Black Music Month Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with Clive Davis
Black Music Association (BMA) co-founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with Clive Davis in 1970.
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Protect, Preserve, And Perpetuate: How Black Music Month Started As A Power Play

“Black music is the basis for most other forms of music….There is nothing that I know of, no music that is more important, than Black music.”

June 7th marks the annual anniversary of Black Music Month’s first celebration. Some may wonder whether a designated month is needed, when urban music has officially been the dominant genre, with decades of outsized influence on mainstream culture. In this “post-genre” music era, isn’t black music always celebrated?

Yeah, so about that…

The fight for who defines black music and culture, who promotes it, and who reaps the financial benefits is as old as commercial music itself, and possibly stronger now than ever. Hip-hop’s growth drove black music and culture into a multi-billion dollar business, with black founders, leaders, and heads at every turn in music and media. Black Music Month was born of the efforts to make that happen and now seems like the time to regroup.

In the ‘70s, the business of black music – which has always been an undercurrent of American music as a whole – was getting bigger. The major label system we know today was forming and swallowing up indies – including the black ones. Corporations had their eyes on the commodification of black culture, but in the post-civil rights era, black people had a larger voice, mobilized bases, and an understanding of their growing spending power and influence. They wouldn’t be cut out of the business of blackness, as we had been for the entire existence of commodified culture. Now there was significant power to organize and push back. This was the spirit in which a group of black executives formed the Black Music Association in 1978 and conceived Black Music Month in 1979; not just to celebrate black music’s contributions, but as part of a larger effort to mobilize black economic power, and for us to have more control over our own business.

Harvard & The Black Music Business

Black music is the foundation of American music. Behind almost every genre there’s the influence of black artists at the sonic creation point: Blues, jazz, rock, country, and pop. For most of commercial music’s history, we’ve observed sounds and styles pioneered by black artists and musicians appropriated by white artists and musicians, who then make more money from it.  In the ‘60s and ‘70s, black-owned labels like Stax, Motown, Solar, and Sussex were thriving. Their artists and music were relevant – the soundtrack to the social and political unrest of the time. They were not only selling but crossing over while remaining black as hell.  Former music exec Gary Harris explained the strength of Stax’s music in an interview: “That sh*t [label owner] Al Bell was putting out was so Black, it was blue—it should have included a discount coupon for Johnson hair care products and a five-dollar coupon for a rib, collard green, and black-eyed peas dinner.”

Major labels realized they needed to get in on that, but weren’t sure how. With the exception of Atlantic, the majors and their affiliates were failing miserably at breaking more than one or two black acts – because they didn’t know what to do. White executives love to ignore what black folks tell them to do about black things until another white person confirms it with some data, so in 1972, Columbia Records/CBS (specifically new president Clive Davis) commissioned research from the Harvard Business School. “A Study of the Soul Music Environment Prepared for Columbia Records Group,” otherwise known as the “Harvard Report,” was delivered in May 1972. The report summarily told Columbia they were late to the game and missing money, and outlined steps for them to catch up in the market share – namely adding dedicated black music divisions and black executives who knew how to promote the music. Columbia did as ordered; the label created a black music department; partnered with Philadelphia’s storied Gamble and Huff, and established the black joint venture model with Philadelphia International; and bought into Stax records (that went south almost immediately, but that’s another story).

Other major labels followed suit, bringing existing black shops under their umbrella or forming new joint ventures to act as a pipeline for black acts and an in-house resource for production. By the end of the decade, however, while black music was booming, this system was creating challenges. Black radio had started calling the black music format “urban” in an attempt to appeal to advertisers and non-black consumers. As part of that pivot, artists deemed “too black” weren’t getting airplay. Local mom and pop retailers couldn’t get the wholesale product directly from the label at fair prices and were suffering from quantity shortages, plus unable to compete with bigger retailers’ prices. Black promoters were relegated to the former Chitlin’ Circuit mainstays, all of which were declining post-segregation. They couldn’t get in the game with larger venues and tours, as successful black artists moved to the established (white) talent agencies. Black music was making more money than ever, but black people weren’t controlling it.

Black Music Is Green

Kenny Gamble was traveling in Nashville and observed how the Country Music Association moved. The CMA was formed in 1958 to “guide and enhance the development of Country Music throughout the world; to demonstrate it as a viable medium to advertisers, consumers, and media; and to provide a unity of purpose for the Country Music industry.” He was inspired to create something similar for black music, and partnered with Ed Wright, the head of NATRA (The National Association of TV and Radio Announcers) to create the Black Music Association (BMA) with the mission to “preserve, protect and perpetuate black music.”

The BMA’s official launch was in September of 1978 at a lavish inaugural convention in La Costa, California. Key figures in black music and media gathered, from label heads and founders like Berry Gordy, Dick Griffey, and Don Cornelius to artists like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. There were representatives from leading industry organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Associations of Recording Merchandisers, delegates and executives from the major labels, and some political muscle like Rev. Jesse Jackson. It was a power summit.

BMA had four divisions of membership and focus: marketing and merchandising, record company executives, TV and radio on-air talent and executives (including DJs and journalists), and the artists themselves. The organization also soon had a governing board made up of top executives from some of the major labels – whether black or not – which eventually became an issue internally.

The organization's goals were possibly a little too ambitious in the beginning. They promised to address if not solve almost every grievance in black entertainment, from radio airplay to cable broadcasting, to royalty payments, to distinguishing professional black promoters from the janky funky fingers productions-esque outfits. One of their first moves was to create a business initiative: Black Music Month.

“Initially, Black Music Month started as an economic program more than anything else,” Kenny Gamble shared in an interview with his ex-wife and co-founder of BMM, Dyana Williams. “The CMA had worked to establish October as Country Music Month, so we picked June as a time where we could concentrate on recognizing and celebrating the economic and cultural power of Black music and those who made and promoted it. The slogan we came up with was, ‘Black Music Is Green’ – it was about economics. So, in an effort to galvanize, as well as create an advocacy entity, Black Music Month was born.”

Gamble also noted that the CMA had been hosted at the White House for a reception, so he called the “Godfather of Black Music,” Clarence Avant – because everyone called on Clarence Avant – and Clarence made a couple of calls. On June 7th, 2019, Jimmy Carter hosted the first Black Music Month celebration on the White House lawn.

Though Carter declared June Black Music Month with the event in 1979, and black music institutions celebrated every June thereafter, Black Music Month didn’t become an official observation until 2000. Dyana Williams discovered in the late ‘90s that President Carter didn’t issue an official decree, so she worked with her local congresswoman to draft House Resolution 509, better known as The African-American Music Bill. In its official form, the bill — signed by former president Bill Clinton — called for a formal acknowledgment and celebration of black music’s contribution to and impact on American life and culture. This is the spirit in which we observe Black Music Month today.

Whereas artists, songwriters, producers, engineers, educators, executives, and other professionals in the music industry provide inspiration and leadership through their creation of music, dissemination of educational information, and financial contributions to charitable and community-based organizations;

Whereas African-American music is indigenous to the United States and originates from African genres of music;

Whereas African-American genres of music such as gospel, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rap, the Motown sound, and hip-hop have their roots in the African-American experience;

Whereas African-American music has a pervasive influence on dance, fashion, language, art, literature, cinema, media, advertisements, and other aspects of culture;

Whereas the prominence of African-American music in the 20th century has reawakened interest in the legacy and heritage of the art form of African-American music;

Whereas African-American music embodies the strong presence of, and significant contributions made by, African-Americans in the music industry and society as a whole;

Whereas the multibillion-dollar African-American music industry contributes greatly to the domestic and worldwide economy;

Whereas African-American music has a positive impact on and broad appeal to diverse groups, both nationally and internationally; and

Whereas in 1979 President Carter recognized June as African-American Music Month, and President Clinton subsequently recognized June as African-American Music Month: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—(1) recognizes the importance of the contributions of African-American music to global culture and the positive impact of African-American music on global commerce; and (2) calls on the people of the United States to take the opportunity to study, reflect on, and celebrate the majesty, vitality, and importance of African-American music.

Getting Back To The Beginning

The Black Music Association dissolved in the mid-80s, as factions split in the leadership based on priority. Radio felt like their needs weren’t being properly prioritized, and radio was the driver for almost everything else; Griffey and Rev. Jackson formed the Black Promoters Association as an offshoot of BMA, but it operated as its own entity; and questions rose regarding conflicts of interest with the presence of major label heads – some of the very people the BMA was targeting – on the organization’s board.

“The BMA wasn’t able to withstand splintered agendas in the leadership. That plus dissension about the organization’s direction ultimately led to its demise,” Williams explained to Billboard a few years ago. “There’s still the need for an organization that galvanizes all the styles of black music and also advocates the advancement of black music overall for this and future generations.”

In the 40 years since Gamble, Wright, and Williams championed black music’s contributions on the White House lawn, the black music business has circled back to the same place as when BMA was founded. Urban music – specifically hip-hop – is now pop music, by definition, but once again, we’re not in control. Clinton’s deregulation of telecommunications industry in 1996 led to the conglomeration of radio, pushing black radio owners out as companies like iHeart and Clear Channel snapped radio stations up by the handful. With that came mass programming based on algorithms and data instead of decisions made by DJs who know their listeners and their markets. As “urban” music became more mainstream, labels dissolved black music divisions and ousted high-level black executives. Now, some labels are using pure algorithms to sign artists and make marketing decisions.

The business’ shift to digital interests, while great for hip-hop, has hurt legacy R&B artists. And once again, black labels – even the joint ventures (JVs) – are largely absorbed into the majors, with many in existence as imprint only, if at all. “The whole culture of the music industry has changed,” Gamble has pointed out. “With fewer black executives or dedicated black divisions like back in the day, there are many A&R people at these companies who don’t know anything about black music. But they still sign these artists…It appears that investment in black artists is pretty much at a standstill. There has been a systematic dismantling and ongoing cultural appropriation of black culture.”

It would serve black music now to go back and look at the original goals of the Black Music Association and Black Music Month. Former Sony Urban president Michael Mauldin — a surviving “old head” who oversaw the massive success of Destiny’s Child, B2K, the Fugees and Lauryn Hill, founded The Scream Tour, and produced a mogul in his son, Jermaine Dupri — is working on a new iteration. He lamented in Billboard that black music’s stratospheric accomplishments in the ‘90s made us a little too comfortable. “The type of cultural impact we were having in 1998 has not been felt since. No one seemed to be paying attention to the future of Black American Music anymore. And once again there were community and political debates over how to best describe black heritage (Black American, African-American, urban, etc.) Resistance to the term ‘black music’ also fueled those debates, as many people — blacks and whites — felt that the word ‘black’ was too racial.”  He added that his Black American Music Association (BAMA) “will pick up where its predecessor left off. The mission: to develop, recognize, educate, guide and promote the next generation of artists/musicians and industry executives, while supporting those dedicated to preserving and celebrating the legacy and future of Black American Music (BAM).”

Dyana Williams, now one of the foremost voices on black music history, also guides the future of the culture as labels’ go-to person for auntie-level artist development and communications education for new talent. In addition to getting to know artists beyond their talking points, she teaches them how to talk about their music and their talent, navigate the pitfalls of social media, and insists they know their influences and musical history. She emphasized the continued importance of celebrating Black Music Month to The Root, saying “For black people, music is like breathing. It’s part of our experience, from field hollers to the hip-hop of today and every genre in between, because we have influenced everybody from The Rolling Stones to The Beatles to Eric Clapton, who cite black music as their wellspring. We are talking about America's indigenous music that just happens to be black.”

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Living Outside ‘The Man Box’: A Look At Masculinity And Self-Care

A study from Promundo and AXE aimed to open up a larger conversation about masculinity. For the 2017 research, a large group of men from the United States, U.K. and Mexico were surveyed about their day-to-day habits.

The findings concluded that most men ages 18 to 30 often feel pressured by society to fit into what is called “The Man Box,” or a social construct of male identity that pushes stereotypes on boys and young men regarding how to act “like a man.” These stereotypes include behaving “tough,” being aggressive to prove masculinity and ignoring aspects of self-care, such as mental health and emotional vulnerability.

Throughout the last few years, several male-centered brands have attempted to rectify these stereotypes. Gillette released an advertisement calling out toxic masculinity at the top of 2019. AXE has been committed to shedding hypermasculinity and harmful stereotypes through the promotion of various campaigns such as “Senior Orientation” with artists such as John Legend and rapper KYLE, and its latest campaign, “Bathsculinity” featuring Lil Rel Howery.

“Bathsculinity” is categorized as “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of young men who take pride in their appearance and feel confident in expressing their most attractive selves, inside and outside of the bathroom.” While it may be difficult for some men to embrace their self-care sides, it’s incredibly important for them to find time to take care of themselves.

"AXE continues to break the barriers of masculine stereotypes each year by partnering with great organizations and individuals who support this mission," said Dawn Hedgepeth, General Manager and Vice President of Unilever Deodorants, Men's Grooming and Hand and Body Lotion. "It is our hope that the Bathsculinity mindset will encourage guys everywhere to embrace self-care and self-confidence in every aspect of life.”

Self-care involves multiple avenues, and many men are starting to come to terms with the importance of self-care and keeping their own health in check.

Physical Self-Care Is More Than Just Looking Good

“…Men in the Man Box in the U.S. and UK are significantly more likely to report having “often” or “very often” spent an hour or more bathing, grooming and clothing themselves in the last month,” according to The Man Box findings.

Many men may think that self-care is purely physical; you know, the “sitting in the bubble bath, cucumbers over the eyes” deal. Public figures like Pharrell and Frank Ocean have been open about the importance of male-grooming. In a rare 2018 interview with GQ, Ocean discussed his serious skincare routine. Pharrell spoke with DAZED in 2017 about his regimen for his ageless skin, stressing the importance of exfoliation. The Man Box research reads that this emphasis is due to the belief that “Women don’t go for guys who fuss too much about their clothes, hair, and skin.”

While the notion that “when you look good, you feel good” is still important, this is one mere, surface-level aspect of physical self-care. Despite these high-profile admissions of personal grooming, 24-year-old Weso tells us that to him, physical care is so much more than face value. VIBE reached out to numerous young men regarding the importance of self-care in their own lives.

“Self-care to me is anything you do that makes the mind, body, and soul feel good,” he explains. “Putting the right food in your diet, washing your face to prevent acne, speaking to a therapist to stay on top of your mental health.”

Weso adds that this means resting when necessary. In mid-May, Steve Harvey made controversial comments about the importance of sleep, stating that “rich people” don’t sleep the recommended eight hours a night, suggesting that a lack of rest is the key to becoming successful. Additionally, Diddy has been a vocal advocate of “Team No Sleep,” a lifestyle promoting a non-stop work ethic to achieve greatness. However, it has proven to have some consequences for him in the long run.

"I was proud of working 18 hours a day and sleeping three hours a night," he told ABC’s Nightline in 2010. "It's something now that has turned into a problem for me: not being able to sleep.”

25-year-old Justin notes to us that while “the hustle” is idolized in American culture, nothing is more paramount to self-care than listening to your body.

“Many of us come to ‘the city that never sleeps’ in pursuit of excellence and have watched our fair share of motivational videos that instruct us to sacrifice sleep for 'success,’” he says. “By constantly consuming this propaganda, we compare our lives and work ethics to a photoshopped standard.”

Additionally, men have to be on their P’s and Q’s when it comes to their inner physical health. Earlier this year, 52-year-old actor Luke Perry and 51-year-old director John Singleton both passed away from reported stroke complications. Their sudden passings were surprising because not only were both men healthy in appearance, but they were both relatively young. While strokes, unfortunately, affect people of all ages, statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the chance of a person suffering from a stroke doubles after the age of 55, with 75 percent of strokes occurring in individuals over the age of 65.

“Seeing your idols or celebrities dealing with these same life stressors should make them more relatable and open people’s eyes up to the fact that money and fame does not solve everything,” 25-year-old Nikko explains to VIBE when asked if men should consider headlines about health as cautionary tales for their own lives.

“I see these headlines and start thinking, ‘Do I want to work ridiculously hard, peak at 35 and die at 45? Or do I want to run at a marathon pace and grow steadily throughout the course of a long healthy life?’” Justin continues. “I'd choose the latter, but I think each of us has a choice.”

Don’t Downplay The Importance Of Mental Health

Perhaps the biggest stigma plaguing men pertains to the importance of mental health. The Man Box study reports that many men don’t discuss mental health due to the notion that it’s not masculine to discuss issues surrounding the topic, nor is it masculine to ask for help to cope with them.

“Some members of the Bestow Gill, Leeds, UK group said that if they were having a problem [with mental health], they would simply ‘bottle it up and get on with it,’ or ‘work it out,’ perhaps by going to the gym, or ‘just put the kettle on,’” the report reads. “In other words, they don’t talk about feeling sad or depressed.”

Instead, boys are conditioned to “act tough” in order to maintain a certain level of perceived masculinity, to conceal their true feelings or any problems they may be facing. Despite the stigma that surrounds such an important topic, the study did reveal that while men don’t always seem to be comfortable reaching out to professionals regarding mental health, they found solace in discussing it with those closest to them.

In the U.S., 25 percent of the men surveyed revealed they felt most comfortable seeking help with sadness or depression from their mothers, compared to 11 percent with a male friend and 7 percent with their own fathers. This coincides with the belief that women are usually more perceptive with discussions surrounding emotions.

“I think it's important to be vulnerable in the face of adversity,” Justin says. “The relationships you've built are meant to be relied upon during these times. Trust your friends, rely on your family, and also check on your friends, even the ones who seem to have it all figured out.”

There’s also shame of some sort surrounding the importance of mental health as it pertains to black men. According to the National Alliance On Mental Illness, nearly 19 percent of African Americans are reportedly living with a mental illness, with 1 in 5 American adults having experienced it.

In an interview with Black Enterprise, psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor discussed that stigmas regarding mental illness in the black community–– especially among black men–– could potentially lead to a “why try” attitude when it comes to getting help.

“See your primary care provider, get a physical, examine your medications and talk about your stressors,” she recommends. “Be open and honest about what’s been going on. Follow up if recommended to a therapist or psychiatrist.”

Another tip? Don’t ignore mental health issues, and try to develop good habits while on the road to seeking necessary help.

“This world is hard enough as it is even with your mind and body operating optimally,” Nikko says. “You may be faced with bad breaks, but I always say to myself that this situation could be so much worse. Focusing on the positives as opposed to the negatives again ties back to developing good habits. [These choices] and consistently reminding myself of this has largely shaped my outlook on life.”

 

It’s Okay To Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve

“Some young men in the U.S. and UK who adhere to more rigid gender norms also demonstrate transgressive emotional behaviors such as crying in front of friends or talking about emotional topics,” Promundo writes in The Man Box study.

There are various ways in which humans, in general, can experience different emotional issues. Even as something as simple as the amount of social media likes and comments we receive, Weso explains, has effects on our confidence and self-esteem, resulting in emotional distress– as small as it seems.

“The sad truth is that these apps can alter your mood,” he continues. “Putting up a picture and not getting enough likes can make you start second guessing your appearance.” One of the biggest examples of toxic masculinity involves the notion that men “aren’t supposed to cry.”

When dealing with grief, trauma and other emotionally taxing issues, it’s actually more beneficial to your health to cry, rather than to “stay strong.” Psychiatrist Judith Orloff M.D., author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, wrote in 2010 that tears actually release endorphins, which reduce stress for the crier.

“Typically, after crying, our breathing and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state,” she discusses in a piece for Psychology Today.

Dennis, 28, tells VIBE that after a bout of depression a few years ago, he realized there’s nothing wrong with showing emotion, and that crying is important to experience every once in a while.

“Society used to make me feel that If I was vulnerable to ask for help or express my grief then it would be accounted as weakness or feminine, which is ridiculous in hindsight,” he says. “I’ll be the first to say I’m man enough to cry. I was conditioned to believe that If I fail in life, that it’s my fault and only I can change it. I used to bottle up my worries and say nothing. I took depression with a coke and smile, so be weary of those fake smiles men put on. [They’re] probably a little deeper, and you will be astonished with the heavy load men carry just make sure no one else can see their troubles.”

“We deal with the pressures, sometimes we just deal with it in silence, in a dark, dark closet,” a focus group participant for The Man Box (U.S.) stated. In dealing with these pressures, many men often feel like it’s their best bet to talk to someone they trust. Weso tells VIBE that in times of emotional strife, he often leans on his family members.

“Surrounding myself with my family gives me piece of mind,” he explains. “My family is my constant reminder to keep going and in a sense play as the angel on my right shoulder.”

Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is not feminine. Self-care is necessary, and now more than ever, it’s important for men to take hold of this fact in order to make sure they’re performing, living and thriving to the best of their abilities in all areas of their lives.

“Your life is yours, and the decisions you make are your own,” Nikko concludes. “To truly believe in ‘self-care,’ it’s vital to prioritize and choose yourself over others when the opportunity presents itself. It may sound selfish, but to truly take care of yourself you must sometimes be selfish with your time because it’s what’s best for you.”

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Then And Now: Lloyd's Influence In R&B Is Stronger And More Important Than Ever

“Then & Now” is a celebrity series highlighting legacy acts in hip-hop, R&B and beyond with fresh reflections on the hit songs that once soundtracked our lives.

Lloyd has a unique position in R&B. With over 15 years in the game, the singer-songwriter is well aware of how broad his fan base is and how his sound is appreciated by his peers. "I'm the youngest cat at the old school R&B show now," he shared in VIBE's Then And Now series about performances with legends like Keith Sweat. Co-signs from singers like Sweat and praise from artists like Drake, Lil Wayne and Childish Gambino have only made fans curious about the singer's pen and creative process.

But nostalgia or hip-hop edge hasn't boxed the singer-songwriter in. Lloyd started his year with the City Girls-assisted single "Caramel" and a slot on B2K's widely successful Millennium Tour. His latest album Tru was adored by critics and spawned his massive comeback single of the same name. Released in 2016, "Tru" had a slow burn on the R&B charts and recently reached over 100 million views on YouTube.

"I learned through the song that sometimes being No. 1 doesn't always mean it's the best," he said. "A song can be No. 1 and fade out immediately and a song that's No. 10 might still be around for years to come. I'm still grasping how big of an impact it had. It's the first time I've seen people cry while I'm performing the song and it's the first time I've ever cried while performing a song. I wanted it to be worthy of people's hearts for many years to come. I'm glad that I was able to shine in that way and it is by far my proudest moment as a songwriter, and a son, a brother, a father and lover, definitely."

It also taught Lloyd the gift of patience. While creating the project, he completed his G.E.D and made some new friends along the way. "I learned that it means a lot to people to see individuals who they have an admiration for or respect for doing things alongside them," he said about the experience. "I also learned that no matter what you do in your life, no matter who you are, no matter how successful you become, your momma will always cry at your graduation."

"Tru" also happens to be a testament to his varied batch of hits. After kicking off his solo career in the early aughts, Lloyd linked with Irv Gotti's Murder Inc. imprint and released his first single, "Southside," featuring Ashanti. From there, the Atlanta native became a teen idol and an R&B heartthrob, dropping sensual and lively jams with help from longtime collaborators Jasper Cameron and Maurice "Big Reese" Sinclair.

"Jasper always drives ideas for the songs based on the conversations we would have about my life," he said. "I never knew he was writing songs as he was talking to me and he takes the conversations and put it into music." It was an unexpected formula that helped Lloyd create some of his biggest singles like "Player's Prayer," "Hey Young Girl," and the Lil Wayne collab, "You."

"It's a testament to other artists out there who sometimes feel the pressure of having to, in some way, conform to what is popular or what is on the radio or in the club," he said of his catalog. "You don't have to live there, you know. There are other places for you to live and be great and we need all of those different sides, in order to feel completion. So I'm glad I can shine in that way."

If we've learned anything about Lloyd is his ability to align himself with artists like Drake and Gambino before they reached critical acclaim. The singer appeared on Drake's classic mixtape So Far Gone ("A Night Off") and Gambino's meta tune "Telegraph Ave (Oakland by Lloyd)," which featured a song within a song.

"That is all in the mind of one Childish Gambino," he said, noting that he was originally meant to sing the hook to "3005" but missed the deadline. The two went to high school together and a mutual friend reached out in hopes of Lloyd being featured on the Grammy-nominated album, Because the Internet. "I reached out to him and told him, 'I'm sorry I passed on that, anything you ever need from me, holla at me because you're brilliant.' And then he came back to me with 'Oakland.' He told me, 'It's going to be your song but I'm going to sample it inside the song.' I had no clue how he was going to do it, but it came out dope."

There's an acoustic version of "Oakland" in Lloyd's vault, which he predicts will see the light of day.

The fabric of Llyod's R&B style carried enchanting patterns. By refusing to limit himself, he's continued to be relevant to this day. He's taking his musical talents and fresh acting chops to TVOne for their new film, The Bobby Debarge Story, airing this month. The film will highlight Debarge's infamous career in soul with Lloyd taking on the role of Gregory Williams, the founding member of Switch. 

 

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Im so humbled to announce That I have just completed filming for my FIRST ever movie role! You can catch me playing the part of Gregory Williams, formerly of the band Switch (and founding member), in the soon to be premiered #TheBobbyDebargeStory on @tvonetv ... Big thank you to @russparrshow , @swirlfilmsig , @roshon & @Blue_kimble for guiding me through my first scenes and helping me get into my character more. Can’t wait to see how it comes out ... 🎥💥🙏🏿

A post shared by Lloyd (@curlyheadedblackboy) on Feb 24, 2019 at 10:32am PST

"R&B is the DNA of different music," Lloyd said. "I don't go into music with a genre kind of mentality. I just listen to the soul, the message and the flow. You can find R&B in everything. For people to think it ever lacked staying power or that it was dead [were wrong]. It was just changing faces. Sometimes, exceptional rhythm and blues acts get overshadowed or under-appreciated and now, there's definitely a light that is shown on a lot of different people." 

Check out Then & Now with Lloyd above.

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Katie Spoleti

How Dinah Jane Shed Her Pop Coating And Bloomed Into An R&B Butterfly

With just 21 years around the sun, Dinah Jane has accomplished more than most. Her star initially rose alongside her pop sisters Fifth Harmony in her teens but in between chart-topping hits like "Work From Home" or "Worth It" was a longing for something more.

The "more" arrived this spring in the form of her debut collection, Dinah Jane 1, three tracks that play to her power vocals and confident nature. Leading single "Heard It Before" gives listeners the feels of the aughts with the help of producer extraordinaire, J. R. Rotem. Jane's accompanying tracks like "Pass Me By" and "Fix it" are just as alluring given her honey coated vocals. Instead of jumping from genre to genre, the songs are in the vein of Jane's R&B language, a move that transpired after a reflection into her musical identity.

The journey included experimentation with her first solo effort, "Bottled Up" with Ty Dolla $ign and Marc E. Bassey. The song was a bop by nature due to its similarity to her work in Fifth Harmony, which left Jane determined to find her sound.

"Being a solo artist now made it hard to define who I was because I was singing so many different styles before," Jane tells VIBE. "I had to take time for me to really cope and understand what it is that I really want to come out as my true identity. When I dropped my first record "Bottled Up" it was more me transitioning from Fifth Harmony to myself, I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be."

After a session with a producer in Atlanta, Jane arrived at the realization that the artists in her phone (Monica, Mariah Carey), was a sign for her to dig up her soulful roots. It's hard to deny Jane's vocals helped to build her former group and now, her own career.

"The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest," Jane said. "I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. I was always afraid to portray them as something that people didn't know about and so my thing is like, 'Oh, I don't want them to think of my family like this or my friend who's not my friend right now.' I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic, real and raw I have to be honest not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good."

With a new attitude and direction, Jane is ready to fly above her worries. Check out our chat with the singer-songwriter below.

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VIBE: When you were putting your three-pack together, what was going through your head? Was there a particular sound or moment you wanted to catch?

Dinah Jane: It was more like a certain direction. I felt like there was a part of me that had not been exposed yet as far as style. I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be. I started listening back to records where I was like, 'Wow, this is something that I wish was mine.' Some of Monica's records, Faith Evans or Mariah Carey, by the way, she followed me on Instagram [Laughs].

Congratulations!

She followed me on Instagram so I kind of got that verification that I should definitely do R&B. Those are artists that I've always been inspired by. I remember I went back to when I did my first audition on X Factor, and I said, "Who is that I want to sing and showcase my talent?" It was Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy."

I felt like if this is a perfect time for me to throw in a bowl of my favorite artists that I've always looked up to and mesh it into who I am now. When I did "Fix It," I felt like it was so organic for me to go that direction and lean towards, so, when that happened the song became what it is now. I love the message behind it, I didn't realize it would empower so many people.

"Fix It" is actually my favorite out of the three. You just referenced your identity. Do you know what that is now? Or is that sonically or personally?

I think more so sonically, that's where I was lost the most because I had to put myself in a drawer for seven years. Now that I'm here, being a solo artist like I said, I was lost. Sonically I had to redefine who Dinah Jane was this whole time. I remember being in a session in Atlanta and this guy at the time asked me, "Who do you have on your phone? Let's look through it."

He's going through my phone and it's all R&B, not even that much pop, just singers from back then. And he's just like, "I was not expecting this, I thought you'd be the hype girl listening to all trap music." I have that personality trust me, but musically this is me. That clicked in my head that I was heading somewhere else and I needed to jump back to my old ways.

I love that. "Heard It All Before" has gotten so much love from your fans. I know you're not supposed to look at the comments but one that stood out was "I love this sound, leave pop alone." Do you ever feel trapped in one genre since you started within the pop bubble? 

It's funny that you say that. I feel like people or fans they kind of want to box you into who they think you are. I was telling someone, my fans they sometimes think they know me better than I know myself and it's kind of scary. There are times where I'm like, "No I don't have to be one way." It's crazy cause when I go to the studio I feel like I can be so versatile. I can do R&B easy but there are sometimes where I want to do those pop records, "Always Be My Baby" is that pop record to me and some people are good with it, some aren't but I think it just comes with your fanbase.

For me, they know my potential, honestly, they saw me on X Factor or even my YouTube days when I was 11 or 12 years old. They're like, "No Dinah, this is you, this is you, I want you to keep doing more of these." Eventually, I'll want to do some other things as well. But as of right now, it's truly R&B.

When it comes to creating you're always challenging yourself. What were some of the challenges that you've been facing this year while making music?

The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest. I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. It's always been my challenge and I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic and real and raw I have to be honest to myself as well, not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good. My Mom always told me, "You've got to be real with yourself."

For sure. All three of these songs are super straightforward. What was it about keeping that energy while you were making these songs?

I was just trying to balance it. Like I said it was the most challenging part balancing that and I feel like with "Heard It All Before," it was the most fun, relatable song to write because my best friend was going through something. I was like "What?! He said what?!" We were literally having a full on group chat about it. When I did the music video, I wanted it to be about the situation that I was in with my girl. We were like, "You know what we've heard that all before." I just want to make this bundle relatable, sexy but then also swaggy and just not try so hard. So, when we put these three songs together, it felt so organic and true to who I was.

Even in the video, you exude so much confidence. What does confidence mean to you?

I think it's self-love. When you truly love yourself, you can see it in your face. You can see it in the glow and the energy you're giving to people. I wasn't always this confident, I would definitely say I was never this confident but, thanks to my mom, she always expressed that to me.

She said, "Dinah, I know you don't feel that beautiful today but you need to pick on the little things that matter. What's your favorite feature? Your lips. What's your favorite outfit you got going on? Pay attention to your best qualities other than that one negative thing you're picking on."

The confidence was never there but when you have people that are around you always encouraging you to love yourself and realizing your truth and worth, that's when the confidence kicks in. It's not something that's overnight, it takes time. It took years for me to realize that. Like I said, you have to surround yourself by honest, real people who can definitely make you see what you're not seeing.

Facts. Have you become that vessel for your friends as well? Like passing all of that on. Your mom passed it to you, you pass it to your friends, are you that person?

Yeah, it's like a telephone game. I have a younger sister who's 17 and she's always been insecure about her weight or her breakouts and I'm like, "You're a teenager, you're supposed to go through that phase. If I went through that you've got to go through it too."

In a way, I have to guide her through the stages. I was just talking to her last night and she's telling me about her friends and how she feels like she doesn't fit in, or certain cousins where she feels like she has to be a certain way. I was like, "Don't be a certain way, the way you carry yourself will vibrate and you will be so much more vibrant, it'll grasp more onto you. Just be your true self, you don't have to be anything else. I know who you are and you know who you are."

I feel like kind of being that older sister I feel like her mom sometimes. So I always feel this responsibility that she always feels 100.

What are some other plans you have for yourself, with your music for the year?

This is the first bundle. People wanted it to be named an EP but I was like, "Nah. It cannot be an EP because an EP is at least five to seven songs top."

This bundle is like a mini-project, it's the anticipation for the actual album. So, I want you to keep getting the feel of who I am, keep giving you these sneak peeks and then boom, hit you with the album. That's in the works, we'll see what happens. That's what we say now but sometimes things change, so don't get too excited.

Have you've been working with anybody? Any featured artists or any producers who are really understanding of who you are as an artist?

As far as features, I have one and then I'm working on another one.

So you can't say who they are?

I can't say. As far as producers and writers, J.R. Rotem is literally my dog. We walked into the studio and all of his plaques are all over the wall, plastered everywhere and we were like, "We get it, you're a legend. You're going to make me a legend," is what I felt in that room. I feel this great connection with him where we can be friends but also have that chemistry musically where he can connect with me instantly.

I love how we did  "Fix It," he brought out all of the live instruments and he made it feel like you were actually on stage, he made it feel bigger than what it was. So, I give him so many props for that because I've never felt that way in a session where I felt like I was onstage and it was just me by myself, no one else, well of course with a whole a** band, but I just felt the topic and the song, the musicality behind it is what meshed so well because of him. He is my dog for sure and my therapist because if it weren't for him this song would have not been made.

Stream Dinah Jane 1 below.

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