Luther Vandross
Scott Harrison

Music Sermon: The Divinity Of Luther Vandross

Luther Vandross didn't pattern himself after soul men–he studied the divas, and that made him one of the most brilliant singers and vocal producers ever.

“There are voices in this world and once they sing, it’s a stamp on everybody.” Bravo producer and personality Andy Cohen was asking Patti Labelle about her dear friend Luther Vandross on talk show Watch What Happens Live. “Luther’s done that.”

Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. was the preeminent urban pop singer; the essence of ‘80s quiet storm R&B. He was called “the velvet voice” and “the Black Pavarotti,” but there’s not really a male predecessor he compares to because he didn’t pattern himself after the soul men like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, or Teddy Pendergrass. He studied the divas. Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Patti Labelle were the voices that fascinated and inspired a young Luther. Seeing Dionne Warwick live at the Brooklyn Fox Theater made him realize he wanted to sing. “She came on stage and just killed me; the music was more serious, the song value was more serious. 'Anyone Who Has a Heart' was a masterpiece,” he told The Washington Post. “I decided at that point that I wanted to do something in music."

The difference informs the distinction between him and most other men of R&B. Luther sang from a softer space, topically and tonally. He usually sang from a gentle, easy place. Not urgent. Not aggressive. Never suggestive. His first greatest hits compilation was titled The Best of Luther, The Best of Love because his entire catalog was love. Romantic and devoted love, not sex or lust. Adoration. And while his voice is appreciated–he’s featured on every greatest vocalist list of note–the full range and depth of Luther’s vocal craftsmanship are not. He was a writer, producer, and one of the greatest vocal manipulators in the game, as well-known and sought-after from early in his career for his vocal arrangements as his singing. The New York Times once described Luther as having an “obsession with the human voice, bordering on clinical.” Some people’s gifts are leagues beyond the old talent-plus-preparation-equals-opportunity equation. Some are truly called, anointed even. Luther was divinely appointed.

The world was officially introduced to Luther in 1981, but he was already an established singer’s singer on the professional circuit. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, teenaged Luther was part of youth performing arts group sponsored by the Apollo Theater called Listen My Brother. Their music was largely social commentary, and they performed in and around New York, including on the very first episode of Sesame Street.

In 1974, Luther accidentally landed a gig as a background singer and arranger for David Bowie. He visiting a friend in Bowie’s band at the studio, and talking about an idea to improve the hook for “Young Americans,” unaware that the singer was standing within earshot. Bowie loved the idea, hired Luther, and quickly became a champion for the young singer’s budding career. Luther handled vocal arrangements for the entire Young Americans album, and additionally wrote the album cut “Infatuation.” He also performed a 45-minute opening set of his own material each night on tour, at Bowie’s insistence.

Luther’s singing here on the far left.

Bowie then introduced the crooner to Bette Midler, who took him on tour, and Luther’s career as an in-demand background singer and arranger was underway. His study of great female vocalists helped him develop an ear that set him apart. “One of the contexts you have to understand was that the background singing has always been a female-dominated area,” Luther explained in an early interview. “I was bringing stuff on my own to the sessions that was kind of unique in terms of how to do background vocals. And later I learned never to give away anything you can sell, so I started charging for this extra bit of approach, which was fine, because by this time everyone wanted it so bad that they were willing to pay for it.”

Over the years, Luther sang with Carley Simon, Chic (“Everybody Dance”), Average White Band, Chaka Khan, and Roberta Flack, who chided him for getting too comfortable as a background singer and encouraged him to finally put a demo together. Due to his own intimate relationship with excellence in backing vocals, Luther was famously known to always use the top talent in the business for his albums. A read through the personnel of his catalogue will reveal names including Cissy Houston, James Ingram, Darlene Love, Tawatha Agee (lead singer of Mtume), premiere professional backing vocalists like Fonzi Thornton, and Lisa Fischer, who Luther pushed to get out of her comfort zone and record as Flack did with him.

During a recording session for Quincy Jones, Luther was introduced to a commercial producer, who then helped him break into the jingle-writing business. He’s always been credited with his ability to write an infectious hook–that talent was honed with jingles.

Before Luther took the solo leap, he tried the group route. He briefly had a deal as part of a group called, appropriately, Luther. They recorded two albums, but neither made any noise. Then, he joined disco group Change as their frontman and had two hits, including one of my favorite mood-boosting, make everything right anthems.

Luther had a little money in his pocket from commercials and background singing, and from writing and producing a song for the Broadway musical-turned-major motion picture The Wiz.

Oh, you didn’t know Luther wrote “A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice)”?

He had the means to record and produce his demo himself, and assembled what became his career dream team. While in the group Listen My Brother, Luther met pianist Nat Adderly, Jr., son of jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley and nephew of saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. As a session singer, he met bassist Marcus Miller and recommended him to Gladys Knight, and the two bonded while on tour. He recruited them both to put together the songs that eventually became Never Too Much, and they were key contributing architects to Luther’s signature sound.

Miller is responsible for those slappin’ basslines that were prevalent in Luther’s early work, and for most of Luther’s uptempo cuts. “I never had any official responsibilities with Luther because we used to just work,“ Marcus shared in an interview, “but I felt like one of my (unspoken) responsibilities was to make sure Luther had tracks on his album that could be played on the radio during the day time.”

Adderley’s genius came through in Luther’s trademark covers. In Luther’s case, “remake” is a more apt description than “cover,” because he and Nat would take the original songs apart, stretch them out, invert them, slow parts down, add sections, reverse some sh*t… it was a whole different composition when they were done. The lush string and woodwind arrangements in Luther ballads are Nat’s handiwork. Incredible piano flourishes and solos, also Nat.

When both Miller and Adderley worked on the track, magic ensued, starting with Luther’s forever-a-bop solo debut “Never Too Much.” Coming out of the funk band driven ‘70s landscape, labels were doubtful of Luther’s smooth solo style. Epic finally took a chance, and it hit just as popular urban music went through its next evolution, which happened to be right in Luther’s sonic pocket.

“Luther, Marcus Miller and I had a real musical connection,” Nat has said. “We saw stuff the same way. We thought of things in the same way. When we came together, we really learned about each other and fed off of each other.”

Luther knew who he was as a singer and an artist. He wrote and produced the majority of his early material, and continued to co-write and co-produce through most of his career. He was clear on what worked for him both vocally and formulaically. Marcus Miller shared, “One of the things I used to hear him say was ‘I don’t need to compete with any other singers. Other singers sing hard, high, and with a lot of riffs. That’s not me. That’s not my thing. I’m just going to style these people to death.’” And he styled us to death, honey. Luther was the king of melisma and dramatic effect, but without oversinging. Where most vocalists would build towards a climax in the song, Luther’s structure was often reversed. He’d start easy, build during the middle, and come back to a soft, light, but emotional close.

This careful, deliberate singing was part of his genius. There’s a reason Black folks yell “Take your time,” to soloists when they’re in their bag–mastery isn’t rushed.

As I mentioned before, Luther was also a transformative cover artist. Would straight Deebo your song – that was his song, now. And artists didn’t even mind, because he elevated it so incredibly. Some of Luther’s biggest hits are covers: “Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me” (The Carpenters and Aretha Franklin), “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (Dionne Warwick), “Since I Lost My Baby” (The Temptations), “Bad Boy/Having a Party” (an interpolation of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party”), “If Only for One Night” (Brenda Russell), “Creepin’” (Stevie Wonder). He was a repeat offender with Dionne Warwick’s material from Burt Bacharach and Hal David, jacking not just “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” the song that blew him away at a young age, but also “A House is Not a Home”–on the same album. And she didn’t even care, look at her.

Luther’s capabilities as Mr. Steal-Your-Song also translated to his strength as a duet partner. He knew how to blend voices so perfectly, he was outstanding when paired with another strong vocalist. Luther produced Cheryl Lynn’s 1982 album Instant Love, and took the opportunity to use a Tammi and Marvin classic to showcase the singer’s strength beyond uptempo dance hits.

One of my favorite Luther duets and covers is an album cut with the tragically uncelebrated Martha Wash. Their version of the torch song standard “I Who Have Nothing,” is a little heavy on production in some places, especially the early ‘90s R&B sax, but their voices are perfect together. And the breakdown at the end? Whew. All the feels. All of them.

But Luther could also do very sweet and simple arrangements, like his duet with Gregory Hines. This song always makes me wish Gregory had done more professional singing after he left musical theater.

Don’t get it twisted, though, Luther specialized in controlled vocals, but he could act a fool when he wanted to. Especially when playing off the energy of another singer, like his dear friend and my favorite Auntie, queen of extra just because she can, Patti Labelle.

Jenifer Holliday and Luther messed around and pushed poor Paul Simon out of his own damn song.

Luther was a balladeer of elite caliber, but he’ll also get an uptempo jumpin’, literally. When Aretha’s career was in a lengthy lull and facing the challenges of a new musical era, Clive Davis called Luther to write and produce for her. Luther, who once called himself an "Arethacologist," was thrilled to work with one of his biggest idols and inspirations. But Luther was a very exacting producer; he would tell vocalists specifically what and how to sing. Auntie Re wasn’t playing that at first, and even stormed out of the studio at one point, but the end result was her biggest hit in seven years.

Luther himself has several cookout and red cup party classics. Tunes that me, you, your mama and your cousin can dance to. That’s part of the beauty in Luther’s music; there’s no content too mature–or too immature–for anyone. While recalling Luther, Marcus Miller remarked, “There is no greater feeling in the world than walking down the street in New York City and hearing a Luther song blasting in the street.” I can personally confirm, as someone who’s heard Luther blasting while in these New York City streets.

What I don’t believe is acknowledged enough is Luther’s longevity. A 20-year career is a rare feat for any artist, but especially for a core R&B singer who started in the ‘80s. Luther did have pop hits–“Here and Now” was one of the biggest wedding songs of the ‘90s–but he was always a core R&B artist, and always stayed on brand and on topic. He was somewhat inactive in the latter ‘90s after ending his contract with Epic Records; he released one album with Virgin records in 1996, but it’s not usually included in his definitive material. Whispers and speculation about his health began, as he’d spent much of the ‘90s going up and down dramatically with his weight. But he made a fierce return in the early aughts. His final two albums, with Clive Davis’ J. Records, were two of the biggest in his career, with material that was relevant and contemporary without sounding contrived.

This song makes me want to put on some white linen and go on somebody’s boat ride.

As secure as Luther had always been in his artistry, he still felt overlooked as a writer and producer and longed for critical recognition beyond R&B. Out of 33 career Grammy nominations with eight wins, only two were in the Pop category. It wasn’t until his final album, 2003’s Dance With my Father, that Luther earned the elusive Song of the Year nomination and subsequent win he’d been longing for, for the album’s title track. But he also suffered a debilitating stroke in April 2003, before the project’s release. Since he was unable to shoot a video, artists who loved him stepped in with their children or parents as a tribute. Warning: this video may cause severe allergy flareups.

I have no doubt that barring health issues, Luther would at minimum still be touring. He was one of the most thorough live performers I’ve ever seen, with production simple enough to keep the vocals as the centerpiece, but extra enough so you were visually entertained as well (lots of sequins). Luther was touring in 2003 until his stroke (do yourself a favor and listen to his Live at Radio City Music Hall album, his last live appearance), and was scheduled to perform at Essence Festival that year. Can you imagine Luther at Essence Fest?

When news of Luther’s death broke, my mother and I–both huge fans–were driving to a family reunion, and we played and sang along to his music for about four states. I still play Luther when I need a boost, or when I want to burrow deep down into my feelings. When I want to go into chill mode, or when I want to dance around the house. Luther is all-purpose. He is all-emotion. He is everything. He was a gift.

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#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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Josias Valdez

SAINt JHN Brings Unwavering Confidence To New York's Experimental Rap Sound

SAINt JHN’s amalgamation of primal energy and eager mosh pits at Rolling Loud are unmatched. A hazy sunset would’ve been a fitting pairing for his rage session, but his early set at New York’s Citi Field Saturday (Oct. 12) gets the job done. While a few curious eyes from VIP are studying the vibes, the trenches are full of fans screaming lyrics to “5,000 Singles,” "94 Bentley” and “Trap” (feat. Lill Baby)—all standouts from his sophomore project, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs.

The diverse crowd isn’t a surprise to the Brooklyn artist. JHN’s musical ancestry has allowed his vines to branch out to artists like Usher, dvsn and Beyonce; all artists he’s earned co-writer credits for respectively. But then there are those who discovered him through Fortnite or his work on “Brown Skin Girl.” No matter how Ghetto Lenny crossed fans' path, he’s grateful listeners are making the pit stop.

“It's better than anything I could ask for, that’s what I wanted,” he tells VIBE. “I just wanted people to hear the sounds and fall in love and not overthink it. You get a 12-year-old and you'll get a 55-year-old standing next to each other in the audience. They’re from different eras of music but they’ll feel the same way.”

JHN calls his presence at New York’s first Rolling Loud “good timing” in light of his appearances across the traveling festival’s Miami, L.A. and Bay Area staples. But the moment feels kismet since JHN is one of the few surviving New York performers who were able to hit the stage.

Just 24 hours before the festival kicked off, fellow rising Brooklyn acts like Casanova, Sheff G, 22Gz, and Pop Smoke as well as Bronx rapper Don Q were banned at the request of the NYPD because of their alleged affiliations to recent “acts of violence” citywide. While fellow NYC natives like A$AP Rocky, Desiigner, Jim Jones and Fat Joe took the stage, JHN was one of the few acts to represent New York’s new sound.

“Those artists come from the places I come from,” he said of the ban. “In instances like this, you have to separate the art from the incident. Clearly these artists come from different pasts—they talk about it in their music. But the point of the music is to transition out of that.” Many of the artists like Cassanova and Don Q spoke out against the NYPD’s influence in the festival.

"I’m at war with my past and the scars that they still leave on me every day," Casanova said on Instagram. "I will continue to fight against biases and advocate for those facing this same issue."

“You have to give them the opportunity to tell their stories or you further entrap them,” JHN adds about the group of rappers. “They end up stuck in the same positions they’re trying to escape by making a concrete wall around their history.”

JHN’s history is a mix of the power of attraction and community. His early years comprised of creating the building blocks of his label GØDD COMPLEXx and his fashion line Christian Sex Club. While making his dreams a reality, the grind led him to genuine friendships with future superstars like Jidenna, Skrillex and Ski Mask The Slump God. Last year, JHN released his debut album Collection One paired with head-bashing shows across the country.

Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs takes his sound to the next level with melodic punches on tracks like “I Can Fvcking Tell” and the Lenny Kravitz-assisted “Borders.” With punk and rap flowing effortlessly from JHN, the artist can only attest his glowing confidence to the game of life.

“My journey is where I'm at right? It's the monopoly board of my life, and I'm making my rounds,” he says. Being confident grows every year. So me saying "too lit to be humble" [On “5,000 Singles”] that just means I'm not gonna call it nothing else, I'm just gonna tell what it is. This is who I am, fuck with it. If you don't like it, you can turn left. You can turn around if you want, but this is happening.”

On his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz, JHN looks back with a big smile and several words. “Iconic, outrageous, Ignorant. Three o'clock in the morning of Paris,” he says. “Checkered floors. Space. Leather fixtures, Dark rooms. Lenny Kravitz. SAINt JHN. My nigga, I can tell you anything. I can tell you it smelled like cigars, whiskey, rum, and the Bahamas because in my mind, all that shit happened.”

But in all seriousness, the moment was an indication for JHN that his journey in music is paved with golden intentions.

“It was reinforcement,” he says. “The first time I worked with Usher, I learned that I belonged in the room. You know the first time you get invited into a room you have never been in and you almost feel like you lied your way in? The second time, you don't feel like you lied your way in.”

JHN's IGNORANt FOREVER Tour kicks off Nov. 11 in Miami with stops in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York. See the dates here.

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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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