It was an event to remember, and our very own correspondent Stella got all the deets from the Business Extrordinaire himself!!!!
Check the video below for her full conversation...
Viewing entries in
Bone Thugs N Harmony have been dominating the industry together, and as solo artists for 25 years. Quite amazing for a group that many have at times ruled out of the picture. Nevertheless they’ve remained strong, and continued to release great music for their fans. Take a look at the last 25 years with Cleveland’s thugs…
If Loving You is Wrong has become one of the OWN Network’s most popular series. In fact, it’s become insanely popular as each week, viewers are learning more and more way they relate to each of the show’s characters. Today, we were blessed to sit down with April Parker-Jones, who effortlessly portrays the role of blue collar mom Natalie Henning. As the fiancé of Lushion, portrayed by Charles Malik Whitlock, she’s very much like many of today’s everyday women. She works hard to make sure she and her family are good, and she nurtures her relationships and friendships the best she knows how, but she can flip the script and get wild on you when the moment calls. Natalie doesn’t take any less, and that characterization by Jones has placed the show as one of OWN’s top-rated shows to date.
Take a moment and check out this clip from the show...
Below, Jones talks with us about the show, and why she’s so grateful to Tyler and OWN for the opportunity, as well as what’s to come in her future!
U.G. Digital Mag: Before anything, I have to thank you. This is bucket list material right here [laughing]. I’ve loved your character since this show started, and have watched since day one. Between this and The Haves and the Have Nots, I watch religiously. I also work for a hospital, and I have always had my iPad or phone with me to watch when the show airs through the app. When I tell you, my wife and I have been waiting for this week’s premiere. Your character is amazing, and I just have to thank you for this awesome opportunity in speaking today.
April Parker-Jones: James, that means so much, and I have to ask you what about Natalie you like so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: For starters, Natalie is a mirror of my wife. Natalie works her tail off to be sure her kids are taken care of, her man is taken care of, and when it comes down to it, the way you marched down the street for Alex when you thought she was messing with Lushion, that was my wife all day. Even down to the friends I have ion Facebook, she will be quick to say if she doesn’t like someone and look for me to delete them.
April Parker-Jones: She loves you.
U.G. Digital Mag: My point exactly. I love that in your character. Natalie is so down to earth.
April Parker-Jones: I’m so glad to know you feel that way. I feel that way about Natalie, and I think that’s what makes her so relatable. Tell your wife I said thank you.
U.G. Digital Mag: I certainly will. Obviously, we’re celebrating this show, but we also celebrate you because this year makes 15 years that you’ve been out her entertaining us, and working regularly. The grind is evident. How is it to know you’ve made this mark in your career and the industry?
April Parker-Jones: When you put it that way, it kinda puts things back into perspective because as artists, we’re on a mission of constant grinding. We forget to celebrate our achievements. Thank you for pointing that out. I’m going to consciously make time to sit back and look at what I’ve done and say “you’ve done alright”. To me, in my everyday life, I’m constantly saying what do I have to do next, or I may feel I need to do this or that. I’ve got to do more, or accomplish more. We have to stop and celebrate those small victories. That being said, I still feel like the best is still yet to come for me in my career. I’m so grateful for where I am now. What I’m most grateful for is my most high creator in God allowed me to see this accomplishment, being on If Loving You is Wrong at this age and stage in my life and career, where I can appreciate it. I’m more mature, and I understand the impact that being on this show has on people, especially living back on the east coast now. I see people in everyday life who may recognize me from the show, and I see the impact it has. I’m so grateful that God waited until this point in my life to give me this blessing. It’s been great. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
U.G. Digital Mag: For obvious reasons, with the show being connected through both Tyler Perry and Oprah, I think those reasons alone would make anybody jump at the opportunity, but what drew you to Natalie?
April Parker-Jones: Well, when I had the chance to audition, my agent and manager sent me the breakdown for the black characters, so those being Kelly, Marcy, and Natalie.
U.G. Digital Mag: They are great.
April Parker-Jones: They’re amazing. Everybody is so perfect for their part. It’s amazing to me how everyone fits perfect. They sent me the breakdown, and asked me who I connected with. Immediately, when I read Natalie, I didn’t even need to read the others. I connected immediately because she is so much like me, and so much like women I grew up around. She’s like so many of the women who are still a part of my life, so I connected with her right away. Naturally, when it comes to giving life to Natalie, and giving Natalie a voice, it ain’t too hard. It ain’t much of a stretch [laughing]. It really comes easy to me in comparison to so many of the characters I’ve played on other shows. It’s been a stretch for those because I’m not a doctor. I’m not a General for the military. I’m not a Pediatrician. So those required more acting. Natalie has been a joy because it has come so easily.
U.G. Digital Mag: You do an amazing job in her character. You’re strong when you need to be, but you still manage to show the softer side when needed. This week, when you came back and said you helped Kelly get a gun, it was cool to see the softer side.
April Parker-Jones: Yes, and I’m so glad that Tyler allows us the ability to show those nuances in our characters. He’s great about allowing us to explore those things, and I do believe it’s necessary. She is a woman, and she has feelings, and is not a superhero, although she wears a cape [laughing], life so many of us women do, but she is human, and very sensitive and insecure in her own way. I’m glad the audience got to see a softer side.
U.G. Digital Mag: Now I would be crazy not to ask, and you can answer this however you want [laughing], but what is the biggest thing we can expect in this season? I’ve been waiting for Eddie to go down for so long [laughing]…
April Parker-Jones: I think we have all been waiting for Eddie to have his day, but I can’t give away too much. I will say that Natalie will continue to explore the softer sides, but you’ll see the old Natalie when it’s necessary. She’s going to be a wonderful sounding board and support to her co-stars, and just stay tuned. Look, you never know what’s going to happen with Tyler Perry in that mind of his, but I will say that the season will keep you glued to your seat, and you will tune in to every episode.
U.G. Digital Mag: This past Tuesday, I was so thrown off by the finale from last season being an hour and a half, so I was confused at midnight when the new episode had not started yet. Nevertheless, it was great when I did see it.
April Parker-Jones: James, I just thank you for supporting If Loving You is Wrong, the OWN Network, and Tyler Perry. I’m so grateful that black people get to have this platform to express themselves and be creative. We’re getting so many more opportunities, and I feel I’m beginning to see the shift for black actors, and people behind the scenes getting more opportunities. It’ll continue to grow as long as we continue to support it.
U.G. Digital Mag: One of the final questions I wanted to ask was about other projects. You’ve done so well. I spoke to people in my family about connecting with you, and my mom knows of you from The Young & The Restless, my wife has watched you on both Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, and so many other projects. What do you see in the future?
April Parker-Jones: I’ve been so blessed to work on a project all summer in Los Angeles, and I don’t yet have clearance to speak the name of the show or network, but I will say we wrapped yesterday for the season. It’s a character extremely different from Natalie’s character. People who have watched me over the years have seen me in this type of role before though. The episodes will not air until next year, but when I have clearance, I will certainly let you know more about it. We’ll have some time, but it’s been great to be blessed with this summer job. I would love to do more film. I really don’t have as much film under my belt, so I would love to transition into more film, in addition to the television work. I’m open; I’m grateful; and like I said before, I feel like the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me. Im ready.
U.G. Digital Mag: There are mounds in store for you, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. For people who want to connect with you online, how can that happen?
April Parker-Jones: On social media [Instagram, Twitter], they can check me out at @a_parkerjones, and on Facebook it’s April Parker Jones.
We recently had to catch up with writer and musical superstar Roger Ortega, and the conversation was amazing. We get to hear all about his most recent project, The Lottery, and what else he has in store now that the music is pumping out consistently again. Check out the exclusive below!
Thank you so much. You have so much going on. Obviously, your progression is something to be noted. I love what you’re doing. This is especially good because we work to promote and push independent acts, so in that respect, there’s so much to talk about. It would be good to start with what brought you into music. I know you’ve been here…
It’s funny man. Long story short, I was born into a musical family. I didn’t want to do what my dad’s band was doing, but I listened to them practice. I knew this was what I wanted. At 14, I put together a group with my cousin and another guy. We changed members and names, but maintained the R&B and Pop feel. Eventually, we got a record deal.
Almost like a new edition…lol
Right. And New Kids on the Block played a big factor. One morning I saw them on TV, and was like who are these guys. Being a solo artists as a kid, I felt like I’d have more support with a couple other guys on stage. Eventually, some faded away, and I found more guys. We got a deal in Kansas and moved to New York. Universal was buying out everybody. We got locked into this deal where they just wouldn’t do anything with us. We eventually got out of that deal. By age 24, I said I was done. I went on about my life, but would write more for the love of it. Through a random series of events, at 37 I got a deal. I started off as a writer, and eventually they wanted a record. I quit at age 24 because I thought I was too old. How would it be at 37? I reluctantly said yes, and it ended up being number 62 on iTunes. I kept at it, and worked on a second album. The Lottery came out last year, and hit number 8. There’s so many good songs on the album, and you learn from your mistakes. You put all this work into an album, and you are to let it breathe. With the new single, The Worst Hangover, it’s actually a remix to the album’s first single. It’s doing pretty well. Not the same rules as an independent artist. You don’t necessarily have to do something new every year. You can work with what you have.
Now that you’re independent, how does it feel, having been with a major before? I see a lot of artists who don’t do well in the transition. Many artists don’t realize the level of work. How has it been for you?
I hate being told what to do, and am a lot less motivated when I am told what to do. So it’s one of those things where I’m in control. Failure or success comes back to me. My team is amazing, but they’re name is not the brand. If it doesn’t work out, it’s on me. I can sit with a little more pride when things go good.
I think it’s cool. What you have is hot and in so many ways, you break the stereotypes, and break the color lines. What has been your experience with connecting with other artists? I turn 40 this year, so I appreciate the fact that you pay respect to the artists before you of our era. I find it so funny that because of this new edition movie, our kids know all about New Edition now. My son is ten and is so enamored with Cool it Now like it just dropped yesterday…lol.
I think that has driven the direction of my music and where it comes from. Like you, I grew up on all that. It’s infused in my DNA. The Lottery album pays homage to a lot of those artists, and has a 90s appeal. That was one of the biggest things. I definitely wanted to be taken serious with this, but I knew my fanbase was 28+, and people who knew that era. That’s what was so cool.
I also think it’s cool because a big part of me misses that era. I make it a point to look back and connect with artists of that era now with the magazine. I like to be able to show what these artists are doing now, and how they impacted music. The blessing is I get to connect with my favorites, the ones who don’t get the respect. As far as shows go, what have your shows and tours looked like? Are you doing a lot of shows?
Yea, I have been. My last show will be in New Mexico. The last few months, I’ve had shows in New York, Miami, and so on. The shows have been great. One of my favorite shows was a tribute to George Michael.
Awesome. I grew up listening to him in Wham, and so much of his music.
He was one of the first to really cross over to R&B and radio play. I can remember hearing him on Hot 97. He had a lot of respect for R&B and Soul, and vice versa. I respect how he rode that line, and was one of the first major stars to cross over. I released a cover of Father Figure a few months ago along with a video. The video was to tie into the next video. That and The Worst Hangover is like a series. It was a cool concept.
I saw the father figure video, and I heard the single first on reverbnation. What are your plans moving forward and progressing?
What I feel like right now; someone asked me when the third album was coming. I don’t think I’m in a place emotionally to do a third album. I’m just writing right now. When something hits me emotionally, I’ll do a third album. With The Lottery, it was a lot of start and stop. I immediately went to work on the second album, but the owner of my independent label passed away and the label shut down. I lost a lot with that first album. All the stuff I had before was good, but not as good as this album. My dad developed cancer in the process and passed away as I started on the second half of the album. That gave me a lot for the album. I wrote three songs on the plane back from his funeral. One of those is Never Forget, which was a tribute for my dad. I also wrote The Worst Hangover, which is about losing someone and how you feel. I changed it to be more about losing a girl, but I pulled the pain from losing my dad. I also wrote a song called Put It On Me. Through darkness comes light and that’s where that came from. My plan moving forward is to work on singles and get as many people to hear my projects.
What else is to come for people to look out for?
There’s a song I’ll be working on for a project that my fans had been inquiring about. I can’t say much about it yet. I’m working on a song with another guy which will eat up a lot of time. Two guys from my group joined me for the George Michael show. I put up a video of us practicing Careless Whispers, and they agreed to do an album. That’s down the road, but right now, I’m focusing on me. I have to get to the Grammys, one way or another, even if I got to work the door [laughing].
Where can people check you out online?
Everything is at rogerortega.com. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
I look forward to your upcoming projects. You clearly love the music so much that you’re still here. I appreciate having the opportunity to connect with you. I feel like you’re breaking barriers. Thank you.
Thank you. I appreciate telling my story.
I can’t begin to speak on how excited we are for the release of Chanté Moore’s new album, The Rise of the Phoenix. It’s one thing that she’s releasing a new project. Sure, there’s a certain level of anticipation that’s already there, yet, there’s something different about this project. This truly is a rising for Chanté. Her life has taken her in so many different directions. She’s had an amazing career, but like any other artists she’s experience some good and definitely some bad. This album represents her new beginning. She has truly risen to the top again, and the result is a beautiful project that the world can enjoy in it’s entirety. She also has a bonus coming in the form of a Christmas album that all release two weeks after The Rise of the Phoenix. It was an absolute blessing to connect with Chanté to talk about the new projects and what we can all expect. If you’ve heard the new singles ‘Real One” and “Something to Remember”, then you know she ain’t playing no games with this album. So enough talking on our end. Let’s jump right into the exclusive….
U.G. Digital Mag: Ms. Chanté Moore! How are you?
Chanté Moore: I’m great and you?
U.G. Digital Mag: I’m doing great. I have to thank you for doing everything you are to keep good R&B music alive. You are absolutely killing it right now.
Chanté Moore: I’m trying so hard, so thank you [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: You make it look effortless. I was at Essence Fest, and you were so beautiful, professional, and I could see this beaming happiness on your face when you spoke about the project. Obviously, at that time, I hadn’t heard any of the songs yet, but I’ll tell you .. with Real One, I have absolutely driven that song into the ground with my wife and she thinks I’m crazy. I love the song, and love the video. With the pre-download, you also get “Something to Remember”, and you get the Intro. What went into putting this together, because it’s almost like a new artist who comes in and kills the game.
Chanté Moore: You know, I just feel renewed. I really do. The Rise of the Phoenix is purposeful. The title is very purposeful. I feel like I have been through a lot of ups and downs, some good stuff, negative and positive, and it all worked together for the good. I’m just trying to give it my best. I feel like it’s time to be authentic, as usual, but what I love is the new producers I work with on this album are people like Lil’ Ronnie. I’m sure you know who he is, with songs from Usher’s “Same Girl” with R. Kelly, and the new song with K. Michelle, and he’s been doing very well. I love that he understands the music. It’s like adding chemistry. It’s like adding one thing with another and it doesn’t cease to just be one. All the elements are still present, but it becomes something new. That’s what I think happened with the music. With the writers, Felly the Voice is amazing; I love singing his words and writing with him. The melodies he comes up with are so beautiful. A new guy, @Sickpen, @beats4thestars is lil’ Ronnie, and we had so much fun making this record. We had so much fun that we did a Christmas album as well. So that’s pretty exciting, and we had so much fun. It has been work, but good work. We had the best time.
U.G. Digital Mag: I was going to ask about the Christmas album, and still will, but I have to say that the producers and writers you’re connecting with stand as a testament to the type of person you are as an artist. These people see how genuine you are, and they want to work with your caliber. It speaks volumes. It’s people like you, and I also credit Faith Evans because she is amazing, but going back to the songs, I always say if they have a good intro, they got me. I interviewed Faith as well, and every single interlude and intro she does to me should be a full song.
Chanté Moore: She is so incredible. I love her so much. She’s so funny and talented. Every time she sings, it’s like dang, I want to do that. Ooh, that’s a nice run. Just the way she soulfully approaches every song, I love her too, so you got my praises on that.
U.G. Digital Mag: But it’s the same thing with you. With “Real One”, for someone like me who can not sing a lick, I can admit that I go to town in the car on that song. My wife and son are so sick of me right now, but I love it [laughing].
Chanté Moore: It’s funny about “Real One”. It seems like a really easy song to sing, but that sucker is hard. When I sing live, and this song is new for me. We just wrote the album, finished it and mastered it. It comes out in two weeks, so these are new to me. Singing them live is a new experience for me. I sang “Real One”, and “Something to Remember” back to back; oh that’s never going to happen again [laughing]. That made me so tired. Then I did “Chante’s Got a Man” after that? I was worn out. It was form, but it wore me out. I was like, OK, enough.
U.G. Digital Mag: Why was it important to bare your soul with this? I feel like you give us your life with this album?
Chanté Moore: Absolutely. That’s been something I have done from the beginning. The songs I sing come from the heart. When I do it for my own learning and growing experience, I also do it for others. So many times, people come up to me on the road, and after the show there are tears for both of us. They say things like “if it wasn’t for your music, I wouldn’t have made it through this breakup”, or “I wouldn’t have made it through losing my mother”, or “if I didn’t know you were alone like that, I wouldn’t have felt like I could deal with it too”. Everyone always makes this thing of who they think you are and that regular stuff doesn’t happen to you, but it happens to everybody. We all get our hearts broken. We’re all get let own sometimes. We let other people down. We’re not exempt and we have that human life experience, so that’s what I endeavor; for people to know they are not alone. I’m not alone either. I put on my music sometimes and sing it to myself.
U.G. Digital Mag: The Christmas album. It’s amazing, but my biggest question is why it’s so close to this album?
Chanté Moore: Stuff kept happening over and over to push it back. We’ve been trying to release this project for like six months. My fans on Instagram and Twitter are like yelling at me like, Chante, really? If you push this back one more time, we are coming after you. It’s been for different reasons, and I don’t know exactly why because I really wanted it to be released February 17, 2017. It’s the 7th album release for me. 2/17 is my birthday. Then it was pushed back. I don’t know what happened, but I do know at the end of making this, and finishing up and adding new songs, we still wanted to keep working. We said let’s do a Christmas album. We had no idea it would happen so quickly. We said let’s just put it out. Radio just plays the radio stuff, and they don’t play a lot of R&B and the other genres. We’ll be in the middle of that, and then next year, we’ll add another, and another the following year. What’s beautiful is it keeps living on. We were excited about making more music, and it made sense to capture the holiday spirit because I love Christmas so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: I like the concept of adding a new song each year so you don’t get the same thing over and over.
Chanté Moore: This CD is so unique that I can’t wait for the world to hear it. I play both all the time, and put them on shuffle. That’s how I know this is music I love and I’m happy about singing it because I’m playing it. Usually, I finish a record and want to take a break from myself. Listening is work, singing it is work, and performing it live is work and making sure people get it, and there’s so many aspects that can be tiring and draining. I find that these two CDS are my favorite listen right now.
U.G. Digital Mag: Any last words or comments that you want to get out, and what can we look forward to in the next couple weeks?
Chanté Moore: I’m trying to do as much press as I can. I’m going on tour. I can’t give you the exact dates, and if I did, I’d be wrong [laughing]. Go to chantemoore.com, where we will put up the calendar. Please come see these LIVE. We’ll be performing the Christmas stuff as well as the new album. I’m having a great time. The band is amazing; I have a new band. The dancers are there when I have room on the stage. I’m giving my all like it’s my last.
VIDEOS: REAL ONE & SOMETHING TO REMEMBER...
Discovery has become quite a popular section here at U.G. Digital Magazine. One of the things we try to do is introduce you to hot new talent who blaze trails in the industry through their craft. This month and issue, we lead with Canadian hip-hop artist Cvss [pronounved Cass] Hamilton. Only a few projects in, he’s already building a strong name for himself through a mixtape and album that he’s released over the past year or so. Now, with a new album, and single in the forefront, he’s ready to take his brand to an even higher level. In our feature, we talk about his new single, “Bang”, with Karl Wolf, his new album to come, and the career he’s striving to build in this industry.
Meet Cvss Hamilton!
U.G. Digital Mag: Your story is one of inspiration for a lot of people who follow. You’ve dealt with the triggers and blows of life in terms of being in trouble, and living the street life. What took you in a different direction?
Cvss Hmilton: I always had music, but the thing that pushed me to get away from the streets was the birth of my daughter.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s what up. That’s real to so many people when they want to have something better for their kids.
Cvss Hmilton: Right. I’ve seen it so many times with friends of mine. They either get shot or are in prison, and then their kids don’t have a father.
U.G. Digital Mag: Now realistically, this is a business that takes time when it comes to cultivating your craft and building a proper presence. Money usually doesn’t roll in immediately. Now having a daughter and obviously needing a steady flow of income, what motivated you to continue as you got started?
Cvss Hamilton: I was always more than an artist. I did a lot in the background, from design to doing my own mixtape covers. Once I established myself, I used my own name to get business. I was generating income through it all.
U.G. Digital Mag: Let’s talk influences. Who were the artists who really inspired you to pursue this?
Cvss Hamilton: Growing up, definitely Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Eminem, Royce Da 5’9”, Ludacris, Jeezy, and Jadakiss. All those guys were big influences for me. Even recently, I have to give a shout out to Kevin Gates. He has really influenced me a lot. A lot of his songs, I relate to. If I had to decide to do a feature with someone, that’s who it would be.
U.G. Digital Mag: Who were the people in your ear in real life, who influenced and inspired you to turn the page for a better life?
Cvss Hamilton: I would say people that I bumped into in the streets because for a while I wasn’t really putting out music. Once I started doing music, people would recognize me out in the streets. They would stop me and say “hey, you’re that guy, keep doing it”. Others weren’t always my biggest influence. They were into the streets too, and would say things more like don’t waste your time. I was really doing it for me, so I didn’t pay much attention to people’s negative opinions.
U.G. Digital Mag: You’re dropping “Bang”, your collaboration with Karl Wolf, in just a couple days. Talk to me about that single and the direction you went for?
Cvss Hmilton: So, I was invited to do the Canadian Urban Television Awards this year, and I was still fairly new. I had just dropped the album “Selfish Ways” and it was kinda popping. I was at the rehearsal, and Karl Wolf was doing some a capella work. I walked over and started beat-boxing, and we started talking. Kardinal Offishall was supposed to be with him, but couldn’t make it. He asked if I could freestyle for him when he performed, and while I thought about it, I didn’t really feel I was prepared for it. I did it anyway, and we established a connection. I hit him up with a beat and some ideas, and was hoping it would make for something a little different to help build a presence. I want to touch a different type of audience and show versatility.
U.G. Digital Mag: The collaboration is definitely dope. How does it feel to be getting so much love and respect for your craft and the way you do things musically? You have to be in a good place with that, right?
Cvss Hmilton: It’s a good feeling. I’ve always been humble about it. I try to stay that way. I love progress in anything, be it music or anything else. I love good music. Anything with progress is wonderful. How can it be denied?
U.G. Digital Mag: What can we look for in a full length project for you?
Cvss Hmilton: I was introducing myself with “Selfish Ways”. This time around, I want to make people dance. I’m trying to focus on radio distribution, and things that can play in the club. I want more energy, and want to keep people moving. I want to show I have more style.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s dope. I love to see when artists are truly having a good time. Ultimately, it makes for better music. It’s all about escaping from the everyday madness of life that you may experience. People can appreciate that from you. It’ll be a dope turnout and people will surely see that versatility.
Cvss Hmilton: I can’t wait.
U.G. Digital Mag: Talk about your goals as an artist? How do you contribute something lasting to this industry that helps the next artist coming in?
Cvss Hmilton: That’s pretty much the plan. More artists should be that way. Once I have the power and can help, I want to build a team. It’s not about being the best. I just want to do what I love and be happy doing it. I want to have a good team, and want them to work the same way. Having the power to be that guy that everyone respects, and being humble to let others in is what I’m trying to do.
U.G. Digital Mag: Where can everyone find you online?
Cvss Hmilton: They can find me at www.cvssmusic.com. You can find the social media links, mixtapes and albums there. My videos are there as well.
U.G. Digital Mag: Do you have any final comments?
Cvss Hmilton: I just want to give a shout out to everyone watching my progress. I really appreciate it. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m loving it.
If you’ve been following the last few weeks, you’ve seen the various features we’ve run here at UGD in support of The Haves and the Have Nots. This week, we catch up with Jon Chaffin, who plays one of the show’s most loved and hated characters, Warlock. Without going into heavy detail of his character, Jon Chaffin displays some of the best acting we’ve seen with his character, and it undoubtedly has taken the show to amazing heights. He’s got millions of fans tuning in each week to see what’s going to happen next on the show. The season is currently reaching it’s climax, and things are getting really heated right now. Jon sits down for a few moments to talk with us about the show, what’s to come, and also the many amazing things he has going on in his career outside of HAHN.
U.G. Digital Mag: First off Mr Chaffin, this is a tremendous honor to connect with you because you are one of the best I’ve seen do this. I imagine you hear it a lot, and I know the type of person you are so you don’t feed off it, but I still imagine you get it a lot. Even with what you are doing with The Haves and the Have Nots, it’s inspiring to so many. Not even fronting, I watch the show and am a die hard fan. I have said for so long that I wanted to connect, not just about the show, but also your journey. Many want to do this, and get into entertainment, acting, or more, and they get discouraged. With all you’re doing, you show people they can do it, do what they love, and make a living. They can prosper financially and professionally. I haven’t seen anybody else deliver what you do with HAHN. We regular push this man, in terms of following your passion. I walked away from career to build this publication that offers an alternative, and something that’s culture bending, and just not the norm. We love to show the positivity in people like yourself. Thank you for that. I know it’s a mouth full.
Jon Chaffin: Wow. I appreciate it and am really humbled by it.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s cool, too, because again, people easily get discouraged, and I’ve been there. This initially made no money. I had to maintain family and all else for something I love. Looking at you and so many others, you see first hand that when you put your heart and passion in, it works out.
Jon Chaffin: Yes sir. I appreciate that so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: My goal has been to connect with everybody from the show. It’s funny because I reached out to Crystal Fox, who plays Hanna, and we did that. Then I reached out to Presilah Nunez, who plays Erica. That’s running now. You’re will run here on the site and in the issue. On a side note, you worked with Markice Moore in a films that we’ll discuss later in our conversation, and he’s doing the cover. It’s so cool to see what’s going on with HAHN, and how big it has become. Getting into the show, how did War come about for you?
Jon Chaffin: It was an audition. My agent sent it to me. I did it the old-fashioned way. They liked it and brought me in for the callback. I had to go in to do it in Atlanta because I was in LA at the time. I’m still in LA. But I had to go to Atlanta for Tyler and the producers. I did my thing, and initially, I knew who this guy was. I grew up with people like him, and been around people like him. I was able to find the connection and bring it to life. Through the process, I was able to dive deeper into the psyche and personality. It was all done the old-fashioned way. I gave them my take and they liked it. As they say, the rest is history.
U.G. Digital Mag: Someone like myself, I have watched since day one. I DVR’d because I worked so much. Now I take an iPad to work with me to make sure I catch it. I binge watch at times just out of love for the show. What’s cool is it unites people with families. I watch with my mother, my wife loves it, my son loves it and begs me to DVR it. It’s funny because we watched last night, and I work a night shift gig. We watched, and as it went off, he was saying he wished another episode was coming on. Did you expect this type of success with it, especially reaching all age groups like it does? People either love or hate War.
Jon Chaffin: Yea. I had no idea. Initially it was one episode. Candace had come to him because she had gotten all her belongings taken. It wasn’t written that I would have a long shelf life. When I did it, Tyler really liked it, and he said he would write more for the character. You just never know, which is why you have to focus on the work and not so much the outcome. I didn’t go in with the idea that I would love for it to be a regular character. I just did my things, and that opened up the opportunity for more. I was totally surprised by what this role had become because like I said, it wasn’t written for that. I had no idea it would go this far, or fans would gravitate to it the way they have. It’s been an awesome ride. They either love me, or hate me. They love to hate me, hate to love me. It’s what we hope for as actors, is that the audience gravitate to the character and the work. We want to move them in some fashion, and the fact that I did that means job well done. They love the character and it’s been a blessing.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s cool because a lot of characters in many of Tyler’s shows are that way. Presilah Nunez said the same thing. She was only there for three episodes, and it grew. Crystal Fox was to be there long term obviously, but it’s great to see the smaller roles growing the way they do. I never imagined it would get this big, even though i saw big things. On Facebook, there’s a ton of groups, and I usually do some promotion there. People are like die hard fans. They have groups and everything with thousands of members. They LIVE chat each week, and they go in hard. I know Angela chats live sometimes. She actually did the cover of our first issue. Do you find time, even with how incredibly busy you are, to get on Facebook and chat?
Jon Chaffin: Oh yea. I get on, and try to respond as often as I can. i try not to live my life on social media, though. We’ve become a society that’s glued to our phones. I post and reply, but not all day and everyday. Sometimes, I LIVE tweet if I can catch the show. I am active in responding, and try to thank the fans. Without them, the show would not be what it is. We need the fans to love what we do so we can continue. I’m grateful for social media because it gives us the opportunity to connect directly with the fans. The comments, and gifs, have me cracking up. It’s hilarious, but it goes to show, like you said, how invested people are in these shows and characters. I go back to say it was unexpected that it would become this beloved character. I’m grateful. I try to reach out and thank them, or retweet. I can’t reply to everybody, but I try to like comments and let them know I see it and appreciate it.
U.G. Digital Mag: Keeping it real man, I know you can’t give nothing away, but I’d be crazy not to ask for a tidbit of intel?
Jon Chaffin: [Laughing] You just gotta watch. Let’s just say the journey comes to full circle. Hopefully, the audience will enjoy the next episode. it will definitely put some people on the edge of their seats.
U.G. Digital Mag: I say again that you guys reach all generations. I also work with someone who’s in their seventies, and she asked me last night about the show. It’s cool that you can bring people together this way. It’s amazing what we can do through entertainment.
Jon Chaffin: Yea man. It’s a blessing to affect people that way. That’s the beauty of what we do as artists, whether acting, writing, or doing poetry. Our job is to reflect the times in which we live. When we can reach and connect with people, that’s it. It’s good when people are affected in a positive way.
U.G. Digital Mag: So this is where I start to transition into some of your other work. I love how supportive the entire cast is of each other. No matter what it is, everyone supports. You did King Hedley II and you also did 96 Minutes, which paired you with Evan Ross, David Oyelowo, Markice Moore, and Hosea Chanchez. You did really good with the character, which was also somewhat villainous. In 96 minutes, what was it like bringing the role of JJ to life?
Jon Chaffin: That was an awesome experience to work with Aimee Lagos, who wrote and directed, David Oyelowo who is amazing at what he does, Evan Ross, and Markice Moore. It was really great. I knew people like that character, but it was also a learning experience. This was earlier in my career. It was a good learning curve to be on set with those veterans. I tried to learn as much as I could, and bring honesty and truth to the role. You never know how it will come out or how people will gravitate to it. You hope for good. I’ve played a variety of roles. To me, I don’t get caught up in the role. Each person has a story to tell. We are all humans and capable of the same thing. Each character deserves the same respect. I don’t get caught up in the idea of being type-cast. I make it a point not to play each role the same way because they’re all different.
U.G. Digital Mag: The phrase you said, “I Love what I do”; that’s where we all want to get. That resonated really good in King Hedley II. I haven’t seen it yet because I’m in Ohio, but I’ve seen the promo. I’ve seen your postings on social media, and I see the postings from others. It appears to have done extremely well for you.
Jon Chaffin: Yea. King Hedley II is one of August Wilson’s plays. It’s set in 1985 in his ten-play cycle in Pittsburgh in the Hill district, about King, who is returning home from a 7-year prison stint, and he’s trying to reingratiate himself into society, his wife is pregnant, and he’s trying to start a business to make money to get going in life. I play Mister, his best friend, side kick, and sometimes business partner. It was a great opportunity to get on stage and do this play, and say those words. Michele Shay who is an August Wilson-ian; she originates the role of Louise in Seven Guitars. She and Viola Davis did it on Broadway. She’s done a number of August Wilson’s plays, and she directed this production. Like you saw on Instagram, we had a great turn-out. A lot of my cast members came out, and a lot of celebrities came out. It’s a timely piece. It’s set in ’85, but the challenges they were dealing with are prevalent today in what we deal with in society. To be able to go on stage and do theatre; there’s something in that. There’s an energy you don’t get with a television show or movie. In theatre, the audience is right there and in the moment. They laugh at things you didn’t expect them to laugh at, and then they don’t laugh when you thought they would. It’s like, you have to be totally focused and in a zone with theatre. It’s a great workout, and I always wanted to do something by August Wilson. When the opportunity came, I jumped in with both feet. I plan to do more. I hope to do another play if not this year, definitely next year. We did this out here in LA, which is not known for theatre, although they’ve done some great theatre, and it was great to get the response we got.
U.G. Digital Mag: What’s the biggest lesson in your journey?
Jon Chaffin: Not to expect anything. Roll with the punches. Don’t expect anyone to give you anything, and don’t expect a return on your investment. We want what we want right then, but a career takes time to develop. I’ve learned to be patient. I’ve learned to work hard, and believe in myself. In acting, moreso than any other career or vocation, you use yourself, and need to know who you are as a person. The more you know, and the more comfortable you are, the more you can look at your flaws and embrace the imperfections, and the more you can give to the character and story. That’s what makes a great actor. They’re able to give freely of themselves, and unblock the extra. I’ve just learned to be a professional but not expect anything and work hard.
U.G. Digital Mag: What have you taken away from the level of success black actors are beginning to see? You have people like Gabrielle Union, and you have Sanaa Lathan who was doing Shots Fired which was shockingly canceled… I thought it was so dope … but even outside of that, people like Tyler Perry are doing so amazing, and bringing opportunities to the table. I know when you came into this, the opportunities were fewer, and farther between. There’s been so much growth.
Jon Chaffin: Everything happens in waves. If you really think about it, in the nineties and earlier 2000s, we has a lot of shows, but we also were building the networks up. The CW was there, then they canceled Girlfriends, Fox had Martin and Living Single, NBC had The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. We had a lot of shows and then they died off. But now, especially with social media, people can express what they want to see, and everybody has the ability to voice their opinions as far as what they want. The conversation is being blown open. It’s a great time because there’s so much content, and so many avenues to get it out. It’s not just the major networks anymore. Sign up for cable and you get hundreds of channels. Then the streaming services. Netflix and Hulu. All these avenues, and everyone vies for attention. People are watching television on phones and laptops now. It’s a great time for artists of color to get opportunities, and create their own opportunities. Shots Fired, I thought it was great as well, but you also realize it’s a business. Shows will come and go. Sanaa Lathan will be on something else when you look up because she’s amazing. Its hard to get a show to a second season, third, and fourth. I can’t even go through all the shows that are out. People ask me if I’ve seen Game of Thrones, and I haven’t. I’m like, it’s seven seasons in. Ain’t no point of even jumping in now. I would literally have to spend my whole week or two glued to the television. I just don’t have that time. That goes to show how much is out there. You try to find what you like and ride with them. You miss a week or two and get left behind. The way the shows are done now is changing. They don’t do 23 episodes in a season. Now they do 10 or 13. They air the first 10 in the spring, and then you don’t see it again until the fall. I was just talking with my fiancé about when How to Get Away with Murder is coming back on. I feel like I haven’t seen it in forever. It’s so many other things you’re watching. It’s good and bad. Right now it’s a great time for actors, writers, and producers. There’s such a need for content, and so many more avenues to get it out.
U.G. Digital Mag: You’re right, though. I’m the exact same way in the fact that I work so much that I miss a lot of TV. My wife and I just started streaming, and we’re doing Roku now.
Jon Chaffin: Right. That’s where the industry is going. People were hanging on for sports, but you look at Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and soon the services will be as much as cable because you’ll have 5 or 6 subscriptions.
U.G. Digital Mag: Right. I just binge watched Survivor’s Remorse, and saw how amazing it was. You’re definitely right about the content out there. What are you most thankful for?
Jon Chaffin: Just being able to do what I love. Having the opportunity to pursue my dreams. I’m thankful for life and good health. We take for granted the little things. I‘m grateful I’ve been gifted this talent to entertain, and the opportunity to pursue it, perfect it, and work at it. We spoke earlier about you leaving your job to do what you love. I’m a firm believer of not living your life with what ifs. As you have children, and I don’t but hope to some day, you want to push them to pursue their goals some day. It would be hard if I didn’t do it for myself. I want to lead by example. Go after what you truly desire in your heart because tomorrow is not promised. We’re all going to die at some point, so when you realize that, you come to realize nothing is as serious as we make it. Live a life that it pleasing to yourself that you can enjoy. Try not to hurt anybody in the process.
U.G. Digital Mag: Everyone has watched your journey. We saw that you went to school and put yourself in a place to be noticed. What advice do you offer to those out there who dream of this type of life, or any profession?
Jon Chaffin: I would say learn as much about the path that you are about to take. Understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Have a talk with yourself about the reasons for wanting to do it. I get asked a lot about how someone should start, and when you tell them, they have a look like “I actually have to do work?”. What are you doing it for? Do you want to be seen and famous, or is there something you have to get out, or stories you have to tell? That’s why I ask people. If this is something you want to do, you have to believe it is possible. You can’t get discouraged by the naysayers. Fulfill the promise to yourself. Push yourself and strive to go that extra mile. What people don’t understand is it’s not hard. It’s just hard to believe. That’s the hardest part. Once you conquer that part, the rest is about putting in the work and letting the chips fall where they may. You have people who pursue for years and it’s like there’s nothing; then you have people who step off the boat and jump and they blow up. I can’t say it will take ten years, or ten days. Every path is different. I say to stay encouraged. Learn the business and craft. Study it. You’ll have to study it for the rest of your life. You’ll never have it all. We grow, evolve, experience life and change, and you have to incorporate it into your work. You have to believe in yourself. That’s what I believe is the formula. If you need to listen to motivational speakers to keep you motivated, do it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t second guess sometimes, or wonder if something was going to work. I also ask myself if there would be anything else that would make me more happy, and luckily that answer has been no. That’s how I know I’m on the right path, but if there’s something else you can do to make you happy, I say go and do that. This is a tough business and it’s not for the faint at heart.
U.G. Digital Mag: I thank you for so many things, especially the encouragement that I and so many others get. Again, we watched you work from the bottom up. I take it back to the show as well. I love the show and character. I’m counting down til next Tuesday. It’s dope and I love what you guys do. I appreciate your time. It’s cool to connect with people you admire.
Jon Chaffin: I appreciate you man. Thank you so much. The words gave me life today and I needed that.
We’re thrilled to bring you get another great exclusive right here at UGD! This time, we’ve connected with Sir Brodie, who has become one of the more prominent faces on the Starz hit series Survivor’s Remorse. In just five years, Brodie has built a significant name for himself, having made appearances in a number of popular shows. It’s with Survivor’s Remorse that he’s beginning to make his biggest impact, as the world is beginning to see how amazing an actor he truly is. Take a read below as we chat about the show and all else he’s got popping off these days.
Survivor’s Remorse premieres its fourth season tonight!
U.G. Digital Mag: In coming together for Survivor’s Remorse, I’m embarrassed to say I really just caught all three seasons of the show man. It’s really good work. I know you come along in season three, but it’s really good. Talk about your character?
Sir Brodie: My character is one of Julius’ friends. He was the uncle to Cam. Julius was Mike Epps’ character, and I was one of his friends from Boston. I came in during the funeral, as you know his character was killed in an accident at the close of Season two. Pookie is more the level-headed friend. He’s the one that all the rest of the boys trust. When you see him in season three, he’s more concerned about sending off their friend with respect and dignity. Another friend in the scene by the name Cakebread is more the “fuck-up”. He’s the comic relief [laughing]. At the end of the season, you see M-Chuck coming to Pookie to find out who her father was.
U.G. Digital Mag: Right. She had been asking for a while. So many viewers have ideas, and of course, you’re seen throughout the new season. You’ve got to give us some intel about the show man [laughing]. What can we expect for the new season?
Sir Brodie: Man, I think you’ll expect a lot more comedy. Tichina is hilarious. The cast is hilarious.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s funny that she [Tichina] hasn’t been in a role like this before. She has such longevity and we’ve seen her in so much, but this is perfect because she’s taken it and run with it.
Sir Brodie: I know. With Survivor’s Remorse, the writing staff actually gives the lead characters a lot of room and opportunity to come in the writer’s room and discuss their characters. They have a lot to do with how it all unfolds. They allowed me this past fall to come into the writer’s room and discuss Pookie’s character.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s amazing because it doesn’t solidify anything in stone necessarily, but it gives the idea that you’ll be there for some time.
Sir Brodie: Man, we’re praying for that [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: I know man. I say let’s put it out there. It’s really good, but even outside of the show, you’ve done really good work. I see you’re also a part of an upcoming episode of The Haves and the Have Nots, which is one of my favorite shows. Actually, we just connected with Jon Chaffin this morning, who plays Warlock on the show. Talk a little about your spot there?
Sir Brodie: My role is that of a police officer. We actually shot that, man, it’s probably been a year or more ago. I can barely remember what was going on. I know we were investigating something in the hotel. I don’t even want to give that away [laughing]. Somebody’s been killed.
U.G. Digital Mag: They’re going to kill me man, because I’ve been digging for info. I’ve connected with a few people from the show over the past few weeks.
Sir Brodie: Yea, but I know we’re investigating. Honestly, I never know who it is based on the script I had, so I don’t know. I’m playing a police officer, basically when the cop shows up on the scene. It’s a small role, but a major blessing to do it with Tyler Perry. All of us actors in the game, especially here in Atlanta, are dying to work for Tyler Perry.
U.G. Digital Mag: Man, the actors here in Cleveland want to work with Tyler, so I know it’s a huge blessing [laughing]. I think it’s amazing for you. What I think is that it speaks volumes to you as an actor because you’re getting these parts in prominent productions. Blue Bloods, MacGyver, and more. Sleepy Hollow. I think it’s great, and the opportunities are flooding in for black actors in general. As I watched these three seasons, I started pinpointing who I wanted to connect with, and you were right at the top of the list. I thought it would be great to hear the experiences you’ve had with the show, and how it’s helping your career. I look from the outside obviously, and feel like it’s doing tremendous things for you. The growth is exponential. The show is huge.
Sir Brodie: It’s the biggest booking of my career. The experience of those great actors, and being around them is great. RonReaco is amazing. I couldn’t believe he didn’t get any awards last year. Starz is a subscription channel, so a lot of people don’t get to see it like they can see Empire on network television. But once they see it, they continue to watch. We don’t lose fans. I enjoy the show because it’s real. They keep it on the real and hold no punches. It’s funny and dramatic. You have all the elements.
U.G. Digital Mag: I can tell they give you free reign and allow you to develop the character into something believable. This is stuff that is really happening.
Sir Brodie: Yea, but you’ll like Pookie. He’s the OG from the neighborhood.
U.G. Digital Mag: It was weird when you first came in because I thought from that point, you’d be there the entire season. Of course, you came back eight episodes later for the “Father’s Day” episode. But this is real stuff. When RonReaco came in contact with his dad, people live that everyday. What are some of the other things going on that are coming up?
Sir Brodie: We have an independent movie in Atlanta, The Products of the American Ghetto, and it’s based on a book written by Tierre Ford. It talks about the Atlanta landscape when crack cocaine came on the scene, and the drug war between the Atlanta dealers and Miami dealers. It touches on the Miami police when they implemented the red dogs, which was a task force designed to clean the streets of drugs. They were given free reign in Atlanta.
U.G. Digital Mag: There’s a lot of powerful people in here, like Robin Givens, and Darrin Dewitt Henson.
Sir Brodie: Right, there’s a lot of good names here. They’re actually premiering it here in Atlanta on the 23rd of this month. Next Wednesday. That movie will do well in our community here. I play an OG character in that movie as well. I seem to get them roles, and I channel my father. That’s coming. I just finished shooting an untitled project. It’s an Al Pacino film based on Joe Paterno. That’s all I can really say on it.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s cool man. I saw that project coming, as well as The Products of The American Ghetto, and saw the caliber of people involved. I imagine it will do well.
Sir Brodie: Then we’re just out here grinding, and auditioning. It’s a lot of projects shooting here in Atlanta now, so the actors here have a chance to be involved in a lot more. Before, we would all go to LA, but now you don’t have to leave. if you want to be a working actor, you can do it here in Atlanta.
U.G. Digital Mag: You’re right. Honestly, I’m seeing that in a lot more cities now. You can do what you want there, and it’s amazing how much Atlanta has grown. It’s ironic because I’ve considered relocating there. It’s amazing how many more opportunities are there. A lot of that is because people there are doing so much, including Tyler Perry, to make those opportunities available.
Sir Brodie: Definitely.
U.G. Digital Mag: What things are you looking forward to doing in the future?
Sir Brodie: Eventually, I want to do some of my own projects. When you create your own, you have a lot more creative control. I have that desire. I started acting five years ago, and it’s been a learning process. It’s definitely been a fast learning process. Most people say it takes ten to fifteen years to really make it, so I’m still in my grinding mode, and feeling the business of acting out. Hopefully, I can do a few projects on my own. I have a few ideas. I guess if I can put a wish out there, I want to play in a remake of Shaft and actually be Shaft.
U.G. Digital Mag: I can see that happening, and it would be a good thing. I say put it on the table and it will come.
Sir Brodie: Absolutely.
U.G. Digital Mag: Obviously, many people look to get into this amazing field of acting. What advice do you offer? I ask that because things are moving great for you. It often does take fifteen years or more. Things are really happening for you at a rapid rate, and it’s great. Surely, you’re working hard, but you’re following your dreams. What advice do you offer?
Sir Brodie: It’s the same advice I give for anyone looking to do something with their life. You first have to desire it and have it in your heart, and be willing to put in the effort it takes to see that come to pass, coupled with a lot of prayer. Whatever you want to do, you have to learn it. I had to learn the craft of acting. I took an acting class every week for three years because I wanted to do this. I said it when I started, that some people have natural talent. That’s good, but It takes more than that though. You have to make the commitment to train and educate yourself. Be willing to work for free and understand that. I was in projects for three years and wasn’t getting paid. It was free stuff, but I got that advice from Greg Allen Williams. I was a background performer on Necessary Roughness, and he told me that if I wanted to do it, don’t worry about the pay. Don’t worry about if the project is great or not great. You need to learn every aspect of it so you can recognize a good project, a good director, and a good DP, so you have to do it all. Young directors and filmmakers are the future, and many of them don’t have money to pay you to work with them. You have to establish those relationships. I went to class and started networking. People were calling because they knew I would say yes [laughing]. You have to work hard and network. Whatever role you book is for you. We’re not really competing because what’s for you is for you. You have to be out there though.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love the fact you said work for free. That’s goes for any profession. I take that back to my own personal experiences in Journalism. In the beginning, I was willing to do it for free. My thing was I have a job, and I have money coming in, so I can do this for free, and I wasn’t scared to say it. The experience and knowledge trumps. If that means I need to intern or work for free, I’ll do it. Many times, that’s your only way in. Especially with Journalism, you need two to three years of experience for the entry level stuff. It resonates for sure. I tell people that, and many frown, but it’s essential.
Sir Brodie: If you have a passion for it you’ll make it. I can act all day long. I love to do it. The grind and struggle works at building you and building your character. When the success comes, then you won’t squander it. I enjoy the present moment. Tomorrow is not promised. Enjoy the moment now and hope for tomorrow.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love it. Where can people keep up with you online?
Sir Brodie: All my info is @actorsirbrodie, on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter…
U.G. Digital Mag: I can’t even lie man, I don’t know how you do the Snapchat thing, I can’t keep up with that one..
Sir Brodie: Yea, you do so many things. I film on one, and then have to figure out how to get it to the other one. Its a part of the business now. Production looks at it though. They want to know your social media following.
U.G. Digital Mag: Right. Again man, thank you so much for today. It’s surely an honor.
Sir Brodie: Thank you!
The new film, Patti Cake$, which stars Mamoudou Athie is one of those films that could easily become the next blockbuster. Already being heralded as a classic, the film follows the story of aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski, also known as Patti Cake$ & Killa P, who is striving to become that next great inspiration in hip-hop. Immediately, the film touches on and conquers the idea and premise of someone defeating the odds to live and follow their passion in life. We’ve had the opportunity to screen the film, and it’s such an amazing story that will inspire a world of aspiring entertainers and beyond.
We were blessed with the opportunity of speaking with Mamoudou Athie about the film, and his role in the film, which drops tomorrow!
U.G. Digital Mag: I really treasure today’s conversation so much. I’ve been able to hear so many positive things in reference to this new film, and of course, being able to screen it for myself was the icing on the cake. So many people are talking about it. Talk about doing this film.
Mamoudou Athie: I’m really fortunate. I initially got the script, and I hadn’t read the entire thing because at first, I was like “this guy isn’t for me. I wasn’t sure it would work out because off the jump, I just didn’t know about this dude. Long story short, one of my best friends who I went to school with, we did ‘The Get Down” together, and his name is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and he’s a fantastic actor. This role had been in my mind ever since I read the entire script, and the casting director, Jessica Kelly, was very vocal, thinking I should go in for this. I just didn’t think I was the guy. Once I finally read the script I thought it was fantastic. By this point, I thought it was cast already. My buddy Yahya met Jeremy and he called me, saying the role wasn’t for him because he thought he was too old for it, but he thought it would be good for me. I auditioned a couple of times, and was just like Geremy Jasper was a fucking beast. I had to work with him. That’s kinda how we started. Geremy has been nothing but amazing and supportive ever since.
U.G. Digital Mag: There have been rave reviews so far, even looking at The New York Times, and hearing from the many people who have seen it already. What I enjoyed the most is there are so many stereotypes in hip-hop, and when you look at the film, it’s easy for people to look and instantly judge, but it really is an amazing movie. I love the entire story that resonates, with the idea of this legend in the making with Danielle Macdonald, and I think the film is really good.
Mamoudou Athie: She’s amazing in it. Geremy wrote a beautiful nuance with really diverse characters, and everyone is so relatable, from Danielle and Bridget, to Cathy, Sid, and more. It was a joy to be on set everyday.
U.G. Digital Mag: There’s some really powerful people here.
Mamoudou Athie: It’s really a special group. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but it’s so true. I’ve been very fortunate to work with people that I have wanted to work with. I genuinely get along with all of the cast, and these guys, we hang out when we’re in the same city. It’s like a really tight-knit family, and I know it seems so corny to say, but it’s true.
U.G. Digital Mag: When you think back at seeing the script, and not thinking it was for you, what was steering you away? Why did you feel it wasn’t for you?
Mamoudou Athie: I grew up in a very religious background, and I looked at it like it was the anti-christ [laughing]. That was honestly my whole thing. I felt uncomfortable with it. But when I finally met Geremy, and I also had been silently obsessing over it, I said I’d see what it actually what it was. It wasn’t what it appeared to be on the surface. There was way more nuance, and a lot more going on than I anticipated and gave credit for. I pinch myself everyday because I almost passed this amazing opportunity up, and it’s kinda crazy.
U.G. Digital Mag: Knowing your experience, and having completing the film, what are your thoughts now in how you feel it will do?
Mamoudou Athie: Everyone I’ve met who have seen it felt it was good. What else are they going to say, like, we hate you? [laughing]
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s funny though because when people meet you, they often will say that out of courtesy, but I think with this, it’s truly real and genuine.
Mamoudou Athie: Exactly. I can tell. People are very offusive in their love for it. In this unfortunately bleak time in history, this movie is hopeful in a way that is really welcoming. It’s a welcome change from some of the other stuff going on. It’s a beautiful movie about these flawed and interesting people pursing their dreams. It’s very relatable, and very much for and about the underdog.
U.G. Digital Mag: I agree with that. I love the whole premise of these people pursuing their dreams. It’s amazing again just connecting with you. Here at UGD, we’re all about pushing the ability to live your passion and live your life. It fits our magazine perfectly, and there’s so much for people to gain.
Mamoudou Athie: That would be really special.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think the film puts you in a good place because of roles you’ve done before. You played Grandmaster Flash, and I thought that was amazing. What was your thought in having that opportunity, and then transitioning to this?
Mamoudou Athie: Flash was the first role I played for myself. That one was the stretch. When I auditioned for the part, it only said master DJ. It didn’t have a name attached to the character. I went in and did my thing, and then I eventually got it, and when to meet Baz. When I walked in, everyone was talking about Flash. People were asking if I studied Flash because I had his mannerisms down. I still didn’t know who they were talking about until they said Grandmaster Flash. I immediately lost my mind, and there was an immediate sense of intense fear and dread.
U.G. Digital Mag: But it’s cool. Your portrayal showed that the culture is within you, and it’s authentic.
Mamoudou Athie: Here’s what I really loved. A lot of times, you see hip-hop themed stories and movies, and all this gangster stuff, but hip-hop started in a really positive place. Kurtis Blow came on set and was teaching people how to rap, and Flash came on and taught me how to spin. They told these stories about how these block parties went and they sound amazing. The thing that numbs me out is a lot of these stories don’t show that. Hip-hop is being commercialized right now. A lot of people are taking it back like Chance, Kendrick, and Jay-Z. A lot of people are doing a different kind fo things these days.
U.G. Digital Mag: I get what you’re saying. Life imitates art, so I love to see things like The Get Down, and Patti Cake$. We can see where it began. The more we have films like these, the better things get and the more change we’ll see. I see change already.
Mamoudou Athie: Exactly. He’s doing some really great stuff, supporting the community. That’s what it’s about, and it’s real exciting.
U.G. Digital Mag: Exactly. It’s all really amazing. What are some other things we can look out for from you? I know there’s a handful of projects you’ve been working on.
Mamoudou Athie: The one I’m most excited about coming out after this is is “Unicorn Store”. It’s very similar in which I love the people I worked with. I learned so much between the director and the lead. Pretty much everything I had was with her. I was able to learn how she does it. There’s one moment in the movie that I can’t necessarily say much about, but I needed to be very confused. The way she set up the shots, I had no idea what she was talking about. She’s really a beast, and I loved making that movie.
U.G. Digital Mag: I’m also looking forward to Underwater.
Mamoudou Athie: Right. I got to work with another one of my heroes, Vincent Cassel. He was one of the funniest people to be on set with. Unbelievably hilarious. I’ve never laughed so much before take.
U.G. Digital Mag: In all realness, you have to be living the life, doing what you love, laughing, and having a good time. You can’t ask for anything better.
Mamoudou Athie: Thank you, and that’s the big thing. He was saying that he’s been doing this too long not to have a good time, so he’s going to have fun. I love that mindset. I learned a lot.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s all amazing. There’s so many people who learn from you as well, and I appreciate you for this opportunity. For those who like to keep up with you, how can they stay connected?
Mamoudou Athie: Oh wow, I don’t really keep up with social media, but I’m around in New York.
U.G. Digital Mag: I promise man, we’re watching these movies, and I enjoyed being able to screen Patti Cake$. I’m looking forward to your upcoming movies as well, especially Underwater and Watch Room.
Mamoudou Athie: Oh wow.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think you’re an amazing actor. There’s so many people out there doing this, and sometimes it’s hard to see who’s really in this for the love, and how genuine someone really is. We can see that in you, and it’s appreciate.
Mamoudou Athie: That means so much. Thank you so much.
We recently had the pleasure of featuring cast members from Tyler Perry’s The Haves and The Have Nots here at U.G. Digital. The current season is heating up, and in support of the show, we’ve taken some time to catch up with some of the cast to look at their roles in the show, in addition to some of the other things they have going on.
This week, we feature Presilah Nunez, who plays the role of Erica on OWN’s most popular scripted series to date. For the past few seasons, Erica was thought to be besties with Candace, played by Tika Sumpter, but in recent episodes, it was ultimately revealed that she’s not only against Candace, but a part of the big plot with recently-turned nemesis; Warwick, to take her for everything she has. The storyline has indeed gotten much-heated, and Erica sits down to chat with us about the show.
U.G. Digital Mag: Thank you ever so much for the opportunity to speak today. It’s one thing to interview a megastar like yourself, but it’s a completely different thing to connect with someone you admire, and watch every week on a television show. You’re amazing at what you do, and you play your roles so wonderfully. Thank you for not only entertaining us, but inspiring us. UGD is all about entertainment of course, but my side-mission in this is showing our youth, and even adults, that you can do what you love, and have a blast, all while making a decent living.
Presilah Nunez: Thank you so much…that means a lot!
U.G. Digital Mag: What’s been your experience doing this show?
Presilah Nunez: Straight off the bat, my experience was one of those Tyler Perry stories in the sense that the character was supposed to be that one interaction with Benny where she sold him the car…
U.G. Digital Mag: Wow, that was my next question…
Presilah Nunez: Yep. That was all they had written. Contractually, it was supposed to be three episodes, but two out of those three were phone conversations. For die-hard Haves fans, they’ll remember that Erica called Benny twice, and on one instance, Mitch is in the episode, and Benny is like “yo, this is that girl that sold me the car for $500”, so that was one episode, and you see Erica do the whole interaction. So it was supposed to be three episodes, and we’re doing our thing. Tyler Lepley and I are doing our thing, and we really hit it off. Tyler Perry came up to me and asked how long I had been acting, and I don’t know … he’s just a visionary. He just saw something, and from there he pulled me aside and said “I’ll see you soon”. I’m like Ok, I didn’t really know what that meant. You know, you’re in L.A., and a lot of people say stuff like that. They’re like I have a part for you, or whatever, and you never hear anything. That’s not to say I didn’t believe him; it’s just one of those things you chalk up as a grain of salt. Nine months later, I’m sitting in an acting class and I get a text message from this Atlanta number. I had also missed a couple calls. It was Mr. Perry, calling to say he was bringing me back, and how he had all these ideas for Erica. So we spoke, and I was freaking out [laughing]. You have to understand, I grew up watching Tyler Perry. My mom had The Diary of a Mad Black Woman on DVD, and she had two copies. She would keep one, and lend the other out to her girlfriends. I was like 15 at the time, and now I’m talking to Tyler Perry on my cellphone and it’s like an out of body experience. He just kinda went through the character. He’s always evolving characters and has ideas. He wanted her to go a certain way and said we would see what happens. He said my agent would have it on their desk the next day, and that’s how Erica came to be.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s so amazing, and you speak of it being an out of body experience. Do you ever get to that point where it kinda becomes a regular thing and the excitement of getting the new part fades? Like, I’ve been in Journalism for 15 years, but anytime I connect with someone, I’m super excited about it. Are you just as excited with each new thing?
Presilah Nunez: I feel like I’m always just as excited. I feel like if you’re not that way about what you’re doing, why are you doing it, especially in this profession. What people don’t see is there is a lot more rejection. There’s a lot more no’s than there are yes. I have a lot of younger cousins who didn’t see me grow up because I’ve been acting since I was nine years old. All of my family that’s older knows I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid, but I have a lot of younger cousins who see me on TV and I have to remind them, you don’t remember coming to my shows? I have to break it down to them. I keep a spreadsheet of all the auditions I go out on and the opportunities I get. One side is the yes column, and the others is the no column. It allows you to never be complacent in this industry because you’re always fighting. Even the people who are on the covers of magazines right now, they’re fighting to maintain it. It allows you to remain humble.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love the fact that you do a spreadsheet because it lets you see not only who said yes and no, but you see your success and all you can do and accomplish. Look at what people said yes to. I love what you’re doing, and especially what Tyler is doing, because it creates so many more opportunities for minorities. I absolutely love it, and we haven’t seen it before with a show like this to do the numbers it does. People are clamoring for what is to come. How do you deal with the crazy success of the show, and the way people have really taken to you even more as an actress because of your involvement?
Presilah Nunez: What’s great is the show was already the number one show on OWN and cable on Tuesday nights. It’s easy to come onto a show when it’s already successful, but what’s been great is to be a part of it as it maintains that success. I think that the audience is able to see that Tyler added a few more cues to it when he added Erica and Officer Justin. It was great because we came onto this show and met everyone. I always tell this story because Tika Sumpter and I had never met. So we met and it was my first day on set, and we had to shoot this scene where I’m up in her room, and we’re talking about the whole house thing, the money she owes and the mortgage. I’m freaking out because I said War is really dangerous and he killed my sister, and all that stuff. I remember going onto set and we shake hands. Tika’s like “nice to meet you, I guess we’re playing best friends now”. I’m like yea, apparently we’re girls, and that was it. That was our first scene. What’s funny is the tweeting that came about when that scene first aired, and everyone was saying that we were definitely girls and you could see the chemistry. If only they had known we had just met. I say all that to say Tyler has an eye for talent and personalities. It’s almost like he does background checks because we mesh so well off camera. It really helped translate on camera, and it’s a big part of the success of the show. There’s a lot of chemistry so it’s been great. Renee, who plays Katherine, she is amazing, and hysterical. In the make up room, she’s always singing. There’s all these people my character never gets to interact with; Crystal Fox, who plays Hannah, she was hosting Barbecues every weekend. A couple of months ago, when we shot in Atlanta, we would hang out at her house. That’s what has allowed the success to permeate.
U.G. Digital Mag: I’m glad you mentioned Crystal Fox because we ran a feature with her last week. I absolutely love the show and we’re working to feature everyone. Angela has done the cover for us, and we’ve also featured Ro Brooks. I think it’s great what everyone has been able to do. I also believe Tyler is a visionary. I’ve been in management before, and even in that, you have to be able to find people who not only can do that job, but people who also can work well with the people you already have. No one would have ever said that you and Tika had just met. It’s a testament to your talent and also hers. It’s huge and speaks to the credibility of you as an actress.
Presilah Nunez: Thank you so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: Now getting right to the meat and potatoes, Erica is my type of character. She can turn the drama on and off at the snap of a finger. She can be a mess all the way, and then be an angel the next minute. Nothing would have ever said to me that she would turn against Candace and work with War. Where did that come into the role at?
Presilah Nunez: Look, you and me both. I had no idea. When you’re in TV, it’s different. I grew up in theater. Even my first couple years as a professional actress, it was all theater. What’s different about that is you get a script, and you know the beginning, middle, and end. Your job as an actor is to find the moments of excitement. Now that you know the whole story you have to make sure you don’t play the end too soon. If you know you’re going to die in the end, you have to make sure the audience doesn’t know that because you want that element of surprise. When you work in TV, the writers kinda help you in a sense because you never know what they’re going to write for the next episode. All you can play is what is in front of you. I remember getting that script for the episode, at the end of last season where Erica and David are in bed and War walks in, and I screamed, like me, myself, Presilah, reading it by myself in my hotel room. I’m like what!!, I remember saying to Tyler “you’re kidding me, like, me and War”? He was like, “it’ll be fun”. I thought it was interesting. Now, I have to play that in my mind. It’s like, you get added a few more colors. Now I have to play with this. I love reading the tweets because some of you are very insightful. You guys can see things and I never notice it. Some can see that Erica is a little shady.
U.G. Digital Mag: That was my thing…
Presilah Nunez: Yea, then you’re one of those people who are really smart. I didn’t even know what was happening with War. That wasn’t until the next year that we filmed that. As an actor, there was no way I could play that at the moment because I had no idea where it was going. I just thought Erica was helping Candace get money. As far as her turning against Candace, I start to realize it and analyze it all as it is given to me. That’s when I start to piece it all together and realize that oh, she’s a lot more conniving than I thought. It’s a lot more fun to play. Angela and I have so much fun. Angela is a sweetheart.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s so weird that her character is so out there. When she visited the girl in the hospital and was slapping her around, I was floored. It’s crazy how she can play that so good, and meeting her in person, she’s the total opposite. Nothing like the character.
Presilah Nunez: Right. Nothing like it. So Erica came in a little slow, and what’s airing right now is when I began to realize there’s a lot more to it. Even as her relationship develops with David, there’s still a lot about her that Tyler hasn’t told anyone about. It’s like, where does she really come from, and what is her story. Why is she like this. These are all things that sometimes, you get told in the back story. When you don’t, it’s kinda freeing because you can make it up. It’s like you meeting Angela. Every time I shoot, I feel like I’m meeting Erica and learning more. I’m doing what’s written, but it’s so out of this world.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s strange because when you look at the past episodes, I’ll catch things, like when Erica and Candace were together and Erica spoke about what happened to her sister with War. Then to see them together, I was like, how could they be working together? It’s crazy to see it unfold. How is it for you, considering you shot all this a year ago. How difficult is it to sit on it without telling anything?
Presilah Nunez: It’s hard because you’re excited. People ask and you’re like, if only you knew what was going to happen. It’s exciting to know, but I don’t get to see a lot of what is shot because I’m not in every scene. A majority of time, I with Peter Parros. I started working with Angela, Tika, Jon, and that’s it. I never see Benny anymore. All these other stories are unfolding that I don’t know much about. It’s fun to watch because I get to see what other people are doing when they’re at work. I know what I’m doing, but now I see everyone else. Like the other night, Christian, who plays Landon, had this whole elevator scene after my elevator scene, and I’m like excuse me, I wonder where he learned that from? He was laughing because we never see them. It’s exciting to watch with the audience because I’m seeing things I had never scene yet. Even this past week with my scene in the elevator…
U.G. Digital Mag: Oh my God. I love both of your characters, so I was back and forth like get her Erica, and no, slap her Veronica. I loved it, and you two did an amazing job.
Presilah Nunez: Thank you. In that scene, we had a really good time shooting. Funny thing is all the shit talking was really us, but when hair was being grabbed, those were body doubles. So at that moment, Tyler had us step out and brought in the stunt doubles. They started actually fighting. They had this whole choreographed fight, because everything is choreographed to be safe, and he throws Peter Parros in the middle. He tells the doubles to just go at it, and Peter is supposed to keep them from touching each other. At “Action”, they starting going …and going … and going, and by the time they stopped, his tie is over his head, and Tyler is cracking up because Peter is breaking a sweat. These stunt doubles are jacked. Peter is trying his hardest to keep them apart, and looking at Tyler like, ‘Can you yell cut?”. Finally Tyler yells cut and is like, “Peter, you look a mess”. It came out so good.
U.G. Digital Mag: How into social media, are you? I ask because when you look at Facebook, there are a number of groups created for the show where everyone talks so much about the characters and what they think will happen next. Do you ever join in on comments at all?
Presilah Nunez: I do, but moreso on Twitter. I definitely do, though. I’m not as active as others, mostly because I don’t feel like my life is that interesting [laughing]. I go to auditions, I go to Trader Joes, I walk my dog, like it really isn’t that interesting. But on Tuesday nights, I will tweet. I do it usually on east coast time. For them, it’s just premiering. I respond and it’s a lot of fun. Overall, this show has forced me to be a little more active. Otherwise, my Instagram, in my opinion, is a little boring. I think other people’s lives are interesting. Another bazaar thing about me, I watch family blogs on YouTube. There’s a family I watch from Wyoming, and I think it’s so fascinating to see the things they do. My boyfriend thinks it’s ridiculous but I like it.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think it speaks to how down to earth you are and how much you relate to the average person.
Presilah Nunez: I guess that’s a good way to look at it [laughing]. Have you seen them?
U.G. Digital Mag: I do watch a lot of YouTube. I haven’t want her them, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. Now you were recently in “Dear White People”. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Presilah Nunez: So “Dear White People”, my role is Kerry Washington. It’s a parody. When I first moved to Los Angeles, Scandal was still really big and everybody would be like you’re like Kerry Washington. I don’t think I look like her, even though she’s beautiful. I think they meant more like her essence. Erica is a lot more flirty, but my natural essence is a lot more grounded. So when I got this role, I loved Kerry Washington and now I had to make fun of her. The writing is so funny and it was a blast to be a part of. Dear White People as a whole is so monumental. The timing on it is really perfect. It’s great to be a part of it in a sense that speaks to the culture, gathering around to watch, and it was a fun little Diddy I did.
U.G. Digital Mag: Also, what was your experience being a part of Rosewood?
Presilah Nunez: Rosewood is interesting because my ethnicity is Dominican. I’m Latin. It’s funny that people from the east coast will pick up on it, because there’s a lot of Dominicans on the east coast, especially in New York and Florida, but other people, like here in Los Angeles, have no idea. Most think I’m mixed in terms of White and African American, which in a sense, I am. The Dominican Republic is basically a country made up of mixed people, half African and half European. I’ve never played a Latin role until Rosewood. America thinks Latin and they think Sophia Vergara, or Jennifer Lopez. They’re eyes haven’t been opened yet. It’s happening, like there’s a lot more roles for women of color now, and people of color in general, so they’re eyes are being opened. So people are realizing we are African, but we come from a country that speaks Spanish. With Rosewood, it was a cute role. I was like, I’ll go in , audition, a lot of girls will look like Sophia Vergara, and whatever. But it was different. I went in with my name plaque on, which is a very Latin thing. It’s like a gold necklace with your name on it. I wore that necklace, and did an accent. Naturally I don’t have an accent, but I have a lot of aunts who do. I spoke it from the time I walked in until I walked out. I got the role, and then went for the table read after I had been hired. I walked in and the producers are looking at me funny. Finally they go around the table, and then they take a break. They finally said they had no idea who I was. They were shocked that I could just do an accent. It was great and I felt honored to play a Latina because I never had. It was so much fun; the mannerisms, accent, and flavor I grew up with but never had been able to put into a character.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s really cool. Do you see yourself playing more roles that speak more to your ethnicity?
Presilah Nunez: I think if the role is appropriate and if that’s what the role and character is about, then sure. It’s always important to be in touch with your ethnicity, background, your people and culture, but to be honest with you, it’s never something that I felt like I needed to force down people’s throats. I think when the time comes and when the character is there, then it’s great. I’ve just love to tell stories, which was why I wanted to be an actor. I love the details about storytelling. If the character necessitates that element in terms of her being Latin, I would love to play it, but if not, it isn’t necessary. With time, I know that because of the way shows are going and being diverse and showing what America is, and people being more accepting, it will happen. I have a lot of family who will be able to understand what I’m saying [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: What else can we look out for from you? You’ve been put on a larger platform and people recognize you now…
Presilah Nunez: “Dear White People” will be back for a second season.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s amazing.
Presilah Nunez: Absolutely. It was a little bit of an experiment. That was another character that was booked initially for one episode, and it was expanded. That will be fun. We just filmed another season of The Haves and The Have Nots that will air next year.
U.G. Digital Mag: I like that you mention filming more of The Haves and the Have Nots. A lot of fans, including myself, often look at various sites about the show, and I had seen something that kinda timelined you on the show as ending in 2017.
Presilah Nunez: Oh no, there’s more. There is definitely more of her, and it’s a lot of fun. That will air, and you know, we’ll see what else is to come. I just got a puppy. I didn’t realize it’s like having a child. No one told me. OK, correction. My boyfriend did tell me this, I just didn’t listen. But, I’m doing that. I’m on the show, and I’m grateful. People don’t realize that in our off-season, we still hustle. I still audition for things. I try to get the next job and gig. It helps that with all of these things, you ride the steam. You have to go with momentum and put yourself out there. I’m still hustling. That’s my job. The cake and batter is the audition. Getting the job is easy. The meat and potatoes is pounding the pavement.
U.G. Digital Mag: Where can people keep up with you in terms of social media, and online in general?
Presilah Nunez: All my social media is public and it’s all my first name, @presilah. My mom and dad were dating; she was like 15 and he was 19, but anyway, my dad wanted to name me Presilah. My mom said absolutely not. They argue, break up, get back together, have a daughter, and name me Presilah. My mom is like, you win, but I’m changing the spelling. She starts deciding, and comes up with my spelling. Phonetically, it’s actually how you say it in Spanish. All of that is to say that it’s all my first name because no one else spells it that way.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think that’s great. You’re showing so many people that dreams really do you come true. I love it and thank you for that.
Presilah Nunez: Thank you. That means a lot.
For those of you who’ve followed us through the years, you know that I’ve developed a strong liking for great stage plays. I’ll easily travel round the world, which I sort of did, earlier this year. I’m almost ready to take another drive for this amazing story in Tempest, written & directed by budding playwright Kerry Ann Frazier. Let’s be clear that I say budding simply because she’s a new face to many. Her storylines, her professionalism, and the spirit she delivers speaks that of a true and ultimate master. She definitely falls right in line with the best in the world of playwrights, and the story of Tempest will undoubtedly show you that.
We had the amazing opportunity to talk with Kerry Ann about the play, and the August 19 showing in Killeen, TX! Check out the exclusive below!
U.G. Digital Mag: Thank you so, so much for the opportunity. I could easily be considered a stage play buff. I absolutely love a good stage play. I was excited to connect with you. Starting off, talk about how you entered into the arena of stage?
Kerry Ann Frazier: I have been on the stage since I was 5 years old. I was a hyper kid, and my parents didn’t know what to do with me [laughing]. They put me in a church play and I got the bug at 5 years old. I’ve been in theater; church, school and community, since I was that age, and I’ve been a director for a little over 20 years now. I didn’t study theater at USC; I graduated with a degree in Social Work. I was around a lot of theater buffs while I was there, so much that I call it an unofficial major. That’s really how I was introduced to acting. I enjoy the classics, so I studied the greats, and tried to go to as many plays as possible. I really studied the craft of stage acting. It’s been a hobby and now has developed into a business, that being Frazier Drama Company, which is owned by Daryl Frazier.
U.G. Digital Mag: Talk to me about Tempest.
Kerry Ann Frazier: With the story of Tempest, I have to go back to our last production, which was “Losing Mama”. This is a prequel to Losing Mama. “Tempest” is one of the younger grandchildren of the Dupont family. She is a corporate attorney, and is one who has had everything in life come to her except relationships with the opposite sex. It’s a comedy where we explore where things meet with reality, and how we set plans for ourselves. It’s a gospel stage play that shows how sometimes, when God intervenes, it’s just so much better than what we could have imagined. That’s what “Tempest” is. Many characters are from “Losing Mama”, and it introduces our next production.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing. Are there side stories and additional storylines that this play will show?
Kerry Ann Frazier: Definitely. Through my past plays, one of the things I’ve heard a lot from my viewers is they want something from a singles perspective. This play covered so many different things; being single, and then also being married. Sometimes, those who are married look at their friends who are single and have that nostalgic feeling. It’s like one side wants what the other side wants. It’s about relationships from your own perspective. The next play is “Sunday Dinner”, and “Mama’s Family”.
U.G. Digital Mag: Like I said, I love a good play, so I’m sitting trying to figure out how I’m getting to Killeen, Texas (laughing). I have no problem traveling for a good story.
Kerry Ann Frazier: Well come on out. We’ll make sure you’re taken care of.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s funny because at the top of the year, I covered a play and drove from Cleveland to Houston to see it. I would do it in a heartbeat.
Kerry Ann Frazier: What I can say is with Losing Mama, we’ll definitely be selling the DVDs for those who can’t make it. It sold out in different cities. Some of the characters, like Uncle Riley and Aunt Pearlie, they’re also in Tempest, so you get to see a little about their family.
U.G. Digital Mag: Amazing! I love how you have it set up with different families, and storylines. It puts me in mind of the other playwrights who do a lot of the same. What have you learned looking at the power figures, like your Tyler Perrys, and Shelley Garretts?
Kerry Ann Frazier: One thing I get from Tyler Perry, and David E Talbert, is to go out and do it. I am a social worker by profession, and I’ve been a social worker for years, and have always had apprehension of starting my drama company. One of the things I heard from Tyler Perry and Denzel Washington in one of his actor’s workshops is to take the leap. There will never be a right time. If you have a good brand, and story, and operate in the spirit of excellence, it will work out. The success will come.
U.G. Digital Mag: I also heard that same thing from Shelley Garrett, who was responsible for Beauty Shop, and many others. I can relate as well because I had the same apprehension in launching this magazine a few years ago. I have been in healthcare for 16 years, but you have to believe in yourself and take the chance.
Kerry Ann Frazier: Right. I attend one of the largest churches here in Killeen. I remember doing a play called Behind Closed Doors, and it touched on domestic violence. I remember dozens of people coming up to me afterwards looking for help and someone to talk to. It was such a huge impact. People might read a book, or listen to a seminar, or hear a sermon. To have a play dealing with these issues, and people have the visual aspect, it resonates differently. That’s one of the things I learned, and I try hard to be responsible to spread positive messages. Even in negative situations, people can walk away wanting to make a difference.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love your enthusiasm and spirit. I can tell it is so well thought out. I must get there to see it (laughing). How far is Killeen from Dallas?
Kerry Ann Frazier: It’s about two hours, and about 40 minutes from Austin.
U.G. Digital Mag: Hey, it’d be a nice vacation. I have family in Dallas.
Kerry Ann Frazier: Oh, OK. Well please let me know. It would be a honor.
U.G. Digital Mag: I will surely be at the next one.
Kerry Ann Frazier: That wlll be in Waco, Killeen, and Austin.
U.G. Digital Mag: Oh wow, pretty awesome. In terms of this play, will there be a possibility of touring to other places?
Kerry Ann Frazier: We would love to. Many of our actors are active or retired military. The option is open.
U.G. Digital Mag: For people looking to keep up with you and your production company, where can they go?
Kerry Ann Frazier: Direct them to kerryannfrazier.com. We are on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook as well.
U.G. Digital Mag: Thank you again, so much. This was so awesome, and what you have is amazing. I’m a big fan of the arts, and an even bigger fan of the stage.
Kerry Ann Frazier: Thank you so much.
There’s nothing like connecting with someone you’ve admired and been inspired by for so long. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Crystal Fox in many of her roles for a great part of my life, and like many actors and actresses, she’s one of the reasons I do what I do in my career. She’s shown me and so many others through her success that it’s possible to do what you love and be happy. She’s taught us what it is to work hard and build a strong legacy by the work you do in the world, not only with her acting, but the work she does for her community. Today, we were blessed beyond measure to talk to Ms. Fox about her magnificent career, her longevity, and the amazing work she has been doing with her new community-driven upstart. Of course, she talks to us as well about The Haves and the Have Nots. Everyone knows she’s been stealing the show with her outstanding portrayal of Hanna Young on the hugely popular series created by Mr. Tyler Perry. Because of her amazing work, the show has gone not to be come OWN’s most popular scripted series to date. We’re happy to present to you; Ms. Crystal Fox: A Shining Star!
U.G. Digital Mag: First and foremost, I am immensely grateful to you for so much. First, this opportunity is so amazing for me. I’ve watched this show from episode one, and wouldn’t dare ever miss one episode. Then, there’s the bonus that I’ve followed you since ‘In the Heat of the Night’. As young as I was, that was something I watched with my grandmother, and I feel like you brought us together in that moment. I remember you in Driving Miss Daisy. Today, The Haves and the Have Nots is another connection between my mother and I. We watch this show together weekly, or we’re calling each other at 8:59 to say the show is coming on. Thank you for that.
Crystal Fox: It is my absolute pleasure. You have touched my heart with my whole soul, from the start of my desire to act until now. It is all I ever wanted to do is tell the truth, and tell one that people could feel. You go into the theater and disappear, and go into another world. I did it because I didn’t feel like I had a voice. When I did it, I wanted to be the voice for the voiceless, as you hear people say. I wanted people to be moved by something. You have blessed my whole soul with that. Thank you so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: You’re welcome. I’m so glad to know that. With your character, Hanna, there are so many people who relate to her. They spend their lives trying to live by the teachings of God, and nevertheless, they experience scenarios that are hard to deal with. They feel the world is against them, although they do the right thing. How difficult was it, or is it, to play a character this deep?
Crystal Fox: First of all, two things happened for me. When I read the breakdown, it hit my gut, almost like you described. I know that life. I know our struggles, my own personal struggles, the ones I’ve witnessed people have, and those our people have. I’ve seen a woman like Hanna, either who has been a part of my life as blood family, or someone who took on the responsibility of helping raise me, and people who raise the community, and I have never seen people work as hard, and struggle as hard against adversity, and raise solid people, as we call it a blue collar worker, and I’ve never seen them in a lead role like that. The responsibility of it, and the joy I got from it, it has been a blessing, and it blesses me everyday. I love this character because I know who she is. The joy I got in getting the job was met with the same feeling of “Lord God, please help me deliver what I know can happen with this character”. The responsibility I feel to the people she represents was so great. I said I will trust you with this as I do with the rest of my life, because you know the intention of my heart and soul. For me, getting it, and realizing I had to do it, were the hardest moments of my life. Then, living in her is easier because I know who she is, if that makes any sense at all.
U.G. Digital Mag: It makes perfect sense. You have to excuse my language, but you do a damned good job with this character in The Haves and The Have Nots. When I tell you I was crying with you at the start of this season when you were in the hospital after Q was killed. I would imagine that it would be difficult to dig so deep for that type of raw emotion in scenes like that. How do you bring yourself to that place?
Crystal Fox: I do not mean this in any arrogant way, and you’ll understand why later. It’s not difficult because I have witnessed my own sense of hardship, but I know other people who have witnessed such hardship. In this particular season, we shot what you saw last year, and what you see now is a culmination of the same season; they just break it up and show it in two seasons. This storyline is one of the most important that I have been able to share. There are certain aspects of Savannah that they shoot the exteriors of. I went last year to meet the people that live on the street where they shot. Those people are an extension of our show. They are like cast members you never get to meet. They were so happy to see me. I met a woman who was the epitome of Hanna. She was on her porch, across from where Hanna’s house was. The girl who took me to her was elated, but when she got to the house, she kinda bowed her head. I asked, “how are you”, and she said “we’re making it”. The young lady said they had experienced some hardships. Come to find out, her daughter was supposed to graduate that year. She had a picture of her in her graduation cap and gown. I asked what happened, and it turns out the young lady went to a party with a friend, and they witnessed a drive-by. The shooters came back and killed her and her friend because they witnessed it. When I left, I went back home, and went to work, and those were the scenes I was shooting about Q’s death. For me, it was the most truth I wanted to tell. I had never seen a child killed on television, and I knew it would be jarring to the audience. I thought, it’s happening in the news but we don’t see it. It takes the sting off when we tell the truth about it. I wanted to honor the pain these families feel over the senseless violence more than I’ve honored any truth in my life. For me, this whole season is dedicated to that family. That scene for me; I could not let go of the girl. She feels like another cast member, and I could not let go of any kid taken like that, or any senseless loss. We have to stop killing each other. I did it for those moms and dads, and everyone else. The response; I tear up. People keep inundating me with responses from that moment. It means so much because it was for them and the families.
U.G. Digital Mag: I appreciate you telling that story because it shows your heart. It’s amazing you could relate your work to real life, and what someone else is going through.
Crystal Fox: Yes. That’s what I try to do. I feel like I can’t afford to miss someone if what I deliver is going to be healing, helpful, or do something for someone else’s life. I commit to telling the truth.
U.G. Digital Mag: Clearly there’s nothing you can give away about the storyline to come because Tyler wouldn’t have that [laughing], but what are some things you would love to see with the storyline?
Crystal Fox: I can give you a sneak because this season is so heavy. Candace still doesn’t know about the baby being killed. We have to have service or something for the baby. That’s inevitable so I can say that. Because it is so heavy, I know everybody is asking is she ever going to stop crying [laughing]. Does God ever bring her joy? So far, we haven’t had the luxury to show that. But we just shot about 4 seasons of material, and you will see Hanna laugh, smile, have a little joy, and date somebody. I can’t wait for you guys to see that. It’s like, finally!
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing, and I love how there’s so many different characters that surface. Your love interest, Ro Brooks, has done the cover of our magazine, and so has Angela Robinson. It’s amazing to see so many different people, and so many black people. I love the way we are growing and doing so many things. Tyler has done an amazing job with this show.
Crystal Fox: The funny thing is Viola [Davis] is a friend, and I’m paraphrasing her speech, but the bottom line is the difference in black and white people getting scenes is opportunity. We were always working; we just had fewer opportunities. I’m grateful for Oprah, and Tyler, because they have a platform that can provide that for us, and others who are providing opportunities for us. Once they see us, the doors open a little more.
U.G. Digital Magazine: I love how supportive the entire cast is of each other. Everyone certainly has many other things going on, but it appears that everyone is shouting for each other in every capacity which is amazing. I know Jon Chaffin has done amazing things outside of HAHN, and so has Danielle Deadwyler. It suggests real family which is hard to find on such large casts.
Crystal Fox: First of all, I got chills because when I started, I felt like the baby of the cast, and now I’m like the veteran. I worked with both of them, and consider them my babies. Jon understudied me in ‘God of Carnage’ with Jasmine Guy here in Atlanta at The Alliance. Danielle is my baby for real. I love her. Not only is she a fabulous actor, but she is a producer, a writer, and people have no idea. She can do anything. She’s a mommy, which cracks me up because she’s so fun. Angela and I knew each other before this. We did ‘Voice of Syracuse’ at The Alliance. We’ve done musicals together, and she was my friend for a while. I didn’t know she would be on the show until right before we filmed. I love every minute we film with each other. A lot of them, including Renee who plays Mrs Cryer, are theater-based people. It’s collaborative, and normally that happens. You almost become an immediate family. We bring that to the table, and I’m glad we don’t forfeit it either. Heck, yes! …and Tika? She is Candace, but she is my baby. I can not scream high enough for anything good that happens for her. When anything happens for anybody, we are the loudest cheerleaders in the world for each other because we took this journey together. It was a risk. Tyler said it was a risk for him.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing. I’m glad you mentioned Danielle also, because you both were in Ir/Reconcilable and she was one of the producers. Of course it also featured Jasmine Guy, Brandon Dirden, Dick Gregory, and Enoch King, among others. The storyline hits directly with so many in regard to shame, forgiveness, redemption, and courage. I said you were just as fiery in that and you are in HAHN.
Crystal Fox: [laughing], Yes, it was funny. I had a cuter, sexier dress on though. You know her sister Gabrielle wrote it. Such an amazing family.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s beautiful, and It’s opening so many more doors for African Americans. It’s beyond amazing. I love seeing it. Thank you so much for all you give.
Crystal Fox: You’re so welcome. I also want to shout out Brandon Dirden from Ir/Reconcilable. He and Jason Dirden. These brothers are not only wonderful people, but wonderful artists as well. I’m excited that the circle of people I’ve found myself fortunate enough to surround myself with are fabulous artists in their own right. I feel blessed that this has been my life. I’ve been surrounded by this type of talent all around me, from the beginning my career until now.
U.G. Digital Mag: What’s next for Crystal? What do you see in the horizon? What do you aspire for?
Crystal Fox: Well, I do want to do more film and television, although I always want to do theater. Theater is my first love, and always will be. I love it, and it connects me with the audience. You get an understanding, one way or the other, whether they like it or not, immediately. I say it’s the last place we agree to disagree, or agree together. I did a film independently, and I think it’ll be a feature film. It’s called ‘Burdens’. Ironically, there’s also a documentary with the same name. This is based on something different. It’s by Andrew Heckler. I was able to play Forest Whitaker’s wife in this film. It’s based on a true story about the KKK opening a museum with their paraphernalia, and the gentlemen ended up selling it to an African American preacher. The circumstances involved, that’s what the movie is about. It’s based on a true story about Laurens, South Carolina. Usher was in it as well, along with Tom Wilkinson. It’s supposed to come out this year. The thing is, I think it’s still kinda Hanna-esque because its a woman of strong will and faith, so I don’t know if it’s so different for me, but I am with different artists.
U.G. Digital Mag: It sounds like a powerful storyline.
Crystal Fox: Exactly. I like doing things with a strong message. The irony is the ending is wonderful and won a victory. This court case went on about whether or not the black actor owns the museum or not. The case was settled in 2012 and he is the owner. It is no longer a KKK museum. The irony of this black, civil rights activist and pastor owning a KKK museum is crazy. It also shows the power of forgiveness. Aside from that, I have a dream project that I figure if I keep mentioning, you all will hold me accountable to do it. I want to create a play to honor and tribute my aunt, who was Nina Simone. People are doing it left and right, and I’m glad they’re talking about her. I don’t want to tell her story, although everyone thinks I do. It’s artist to artist. We had a bond when I was little, and I didn’t understand what it was about. As I grew into an adult, I realized it was the artist in us, and I learned that. I believe she agreed with me on that. So, as an artist I would like to honor her with something that is art-worthy.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love it. The more we speak about the things we desire and dream of, the more they become reality.
Crystal Fox: I believe that. I really do. I have the resources to make happen, so now it’s just on me.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing. Now, you have an amazing talent with singing. This will tell you how much I really watch the show and pay attention [laughing]. There was a scene where you were telling Benny that one day, he’s going to learn to listen to his mother. Then you started singing and it was like wow, she’s out of this world. Surely, those who knew you from ‘In the Heat of the Night’ knew this already, but it’s new to those of this generation. Will we hear more of your vocals in any capacity?
Crystal Fox: I think so. I’m sure Tyler will fit them in somewhere. What’s funny is I feel like it’s another hidden thing people will be surprised to learn about. I sing a certain way on The Haves and the Have Nots because it’s fitting to Hanna, but they’ll be surprised to know I sing R&B. I don’t consider myself a Jazz artist, but my friends beg to differ. They say that I am a singer, but I think I sing just enough to get through a good club act, but I don’t have the discipline to do it the way they do it. I love it when I do though. I hope to do more. I’ve been asked if I will sing more. With ‘In the Heat of the Night’, we did a Christmas album, but it was to raise funds for a certain organization. They did a Blue Grass album, but mine was a Jazz piece. I did ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. It keeps coming up, and I’m sure somebody will utilize it. I believe it will be Tyler.
U.G. Digital Mag: Right. He’s gotta just put you in these movies in a lounge like Chandra Currelley [laughing].
Crystal Fox: Exactly [laughing]. That’s what I want to do. Like a period piece, and I can be a club owner [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: You do so much outside of acting and entertainment. Can you talk a little about Act to Impact Global?
Crystal Fox: Yes, that’s new for me. I have always wanted to give back to the community, and try to find different ways. Most times, I volunteer with Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless. Elisabeth and Afemo Onilami are friends, and I knew them before Mr. Hosea Williams passed away. I try to do as much as I can. After this election, like many others, I could not move for two days. I didn’t want to complain anymore without action. I tried to get a ThinkTank together to see who else felt the same. Act to Impact Global was born out of that. Friends got together, and people I didn’t know, and we talked about what meant something to us. People say you have to break it down and do one thing, but why can’t we work on each thing? Michael Moore said if we form small groups and attack different things, we’ll be powerful when we come together as a large group. I took that to heart. That’s what I’m doing now. I had my first event to introduce the group to the community, and show that we would be about taking care of our social ills, until we can come together to take care of something on a global scale and politically. It’s very new, and I have no idea what I’m doing. People say it starts with you, so I’m trying to go back and participate with other groups who need support, a voice, or my faith to get them noticed. It’s at the beginning stages, but I hope it does more for our community and our world.
U.G. Digital Mag: Nothing about what you’re doing here says you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re reaching masses. Will the doors open for people outside of your immediate community?
Crystal Fox: Absolutely. That’s what I would prefer. I want it to be as many people that want to do something. We are on Twitter and Facebook, and I take suggestions on how to grow and build. What’s interesting is I did an event called ‘Dance for Diversity’, and we had different types of dancers come out and demonstrate dance and movement. Then we danced with them. It was received so well with the community that they want it to be an annual event. I’m thinking about it, and it was wonderful. The advocacy issues were around voter education, and literacy. It was originally going to be on child literacy, but adult literacy is very poor in Georgia. It went hand in hand, because if we can’t read we can’t vote. Finding out that info and sharing it with the community shed light on something they didn’t know about, and everyone was excited about doing more. I would absolutely like that to be shared globally.
U.G. Digital Mag: We will surely post it on our end, and share it through our social media. We can link through our site as well.
Crystal Fox: Fantastic. Thank you so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: I covered this year’s Essence Fest, and I literally scoured the arena looking for you [laughing]. Were you there with the rest of the cast at all that weekend?
Crystal Fox: No I did not, and it’s killing me because ever since Tyler Lepley has been going, he has said it was fabulous. Each time, I haven’t been able to go. With this year’s festival, I was close to going, and then I got an invitation from Mr. P. I can’t turn down no invitation from Mr. P to do nothing [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: It was amazing. I met Angela, and it was amazing because she covered our first issue. It was amazing meeting her, and the fact she remembered was even better.
Crystal Fox: Wow. I love her so much. Can you see that she is so not Veronica?
U.G. Digital Mag: I can but I can’t figure out how she digs so deep to play the role.
Crystal Fox: She’s nothing like her, except for one way: she’s a classy dresser. She’s beautiful and classy. Nothing like Veronica in the heart though.
U.G. Digital Mag: Yea, I thought Katherine had her for a minute when the season started, but when she flipped it around, I was done [laughing].
Crystal Fox: That’s my baby. I said I was going to have to stand in front of her to make sure nobody harms her [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: What are the best ways for people to keep up with you online?
Crystal Fox: I feel like a dinosaur when it comes to social media, but my young folks are trying to help me [laughing]. I’m on Instagram at @only1crystalfox. My Twitter is the same thing. On facebook, my fans always find my personal page, but it’s so full that I can’t really add anyone else. I do have a fan page, which is @crystalfoxfans. I’m working on a website eventually. I guess I need one [laughing], but I don’t know.
U.G. Digital Mag: Again, I have to mention how grateful I am to you. Any final comments at all?
Crystal Fox: Listen, I can’t wait to meet you. I am going try to get to Essence Fest also. Do you love it?
U.G. Digital Mag: I absolutely loved every minute of it. I decided so last minute. I’m based in Cleveland, Ohio. I literally flew out at 6am that Friday morning, landed, and headed to the events. It was absolutely the best time of my life. I’ve already booked a hotel for next year.
Crystal Fox: See! OK, I will definitely try my best to be there next year. I thought it would be too hectic, but I’ve heard it’s electrifying.
U.G. Digital Mag: It was amazing. It wasn’t an atmosphere where people didn’t want to be bothered. Everyone was mingling, meeting, greeting, and having a blast. The entire set-up was really awesome. My cup of tea was meeting the cast of HAHN. It was amazing to meet Angela, Tyler, and Gavin.
Crystal Fox: Now why do you like the show so much?
For starters, I love drama. The characters are amazing. Even the bad characters are really good. I feel like Tyler really does his homework, and picks the right people. I’ve always said he was brilliant with casting. John Schneider has been around for years, and this has become an avenue to showcase his brilliance. You’ve been here for some time, and now people are really getting to know you. Same for Angela. But many didn’t realize you were in Driving Miss Daisy. You’ve worked hard to get here. I love the direction and the writing, and it keeps you entertained. I keep my iPad at work with me to watch the midnight and 3am run of the show, even though I’ve already watched it at 9pm. I love it.
Crystal Fox: I thank you so much and that’s why I asked. They didn’t know who they were gearing it for. They started with 25 - 60 year old women because they just didn’t know. What I love is that even in the beginning, we got compliments from women, and now we have everyone. We have every age, color, sex, and I love it. It’s like a show that no one knew what it would do. We don’t do a lot of talk shows, and we’re kept hidden. Tyler said he was keeping us hidden for a reason, but our fanbase is swelling.
U.G. Digital Mag: You definitely have everyone. I’m 40, my cousin is in her 20s and she’s watching, my son loves it and he’s 10. He comes in ready to watch every Tuesday. During the school year, he makes sure we DVR so he can watch later. I work with someone who’s about 75 years old and we talk about the show. And my mother and I watch together a lot. Regardless of the storyline, it’s believable, and that is what makes it so appealing.
Crystal Fox: Thank you so much from the depth of my heart.
U.G. Digital Mag: I follow you on social media, so we will certainly be posting about it. I’m in heaven for sure by talking to you. I’m forever grateful to you. Thank you for your time because I know you’re busy.
Crystal Fox: That’s alright. I’m never too busy for the love. I appreciate it from the depth of my heart, and can not wait to meet you so I can hug your face real hard [laughing].
U.G. Digital: I love it, thank you.
Crystal Fox: You as well. I wish you all the best, and look forward to seeing you at Essence Fest next year.
Most definitely. My wife is ready. We booked the hotel, and if I could get the airfare today, I would [laughing]. But thank you so so much.
Crystal Fox: You’re so welcome.
It’s always an amazing honor to talk to one of the heroes of hip-hop, as I often call our legends. Without a doubt, MC Eiht falls within that category. For any of your who were around in the nineties, you know exactly what I meant. Eiht entertained the masses with his tales of struggle, triumph, and glory in Compton. His presence and his magic had so much significance for me, and I’m sure it’s the same for many others. Many people, whether in his own surroundings, or around the world, were inspired in some way or another to pursue music, entertainment, or more.
I can proudly say that I was one of those. Always excited by the industry, It was pretty easy for me to look beyond some of the perceived negative to see that figures like Eiht were absolutely living their dreams through music. I strongly admire the fact that while Eiht has remained mostly low-key through the years, he has managed to maintain his relevance, appearing on various tracks here and there with many of his hip-hop peers. In doing that, he has also maintained his own character, doing what he does best and not variating to match the times so much. He’s always continued to give its the hard-hitting flow that we are accustomed to from him.
That makes his new album all the more better. “Which Way Iz West” has been a long time coming, for anyone who has truly followed Eiht, and more importantly his relation with DJ Premier. The two have worked seamlessly together for such a long time, and it’s always been anticipated that the two would collaborate on a full-length project. That project has finally come to pass with “Which Way Iz West”.
We had an amazing opportunity to connect with the legend himself one day before release to talk about the influence he has had in this industry throughout his career which has span well over two decades. It was amazing to hear his thoughts on the industry, and how he is keeping real hip-hop alive. It was amazing to hear him proudly big up other legends like L.L. Cool J. and Kool Moe Dee! He’s paying homage to the West coast with this album, but more importantly, he’s paying homage to Hip-Hop! Check the exclusive out below!
U.G. Digital Magazine: The album is dropping man, I would love you to talk more and expand upon the process of putting it together.
MC Eiht: Well basically, I’ve just been working the past few years to find the sound I felt was familiar, and paid homage to west coast music. A lot of music today is different to the ear, but we have a lot of core fans who grew up in the nineties and who appreciate it. I just felt with trying to direct this record, I wanted to reach them, or people who appreciated what hip hop stood for at that time. It was my direction to capture that feel good music of yesterday when music had substance to fans and to artists.
U.G. Digital Magazine: You speak a great deal of truth in that perspective. I’m one of those fans. I think back to my high school days, listening to you. You’re relevance is still strong. When you look at your history, it’s well over twenty albums, and we appreciate that. Music has changed drastically in the sense that many artists don’t work the same anymore. No one works as hard to do this anymore or to get noticed.
MC Eiht: I know, because I was reading somewhere, and someone said rap was a young man’s game to where it’s about the money you got, or the broads you’re fuckin’, or being on cocaine and pills. If rap is a young man’s game, it’s just a different lane that we came from. I don’t jump into the game to hate on today’s rap music, or what these cats are doing to entertain. I was just brought up in a time where it meant something to pen a song. It meant something to deliver quality music to your fans. Bullshit didn’t get any kinda play with us back in the day. I know it was payola, but still, my music has substance and it’s more than just braggadocios effect. Not to say people didn’t brag back theneither because I love me some L.L. Cool J, or Kool Moe Dee, you know what I’m saying but..
U.G. Digital Magazine: …but they talked about so much more than that though!
MC Eiht: Exactly. You know, shout out to L.L. Cool J. He had substance: I can’t Live Without My Radio, I’m Bad, 4,3,2,1, we had that. But now, the youth can youtube it, and iTunes it, and whatever, all they want to hear about is the Lamborghini, or the choke chain. But it’s cats from our era who are still around, and they appreciate the substance. I wanted to give back to fans who have been riding with hip-hop from the beginning, and who deserve a decent project.
U.G. Digital Magazine: I appreciate the fact that the people you worked with have been here working just as hard. The Lady of Rage, Xzibit, and more. You’re clearly on your own page, and sticking to your truth. We appreciate that man..
MC Eiht: I can’t get caught up in trying to compete with cats. Been there, done that. My lane is just that. I stay in my lane with my music. I’m not trying to compete because if I’ve been consistent with my clientele all this time, then I’ll remain that way. They don’t expect me to be over 40, talking about how may girls I ran through, or look at my car, rims, and chain. Been there, done that. You have to be grown enough to know what substance is. Reaching out to cats I’ve had respect for, to the point they have been hustling as long as I have, and people forget about when they were on top, and still are, we just wanted to reach out to those we respected.
U.G. Digital Magazine: I feel like this has been written for you and Premier for a long time. What took so long?
MC Eiht: I mean, you know. He’s a busy cat. You can’t force a square peg in a round hole. Timing is everything. I’ve known Premier my whole career. Him doing his thing and touring, me doing mine and touring, him being in New York, and me in Cali, it all was done for a reason and it’s set up to where shit will slide into motion. Our friendship is what brought us to this place, and having respect for what he’s done. We sat down as friends, and he came at me asking what I was doing, and saying music was so messed up. I let him hear what I was working on, and we decided to finally do this project. He felt like I deserved it, and being a pioneer of West coast hip-hop, he felt it was time.
U.G. Digital Magazine: I wholeheartedly agree with that, but also, the reality is you’ve inspired so many people. Looking at the albums, and even more your collaborations, you’ve inspired a lot. Til’ this day, your collaboration on Snoop’s “Blue Carpet Treatment”, “Candy”, is one of the dopest cuts I’ve heard. It’s funny that my son appreciates the whole vibe of that song too, and it shows you’re reaching all groups.
MC Eiht: I mean, that’s what I’ve been able to do, thank God. I’ve been able to get with the times, and you have to be able to adjust as a true artists. That keeps me fresh and able to hang if you wanna say that. I always love competition, so that’s what I look at when someone asks me to get down or be on a song. As an artist, you want to come up with your best work. Whether it’s Snoop with “Candy”, Pete Rock, or “Ma.a.d City” with Kendrick, I try to adapt to what an artist is feeling in me. Obviously, there’s a reason they contacted me. When someone shows me that respect, it’s nothing for me to give my best. That’s out of respect for the artists I work with.
U.G. Digital Magazine: So I did the pre-buy. That gave me a few tracks. It still drops tomorrow, right?
MC Eiht: It officially drops tomorrow. No delays. A lot of people talk about Jay being out tomorrow. Everybody has their own lane.
U.G. Digital Magazine: But speaking to that, dope is dope. It doesn’t matter who you drop with. If people are going to buy, they’re going to buy.
MC Eiht: That’s the way I look at it. We didn’t sleep on anything, and don’t bite out tongue for anybody. We have just as good a product, whether it be Jay-Z, T.I., Snoop, or whoever. Everybody has their own lane, and I advise you to pick and choose. That’s what preference is for. If it’s good and stand up just as strong, then why not…
U.G. Digital Magazine: What else is in the can?
MC Eiht: I’m working on “Which Way iz West II”, I’m back in the studio to work on some Compton’s Most Wanted stuff with Chill, and hopefully from there I’ll get out on tour, meet some of the people like back in the day. I like to get out to the fans, meet and greet, and see the people. Rap is so computerized, but you need to connect with the people. I want to show people my appreciation.
U.G. Digital Magazine: So many appreciate you for that. You have to get out there, communicate, and open up to the buyers. That’s dope.
MC Eiht: Exactly. If you can’t do that, you lose. I thank the people for giving this project a listen.
U.G. Digital Magazine: I’m looking forward man. I love the people you have on here. It’s great to feature you, and look back at your history and influence. I follow music so much, and this is my life, so I appreciate your contributions.
MC Eiht: When you been here as long as I have, you know to stay humble, and stay on the right track with music, and not going out of your lane. I’m just trying to give the people what they want.
U.G. Digital Magazine: Website, social media?
MC Eiht: They can hit me at @eiht0eiht on Instagram and Twitter, and @eihtcompton on Facebook.
Article by: James Johnson
It's always such an amazing thing to catch up to budding artists and emerging talent. After all, that's where much of our focus lies when it comes to music and entertainment. We love the idea of introducing new artists to you, and that rings especially true with Leo Vance. Based in Canada, Leo is blazing a strong trail through the industry, and he shows no sign of slowing any time soon. He was recently a part of the Cut Hip Hop Awards in Toronto. Check out our exclusive with below with the man himself.
U.G. Digital Magazine: What feeling do you having been a part of the Cut Awards show?
Leo Vance: I felt amazing about jt. It was a good opportunity to showcase my music and meet the different artists. I think it was just a really good opportunity.
U.G. Digital Magazine: It's huge to be part of something on that level. So many people were involved, including companies like Def Jam. Talk about your background. I know music has been in the fiber of your family.
Leo Vance: Well, I'll start with my mother. She was a singer. Growing up, I have memories of being in the studio while she was recording. She had a live band as well, I believe. That was a good experience for me. She moved onto the beauty industry after music. My dad has been a producer, rapper, and engineer. I'd be there while he produced and engineered for other artists.
U.G. Digital Magazine: Looking at their accomplishments, how did that inspire your dreams?
Leo Vance: My dreams were a little different. I really wanted to be a basketball player, but it turned out I wasn't happy with it. From there I picked up a keyboard. It made me happy to rap over instrumentals but I wanted to make my own as opposed to rapping over everyone else's.
U.G. Digital Magazine: It's good to see your progression. You've turned this into something really huge, which is remarkable. Talk about everything else you have going on?
Leo Vance: I'll be recording the last song of my album and hope to push that out in the summer. It's really just my album that I'm focused on.
U.G. Digital Magazine: That's great. How much have you put into it? What's to be expected?
Leo Vance: It's a collection of my best songs over the last two years. I've been honing my craft and my album will reflect that.
U.G. Digital Magazine: So we can look for that later this summer. Anything else we should know about?
Leo Vance: I have a mixtape that will come out.
U.G. Digital Magazine: We definitely will stream that for you.
Leo Vance: Yea, for sure. That'll drop late August or early September.
U.G. Digital Magazine: Shout your website and social media for the readers?
Leo Vance: Facebook, twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are all as follows:
U.G. Digital Magazine: I appreciate your time bro. This is really great. Good luck with everything and we'll be following for sure.
We're thrilled to announce that Bishop Don of 9Mag & Black Ink Crew: Chicago will be hitting the upcoming issue of Urban Grandstand Digital Magazine. We're happy to have connected with Don, as he not only talks about Season 3 of the hit reality series [which returned to VH1 May 24, 2017], but also the impact he continues to make within the urban communities of Chicago, how the untimely death of his sister has altered the way he handles family problems, and the growth of his amazing brand, which now includes the launch of his new line of cigars.
We're only a few weeks away from the release of the new issue of Urban Grandstand Digital Magazine, so definitely be on the lookout for that!
Check out the exclusive trailer for Season 3 of Black Ink Crew: Chicago, below!
It’s always wonderful to reconnect with artists and individuals who we cover with U.G. Digital Magazine. Many will remember that we first connected with A5kem nearly two years back for one of our many issues. Arguably, he’s one of the most artistic people you’ll find , titling his brand an legacy ‘Art You Can Hear”. Over the years, he’s created amazing artwork of some of urban music’s largest figures, and that work as been recognized all around the world by many of those artists.
We’ve reconnected with him to get a much-needed update on his journey, and where his work has taken him since we last spoke.
U.G. Digital Mag: First of all, I have to really thank you for this opportunity. You were so instrumental in our early success as a publication. I've always wanted to give light and shine to individuals like yourself, and your willingness to participate in one of our early issues was so appreciated. Thank you for this time around as well. I have so much respect for you and what you're doing. I understand how big this is for you, and at the same time, it's just your everyday life. I love how your artwork really depicts the artists in the way we know then, but i sort of feel like it also defines them in a totally new way. Talk to me about what's in your mind when you create?
A5kem: I love to create images that resonate with the target audience. Like a song, I aim to allow each image to speak to the individual and invoke memories and emotions. Through this imagery that I entitle 'Art You Can Hear' I aim to have each image take you on a journey, to relive that first moment when you heard a particular song or artist. I think this is important as I create a relationship between the individual viewer and each image. Art is really about the experience and what it gives to you both visually and mentally, but without the pretentious 'art speak' that so much art has as an almost ball and chain around it. I think that if art is presented in that way it can very intimidating for the audience and potential buyers.
U.G. Digital Mag: What gives you the passion to create? Do you go through periods where you've kind of had it and you put it down for a while? If so, what brings you back to that mood of creativity?
A5kem: Well, I began my artistic career as a surrealist, painting dark images that came from deep within my soul. This form of art caused me to pack up tools and walk away for a year or so. I just felt as though the work had become almost like a form of therapy and each canvas was a record of my poor mental state. I returned to art with a completely different perspective and mission and that was to chronicle my lifelong love of Hip Hop. Hip Hop really is my inspiration, from the unique and powerful story telling and socially conscious lyrics of the golden era to today's interpretation. Hip Hop always enables me to find inspiration and opens the door for creativity.
U.G. Digital Mag: What's happening in your mind while you're creating? What thoughts are flowing in reference to that particular artist?
A5kem: Typically I try to find a hook that associates the artist with something that relates to their character, for an example I did a Kanye West piece where I had many hidden faces within the main portrait and references to Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. I think this reflects the spectrum of Kanye's personality and creativity. My thoughts are to always challenge the audience with what I create, to create something that is truly iconic and unique from any other artist’s work, again 'Art You Can Hear'.
U.G. Digital Mag: You've gained so much more acclaim in the past year and I think it's amazing. Speaking from the mind of creativity, I absolutely love the entertainment industry, and it excites me when I interview someone and they love it. There so much bad media, and people who are vindictive when writing about pop and urban culture, so I love when people see my true intentions. How do you feel to see people like Chuck D on a plane posting about you, or any other artist for that matter who has given you praise?
A5kem: For me having artists such as Chuck D provide validation and interest in my work is what makes it all worthwhile, these are artists which inspire me and through they’re craft have allowed me to grow not only as an artist but as an individual. It is something that really gels well with my ethos and vision for the work as ultimately I am recording their craft so the relationship is essential to be a two way thing built on mutual respect and love for each other’s work.
U.G. Digital Mag: How has business been for you now that more people know of you?
A5kem: Art is always a challenge and there are so many preconceived ideas of what or how art should be presented and defined and with the presence of social media it is an even bigger challenge for artists, however I have been fortunate to cultivate a good following and have built many contacts within Hip-Hop itself that it has allowed me to have art as my day job.
U.G. Digital Mag: Where do you see things heading in the future in terms of artistry, and the subjects you want to depict moving forward?
A5kem: Currently I am working on a book with Chuck D and some fellow artists. This should appear at some point in the summer. I also plan to move stateside and bring ‘Art You Can Hear’ to America as it will allow greater opportunities to grow and diversify my work. I visualize creating an art foundation at some point where I can facilitate teaching art to young people and bringing art to urban America.
U.G. Digital Mag: Without me going into heavy detail, I know you've experiences some of life's most tragic moments throughout your time doing this. I can only imagine how it has affected your creativity and will to move in at times. How have you gotten inspired to move forward?
A5kem: Well, I would say that the beginning of this year has been without doubt the most difficult period in my life and I have really struggled to find the inspiration and motivation to move forward. Ultimately, I provide a service and there is an expectation for me to deliver consistently to an audience that has been loyal to me. So really, I draw inspiration from those who like my work. If I can keep them interested and enjoying my work that is the greatest reward and allows one to heal as well.
U.G. Digital Mag: What things can we look out for in the near future?
A5kem: As I mentioned a move to the USA where I will then be more accessible to my audience and Indeed providing access to the birthplace of Hip-Hop itself. I am looking at creating a full service art agency providing ‘Art You Can Hear’ to the industry and beyond.
U.G. Digital Mag: Any final thoughts at all?
A5kem: Thank you to a woman that gave me everything in life and always encouraged me to pursue and succeed with a career in art. A woman who is irreplaceable. My mother. The journey continues.
One of the things we’ve enjoyed doing here at U.G. Digital Magazine is providing coverage and showing love on all levels of entertainment and music. One of the many features we do within the magazine is “Meet the Producer”, which gives us an opportunity to spread the word about some of the industry’s best and brightest producers. These individuals are creating some of the biggest staples in music, and it’s beyond fitting for them to get some love out there. Naturally, there’s not a lot who really shine a light on the producers, so we’ve taken that lane with “Meet the Producer”.
We’re excited to transition the feature directly to the site with this new feature with JazzFeezy. It’s definitely fitting, and lends to the things I just spoke of because our connection actually came via us showing love for one of the big hits he handcrafted, that being Hardo’s “I Know You Ain’t Got Act Like”, which also featured rapper T.I.. We tend to post via social media about a lot of the songs we enjoy, and through that post, JazzFeezy hit back showing his gratitude, which ironically is something we don’t see a lot of, whether it’s with us, or anyone. It’s honestly was pretty refreshing, and we knew at that moment we needed to connect with JazzFeezy, who we truly view as one of the game’s super-producers.
JazzFeezy gives us an open view into his life, what got him to this point, and the things he’s got planned to elevate the production game to an all-new level.
Check out our exclusive below…
U.G. Digital Mag: This is really awesome that we’re connecting man. Obviously, it’s been a while since we posted to that track, and it was so dope, but I honestly had never looked into the overall production. Once I saw your post, and really looked it up, I felt a little crazy. You’ve worked with so many people I follow, from Travis Porter down to T.I. and MGK, who hails from here in Cleveland. It’s dope to see all you’ve done. Kudos for everything you’ve done, and thanks again for tagging the post.
JazzFeezy: I’ve been listening to a lot of different motivational speakers, and they’re basically like have you ever sat down and searched the hashtag of all of your hit records? That’s what prompted me, and I saw so many people showing love. Someone recommended I post, say thanks, and introduce myself. You never know what could from that, whether it be a follow, or a production relationship. That’s honestly what I did, and it’s how we ended up here.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think another thing that makes me appreciate you so much more is so many producers are out there, but they kinda disassociate themselves with “enjoying” the fame and wanting to know who really digs their music. They don’t really care who is following, and it makes them lose that human side. For you doing this, it shows that side, and my thought is that this is supposed to be fun. I think it’s really cool, and people see that you’re just like them.
JazzFeezy: Of course. Before I started production, I was a lover of music first, and it also goes back to manners. If someone shows you appreciation, you give it right back. The fact you took the time to show love and post it, it means a lot because without that support, the song is dead. We release these songs by the ten-fold, but it’s the fan appreciation that gives it the longevity. Saying thanks is nothing, but it shows that this is a human being. Comments will say that it’s dope, but you don’t really know if it’s a bot or something. To actually say thanks and a few words behind it, it gives that person the idea they’re talking to a human being.
U.G. Digital Mag: You’re from Canada, right?
JazzFeezy: Right. Where Toronto is, I’m about an hour north of there in Barrie, Ontario. If Toronto was like the hubcap, there’s like an hour of trees, farms, and uninhabited land; then you have a city called Barrie, and that’s where I’m from.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s dope man. I connected with Peter Jackson, and I thought he was so dope too. I know you guys have worked together before. What got you into music, and how did it really start?
JazzFeezy: At 16 and 17, I began to see how easy the school system was, and I stopped caring as much. I started doing more with Sony Sound Pro, Fruity Loops 2, and Cool Edit Pro. I started tinkering with it, finished high school, went to school for a computer systems degree, and then realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do. My father let me go to a private school called Harris. It’s basically a studio, but they offer production engineering. Upon completion, they promise you a job, but there was nothing, and I was always on the Toronto scene. I went to the battle of the beatmakers, and I met Matthew Samuels who is Boi-1da, and T-Minus from Ajax, and I kept in contact with them and kept sending them beats. I had the drive and just kept following music man.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think you’re perfect for this column though. There’s a lot of people who know your work, but it’s been easy for them to overlook. You’re behind so many people. What comes next, and what more do you have planned?
JazzFeezy: In 2016, I put down the roots by working with a lot of labels. One of my managers, G. Roberson, has me locked in for a few different projects, so I’ve been working on those. We’ve been plugging away since October.
U.G. Digital Mag: In terms of your brand, what plan is there for continuing to get yourself out there? I compare you already to the biggest names like Dre. Where do you want things to go, and what outcome do you envision?
JazzFeezy: I always write my plans down. If you’re familiar with the Boi-1da kit series, I created the first one with him.
U.G. Digital Mag: Right. I know you have your own kit as well.
JazzFeezy: Right. I have one now, but in May, I’ll do volume II. I think it’ll bring more people to it. Every 3-4 months, depending on what people want, I’ll continue the kit series. Other than that, I want to get into the merchandising side of things. Maybe snap backs, T-shirts, and real merch. It’s a lot of ideas that once I get into a certain atmosphere of being known, there’s a lot that I’ll have in the works. Property out here is very cheap, so I want to buy like an acre of land and build my own house, but on the back end have my own studio with overnight accommodations.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love the mindset. It makes perfect sense, and it’s outside the box. Not many have thought that through, and it really makes sense and goes next level. I say why not?
JazzFeezy: Absolutely. It all comes down to having better funding. The more cuts you have and credibility, people are more likely to get it and invest in you that much more.
U.G. Digital Mag: In terms of Canada, do you look to take any of this back to that area? There seems to be so many artists there without the proper voice behind them. It’s really growing in that sense.
JazzFeezy: That’s why I want to build the studio to have the infrastructure. We have some great studios, such as Metalworks, and Phase One Studios. I find there’s a lot of big sessions that producers go to, and they don’t necessarily keep notes about the experience. I start sessions off with my notepad, and at the end, I write down what we covered. Down the road, I want to write a book, and give my experiences. I want to offer some type of mentorship that Canada lacks. Truthfully, all of our talent goes to New York, to L.A., to Atlanta, and to Nashville. People rarely stay here.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think it makes sense. A lot of places are that way where their talent will go to other areas, and in a sense, it’s like that here in Cleveland. The city is growing so much though, and people are now trying to build here so you don’t have to leave. Will that ever happen in Canada?
JazzFeezy: You know what? I don’t know. There’s this mystique about L.A., and I can’t explain it. Over time I’ll talk to an artist, and they get hooked. They say L.A. has exactly what we have, but it’s also the weather. If we have a few producers come together and the proper infrastructure is there where we can set it up, they may stay. America just gives more opportunity. The actual budget you can get is much more in the states, and you just feel more valued in the states.
U.G. Digital Mag: I get it. I love everything you have, and I’ve been going through your site. I like the set up, and can honestly say I haven’t seen it from very many producers. You make it a point to connect with your listeners, and again, I don’t see it a lot. It’s dope and game-changing. You’ll go a long way.
JazzFeezy: It also helps with publications like yours and people who take the time. If someone takes even an email just to say I’m from here, and please check out my music, I’ll give them feedback whether it’s good or bad. I’m never out there to crush dreams, but if someone clearly recorded something on their computer and you can hear the reverb and mom cooking dinner in the background, then I’ll let them know it was a good first attempt, but if they want to take it seriously, then here’s what they can do. It’s only as serious as you want it to be. A guy wrote me back and said nobody took him seriously and that he was 16 and really wanted to do this. I was 16 once, but if you really want to do it, then you’ll find a way to get to where you want to be.
U.G. Digital Mag: Exactly. What is the biggest take away from the time you’ve put in? What’s been the biggest lesson?
JazzFeezy: Oh man, I think it’s patience. When it comes to it, there have been situations where I know I got the cut, I know it’s on the album and everything is good to go, and then 6-months later, were still finishing paperwork and you’re still waiting to get paid. I think the mystique of people in the limelight who show you they have the money, cars, and whatever, that’s cool, but most of that is their advance. They never say 6-months from now, this will be happening. It’s too much smoke and mirrors.
U.G. Digital Mag: Right. Now where can everyone check you out online? Facebook, Instagram, etc?
JazzFeezy: Twitter, IG, Facebook, and the website. My handle is @Jazzfeezy. People speak of Snapchat and Linked In, but you don’t have to do them all at once. I need to get more credits, stay creative, keep working, and keep following up with different A&Rs, artists, and managers. Down the road, I may do the whole Snap Chat thing.
U.G. Digital Mag: I really appreciate this opportunity. This is something we love to do, showcasing producers man.
JazzFeezy: I appreciate that as well. The other thing is it’s become this “cool” thing [for producers] to not have things in publications like your, and people just see songs that you do. I think it’s just the big producers who are doing articles, and the other producers are less likely to reach out and do it. To me, that makes no sense. You should do every publication you can. You need them to help you, otherwise people won’t know your story.
U.G. Digital Mag: Right. Any kind of final thoughts at all?
JazzFeezy: It goes back to what I’ve learned the most. I think the biggest mistake I’ve seen is if you go to a networking party, and you get different email addresses for other producers, A&R people, or labels mates, I think the biggest mistake people make is they try to hit them up a week, month, or year after the fact. The best thing to do is hit them up right away so they at least know you’re serious. People always blame the A&R, but if the producer doesn’t even make the attempt to reach out, they don’t need the new guy. If you want to get into that infrastructure, you have to make that connection. So the best advice I can give is to follow up. You never know what kind of relationships can spark. The only one who suffers is that person.