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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Boomshots: The Unstoppable Rise Of Dre Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carlos Perez

Anuel AA Breaks Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Nagga (@naggareports) December 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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