Ebro Darden
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Ebro Talks Apple Music's Black History Month Playlists, Jussie Smollett, And Trump

The executive and radio personality opens up about his new role at Apple Music, what makes a dope playlist, and more.

Ebro Darden is as passionate about music as a French sculptor is about art. The veteran host of the influential (and at times provocative) New York-based Hot 97 radio show Ebro in the Morning has worn many hats in his beloved chosen field from operations manager to programming director. When Darden isn’t making Kodak Black storm out of an interview, getting political, breaking new artists or jokingly calling out his cohorts Peter Rosenberg and DJ Juanyto for not allowing him to play Lady Gaga’s Oscar award-winning Star Is Born anthem “Shallow," he’s stepping up in his role as Apple Music’s Global Head of Editorial for Hip-Hop and R&B.

Throughout the month of February, Ebro and Apple Music have teamed up to recruit some of the most respected names in hip-hop, Hollywood, politics, sports and all in between to curate special Black History Month playlists. They include such notables as Mahershala Ali, Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Angela Rye, Virgil Abloh, Victor Cruz. Tyler MitchellIbtihaj Muhammad, and Young MA. On his Beats 1 show, Darden not only unveils the dizzyingly diverse compilation of acts—which includes Prince, Mahalia Jackson, 50 Cent, Cardi B, Erykah Badu, J. Cole, Miles Davis, Solange, Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, J Dilla, Sister Nancy, and Novalima—he dissects the themes of the various playlists.

VIBE caught up with Ebro to discuss the Black History-inspired track listings, why he was taken aback after his interview with Young M.A, his thoughts on Jussie Smollett and why Trump is Trump.

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VIBE: As Apple Music’s Global Head of Editorial for Hip Hop and R&B, what is the underlining impact being made by having such an eclectic range of music artists, actors, athletes, and intellectuals unveiling their personal playlists during this Black History Month?

Ebro: The impact is to go deeper culturally and connect with the people that are also the voices of the culture. This is a way for them to speak through music. Ava DuVernay, Angela Rye, Amanda Seales, Lena Waithe, Ibtihaj Muhammed, and others all have voices and express themselves. So we thought it would be awesome to have them show their musical tastes as well as to add to their personality and profile. That’s what we do with artists when we have them up for interviews. So to do that with people who are not in the music world [as well] it’s our desire to have those worlds and disciplines together.  

On your Beats 1 show, you’ve been discussing the specific themes of the various playlists throughout the month while live on the air. What are some of the playlists that have surprised you the most?

There are some playlists that I have seen from some notable individuals that I don’t know if I was surprised, but let’s call it pleasantly surprised at the depth, the range, and their musical taste. Obviously, I’ve known Amanda Seales for a while so I know she’s a hip-hop head. Lena [Waithe], who I’ve known for a while, she’s a hip-hop head. But to see Ava DuVernay’s selection [was great]. And Victor Cruz is a New York guy, so I knew his zone. It was just really fun to see what they were into.

Your interview with Young M.A is pretty illuminating. She spoke of not limiting black history to just one month and that it’s her goal to make black history every day. What separates M.A from her peers and what did you learn from her “Queens” playlist considering she included everyone from 50 Cent to Sade?

Her range is amazing. I also thought her response to the question about black history was thoughtful because, for Young MA, who is an openly gay rapper and has had significant success in hip-hop, she’s walking black history. So for her, she is literally making black history every day. For anyone in our game, we are doing things that black people have never done before every day.

Let’s segue into some current events. It’s already being reported that Jussie Smollett is facing some pretty serious felony charges after allegedly fabricating an attack. Why do you think the black and LBGTQ+ communities were so adamant in their support of Jussie early on and what effect will this scandal have on the fight against hate crimes?

Because we all know that these crimes happen. There’s history to support that not only these crimes happened, but also the victims never got justice in many cases. I can only speak for myself…I’m always going to believe the victim especially a black gay person who is oppressed in so many ways. I’m always going to be there to say, “Yo, what happened? Tell me your story.” Until there’s evidence to support the contrary, I’m going to believe the victims. I believe the reason this story has been made so big is because you have a significant population of people that want to discredit the history of abuse and crimes against the LGBTQ+ community and black people. So now they are using Jussie Smollett as the poster boy to say, “See! It ain’t that bad…stop blowing it out of proportion!” You have people running around here that are supporting this political mantra of "Make America Great Again" and antagonizing people and being abusive both verbally and physically. And there’s video evidence of that. It’s terrible that Jussie lied. These are very sensitive times. And I do believe we could all exercise a little bit of pause when we hear things and not just go into complete outrage. But I’m not going to let that distract me because they want that to distract you. They want you to question everything you hear. They want you to say, “Aw, that’s just another Jussie Smollett situation…I’m not falling for that!”

But also I don’t think it helps when Trump is quick to use Twitter to attack Smollett and other black celebrities, politicians, and athletes, often times questioning their intelligence.
He’s always looking for a way to get a W because Trump knows he’s a scumbag. He’s looking for a way to promote himself and to be right as frequently as possible and that’s because he’s classless and tasteless. And so are many of his followers.

So let’s go back to our playlist discussion. You are the classic radioman. What makes a great playlist?
I think it’s about balance, first. It’s about flow and also about discovery. I always look at playlists as giving me the thing I expect from the title of the playlist. Just like when we use to make mixtapes back in the day and give it a title like if we were dedicating it to a girl or a certain date or a certain season like Summer 1995…it all represents a vibe. The reason I use the word balance is because you want to take people on a journey. Sh*t, in some cases, the music shouldn’t all just be one tempo or one type of music. The most dynamic playlist takes you on a journey, shows you how multiple genres can flow together and gives you a nice overall vibe.

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Carmen Mandato

Lil Kim Talks '9' Album, Biggie And Rick Ross Comparisons, And Celebrates City Girls' JT's Freedom

This past July, Lil Kim canceled two interviews, citing that the outlets wouldn’t “put respect on my name” and “wanted to be messy.” But the rap legend known as Queen Bee has had plenty of blessings this year. At a dinner honoring their friend Notorious B.I.G.’s birthday on May 21, she and Lil Cease reconciled their strained relationship after not seeing each other in person for 13 years. In September, she received the I Am Hip Hop Icon Award at the 2019 BET Hip-Hop Awards and gave a nostalgic performance with surprise appearances by Junior M.A.F.I.A., Musiq Soulchild and O.T. Genasis.

The year’s worth of positivity culminated with the release of 9, Lil Kim’s long-awaited fifth studio album that pairs her raunchy, street-oriented bars her fans love with guest appearances by Rick Ross, City Girls and Rich The Kid. While Kim has released several mixtapes over the past decade, 9 is her first studio album since 2005’s The Naked Truth, which she released days within beginning a prison bid. And her fans were patiently waiting: the day of the release of 9, Lil Kim was trending nationwide on Twitter.

In a conversation with VIBE, Lil Kim speaks about her new album, weighs in on comparisons between Biggie and Rick Ross, and rejoices the City Girls’ JT newfound freedom.

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VIBE: Your last official album was The Naked Truth, and you had a lot to say on that album because of what you were dealing with. What made you decide to make a new album now?

Lil Kim: Why not? I’m a beast, I love music. Why not? I love music, I’m good at what I do, and my fans want it. As long as my fans want it, I’m going to keep giving it to them and doing what I want to do.

Your fans definitely want it. You were trending worldwide today on Twitter when the album dropped. What’s it like to see the interest that high so far into your career?

It’s amazing. Not only was I trending, but I was number one in so many different countries. Number one, number two. Number 16 on all genres since last night, before the album even officially dropped.

 

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You guys are doing EXCELLENT! 🙌🏾 Beehive don’t let the devil deter you from the greatness that is happening and the history that is being made. Ya’ll keep going because there’s so much history to be made and we’re just getting started. ❤️ We outside fr, the streets have spoken 🔥 #9️⃣

A post shared by Lil' Kim (@lilkimthequeenbee) on Oct 21, 2019 at 5:52pm PDT

The album sounds current, but it still sounds like you. Was there a dedicated effort to make it sound current and like what's already out there?

It was actually a dedicated effort to do what I wanted to do. To be the classic Kim I am, and be in the now and to be in the future.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Pray For Me.” How did that come together?

That’s one of my favorite songs, too. I wrote that song right in my kitchen. I thought about it when I was going through a lot of things. I’m a very spiritual person, I’m big on energy and spirit. The energy I was feeling when I heard that beat, that’s where I wanted to release the energy and the things I was going through in that song. The song came like that, we didn’t add that in the beat in there. So I felt like the beat was laid out for me. I already saw Rick Ross, and I already saw Musiq Soulchild, and I saw myself setting the song up.

A lot of people, I believe including Diddy, have said that Ross reminds them of Biggie. Do you agree with those comparisons?

I think he has some similarities, yeah. You can tell that Biggie’s influence is there, and that’s amazing. There will never be another BIG, period. But I don’t think necessarily that Ross is trying to be BIG or anything like that. I think that he just has big love for BIG, and he has a lot of similarities, and I love it. His style is super dope. I’ve always loved him, and I think he expressed that from the moment he came out.

Another favorite is “Auto Blanco.” On that record you said, “BIG and Pac be alive if you niggas ain’t gas shit up. If I knew who did it, I’d personally wrap their caskets up.” It’s been a while, but are you still actively mourning?”

All the time I’m mourning his death. All the time. But as far as trying to go to the end of the world to find out who did it, no, I just let God work that out. Because sooner or later, everything from the dark will come out. But at this point, all I can do is live for him.

Tell me about the significance behind the number nine as this album's title.

Nine is my spiritual awakening number. There were nine members in Junior Mafia, my baby was born June 9, Biggie passed on March 9. It is 2019. My birthday is 7/11, seven plus two is nine. When you get a spiritual awakening, you have to act on that moment. And there you have it… Something that’s a spiritual awakening can’t be negative. With every rise, every level you go to, with every win when God is working on your life, the devil’s gonna come. But nine is all positive.

The Naked Truth is an angry record, and you had plenty of reason to be upset. After you got out, how did you get to the point where you were able to grapple with what happened and move forward with your life?

Because it wasn’t what people thought. I met some of my best friends inside. I got a lot of rest the first two weeks, I was tired because I was working. I learned a lot. It was like going to a very, very, very, very bad boarding school. (laughs) I learned a lot, and I got to get closer to God. It wasn’t as bad inside as it was when I came home, the things I had to go through, to be honest with you. I had worse times outside of prison than I did in prison. I had to go through some really really dark, deep things.

JT of City Girls just got out of prison, and you had them on your album on the song "I Found You." Do you have any advice for JT?

I haven’t spoken to her yet, but we’re trying to set up a call so I can talk to her. That’s my girl, I’m so happy that she’s home. I know that feeling. Ain’t nothing like your freedom. I love that girl, I love them, I love Miami…I think everybody who just comes home renewed with how they move and live at that point, because you’re free. You use your own discrepancy. Everybody has their own different climb that they’re going to.

At the Biggie dinner, you were reunited with Cease. What has it been like to have that relationship mended?

It’s a beautiful thing. As you can see, nothing but greatness and beautiful things have come out of that. Look at the BET [Hip-Hop] Awards! That shit was fucking nostalgic! That shit was fucking amazing. Junior M.A.F.I.A. came out and the crowd went nuts. Sometimes when people realize things they have done and they apologize sincerely, that is worth more than gold. That’s a family member. Family fucks up, that’s it. We do that in our family and relationship. But when it’s family, especially for someone like Biggie, we have to come together and we have to let Biggie live the way he’s supposed to. That was my way of mending his broken heart.

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For Us By Us: 8 Things To Know About The Black News Channel

A network for us by us is heading to a television near you. The Black News Channel, a network dedicated to quality news and original content for African-Americans, will see the light of day next month.

BNC has been over a decade in the making thanks to J.C. Watts, the former Oklahoma congressman who wanted to create a platform similar to CNN with only news and insight by people of color. Networks like BET and TVOne have respectfully released similar programming in the past with BET Nightly News and News One Now hosted by Roland Martin, but this new network plans to run on a 24-hour news cycle while tying in programs that will benefit teens, women, and HBCUs.

It was recently announced that Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan made up a large part of the investment pool, with many wondering just how the network will be run. Khan has reportedly voted for President Donald Trump but has continuously slammed his tenure as commander-in-chief.

According to BNC's website, their mission statement is "to provide intelligent programming that is informative, educational, inspiring and empowering to its African-American audience." They also hope to "preserve a proud black American heritage" and inspire viewers with uplifting and spiritual content daily.

The network will launch across over 30 million households on Friday, Nov. 15. In the meantime, here's everything you should know about the Black News Channel.

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1. The BNC Was Co-Founded by J.C. Watts, A Former Athlete Turned Republican Congressman

Watts has worn many hats in his life with most of them existing in the business space. Some of his endeavors include a public affairs consulting company as well as director seats at companies like retail giant Dillard's, CSX Corporation and ITC Holdings.

Before jumping into the business world, Watts played college football for the Oklahoma Sooners and later, the Canadian Football League. After becoming a Baptist minister in the early '90s, he ran for Congress and served four terms.

During that time, Watts worked alongside Capitol Hill with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush. During the late '90s, he was elected to the chair of the House Republican Conference. He also co-founded the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa and helped develop legislation with Congressman John Lewis to establish the Smithsonian Museum of African American history.

The idea for BNC came in 2004 with the intent to provide quality news and original programming to African-American households. "The Black news channel is culturally specific to the African-American community," he told The Street earlier this month.

"You've got 200 plus stations on any cable system. We are the one location that you can come and find out about wellness culture, current affairs as it relates to African-American communities." He also stressed the need to provide a safe space for black wellness earlier this year on Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club.

2. The BNC Was Almost Based On FAMU's Campus

Before setting up shop in Tallassee, Florida, Watts was interested in filming on the campus but decided against it. Instead, the network will work closely with Ann Kimbrough in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University and other Historical Black Colleges & Universities across the country.

3. It Will Serve Over 30 Million Households

BNC will operate as a 24/7 news channel and will launch to an estimated 33 million households. A reported 23 million are satellite owners while the other 10 million are from cable TV households in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. A studio was also built this year for the network in New Orleans.

In the early stages of the network, the company created "on-air programming trials" that served 8 million people. The project helped the company with the type of content they wanted to create and the content viewers wanted to see.

4. Religion And Faith Might Play A Role In Programming

Under the site's goals for the Black News Channel, the company notes how they've built strong relationships with African-American figures from the clergy, media, and politics. While it isn't known just how faith will play into BNC's ideology, there seems to be something there.

5. One of Their Biggest Investors Has A Fickle Relationship With President Donald Trump

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants Black News Channel to reflect the views of African-Americans but critics aren't thrilled about his political ties. Khan reportedly voted for Trump and donated $1 million to his inauguration. During an interview at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit this month, Khan explained his appreciation for Trump's economic retort but a distaste for his social policies around immigration, religion and civil rights.

Khan was one of the first NFL owners to famously lock arms with players in solidarity for Colin Kaepernick who was slammed for kneeling during the National Anthem. “Those were human causes that [the players] brought a lot of attention to," he said.

"And since then, the league has done a lot. We’d need a special program with you to go through all the stuff. And the players have done a lot. That was the time for talk and symbolism; since then, it’s been time for action. And there’s been a lot of action. Local communities, prison reform, a lot of those things that impact not only minorities but other people.”

But when it comes to his investment in BNC, Khan wants to change the narrative in media about black lifestyles. “I believe there is an undeniable calling for everything the Black News Channel will deliver to African-American television audiences, who have historically been underserved, in an era where networks have otherwise successfully targeted news to specific demographic groups and interests,” Khan told WJCT, adding, “My decision to invest is an easy one, because we get to answer that call.”

6. Original Programming Will Cater To Black Women and Teens

An estimated 12 hours will be dedicated to the news while the rest will focus on content dedicated to women and teens. Other programs will also shed light on alternative sports like MMA, Muay Thai and the NBA on a global level.

Some standout program synopses include:

Being a Woman

This daily one-hour hosted talk show is dedicated to topics of interest to women of all ages. Show topics will range from childbirth to caring for elderly parents, business to politics, and entertainment to hair care. No topic is too big or too small for this woman-to-woman discussion. The show host will select distinguished women from the vast array of academic experts and alumnae professionals associated with our Historical Black Colleges & Universities to co-host each day’s program.

Getting Ready With Jane: Today's Teen

In this show, family therapist Jane Marks gets real with teens and speaks a language they can understand. With more than forty years of experience helping families and young people in crisis, Marks offers helpful and timely advice to young African Americans about coping in today’s world. This one-hour weekly program is family-friendly and offers a message of hope. Today’s Teen Talk series is definitely “must see TV.”

My Money

This daily half-hour business show will examine best practices for wisely making and managing your money, as well as news and information about what is happening in the financial markets at home and around the world. This format will include a host and financial experts as studio guests.

7. HBCU's Will Have A Great Influence On The Black News Channel

BNC's relationship with Historical Black Colleges & Universities will run deep. Not only will aspiring journalists have an opportunity to work at the network but they will also have exposure to media training and state of the art production.

The series Living Social at HBCUs will also explore life on HBCU campuses and the intersection of education and cultural development.

8. Larry Elder Will More Than Likely Ruffle Feathers

Everyone loves a wildcard and BNC has found one in Larry Elder. The radio staple and attorney has over 25 years in the industry from news programs on NBC and ABC News & Talk. He also starred as a judge on Moral Court, an early production by TMZ creator Harvey Levin in 2001.

Elder's views have been seen as conservative but he reportedly identifies as a Libertarian. After walking away from the news show sector, Elder made his way to digital radio and podcasting where he's led conversations on topics like "Unwed Fathers" in the NBA, education, and criticism of the early presidential candidates of the 2020 election. He's also a frequent user of the #HillaryUnhinged hashtag that criticizes the former presidential candidate.

Larry Elder NEW Video: Why Won't The 'Woke' @NBA Take On The 800lb Elephant On The Court--UNWED FATHERS?!?https://t.co/Tbtqmcz25c#FathersMatter pic.twitter.com/I8oOAOcKIx

— Larry Elder (@larryelder) October 21, 2019

School Choice, Pt. 2

Larry Elder VIDEO: Black and Hispanic Democrats WANT Choice in Education--White Democrats DO NOT!https://t.co/ghQQMNS4iV#SchoolVouchers

— Larry Elder (@larryelder) October 20, 2019

A program hasn't been shared on BNC's website but Elder is listed as a "Show Host/Commentator." We're sure many will tune in to hear about today's culture from his perspective.

Learn more about the Black News Channel here.

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Josias Valdez

SAINt JHN Brings Unwavering Confidence To New York's Experimental Rap Sound

SAINt JHN’s amalgamation of primal energy and eager mosh pits at Rolling Loud are unmatched. A hazy sunset would’ve been a fitting pairing for his rage session, but his early set at New York’s Citi Field Saturday (Oct. 12) gets the job done. While a few curious eyes from VIP are studying the vibes, the trenches are full of fans screaming lyrics to “5,000 Singles,” "94 Bentley” and “Trap” (feat. Lill Baby)—all standouts from his sophomore project, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs.

The diverse crowd isn’t a surprise to the Brooklyn artist. JHN’s musical ancestry has allowed his vines to branch out to artists like Usher, dvsn and Beyonce; all artists he’s earned co-writer credits for respectively. But then there are those who discovered him through Fortnite or his work on “Brown Skin Girl.” No matter how Ghetto Lenny crossed fans' path, he’s grateful listeners are making the pit stop.

“It's better than anything I could ask for, that’s what I wanted,” he tells VIBE. “I just wanted people to hear the sounds and fall in love and not overthink it. You get a 12-year-old and you'll get a 55-year-old standing next to each other in the audience. They’re from different eras of music but they’ll feel the same way.”

JHN calls his presence at New York’s first Rolling Loud “good timing” in light of his appearances across the traveling festival’s Miami, L.A. and Bay Area staples. But the moment feels kismet since JHN is one of the few surviving New York performers who were able to hit the stage.

Just 24 hours before the festival kicked off, fellow rising Brooklyn acts like Casanova, Sheff G, 22Gz, and Pop Smoke as well as Bronx rapper Don Q were banned at the request of the NYPD because of their alleged affiliations to recent “acts of violence” citywide. While fellow NYC natives like A$AP Rocky, Desiigner, Jim Jones and Fat Joe took the stage, JHN was one of the few acts to represent New York’s new sound.

“Those artists come from the places I come from,” he said of the ban. “In instances like this, you have to separate the art from the incident. Clearly these artists come from different pasts—they talk about it in their music. But the point of the music is to transition out of that.” Many of the artists like Cassanova and Don Q spoke out against the NYPD’s influence in the festival.

"I’m at war with my past and the scars that they still leave on me every day," Casanova said on Instagram. "I will continue to fight against biases and advocate for those facing this same issue."

“You have to give them the opportunity to tell their stories or you further entrap them,” JHN adds about the group of rappers. “They end up stuck in the same positions they’re trying to escape by making a concrete wall around their history.”

JHN’s history is a mix of the power of attraction and community. His early years comprised of creating the building blocks of his label GØDD COMPLEXx and his fashion line Christian Sex Club. While making his dreams a reality, the grind led him to genuine friendships with future superstars like Jidenna, Skrillex and Ski Mask The Slump God. Last year, JHN released his debut album Collection One paired with head-bashing shows across the country.

Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs takes his sound to the next level with melodic punches on tracks like “I Can Fvcking Tell” and the Lenny Kravitz-assisted “Borders.” With punk and rap flowing effortlessly from JHN, the artist can only attest his glowing confidence to the game of life.

“My journey is where I'm at right? It's the monopoly board of my life, and I'm making my rounds,” he says. Being confident grows every year. So me saying "too lit to be humble" [On “5,000 Singles”] that just means I'm not gonna call it nothing else, I'm just gonna tell what it is. This is who I am, fuck with it. If you don't like it, you can turn left. You can turn around if you want, but this is happening.”

On his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz, JHN looks back with a big smile and several words. “Iconic, outrageous, Ignorant. Three o'clock in the morning of Paris,” he says. “Checkered floors. Space. Leather fixtures, Dark rooms. Lenny Kravitz. SAINt JHN. My nigga, I can tell you anything. I can tell you it smelled like cigars, whiskey, rum, and the Bahamas because in my mind, all that shit happened.”

But in all seriousness, the moment was an indication for JHN that his journey in music is paved with golden intentions.

“It was reinforcement,” he says. “The first time I worked with Usher, I learned that I belonged in the room. You know the first time you get invited into a room you have never been in and you almost feel like you lied your way in? The second time, you don't feel like you lied your way in.”

JHN's IGNORANt FOREVER Tour kicks off Nov. 11 in Miami with stops in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York. See the dates here.

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