Ray J poses with a pair of his Raycon earbuds.
Courtesy of Ray J

Ray J Talks New Headphone Line, Diabetes Scare And Returning To School

Ray J is making moves in Silicon Valley with his new line of headphones, but he also has other challenges on the way: fighting prediabetes, returning to school, and fatherhood.

If there are only a few things that have been synonymous with the R&B star/reality TV trailblazer Ray J in recent years, they are insane controversy and big business. These days, despite his infamous sex tape with Kim Kardashian making headlines again (and again), he’s looking to keep it moving and focus on his push into the booming tech world.

Two years after Ray J struck gold with Scoot E-Bikes back in 2015, he and business partner Ray Lee of Cowboy Wholesale worked out a $31 million dollar deal to launch Raycon Global. While they have put electronic transportation plans on ice until later in 2019, Raycon has been making plays in the audio market with the release of their own wireless headphone and earphone lineup, including their budget-friendly model E50 Eardrums ($79.99) and larger, more flamboyant X90 Titan ($119.99).

“We’re in Silicon Valley looking at what [the future] is going to be for computers and we just wanted to make a cool wireless earbud that people can love and that you can switch colors from and fits better than the products that people are buying,” Ray J said. “I love Apple, I love Samsung, no disrespect. But the way we created these with the different styles, and colors, the bass, and the mic embedded into the headphones giving you this clear sound where you don’t ever have to pick up the phone, everything is hands-free. I can change the diapers, I can put [Melody] to bed while listening to 2Pac. The Raycon Earbuds, they give you a sense of peace.”

VIBE caught up with Ray J to talk about his journey into the tech world, his recent diabetes scare, returning to school, and how parenthood has changed his perspective on women.

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VIBE: How did you all craft these to make them stand out from other wireless earphones?
Ray J: The way they fit in your ear, we try to make them like in-ear monitors for performers. We tried to do the mold exactly like a human’s ear and we did them in a few different ways so if you get the X90s, they might fit in a different human’s ear [perfectly]. The E50s and the E80s, they’re going to be snug in any ear because we got this [gel-tipped] piece that feels like it magnetizes into your ear and then you can pull them out a little bit and still have oxygen in your ear where it’s not just all sound, and you can keep them in your ear all day and never take them out.

How long did it take for them to be perfected?
We’re still working on perfecting them. It’s like working on a car, the S-Class; [we’re] working on the 2019 S-Class. Every quarter we try to come out with a product that’s [delivering] a better sound. We listen to what consumers say in the notes and what professional producers and people who study these headphones [say]. They give us their opinion on what it is, and we just try to keep upgrading until people really feel like they’re perfect. Every year, even if we have the greatest product, we upgrade it anyway to make it better.

I noticed your prices for the earphones and headphones are budget-friendly. What made you focus on affordability rather than pursue the high-end market like other companies?
I think our earbuds are better than all the other companies. It’s a fact [considering] the way they fit, the way they sound, the way they feel and make you feel. I don’t think you have to take it to these levels of $190 and $150. It’s a bit much for something that’s really dope, high in demand, and high quality so we felt like we could dominate in the headphone space under $100 and it’s starting to work.

How involved are you when it comes to testing everything?
I’m [testing] all day, I got two more new ones in my hand I’ve been working with all day and trying to make sure we put these different color patterns to the headphones, too. When you have a jacket on you could put the red ones on, or the yellow ones on, or the black and gold ones on, or the blue ones. We don’t want to just make it about the headphones. We want to make it about the style and the synergy behind the look, too. So, it’s all important for me to just give my input to the experts that’s making them for us and they do what’s realistic, so I’m hands on. I’m hands on so I can be hands off, feel me?

Do you plan on expanding to wireless speakers at some point?
We’ve got the dopest wireless speakers coming. It’s magnetic, it’s see-through. You can almost see the music touching the speaker as it plays so I got something that’s going to change the game coming up real soon. Probably in January, we’re going to start promoting them crazy—and they’re under $100 as well.

Do you record with a lot of Raycon equipment?
Absolutely! I really record in a big studio on the Raycon H50s which is a bigger headphone that blocks the sound and gives you this dope comfort. With a lot of the studios, they got these old, busted down, big headphones with the leather rubbing off and so for me, I just want all the new studios to get the H50s if they can. Wherever I go, I always try to bless everybody with the H50s in the recording studios because that’s all I record with. Everything I promote and sell, I use on a daily or I wouldn’t sell it.

For you, what’s the difference between the music business and tech business when it comes to investing?
Running this Raycon business and all of the money that I put behind marketing, social media, and making sure everyone gets their product on time, it’s a real business. To put this music out, you have to put a real business plan behind it and that’s the only thing that [makes it different] from this music. You have to put the money behind the music, but how much money can you make from the music off the money you put behind it? It’s very risky and it’s something that my investors would tell me not to invest in because it’s just not as profitable as technology. But when you’re a musician, you still go in there, give it all you got and you let the spirit make the success for the music. In real business, there’s spiritual success and then there’s facts and just hard work and making sure you’re on point with the product. And with the music, it’s coming from the spirit so you never know what’s going to happen. That’s why these artists, when they come out, a million people might not like them over here, but 10 million people might like them over there. You just don’t know how it’s going to go and that’s a very dangerous business to be in for investors.

Are you still planning to attend Philander Smith College in January?
Yeah, I am. I’m trying to figure out if I want to get a house out in Little Rock or if I’m going to stay there and live in the dorms for a little while. Just for a little while [at least] because I want to feel it. When I went to PSC, they were the only school that really embraced me and listened to me and really was inspired by my story. That really touched me. That was the first speech that I ever did for a college and for them to embrace me like that was real emotional. I felt like I had a family and I had people that—no matter what my past is or what people say about certain things, they really just opened their heart and doors to me. We had a great weekend. I stayed five extra days and on my third or fourth day of just meeting everybody at the school I said, “You know what? I really want to be here and educate myself.” It’s a lot of big colleges out there, but again this college is bigger than any college to me because they embraced me [harder] than any organization on that level. It [has] inspired me to want to learn more and learn with them.

What brought you to them in the first place?
Well, they invited me to come to their homecoming and actually do a speech for them to inspire the students and I’ve never got that kind of invitation before. So I prepared for it and when I got there, it was much more than what I thought it was going to be. I had home studied my whole career and I stopped going to regular school when I was in [the] seventh grade. This gave me a sense of schooling and bonding with the people. It’s never too late to learn more.

You’ve had a diabetes scare recently. How have you been managing your health lately?
It’s still scary! I’m pre-diabetic and if I keep going the way I’m going, I’ll be diabetic. Some [medical experts] say I’m diabetic because I’m [at a] 6.5 [A1c] and [other experts] say I’m 5.9 so it's just their preferences. I’m just in the gym and I created a new team called the Limitless Team. We got a new fitness powder called Limitless Pre-Workout and then the Limitless pill that’s kind of like in the movie [Crank], but it’s a natural, organic pill that’s like—if you in a Honda, when you pop a Limitless pill then you’re in a Ferrari no matter what, and then you end up in a Ferrari.

Does diabetes run in your family?
I’m sure one of my family members had it before, but it’s not strong. It’s just me, I was drinking too many sodas and not getting enough sleep. Most people’s symptoms of diabetes are they either pass out or get tired. With me, I’m losing all my vision, I can’t really see as good anymore, so I keep my shades on. My shades is on all day because my future is so bright, so I’m happy. As long as I can see my baby, I’m happy.

 

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My beautiful baby girl @melodylovenorwood #FamilyFirst @princesslove

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Since you’re a full-time father and businessman, how do you manage your health? How do you schedule that into your busy lifestyle?
I just do three times a week in the gym, so I stay up two days in a row. I stay up two days, then I sleep for 10 hours and [after that] I’ll stay up two days straight, no naps and then during the weekend I’ll sleep a full 18 hours. After that, I’ll go back to either two or three days up, no sleep, and then a good [eight to 10] hours of rest. When I’m up for the three days I really don’t work out because I need a lot of water and it’s draining when you stay up that long, so when I sleep, next morning I get up and hit the gym.

What advice has your doctor given you so far?
The doctor, he was talking about my thyroid at first. He told me I needed to take these thyroid pills to get my thyroid right but that was easy. He said that the bad thing is that I’m pre-diabetic, I was eating too much sugar and I gotta slow it down, I got to hit the cardio every day. I was depressed by it and a little shocked by it because when you look into it a lot of people die from diabetes. It’s the fifth leading cause of death, not just in America but everywhere. You know I got to live right for the baby and slow it down. [But] it’s not intense because I’m not overweight, I just got a belly. Look like I’ve been drinking Heineken. I just got take it seriously and maintain my sugar.

Has being a parent changed how you view technology?
It gives me more time to create. When you’re a parent, you spend time with the baby. You look at the baby’s face and envision her future and what you have to do as a parent to make sure she’s financially good and that she’s comfortable inside of the family and that she’s positive and learning every day. It inspires you to go to work really hard because you know you’re working for something special and something new that really doesn’t have anything to do with you anymore. It’s all about the kids so it makes me work harder.

How has fatherhood impacted you as a person?
It changed my whole ways, fam. It changed the way I think about women, the way I think about life, It’s given me an opportunity to be more respectable in my brand, it changed the whole lane. Having a daughter, too, is even more special because when you’re young and lit, your moral values are all over the place. When you have a baby like Melody, it puts everything back into a positive perspective, to where even the crazy stuff you were attempting to do in the future, you cancel all of that. You just really start to see how important a woman is to society and how much you should respect them and embrace them in a very positive way. To me, they are the most special beings in the whole universe and you see that after having a baby. It’s a very spiritual revelation, [what] you have with your baby and with your wife, and once a baby comes out, you look at her like she’s the greatest in the world.

Considering how a lot of men say that they mature or gain respect for women after they have daughters, do you think that women should be more patient with men or vice versa?
I think men should be a little more compromising to women and know when it's time to hang it up. It’s a time where you are done with the first phase and it’s time for the second phase, and a lot of these men are scared to go into the next phase. They know that its time and when God is telling you that it’s time, don’t fight the feeling and don’t fight your intuition. Women can be as patient as they can be, but the more a man is disloyal, unfaithful, and really just not caring about how a woman feels in her day to day life…I’m putting it on the men because the men need to do better.

How does your wife Princess Love feel when she sees the sex tape back in the news?
I think it’s just old and I think she wants us to now start turning the page saying, hey, I’m done talking about it, I’m done even entertaining it, and now it’s time to start putting it to rest. Not just “to rest for now” but have a funeral, get it cremated, and then move on, dump it in the beach and let the sunset and leave the ashes in the water.

Do you think it’s that easy, though? Do you think you all can control it?
No, we don’t have control over that. We only can control how we react and how we comment and move about it. And for us, my job is to be a parent right now and to make sure my baby is seeing a positive image in what we’re doing. People ‘gon bring it up or have certain things to say, but for us we just got to keep staying focused on the prize, staying focused on the baby, and putting it to rest ourselves. Whatever somebody else does is on them.

READ MORE: Ray J Takes Philander Smith College By Storm And Enrolls

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Melyssa Ford

TV/Radio Host Melyssa Ford Pens Moving Essay: "My Mother Died During This Pandemic And I Have No Where To Put My Grief."

[Editor's Note: In a heartwarming tribute, former model now TV/Radio host, Melyssa Ford details the final days she shared with her beloved mother, Oksana Barbara Raisa Ford (10/12/1950 - 5/19/2020). Understanding that we have all been connected to Covid-19's tragic reach, this essay explains the plight of one person's experience that represents the pain so many are dealing with in these times around the world.]

 

Covid effing 19. This Pandemic has been a moment of reckoning for a great many of us. How many of you have been confronted with the hard truth that we took EVERYTHING about our lives and freedoms for granted? The freedom to call up a few friends and go for Happy Hour drinks after a long day at work? The freedom to start our day by going to the gym; the freedom to temporarily vacate our lives by getting on a plane and heading off to some tropical destination? Or the freedom to gather at a burial or memorial service to pay love and respect to a loved one who has passed, as a means of helping to process our own grief? 

My mother died last week. Not from Covid-19, but from colon cancer. But Covid-19 and it’s endless complications directly affected my family’s lives and, ultimately, my mother's death. 

It was less than a year from diagnosis to her last days. She lived in Toronto (my hometown) and I currently live in Los Angeles. Traveling during this pandemic presented some incredible challenges. Quarantine and shelter in place rules. Closed international borders. Fear and uncertainty. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get to her side in time, since Canada mandates that anyone getting off a plane has to self quarantine for 14 days (threats of fines and jail time were there to incentivize you to adhere to the new rules). And I knew my mother had very little precious time. 

Months before, when there was still some hope that surgery and chemo would prolong her life, she decided to sell the house I grew up in. I was furious. I looked at this as her giving up; resigning herself to the control of this insidious disease called Cancer. But my mother, the truest form of pragmatist, was preparing for the inevitable and getting her affairs in order. She wanted to leave me with nothing to do except mourn her without the burden of packing up a home with all of her belongings in it after her death. She knows me so well, she knew I’d NEVER pack it up, that I’d have left everything the way it was as a shrine to her. And therefore, never really moving through my grief in a purposeful and healthy manner. 

Cancer ravaged my mother's body but left her brain fully intact. And it was with full cognition, pragmatism and a whole lot of gumption, that she decided to end things on her terms by scheduling her passing with a doctor's assistance (MAID: Medical Assistance in Dying is a legal policy in Canada when a patient who is terminal and in palliative care, with days or weeks remaining in their lives). 

She didn’t want to spend her last months laying confined to a bed, immobile, unable to even take herself to the bathroom. The most basic form of human dignity had been stolen from her and replaced with a catheter and a colostomy bag that my aunt had to drain several times a day. I watched as her skin turned yellow from Jaundice, signaling her liver was failing. I watched as her urine went from a dark yellow to crimson, a signal that her kidneys were no longer functional. My mother, the strongest person I had ever known, both physically and mentally, was now frail and seemingly melting into the bed, her skin sagging from her skeletal arms and legs. Her face was gaunt, her head bald, her breastplate visible and bony...in her last days she was an empty shell of the 5’10” beautiful viking she had been. With her long blond hair, green eyes and imposing physical stature, I used to joke that if you gave her a hat with horns, a shield and a sword, you could send her out to battle. 

The day I arrived in Toronto from L.A.I approached my mother’s bedside after going through a rigorous disinfectant routine. My mother had been discharged from the hospital as there was nothing left to do for her medically except keep her as comfortable as possible. She was sent home to my aunt’s house for the remainder of her days. My aunt’s home was a place of comfort and joy for me, as I’ve spent a great many holidays and family occasions here; this was the best place for my mother to be. With a mask and gloves on, I sat down next to her bedside and tried with all my might not to cry. My Mom had passed on that British “stiff upper lip” mentality to me, it’s rare you will see me expose my emotions. But as of late, I’ve been pretty transparent about it, in an attempt to sort through my competing feelings of grief and guilt. Guilt at not having been the perfect daughter. Grief at being her only child with no one to share the burden of immeasurable sadness with. Guilt at not working on our relationship or attempting to understand her as a person until it was close to the end. Guilt and grief kept coming in waves, threatening to drown me. 

On that first evening, I sat with her for a few hours and we talked more frankly than we ever had about things I had always been scared to ask. Topics such as her tumultuous marriage to my father and why she stayed in such misery? What was HER mother like, who died when my mother was only 15 years old; was she proud of me and the choices I had made in my life, one of them being never having children?

Eventually I had to let her sleep. I went upstairs to her bedroom (she was now in a bedroom on the main floor of my aunt’s house since she could no longer walk). Once in her room, I found a journal entitled 2019 and began to read. What I read, in between all of the activities she enjoyed such as Aquafit and her book club, was her documenting her disease before she even knew she had it, describing the symptoms that began as uncomfortable that would soon become excruciatingly painful. 

It broke my heart to read this, being on the other side of understanding where this story would end. I found myself wanting to move through the dimension of time and yell, “Go to the hospital!” Reading this only made me wonder, if she had caught it during the early days of symptoms, would the outcome be different??? Excuse me as I add more guilt and more grief to the already unbearable weight upon my shoulders. 

Our final day was spent much like the six days I had with my mother prior, laying beside each other in bed, massaging her and either watching movies or talking. We would go from walking down memory lane as I showed her old pictures to discussing last minute details about the Business of Death: the transfer of everything into my name, where certain sentimental pieces of jewelry could be found, who she wanted to receive small tokens of remembrance of her. As sad as I was for myself, my heart broke for my mother. She’s losing EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE. She expressed to me that she was shocked at how quickly her cancer spread throughout her body. It didn’t give her a chance. No amount of holistic remedies or prayers would have changed this (thanks to all my friends who suggested a plant based diet with sea moss, soursop and bladderwrack but her colon, GI tract and bowels had been decimated). 

The few days leading up to her doctor assisted euthanasia I found my heart racing in panic that the end was creeping closer and closer. I don’t know what’s worse, a loved one's death being a surprise or knowing when it’s going to happen and the hours counting down. I know both intimately. My father went the first way, my mother the second. I still can’t tell you the answer.

With plans in place for the funeral home to come and claim my mother's body in order to cremate her, I’m left with a feeling of such remorse and sadness that, because of Covid 19, my mother’s friends and I are being robbed of the opportunity to congregate at a memorial service to properly mourn and pay homage and respect to the woman we all loved and admired. My mother deserved that.

I’m so angry. I’m angry at Cancer. I’m angry at, as a society, our collective circumstances. I’m angry at the thought that this pandemic could have been controlled if our government officials had reacted swiftly. I’m angry that there are so many people who are experiencing the same thing I am, the death of loved ones and the inability to gather together to have a ceremony that celebrates their lives and sends them off properly.

Trauma changes you. Less than two years ago I almost died when a truck hit my Jeep on a California highway. I spent almost a year recovering. I’m a different person than I was moments before the impact of that crash. And now I’ve got to sort out who I am without my mother on this earth. People report a feeling of disconnectedness after the death of their parent(s); like what kept you tethered to the earth is gone and you are now hurtling through time and space, searching for something to grab onto.

I lost my father many years ago and now my mom is gone. I’m praying that I find something soon to ground me; but for the time being, the search to make sense and meaning of my mother's life and, ultimately her death, shall continue for me, like a room with endless doors or a road that disappears into the horizon. 

 

A native of Toronto, Canada and now residing in Beverly Hills, California, Melyssa Ford is a syndicated radio show host on Hollywood Unlocked via iHeart Media's stations nationwide and also hosts her own podcast, I'm Here For The Food (available on all streaming platforms).

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Beenie Man (L) and Bounty Killer (R) in 1995.
David Corio/Redferns

A Look At Beenie Man And Bounty Killer's 'Verzuz' Battle Scorecard

Why was this night different from all other Verzuz battles? Streamed live from Kingston, Jamaica, the Memorial Day “Soundclash Edition” of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s flagship IG Live series was easily the most exciting and entertaining yet, as well as the first to delve into dancehall reggae.

Considering the fact that Jamaican sound systems pioneered the sort of “beat battles” have made Verzuz a social media sensation well over half a century ago, the creative decision was more than fitting. By pitting two icons of the genre, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, in head-to-head competition, this Verzuz battle did not just showcase two of its most respected lyricists ever to hold a microphone, it also tapped into an epic rivalry that stretches back more than a quarter of a century.

At that time the youth born Moses Davis in the Waterhouse section of downtown Kingston was already on the second leg of his career -- having released his first album a decade earlier at the age of ten. Young Rodney Price, formerly known as Bounty Hunter, had just started to make noise under his new artist name Bounty Killer, recording hardcore hits for the legendary Waterhouse-based producer Lloyd “King Jammy” James.

Like all young aspiring artists, Killer had looked up to Beenie as an inspirational figure -- until he felt that the artist had borrowed his style. Beenie and Bounty’s face-to-face clashes, especially their Boxing Day battles at the storied Jamaican stage show Sting in 1993 and 1995, are the stuff of dancehall legend. Despite whatever differences may have existed between them, both artists channeled all that energy into great records -- many of which were played in the heat of the Verzuz battle.

Arguably the most exciting and spontaneous edition of Verzuz yet, the Beenie and Bounty battle was not a “clash” in the traditional Jamaican sense, but it was hardly a conventional beat battle either. Predictions that the island’s WiFi might not be able to handle the strain were soon dismissed -- in keeping with Jamaica’s long tradition of raising the bar when it comes to using technology to create next-level musical entertainment, this was the best-produced beat battle of them all. On the other hand, this was also the first time a Verzuz competitor has had to take a break in the action to negotiate with police officers.

This was surely also the first Verzuz battle to be live-tweeted by a prime minister: PM Andrew Holness took to his official Twitter to declare “Jamaica’s culture is global” and share a screenshot of the action. In keeping with the national pride, the battle opened with a rousing rendition of the Jamaican National Anthem.

When Beenie and Bounty came through VIBE’s IG Live one day before performance, they both declared that they would not be preparing for the battle as the art of war should be spontaneous. This has had people on tender hooks as no one really knows what would happen on the night. But of course all celebrities were out in full force for this highly anticipated battle, as everyone from Diddy to Swizz to Rihanna came through to catch the vibes. It was the only place to be if you were on IG, with more than 400K people checking in at the event's peak.

Here’s Billboard's tune-for-tune breakdown from the top to the very last drop.

ROUND 1: Beenie Man's “Matie” vs. Special Ed feat. Bounty Killer's “Just a Killa”

Beenie kicked things off with his first No. 1 hit (on the Jamaican charts) in honor of the late great Bobby Digital, the legendary producer of this song and countless more, who passed away May 21. Bounty opted to open on an international note, leading with his first hip hop collaboration, a 1995 single by Brooklyn rapper Special Ed featuring a guest verse from young Bounty.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 2: Beenie Man's “Memories” vs. Bounty Killer's “Suspense”

Sticking with the hardcore dancehall, Beenie reached for one of his fan favorites, a mid-’90s banger on the “Hot Wax” riddim that was recorded during the height of his great lyrical war with Bounty Killer (and sampled by Drake on the album version of “Controlla”). Killer responded in kind with a track on the same hard-hitting riddim, making this round feel like a flashback mid-'90s dancehall session.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 3: Beenie Man's “Slam” vs. Bounty Killer's “Living Dangerously”

Shifting into another gear, Beenie drew for his first Billboard hit, a tribute to the sexual prowess of “ghetto girls” recorded on Dave Kelly’s irresistible “Arab Attack” riddim. Bounty responded with one of his most popular songs for the ladies, a collaboration with reggae vocalist par excellence Barrington Levy. Counteracting a classic with another classic, this round was too close to call.

WINNER: Tie

ROUND 4: Beenie Man feat. Chevelle Franklin's “Dancehall Queen” vs. Diana King feat. Bounty Killer's “Summer Breezin’”

Keeping the energy high, Beenie unleashed this soundtrack cut from the movie Dancehall Queen (in which he also appeared). Bounty responded with a relatively obscure guest verse on a record by Jamaican pop hitmaker Diana King.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 5: Beenie Man feat. Lil Kim's “Fresh From Yard” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Jeru the Damaja's “Suicide or Murder”

For his first international selection, Beenie chose a DJ Clue production featuring the Queen Bee in her best Brooklyn Jamaican patois mode. Killer kept it BK with a grimy Jeru collab produced by New York’s own Massive B productions.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 6: T.I. feat. Beenie Man's “I’m Serious” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Mobb Deep's “Deadly Zone”

Sticking with the hip hop collabs, Beenie dropped T.I.’s first major-label single featuring a hard-as-nails Neptunes beat and a street-certified Beenie Man hook. But he should have known that badman business is the Killer’s wheelhouse. Bounty clapped back with a grimy Mobb Deep collab off his My Xperience album and took the round.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 7: Guerilla Black feat. Beenie Man's “Compton” vs. Bounty Killer feat. The Fugees' "Hip-Hopera”

Beenie dropped his third straight hip hop crossover track, this one a guest verse for Biggie soundalike Guerilla Black over a bouncy Stalag Riddim. Bounty brought out the big guns, returning fire with a Fugees collab. As the Warlord would say, “People dead!”

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 8: Beenie Man's “Romie” vs. Bounty Killer's “Worthless Bwoy”

Returning to straight-up dancehall, Beenie served up one of his worldwide club classics, a song about a girl named “Romie” set to Shocking Vibes’s hard-driving version of the Punany Riddim. Killer replied with a Dave Kelly banger burning out the guys who lack the stamina to satisfy their significant others.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 9: Beenie Man “Old Dog” vs. Bounty Killer “Stucky”

Beenie Man has plenty of classic dancehall joints, and this Dave Kelly sure shot is one of the most ubiquitous. “Old Dog” recounts his exploits with the opposite sex, shouting out female dancehall stars Patra and Lady Saw along the way. Bounty replied in kind with his own kind of “gyal tune,” more rough than sweet, just the way Killer likes it.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 10: Beenie Man feat. Mya “Girls Them Sugar” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Nona Hendryx & Cocoa Brovaz “It’s a Party”

Beenie closed out the first half of the battle on a strong note with one of his most beautiful records, a Neptunes remake of one of his immortal dancehall classics adorned with a sweet hook sung by Mya. Bounty’s response was strong, but the Wyclef-produced party joint (with a hook by the former member of Labelle and bars from Boot Camp MCs) fell just short of Beenie’s selection.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 11: Beenie Man feat. Wyclef Jean's “Love Me Now” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Swizz Beatz' “Guilty”

Flipping catchy lyrics over Naughty By Nature's classic “O.P.P.” beat, Beenie sounded strong on this Wyclef collab, but Bounty countered with a hard-hitting Swizz Beatz track featuring a blazing guest verse from the Killer.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 12: Beenie Man feat. Barrington Levy's “Murderation” vs. Bounty Killer's “Look”

The vibes were sweet right up until the moment when officers of the Jamaican Constabulary Force interrupted the action. Beenie took care of the situation, informing the police that there were hundreds of thousands of people watching internationally. He then asked his DJ to run one of the hardest tracks in his catalog, a song about the abuse of authority in the ghetto streets. It was such a perfect segue the whole thing almost seemed planned. Killer had no choice but to counter with one of the most powerful songs in his catalogue, another Dave Kelly masterpiece, just barely winning what was arguably the strongest round of the entire battle.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 13: Beenie Man's [Showtime Juggling] vs. Bounty Killer's “Fed Up”

Still charged up by the unexpected visit from the police, Beenie felt a vibe and decided to perform his next song live. Starting out with “Hypocrite,” a blistering broadside against haters on Dave Kelly’s “Showtime” riddim, Beenie’s performance inspired Bounty to join in for what became a multi-song medley that included snippets of Killer’s “Eagle & The Hawk” and “Bullet Proof Skin” as well as Beenie Man’s “Done Have We Things,” “Badman Medley,” “Bury Yuh Dead,” and “Fire Burn.”

After they wrapped up their explosive tag-team performance, Beenie calmly stated “My song dat,” indicating that he wanted the whole extended set to count as one song. Bounty retaliated with “Fed Up,” one of his signature reality tunes that cemented his reputation as Jamaica’s “Poor People Governor.” Another close round, and highly unorthodox. Advantage Killa.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 14: Beenie Man's “World Dance” vs. Bounty Killer's “Gal” 

Beenie Man took it back with one of his biggest early hits, a “buss the dance” selection on Shocking Vibes’ Cordy Roy Riddim. Killer’s response was another hardcore tune for the girls, explosively energetic and lyrically intricate.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 15: Beenie Man's “Modeling” vs. Bounty Killer's “Model”

Taking it back to the early days of his career, Beenie served up a song designed to inspire all the “bashment girls” in the dance to show off their freshest outfits and dance moves. Killer responded in kind with a similar type of song, every bit as lyrically precise as Beenie’s was melodic, making this round a dead heat.

WINNER: Tie

ROUND 16: Beenie Man's “Oyster & Conch” vs. Bounty Killer's “Benz & Bimma”

Sticking with the “gyal” segment, dancehall’s “Doctor” prescribed a musical aphrodisiac, stressing the importance of seafood in your diet. Killer responded with a dancehall smash likening his appreciation of the female physique to his fondness for expensive European automobiles.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 17: Beenie Man's “Dude” vs. Bounty Killer's “Greatest”

Beenie delivered yet another Dave Kelly sureshot, this time on the festive Fiesta Riddim. Killer responded with a little-known 2003 track on the “Hydro” radio, basically conceding this round.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 18: Beenie Man's “Mm-Hmm” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Cham's “Another Level”

As the battle neared its final rounds, Beenie played this hard-hitting Tony Kelly production and grabbed the mic to chat his lyrics live and direct, showing that dancehall artists of a certain age are still in top form lyrically. Bounty replied with a musical killshot on Dave Kelly’s Clone Riddim, joining forces with Cham to take things to “Another Level.” Feeling the spirit, Beenie grabbed the mic and spit a verse over Bounty’s record.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 19: Beenie Man “Nuff Gal” vs. Bounty Killer “Cry For Die For”

Beenie changed up the pace with a jazzy tune for the ladies featuring a swinging horn section. This 1996 Jamaican single could have been a bigger hit for Beenie if it had the right promotion, and still sounds great all these years later. Bounty Killer responded in similarly eclectic mode with a jaunty track on a Riddim based on The Champs' 1950s rock chart-topper “Tequila.”

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 20: Beenie Man's “I’m Drinkin’ (Rum and Red Bull)” vs. Bounty Killer's “Smoke the Herb”

Beenie closed out his regulation 20 rounds with one of his biggest crossover hits, a collaboration with Fambo that somebody at Red Bull should probably sign up for an endorsement deal. Bounty Killer responded with perhaps his greatest ganja anthems. This one was too close to call. Pick your poison.

WINNER: Tie

EXTRA TUNES

After running a couple of exclusive dubplate specials -- “War Uno Want” by Bounty Killer and a Buju Banton and Beenie Man collab on the M.P.L.A Riddim -- Beenie and Bounty served one final tune. ”Why Beenie saved one of his signature songs, 2004's "King of the Dancehall," for the 21st round is anybody’s guess. Bounty’s response ("Nuh Fren Fish") was something for the hardcore fans only.

Winner: Beenie

BONUS ROUNDS

Wider Catalogue: Beenie Man

While both artists did a good job displaying the breadth of their respective repertoires, blending hardcore dancehall hits with international collaborations, Beenie Man showed off his versatility with a mixture of old and new dancehall hits as well as mixing moods and tempos.

Biggest Snub: Beenie Man (Point to Bounty Killer)

Beenie Man opted not to play “Who Am I” (aka “Sim Simma,”) perhaps his best known international hit. Not to be outdone, Bounty Killer also neglected to play “Hey Baby,” his high-profile collaboration with No Doubt from their Grammy-winning 2001 album Rock Steady. Still Beenie’s oversight was the more inexplicable of the two.

Best Banter: Beenie Man

When police stopped by in the middle of the session and Beenie Man somehow kept his cool telling them “Officer, the whole world is watching… do we have to do this right now? Do you really wanna be that guy?”

Biggest KO: Bounty Killer

Not long after the police stopped by, Beenie and Bounty joined in on an eight song freestyle, venting their frustration at the police. But Bounty’s response, “Poor People Fed Up,” trumped an extended live performance, demonstrating just how much of a punch that song still packs.

People's Champ: Bounty Killer

While Beenie proved the more strategic selector, Bounty Killer’s off-the-cuff adlibs an manic energy -- especially when he noticed Rihanna in the IG audience -- kept the mood up. Even when he played unexpected selections, the Warlord’s respect levels were on 11.

FINAL SCORE: 13-10-3, Beenie Man

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This article originally appeared on Billboard.

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Jonathan Mannion

Iconic Photographer, Jonathan Mannion, Details Shooting Eminem's 'Marshall Mathers LP' 20 Years Later

This story, in its entirety, is posted on Billboard.com and is written by Carl Lamarre.

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Saturday (May 23) marks the 20th anniversary of Eminem's third album, The Marshall Mathers LP. His magnum opus not only shattered records on the Billboard 200 (debuted at No. 1 with a whopping 1.78 million copies its opening week) but highlighted his abilities as a raw and gifted storyteller. With Em looking to shed light on his real-life persona of Marshall Mathers, he hired famed photographer Jonathan Mannion to help capture his vision.

Mannion, who previously shot legendary album covers such as Jay-Z's 1996 Reasonable Doubt and DMX's 1998 Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, relished the task of teaming up with one of rap's polarizing acts because of their commonalities. Like Eminem, Mannion was a young, hungry creative from the Midwest, whose affinity for hip-hop ran deep, dating back to DJ Quik's debut single, "Born and Raised in Compton." 

Em and Mannion's tag-team expanded to over two continents. Not only did they shoot photos for MMLP in Amsterdam but also Detroit. From the pizza shop that Eminem used to work at to even his old childhood home where he sat on the steps for the album's classic cover art, nothing was off-limits.

READ MORE 20 Years of 'The Marshall Mathers LP': Ranking Every Song From Eminem's Third Album"

It was great," recalls Mannion of the shoot in from of Em's old house. "It was him in his element and delivering his journey. You know, the humble nature of him and his process of getting to be this megastar, which is rooted so clearly in talent. His talent and his relentless drive was it.

"Mannion spoke to Billboard about the 20th anniversary of The Marshall Mathers LP, where the album cover ranks in his collection and Em's dedication to delivering the best shots. 

What does the number 20 mean for you having been involved in the Marshall Mathers LP?

It's really hard to put into words how important this album is for the world, for Eminem (and) for me. There's an endless amount of stories. We shot in Amsterdam and Detroit. Originally, this album was meant to be called Amsterdam. I was like, "We have to go to Amsterdam. We have to all get on a plane and go there. That's the only way we're doing this album." He happened to be performing out there and said, "This is going to sync up perfectly.

"We did a phenomenal session out there -- really poured out hearts into it. Then, I think there was a realization that he wanted to present this trifecta of who he was: Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers and Eminem. This is how genius this guy is. He's thinking farther down the road to be able to craft these versions of himself. Slim Shady was the gimmick to get everyone's attention, which was still rooted in something phenomenal.

Then, he was like, "Let me tell you about my journey. Let me allow myself to be vulnerable within the space and deliver 'me' and how I really got here [with] my struggles, my pain," and I think that's when everybody really connected with him on a different level. It wasn't just this pop phenomenon that he was rooted in reverence for the culture. He obviously felt like he had to prove himself probably more than the next MC just because he was from Detroit and a white boy. He had something to prove and he was clinical on the album, delivering masterpiece after masterpiece.

READ MORE20 Years of 'Stan': How Eminem’s Epic 2000 Hit Relates to the Fan Culture It Inspired

When it was time to dig into who Marshall Mathers was, we had to do another session in Detroit. So we flew to Detroit to kind of continue [the shoot]. It kind of became this nice balance of Amsterdam and all of these lax drugs laws and all of these experimental moments that he was pursuing at that time to kind of ground himself. We shot outside the pizza shop that he used to work at with people that he still knew from there.

I remember you said in a past interview that you shot him in his boxers and trench coat in the freezing cold towards the end of the shoot.

It's dedication. I was with him entirely, pushing and wanting more, but he one-upped me in this session. We did that and I was like, "OK. He's going to be tired." He's in boxer shorts, combat boots and a trench coat being the fullness of the character that he was presenting as this Amsterdam version of Em. He pushed it and I was like, "Man, this is incredible. What we achieved out here was beyond comprehension. I can't wait for when we get back to see the session and go through it."He was like, "Man, I was thinking I want to do one more shot. Can we go back to the hotel? I want to be in my hotel room writing to my daughter." Usually, I'm the one begging rappers to go a little bit farther because I want to give them the world, but it flipped on me. It wasn't begrudgingly that I went there to that place. I was like, "I'm with this. Thank you." It made another really phenomenal image that we got to share with the world because of that effort.

Continue reading the original article by Carl Lamarre at Billboard here.

 

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THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP. Congratulations to @eminem on an absolutely brilliant project that celebrates 20 YEARS today. There were 2 sessions that yielded the campaign around this album, one in Detroit and the other in Amsterdam. It is one of my top 3 covers of all time. Art direction & Photography, @jonathanmannion. Designed with the masterful @morningbreathinc’s own Jason Noto.

A post shared by Jonathan Mannion (@jonathanmannion) on May 23, 2020 at 11:20am PDT

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To get a feel of Mannion's deep love of hip-hop, check out his Spotify playlist of the many legendary artists and their music from the album covers he's shot. "I did a playlist on Spotify based on a random sampling of 65 of my favorite album covers. Pulled 90 tunes that were bonafide bangers and complied a little vibe," Mannion details. Enjoy the vibes!

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