Director John Singleton
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John Singleton: The Cinematic Voice Of The Hip-Hop Generation

The unapologetic visionary told our stories in a way no one else could.

For almost 30 years, writer/director/producer John Daniel Singleton had been one of the premiere storytellers of the hip-hop generation. In the late ‘80s, actors/directors Robert Townsend and Spike Lee broke through Hollywood barriers as black filmmakers with Hollywood Shuffle, She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze and Do the Right Thing, proving that our stories could be told with a modest budget, and young, largely unknown talent and still yield a high-profit margin. As smaller, niche studios emerged on the scene and looked for content in the early ‘90s, they gravitated towards black films; a trend that started in earnest when a 23-year-old writer and director fresh out of University of Southern California’s film school brought a coming-of-age tale of three black teenagers in South Central Los Angeles to the screen titled Boyz n the Hood. Then, nothing was the same.

1991 was the beginning of a black movie boom that lasted a little more than a decade; it was the first time black actors and black stories from a black perspective had been so broadly represented in cinema since the Blaxploitation era of the 1970s. The ‘80s film industry focused on widely marketable stories with notable names - the decade of the blockbuster. There were black movie stars — most notably Eddie Murphy — but not black creatives behind the camera. The ‘90s brought a complete cultural shift in music and media. There were more films written, directed and/or produced by black people in 1991 alone than the entire previous decade. The representations in New Jack City, Jungle Fever, House Party II (just a year after the box office success of House Party), Daughters of the Dust, Strictly Business, The Five Heartbeats and more than ten other films that year covered the varied aspects of the black experience, from deep and profound to light and comedic. But the breakout success of the bunch was Singleton’s debut film.

The semi-autobiographical story of Tre, Ricky and Doughboy simply trying to survive through everyday life in Inglewood was brand new to the mainstream – Boyz was released the year before the acquittal of four LAPD officers charged with brutally beating Rodney King turning the nation’s attention to the racial tension and social issues of the lower income, predominately black Los Angeles neighborhoods south of the I-10 freeway. Singleton strived to bring the realities of South Central to the world the way Spike Lee was known for doing with Brooklyn, New York. While at USC, the student saw Lee’s 1989 Do the Right Thing and started working on Boyz N the Hood immediately, developing it from a concept in his film school application. “I was so enamored with Spike and what he did,” Singleton told the LA Times, “painting Brooklyn as his cinematic turf, I was like, I have to come from L.A. so hard, so people really know that it has its own type of flavor and its own vibe.”

“Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.” - Doughboy (Ice Cube in Boyz N the Hood)

After the movie grossed an impressive $55 million, other L.A. “hood” films followed, most notably 1993's Menace II Society (Albert and Allen Hughes), 1992's South Central (Stephen Milburn Anderson) and 1995's Friday (Ice Cube, whose career as an actor and filmmaker was inspired by Singleton giving him his first role in Boyz), the lighter side of the hood that still addressed drive-bys and crack heads, but Boyz was the prototype.

West Coast hip-hop was making a national impact by 1990. NWA’s 1988 album Straight Outta Compton blew listeners away with the raw depiction of life as a young black man in L.A., but Singleton translated the perspective to film in a way that humanized the stories. You didn’t have to be a hip-hop fan to understand Boyz N the Hood, but Singleton’s casting of some of the strongest rap voices in the West enhanced the feeling of seeing Cube, Snoop or Pac lyrics come to life.

“A lot of people don’t really understand what it is to be young, black and male and grow up in L.A. It’s like you – you’re taught to have the potential to explode,” Singleton explained to NPR around the film’s 20th anniversary. “You know, it’s like if a person looks at you wrong or a certain slight could turn into like, you know – you know, boom!”

Like his big brother in cinema, Spike, Singleton’s career expanded over the years beyond exclusively black subjects into more diverse storytelling and genres, including a turn at the helm for the Fast and Furious franchise with 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious and, more recently, the television dramas Snowfall for the FX network and BET’s Rebel. But here, we examine his first decade of filmmaking following the explosive success of Boyz N the Hood, the cultural impact of his early films, and Singleton’s classic “isms.”

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Poetic Justice, (1993) – Writer and Director

After Boyz N the Hood, the 25-year-old wanted to do something that wasn’t message heavy, but just about the experiences of young people from his hood. He’d bumped into Janet Jackson on a set soon after Boyz and told her he had a script that was perfect for her. She asked him to send it over…but there was no script. He just knew he needed a big name attached to his second film and wanted her. He started writing Justice with Janet in mind as the lead. He was also enamored with budding rap/movie star Tupac Shakur and thought he was a strong enough personality to pull his weight opposite Janet. Ironically, Singleton has said that Pac’s anti-Black Hollywood attitude drew him to the rapper: “I saw him do his first interview on BET. He declared war on black Hollywood – not Hollywood itself, but black Hollywood. He was like, ‘F*ck Spike Lee, f*ck Eddie Murphy, f*ck Quincy Jones, f*ck all these fake a** people. They’re going to see a new dude out here. I’m going to come hard.’ And I was like, ‘I want to work with him!’”

If Boyz N the Hood was an introduction to South Central L.A., Poetic Justice continues the tour. Through Singleton’s penchant to use the same actors in his movies - in this case Regina King, Tyra Ferrell, Lloyd Avery II (reciting almost the same exact lines as he did when his character spotted Ricky in Boyz), and Dedrick D. Gobert – the viewer has a sense of continuity between films. The movie remains a Singleton fave not because it’s as strong as Boyz N the Hood, but because it isn’t. Roger Ebert said in his review, “Poetic Justice is not (Boyz’) equal, but does not aspire to be; it is a softer, gentler film, more of a romance than a commentary on social conditions…by the time it's over we can see more clearly how Boyz presented only part of the South Central reality. Yes, things are hard. But they aren't impossible. Sometimes they're wonderful. And sometimes you can find someone to share them with.”

In my opinion, the best part of the film is the crew happening upon a random family reunion and stopping to eat. It’s a testament to the connection between black folks, ‘cause you sho’ can roll into a massive black family gathering, say you’re somebody’s child, hug some strangers, and grab a plate. As long as you speak to everybody and can play cards, you good.

Iesha: “So what y’all gonna do?”

Chicago: “What you mean? We gonna eat.”

Justice: “You crazy? This ain’t your family”

Lucky: “We black, we all family...especially when it comes to barbeque.”

Singleton became close to Pac while filming and had plans to do more projects with him, including Baby Boy – Pac was supposed to play Jody, and they suspended development after his death. Singleton was also long attached to a Tupac biopic project, but eventually abandoned the project altogether because, he said, “The people involved aren’t really respectful of the legacy of Tupac Amaru Shakur.”

Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” (1992) – Director

Late one night, a half-asleep Singleton got a call from someone he believed was Michael Jackson requesting a meeting. He asked if he could give him a call the following day. The next day, a game of telephone commenced: Singleton called his agent, his agent called Michael’s agent, then Michael called Singleton and said he was interested in them working on a video together. When John asked about the late night call, Michael said it wasn’t him. Later, Singleton discovered the original call was a prank from Lloyd Avery II, but the end result was the epic cinematic short film for “Remember the Time.”

The nine-minute long masterpiece premiered simultaneously on Fox (following The Simpsons), MTV and BET, and it was the most beautiful, unapologetically black a** sh*t. And that full blackness was the intention, “(Michael) said, ‘What do you wanna do?’ I said, ‘I wanna put you with a whole bunch of black people.’” The video featured not just “a whole bunch of black people,” but rich and famous black people like Eddie Murphy, Iman, and even a comedic cameo by then NBA All-Star, Magic Johnson. Singleton also wanted to bring Michael into the New Jack Swing era. He called choreographer Fatima Robinson, who’d been an extra in Boyz, to bring in every hip-hop dancer of note in the game and give Michael some updated moves. The short film was a cinematic portrayal of historical black royalty (shoutout to the original Asiatic black man), opulence and excellence. Threads and think pieces would’ve abounded had it premiered in today’s digital era.

Higher Learning (1995) – Writer / Director / Producer

Higher Learning isn’t Singleton’s strongest film. The edict on race, sex and culture through the microcosm of the fictitious Columbus University was criticized at the time for being too shallow and on the nose. The New York Times review pointed to the arcs of the main characters: “Malik (Omar Epps), a black athlete, risks being exploited for his sports ability in ways that prompt unflattering comparisons with the trenchant ‘Hoop Dreams.’ Remy (Michael Rapaport), a white misfit…falls into the clutches of skinhead Aryan supremacists. These guys, loathsome even by skinhead standards, resort to every stock villainous gesture short of twirling their mustaches. Kristen (Kristy Swanson)…winds up crying date rape in ways guaranteed to alienate a large segment of the audience, which will think her anything but blameless.”

However, looking back at the film from a 2019 lens, those on-the-nose points have become social and cultural reality.

The Times mused Kristen would be thought “anything but blameless,” because she consented to sex, but her partner charged ahead without a condom despite her insistence he wear one - a key topic in conversations around consent and sexual assault today. Remy is radicalized in part because he’s looking for acceptance and belonging. Black people intimidate him, and the cool white kids think he’s weird – sounds like everyone on 4chan, the anonymous message board infamous for breeding internet trolls, incels and alt-right wingers. And considering we’ve recently seen a mob of Bobs-from-accounting carrying tiki torches with no shame or fear, and white power dog whistles peppered in the rhetoric of even the country’s highest elected official, the Aryan brothers on Columbus University’s campus are lightweight.

Malik’s athletic exploitation for education fits right into the current dialogue around student athletes. There’s also a moment early in the movie, when resident super-senior and sage, Fudge (played by Ice Cube...every campus had one; mine was named Bill), asks Malik what he’ll do when he’s at a football game full of white people, the National Anthem begins, and everyone turns around to watch him. Malik’s nervous: “I’d probably stand up” is especially resonant in this post-Kaepernik protest era.

(Also, shoutout to the exchange between Cube and Regina King about the printer paper that echoes Doughboy telling Shalika, “You better take yo’ a** to the store with that.”)

Rosewood (1997) -  Director

Rosewood was Singleton’s first commercial disappointment, but the historical drama was exactly within the director’s mission and intention with his art: to make sure our narratives are told properly.

The movie is based on the accounts of the 1923 Rosewood Massacre in Florida, which Singleton learned of via a 1994 story in Esquire. The tale is eerily similar to Black Wall Street, where a white woman falsely claimed assault by a black man, and the white community used the accusation as motivation to attack a financially thriving all-black area in Oklahoma. Singleton did fictionalize some elements of the story, including Ving Rhames character, Mr. Man, who rallies to fight back against the white mob. He said he added Mr. Man because historical accounts omit the fact that we fought back against our persecution. “The written history is black people, no matter what their persecution was, no matter what was heaped upon them by institutionalized racism, and American terrorism, they always got their a** kicked, and they kowtowed and they left,” he explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “That ain’t true…We got our a** kicked, but we kicked a**. People lynched our women, killed our kids, we went back and shot them. It’s the people that are writing the history, that are re-writing history…They’re trying to lead… people of color not to fight back against their persecution. It ain’t true. We fought back.”

Baby Boy (2001) – Writer / Director / Producer

Singleton has called Baby Boy the counterpoint to Boyz N the Hood. Baby Boy is a different type of coming-of-age tale; not a story of a character’s journey from naiveté into maturity, but one of a manchild’s forced acceptance of adulthood and responsibility. Jody isn’t a high school student fighting to survive in the South Central streets, he’s a twenty-year-old living in his mother’s house, using his girlfriend’s resources, and getting by off good dick and good game. He’s not gang affiliated, he’s not a hard criminal, he just a fucc boi.

The role of Jody was originally intended for Tupac. After Shakur’s death, model/singer Tyrese Gibson – in his film debut – was chosen in part because he’s an avid Pac fan. In tribute, a mural of the rapper covers the wall above Jody’s bed.

Baby Boy is a BET Black Star Power hall of famer and is maybe one of the best bad movies of all time. Ok, it’s not bad bad; it’s cultural excellence, and it’s damn near documentary-level accuracy in the portrayal of an ain’t sh*t mama’s boy, but Oscar material it ain’t.

Singleton is extremely particular about the dialogue in his movies and has his cast get together for an off-script improv session before taping, to flesh out their character personalities. It’s a technique Lawrence Fishburne passed on during Boyz, learned from the legendary director and Singleton hero Francis Ford Coppala. “I hate watching movies and they’re only talking dialogue that can only happen in a movie. I abhor that,” the director has said. “I have a saying where the audience has to come out and have ‘isms,’ they have to come out and say things characters said in the movie. That’s when you have a hit because you’ve captured them.” I don’t think any of Singleton’s movies can beat Boyz for “isms,” but Baby Boy holds its own. There are quotables and meme material for days. The most popular and enduring is Juanita’s (AJ Johnson) “Mama gotta have a life, too,” followed by Taraji’s trademark “I hate ‘chu!” But almost every character gets in a gem or two.

“Forty dollars?”

“Y’all some unstable creatures.”

“I don’t give a f**k about your little fort.”

…and OG Melvin’s famous “Guns and Butter” sermon.

Hustle & Flow (2005) – Producer

Hustle & Flow is an outlier in this overview; the movie came out later than our scope of reference, and Singleton didn’t write or direct, he just produced. But the film is key because it was Singleton’s full-circle moment.

Stephanie Allain, the black Columbia Pictures executive who championed Boyz N the Hood, was fighting to bring unknown filmmaker Craig Brewer’s surprisingly complex and heartfelt movie about a pimp chasing his rap star dreams to screen, and getting turned down. So she took it to Singleton. “(Studios) always think they know what should be made and what shouldn’t be made and what’s cool,” he recounted to The Hollywood Reporter. “I’d just made 2 Fast 2 Furious, it made like $200 million all around the world...You guys can’t give us $3 million to do this movie?... I was like you know what, fine, forget it, I’ll do it...My philosophy was, if I had the money to do Boyz N the Hood on my own, would I do it?”

The 2005 film was a surprise hit and critical success, garnering 2006 Sundance, SAG, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominations with a Best Original Song win for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” So basically, without John Singleton, the world would never have been blessed to see Juicy J, DJ Paul, and Crunchy Black win an Oscar.

Singleton had been outwardly critical in recent years about black creatives fight for presence and voice in filmmaking. "They ain't letting the black people tell the stories," he lamented in 2014 before an audience of students at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television. "The so-called liberals that are in Hollywood now are not as good as their parents or ancestors. They feel that they're not racist. They grew up with hip-hop, so [they] can't be racist. ‘I like Jay-Z, but that don't mean I got to give you a job.'" He went on to add that it wasn’t that “black movies” weren’t getting made, but that they didn’t have substance because black people weren’t in charge of the narrative. “(The studios) want black people to be who they want them to be, as opposed to what they are,” Singleton explained strongly. “The black films now — so-called black films now — they're great. They're great films. But they're just product. They're not moving the bar forward creatively…when you try to make it homogenized, when you try to make it appeal to everybody, then you don't have anything that's special."

Since that speech, a new boom of black content by black creators has begun. The new guard of directors like Ava Duvernay, Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins are killing at the box office and making strides towards recognition at notable awards ceremonies. Singleton became the first ever black nominee for Best Director in 1991. The next nomination didn’t come until 2009 for Lee Daniels, and there’s been one each of the last three years, most recently with the long-awaited nomination for Spike Lee. But a black director has yet to actually take the Oscar home (Lee won for Best Adapted Screenplay, the first Oscar of his career). There’s still a long way to go.

It’s fitting that Singleton and Lee are the bookends of the highest acclaimed black directors, even though the student was nominated decades before the teacher. “I just try to rep hard for Spike,” Singleton said recently about his goal with filmmaking. “When he was starting he was trying to get people to say, ‘Hey listen, we can have our own idiom in film. We can have a black film aesthetic. We can have a thing that’s unique.’ When I do whatever I’m trying to do, I’m still trying to rep that.”

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Creator Of Beyoncé Church Service Delivers New Take On The Old Testament

Spreading the gospel in today's world comes with a creative gamble. There are those who still take to streets with hugs and messages from the Bible and there are others who have found ways to include today's biggest artists into scripture. Insert Beyoncé Mass, a church service mixed with inspirational songs from the Grammy-winning singer.

The alternative service was created in 2018 by Rev. Yolanda Norton, who taught the class "Beyoncé and The Hebrew Bible" at San Fransico Theology Seminary. In an effort to teach students about black women and their relationship to the gospel, Bey's use of spiritual and religious imagery in her work came to mind. "We're talking about respectability politics, the commodification of the body, sexuality, motherhood and relationships because these are all very real to black women," she tells VIBE about the womanist worship service. "We build from that to talk about how all of these issues show up in the Bible."

The class found its way to the church pews in 2018 with much fanfare. With scripture from the Old Testament, Rev. Norton and her team strategically weaved through Beyoncé's vast discography to curate a service with some of the singer's most moving records.

The first service at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral brought out over 500 people, a huge difference from the normal 50 attendees. While some saw the mass as a "spiritually awakening experience," critics questioned the presence of secular music in the church. There's also the immediate likeness to Kanye West's Sunday Service where the artist blends his discography with gospel hymns. But Rev. Norton says the two have nothing in common.

"I've been in ministry for 12 years," she says. "I've been ordained for six years and I'm a trained theologian. I have a decade's worth of education in the field. I lead with theology and the mission of Christ. Again, it's a very different thing. He's a performer—I'm not. That doesn't work for what I'm doing. What I can do is attempt to construct a meaningful conversation about God and Christianity."

Rev. Norton's Beyoncé Mass will take place this evening in Brooklyn's First Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m. ET and again on Thursday (Oct. 24) at Harlem's St. James Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m. ET.

Check out our chat with Rev. Norton where she breaks down the future of Beyoncé Mass and more.

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How did Beyoncé Mass come about and how does it connect to your class "Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible?"

Rev. Yolanda Norton: First, I'm a Hebrew Bible scholar who teaches what popular vernacular call The Old Testament. I'm finishing up my Ph.D. at Vanderbilt, my doctoral studies focused on the Hebrew Bible but I also have a secondary resource interest in ethics and homiletics which is the study of preaching.

My work is interdisciplinary and I'm always seeking how African-American women encounter the Bible, Christianity and how the intersection of patriarchy and racism has influenced the development of Christian faith. So thinking about that work, I developed this class called "Beyonce and the Hebrew Bible."

It uses womanist theories to highlight the realities of black women. It's a term that pulls inspiration from Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens and with that, I used womanist theological theory to frame for my students the issues black women face and how we encounter the Bible. In particular, I used that theory to inform conversations about the music and persona of Beyoncé so that we can talk about the issues black women face. We're talking about respectability politics, the commodification of the body, sexuality, motherhood and relationships because all these things are very real to black women. Then we build from that to talk about how all of these issues show up in the Bible.

Beyoncé Mass came about because one of my students [Sam Lundquist] was interning at a church in San Francisco and asked us to lead service in their midweek capital, which is their prime gauge/alternative worship service. We agreed to do it and I went away to a wedding. When I came back, Beyoncé Mass Service had gone viral. Since then, we've taken the small team to Portugal, Southern California and now here we are in New York.

How was the service in Portugal? 

It was amazing. I really didn't know what was going to happen in Portugal more than any other place. I thought, "I don't know if this translates right." I know there are intersections between the kind of problems we face in the United States but I don't know how close that is.

We were supposed to do it at one church but once it hit the media, they got a lot of pushback and they pulled out. We found a Catholic church and so repurposed it for the mass. We didn't know who was going to show up until that night because the church only held about 350 people. Let's just say we broke some fire codes both nights.

We had people sitting on the side of the pews and on the floor. So it has been quite amazing to think about the impact of the mass and the populations of people who are who were able to reach.

How do you feel about the criticism you've received about Beyoncé Mass?

You know, people are entitled to think what they want to think. I'm not worshipping Beyoncé and I'm not encouraging anyone to worship her. I'm very clear that this is a Christian worship service and we're just using the music to tell a story about black women and to provide an alternative vision of who and what the church can be and we know that can be intimidating to people.

I know that message doesn't resonate for everyone but for as long as there is a population of people who find affirmation and healing and flow in this work, then I'm just going to keep doing it and I can't be concerned about what people who have this kind of blanket critique. I have a community of scholarly women and black female friends that give me solid feedback along the way. I do my best to live in community with that feedback and that critique, but for people who have decided to dismiss it? I can't give you that energy.

How do you handle the comparisons to Kanye West's Sunday services and given stan culture among the Beyhive, do you worry that people will misinterpret the message behind the service?

We've seen increasing comparisons between the Beyoncé Mass and Kanye's Sunday service. I've never been to one, but my very basic answer is that I've been in ministry for 12 years. I've been ordained for six years and I'm a trained theologian. I have a decade's worth of education in the field. I lead with theology and the mission of Christ.

Again, it's a very different thing. He's a performer—I'm not. That doesn't work for what I'm doing. What I can do is attempt to construct a meaningful conversation about God and Christianity.

When it comes to the Beyhive, I get it. I'm beyond a fan, but my focus is on the mission of Jesus Christ. I know there are people who come to the mass who aren't devout Christians at all. They're atheists, agnostics, people who have been hurt by the church, and it reminds me of an opinion piece that was written by a gay man who felt emotionally abused by the church and decided to abandon it. He attended our San Francisco service and realized there's a difference between who God is and what the church does.

 

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one of the only things that can get me to attend mass: YONCÉ.

A post shared by emmanuel (@excusemybeauty) on Apr 25, 2018 at 7:00pm PDT

So I think there are a lot of people who come to the mass for various reasons. The best that I can do is to create a meaningful worship center that hopefully provides some healing and centers people on what I think is God's mission in the world.

When you think about the mission of Beyoncé Mass, black women immediately come to mind. Will the New York services share lessons about black women in the Bible? 

The Hebrew Bible scholar in me has to say, we have to be attentive to the fact that race was not operative in the biblical world, right? So these distinctions of black and white are not there in the Bible. What is there for me as a Bible scholar is that there are communities that were being formed and there are some people who are celebrated and belong in the text and there are some people who don't. So it's not about talking about black women in the Bible, but it is about how black women can find themselves in the Bible.

It's a thin distinction but a very real distinction. I'm clear that in the reception history of the Hebrew Bible, black women, in particular, have been excluded. So my work is to retrieve a voice for black women. It's just a matter of doing that in the ways that I feel is the most faithful to the scholarship and my discipline.

Where do you see Beyoncé Mass heading?

My goal is, you know, trying to pinpoint a set of cities to do the math in. While doing that I want to increase our outreach capacity. When we can find inclusive, affirming states and worship for all of God's people, we can go out into the world and do the work of justice. I want it to develop this network.

We found the right church in Harlem. Their minister Rev. Derrick McQueen is an out gay male and has a Ph.D. in ethics. We're also working with Brooklyn's First Presberyian Baptist Church that's ministered by a black woman. These are spaces where people see them for who they are and love them because that's the mission that God has given us.

What are four songs from Beyoncé's discography that speak to the messages in the service? 

The song we always use is "Flaws and All." It's so raw and honest. [The lyrics say,] "I'm a train wreck in the morning, I'm a b***h in the afternoon." I'm all of those things and you can turn that into a conversation with God. We aren't perfect and we have a bunch of flaws, but God loves us. We may never understand the mystery of why God loves us beyond our imperfections but God does.

Another one would be "Formation." It's a sense of working together as one. We have to work together to be "in formation" and while she's doing that, she's talking about her love, not for her own self but other black bodies [Jackson 5 nostrils lyric].

There's also "Halo" and of course, "Love on Top."

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Carmen Mandato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. It Will Serve Over 30 Million Households

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

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

4. Religion And Faith Might Play A Role In Programming

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Original Programming Will Cater To Black Women and Teens

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

Some standout program synopses include:

Being a Woman

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

Getting Ready With Jane: Today's Teen

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

My Money

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

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

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

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

8. Larry Elder Will More Than Likely Ruffle Feathers

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

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

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

— Larry Elder (@larryelder) October 21, 2019

School Choice, Pt. 2

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

— Larry Elder (@larryelder) October 20, 2019

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

Learn more about the Black News Channel here.

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