2019 Super Bowl Gospel Celebration
Kirk Franklin performs onstage at the 2019 Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at Atlanta Symphony Hall on January 31, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Rick Diamond

Kirk Franklin Wants To Use 'Long Live Love' As A Musical Weapon Against Fear

In 1993, Kirk Franklin And The Family’s debut album changed contemporary gospel. The genre wasn’t unfamiliar with crossover success; Andrae Crouch infused new life into the genre-blending gospel with Christian, R&B and even pop. By the early ‘90s, gospel acts like Bebe and Cece Winans enjoyed a steady presence at Urban radio with songs that leaned more inspirational than straight up spiritual. But Kirk And The Family bridged the gap between gospel and secular even further, putting praise to hip-hop and new jack swing samples and updating tried and true classics with catchy but emotive arrangements. By the late 1990s, Franklin had revolutionized the business. He was the first gospel artist to reach platinum sales with his debut album, the first gospel artist on MTV, the first gospel artist with a No. 1 pop hit - the first gospel artist to become a bonafide mainstream superstar. He moved like a hip-hop artist but walked with Jesus, and while it confused and upset church elders, it opened the word of God up to a segment that the old time hymns simply couldn’t read.

The multi-talented artist is now 26 years into his career, and facing the same challenges of staying true to his artistry and message in a changing musical landscape as his peers on the secular side of the charts. Gospel artists who broke down barriers into mainstream music in the ‘90s and ‘00s are mostly back to serving their gospel core, and finding their path musically as gospel music is in the midst of a similar genre identity crisis as R&B. But while Franklin may not be in as big a spotlight as he once was, he’s still the biggest and one of the most visible gospel stars of our generation and hasn’t slowed down with his music or his energy.

On May 31, 2019, Franklin released his 13th studio album, Long Live Love, and will begin touring for the album on Thursday, July 11. VIBE joined him for an intimate listening of the new album, and then Naima Cochrane talked to the prolific writer, producer, and Sunday Best executive producer and host about going back to his origins, the black church’s relevance for black millennials, and False Evidence Appearing Real.

VIBE: Your run of 26 years in the game is amazing, and to be commended. At the listening party last night, you brought up the theme of going back to your roots a few times. You said you went back to your childhood home and your school. You talked about stripping back your production methods, and taking it back to the days of The Family, and even mentioned that your partner (Ron Hill, president of Franklin’s Fo Yo Soul Entertainment) told you to pull the “old Kirk” out. What does that mean? What has inspired that reach back to the origins and the roots for this album?

Kirk Franklin: I know that for (Ron), his statement had to do more with the sonic sound, kind of more of the texture. Not the heart behind the music… because you know I’m the same Kirk. I’m steadily trying to grow in my faith and I want to be a sincere dude about the God I preach about and about the God I love, so it wasn’t about that. It had more to do with just the texture. It’s the DNA of a song. Some songs may be more driven by a piano than like an 808, or by the lyrical content, or the way that the choir is singing. So, that’s what he meant, and it was very difficult at first like I said [at the listening session]. … But I really really love the song now because I had to push, you know what I mean, I had to really push through all of that. Does that answer your question?

That answers part of it. What inspired you to go back home and start over again for this album? Was that about the sonics, or was that more about wanting to rekindle something?

That had more to do with the innocence of what I come from; I wasn’t trying to be no artist [at that time of my life]. I wasn’t trying to be no national name or nothing. I didn’t have that idea to even think that was possible. It had more to do with me just really… going through the storms of life. And so, I wanted to go back to those places and those moments in my life when the storm was real for me. Where before I’m doing a concert in London, or before I’m on a stage at an awards show, I want to go back to an area you know I was broke and strugglin’. Had no money or nothin’, and just kinda sit there and feel what that felt like again.

I imagine that might be a necessary reset when you’ve been doing what you do for 26 years. You get so far away from that.

What it does is that – what is very interesting is that those are places I really prefer. I feel more comfortable and at home in those places of my childhood and the places of innocence, than flying to New York or L.A. Those things are great, but I am most comfortable when I am going up to my old middle school, and sitting on the football field and just being reflective. Or going down by the river that runs through the city we live in and just remember - that moment. Those are my sanctuaries; that’s my church.

You also said you don’t go back that often.

I don’t get to go back as often as I like. The truth is, I probably go once a month, but I wish I could go back more.

You said you’ve been struggling with anxiety for several years and that part of it was wrapped up in pride and fear of younger artists coming behind you. We think about that more in terms of secular music, but I never considered that perspective in gospel. How do you move yourself out of that and just focus on Kirk?

Yeah, or, even focus on God, right?

Focus on God, you’re right.

Yeah, yeah. I think that statement was inclusive of a lot of things. It had to do with my age, and had to do with are people tired of what I have to say, or just the world that we’re living in. And one thing that I didn’t say that is inclusive of that anxiety - and I think you heard me say this (at the listening event) – just about the PTSD that a lot of men of color in America go through. When we go through being rejected and abandoned like I did as a kid, you have a lot of fear and anxiety issues that you didn’t even know that’s what it was defined as. You live your life a lot of times living with the ghost of fear. That’s why I called (my 2011 album) Hello Fear. I called it that because that has been a narrative kinda, of my life; this anxiety connected with fear. Fear of death, fear of getting older, fear of younger artists coming, you know. It’s almost like when you struggle with fear, fear connects itself to anything. So, it’s not just necessarily exclusive to younger artists coming up, that’s not it at all. It’s just a combination of anything that fear can grab its hand on.

Like, one of the acronyms of fear – False Evidence Appearing Real. So, when that spirit of fear comes on you, it can just attach itself to anything. That can breed anxiety. For like the last eight or nine years, I’ve struggled with it more than I did as a kid, but even as a kid I had it.

But you were able to recognize it a little bit more as you got older?

I’m able to recognize it more. To recognize the genesis of it, and to be able to connect the dots of why.

I do appreciate that you said that you’ve been in therapy for many years. I think it’s so important that our black men know that’s okay.

Yes ma’am. Yes ma’am.

This album, you focus on love. Long Live Love, and your lead single is “Love Theory.” Why this focal point now?

Well, one thing that I’ve learned is that love and fear cannot occupy the same space. So, one of the weapons to defeat fear is love. Learning the power of love and being loved by the creator of love. Being loved by God himself. “For God so loved the world,” knowing that I’m included in that statement, and that I’m not an afterthought, and that I’m gonna be okay. God is my protector, whom shall I fear? And those truths give you the hope to be able to make it another day, to be able to persevere.

You said your most personal and most challenging song is “Forever/Beautiful Grace,” right?

Yes.

And you also added your own voice at the end of the song, which you don’t often do.

That’s the “Beautiful Grace” part. It’s almost like two songs in one, I guess. I sang it because it would have been difficult for anybody else to sing that and it ring true. Like, I had to do it. There was no one else that could really do that part.

But I think it’s beautiful. It conveys some rawness and vulnerability, which I think really helps bring the message of the song through more clearly, so I think that was a perfect choice.

Thank you.

You also said that this time you wrote a lot of the music before you actually did the track. Before you went in to record, the songs themselves were done already, and that’s kind of new for you. When a lot of people think of you they think of the production first, so for you to start from the lyrical content first, how is that different for you?

What’s funny is that rarely do I ever work on a track before writing the song in the first place, but this time I was very intentional to make sure that I did that with the entire body of work. A lot of times I’m writing and producing at the same time. And this time, I had everything completely done before I even considered trying to work on the production. And that was a very different process because I wanted to make sure that the songs speak life by themselves. Like, I didn’t want them to need any help, I didn’t want the song to need help. And we narrowed it down to ten songs. We didn’t want an album full of songs. Ten songs that were intentional. Because I had on my phone, I had about three years of ideas, because it’s been about three and a half years since my last album, so I had about three and a half years of song ideas. ...I just wanted to be very intentional. Didn’t want a lot of fluff. Wanted to make sure that what I was saying was coming straight from God’s heart to people.

You, Yolanda Adams, and Mary Mary ushered in a whole new era of gospel. For the first time it was possible for gospel artists to go all the way mainstream, to rack up platinum albums. And then when Andraé Crouch died in 2015, you wrote that you were worried that now worship leaders were focused a little too much on the stardom, and that something had been lost in terms of how gospel music actually impacted people. Do you still feel that way? Are you keeping that in mind when you’re recording?

Yeah, and that’s pretty cool that you did your little research on me. That’s pretty fresh (laughs). I don’t think that we are immune to the same kind of tricks that affect anybody that has a microphone. Anyone that has a microphone, that temptation for the voice to be bigger than the message is always there. And I think especially with people in my genre, it is imperative that we are intentional in making sure that people hear God more than they hear us. That takes a great sense of self-denial.

On the R&B side there’s a question about what happened to “real” R&B, and I know that conversation is being mirrored in gospel. People feel like there’s more praise and worship (a style born of the evangelical church with simple, repetitive lyrics) coming through than actual true hymns and gospel songs that reflect scripture. How do you feel about that? Because some point to you as one of the people who started that transition. Do you agree with that?

I think that first of all, whatever touches a person’s heart and causes them to want to be closer to God more than they are now, that’s a beautiful thing. That should be happening and that should be allowed. If people are growing in their faith, and if they’re going to gospel music, or if they’re going to worship and praise music that may lean a little bit more contemporary Christian in its style and format, that’s cool, too, because I think the main agenda should always be the word of God in this genre. The number one agenda should not be the industry, and what’s poppin’ on the charts, and what’s the new wave. I think that all of those things must be secondary, even if they have to be included at all. I think that the bottom line; I am saying that in within that context, there is something very beautiful about the experience of our people. There is something very beautiful about the experience of African Americans, and the struggle and the sound and the culture we bring to the table should not have to be left on the table when it comes to the music that we do.

Do you ever take credit for getting young adult choirs poppin’ in the church? (laughs)

No. Young adults poppin’ in the church? I think that is so cute.

The young adult choirs! Listen, there’s a whole generation of people out there who were more engaged in their choir because they were able to do Kirk Franklin and the Family music or Kirk Franklin music. I’ve seen it stated again and again. I have to imagine people have said that to you.

I have a question for you.

Sure.

What do you think happened? What do you think happened to the engagement of people in gospel music? Not necessarily Kirk Franklin, but just the engagement of gospel music. Like, in your view of a person who talks about music and culture professionally, and also somebody who’s somewhat familiar with the gospel music genre, what do you think happened?

It seems like it’s not even so much – just from my anecdotal perspective, because this is a conversation I do have – it’s not even about the engagement with the music, but an engagement with the church altogether. I’m GenX, I’m 43, but people who are a little bit younger than me - millennials, many of whom grew up in the church - as soon as they were old enough to make their own decisions they left. And I think that leaving the church for them also meant leaving things of the church, like the music. And I think at the same time, once we came out of 2010 or so, we stopped having as much gospel on the mainstream charts as we did in the ‘90s through the early 2000s. You know you, Yolanda, the Mary’s, Ty (Tribbett), etc, you guys were sometimes popping up on the R&B chart or the adult urban chart, but mostly you were back on the gospel charts, so I also think there wasn’t as much crossover as there was when I was growing up. I think it’s kind of those two things combined. But also Kirk, in my opinion, there’s been a loss of musicality on the gospel side and the R&B side, because they used to feed into each other. So, on the R&B side we don’t have as many producers coming out of the church, we don’t have as many singers coming out of the church. And on the church side we don’t have as many people involved in the music ministry of the church – they might play a track, there might just be a couple of stars who do the singing and the playing, but I don’t see as many people getting trained up in the music ministry and I think that affects both sides.

You did very good. Very, very good. What do you think can happen to change that around?

For those of us who are a little older, we need to have a little bit more patience with those who are younger instead of just dismissing them as “you don’t know nothin’,” or being frustrated with them. But I also think there has to be some reach out on both sides; I think those who are younger have to be a little more interested to engage the older folks, and the older folks have to be a little bit more willing to reach back. I think that used to happen more, and it doesn’t - there’s a disconnect. There’s a generational disconnect now.

Yes. I totally agree. And I definitely agree with you that there is a lack of interest in all things about faith when it comes to millennials.
But I also see it even in the 40-year-olds, don’t you?

I think we let life get in the way a little bit. For example, I’m part of the young adult choir at my church, but our choir has the most fluctuating membership because as soon as life stuff starts happening, we leave, we come back. We leave, we come back. We take a break from church, we come back. It’s not as consistent for us. You know, for our parents and our grandparents, no matter what else was going on, you went to church. No matter what else was going on, you went to choir rehearsal, you went to bible study. And for us it’s like, I don’t feel like it this week, I’m not going. I think there’s maybe that change in priority. I don’t really know how to shift that back, but that’s what I see happening. For us, we go (to church) to get fed, we go to get nurtured, but it’s not like this happens and everything else happens around this the way it used to be for older generations.

That’s good.

That’s my thought. See, now look we done flipped the interview around and now you interviewing me. But I love it.

It’s a good talk, though, man.

I appreciate it! But that also leads me another question: you were the voice of connecting young people to gospel. And now you’re an elder statesman in the game - of sorts; gospel artists tend to have a much longer career than mainstream artists, but now you’re an elder.

Yeah.

Does that change how you approach your music and your career, and how you talk to people, and just how you move through your career?

You know, I’m gonna be very candid with you, I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like. I even try to do it even from the physicality of it. Like I still run around and dance on stage and I be trying to figure out like ‘Okay, what dance can I do?’

You sure do! I saw you at Essence Festival last year with The Roots, and you were killin’ it!

But you have no idea how painstaking it is to try to figure, okay, can I do the Whoa? You know, just ‘cause I can do the Whoa, can I do the Whoa? Or am I gonna look like the old pawpaw tryin’ to do... you know. I’m at a weird place of not knowing how to be my age.

I think that all of us in our forties are in that place, because we’re not the same forties that forty was twenty years ago, right?

Exactly. I hear you. So, it’s like, I’m trying to figure out what that looks like. Now, when it comes to showing love to people and you know just giving advice, that’s something I would have done in my thirties, I did it in my twenties. So, I’m not being any different. I’m always trying to figure it out. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m literally still trying to figure it all out.

Why is Sunday Best coming back now? (Ed. note: the show returns to BET on Sunday, June 30.) Was it time? Do we need it?

I think that, you know, it always depends on what type of ambassador you have in the house that fights for certain content that is more a niche in its DNA. With the changes at Viacom and the things that were happening at BET, you still gotta have somebody in there fighting for the things that may not look as mainstream, but there’s an audience that is underserved. And to see the viability of that underserved audience. Sometimes it takes that. So, we can stand on the side of the road, kind of like what is happening with that boy and his TV show Star.

Oh, yeah, Lee Daniels.

Yeah, he’s trying to get the word out there that they’re fighting for it, but if the corporates at Fox want to move something different, he can yell as much as he wants to and if the audience doesn’t yell along with him…

Mmmm, right.

I think that the audience yelled loud for Sunday Best, because there’s nothing in the marketplace.

Tell me about “Strong God”: the motivation, and the inspiration and the why.

I think that one of the greatest misconceptions about gospel music from those that listen to it – and even at times those that do it – is that its agenda always has to be vertical, that there can never be a horizontal social commentary connected with the gospel, when at the same time one of the biggest modus operandi of Jesus Christ was the poor and the less fortunate and the widows. And his level of frustration was the oppression that the government and the religious leaders put on those people. So, to have social commentary in a gospel song for me is very important. Even, you know it’s been part of my career, I was doing it back with “Lean on Me.”

You were even doing it with “Revolution.”

I’ve always enjoyed having social commentary, because I think it’s important. And then it broadens – and when I say “broaden” I don’t mean radio airplay and crossover – it just broadens the idea of what gospel music can be and who God is.

Okay, last question. How have you felt about people calling you the Gospel Puff Daddy?

The gospel Puff Daddy?

Yeah. Did you know that’s your nickname?

They can call me whatever they want to call me. They call me the gospel DJ Khaled…you know I’ve heard it all. I’m cool. Whatever you wanna call me. I don’t care.

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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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