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Smino Talks Outer Space, Soulja Boy, Braids And The Elements Of His Would-Be Biopic

Smino is the breath of fresh air that everybody needs.

Smino is not your regular rapper, but he might be your favorite. Born Christopher Smith Jr., Smino is the same St. Louis kid he was back in ‘08, before the money started picking up. Starting out as a drummer, music has always been ingrained in his DNA. Off the cuff, Smi found himself through music. At the impressionable age of 18, he left home and moved out to Chicago, where he ultimately grew as one with his sound.

“You could be out on your own in your city, but when you’re out on your own in another city, it feels different,” he says over the phone from Chicago. “I had to make a new family up here, trust my own instincts, learn who to trust, learn how to trust, learn how to let motherf**kers go and sh*t like that. I had to learn how to still be passionate, I had to learn how to do something with that passion, and I had to be doin’ this on my own all in the same time.”

Now, almost 10 years later, Smino has found his niche. A prince of eccentric flows and funk-infused beats, Smi relies on his spontaneity to keep him grinding. “I'm a drummer, so I just make music,” he says. “It could be anything, anything, anything. (Laughs) It can come from anything.” And that’s exactly how we like it.

Smino doesn’t stress the process. A super chill and laid back dude, the “LMF” rapper is a Chicagoan at heart–– and way too real for the industry he’s in. “L.A. hella industry as f**k,” he says. “It’s not really home, so I’m just like sh*t, I’ma just fly out there to work with people, but I can’t stay there. Plus they don't even got the wintertime, I was missing the cold and sh*t.”

This past November, Smino released his sophomore album NOIR in all its crooked and playful perfection. Boasting a run time of a little under an hour, NOIR features verses from some of ZERO FATIGUE’s finest, including Bari, Ravyn Lenae and Jay2.

Lighter than blkswan, his previous release, NOIR captures the 27-year-old at his happiest and most carefree state. Standout track “Z4L’ describes Smi to the T, as it captures his quirky ingenuity and play on words in lyricizing the horror of Smi realizing his girl got makeup on his brand new ACNE tee.

“My life has always been a movie,” Smino says, giving us some insight behind his album title. “I say that my life is a black a** movie with this album because all the funniest things I can imagine are from black films and different things I find a way to relate to my life.”

An album that speaks truly to him, NOIR gives fans something fun to sit back and vibe to, which is exactly what Smino was aiming for. “I think I did what I wanted and came to do,” he admits. “I listen to my own music a lot, so I'm always waiting on new me and I kind of wanted to hear some more bright music. Happier, you know what I'm saying? Just vibes and lighter artist sh*t.”

Both an open book and grounded soul, Smino gave us an animated rundown on his album’s cinematic title (despite not considering himself a movie buff), how he envisions a biopic of his life and the role Soulja Boy would play on the imagined movie’s soundtrack.

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VIBE: You said that NOIR was about your life being “a black a** movie,” so how would you say your life has changed since your career really took off?
Smino: Sometimes sh*t be hella raw. Like sometimes I be over in Japan and other times I wish it was still me not having sh*t in the basement, just making music and having nowhere to be, you feel me? It's definitely a lot more business goin' on these days, but it's definitely dope. It's a blessing. I guess a lot more people notice me or recognize me when I'm out now, but it's all the same. I'm still the same motherf**ker, same friends, same all that sh*t. I tried to move to L.A., but I moved right back in like two weeks.

Would you say your life felt like a movie before everything started with music?
Mhm. My life has always been a movie. I'm just always into some sh*t. (Laughs) I always got either some cool sh*t or some wild sh*t goin on in my life. Even when I was a lil’ ni**a I was making money over motherf**kin’ music. Drums, producing, doin that sh*t.

In this sense, I say that my life is a black a** movie with this album because all the funniest things I can imagine are from black films and just different things I find a way to relate to my life. That’s why we did them posters ‘cause I feel like we did a lot of funny a** sh*t. Like the whole “Z4L” song—one time I had makeup on my shirt and I made a track out of it, you know what I’m saying? (Laughs) A lot of the Bill Bellamy a** sh*t that happened in How To Be A Player happens to me, so it's like a really just like funny ass movie.

Are you a big movie person?
Hell naw I ain't no big movie person, I just like my movies. I'm not like a big anything person, I just make music. But if I like something, I super like it. I go all the way with it.

Well since you went all the way with the posters, have you ever thought what a biopic about your life would be like?
If I had a biopic I'd say it'd look like The Wood, (Laughs) 'cause the ni**a from that movie moved from where he from to somewhere else and it made for a whole different experience, but the n***a ended up feelin’ it way more than he thought he would and was way cooler than what everybody thought was cool already. That’s damn near me. And he got the shawty he wanted, you know what I’m sayin’? The OG blood ni**as was f**kin’ with him. (Laughs) It was some funny sh*t but it was just really ironic. I feel like the movie really reminded me of myself.

We're gonna get really hypothetical now, but where would you set the movie? Would you set it in St. Louis and then move to Chicago? Or would you keep it in one place.
If it was a biopic of my life I'd probably make it some whole wild sh*t and put it in outer space, but make the outer space like damn near alien ni***s. Like they doin' ni**a sh*t, but they just aliens. So it'd be like the alien St. Louis, the alien Chicago, my alien ni**as, you know what I'm sayin'? I wouldn't want it to be no regular ni***s playin' me, so it'll have to be like some kind of wild sh*t, or a cartoon or something.

Who would you want to play you?
Uh, nobody for real (Laughs) but if I had to pick somebody... What's that n***a name that was Shaolin Fantastic dude a**?

Shameik Moore from The Get Down?
Yeah, The Get Down! Shaolin Fantastic. Either him or my ni**a Dushane [Ashley Walters] from Top Boy. One of them. They'd be me, they just have to get some hair.

I was about to say they gotta have the hair to keep it authentic.
Nah, but people grow hair. Ni**s be growin' muscles all type of sh*t for movies, man.

Well, people grow hair, but it’s hard to maintain it. You do a good job, but other people don't know about that.
They gotta throw a wig on that ni**a or somethin' man. Who they threw them braids wig on? What's that lightskin ni**as name? That ni**a that used to wear that braid toupee?

Shemar Moore? (Laughs)
Yeah, Shemar Moore and Shameik Moore. You gotta get the Shemar Moore hair and put it on a Shameik Moore and then you good.

 

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NØIR out errwhere. (Lincoln Bio) 🍷

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You listen to your own music a lot, but aside from that, what artist would you include on the soundtrack in order to capture the different eras in your life?
Let me see. Alright. I'd say like—damn, it's a lot. I'd say at the beginning of the movie it would start off with goddamn Herbie Hancock or some f**kin' Al Green. I used to listen to a lot of jazz and soul music when I was a little kid, so it'd start off with a lot of that sh*t. Then it'd go into like Braxton Cook type jazz. Then it'll start turning into like Ludacris sh*t, then it'd turn into––

Okay, so my early life, like 1-10 would be all the jazz sh*t. Then from 10-16 I'd say a couple gospel artists like Tye Tribbett, Hezekiah Walker, Kirk Franklin. I don't know actually who wrote a lot of the songs with Kirk Franklin, but whoever was doin' that music. Then it'd go to rap sh*t from 16-22. I'm 27, so I'm tryna like scale it out for you. But from 16-22 it’s Wiz Khalifa and Drake, ‘cause that's when I started really, really, really, really smoking weed. Fourteen was my first time finishing a blunt, but by the time I was 16 I was like ‘yeah, I got this down.’ I was hella like Wiz age and all that sh*t.

Then from 22 to now, it'd be just everybody that I listen to from Chicago. Right now I'm stuck on the Mick [Jenkins] album and Jean Deaux sh*t. It's all saucy a** smooth sh*t. It's a lot of people, cuz. It's a soundtrack, so it'll be a bunch of people. Kendrick have to be on there somewhere but he'd have to come on like a custom song and sh*t. And then Soulja Boy would have to be in there, too, though. I used to love Soulja Boy, bruh.

Soulja Boy just recently signed a new deal so he's bouta put out music again.
Oh yeah. I just thought Soulja Boy hella hype. When he started doin' what he was doin' I peeped, I'm like damn this ni**a damn near like me. When he used to have his vlogs and sh*t, you would see artists that you f**k with—‘cause Soulja Boy be around hella people—and you would see artists that you f**k with in the way that you never really get to see 'em ‘cause he was just pullin' up on they a** with like a camera on some vlogging sh*t. But yeah, you also gotta have Noname, Ravyn, Monte, all them [Zero Fatigue] ni***s.

Of all those years you broke down for me, which ones would you say was most important?
Eighteen to 23 is the most important.

That was when you moved, right?
Yeah, I mean in a way. You talking about most important to you actually being on the phone with me right now? Then yeah, 18-23.

What do you mean by that?
You’re talking to me right now because of what I was doing between the ages of 18-23 years old. Like all of this discussion sh*t was me grinding from 18-23 in Chicago. It was damn near dead out there, but when I turned 23 sh*t started lookin’ up, then I turned 24 and I was just gettin’ hella money.

So that was the most important for your career, but what would you say was the most important for yourself in terms of character development?
Eighteen to 23. That’s when I really got out on my own for real. You could be out on your own in your city, but when you out on your own in another city, it's feels different. You really just feel dolo. I had to make a new family up here, trust my own instincts, learn who to trust, learn how to trust, learn how to let motherf**kers go and sh*t like that. I had to learn how to still be passionate, I had to learn how to do something with that passion, and I had to be doin’ this on my own all in the same time. I had help from people, but I really didn’t have a choice on whether or not to take it. You gotta take the help and all these different things, you know?

It sounds like music really drove you to figuring that part of your life out. With music being such an important part in your life, do you have a specific way you go about laying down a track?
That's an impossible question. I don’t even know. I cannot answer that.

So it just happens organically?
I'm a drummer, so I just make music. It could be anything, anything, anything. (Laughs) It can come from anything. That's why I'm so sporadically creative in the way I say sh*t in my songs. It's because it kind of just comes from something as simple as like, you know, f**kin' pourin' water out in the cup and the ice crackin' and that's a bar, you know what I'm sayin'?

Okay so let’s picture a cut to the studio. When you’re in the studio, what’s essential to that process?
To get me going at the studio?

Yeah. For a session to be productive for you, who or what do you need to have there?
Just Dylan. All I need is Dylan, Dylan, Dylan and Dylan, dassit. You know Dylan?

(Laughs) Should I?
(Laughs) You don't know who Dylan is? Where you from?

Jersey, but I stay in New York.
You should know this. It’s from Makin’ Da Band– it’s some other sh*t, but anyway it was this ni**a named Dylan from Makin' Da Band and he was like "all I need is Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan." So yeah, all I need is Dylan in the studio, and all the engineers, of course. All that sh*t.

I love having all my homies in the studio, but I actually make better sh*t when I'm alone in the studio. I think I make my best sh*t in solitude. Little weed, little bit of trees, you know what I'm sayin'? I’ma need it. Little brain food, like some herbs or some chicken. Sh*t, just a f**kin' mic. Not to be heada** (Laughs) but I don't really need much to get goin' in the studio.

What do you think is your best project to date?
It's NOIR. That's my favorite sh*t right now, but it changes by the day. My favorite song that I’ve made is probably not on that album, though. It’s a song called “Red Velvet.” I love that song cause I wrote it on a notebook and I don't ever write on notebooks.

With Monte?
So this how sh*t like that go: it’s our song, because it’s 50/50 if somebody produces it, but he just released it—that's it. It's my song, though. I wrote the song and he made the beat, so it just depends on who's talking. He'd say it's his song, I say it's my song. It's cool.

Do you ever produce?
Hell yeah I produce hella sh*t. I produced “Krushed Ice,” I produced the intro to “Kovert” and I produced “MF Groove” with Ravyn.

You work within your crew at Zero Fatigue a lot. Who over at Zero Fatigue would you say is essential to telling and/or making the best Smi stories?
My ni**a Bari.

You have any idea what he would say?
Off the top of my head? Nah, no clue. That ni**a got a million stories about me. Oh damn. I don’t even wanna know. We did hella sh*t together.

Like what? Take me through a day in your life.
Oh sh*t. It depends on the day man, (Laughs) I don't know, that's what I'm sayin'.

Let’s start with a regular day.
When I'm not on some rapper sh*t and I'm just chillin? Alright. I wake up, I take a sh*t, tell my shawty roll up– hopefully she do it by the time I'm done sh*ting, if not then I'm probably gon' roll up– then I muhf**kin’ smoke, order some food, sit on the couch play Spiderman or watch hella T.V. and not do sh*t. Then I’d probably call one of my managers and be like "What the f**k, what the f**k, what the f**k," you know what I'm saying? (Laughs) That's how I talk to my managers. Not to lie like that but, "What the f**k, what we doin' bro? What the f**k." All that sh*t. Then I’d probably see some of the homies. All the homies always pull up on me, so some of them probably pull up on me, you know what I'm sayin’. Do something’ with my partner, then sh*t, go to sleep.

How would that be different if you were working?
I'd wake up in the morning, take a sh*t, ask my shawty to roll up—hopefully she do before I'm done takin' a sh*t, if not I'ma come out and roll up—then my manager gon' call me, and I’ma be like "F**k, we gotta go. What the f**k!" Then I’ma find a ‘fit—that's gon' take me three hours ‘cause I'm very indecisive—Before I leave I’ma change about four times. Then I’ma go where I'm goin' and realize I ain't ate all day, and I’ll get on a plane and be mad ‘cause I ate the plane food, but I’ma be happy ‘cause I got first class. When I land I’ma go rap and then be like damn, I still ain't ate. By the time the show over I’ma eat like three pieces of chicken, go to sleep, smoke some weed probably, just live that unhealthy rap lifestyle, you dig? That's all. Unhealthy sh*t, man. But I’m tryna get better, I'm finna get on my meal prep sh*t. It’s lit.

That’ll take mad time, though.
Nah, I got an assistant that's helping me.

That's that rapper sh*t. (Laughs) You got the privilege of having people do stuff for you.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! You gotta have people do sh*t for you as a rapper, ‘cause you gotta rap, what the f**k? The world is dependent on these raps. I gotta get these rap songs, I need someone to help me get my food together and all that sh*t. (Laughs) But on some real life sh*t, the way some people say the music helps them and sh*t has me feelin' like– it makes me wanna stay in it and kinda like help motherf**ker through some sh*t. That’s how I really be feelin’. I like to be a quick motherf**kin’ lil’ blip, quick lil' blip in some motherf**king time and sh*t.

Stream NOIR below.

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VIBE Vault: Jada Pinkett Smith Talks Motherhood, Marriage & Sexiness In May 2001 Issue

Ever since playing streetwise Lena James on the college-campus sitcom A Different World, Jada Pinkett Smith has portrayed many a sexy shortie with attitude, boast a tough-as-nails swagger with a dash of vulnerability. Her film career—highlighted by Menace II Society, A Low Down Dirty Shame, Set It Off, Jason’s Lyric, and Woo—has been dotted with every possible permutation of the strong ghetto girl in distress.

But with mature roles like Bamboozled’s socially conscious Sloan Hopkins tucked under her belt, the Baltimore native who once spit verse with a teenaged Tupac Shakur in high school is proving to be more than the stereotypical neck-swiveling drama queen. Pinkett Smith has taken on a roster of challenging characters: exploring family matters in Fox Searchlight’s April release Kingdom Come, as well as starring in the highly anticipated pictures Ali (with husband Will Smith) and The Matrix 2 and 3.

But don’t think this woman is strictly business. The 29-year-old feels the upside of growing pains in both her professional and personal lives. As the mother of two youngsters (Jaden Christopher Syre, 2, and Willow Camille Reign, 6 months) and stepmom to 6-year-old Trey, Pinkett Smith is macking the maternal lifestyle—juggling play circles, early morning call times, and a little conjugal nookie on the side with the talented Mr. Smith. This pint-size fireplug’s still got teeth-gritting edge.

VIBE: Tell me about your character Charisse in Kingdom Come. I hear she’s pretty headstrong.

Jada Pinkett Smith: Definitely, but she’s a fool. She’s really self centered and headstrong about all the wrong things; she can’t see outside of herself. The patriarch of the family has passed away, and her focus is still all about her. It’s like, Sis, it's not all about you right now.

Co-starring with LL Cool J, Whoopi Goldberg, Vivica A. Fox, Toni Braxton, et al, you’re doing another movie with a predominantly black cast. But you know what they say about working with our people…

It’s always been such a pleasure working with black directors and black casts, because you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining yourself. It’s the same reasons why white people do all white films. These are the people you can relate to, that have the same experiences as you. I’ve never had any drama, only love. Like in Set It Off: There was so much buzz that there was going to be some drama with four black women working together, but that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a film.

You’re married to Anthony Anderson’s character in Kingdom Come. Can we expect any love scenes like you’ve done in the past? We all remember you rolling in the grass with Allen Payne in Jason’s Lyric.

None of that anymore. My older son is a little bit too old for me to be doing that if it’s not with his dad [laughter]! That part of my life is in the past. I’ve got sons now, and I’ve got a little girl. That was the other, younger Jada, who didn’t have any other responsibilities but to herself. Now I’ve got to think about my kids.

Of all the characters you’ve played—from manslaying Woo to stand-by-you-man Lyricto gangsta-boo Stoney to knucklehead Charisse—which of your roles is filled with the most Jada?

I really wasn’t in a space of maturity with that character to really fall into the depths of Lyric’s vulnerable space as I would’ve liked to. I think about it today, and I go, Wow, I could have done this and done this. That was another side of myself that I wasn’t comfortable showing yet. And from A Low Down Dirty Shame, Peaches was basically Jada at that time but to the third power. Set It Off was definitely Jada to another level. Stony was rah-rah but not that rah-rah [laughter]! That’s exactly how I would be—scared but [knowing I] gotta do my thing. Woo was truly the other side of Jada, like Honey, please talk to the hand [laughter].

If Woo was your alter ego, how did you deal with trifling men before you met Will? 

The best punishment is just to be out. There's so much you can take, I was definitely one of those chicks that would hang in there for a minute trying to week it out. But once I realized in my head that it just wasn't it, I rolled. Then niggas was was like, “Well, where you going?” I was like, Man. I told you. You saw me hanging in there with your crazy ass, trying to work this out. You know what I'm saying? Now you want to know where I am? I’m somewhere not with you.

Was there a specific incident? 

Nothing really, because when I was younger, I wasn't living right either. I can't really say that someone did anything so bad to me, because whatever they did, I deserved it.

Jada Pinkett Smith is a former playa-playa in repentance? 

You can say it however you want [laughter].. I was young in Hollywood. I didn't know about relationship and commitment. Unfortunately, that's something that we're not really taught, especially in our households. Most of us come from very dysfunctional places. Will is the first monogamous relationship I've had. I never knew what it took to have a healthy relationship or what commitment was all about.

How have the kids impacted your coochie-cooing sessions with Will?

HA HA [big laughter]!!! Well, shoot, kids are always going to put a little damper on that parade, but not so much that you can’t handle your business. They come, and, once again, you have that transition period where you have to find your groove within this new lifestyle you've been given. But it hasn't been drama. We've handled it very well [naughty laughter]. 

Inquiring minds want to know the real deal with Will Smith. Does he come correct in the boudoir? 

I'll just say this one absolute fact. For all the women who want to know, all the women in the VIBE world: Will puts it down! I could not be married or be monogamous with anybody who didn't. That's real [big laughter]! All I have to do is look at Will, and everything gets turned on from that. I'm pretty much an easy catch. He’s got beautiful eyes, and his physique now is out of control ‘cause of Ali. Yeaaahhh… It doesn’t take much for my buttons to get pushed. 

But Will is tall, maybe 6’2”, and you're so petite. 

It doesn't matter. Size doesn't matter. He says this all the time: I can't come at him in a bad way. And I’m like, Whatever, Daddy—just bring it. That's why we're such a happy couple. We can't be mad too long. 

It's great to have such a strong physical connection. 

And also the spiritual connection. The friendship even deepens sexual connection. When all of that is tied in together, it never gets tired. You have your times when you're kind of slow—if you're working, or during pregnancy. That's why it's important to have that friendship and that spiritual connection. That's what keeps it all together until the physical aspect of it booms back in, because everybody has their slow times.

Your children will grow up faster than you realize. What kind of relationship advice will you give them? 

You basically have to go with the flow. I know for my daughter, I probably won't put restrictions on her in a [harsh] way, because, being female myself. I understand the type of freedom a young girl needs. But when I talk about freedom, I mean you have to have a sense of responsibility. That's very difficult in our culture, because we're basically selling being a ho as what it is to be a woman today. If you're not a ho, then you're not really down or you're not really hip. I don't talk about freedom in that sense—basically just giving it away to whomever you want. There was a time when black women were very uptight about their sexuality. I think right now we're going through a space where we're finding our freedom as far as our sexuality, but I think we're going to our next extreme. We're going to find that middle ground. I hope by the time my daughter is of age we'll be at that space.

You're considered one of the sexiest people in Hollywood. What’s your definition of sexiness?

Really [laughter]? Well that is quite an honor. I'm learning as I get older, because I haven't always been this way. I'm gaining a better understanding as I mature that what people are attracted to most of all—and especially my husband, who's pretty much the only person I have to worry about these days—is beyond my physical. I'll be 30 this year. I'm moving into a whole other space of my womanhood! So I've kind of outgrown that whole, well let me go out with my short skirts on, with my stomach out or my bust up. I don't necessarily think that's something I have to do. I feel like I've been there like hardcore [laughter]. I might go back to feeling like that. Now I'm finally feeling like a woman, whereas before I was a little girl just trying to be a woman. Now I'm really feeling myself. Trust that with Kingdom Come, Matrix 2 and 3, and Ali, y'all will see a whole new Jada. Believe me. Y’all bouts to see it like y'all haven't seen it. 

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This article originally appeared in VIBE's May 2001 issue. Written by Brett Johnson | Photography by: Isabel Snyder and others.

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'The Old Guard' Celebrates Women On Both Sides Of The Lens, Says Director Gina Prince-Bythewood & Actress KiKi Layne

Gina Prince-Bythewood is not new to this. Her decades-long screenwriting credits go back as far as 1992 when she contributed to the Cosby Show spin-off, A Different World. Her directorial debut happened nearly 10 years later with her 2000 film, Love & Basketball which grossed over $27 million in the U.S. box office and went on to become a black cinematic classic. Since then, Bythewood directed more films like The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014). Today, Bythewood is stepping away from the dramatic and romantic films of yesteryear and making her mark in the genre of action films with the new Netflix movie, The Old Guard.

Based on the comic book by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard stars lead actresses Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road, Hancock) and KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Native Son). Theron plays Andy, an immortal mercenary recruited for a mission to protect the mortal world. Layne plays Nile, a U.S. Marine recruited to join the badass task force. Before her "rebirth" into her new eternal life as a soldier, she learns about life as an Old Guard, what she'll stand to gain and lose as undying warrior and more.

Upon receiving the script, Bythewood was "incredibly excited" and happy to have an opportunity where she could not only take on a different type of cinema but also bring a young Black female hero to life and into the spotlight. "I knew the type of action film I wanted to do, an action drama," she says in an interview with VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle. "And I knew absolutely when I got the opportunity, that I wanted us [Black people] to be in it." And that we are. With actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) taking on a supporting role, Layne holds her own in the action-packed feature film as she tests her body's limits in scene after scene. The rising star would be sure to let you know how physicalities set her and her character apart.

"I mean I love the opportunity to be that physical," she says. "Nile still has so much heart and, being led by Gina, being encouraged to dig deeper into that and to not be afraid of her vulnerability, which was exciting. So I kind of play that, but then still play that physical strength and being a Marine and all of that. So I would say that would actually be the biggest difference between us."

The Prince-Bythewood and Layne sat with Belle to discuss the limitations around the term "Black cinema," being a part of a film that has Black women in front and behind the lens, and what they hope for The Old Guard's impact 20 years from now.

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On how music inspires her screenwriting:

Prince-Bythewood: Music is everything to my process. When I start to write, I create soundtracks for myself too. If it's just songs that either speak to what I'm writing or open me up emotionally to what I'm about to write. I have soundtracks for myself for directing, and then I create soundtracks as I'm editing. It's everything and I love doing songs for score. I love the traditional score, but I also love songs for scores. And those are songs that just help elevate the scene, add a little bit more emotion. It doesn't take over the scene, but it absolutely aides it and songs tell such a story...I love soundtracks, it goes back to Purple Rain. Where you could listen to that soundtrack and then watch the movie again in your head because the songs were that distinct, that's what I love to do with my films.

On the Black women she pulled influence from when preparing for her role:

Layne: Black women who I find to be strong and just maybe haven't seen it represented that way on film. Honestly, just thinking about my mom. Angela Bassett was the biggest example of strength. Who else was I thinking of? Those are like the first students to kind of pop in my head of just like, especially with Angela, the way that she just carries herself. There's such pride and dignity and integrity to her that I just, I mean love. Period. But it was definitely something that, when thinking of Nile, trying to bring some of that in there as well.

On the limiting term "Black cinema" as it relates to Hollywood:

The term "Black cinema" is not a negative to me, nor to us. My issue with it is with Hollywood. In terms of Hollywood using that to describe any film that has a black person in it. So suddenly they feel like, "Oh, we've done our one black film." As opposed to, "We should be in every single genre. Sci-fi, Western, love stories, period pieces." That's who we are, that's the breadth of our humanity, that's what I want to see. I just don't want to limit us, but I revel and celebrate black cinema and black film.

On how they would like The Old Guard to be remembered 20 years from now:

Layne: In 20 years from now, I would hope that it would be, you won't necessarily remember, but as a, I don't know, a piece of getting Hollywood to tell more of these types of stories with women at the lead in front of and behind the camera. I'm hoping that it will be an opportunity that leads to more doors like this being opened. Just showing that we're just as capable and it's just as interesting when we do it.

Prince-Bythewood: And then I'll just add in 20 years, if people are still watching this film that says it all, that this film had longevity, it spoke to them and it was a world and it's characters that they wanted to see again and live with again. And as artists, I think that's a pretty incredible thing.

Interview's music bed provided by Gus.

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Watch: Rodney Jerkins Talks Producing On ‘The High Note’ Soundtrack, Andre Harrell And How His Dad Sparked His Career In ‘Billboard’

When you think of your favorite R&B and pop hits by Brandy, Destiny's Child, Mary J. Blige, and Michael Jackson, you can't help but think about the musical genius behind the tracks: Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. Since his start in the music industry at the young age of 14 (under the mentorship of legendary musician Teddy Riley and his father Pastor Fredrick Jerkins), the Grammy-winning producer has created songs across countries, genres, and mediums.  To date, Jerkins has contributed to over 115 movie and television series soundtracks with his first credit for Joe's "Don't Wanna Be a Player" (not be confused with Big Pun's hit) on the 1996 Booty Call soundtrack.

His latest accomplishment is serving as the executive music producer for the new video-on-demand film, The High Note, starring actress Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of the legendary Diana Ross. In the Nisha Ganatra-directed  film, Ross plays Grace Davis, a diva and iconic singer who has to "choose between playing it safe or listening to her heart in a decision that could change her life forever." Weeks prior to The High Note's premiere, Focus Features and Republic Records released "Love Myself," the lead single from the movie's soundtrack, which features Ross singing on her very first musical recording. As the film's executive music producer, Jerkins worked with her on another track, "Stop For A Minute," and helped Ross become comfortable with laying down tracks in a music recording studio, an experience she'd only witnessed second-hand while her mother worked on music.

"When we first started, that was Tracy's first time in the booths," says Jerkins about working with Ross. "That can become somewhat intimidating. I said, 'Tracy just trust me. I've worked with every artist. I've worked with actresses who had to sing before.' I said, 'This is what I do. Just have trust that we'll get through it.' As we started to work, her confidence started to build and she started to understand what it took."

VIBE and Cory Taylor of R&B Spotlight had a chance to sit down with Jerkins to talk about his extensive career, working on the official soundtrack for The High Note, his advice for upcoming producers, and more.

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On when he got the call to be a part of the film's soundtrack:

I was in Florida at home and Mike Knobloch, the head of music at Universal, he called me one day. He was just like, "Man, I got a prize that I think you would be perfect for. Would you mind reading the script?" I said, "Yes, send me the script." And this was crazy. I was actually working with an artist at the time. I have this artist named Jac Ross and I was just listening to Lee Moses because Jack has this super soulful voice. In the script, the first scene had a Lee Moses song. I called Mike before reading the rest of the script. I was like, "Yo, this is mine." I said, "The first song. I just studied Lee Moses two days ago." So the fact that the first song in the scene was a Lee Moses song called "Bad Girl," I was like, this is mine.

On how his Dad sparked his start in the music business:

I got started with Teddy Riley working in Virginia Beach. I was kind of this apprentice down there. I was 14 when I first met Teddy. Every summer I'd go down there and just kind of sit and learn. I would go back home and work on stuff and work on ideas. It wasn't really until I was probably 16 or 17 when I really got my first songs heard by record companies, and people started paying attention saying, "Yo, there's this kid in New Jersey." I think what really sparked that and my father, who was mentoring me at the time, I think I said to him one day, "I got all this good music, but nobody knows who I am, because I'm from South Jersey, Pleasantville." There's no outlet down there. My dad invested money out of his own pocket, and he bought this ad in Billboard.

At first, people thought he was crazy because there were no ads in Billboard. Like if you looked through Billboard, it was just charts. For some reason my dad, he bought this ad and in this ad it said: "Super producer." I was young and wasn't a super-producer yet. He put this ad in and 50% of the people laughing at it were saying, "Yo, this is crazy. This dude is crazy." You had the other 50% of people calling and saying, "Yo, we want to meet."

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Dad, Thanks for instilling in me Christ at an early age. It’s because of you I choose to lead my family in that same direction. You’ve given me so many great moments as a child growing up. Believing in me when others didn’t. Pushing me to greatness. Being unconventional with your approach is exactly the way I do things to this day. Demanding respect from my counterparts. Not being taken advantage of, and being prayerful about everything. These are the life lessons and qualities you have given me. By watching you apply all of these things in your life I’ve learned to do the same. I appreciate you and love you dearly! HAPPY FATHERS DAY DAD!

A post shared by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (@rodneyjerkins) on Jun 21, 2020 at 4:51pm PDT

On his fondest memory of the late Andre Harrell:

He would call me up when I wasn't working with him. I remember when I did "Deja Vu" for Beyonce and Jay-Z. I was in New York City, the song was out, and Andre called and said, "Yo, where you at?" I said, "I'm in this old studio." "I'm coming to see you right now. I'm coming to see you right now." I ain't know what he wanted. He came up to the studio. He was like, "Playboy, playboy. Do you know what you just did? Do you know what you just gave this girl?" And I was like, "Nah," because I'm just keeping it moving.

He's like, "Man, you gave her Michael Jackson, 2005, like you gave her the Michael Jackson 'Don't Stop Til You Get Enough' for a female like this." I was like, "What you mean?" He was like, "The way you put the horns with the live bass and the drums, and still knocking with the 808, people aren't doing that." He was so animated when he spoke to you. He made you believe there's something much greater in yourself. That was my guy, man. He did that constantly with me. He would be like that all the time. I'm talking about even like three months ago, like in February, we had a similar conversation.

Advice to up and coming producers looking to get their foot in the music business:

First, I would say study all the greats that came before you. I'm not talking in the last 10, 20 years. I'm talking about going back, going back to Barry Gordy days, and study them. Study sound. Every sound and every genre possible. Don't be a one-trick pony. Be able to produce any type of genre. I would also say be different. What I mean by that, a lot of technology has allowed it for producers to become easy, but it's also become easy in the same sonic, in the same sound. All the tools are the same. You have everybody using the same tools right now. It all starts to sound the same. I would tell producers to challenge themselves to be different. Be unique, be different.

On his future plans to produce music for films: 

I'm going to continue to do movies. I've made it my thing. I can't say it right now, but it looks like I got another movie coming my way right now. With the same company, by the way. I'm going to continue to do it because I love it. I think it brings out a whole different side of emotion for me. It allows me to create differently. Sometimes we get caught up in what's popping at radio, what's popping streaming...I would love to do more in the TV and film realm because I just think that's the natural progression for me and my career.

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