Danny Brown
Tom Keelan

Danny Brown Talks Sobriety, Comedy, Mac Miller, And Q-Tip's Guidance

When Q-Tip gives advice, you listen – and Q-Tip wanted the old Danny Brown.

In 2017, when Danny Brown first connected with the rapper, producer and legend from A Tribe Called Quest to begin working on the former’s fifth studio album, uknowhatimsayin¿, Q-Tip referenced “Greatest Rapper Ever,” the intro track to his 2010 mixtape The Hybrid, as the artist that he wanted to hear and work with. But while Q-Tip wanted the old Danny Brown, Danny had already spent the last few years trying to get away from that artist and person altogether.

“I mean, I wasn’t happy about it,” Brown recalls when he got that request. “Because I’m always trying to chart new territory. If I’m not creating, I’m discovering.”

Over the past decade-plus, Brown has become one of the most distinctive artists in rap – whether it’s concerning his music, his look, or his personality. He had a broken front tooth, a result of being hit by a car in a KFC parking lot when he was younger. His laugh is unmistakable, a charming, goofy shriek that both slips out or is used as a way to disarm an audience. He regularly morphs his voice from a guttural snarl to a cartoonish high-pitched yell, recalling the likes of ‘Ol Dirty Bastard circa 1995. And around the time he signed to Canadian EDM DJ A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold Records in 2011 to release his seminal mixtape XXX, he changed his hair from hood-centric braids into an anime-inspired swoop that made him look more like a heavy metal rock star than a Detroit street rapper.

The Danny Brown sitting here today – in the back of a Brooklyn bar with his manager Dart Parker – is far different from the guy whom I last spoke to in 2011, when he was depressed and wondering why his hometown shunned his art and his appearance.

"Detroit's a close-minded city. People always talking sh*t back home, but it's been embraced outside of home. It's depressing at times," Brown said during that 2011 interview. "Can you imagine me walking round Northland (Center, a now shuttered shopping mall in suburban Detroit) on a Saturday? Sh*t's crazy. But let me walk through the Beverly Center (in Los Angeles) on a Saturday, no one pays me any attention."

And his last album, 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition, integrated shadowy rock, punk and techno influences while delving into the drug addiction that fueled his own personal nosedive. “Back then … I was emotional, and I think I cared too much. I started to realize that in life you only have so many f**ks to give, so you might as well only give a f**k about the things you can control,” Brown tells me today. “I didn’t even do press for (Atrocity Exhibition), I wasn’t mentally stable at the time to talk to people like that. I would just be going on these binges, man. It got to the point where (I realized) there are so many people that this sh*t takes care of. Me risking it like that, one bad day and everything can go wrong.”

He describes his process of ditching drugs as a normal coming of age. “I was never the person who was depressed and doing drugs by himself, getting high for no reason. It was always about partying. I’ve just gotten to the age where I’m not partying no more.” Brown got his Fool’s Gold record deal at age 30 (the album XXX is titled after the roman numeral), later than many other rappers who get their shot. So as he’s approaching 40, he’s living the washed life, accepting invites to parties but staying at home when it’s time to leave. He attests that if he got his deal in his 20s, that he may have made even worse mistakes and ruined his career beyond repair.

While speaking about his pursuit of sobriety, he shared a story about the late Mac Miller. Early on he didn’t like Mac’s music, and he would spend time in interviews talking trash about him. But over time they would eventually become friends – “I miss the you that said I was the worst thing to happen to hip hop,” Mac once tweeted to Brown – and in fall 2018, Brown got a call from the Pittsburgh vocalist/producer.

“That week that he died, he called me, almost on some clarity sh*t. He’s like “‘Man, are we good? You should come out to LA and make music.’ I’m like hell yeah, man,” Brown remembers. “This was the time that I was cleaning up, so I wasn’t doing sh*t. I booked my flight to go to LA, I’m going to hang with Mac. But as the week was going, I know what I’m going to do when I hang with cous’. The day I was about to leave, I had my flight and everything, and I just canceled it... I was literally in the car, and they announced on the radio that he died.” Brown was shaken by the news.

Along with leaving behind substances, he also changed his look. When he showed up to shoot his scenes for White Boy Rick, a 2018 film about teenage FBI informant Richard Wershe Jr., he was required to cut his hair – he now sports a short, neat taper. Then there’s his grill: his snaggletoothed look has been replaced by a new set of pearly whites.

“Getting my teeth fixed was more of a health issue. As bad as my teeth was, I’m still going to the dentist all the time just to maintain that sh*t. They was telling me about weird gum diseases and all types of sh*t, they said, ‘at the rate you’re going you’re going to need dentures by 40.’ I’m thinking like a ni**a. ‘I don’t give a f**k, I’ll just put a grill on them bitches and we rocking out,’” he laughed. He Googled "Terrell Owens teeth," and surprisingly found a surgeon in Michigan who did dental work for Owens and other athletes. He got bone grafting, a process that replaces damaged bone with new ones.

He says that process took a year, which was a big reason for the gap between Atrocity Exhibition and his new record. “It was the beginning of us working on the album and I couldn’t even work a lot. I didn’t have any teeth in my mouth,” Brown remembered. “We were working, but I couldn’t really do sh*t. I’m telling Q-Tip, ‘I’m in pain right now, I can’t even leave the crib. My face looks crazy right now,’ so it took a lot of time for me to do that sh*t, it took a year for me to get my teeth fixed.”

* * *

Q-Tip wanted the lyrical, back to basics Danny Brown, not the EDM aesthetic that made up the second half of Old in 2013, or the genre-bending music from Atrocity Exhibition three years later. That meant that Brown would have to tone down some of the adventurous proclivities he was planning before.

“I knew where I wanted to take it after Atrocity Exhibition, I had something totally completely different in my head about where I was going to go with it. Which probably wasn’t the best idea, because it was in that same lane. I was just going to get crazier. I got to the point of ‘f**k it, I’m not on the radio and I’m making hit songs, I can go as crazy as I f**king want.’

“I love that [JPEGMAFIA] album, that sh*t is amazing to me, it probably would’ve been something closer to that,” he said, referring to his experimental friend and collaborator's new record, All My Heroes Are Cornballs. “But thank God, every now and then somebody needs somebody to tell them to geek down a little bit, turn it down a little bit, you ain’t gotta do all that. Thanks for Q-Tip for doing that.”

In an email to VIBE, the artist known as Peggy said that the respect was mutual. "Love working with Danny. He welcomed me with open arms to his studio and took me in like a brother,” JPEGMAFIA said. “He was already one of my favorite rappers ever but he’s solidified himself as one of my favorite human beings I’ve ever interacted with."

uknowhatimsayin¿ isn’t exactly boom bap or jazz-inflected like Q-Tip’s previous classics with Tribe, but it’s much more firmly rooted in hip-hop than Brown’s more recent work. Q-Tip provides three beats himself: the buzzy kazoo sounds of “Dirty Laundry” that have Danny sharing crude sex stories and clever laundry metaphors, the feel-good rags to riches “Best Life,” and the highlight “Combat,” which flips a horn sample and ends with a drum solo. He also helped pick other beats, or would insert some of his own signatures into sound beds from other producers on the album, and would keep Brown in the booth to record verses over and over until they were right.

Brown still tapped into his old habits a bit though. Nigerian vocalist Obongjayar lends emotive choruses to “Belly of the Beast” and the title track. And his buddy JPEGMAFIA provides the hook for “Negro Spiritual” and the beat for “3 Tearz,” which has abrasive verses from Run The Jewels. “Change Up” and “Shine,” the album's respective intro and penultimate tracks, bookend the record by digging into his humble roots, sharing lessons from his upbringing and lamenting on his struggles. The result is a taut, 11-song album that’s as digestible as anything he’s ever made, but still reflective of his recent years of experience. So Q-Tip’s suggestion ended up successful.

“Danny’s never really been produced, he’s done it all himself. It had to be someone he respected to listen to,” Dart Parker shared, when explaining the idea to connect him with Q-Tip. “He was going crazy doing the same verse a hundred times … but who from that era that we love, is a professional, and still just as hungry as he was 20 years ago? He I s competing every day whether you hear the music or not. He’s one of the best bass players I’ve ever seen. … [Q-Tip] is hyper intelligent. One of the f***king channels went out on the board, he put on a soldering mask and went under the console and fixed it with a soldering gun!”

Despite his early hesitation, Brown also found even more appreciation for lyricism and learned to dedicate more time to his music.

“(This album) taught me that that’s a harder style of rapping than anything else. If I did double time songs with big trap bass beats, it’s so much going on that it’s an entertaining listen. When you’re doing it like this, the main sh*t is the words,” Brown added. “The beat is the backdrop at this point. Before, I was doing a lot of songs where the beat was the main thing, and my voice and how I’m coming across it is so off-kilter. With this, you ain’t giving a person no choice but to pay attention to the words. So if you ain’t saying sh*t, it’s going to be trash. The beats is banging either way it goes.”

Another key element of uknowhatimsayin¿ is Danny Brown’s humor. Jokes have always been integral in his lyrics, so his music has always been hilarious and self-deprecating. But that comedy is even more central in his life lately: his new VICELAND show Danny’s House plays like a combination of Eric Andre meets Peewee Herman, with inanimate objects like a burrito and a microphone serving as cohosts as Brown welcomes guests like ASAP Rocky, Schoolboy Q and El-P to discuss weed-worthy topics like sex with aliens, ghosts, and more. He also brings in comedians, who will come as guests or test jokes with him at the end of episodes. He says that he hangs out with comedians more than he does with other rappers these days, and they tell him that he could have a future in stand-up if he wanted to. That’s apparent during our conversation, too: he shares multiple stories, like a trip overseas and several recent incidents of peeing in his pants, that could be great comedy bits. It’s refreshing in a genre that can sometimes take itself too seriously with machismo posturing.

“Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest) was the first person to tell me, ‘you’re like the Richard Pryor of rap. You need to dig into that and study Rich,’” Brown recalled. “Some sh*t you don’t have to say the way you say it, you can say the same thing wording it the right way and get an exciting reaction. A lot of times, I used to say sh*t for shock value. Richard Pryor was saying things for shock value, but it still had depth to it. That’s what I was going for.

“I feel like that's the best emotion to have while listening to a song, is to just laugh at some sh*t. The only thing other than that is crying. To make a motherf**ker laugh at a song, that’s hard.”

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Justin Newhouse

Filmmaker Coffey's 'About The People' Depicts Honest Conversation On Being Black In America

About The People, a short film created by New York City-based filmmaker Coffey is an ode to the power honest conversations about social justice, equity and race have within black and brown communities. The movie hosts a group of black men that hold court at a conference table to discuss how they can improve society for their kinfolk.

Their discourse concerns the social-economic inequalities that often grips black men at the hands of police brutality and lack of opportunity. In the end, a young black woman joins the conversation as well. Each character is named after their respective accomplishments in life.

There’s The Militant (Coffey), The Athlete (Akintola Jiboyewa), The Professor (Nashawn Kearse), The College Boy (Diggy Simmons), The Celebrity (Sterling Brim), The Executive, (Tyler Lepsey), The Preacher (Dorian Missick), The Author (Hisham Tawfiq), The Senator (Michael Kenneth Williams) and The Janitor (Ebony Obsidian).

Throughout the story, The Militant challenges The Preacher on his religious beliefs and optimistic viewpoint in believing that, through a higher power, all things are possible. Coffey, who grew up in a religious home in a small town in South Carolina, says his character’s defying ways were intentional. Through The Militant’s anger, he was able to release his own rage.

“As the co-writer, I could have been any one of those characters but I chose The Militant because I knew he was the one that was shaking up that room,” Coffey explains over the phone. “When you get that many brains in one room there’s absolutely no way everyone is going to say, ‘Okay everything is going to be joyful and we’re on the same page,’ it never happens that way.”

“There’s always a throw off in that room and it had to be The Militant, who ruffled some feathers,” he continues. “So, because I was pissed off in real life, I choose that character.”

About The People is inspired by a conversation Coffey had with his eldest son on police brutality. After not giving his son a curfew during the summer, he questioned why he would come home while the sun was still out. His son replied, “Me and my boys are making sure we get home before dark so we won’t get killed by the cops.”

That same fear plagues millions of black and brown men in America, where your skin color determines how much your life is worth. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s something Coffey didn’t want to shy away from. His first encounter with police brutality was watching the news of the L.A. riots after Rodney King was beaten by the LAPD in 1991. At the time, the world was a simpler place; social media didn’t exist, the Internet was in gestation and ubiquitous movements like Black Lives Matter hadn’t made CNN headlines yet. However, injustice was something that inevitably would enter Coffey’s life. It became clearer when he became a father in New York City.

“At that time I didn’t have kids,” he recalls when the L.A. riots were happening. “But the moment I did birth a child, which was here in New York that’s when it became like, ‘Okay my color is a problem because I’m a person of color, it’s already one strike against me which is crazy, but it’s reality.'”

In addition to discussing the conundrums that accompany being a black man in America and attempting to arrive at a consensus on how they can all make this situation better, there’s also a bigger topic at hand which deals with the inclusion of black women in this conversation. Near the film's end, The Janitor, a young black woman with an afro overhears their conversation. She’s intrigued by their discourse and takes it upon herself to jump in—unexpectedly, but with urgency.

Though she is met with opposition from some people in the group, they quickly realize she has the answers they’ve been looking for. She’s the missing piece to the puzzle they’ve been trying to complete. Historically, black women have played a major role in activism and have held the weight of the plight that swallows black men into a system that wasn’t made to protect them. But somehow don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Gillian B. White of The Atlantic breaks down this dichotomy in a 2016 article, titled Why Black Women Matter. “The necessity of black female activism, to me, is one of the most complex and important parts of this conversation,” White notes. “Black women haven’t been the backbone of agitation just because they wanted to be, but because oftentimes, they are the only ones who are able to.”

“Black men are America’s favorite victims. The country’s racial brutality and bias all too often truncate the lives of black men—either through death or incarceration,” she continues. “Even before the modern versions of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and recent police violence, black men had targets on their backs. From lynchings to indentured servitude in coal mines during Jim Crow, the country’s legacy of taking black men’s lives and liberty has left black women to bear the burden of caring for families and advocating for justice for their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers whose voices are often silenced.”

The Janitor was created in honor of Coffey’s grandmother and Angela Davis. Reminiscent of his childhood he decided to put the character in the end since his grandmother always had the last word. “The structure of the film is personal to me,” he explains. “My grandfather would have his friends over and they would drink and watch sports, and if there were problems it would be him and friends that would talk about these problems. But when my grandmother would find out they didn’t have the answer to these issues, she would provide the solution.”

In About The People Coffey creates an honest dialogue about what it means to be black in America and feel constantly oppressed by authority figures that are the direct product of white supremacy. The admission is universal considering how much of this world has been colonized by greedy European settlers, but its message is deeper than that. Money is another toxic element in the lethal poison where oppression and inequality are formed. Yet he made this film as a catalyst of hope—not to go against the powers that be.

“The honest to God truth is this isn’t written to go against any white people at all,” he says. “This is written for people of color, my kids and everybody else’s kids to try to follow these guidelines so it will be a better world for them.”

Special thanks to director Sterling Milan, Sincere Giles and Samuel K. Rhind.

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Courtesy of Endeavor Audio

Peter Rosenberg And Cipha Sounds Talk Juan EP's Return And All Things Jay-Z

Hip-hop podcasts are everywhere. Yes, everyone wants to be heard, but not everyone who wants to be heard is focused on moving the culture forward. Enter hip-hop nerds, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. After a year hiatus, the duo is returning to these podcast streets with the Juan EP, where they bring their valid expertise on all things hip-hop.

Cipha and Rosenberg joined forces with Mass Appeal and Endeavor Audio to deliver comprehensive conversations about the culture, some of our favorite moments in hip-hop, favorite albums, best rhymes, among other things. During the podcast's first season, the DJs touch on who is arguably the greatest MC of all time, Jay-Z.

"I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes," Cipha Sounds tells us in our phone conversation. "Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic."

Drawing help from some of Shawn Carter's closest friends, Cipha and Rosenberg dig into Jay-Z's career to discuss his best collaborations, beefs and pinpoint moments of Hov's greatness. VIBE caught up with the fellas and chatted about the Juan EP, Jay-Z and much more.

VIBE: First, this has been bothering me for years. Who is Juan Epstein? Rosenberg: Juan Epstein came from the fact that Cipha and I got paired together. He's Puerto Rican and I’m Jewish. Juan Epstein was a Puerto Rican/Jewish character on the show, Welcome Back, Cotter. I never watched the show, I think Cipha may have been the one to tell me about the name. That was perfect.

The podcast has been on hiatus for a while now. How was the process of bringing the podcast back? Rosenberg: We’ve been wanting to bring it back for a minute. We’ve been looking for the right opportunities and the right partners. And we thought Mass Appeal was a really good home. And when the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a really good fit. We’re trying to do something right for hip-hop, and curated well, and do right by the culture. When Mass Appeal came up with an option it seemed like a perfect fit. It was a great excuse and forced us the get organized and bring it back.

Cipha Sounds: The reason I love this podcast is because it really is two hip-hop fans who were lucky enough to get paid from hip-hop, and we get to talk to some great people from the hip-hop community about hip-hop. There aren't any outsiders speaking about our culture. And we learn new things that we never knew before.

With you guys coming from radio, do you prefer podcasts over radio programming? Rosenberg: It’s a different thing. [Podcasting], it’s more in line with what I’m really passionate about. And it’s really fun. It’s two different versions of a similar thing. They’re both broadcasting, but this gets to be about hip-hop, and not the bullsh*t side, the gossip. This really is about the music.

Cipher: I don’t consider one over the other. I definitely like having long conversations with hip-hop artists.

Season One of the Juan EP is about Jay-Z. Why him? Cipha: Everybody always has all these conversations about the top five [MCs] and who’s the G.O.A.T. I wanted the same street corner, lunchroom conversation with some actual research, and facts from people who were there. People who handle the question with some real information. And also, it is fun to get people’s opinions on it. Of all the sh*t that Jay-Z does that influences the culture, whether it be becoming the first billionaire or marrying Beyoncé, I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes. Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic. Since we're talking Jay-Z, there was a time, well, at least in my hometown of Mississippi, where people were aggravated with Hov for frequently using B.I.G's rhymes.  Cipha: Let me answer this one. Let me tell you and all of your friends in the barbershop in Mississippi, every time Jay says a B.I.G. line, Biggie's kids eat. The reason he does it is because it pays for Biggie’s family to live the way that they should’ve lived if Biggie was still alive, so he pays for school, and homes all off of saying a line.

Wow. I didn't know that. Rosenberg: Yes, anytime Jay-Z samples a B.I.G. line, thanks to B.I.G.'s publishing, his family eats.

What are some of your favorite episodes so far? Cipha: My favorite is the Clark [DJ Clark Kent] episode. I loved how he broke down the details of how Jay-Z and Biggie met. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know and I’d be like, "How will I ever, ever know that?" There’s no way. Like, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know who was in the room and basically to find out not only was Clark Kent in the room but basically orchestrated it.

At times, Jay-Z takes a lot of heat. For instance, this NFL partnership business. Some people have even said he's partly responsible for the gentrification happening in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Rosenberg: We talked a lot about Jay-Z's ventures and how he’s taken flack for some things. And Jay-Z the businessman is a different thing than Jay-Z the artist. We go into a lot of detail about the business and how he’s viewed, And we defiantly get into the question, on the episode, actually next week [on the Nov. 19th episode titled, "I'm A Business Man"].

Here's some fun Jay-Z stuff. To me, the best intro song in the history of hip-hop is Jay's "The Dynasty Intro." Let's debate this. I'm ready.  Rosenberg: I agree that it’s up there. I probably haven’t done the extensive research like you have. But The Dynasty is definitely one of my favorite Jay-Z albums, which is funny because first, it wasn’t a Jay-Z album, then it was a Jay-Z album. So I wonder did he have that intro on there already when it was just a Roc-A-Fella album or did he add it once it became a Jay-Z album? Who would I even ask?

VIBE: Guru.

Rosenberg: Was he around then?

VIBE: Bean’s first album came out before The Dynasty album...

Rosenberg: And Guru did Bean's album...

Cipha: Yes, but even if he wasn’t around... this guy is so strategic. I know that the Pharrell [Williams] record made him make it a Jay Z-album instead of a Roc [A-Fella] album, but that intro, it’s not long and the beat is not complicated. It's a simple hip-hop beat. Damn, we now have to do an episode about this.

Rosenberg: And that's what this show is about. For people who are interested in stuff like that. And this is the perfect time to dig into the podcast because all of the episodes are available. You don't have to wait for the next episode.

Hip-hop fans can tune into every episode of Juan EP below or on Stitcher, and Endeavor Audio.

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Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.


VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party at the W South Beach, where the pajamas designed by February James and LaKela Brown will be premiered.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit," just like everything else in the world.


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🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

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