Sir Lucian Grainge's 2018 Artist Showcase Presented By American Airlines And Citi On January 27, 2018 In New York City
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Luis Fonsi On Coaching ‘La Voz’ Competition And Long-Anticipated Album

The "Despacito" singer speaks on the making of Vida, what fans can look forward to on La Voz, and the abundance of young Latinx musical talent.

With his international knockout "Despacito," Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Luis Fonsi had an explosive 2017. Multiple chart-toppers, like "Échame la Culpa," "Calypso," and his more recent success, "Imposible," helped him follow up with another overwhelmingly strong musical calendar last year. And if this month’s any indication, 2019 also belongs to the Latinx pop hitmaker.

After delivering back-to-back global hits over the last two years, Fonsi is ready to share some new-new with his fans. The 40-year-old singer is kicking off the año nuevo with Vida, his long-anticipated ninth studio album. A blend of the heart-tugging guitar ballads that started his career and the energetic pop jams that made him an international superstar, Vida, his first full-length project in five years, will show his worldwide fans exactly who Fonsi is.

“I think people will get to know, really, who I am,” the Grammy award-winning artist told VIBE VIVA during a phone interview. “I have that pop uptempo side but also this soft romantic side as well.”

Vida, which Fonsi teases is slated to release “very soon,” isn’t the only way fans will further acquaint themselves with the luminary in 2019. The seven-time Guinness World Records-holder is also a coach on Telemundo’s forthcoming La Voz. The Spanish-language version of the successful music competition reality TV show (The Voice), which premieres Jan. 13, will bring Fonsi and megastars Alejandra Guzmán, Wisin and Carlos Vives together to find and nurture the most promising Latinx vocalists in the nation, tasks he’s already undertaken as a coach on the show’s offshoots across Latin America and Spain.

Carving out some time from his excitingly busy new year, Fonsi discusses the making of Vida, what fans can look forward to on La Voz, the abundance of young Latin musical talent and key lessons on persistence that every creative dreamer can gain from.

VIBE VIVA: The Voice is one of the most successful singing competitions in the country. Why do you think a Spanish-language version of this show was needed here?

Luis Fonsi: There’s so many ways of answering this question. First of all, because we are part of the music culture, because we’re part of the music equation because our talent level is incredible. Latinos, we breathe music, we speak with rhythm, we dance when we walk. Music is in our blood, so it was absolutely needed.

There are so many young kids who have either recently moved to the U.S. or maybe have been born here and are of Latinx descent and want to be able to share their talent with the world, so to have that opportunity to sing, whether in English or Spanish, because the show, while it’s called La Voz and is on Telemundo, we’re going to have plenty of people out there who will sing in English, is great. And we’ve seen in the NBC version of the show how many Latin contestants have gone the distance, and some have sung in Spanish.

It’s part of the equation, so to be able to make it more formal and celebrate the differences between our Latin culture, by having someone from Mexico sing una ranchera, have someone from Puerto Rico sing something more Caribbean, have someone from Colombia sing something more vallenato. This format gives us the space and those parameters to be able to do that.

La Voz has been successfully exported to multiple Latin American countries including Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, and Spain. How will this U.S.-based show be different from those?

I’ve been a coach in many of these different formats, in almost all of them. Right now, for example, I’m doing simultaneously La Voz Spain. The biggest and most obvious difference is when a contestant is done singing in Spain, I ask, “Where are you from,” and they tell me the city, “Madrid, Seville.” Here it’s like, “Hey, where are you from,” and they can be from a completely different country.

They could be from New York and their parents are from Mexico and moved here 40 years ago or you can be from the south of Argentina. Culturally, although we are speaking the same language and although we’re in the States, culturally we’re so dramatically different versus being from the same country and just a different city. So that in itself already gives it something different; the accents, the styles, it gives it such a different vibe.

You were the first one to join the show as a coach. Why were you eager to participate in the U.S. version of La Voz?

I love the format. I truly believe in the format. I’m one of those guys that I’m grateful. I remember where I come from, who opened the door for me and also who closed it. But I’m very grateful for the people who have gotten me to where I am today. When I entered this industry 20 years ago, there weren’t any reality shows like this. And if I would have had that opportunity, I would have probably auditioned for one, because very early in my life I knew that I wanted to be a singer. I actually went to college and got a music degree, that’s how serious I was about music.

It wasn’t about being famous; it was about being a musician, to me. I always think that reality singing shows are good. They’re good for everybody. It’s good for music. It’s good for the judges, or, in this case, the coaches. And I have to say sincerely, by far, my favorite format is The Voice. It’s a positive, family show. It’s all about giving constructive criticism.

It’s not about putting them down but rather about lifting them up, even if they don’t get through the first round. Everybody leaves with their head up and wanting to keep learning, keep singing, and to keep experiencing life, and that’s something that is much needed.

Latin music, in no small part due to your own megahits, has taken over the globe with new talent and viral songs appearing almost every day. Why do you think it’s enticing a universal audience?

You’re right! Right now, Latinx music is in a really good place. Latinx music is global. We’ve seen how so many — and I’m not talking about my songs, I’m talking in general, I’m looking at it with a way bigger spectrum — we’ve seen how many Latinx songs and how many Latinx artists have had success worldwide singing in Spanish. I really do believe that the world is coming together and that this was long overdue.

As a judge, what are you looking for in contestants? What's going to make you turn your chair?

Magic, that wow moment, that feeling you get when you get excited that you don’t know how to describe it. When the hair on the back of your neck stands up. You’ll see it. You’ll see me. I can’t stop moving when I hear that voice, and all of a sudden I’m like, “What is this?” I get antsy. I get up from my chair. Sometimes, I hit that button without my brain processing it, it’s like my hand just moves. It’s just like an instinct, a reflex. And it’s not about perfection or a specific genre.

It’s not about a specific country or whether you’re young or old, male or female. It’s about that “wow moment,” that thing that you get when a voice moves you. I’ve pressed my button for contestants who haven’t had perfect auditions, but they had something I connected with. And it’s the same the other way around.

We’ve had contestants that have not made it to the next phase and have had a solid, amazing audition, but for some reason, there was something there that didn’t connect with us coaches. And that’s the toughest because it’s tough to explain to them that, “Hey, you did amazing, you have an amazing voice, it was a perfect audition, you didn’t screw up, but we didn’t turn our chairs.”

It’s horrible, but at the end of the day, it’s life, and that’s what music is all about. Sometimes you can be in your car driving and you hear a song and it’s an amazing voice, but there’s something about that performance that you just don’t connect with it and you don’t identify yourself with it, and that’s exactly how it is to be a coach. It’s fun, and I think people are really going to enjoy it.

 

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As a coach, what do you hope to offer mentees?

Just a little piece of me, what I’ve learned as a professional singer in a 20-year career, the mistakes that I’ve made, the goods and the bads, all of them. I’m going to put it out there in hopes that they could use it toward their journey. What I’ve learned as a musician. I’ve been studying music since I was eight years old. I’ve been studying guitar and piano. I have a degree in vocal performance, a formal classical degree. So I can speak to them as a musician, not just as a recording artist. And you know what, sometimes it’s not even about the technical part.

It’s about having a conversation with them and making them feel comfortable, choosing the right song. Every contestant is different. Sometimes you have to get really technical with them, and sometimes it’s a little bit more about the psychology behind it. The talent is there, but you have to make them believe in themselves.

That actually leads right into my next question. For non-Spanish-speaking folks, you came into the scene in 2017 with "Despacito," but the truth is you've been putting in work for years, from your boy band as a high school student in Orlando, to touring with Britney Spears to your own early megahits like "No Me Doy Por Vencido," "Llegaste Tu" and many more. Sometimes, when you've been putting in work for a long time and not seeing the results you hope for, it can be discouraging and debilitating. What do you think you can teach these contestants about persistence?

It’s about knowing where you want to get to and believing in your craft and knowing that to get to that point it’s not always going to be a straight shot. It’s not always going to be right there in front of you. You have to go out and get it. You’re going to fall, and you’re going to make mistakes. I have never heard an artist say, “Every song I’ve put out has been a hit. Every album I’ve made has gone platinum. I never made a mistake. I never had crappy performances.” It’s all part of the deal.

It’s like falling in love. We have to get dumped, make mistakes, we have to have a broken heart to appreciate our perfect person when they come along. That’s music. When I’m making an album, I write hundreds of songs, sometimes two songs a day. I wish I can say every song I’ve written has been recorded and has been a hit. Absolutely not! I had to write hundreds of songs to get to “Despacito,” to get to "No Me Doy Por Vencido," to get to "Aqui Estoy Yo," to get to “Échame La Culpa.” It’s an ongoing journey, and that’s what I tell them.

We talk a lot about this on the show. It’s cool to hear the other coaches’ stories because it’s something that you don’t hear every day. We see Carlos Vives and Alejandra, and to hear how many times people have completely shut the door on us, but you have to be resilient and have to believe in yourself. And we also have to be a little stubborn sometimes. You have to say, “I know I have it.” Be humble about it, but also believe in what you have to offer and keep fighting for it. That’s what it’s all about, having that hunger.

Talking about the coaches, this year the team includes you, Alejandra Guzmán, Wisin and Carlos Vives — all megastars. Describe the energy among you all on the show?

Wow! The dynamic between the coaches is incredible. We all love each other. We all make fun of each other. There’s so much honest respect. It’s crazy. You’ll see.

I want to switch gears to you and your own music. I know you are dropping an album this year, your first in five years. What can you tell us about this?

Wow. My last album was in 2014. So we’re talking about five years. A lot changes in five years, and when we talk about pop music, it has completely shifted in five years. The cool thing about this album is that by the time the album comes out, I have released five singles, four of them I can humbly say have been hits. “Imposible” is on its way; it’s already Top 10. And my first three singles have been No. 1 songs, “Despacito,” “Échame La Culpa” and “Calypso.”

To be able to drop an album already having this success on the charts is such a blessing because it’s usually like you release one single and then you put the album out there. People already really know the essence of the album, and it makes it that much more exciting to hear the other songs that are there, that tell so many stories, the ballads, for example.

I’m always happy to hear about ballads. With the major success of uptempo hits like "Despacito," "Échame La Culpa" and "Calypso," why return to ballads?

I’ve never abandoned it. I’m a pop artist. I love the dance tracks and the reggaeton-infused tracks, but I also love a guitar ballad. That, to me, is just as powerful. There's a song in there that I wrote for my son, similar to what I did for my daughter with “Llegaste Tu,” a song I did five years ago with Juan Luis Guerra. You can put a little bit of that personal touch in an album that you can’t just do with a single. You have more room to be able to tell stories and different stories. It’s cool. I think people will get to know, really, who I am.

And how would you describe yourself as an artist?

I’m bad at explaining who I am as an artist, because, again, I have that pop uptempo side but also this soft romantic side as well. That’s who I’ve been ever since I started my career in 1998. It’s not just now. I’ve never been that sort of clean-cut balladeer who wears a suit as they’re singing. I’ve never been that clean-cut crooner. And, again, nothing wrong with them. I love the Luis Miguels and the Michael Bublés. I’m a fan of those guys, but I’m too hyperactive to wear a suit for a full show. And I’ve never been a super crazy pop act that all I do is dance and dance. I have those two sides. I love to grab my guitar and just sing as well.

Hearing you speak about this album is very exciting. When can fans expect to listen to it?

I have a release date, but I can’t share it. What I can say is that it will be out very soon. I’m excited. I definitely think it’s going to be the most important album of my career. And I think people are going to be surprised. I hope people are going to be surprised.

Returning to La Voz, why should Latinxs tune into Telemundo to watch this program?

They should tune in because we’re celebrating who we are. I always say, Latinos, we have music running through our veins. We speak with rhythm. We dance as we walk. Music is such a huge part of us, so to be able to celebrate that with the most important music competition format in the world, when we finally bring it to the biggest stage in the world, the U.S., it’s time to celebrate who we are. For those who don’t know to see how much talent there is out there. And I’m going to tell you, they’re going to flip. They’re going to be so surprised to see how much talent there is out there. I’m really excited. I’m hoping that it’s going to be a very big show for Hispanic television.

La Voz premieres Sunday, January 13 at 9 p.m./8 c.t on Telemundo and its digital platforms.

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The Unrestricted Music Ministry Of Yolanda Adams

Since the beginning of her career, gospel legend Yolanda Adams has accomplished an enviable feat for artists in the genre the Queen of Contemporary Gospel is respected and still sought after in both the genre and secular music world, but seemingly without the criticism and pushback her peers like Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary have faced at various times for straddling the two. We’ve marveled at the Grammy-award winner and radio host for her “She is serving - Wait, can she wear that?!” fashions and Ebony Fashion Fair model realness. And Yolanda, as a person, seems connected to “the world” in a way that may leave some church kids clutching pearls. But the Houston native (Houston clearly only produces real ones) didn’t grow up under the same strict doctrines as some of her gospel peers and her less restricted understanding of obedience in faith has made her incredibly open, accessible and connected.

On the eve of receiving the Gospel Music Icon Award at the 2019 Black Music Honors, VIBE talked to Adams about the sisterhood of Gospel, how she maintains her eternal slayage (who knew Yolanda Adams was a distance runner?), the power of music, and man-made restrictions in the church.

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VIBE: You are being awarded the Gospel Music Icon Award at 2019 Black Music Honors. The BMH are meant to tribute trailblazers in Black music who may not have otherwise gotten their roses. You are definitely a trailblazer, but do you feel like you’ve been under-appreciated considering the magnitude of your contribution not just to gospel music, but music overall?

Yolanda Adams:  I’ve never felt as though I’ve been cheated or not awarded. As a matter of fact, I believe, personally, that I’ve been one of the most applauded gospel artists, especially female. One of the things that I do know is that sometimes you’re blazing trails that you really feel are just the norm. It’s not like you’re trying to do anything that’s different; you’re just doing you. And you’re enjoying doing you so much, that everybody else comes along and they join the bandwagon. I’ve never felt that I was in it by myself, although I’m a solo artist. I’ve had such a great support system with my family; my husband, my daughter. I’ve had so many people, like Shirley Caesar, Tramaine Hawkins, Albertina Walker - all of the great women who said, “We’re so proud of you, you keep doing what you’re doing. You make us look good every place that you go.” I had that support. Whenever I would call Tramaine and say, “How do I do this, this, and that?” She would always explain. Same with Pastor Shirley Caesar. Same with Nancy Wilson. I did (The Yolanda Adams Morning Show) as a result of having a conversation with Nancy Wilson. She said, “There will come a time, especially when [your daughter] Taylor gets older, that you will want to be home. So the best thing for you to do is something that you can use your radio/TV journalism degree in.” And I thought about it, and I’m like, “Wow, you know what? You are so right!” So a great conversation with her and being built up by her resulted in the creation of (the decade-long show).

So, no, I never thought that I had been underappreciated or undervalued. I always knew that what I brought to the table - and CeCe (Winans) and I have this conversation often - there was never any competition between her and I, or Vicky Winans or all of the great women in gospel music at that time because we all had our niche.

The thing that I have always said is that in this vast universe that we live in, there is an audience for everyone, and then there’s an audience that’s being left out, that somebody else needs to capture. I don’t have to fight for what belongs to CeCe, I don’t have to fight for what belongs to Vicky, or what belongs to Tasha Cobb, or anybody like that, because God has so strategically given me the platform that I have, and my responsibility in that is to be the best Yolanda I can be.

That’s a word. Let’s talk about your audience, though, because you were part of the class - along with Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary - that broke gospel music open to the mainstream. Bebe and Cece Winans cracked the door open (in the ‘90s), but you, Kirk, and the Marys blew the gap between gospel and secular all the way open. I think it’s hard for people to appreciate how big that was, then. You probably got less criticism than Kirk and the Marys because people felt like their sound was secular. Your sound wasn’t as secular; it just translated. Or did you catch heat?

When I first started, people were like, “She’s really jazzy. Why does she have to be so jazzy?” They have to understand; I was never part of a traditional gospel-type upbringing. In my household, we listened to everything. There was no restriction. We danced in our house, so I didn’t have the stronghold and the bars of “You can’t do this” and “You can’t do that.” I lived in such a cool house, God was so cool, he went to the skating rink with us on Friday and Saturday and went right to church with us on Sunday. So in my mind, I never had those types of restrictions placed on me. It was only when I started my solo career - when I was totally solo from (Houston’s Southeast Inspirational Choir) and I started traveling - people were like, “Well why do you wear makeup? And why are your dresses so short? And why do you do this and why do you do that?” I’m the kid who was into modeling. I’m into fashion. I’m into all of this stuff, so for someone to tell me my lipstick offended them, I’m looking at them like, “Ok, well then you don’t wear it.”

So you didn’t grow up in the COGIC church.

I didn’t grow up in COGIC or Pentecostal. I grew up in a Damascus church setting, and then we moved to non-denominational, which was like, “Hey, if the Bible doesn’t put all these restrictions on you, then why would you let people put these restrictions on you?”

I love that because that is such a challenge: Even though Christians are called to be circumspect and “in the world, but not of the world,” people are the ones who put so much restriction on faith. That’s us doing that, not God doing that.

Here’s the thing about knowing the Bible; you have to know the Bible for yourself.  You have to know what God said. Because if you look at what Jesus concentrated on - and I tell people all the time, you need a Bible or a Bible app that shows you the words of Jesus in the red - think about it. He’s concentrating on being loving, sharing, caring and giving, and treating people like you want to be treated. And healing people from the inside out. That was His core thing. And He said, “I came to bring the Kingdom to you,” so what is Kingdom mentality? Kingdom mentality is; if you’re broken-hearted you don’t have to be hurt; if you’re poor you can become wealthy; if you’re lonely, you don’t have to be lonely anymore. So you have to look at that, because folks start taking the Bible at face value, and they never look at the history behind it.

You’re thirty years into your career and working on new music now. Gospel music is going through some of the same transitions that R&B is going through, and we’re having the same conversations about the fundamental ways (of making music) versus the new ways, etc. What are you looking to do with your music now?

Here’s the thing: everything in life goes through cycles. Everything. Whether it’s fashion, whether it’s automobiles, whether it’s tech. It doesn’t matter. Everything goes through cycles. We’ve been having this conversation since…1987 (laughs). “What do you expect your music to do?” “Why is it that gospel music is going through this  transition?” Well, all music goes through transitions; life goes through transitions. I’m going through a different transition with my life right now with my daughter being in college. It’s just the way life goes. Everything turns around. It’s the way of nature; the sun rotates and we rotate, and we’re always turning on an axis, so that is the rhythm of life.

But here’s what I always focus in on: I am not recording an album to get another Grammy. Thank God if I get one, or when I get one because we call those things that be not as though they were. And you know, thank God for all these accolades. But at the end of the day, how can I help heal the world with what God has given me in my heart? That is always my basis for doing any album, any product, going into any business venture. All of that. Everything in my life has to do with what is in my heart at this present time. God, how can we get it out to the people that need it?

You said earlier you believe you’re one of the most celebrated female artists in gospel, and you’re definitely still one of the most visible artists in contemporary gospel. You get called for every tribute. I’ve seen you tribute Lionel Ritchie, Patti Labelle, [and] other gospel artists. You walk that line between gospel and secular so well. What do you attribute to people calling you up, even when they’re doing a regular tribute for R&B artists, and are like, “We need Yolanda”?

One of the things I think people sense with me is that I truly love people. That’s the first thing. And usually, I have a relationship with the people that are being honored. So they know that I will be very respectful to the tribute, and I will be very respectful to the artist. I will be very respectful to my friend. They know that my gift is being able to translate other people’s music that I admire into my own style without veering so far away from what they originally did with it.

I saw you do “Jesus is Love” for Lionel Richie a couple of years ago, and I was at Black Girls Rock last year getting the holy ghost right quick (during the Aretha Franklin tribute). You just bring the house down with your energy and your vocals every time, you kill it, so I think another thing is that they know you’re gonna SANG! (Yolanda laughs).

We touched on your fashion and the fact that you briefly dabbled in modeling. When you step on stage, so many women I know are like, “Yolanda is snatched! I need that dress!” Can you speak to the choice to be fashionable even while ministering?

I think I inherited that from folks like Mahalia Jackson. If you look at the history of gospel music, we have a history of being fly. You have to go back to the Clara Ward Singers, The Barrett Sisters, and folks like that. Even when Shirley Caesar and them were younger, they would wear gowns, they would wear updos. You could see Albertina Walker in the same room you saw Aretha Franklin, and Albertina Walker’s gown would be more killin’ than Aretha’s at the time! The beauty of gospel music is that our fashions are so unexpected. People are like, “Oh, they’re just gospel artists.” Then you show up and they’re like, “Wait a minute, now!’ And if you go back into our history as African-Americans, that’s why they call it your “Sunday Best” because church was the place you could go to show off your fashions. The hats, and the gloves, and the pocketbooks, all those kinds of things. We had to have it straight.

Do you have a fitness regime?

Oh yes, I am very wellness-centered. I know that at any time, without warning, I can be called to be on television, and it has been a practice of mine, since I started, to make sure I am physically fit, spiritually fit, emotionally fit, and sometimes that’s not so easy with the climate of the world that we live in now. But my regime is once I get off the morning show, I go straight to the park or the gym for strength training. I run at least three miles when I do my runs. My long days can be anywhere from 9-12 miles, but I never do less than three miles. Sometimes it’s for sanity purposes, sometimes it’s for meditation purposes, but I love fitness because I know what I want to look like in my clothes.

For the record, you’re 50...something. I’ll say fifty-something. But you are in peak shape, form, energy, all of that. So it’s obvious that you take care of yourself.

I tell people all the time: If you want to start living better, start today. With an extra glass of water, an extra apple. And I’m not saying cancel sugar out altogether because our brains need the sugar, but you don’t have to add extra sugar.

Right. And I do think that’s something that presents a challenge for folks who’ve grown up in the church - we eat with our fellowship.

It can be food and fellowship as long as the people who are bringing the food know how important eating well is. Just like you can bring fried chicken, you can bring baked chicken. Just like you can bring fried fish, you can bring baked fish. You don’t have to put all of that grease in your system. Now if you’re only doing it once or twice a year, that’s not a problem. But if you’re doing it every Sunday, every Wednesday, every Thursday, every Friday, you gon’ have a problem.

I used to go to [your 1993 hit] “The Battle is Not Yours” when I needed encouragement. Who do you listen to for encouragement?

I listen to a lot of the stuff that I have recorded and have written. My go-to's are Tramaine, Cece, Vicky, Richard Smallwood, Donnie (McClurkin), Donald Lawrence...I listen to everybody. I love listening to all gospel music. Especially at that time.

Who do you listen to on the secular side?

I listen to Mary J., Lauryn Hill, I listen to Monica, I listen to Brandy, Kenny Lattimore—

You listen to the voices.

Yes, I love voices, and I love different voices. Rashan Patterson. PJ Morton - I’ve known him since he was three years old. I love to hear young people express themselves, whatever it is. India Aire; I love her new album (2019’s Worthy). I’ve been listening to “Roller Coaster,” that song is so amazing. There are just certain things I hone in on. Tamia’s new project (2108’s Passion Like Fire). Johnny Gill has a new project (Game Changer II). Uncle Charlie (Wilson) has a new project. Lalah Hathaway, she is so amazing. I love the richness of voices, and I love people who are passionate about what they’re writing, what they are expressing and how they make you feel. I need some feeling in my songs, you know?

Who would be in your ideal line-up for a tribute to Yolanda Adams?

Oh my gosh, can I pick like 20 people? (laughs). If I could pick 20 people, it would be Avery Sunshine, Anita Wilson, Jekalyn Carr, Tasha Page House, Monica, Brandy, Jazmine Sullivan, Kelly Price, Donnie McClurkin, Jonathan McReynolds, Brian Courtney Wilson… I know I’m probably at 40 now! Joss Stone...So many people. I am a music lover, and I love to hear people expressing their love for what they do, and I know I’m repeating that, but all of those people I named, they’re so passionate about everything that they do. I could just listen to all of those people all of the time. Oh, and Lalah!

Based on how much you love music and you love feeling the emotions, can you speak to the power behind ministry in music?

Music is so… it’s so a part of us. Remember I said earlier that everything has a rhythm? It is in us. Our hearts beat at a rhythm, our blood flows in a rhythm. We can be walking down the street and then all of a sudden, we’re walking at a rhythmic pace. It’s just the way that we’re wired. So it is automatic that music has such a profound influence on the way we feel. When we’re in love, we can listen to Anita Baker. When we’re asking questions, we can listen to Donny Hathaway or Roberta Flack, or Donnie McClurkin or Fred Hammond. When we have a heartbreak, we can listen to Mary J. Blige. When we wanna be empowered, we can listen to Beyoncé. When we wanna cuss somebody out, we listen to Cardi B (laughs). I love Cardi!

But I’m just sayin’. There’s a rhythm to everything, so my thing is, it is automatic that we feel the power of someone’s interpretation when we’re listening to music. There is no way you can’t get the feeling that Jazmine really did knock the windows out of somebody’s car. It’s almost like you go back to that experience where somebody made you so mad you wanted to do that. And this is what I think music does as ministry. When we talk about ministry, the root is “minister,” which is also where we get “administer.” So music can administer healing, it can administer hope, it can administer empowerment, it can administer everything that you need it to. Power that changes people’s lives comes with the impact of music.

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The 2019 Black Music Honors, celebrating Yolanda Adams, Tamia, Xscape, Freddie Jackson and Arrested Development, is set to air in broadcast syndication Saturday, September 14, 2019. Visit BlackMusicHonors.com/airdates for more information.

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Jenny Regan

Un-Classic Man: The Evolution of Jidenna

Jidenna is glowing. The edge of the summer sun creeping into VIBE’s New York office highlights the 34-year-old's purple hues and cantaloupe-colored prints that adorn him. His mustard kufi, sitting snug atop his braids, is more than just a "cool hat." It's an introduction to who he really is. “I am Jidenna, the Un-Classic Man.”

Jidenna didn’t rigorously exfoliate that persona off—it shed on its own. The 2015 release of “Classic Man” helped usher him into the mainstream game under Janelle Monae’s Wondaland roster. The track provided the artist his first Billboard Top 40 hit, a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and a chopped and screwed version featured in the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight. But the boom-trap feel of the record is nowhere to be found on his sophomore release, 85 To Africa.

Instead, the Nigerian-American gives life to hip-hop’s current identity crisis by stamping its passport across the African diaspora. “I want the album to integrate the African diaspora with the continent,” he says of the LP’s mission statement, which features a polished display of Afrobeat(s), R&B, psychedelic soul, funk and raw bars from an artist many haven’t figured out yet.

“It's [like] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If you look at him, that generation's mission statement was to integrate people of color and mainstream society, but mine is the diaspora into the continent,” he adds while elongating his goals. “I'm living and dying for that. There's nothing more important as black people as that. Nothing. There's plenty of things we gotta work on because if we do, a lot of other things will actually change. The economics in the hood, the idea of it being gentrified, the positions of power with women, the LGBTQ+ community worldwide. You have to deal with all of that to integrate the diaspora and the continent.”

Jidenna’s big ideas aren’t without merit. The son of a West African scientist and chief, the artist is not only knee-deep into social issues that plague the African-American community, but has strong ties back home. It’s enough to overwhelm any online revolutionary but Jidenna isn’t built that way.

“Someone described me as an aux cord for the diaspora to the continent,” he says. The album takes listeners to his once-humble abode in Atlanta—a cultural hub for black excellence in its own right—to sounds currently taking over Afrobeats and trap-themed parties. Horns blow with endurance on the album’s title track with special guests like GoldLink and Mr. Eazi shining on “Babouche” and “Zodi,” respectively. Jidenna’s sonic road trip is laced with good intentions, legendary producer Young Guru says.

“Jidenna's album is sort of a bridge, that's why it's 85 to Africa,” he says when asked about engineering the album.“It's bridging those gaps, but not only bridging those gaps musically but [also] bridging those gaps politically, bridging those gaps business-wise. That's the general purpose and the idea, along with very mature subject matters. I don't know if the average American knows what a 'Sou Sou' is.”

Throughout the album are odes to Caribbean and African culture like on “Sou Sou,” an offhand way of saving money in West Indian households. However, on the track, Jidenna compares the practice to a night in Ankara sheets. “Sufi Woman” plays to any soul sister keen to Yoruba, Brazillian Candomblé or whatever intensifies the spiritual vibrations. The lustful vibes continue on “Zodi,” which masterfully samples Busta Rhymes’ 1997 hit “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.”

“If we are to be stewards of what this culture is, we have to allow it the space to evolve,” Guru mentions of Jidenna’s marriage of Afrobeats and hip-hop. It finds a calming balance on the album's lead single "Tribe" with a psychedelic video to match. “And that means sonically, subject matter wise and style-wise. That means us as 45-year-old parents of the culture allowing our 16-year-old children to express themselves. All of that is inside of this album. That's why you hear the direct nod to an old Busta Rhymes record but still making it new.”

He’s humble about the notion, but Jidenna and in-house producer Nana Kwabena were some of the early U.S.-based artists to blend the sounds of Afro House and Afrobeats into hip-hop’s obsession with trap beats. He points to "A Little Bit More," one of four singles from his debut album, The Chief. “That was the first time on the radio you were hearing real pidgin from a U.S.-based artist,” he recalls. “Nobody was saying 'Wahala she no dey give me.'” (Translation: She doesn't give me any trouble or worries.)

But Jidenna admits he’s not fond of his first studio project. He points to industry suits clamoring him about the “Classic Man” ethos. The pressure to be a gimmick only fueled the need to return to his roots.

“I enjoyed songs off it but [it was] the process. I was dealing with a label who wanted me to stick to one thing and I'm not that person,” he says. “It's not even natural to me. I live in between worlds. So that album, there was like three iterations for it so by the time it was done, I just wanted to get it out. I'm not proud of it and I'm still not.”

With 85 to Africa, Jidenna says he went in with no expectations as he traveled from Atlanta to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Swaziland (Eswatini), and Namibia. “I was just traveling through the continent and that's why it's 85 to Africa and not one country. That's how far I had to get away to make a natural album.”

He might not be a fan of his early tunes but he’s a scholar in trap and African music. “There's hella genres in Afrobeats, we're not even there yet,” he says about America's fascination with artists like Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, and Mr. Eazi. “We're at the beginning. It's like when hip-hop started in 1979 and everyone is like, 'This is hip-hop.' We're literally at that point.”

Pointing to legends like Ebo Taylor, King Sunny Adé, Sunny Okosun, Cardinal Rex Lawson and Miriam Makeba, Jidenna hopes students of music listen to these artists in hopes of grasping a better understanding of other genres like highlife and jùjú music. He also believes hip-hop will have to pull a Sincere and head back home to the Motherland.

“I think for the first time in hip-hop history, hip-hop has to look outside of its history to evolve,” he says with much certainty. “Otherwise, it would be boring. I'm glad trap evolved the way it did because naturally, I was a fan because I was in it. I always told people, 'Trap music is African.' Those rhythms, those triplets, when Jazz players are talking about, 'Yeah, Jazz music baby. You know, the 6-8.’ When we're hip-hop historians, all old and grey, we’re gonna say, 'Migos was doing to the platter platter platter,’" he says in relation to their triplet flow.

Jidenna's love for hip-hop was felt throughout his 85 To Africa pop-up listening parties that were meant to recreate the days of The Tunnel (look it up) and house soirees. While playing his album, some fans had their chance to dance with the singer, with others pledging their devotion to Jidenna on social media.

He's well aware of his sex appeal but no one thought a simple studio photo would turn him into a trending topic—before he even released details of his album. “It's so funny because it shows that one, you don't know what will pop off and two, what people find attractive about you, I didn't like that picture,” he says.

https://twitter.com/VEJ0ME/status/1149344754649522176

But for every eye-catching photo of Jidenna comes an appreciation or at least, a respected view of his music. When it comes to his peers like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, their talent is often questioned because of their sensuality.

“I'm biased. I think the female form is an unbelievable form. Period. I think that men and women can appreciate that, not to say that there's no beauty in men, but I do think that human beings really enjoy women,” he says between pauses.

“I know for a fact that a lot of female artists feel the pressure to be more revealing. Men are starting to feel that way, too. The pressure to lift weights, the pressure to put beard oil on, the pressure to get a lineup every week. I'm glad because women put a lot of work in. What's cool is that women in the U.S. are going through a phase where it seems like y’all are more unapologetic than ever before. Women are speaking crass and bolder, and that's why they're rooting for Megan and artists like Cardi. Lizzo also represents a certain kind of freedom and I think that kind of liberation is great.”

While speaking to the double standards of hip-hop’s shining stars, Jidenna believes men have tapped into their vulnerable sides. “With men, you're seeing what women have done more traditionally and that's being more vulnerable and admit to mental health and admit to having self-esteem issues,” he says. “I can go across the board from A$AP Ferg to Big Sean to myself. Our journey is that way and for women, it's the other way.”

From owning his artistry to his masculinity, Jidenna is in a special place of self-awareness.

“I think he's found his purpose and his sound,” Guru says. “With him and Nana coming together as a group, as a team, I think he was making sure that he was not being pigeonholed into a hit record, which sometimes can be a curse. But a lot of times you don't get to see the full scope or run the gamut of what that artist can do and I think that on this album. He's shown you his full gamut of what he can do as an artist. He can rap, he can sing, [and] he put together melodies that are not normal but that completely fit where we are right now. That's just him as an artist.”

Jidenna is finally where he wants to be and it's time hip-hop takes notice. Stream 85 to Africa here.

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Frazer Harrison

12 Hip-Hop And R&B Collaborations With BTS We Need ASAP

K-pop music has steadily grown into a cultural phenomenon that has spread from Korea and attracted a massive, diverse audience across the globe, with a few of Korea’s hottest exports like EXO, Pentagon, NCT-127, Blackpink, and Monsta X gaining momentum in the United States. However, South Korea’s own BTS are global musical juggernauts that stand far above everyone else.

BTS, also known as Beyond The Scene or Bangtan (Bulletproof) Boys, have made the biggest splash of all groups from Korea since their debut EP, 2 Cool 4 Skool (2013). The seven-man union, formed by Big Hit Entertainment in 2010, are three rappers and four vocalists: RM (the leader), Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, Jungkook, and Jin, respectively. With their homegrown, in-house writing and production, they developed a familiar but unique style that combines hip hop roots with the best of Korean and American pop music, and a splash of R&B. It’s presented with pastel colors and an alluring brand of soft, non-conforming masculinity, precise choreography, and deep layers of musical talent. They’ve also earned a staggering amount of accolades, including being named one of the “25 Most Influential People On The Internet” and “Next Generation Leaders” by TIME, the first Korean group to hold an RIAA certification and the first to have been nominated for a GRAMMY, along with four Billboard Music Awards and more honors.

Their hip-hop roots run deep as they started as a teenage rap group, with RM, Suga and J-Hope initially being battle rappers. A trip to Los Angeles, however, as documented on the reality series American Hustle Life, proved they had a very long way to go with understanding of the culture among other skills. Thankfully, after a boot camp style schooling from west coast legends Coolio and Warren G with choreographer Jenny Kita, they’ve grown tremendously as evident on their debut LP Dark And Wild (2014).

Since then, BTS has collaborated with hip-hop stars like Wale, Desigiiner, Krizz Kaliko, Nicki Minaj, and recently, JuiceWRLD on “All Night,” an exclusive from the soundtrack to their new mobile game, BTS World. The boys are riding high after their Gold-selling album Map Of The Soul: Persona, their new film Bring The Soul, and news of a collaboration with R&B/pop singer Khaled on the way. The BTS A.R.M.Y. (Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth) is excited for the possibilities of fresh new collaborations with other hip-hop and R&B artists. Read below for VIBE’s list of the 12 hip-hop and R&B collaborations with BTS we need ASAP!

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Drake

Toronto’s own megastar may be a controversial, polarizing pick because of the criticism of him (allegedly) riding on newer artists’ popularity to bolster his own career and “wave riding” international genres and artists without giving the proper credit. Regardless, based on Drizzy’s Billboard chart-topping history, a BTS and Drake collaboration would be nearly guaranteed to be a home run.

Musically, Drake is versatile enough to match elegant harmonies with Jin, V, Jungkook, and Jimin (imagine a remix to the steamy “Singularity”) and go bar for bar with ease next to RM, J-Hope, and Suga over  production from 40. His tracks with artists like Bad Bunny, popcaan, Wizkid, Romeo Santos, Black Coffee, and Giggs have all been solid, but BTS pairs the best with October’s Very Own because they both excel at creating bubbly, up-tempo and mainstream-friendly pop records, late night, vibey and confessional R&B songs, and explosive rap jams for the crowd who craves pure lyricism. And after the two had a warm meeting at the VMAs, fans shouldn’t be surprised if we see something on the horizon very soon.

Lil Uzi Vert

The tone and direction of BTS and Lil Uzi Vert’s most electrifying hits are the difference between night and day. On the flipside, they share much more common ground than you’d think with their high energy songs and performances, and an eye-catching penchant for their colorful, eccentric fashion looks and charismatic, light-androgynous swagger with the dance moves to match.

BTS’s recent effort with Juice WRLD, “All Night,” has already shown how well the group can pair with the hip-hop superstars from America’s Soundcloud generation, especially with the right producer in tow (Pro Era’s Powers Pleasant). With Lil Uzi Vert, we can expect a hit that carries the same pop and crossover appeal with that glittery sheen Uzi displays on “That’s A Rack.” However, if they really want to blow our collective minds, it would be a fresher look for BTS to see how the Bangtan spitters RM, Suga, and J-Hope would fare on the aggressive, high-octane end of Uzi’s versatile playground. They obviously can be as explosive on wax as evident on their first full length album, Dark and Wild, and in a more recent context, “IDOL” and “Mic Drop.”

BTS could fit with a respectable number of Uzi’s contemporaries as their cadences, flows, and gender fluid style are the products of its time. The Philly rapper stands above the pack however because of his smooth versatility to rock out, no matter the genre or direction of the song. If these two forces of nature got together, this could be an unprecedented crossover song for both of them.

Black Hippy

Kendrick Lamar and BTS have been tied together through a combination of minor controversies, and frequent collaborator, producer Teddy Walton attended a show and declared on Twitter that he wanted to work with the group. Obviously a Kendrick Lamar and BTS collaboration would turn heads, but who said he’s got to be the only one who gets to have all the fun?

If we live long enough to get a whole collaboration between BTS and Kendrick, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul, it would be the greatest gift that a hip-hop fan never knew they needed. RM, Suga, and J-Hope all are very nimble and clever lyricists who can go bar for bar with Black Hippy while the other four vocalists are no stranger to blending in on a pure hip-hop song. Also, their collective versatility ensures we wouldn’t get the same song twice.

When it comes to content, the catalogs of both groups contain plenty of songs that go into a wide range of topics, be it personal or social commentary, braggadocios raps, and just strictly for the turn up. Musically, BTS’s flows and vocals are versatile enough to ride over either a beat by Terrace Martin, Sounwave, or DJ Dahi.

Missy Elliott

For over 20 years, Missy Elliot has been a maestro of the clubs, the streets, the bedrooms and the Billboard charts for herself and a long list of some the greatest solo acts and groups who have ever done it. Her and BTS would be a very strong tandem because of her own experience in working with R&B and pop groups like Playa, 702, Destiny’s Child, and The Pussycat Dolls.

Missy’s no stranger to working with top artists from across the globe as she has created with Little Mix, Lady Sovereign, and MC Solaar. A BTS collaboration would not be so far out of her comfort zone because they both share a connection with their colorful, vibrant, eclectic music and imagery with their versatility with rapping, singing, and dancing.

Their effort could create a unique moment because both are great creating danceable hits using a wide variety of sounds from different genres (“Get Ya Freak On”/”hip-hop Phile”). We could also get some very sultry standouts as both are known for having sensually sweet voices and have great chemistry with partners. (“The Truth Untold”/”Crazy Feelings”). And if that doesn’t entice you, imagine the insane possibilities for their video treatments and their choreography at their live shows.

Tech N9ne

On the group leader RM’s solo mixtape Rap Monster, he tapped Strange Music’s resident crooner Krizz Kaliko for the soulful tune “Rush” back in 2015. Considering how far BTS as come along since then, it’s about time that fans got to hear one of rap’s most wicked lyricists, Tech N9ne, create a monster masterpiece with the group.

Albums such as Dark And Wild (2014) offer the group at their most aggressive while recent tunes like 2018’s “MIC Drop” and the Steve Aoki remix with Desiigner feature their most explosive lyrical performances, proving doubters why they’d make such a strong pairing. With Tech N9ne being one of the greatest rapid-fire spitters of all time and BTS, collectively, being able to switch flows and spit just as fast, we'd be likely to get a raging, lyrical barnburner. Possibly with Tech N9ne’s frequent collaborator Krizz Kaliko back on board as well.

On the flipside, Tech N9ne has shown tremendous versatility in his content and beat selection over the past 20+ years with thought-provoking deep cuts like “Show Me A God” and fun, loose bangers like “Caribou Lou.” And the soundscape on BTS songs like “Boy Meets Evil” and “Am I Wrong” from their 2016 album Wings are the kind that demonstrates not-too-bubblegum, yet not-too-hardcore sound where Tech can shine. If we can get a “BTS Cypher 5” on their next full-length album with Tech N9ne, we should all lose our collective minds.

Bad Bunny

Beyond Korea, K-pop has extended its reach into Latin America, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and brown folk in the United States. Coincidently (or not), we’re also witnessing the ongoing reign of Urbano and Latin Trap music, including one of the brightest, most eclectic stars of them all, Bad Bunny. That said, a Bad Bunny and BTS collaboration would be the international answer to the 1980s classic Run-DMC and Aerosmith tune “Walk This Way”, that music needs right now.

Despite the language barrier, it wouldn’t be impossible for them to create an international smash as BTS are known to enjoy various genres of Latin music. Working with Bad Bunny would be a fun match because they are both known for their flamboyant, colorful styles that defy gender norms, and electrifying flows. Bad Bunny’s talents would add a unique flavor that would bring more attitude, flair, and exciting, bouncier flows if paired with BTS. And while K-pop and Latin music collaborations aren’t anything new (Super Junior and Leslie Grace already beat them to the punch with “Lo Siento”), the impact could possibly be greater if done for a worldwide audience in the Western music world.

Beyoncé

It doesn’t take a music industry genius to know that if some wise guys or gals came up with a world tour with Beyoncé and BTS together, there would be no stadium big enough to hold both the Beyhive and the A.R.M.Y.

Beyonce’s voice is powerful enough to add an extra compelling layer of emotion to a song like “Listen,” and dynamic enough to get the party rocking like she’s done with “Get Me Bodied.” BTS already has the range, depth, versatility, and work ethic as a group to meet Beyoncé’s high level of singing and performing and it would be interesting to see what the band would look like with choreographer JaQuel Knight or how Beyonce’s moves would look under the guidance of J-Hope and Jimin. Hearing and seeing these two together for the first time would be a matchup of the century.

Boyz II Men

One of BTS’s biggest co-signs they’ve unexpectedly earned this year was from Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman, when he covered Jimin’s solo cut “Serendipity” while playing his guitar on a video he posted on Instagram. And that’s a high honor considering how BTS are the same fruit off The Jackson 5’s R&B/pop tree as the Philly trio.

Out of the many iconic groups that precede them, Boyz II Men is the best choice for a collaboration because the four vocalists and the trio’s voices can work cohesively together as they have a balanced range of pitches. And if need be, Boyz II Men are no stranger to singing in different languages as they covered k-pop songs on 2005’s Winter/Reflections and 2011’s COVERED -Winter. The only disappointing part is knowing that Michael McCray’s deep, sultry bass won’t be present after he revealed his battle with multiple sclerosis in 2016. Still, both groups have the musical range to appeal to both Asian and black audiences at the same time, so seeing them work together would be an amazing passing-of-the-torch moment.

H.E.R.

Love Yourself, ‘Tear’ (2018) from their Love Yourself trilogy is a prime example of how the group's collective vocal ability isn’t limited to pop music. They’ve proven with songs like “Singularity,” “The Truth Untold,” and “Magic Shop” that they’re just a proficient in contemporary R&B and neo-soul as they are at everything else. And while many contemporary American acts could sound great with BTS, perhaps the one that would be the most refreshing is H.E.R., whose deep, sensual, and gripping style will grab you by the ears and hold you by the heart. Both have the vocal range and deeply layered content to create an emotionally rich affair that could wind up either in the form of duets with either one of the singers or full group collaboration. We might not get a strong pop song from them, but considering how strong their emotional appeal and relatability is with their music if brought together, we don’t need them to make one at all.

Chris Brown

BTS’s lead dancer and singer Jimin has mentioned on a few occasions that he is a Chris Brown fan and he’d like for him to work with the group one day. In fact, three members once danced on stage to Breezy’s “Take You Down” and the crowd couldn’t get enough. Imagine how insane that same crowd would be if he were with the group on stage.

Aesthetically and musically, BTS has the most similarities to Chris Brown when it comes to their intense work ethic, creativity, natural dancing skills, and their knack for seamlessly weaving through hip-hop, pop and R&B on their albums. The obvious difference is that Brown is highly skilled at all those things, where some of the individual members are weaker in at least one of those aspects. It can be argued that J-Hope, Jimin, and RM are literally Chris Brown if you were to separate him into three people because those members, individually, carry all the things fans love about Brown’s music and performances.

Based on all of this, a BTS and Chris Brown collaboration would be insane because their styles would perfectly gel, which could create real chemistry that we could see and feel on stage.

J. Cole

It’s been documented that BTS, especially the leader RM, are fans of J. Cole as they once sampled his James Fauntleroy-assisted “Born Sinner” for their song “Born Singer.” If you were to listen to some of RM, J-Hope, and BTS’s earlier work, you can even see how they were inspired by Cole through their content and flows. Since the group is far more of a polished act nowadays and has cultivated their own style, a J. Cole and BTS collaboration would be something special.

Just as J. Cole garnered a cult-like following through his music and the way he addresses social and mental health issues, BTS has done the same thing for the past several years on wax, interviews, and more famously, in their speech in front of UNICEF in 2018. A joint record between the two could be a powerful track that cuts through like a hot knife on butter. Or we could even get a chance to hear Cole, Suga, RM, and J-Hope perform lyrical surgery on a “BTS Cypher” or on a J. Cole album where really gets in his bag like “MIDDLE CHILD” or on the Dreamville posse cut “Down Bad”. BTS has the language and versatility to match with J.Cole, so this would be an exciting effort from both acts.

Janelle Monae

This may look unorthodox on paper as BTS and Janelle Monae’s respective approaches to music and performing come from different, but related musical influences from black music. A closer look at the two however shows that they still share a parallel space. They often defy gender norms with their outfits and soft color schemes, giving some of the most vibrant, creative visuals you’ll see in this generation with videos like “Boy With Love” and “Pynk.” Also, both are vocal allies of the LGBTQ community and people of color.

Musically, Monae is an multi-faceted artist who can sing, dance, and even trade bars with the best of them as heard on “Django Jane.” And the way she uses her vocals and bars to create \ soul-stirring moments on socio-political songs like “Cold World” and “Americans” as BTS has done on “21st Century Girl” and “Am I Wrong.” Together, Monae and BTS could be a freedom fighting force on wax and create a groundbreaking moment that will cross racial and gender barriers across the world.

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