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Views From The Studio: Tone Stith's Golden Pen Sets His Emerging Career On The Right Path

The singer-songwriter talks the future of R&B and aspirations for his budding musical career.

If one thing is abundantly clear, Tone Stith is just doing his own thing.

A newcomer in the music industry, Stith oozes humility but lacks every reason to be humble — with a co-sign from Drake, Jas Prince and Justin Bieber, Sith’s years of work have accumulated big names under his belt.

The 23-year-old emerged on the scene with his foot in the door and tantalizing pen on the songwriting pad after working with Chris Brown on gems like “Liquor,” “Make Love” and Brown’s recent hit, “Undecided.” Three-for-three, Tone is a hitmaker, but more than that, he is a musician with the capacity to pick up an instrument and create a song worthy of radio play.

“I love listening to other music first and just being like, ‘Okay, what am I going to do today?’” he says of his creative formula. “So every day is different, I'll just take out the guitar and go on the keyboard, whatever. But I like listening to things and just being like, ‘Okay that is what made that song great, that's what made that song cool.’”

But who is he really? Truth be told, his records speak louder than any interview, there is a certain confidence that radiates from his high falsettos and he performs as if the music is his primary form of communication. If his discography is any indication, Tone is a lover of many things — women, Michael Jackson — all elements that came before his time.

It could be heard throughout his take on the “Could’ve Been” remix with H.E.R. The creatives blend their voices eloquently with intense passion as they dip and dive through the parallels of complicated love. Released just after our chat, Tone toured with the Grammy-winner in 2018 and dropped subtle hints about a possible collaboration while reminiscing about their musical trek around the country. “It was great watching H.E.R.’s work ethic because that's a real artist and I took a lot from that,” he said.

Authentic and vigilant, Tone is striving to bridge a gap between older and younger generations. It’s what makes his latest EP, Good Company such a gem. The 25-minute project enlists bars and melodic raps from Swae Lee, Quavo, and Ty Dolla $ign, who pay tribute to Cali Vibes with singles that harness the spirit of good vibes. Leaning on his newfound West Coast swag, the South Jersey native harnesses the eclectic tastes of the ‘99 and 2000s to create this EP worth a quick listen.

Speaking with VIBE for our Views From The Studio series, Tone Stith details his musical journey, legendary co-signs, his next steps and the curious case of his unreleased project, California 70.

VIBE: How would you describe Tone Stith?

Tone Stith: I'll say, "Tone Stith is an old soul." I have an old soul. I love music that comes from the 70s and 80s. And I love love so I enjoy singing about love and things that are good. A lot of the music today is saying a lot of edgy stuff towards women, but I feel like there is a brighter side to that. I want to bring the brighter side to my music and spread peace and love and just bring in that old feel and making it new.

You took part in the popular “10 Year Challenge” recently. What do you think is the biggest difference between who you were then and who you are now?

 

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2009 vs 2018 😁

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Everything, like it's literally everything. The way I dress, the way I conduct myself, just really coming into my own just being Tone Stith and following my vision. I think that is different, the way I have approached my music and just listened to different things.

And how has your music changed?

Well, it has gone from... that's a good question. It has changed and some are still the same. I still follow the same musical path as far as what I listen to and things like that, but I am getting older so the content is changing and what I am talking about is changing. And even though I love talking about love, there are things that I want to bring as far as just the world today, just talking about things like that and the world we are living in.

What are some new elements you want to introduce in your music?

A lot of things, the way our culture, the black community, different things about that. I don't want to get too political with it and start going crazy with it, but yeah definitely things that I feel like need to be brought up and subject to talk about.

I see that you worked with Chris Brown on "Undecided" and "Liquor" and another song.

"Make Love."

What was it like working with Chris Brown and producing "Undecided?"

Chris is awesome. From the moment I met him, he just got it. We connected and it's just fun. It's fun working with Chris because he never runs out ideas. He is always going right off the top of his head and we are just bouncing ideas back and forth.

Before “Undecided,” I worked on “Liquor” which was just crazy because that was the first actual placement that I had got with him and I was 20 then. I was telling everybody in high school that one of my goals was to work with Chris Brown. I said, "I am going to work with Chris Brown and make it happen." And then that happened and I was just like, "Yo this is crazy!"

So after “Liquor” came out, we keep it going. With "Undecided," he invited me to his house and we did a lot of other records that I hope get on his new album. He played this song for me and at the time it was not finished yet and he was like, "Look, man, this is one of the songs that I am really loving right now, I need you to go in there and just do your thing," so that's how it happened.

Was this before or after the sample form Shanice " I Love Your Smile?"

No that was already in there. The whole song was pretty much [done] he had the verse, chorus, and then I did the second verse.

Since you’re a lover of classic R&B, who would you say is your queen of the genre?

That's hard, "Queen of R&B." My all-time favorite is Patti LaBelle. I love Patti LaBelle. My mom was a huge Patti LaBelle fan so that's all we listened to. But there are so many Queens of R&B so I can't even begin to talk about it, but today's generation I would say H.E.R. would be the queen.

Would she be somebody you would like to collaborate with?

Absolutely.

What's was it like being a part of H.E.R.'s "I Used to Know Her" tour?

It was amazing. It was a pleasure. It was great to watch her interact with her people, her band and just how she controls it. She’s like, "This is what I want, this is when I want it, this is how I want it." It was great watching that because that's a real artist and I took a lot from that.

What was your favorite moment from the tour?

Favorite moment? It has to be coming out on her set and when we do the duet together because we just get in the moment and it's crazy. I feel like everybody feels the energy from us on the stage and we just feel the energy from the crowd and it's amazing.

To me, some of your music sounds like a blend of older and newer generations of R&B, and pop and funk. How would you describe your sound?

It's definitely different from what is going on today. I like being different because I feel like different stands out. I just want to bring to this generation this sound that they really never got to hear and experience like that. That's my journey, that's my goal.

Do you have any signature beats or instruments you like to use?

I started playing drums when I was three in our church and my mom was singing so I grew up watching her sing in the choir. My dad's a drummer but I just started picking up all instruments just by ear so I don't really know music theory like that. I can't tell you what keys is what but I just know because I listen. I think I’m the best on the drums but my favorite instrument is the guitar because there are so many. I love the guitar because you can do anything on it. You can write songs or learn how to sing from it so it’s my favorite.

Do you think big co-signs from artists like Drake ever affect you or distracts you music wise?

 

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The Game Changers! #Back2Back #JasPrinceInvestments #HelloWorld #YEMG #OVO #GangGangGang

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No, it doesn't because I feel like what I and him do are different. He's always just been in my corner supporting me and just gives me advice when I need it. One day I hope we do work, but I am not rushing it. I want everything to happen organic but he is always pushing me to be the best I can be.

What do you think is the best advice you've gotten from him?

Going back to your first questions, he told me last year to make sure I knew who Tone Stith was in 2018. He said, "You have to know who are you each year because you got to follow what's going on for the generation to recognize it. You also have to be yourself." So that was the biggest thing. And it was just those words who is Tone Stith in 2018 and I take that into the New Year. Who is Tone Stith in 2019, who is Tone Stith in 2020? So, those little things like that stick with me.

So tell me about your EP Good Company.

Good Company is good company, so is the title track with Swae Lee and Quavo. That was so cool because the way it happened was just so normal. They just came over to the house one day. Swae Lee came over first and we were playing basketball. I don't know if everybody loves basketball, it was a good ice breaker.

So we were playing basketball then we went to the studio. I made the track originally for Travis Scott and Beyonce because somebody told me they were looking for a song but he heard the track and was like, "Let me do something with this," and he just went in the booth and started with "Baby get comfortable." A few days later, Quavo came over playing basketball, same thing and then he heard the song and was like, "Yeah let me put a verse on it" and that's how "Good Company" happened.

 

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This damn @tonestith ft @swaelee @quavohuncho record “Good Company “ Wow! #Ties #YEMG #migos #raesremmurd

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The song with Ty, "Take It There" is crazy. I made that with PRBLM SLVRS, it was already done for a while before Ty put his thing on it. He heard a lot of my music and was like, "Look I got to do something with you." A few weeks later, he sent the song back with his verse on it and I was like, "Yooo it's Ty, it's Ty Dolla $ign."

That's cool, you're lucky. So now tell me about California 70. When is it coming out?

That's my baby, that is my baby. That's definitely going to come out, I can't tell you when. It is something I have been working on for years but it is definitely coming. My thing is I am an artist so I keep going into things and just revamping things and changing things and making it sound different but there is going to be a time for California 70, I am just trying to prepare everything up to that point.

What details can you give us?

It's definitely the 70s and the 80s. Like I was saying earlier, just getting this new generation to know that type of music because it is a different sound. But it's definitely a feel-good vibe. It's 70 degrees, it's California 70, it's what you want to listen to when you are driving down Sunset Boulevard or Topanga Canyon.

Are there any correlations between the two projects, anything that bleeds over from Good Company to California 70?

Not necessarily, Good Company I mean, I love the project but it's an EP and I am putting out another EP, then I want to put out a self-titled project titled Tone Stith, then I want to put out California 70. So it is stepping stones. It is all like basically getting to California 70 gradually.

What has stopped you from putting it out?

The timing just hasn't been right and it's not necessarily because I don't want to put it out because I do, but I am not going to rush it. I want it to happen organically cause that's when it is going to work.

So my last question is, what is next for you?

A bunch of new music definitely touring, definitely working on going on my own headlining tour and just a lot of music videos. I’m just about ready to get this content rolling.

Stream Good Company below.

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Matt Muse Raps His Heart Out On 'Love & Nappyness'

Matt Muse used to hate love songs. Last fall, the Chicago rapper asked his Instagram followers what they’d like to see on his next project, and they answered resoundingly with demand for more songs like “Shea Butter Baby,” a hip-house love song that was a highlight of 2018’s Nappy Talk. “I think love songs are mad corny, so I was like ‘Hell naw,’” he laughs over the phone. “But then I’m thinking, ‘They told you their answer. What is a way I can satisfy this desire?’” Muse then faced the challenge of delving into love songs without repeating himself or regurgitating cliches.

Love & Nappyness, Matt Muse’s new project, explores love from all angles: romantic, but also platonic, familial, even spiritual. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but Muse succeeds through sharp writing and soulful production. It’s the best work yet by a rising artist in Chicago’s fertile hip-hop scene.

The rapper born Dexter Matthews found inspiration for the album in his church’s annual Agape Festival. “The festival was everybody feasting together in the basement of our church celebrating love,” he says. Included in the program were Greek and Biblical terms for various kinds of love that provided a framework as Muse wrote his verses and eventually became subtitles for each track. “Love doesn’t just exist in this vacuum of intimate relationships. It actually exists in all these other ways too,” he says.

The South Side rapper was careful to avoid the corniness he sees inherent to the love songs churned out by pop songwriters for “anybody who can look good and sing well.” “The way I automatically combat that corniness is the nappyness,” Muse explains. “It’s real, it’s me, it’s genuine. Everything I talk about in every one of these songs is one million percent real to me.” The EP’s title is less an Al Green reference than a celebration of freedom from external expectations, symbolized by his natural hair.

On the project’s first track, “St. Matthew (Agape),” Muse raps directly to God. “Now me at 26, 10 years from you / But searching for a verse to keep the congregation moved / Guess we ain’t that far removed but I’m still stuck & still confused.” I’d recommend that!Though he grew up intending to be a preacher, he stopped believing entirely after processing the deaths of loved ones in his teens. His distance from divinity is the heart of the song, where he laments earthly racism and disloyalty while admitting his own mistakes. It’s a credit to Muse’s pen that he balances the heavy subject matter with moments of levity, like when he imagines that God will “probably reply ‘Same phone, who dis?’” Muse stresses that his lack of religious beliefs didn’t divide him from his churchgoing family. “I still be pulling up to the church sometimes, people don’t treat me any different.”

Muse continues his family’s musical tradition, as he explains on “Family, Still (Storge).” He raps that his “mom’s in twenty-something choirs,” while his father, stage name Big Ed, has produced house music and rapped all his life. (One of his songwriting credits, Barbara Tucker’s “I Get Lifted,” was recently sampled by a house tribute from a fellow Chicagoan: Kanye West’s “Fade.”) Muse’s music career was kickstarted by an eighth-grade graduation gift from his dad, a drum machine. His younger brother raps and produces as well under the name Syl Messi, a fitting name because “his room still be dirty but his beats be kicking.”

The song concludes with Muse harmonizing to Mon’Aerie singing a yearning melody: “Rest your head and your heart / I’ll keep the family near.” The Chicago singer’s warm vocals add extra flavor all over the EP. “If I’m the heart and brains,” Muse says, “she’s the body.”

Though he initially planned against featuring any guest rappers, Muse tapped Pivot Gang member Joseph Chilliams for a verse on “Myself (Philautia II).” The song shares a subtitle with “Ain’t No,” which is a dexterous boast like vintage Lupe Fiasco, but “Myself” is about self-love in a physical sense. “Love how you treat me baby,” Muse sings on the hook. “But first let me treat myself.” As the sugary sweet beat dissolves to drums, Chilliams raps “Looking in the mirror, I just gotta thank the lord / In love with myself just like Regina George.” Chilliams is familiar with showing his feelings, his humor and his Mean Girls knowledge, dating back to past projects like The Plastics and Henry Church. “Listening to Joseph Chilliams’ music was a huge inspiration for me to even be comfortable being as vulnerable as I am on this song,” Muse says. “To me, he embodies self-love in the way he raps.”

Muse addresses romantic love on “Love Wrong (Eros),” a sequel of sorts to “Shea Butter Baby.” If the fan-favorite track depicted puppy love, “Love Wrong” documents the same relationship later, as the two navigate disagreement and miscommunication. “Both songs are about the same real person. ‘Love Wrong’ is a more in-depth analysis of what her and I have experienced since being involved with each other,” Muse says. “The realities of it, like ‘Oh we gotta learn each other, this sh*t doesn’t just work overnight,’” he continues. The song ends on a hopeful note, as he chants “We gon get it right” like a mantra to get through the tough times. Muse is still seeing the woman who inspired both songs, after all.

Perseverance through discord and death is the common thread through Love & Nappyness, the same grit in the face of adversity that drives hometown heroes like Kanye and Common. Muse is releasing his latest work independently, and he passed up opportunities to play festivals in order to book the release show, his first time headlining. For him, the payoff has been worth it. “The whole theme of my year,” he says, “has been betting on myself.”

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6 Pop Culture Tributes In Normani's Jam-Packed "Motivation" Video

Since its release this morning at midnight (Aug. 16), Normani has been the name on everybody's lips. The former Fifth Harmony member dropped a video for her latest single, "Motivation," which shows off the 23-year-old's incredible dance moves and also pleasantly pays homage to some of our favorite visuals and pop-culture moments from the 2000s.

"Motivation" was produced by ILYA, and Normani revealed that Ariana Grande was one of the song's co-writers. The video was directed by Daniel Russell and Dave Meyers, who is as iconic (and throwback) as it gets. Take a look at a few moments the video pays homage to below.

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106 & Park (0:00- 0:29)

BET's music countdown show is the basis for the visual. A teenage girl is shown running into her living room, and she is eager to see if one of her favorite music videos will be shown. To her delight, Terrence J and Rocsi announce that Normani's video will be playing.

Beyonce, "Crazy In Love" (0:30-0:42 and 2:43-3:08)

A given considering Normani's vocal appreciation of the Queen Bey. To start the video within the video, 'Mani is seen strutting down the street a la 'Crazy In Love' with denim bottoms and a white tank, serving us life on a silver platter.

She also served us sexy choreography in the rain, a likely homage to Bey's iconic video. The bedazzled outfit screamed 2000s, but there was no denying there was Bey influence for the scene.

Ciara, "1, 2 Step" And/Or Ashanti, "Happy" (0:45- throughout)

Normani storms into this scene with energy, which prompts everyone else to get in formation and dance with her, reminiscent of when Ciara showed us how to 1,2 Step. Much like in the homage, everyone rallies behind CiCi to have some fun.

This could also be an homage to Ashanti's "Happy." Videos in the 2000s were clearly all about dancing in front of houses, and with the synchronization of both groups of dancers, we could also lean towards Ashanti being a definite inspiration.

Jennifer Lopez Feat. Ja Rule, "I'm Real (Remix)" (1:42-2:13)

The 2000s were all about the basketball court too, and "Motivation" screams "I'm Real." The OG video features J. Lo and Ja playfully canoodling on the court, which is also what we see during Normani's take on the hit.

Britney Spears, "...Baby One More Time" (1:54- 2:05)

You can't deny that this particular scene has Brit Brit written all over it. The Louisiana native, who is a former dancer and gymnast, pulled out all the stops in her debut music video. Normani (a fellow Louisiana girl as well as a dancer and gymnast) pays homage in a very loaded way.

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The Devastation Of Delayed Justice And The Necessary Timing Of 'Brian Banks'

Anger is nothing but clouded judgment, and Aldis Hodge wants me to be clear on that. It’s a pleasant June afternoon and before the actor departs from the East Coast for his next film project, we’re chatting over the phone about the particulars of the infamous Brock Turner case. In 2015, the former Stanford University student, then 19, was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious 22-year-old woman behind a campus dumpster after a frat party. At the time of sentencing for his deplorable crime, his father wrote a letter to the judge presiding over the case, begging for a more lenient sentence than the prosecutor’s requested six years because “that is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

To say Hodge felt certain things when the judge okayed a gentler sentencing—Turner was given six months in Santa Clara County Jail but was released after three—would be an understatement. Like many with sense and empathy considered it, the meager “consequence” for his actions was a spit in the face.

“The judicial system failed that woman,” Hodge says sternly. “When [Turner] gets let off with a slap on the wrist for three months, then I have to question how does the judicial system look at the value of women. They're saying, ‘his life will be severely impacted if he's in jail.’ I'm sorry, it's supposed to be. Why? Because this young woman's life is now severely impacted forever. She can't escape that. Where is the real justice?” The passion manifesting in the inflections of his voice, however, is steeped in disappointment, not quite anger. “I speak with full clarity and understanding of the subject matter but I'm still quite disappointed because we have been let down as a society.”

It wasn’t lost on Hodge how similar this judicial fumble was to the case of former Atlanta Falcons player Brian Banks, whose infuriating story is the basis of the Bleeker Street film bearing his name. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why he auditioned for the lead role in the first place. Those familiar with Banks’ tale will know that in 2002, the then-17 high schooler and NFL prospect was wrongfully convicted of rape following a consensual sexual encounter on campus with classmate Wanetta Gibson. Although he maintained his innocence, she accused him of raping and kidnapping her, sued Long Beach Unified School District for lax security and an unsafe school environment, and eventually received a settlement of $15 million.

After being given 10 minutes to pick fighting the charges and risking 41 years-to-life in prison, or taking a plea deal and spending just over five years, he chose the latter with a no contest plea. Banks was sentenced to six years and a lifetime on the sex offender list, serving five and a year on probation (complete with an ankle monitor). With the eventual help of the California Innocence Project (who he had to convince to advocate on his behalf) he was exonerated a decade later on May 24, 2012 when Gibson recanted her story and admitted to fabricating the rape.

Brian Banks finds Hodge (Underground, City on a Hill, What Men Want) retracing the steps of the athlete’s redemption story from solitary confinement breakdowns to his rocky reentry to society on parole to the day his accuser, whose lie temporarily shattered his future, reached out to him on Facebook to “move past” that time.

Tucking away the pain of his ordeal took time, but in spending time with Banks, now 34, Aldis has developed a deep sense of awe and respect for Banks’ resilience and healing process. During the making of this film, in which Banks served as an executive producer, tough days were far from absent. Hodge can recall times when the flood of emotions were too strong to be kept behind stoic facades and focused eyes.

“There's a scene where I'm presenting my evidence to the C.I.P., showing them that this woman lied and they’re saying that I cannot present that in court. It's inadmissible,” he says, referencing Banks’ almost moment of freedom. After agreeing to talk to him in person about the incident, Banks and a neutral party secretly recorded her recantation. Unfortunately, because she did not agree up front to record the plain-as-day confession, her new words could not be used to free him. One could imagine the crushing feeling of defeat. “We talked about that before I shot the scene and were sitting there, two grown swole dudes in a hallway sitting on some stairs crying, going through the emotions.”

Here, Aldis Hodge talks about the feeling of retelling of such a heavy yet hopeful story, why it’s unfair to measure Brian Banks against the #MeToo movement, and why the time to take America’s flawed justice system to task—no matter the victim’s demographic—is right now.

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VIBE: How much did you know about Brian's story before this project and did you find this project on you own or did someone seek you out? Aldis Hodge: I was familiar with it because of the juxtaposition of the case of Brock Turner and you see how it was handled versus how Brian's case was handled. I was quite frustrated with that, so when the story came up, I said, wow, this is really a grand opportunity to say something effective. Hopefully share a little light on the disparity when it comes to how we're treated in the judicial system versus how folk who don't look like us are treated.

What was that knee-jerk reaction when you heard the Brock Turner case? My personal take on that, first of all I was, "Who's judging the judge?" The judge failed us as a society when it came to not necessarily making an example out of this young man, but just doing what was supposed to be done right. Justice wasn't served. I was pissed off. I'm not even going to lie, I was pissed off. In life there are so many grey areas, but when it comes to cases like this, there's black and white.

We can point back to Brian's case where they had a bunch of evidence pointing towards his innocence, where he should've gotten the benefit of the doubt. He should've gotten a second chance. The judicial system failed him and they didn't give him a chance at all because of who he was, what he looked like, where he came from. That's how we as black culture in this country are continually treated by the government, by the justice system. That needs to change, which is another part of why I did this film. I believe it has something more to say than just “it's a great story about hope.” It's really a wonderful, beautiful story that, to me, inspires faith and belief in oneself, because what Brian did for himself is insane. He went into prison, came out smarter and far more educated than when he went in. He manages to achieve exonerating and clearing his name, then goes on to achieve the ultimate dream—being in the NFL. That's insane to me, the fact that he held so much faith in who he was and his value that he just beat down wall after wall after wall of doubt. [He] pushed forward to create experiencing the impossible.

That was miraculous. I mean, how many times do you actually hear stories like this? Especially the fact that he cleared his name just a month or two shy of his parole being up. If his parole had completed, doesn't matter what would've happened, he wouldn't have been able to clear his records. If he had stopped believing in himself a day or two, a week, a year, a month earlier, imagine what would not have ever happened for him.

I can feel the passion that you have, just as a person in the society towards it. Coming to the table with Brian to talk about how to embody this role going forward, was your passion matched in the same way? What did that look like for him? Is his stance more reflective, and has he moved past those raw emotions? My passion is not anger, it's disappointment. I do have a bit of reverence to allow people to understand the degree of severity of when it comes to these situations. My passions are very real because the fact is that this could hit me, this could affect me at any moment. When it comes to Brian, he's been through the anger. The very first question I asked him when I talked to him the first time we met was, “Hey man, are you angry?” He said, “No, I'm not. I've been through the anger, I want to put that to bed. What I want to do now is just live my life. Live the happiest best life that I possibly can. I want to live freely.” I think we both share the same passion, where we understand that people in positions are not doing the jobs that they are challenged to do, and that’s why we do the work that we do in ways that we hopefully can be most effective.

How did you prepare for the role emotionally? Initially I was trying to get my weight up [for the role]. I was thinking about trying to get a trainer and then after a while, I was like, nah, let me just Brian train me. Brian and I spent our time in the gym and that's where we started learning more about each others’ mentality, our work ethic, how serious we are about this. From there, when it came to being on set Brian was on set most days and the days he wasn't there was a conscience choice because he had a hard time dealing with certain situations. When we did the solitary confinement scene, he had to step away but we would talk and before every scene I would hit him up and be like "Look man, what were you going though in this time frame and where was your mentality on it."

Before watching the film, some of the critiques I saw when it first premiered at the L.A. film festival were, "It's a great film that came out at the wrong time.” They felt it was “bad timing" given the height of the #MeToo movement. Did you have any of those reservations? I can't compare my pain to yours, yours is equally as valid as mine is. I know that from a very basic and narrow and, to a degree, I would say emotionally immature perspective, people like to compare what this is and could be to the #MeToo movement. What they have to realize is as far as the victims for the #MeToo movement, they deserve their voice. They deserve to be represented, they deserve to seek justice. On the flip side of that, there are also victims who are in prison for crimes that they did not commit. I'm talking robbery, I'm talking rape, I'm talking drug charges.

With Brian's story, a judicial system has failed because they did not do their jobs. Brian had evidence. Basically, we have the scientific lab report that's saying it was literally no sex. [Brian’s] lawyer has this in her hand and she tries not to use this evidence right. She chose to say, I'm going to figure out how to win this case and not lose, so I'm going to go in there and tell you take a plea deal, not fully explaining the consequences of what pleading out means, because 97 percent of cases plea out as opposed to fighting for their innocence and their justice. We’re talking about a judicial system that has failed people on all sides, so there's no comparison or really parallel when it comes to the #MeToo movement. They deserve their respect and they deserve their placement. Out of respect for victims of the #MeToo movement, we don't ever bring that up because we feel like, who are we to ever in any capacity compare? That's not who we are, that's not what we do, and that's definitely not who or what Brian is. They deserve their justice. Brian, being in his position, also deserves his justice and what the audience has to acclimate to doing is seeing the full scope of the flaws within these situations.

Are you familiar with the Albert Wilson case? No. Please educate me.

A former University of Kansas student was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for an alleged rape, where there was no DNA evidence that they had sex. He and the young woman went to a club underage at the time, none of them were carded, and afterwards, “fooling around” happened that she alleges was rape but he says was not. The minimum for rape convictions in Kansas is 12 years, and he was recently sent to prison to serve out the sentence even though he maintains his innocence. The timing of Brian Banks coming out and sharing this message is interesting because of how similar the DNA situation is, provided his actual innocence. It makes you think about how hard it is to experience a redemption moment like Brian did. I think that anytime to address flaws when it comes to fighting for justice, is the right time. For people who think, oh is this the wrong time, no we are talking about a real issue that happens on a daily basis and the fact that we're bringing it to light... The right time is today, now, yesterday. It's always the right time to talk about anything that's going to fight for true justice.

When it comes to Brian's case he did all of his time. He was a couple months shy of parole being up when he exonerated himself. So he did a year in jail, he did five years in prison and then he did five years on parole, living that caged hell on the outside of prison. Brian didn't get any kind of break when it came to his sentence. He wasn't let off early, he wasn't handed a break really even with the C.I.P. If it wasn't for him really fighting for himself he would've been lost, lost to the system. I do hope for this young man’s sake, presuming his innocence, that he gets the help that he needs because it's out there. Hopefully this film sheds a little light on more people that need that help.

A frustrating thing is not knowing when, if or how an entity will advocate on your behalf and fight for you the way you want to fight for yourself. Like you said, Brian had to find a way to prove, "Hey, I'm worthy of being helped. What do you think should be the takeaways as far as advocacy, especially in fine line situations? The whole idea that you may likely be innocent but there could be a doubt that you're not and how that shapes the way people approach your situation. I remember when I first met Brian, in order to really take on this role, I had to believe him. If I was going to represent this man, for me this is not about a job opportunity or check. This is about what I’m personally putting my name behind and what I believe in. I had to believe him and I did. If you put yourself in a position professionally or charitably where you are able to and you’re supposed to help build the need, do the due diligence and do the work. Go out there and make yourself a bit more accessible. Granted, I understand there's a lot of people who might say "I'm innocent" when they're not and, again, if you do the work, you get as much info as you can. As much evidence as you can and just make yourself available for these people to find you so they can access you. There's a lot of people in prison who don't realize that they have access to more help on the outside. If they know they have more access, they might be able to actually help represent themselves in a position where they can clear their names.

I say if it's family and friends, do as much research as you can. We have access to more resources than ever in this particular age in time and reach out and find out these organizations like the C.I.P, the California Innocence Project. If not that, you might have to go do the work yourself, get a private investigator to go look at the location, the scene of the crime. Just like with Brian's case the DA, no one went down to investigate where the girls said that she was kidnapped. If they had, they would've known that everything that she said was a lie. Given the time of day, given the access, given the people that would've been around, there is no possible way that she could've been dragged, kicking and screaming down an open hallway with all these doors open and students in class. Regardless of what they would've found, the fact is again they didn't do their jobs because no one went down there to investigate the scene of the crime. The scene of the supposed crime, that is the biggest issue there.

Also, if you're put in a position to do a specific job you have to do, step up to the plate. Don't be lazy and don't play the agenda bias of I'm just trying to get from point A to point Z. No, you have people’s lives in you hands and you are committed to that.That is what you're doing is to help actually save some lives, so do that.

One of the interesting nuances of the film is the presentation of “Kennisha Rice” and the part she plays in setting Brian's life back. It’s very interesting that she was not presented as malicious, sneaky or intentional; her inconsistencies were driven out of fear from her mother’s point of view. Do you think it's something to take into account when looking at some of the people who make these accusations and wind up ruining people’s lives, And the way they're seen after that? With this film, our priority was not to demonize her. If we were going to show her, we were going to show her as a human being, given Brian's current perspective of not being angry and not wanting to demonize her, not get revenge on this woman, anything like that. He's free of that. We want you to come up with your own idea, if you happen to understand her and sympathize with the fear and maybe you've made the same terrible choice in the situation. That's on you. We don't want to direct how you see this person.

As far as what may come of this, if it's karma coming back at her, it's not karma that Brian threw out her. Brian is telling his story and he has to be honest of that. However, we have to accentuate the fact that they are flawed human beings and this is what can happen when you don't take responsibility for your own flaws. When you don't look at it yourself and understand the power you made holds in the situation, these are the mistakes that can happen. We are not trying to get people to hate this character because that would contradict the entire journey that Brian as been on. We don't want you to hate anybody. We’re over that. Focus on the faith. Focus on the happiness. Focus on the belief and the fight that Brian had to fight for who he was in his value and maintaining his innocence knowing that he was still worth something.

What do you hope unsure audiences take away from this film and this very real story? I caution against my selfish ambitions when it comes to that question. I just hope people take away hope and belief in themselves and the power that they will, when it comes to actually helping someone else who maybe in need, I hope people answer the call if every they are or feel called to do so.

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