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?


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.


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.


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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The 2020 Academy Awards nominations were announced Monday, Jan. 13 and, after a few years of glad-handing their supposed embrace of diversity, the Academy’s nominees were once again a distressingly predictable bunch—particularly amongst the major award categories. Bemoaning lack of diversity at the Oscars has become a punchline unto itself, but, for an Academy that is suddenly so image-conscious, this was a step backward. Alongside a Best Director field made up exclusively of men, Black actors were almost totally shut out in the top categories. Strong performances from previous Oscar winners/nominees like Lupita Nyong’o, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx seemed to be likely contenders for a nomination but were snubbed. There is the notable exception, of course, of Cynthia Erivo. The Tony-winning actress received an Oscar nod for her turn as freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, a film that seemed to engender both praise and derision well before it opened in theaters in November 2019.

The British-born Erivo was at the center of much criticism when it was announced that she would be playing the legendary Tubman, the escaped slave born Araminta Ross, who led at least 13 trips along a treacherous journey from Maryland to Pennsylvania to free first her family, then others in bondage; she also became an officer in the Union army and an activist for women’s suffrage. The casting of Erivo as Tubman became a flashpoint after tweets from the actress were widely publicized in which she appeared to mock Black Americans in a Twitter exchange with actor Joel Montague after he asked her to sing a song she’d written.

“@joalMontague (ghetto American accent) baby u know I gatchu imma sing It To you but I still gatta do wadigattado, you feel me #scene xxx.”

The tweet was screenshotted and popped up on countless media sites, as the public criticism of Erivo grew. As she began making media rounds in the lead-up to Harriet, she addressed the issue.

"I would say it took a lot of hard work to get to this place [of playing Harriet Tubman] and I didn't take it lightly," Erivo said in an interview with Shadow And Act back in October. "I love this woman and I love Black people full stop. It would do me no service, it would be like hating myself.

“As for the tweets, taken out of context without giving me the room to tell you what it meant—and it wasn’t mocking anyone really. It wasn’t for that purpose at all. It was to celebrate a song I had wrote when I was 16.”

But the bad will had taken root. Harriet had a successful opening and a strong showing at the box office, but it was met with derision on Twitter as rumors swirled about various aspects of the film’s plot and historical inaccuracies. The word of mouth reception was far from glowing, but the borderline smearing of the film on social media was more scathing than the actual reviews once the movie hit theaters. But while the critical reception to the film itself was lukewarm, Erivo’s performance was consistently praised. “The British singer and actress…nails [Tubman’s] thousand-yard glare with a furious and mournful eloquence,” wrote Owen Gleiberman of Variety; and The New York Times’ A.O. Scott felt that “Erivo’s performance is grounded in the recognizable human emotions of grief, jealousy, anger, and love.” In an age when Black pain on the big screen can make for predictable platitudes from pundits, there is an ongoing question of who such a film as Harriet is meant to speak to and speak for. In the case of Erivo, you have more than a strong performance in a middling film. You have a performer who has, in many ways, lost the audience that would’ve been most invested in that performance.

Erivo's nomination for Harriet comes alongside a double-nod for Scarlett Johannson, another actress who found herself embroiled in controversy in 2019. Of course, ScarJo is much more high-profile than Erivo, an A-lister who finds herself in any number of prestige pictures and major blockbusters. But ScarJo’s defense of Woody Allen, at a time when Hollywood is at least attempting to come to grips with how it has enabled abusers, drew gasps and derision when she made press runs for her role in the acclaimed Netflix film Marriage Story. She told Vanity Fair in November:

“I’m not a politician, and I can’t lie about the way I feel about things,” she said. “I don’t have that. It’s just not a part of my personality. I don’t want to have to edit myself or temper what I think or say. I can’t live that way. It’s just not me. And also I think that when you have that kind of integrity, it’s going to probably rub people, some people, the wrong way. And that’s kind of par for the course, I guess.

“Even though there’s moments where I feel maybe more vulnerable because I’ve spoken my own opinion about something, my own truth and experience about it—and I know that it might be picked apart in some way, people might have a visceral reaction to it—I think it’s dangerous to temper how you represent yourself because you’re afraid of that kind of response. That, to me, doesn’t seem very progressive at all. That seems scary.”

Johansson’s controversial statements surrounding Woody Allen (and earlier comments about her playing trans and Asian characters) were met with widespread criticism that was subsequently muted by the acclaim following her turns in both Marriage Story and the WWII-set period comedy JoJo Rabbit. They weren’t misguided or misrepresented tweets from six years ago, they are her expressed positions on the subjects; she’s announced that she doesn’t intend to continuously apologize or even recant where she stands. And at the end of the day, she’s now a two-time Oscar nominee.

Obviously, Erivo is also basking in the recent glow of Academy recognition. This isn’t a case of a white actress bouncing back from backlash while a Black actress fades into obscurity because of it. But when Scarlett Johansson walks the red carpet on the night of the Oscars, if she takes the stage after her name is read as Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress or both, she won’t have to contend with the idea that those who have given her the award stand in stark contrast to those for whom she wanted the film to resonate. Scarlett Johansson also wouldn’t have to wrestle with the idea that she’s only the second woman of her background to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. She won’t have to face the hurt that she and others like her were shut out in her native country’s biggest movie award. She won’t have to think about all the criticisms of “slave movies” and being nominated for being in one.

Whatever criticisms there may be of Cynthia Erivo, whatever criticisms there may be of the film in which she starred, there’s always a softer landing for those who don’t have darker skin; simply because being Black on the whitest of nights means that all eyes are on you. It also means you have to carry so much more than your white counterparts will ever be asked to shoulder. Oscar or no Oscar; criticism of Cynthia Erivo never required condemnation of Cynthia Erivo. But on a night when white actresses will once again be widely represented, from the reliable grace of Little Women to the martyr-making propaganda of Bombshell, it’s disappointing that this one Black actress being amongst them is going to be picked apart.

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The fortunes of the Williams family are on the brink of changing for the better after Shawn, Marlon, Pops and the rest of the gang discover a garbage bag filled with $100,000 in cash. A police report is filed, but the Williams' keep their fingers crossed that they'll be deemed the rightful owners of the money when the goes unclaimed. This doesn't stop the members of the family from counting their chickens before they hatch, as extravagant plans and pricey purchases are made in the ensuing days. Greed nearly causes the Williams' to turn on one another, but when an elderly woman shows up to recover her belongings, their dreams at a come-up are quickly dashed, putting the family back at square one.

Season 2, Episode 8 "Head of State"

During the second season of The Wayans Bros., Dee Baxter (Anna Maria Horsford) replaces Lou (Jill Tasker) as the Neidemeyer Building's security guard for the remainder of the series. When the President of the United States comes to Harlem during his campaign trail, Pops' Diner is designated as the location where the prez can relieve himself, which the family considers an honor. With Pops eager to reap the benefits of having the leader of the free world pass through his establishment, and Marlon determined to shake the President's hand, the visit is a pretty big deal to the family However, the Williams' world is flipped upside down when the Secret Service lock down the diner due to safety concerns, infringing on their privacy. In the end, Pops' gets an uptick in business, Marlon gets to shake the President's hand, and Dee gets to experience a bit of sexual tension in her debut appearance.

Season 3, Episode 1 "Grandma's in the Hiz-House"

When Grandma Ellington (Ja'net Dubois) stops in town, Shawn and Marlon are ecstatic to see the family matriarch, even making room for her to stay in their apartment. The decision is one that the brothers will quickly regret, as Grandma Ellington begins to infiltrate their life, from ruining their clothing to chasing away their dates. Shawn and Marlon decide to make things uncomfortable in hopes that she will leave, but the plan backfires, with Grandma Ellington’s discovery of the ruse putting a wedge between her and her grandsons. Realizing the error in their ways, the brothers attempt to win their grandmother back over and get back in her good graces.

Season 3, Episode 9 "The Return of the Temptones"

Pops gets a blast from the past when Shawn and Marlon decide to round up the members of his old group The Temptones for an epic reunion after thirty years. While the gesture is well-intended, things fall apart when the members let bad blood get into the mix, which puts The Temptones' upcoming performance in jeopardy. As Pops and the crew struggle to find common ground, Shawn and Marlon stand-in for the missing members, resulting in a hilariously horrendous rendition of The Temptones' hit, "Bang, Bang Bang." However, the original members of the group decide to put their differences to the side for the sake of the group's legacy, tearing down the stage in one of the more memorable moments in The Wayans Bros. history.

Season 4, Episode 9 "Can I Get a Witness?"

After finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, Marlon becomes an eyewitness to a bank robbery and identifies the criminal in a police line-up. This results in the Williams' being put in protective custody until the case is resolved, but when word gets out that the culprit's brother is on the hunt for them, it appears as if they cannot avoid meeting their eventual fate. However, the criminals' thirst for vengeance gets thwarted just in the nick of time, keeping Marlon, Shawn and Pops in the clear and out of danger.

Season 4, Episode 19 "Talk is Cheap"

Shawn and Marlon are summoned to The Jerry Springer Show to see just how close their relationship is, which leads to a few secrets between the two being revealed. When Marlon finds out that Shawn had paid his girlfriend a visit at her apartment, the two begin to bicker with one another in front of the studio audience, with Pops and Dee getting involved from the comfort of the crowd. As things get heated between the two, the bros resort to throwing blows, hurling insults and embarrassing one another. While the pair eventually come to their senses and patch things up, their dust-up and Jerry Springer's appearance made for classic television.

Season 5, Episode 7 "The Kiss"

Dee Baxter catches up with old friend Missy Elliott, who gives her a pair of tickets to her concert later that night. Deciding to take Shawn as a guest, the two enjoy one another's company to the point that they wind up kissing after a long night of drinking before passing out. Waking up half-naked and in the same bed with one another, it appears as if the two had slept together, making for a string of awkward encounters between the two. However, the potential lovebirds discover that they were victims of a prank by Marlon, which brings Shawn and Dee's friendship back to normal.

Season 5, Episode 18 "Hip Hop Pops"

Shawn and Marlon gather Pops' closest friends and throw him a surprise party to celebrate his 50th birthday. However, while the brothers' efforts were meant to put Pops in good spirits, they actually put him in a depressive and reflective state due to his age and fear of death. Looking to infuse a little fun into their father's life, Shawn and Marlon takes Pops out to the club to help make him feel young again, but the experience inspires Pops to change his wardrobe and slang in an attempt to hold onto his youth. From engaging in freestyle battles to donning iced-out chains, Pops' new style rubs Shawn and Marlon the wrong way, forcing them to cook up a plan to get him to revert back to the man they used to know.

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Che Pope interviews Vincent “Tuff” Morgan, peermusic’s head of A&R urban/pop, on Q&A With Che.

Che Pope Talks ‘Q&A With Che’ Podcast, Kanye West, And Why He Left G.O.O.D. Music

At some point in your career, you want to pay it forward. Regardless of the industry you’re in, there comes a time when you reached a certain level of success and want to groom the next generation with your knowledge and expertise. Che Pope, a Boston native, veteran music producer, songwriter, and former head of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, is in a position to do just that. After spending seven years with G.O.O.D., as well as making music with critically-acclaimed artists like Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, and The Weeknd, Che Pope has utilized lectures and podcasts to discuss his diverse career, sharing a perspective tailored to young creatives who want some mentoring in their own paths. Pope’s experience allows him to give gems in all aspects of the music business – no matter if you’re an aspiring manager, producer, singer, or artist, he has a piece of advice that can apply to you. 

It’s why he’s finally launching a podcast of his own called Q&A With Che, a HiStudios Original, that’s available on the Himalaya app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more. He describes the show as “Ted Talks with the urban entertainment industry,” using his large network of friends for real conversations on how they made it. The format is more for educational purposes and using the platform to expand his Q&A section of his discussions, with each guest detailing what they do, how their industry works, and their take on the future. Che’s first guest is DMV rapper IDK, who is coming off a major 2019 with his partnership with Warner for his label Clue and the release of Is He Real? 

Speaking with VIBE over the phone, Che explains the genesis of Q&A With Che (the idea came after having a convo with Jay-Z), why IDK was the perfect first guest, his thoughts on Kanye and G.O.O.D. Music, and the books he’s reading today.


VIBE: Q&A With Che is going to be part of HiStudios’ original programming slate. You’re alongside sport personalities that also have podcasts like Mike Tyson, Gilbert Arenas, and Caron Butler. If I did my research, you’re the first “music veteran” with a show on HiStudios. Was podcasting a logical next step in your career?

Che Pope: I think it was important for me to share the information. And just really what’s the best way to? Obviously, the lectures are great. That’s like, ‘Okay, cool. I go to Harvard Business School just so those kids get it.’ This was a way to really share it with a wider audience, with anybody. And I’ve been getting hit up on Instagram or Twitter where people are always asking me tons of questions and this was a way for me [to reach them]. So many people would be like, ‘Hey, can you mentor me?’ I can’t mentor all of them. This was kind of my way of like, ‘OK, I can’t mentor all of you, but I can do this.’ I think that is what really attracted me.

I had a really great conversation with Jay-Z about it and he just loved the idea of it and that really put a battery in my back. Because at one point in time, it was this great idea we had, and just getting caught up in work and [being] busy and not pursuing it. Once I spoke with Jay-Z and he said, ‘This is amazing. You have to do this.’ That really put the battery back, and then partnering with HiStudios and Himalaya, it just really gave me the team I needed to really bring it out there in the manner that I wanted to do, the professional level that I wanted to present it at.

So you were already thinking of podcasting back then. When did that Jay-Z convo happen?

That happened about two years ago in his living room.

How’d the convo go? Were you trying to pitch yourself to Tidal?

No, I actually wasn’t. He said, ‘You know, you’re more than welcome to consider Tidal.’ But he was like, ‘I just think it’s a great idea.’ I wasn’t actually pitching anything. We were just having a business conversation. I guess you could say the next step in my career is not only the podcast, but I also have a start-up. I was just getting business advice and out of that meet, Q&A came up.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the hip-hop podcast landscape. We got everybody from ItsTheReal’s, which you were on. The Joe Budden Podcast. Rap Radar Podcast. Do you see the success of those guys as motivation to reach that level or are they competition?

I don’t think they’re competition. We are really two different things. I’m much more like Ted Talks than I am No Jumper, ItsTheReal, Joe Budden. Although ItsTheReal is a little bit different than Joe Budden. Joe Budden wants to be opinionated, sort of controversial at times and really drive listeners on entertainment. Mine is much more educational focused. Entertaining in the fact that people who are going to be on it cause anyone could be on it. It could be anyone from Diddy to someone you haven’t heard of. I think it is entertaining in that [regard], but it is much more educational than I am trying to entertain you and be controversial and all that kind of stuff.

And I think it's really interesting that you chose IDK as your first guest. He’s coming off his Warner partnership for Clue and his album Is He Real? dropped last year. He’s a younger rapper but he has this business savviness to him. Why did you want to interview him?

That’s specifically why. I built a relationship with the kid cause he was in negotiations at one point and time to sign with G.O.O.D. Music. He is from the DMV area originally, which is where my mom is from. So we kind of made a cool connection a few years back when he was still this independent kid coming up trying to figure it out. But he was far more informed than most artists I meet. He was talking to me about his independent promotion and his marketing plan and things of that nature, which he had written himself. And I was like, ‘Wow, this kid is [incredible].’ When he finally did the deal with Warner, he was just the perfect first guest for me cause he is living what these kids want to do, what many of them want to do. His journey is really a testament to educating and empowering yourself and challenging. He had overcome adversity. He had been in jail before. It built himself up from scratch. Really talented story and his story is just getting started. I think the sky's the limit to where he can go.

Before I let you go, I want to talk about Kanye. You’ve been there since Yeezus. You’ve been there since Cruel Summer. Now, he’s on this new trajectory of dedicating himself to God, releasing Jesus Is King and Jesus Is Born. He’s no longer making secular music and is reportedly done performing solo shows. When you were working with him, did you see any early signs that his artistry was progressing towards this?

No, but I would say the thing with him is he is always evolving. I would say you never know what is next, which is exciting. I couldn’t say I saw this coming, at all. You never know what’s next, I will say that, which is one of the exciting things when working with him, for better or for worse, you know? Whether it was a Trump hat or “slavery was a choice” comment or whatever, or those amazing moments like Yeezus or some of the amazing musical experiences I was apart of. You never knew what was coming and that was exciting. I wish him the best on it. When it was time for me to move on? I wish him the best with it.

You were with G.O.O.D. Music for six and a half years?

Yeah, seven years. Since 2011. I was one of the longest running people that lasted the longest with him [Laughs].

Why did you want to leave?

I think for me it was the next progression in my career. To transition from working with somebody and helping them build their stuff to building my own company. I am building a music incubator, start-up. It was really sort of the next progression in my career. I had to take that step as a business owner. And that takes a lot of work, a lot of focus, and a lot of commitment, you know? It’s one of those things. They say that saying, ‘if it was easy, everybody could do it?’ It’s not easy.

You once described your role at G.O.O.D. with Noah Goldstein as “getting shit done.” Now that Pusha-T has taken the role as president, what do you think of his “term” so far?

I think Pusha-T is an artist, and I think he has aspirations of his own label. I don’t know what’s going on with G.O.O.D. Music. It’s kind of like in…what’s the word when something is in suspended in time? Desiigner left the label. I know 070 [Shake] is putting her album out, but that’s more Def Jam. I don’t think there’s really a G.O.O.D. Music focus there.

I think Kacy Hill isn’t there either, right?

Yeah, Kacy Hill left. I do think they still have some artists. I know Teyana is active. I don’t really know much about what’s going on these days at G.O.O.D. Pusha-T is one of my favorite artists, and I think he’s still focused on Pusha-T. I don’t know what his involvement is with the label at all or a day-to-day basis or if he’s still involved at all. 

I think that means we’re going to see something major happen. Big Sean still has his album coming out, so maybe something like that.

Yeah. Big Sean’s coming. I’m sure Pusha’s coming. I know 070 Shake’s album is amazing. I’ve heard it so I’m excited for her because I know it’s a long time coming and she’s great. She’s gonna be on the Swedish House Mafia project as well. I think she could really be one of the next, big young artists.

I saw that books are your thing. What are you reading now?

As far as this year, I want to read as many as I can. I have different people that turn me onto books. You never know what someone is going to refer. Right now, I am reading Ben Horowitz’s new book What You Do Is Who You Are. I think Ben is just a brilliant guy and the fact that he loves hip-hop too, which is really cool. Anytime he drops a book, I try to get it.

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