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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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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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