TOBi
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Meet TOBi: The Nigerian Artist Who Picked His Passion Over Family Expectations

When thinking of soul music, it’s easy to resort to the legends of the genre first, like Marvin Gaye and Four Tops, just to name a couple. However, one should also think of a towering, yet soft-spoken artist by the name of TOBi. During a New York visit, the 6’3” Toronto resident explains how he isn't like the traditional soul music that many people are familiar with, citing the aforementioned artists. In fact, TOBi, dressed street style fly with a Kappa sweatsuit and black fedora, creates what he calls "unapologetic soul music." The 26-year-old speaks thoroughly and candidly when explaining exactly what that means. It all comes down to undeniably being himself, he says, and doing as much as he can and as much as he wants with his music.

"[It] is not restricted to a genre," he says of his self-described art form. "Unapologetic soul music, to me, is music that explores your deepest feelings, your fears, your joys, the things that make you tick."

This definition of his craft has been a main component of TOBi's musicality since he discovered music was his passion around the cusp of double digits. Even at that young age, 10-year-old TOBi associated the creation of music with how it made him feel, which was nothing but "good inside." TOBi was figuring out all that he could do with music, whether it was writing it or singing and rapping to it, all three skills that he employs today, and each discovery was fundamental in helping him get through a difficult period in his life: immigrating from Nigeria to Toronto. Music not only brought him joy at that time but also served as coping mechanism, because the move wasn't all sunshine and daisies for him.

When he and his family moved to Toronto, the six of them stayed in a two-bedroom home, with the children in one room and his parents in the other. They lived in a low-income neighborhood at the time and although the move wasn't entirely pleasant, there's a reason why TOBi discovering his love for music occurred around the same time his move to North America did.

"I think it coincides during that time because I utilized creating poetry and rap music as a coping mechanism for change," he explains. "For me to be able to have an outlet and not to go talk to people all the time about how this was going—because my natural predisposition was introversion. So, as an introvert, having that outlet to still be able to express how I was feeling inside was almost like stumbling upon the greatest thing ever."

Here, the buzzing talent shares exactly who he is as an artist and what his recently released Still album reveals about TOBi, the human being.

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VIBE: You sing and you rap. Would you describe yourself as an artist that's a rapper singer like Drake, or do you veer towards one more than the other?
TOBi: Yeah, it's interesting when people describe me online in different groups. Some will say rapper, some will say singer. I would consider myself an artist that utilizes both to create a song that means something. Whatever method I'm using at the time, it's just what it is. Sometimes I rap more, sometimes I'll sing more.

How did you get started in the music industry? How was your journey to where you are today?
I would say it's been an ongoing process. I started really recording music when I was a teenager in high school and putting stuff online. You know, MySpace, all those different platforms. But for real I would say my first real project that I put out was in 2016, it was called FYI. That's an EP that I created with a producer from Toronto, Nate Smith. I would say that's my first real foray into the music industry as TOBi.

As TOBi.... So, before TOBi the artist, who were you? What were you doing?
I had hella names, hella pseudonyms that I was going by. I think it was just music that I thought sounded cool rather than music that felt really personal and genuine to who I am.

Did you have other career paths, or other passions that maybe clashed with music?
I mean even though I wanted to be an artist, my family was not down for that. A big part of that move to Canada was like, "okay, we're about to move here because you're about to go this school and this school, get this education and become a doctor or a lawyer." It's the typical story you ask anybody from where they come from. Any first generation or newcomer family that's usually the path, right? So, there's a lot of friction externally with my family on that. But also internally, there was a lot of turmoil choosing which path to go on.

 

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Seeing this in my city in support of my new album means everything. STILL is out now! Much love to @spotifycanada @spotify

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Is there still that friction with your family or have they come to accept the fact that this is what you want to do and that you can actually be successful at it?
Yeah, they've come to accept it through many conflicts, for sure. We've had a number of conflicts about it. But you know, at the end of the day, they see that it's something that I've been doing for so long. It's something that I'm really passionate about and it's working. They just needed to see that. Also, they weren't gonna let me slide and not finish my undergrad. For me, completing that as well, that was to them like, "OK, he's old enough, he'll figure it out."

What did you study in undergrad?
Biology.

Once you graduated undergrad, was it like, "OK, this is like a Plan B for him, now he can go after what he wants?"
For them, absolutely. For them, it was that, "you got this." Now it's the trust factor. Can we trust this guy is able to make these kinds of decisions?

Would you say that being Nigerian influences your music?
[It] definitely does because my earliest, formidable memories are from me growing up in Nigeria. Living there for eight years, I remember so many stories. I remember the food, I remember the language, the culture.... I remember all these nuances that are still residual memories but they come up every so often into the forefront. I think on this album I tapped back into that consciously.

Are there specific Nigerian artists that influence you or even Canadian artists that influence you?
Yeah, so I'll start with the Nigerian side. Some artists that influence me are Fela Kuti, Majek Fashek, King Sunny Adé, those are more of the older artists that influence me. And then modern, probably Burna Boy, this dude named Brymo, he's from Nigeria, he's amazing. There's some influence of him actually in this project as well. Overall though, as far as contemporary hip-hop music, I would say Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Frank Ocean. I just like artists that truly delve into the different aspects of their emotionality.

Who do you see yourself collaborating with? Would you see those artists as well?
That's a good question. Definitely, Kendrick, definitely Frank Ocean for sure. Producers, Pharrell. I think Pharrell brings something special out of the artist that he collaborates with. He gets them to step out of their comfort zone. He can work with the Clipse, and then he can also work with some pop sounds and do Despicable Me soundtracks. So that's definitely someone I would love to collaborate with. I think we can do something amazing.

As an artist, what would you say are three goals that you would want to accomplish within the next five years?
I definitely want to go on tour in different continents. I want to go across the world and connect with as many humans as possible, that's one. Two, I want to be a songwriter for other artists as well. I want to be able to tap into other experiences and be able to create music that doesn't just reflect my life, but speaks to others as well. And lastly, I want to be involved in what I see as a movement. A movement of self-discovery, an awakening of self-awareness as well. I feel like in 2019, and going forward, we as global citizens are becoming more and more aware of the world around us and the world within us as well. That's personally from a psychological perspective and a mental health and well-being perspective. I want to be more aware of not just the literature but also what movements are occurring and how I can be involved in it as an artist to create a platform to put that out there.

 

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Still tryna paint Picasso's 📷 @jamilnotjamal

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Is there any movement now that you're passionate about, that you see yourself getting involved in?
Absolutely. One movement that I'm really passionate about is this kind of awakening of self-healing. I don't know if you see this but even on social media, on Twitter or Instagram, there's a lot of people who promote healthy consumption of food, drinks, music, media, books. So like a healthy consumption of taking things into your body, right. Because that essentially becomes who you are. That's something I've been very passionate about on a personal level. I'm still working on that, because I don't want to come out and be an ambassador for something I'm not applying to myself. That's my major thing right now and I love it. That's why I love a lot of these new artists coming out. I love Solange, I think she's a huge proponent for that. Not just through her music but through what she says, through what she does, and her actions. I like to align myself with those kinds of groups.

Now let's get into your album. Why the name Still?
I remember the name was so many different things before Still. Still was the perfect word to encompass what was going on in there. There's different layers to it. First one that I'll speak on is the persistence and the dedication. When I was creating this project, I've been making it for two years but the stories on there are from when I was eight years old. It almost feels like I've been writing this project for 15 years, that's what it feels like to me. Just that ongoing process of change and growth as an individual and persistence, it's still. It's ongoing, it keeps on going even after the project. It keeps on going, it doesn't stop. And then secondly, one thing that's always been very important to me is presence and being grounded in the present moment. To be still is to be centered and almost fixated in the current experience. So that word is perfect.

 

For Still, can you speak on specific experiences in your life that you pulled inspiration from?
There's a number of experiences. Some of the songs were a bit difficult to write because of the experiences. But, I remember clearly, vividly when I first moved to Canada and having my family come with me afterwards and where we lived. We lived in this apartment in a kind of low-income area. It was a two-bedroom apartment and there was six of us in there and all the kids were in one room and I just remember it was small. It was very small but it was fine. I was just happy that we were all together. And I drew on that a bit on some of the songs on there and what those times were like, right and seeing the growth of not just me but my family as well. Like my mom for sure.

That's another experience that I drew from. Her coming into the country, working manual labor overnight and then she transitioned into the role that she's currently in where she runs the whole company and watching her grow from that, that was motivating for me as well. Still, you know, the story's for her, too. And then there's pieces in the album that speak about my more rebellious teenager years, getting up to no good.

What can fans and new listeners expect from Still?
They should expect to be moved. Not just physically, because some of the beats are slapping, but also on an emotional level. It's a bit of a trip listening to it from top to bottom. I've listened to it on some late nights before going to bed, and every time I listen to it, I'm even tapping into something new that I subconsciously put into the project that I wasn't consciously aware of that I did. So I would like listeners to be able to experience certain emotions and feel free with it. Not to try to repress anything, just let it go, just let it come free. You gotta let it go sometimes. And expect that flame, expect that sonic flame, now and forever.

What can fans and new listeners expect from Still?
They should expect to be moved. Not just physically, because some of the beats are slapping, but also on an emotional level. It's a bit of a trip listening to it from top to bottom. I've listened to it on some late nights before going to bed, and every time I listen to it, I'm even tapping into something new that I subconsciously put into the project that I wasn't consciously aware of that I did. So I would like listeners to be able to experience certain emotions and feel free with it. Not to try to repress anything, just let it go, just let it come free. You gotta let it go sometimes. And expect that flame, expect that sonic flame, now and forever.

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Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.

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Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

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Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
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Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 

 

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A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

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Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.

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VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

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