Tiffany-Stevenson-2-1564756765 Tiffany-Stevenson-2-1564756765
Duane Bonaparte

Views From The Studio: Tiffany Stevenson Tracks Background Singing Journey And Beyond

From singing background for Ro James to lending her talents for Tyler, The Creator’s 'Igor' album, Tiffany Stevenson’s vocals (her stage name being Tréi Stella) continue to shine beyond the booth.

Since the age of 13, Tiffany Stevenson knew a career in music was a God-given declaration. From singing in church choirs to providing background vocals for gospel greats like Kierra Sheard and The Clark Sisters, Stevenson's path throughout the music industry was essentially ordained.

With her roots firmly cemented in the church and a strong faith-based mentality, Stevenson took a leap of faith that led the native New Yorker to pack her things and move to Los Angeles to further her career. While on tour in Europe in 2018, the vocalist said she recruited a few people to scout apartments in the City of Angels. By the time she returned, the keys were waiting for her to begin living in her new abode. The experiences from the Big Apple translated into a go-getter attitude that afforded Stevenson the opportunity to tour with Jessie J, perform onstage with Stevie Wonder before moving to L.A., and sing background on a few of Tyler, the Creator’s tracks for his Igor album.

For VIBE's Views From The Studio, Stevenson dissects her time in the studio with Tyler, her first audition, and walking by faith and not by sight.


VIBE: Who are some artists that have inspired you throughout your career?
Tiffany Stevenson: Faith Evans, for sure. I tell people all the time Faith is like my Beyoncé. I love Beyoncé but I feel like Faith doesn’t get the credit that she deserves. You can’t really talk about R&B without mentioning Faith Evans. Her sound, her pen, she’s just somebody that I’ve always looked up to and aspired to be like because I feel like she’s kind of underrated but she’s such a legend. Erica Campbell is somebody else that I look up to. I call her superwoman because she’s a mom, a wife, a first lady, a radio host, an artist and then she’s Erica, and she finds time to do all of these amazing things. I don’t know how she does it and I look at her like it’s crazy. I would say those two for sure.

What purpose does gospel music serve to you as a singer?
It’s about the message. The message, the soul behind it, the feeling you get when you hear certain words. There are a bunch of memes out right now that says gospel music hits different when you’re going through something and I don’t want to say everybody writes or sings songs about being down and out, but it makes you think and it makes you extremely grateful. You are who you are, it may not be where you want to be, but it’s not where you should be. I don’t feel like we’re worthy enough to be so blessed by God and it’s so crazy how He still affords us grace and mercy even after all the crappy stuff that we do. When you hear songs that remind you of that it feels good.

In your Instagram bio, you wrote “Psalm 37:4.” What significance does that passage hold?
It says that “If you delight yourself in the Lord, He’ll give you the desires of your heart.” There's another scripture that says, “Acknowledge him in all your ways He’ll direct your path.” I feel like if you put God first, make him the head of your life—I know a lot of people say that, sometimes people don’t even know what that means—but if you put God first I feel like things line up for you so easy. It’s easy to worry about stuff that doesn’t add up and that’s where faith comes in, but I feel like if you allow him to take control of your life completely, you don’t have to worry about your next move or how things are going to work out. You just put your faith and your trust in him and let him do what you need him to do, what you asked him to do. I like to delight myself in God because I want the desires of my heart and I want my dreams to come true. I want to be in his will, ultimately. I don’t mean to sound super churchy but that’s what it is.

What goes into being a background singer?
Interestingly enough somebody yesterday asked me the three tips on how does a singer book more jobs or something like that and I just said you have to be professional. Ultimately people have to like you to hire you and that doesn’t necessarily mean personality, but I feel like you learn your music, you show up on time, you treat everybody with respect, you look and sound the part and you just have to be ready because these calls come out of nowhere sometimes. Some people have to go through audition processes. I’ve been blessed enough to not have to go through that but when somebody calls you, be ready, have your passport. That’s definitely important. I remember getting a call, I was so mad I couldn’t do it but I got a call to go to Japan with Janet Jackson and they were like, “Do you have your passport?” I’m like, “My bag is at the door.” They ended up finding somebody else who was already in Japan, but situations like that you just never know. I always tell people to be ready and enjoy what you do. When you love what you do and show up it makes work not feel like work. But to answer your question, I just feel like I learn the music, I try to blend well with whoever is next to me and just have fun.

That’s good advice especially with your example with Janet Jackson. Japan is huge and Janet Jackson is even bigger. Were you able to circle back with her team?
No, it was a one-time thing. I was grateful to even be considered to do something like that especially with a legend like Janet Jackson. But it showed me that people like me enough to think of me, to call me, but then people think that I’m that good to where I can sing for somebody like her. I know those kinds of calls will come back around. I’m not worried but that was really dope.

Do you remember your first audition?
My first audition was with John Legend. I was so young. I used to audition all the time but John Legend was my first audition, and I remember auditioning for Jazmine Sullivan. After the audition, I had a show of my own and I had to leave that audition and go to the venue. Jazmine was sitting in my soundcheck. I was so nervous at the audition because you look up to these people and you listen to these people on the radio so for them to say sing a song for me it just adds a whole bunch of nerves. I was super nervous, but when I got to where I had to sing, I’m singing like it’s just me in my house in the living room or shower and Jazmine was sitting in on my soundcheck. When I finished she was so mad at me, like, “Why didn’t you sing like that earlier?” I’m like, “Because you are you!” (Laughs) I didn’t get called to actually work with them in that capacity but down the line, I was still able to work with John Legend. I just recently did the iHeartRadio Awards with him. When the movie Selma came out, I did all of his New York promo stuff so it eventually worked out. I didn’t tour with him, but we did get to work together and now me and Jazmine are cool.

Throughout those processes, how do you get over the nerves? Is it the more you do the less nervous you become?
Well, I would say that over the years I’ve definitely come into my own. I’ve come into who I’m supposed to be if that makes sense. I’m not as nervous anymore. I’m kind of ridiculous with things as it pertains to just doing stuff and not thinking about it. My friends call me crazy because I used to be super shy and now it’s just like it is what it is. This is what I’m doing and that’s it. But I haven’t had to audition for anything since then, so I’m not sure if I can answer that. I don’t get nervous now. If it’s my own show, trying to win over an audience especially somewhere where no one knows who you are, that’s nerve-wracking but you do what you do and if they like it they like it, and if they don’t they don’t. But it is what it is.

Another major moment is Kanye West’s Sunday Service. Walk me through the process of how you became a part of the ensemble and performing at Coachella?
This was right around the time I had just finished the last show of the tour I was on. This was around New Year’s and I had a short break. I got a call from one of my friends asking me if I could show up to a rehearsal. I didn’t know what or who it was for, I just showed up and that’s when I found out it was for Kanye. We didn’t know what it was, how long it was going to go on but it eventually turned into something super dope and beautiful. I’ve been rocking with him. Coachella was amazing. It was my first time at Coachella and we had 50,000 people there. It was kind of crazy to be on a hill singing about Jesus and dancing and having fun. It’s kind of crazy.

What were the rehearsals like? Was it just as energetic and therapeutic as the actual showcase?
We have fun. Like I said if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. Most of the people I knew there, some people I had just met because I’m new to L.A. but rehearsals are just as dope as us actually having to sing in front of people.

You also worked with Tyler, the Creator on his Igor album. Can you describe the process behind “I Think?”
I think that’s the one with Solange on it. He was just playing some records and he felt like he had ideas, he could hear them but he couldn’t sing them obviously. He’s not a singer (Laughs) so he just asked us to do whatever he heard in his head. That one was pretty easy. We sang on top of what Solange did. My friend Amanda [Brown], she did some ad-libs toward the end of the song.

Also “Igor’s Theme?”
That was actually my favorite one and not because I’m on it. He told us that Lil Uzi Vert was the one that wrote that hook: “Ridin’ ‘round town, they gon’ feel this one.” We were singing on top of that and I was being silly and I did something in the booth. He was like, “Do that! You have to do that!” I ended up doing something super-churchy on the song and he actually kept it. I have a solo part towards the end of that song so that was pretty cool.

And lastly, “Gone Gone/Thank You.”
That was another song that he heard what he wanted in his head and he just needed us to do it. That song reminded me of Stevie Wonder, the chord changes in it. I like that one, too. That was basically it. He wanted us to sing whatever he heard in his head. He really shocked me though because I didn’t know…when you hear Tyler, the Creator, I remember he had that show on Adult Swim and I used to be like, “What is wrong with him? He’s crazy,” until I actually met him and I was like, “Oh, he’s like a freaking genius.” He’s my best friend in my head. It was really dope working with him. He plays, he produces, he writes and he knows his music. I was really shocked. That was a dope experience.

I feel like that was the consensus for some music lovers who weren’t familiar with his previous work. Personally for me, like how you said you were shocked while listening to this album, I was also like this wasn’t something that I expected.
It definitely shocked me.

How did you come onboard?
I got a call from one of my friends. He just asked if I was available for a session and I said, “Yeah, why not? It’s money so let’s get it.” When we pulled up I was like, “Oh Tyler, cool!” I didn’t know what exactly he was doing but it was as simple as a phone call.

What power does music possess to you and what do you think it possesses to others?
I feel like overall when people say music is a universal language, it’s absolutely true. I’ve been in countries where they don’t speak the same language as I do but the music appeals to them the same way. I’ve seen people cry. It’s a feeling that they can’t explain. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t doing music. I think about that all the time. I don’t want to say it saved my life because I wasn’t in danger or at the brink of doing something else but I don’t know if I could describe it. It’s afforded me opportunities that I probably wouldn’t get doing anything else. I’m on my second passport. I got to meet some of the world’s biggest stars. I get to call some of those people friends. Music has definitely changed my life.

Your songs “Waiting 4 U” and “You’re The One,” particularly “Waiting 4 You,” gave me late ‘90s early 2000s vibes. Walk me through the process of working on that melody?
B. Slade who produced it along with two other producers, he wrote the song and we’ve been working with each other for a while. I’ve always known him but we started working with each other back in 2016. I released “You're The One” in 2016 and he wrote that one, too. He released that years ago. He gave me that song and it was my first single being introduced as Tréi Stella. That’s my artist name; my favorite beer, and my favorite number. But the “Waiting 4 U” sample came from Guy and Teddy Riley. I think the song is called “Piece Of My Love.” That’s where he got the idea from. I love that song.

Do the ‘90s or 2000s captivate you when you’re in the booth trying to catch a certain aura?
Definitely. I don’t want to say that’s when music meant something, but the music that we hear today... Well first of all everybody sounds the same in my opinion, and everybody is on this catch a vibe wave. But I’m used to honest singing, soul singing, R&B with a little bit of church in it and I miss that. I want to make ‘90s R&B popular again with a flare, with a little twist. There’s no song from the ‘90s that you play now and don’t feel like you’re back in the ‘90s, the song never gets old. That’s for Mary J. Blige, SWV, Faith Evans, 702, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott. Back then music felt good, not that music today doesn’t feel good but I miss the old sound.

Given that you also write songs, can you describe your writing process? Where do you pull inspiration from to make fans and listeners feel a certain emotion?
I think about when I hear music what it makes me feel like. What do the sounds put me in a mind of? I wrote this song back in 2013. I released it on my birthday and it’s called “Old Thing.” When I heard it, it reminded me of an old Biggie song. I just started thinking about, “Man, I miss when music felt good. I miss the old sound of R&B,” like you were just talking about. That’s how the title came about. “I just want that old thing back.” I just started thinking about how we get into situations where it starts off good then things get rocky and then you guys aren’t together anymore but then you sit around and think about “I miss that, I want that old thing back.” That’s how that song came about but I usually just let the music tell the story for me and then think of what’s going on with me personally that may help somebody else or I don’t have to feel like I’m alone. Because every girl goes through a breakup or somebody cheating on them. All these little things I think I’m in this world alone dealing with. I try to think about me but I think about other people and I try to write from an honest point.

The first time I saw you perform, it was with Ro James in New York City I think in 2012 or 2013. That’s when I realized you went to Saint Michael Academy, too. I was the year below your year.
Oh wow!

Since you recall that Ro James concert, can you share your experience then? That was six years ago and now you’re more established in music. Can you share from that point what can you recall from the stage and now witnessing that Ro James is also a widely known artist too?
That was actually cool. It was just us on stage. It wasn’t a regular set up where a singer has two or three background singers and a full band. It literally was just me and Ro and we just had fun. He allowed me to be myself. He gave me room to sing at any point in the song I felt like it. That felt really good because I’ve worked with a lot of artists who have been slightly insecure or intimidated by who they get to sing background for them. I’ve been fired from situations just because an artist was insecure. And here it is, I’m not trying to take any shine away from you but I’m doing my job and some people can’t handle when you sing to them or they feel like you’re prettier. You didn’t have to go beyond limits and measures to look a certain way so some people get a little intimidated. Shout out to Ro for allowing me to be myself and sharing his platform when he didn’t have to. That’s so dope you remember that, too.

That memory always stuck with me because Ro James was one of my first interviews when I started at VIBE as an intern. It was my chance to prove to my editors I could write. (Laughs) What has been your fondest memory within your career thus far?
I have so many. I sang background for Stevie Wonder at Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday party. That was iconic. I don’t know if this is my fondest memory but I remember being in high school and having to leave school a little early because I had soundcheck at Madison Square Garden down the street for a big show. That was pretty dope. It’s more to the story but when I said this may not be the fondest, I sang at the Garden in Uggs. What I wanted to wear didn’t fit. It was a little too big so I was waiting for somebody from wardrobe to give me a safety pin. After soundcheck, I thought I had time to go back to the dressing room. All the lights went out and the show started. I was on stage with Uggs on and I had to hold up my clothes. (Laughs) I still sang at the Garden.

Also, my very first tour was with Jessie J. We were out for three weeks. It was my first time in London, Paris, we went everywhere.

Who were you performing for at MSG?
They had a show called a Night of Gospel. At the time I was singing with The Clark Sisters. I used to travel with Karen when I was 15, 16. That particular show I sang with The Clark Sisters.

What was it like singing with Stevie Wonder?
It was pretty iconic. He was super sweet and I was shocked. Me and the other two singers were like “Whoa!” We sang with a lot of people that night but Stevie Wonder, c’mon. It was really dope.

Do you have a dream artist that you want to work with next?
I really want to work with Drake. I think Drake is a super creative, he’s lyrically talented and I like to hear his ideas when it comes to melodies. Eric Bellinger, he’s one of my favorite writers and probably DJ Camper. He’s taking over music right now. He produced a lot of music for H.E.R. and I was actually in the studio with him last night. He let me hear some of his album he’s putting out this year. He’s really dope.

What’s coming up next for you?
I’m preparing to release the next single off my EP along with the visuals as I did for “Waiting 4 You” and then actually put the entire EP out. I’ll finally have a whole body of music out. I’m really excited about that because I feel like it’s long overdue. I feel like I’m taking a long time but I don’t want to just put music out because I have music. I want it to be right. I’m working on the next single and pushing the EP and trying to do more shows in different places. Not just New York or L.A. I feel like I’ve only been doing a lot of shows in New York, L.A., Atlanta. I want to branch out into different cities and start to build my fanbase. I’m just working on the Tréi Stella brand as a whole.

Is there a timeline for the EP?
Right now we’re looking at August, early September. I don’t know how it’s going to happen but I’m not going to worry about how it’s going to happen because I feel like it’s going to happen.

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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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