Davido
Stacy-Ann Ellis

20 Minutes With Davido: The Afrobeats Giant Talks Confidence, Timing And Strong Foundations

The Lagos, Nigeria native talks making "world music" and the confidence that comes from having a solid foundation.

Davido can’t sit still. Maybe it’s early afternoon energy or impatience or knowing that his press rounds for the day aren’t winding down for some hours. Or maybe it’s just the fact that he’s sitting on what he considers to be an audio goldmine. David Adeleke, the gifter of astronomical hits like “If” and “Fall”—two-year-old songs with gravity still strong enough to pull Snapchatting wallflowers and clumsy dancers to the center of the floor—knows there’s much more where that came from.

“It's an album for everybody, I'll say,” he says of his forthcoming album, A Good Time, with a smirk. “I feel like everybody will have at least three songs they love in different genres.”

Technically speaking, the Atlanta-born and Lagos, Nigeria-raised artist has made a moderate splash on the Billboard charts, the metrics most artists use to quantify their success and measure progression in the industry. (In 2019, “Fall” became the longest-charting Nigerian pop song in Billboard history thanks to admittedly delayed radio push.)

However, Davido’s worldwide footprint speaks louder than a few hard figures. This year alone, he’s sold out shows as intimate as nightclubs and massive as London’s O2 Arena, rocked sets at Essence Music Festival and Hot 97's Summer Jam, and was an international headliner abroad at Oh My! Fest in the Netherlands, Afro Nation Portugal, and eventually Afro Nation Ghana alongside afrobeats greats he can safely consider peers.

July summoned his album’s breezy lead single “Blow My Mind” featuring Chris Brown, and a burst of new guest spots this month are carrying that same fresh energy into October. Davido was featured alongside Jeremih in “Choosy,” a new release from Fabolous, as well as on Brown’s “Lower Body,” a newbie on the extended version of his Indigo album. To say he’s ready to fan the mainstream flame with fellow afrobeats and afro-fusion hitmakers is an understatement. “Let us in, open American doors,” he jokes, knowingly. “We will finish everybody.”

In between banter about the turnup we’re missing in West Africa—trust, December in Africa is a thing—Davido opens up about his A Good Time (a genre hodgepodge guaranteed to please), the source of his success (part luck, part work ethic), and afrobeats’ undeniable global appeal.

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VIBE: Tell me about how your 2019 has been so far?
Davido: 2019 has been a journey. It’s been the longest time that I’ve spent away from Lagos probably since I came to school in America. Reason being, just wanted to focus and get new energy, new environment to record the album. There’s just so much going on back home, so we’ve been out here the whole year, basically. “Fall” blew up and then we just came out here and worked with it. That album is about to come out and it’s gonna be crazy.

Given the momentum and expectations that come with it, are you more excited or nervous about this next album?
I’m not nervous because I’m confident about the music. I’m just anxious to see what the next stage is, the next step. I like to challenge myself. When you reach a stage, you want to challenge yourself to reach higher stages.

You said it’s been the longest time you’ve spent away from Lagos. Is that a good or bad thing?
No, that’s good. To me, it's a new energy. The people miss me, of course, but sometimes it's good to be away. To just step back and see where you’re at in your surroundings and stuff like that. I think every artist needs that.

Sometimes when you're too present, people think they know what you're going to deliver.
Exactly, and me being out here recording, all my producers I flew in from Nigeria. It's not like I left my team. The whole team is here, so people ain't really heard the music. Back home, in my studio, it's like everybody comes through, so I can imagine recording my album back home, four or five of the songs would have probably leaked already.

You had a great year and so has music from African artists. What has it been like to watch that happen, to see us latecomers catch on?
I felt like it was always going to happen. Even when I was in school in Alabama, when I used to play Nigerian songs from artists that were the top artists then—they were the biggest artists, like D’banj, P-Square—when I used to play their music in my dorm room, my American friends would love it. I always knew it was a thing that once America heard it, they would love it. Afrobeats, you hear it once, twice, I promise you, it's going to ring. So I feel like it was just for the people to hear it. Give us a channel to be heard. Radio, now you have social media. Back then all those things weren't in place. Now you have things in place where even if it's not in your face, one way or the other, you can find it. I think if you had all those things back then, social media and the support, it would've been the same.

 

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Were you frustrated with how long it took?
Not really, because we've got our stuff going back home, too. You know what I'm saying? Even me today, I make most of my money from back home. And even before afrobeats got mainstream in America, we’ve been coming to do shows. I did a show in New York in 2013 to 5,000 people, and this was when I didn't have most of my big records I have now. Sold it out. But now it's mainstream. You have Live Nation now partnering with us to do shows. Back then it was just like local promoters selling tickets at the clubs and we still had the numbers. Now, our fans can put on the radio and hear us.

It even gives them more confidence. Confidence to be like, you know what? Let's go out and support this culture. So that's why the Afro Nation festival in Portugal, it was bigger than Coachella to me. It just shows that you just needed that platform, and then the fans needed the confidence to come out and really support. The next step now is getting the fans to buy the music because we have the numbers, but you've got to come out and buy it. That's the only way we can really break. The music is spreading. It's on the radio. Everybody’s doing shows. Everybody's touring, but now the next step is getting these sales up.

In a way, that’s most artists’ problems now. Touring is the moneymaker. That and streaming.
There's nothing really wrong with streaming. That is why they want us to appeal to the Western crowd because those people buy music. Those people buy merch, blah blah blah. But we have to do what we know how to do. So the Western [crowd], they're actually buying it, but we need our real fans to come and be like, yo, Davido album dropping. It's a campaign—80,000 copies the first week, let's go out and buy. Look at the Latin industry. They're doing numbers. So apart from the music getting big, I feel like, yes, the music is getting accepted, but where are the numbers? When you walk into a building, it's all about numbers. It's not about if your music is sweet or this, or that—it's all about the profit. That's what we'll be working on getting up.

What are your thoughts about seeing really large artists pay so much homage to the afrobeats sound?
I mean some people find it offensive, but I actually don't. I mean, first of all, people in Africa do hip-hop, right? So you can't come and say these people are taking our sound when we have artists back home doing trap, doing all these things. I feel that everybody should feel free to do what they want to do, but maybe it won't hurt to evolve. Like, I feel like it was nice how Swae Lee had Tekno produce that record for him and Drake, stuff like that. And they have more of our producers more involved in the sound because those are the ones who really know how to get the sound. Yeah, I think the producer side needs more shine but apart from that, doing afrobeats is [for] everybody. Any artist is free to do any kind of music they want.

Who are some of the producers that we should know? Give us a starter list.
I mean, first of all, Shizzi, that's my producer. He did most of my stuff. And we have Kiddominant, that's my other producer. And we have Speroach, this dude Rexxie, he's the one that's doing all the Zanku songs. So he's going crazy. But I feel like they should bring all these artists out here, get a camp, put 'em all in one room and trust me, they'll make magic.

Do you still consider yourself an afrobeats artist now? Some of your counterparts like Afro B and Burna Boy have classified themselves as afro-wave or afro-fusion.
I'm just an artist, man. I'm just a musician. Every kind. Of course I do afrobeats, but I'm just a musician. Worldwide musician. World music.

You mentioned the Latinx music scene. Is there anyone you’re looking to collaborate with from that space?
Bad Bunny, Maluma. I really want to work with them. I might get a studio session with them when I get back from Nigeria.

How would you say your sound has progressed over the years from your try at making music to now?
Of course [when] you're growing, you learn. Sometimes I don't even listen to some of my earlier records, even though I always used to put a lot in my records so it's not like that shit was whack. It was cool but I can see the growth and the quality of the music. Back then we didn't really focus on our sound and mixing and mastering. We’d really just record, next day release. Right now, it's a whole package and music has to be perfect. Right now, they’re playing Nigerian music on the radio, African music, and after African music, they start playing American music. You don't want the level of the quality to drop. And planning. I'm at the label now. Before I could just wake up and just drop, but now they gotta submit the single two weeks before. You know how it is. So, of course, it's way different now from like four years ago.

What else have you learned about yourself personally and the way you work?
I'm really, really, really free with my work. I don't really bother myself with strategic planning and stuff like that. What's most important to me is the music. Once the music is good, I feel that's really all you need. And, of course, a good team around you and they're doing what you want. Connect with your fans. Very important, connect with your fans. Don't lose touch of home because that's your foundation, really. Without that foundation, you can't really be big in America when you don't have that foundation in Nigeria. An example is, I've known a lot of American artists for a while who are bigger in America, but when they came to Nigeria they saw the love I get at home. Then coming back is like, the respect is different. They'd come and they were like, Yo, you're the president. You know what I'm saying?

When was the first moment that you realized where you stood with your hometown? That they would be such a solid support system?
That was probably for my first song, really. From the first record, man, it's just been love. Davido this, Davido that, negative, positive, negative and whatever.

Negative? What's the biggest critique you've seen of yourself?
I don't know. Probably my voice. That's the worst I can think of. I can't think of nothing else.

What's the most memorable place you've ever performed?
I've got a couple places. O2 Arena [in London]. I just did [Madison Square Garden] with 50 Cent [for the Power premiere]. That was cool.

Walk me through that.
He [50 Cent] brought me out. It was just crazy cause I ain't really met him before. I met him at the pool party or something like that, when I was performing at the pool party, and the reception when I performed was crazy so I think it got his attention. The next day he called me up to perform at MSG.

And then in July, you headlined your first international festival.
Oh yeah, yeah. Amsterdam. Yeah. Oh My! Festival, and then Afro Nation, too. This summer was lit, but next summer is about to be dumb lit. This fall's about to be lit. Album's coming October.

One thing I notice about you and the progression of your career is that it’s fueled by a strong sense of faith and confidence. Where do you get that?
It just depends, man. Honestly, it's not even confidence. I wouldn't say that Nigeria spoiled me, but like bruh, they just showed me so much love. Like, I didn't really go through like a lot of things. I just dropped and it just took me... I didn't really have to overkill myself. They just kept me there. I don't know why they liked me so much, (Laughs) but they just kept me there, kept me comfortable, kept me confident. Always came out to all the shows, supported all the music. It's just love, everywhere is love. Even the love for Davido spreads to everybody around me. My family members.

Have newer artists in Nigeria or on the continent asked you for advice? If so, what do you tell them?
You have to be very hardworking and ready to play the part. That's what they're always asking. But everybody has their different ways of getting to where they need to get to. My way might be different from somebody else's way, but most importantly is just be ready to work hard and the music has to be good. Once the music is good, get your team right, and just work hard. I feel like the other steps, you kind of figure it out yourself.

Who do you think is next up in terms of afrobeats artists? 
I mean, there's a lot of other artists. It's like 500 of us. Let us in, open American doors, we will finish everybody. There is a lot of us. I feel like before you stand up and leave Africa, like, yo, I'm going to chase the dream in America, I'm going to chase the dream in Europe, you have to make sure your foundation, your home is super strong.

Is it still a goal to capture or change up the American market?
No, not [to] change it, we just want to join it. Add us. We should have our own chart, I think. You know what I'm saying? Like if reggae could have their own chart, I think we can have ours, too. Or let us in the main chart, something. But I feel like it's gonna happen, man. It's been happening, man. Most importantly, I'm happy that American artists themselves open their arms for us as well. I got a lot of records dropping that are not even myself, they're their songs featuring me. Stuff like that helps us as well.

What can we expect from the new album?
Just a lot of good songs. It's an album for everybody, I'll say. I feel like everybody will have at least three songs they love in different genres. It’s going to be 13 songs. Well, I’ll probably have "Fall" and "If" on there, so it's really like 11 new songs. But yeah, it's going to be an album for everybody. Trust me. Every type of song is going to be on there. Predominantly afrobeats-infused, of course. Mainly my producers and a lot of your [American] producers, too. With features, me and Chris got a second record.

And lastly, since you speak highly of your foundation, what is the best thing about Nigeria?
The people. The attitude, rich or poor. It's just a jolly place. You would laugh, comedians everywhere. There's some bad, bad spirits sometimes, (laughs) but for the most part, it's a very beautiful place.

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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.

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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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