Little Brother
Jenny Regan

Little Brother On Building Friendship, Bucking Nostalgia, And Embracing Freedom

When Little Brother first emerged in the early 2000s, they impressed fans with 9th Wonder’s warm, sample-based production and Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh’s smart, relatable rhymes about holding down regular jobs and pursuing rap success while lobbing jokes and life lessons along the way. During a time where many people wrongfully pigeonholed the South for snap, crunk and trap music, Little Brother brought a different vibe from North Carolina, adding thoughtfulness to their fun, in the lineage of Native Tongues and A Tribe Called Quest. Their first two albums, The Listening and The Minstrel Show, earned critical acclaim and die-hard fan bases. But as many groups do, Little Brother eventually broke up: 9th Wonder left the group and has continued his success as a producer, and Phonte and Pooh recorded two more albums together before calling it quits. Both have continued to make music since then. Phonte has released two solo rap albums and earned a Grammy as half of Foreign Exchange, an R&B/soul group he formed with Netherlands producer Nicolay. Pooh has released several albums since the group ended as well, along with using his industry experience to manage Dreamville rapper Lute and producer Blakk Soul.

But while each of them has earned continued prosperity in the music business separately, their fans have consistently begged for Little Brother to come back together. And after a reunion show that was chronicled in a documentary, this year, they did exactly that: Phonte and Big Pooh, sans 9th Wonder, released May The Lord Watch. The group’s vibe is still intact as strong as ever with their thoughtful rhymes and hilarious skits, and the album doesn’t only sound like they never broke up – it feels like they’ve actually gotten closer. That tone continued when they visited the VIBE office in New York City, where they’re laughing and sharing memories between answering questions. “We’re watching over each other, for the first time ever in our careers,” Phonte said. “We aren’t just working together, we’re covering each others’ backs.”

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VIBE: I’ve heard a lot of stories about how artists resolve differences. Sometimes, things reach a boiling point and the two parties sit down and hash things out. Other times, they won’t even speak about the issues because they weren’t truly a big deal in the first place – they just start working together again. How did you two get on the same page?

Rapper Big Pooh: Niggas aired it all out. I saw when 9th and I first started back talking, we didn’t have a real conversation. It was more like, “the past is the past and we’re good,” but a lot of shit was still unresolved because you never have that conversation. So when ‘Te and I first got on the phone for the first time, it was a four-hour conversation.

Phonte: You can’t just treat the infection, you have to treat the cause.

Pooh: We went through it all, man. It was deeper than just, “I apologize.” We broke it all the way down so, if this is the last conversation we have, I’m going to tell you everything. Everything is on the table. When we broke it all down, we realized, niggas just didn’t know how to communicate certain things. And when you don’t communicate certain things, you’re left to assume … As a mature man at this point, you’re like, “damn dog, I really didn’t talk to you over bullshit. We could’ve cleared this up and that would’ve been the end of it.” Even to this day, we make sure that we’re upfront with each other. “Ay bro, I said such and such yesterday, I didn’t mean it that way” just to make sure we stay there, because things could easily get out of control.

Phonte: Keep that line of communication open because you need to check in with each other. Even with the album title May The Lord Watch, you’re sending well wishes to someone – while we’re apart from each other I hope the Lord is watching over you, but at the same time, we’re watching over each other, for the first time ever in our careers. We aren’t just working together, we’re covering each others’ backs.

VIBE: What is it like for you guys to be so close now, when Little Brother's rift was so public before?

Phonte: With me and Pooh, our rift was never really public. Me and 9th had a moment where our shit got real public, but me and Pooh never had that.

Pooh: People didn’t know we weren’t talking until we said we weren’t talking.

Phonte: It was a three-man group, but if you’re all frat brothers, me and Pooh crossed the burning sands. We were in the foxhole together. That wasn’t the case with the third member. He was like grad chapter; you’re on paper. The dynamic just ain’t the same. We all brothers, but… Even in our disagreements, when [Pooh and I] weren’t talking to each other, it never got to the point of disrespect. We never went out on each other like that because even at the root of disappointment, anger and hurt, there was always respect there. I think that made it a little bit easier, vs. if things got super ugly on the Internet where nothing dies, if we had some stupid online war.

Pooh: That was definitely always there. And I’m not a fool. I’m not going to war with a nigga who’s a magician with words online. [both artists laugh] Nigga’s an English major! Magna cum laude! I’m not going to war with that nigga online that knows everything about me.

Phonte: That’s the thing. You get in a beef with a nigga you’re cool with, that is assured mutual destruction. It’s over. Because by the time that shit is over with, the only niggas y’all gonna have is each other. Because everything else is over. Your marriage, your job, your family. We blowing all this shit up.

Pooh: Can’t go to war with a nigga that knows where the bones are buried.

VIBE: When I heard May The Lord Watch, I was surprised by just how much it truly sounded like a Little Brother album. Both of you have done so much since then, so I was didn’t know what to expect. How much effort went into capturing that feel, and how much of it was natural?

Phonte: It was hard. I can’t front. This is the hardest project I’ve ever worked on in my career. You know what you’re looking for, you know what the feeling is, you know in your heart and your bones what Little Brother is and what that sound is. But you don’t know it until you hear it. So trying to explain to another producer what you’re looking for – you know what it is, but I’ll know it when I hear it. The good part is that if you’re working with a good producer, when they find it and you say “that’s it!” they can move forward. But it was hard. We went through a lot of tracks and probably three or four different configurations of the album. We started in October 2018 and the final finish was probably three weeks ago. It was a real painstaking process. I’m happy that it sounds easy to people, but there was a lot of work that went into that.

VIBE: Was there any hesitation to do the album at all once you realized 9th Wonder wouldn’t be part of it?

Pooh: I think once he was removed from the picture, it actually became less complicated. The thing people don’t understand is that ever since the beginning of recording The Minstrel Show, it’s just been me and Te anyway. Once he was back in the picture, it was really back to ground zero because we had to figure out how this works. If we were Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron, Wade and LeBron been best friends since fucking forever, now you gotta integrate Chris Bosh into the picture, how does that work? When he was out the picture it was less complicated and we could just focus on the work. … We just dove in. Niggas didn’t check the temperature of the water, we didn’t see how deep it was, we didn’t know if anybody else was in the pool. Niggas just jumped in and saw if we could swim. That helped us because we didn’t take the time to overthink it.

… We started at the beginning of October. By the time we realized it was official that 9th was not going to be in the picture, in December, first thing I said to Te was: “nigga I know we’re starting over, but we’re here now, we gotta finish this shit out.”

Phonte: That was a real conversation we had. At that point I had to ask him if he still wanted to do this, because I didn’t want to assume. We started the record over again from scratch and rebuilt it from nothing, and kept working and pushing through until we finished it.

VIBE: Was is frustrating for fans to always be asking you guys to get back together, when you knew you weren’t in the space to do it?

Pooh: It was definitely frustrating. Each of us individually had to learn to reframe their want. I had to think about it from a standpoint of, “damn, some shit I did in 2002 and 2003 is still ringing off. That’s so flattering. Why would you want to not have that happen?” I thank my man Rich Bartell for this, man. I expressed my frustration and he said, “you gotta understand what this means: when you have this type of reaction, the game isn’t finished with y’all. Until y’all come back and set shit right, this is gonna happen.” He proved prophetic, but that changed the way I framed the idea of people asking for Little Brother. At that point, once I made that change mentally, I was able to take it more in stride. It’s frustrating as fuck when you’re trying to promote a new record, and people are saying, “yeah that’s cool, but when we gon get that Little Brother?” But at the same time, I really did some shit that’s resonating with people after all this time. Who can really say that, especially today, when you can be popping today and by next month, who?

VIBE: How did you react when A Tribe Called Quest dropped their final album, We Got It From Here ... Thank You 4 Your Service in 2016?

Phonte: I was just amazed that the shit got done. It was amazing to see, something I never thought we’d get in this lifetime. And Phife passing just put it in a different space because this was the last time we’re going to hear his voice. He had verses on that album that were as good as anything else in his catalog. Even though he was at the end of his life physically, creatively he still had juice left in the tank. That informed us when we were working on May The Lord Watch. We aren’t making a nostalgic play. We’re not just coming back and making The Minstrel Show 2, or The Listening 2, or Get Back Again.

Nostalgia is bullshit. When you fall in love with a song, and people say “I love this thing,” you don’t love the song. What you love is that time in your life when you had less responsibilities and you were 40 pounds lighter. That’s what you love, that’s what you want to go back to. It’s what that song represents. “That was before I had you, me and your mom was kicking it good.” I can’t compete with your feelings or your memories. … It’s not that I don’t believe in sequels. If we’re talking movies, if there’s more of a story to tell, then it’s cool. But [often, with music], it’s just a marketing technique. It’s just niggas saying, “I’m gonna take my biggest album, then call this new album my biggest album part two,” but that may not have shit to do with your biggest album that you named it after. With Wayne (Tha Carter) and Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime, it was more of a series. But with The Blueprint, he could’ve stopped after the first one. I’m always living in the present and thinking what’s the best way to serve my audience now? We don’t need The Color Purple 2: Mistah Strikes Back. (laughs)

VIBE: Phonte, I want to take a couple of quotes from your music. On “Dance In The Reign” from Charity Starts At Home, you said, “No one can say his life ain’t his / Some may even say underachiever, ‘cause they are not believers / that you don’t want the world, but I done seen the world / and if you ever saw hell, you wouldn’t want it either.” On this new one, you say, “peace of mind rarely comes with a check attached.” When did you begin to think that way?

Phonte: I started seeing it when I started having conversations with rappers who, on paper had more than me, and were trying to convince me that I should do this, but yet they were miserable. I remember a very specific phone call one time where I had a certain MC hit me and he was talking. “I’m trying to sign you.” I was just like, “dude, no. I’d never sign to another rapper, are you shitting me?” He’s going on. “I think you’re one of the best.” It was cool and it was fine, but at the end of the conversation, it turned into, “man, I’ve got one record left on my deal, and I’m out of this shit. I’m going to do me.” I stopped him: “I want you to understand what just happened. You’re calling me to try to convince me that I need the thing that you’re selling, but I already have the thing that you want, which is freedom.” That was the end of the conversation.

VIBE: Pooh, you really bodied this album too. There’s the line that I quoted, “my pen used to run across the page doing suicides,” on "All In A Day." And on “Right On Time,” you talk about delivering UberEats and being bittersweet that people didn't recognize you. What did it take for you to be comfortable sharing that much of yourself?

Pooh: Getting comfortable with who I am. I’m a very private person. You look on my Instagram, and it’s just me and people I’m doing business with. But as I was writing this record...we criticize people who rap about drugs and say, “you’re only showing one side, the glamorous side.” Or we criticize people on Instagram, “you’re just showing the good shit happening in your life.” I just decided when I was working, I gotta let these people know. This is what being a real musician is: peaks and valleys. When I hit that valley, I fucked up money, I fucked up opportunities. A lot of shit I fucked up on. That’s what I had to do to maintain. I’ve substitute taught, I’ve delivered packages for Amazon, and I drove Uber.

Phonte: I think that’s something that resonated with people because particularly now, I’m seeing the death of influencer culture. The jig is up on that shit. This buddy of mine said his girlfriend’s Uber driver was someone who’s killing it on social media. Even in those times where Pooh was substitute teaching or driving Uber, there was always pride in his work. The message to artists in 2019, there is no shame in an honest day’s pay. In this music shit, until you get to a point where you’re really established and you’re shit is on on, this shit is a sandcastle on a windy day at best. Until you get that rock-solid foundation, there is no shame in being a working musician.

VIBE: So what has it been like to take all those experiences to now managing other artists?

Pooh: That’s probably the best thing to happen for me, because I know what not to do. I have Lute, Blakk Soul, and my guy T. Smith. They’re all in different places in their careers and they’re all different ages, so it’s a wealth of information for them. And I don’t hide shit from them. So they know what it is. It’s okay if you have to get a job to support yourself until you don’t have to work that job anymore. And once you don’t have to work that job, let me show you how to budget your money accordingly so you aren’t doing stupid shit with your money, you make $100,000 in a year but you can’t account for $90,000 of it. I can make music, I have connections, but my greatest benefit for my artists is that I am an artist.

Phonte: I’ve always thought – and not saying this about Pooh, because I think he’s an amazing player – but a lot of times, the best players don’t make the best coaches. I think it’s easier to give instruction for someone like Pooh who has had those struggles and had to learn to play the game three or four different ways. It makes you a more compassionate coach because you can look at that kid say, “I see what you’re struggling with because I struggled with that,” versus a Jordan or somebody that had a lot of natural ability but isn’t able to teach that. Pooh is one of the best A&Rs I knew. He was responsible for bringing so many people in our circle. He was the first one to put Darien Brockington on a record, and that led to me and him working together. Pooh was the first one to introduce me to Kendrick Lamar, he was doing records with TDE way back before they were TDE. Pooh was responsible for King Mez coming into Dre’s camp and writing all that shit on Compton. He was the one making all those things happen, so when I saw him going into management, I knew he would kill it.

VIBE: A lot of rappers, if they aren’t from a popular rap area already, their goal is to put their city on the map. You guys actually did that: you put North Carolina on the map. Now there’s Cole, DaBaby, Rapsody.

Phonte: Me and Pooh say all the time: we were lead blockers. It wasn’t a glory position, but we helped clear the way and make daylight for these other brothers to come on. You just have to thank God that your influence was able to open that door. Because you could’ve been a wack nigga who opened the door and fucked it up for everybody. (laughs) It’s not a glory position, but me and Pooh never did it for the glory. We did it out of love for the music, a way to support our families, make beautiful records, and that was the end of it.

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

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

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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Nickelodeon

How 'My Brother And Me' Resonated With A Generation Of Young Black Men

In terms of cultural impact and influence, the '90s ranks as one of the defining decades for black entertainment of the past century. This proves particularly true in the realm of television, with a number of landmark programs debuting that reflected the life and times of blacks in the urban community and beyond. While the '80s produced groundbreaking sitcoms like The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Matters, 227, Amen, and Frank's Place, all of which featured predominantly black casts, these shows were few and far in between.

However, the arrival of a new decade coincided with an influx of programs starring black leads, with shows like Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Living Single, Hangin with Mr. Cooper, Roc, Thea and South Central all making their debut. While these shows were hits across various age groups, they all starred and revolved around actors of age, in some form or fashion. One of the first programs to divert from this formula and place the focus squarely on adolescents was My Brother and Me, a sitcom that often gets overlooked when listing the pivotal shows of its era.

Making its debut on October 15, 1994, My Brother and Me was among the first live-action series to air on Nickelodeon and the first to feature a predominantly black cast. Created by Ilunga Adell and Calvin Brown Jr., and directed by Arlando Smith and Adam Weissman, the show centers around brothers Alfred "Alfie" Parker and Derek "Dee-Dee" Parker, the two youngest children of parents Jennifer (Karen E. Fraction) and Roger Parker (Jim R. Coleman) who experience the typical growing pains of pre-pubescent young men that are coming of age.

Additional core cast members include Alfie and Dee-Dee's older sister Melanie Parker (Aisling Sistrunk),, Alfie's best friend Milton "Goo" Berry (Jimmy Lee Newman, Jr.) who has an infatuation with Melanie, Melanie's best friend and Donnell's older sister Dionne Wilburn (Amanda Seales), Dee-Dee's best friend and Dionne’s younger brother Donnell Wilburn (Stefan J. Wernli),, Dee-Dee’s other best friend Harry White (Keith "Bubba" Naylor), and local comic book store owner Mrs. Pinckney (Kym Whitley).

Set in the suburbs of the west side of Charlotte, North Carolina, My Brother and Me was the Nickelodeon's answer to Sister, Sister, a sitcom on ABC starring identical twins Tia and Tamera Mowry that had debuted earlier that year. With a beat writer for the local newspaper for a father and a school teacher for a mother, Alfie and Dee-Dee enjoyed a stable living environment in which they could thrive academically and socially while simply being kids. A middle-class family with access to all of the basic amenities, the Parkers' economic situation was in stark contrast to the usual scratching-and-surviving, rags-to-riches themes often associated with sitcoms geared towards people of color.

While removed from the harsh realities that often accompany life in the inner-city, the Parker boys were drawn in by the allure of street culture, with Alfie and Dee-Dee both being avid fans of hip hop music, fashion, and style. This love affair would be the driving force behind various episodes, most notably "Dee-Dee's Haircut," during which Dee-Dee allows Goo to butcher his hair after marveling at fellow student Kenny's "Cool Dr. Money"-inspired haircut. Going as far as handpicking designs out of a rap magazine Donell borrows from his sister Dionne, Dee-Dee goes to the extreme in an attempt to mirror Kenny and Cool Dr. Money, a testament to the influence hip hop holds over him. His affinity for the culture is also reflected in the "Donnell's Birthday Party" episode, during which the impressionable youngster mimicking dance moves from a rap video in hopes of tightening up his dance skills.

Alfie and Dee-Dee may have been the intended stars of the show, but to many viewers, the most memorable character from My Brother and Me was Goo, who stole scenes with his humorous wisecracks and mischievous hijinks, often at the expense of Dee-Dee and his friends. From showering Mrs. Parker with disarming compliments to masterminding various plots and schemes in an attempt to get himself and Alfie out of trouble, Goo proved to be the most entertaining member of the show, exuding swagger and confidence that are palpable to the viewer and as hip hop as it gets. On the other hand, Alfie, who is not as overtly demonstrative in his rap fandom as his younger brother or Goo, reps his allegiance to the culture more subtly, with his haircut, backward caps and boisterous mannerisms.

While race was never a prevalent topic on the show, if one was to look closer between the lines, My Brother and Me was unapologetically black and pridefully so. Take, for instance, the various nods to HBCU culture throughout the show, including Roger Parker's various North Carolina Central University sweatshirts and hats, Alfie's Morehouse fit, and insignias from various black fraternities. One other common thread of the show was its incorporation of sports, starting with the Parker household's fandom of Charlotte's local professional franchises on full display, as Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers memorabilia are all visible throughout the household. Cameos also included appearances from NBA stars Kendall Gill and Dennis Scott, the latter of whom teaches Alfie, the superior athlete of the Parker brothers, a lesson in selflessness and teamwork by cutting him from the school basketball team in "The Basketball Tryouts" episode.

Of all of the aspects of My Brother and Me that made the show a game-changer, the fact that it was one of the first times young black males saw themselves in characters on the TV is the most enduring. While plenty of shows and networks fixated on coming-of-age storylines centered around the privileged youth of white America, My Brother and Me provided the alternative, promoting the bond of brotherhood and family values with each episode aired. Preceding shows like Kenan & Kel and Cousin Skeeter, both of which implemented overt comedic or fictional elements, My Brother and Me was a realistic glimpse at the life of the average black boy in America without the overarching narratives of impoverishment, temptation, and despair. For many young black men born in the '80s, the show left an indelible impact on them and holds a place near to their heart a quarter-century later.

In spite of its critical acclaim and popularity, My Brother and Me only aired for one season, as it was canceled after airing its final episode on January 15, 1995. The network would air reruns into the early 2000s before returning briefly during The '90s Are All That block on TeenNick in December 2013, the last time the show would appear on television. In June 2014, Nickelodeon released My Brother & Me: The Complete Series as a two-disc DVD, giving a new generation of viewers and longtime fans of the show an opportunity to relive the magic that the show captured during its short, yet unforgettable run.

In the years following My Brother and Me's cancellation, many of the actors and actresses from the show would fail to find their footing in the entertainment industry, resulting in their acting careers fading into obscurity. Arthur Reggie III scored a few additional credits, appearing in the TV shows Sliders and C-Bear and Jamal, as well as the 1998 film Bulworth, but later transitioned into a rap career, performing under the name Show Bizness. My Brother and Me would mark Ralph Woolfolk's last appearance as an actor, as he decided to leave the industry behind and focus on his education, pursuing a degree in English at Morehouse College in Atlanta, while also attending law school. He is also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and currently serves as a police officer for the city of Atlanta. Jimmy Lee Newman, Jr. scored bit roles in the TV shows Sweet Justice and Sister, Sister in the subsequent years after the show, while Aisling Sistrunk, Stefan J. Wernli and Keith "Bubba" Naylor would never act professionally again.

However, a few members of the cast were able to sustain viable acting careers well beyond My Brother and Me's cancellation, most notably Amanda Seales, Karen E. Fraction and Jim Coleman. Seales would rebrand herself as Amanda Diva and become a successful media personality before transitioning back into acting, last appearing as Tiffany DuBois on HBO's "Insecure." In 2019, Seales debuted an HBO Comedy Special I Be Knowin', and was chosen as the emcee for NBC's comedy competition, Bring the Funny. Jim Coleman has kept himself busy with various roles over the past two decades, last appearing in "The Council," and continues to receive steady work. Karen Fraction would add a few additional credits to her resume after "My Brother and Me," but passed away on October 30, 2007, after a five year battle with breast cancer. She is survived by her two children, Lauren Elizabeth Jean and Lawrence Wm. Morris, and her husband Lawrence Hamilton. And last, but not least, Kym Whitley would enjoy a fruitful career on television and on the big screen, appearing in dozens of shows and films throughout her lengthy career, with her latest role being Mrs. Malinky in the Netflix animated comedy Pinky Malinky.

In the time since the debut of My Brother and Me, a lot has changed in terms of the presence and representation of black youth on television and beyond. A number of black actors and actresses have had the opportunity to shine in a big way, including Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) Zendaya (Shake It Up), Kyle Massey (Corey in the House), Keke Palmer (True Jackson, VP), Miles Brown (Black-Ish) and Alex R. Hibbert (The Chi) all among the more prominent child stars making major waves on TV over the past two decades. That said, 25 years later, the fact remains that My Brother and Me was ahead of the curve as one of the first instances of seeing ourselves in a positive and uplifting light on the small screen.

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Darren Xu

Brent Faiyaz Channels International Life Into New Musical Gems

Finishing up his summer in Europe, Brent Faiyaz (born Christopher Brent Wood) indulges in spiked mimosas and enticing conversations with his team after handling business for the day. Jet-setting overseas to add more memories to his life’s reel, the singer-songwriter and producer just celebrated his 24th birthday days before. “I think anytime you go places internationally you get a different perspective," he says. "I felt like creatively, it would bring out some more shit.” Many doors have opened for the DMV crooner since he first appeared in front of the public’s eye with his single “Natural Release” in 2014. Pulling pages out what seems to be his journal entries, Faiyaz shares his autobiography through the dynamics of string ballads, haloed hymns, and tinder timbre.

The Columbia, Maryland R&B talent has shared his soothing vocals with fans ever since. Studiously making beats from the age of 12 or 13, it wasn’t until after graduating high school and moving to Charlotte with his parents that he began to invest in music full time. His rhythmic resonance and gut-punching lyrics turned into his first five-track EP speaking to women, relationships, and sex in A.M. Paradox in 2016 with his hit single “Poison.” He formed a group called Sonder with fellow musicians Dpat and Atu, and released a group EP with them called Into before dropping another solo project, Sonder Son. The 12-track project delved into his childhood: he brought his fans right into his living room in “Home,” gave them a seat at the table in his classrooms in “Gang Over Luv,” and walked his newfound Los Angeles streets with them in “L.A.” He then unleashed his tightly knit six-track EP Lost with standouts “Trust,” and “Around Me.”

“I come from a very real place. I think that I can give a lot of people around me a lot of real perspectives. I’ve been seeing a lot of people in certain avenues gravitate towards a nigga,” the LA-based artist said.

The indie artist truly received a standing ovation after organically co-creating the 2018 Grammy-nominated single “Crew” with GoldLink and Shy Glizzy. “I’m going to be real; I didn’t go into music with the intention of being an independent artist, especially not this long. But then [I] hopped onto “Crew” and we fucked around a got a hit record without even being signed to a label. After that I started getting paid so I was like ‘Fuck it, we really don’t need that,’” he said.

His first 2019 summer single “Fuck the World (Summer in London)” opened a perspective of contronyms that approached both the literal and lustful world. What he calls “the woes and the woes.” “Meaning the shit that I hate. [What] is terrible about life right now that’s fucked up, fuck the world on the negative end, middle finger fuck the world,” he says. “And then it’s ‘Fuck the World’ where it’s like the girls and the money and the clothes and the bullshit.”

He later dropped his latest track a month later. “Rehab (Winter In Paris)” mirrors a story when the singer was balancing his personal time while being addicted to a person who is addicted to a substance. With “Rehab” already penned, Faiyaz went to producing the track alongside No ID, known for his work with rap greats like Jay-Z, Common and Kanye West. “He’s an OG. I soaked up a lot of game from him. I locked in with him for a whole week and cut a bunch of ideas.” Observing the producer's process, Faiyaz implemented some of No ID’s ways into his own. “I would take certain shit he said and put that in my own shit. Real talk, he is one of those niggas that will put you on game.”

With a uniqueness to his voice that is charming yet elusive, the singer has raised eyebrows by not resembling the stereotypical genetic makeup of a rhythm and blues artist. “I don’t really know how a sound is supposed to look. If somebody tells me how a sound is supposed to look, I will understand,” Faiyaz chuckled. “I don’t really connect the two. I can’t change how I look; I can’t change how I sound. I’m going to keep doing me.”

During what one could consider a hiatus, the vocalist used that time to focus on his craft, give back to his mom, jump on A$AP Ferg’s album Floor Seats, and walk in Pyer Moss’s New York Fashion Week Show. As he has geared up for a musical return that will unveil a different side, Faiyaz is under renovation. “I [don’t] want to give people the same sh*t that I’ve been giving them this whole time. I’m not about to put out a new project and it sounds the exact same as the last project. I want to keep reinventing myself as this sh*t goes on.”

“Right now, I am probably the most creative that I’ve ever been.”

Brent has successfully left his fans longing for more all while remaining authentic, not purposefully trying to create any kind of enigma around himself. “It’s not a goal of mine to be on the tip of everybody’s tongue all the time.”

With the year wrapping up, the 24-year-old is “pushing boundaries” as he prepares to release more original melodies. While he experiments with the production elements of his music and strengthening his vocals, the artist is effortlessly surprising himself in the studio. “I’m kind of saying whatever the fuck I want to say on the track and somehow it’s coming out pretty good. I know how to put it in a way where it comes off ill.”

Plotting his next moves, the creative has become enthralled with art all across the board in his performances as it translates to visual art. “I’m really learning how a bunch of different avenues go aside from just music. I’m on my young renaissance man shit.”

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