Pharrell Williams performs at the inaugural Something In The Water music festival.
Brian Ach

Pharrell Williams' Something In The Water Turns The Tide In Virginia Beach

The sauce that makes the 757 special was on full display at Pharrell Williams' inaugural music festival.

Pharrell Williams is a man of many talents, and now he can add festival organizer to that list. The producer/singer/rapper/fashion mogul welcomed the world to his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va. for the inaugural Something in the Water, a festival chock full of superstars and events that delighted both locals and visitors.

From Jay-Z to Deepak Chopra to Virgil Abloh to Sylvia Rhone, Pharrell leaned heavily on the shield of his peers in the music and fashion industries to create something that hasn't been seen in Virginia in well, ever. Something in the Water was not just another Coachella or Lollapalooza — and it was clear that Pharrell, his team, and the folks who partnered with him were intentional about making sure the show went smoothly. Virginia, with its recent political embarrassments, needed this win. The residents and business owners who had their own challenges around large events, needed this to work. And the city of Virginia Beach also stood to gain significant financial benefits from the success of the festival—35,000 tickets for the event sold out far in advance, and beach accommodations were snapped up just as quickly. Something in the Water was essentially a proof of concept that Virginia could support this level and style of event.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is a unique place; in her 2017 Elle profile of music titan Missy Elliott, writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah aptly describes its geography as "Southern, hanging off the edge of the East Coast." Once you leave the corona of the 495 beltway around Washington, D.C., Virginia is wholly the South with southern sensibilities. While Miami Beach culture is centered on the hottest clubs and letting the good times roll is New Orleans' motto, Virginia Beach is a family-oriented beach town, which is evident by prominent “No Cursing” signs across the oceanfront.

In the ViBe Creative District of Virginia Beach just beyond the oceanfront, psychic reader and new resident Kathy Marie talked about the shifting energies that swirled around before Something in the Water. "It's been really interesting because I've only lived here about six months and the history of this weekend has been a little bit scary for the other residents, but as I walked around and talked to the police and the people that are working here today, they're all just business as usual, you know, they told me they’re ready for anything." Security was certainly tight, with state troopers, mounted police and other details out in full effect to manage crowds and direct the flow of traffic.

Reservations about the large influx of folks that came into Virginia Beach for Something in the Water were likely tied to the long history of challenges for young people of color organizing and partying in the city. Something in the Water took place a few months shy of the 30th anniversary of what are now known as the Greekfest Riots. In the summer of 1989, black college students partying in Virginia Beach over the Labor Day weekend clashed with police, prompting city leaders to call in the National Guard.

Something in the Water also fell on the same weekend as College Beach Weekend, an event which has been a point of contention in recent years. Incidents of unanticipated violence rattled residents and made it more challenging for students to gather.

In a statement on Instagram, Team FaceJay, the organizers behind College Beach Weekend, are adamant that the event was created to give college students the opportunity to celebrate post-finals and to build community together. "At its core, the event was conceived for and with college students in mind to be able to enjoy themselves, network, and build lifelong connections with other like-minded individuals across schools on the east coast." Pharrell gave a nod to the students of College Beach week in an interview with local news station WAVY-TV 10. "Those students are the inspiration," he said. Where other events had challenges around scaling, it seems Something in the Water was able to leverage deep community partnerships and colossal star power to get as many folks to table as possible to put Virginia and its residents front and center.

Throughout the weekend it was clear that Pharrell, the crew, volunteers and partners put in a lot of work to make sure Something in the Water was a success, but even Skateboard P was no match for Mother Nature. On the first day of the show, severe storms rolled in, raining out all the scheduled acts. Those amped to see performances from groups like Migos, Dave Matthews Band, and Virginia trap jazz artist Masego were disappointed when they weren't able to perform, but attendees were promptly notified that they would be reimbursed for a third of the ticket price. Still, many folks were anxious to see the event get started.

Day two brought better weather, and was packed with activations by Timberland (including a giant classic wheat boot that would be the envy of any New Yorker), adidas and Sony, an art installation by KAWS, civic engagement programming via Trap the Vote, and performances by Amber Mark, Kaytranada, Ferg, J. Balvin, and SZA.

The best parts of the festival, however, were the reunions. If you are from or went to school in the commonwealth, it's likely you ran into more than a few folks you knew or grew up with. That same energy was replicated on stage during Pharrell's set, where it seemed every heavy hitter he had ever worked with graced the stage. Anyone who was a child in the ‘90s or went to college during the turn of the millennium felt a wallop of nostalgia, with Snoop Dogg, Charlie Wilson, Missy Elliott, Magoo, Timbaland and Jay-Z offering up a relentless torrent of jams. The roar of the crowd was confirmation that despite any hiccups from the rollout, people were pleased with the fest.

The final day of Something in the Water was much warmer, but also felt more settled. Festival goers and community members alike had the opportunity to enjoy a Pop-Up Church Service facilitated by local church leaders, and a Walmart community brunch that was free with the donation of a nonperishable good. The highest caliber of gospel artists were on tap to perform, including Mary Mary, Israel Houghton and Kirk Franklin. Further down the beach on the main stage, artists like Pusha T, Jhene Aiko, Virginia's own Chris Brown and Trey Songz, and Anderson .Paak rocked crowds that stretched out as far as the eye could see.

Love and awe were particularly felt by the artists on the lineup with Virginia roots. There was a clear understanding that what was happening at Something in the Water was rare and important. Though Virginia has been a hotbed for black musical talents who’ve fundamentally shaped the sound of music within the past 20 years, there has never really been local infrastructure to showcase that talent. Musicians from the commonwealth often have to take off to places like New York or LA, which has a density of record companies, music publicists, and performance venues to have the type of exposure and impact they need to launch successful careers.

"It's lit because we never had a festival, we never had that moment, you know what I mean?" says Hampton native DRAM. "For it to be this year, 2019, it's like damn bro, it's still right on time."

The ability to perform at a grand scale in front of the friends and family who made you was meaningful to musician Leikeli47, who rocked the crowd Sunday in a Norfolk State hoodie and her signature ski-mask in a matching yellow. "No words can describe how truly grateful I am. This is my first show home, it’s the first year of the festival, so it’s definitely a special time for myself and the fam." When asked about what she missed most about Virginia, she had this to say: "I don’t have to miss much because I’m there often, but there are those times when I wish I could be there even more. The hustle is different in VA. Life's lessons grow you and keep you wise. I’m a proud VA/BK hybrid but it’s always two up, two down. There is an indescribable magic that resides in Virginia and in it’s people."

Teddy Riley, the architect of New Jack Swing and the man responsible for giving Pharrell a larger platform during his Wreckx-N-Effect days, also saw the beauty of Virginia early on. "I said to my girlfriend at the time, who is the mother of my four children, that if I ever wanted to live anywhere, it would be here, which was Virginia Beach." Originally from New York, Riley saw Virginia as a place to escape the rowdiness of his hometown, but also as a place to grow. "I love seeing talent coming out of Virginia because it's so raw. It is so raw. They're coming with a buck and a dream," he said. And now with the festival completed and cleanup underway, it seems there's hope that more space for that raw talent has been carved out.

Prior to Something in the Water, there was healthy skepticism from all sides about whether it would live up to the hype — as a first-time festival, it had never been done in Virginia before. But it looks like Pharrell, Virginia Beach, its residents and patrons of the event pulled it off. SITW is a win not only for the people here craving a creative space to express themselves but also for the city of Virginia Beach, which had an opportunity to show off the beauty of the beachfront while also significantly boosting revenue. The formidable star power that Pharrell wielded and his fierce dedication to creating a love-filled experience for his hometown was the stuff of dreams. Hopefully, the success of 2019's event means there will be Something in the Water for years to come.

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Mark Barboy

Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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