Afro B
Stacy-Ann Ellis

Meet Afro B, The UK Artist Whose Hit Song "Joanna" Put Him Atop The Afrobeats Wave

The international artist explains why a hit song should have room to breathe, Afrobeats’ global takeover, and why all African descendants need to realize they are one people.

Afro B is tired. Or at least, he’s got to be with the nearly gap-free schedule that’s been carved out for him this week. It’s a brisk Friday in February, and while he’s chummy upon arrival at VIBE’s Midtown office, the London-raised Afrobeats artist with deep Ivory Coast roots is trying to keep his energy level up.

He hasn’t stopped running around since he landed in New York a day or so ago, already hitting a bevy of popular local radio stations. And that’s to say nothing of the rest of the stops he has to make before preparing for his 3 a.m. performance alongside Funkmaster Flex at Brooklyn’s Milk River tonight. Well, tomorrow. Yeah, R.I.P. to that sleep schedule.

But why nap when you’re running off the high of a world finally catching wind and diving into the genre of music he’s long held close to heart? A DJ by trade, the man born Ross Bayeto has always been plucking and curating songs for his listeners to really move to, but now when it’s his own music? Game over.

“I call it Afrowave, just a wave of what's happening at the moment,” he says of the rise of Afrobeats music and his rapidly rising place in it. It’s been a full year since his banner song, “Drogba (Joanna),” hit the airwaves, but there’s virtually no way to tell. Based on how fired up the dance floors of the U.S., UK, African countries and beyond get when it comes on, the song hasn’t aged a bit. It still sounds as fresh as when it first rang out in London clubs. Afro B knows better than anyone that there’s no expiration tag on a vibe, especially when the music ignites a new moment every time it reaches a new international border.

“This song has lasted long, long and it's still lasting,” he says. “But it's just touching. The world is a big place, so it's just hitting people that haven't heard it yet. I just have to keep going.”

With “Joanna” under his belt and another potential hit on the way ("Shape Nice," a new collaboration with Vybez Kartel and Dre Skull drops on Feb. 25), it’s now about maintaining that momentum, riding that wave into the next level of his career, and representing the sweet sounds of the culture he loves so much. “If I'm standing for Africa and the culture,” he says, “I need to push what's going on inside it.”

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VIBE: Tell me a little bit about what brings you to New York.
Afro B: For 10 years, I've been pushing this Afrobeats genre and African music and the culture. I had a [DJ] residency at a club called NW10 [in London] and they predominantly played dancehall music and R&B. So, it's kind of hard to break free because I only have sets that would last for 5-10 minutes, or two songs in and the crowd's not dancing because they're not used to what I'm playing. As time went on and we're getting big records from Wizkid and stuff, that's when more people warmed up to it, and, yeah I'm here today. I made the transition from the DJ to an artist five years ago. I made the hit “Joanna,” and that's what brought me to this club world, to New York.

Were people hesitant at first when you were like, "okay, I'm not DJing anymore?"
Yeah, of course. ‘Cause people are used to me just shutting down the clubs, making it lit inside. But then they're like, "oh why are you making music, why are you leaving this behind?" At first, I was the DJ making music, now I'm the artist that can DJ. Every week I got a rager show. An Afrobeats rager show that's promoting it every Saturday, 11 p.m. until 1 [a.m.].

What made you want to decide to be an artist? Specifically, an Afrobeats artist?
When I was growing up I always listened to African music and I used to play keys in church. So, yeah. The typical story. African music has always been in the blood. I've always been proud about being African and just promoting where I'm from. That's definitely the reason.

 

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Following God’s lead that’s all. 🙏🏾🏆🇨🇮

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Can you break down Afrobeats for those who are unfamiliar? It's easy to just say anyone of African descent making similar music is doing Afrobeats, but maybe that's not the case. Can you break down if there are any distinctions surrounding the genre? Sub-genres like Afropop? Afrobeat without the “s”?
Right now it's a bit confusing because there's so many elements merged into one thing. You could hear a track and hear like a dancehall melody in there with a hip-hop hook or the straight-authentic African. So, it's hard to pinpoint where exactly it is, but Afrobeats is the name we're giving it. But Afrobeat without the "s" is more traditional, then over time the sound just started to evolve and evolve, now it is what it is today.

Are people open to it being called or labeled Afrobeats?
It's mostly the Nigerians that always have a debate on what we should call something. Yeah, most people are familiar with just calling it Afrobeats. I call it Afrowave, just a wave of what's happening at the moment. I still call it Afrobeats at the same time. Wave is my thing. That's my brand. Just a wave of what's happening at the moment, the new school kind of African sound.

So who else would you put in the Afrowave category?
Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy—Burna Boy bounces from dancehall sometimes. There's a lot of UK artists doing that sound, like mixing rap with Afrobeat melodies and dancehall. There’s an artist called J Hus. Kojo Funds. Yeah, there's so many names, man. And the Ghanaian artists as well. There's even a whole French scene that's crazy as well, but they call it Afrotrap, which is more uptempo. Then you got the Angolans and South Africans that have their house vibes. There's a lot of different angles. We should just call it African music but Afrobeats is what the majority call it, the English speakers call it.

Let's talk about the song I got to know you for: “Joanna.” Or “Drogba.” Who is that?
He's an icon from my country, Ivory Coast. He used to be a top soccer player—we say football—who used to play for a team called Chelsea and he had incredible impacts. Everyone from my country just saw him as a hero because you know he was representing us. So, in African music, there can be a lot of shout outs towards different people that are making noise or have a lot of money or whatever. There will be artists that will shout out politicians, footballers, maybe NBA players or just random female names like what I did with Joanna.

Yeah, I was about to say, who is Joanna? What does she have to do with anything?
We concentrate more on the vibe than the lyrics. When I was in the studio, I was putting more the melodies first and then picking out the words that I thought I could hear. Joanna's what I picked out. Do you want me to explain the lyrics? So "your busybody" means there's a lot going on. “Your busybody busy tonight/Joanna don't leave me outside. Your busybody giving me life." Yeah, that's it. And then, "how you going to play me like Drogba," and that's kind of a metaphor ‘cause he plays soccer. Don't play me like how he did. Don't play with my feelings, you know what I mean?

Why do you think that now it seems that the U.S. is catching up to songs like “Joanna”? Usually we’re late to the international party.
Yeah, I released it this time last year. Last year, I took multiple trips here [to New York], just making the most out of it when I was out here. Pushing the song, going to different shows and just drilling it into people's heads. So amongst the African community here that were bringing me out here, it was popping amongst us. I think now it's gotten to a point they did word of mouth to the mainstream people. And now, yeah, now it's picking up here. It's gotten to a point where it's hitting different territories and then it's fresh there. Then it's just like a brand new song again.

Do you think it's necessary to come in and put in that groundwork?
I feel that social media's good, but when they see you in person, it's something else. It's feeding your energy, connecting with you, and just getting a better understanding of what it is. When I was coming up, it was a few people calling it reggae and dancehall and then I had to correct them. "This is Afrobeats," and I was showing them different artists and my other songs so that they get a better understanding of what is.

That seems like your DJ sensibility kicking in, too. Working it into the crowd. You just understand the crowd.
Yeah, and then it just builds up from there. And also another thing that helps, I attached a dance challenge to it, mainly on Instagram. That was the #DrogbaChallenge, and the craziest thing is, a lot of people that got involved with the challenge were not African. So I was getting Colombians doing the dance, Indian, Dubai, people from out here [in the U.S.]. That gave me an indication that this tune is actually spreading like wildfire. Let me just keep pushing the challenge to see how far it goes. And even after now, I'm still getting videos of people dancing to the song, so that was like a way to market and make it spread.

Where's the craziest place that you've seen your song or your work appreciated?
I think it was at an NBA game. I'm not sure what game it was, but just to see the DJ play it. It was a [Dallas Mavericks] DJ Poizon Ivy that played it. And then she just sent me the video, but I didn't know it at the time. She played it during the break time and just ran the tune. That was a big moment.

What songs do you think paved the way for this global movement that Afrobeats is having?
The first one I recall is Dbanj’s collab with Kanye West. That opened doors. I think that Snoop Dogg did a song with Dbanj as well, but that didn't impact as much as the one he did with Kanye. That was called “Oliver Twist.” There’s an artist from the UK called Fuse [ODG], he had more impact in that, the European and the Middle East and the UK as well. So he has songs called “Azonto” and “Antenna.” Obviously, the cosigns from Drake as well with “One Dance,” and I think Beyonce posted a couple clips and had like Afrobeat music in the background. Little things like that are just helping it elevate. And Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You" had some African influences so, that was helping it come from underground to mainstream. Just getting cosigns from the major artists.

What does it feel like when you as an international artist see your music get bigger than where you're from?
It's crazy because it's gotten to a point when I'm not surprised a celeb is vibing to the song because people that I grew up listening to are vibing to it as well. So I was like, damn. The other day I received a clip of Trey Songz singing it on the mic, I think he was hosting a club night. Ashanti. It was Cardi B in the background, and her sister was vibing to it. And they're fully posting it on their main page and stuff. 50 Cent's son as well. I use it as an indication to show me that, I should keep pushing it because it could get to a serious level. ‘Cause I think the issue is that they give it a certain time, then they'll just move onto the next song and then they don't let the song that could potentially blow up everywhere enough time to grow. Like I said, [“Joanna”] came out this time last year, I'm still pushing the same song. And I’ve only dropped two songs. Well, two songs with a remix in between. That's it. Add more to the fire.

So you're letting it cook. Because attention spans are so short now, that I think people are scared.
But that's what's crazy. This song has lasted long, long and it's still lasting. But it's just touching. The world is a big place, so it's just hitting people that haven't heard it yet. There's large amounts of people, I just have to keep going basically.

Do you think it's necessary to have a cosign?
It helps it, it helps speed up the process. It going from underground to mainstream. And it also makes a listener who's not used to the sound warm up to it or accept it. Whereas before if it wasn't cosigned by these people, nothing worked. "What the hell is this?" And then just continue listening to whatever they listen to. So, it is kind of important to get those cosigns from major people or major influences for sure.

 

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@treysongz singing Drogba (Joanna) 🔥🔥 See the joy! This is mad mad mad #AfroWave

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Some Afrobeats songs will be in English, then weave in native language or dialect slang. Do you think there's a way for songs to still have a huge impact globally and really connect without incorporating English?
I don't think so, ‘cause I think people need to connect somehow. And I feel that they connect through the lyrics as well as the vibe. The vibe is always there, but if they can understand what's going on, what the artist is saying, what message the artist is trying to send, then they can connect with it more. That's why I feel that “Joanna” works because 95 percent of it is in English. Then there's a bit of Pidgin, a bit of French.

Are there people you'd like to collaborate with down the line, both within the Afrobeats space and then outside of it?
Inaudible. Within, I’ve already ticked off who I wanted to collaborate with, which is Wizkid. He did the remix to “Joanna.” Vybez Kartel was in the wish list as well, so, I've ticked that. That's on the way. American-wise: Drake, Swae Lee, Tory Lanez, the melodic people that can add to the vibe. I grew up listening to 50 Cent, Akon. All of the melodic people. I think these days people prefer vibes more than lyrics because right now, there’s a lot of mumble rapping. We don’t know what’s happening, but it sounds lit, innit? Instrumentals are right. Young Thug is an example. He sounds wavy, but we don’t know [what he’s saying].

I looked at your video for your song, “Melanin.” Shout out to you for casting those all those shades of black women. What is it that you love most about the black woman?
Everything, man. Everything. I feel like I want to promote them, put them in the forefront, because watching a lot hip-hop videos or whatever, they don't promote the black woman. They'll promote all these models and whatever, Instagram models, but they're not promoting the black African beauty. And if I'm standing for Africa and the culture, I need to push what's going on inside it.

Who do you make your music for? Who do you have in mind when you're creating your music?
Everybody. Global. I just want to promote the culture, give them an insight. Shine a good light towards Africa, because I feel like when people think about it, they just think it's poor. If you’ve noticed, for a lot of music videos, they always go to the streets, the projects or whatever, to shoot a video. Like, there's other parts, you know. They always do it. I think the Americans do it the most. I think, "why are you always going there?" Omarion's video, he's in the middle of nowhere, he's in a tribe, and I'm thinking, we're not like that. We're normal people! At the end of the day, everyone's African. We understand each other. The only difference is probably our accents, at times, but you know, there's poor people in America. There's poor people everywhere. We're all the same. But, I don't know, sometimes people think there's a difference between African American and Africans, when that isn't the case. I just wanted to add that, that everyone's one. They should be together. Unity. That's what I stand for.

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Living Outside ‘The Man Box’: A Look At Masculinity And Self-Care

A study from Promundo and AXE aimed to open up a larger conversation about masculinity. For the 2017 research, a large group of men from the United States, U.K. and Mexico were surveyed about their day-to-day habits.

The findings concluded that most men ages 18 to 30 often feel pressured by society to fit into what is called “The Man Box,” or a social construct of male identity that pushes stereotypes on boys and young men regarding how to act “like a man.” These stereotypes include behaving “tough,” being aggressive to prove masculinity and ignoring aspects of self-care, such as mental health and emotional vulnerability.

Throughout the last few years, several male-centered brands have attempted to rectify these stereotypes. Gillette released an advertisement calling out toxic masculinity at the top of 2019. AXE has been committed to shedding hypermasculinity and harmful stereotypes through the promotion of various campaigns such as “Senior Orientation” with artists such as John Legend and rapper KYLE, and its latest campaign, “Bathsculinity” featuring Lil Rel Howery.

“Bathsculinity” is categorized as “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of young men who take pride in their appearance and feel confident in expressing their most attractive selves, inside and outside of the bathroom.” While it may be difficult for some men to embrace their self-care sides, it’s incredibly important for them to find time to take care of themselves.

"AXE continues to break the barriers of masculine stereotypes each year by partnering with great organizations and individuals who support this mission," said Dawn Hedgepeth, General Manager and Vice President of Unilever Deodorants, Men's Grooming and Hand and Body Lotion. "It is our hope that the Bathsculinity mindset will encourage guys everywhere to embrace self-care and self-confidence in every aspect of life.”

Self-care involves multiple avenues, and many men are starting to come to terms with the importance of self-care and keeping their own health in check.

Physical Self-Care Is More Than Just Looking Good

“…Men in the Man Box in the U.S. and UK are significantly more likely to report having “often” or “very often” spent an hour or more bathing, grooming and clothing themselves in the last month,” according to The Man Box findings.

Many men may think that self-care is purely physical; you know, the “sitting in the bubble bath, cucumbers over the eyes” deal. Public figures like Pharrell and Frank Ocean have been open about the importance of male-grooming. In a rare 2018 interview with GQ, Ocean discussed his serious skincare routine. Pharrell spoke with DAZED in 2017 about his regimen for his ageless skin, stressing the importance of exfoliation. The Man Box research reads that this emphasis is due to the belief that “Women don’t go for guys who fuss too much about their clothes, hair, and skin.”

While the notion that “when you look good, you feel good” is still important, this is one mere, surface-level aspect of physical self-care. Despite these high-profile admissions of personal grooming, 24-year-old Weso tells us that to him, physical care is so much more than face value. VIBE reached out to numerous young men regarding the importance of self-care in their own lives.

“Self-care to me is anything you do that makes the mind, body, and soul feel good,” he explains. “Putting the right food in your diet, washing your face to prevent acne, speaking to a therapist to stay on top of your mental health.”

Weso adds that this means resting when necessary. In mid-May, Steve Harvey made controversial comments about the importance of sleep, stating that “rich people” don’t sleep the recommended eight hours a night, suggesting that a lack of rest is the key to becoming successful. Additionally, Diddy has been a vocal advocate of “Team No Sleep,” a lifestyle promoting a non-stop work ethic to achieve greatness. However, it has proven to have some consequences for him in the long run.

"I was proud of working 18 hours a day and sleeping three hours a night," he told ABC’s Nightline in 2010. "It's something now that has turned into a problem for me: not being able to sleep.”

25-year-old Justin notes to us that while “the hustle” is idolized in American culture, nothing is more paramount to self-care than listening to your body.

“Many of us come to ‘the city that never sleeps’ in pursuit of excellence and have watched our fair share of motivational videos that instruct us to sacrifice sleep for 'success,’” he says. “By constantly consuming this propaganda, we compare our lives and work ethics to a photoshopped standard.”

Additionally, men have to be on their P’s and Q’s when it comes to their inner physical health. Earlier this year, 52-year-old actor Luke Perry and 51-year-old director John Singleton both passed away from reported stroke complications. Their sudden passings were surprising because not only were both men healthy in appearance, but they were both relatively young. While strokes, unfortunately, affect people of all ages, statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the chance of a person suffering from a stroke doubles after the age of 55, with 75 percent of strokes occurring in individuals over the age of 65.

“Seeing your idols or celebrities dealing with these same life stressors should make them more relatable and open people’s eyes up to the fact that money and fame does not solve everything,” 25-year-old Nikko explains to VIBE when asked if men should consider headlines about health as cautionary tales for their own lives.

“I see these headlines and start thinking, ‘Do I want to work ridiculously hard, peak at 35 and die at 45? Or do I want to run at a marathon pace and grow steadily throughout the course of a long healthy life?’” Justin continues. “I'd choose the latter, but I think each of us has a choice.”

Don’t Downplay The Importance Of Mental Health

Perhaps the biggest stigma plaguing men pertains to the importance of mental health. The Man Box study reports that many men don’t discuss mental health due to the notion that it’s not masculine to discuss issues surrounding the topic, nor is it masculine to ask for help to cope with them.

“Some members of the Bestow Gill, Leeds, UK group said that if they were having a problem [with mental health], they would simply ‘bottle it up and get on with it,’ or ‘work it out,’ perhaps by going to the gym, or ‘just put the kettle on,’” the report reads. “In other words, they don’t talk about feeling sad or depressed.”

Instead, boys are conditioned to “act tough” in order to maintain a certain level of perceived masculinity, to conceal their true feelings or any problems they may be facing. Despite the stigma that surrounds such an important topic, the study did reveal that while men don’t always seem to be comfortable reaching out to professionals regarding mental health, they found solace in discussing it with those closest to them.

In the U.S., 25 percent of the men surveyed revealed they felt most comfortable seeking help with sadness or depression from their mothers, compared to 11 percent with a male friend and 7 percent with their own fathers. This coincides with the belief that women are usually more perceptive with discussions surrounding emotions.

“I think it's important to be vulnerable in the face of adversity,” Justin says. “The relationships you've built are meant to be relied upon during these times. Trust your friends, rely on your family, and also check on your friends, even the ones who seem to have it all figured out.”

There’s also shame of some sort surrounding the importance of mental health as it pertains to black men. According to the National Alliance On Mental Illness, nearly 19 percent of African Americans are reportedly living with a mental illness, with 1 in 5 American adults having experienced it.

In an interview with Black Enterprise, psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor discussed that stigmas regarding mental illness in the black community–– especially among black men–– could potentially lead to a “why try” attitude when it comes to getting help.

“See your primary care provider, get a physical, examine your medications and talk about your stressors,” she recommends. “Be open and honest about what’s been going on. Follow up if recommended to a therapist or psychiatrist.”

Another tip? Don’t ignore mental health issues, and try to develop good habits while on the road to seeking necessary help.

“This world is hard enough as it is even with your mind and body operating optimally,” Nikko says. “You may be faced with bad breaks, but I always say to myself that this situation could be so much worse. Focusing on the positives as opposed to the negatives again ties back to developing good habits. [These choices] and consistently reminding myself of this has largely shaped my outlook on life.”

 

It’s Okay To Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve

“Some young men in the U.S. and UK who adhere to more rigid gender norms also demonstrate transgressive emotional behaviors such as crying in front of friends or talking about emotional topics,” Promundo writes in The Man Box study.

There are various ways in which humans, in general, can experience different emotional issues. Even as something as simple as the amount of social media likes and comments we receive, Weso explains, has effects on our confidence and self-esteem, resulting in emotional distress– as small as it seems.

“The sad truth is that these apps can alter your mood,” he continues. “Putting up a picture and not getting enough likes can make you start second guessing your appearance.” One of the biggest examples of toxic masculinity involves the notion that men “aren’t supposed to cry.”

When dealing with grief, trauma and other emotionally taxing issues, it’s actually more beneficial to your health to cry, rather than to “stay strong.” Psychiatrist Judith Orloff M.D., author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, wrote in 2010 that tears actually release endorphins, which reduce stress for the crier.

“Typically, after crying, our breathing and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state,” she discusses in a piece for Psychology Today.

Dennis, 28, tells VIBE that after a bout of depression a few years ago, he realized there’s nothing wrong with showing emotion, and that crying is important to experience every once in a while.

“Society used to make me feel that If I was vulnerable to ask for help or express my grief then it would be accounted as weakness or feminine, which is ridiculous in hindsight,” he says. “I’ll be the first to say I’m man enough to cry. I was conditioned to believe that If I fail in life, that it’s my fault and only I can change it. I used to bottle up my worries and say nothing. I took depression with a coke and smile, so be weary of those fake smiles men put on. [They’re] probably a little deeper, and you will be astonished with the heavy load men carry just make sure no one else can see their troubles.”

“We deal with the pressures, sometimes we just deal with it in silence, in a dark, dark closet,” a focus group participant for The Man Box (U.S.) stated. In dealing with these pressures, many men often feel like it’s their best bet to talk to someone they trust. Weso tells VIBE that in times of emotional strife, he often leans on his family members.

“Surrounding myself with my family gives me piece of mind,” he explains. “My family is my constant reminder to keep going and in a sense play as the angel on my right shoulder.”

Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is not feminine. Self-care is necessary, and now more than ever, it’s important for men to take hold of this fact in order to make sure they’re performing, living and thriving to the best of their abilities in all areas of their lives.

“Your life is yours, and the decisions you make are your own,” Nikko concludes. “To truly believe in ‘self-care,’ it’s vital to prioritize and choose yourself over others when the opportunity presents itself. It may sound selfish, but to truly take care of yourself you must sometimes be selfish with your time because it’s what’s best for you.”

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Then And Now: Lloyd's Influence In R&B Is Stronger And More Important Than Ever

“Then & Now” is a celebrity series highlighting legacy acts in hip-hop, R&B and beyond with fresh reflections on the hit songs that once soundtracked our lives.

Lloyd has a unique position in R&B. With over 15 years in the game, the singer-songwriter is well aware of how broad his fan base is and how his sound is appreciated by his peers. "I'm the youngest cat at the old school R&B show now," he shared in VIBE's Then And Now series about performances with legends like Keith Sweat. Co-signs from singers like Sweat and praise from artists like Drake, Lil Wayne and Childish Gambino have only made fans curious about the singer's pen and creative process.

But nostalgia or hip-hop edge hasn't boxed the singer-songwriter in. Lloyd started his year with the City Girls-assisted single "Caramel" and a slot on B2K's widely successful Millennium Tour. His latest album Tru was adored by critics and spawned his massive comeback single of the same name. Released in 2016, "Tru" had a slow burn on the R&B charts and recently reached over 100 million views on YouTube.

"I learned through the song that sometimes being No. 1 doesn't always mean it's the best," he said. "A song can be No. 1 and fade out immediately and a song that's No. 10 might still be around for years to come. I'm still grasping how big of an impact it had. It's the first time I've seen people cry while I'm performing the song and it's the first time I've ever cried while performing a song. I wanted it to be worthy of people's hearts for many years to come. I'm glad that I was able to shine in that way and it is by far my proudest moment as a songwriter, and a son, a brother, a father and lover, definitely."

It also taught Lloyd the gift of patience. While creating the project, he completed his G.E.D and made some new friends along the way. "I learned that it means a lot to people to see individuals who they have an admiration for or respect for doing things alongside them," he said about the experience. "I also learned that no matter what you do in your life, no matter who you are, no matter how successful you become, your momma will always cry at your graduation."

"Tru" also happens to be a testament to his varied batch of hits. After kicking off his solo career in the early aughts, Lloyd linked with Irv Gotti's Murder Inc. imprint and released his first single, "Southside," featuring Ashanti. From there, the Atlanta native became a teen idol and an R&B heartthrob, dropping sensual and lively jams with help from longtime collaborators Jasper Cameron and Maurice "Big Reese" Sinclair.

"Jasper always drives ideas for the songs based on the conversations we would have about my life," he said. "I never knew he was writing songs as he was talking to me and he takes the conversations and put it into music." It was an unexpected formula that helped Lloyd create some of his biggest singles like "Player's Prayer," "Hey Young Girl," and the Lil Wayne collab, "You."

"It's a testament to other artists out there who sometimes feel the pressure of having to, in some way, conform to what is popular or what is on the radio or in the club," he said of his catalog. "You don't have to live there, you know. There are other places for you to live and be great and we need all of those different sides, in order to feel completion. So I'm glad I can shine in that way."

If we've learned anything about Lloyd is his ability to align himself with artists like Drake and Gambino before they reached critical acclaim. The singer appeared on Drake's classic mixtape So Far Gone ("A Night Off") and Gambino's meta tune "Telegraph Ave (Oakland by Lloyd)," which featured a song within a song.

"That is all in the mind of one Childish Gambino," he said, noting that he was originally meant to sing the hook to "3005" but missed the deadline. The two went to high school together and a mutual friend reached out in hopes of Lloyd being featured on the Grammy-nominated album, Because the Internet. "I reached out to him and told him, 'I'm sorry I passed on that, anything you ever need from me, holla at me because you're brilliant.' And then he came back to me with 'Oakland.' He told me, 'It's going to be your song but I'm going to sample it inside the song.' I had no clue how he was going to do it, but it came out dope."

There's an acoustic version of "Oakland" in Lloyd's vault, which he predicts will see the light of day.

The fabric of Llyod's R&B style carried enchanting patterns. By refusing to limit himself, he's continued to be relevant to this day. He's taking his musical talents and fresh acting chops to TVOne for their new film, The Bobby Debarge Story, airing this month. The film will highlight Debarge's infamous career in soul with Lloyd taking on the role of Gregory Williams, the founding member of Switch. 

 

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Im so humbled to announce That I have just completed filming for my FIRST ever movie role! You can catch me playing the part of Gregory Williams, formerly of the band Switch (and founding member), in the soon to be premiered #TheBobbyDebargeStory on @tvonetv ... Big thank you to @russparrshow , @swirlfilmsig , @roshon & @Blue_kimble for guiding me through my first scenes and helping me get into my character more. Can’t wait to see how it comes out ... 🎥💥🙏🏿

A post shared by Lloyd (@curlyheadedblackboy) on Feb 24, 2019 at 10:32am PST

"R&B is the DNA of different music," Lloyd said. "I don't go into music with a genre kind of mentality. I just listen to the soul, the message and the flow. You can find R&B in everything. For people to think it ever lacked staying power or that it was dead [were wrong]. It was just changing faces. Sometimes, exceptional rhythm and blues acts get overshadowed or under-appreciated and now, there's definitely a light that is shown on a lot of different people." 

Check out Then & Now with Lloyd above.

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Katie Spoleti

How Dinah Jane Shed Her Pop Coating And Bloomed Into An R&B Butterfly

With just 21 years around the sun, Dinah Jane has accomplished more than most. Her star initially rose alongside her pop sisters Fifth Harmony in her teens but in between chart-topping hits like "Work From Home" or "Worth It" was a longing for something more.

The "more" arrived this spring in the form of her debut collection, Dinah Jane 1, three tracks that play to her power vocals and confident nature. Leading single "Heard It Before" gives listeners the feels of the aughts with the help of producer extraordinaire, J. R. Rotem. Jane's accompanying tracks like "Pass Me By" and "Fix it" are just as alluring given her honey coated vocals. Instead of jumping from genre to genre, the songs are in the vein of Jane's R&B language, a move that transpired after a reflection into her musical identity.

The journey included experimentation with her first solo effort, "Bottled Up" with Ty Dolla $ign and Marc E. Bassey. The song was a bop by nature due to its similarity to her work in Fifth Harmony, which left Jane determined to find her sound.

"Being a solo artist now made it hard to define who I was because I was singing so many different styles before," Jane tells VIBE. "I had to take time for me to really cope and understand what it is that I really want to come out as my true identity. When I dropped my first record "Bottled Up" it was more me transitioning from Fifth Harmony to myself, I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be."

After a session with a producer in Atlanta, Jane arrived at the realization that the artists in her phone (Monica, Mariah Carey), was a sign for her to dig up her soulful roots. It's hard to deny Jane's vocals helped to build her former group and now, her own career.

"The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest," Jane said. "I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. I was always afraid to portray them as something that people didn't know about and so my thing is like, 'Oh, I don't want them to think of my family like this or my friend who's not my friend right now.' I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic, real and raw I have to be honest not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good."

With a new attitude and direction, Jane is ready to fly above her worries. Check out our chat with the singer-songwriter below.

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VIBE: When you were putting your three-pack together, what was going through your head? Was there a particular sound or moment you wanted to catch?

Dinah Jane: It was more like a certain direction. I felt like there was a part of me that had not been exposed yet as far as style. I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be. I started listening back to records where I was like, 'Wow, this is something that I wish was mine.' Some of Monica's records, Faith Evans or Mariah Carey, by the way, she followed me on Instagram [Laughs].

Congratulations!

She followed me on Instagram so I kind of got that verification that I should definitely do R&B. Those are artists that I've always been inspired by. I remember I went back to when I did my first audition on X Factor, and I said, "Who is that I want to sing and showcase my talent?" It was Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy."

I felt like if this is a perfect time for me to throw in a bowl of my favorite artists that I've always looked up to and mesh it into who I am now. When I did "Fix It," I felt like it was so organic for me to go that direction and lean towards, so, when that happened the song became what it is now. I love the message behind it, I didn't realize it would empower so many people.

"Fix It" is actually my favorite out of the three. You just referenced your identity. Do you know what that is now? Or is that sonically or personally?

I think more so sonically, that's where I was lost the most because I had to put myself in a drawer for seven years. Now that I'm here, being a solo artist like I said, I was lost. Sonically I had to redefine who Dinah Jane was this whole time. I remember being in a session in Atlanta and this guy at the time asked me, "Who do you have on your phone? Let's look through it."

He's going through my phone and it's all R&B, not even that much pop, just singers from back then. And he's just like, "I was not expecting this, I thought you'd be the hype girl listening to all trap music." I have that personality trust me, but musically this is me. That clicked in my head that I was heading somewhere else and I needed to jump back to my old ways.

I love that. "Heard It All Before" has gotten so much love from your fans. I know you're not supposed to look at the comments but one that stood out was "I love this sound, leave pop alone." Do you ever feel trapped in one genre since you started within the pop bubble? 

It's funny that you say that. I feel like people or fans they kind of want to box you into who they think you are. I was telling someone, my fans they sometimes think they know me better than I know myself and it's kind of scary. There are times where I'm like, "No I don't have to be one way." It's crazy cause when I go to the studio I feel like I can be so versatile. I can do R&B easy but there are sometimes where I want to do those pop records, "Always Be My Baby" is that pop record to me and some people are good with it, some aren't but I think it just comes with your fanbase.

For me, they know my potential, honestly, they saw me on X Factor or even my YouTube days when I was 11 or 12 years old. They're like, "No Dinah, this is you, this is you, I want you to keep doing more of these." Eventually, I'll want to do some other things as well. But as of right now, it's truly R&B.

When it comes to creating you're always challenging yourself. What were some of the challenges that you've been facing this year while making music?

The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest. I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. It's always been my challenge and I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic and real and raw I have to be honest to myself as well, not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good. My Mom always told me, "You've got to be real with yourself."

For sure. All three of these songs are super straightforward. What was it about keeping that energy while you were making these songs?

I was just trying to balance it. Like I said it was the most challenging part balancing that and I feel like with "Heard It All Before," it was the most fun, relatable song to write because my best friend was going through something. I was like "What?! He said what?!" We were literally having a full on group chat about it. When I did the music video, I wanted it to be about the situation that I was in with my girl. We were like, "You know what we've heard that all before." I just want to make this bundle relatable, sexy but then also swaggy and just not try so hard. So, when we put these three songs together, it felt so organic and true to who I was.

Even in the video, you exude so much confidence. What does confidence mean to you?

I think it's self-love. When you truly love yourself, you can see it in your face. You can see it in the glow and the energy you're giving to people. I wasn't always this confident, I would definitely say I was never this confident but, thanks to my mom, she always expressed that to me.

She said, "Dinah, I know you don't feel that beautiful today but you need to pick on the little things that matter. What's your favorite feature? Your lips. What's your favorite outfit you got going on? Pay attention to your best qualities other than that one negative thing you're picking on."

The confidence was never there but when you have people that are around you always encouraging you to love yourself and realizing your truth and worth, that's when the confidence kicks in. It's not something that's overnight, it takes time. It took years for me to realize that. Like I said, you have to surround yourself by honest, real people who can definitely make you see what you're not seeing.

Facts. Have you become that vessel for your friends as well? Like passing all of that on. Your mom passed it to you, you pass it to your friends, are you that person?

Yeah, it's like a telephone game. I have a younger sister who's 17 and she's always been insecure about her weight or her breakouts and I'm like, "You're a teenager, you're supposed to go through that phase. If I went through that you've got to go through it too."

In a way, I have to guide her through the stages. I was just talking to her last night and she's telling me about her friends and how she feels like she doesn't fit in, or certain cousins where she feels like she has to be a certain way. I was like, "Don't be a certain way, the way you carry yourself will vibrate and you will be so much more vibrant, it'll grasp more onto you. Just be your true self, you don't have to be anything else. I know who you are and you know who you are."

I feel like kind of being that older sister I feel like her mom sometimes. So I always feel this responsibility that she always feels 100.

What are some other plans you have for yourself, with your music for the year?

This is the first bundle. People wanted it to be named an EP but I was like, "Nah. It cannot be an EP because an EP is at least five to seven songs top."

This bundle is like a mini-project, it's the anticipation for the actual album. So, I want you to keep getting the feel of who I am, keep giving you these sneak peeks and then boom, hit you with the album. That's in the works, we'll see what happens. That's what we say now but sometimes things change, so don't get too excited.

Have you've been working with anybody? Any featured artists or any producers who are really understanding of who you are as an artist?

As far as features, I have one and then I'm working on another one.

So you can't say who they are?

I can't say. As far as producers and writers, J.R. Rotem is literally my dog. We walked into the studio and all of his plaques are all over the wall, plastered everywhere and we were like, "We get it, you're a legend. You're going to make me a legend," is what I felt in that room. I feel this great connection with him where we can be friends but also have that chemistry musically where he can connect with me instantly.

I love how we did  "Fix It," he brought out all of the live instruments and he made it feel like you were actually on stage, he made it feel bigger than what it was. So, I give him so many props for that because I've never felt that way in a session where I felt like I was onstage and it was just me by myself, no one else, well of course with a whole a** band, but I just felt the topic and the song, the musicality behind it is what meshed so well because of him. He is my dog for sure and my therapist because if it weren't for him this song would have not been made.

Stream Dinah Jane 1 below.

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