest of the Jackson siblings, and a healthy career rivalry went along with that. “I’d love to break any of (Michael’s) records,” Janet exclaimed at the beginning of the Rhythm Nation cycle. “That would be great for me.” And she did. Rhythm Nation was the first album ever to generate No. 1 singles across three separate years (89, 90 and 91), and all seven singles cracked the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100, breaking big brother’s record of seven Top 10 Hot 100 singles with Thriller.

Through Control and Rhythm Nation, Janet had proven her talent and star power. However, she was still mysterious and private in the way we’d all come to expect from the Jackson family. She also still had an air of appropriateness — the wholesome good girl. And then…janet. Control was where Janet found herself, Rhythm Nation was where she became a star and a cultural leader, janet. was where she became a grown-ass woman; the actualization of the Janet we know now.

By 1993, the Jackson family drama was increasingly in the public eye. Michael was still a couple of years away from child abuse allegations, trial, and “Wacko Jacko,” but his eccentricity had long been fodder for public conversation. The Jacksons: An American Dream miniseries had aired with high ratings the year prior. LaToya’s ’91 tell-all, although full of unsupported allegations, had given insight to Joe’s dysfunctional dynamics with his children. Janet mostly stayed out of the fray and made a declarative break from her family with this album by putting an actual period at the end of her first name in the title.

More shocking, though, was her physical declaration. We’d never seen more than a sliver of belly from the body-conscious Janet prior to the final video of the Rhythm Nation cycle, Herb Ritts’ stunning “Love Will Never Do” video, which was basically “New Janet, who ‘dis?” in visual form.

But that video ain’t have nothin’ on Janet’s Rolling Stone cover. Forget breaking the internet, it broke real life.

Sexuality is such a part of Janet’s identity as an artist now, it’s hard to remember how jaw-dropping this was back then.

Hits about voyeurism…

Jams about insatiability and sex in public…

Dance breaks while telling dude, “You know you want it, come and get it…”

...all from little Penny? Cue the pearl clutch! But all around, she was more open, accessible and real to us than she’d ever seemed. She did more press, she revealed her personality, she was chillin’ with her girls (her dancers, who she lovingly called “the kids”). She seemed fun.

The janet. era is the culmination of Janet’s cycle of growth, and it reveals the most marked difference between Jackson and her brother in their artistry, as well as the key to her self-possessed stardom. Michael obsessed over being the biggest star possible. He set out to do things that had never been done before. He wanted to amaze and astound. He wanted to f**k everybody’s head up. Janet, on the other hand, was focused on being an increasingly more genuine artist. In one of her many interviews with David Ritz over her career, she shared that she wasn’t focused on becoming a bigger star, “but a better artist, deeper, truer to the things I find exciting. If right now, I find sex exciting…I put that in my art. If next year, I’m depressed or confused or angry, I hope to have the courage to express those feelings. I hope to be an honest artist — no more, no less.” For all of Michael’s perfection, one didn’t always (or maybe even often) get the feel that he was being an “honest artist.” He was preoccupied with the reception of his work in a way Janet doesn’t seem to be. Over the years, her moves have always felt more genuine to her artistry, more about speaking to her fans, than measured against what’s currently poppin’. Her public quiet reserve has felt more like confidence than timidity. As though after the long journey to finding her artistic voice, her priority has been to stay true to that, at whatever cost. For example, in the wake of the Super Bowl scandal, Janet apologized, but she didn’t grovel or embark on a full apology tour just to get back in anyone’s good graces, though it hurt her — massively — in the prime of her career. Yet she’s not faltered or changed; she knows it wasn’t a measure of her talent. It’s easy to imagine that even now, had the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubbed her again, she would have been like “I’m good, luv. Enjoy.”

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Jesse Lirola

Take Five: The Roots Talk Nipsey Hussle's Leadership And The DNA Of Timeless Music

If it weren’t for oscillating spray fans dispersing cool mist across the dense crowd, the inside of the Heineken House would feel like a sweatbox. While bodies entranced by the boom and bass of old school hip-hop swayed from side to side, mouths rapped along to clever couplets floating along soulful melodies. Cold Heinekens sloshed around and splashed on beat-up shoes down below, but everyone was too busy jumping around to the transition of each song, broad smiles abound, to notice. That’s exactly how The Roots like it.

To say that Coachella Weekend 1 attendees were in for a treat is an understatement. Not only did they get to bask in the sounds of De La Soul during the 30-year celebration of their debut album 3 Feet High & Rising, but they were also able to bookend the experience with a two-hour, body-shaking headlining set by the legendary Roots Crew. “I've been feeling like we have really yet to throw a good dance party set,” Questlove says from his artist trailer with Black Thought looking on, “like a set that just makes people jam out.” Consider that mission accomplished.

After catching a quick breather post-show, both the iconic drummer and storied wordsmith chopped it up about the intended messages of their typically three-hour sets and after the untimely passing of Nipsey Hussle, what it means to be an active leader in one’s community.

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VIBE: During your set, you all went through a medley of songs that people—no matter who they are, where they come from or their age—will say, "this is a great song." What do you think is the DNA of that, and what can musicians now do to make sure that their songs can have a timeless feel like the hits you played today?

Questlove: I think the plan for us now, is—no pun intended—is to return to our roots. In our first five years, our show was heavy on doing hip-hop classics, soul classics, and Roots songs mixed at the same time. We're up to 17 albums now, so we sort of phased that out and just concentrated on our catalogue. But I don't know, lately, I've been feeling like we have really yet to throw a good dance party set, like a set that just makes people jam out. Normally it’s just about the virtuoso acrobatics of what The Roots can do, a lot of soul and that stuff. This is probably our most groove-oriented set that we've done, really paying homage to a lot of original, classic great beats that are the foundation of hip-hop. Important covers of Donald Byrd songs and James Brown songs, Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers. Going through all the genres, doing go-go and doing all that. For us it was just about turning Heineken House into a two-hour dance party.

Black Thought: I think for emerging artists, the key to creating those timeless classics is to revisit and re-acknowledge the timeless classics. You're into electronic dance music, you're into hip-hop, you're into whatever's the modern take on the culture. You have to revisit the foundations and the songs from which you came. The joints that were sampled, those are the songs that the configuration may evolve or may change, but those elements are always going to stand the test of time. Our foundation initially was to educate the audience. We would always sort of do Hip-Hop 101, and that sort of became a part of the Roots brand. And yeah, I guess we abandoned it for awhile and just focused on a more conceptual set. It was more Roots-oriented, and now this most recent set that we've been doing is back to the Hip-Hop 101. Not even Hip-Hop 101 but just Good Music 101. If you can incorporate at least one or a part of some of those elements of those songs that are tried and true, then you're well on your way.

And there's so much room to play. Like you said, there are so many different genres now that you can't even pull them apart from each other.

BT: Absolutely, the lines have been blurred. And that's something else to consider. You want to be as inclusive as possible with your set without it feeling contrived, you know what I mean? As artists you do a performance that is basically the music that inspires you to do what it is that you do, then it looks and feels and reads a lot more personal. Than if it’s like, "oh this is my new album."

Black Thought, you are a proud and true lyricist. Is there any new school lyricist that you’d like to go toe-to-toe with on wax?

BT: I could go toe-to-toe with anybody, anywhere, on the Planet Earth. But I mean, do I have the desire? I don't know, man. I'm getting so old, you know. I definitely enjoy performing on stage with The Roots. It's when I’m most at home. But I've done lots of the stage and studio collaborations that I've always sort of dreamed of. We've done it. I've been blessed enough to have the opportunity to do that. I mean it's still lots of people that I would like to work with. Rappers? I don't know. I'm down to work with anyone as long as it's an organic collaboration. Anyone that I've ever worked with, it's not like I just meet you or someone throws us together for the sole purpose of coming up with a song that's gonna be a hit. I have to have some sort of relationship, or we had to have interacted on some other sort of level and that's when it feels most natural. But I'm down to work with whoever.

Lastly, Nipsey Hussle’s passing really stirred people into thinking a lot more about action, intention, purpose and what it means to be a leader. What, to you, is leadership, and how do you put leadership in what you do?

QL: It's really insane that it took his death to really make people realize what they can do to better themselves as human beings. I'm really glad he was a brother that definitely put his money where his mouth is and there's nothing pretentious about him, nothing performative woke, because that's also a dangerous thing in 2019—to just preach it and tweet it but not really put it in motion. I feel as though the best thing that can come from this will be the enlightenment. Even if it's just four people affected, the enlightenment of someone realizing they can invest in businesses and property and their neighborhood. That's a start. It's really a shame that it took this to bring that to life, but nevertheless it's been brought to life.

BT: To me I think leadership is activism. It's giving back to your community, it's investing in oneself, and you know women and children. It's giving back when the cameras aren't there. When it's going to be anonymous. When you're not necessarily going to get the credit for what you're doing right away. And I feel like that's the sort of activist that Nipsey was. It's building up and empowering the people around you to be their best selves and not just for the headline or the glory.

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One Day In L.A.: Inside Kanye West's Sunday Service Sanctuary

On one weekend in Los Angeles (March 31), I got the unique opportunity to partake in an otherworldly experience: Kanye West’s Sunday Service. It was transformative, to say the least, but that weekend, something else happened in L.A., too. Nipsey Hussle was murdered in front of his Marathon clothing store. A black man’s life was taken in cold blood, and as we collectively mourn, Kanye’s Sunday Service makes so much more sense in the context of this senseless murder.

But first, how did I even wind up at Ye’s exclusive weekly praise and worship-esque Sunday Service? I really have some dope people that continue to grace my life. Through all the things that I’m passionate about—my job, music, art, motherhood—I became friends with a music producer/actor/musician who was kind enough to get me on the list for service.

I’m a true audiophile, and my love of music, especially live instrumentation, had me all into those Sunday Service videos popping up on social feeds for some time. I was that kid in church texting my best friend, the church organist, to kick off the Holy Ghost session. I’m the same person who will slide to a jam session in any city I travel to just to catch a vibe. The music really spoke to me in the videos and I felt like this is the place where Kanye was getting back to his original self. I wanted to experience that. The nature of Sunday Service was so far from any of his “slavery is a choice” statements and wild Trump rhetoric that it forced me to wash away the negative sentiments and take this experience for what it was.

 

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I approached the mountainous California ranch locale with wonder, anticipation, and some lightweight hesitation: What if they making us draw blood and we have to sacrifice a lamb? What if they’re turning water to wine in here? What happens if they have us pass a collection plate for the building fund? I didn’t bring cash. What if he’s got people in the spot saying Yeezus instead of Jesus? My co-worker friend Lena and I pulled up to the gates just before 9 a.m. We got to the entrance and were checked off on the list, then were ushered in by greeters wearing all white. Most of the people inside were white, so I made a quiet joke that maybe this was Kanye’s attempt at enslaving white people and forcing them to make a “choice.” But then I saw some black staff members which put that conspiracy theory to rest.

As we waited in the estate’s holding area, a barista offered delicately crafted matchas and lattes with frothy designs. The cool L.A. air and wispy tree leaves carried the sounds of the choir and band rehearsing. We could also hear the stories of other people who waited: a white woman in her 30s who was there to see her boyfriend in the choir and really didn’t know what to expect; older neighbors who had a standing invite to Sunday Service; a black music producer from Houston whose friend was in the band; an L.A. artist who was the plus-one of one of his homies; a Latino family with their five-year-old little girl, her brother, mom and dad outfitted in Balenciaga.

Finally, we were ushered in about seven to 10 people at a time. We ascended a hill on a dirt road that took us to a rotunda. Soft music could be heard as the choir, the band, and Ye stood around dressed in all white. It was intimate, intimate, with around 75 people in the rotunda, and about 75 as a part of the band-slash-choir. Everyone was real chill, doing the little church hellos. And just like in the videos, the whole Kardashian family was there—except I didn’t see Rob, Mama Kris, or Caitlyn. I don’t really follow the Kardashians just because I actually can’t keep up, but they do have some beautiful children. The girls (North included) were so full of life and joy, like any other kids, which was refreshing. For whatever reason, I’m always so happy to see celebrity kids having what appears to be a carefree childhood.

 

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OK, onto the actual service. All I can say is think of the best church choir you’ve ever heard, then swag them out, drop some 808s on that, then put this all in the mountains closer to God. It was magic. Unpretentious, unassuming, beautiful, soulful, groove-evoking and as much as it was gospel, it was the rhythm and syncopation of hip-hop. It was Milly Rock. It was shaking dreads. It was soul claps. It was a few white folks clapping off-beat. It was dope. As a music lover with a keen ear for sound, I could tell each instrument and voice was hand-selected for a reason. And even with Kanye as the mastermind, my friend mentioned that he felt tertiary. I would even go as far to say he felt like the fifth element. It was God, the nature, the people, the band and choir, then Ye. Each song had medicinal purpose. There were recordings of Kanye’s voice orating about life and purpose and all of the questions we ask as we attempt to ascend and evolve. It was all so timely. I strive to live a purpose-centered life, but some portions feel like they need further definition. This felt like a catapult, like a launching pad, like a playground for inspiration.

Now slight pause, because I know you’re thinking, WE CANCELLED KANYE, VEJURNAÉ. He’s been too detrimental to the culture. He’s trying to trick you with these soulful beats and 808 machines, and some Jesus and matcha. Ni**a, you’re kiki-ing with Yeezy over some beats and tea. I thought about this, too. And still am. I think where I sit is a place that is all about purpose and intent. Kanye says some outrageous and outlandish things at times, some that we support and some that we go in on him for, but who doesn’t? What he is doing in this arena has greater weight than probably anything else he has ever done, in my eyes. What he’s doing will potentially change the way that millennials interact with church. It’s a needed shift. One guy we sat with said, “If church was like this, I’d never miss a Sunday.” We’ll get back to this, though.

It’s hard for me to recall the set list. Aly Us’ “Follow Me” was dope. (They need to bring this to the house picnic.) They did Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise.” For the church folk, the choir made this song effortless, but added a syncopation with the 808s that I will never forget. Most people know how completely perfect this specific song is, but this arrangement was PERFECTER. Yes, perfecter. The harmonies with the Amens, and breaking them down almost into footwork beats. Flipping back when they get to, “You are the source of my strength,” to hit the 808s and bring it back again. It was just... Shout out to my Second Baptist Church family that knows that Dr. Hycel B. Taylor special ending.

Then there was Stevie Wonder’s “I’ll Be Loving You Always.” That song is LOVE. I actually suggested it to my producer friend in the band a few weeks before I came to L.A. I know, that’s an extra request, and who am I? But my Mom always said, “If you never ask you’ll never know.” And yo, it actually happened. The band jammed with Kanye on the drum machine. HOW IS THIS MY LIFE? Pinch. THIS IS MY LIFE. The day before I left to go out west, my sons and I did car karaoke to this song. And how special is it that Kanye is sharing these moments with his kids, his family, his friends and the world? It’s special.

In the circular space, I was seated at eye level with Ye and the 808 machine. This was wild. You know when you’re a musician and you look at the crowd and you know who’s vibing? I was in that motherf**ker VIBING. For anyone who attends parties with me, church services, karaoke, in the car, it’s a given that music and dancing is a thing. Do you think I’m going to pull up to Kanye church and not f**k it up for Jesus (no disrespect)? With the sun beating down on all of us, the music accelerated. Then, I thought about deodorant… Have you ever started sweating hard and been hot and start thinking, How many swipes did I do this morning? Mind you, they are performing all the songs that require you to put your fully extended hands in the air… The dilemma! I just had to do a side sniff for freshness and deal with the pit stains, because I took my locs down and it was just like nirvana. We’re out here on a mountain praising God with a full choir, band and Kanye is smiling, smiling, playing the beat machine. Ni**a, whet!?

They also played some Ye classics like “Power,” “Jesus Walks,” “Good Morning,” and “Otis.” “Jesus, won’t leave us/Neva leaveeee us/NA NA,NA NA, NAH NAH NAH!” All the while, the babies are in the middle of the performance area living their best lives, dancing with their daddy. It was love. The purest love. Unadulterated God-sent love. The intensity of the band never waned, the choir never diminished, and the soloists were straight from Sister Mary Clarence for real, for real. I did the, “girl, Goodbye, you sing too good” wave about four times and I needed another cup of water, but I didn’t want to miss anything.

 

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When service ended and Ye announced that Sunday Service would be at Coachella during Weekend 2, we all then proceeded further up the hill for a full catered brunch. (Note: They had the thick bacon and at brunch, that is all anyone cares about, so thank you for that.) During the brunch, folks shared stories, networked, and simply took it all in. The West/Kardashian family mingled and embraced everyone on some regular Sunday after church service ish. I sat still in awe, thankful for the experience. I thought to go over to his table to say thank you, but I chilled because, you know, sometimes you just don’t want to be extra, so I just kept it moving recapping everything with my friend and airing out my underarms.

Post-brunch, we walked back down the hill and chatted with gospel artist Ricky Dillard about how positive the music was and how transformative the experience was. Once we got back to the original holding area, we saw Ye was just standing there talking to people as they left. Now was my time.

Me: (Gives Ye a hug) Yo, thank you. Ye: Yo, I saw you vibing girl. Me in My Head: NI**A, WHAT! I SAW YOU VIBING, TOO. THAT SH*T WAS BANANAS! Me in Real Life (Remembers this is like church): I’m from Chi-town. Man, that was just amazing! It’s really going to change how young people approach church. Me in My Head: You should let me bring Cairo and Phoenix out to Coachella. Me in Real Life: I remember booking you when you came to [The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign] back in the beginning of your career. The show was like $11. Ye: (Smiles) And look, this one cost even less. Me in Real Life: (Laughs) You’re right. You need to bring this back to the crib. Ye: Definitely, we’re on mission work!

 

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A post shared by Jammcard (@jammcard) on Apr 17, 2019 at 10:07am PDT

All of it was awesome. From the restorative power of the music to the purpose-driven message to the people out here giving their full glory to God. No additional anything. It was like, Let’s go praise God and that will be sufficient, that will be enough. Let’s put our full effort into praising the Lord and see where that gets us.

In retrospect, I think this energy is the same energy and same fervor that Nipsey used to inject into his community. Like, let’s see what it looks like when I empty the tank for my hood, for my people, for these kids. Nipsey being murdered on the same day of this experience felt like someone took a pin, popped the balloon and let all the helium out. After the Ye experience, we went to Malibu, then to Venice Beach to meet up with friends. That’s when the news that he had been shot six times and killed in front of his own store broke. Like many, I was at a loss for words. Just hours ago, I felt so inspired and hopeful, and now I sat in disbelief and anger. People in L.A. were so hurt. I was so hurt. It was essentially as if someone ever did something to Chance The Rapper—the hometown guy, the home team, the one that never left but instead building up his area, investing in his people. Slain.

The one thing that felt even more real after this day was the immediacy of now. Each and every moment is your moment. Waiting won’t get the job done. If you want to make an impact, you have to take the steps now. If you want a life of value, you have to move. I reflect back on the images of Nipsey and his partner Lauren London from their ethereal GQ shoot and I think about how striking those images are. They’re so beautiful. To have love captured on camera in that way and so close to him being murdered is unfathomable. In summation, whatever “it” is to you, do it now. Have that conversation, tell them you love them, make that move, invest in that business, repair that relationship, quit that job. Make it happen today, and know that regardless, whether His presence manifests through the pews of church or some rattling 808s or the warmth of the community that raised you, God is with you.

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Edison Sigua

Meet Baka Not Nice: The OVO Sound Artist Who's Actually Pretty Nice

Baka Not Nice's entry into the music industry is unlike any other. The OVO Sound signee's path wasn't always that of a music creator. In fact, Baka's first taste of the music industry was as his mentor's Drake's bodyguard, and since then, the Toronto artist's background vocals have been heard in multiple Champagne Papi records such as "Free Smoke" and "Gyalchester." Thankfully for fans who have connected with Baka through those songs, the 40-year-old artist began releasing his own music, and he did not disappoint.

After signing with OVO sound on July 27, 2017, just three days later, he released his hit single "Live Up to My Name." The song saw success around the world, peaking at number 77 on the Canadian Hot 100 chart. Later on, Baka followed up with two EP's. He released 4Milli in 2018, which spawned a certified-Platinum status in Canada and a certified-Gold in the U.S.

Most recently, Baka dropped his three-track project, no long talk. He gave VIBE a personal interview, in which he discussed the EP and his journey thus far in music.

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VIBE:  I know you're currently on Drake's Assassination Vacation Tour, but you still managed to drop your latest project, and I wanted to know how was that for you, balancing being on tour with him and also dropping 'no long talk'?

BAKA NOT NICE: Actually, that project was done before tour. It was actually supposed to be released before we went on tour. However, due to attempting to get certain things like legalities, lawyers and stuff, it took a while to get certain things cleared and what not. But yeah, it was done before the tour. It just happened that it dropped while we were on tour.

And what was the creative process like making 'no long talk'? What was it like collaborating with Juicy J and Giggs?

Aw man, two legends you know? One from the UK and one from America. I feel like I was looking for a balance, so I think it worked out great. The vibe I was in was a laid-back vibe.

 I actually had another project that I was working on, I was promoting it, it's called Prada. But after all that crazy stuff happened with all the designers in America, and there was a lot of heat... I just didn't want to have to answer any questions during it. So I just put [Prada] to the side for a bit, but then I had to put some music out, some content out. So then, I just decided to work on no long talk and that's how that came up.

Why just three tracks for 'No Long Talk'?

Because I plan on releasing — I don't know if it could be a mixtape or an EP — but I plan on releasing this project in the spring or early summer. So I was just like, "Yo, I don't want to not drop anything until then." That's a long time to not have any music out there, so I decided to make a little project with two collabs.

 

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NOLONGTALK #OVOSOUND #EH

A post shared by Baka (@bakanotnice) on Apr 7, 2019 at 1:10pm PDT

Is that the reason why you named it 'No Long Talk,' because it is a shorter project? 

Yeah because, I didn't scrap Prada, it just wasn't the right time to put that out there. Like I said, I didn't want to leave my fans with nothing until like mid-spring or even early summer, so three songs I felt was good enough to hold them over until then.

Now, speaking about your experience on tour, how has it been so far being on tour with Drake? How receptive have the fans been to you?               

Aw man, it's been crazy and only because, you know, I would say about a year-and-a-half ago or two years ago, my personal friends would tell me, "Baka, things are different for you, you know you got fans." And I would always shrug it off like, "I don't go no fans. I don't know what you're talking about."

But now, being on tour and being on stage, I interact with the crowd and the people that are there. I want to know what's going on, what they're feeling, you know? So, I'm looking at everybody and what's amazing is they're rapping the lyrics to my song. So, then it comes back full circle like, "I really do have fans out here man." I'm just humble about it because it's new to me. 

That must be a great feeling.

It's an amazing feeling, man. The project just dropped, but they're singing those songs too, so it's like 'wow.' Pretty amazing, it's a pretty amazing feeling.

So, you're from Toronto and how do you feel that you influenced Toronto's rap scene? How do you feel it has influenced your music?

I feel that they both go hand in hand. Of course, I feel like I influenced the rap game. The only reason why I'm saying that is because I feel like I'm giving young guys from where I come from, or dudes or females or whatever, that feel like they have [an] art. I feel like they see me, and my past and where I came from, and to see where I am now, I feel like they feel like they can do it too. That they have so much opportunity. It's not just music– it can be anything.

Are there other ways that you feel like you have influenced or are influencing aside from music?

Yeah, because there's the whole street side to it, too. Where I come from they know what I've been through. It just shows that when you put your mind to something and you say, "Okay listen, I wanna go a different route. I wanna try to do something positive and help my family" and stuff like that. I think it shows younger guys that are coming up like, "Yo, listen, all this fake stuff that's out here ruining our lives, let's take a different route." The guys that are like, "I gotta be on the block, I gotta do this." You gotta get alternate paths, you can't just be like that's our only way out.

Because there are multiple ways out from where you're from. 

There's multiple. We gotta stop using that excuse, I'm tired of that sh*t for real.

You're signed to OVO Sound, and your signed to the label with PartyNextDoor and Majid Jordan, and a bunch of others. Have you ever worked with them? Do you work closely with them? What's that like?

Well, to be honest with you, they're my label mates, but they're my brothers first. Each one of us has our own different relationships. I'm definitely going to be working with my brothers. It's crazy that you bring that up because before I came out on tour, Roy [Woods] sent my assistant a few songs that he wanted me to get on. But I just didn't have the time because I was preparing for the tour. I went to them and I was like, "You guys need to make a beat, let's rock out." Things are going to be in the works, everything's just timing, you know?

How did you feel when you found out your mixtape '4Milli' was certified platinum in Canada and certified gold in the U.S.? What was that feeling of hearing that news?

My whole motto is "no long talk," so I don't really have that many words for it. But I was just really shocked because, like I said, my story will be a movie one day. It's like... it's one of those ones where you think it's all over, you think you gotta hang it up and throw it out, and then bam... a light comes. A light at the end of the tunnel, and then you take off.

 

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A post shared by Baka (@bakanotnice) on Feb 6, 2019 at 6:42pm PST

You said that you have music coming eventually, and that Prada is coming later. What more can fans expect from you in the future? What do you hope to bring to the table?

I hope to bring some classic music. Obviously, I want to work with my mentor Drake, obviously that's going to happen. There's other artists I want to work with too, I want to try different stuff.

I'm just into music. My whole thing is:  I just love music. Even though I didn't know I could create it until recently, I've always loved music because music is a part of my life. My father's a musician, he played the guitar for over 15 years. Music was always played in the house, you know how it goes. They always played the greatest, like Motown. I was surrounded, and then coming out of prison meeting with Drake, I was surrounded by it even more.

Coming out of prison, did that change your mindset completely? 

It had to, because prison for young black men is a revolving door. It's so easy to go back once you get out. The restrictions that they put on you, they set you up for failure. You gotta somehow break free of that. You gotta be like, "Nah enough is enough."

And you succeeded at that. Now you're doing music and you know that, [prison] is not something you want to go back to, ever.

Yeah, I don't even think about that anymore. I thank God everyday that he opened my eyes. Now, I realize that there's another way. My message has to be now, "Don't give your life up, go, f**k the clout. F**k clout."

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