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Meet MAJOR, The R&B Up-And-Comer Who's Bringing Old School Soul Back

“I dreamed about all of this so now that it’s actually happening, it’s so freaking surreal.”

MAJOR is witnessing his dreams come true right in front of his eyes. The 34-year-old Texas native reached a new level of success and fame when his hit single “Why I Love You” went viral via YouTube in 2016. It took time for the music video to find its audience, but when it did, it blew up serendipitously.

“Honest,” the second single off his 2018 EP Even More, eventually garnered him his first Grammy nomination this year for Best Traditional R&B Performance. And if that’s not enough, he also has a recurring role on Lee Daniels’ Star series.

“I dreamed about all of this so now that it’s actually happening, it’s so freaking surreal,” he says from the set of Star in Atlanta. “I was just literally talking to my manager yesterday who’s been with me before people even cared to listen to me and I was able to say in a single sentence: ‘I have a gold record, a Grammy nomination, I’m about to do The Real on Fox. I have a recurring role on the show Star, and they keep bringing me back.’ It’s like all of this is happening, and I’m like ‘God, you’re a show off, man.’” His level of gratitude and faith in a higher power is tangible when you speak to him.

Born Major Johnson Finley, the R&B soul singer is one of ten siblings. He describes his nurturing childhood as one filled with love and support from his mother, especially when it concerned his musical ambitions. “I told my mom at three years old that I wanted to be a famous singer,” he remembers. “She put me in music and piano classes. And from then on I cultivated everything I was learning.”

Thanks to those learning lessons, he’s leaving his mark not only on the R&B scene but also on television. VIBE recently chatted with MAJOR about his sonic musical inspiration, his feelings toward his Grammy nomination and how he hopes his music will impact the world.

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VIBE: Let’s jump right into the music. On “Why I Love You” you sing, “I found love in you and I learned to love me too.” What are some ways that you find love within yourself?
MAJOR: When you have encountered real love it’s going to make you certain that it feeds you, so you can’t help but to honor what it is that you possess when you’re in love with the right one. True love is not painful; true love isn’t heartache and trouble. True love is considering, advancing the other — it’s making the other better.

When love is painful, that’s the mishandling of love because love in its purest form is not going to bring pain. When it’s mishandled, that’s when you get the rest of that stuff. I really wanted to give people a way to understand love as an exchange of reciprocity. I give, you give, no one is left empty.

A lot of people want to get into relationships, but they don’t love themselves in the first place.
And that’s my thing: don’t hop into something expecting to get something that you don’t know how to give or know for yourself. I can’t jump in a scenario of love and expect to get love if I don’t know how to give love. You won’t know how to give love if you don’t have love.

I sing from God’s love. God’s love assures that you’re provided for as you give out so that you’re never left empty — it’s a cyclical refilling as you give. I always push for people to know God’s love, to know that self-love and to also know the love that’s given in their life. But that self-love is important. Whitney Houston said it, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” That’s real.

Was it difficult for you to find self-love?
No. I’m centered in a space where I draw from God’s inspirations and it takes me places where I am able to connect with the people. My new mentor, Stevie Wonder said, “Major if you continue to sing in light about love, God will always be there because God is love.” I can always draw from that space because I’m acquainted with it. I’ve experienced the benefits of love. I know what being in love with a great person feels like and I know what being in love with the wrong person feels like. I just want to help people do more of the getting in love and being in love with the ones that love them fully for who they are.

In the video for “Why I Love You” you didn’t fully include yourself. The visuals just presented your shadow. Was that intentional?
Yeah, I wanted to honor the woman. I wanted to give the woman time to be shined on. She’s deserving of the spotlight and she’s deserving of that attention. And that’s what that’s about. I put my hands in there as support, but I think we’ve done a great job with these love scenarios by putting us men all up in it, but the woman deserves to be honored. And also with being a woman of color I wanted to definitely honor her. I think women of color have been disenfranchised far more than any other species.

Women of color often feel like they are not supported by men in their communities. What are your thoughts on that?
Absolutely. That’s why in my videos you see me honoring the woman. I make it a point to honor her and her queendom because at the end of the day when you do that the world thrives because it starts and originates from the womb of the woman. To be a carrier of humanity and not honor the carrier of humanity — that’s wack!

I’m going to honor the queens, be it women of color, be it women period. I have a song on my new album, Even More, called “Shine Bright” which is exactly about that. It’s telling women take your permission, take your authority to shine your light. And you do that just by owning who you are. My song “Honest” is nominated for a Grammy this year and that’s what that song is about. It’s about owning who you are unapologetically and that’s what your power is. If they can love you in your truth, that’s love, you’re winning.

How do you feel about being nominated for a Grammy?
I dreamt about being nominated for a Grammy forever. It’s a huge dream. I thought my first acknowledgment would come on “Why I Love You,” but my sophomore single “Honest” got the love and attention and I’m grateful. They say, “You’re a winner just for getting nominated.” I’m like, “Okay that’s great, but I’d like to take that trophy home” (Laughs).

 

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Facts?! BIG GOD. BIG MOVES. 👊🏾👑🙌🏾 #FACTSonly #Periodt

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You released Even More via Empire/BOE Music Group. Are you open to signing to a major label?
I don’t knock it. I know the pros and cons of both. I went to school for music business. I have a degree from the Berklee College of Music. I’m with whatever machine is going to help me fulfill my dreams. Major is rocking independent until Major connects with a major that says something different, but in the meantime, I’m honoring the independent route.

Tell me about your role on Star?
My character Rashad is the cousin that comes into town because one of our family members has passed away. I am the cousin that everybody loved growing up and I’ve seen life for what it is in the big city. I’m faced with a couple challenges. I am the symbol of inspiration in the family, so I start to bring in the God perspective to the conversation. However, Rashad has some complications because he discovered some things about his life that he had no idea he was even a part of. It’s a pretty crazy turn of events what happens.

To work with Queen Latifah is a dream come true. I remember two years ago meeting her at this concert that Stevie Wonder had me be a part of. I got to shake her hand and I remember in that moment saying, “I’m going to work with her one day.” Who would have thought it would have been on a TV show? Working with Brandy Norwood, Lance Gross and Luke James has also been incredible.  

It sounds like you’re pretty similar to Rashad.
Yeah! (Laughs) And what’s crazy is that Lee Daniels doesn’t know me. But I’m just honored that I got an opportunity to audition for this role. They were like, “We know he can sing, but can he act?” I studied theater as long as I studied music. It’s just that music has been the front-runner of my money making. I’ve been in a couple of TV shows and movies but they just have me as a singer. So to be able to really have this moment to show the theatrical side of me is pretty cool. So far the directors are loving me and keeping me, so will see what happens (Laughs).

What are your thoughts on R&B’s resurgence throughout the years with new artists like H.E.R, Jorja Smith, Khalid and SZA, among others?
There are certain people that are coming from their perspective and trying to keep up with the trends of 90s R&B, but for me the R&B that I grew up on was Sam Cooke and James Brown. For me it’s all soul.

I’m an R&B artist by default. The script I had for myself was that I was going to be a successful gospel artist that crossed over, like a Kirk Franklin or Mary Mary. But as I tried to get embraced from the gospel industry, it didn’t fully embrace me back.

I grew up in church. I knew all the gospel hitters, the stars of that particular part of the industry but I had to realize that wasn’t my door to open. My assignment was to communicate from the unchurched what I learned in the church. And also to let people know that God’s love is not about the church. It’s about the conversation and soul. So I am able to have this conversation from a God perspective, but from a very accessible way. People are like, “Your songs make me feel like ‘God sees me.’” And I’m like, “Yeah, he does” (Laughs). I don’t know who told you were exempt from it. I don’t know who told you that the mistakes from your past would exempt you from a love that’s everlasting. This thing grips you and embraces you no matter what. They call me the hope dealer, because I’m always dealing hope.

 

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The method to my gladness! #MAJORkey #HappySunday #ILJC #IFoundAFriend #Jesus #DOntquIT . . 🧥: @WordsByEzekiel www.WordsByEzekiel.com

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Boomshots: The Unstoppable Rise Of Dre Island

"We rise to the top," Dre Island sings on "We Pray," his massive collab with Popcaan, "cause we know what it takes."

Building on that theme of musical and spiritual elevation, the multi-talented musician—singer, deejay, songwriter, producer, and pianist—has just released his debut album Now I Rise. The project features the aforementioned "We Pray" as well as crucial collaborations with the likes of Jesse Royal and Chronixx. "Ah mi family dem deh," says Dre Island, who has toured Europe backed by Chronixx's band Zincfence Redemption. A graduate of Kingston’s Calabar high school—alma mater of both Jr. Gong and Vybz Kartel—Andre Johnson aka Dre Island is a living link between the vaunted “roots revival” movement and the sound of the Jamaican streets.

“The revival is really within the people," he says. "Reggae music never stop. Reggae artists always been touring. So it’s just the people’s awareness.” During a time when reggae and dancehall stand at a crossroads, Dre Island has emerged as one of the few artists capable of bringing together dancehall vibes and the ancient roots traditions—not to mention outernational connections like "People" his collaboration with UK talents Cadenza and Jorja Smith. “An island is a small land mass surrounded by water,” the artist told Boomshots correspondent Reshma B in their first interview. “But if you read further it’s also a place where you go to find yourself.”

Released through a joint-venture partnership with New York-based DubShot Records and the artist's own Kingston Hills Entertainment imprint, Now I Rise is a 13-track set that includes the hit single “We Pray” featuring Popcaan, “My City,” as well as the recently released “Be Okay” feat Jesse Royal. Never-before-heard tracks include “Days of Stone” featuring Chronixx and “Run to Me” featuring Alandon as well as tracks produced by the likes of Jam2, Anju Blaxx, Teetimus, Winta James, Dretegs Music and Barkley Productions. The artist is now managed by Sharon Burke, founder of the Solid Agency in Kingston, Jamaica. Earlier this month, Dre Island premiered the official music video (directed by Fernando Hevetia) for the last song on the album, “Still Remain.”

“This album speaks of arising, growth, new beginnings and emerging from the ashes," Dre Island states. "At this time, these are all the things we need based on what is happening right now. The truth is, since 2015 I have been advertising that the album is coming. It has been five years and the time is right. As an artist and person Dre Island move different. I embrace Rasta and this way of life, but I am not part of any group like Boboshanti or Twelve Tribes. Everything I do is inspired by the father. I am moved to drop this album at this time because I am divinely inspired to do so. When you look at a song like “We Pray” I can take no credit for a song like that. Yes I wrote the lyrics and built the rhythm and I voice the track, but it's a prayer, not just a song so how a man fi tek credit for something that come from above.”

Dre Island and Boomshots have been linking up from early in his musical journey. During a recent trip to New York City, he sat down with Reshma B to speak about the new project and his unstoppable rise. Check the reasoning:

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Carlos Perez

Anuel AA Breaks Free

In 2015, an entourage of close to 30 men drew guns among one another during a traditional Christmas parranda in Puerto Rico. The scene turned into something straight out of a movie when a pair of gangsters clandestinely attempted to kidnap local rapper Anuel AA. After a brief scuffle and flagrant shouting match, however, the man born Emmanuel Gazmey Santiago went on to finish the evening’s holiday spree in the boisterous company of his loyal posse.

Months later, after ushering in the new year on a promising note by featuring on one of Latin trap’s first global hits – De La Ghetto’s sex anthem “La Ocasion” with Arcangel and Ozuna – someone delivered Anuel AA a divine premonition of sorts: “If you keep talking about this stuff in your songs, something really ugly is going to happen to you.”

A Puerto Rican music legend, Hector “El Father” of reggaeton-turned-son of God, paid Anuel a visit to share his foreboding message. “He and I did not know each other,” explained Anuel, who prides himself on waxing poetics about the real-life experiences Hector was concerned with, “but God spoke to him and Hector felt he needed to reach out to me. When he warned me, he said it with so much conviction that he even cried.”

Having forged a legacy of his own as one of the key trailblazing reggaeton entertainers of the ‘90s who later signed a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Hector – now a devoted Christian – understood life imitated art when it came to Anuel’s lyrics.

“My lyrics talked a lot about God and the devil, so when he told me that,” Anuel continued, “I knew I needed to make some changes. Those themes, good versus evil, they were my mark and what separated me from the rest.”

On April 3, 2016, just two weeks after meeting with Hector, Anuel was arrested and held in Guaynabo’s correctional institution on charges of illegal gun possession. Following his biggest musical break yet, just as he was touching the cusp of international stardom, a court judge sentenced Anuel to 30 months in federal prison without bail.

Raised east of San Juan, in the Puerto Rican city of Carolina, Anuel AA has a lot in common with many of my favorite MCs: he’s charming, resolute, and lyrically gifted, yet marred by a criminal past, complicit misogyny and the constant struggle between right and wrong. “I had no choice but to carry those weapons with me, because of the issues I had on the street,” the rapper said to VIBE Viva over the phone, while quarantined in Miami. “I thought to myself I’d rather be locked up than found dead.”

Indeed, Anuel had evaded his probable demise when he was nearly abducted and landed right behind bars months later, fulfilling a prophecy that cost him both his freedom and a flourishing start at the tipping point of trap music en Español. “I was being forced to reckon with all the bad things I had done for money in the past,” Anuel expressed, regretfully. “I started reading the Bible for the first time and realized that my talent and blessings came from God, not anywhere else.”

Anuel had begun to take music seriously around the same time his father, José Gazmey, was laid off from his coveted A&R position at Sony Music. With his back against the wall, a scrappy Anuel left home at 15 and began to engage in felonious activity to help provide for his family and finance his music endeavors.

Like many rappers on the island, Anuel was influenced by popular culture and trends on the mainland, most discernibly by contemporary trap. Anuel understood the genre’s synonymy with street life and the drug enterprise and immediately took to Messiah El Artista, a Dominican-American rapper VIBE profiled for championing Spanish-language trap music all over New York.

“I figured if Latin trap was doing well in New York, it was for sure going to pop in Puerto Rico,” said Anuel, who had signed with the Latino division of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group the year prior to his arrest. “I spent about a month in New York before I returned to Puerto Rico. Then I started to release all the songs I had, one by one, and they began to gain popularity.”

While artists like J. Balvin helped breathe new life into the reggaeton genre in Colombia, Anuel wanted to spearhead a movement in Puerto Rico with a sound all their own. “I recorded the ‘Esclava’ remix with Bryant Myers and it might not have taken off worldwide, but it became a huge trap song in Puerto Rico.”

Akin to the heydays of reggaeton, an Afro-Caribbean genre-fusing hip-hop and reggae that originated in Puerto Rico, trap music was considered lowbrow and was heavily criticized for its vulgarity, violence, and explicit lyrics. Puerto Rican critics and artists alike had very little faith in the music’s potential and therefore denounced it. “DJ Luian, who is like a brother to me, couldn’t understand why I wanted to put all my energy into music that none of our artists wanted to sing.”

“Reggaeton went dormant for years,” he continued. “It was necessary to make trap music, because it felt like reggaeton was stuck in another era.” A self-described student of the late and oft-controversial Tupac Shakur, Anuel thought reggaeton had reached its pinnacle and believed Latin trap would be its successor.

Songs like “Nunca Sapo,” where Anuel channels Rick Ross’ Teflon Don ethos and spits a grimy slow-tempo flow over a sinister 808-laden instrumental, helped put a face to Anuel’s little-known name in the US. On cuts like Farruko’s “Liberace,” Anuel speeds up his delivery for fun and plays on the “Versace” rhythm popularized by Migos, who all hail from Atlanta—the widely credited birthplace of trap music.

For Anuel, whose life mantra “real hasta la muerte” is now a famous hashtag, music aspirations had little to do with radio play. Anuel, 27, was largely concerned with dominating the digital space, especially while incarcerated. Despite his arrest, he continued to release music from behind prison walls while his team fed his massive following up-to-date content.

Hear This Music CEO, DJ Luian heeded what Anuel was trying to accomplish and began to work with Bad Bunny, the Latin Grammy-winning artist and star voice of the current Latin trap movement. “When I was locked up, Luian helped develop Bad Bunny and he basically became in charge of keeping trap alive while I was away,” said Anuel, who ironically came under fire recently and was accused of throwing shade at Bad Bunny for the video treatment of “Yo Perreo Sola,” in which the rapper-singer dresses in drag as a stance against toxic masculinity.

“I couldn’t believe something like this was going viral,” Anuel interrupted anxiously before I could expound on a question concerning their relationship. “It looked like it was something that was edited or put together to make my Instagram posts read that way. I immediately texted Bad Bunny about it and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, people are always going to be talking sh*t.’”

Anuel considers Bad Bunny a genius at what he does and maintains that despite not knowing each other very well, he and his fellow compatriot are friendly collaborators with a working rapport: “When he and I do a new song together, what will people say then?”

Today, the collective jury will reach a verdict upon listening to Anuel’s newly-released sophomore studio album Emmanuel, where fans will find a track titled “Hasta Que Dios Diga,” a sultry, mid-tempo reggaeton number. Fans can expect to hear a star-studded project riddled with guest features, including Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee, Enrique Iglesias, J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Karol G, to name a few.

Discussing life during a global pandemic, Anuel spoke fondly of his partner-in-rhyme, Colombian singer-songwriter Karol G. “She’s the love of my life. She’s been there with me through the good and bad. People who really love you are the ones who stand firm by you when things are bleak. In my toughest moments, Karol was there. She’s shown me how to be a better man,” he gushed.

“Karol comes off as super feminine—which she is, but Karol also has a really tough masculine side,” Anuel laughed heartily on the other end of the line. “She rides motorcycles and likes taking them up these crazy hills. She rides jet skis too! She’s like a dude, haha. We work well together and we give each other advice all the time.”

The pair are making the most of quarantine life in South Florida, releasing a self-directed and self-shot music video for their joint single “Follow,” a reference to flirting over social media in the era of social-distancing, the idea that shooting one’s proverbial shot can lead to a budding romance.

On July 17, 2018, Anuel dropped his debut studio album, Real Hasta La Muerte, hours before he was released from jail. By September, the RIAA certified his introduction to the game platinum, garnering the attention of Roc Nation artist Meek Mill. When the Philly wordsmith released his fourth studio LP in November of the same year, followers were geeked to learn Anuel had earned himself a place on Meek’s highly anticipated Championships album with “Uptown Vibes.”

I always wanted you and anuel aa to make a track together bc i feel like he’s the meek mill of spanish trap , how was it working with him ?

— Nagga (@naggareports) December 17, 2018

“Recording with Meek Mill for me was like when Allen Iverson played with Michael Jordan for the first time,” Anuel said, singing praises about their first-ever partnership. “I’m a huge fan of Meek; when his music took off I was still in the streets, so I related and identified with a lot of the things he was saying.”

“Meek doesn’t understand a lick of Spanish,” he mused in jest, “but he’s always with a bunch of Latinos. When I speak to him he says, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, but my Spanish [speaking] ni**as tell me you be talking that sh*t!’”

Anuel leveraged his knack for storytelling and released “3 de Abril” earlier this year, an emotional freestyle about the day he was arrested and a graphic snapshot of his trials and tribulations.

“I did things without caring about the consequences. I thought I was a man because I was street smart. Now I know what it’s like to lose everything, so I wanted to talk more about my life and the experiences of me and my family,” Anuel described the inspiration behind the song.

Following the release of “3 de Abril,” Anuel again turned hip-hop heads when he and Lil Pump shared a fiery audiovisual for their collaborative effort “Illuminati,” stamping Pump's first new song since summer 2019. This year, Anuel also has songs with Colombian pop empress Shakira (“Me Gusta”) and with the late Juice WRLD (“No Me Ames”).

Albeit Anuel and Juice WRLD never got to meet in person, Anuel learned about the Chicago rapper from listening to his singles on the radio in jail. “The same year I won Billboard Latin’s Artist of The Year award, Juice WRLD won New Artist at the American Billboard Awards. We ended up recording the song after that but held off on releasing it for a bit because he and I had respective singles coming out at the same time,” Anuel explained.

“By the time we were finally ready to premiere it, Juice WRLD had passed away. We were never able to record together in person, but at least we got to feature him on the video. I know the tribute gave his fans and family some needed strength.”

Less than 30 minutes have gone by and already I am forced to wrap my conversation with Boricua’s burgeoning superstar:

Anuel, explain “real hasta la muerte” for me. Why exactly is this mantra of yours so important? 

“I can’t betray anyone. I don’t know what it’s like to really betray someone. I’m very loyal to my circle, my family, and those I hold close to me. Being real is what keeps me humble. It doesn’t matter how much money I make or how much I accomplish. What’s critical is staying real to myself and keeping my feet on the ground. That’s what helps keep me going.”

This interview was translated from Spanish to English and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Exclusive: BBD's Mike Bivins And Ricky Bell Speak On Funk Fest 'Garage Concert Series' And George Floyd's Murder

The early '90s wouldn't be the same without Bell Biv DeVoe's style of hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it. Even as a stark departure sound and style-wise from their New Edition group days, BBD  literally ushered in a new tint to the already hot sounds of Teddy Riley's "New Jack Swing" of the mid to late '80s. Their universal party anthem single, "Poison," cures any wack wallflower growing jam and will forever be the barbeque favorite of your aunt and uncle to sprain an ankle to while dancing.

So today, May 28th at 9 pm EST on FunkFestTV.com, it's only right that the crew known as BBD brings that same energy to the comfort of our homes, with "The Garage Concert Series" during these quarantine times via a streaming deal with the 19-year-old urban music festival, Funk Fest. The series is billed as a jam session that comes to you with the flavor of a bare-bones home garage performance that gets to the organic feel of the music. Joining BBD in this landmark event will be recent Verzuz social media battle stars, Jagged Edge.

Tonight's festivities will be in honor of aiding those in need through the newly created charity by the trio named BBD Cares. This community initiative focuses on the seniors of Laurel Ridge Rehabilitation Care Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Proceeds from the moderately priced pay-per-view performance will go to those impacted by the grip of Covid-19. "We’re proud to launch the Garage Concert Series and our BBD Cares effort to raise money and awareness during a time when our communities, our culture, and our society need healing," said Ricky Bell.

Both Mike Bivins and Bell spoke to R&B Spotlight founder, Cory Taylor for VIBE on ZOOM to detail the idea and plans for the Funk Fest and Garage Concert series, as well as expound on the turbulent times we are currently experiencing in society. While explaining how hard things are to bare, music being an outlet helps in healing and this digital event looks to continue to flourish in expanding that notion. “The Garage Concert Series, which we conceptualized and named after other culture-shifting brands like Amazon and Microsoft that started in their garage, is our contribution to the global community,” states Bivens.

Be sure to watch their interview with us and log on to FunkfFestTV.com at 9 pm EST for a blast to the past of good music for a great cause. Ronnie DeVoe sums it up best, “our goal is to continue to spread the love while raising money for those who are most in need.”

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