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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Stacy-Ann Ellis

20 Minutes With Davido: The Afrobeats Giant Talks Confidence, Timing And Strong Foundations

Davido can’t sit still. Maybe it’s early afternoon energy or impatience or knowing that his press rounds for the day aren’t winding down for some hours. Or maybe it’s just the fact that he’s sitting on what he considers to be an audio goldmine. David Adeleke, the gifter of astronomical hits like “If” and “Fall”—two-year-old songs with gravity still strong enough to pull Snapchatting wallflowers and clumsy dancers to the center of the floor—knows there’s much more where that came from.

“It's an album for everybody, I'll say,” he says of his forthcoming album, A Good Time, with a smirk. “I feel like everybody will have at least three songs they love in different genres.”

Technically speaking, the Atlanta-born and Lagos, Nigeria-raised artist has made a moderate splash on the Billboard charts, the metrics most artists use to quantify their success and measure progression in the industry. (In 2019, “Fall” became the longest-charting Nigerian pop song in Billboard history thanks to admittedly delayed radio push.)

However, Davido’s worldwide footprint speaks louder than a few hard figures. This year alone, he’s sold out shows as intimate as nightclubs and massive as London’s O2 Arena, rocked sets at Essence Music Festival and Hot 97's Summer Jam, and was an international headliner abroad at Oh My! Fest in the Netherlands, Afro Nation Portugal, and eventually Afro Nation Ghana alongside afrobeats greats he can safely consider peers.

July summoned his album’s breezy lead single “Blow My Mind” featuring Chris Brown, and a burst of new guest spots this month are carrying that same fresh energy into October. Davido was featured alongside Jeremih in “Choosy,” a new release from Fabolous, as well as on Brown’s “Lower Body,” a newbie on the extended version of his Indigo album. To say he’s ready to fan the mainstream flame with fellow afrobeats and afro-fusion hitmakers is an understatement. “Let us in, open American doors,” he jokes, knowingly. “We will finish everybody.”

In between banter about the turnup we’re missing in West Africa—trust, December in Africa is a thing—Davido opens up about his A Good Time (a genre hodgepodge guaranteed to please), the source of his success (part luck, part work ethic), and afrobeats’ undeniable global appeal.

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VIBE: Tell me about how your 2019 has been so far? Davido: 2019 has been a journey. It’s been the longest time that I’ve spent away from Lagos probably since I came to school in America. Reason being, just wanted to focus and get new energy, new environment to record the album. There’s just so much going on back home, so we’ve been out here the whole year, basically. “Fall” blew up and then we just came out here and worked with it. That album is about to come out and it’s gonna be crazy.

Given the momentum and expectations that come with it, are you more excited or nervous about this next album? I’m not nervous because I’m confident about the music. I’m just anxious to see what the next stage is, the next step. I like to challenge myself. When you reach a stage, you want to challenge yourself to reach higher stages.

You said it’s been the longest time you’ve spent away from Lagos. Is that a good or bad thing? No, that’s good. To me, it's a new energy. The people miss me, of course, but sometimes it's good to be away. To just step back and see where you’re at in your surroundings and stuff like that. I think every artist needs that.

Sometimes when you're too present, people think they know what you're going to deliver. Exactly, and me being out here recording, all my producers I flew in from Nigeria. It's not like I left my team. The whole team is here, so people ain't really heard the music. Back home, in my studio, it's like everybody comes through, so I can imagine recording my album back home, four or five of the songs would have probably leaked already.

You had a great year and so has music from African artists. What has it been like to watch that happen, to see us latecomers catch on? I felt like it was always going to happen. Even when I was in school in Alabama, when I used to play Nigerian songs from artists that were the top artists then—they were the biggest artists, like D’banj, P-Square—when I used to play their music in my dorm room, my American friends would love it. I always knew it was a thing that once America heard it, they would love it. Afrobeats, you hear it once, twice, I promise you, it's going to ring. So I feel like it was just for the people to hear it. Give us a channel to be heard. Radio, now you have social media. Back then all those things weren't in place. Now you have things in place where even if it's not in your face, one way or the other, you can find it. I think if you had all those things back then, social media and the support, it would've been the same.

 

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Were you frustrated with how long it took? Not really, because we've got our stuff going back home, too. You know what I'm saying? Even me today, I make most of my money from back home. And even before afrobeats got mainstream in America, we’ve been coming to do shows. I did a show in New York in 2013 to 5,000 people, and this was when I didn't have most of my big records I have now. Sold it out. But now it's mainstream. You have Live Nation now partnering with us to do shows. Back then it was just like local promoters selling tickets at the clubs and we still had the numbers. Now, our fans can put on the radio and hear us.

It even gives them more confidence. Confidence to be like, you know what? Let's go out and support this culture. So that's why the Afro Nation festival in Portugal, it was bigger than Coachella to me. It just shows that you just needed that platform, and then the fans needed the confidence to come out and really support. The next step now is getting the fans to buy the music because we have the numbers, but you've got to come out and buy it. That's the only way we can really break. The music is spreading. It's on the radio. Everybody’s doing shows. Everybody's touring, but now the next step is getting these sales up.

In a way, that’s most artists’ problems now. Touring is the moneymaker. That and streaming. There's nothing really wrong with streaming. That is why they want us to appeal to the Western crowd because those people buy music. Those people buy merch, blah blah blah. But we have to do what we know how to do. So the Western [crowd], they're actually buying it, but we need our real fans to come and be like, yo, Davido album dropping. It's a campaign—80,000 copies the first week, let's go out and buy. Look at the Latin industry. They're doing numbers. So apart from the music getting big, I feel like, yes, the music is getting accepted, but where are the numbers? When you walk into a building, it's all about numbers. It's not about if your music is sweet or this, or that—it's all about the profit. That's what we'll be working on getting up.

What are your thoughts about seeing really large artists pay so much homage to the afrobeats sound? I mean some people find it offensive, but I actually don't. I mean, first of all, people in Africa do hip-hop, right? So you can't come and say these people are taking our sound when we have artists back home doing trap, doing all these things. I feel that everybody should feel free to do what they want to do, but maybe it won't hurt to evolve. Like, I feel like it was nice how Swae Lee had Tekno produce that record for him and Drake, stuff like that. And they have more of our producers more involved in the sound because those are the ones who really know how to get the sound. Yeah, I think the producer side needs more shine but apart from that, doing afrobeats is [for] everybody. Any artist is free to do any kind of music they want.

Who are some of the producers that we should know? Give us a starter list. I mean, first of all, Shizzi, that's my producer. He did most of my stuff. And we have Kiddominant, that's my other producer. And we have Speroach, this dude Rexxie, he's the one that's doing all the Zanku songs. So he's going crazy. But I feel like they should bring all these artists out here, get a camp, put 'em all in one room and trust me, they'll make magic.

Do you still consider yourself an afrobeats artist now? Some of your counterparts like Afro B and Burna Boy have classified themselves as afro-wave or afro-fusion. I'm just an artist, man. I'm just a musician. Every kind. Of course I do afrobeats, but I'm just a musician. Worldwide musician. World music.

You mentioned the Latinx music scene. Is there anyone you’re looking to collaborate with from that space? Bad Bunny, Maluma. I really want to work with them. I might get a studio session with them when I get back from Nigeria.

How would you say your sound has progressed over the years from your try at making music to now? Of course [when] you're growing, you learn. Sometimes I don't even listen to some of my earlier records, even though I always used to put a lot in my records so it's not like that shit was whack. It was cool but I can see the growth and the quality of the music. Back then we didn't really focus on our sound and mixing and mastering. We’d really just record, next day release. Right now, it's a whole package and music has to be perfect. Right now, they’re playing Nigerian music on the radio, African music, and after African music, they start playing American music. You don't want the level of the quality to drop. And planning. I'm at the label now. Before I could just wake up and just drop, but now they gotta submit the single two weeks before. You know how it is. So, of course, it's way different now from like four years ago.

What else have you learned about yourself personally and the way you work? I'm really, really, really free with my work. I don't really bother myself with strategic planning and stuff like that. What's most important to me is the music. Once the music is good, I feel that's really all you need. And, of course, a good team around you and they're doing what you want. Connect with your fans. Very important, connect with your fans. Don't lose touch of home because that's your foundation, really. Without that foundation, you can't really be big in America when you don't have that foundation in Nigeria. An example is, I've known a lot of American artists for a while who are bigger in America, but when they came to Nigeria they saw the love I get at home. Then coming back is like, the respect is different. They'd come and they were like, Yo, you're the president. You know what I'm saying?

When was the first moment that you realized where you stood with your hometown? That they would be such a solid support system? That was probably for my first song, really. From the first record, man, it's just been love. Davido this, Davido that, negative, positive, negative and whatever.

Negative? What's the biggest critique you've seen of yourself? I don't know. Probably my voice. That's the worst I can think of. I can't think of nothing else.

What's the most memorable place you've ever performed? I've got a couple places. O2 Arena [in London]. I just did [Madison Square Garden] with 50 Cent [for the Power premiere]. That was cool.

Walk me through that. He [50 Cent] brought me out. It was just crazy cause I ain't really met him before. I met him at the pool party or something like that, when I was performing at the pool party, and the reception when I performed was crazy so I think it got his attention. The next day he called me up to perform at MSG.

And then in July, you headlined your first international festival. Oh yeah, yeah. Amsterdam. Yeah. Oh My! Festival, and then Afro Nation, too. This summer was lit, but next summer is about to be dumb lit. This fall's about to be lit. Album's coming October.

One thing I notice about you and the progression of your career is that it’s fueled by a strong sense of faith and confidence. Where do you get that? It just depends, man. Honestly, it's not even confidence. I wouldn't say that Nigeria spoiled me, but like bruh, they just showed me so much love. Like, I didn't really go through like a lot of things. I just dropped and it just took me... I didn't really have to overkill myself. They just kept me there. I don't know why they liked me so much, (Laughs) but they just kept me there, kept me comfortable, kept me confident. Always came out to all the shows, supported all the music. It's just love, everywhere is love. Even the love for Davido spreads to everybody around me. My family members.

Have newer artists in Nigeria or on the continent asked you for advice? If so, what do you tell them? You have to be very hardworking and ready to play the part. That's what they're always asking. But everybody has their different ways of getting to where they need to get to. My way might be different from somebody else's way, but most importantly is just be ready to work hard and the music has to be good. Once the music is good, get your team right, and just work hard. I feel like the other steps, you kind of figure it out yourself.

Who do you think is next up in terms of afrobeats artists?  I mean, there's a lot of other artists. It's like 500 of us. Let us in, open American doors, we will finish everybody. There is a lot of us. I feel like before you stand up and leave Africa, like, yo, I'm going to chase the dream in America, I'm going to chase the dream in Europe, you have to make sure your foundation, your home is super strong.

Is it still a goal to capture or change up the American market? No, not [to] change it, we just want to join it. Add us. We should have our own chart, I think. You know what I'm saying? Like if reggae could have their own chart, I think we can have ours, too. Or let us in the main chart, something. But I feel like it's gonna happen, man. It's been happening, man. Most importantly, I'm happy that American artists themselves open their arms for us as well. I got a lot of records dropping that are not even myself, they're their songs featuring me. Stuff like that helps us as well.

What can we expect from the new album? Just a lot of good songs. It's an album for everybody, I'll say. I feel like everybody will have at least three songs they love in different genres. It’s going to be 13 songs. Well, I’ll probably have "Fall" and "If" on there, so it's really like 11 new songs. But yeah, it's going to be an album for everybody. Trust me. Every type of song is going to be on there. Predominantly afrobeats-infused, of course. Mainly my producers and a lot of your [American] producers, too. With features, me and Chris got a second record.

And lastly, since you speak highly of your foundation, what is the best thing about Nigeria? The people. The attitude, rich or poor. It's just a jolly place. You would laugh, comedians everywhere. There's some bad, bad spirits sometimes, (laughs) but for the most part, it's a very beautiful place.

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Nickelodeon

How 'My Brother And Me' Resonated With A Generation Of Young Black Men

In terms of cultural impact and influence, the '90s ranks as one of the defining decades for black entertainment of the past century. This proves particularly true in the realm of television, with a number of landmark programs debuting that reflected the life and times of blacks in the urban community and beyond. While the '80s produced groundbreaking sitcoms like The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Matters, 227, Amen, and Frank's Place, all of which featured predominantly black casts, these shows were few and far in between.

However, the arrival of a new decade coincided with an influx of programs starring black leads, with shows like Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Living Single, Hangin with Mr. Cooper, Roc, Thea and South Central all making their debut. While these shows were hits across various age groups, they all starred and revolved around actors of age, in some form or fashion. One of the first programs to divert from this formula and place the focus squarely on adolescents was My Brother and Me, a sitcom that often gets overlooked when listing the pivotal shows of its era.

Making its debut on October 15, 1994, My Brother and Me was among the first live-action series to air on Nickelodeon and the first to feature a predominantly black cast. Created by Ilunga Adell and Calvin Brown Jr., and directed by Arlando Smith and Adam Weissman, the show centers around brothers Alfred "Alfie" Parker and Derek "Dee-Dee" Parker, the two youngest children of parents Jennifer (Karen E. Fraction) and Roger Parker (Jim R. Coleman) who experience the typical growing pains of pre-pubescent young men that are coming of age.

Additional core cast members include Alfie and Dee-Dee's older sister Melanie Parker (Aisling Sistrunk),, Alfie's best friend Milton "Goo" Berry (Jimmy Lee Newman, Jr.) who has an infatuation with Melanie, Melanie's best friend and Donnell's older sister Dionne Wilburn (Amanda Seales), Dee-Dee's best friend and Dionne’s younger brother Donnell Wilburn (Stefan J. Wernli),, Dee-Dee’s other best friend Harry White (Keith "Bubba" Naylor), and local comic book store owner Mrs. Pinckney (Kym Whitley).

Set in the suburbs of the west side of Charlotte, North Carolina, My Brother and Me was the Nickelodeon's answer to Sister, Sister, a sitcom on ABC starring identical twins Tia and Tamera Mowry that had debuted earlier that year. With a beat writer for the local newspaper for a father and a school teacher for a mother, Alfie and Dee-Dee enjoyed a stable living environment in which they could thrive academically and socially while simply being kids. A middle-class family with access to all of the basic amenities, the Parkers' economic situation was in stark contrast to the usual scratching-and-surviving, rags-to-riches themes often associated with sitcoms geared towards people of color.

While removed from the harsh realities that often accompany life in the inner-city, the Parker boys were drawn in by the allure of street culture, with Alfie and Dee-Dee both being avid fans of hip hop music, fashion, and style. This love affair would be the driving force behind various episodes, most notably "Dee-Dee's Haircut," during which Dee-Dee allows Goo to butcher his hair after marveling at fellow student Kenny's "Cool Dr. Money"-inspired haircut. Going as far as handpicking designs out of a rap magazine Donell borrows from his sister Dionne, Dee-Dee goes to the extreme in an attempt to mirror Kenny and Cool Dr. Money, a testament to the influence hip hop holds over him. His affinity for the culture is also reflected in the "Donnell's Birthday Party" episode, during which the impressionable youngster mimicking dance moves from a rap video in hopes of tightening up his dance skills.

Alfie and Dee-Dee may have been the intended stars of the show, but to many viewers, the most memorable character from My Brother and Me was Goo, who stole scenes with his humorous wisecracks and mischievous hijinks, often at the expense of Dee-Dee and his friends. From showering Mrs. Parker with disarming compliments to masterminding various plots and schemes in an attempt to get himself and Alfie out of trouble, Goo proved to be the most entertaining member of the show, exuding swagger and confidence that are palpable to the viewer and as hip hop as it gets. On the other hand, Alfie, who is not as overtly demonstrative in his rap fandom as his younger brother or Goo, reps his allegiance to the culture more subtly, with his haircut, backward caps and boisterous mannerisms.

While race was never a prevalent topic on the show, if one was to look closer between the lines, My Brother and Me was unapologetically black and pridefully so. Take, for instance, the various nods to HBCU culture throughout the show, including Roger Parker's various North Carolina Central University sweatshirts and hats, Alfie's Morehouse fit, and insignias from various black fraternities. One other common thread of the show was its incorporation of sports, starting with the Parker household's fandom of Charlotte's local professional franchises on full display, as Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers memorabilia are all visible throughout the household. Cameos also included appearances from NBA stars Kendall Gill and Dennis Scott, the latter of whom teaches Alfie, the superior athlete of the Parker brothers, a lesson in selflessness and teamwork by cutting him from the school basketball team in "The Basketball Tryouts" episode.

Of all of the aspects of My Brother and Me that made the show a game-changer, the fact that it was one of the first times young black males saw themselves in characters on the TV is the most enduring. While plenty of shows and networks fixated on coming-of-age storylines centered around the privileged youth of white America, My Brother and Me provided the alternative, promoting the bond of brotherhood and family values with each episode aired. Preceding shows like Kenan & Kel and Cousin Skeeter, both of which implemented overt comedic or fictional elements, My Brother and Me was a realistic glimpse at the life of the average black boy in America without the overarching narratives of impoverishment, temptation, and despair. For many young black men born in the '80s, the show left an indelible impact on them and holds a place near to their heart a quarter-century later.

In spite of its critical acclaim and popularity, My Brother and Me only aired for one season, as it was canceled after airing its final episode on January 15, 1995. The network would air reruns into the early 2000s before returning briefly during The '90s Are All That block on TeenNick in December 2013, the last time the show would appear on television. In June 2014, Nickelodeon released My Brother & Me: The Complete Series as a two-disc DVD, giving a new generation of viewers and longtime fans of the show an opportunity to relive the magic that the show captured during its short, yet unforgettable run.

In the years following My Brother and Me's cancellation, many of the actors and actresses from the show would fail to find their footing in the entertainment industry, resulting in their acting careers fading into obscurity. Arthur Reggie III scored a few additional credits, appearing in the TV shows Sliders and C-Bear and Jamal, as well as the 1998 film Bulworth, but later transitioned into a rap career, performing under the name Show Bizness. My Brother and Me would mark Ralph Woolfolk's last appearance as an actor, as he decided to leave the industry behind and focus on his education, pursuing a degree in English at Morehouse College in Atlanta, while also attending law school. He is also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and currently serves as a police officer for the city of Atlanta. Jimmy Lee Newman, Jr. scored bit roles in the TV shows Sweet Justice and Sister, Sister in the subsequent years after the show, while Aisling Sistrunk, Stefan J. Wernli and Keith "Bubba" Naylor would never act professionally again.

However, a few members of the cast were able to sustain viable acting careers well beyond My Brother and Me's cancellation, most notably Amanda Seales, Karen E. Fraction and Jim Coleman. Seales would rebrand herself as Amanda Diva and become a successful media personality before transitioning back into acting, last appearing as Tiffany DuBois on HBO's "Insecure." In 2019, Seales debuted an HBO Comedy Special I Be Knowin', and was chosen as the emcee for NBC's comedy competition, Bring the Funny. Jim Coleman has kept himself busy with various roles over the past two decades, last appearing in "The Council," and continues to receive steady work. Karen Fraction would add a few additional credits to her resume after "My Brother and Me," but passed away on October 30, 2007, after a five year battle with breast cancer. She is survived by her two children, Lauren Elizabeth Jean and Lawrence Wm. Morris, and her husband Lawrence Hamilton. And last, but not least, Kym Whitley would enjoy a fruitful career on television and on the big screen, appearing in dozens of shows and films throughout her lengthy career, with her latest role being Mrs. Malinky in the Netflix animated comedy Pinky Malinky.

In the time since the debut of My Brother and Me, a lot has changed in terms of the presence and representation of black youth on television and beyond. A number of black actors and actresses have had the opportunity to shine in a big way, including Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) Zendaya (Shake It Up), Kyle Massey (Corey in the House), Keke Palmer (True Jackson, VP), Miles Brown (Black-Ish) and Alex R. Hibbert (The Chi) all among the more prominent child stars making major waves on TV over the past two decades. That said, 25 years later, the fact remains that My Brother and Me was ahead of the curve as one of the first instances of seeing ourselves in a positive and uplifting light on the small screen.

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Darren Xu

Brent Faiyaz Channels International Life Into New Musical Gems

Finishing up his summer in Europe, Brent Faiyaz (born Christopher Brent Wood) indulges in spiked mimosas and enticing conversations with his team after handling business for the day. Jet-setting overseas to add more memories to his life’s reel, the singer-songwriter and producer just celebrated his 24th birthday days before. “I think anytime you go places internationally you get a different perspective," he says. "I felt like creatively, it would bring out some more shit.” Many doors have opened for the DMV crooner since he first appeared in front of the public’s eye with his single “Natural Release” in 2014. Pulling pages out what seems to be his journal entries, Faiyaz shares his autobiography through the dynamics of string ballads, haloed hymns, and tinder timbre.

The Columbia, Maryland R&B talent has shared his soothing vocals with fans ever since. Studiously making beats from the age of 12 or 13, it wasn’t until after graduating high school and moving to Charlotte with his parents that he began to invest in music full time. His rhythmic resonance and gut-punching lyrics turned into his first five-track EP speaking to women, relationships, and sex in A.M. Paradox in 2016 with his hit single “Poison.” He formed a group called Sonder with fellow musicians Dpat and Atu, and released a group EP with them called Into before dropping another solo project, Sonder Son. The 12-track project delved into his childhood: he brought his fans right into his living room in “Home,” gave them a seat at the table in his classrooms in “Gang Over Luv,” and walked his newfound Los Angeles streets with them in “L.A.” He then unleashed his tightly knit six-track EP Lost with standouts “Trust,” and “Around Me.”

“I come from a very real place. I think that I can give a lot of people around me a lot of real perspectives. I’ve been seeing a lot of people in certain avenues gravitate towards a nigga,” the LA-based artist said.

The indie artist truly received a standing ovation after organically co-creating the 2018 Grammy-nominated single “Crew” with GoldLink and Shy Glizzy. “I’m going to be real; I didn’t go into music with the intention of being an independent artist, especially not this long. But then [I] hopped onto “Crew” and we fucked around a got a hit record without even being signed to a label. After that I started getting paid so I was like ‘Fuck it, we really don’t need that,’” he said.

His first 2019 summer single “Fuck the World (Summer in London)” opened a perspective of contronyms that approached both the literal and lustful world. What he calls “the woes and the woes.” “Meaning the shit that I hate. [What] is terrible about life right now that’s fucked up, fuck the world on the negative end, middle finger fuck the world,” he says. “And then it’s ‘Fuck the World’ where it’s like the girls and the money and the clothes and the bullshit.”

He later dropped his latest track a month later. “Rehab (Winter In Paris)” mirrors a story when the singer was balancing his personal time while being addicted to a person who is addicted to a substance. With “Rehab” already penned, Faiyaz went to producing the track alongside No ID, known for his work with rap greats like Jay-Z, Common and Kanye West. “He’s an OG. I soaked up a lot of game from him. I locked in with him for a whole week and cut a bunch of ideas.” Observing the producer's process, Faiyaz implemented some of No ID’s ways into his own. “I would take certain shit he said and put that in my own shit. Real talk, he is one of those niggas that will put you on game.”

With a uniqueness to his voice that is charming yet elusive, the singer has raised eyebrows by not resembling the stereotypical genetic makeup of a rhythm and blues artist. “I don’t really know how a sound is supposed to look. If somebody tells me how a sound is supposed to look, I will understand,” Faiyaz chuckled. “I don’t really connect the two. I can’t change how I look; I can’t change how I sound. I’m going to keep doing me.”

During what one could consider a hiatus, the vocalist used that time to focus on his craft, give back to his mom, jump on A$AP Ferg’s album Floor Seats, and walk in Pyer Moss’s New York Fashion Week Show. As he has geared up for a musical return that will unveil a different side, Faiyaz is under renovation. “I [don’t] want to give people the same sh*t that I’ve been giving them this whole time. I’m not about to put out a new project and it sounds the exact same as the last project. I want to keep reinventing myself as this sh*t goes on.”

“Right now, I am probably the most creative that I’ve ever been.”

Brent has successfully left his fans longing for more all while remaining authentic, not purposefully trying to create any kind of enigma around himself. “It’s not a goal of mine to be on the tip of everybody’s tongue all the time.”

With the year wrapping up, the 24-year-old is “pushing boundaries” as he prepares to release more original melodies. While he experiments with the production elements of his music and strengthening his vocals, the artist is effortlessly surprising himself in the studio. “I’m kind of saying whatever the fuck I want to say on the track and somehow it’s coming out pretty good. I know how to put it in a way where it comes off ill.”

Plotting his next moves, the creative has become enthralled with art all across the board in his performances as it translates to visual art. “I’m really learning how a bunch of different avenues go aside from just music. I’m on my young renaissance man shit.”

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